Year of the Dragon is coming to an end, and while we don’t officially know the name of upcoming Standard year, a certain leak suggests that Phoenix might be the next one (we’ll learn more tomorrow). Phoenix would indeed be a great symbol for the upcoming Year given that up until recently, given that Blizzard has some exciting news in the store for us.
Whether the name is correct or not, a new Standard year also means a rotation. While it might not be the most impactful one in the history (especially since both Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater are already out), we’re definitely losing A LOT of interesting cards and synergies. All of the 2018 cards – from Witchwood, Boomsday Project and Rastakhan’s Rumble – will no longer be available in Standard with the launch of upcoming expansion.
In this article (or rather, series of articles), I will showcase some of the important cards that are rotating out. What qualifies as “important”, you might ask? Any card that has seen a decent amount of play in meta deck is there. I didn’t include cards that were mostly used in off-meta builds, haven’t seen any competitive play or were just straight up bad. Believe me when I say that I was on the edge about many of those cards, but in general decided to take the approach to include more than include less. So, let’s get down to business!
We’ll start going through classes alphabetically, which makes Druid the first one. Let’s start with the biggest package the class is going to lose – Token/Treant synergies. Dendrologist, Landscaping, Wispering Woods, Tending Tauren and Mulchmuncher have all seen at least some play in the Token Druid variant. Lots of them are staple in the current Treant Druid builds – e.g. Landscaping. It will be a massive hit to the deck. And while Token Druid was always one of the most supported builds for the class, it will need quite a lot to fill all of those holes. In particular, Treant synergies were pushed heavily over the last two Standard years. Only after that the Treant version became better than regular, non-Treant build (which, on the other hand, will suffer from the loss of Wispering Woods). With basically half of those (one year worth) rotating out, I wonder where those builds will head towards (because I don’t think that showering Druid with more and more Treant synergies every expansion is a good way to go forward).
Then, Druid is losing some Ramp / mana cheating options. Biology Project, Floop's Glorious Gloop, Flobbidinous Floop and Dreampetal Florist allowed the class to do some stuff it shouldn’t be able to otherwise. Getting to certain mana points earlier, playing much more stuff during a single turn than it should etc. The last two specifically were incredibly useful in any kind of combo deck, such as Malygos Druid. Making it cheaper with Florist, being able to replay it for 4 mana with Floop, or even both at the same time – that’s what carried Malygos Druid decks for a long time (until the deck lost many of its key cards with last rotation). Floop in particular is a huge loss, because it has seen play in other decks too. For example, in Quest Druid it’s commonly used to either replay one of the big bombs (e.g. Cenarius or Ysera, Unleashed), or just get some mid game tempo (e.g. playing a better and cheaper version of Oasis Surger or a 0 mana 3/4 Taunt from Anubisath Defender). It’s certainly one of the strongest class Legendaries we’re losing.
Pounce is an interesting case and the card has seen more play than I expected. 0 mana cards in general have a lot of potential, and this one wasn’t any different. The first use was Gonk, the Raptor combo, although those decks were always meme tier, plus they quickly became unplayable after rotation. Second use was as a way to cycle deck with Gadgetzan Auctioneer – mostly used in Mecha'thun Druid. Alternatively, in the same deck you could also use it with Wild Pyromancer for AoE damage. And finally, more recently, Pounce has seen some play in Quest Druid as a way to remove something in the early game without disrupting the Quest progress. You really didn’t want to spend mana during your first turns, but you might have wanted to kill some stuff. Overall, it was rarely a key card, but it had some uses.
Ferocious Howl is just all-around awesome card and Druid will definitely miss it. Lots of time, it’s like Shield Block on steroids. Since it’s commonly played in Druid decks that tend to have big hand sizes, you can often gets lots of Armor. It’s also played in decks that want to cycle (and it cycles) or those that have no good early game plays (so it’s always something you can play on T3). Ever since its release, it was played in multiple Druid builds. Right now it’s a Quest Druid staple. And while it’s not a key card in any specific strategy, it’s something that would boost any slower Druid build.
Wardruid Loti hasn’t seen too much play until recently, when it became a Quest Druid staple. Since Quests aren’t rotating out, I guess that players will still try to build the deck, although it will lose a great card. Unlike other “Choose One” cards, Loti has FOUR different options, adding lots of flexibility. Sadly, each individual option is only about average. However, if you combine them all together (which is what Quest Druid does), we’re getting a 4/6 minion with Taunt, Rush, Poisonous, Stealth and Spell Damage… for 3 mana. As you can imagine, it’s an amazing power play – it can be used as single target removal, as a survival tool, or you can even keep it in Stealth to take advantage of Spell Damage (for Wrath, Swipe or Starfall).
Witching Hour hasn’t been a key card in a while, but it used to be one. Resurrecting a Beast for 3 mana might not seem like a good deal in your average deck, but the thing is that you could build everything around it. If the only Beasts you played was expensive, big minion, then getting it back for 3 mana is very powerful. The most prominent deck build around it was Taunt Druid with Hadronox. If you played it as your only Beast, after it died for the first time (or rather you killed it off yourself with Naturalize so your opponent couldn’t silence / transform it), you could then revive it once again for 3 mana. It was also common in early Embiggen Druid builds (to revive Winged Guardian), although lots of them have cut the card more recently, mostly because it’s weak in the early/mid game.
Hunter is losing quite a lot, but funnily enough, it might not make much impact on the class. Two most popular Hunter builds right now – Dragon Hunter and Highlander Hunter – aren’t losing THAT much and will likely be able to adapt to the new expansion relatively easily (of course, it doesn’t mean that they will be popular builds – it all depends on the new cards and meta). Cards that are rotating out will mostly hurt the “older” Hunter archetypes that haven’t seen that much play in a while.
First and most importantly – Beast package. Springpaw, Headhunter's Hatchet, Revenge of the Wild, Master's Call and Dire Frenzy – all of those have seen more or less play in Beast-oriented Hunter builds. The idea was that if you played only Beasts, not only you could run Master's Call and draw 3 cards for 3 mana (which is obviously very strong), but also be able to activate your other Beast synergies much more consistently. Midrange Hunter hasn’t been played in a while (while it used to be one of the most popular decks like a year ago), but even if it pops out again, it will most likely be back to a “regular” version. While SOME Beast synergies were always a part of it, before Master’s Call Hunters didn’t really play 100% Beast. Other than Master’s Call, Dire Frenzy is another big loss – the card wasn’t amazing in faster matchups, but it gave Hunters more longevity against Control builds. Plus, shuffling more copies of the right minion (such as Tundra Rhino) could really change the outcome of a match.
Another quite big loss is the Mech / Bomb package. Bomb Toss, Fireworks Tech, Venomizer, Spider Bomb and Boommaster Flark have all seen at least some play. Alongside all of the other Mech losses from Boomsday, the current Mech Hunter builds (which didn’t see much play in Descent of Dragons anyway, but used to dominate the meta a while back) will be all but unplayable. No matter if you built it more towards Goblin Bombs, or maybe towards Magnetize mechanic, the deck will be dead.
One Secret (Rat Trap) and one Secret-related card (Secret Plan) are also rotating out. Rat Trap is a big loss for Hunter, it used to be one of the most common Secrets used in any non-Face build (those most commonly used Explosive Trap if anything, because it’s nearly guaranteed damage). Rat Trap was so good, because summoning a 6/6 for 2 mana is a crazy tempo gain. Of course, it could be avoided, but being limited to 2 cards per turn was a big downside, and opponent usually had to trigger it at one point (and given that it triggered AFTER the third card, it was often hard for him to remove it immediately if he didn’t have lots of power on the board). Any Secret Hunter build will miss the card. As for the Secret Plan, it wasn’t that common, but it was still used in more Secret-focused decks. While you ultimately paid 1 extra mana for the Secret, being able to pick whatever is good in the current matchup/situation was a nice upside.
Wing Blast and Baited Arrow are two solid removal spells. While players have mostly thought that Wing Blast will be commonly used across different Hunter builds, while Baited Arrow will be only “okay”, I think it’s safe to say that it went the other way around. Wing Blast was okay, seen here and there, but usually as one-of and only in specific metas. On the other hand, Baited Arrow has seen a lot of play in Hunter builds, because summoning a 5/5 while killing something small or finishing off a bigger minion was often pretty solid (+it could be used as 3 face damage, even if inefficient). In particular, both of those cards were good in Spell Hunter when it was still playable in Standard (before last year’s rotation).
Houndmaster Shaw was a well-rounded, solid Hunter Legendary. Good stats for the mana cost, powerful ongoing effect that forces opponent to kill it off as soon as possible – it made the card pretty good. However, it started seeing less and less play with time, mostly because Midrange Hunter has switched into a full Beast build, while other builds were getting more powerful cards and Shaw didn’t necessarily synergize well with them. Last time it was played in Highlander Hunter, but the deck has got so many “package” options recently (Secrets, Mechs, Dragons) that there was simply no room for Shaw. Still, it was a solid Hunter Legendary and it will be missed.
Halazzi, the Lynx was seen as a way to make one Hunter Quest viable (The Marsh Queen), but funnily enough it improved another one instead (Unseal the Vault. While most of players (including me) didn’t have too much hope for the next Quest (while the reward was powerful, it was pretty difficult to finish), it turned out to be one of the better Hunter builds introduced recently (and we had quite a lot of those). Given that Halazzi adds multiple cheap minions to your hand, the card is really solid when it comes to finishing the Quest faster. And since those minions have Rush, it’s still good after the Quest is finished, because 1/1’s turn into 3/1’s and can be used as a removal much more easily. While the card is not necessary for the deck to function, it’s played in majority of the builds.
And finally – Zul'jin. The last you could say “original” Hero card (while Galakronds are also Hero cards, they work a bit differently with all that Invoking), introduced in Rastakhan’s Rumble. It went from an absolute Hunter staple and one of the strongest Legendaries in the game to nearly useless in the span of a year. Back in Rastakhan’s Rumble, when Midrange Hunter was dominating and Spell Hunter was still a thing, it used to be an amazing “finisher”. Well, not exactly finisher, but an amazing late game swing card. Most of its power came from Battlecry (unlike some other Hero cards, which focused on Hero Power) – it usually drew a lot of cards, played a few Secrets, removed some stuff from the opponent’s side and summoned multiple minions on yours. Yep, that sounds good, especially as a last ditch effort to fight against those slow, grindy decks that have removed everything you’ve played previously. However, the meta has shifted, Hunter builds also changed and Zul’jin was less and less popular. When Highlander Hunter was first introduced in Saviors of Uldum, the card has spiked in popularity once again, but it didn’t last very long – Descent of Dragons build got faster and many of them have decided to cut Zul’jin once again. Since the meta got quicker and slow decks weren’t really common, having a 10 mana swing card like that wasn’t really that good. But still, Zul’jin is a card with lots of potential and if it was still in Standard, I’m pretty sure that Hunters would find some way to slot it in after rotation.
I have to say that Mage isn’t really losing too many key cards. Or rather, there’s a bunch, but most of them haven’t seen play in a while and certainly don’t see play right now. Rotation probably won’t have a big impact on Mage. Which might be a good thing, given that Mage hasn’t been doing so well ever since Saviors of Uldum nerfs.
Well, let’s start by covering the Hero Power package. Daring Fire-Eater, Pyromaniac and Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk. The package has seen some play back in Rastakhan’s Rumble, then I’ve seen players attempting it a few times this year, but without much success. The idea was not bad, it’s just that the pay-off wasn’t good enough. Or let me rephrase it – Jan’alai is absolutely AMAZING, but having only a single pay-off card is not optimal. Players have tried to copy it (e.g. with Zola the Gorgon), bounce it back to hand etc. But in the end it was still a single card, so if it was near the bottom of the deck – too bad. But maybe it’s for the better – if the deck got more pay-off cards, it might be too strong, and Jan’alai already was really nuts when Mage happened to drop it on the curve.
Elemental Evocation is actually a great card. It’s like a pre-nerf Innervate for Elementals. But the problem is that we didn’t have enough good Elementals that Mage wanted to play, so it was basically only used as a combo with Mana Cyclone. To be fair, the combo is absolutely insane and the reason why the card made it to the list. Not only it’s a spell, so Mana Cyclone cycled it into another spell, but being able to drop it for 0 mana meant that you had more mana to play other spells beforehand. In other words, without Evocation it was difficult to get 2-3 cards out of Cyclone. With Evocation, you often got 5+. Cyclone Mage has actually got some interesting cards lately (such as Chenvaala), but it will be pretty difficult to play without Evocation.
Shooting Star, Cinderstorm and Cosmic Anomaly were all played in Tempo Mage. Honestly, they weren’t AMAZING, but the build was missing a lot of cards so it had to fill the gaps and those worked well. In particular, Shooting Star had amazing synergy with Cosmic Anomaly – for 5 mana, you could drop a 4/3 with +2 Spell Damage AND deal 3x 3 damage. The problem is, though, that shortly after Mana Wyrm got nerfed from 1 to 2 mana and Tempo Mage nearly disappeared from the meta. It was relegated to a budget Mage deck, and it was weak even for a budget build.
Book of Specters is, in the right deck, one of the strongest cards in the game. If you would play a deck with 28 minions and 2x Book of Specters, it would nearly always draw 3 cards for 2 mana. And that’s very, very strong. Of course, that’s a rather unrealistic scenario – the more spells you played, the worse (on average) it got. But even with ~10 spells in the deck, it still drew 2 cards for 2 mana on average. Sure, it discarded something too, but most of the time you don’t care about that. The issue is, of course, that Mage class usually wanted to play more than just a couple of spells. That’s why in the end Book of Specters didn’t see THAT much play, but sometimes it did – and it was good. I think it started in a more off-meta Elemental / Hand Mage, but later it was used in Conjurer Mage, Highlander Mage and even right now in the new version of Cyclone Mage (more Elemental-based). Still, it’s a card with tons of potential that was never completely used.
Stargazer Luna is definitely one of the strongest cards that Mage is losing. The card is amazing draw engine. even though it is RNG-based (if you draw cheap cards, you can play them immediately – if not, too bad). The card has seen play in Tempo Mage (because it played lots of cheap cards), in Cyclone Mage (for the same reason), but also in slower builds playing Luna's Pocket Galaxy (after Galaxy a big part of your deck costed 1 mana, making Luna even better). Mage players will definitely miss this card.
Arcane Keysmith was never the strongest card in the deck, but it was often solid – both in faster decks (Tempo Mage) and in slower decks (Highlander Mage). 2/2 body for 4 mana is not very good, but it’s something. And then, since Mage Secrets are worth 3 mana, you weren’t losing much tempo. Discovering one also meant that you could pick whatever was the best in a given situation and matchup.
Astromancer is a card I always liked. Mostly because it was used in decks that tended to have big hand sized, and I enjoy those, but hey. The card has seen some play in slower builds. Back in the day, it was played in some slower, Control Mage builds. More recently (well, in Rise of Shadows), it was used in Conjurer Mage – that was when Conjurer's Calling was still 3 mana, so you could play Astromancer on T10 and then target it with Conjurer’s to summon two random 7-drops. It hasn’t seen play more recently. Well, that’s the story of most Mage cards here – they were either always only “okay” or weren’t played in the last few months at all.
And finally, Luna's Pocket Galaxy. The card that didn’t see any play, was buffed to 5 mana, dominated the meta, was nerfed back to 7 mana and – funnily enough – has still seen some play (but no longer as much as it did at 5 mana). Before the nerf, the card was really degenerate. Facing Mage who played it on curve (or, even worse, on Turn 4 with Coin) was one of the worst experiences at the time. Even after its buff got reverted, the card was still used in many Highlander Mage builds. Even right now, most of the decks run Luna’s Pocket Galaxy. While it comes up much later and skipping Turn 7 is more difficult than skipping Turn 5, the pay-off is worth it. Since the deck runs many high cost minions, if you draw the correct one – such as Kalecgos or Dragonqueen Alexstrasza – it pays itself off right away. While it’s nothing like it was during its (rather short) glory days of 5 mana, Highlander Mage players will miss it.
Paladin is losing a lot this rotation, and given that the class is already not in the best state currently (it’s not the worst class, but it’s below average), it might be having a hard time unless it gets some really good tools in the upcoming expansion. All of the currently viable Paladin builds – Mech, Holy Wrath and even Murloc – will be gone. The class will be left with Pure Paladin or maybe some form of Aggro Paladin, but it’s fair to say that those aren’t very promising.
Let’s start with the biggest package – Mechs. Glow-Tron, Annoy-o-Module, Mechano-Egg and Kangor's Endless Army are all out. This is already quite a lot, but if given the fact that the entire Neutral Mech package is also rotating, the currently most popular / strongest Paladin deck (Mech Paladin) will be completely useless in a month or so. This year we’ve seen two variants of the deck – slower one back in Rise of Shadows (after Glowstone Technician buff) and an Aggro one that’s popular right now. We’ve also seen a bunch of Mechs/Mech synergies in Quest (Making Mummies) Paladin, so it’s another deck that will be hurt by those cards rotating out.
Then, we’ve got the “control” package – Crystalsmith Kangor, Flash of Light, High Priest Thekal, Time Out! and Shrink Ray. All of those cards have seen play in slower Paladin builds. They gave the deck more healing, better use of healing (Thekal – you could turn your HP into Armor and then you wouldn’t overheal), an amazing although pretty annoying to play against stall tool (Time Out) and an AoE “removal” (Shrink Ray does not exactly remove stuff, but it makes big threats much weaker and easier to deal with). Losing all of that will hurt, and it will hurt hard. Each one of those cards has seen play in Holy Wrath Paladin, and losing them is not all. The most important piece in the entire deck – Shirvallah, the Tiger – is also going to rotate out (oh, and the Neutral Baleful Banker, which we’ve already covered). It all means that this combo is simply dead.
Adding salt to the injury, what’s currently Paladin’s main draw engine will be gone. Crystology and Prismatic Lens are rotating out. Both of those were good and has some slightly different uses, but e.g. Holy Wrath Paladin has played both. Crystology was incredibly powerful after its buff (from 2 to 1 mana) and was used in most of Paladin builds. It was easy to put some 1 Attack minions into your deck (you usually didn’t even have to try hard), and drawing 2 for 1 mana is great. Prismatic Lens, besides the usual “draw”, had another use – a combo tool. The idea was that either the only spell or only minion you played was some big, combo card and using Prismatic Lens would always draw it. Murloc Paladin used Tip the Scales as the only spell besides Lens, and if you drew lens, you could summon a board full of Murlocs on Turn 4-5. Then, Phaoris Paladin used – you’ve guessed it – King Phaoris as the only minion. The rest of deck were spells – so if you played Lens, you always drew Phaoris and then could usually play him for cheap, summoning a board full of random minions (one 10-drop given that the spell you drew alongside him now costed 10). Those combos will, obviously, no longer be viable.
Then we’ve got a Secret package – Autodefense Matrix, Hidden Wisdom and Bellringer Sentry. While Secret Paladin never “took off” in a big way, even after it got more synergies in Year of the Dragon, the package has seen some play here and there. Either in full Secret Paladins that were mostly off-meta, or more recently in Highlander Paladin, a build that had seen a solid amount of play in Saviors of Uldum. Players might have tried to learn on the Secret synergies early into the new Standard year, but without those it will be much harder.
Glowstone Technician hasn’t seen any play until Rise of Shadows, where it was buffed as a part of “Rise of the Mech” event from 6 to 5 mana. It was a big change. Given that the card relies on you having lots of minions in the hand to be efficient, in general you didn’t want to play too much until dropping Glowstone. And it’s much easier to hold back until Turn 5 than Turn 6. It was a solid handbuff card – slow tempo play immediately (because 5 mana 3/4 is not good), but just 2-3 minions buffed made it worth it. It has seen a lot of play in the slower Mech Paladin build I’ve already mentioned above – one of the most powerful ways to play the deck was to go slow until Turn 5, drop Glowstone, and then have 3-4 incredibly powerful turns full of buffed minions. Similar strategies will no longer be viable, at least not until Paladin gets another solid handbuff card.
And finally, Prince Liam is an interesting case – for a very long time, I didn’t think that the card will be playable. But then it turned out to actually be a pretty solid option in some faster Paladin builds, including Odd Paladin. The thing is that if you played multiple 1-drops in your deck, they became pretty useless later in the game. You needed them to have your first turns covered, but on Turn 7 or 8 you’d rather draw a random Legendary than a 1-drop. And that’s what Liam did. He was never an absolute staple, but his effect was quite interesting and stronger than lots of people thought. He consistently appeared in some higher win rate builds.