What Hearthstone's New Core Set Means for the Game's Future

Yesterday, Blizzard announced a change to Hearthstone that has massive implications for the game. The Basic and Classic card sets, which have been available since the game’s release in 2014, will be rotating to the evergreen Wild format. In their place, Blizzard is adding a new set of 235 cards called the Core set, which will be playable in Standard. The Core set will be freshly curated each year to contain a selection of cards from Hearthstone‘s past, as well as a few new ones. Perhaps most exciting of all, the Core set will be free for all players to use.

Fans have been requesting a change like this for years. The Classic set alone boasts 240 cards, which is larger than any other card set in Hearthstone. Basic and Classic cards continue to see play the game’s Standard format, and in some cases define it. For example, the incredibly powerful legendary card Edwin VanCleef has been a staple in Rogue decks for nearly seven years, but only earned a nerf last month. These cards’ permanent place in Standard has made it so that all decks feel like variations on the same themes year after year, even when expansions try to introduce new cards and archetypes.

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Magic: The Gathering was first released in 1993, and remains one of the world’s oldest trading card games. Over the years, Hearthstone has borrowed many design principals from Magic, as well as many strategies to ensure its long-term health as a game. The first example was Blizzard’s decision in 2016 to split the competitive ladder into the Standard and Wild formats, similar to the multiple formats of Magic: The Gathering. Upon hearing the news about the Core Set, popular Hearthstone streamer and former competitive Magic player Brian Kibler expressed optimism and relief.

More than 20,000 unique cards have been released over the 28-year history of Magic: The Gathering, and a handful get reprinted with each new card set. This allows Wizards of the Coast to bring back powerful cards that synergize well with the rest of the set, without being beholden to design decisions that were made more than 20 years ago.

Similarly, Blizzard’s decision to curate Hearthstone‘s Core Set each year gives the game room to evolve over time and allows more powerful cards to be released. It will also give each class a more unique identity each year.

Hearthstone’s high cost has been criticized for years. Frustration reached a boiling point in November following the disastrous release of Hearthstone‘s new rewards track, causing many players to leave the game for more affordable competitors like Gwent and Legends of Runeterra. The financial barrier to entry was so high that many fans said they felt guilty trying to introduce friends to the game. Hopefully, Blizzard’s decision to make the 235-card Core Set available for free will help to make the game more accessible.

New Hearthstone players were previously only given free access to the 143-card Basic set, so adding almost 100 cards will give them access to more options than ever before. Another upside is that players will no longer have to open Classic card packs, so they’ll be able to focus on collecting cards from more recent expansions.

While the community response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, Blizzard still needs to stick the landing. The card list for this year’s Core Set has yet to be revealed, and those cards will need to be powerful enough to make the cut in competitive decks. Otherwise, Blizzard will likely be accused of intentionally releasing a weak Core Set so that players are forced to buy packs from the next expansion. This spring’s upcoming rotation will also leave the Standard format with the smallest pool of cards it’s ever had, so there won’t be much room for filler. Between Hearthstone‘s upcoming Classic format, the new Core Set, and an additional game mode that will likely be announced next week, 2021 is looking like an incredibly strong year for the game.

Hearthstone is available on PC and mobile device.

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