Hearthstone’s The Witchwood expansion is almost here, and we are all eagerly awaiting to play with the new cards. However, in addition to the new cards, The Witchwood will also mark a significant time of the year, the annual Standard rotation. This year, Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan will leave the Standard format, and the upcoming meta will be defined not only by the new cards, but also by the significant gaps left behind by all the cards that leave Standard format.
In this article, I will examine the effects of the rotation and look for some underdogs who might be underdogs no more come the Year of the Raven.
Discover Mechanic Cards Have Their Card Pools Changed
Discover cards are heavily reliant on the card pool they discover from. While some of them use the opponent’s deck, such as Drakonid Operative, other rely on a subset of cards available in a particular format. As several expansions are leaving Standard format with the rotation, the card pools of existing Discover cards are getting smaller, and their results will become more consistent. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what cards leave and what cards remain.
The Discover cards that are affected the most are ones that have Neutral cards and class cards available in their card pools: class cards are weighed four times that of neutral cards, so relatively minor changes can result in significant changes in the offering rates of class cards. Cards that discover spells, such as Chittering Tunneler and Primordial Glyph, have large enough pools of equal chance discoveries that they will not experience significant changes with the rotation.
Stonehill Defender has been a strong card throughout its existence, especially so in Paladin, where it has been able to pick up some strong Paladin class Taunt minions. How will the rotation affect Stonehill Defender’s performance?
Currently, late in Year of the Mammoth, Stonehill Defender has an 18% chance to Discover a specific Paladin class card. If we take away the rotating Year of the Kraken expansions, this chance increases to 29% – that’s 29% to get Sunkeeper Tarim, for example! Likewise for Priest, where the current chance to Discover Obsidian Statue is 22% – it will increase to 32%. Of course, there will be more Taunt minions in The Witchwood, so these odds will go down a little, but they will still remain better than they were with the larger card pool of late Year of the Mammoth.
Alas, more consistency is not always better, if what you can discover becomes worse. Shaman will see their chance to pick up a class Taunt minion increase from 16% to 25%, but losing White Eyes and Thing from Below from the card pool means that the odds of picking up a good class Taunt actually decreases.
Free from Amber
Have you ever lost a game to Priest when they’ve discovered Obsidian Statue from Free From Amber? I sure have. In late Year of the Mammoth, the odds of that happening were comfortable 27%, but if we strip away the rotating expansions, those odds shoot up to 38%. Not to mention the rest of the card pool! Old Gods generally had weak stats and strong Battlecry effects, and with them rotating out, the average strength of Free from Amber minions is increasing. While you can usually get a good pick from three options, this means that you more often have multiple good picks to choose from, and should Free from Amber be cast by Grand Archivist, you will see significantly better results on average.
Servant of Kalimos
Elementals were largely introduced to the game during Year of the Mammoth, so Servant of Kalimos does not change that much. Anomalus leaves the Mage card pool, which is generally a good thing, but Mage has a number of small class Elementals so the odds do not change all that much. The big loser is Paladin: without Ragnaros, Lightlord, Elemental Paladin loses its main attraction.
Non-Standard cards are leaving Deathstalker Rexxar’s Discover pool. When will it be updated with new Beasts though? Who knows, hopefully soon. Anyway, for the most part, the good stuff will still be there. Vicious Fledgling, check. Stonetusk Boar, check. Giant Wasp, check. Tundra Rhino, check.
I’m a little hesitant to even mention the card, because it does not see any play now even though Murlocs are a thing. It is one of the few Discover cards that can discover both Neutral and class minions though, and with Grimscale Chum and Vilefin Inquisitor leaving Standard, there has never been a better time to pick up some Hydrologists or Primalfin Champions, you can get each more than half of the time after the rotation! The main question is, why would you want to do that with Vilefin Inquisitor rotating out?
Or maybe build a Murloc Shaman and grab those Brrrlocs 64% of the time? It just does not seem worth it, but maybe one of those cards will be important in some deck in the future.
Random Effect Cards Have Their Card Pools Changed
Similarly to Discover effects, cards that rely on randomness also have their card pools changed. This effect is typically not as pronounced as it is with Discover, as getting to choose one of three options means that even relatively small changes in the target pool can have a big effect. For example, discovering a specific card from a pool of five cards gives you a 60% chance to succeed compared to a mere 20% chance of getting the right one randomly. Especially cards that get their random results from a fairly large pool of cards, such as Molten Blade and Shifting Scroll will see very little effect from the rotation.
All the low-stat ten drops are on their way out of Standard! While it is currently possible to roll C'Thun, N'Zoth, The Corruptor, or Yogg-Saron, Hope's End, the worst minion to remain in Standard format is an impressive 8/8 Sea Giant. There will probably be something coming in The Witchwood to balance this out, but summoning random ten-drops looks very, very strong right now – and the stronger the swing, the stronger Spiteful Summoner is.
Life is not that bad when it comes to eight-drops either. While there are more low-rolls, Anomalus, the worst low-roll of them all, is going out. I have literally had Spiteful Priests concede the game to me after rolling Anomalus from their Spiteful Summoner. Those free wins will happen no more.
Thrall, Deathseer and Unstable Evolution
If it’s good for Spiteful Summoner, it is good for the Evolve mechanic. The namesake card, Evolve, is rotating out alongside Master of Evolution, but others remain in Standard with Thrall, Deathseer and Unstable Evolution still going strong.
Oppressive Cards That Are Leaving
A number of cards can have devastating effects on your game plan. Have you ever been punished for playing a minion – any minion – by a Combo Priest hungrily waiting with Potion of Madness and all the combo pieces in hand? Play a minion, I dare you. Play a minion and you’re dead. FeelsBadMan. Some oppressive cards are leaving the Standard format, which may open up opportunities for other cards to see play.
Potion of Madness and Pint-Size Potion
I already mentioned Potion of Madness in the previous paragraph as it relates to Combo Priest. However, the card is also punishing when used by other Priest archetypes, either alone or together with Pint-Size Potion. Deathrattle minions in particular suffer from this combo. You should not feel too safe though, as Cabal Shadow Priest, Twilight Acolyte, and Mind Control still remain in Standard format. There’s also Shadow Madness, even though it is quite expensive for what it does. It can grab hold of a Voidlord for a turn, though, maybe killing it on the Priest’s side of the board.
Early-game Deathrattle minions benefit the most from Potion of Madness’s departure. Cards such as Loot Hoarder, Bloodmage Thalnos, Pyros, Drygulch Jailor, and Devilsaur Egg can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their upcoming deaths will not be in vain. Control decks also no longer have to worry about being killed after playing a turn two Doomsayer.
Coldlight Oracle is a card-draw engine with a downside – you also give your opponent cards. However, that has not been the way the card has been used. Instead, it is used to force your opponent to draw cards, hopefully milling a number of cards in the process or forcing the opponent into fatigue damage. It has seen play in dedicated Mill and Fatigue decks, but also as a general anti-control/anti-combo tech card.
While it has no doubt been painful for many archetypes, it has not been all doom and gloom: Coldlight Oracle has been one of the tools that has enabled the Mill archetype in Hearthstone, as well as one of the tools that has enabled some interaction with an opponent’s combo game plan other than just sitting back and enjoying the fun and interactive ride to ruin once the opponent has managed to draw through their deck.
The departure of Coldlight Oracle may open up more space for one-turn-kill combo decks, and, to be honest, I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing: most combo decks require careful piloting, but without any tools for their opponents to disrupt their game plan, they end up playing solitaire.
Mill decks, on the other hand, are forced to innovate if they are to survive. Can we see the return of King Togwaggle Fatigue Warrior with Explore Un'Goro and Skulking Geist? (You switch decks and then turn yours into Choose Your Path while holding on to the Geist, and if the opponent switches back, you Geist their deck away) King Togwaggle Druid? You force the opponent to draw cards with Naturalize and make them burn the ransom card when you play the King. With Coldlight Oracle gone, Mill decks need a new plan, and maybe King Togwaggle can become something more than a meme.
Another tool holding combo decks back, Dirty Rat is on its way out of Standard format. You no take Sorcerer's Apprentice anymore! Combo decks have plenty of reasons to celebrate with the departure of their two biggest foes in Dirty Rat and Coldlight Oracle, although what combo decks will be left for the party is unclear, as they too lose a lot of tools with Ice Block, Burgly Bully, and Auctionmaster Beardo leaving Standard.
When playing against combo decks, it might be time to tech in Nerubian Unraveler instead of the previously used options.
You will no longer be double-punished for not drawing your key cards! We all know the drill. Not only do you not get to play the really good card you put in your deck, but the Priest player does. Now that’s a double whammy. This will not make any new cards playable, it’s not like you would not have used your good cards just to play around Drakonid Operative. It may affect mulligans against Priest though, as currently it is statistically good for you to keep a card such as Bloodreaver Gul'dan in the mulligan against Priest, in part to deny the Priest from getting one!
The king of infinite will soon be gone! Jade Idol created a strategy where a Druid player could summon larger and larger green men infinitely, knocking out many control decks upon its introduction. While Skulking Geist later reduced this threat and other not quite infinite but really strong end-game strategies were made possible by cards in subsequent expansions (Bloodreaver Gul'dan, Voidlord, and Carnivorous Cube, I’m looking at you), Jade Idol always remained a card you had to take into account when building a slow deck. What if I face a Jade Druid? Do I just lose?
It’s not only that the Jades were infinite. It was also that they grew more powerful each time one was played. Playing a slow deck, I often got to witness Jade Golems at 15/15 or higher, and it was simply impossible to keep up if enough were played.
Can other infinite takes have room to play now? Astral Tiger, Grizzled Guardian, Hadronox? Once a meme compared to the power of green men, perhaps something more reasonable in size but vast in numbers can find a way to succeed. Or how about Strongshell Scavenger? With Jades out of the way, can Taunt Druid find a foothold?
Ice Block, Kabal Crystal Runner, Kabal Lackey, Medivh’s Valet
What is the future of Secrets in Mage? Mage just got an incredibly powerful Secret in Explosive Runes, but now Ice Block is headed to Hall of Fame and a number of Secret synergy cards are rotating into Wild – Kabal Crystal Runner, Kabal Lackey, and Medivh's Valet are all leaving.
For slower Mage builds, this means even more reliance on Frost Lich Jaina and Arcane Artificer, but both of those are already popular. Ending up with fewer low-end cards might see a surge in the popularity of Bright-Eyed Scout in the archetype though.
For Tempo Mage, the game is wide open. There are no obvious winners, as the future of the archetype lies in balance. If Secrets still win, Ethereal Arcanist has a chance.
Well, this is a big one. Entire archetypes may crumble, worlds may shatter. But is it possible to pinpoint any individual cards that benefit? If Spell Hunter survives, Rhok'delar is likely to become a staple, whereas now it has been included only some of the time. The departure of Barnes – and Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound – is more likely to cause wider meta shifts though, the effects of which are difficult to estimate.
Devolve is a card that can heavily punish decks that rely on Deathrattles, buffs, or tribal synergies: Living Mana, Silver Hand Recruits, Pirates, and Murlocs are all vulnerable. Alas, it is unlikely for the departure of Devolve to affect the meta, as Shaman is hardly part of the meta right now. Besides, Priest with their Mass Dispel will still be there.
Smaller Card Pool Means Less Competition
Decks are at their weakest at the start of the rotation: there are fewer cards in Standard than at any other time, so there are fewer options, and thus the overall power level is generally lower. This can open up opportunities for cards simply because of lack of strong alternatives.
The Princes Three
Prince Keleseth, Prince Taldaram, and Prince Valanar may all benefit from lack of alternatives. It is a double-edged blade though, as skipping a mana slot means that you need to compensate for that in other mana slots, and if you have very few playable cards there, you may not be able to do so effectively. The end result is difficult to estimate, but the Princes should not be counted out of the competition just yet.
There are multiple ways that the Standard rotation affects the meta:
- Discover mechanic cards have their card pools changed
- Random effect cards have their card pools changed
- Oppressive cards leave
- Smaller card pool means less competition
This is why April is the most exciting time in Hearthstone! Not only are we getting a new expansion, but we will also have the annual Standard rotation which shakes up the meta even harder!
What about you? Are there some old cards that you expect to see more play after the rotation? Are there some particularly oppressive cards that are leaving Standard that you believe will open up new opportunities? Let me know in the comments!