We’re coming up on 18 months since the announcement of Standard. It’s taken that long for the first “official” Blizzard-organised Wild tournament to take place. This Open, which finished yesterday with a close-fought final between two skilled players intimately familiar with the format, is well worth watching, so I won’t spoil the victor. But don’t just watch it for the exciting games; watch it because it’s a perfect example of why the controversial and difficult cleaving of Hearthstone’s Constructed format into two separate game-modes was ultimately necessary.
Standard was vital not just to keep players buying new packs; it was needed to keep Hearthstone as we know it intact.
Looking back, standard seems an inevitable consequence of the development of Hearthstone; but it wasn’t always that way. Diverging away from the idea of all cards being eternal and together in a single constructed mode took courage, vision and a fair amount of ruthlessness. This meant radically altering the pool of cards in a way more extreme than had ever been attempted before, with all the inherent balancing issues that could arise. Not only that, but dealing with the fallout of a financially and emotionally invested player-base would prove difficult to navigate.
The reasoning, expressed in the relentlessly upbeat PR-speak that lacks some of the frankness and honesty of the less meticulously scripted balance discussions, was succinctly expressed in the title of the announcement: “A New Way to Play”. The implication, of course, that Standard would be “New” as Wild would be “Old”. Standard, with its ever changing cluster of sets, held together by the glue of Basic and Classic was to be “fresh, exciting, and accessible”.
When listing the advantages of splitting Standard and Wild, that “accessible” part is worth considering. For every veteran who lost their precious collection of Legendaries to a far less forgiving format, there would likely be a newer player who without Standard would be forced to buy a confusing array of Adventures and packs from multiple expansions simply to compete. If Adventure dependent, class defining powerhouses that dominate Wild like Haunted Creeper, Reno Jackson or Flamewaker were forever locked behind paywalls of thousands of gold or scores of dollars, it would be nigh impossible to build a collection without going through months of grind or shelling out an unreasonable amount of money.
This, of course, does not cover the added cost of having multiple legendaries that would likely be eternal in Wild due to their sheer efficiency in certain types of deck. Standard is necessary for new players to be able to play the game to a tolerable extent.
Aggro used to be relatively straightforward. Efficient early minions and burn were the two ingredients, and the rest wrote itself. Classic examples included old Face Hunter and Aggro Shaman, both of which simply jammed in whatever card was good, cheap or could point face. However, this old philosophy is being supplanted. As the Wild card pool expands, Aggro decks can tightly refine their lists around a bevy of dominating synergies. Pirate Warrior in Wild gains incredible synergistic power that supplements the potent Weapons and Pirates combination simply through the addition of Ship’s Cannon. Tempo Mage can curve lower and more aggressively with the added synergistic burn power of Flamewaker.
Ever traditional sedate Priest with “slow” cards like Zombie Chow and Deathlord can become a deadly aggressive deck with the right synergistic tools, in decks like Control’s recent tournament entry.
The Old Way to Play?
Ironically, Standard’s success is in how little it changes rather than how much. Games of Hearthstone in Standard are still fundamentally similar to games from one, two or even three years ago. There are midrange, aggro and control decks; there are no insane sources of healing or easy overwhelming early-game burst combos. Minions die when you kill them, and there are no huge spikes of power at any given mana cost. Synergies are potent, but not overwhelming.
Wild on the other hand is mutating into something far different. Fun and exciting, with huge room for innovation and skill; but also unforgiving, aggressive and revolving around increasingly interwoven webs of synergistic power. Reynad’s infamous prediction that even the maligned Dr. Boom could be too slow for Wild someday soon is already coming true.
Simply put, Standard’s great success has been rotating old cards in order to keep things the same. Wild will use the same cards forever, but will change Hearthstone beyond recognition. Luckily, both experiences are fun, exciting and well-supported. We should all watch the development of Wild with interest; even if we have to retreat to the sensible safety of Standard.
Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.