Once upon a time, Hearthstone had nine classes that laddered along in harmony. Then everything changed when the Demon Hunter nation attacked, prompting a day one nerf. Now we are up to eleven classes as the game is closing on its eleventh year. By this point, adding new classes seems to have become a regular part of the game’s content cadence. What’s next and just how far could it go? Let’s discuss and evaluate the potential of a twelfth, sixteenth, ninety-second class in the game.
What’s Next? Thinking of Monk and What Lies Beyond
From a Warcraft perspective, Monk is the last mainline entry missing from the current collection of classes, and it has often been theorized as a potential next step in the evolution of the game. Indeed, it’s quite likely that it will be the next new option in the game once the developers decide to expand the existing roster. Because of the high likelihood of Monk coming to Hearthstone, the class has already been analyzed and theorycrafted to death (even by us!), so I won’t go there again.
However, there is another possibility to consider: the Dragonflight expansion of World of Warcraft has brought along Evoker, a Dracthyr-exclusive mail-wearing caster class focusing on the magic of the dragonflight. Depending on their specialization, they focus on different aspects, represented by various colors in what the developers call a “prismatic effect.”
It’s easy to see how something like this could slot into Hearthstone akin to Death Knights’ Rune system when and if the class is further fleshed out in WoW, but as a fairly new entry in the MMO, one has to wonder how appealing or interesting it would be for Hearthstone players who may not be that up-to-date on the proceedings in other entries of the franchise.
Battlegrounds, Mercenaries and some of the other solo content have shown us that the developers of Hearthstone are very much open to creating their own characters and formulae, and if the gameplay implications translate to Constructed, you can imagine an entirely original class in the future, too.
There are further opportunities to explore, though they would mean a significant leap from the currently traced path. Much was made of Hearthstone’s name change a couple of years ago, when “Heroes of Warcraft” was dropped as its subtitle, hinting at the possibility of different worlds arriving to the card game played in Azeroth’s taverns. We’ve already seen Diablo – the option to include material from other Blizzard properties (or Activision, or even Microsoft if the deal closes) is clearly available, perhaps even alongside genuine dual classes like the way the League of Explorers members were incorporated into Duels. That said, it’s likely that the people of Team 5 aren’t looking to open Pandora’s box anytime soon: there are simply more straightforward options to explore at this time.
This is, of course, just the flavor perspective – the bigger question is whether the balance and the content cadence of the game can cope with a larger amount of classes, and if so, what is the theoretical upper limit to consider with such an endeavor.
From a set size and a collection perspective, there’s only so much further we can go, and even if the game does eventually swap to four releases a year, you can only make the sets so large to incorporate all the classes in a meaningful way. Twelve, thirteen, perhaps fourteen, seem as far as the current gameplay systems can stretch without significant strain. Squint hard enough, and perhaps you can see a world where the number of available classes goes way beyond what we currently have, with bans and rotations making the game a bit more like a MOBA than a card game – an interesting possibility as long as it comes with a way for players to maintain the value and availability of their collection.
An Illusion of Addition: What Will New Classes Give to Us in the Game?
Hearthstone is a mature game at this point, which is a euphemism aiming to highlight the fact that retention of existing players is a higher priority than attracting new ones after a decade in the limelight. So it is only logical to see a larger expansion of the feature slate than we have in the past. However, adding new classes may not necessarily be the best way to go, even after factoring in the options above.
Magic: the Gathering, the foundational TCG experience, mixes and matches five colors. Of course, Hearthstone functions differently, with neutral cards and limited cross-pollination between the classes – but it does serve as a touchstone of what can be fit into a coherent gameplay package. From a competitive perspective, the increase from nine classes to eleven did little to increase the number of viable options at any given time: it merely served to create a couple of extra also-rans at any given time, with the caveat that those limited number of top decks are now taken from a slightly larger pool of potential archetypes. It was nigh impossible to have a perfectly balanced meta where all nine classes were viable meta picks, let alone eleven or more.
The constant and consistent expansion of potential classes also came at the expense of neutral cards, once a backbone of the Hearthstone experience. Having fewer metagame-defining neutrals make for more varied gameplay – and our recent struggles with Sire Denathrius show just how toxic it can be when a couple of neutral cards dominate the ladder – but they also make it more difficult for new players and those with smaller collections (or wallets) to keep up with the continuous changes and to explore the various options available across the ever-growing number of classes. It’s a sensible tradeoff but one that hasn’t necessarily delivered on its promise: problematic archetypes with limited counters continue to emerge patch after patch,
From a hype perspective, adding new classes makes sense, and they do offer a way to keep the game fresh for a short period of time. However, the two new class releases we’ve seen so far both offer cautionary tales: Demon Hunters were super-overtuned on launch and remained one-dimensional for a year, and while Death Knights weren’t busted and broken upon arrival, the feeling that their archetypes haven’t changed or evolved across the Standard year remains. It goes to show that if there are issues with Hearthstone’s content releases and design philosophies – and there are good reasons to argue that there are – then adding new classes won’t serve as the magic solution, even if they do remain a potent tool in the developers’ kit.