One of the biggest changes coming to Hearthstone in 2019 is an entirely new format called Specialist. The community reaction to the Specialist format has been mixed at best.
The YouTube video posted on the official Hearthstone channel yesterday has garnered an overwhelmingly negative reaction. At the time of writing, the video has over 1,000 thumbs down and just under 500 thumbs up.
So why is the community reacting so negatively to Specialist format? If you browse the comments on YouTube or a Reddit thread on the topic, it seems like there’s a variety of reasons. Primarily, this isn’t what the community wanted when they were begging for a sideboard. In most trading card games, a sideboard allows a player to drastically alter their deck between rounds by swapping numerous cards. Players are also upset that you’ll have to use decks of the same class and archetype. This means you’ll feel destined to lose certain matches from the start.
Specialist will be the competitive format for the new Hearthstone Masters Tour. In this format, players will select three 30-card decks to use in a match. Each match will be decided when a player has won two out of three games. Players’ decks will be labeled Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Both players start the match with their Primary deck, and after each round, they have the option of switching to their Secondary or Tertiary deck.
The catch, however, is the Secondary and Tertiary deck both have to share at least 25 cards with your Primary deck. Plus all three decks must be from the same class. This is clearly Blizzard’s attempt at implementing a sideboard-like mechanic into Hearthstone. Unfortunately, based on the community reaction, it doesn’t seem as though Blizzard has done so in a satisfactory manner.
When calling for the introduction of a sideboard, many players reference Magic the Gathering as a comparison. In MTG competitive play, matches are in a best-of-three format and each player is allowed to bring 15 extra cards in addition to their deck. Even though MTG’s library count is higher than Hearthstone’s, the number of cards you’re able to sideboard in MTG still gives you the ability to drastically change your deck.
With the Specialist format, it feels more like players are being given the option to use some very specific tech cards that will only benefit their deck in certain matchups. This means in other matchups, their Secondary and Tertiary deck will be essentially useless. A player’s Primary deck will be the best version of a given archetype, so they’d have no reason to use either of their side decks.
The reaction isn’t just petty community bandwagon rage, either. Former Hearthstone world champion James “Firebat” Kostesich echoed many of the community’s concerns in a post on Twitter shortly after the announcement.
Firebat said his primary issue is that the format will yield inconsistent results for top players. He also agreed with many other people in the community who are stressing how matchup dependent victory will be. Firebat claimed that five cards in a sideboard isn’t enough to make lineup preparation feel useful.
So far, the Hearthstone team is staying tight-lipped about the community backlash to the Specialist format. We’ll probably have to actually play the format before changes are implemented, and the team may not feel the need to make changes at all. For now, players who want to compete better be preparing their Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary decks because Specialist is the format they’re stuck with.