The Hearthstone Core Set 2023 Is the Strongest So Far – How Will It Affect the Meta?

Blizzard revealed all the Core Set cards for 2023 this week, and this set is a banger! There is only a limited number of playable cards that leave Core, and many of the new additions are incredibly powerful. There are current Standard meta cards that would have rotated out like Doggie Biscuit and Darkbishop Benedictus, and even a number of Wild meta cards that will now be available in Standard as well, such as Defile and Armor Vendor.

What will the new Core set mean for the meta? In this article, I will take a look at what the new Core set provides for each class and also try to figure out if there are any playable free Core set decks available in 2023.

Death Knight Rocks On

I was a little scared that Blizzard might balance Death Knight by touching their Core set. After all, the Death Knight Core set is absolutely marvelous with cards like Battlefield NecromancerHarbinger of WinterChillfallen BaronGrave StrengthThassarianGnome MuncherOverseer FrigidaraPatchwerk, and Lord Marrowgar. It is not easy to fathom how a class can have so much power available to them for free.

However, there are no Death Knight changes in the 2023 Core set. The only leaving Neutral card that affects Death Knight is Brann Bronzebeard, and Brann has not been played in all decks anyway. There are also some Neutral Undead joining the Core set: MurmyRotten Applebaum, and a newly invigorated The Black Knight that will become a 4-mana 4/4. I expect it to become a popular tech card if there is a significant number of Taunt minions in the meta.

As a matter of fact, you could build something like this for Death Knight from Core set cards alone:

Yeah, there are several weak cards in the list, such as Bonedigger GeistGraveyard Shift, and Army of the Dead. I also don’t know if the new Core set win conditions Ragnaros the Firelord and Dr. Boom will actually be good enough to play anymore. But still, the deck gives a new player a smooth curve and a couple of flashy end-game cards to play. That is quite something for a free Core set.

When it comes to Death Knight meta decks, they get to keep all of their Core set tools. Death Knight looks solid going into Year of the Wolf.

Demon Hunter Gets More Spells

Demon Hunter sets the stage for how Core set 2023 generally works. The cards the class loses – Kor'vas BloodthornSightless Watcher, and Chaos Nova – saw hardly any play. The cards it receives – Kayn SunfuryImmolation Aura, and Illidari Studies – were all mainstream meta cards back in their day.

Demon Hunter also receives several buffs to some of its weaker Core set cards, like Gan'arg Glaivesmith and Wrathscale Naga becoming 3/3 minions.

The Demon Hunter theme for Festival of Legends seems to be based around tokens, Rush, and Outcast cards, and the changes in the Core set support this theme. The main question is whether that is enough. You don’t just casually replace Jace Darkweaver and Kurtrus, Demon-Render and pretend that nothing happened though. There is still Souleater's Scythe, and the Core set gets two good spells, so that could be the way.

Druid Will Be Ramp and Tokens Again

Druid will actually lose one playable card in the Core set rotation: Earthen Scales is leaving the Core set and the Standard format. However, Druid also gains its good old Eclipse duo back: Solar Eclipse and Lunar Eclipse have both seen a lot of play in the past. Solar Eclipse needs some strong cards to double and Lunar Eclipse needs the aggressive decks in the meta to run suitable targets for its removal effect. Both are good cards, and I am sure they will pop up in Druid decks at some point this year.

However, the Core set change I am the most excited about for Druid is the upcoming buff to Soul of the Forest. The card’s cost will be reduced to three mana, and that can be a game-changer. Soul of the Forest has already been borderline playable, and at three mana, it starts to look like a card that every Token Druid deck will want to include.

There is no Wildheart Guff in the Core set. I half-expected it to be included, wink wink, but nope. That dream, or nightmare, depending on your perspective, is dead.

We have not yet seen much about Druid’s direction in Festival of Legends. So far, it looks like Druid will continue to support a Ramp archetype and a Token archetype. In particular, Drum Circle is coming for Token Druid.

Hunter Has Buffs, But Will It Use Its Hero Power Again Too?

The new Hunter cards in Core are sending some mixed messages. On one hand, we have Dragonbane returning to the Standard format. Dragonbane used to be a good finisher in aggressive Hunter decks. You press your Hero Power all the time anyway, so you might as well deal 5 damage to something as you go. Preferably straight to the face. However, Hunter has not played like that for a while now, because the class has adopted a new buff stance where it gets a minion to stick early on and buffs it to deal damage and force the opponent to spend a lot of resources to remove it. The card that made this style possible is Doggie Biscuit, which is now coming to the Core set instead of leaving Standard.

So we have one of the signature cards of the Hero Power Hunter style and the key card of the buff Hunter style both coming to the Core set. At the same time, Festival of Legends is giving Hunter Bunch of Bananas, another buff card. It seems clear that the buff style will remain in 2023. How will Hero Power use be supported beyond Dragonbane? That remains to be seen.

Mage Brings the Flame

Mage continues the trend of losing nothing of importance and getting some interesting additions. All five Mage cards have been meta cards back in the day. Back in the day does a lot of work here. The power level of Hearthstone has increased and it is by no means certain that cards that were once good are good enough still. Firelands Portal is a prime example of this. It was phenomenal when it was new, but I don’t think it will be good enough anymore.

The other Mage cards look more promising. Stargazer Luna was mainly used with Luna's Pocket Galaxy, but if there is a way to play a lot of cheap cards in Mage, Luna may have something to contribute to the deck. Fire Sale is simply a solid board clear and it is Tradeable, too. Flame Geyser is getting a buff and will cost only one mana. When I see a spell that can go face and costs only one mana, I am immediately thinking about some additional Spell Damage and boom!

The weirdest addition is Arcane Artificer. All Big Spell Mage cards are rotating out of Standard, and Artificer used to be a phenomenal card in Big Spell Mage. The best we have now is Deathborne, I guess? As a whenever-effect, Artificer does give you the armor before it succumbs and becomes a Skeleton. But is that enough of a contribution? Unlikely. Mage will need some more big spells to make this card shine. Perhaps its addition to the Core set is a hint of new Big Spell Mage things to come.

Paladin Has No Secrets!

Paladin will undergo a major change: the class will have no Secrets in the Core set and in the entire Standard format! I guess Paladins having Secrets never made that much sense, anyway, but it is a major change for a class that was known for its Secret Paladin decks and the Christmas tree Mysterious Challenger would build every game.

Instead of Secrets, Paladin will focus on tokens. One of the best token cards of all time is returning to Standard! Muster for Battle used to dominate Hearthstone. Back in 2014. Almost a decade later, it does not have quite the same power, but it can still be a staple in token decks with the right support. Lothraxion the Redeemed is also coming back, but it is unlikely to be the support Token Paladin would need. It is not terrible, but it is not great either.

Paladin will also get some handbuff support in the form of the newly 2/2 Grimestreet Outfitter. It was pretty good back in the day, but it is no Alliance Bannerman, which is rotating out of Standard.

The strongest card Paladin gets is Hand of A'dal. A decent buff in a class that always wants to play with minions, and it draws a card too. Hand of A'dal used to see play in every Paladin deck, and there is no reason to expect anything different this time. It just goes into everything Paladin likes to do.

Paladin will also become better at clearing boards, as Consecration is getting buffed to three mana instead of four. If there are many two-Health minions in the meta, this makes defensive Paladin decks considerably stronger against early aggression. Then again, Lightforged Cariel is rotating out of Standard, so the late-game defenses Paladin has access to are that much weaker.

Priest Goes Shadow

Priest is the only class that loses a deck in the Core set rotation. Radiant Elemental is out. No more infinite spells. That is a big hit.

However, Priest gets ample compensation for its loss. Shadow Ascendant comes back as a 2/3 Undead minion. Shard of the Naaru, the best Silence card in the history of Hearthstone, is added to the Core set. And finally, Shadow Priest lives on as Darkbishop Benedictus is added to the Core set. If you have enjoyed Undead Priest, expect a lot more of that after the rotation. There’s even a revamped Catrina Muerte that resurrects Undead minions only that you can add to your deck.

The second Priest theme is healing. Blizzard is finally making an effort to make healing viable by introducing Overheal as an evergreen keyword and adding multiple Overheal cards to the Core set. Thing is, you still don’t want to spend two mana to use your Hero Power to heal. But if you can get access to some area-of-effect healing spells, the new Overheal minions just might make the cut. I still have more faith in the shadow than in the light for Priest, but at least Blizzard is finally trying to make healing work.

Rogue Loves Secrets Again

The most notable addition to the Rogue Core set is Shadowjeweler Hanar. Hanar used to be a dominant force. Endless streams of Secrets from all classes made Hanar extremely difficult to play against back in the day. It was just so hard to keep track of all possible outcomes. However, Hanar rarely won games on its own. Secrets are good at disrupting the opponent’s gameplay, but they are less good at ending games. Without further tools, Hanar often just fizzled out eventually, and despite making things tedious, it did not win. Now, if you combine Hanar with a win condition, and make Hanar’s role a purely disruptive one, you can have a winner in your hands. Hanar comes with Cheat Death, too, so it can be even more difficult to get rid of.

If there are token decks in the meta, Rogue also gets an excellent tool to fight back in the form of a buffed Fan of Knives. The card now costs only two mana, so it can be used early in the game and weaved into later turns, potentially with some additional Spell Damage, far more effectively.

Finally, there is a small change in Rogue’s damage-dealing spells. Sinister Strike is out, Eviscerate is back in. This is a nerf to potential Rogue OTK decks, as Sinister Strike deal more damage per mana, but Eviscerate is a fine card that has more uses outside of just going face.

Shaman Is Finding Its Identity?

The Shaman Core set focuses on two things: Totems and Overload. Shaman has been all over the place across the years with its most successful archetype in Standard often being focused on random effects through Evolve. Blizzard is not leaving these transformations behind as we can see from Festival of Legends’ JIVE, INSECT!, but the Core set is now looking for more solid ground.

These are some serious tools, too. Thing from Below is one of the strongest Shaman cards ever made, and Grand Totem Eys'or has great potential even though it did not succeed during its time in Standard before. Adding it to the Core set probably indicates that Blizzard is serious about giving it a second chance with more support.

As for Overload, things do not get any better than Overdraft. A card that turns your penalty into an advantage, it is exactly the card any heavy Overload deck wants. You can end your Overload turn with it, or better yet, start a new turn with it to get instant access to all of your mana again. Ancestral Knowledge is also coming back and it has been buffed to only Overload you by one, thereby making it one of the more effective drawing tools in the game.

Also, Hex is finally unnerfed to three mana! It never made any sense to nerf it to four mana in the first place. There’s a lot of good stuff here for Shaman.

Warlock Ditches Discard!

Blizzard has been pushing Discard Warlock hard over the last expansions, but now the tide seems to have turned. Multiple Discard Warlock cards, that did not see any play anyway, are leaving Core, and they are being replaced by big Demons and DefileMal'GanisEnhanced Dreadlord, and Voidcaller would have been a top-tier package some years ago, and may find some competitive capabilities still. Defile is perhaps the best board clear in the history of the game and it remains highly relevant in Wild, so there is no doubt that it can succeed in Standard too.

We will now have a Standard meta where you can have The Jailer make your minions immune and Mal'Ganis make your Hero immune. That’s a tough nut to crack. (It can still be done with non-targeted hard removal.)

Warrior Gets More Taunts

Warrior has been struggling as of late, and it gets the most changes in the new Core set. There are seven new cards added, but whether they are strong enough is another matter. Blizzard continues pushing Taunt Warrior with Frightened Flunky and a 4/8 Armagedillo, but it still seems unlikely for the archetype to succeed.

Heavy PlateBladestorm, Sword Eater, and a newly-buffed Woodcutter's Axe that can buff any minions are the more solid additions. Warrior still does not look too good.

Neutral Pool Gets a Mech Overhaul

Explorer’s League is leaving the Core Set. Reno JacksonElise StarseekerBrann Bronzebeard, and Sir Finley Mrrgglton are all gone. The only other departure of note is Mistress of Mixtures, but it is replaced by Armor Vendor, which is an even better card.

There are lots of big additions to the Neutral Core set. We get three iconic Legendary cards, although it is questionable whether any of them are strong enough to see play anymore. Ragnaros the FirelordDr. Boom, and Zilliax are still big names that are fun to see in Core. I think the most playable new Legendary card in Core is the buffed The Black Knight, which is now a 4-mana 4/4.

Then we have a major influx of powerful tech cards. Dirty Rat against combo, Cult Neophyte for aggressive decks against spells, and Rustrot Viper as anti-weapon tech.

The Core set will also include a strong complement of one-cost minions with the addition of Glacial ShardMurmy, and Tour Guide.

The Mech package is interesting. Bronze GatekeeperReplicating Menace, and Wargear are all getting small stat buffs and getting added to the Core set. This could mean that there will be some interesting Mech decks to play with in 2023, even though the Festival of Legends cards we currently know of do not feature many Mechs at all.

There Is a Lot Going On In This Core Set!

This is definitely the biggest Core set revamp we have seen so far. Also, the developers have said that this year they are open to making changes to the Core set during the year, and not only at the rotation. So, more can be on the way. Still, this is already a big deal.

The main takeaways I have from this Core set are:

  • Death Knight is untouched, so the current Death Knight archetypes are safe
  • Tokens and Outcast for Demon Hunter, but neither has worked before
  • The buffing playstyle remains viable for Hunter, Hero Power may return
  • Mage gets strong cards, but no unifying theme
  • Paladin will play without Secrets in 2023
  • Priest leans more heavily into Shadow and Undead – the current Undead Priest will likely survive the rotation
  • Rogue leans more heavily into Secrets, but they are a disruption, not a win condition
  • Shaman is moving towards Totems and Overload
  • Warlock ditches Discard again and goes into big Demons instead
  • Blizzard is still pushing Taunt Warrior, success seems unlikely
  • Mech package in Neutral, but which classes will be able to use it?

With this much more power in the Core set, can it now support entirely free decks? Unholy Death Knight seems to be the main candidate, as the triple-Unholy cards are all in the Core set. You could try to build some kind of Demon Warlock or maybe a Mech Paladin, but those would likely need at least some more cards from outside the Core set.

Overall, 2023 looks like an interesting year for Hearthstone!

Old Guardian

Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is a writer and video creator focused on analytic, educational Hearthstone, and building innovative Standard format decks. Youtube: Twitch:

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