Boomsday Project is the 9th Hearthstone expansion, or 13th set if we count adventures too – that’s quite a lot! No matter when you’ve started playing, you definitely have some of your favorites. Your choice might be driven by the certain Legendaries you’ve enjoyed, the meta you liked or maybe even nostalgia.
Everyone who has been playing Hearthstone for a while can tell that it has had its better and worse days. There were expansions that fell flat (either in terms of power level or fun), there were metas we as players just couldn’t stand, but on the other hand, there were times when we really enjoyed the game. A big part of how much you currently enjoy the game depends on the latest expansion – it changes (or at least should change) the entire meta, forces people to play new things – sometimes less enjoyable than the previous ones.
In this article, I’d like to take a look in the past and list the best expansions we’ve had so far. I’m going to judge them based on a few different qualities – card design, theme, how fun they were to play, what kind of meta they’ve produced, as well as their overall feel. Keep in mind that the list is heavily subjective. Different players like different things, and no list would please everyone.
P.S. Since we had only four different adventures and there’s no point in making a separate list for those, I’ll consider all of the sets here – adventures and expansions alike. The order or sets below is chronological.
Best Hearthstone Sets
The League of Explorers
I’ll open the list of best Hearthstone sets with the only adventure on the list – The League of Explorers. A lot of players would quote it as their favorite set ever, and while it’s not an unquestionable #1 for me, it was definitely one of the best things that happened to Hearthstone in general. But in order to understand that (for those who didn’t play it at the time), context is very important. The Grand Tournament was an expansion released in the middle of 2015, and it wasn’t a great release. While a lot of cards went on to see play in many different meta decks after a while, it didn’t really feel to impactful at first. The new mechanics – Inspire and Joust – fell flat, and out of 132 cards, only a handful were really playable in meta decks at the beginning. Players weren’t very happy. The release formula wasn’t appreciated either – TGT was known for having multiple announcements of announcements, which were meant to create extra hype, but they created a bunch of memes instead.
And then, The League of Explorers came all suddenly to fix some of those issues. First, the announcements of announcements – there were no such things. LoE had the shortest announcement to release time of any set we’ve gotten so far. It was announced on Blizzcon 2015, with the first week coming out a WEEK after the announcement. While players had expected some kind of set announcement at Blizzcon, the fact that it was supposed to be playable next Thursday caught lots of folks off-guard, in a good way. It was also shorter than the other two adventures (4 instead of 5 wings), but without reducing the number of cards – which meant that players got a better deal on it too. So far everything was going right, but the expansion wouldn’t be that memorable without lots of cool, strong and iconic cards. And oh boy, did the League of Explorers deliver that too. After the whole expansion was out, it felt like it had a much bigger impact on the meta than an entire The Grand Tournament expansion, which had three times as many cards in total.
League of Explorers produced many class cards that were staples for the whole next year, such as Raven Idol, Forgotten Torch, Tomb Pillager, Tunnel Trogg, and Dark Peddler. But the most pleasant surprise were the four Neutral Legendary cards – the titular explorers. Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Brann Bronzebeard, Elise Starseeker and Reno Jackson all had really cool and unique, but also powerful effects. Each one of them has seen A LOT of play, and three of them are still staples in some Wild decks. The last Legendary, the “bad guy” of this set, Arch-Thief Rafaam was also an interesting option for players without big collections. It was a great “budget” way (because most of the F2P players got the adventure, since it was a great deal) to replace some late game Legenadaries in expensive decks, but it has seen a bit of competitive play too.
The mechanic called “Discover”, present on a large portion of cards from every new expansion now, also originated from LoE. It was a sort of compromise. Blizzard wanted to include RNG effects, because they were attracting the casual crowd and creating fun moments / clips. On the other hand, the more competitive crowd didn’t like RNG for obvious reasons. Discover was like taking a bit from both worlds. The games rarely felt the same even if you played the same deck, because you could Discover different cards etc. But that RNG was predictable and controllable to a certain extent. Most of the cards that were designed as full RNG (e.g. Stonehill Defender could be “Put a random Taunt minion into your hand”) are now designed as Discover cards.
And last, but not least, the overall feel of the expansion was also amazing. The previous two adventures – Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain – were pretty bland. The boss fights didn’t really seem connected for the most part, they were just cool, individual boss fights (BRM had already tried to make them connected, but it didn’t really feel that way). We had a cool story of searching for an ancient artifact, then an ultimate bad guy stealing it, so we had to get it back from him. We traveled through Azeroth with the explorers and all of the encounters fit that theme very well. Fighting against time during Temple Escape, or the twist during Rafaam fight felt so much better than the previous two adventures (and, at least for me, even better than the final adventure – One Night in Karazhan).
The League of Explorers delivered on all fronts. It did a lot of the right things at the right time. It’s by far my favorite adventure, and one of my favorite sets in general.
Whispers of the Old Gods
Whispers of the Old Gods is kind of a milestone expansion for Hearthstone as a game. Year of the Kraken was the first Hearthstone Standard Year, and WotG opened it. While the first rotation wasn’t that big in terms of the number of cards (with only one adventure and one expansion rotating out), it was massive in terms of impact. Both Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes were sets full of staples. Zombie Chow, Haunted Creeper, Mad Scientist, Sludge Belcher, Loatheb (and more) from Naxx were all over the ladder. GvG didn’t have as many staple Neutrals (of course, there were some like Piloted Shredder or Dr. Boom), but it had a massive amount of staple class cards – Glaivezooka, Unstable Portal, Muster for Battle, Shielded Minibot, Velen's Chosen and Imp-losion just to name a few. Losing all of those staples had a massive impact on the meta. It took players some time to adjust, which was one of the most fun times I had in Hearthstone. Lots of new experimentation going on, everyone trying different decks etc. For me, the time when no one knows what’s powerful yet is always the best.
The thing that Whispers of the Old Gods nailed were the titular Old Gods. We got four powerful Neutral Legendaries – C'Thun, N'Zoth, The Corruptor, Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound and Yogg-Saron, Hope's End. The best thing is that each one of those has seen lots of competitive play – Yogg was even nerfed because it was designed to be more of a fun card, yet it started deciding tournament matches at the highest level. They all had unique effects, but most importantly, they all felt powerful enough to justify their massive mana cost. What I also liked about the whole concept was turning C’Thun into a F2P-friendly card. Not only did all players get it for free, but you could build a solid C’Thun deck on a relatively small budget. For a long time, C’Thun builds were the best budget decks for some of the classes (such as Priest or Druid).
Another feature from the WotG I really liked were the “reprints” of older cards, but in new, alternative versions. That’s how we’ve got Deathwing, Dragonlord (Deathwing) or Ragnaros, Lightlord (Ragnaros the Firelord), but also a bunch of non-Legendary “corrupted” versions of the cards. E.g. Annoy-o-Tron -> Psych-o-Tron, Fen Creeper -> Bog Creeper, Antique Healbot -> Corrupted Healbot, Murloc Tidehunter -> Bilefin Tidehunter and so on and so on. I enjoyed the general theme of this set, and I think it was the first time they’ve really nailed it for a full expansion (because both GvG and TGT were kind of all over the place).
And the general meta was also quite enjoyable. Warrior was a king for the first few weeks, but it didn’t really feel like you were playing against them all the time. That was probably because they had a very diverse line-up. Tempo Warrior, Dragon Warrior, Control Warrior, C’Thun Warrior, Pirate Warrior, even Raging Worgen OTK Warrior (later into the expansion) were all viable decks at the time. The meta was very balanced except for two classes – Paladin and Priest. While Paladin had his time to shine an expansion earlier (Secret Paladin was dominating the meta for a while), Priest was in a weird spot for a while – I remember that even dedicated Priest players like Zetalot were losing hope back then. They had to wait a while more, but Priest was on its rise to power relatively soon. The whole meta felt pretty good. Sadly, it was also the beginning of Shamanstone era. While Warrior was dominating the meta, given that there were lots of different Warrior archetypes, it didn’t feel that bad. However, Shaman, which was the second class in terms of popularity, but pretty much as strong as Warrior, had only two common archetypes – Aggro and Midrange. It wasn’t that bad at the time, but then the class has got two very powerful cards in Karazhan – Maelstrom Portal and Spirit Claws (which used to cost 1 mana), then even more powerful cards in Gadgetzan (Jades, Devolve) and the whole thing went downhill. Luckily, WotG wasn’t haunted by the Shamanstone yet, which made the whole experience much more likable.
Journey to Un’Goro
The first expansion of Year of the Mammoth, Journey to Un’Goro, is another expansion that came after a big disappointment. The last set of Year of the Kraken – Mean Streets of Gadgetzan – was hated by many. It was the peak of Shamanstone (class had up to 40% popularity on the ladder), Pirate Warrior was really annoying to play against and very common, Jades were a mechanic most players didn’t like (especially the infinite capabilities of Druid’s Jade Idol) and Kazakus had reinvigorated people’s interest in Reno decks, which were also frustrating to some (when you played Aggro vs Reno, it was basically a coin flip matchup – if they got Reno, you nearly always lost, if they didn’t, you won most of the time). The expansion was a festival of power creep too – many of the printed cards were straight up broken. For example, it was obvious that they tried to fix Priest’s terrible state by giving the class as many overpowered cards as possible. Cards that were staples in the most powerful deck for over a year came from Gadgetzan – Potion of Madness, Kabal Talonpriest, Drakonid Operative, Dragonfire Potion, and Raza the Chained. The nerf patch also came way too late – almost three months after the expansion’s release (not to mention that it didn’t fix a lot of problematic cards, such as Patches the Pirate). While I have some fond memories of that time too, it’s clear that players absolutely HATED Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. For a good reason. That’s why Journey to Un’Goro was a massive sigh of relief to most of the players.
The expansion did a lot of things right, especially when compared to the previous one. We had a lot of strong, but not blatantly overpowered cards. Well, with one exception – the infamous Rogue Quest (The Caverns Below) which has already been nerfed twice and a lot of players would like to see it getting nerfed again. Pirates were still strong, but Golakka Crawler was introduced to fight them. Both Elementals and Adapt mechanics were alright, I think that both of them could be a tad stronger, but lots of those cards were played anyway. I liked the general power level of this expansion. I think that cards like Fire Fly, Tar Creeper or Primordial Drake were just perfect in terms of balance. They are all strong cards, but they never felt too strong. As for design, the jungle theme was also quite fun to explore. I remember that I really enjoyed that reveal season, even the cringe’y videos with Danny Pudi had their undeniable charm.
However, where the Journey to Un’Goro really shined was the meta it produced. It was one of the most balanced and enjoyable metas I’ve ever played. Basically all kinds of strategies were viable – we had Aggro, Midrange, Control and Combo decks alike. The meta was diverse, and most importantly, it felt like it was constantly evolving. Every week felt slightly different basically until the end. Just a few examples – Tempo/Secret Mage wasn’t popular at the beginning, yet it became one of the most popular archetypes mid-expansion. Token/Evolve Shaman started seeing play around 1.5 months in and it went on to become one of the most common decks on the ladder some time later. Midrange Hunter was incredibly common at first, and it nearly disappeared towards the end of expansion. Murloc Paladin was pushed out by Midrange Paladin, and then they were fighting for the #1 Paladin archetype title. Token Druid was popular throughout the entire expansion, but the build was constantly evolving. Freeze Mage, unpopular at the beginning, went on to become the #1 Mage deck near the end of the expansion. Even Jade Rogue had started seeing some play towards the end. Basically, the only class which didn’t get much action was Warlock. Players tried to make the class work, but it didn’t – rotation hit it very hard. It felt like the other 8 classes were in almost perfect balance throughout the entire set – sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but all viable.
The fact that it came right after one of the darkest months in Hearthstone is obviously influencing how good it felt. But I still remember how much fun I had playing during Journey to Un’Goro. Normally I go into “maintenance mode” after the meta gets stale – I still play the game, but mostly to finish the Quest (I also try to play different stuff, like Wild or Arena). But Un’Goro was different, and I played all the way from release until the next expansion – Knights of the Frozen Throne. Speaking of that…
Knights of the Frozen Throne
Knights of the Frozen Throne is the last one on this list, and the expansion had a very rocky start. Blizzard decided that it was time to give slower Druid decks some powerful cards. Honestly, the decision itself was justifiable – slow Druid wasn’t in a great spot back then and the only viable Druid build was Aggro Token. But saying that they overdid it is an understatement. Spreading Plague or Ultimate Infestation alone would already put Druid in a great spot. But not only did they get both, Plague costed 5 mana instead of the current 6, but Malfurion the Pestilent – Druid’s Death Knight Hero – has also turned out to be very powerful. But that’s not all, oh no, the faster Druid decks also got some new tools to play with – seemingly harmless Taunt cards such as Druid of the Swarm and Crypt Lord were obviously utilized by Aggro. While we didn’t know that at the time, even Hadronox had its time to shine many months later. Game was an imbalanced mess. Or rather, it was very balanced if you played Druid, because everyone else was also playing Druid. The class peaked at 40% representation in Legend (and ~35% on the ladder overall), which is clearly not good if you think about how many classes there are in Hearthstone.
However, the expansion was followed by one of the quickest nerf patches Hearthstone has ever experienced – roughly a month after everyone has realized that Druid is too strong, the class was nerfed heavily (alongside Fiery War Axe, which killed Warrior for a while) and the meta adapted. While many of you won’t agree with me, I really enjoyed the post-nerf KFT meta. Even though Highlander (Razakus) Priest was one of the most hated decks by the general playerbase, it was one of my favorite decks the game ever had. Similarly, Tempo Rogue was one of my favorite aggressive decks. Despite the fact that I don’t like Prince Keleseth that much, I liked the fact that Tempo Rogue wasn’t going all-in on aggression in the first turns, but it was leaning more towards Midrange, especially the more end-heavy builds. We also had a lot of other decks in the meta, lots of which I’ve enjoyed. I may be weird, but for example I liked Jade Druid, which was also universally hated. Zoo Warlocks, which have experimented with slower, Bloodreaver Gul'dan builds were also cool. I think that the only deck I really hated during that meta was Exodia Mage. For me, it was very boring to play against, but also boring to play AS, which doesn’t happen often (but again, different strokes for different folks).
KFT introduced Hero cards. Once again, it’s a very polarizing topic – I know a lot of players who absolutely hate them, but it’s hard to deny how much of an impact they had on the game so far. While I don’t necessarily think that we should get more “infinite value” Death Knights, such as Frost Lich Jaina or Deathstalker Rexxar, the general concept is very cool. Death Knights have given Control decks the win condition they needed – the upgraded Hero Power can go a long way in grindy games. Team 5 was known for printing lots and LOTS of Legendaries that didn’t really “feel” Legendary – we had high cost Legendaries with meh effects that weren’t flashy, nor good. Hero cards were both, and that’s why I’ve liked them. Hero cards can be a nice way to change the play style of a certain class, and they are a tool Blizzard has been using for the last two expansions too, with Hagatha the Witch and Dr. Boom, Mad Genius.
But maybe the reason why I’ve picked Knights of the Frozen Throne might be a bit different. Wrath of the Lich King in World of Warcraft were by far my best “gaming” years. Back in 2009-2011, I still had enough time and will to spend long hours grinding in a MMO game and I found that very enjoyable. It was my best World of Warcraft experience, or maybe even experience related to games in general. While this experience will never come back, Knights of the Frozen Throne rekindled that feeling. They nailed the general “feel” of the expansion, a lot of the cards, especially The Lich King – have brought me back, even the PvE experience was pretty enjoyable (although it was more like an adventure than the latest PvE releases I really like). I know that many of you won’t share this feeling, I would feel bad if I didn’t put KFT on this list.
This is my list of the best Hearthstone expansions so far. Like I’ve already mentioned at the top, it’s completely subjective – everyone likes Hearthstone for something different, everyone has own preferences when it comes to decks they enjoy playing and facing etc. However, I would love to hear your opinions about my picks, as well as your own list.
When did YOU start playing the game and what were your favorite expansions since then? Let me know in the comments section below. Good luck on the ladder and until next time!