Core Set has been released a few months ago, and it’s been a huge step forward when it comes to Hearthstone’s affordability. While the game had a bunch of free cards already (Basics) – let’s just say that they weren’t perfect. Not only most of them have never been competitively viable, but their design was outdated and limited. After all, they’ve been with us ever since the game’s release years ago. Core Set offered something exciting – it gave new players a chance to play around with more advanced effects without having to spend any money. And maybe most importantly, if everything will be done correctly, those free cards will never get stale. According to developers, around 30% of Core Set will rotate yearly, so the one we know right now might look completely different in 2022.
Now, after having some time to play around with Core Set, I’d like to answer a seemingly simple question – is it successful? Of course, I think that we will only be able to fully judge it after Year of the Gryphon finishes, but I think that ~3 months should be enough to draw some early conclusions.
How Many Core Cards See Play
First, let me explain what I mean by “see play”. I looked through the stats (at the time I wrote this), for Diamond-Legend, from the last 7 days, and counted cards that have more than 1% play rate (which means that they are included in more than 1% of the deck lists on higher ranked ladder, which is more competitive). 1% might seem like a low number, but it means that the card has some uses outside of meme decks or very rare tech. After doing quick counting – at the time I’m writing this, there are 53 Core Set cards that see play. Out of 235. Even if we add cards that have already seen play, but stopped (e.g. Paladin cards that no longer see play after the class got nerfed), that number will only go up to ~65.
That’s… not much, right? To be honest – I kind of expected more. After all, that’s only ~28% of the Core Set. Does it mean that only a small portion of Core Set is viable, and the rest is bad? To answer that question – I looked through the list of cards that didn’t “make it in”, and I have to answer “no”, with all certainty. Among cards with less than 1% play rate, there’s still A LOT of good cards. Yes, Core Set includes a lot of fillers – probably too many – but it also has A LOT of cards that we already know are good, they just aren’t played because either there are no decks that would want them right now or the current meta doesn’t need them. While I won’t go through each one of them – here are a few examples. Deadly Poison, Mortal Coil, Equality (buffed), Lightning Storm (buffed), Hellfire, Battlefiend, Arcanologist, Explosive Trap, Backstab, Blessing of Kings, Armorsmith are just some of the cards that don’t see play right now (or rather see less than 1% play), even though they’re all good. We know that they’re good because they have been played in many decks in the past and some of them are still commonly seen in Wild. And there’s a lot more of those.
When I add all of those up, I’d say that realistically over half of the Core Set might see play if specific archetypes get more support, possibly even a bit more. Only some of the archetypes that got support in Core Set have been explored so far. Mage and Secrets, “Shadow” Priest, Warlock and Discards – those are still waiting for their turn. Given that Blizzard put them into Core Set, I’d assume that they will get it eventually – at least before this Standard year is over. For example, it already seems that Blizzard is pushing Shadow Priest in the new expansion with the recent announcement of Darkbishop Benedictus.
Of course, we can’t predict the future. We can’t judge the Core Set by how it MIGHT perform, because we don’t know what new cards Blizzard will print. So if we talk about how it performs right now, it’s doing… okay. It’s not impressive, but it’s not terrible. At least when it comes to the number of cards, but as we all know, that’s not always most important.
Which Core Set Cards Are The Strongest
Core Set has some real powerhouse cards and you can’t deny it. While it might not be exciting in terms of the quantity of playable cards, it certainly is when it comes to their quality. While the Tier 1 decks have shifted a few times ever since the set has been introduced, some of the most meta-defining cards from the last few months are from the Core Set.
Alexstrasza the Life-Binder was the most popular card in the game for most of the expansion – only after mini-set got released, N'Zoth, God of the Deep overtook it after it got buffed (but still not by much – it’s roughly 24% vs 22% popularity right now – and notably Alex is still way more popular in low ranks). Partially thanks to Alexstrasza’s success, Taelan Fordring is also very common. When many decks want to run such a powerful top-end card, ensuring that its drawn (while putting a pretty annoying minion on the board at the same time) is a good strategy. It can also be used to tutor other high-cost minion win conditions.
Other very strong Core Set cards include a big part of the current high tier Shaman decks – Lightning Bolt, Fire Elemental, Doomhammer, Rockbiter Weapon, Al'Akir the Windlord. There’s also a card that Deathrattle Demon Hunter owns its existence to – Illidari Inquisitor (if not for him, the deck would have no real win condition) and Eye Beam, which is a core card in OTK build. Then we’ve got Warrior’s staple Control package of Brawl and Shield Slam + Overlord Runthak (technically Neutral, but it has only seen real play in Warrior), Warlock’s Lord Jaraxxus (as well as a bunch of removals like Drain Soul, Siphon Soul and Twisting Nether), Mage’s package (Arcane Intellect, Flamestrike, Fireball), Hunter’s Quick Shot), Rogue’s Shadowstep, a big Neutral Dragon which was an auto include in Priest for a while – Ysera the Dreamer and many, many more. Those are all cards that have at one point shaped the meta and made the popular decks into what they were.
Is it Successful And What Could Be Improved
Like I’ve already said, we’re still doing sort of “early impressions” given that we’ll truly see what part of the Core Set will be usable after the last content drop (3rd expansion’s mini-set). But for the first 3 months, I’d say that yes, Core Set is pretty succesful. It gave new players access to many meta staples and made creating their first decks much easier. For example – thanks to the fact that so many great Shaman cards are from the Core Set, some competitively viable Elemental and/or Aggro Shaman builds can be created for as little as 2-3k Dust. While the same can’t be said about every class (*cough* 12k+ Dust Priest decks *cough*), new and returning players can progress easily from Core Set into actually viable decks.
Another great thing is that Core Set includes multiple slower, Midrange/Control cards that are actually viable. Because of that, new players can think about building some Control decks on budget. While those probably won’t be the best options, at least it’s a possibility if someone prefers to try out this playstyle. In the old Basic set, we didn’t have any cards akin to Ysera the Dreamer, Malygos the Spellweaver, Lord Jaraxxus or, I don’t know, Grommash Hellscream. New players were stuck with those “boring” cards like Yetis, Sen’jins etc. until they opened some packs and got more interesting ones. With Core Set, they can build a deck full of cool effects from the get-go – and it’s certainly a more fun experience.
The thing I’m not very happy about is that class synergies don’t seem to be very streamlined. Classes often have 2-3 different “packages” in Core Set and only some of them have been explored so far. Yes, there’s still time, but I’d like the Core Set to be more streamlined so many of the cards don’t feel useless for the first 2 expansions for example, only to be playable when we get some synergies in 3rd. What I’d like to see more is Core Set focusing on cards that don’t require synergies but are good standalone cards (e.g. Fireball, Arcane Intellect, Flamestrike etc. in Mage) and then expansions exploring specific synergies.
Another thing I would change is the amount of filler cards. Because while Core Set has a lot of amazing cards, many of them were clearly added without any intention of being played. You know, cards like River Crocolisk, Chillwind Yeti, Sen'jin Shieldmasta, Young Priestess, Flesheating Ghoul, but borderline even things like Crazed Alchemist, SI:7 Infiltrator or Clockwork Giant which might have some use – as very niche techs – but realistically most likely will see zero play throughout the year. It would be great if the filler cards were got rid of and replaced with something actually playable. Yes, those aren’t major complaints and everything might be fixed by this time next year, after we see the first Core Set rotation.
Overall, though, the introduction of Core Set was a net positive for the game and – as long as it’s kept getting meaningful updates and the issues I’ve listed above get worked on – I’m happy with it.