Should the Classic Set be Evergreen?
When Blizzard announced Standard I felt there was a flaw in the plan, the Classic set would never rotate out. In this piece I will analyse the set as a whole and give my arguments to why I believe the Classic set should rotate out. As always, I want to emphasize that whilst this is my opinion I am always curious to see what other people think, any feedback is appreciated.
Why the Classic Set and not the Basic one?
If it was up to me I would probably like the Basic set to rotate out, but I believe arguing against eliminating the Basic set from the game would be really rough. First of all, implementing this would require Blizzard to spend a lot of resources on a project which wouldn’t provide any revenue. The early level system and all the card rewards for leveling Heroes would have to be rethought and implemented again. Additionally new players should have access to some cards, if not they can’t start playing. Remember, unlike other card games, Blizzard’s business model is free to play, this means that they have to provide the player something to start with. Lastly if one analyses the Basic set one will notice these cards define the class identities: Druid has Wild Growth and Innervate, Mage Fireball and Frostbolt and so on, these are all class specific iconic spells. On the other hand the Classic set is just a set, as Goblin vs Gnomes was, it just came before and it is not tied to the newer player any more than any other set.
The Classic Set: Analysing the Cards
Druid: Before the “Whisper of the Old Gods” nerfs, ten of the cards Druid used to run in the infamous Combo Druid deck used to come from the Classic set. With the nerfs and cards rotating out of standard, the new Yogg Druid still runs ten cards from the Classic set. I think this is problematic as cards such as Wrath will constantly appear in Midrange Druid lists because the card is just too good to not play if you are trying to ramp up to mid-range threats. Additionally consider that since Violet Teacher and Power of the Wild exist in the set alongside each other, Token Druid will always revolve around similar card combinations, limiting innovations in the deck. Overall the Druid cards are not busted, but they are a set of cards which remain core to the class and will never change. It is important to note that I am not referring to cards such as Innervate and Wild Growth which establish the identity of the class, just a bunch of cards that have been played in forever. Overall the classic set for Druid is not broken, but it is solid enough that it will affect deck-building for a long time to come.
Hunter: The first thing to consider with the Hunter class is that if Hunter ever plays traps it has to be Freezing, Explosive or Snake Trap, as I really doubt you can print traps which can do better than the current ones. Explosive Trap is the tech against Zoo like decks, Freezing Punishes control, and Snake is the board control one. Secondly Unleash the Hounds is an interesting design for a card, it punishes wide boards, but cards which synergise with beasts coming on board can never be printed because they would risk breaking the class (cough cough Starving Buzzard). Lastly the best six drop in the game is in Hunter’s Classic cards: Savannah Highmane. This card is so powerful that by itself back in the days of Face Hunter it made it possible to play a deck called Hybrid Hunter, basically Face Hunter with Savannah Highmane thrown in the mix. Having this card forever available in Standard means that we will never have a six drop which can be played in Hunter, unless something unbelievably broken gets printed. I don’t particularly enjoy the prospect of turn six Savannah Highmane until the end of time.
Mage: The Mage Classic set is my favourite set of cards in the game, the card pool is very diverse lending to different play styles. You can go the more aggressive route including Mana Wyrm and Sorcerer Apprentice or the more control route with Blizzard, Ice Block and Archmage Antonidas. The problem is that not rotating out Blizzard makes it so that you will never be able to print any other AOE’s as having access to Blizzard, Flamestrike and all the Freeze is already very frustrating to play against. Additionally early spells have to be printed with caution, Mana Wyrm and Sorcerer Apprentice might benefit too much from the new cards. Overall the set is very cool and is full of iconic cards, but this is exactly the problem, too many good cards which leave less space for new cards to come into the metagame.
Paladin: With Paladin the problem is the opposite, in order to give support to the class you will always have to print some strong cards as the Classic set is very weak. The Secrets, 4/15 cards, are all basically worthless. Equality is a very decent clear, nothing more to say about it. Tirion Fordring will be played in any Paladin deck, it is just too much value to pass over. Aldor Peacekeeper is a really cool card, it works perfectly in Paladin decks neutralizing large minions on board. The flavour of the cards is on point and it is not broken in any way, I compliment Blizzard on this one. The last decent card is Lay on Hands, which for a Control and Midrange type of deck can function decently. The rest of the cards are barely playable. On the whole the Paladin set of cards is severely handicapped because of the really weak Secrets and some underwhelming cards, such as Avenging Wrath.
Priest: Priest is in even worse shape than Paladin, it has 5 playable cards: Auchenai Soulpriest, Circle of Healing, Cabal Shadowpriest, Thoughtsteal and Shadow Madness (I was kind for the last two). This means that if no decent Priest cards are printed the class will be impossible to play, as it is now. I am not enough of a Priest expert to say what the class needs, what I know is that maybe rotating out Auchenai Circle combo could be damaging as every Priest deck includes those two cards. On the other hand the set as it is now seems to have some Control cards, but none of them are strong enough to really clear the board late game. Other Control Classes have access to hard board clears, Warriors have Brawl, Warlocks have Shadowflame and Paladins have Equality. I think Priest could really benefit from the Classic set rotating out and more cards being printed, as this could potentially bring a core set of cards to really distinguish the class from the rest.
Rogue: With Preparation, Gadgetzan and the general high quality spells, the strongest Rogue archetype will probably be Miracle for a very long time. Additionally this means that Control cards cannot be printed as these would help stall the game, probably making a Miracle deck very frustrating to play against. Also consider that there is no Rogue deck which doesn’t play SI:7 Agent, the card is just the best early game tool a class can have. This makes deck-diversity harder to achieve. Finally: Edwin VanCleef. Even if I love the card, my problem is that we have seen enough of him, I just want to play with something else! Overall the problem is not that Rogue is a heavy spell class, just that it would be nice if those spells would actually change from time to time. This would enable more creative deck building instead of having Rogue decks built around the same 20 cards.
Shaman: Shaman is my only non-golden class alongside Priest, so I don’t want to over extend in a set I haven’t played that much. When I look at the set there are four main cards which come to my attention: Lightning Bolt, Lava Burst, Rockbiter Weapon and Doomhammer. What these cards tell me is that an aggressive Shaman archetype will forever have these cards in it. I want to emphasize I am not an aggressive deck hater, what I hate is decks which hardly change the core of their cards. I find it interesting when players find new ways to play an older deck archetype, with Agro Shaman this is just not possible. The rest of the set is cool, it also has Ancestral Spirit which is one of my favourite cards in the game. In general the problem Shaman has is that it is missing cards in the early game making it impossible to play the class if cards like Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem are not printed constantly.
Warlock: The Warlock classic set is a mixed bag, it has some staple cards and some cards which have never seen play. The existence of Shadowflame alongside Twisting Nether means that Warlock will probably always have a decent Control variant as these are some of the strongest AOE’s in the game (I still remember the days where everybody called Twisting Nether unplayable). Siphon Soul is an ok card, even if slightly underwhelming single target removal; it is on the same level as Assassination which is a notoriously bad card. It must be emphasized that the Warlock class has weaker cards when compared to other classes because of how fast they can cycle through their deck with their hero power, so technically Siphon Soul is much better when compared to Assassination. The set also includes Lord Jaraxxus, one of the best cards in the game, he has a unique effect which is very flavourful. Lastly Power Overwhelming, Flame Imp and Doomguard are all Zoo staples. These are all very strong but I would like to see Zoolock type decks have a bit more diversity, seeing turn one Flame Imp for the next few years to come isn’t the most appealing of thoughts.
Warrior: The cards in the Warrior set are all really solid lending themselves to numerous different archetypes. Looking at the cards there is not one card which hasn’t been used competitively throughout Hearthstone’s history. The card draw mechanics of Warrior are the best in the game, with cards such as Battle Rage not being very hard to set up and potentially granting seven mana worth of draws for two. Slam is also really flexible providing removal, card draw and enrage potential in one card. Inner Rage when coupled with Worgen, another card from the standard set, makes it so that it is always possible to play a combo variant of Warrior. On the other hand cards such as Brawl and Gorehowl make it possible for Warrior to always have a solid basis for a control deck. Lastly the midrange cards Warrior has access to aren’t the worst, with some support from other sets they will forever provide a solid basis for a “Tempo” Warrior deck. Out of all the classes Warrior has probably the strongest set.
I divided the neutral cards into 4 sets because for obvious reasons I couldn’t fit all the cards in one picture.
Neutral cards 1: In the first 4 pages what comes to my eyes is the typical aggressive deck package: Abusive Sergeant, Argent Squire, Dire Wolf Alpha and Knife Juggler. All these card are too good to not include in a deck which wants to get board early game. Additionally cards like Loot Hoarder will forever appear in decks which want to cycle fast, the card is just a too good of a cantrip to not play. Doomsayer is also an insane card for Control decks, it can provide early game control as well as setting up let game turns. Additionally Freeze Mage will forever revolve around Freeze plus Doomsayer as a key clear for the deck because the combination is just so strong. One thing which makes me sad is that I always wished for someone to come along and manage to make Lorewalker Cho a viable card, but I guess this is not much of an argument to keep a whole set. On the flip side, generalizing this point, some cards like Lorewalker Cho might get their moment to shine if the right cards get released. I feel though that this is the reason why we have wild, cards that used to be unplayable might find new synergies with cards of different sets.
Neutral cards 2: These 4 pages have some good cards but they do contain a lot of trash. The 5 cards which are very strong in these pages are: Sunfury Protector, Wild Pyromancer, Earthen Ring Farseer, Harvest Golem and Injured Blademaster. Taking Wild Pyromancer and Injured Blademaster out of Standard would make Priest even worst, these are two cards which have been consistently good cards for the class. Sunfury Protector was a key when coupled with Molten Giants, and I think this is one of the main reasons the giants were nerfed. It was very easy to create a taunt wall early against aggressive decks (not that this was a bad thing). Harvest Golem and Earthen Ring Farseer are both mediocre cards which usually come back into play in moments where decks do not have enough good cards to play, they are decent but not extraordinary. The rest of the cards are mediocre at best, with some cards such as Coldlight Oracle which feel a niche which no other card can currently replace.
Neutral cards 3: These four pages are intense, they contain some of the staple cards which have accompanied the Hearthstone metagame for a long time. First of all Dark Iron Dwarf and Defender of Argus have both been extensively used in Zoolock, with the latter providing utility in numerous decks. Violet Teacher is staple for any Token Druid decks, whilst Spell Breaker, Twilight Drake, Azure Drake, Faceless Manipulator, Cairne Bloodhoof and Sylvanas Windrunner are all strong possibilities when building a control deck. Harrison Jones is also a very important card providing weapon tech in a weapon heavy metagame, as it is now. Leeroy Jenkins is a card which, since it was first introduced, has been used extensively in both aggressive decks and combo ones, even after it was nerfed. I should not forget to mention Gadgetzan Auctioneer, one of the most broken cards in the game if one builds a deck around it. Overall these four pages contain some of the most iconic cards of Hearthstone’s history and them departing would leave an immense hole in the Standard metagame, this though wouldn’t necessarily be bad as new cards can always fill the whole left by the departure of the old ones.
Neutral cards 4: These last two pages include a lot of staple cards which have been used in many different decks. First of all Black Knight is an important card in the set as it can be teched in a taunt heavy metagame. Ragnaros is one of the strongest legendary cards from the classic set and has been a staple for midrange decks for a very long time. The other legendary cards have nearly all seen play at different moments in time. Don’t get me wrong, they are very cool, but they are all very strong in the niche they fill and other cards which get printed might get overshadowed by them. Malygos is my second favourite card in the game and I would be really sad to let it go, but maybe some other spell legendary can be printed with some other crazy effect! Alexstrasza might mean the death of freeze mage, or maybe a new incarnation of it! Overall this set of cards is really cool and well-designed and I might be sad if they leave Standard.
Special Mentions: Some special mention needs to go to Murloc and Pirate synergy as a lot of those cards are contained in the Classic set. On the other hand tribe decks can always be created by creating new tribes, Mech Mage was a thing during GvG but now it is impossible to play and nobody really misses it. On the other hand dragon variants of different decks have finally gained some grounds. I feel tribes cannot stay forever in the metagame, they have their moment to shine and then drift away to the plains of the Wild metagame.
Concluding, don’t get me wrong the Classic set is inherently interesting, there are a lot of cards which we have grown accustomed to and which have very interesting designs. The problems I see has more to do with the relative strength of the set, providing less meta shifts when new cards are introduced.
Argument 1: Class Identity will Hardly Change
Will Control Warrior ever not run Shield Slam? Probably not the cards is too good. Will Rogue ever not run SI:7 Agent? Again, probably not the cards is too good. What this means is that in general around 30-50% of any deck will forever be fixed, the archetypes will revolve around similar cards from the classic set. This then makes the space to create new innovative decks more limited, as the innovation can only revolve around half the deck. One could argue that this is normal in card games, in Magic the Gathering the different colours always have a general type of game plan which they tend to be strong at. Taking Magic as an example though shows that if we want to keep class identity consistent throughout the expansion a Classic set is not needed, you can do it even changing the cards.
On the other hand maybe this is what Blizzard wants, they want classes to feel familiar to those who like playing with them. It must be considered that in other Collectible Card Games, time after time cards are reprinted in order for them to be played in the newest format, thus there is no reason Blizzard couldn’t allow this (maybe allowing players which already have the card to play with the old version of it). In general maybe class identity is the wrong wording, something like archetype identity is what I am referring to; the different builds of decks will always feel the same.
Argument 2: Some Cards will always be Played
Take the first paragraph of the above section and you will basically have my argument. What I want to add is that every set has some power cards which dominate a certain mana slot from certain decks, this is the nature of card games, thus having a set permanently in the metagame means that some card will forever be present in some archetypes. During the set analysis I already touched on some cards, for example Ragnaros and Savannah Highmane, which have been in the metagame for ages. The question we have to ask ourselves as a community is: do we want more Ragnaros or do we want something else? I would prefer the latter, what about you?
Argument 3: Every Card Limits Design Space
This is a point I feel is very important, Blizzard before Whispers of the Old Gods came out decided to nerf some cards because they limited design space. I think that the reasoning behind the nerfs made sense, card like Big Game Hunter did prevent a 4-mana 7/7 to ever show up in the metagame. One thing to consider though is that every set of cards makes it so that some cards cannot be printed without being broken, this is an essential part of card synergy. Take the Mage class as an example, giving board clears which target the early game could break the class, as then the Mage class could for two years stall and clear every minion on curve before burning the opponent down to death. Or the Warrior class, any more removal and the class would become really hard to defeat. Additionally cards like Fiery War Ax mean that Blizzard has to be careful with how they approach the Warriors early game. In general every card will have some potential synergy with some card and break it, even card like Totemic Might could become insane. In conclusion, by rotating the Classic cards out you could potentially free some design space for the developers.
Argument 4: The Basic Set is all you need
I think this is one of the points which I am the most convinced about, the Basic set contains enough staples to not need any support from the Classic set. Cards such as Innervate, Wild growth, Fiery War Axe, Northshire Cleric etc. all see a lot of play, meaning that we do not need another set to keep players familiar with the game. In my ideal world the Basic set would also be rotated out but, as I already said, I do acknowledge that as a business Blizzard has to also think about how to maximise income when using their time. Overall the Classic set is not needed, the Basic set already does everything the Classic one should do.
There are three main solutions which came to my mind when I thought about this issue. Firstly one could rotate cards from the Classic set, meaning they would never all be available at once. This is somewhat of a patchy solution which keeps the Classic set whilst shifting the cards available in the metagame every year, potentially making the game more interesting. The problem with this suggestion is that it would confuse players if their cards are worth disenchanting or not as keeping a Ragnaros might be an investment for future years. I must admit this is the solution I like the least.
Secondly, Blizzard could do away with the Classic set and print more cards but make the newest cards more accessible for players. What I mean by this is that, like with Whisper of the Old Gods, make it so that players get a sufficient start (7 packs or so) logging in during the launch so that even returning players have some cards they can play with. The problem with this idea is that deleting the Classic set would mean that Hearthstone would have to be reduced to the bone if a lot of cards are not released, Blizzard would really need to print a big expansion to enable this.
Lastly, this is the idea I am most proud of, make a base set, starting with the classic set, which lasts for four years instead of two. This is the idea I like the most as it provides what Blizzard wants whilst giving the players a metagame in constant evolution. This would both allow for returning players to have card to play with if they didn’t quit more than four years ago, whilst granting constant players with a fresher game every so often. Additionally the base set would still be an investment for newer players which could buy those packs knowing those cards will last for a longer period of time. Overall I feel that if this idea is thought through enough it is realistic to implement it.
I believe that the reasons to rotate out the Classic set outweighs the reasons to keep it, the Hearthstone Standard metagame would become really unpredictable and interesting. On the other hand I can see why Blizzard wants to keep it a certain way, it makes for a more consistent experience for returning players; they can always rely on having a core part of their collection usable in standard. Additionally the Classic set staying in Standard allows for new players to invest in a type of pack knowing that they can rely on those card remaining and being able to build a solid collection of cards. Lastly it does seem that Whispers of the Old Gods proved that if cards which are sufficiently innovative are printed then the metagame can change quite dramatically, despite the classic set remaining in Standard. Before jumping to conclusions it is important to see how the metagame will actually work in this Standard cycle, it might be that all my points are just wrong and that actually the game will be fine like this. Overall though I think that making a base set which lasts longer is all Blizzard need to fulfill their aims, they don’t need the Classic set to be evergreen.