Finally!!! Standard season is almost upon us ladies and gentlemen, and I could not be more excited. Seriously, I’m losing my mind here. For any of you who follow either of my series, you know how loooong I have been waiting for this. Formats are an important part to any card game, and while it was only a matter of time before Hearthstone jumped on the train, it took a little (way) too long for my liking. Now that we are moving into a new future, it is time to look back into the past. While Standard is coming up fast, many of the sets still remain. Blackrock Mountain is still going to be around, as is The Grand Tournament, Classic, Basic and, of course, Whispers of the Old Gods. While I will break down Whispers in some other articles, here we are going to be looking at the other sets to see what cards may rise to the top in the coming months.
One of the best things about Standard is so many staples are going to be leaving (goodbye Dr. Boom!), making room for other less-used cards to come to the light. While some cards (Flamewaker, Druid of the Claw, Northshire Cleric) are going to still stay at the top, this article is going to look back at some cards that I think may be some real surprises. It is always hard to evaluate cards before a meta takes shape. However, there are some once-great cards, as well as some cards that never saw play under the oppression of Dr. Boom and Piloted Shredder, that could see the light in the next few months. Here I will outline eight cards I think will be very good in the coming standard, and I will explain why that is.
Note: This is by no means the end-all of what’s coming. It’s just a little bit of speculation and insight from a high-level player who’s been at this a long (long) while. Enjoy.
While a lot of the popular decks in Hearthstone are going to remain at the top, most of them are going to change in one way or another. One such deck is Tempo Mage, which is losing a few of its lower cost options like Unstable Portal and Flamecannon. Though most of the list is going to remain unchanged, it is going to need replacements to fill the void. I think Fallen Hero could be one of those options. A 3/2 is a fine option in a world that is losing so many key two drops, and the ability can really take over the early game if this card goes unanswered. I would see this card a lot like Knife Juggler, an aggressive early game tool that can also come down in the middle turns of the game to clear your opponent’s minions.
It is important to note that Fallen Hero does not really fit into the Tempo Mage that we see today. The current version is much more spell based on runs on large combo turns to put on pressure that allow them to dictate the pace of the game and set up their finishers. I think Tempo Mage is going to gravitate towards more minions that help control the pace of the game (such as Mukla, Tyrant of the Vale) instead of the shell that just tries to end the game with finishers. Fallen Hero does that quite well, giving the deck more versatility, more options, and more removal. It is easy to get caught up on this only as a two drop, but it really is a “must answer” for many decks that also doubles as a pretty solid 3/2 Keeper of the Grove. And, at the end of the day, that’s all Tempo Mage can really ask for.
With Naxrammas gone, the age of deathrattle is finally at its end. Many staple cards that were once so powerful because of their stickiness (Nerubian Egg, Haunted Creeper, Piloted Shredder) are gone. As a result, Harvest Golem once again becomes a very viable option for many decks that just care about getting a body onto the board. It has been a long time since the 2/3 for three was any good, but it once was one of the strongest early game cards around. Stat-wise it is a 4/4 for three, but spread out across two bodies (making it better than something like Ogre Brute). It is resistant to AOE, works really well with buffs, and does a good job of dodging spot removal. Something that is really important to note about Harvest Golem is that it has a very solid deathrattle effect. That might seem mundane, but it also has a lot of smaller interactions with things like Museum Curator.
One of the tricky things about Harvest Golem is figuring out what decks are going to want to play it. No matter how strong a card is, if there is no deck for it, it won’t see the light of day. It is most likely going to once again be an auto-inclusion in Zoo, but I think Token Druid (which I think has a chance to return) would love this card as well. Though, it is also a very solid midrange tool that helps decks like Druid or Shaman secure the board before larger minions start coming down. This may not be good enough in some builds, but in decks that just want something to contest aggro, it can win the game. Grindier aggro decks (such as Paladin or Druid) could also adopt this card just to always have something around. It may seem small, but being able to keep anything on the board (even a 2/1) can go a long way.
Piloted Shredder is no more, and the four spot is up for grabs. I would say that out of every slot, this is the most important in the coming weeks. There are several choice vying for it, and they all could be viable in their own way. However, one card I am particularly interested in is Fireguard Destroyer. While it has some of the best natural stats in the game, this card did not see play for two reasons. One, Midrange Shaman (which this really needs to be used effectively) has not existed in its full form for quite some time. And two, it just couldn’t matchup to the world of deathrattle (did I mention how excited I am that Piloted Shredder is gone?). However, as things slow down in Whispers, there is a very good chance this comes back. In a game where stats are important, this card has the potential to be king, or at least challenge the throne.
The biggest thing this card has going for it is Midrange Shaman, which I think has the potential to be an absolute powerhouse in the coming months. That deck already has a fantastic four drop in Master of Evolution, but this really could see play right along with it. I am not saying this is an inherently OP or over-the-top card, but without Piloted Shredder there are very few turn four plays that can challenge it. A 4/6 for four is strong enough on paper, but a 5/6, 6/6 or 7/6 can really help Shaman run away with the game. In fact, many decks like Control Warrior or Zoo are going to have to commit valuable resources to clearing this out, since it is an immediate threat. And, in a midrange deck, you are going to come out on top in games where your opponent uses an Execute on a four drop.
I think when evaluating new cards you need to take a special look at legendaries. This is because they tend to have very unique effects that can be very good in the right situation. In fact, there are many legendary minions in the game that have never seen much play but have always been on the edge of being very strong. One of those is Nexus-Champion Saraad, a card that can just give all sorts of crazy value if it survives for even one turn. The five drop is obviously not up to the power of many of the other legendaries in the game, but that does not mean it’s not strong. If unanswered it can take over a game, and it is always going to give you some immediate value (the mark of almost every playable legendary). While he is quite easy to answer, I think that is going to shift as time moves on.
It is best to think of Nexus-Champion Saraad as a seven drop with a very unique ability. Yes, it doesn’t put two Boom Bots into play, but it can hold its own, especially as a midrange or control tool. Many have already asked the question of “will inspire cards be good?” in the coming Standard format. I honestly think the general answer to that is no, since no matter how slow this game gets you cannot reliably expect things to live that long. However, a few could easily rise to the top. Of course, any inspire card will generate a ton of value if left alone for a long period of time, but Saraad is a little different because of his stats and ability are fine for the cost. This is a minion that many are sleeping on, but I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people.
This is one of the cards on the list I am the most unsure about. Argent Commander is a very straight forward minion that (once again) has the potential to be really, really strong. The reason is, if my list is any indication, I think midrange is going to come back in a big, big way. Aggro is going to have its time in the sun, and some control decks will hang around, but I think a lot of games are going to be controlled by the mid-game. Admittedly, that could very well not be true, but if it is Argent Commander should make a push back into a lot of decks. The six drop was once a very solid tool. It was a 4/2 that could push for lethal, kill Azure Drake or just trade with any other 4-health-or-less minion and also leave a body behind. Shaman is the class that most liked this card, and while it does not quite fit the Paladin and Hunter style, I think Druid could easily adopt it as well for extra burst to go along with Swipe.
Those of you who did not play during Hearthstone’s early years probably have no idea just how strong this legendary Tauren once was, but Cairne Bloodhoof used to be the legendary. A 4/5 that makes another 4/5 is an incredibly powerful tool that crushed midrange and control decks alike. However, as time passed and 5 attack (or five health) became the benchmark for the midrange cards, the deathrattle six drop quickly faded from favor. Now, the two biggest reason for Cairne’s dissapearance (Sludge Belcher and Loatheb) are leaving, and he can shine again. Not to mention, Ironbeak Owl and Keeper of the Grove are not going to be as popular as they once were, making deathrattle just that much stronger.
In a world of slow decks, the Cairne father is king. Despite what many think, I am not convinced the meta is going to slow down. However, I do think there will be a spot for solid midrange decks to rise, and Cairne is going to be a big part of that. The reason is that he is, once again, one of the stickiest minions in the game. That means he does a very nice job of holding down the board for a turn or two while you set up something bigger. He is the bane of control decks everywhere, but it is also important to note that this card could also move into control decks that used to run it for value like Warrior. However, I will note the legendary tauren is quite slow, and this is not the thing people are going to sleeve up if they are facing a constant stream of Aggro Shaman or Face Hunter.
The Black Knight
Speaking of cards that used to be everywhere, The Black Knight is a fantastic tempo swing (even better than a certain Hunter) that just plummeted in value during the days of Naxxramas. A 4/5 for six is not great, but a 4/5 for six that kills your opponent’s minion is. This, like Nexus-Champion Saraad, is a small-inclusion legendary that has a very, very strong ability. Of course, TBK is much more situational, but the upside here is so high that it is worth looking at in a taunt-heavy meta. Even if the meta is only half filled with taunts, this card could be very important to both midrange and control as a way to come back in games that you are behind in. There are not too many catch-up minions in the game, but is one of the best.
One thing that could be holding The Black Knight back is the fact that Druid got completely gutted as a class. Ramp may still be a deck (though I am not sure about that), but Midrange is no longer going to be viable. This means there are many less Druid of the Claws running around than their once were. In addition, Sludge Belcher is also out of the format, which takes away one of the best TBK targets ever printed. However, people are going to need a way to respond to aggro, which means they are most likely going to play some sort of taunt. Healing has gotten much more rare, and most decks that want to play slower are going to need to set up some roadblocks. This card capitalizes on that, and you should keep this one mind while building your decks for the new format.
“What?” you may be asking yourself. Icehowl? I mean, Icehowl?? I know, I get it. This is easily the most “out there” card on this list. However, I think this card actually has a lot of potential in the coming days. Icehowl is a legendary that has seen very play since it was printed, but it is actually much stronger than people give it credit for. Though it cannot attack your opponent’s face, this card is an instant removal spell that can kill just about any big minion in the game or trade into multiple smaller bodies. In that way, this card is almost like a worse, nuetral-Gorehowl. While this would only see play in heavier control decks (or Druid) I think it works very well as a strong removal option for classes like Paladin that don’t quite have the tools they want in terms of spot removal.
The biggest knock against Icehowl is that it is very slow. However, the news tools from Whispers make me think that there will be at least a few control decks in the meta, and this card works very well for those style lists. The most obvious inclusion would be Druid, which lacks hard removal, but I could see this as a very strong tool in many decks across the board. It kills just about every other big minion in the game, and it can really shine against midrange decks, where it can remove two or three solid threats. Yes, nine mana is always going to be a lot to pay, there’s no getting around that, but it is not that much when you need to get something off of the board. It also is a big legend with an immediate impact, which is going to be more important than ever.
While this does not cover every single thing that I think is going to have a large impact on Standard, I will look at more in my other series as times moves on. It is still too early to tell how things are going to shake out, but there is some real promise in a lot of under-utilized cards that may shoot right back into the game. Many decks are going to change, and others are going to fade out completely. The chaos of a new set is coming coupled with the chaos of a new format, and there is no telling what is going to become good. As always, thanks for reading guys, and have a good week!