With League of Explorers now fully released and the year coming to an end, I’d like to take a minute to say kudos to the Hearthstone team at Blizzard for a job very well done.
A few things about me as I am new here: I started playing a little over half a year ago, hit Legend once 3 months ago and slightly lost interest after that due to the stale meta. Now I am back with full enthusiasm due to LoE, and I’d like to point out 5 things that I really like about it.
#1: Big Meta Shakeup
- First of all, the Hearthstone team managed to significantly shake up the meta with only a few cards. I am looking at you Reno Warlock, Raptor Rogue and Face Shaman, and maybe more decks will follow in the wake.
- Of course we’ll have to wait to see how well the new decks perform at the highest level, but so far my personal feeling is that the meta is undergoing a much bigger shakeup than after the release of TGT. This was welcome and necessary, and I am glad they brought this shakeup with an adventure rather than an expansion. The adventures give the game a pay to play character – which I prefer over the RNG-based pack model.
#2: Iterated Release – Keeps The Meta in Flux Longer
- Second, I really liked the iterated release schedule. Releasing the wings one by one with key cards in each wing meant that the meta was in flux longer, as it has been almost constantly since the launch of LoE. This makes the meta feel more dynamic, and especially ladder play is much less stale this way. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this effect does not wear off too soon. I’ve already but forgotten the times when playing Ranked felt like going through an infinite loop of facing the same handful of decks over and over and over again.
- I can see a future for Hearthstone where they release a few new key cards every month or every two weeks, keeping the game at a slow pace of constant evolution.
#3: Elise Starseeker – Allows New Players to Enjoy Legendaries
- Wow! I love the concept and the way they implemented it. And here is why: Cheap access to legendary minions without unbalancing the game.
- For many players legendary minions are the single most fun element in Hearthstone. The effects and animations are mostly intriguing and well made. It’s always fun to throw one of these buggers into the battlefield. For new players it takes quite a bit of dollar or a tremendous amount of time to have access to most of them. Elise Starseeker functions as a test drive for legendaries. You get to try them out, but you don’t get to keep them for the next match.
- The best thing about it is that they added this sneak peak mode with no risk to hurt the overall balance of the game. The Golden Monkey mechanic is overall unpredictable and most advanced players will likely not play Elise. The top decks are so well honed that in all but the rarest of situations it wouldn’t be a beneficial move to turn the deck into a collection of random legendaries. That said, even if an advanced player plays Elise and finds the Golden Monkey, in many cases he might end up not playing it because he has a better chance to win the game with his original hand.
- For new players running basic decks it’s the exact opposite. Elise is a solid minion that fits into every deck, and if they do find the Golden Monkey via the Map to the Golden Monkey, it’ll be fun unleashed and possibly a great advantage if their opponent is also running a basic deck. On top of that, though extensive, the search for the Golden Monkey is quite adorably staged, and you’re never annoyed by the process. So overall the implementation is clever and well done.
#4: Sir Finley – Opens Up Class Restrictions
- Finley is another very clever play by the Hearthstone team. It’s a fact that the hero powers lock the classes into specific play styles on the aggro/control scale. There is a reason there are no aggro Warrior or control Hunter archetypes. That is because by building such a deck you would essentially forfeit your hero power, significantly weakening your deck’s options and consistency. So by introducing Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Blizzard opened up the meta even more than we’re aware of just yet. Finley already plays a pivotal role in Face Shaman, and I’m looking forward to the new archetypes that will arise.
- I really like their solution to this problem of class-locked archetypes. Instead of adding some clunky mechanism to the game where a hero can have two different hero powers or something similar, they came up with a way to use the game’s existing mechanics. I love it.
#5: Tavern Brawl: Decks Assemble (Discover Mechanic) – Testdrive New Ideas For Arena
- I know this has nothing to do with LoE per se, but that particular Tavern Brawl took place during the LoE release phase to show off the new Discover mechanic. So it’s somewhat related. For those of you who don’t remember, it was the one where you got to choose a new card for your deck at the beginning of every turn via the Discover mechanic, you discarded your hand and drew 5 random new cards after every turn, and after you played a card, a copy of it went back into your deck.
- I loved that Tavern Brawl. I clocked over 100 games on that particular brawl alone.
Why? Because essentially it was a more fun way to play Arena. Arena? That’s right! It’s related. In both modes you build your deck by picking one of three cards for every slot. Only here you got to pick situationally (and you got more legendaries overall:-) and that made all the difference for me. I tried playing Arena after that TB and I had a hard time to find it enjoyable any longer. Suddenly it felt so dull and lengthy to pick all your cards before you start playing, fidgeting and hoping you get a decent deck together – with one legendary at most. (For the record, I consider drafting a good Arena deck to be a real and profound skill, so my argument here is purely about the fun I had.)
- So why did I enjoy this mode so much more than traditional Arena? The situational draft via the discover mechanic felt much more direct and dynamic. Direct, because you could dive directly into your game instead of having to go through a lengthy drafting process first. And dynamic, because this mode gave you more ways to react to your opponent’s play style, since you are not limited to the cards in your deck. I could write another article where I go deeper into this aspect of being able to react to your opponent, and why I think this is extremely important for a game like Hearthstone – Let me know in the comments if you are interested.
- Another thing I really liked about that TB ist that you didn’t lose your cards when you played them, but that they went back into your deck. This – and the fact that your hand got replenished after each turn – shifted the focus to the turn rather than the match. I spent less time thinking about which cards to keep for later and worrying about which cards my opponent may or may not have in his deck. Instead, I spent much more time thinking about the turn at hand and about the board in front of me, answering the question “What is the best play this turn?”. I really enjoyed that more direct type of play and I think it is a healthy principle in general. It makes the game more accessible for newcomers, simply because you have to know fewer things in order to perform well.
- I hope the Hearthstone team has plans to rework Arena at some point in the future and will borrow elements from this particular Tavern Brawl.
So to sum it up: Great job Hearthstone team! You’ve really outdone yourself and made us a great Christmas present! Thank you for all you’ve done for the game this year!
Did you like anything in particular about LoE that I didn’t mention? Feel free to leave a comment to give kudos to the developers! Beyond that, this is my first article about Hearthstone and I’d like to hear from you if you like this kind of content as it is not a deck guide or a meta analysis, but rather a more general look at the game from a game designer’s perspective. Cheers!