Blizzard is shaking up its Warcraft-themed digital card game, Hearthstone, with a slew of changes coming this year. Unlike its prior habit of alternating smaller Adventure releases with larger Expansions, 2017 will see three of the latter full-size sets added to the game. But they're also taking away half a dozen cards from the competitive Standard format, including fan favorites Ragnaros the Firelord and Sylvanas. Welcome to the Year of the Mammoth.
A year ago, Blizzard faced the possibility that their upcoming content additions would fail to edge out existing cards that were dominating the meta. So the studio made a fateful decision to split Hearthstone's main play into two modes: Standard, with the original cards plus the last year of Expansions, and Wild, which would include every card ever printed. The first addition of 2016, last April's Whispers Of The Old Gods, added 130-odd new cards to every format while retiring 163 out of Standard.
Hence, the first Expansion planned for this year will knock out cards from 2015's Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournamentand League of Explorers. But that's not all. Turns out Blizzard hasn't been happy with a few cards from the original Classic set that was long thought immune from retirement. Six of them will be placed in the "Hall of Fame," a de facto ban from Standard mode, because they were all dominant in their mana slot or deck choice. Seasoned players will lament the loss of these auto-includes, but new and casual players will rejoice at never having to face the tiresome Hall of Fame'd legendary cards they never got access to. Silver lining: If you had any of the six, Blizzard will award you its full dust cost without the need to disenchant it as a mea culpa.
On the plus side, assuming each of this year's Expansions are as large as their 130-odd card predecessors, we should see twice as many cards added to the game in The Year Of The Mammoth as we did in 2016. Obviously, that's a huge jump in content, but some might mourn the loss of the single-player Adventures. Fear not! Blizzard is going to augment its new Expansions, starting with the second one of the year, with optional single-player thematic storytelling and fun challenges. And to keep Wild in the loop, the studio is planning a revival of its hardcore Heroic Tavern Brawl specifically for the all-card format as well as work with third parties to host dedicated Wild tournaments.
So when does the fun start, and the first Expansion launch to kick off Year of the Mammoth?? Well, we don't know.
Blizzard is notoriously coy with stating release dates; Aside from stating it will appear in Q2, they probably won't announce it until a month or so ahead of launch. But canny fans uncovered clues last week suggesting the first Expansion could be a dinosaur-themed romp called The Lost Secrets of Un'Goro. We'll probably find out leading up to April, since that's the month Whispers of the Old Gods was released last year and League of Explorers launched in 2015.
Once the cat's out of the bag, you can expect Blizzard to be sounding the trumpets to get players back in the saddle. Per their post, the studio promises daily rewards simply for logging in, including card-crafting dust, gold and Expansion packs with other unnamed perks. Plus, the next hero (read: Alternate portrait, with no in-game effects) will be a gleeful Easter Egg for Warcraft veterans as Maiev Shadowsong arrives for the Rogue class. That sums up all the great things ahead for Hearthstone in 2017 -- see you on the board, card fanatics.