Blizzard just announced their new plan for Hearthstone’s future and I could not be more excited. In the new format old expansions are going to rotate out every year. So starting this spring when Blizzard releases the next expansion a new format will be created: Standard. This format will include Classic (+ basic cards), Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, League of Explorers and the new set coming this spring (check it out here), meaning Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes rotate out. If you want to play with Kel'Thuzad you will need to queue up for a game of Wild, the other format.
As the meta shakes itself out, we will get to see new powerful cards that were being held back for not being statted quite right and defunct decks coming back around for another shot at glory (hello there Tomb Pillager and Savage Combatant).
This change is unique in the history of hearthstone: a large amount of cards will be rotating out. We are used to seeing cards being added to the card pool all the time, but what is effect on the meta of removing cards? As card pools get smaller, decks get less efficient and generally the meta slows down. Decks are worse at executing their game plan and midrange value minions like Cairne Bloodhoof and Sylvanas Windrunner get more popular.
Evaluating specific cards is all fun and good, but let’s try to look at the meta holistically: What decks will be played?
Naxx and GvG, the sets being kicked out, are much stronger than the more recent TGT or BRM so the Classic set of cards are going to have a huge impact on what the new standard is going to look like. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to before any expansions were released and check out what the Classic only meta looked like. Keep in mind some of these decks are defunct because their engines were so busted they got nerfed(*cough* Starving Buzzard and Gadgetzan Auctioneer *cough*).
Classic meta decks courtesy of liquid hearth:
Midrange and Aggro Hunter
On top of that all the decks are trying as hard as they possibly can to beat Miracle Rogue so some of the lists might be a little wonky. Now let’s look at what BRM, TGT and LOE add to the mix:
Now that we took stock of what we have, let’s quickly look at what is rotating out for Standard.
Categories of cards will rotate out with Naxx and GvG:
Defensive cards (Zombie Chow, Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Antique Healbot)
Sticky early minions (Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, Mad Scientist)
Mechs (good riddance)
The widest reaching implications for the meta are the first two: losing all the top tier defensive options and no more sticky minions. In a way, they balance each other out. Sticky minions were hard to answer so you needed better defensive options. However, the quality of taunts and healing in Classic is really lacking. You don’t believe me? Midrange Shamans and Handlocks had to outrace Hunters with only Earthen Ring Farseer’s heal. It was not a pretty sight.
The biggest ramification of a format without Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Antique Healbot is that it’s really soft to combo kills. How do you defend against a Freeze Mage without them? Or Druids? Or Malygos Rogue and Warlocks? Sen'jin Shieldmasta and Refreshment Vendor help us.
Decks Gone Wild:
Patron Warrior: Death's Bite +Unstable Ghoul
Priest: Lightbomb, Dark Cultist + Velen's Chosen
Oil Rogue: Tinker's Sharpsword Oil
Midrange and Secret Paladin: Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle + Coghammer
Demon Zoo and Handlock: Voidcaller and Mal'Ganis
These decks suffer so much from losing these key cards that its unlikely they will find a place in the new meta. Out of the lot Priest still might be able to compete with a Dragon build but Control Priest is going to lose its best boardclear.
The New Gold Standard
Alright this is the juicy part: The decks that are poised to dominate the Standard meta.
Midrange Druid: This deck deserves its own tier because right now it’s looking to be plain disgusting. Force of Nature + Savage Roar backed by Druid of the Claw and Ancient of Lore boosted by Innervate, Darnassus Aspirant, Wild Growth and Emperor Thaurissan. Remember how I lamented the loss of defensive options a few paragraphs ago because it makes stopping combo decks really hard? Druid both gets to kill its opponents easier and keep good taunts and healing.
Murloc Paladin: How can a deck that’s tier 2 at best be billed as the second best deck in the game post rotation? Look at this list: Neviilz’s Anyfin. The deck loses very little in the rotation. You can just swap Sludge Belchers for Sen'jin Shieldmastas and Antique Healbots for Holy Light. You know what else this deck loses in the rotation? Natural predators Loathebs and Sludge Belchers
Aggro Shaman: Trading Crackle for crippling midrange deck’s defensive options? Deal. Tunnel Trogg joins Mana Wyrm as the only playable 1 drops and Totem Golem takes Shielded Minibot’s belt as a champion 2 drop.
Miracle Rogue: Even at 6 mana Gadgetzan Auctioneer is starting to see some play in the ladder. It doesn’t seem better than Oil Rogue, but not facing Loatheb sure is a relief. One of the biggest boons to the deck is that Tomb Pillager will not longer be getting its ass kicked by Piloted Shredder and trades profitably into 3/5 minions.
Hybrid/Face Hunter: Hunter never really loses its main way to interact with combo decks: killing them before they go off. Losing Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist really hurts your early game, but everyone else’s early game is also shot to hell.
Tier 2 in no particular order:
Mid Shaman: The meta slowing down and the lack of sticky minions will help, but the main reason Midrange Shaman looks ready to come back into the meta is Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem duo into Tuskarr Totemic is the best early game available. The deck probably would run Healing Wave over Antique Healbot anyway.
Freeze Mage: Not losing much from the rotation other than Mad Scientist is a good sign. In a combo-centric world Ice Block looks really strong and Emperor Thaurissan lets you race combo decks that would be naturally faster than it. Druid looking too dominant is the only caveat.
Tempo Mage: Speaking of losing Mad Scientist Tempo Mage is not thrilled to pay retail for its secrets, but Mirror Entity is good enough that it might still be worth it. The good news is that some variants were cutting secrets with moderate success and most of the deck remains intact with Flamewaker, Sorcerer's Apprentice and Mana Wyrm ready to fight the good fight.
Zoo: Nerubian Egg and Imp-losion will be sorely missed, well Nerubian Egg at least. Zoo was a deck before them and will be a deck after them though. Small Zoo can put on a lot of pressure but will be much more vulnerable to board wipes. Is Brann Bronzebeard the future of Zoo?
Dragon Priest: The deck has never really taken off and Velen's Chosen leaving its arsenal is not a good sign. On the bright side Twilight Guardian is the best taunt around so there is so hope.
Control Warrior: Although the deck doesn’t lose all that much (sorry Shieldmaiden) it does not look well positioned in a Druid led new order with Anyfin Can Happen playing second fiddle. Resorting to Ogre Warmaul or Arcanite Reaper is also something I’m sure nobody is looking forward to.
Handlock and Malylock: I put them both here for the same reason: lack of healing. I have a hard time believing either deck can hold off aggro, Freeze Mage or Druid without being able to heal up.
Reno: Although Reno Jackson provides a boatload of healing, a deck full of 1 offs really suffers from a smaller cardpool. Reno decks already run suspect cards like Feugen and Stalagg so I don’t really want to think what they will need to resort to when Naxx and GvG rotate.
The Balance Hammer
Ben Brode has stated he is open to a more liberal use of the nerf bat balance hammer on Classic set cards for this unique ocasion. It’s pretty clear that Druid is totally busted and Control decks are totally screwed. Let’s hope the spring set brings some decent if not Sludge Belcher quality taunts and Brode gives Innervate the Starving Buzzard treatment.