Last week, Blizzard introduced a new path forward for its hugely popular card game Hearthstone with two new formats: Standard and Wild. Wild is the exact same Hearthstone you’ve been playing, but Standard will restrict the card pool to both the classic and basic sets, as well as any expansions from the previous two years.
That means that this spring, players in Standard won’t be able to pull from either the Curse of Naxxramas or Goblins vs. Gnomes. Next year The Grand Tournament, League of Explorers, and Blackrock Mountain will be on the chopping block, and so on and so forth.
This is obviously a big deal, so a couple days ago I managed to catch up with Hearthstone lead designer Ben Brode. We talked about the new formats, reopened design space, and how exactly we’re going to be able to play mech decks in 2016.
The community has reacted pretty positively to the news. Is that a relief for you? Were you at all worried about the reaction?
We tried pretty hard to make sure that we were doing things that everyone would be excited about. Players wanted a more dynamic, changing environment, and we also wanted a home for people to play with cards from Naxxramas or Goblins vs. Gnomes with its own ranked rewards. We’re pretty happy with where we’re at.
This is going to open up so much design space for you guys. I think of a card like Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, which is a Rogue weapon buff. You haven’t been able to print too many cards like that because if you do you open the door to people building, like 15 attack weapons, which is just one example. Are you excited to have a cleaner slate?
There certainly are designs that we thought were hard to make in a static environment, because they’d become part of that environment forever. We thought they’d be better as something we can rotate in and out. In Wild, it’s still exciting to have cards that make a big splash there, and we think that’s going to be a more powerful format. But there are certain designs we want to see work in a less-powerful format too.
One of the concerns a lot of people have with Standard has to do with the tribal synergies. You think back to Goblins vs. Gnomes which introduced all the mech cards, and now it’s going to be really hard to run Mech Mage in Standard, or newer cards like Gorillabot and Clockwork Knight won’t have too many targets. Is that something you’re worried about?
I think there are opportunities to continue those trends, the Murloc tribe was all established in the Classic set for instance, but it’s also okay for things to ebb and flow and not be a huge factor all the time, and maybe come back in a couple years or maybe a new tribe shows up and dominates the environment. It’s good to have a combination of that.
When you put out Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes in 2014, did you know eventually that you would institute some sort of system like this?
Even before we launched Hearthstone we knew we couldn’t just put out new content til infinity. There are so many cards that are confusing for new players, and it’s hard to make a sizable impact on the metagame when there’s a ton of stuff to compete with. We knew we had to do something, but we didn’t know exactly what. Over the last year we’ve been brainstorming, and that’s where the formats came from.
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