I’ll give credit to Blizzard’s clutchness. About a week after a Reddit post went viral decrying Hearthstone’s lack of features and a couple days after my article detailing much of the same, the publisher announced Tavern Brawl, a brand new mode for everyone’s favorite digital card game.
Yes, Hearthstone’s ladder is still primitive, arena is still unranked, and deckslots are still locked at nine. But this is certainly a step in the right direction. Tavern Brawl, as we understand it, looks to re-energize a game that desperately needs it. Blizzard, in its usual deft way, has created a brand new platform that should have plenty of legs.
Tavern Brawl is not fundamentally dissimilar from ladder or arena. You enter a queue and get slotted against another player. The catch? Every week the Brawl will have some sort of arcane requirement attached to the decks you can play. So, one week you might be only able to run minions that have two attack, the next week you might be forced to run at least 12 murlocs, the week after that maybe you choose from three hyper-specific premade decks. If this mechanic sounds familiar, it’s similar to what TempoStorm is doing with Challengestone, the much acclaimed new tournament that puts a greater focus on deckbuilding than appeasing the current meta.
The primary strikes against the ladder and arena is a sense of repetitiveness—you can’t honestly tell me you’re excited about Druid vs. Handlock for the 12th time in a row. Blizzard can constantly reinvent Tavern Brawl. The mode will force oblique, potentially hilarious gameplay. It’s unranked, which means there’s nothing stopping Blizzard from, say, giving both players a deck completely made up of Unstable Portals and letting chaos reign. Sure that RNG would get old after a while, which is why these variations will be switching out every week. Some weeks will reward careful deckbuilding and innovation, some weeks will push this game to its bloody, screaming extremes. How about “both players start with a stealthed Kel’Thuzad?” There’s no reason it can’t happen!
I mentioned Challengestone above, which forces players to create decks corresponding to specific directions. What if Blizzard decides to release the Tavern Brawl modifications to the public, where we could decide what buffs, nerfs, bans, and freedoms the players compete under? It could spawn a whole new genre of professional Hearthstone.
Hearthstone feels overwhelmingly static right now. Between the mediocre cards of the Blackrock Mountain expansion and the distant memory of Goblins vs. Gnomes, this game needs Tavern Brawl. We don’t know what the reward system is going to be, and it remains to be seen if the Brawl’s mandates will be severe enough to prune readymade ladder decks from its queue. But it’s a great promise. It comes in a patch that’s also asking us to spend a combined $30 on new hero portraits, so it genuinely feels like an olive branch from Blizzard. A reminder that yes, development on core features is still happening—and the community is being heard.