Hearthstone, like any card game, is constantly evolving. Every set brings new mechanics and cards to the game, and every few months the meta drastically shifts. While that keeps things fresh, it can also be a bit confusing and make the game hard to jump back into after a break. In this guide we will look at how the meta has shifted over the different sets that have come out over the past year and study how the game as changed. This should help anybody looking to get back into Hearthstone for the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne.
Wild and Standard
If you stopped playing during The Curse of Naxxramas or Goblins vs. Gnomes you may not know that competitive Hearthstone is now split into two different formats: Standard and Wild. In Standard, you can play only with cards from sets that came out in the past two years, while with Wild you can play with every card in the game. This changes with the first set of the new year. The most recent shift occurred with the release of Journey to Un’goro, and the next one will happen when the first set comes out in 2018.
Currently, the sets you can use in Standard are Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Journey to Un’goro, and the upcoming Knight of the Frozen Throne. Anything else is only playable in Wild.
Now, to get caught up to speed on today’s Standard format, we are going to look at the different sets that have come out over the last year and see how they have changed the game. These are Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, and Journey to Un’Goro.
Recent Pack Changes
There was a recent patch that added some great changes to sets if you have yet to purchase packs from them. If you have not purchased a pack from a particular set you will be GUARANTEED a Legendary in your first 10 packs. To add to this, you will now no longer receive a duplicate Legendary in a pack (unless you own all of the Legendaries from that set). These changes allow you to build your collection faster, as well as get some fun cards to play around with.
If You Left Before Whispers of the Old Gods
Whispers brought the Standard format and put the game onto a new rotation schedule. In addition, Blizzard nerfed a series of powerful Basic and Classic cards they thought were too strong to stay in the game forever. Ancient of Lore only draws one card, Force of Nature costs five but lost charge, Keeper of the Grove is a 2/2, Ironbeak Owl costs 3 mana, Big Game Hunter costs 5, Hunter's Mark costs 1, and Blade Flurry costs four and only does damage to minions.
In addition, Abusive Sergeant only has one attack, Execute costs two, Charge costs 1 but the buffed minion can only attack minions, and Rockbiter Weapon costs two. Knife Juggler is a 2/2, Leper Gnome is a 1/1, Arcane Golem is a 4/4 but does not have charge, Master of Disguise only gives stealth for one turn, and Molten Giant now costs 25. None of these cards have seen real play since the nerf.
Besides nerfs and rotation, the biggest additions in Whispers were the four old Gods. These are giant legendary minions that all have crazy, game-changing effects. N'Zoth, The Corruptor summons all your deathrattle minions that died during the game, Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound summons a minion from your deck each turn, Yogg-Saron, Hope's End casts a random spell for each spell you cast that game (but stops if he gets killed, transformed, or silenced – this was added later as a nerf to the card), and C'Thun gets buffed every time you play a “C’thun” minion.
All of the four gods have seen play at different times, but N’Zoth currently sees the most. Yogg and Y’shaarj see fringe play in a few decks as well. C’Thun is the most interesting of the Gods because he has a slew of minions (such as Disciple of C'Thun that steadily buff him throughout the game. There are also cards like Ancient Shieldbearer that get bonuses if he has more than ten attack. You also receive C’Thun & 2x Beckoner of Evil for free when you open your first Whispers of the Old Gods pack.
Whispers added no new mechanics. It simply was made to introduce the idea of formats to the game.
If You Left Before One Night in Karazhan
One Night in Karazhan was, and will be, Hearthstone’s last adventure. Now, instead of releasing small single player sets, Blizzard releases three bigger expansions each year. There are still single player adventures (as explained later on) but you do not get the cards for beating them.
Like Whispers before it, One Night did not have anything new in terms of mechanics. Rather, it helped touch up a range of decks. This adventure really helped out both Discard Warlock and Dragon decks. It also added some extra value cards to the game like Barnes, Kindly Grandmother, and Arcane Giant, and provided portal cards, which are spells that give you a bonus and summon a random minion to the board.
If You Left Before Mean Streets of Gadgetzan
Breaking from the above sets, Means Streets of Gadgetzan made some big changes when it introducted the idea of both guilds and tri-class cards to the game. For this set, the nine heroes were split into three groups of three. These were the Kabal (Mage, Priest, Warlock), the Jade Lotus (Rogue, Shaman, Druid) and the Grimy Goons (Hunter, Warrior, Paladin).
Each guild had its own identity, as well as three tri-class cards that can be played across all three classes. For example, a tri-class card for the Grimy Goons can be used by Hunter, Warrior, or Paladin. Each group has a common card, a rare that discovers a card from the three classes in the guild, and a big legendary that reflects the guild’s theme.
The last guild, the Jade Lotus, is built off of the idea of Jade Golems. These are minions that slowly build up in power. The first golem you summon is a 1/1, the next is a 2/2, then a 3/3, 4/4, and so-on. Examples of cards that create Jade Golems are Jade Blossom, Jade Lightning, Jade Swarmer, and the tri-class legendary Aya Blackpaw.
The guilds gave the game a new identity, but Mean Streets was most well known for bringing about Pirate Warrior. The hyper-aggro deck dominated the meta for quite a long time, and still holds its own as one of the most popular decks in the game.
If You Left Before Journey to Un’Goro
After Mean Streets came Journey to Un’Goro. This set was especially important to the game because it signaled the second year of Standard, moving from the Year of the Kraken to the Year of the Mammoth. With this release, Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, and The League of Explorers were moved to Wild.
During this time, Blizzard also announced the “Hall of Fame” set, where they moved some powerful Classic and Basic cards from Standard to Wild. These cards were Ragnaros the Firelord, Sylvanas Windrunner, Azure Drake, Power Overwhelming, Ice Lance, and Conceal. Reward cards were also put into the hall, meaning Old Murk-Eye, Elite Tauren Chieftain, Captain's Parrot, and Gelbin Mekkatorque were moved as well. More cards will likely be added to this set during future rotations.
In addition to the Hall of Fame, Journey to Un’goro was a diverse set that introduced a lot of new mechanics to Hearthstone. The biggest one is Quests. Quests are legendary spells that cost one mana and always start in your opening hand (but can be mulliganed away). The way Quests work is, when played, they sit atop your hero and stay there until they are completed. There is one per class and they all have different requirements that, if met, give you a massive reward.
For example, Awaken the Makers gives you Amara, Warden of Hope if you play enough deathrattle, while if you play seven taunt minions with Fire Plume's Heart, you get Sulfuras. Most of the quests have not been strong enough to see play yet, with only The Caverns Below (which was nerfed) and Fire Plume's Heart seeing serious play.
The other two unique attributes that came with Journey to Un’Goro were the Adapt mechanic and the idea of Elementals.
Elementals are a new minion type. Many older cards (such as Unbound Elemental, Baron Geddon and Ragnaros, Lightlord) became elementals with the set. The way the tribe works is that if you have played an elemental the previous turn, you get a strong battlecry. Examples of this are Tol'vir Stoneshaper and Blazecaller. Shaman is the main elemental class, but Priest and Mage have them as well.
The final big change that came with Un’Goro was the adapt mechanic. This is an ability that, when triggered, lets you choose a bonus for your minion. There are ten adapt options in all, and you get to discover one from three random options. You can either give your minion taunt, poisonous, divine shield, windfury, +1/+1, deathrattle: summon two 1/1 plants, +3 health, +3 attack, stealth, or “cannot be targeted by spells or hero powers.” Examples of this mechanic are Crackling Razormaw, Ravasaur Runt, and Volcanosaur.
This set also altered the typical legendary format. Each class got two legendaries; a quest as well as a normal class minion. There were only five neutral legendaries. This pattern is being repeated in Knights of the Frozen Throne.
The Current Meta
Currently, the meta is a mix of aggro and board-centric midrange decks. Taunt Quest Warrior and Jade Druid are the two slow decks at the top of ladder, while Pirate Warrior, Midrange Paladin, Token Bloodlust Shaman, Aggro Druid are all very popular. Warlock and Hunter are both in a bad spot and are considered the two worst classes in the game.
Miracle Rogue is very strong, and Priest can roll with either combo or Dragon. As you can see, the past few months have led to one of the most diverse metas in the history of Hearthstone. Minion combat is much more prevalent than it once was, and the whole game has dipped in power level across the board. This makes it so that minions stick around a lot more. It also means that many cards that traditionally did not see play have risen to the top. While there is quite a bit of aggro, the game is the slowest it has been in some time.
Knights of the Frozen Throne
Knights is right around the corner, and it is surely going to shake up the game. Like with Journey to Un’Goro, the set is introducing a new type of card. This time we are getting legendary Death Knight hero cards that work much like Lord Jaraxxus in that they replace your hero and give you a new hero power. However, these cards also come with their own battlecry effect and five additional armor. Frost Lich Jaina and Shadowreaper Anduin are examples of this. Each class gets a regular legendary minion as well.
Knights is also bringing a new mechanic: Lifesteal. When a minion with this ability deals damage, it restores that much health to your hero. As such, if a 3/3 with Lifesteal trades into a minion, you will gain three health.
As there are no more adventures, Knights is also going to have a single-player campaign mode where you battle through Ice Crown Citadel. If you can get to the end and kill The Lich King you will get a random Death Knight hero card for your collection. If you can beat the Lich King with all nine heroes you also get an exclusive “Prince Arthas” portrait.