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This Hearthstone key art shows cards exploding from a barely-opened book that has two crossed swords and a shield on its cover. Along with the cards, a crest featuring the symbol of a mammoth is flying through the air.

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Hearthstone’s approach to expansions is totally changing in the Year of the Mammoth

Plus a handful of classic cards will be retired from regular play

Blizzard Entertainment

A little over a year ago, Blizzard brought major changes to its popular digital card game, Hearthstone, with the introduction of two formats of play: Standard and Wild. With this new system, Wild mode would encompass decks built from any Hearthstone card ever released, while Standard would stick to the original Classic set and cards from add-ons released in the current and previous calendar year.

As we approach a presumed spring launch of Hearthstone’s first expansion of 2017, Blizzard is preparing for the game’s second ever “rotation,” where cards from expansions and adventures released in 2015 will no longer be playable in Standard format. But as the developer attempts to combat a stale metagame, imbalance and the frustration of fans who burn out on new content as fast as the company can release it, Blizzard has some new ideas to shake things up in the second year of Standard mode.

There’s quite a bit of information to parse through regarding what Blizzard is planning for Hearthstone in 2017, so we’ve split it up into a question-and-answer format that should help explain everything.

When is the next Standard rotation happening, and what sets will no longer be playable in Standard format?

We don’t know an exact date yet, but the next rotation will happen whenever the first expansion of 2017 launches. A leak last week suggested that expansion will be titled Lost Secrets of Un’Goro. Blizzard’s planned name for the new year of Standard — “The Year of the Mammoth” — hints at that leak being correct, just as the previous “Year of the Kraken” hinted at 2016’s first expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods.

Whatever the date, once the rotation happens, cards from the Blackrock Mountain, Grand Tournament and League of Explorers sets will no longer be usable in Standard mode. Cards from Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and the aforementioned first set of 2017 will remain usable, as will the vast majority of cards in the Classic set.

Image of Ragnaros, the Firelord, and final boss of Firelands Blizzard Entertainment

Wait ... the vast majority? I thought all the cards in the classic set are in Standard mode for good?

Well, that was originally the plan. Things change, though. In order to keep things fresh, Blizzard is taking six of the most popular Classic cards and adding them to a new “Hall of Fame” set, which means they will no longer be playable in Standard format. Here is a list of those cards and a bit of Blizzard’s reasoning for the shift:

Azure Drake: “There should be more five drop options for players, rather than considering Azure Drake an auto-include.”

Sylvanas Windrunner: “Sylvanas has the most powerful Deathrattle effect in the game — as a comparison, the Priest card Mind Control costs 10 mana. We have exciting Deathrattle build-arounds coming soon, and in combination with Sylvanas, they would be too powerful for Standard.”

Ragnaros the Firelord: “Dozens of cards in the seven to nine mana range never saw play because Ragnaros was always the easy choice in that range, and some decks only want to run one high cost card.”

Power Overwhelming: “Warlock decks tend to use lots of Classic cards, so the deck changes less when new expansions release. This change will help increase the variety of cards in Warlock decks over time.”

Ice Lance: “This move allows Freeze Mage to continue existing in Wild, while creating more variety in Standard. Ice Lance also prevented us from making powerful Spell Damage cards and designs that allowed you to duplicate your cards.”

Conceal: “Conceal makes it increasingly more difficult for other classes to interact with Rogue minions as time goes on. We considered promoting Gadgetzan Auctioneer to Wild instead, but in the end we decided to move Conceal because Auctioneer has proven to be one of the most skill testing cards in the game.”

Hearthstone Blizzard Entertainment

You explained some specific reasoning behind each card, but generally speaking why has Blizzard decided to change its philosophy regarding taking Classic cards out of Standard?

As with the initial introduction of Standard format, the goal is to keep the game of Hearthstone as fresh as possible. To quote from Blizzard itself:

“When cards show up too frequently in decks and are considered auto-includes, deck-building becomes more limited. Deck variety stagnates, potentially interesting build-around cards fall by the wayside, and the gameplay experience begins to feel less dynamic. Most cards should feel like situational additions to a deck, depending on the deck archetype the player is trying to build.”

The hope is that by shifting just a few cards out of the Classic set, deck variety in Standard format will improve.

What if I loved one or more of these Classic cards, and I only play Standard mode, and I’m really upset? WHY DID THEY HAVE TO TAKE AWAY MY RAGNAROS?

Losing Ragnaros is hard for all of us. That said, Blizzard does have one consolation prize that might make you feel a little better. Normally with changes like this, Blizzard allows you to disenchant the affected cards for the full value of arcane dust that it would cost to craft them. In this case, the developer is going a step further.

For every copy of the six Classic cards on the Hall of Fame list (up to the maximum number you could put in a deck), you will be awarded the full dust value of each card when the Year of the Mammoth begins. To be clear: You’ll be given that dust without having to disenchant the cards, so you can keep using them in Wild or follow up by disenchanting them for even more dust.

Losing that Golden Ragnaros isn’t easy. But getting enough arcane dust to craft two new legendaries? Not so bad.

Ok, what else is changing in the Year of the Mammoth?

How about the entire schedule of how Blizzard releases Hearthstone expansions?

Blizzard Entertainment

EXCUSE ME?

Yeah, this is a big one. Up to this point, Blizzard has kept to a regular schedule of approximately three Hearthstone add-ons every year. Each of those add-ons — one in the spring, one in late summer and one in winter — rotated between 130-plus-card expansions, and 30- to 45-card adventure sets that had more of a single-player focus.

There will still be three add-ons in 2017, but all three of them will be 130-plus-card expansions, meaning more new Hearthstone cards will be released this year than in any previous year since the game’s launch.

But what about adventures?! I loved them!

Blizzard loves the single-player, story-based elements of adventures too, and it says it will continue doing those — just in a slightly different form. The developer says it wants to “take the storytelling and cool missions of adventures, and combine them with the card pools of expansion.”

In practice, this means cards for these sets will be acquired via purchased packs, not by completing the single-player content. However, every release will include optional single-player missions and challenges to expand on the theme of each expansion and tell stories.

Hearthstone: One Night in Karazhan art Blizzard Entertainment

Every expansion?

Well... almost every expansion. Not the next one. Blizzard says its new approach to blending adventures and expansions will debut in the second expansion of 2017, and that it will be experimented with and built on over time. The developer says more details are coming later in the year, but it did confirm that this single-player content will be free.

I love free stuff! Does Blizzard have any other free stuff for me?

It does, indeed. To get ready for the Year of the Mammoth and the first expansion of 2017, Blizzard will bring daily login rewards to Hearthstone for the first time ever. These will arrive prior to the expansion launch, and checking in with the game each day will award you with free arcane dust, gold and card packs.

Blizzard says daily login rewards “will be available for a limited time,” though it’s not clear how limited that time is. Likewise, the developer says it has “a few other surprises” planned for the lead-up to the launch of the next expansion.

More. GIVE ME MORE FREE THINGS.

How about a new hero? The new Rogue hero Maiev Shadowsong (pictured below) will go live with the new expansion. While previous new heroes have required paying real money or jumping through other hoops, like recruiting friends to the game, unlocking Maiev is much simpler. All you have to do is win 10 games in Standard format, in Ranked or Casual mode, after the launch of the next expansion.

Blizzard Entertainment

You know, Blizzard really seems to be pushing people toward Standard. What’s up with Wild format?

While 2016 was all about Standard, Blizzard claims it will offer more Wild support in the new year. This includes the return of the high-risk, high-reward Heroic Tavern Brawl in a revised Wild format and better promotion of Hearthstone esports tournaments that use the Wild format. It doesn’t sound like Blizzard has any plans to host Wild-format tournaments itself, but it’s at least going to throw some support behind third-party organizers who are doing so.

Rad. All right, I’m ready, when can I hop in and check out all the new cards and new content?

Gooooood question. Despite rotation and all of this big news being timed with the release of 2017’s first Hearthstone expansion, Blizzard hasn’t actually given us any indication of when that expansion will arrive. Blackrock Mountain kicked off Hearthstone’s 2015 on April 2 of that year, while 2016’s Whispers of the Old Gods launched on April 26.

So you’ll probably be playing the next Hearthstone expansion and kicking off the Year of the Mammoth sometime in April. We’ll definitely report details on that expansion (and when it might actually launch) as soon as we hear them.

(I’m gonna miss Ragnaros, tho.)

We are too, old friend. We are too.

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