tldr; Arena is changing, and I have more questions
Today, Hearthstone devs Ben Brode and Dean Ayala headed the first ever “Hearthstone Livestream Q&A stream,” fielding questions from various outlets like their blog, Twitter, and Twitch Chat. This session was mentioned well in advance, so you can imagine how many questions were headed their way. Most of it was funneled, so only about 10 or so topics made the cut for an hour. A fairly complete summary can be found here: https://www.reddit.com/r/hearthstone/comments/5ns018/summary_of_the_qa_stream/
I mostly tuned out while listening to it, as I was doing the impossible task of managing my staff and watching it at the same time. But I was able to catch the most important 2 minutes or so that I got from the whole thing. That was the brief mention by Dean about what changes are coming for the arena.
What will [possibly/likely] happen to the arena
- Arena will become standard.
- There will be fewer common cards offered in a typical draft, compared to now.
- There will be fewer minions offered in a typical draft, compared to now.
- There will be fewer basic, neutral minions offered in a typical draft, compared to now.
While the phrasing of Dean’s summary is not exact, I would rather not put words into people’s mouths, so I think the language I used in the four points above don’t imply anything more than it should.
I ain’t burying no lede, so here is the real galvanizing lightning rod of the arena news, though I don’t think it is the most “impactful.” I’ll explain in a bit. But this is surely divisive news.
One point is that you need to rotate out cards in the arena, or else it becomes impossible to draft a cogent deck. Any hope for synergy would be gone with too many cards, and it will be impossible to play around anything the opponent plays. There won’t be much “arena skill” that will come into play, if there are too many cards in the mix.
The counterpoint is more of an emotional response, in that arena loses it’s identity. The arena has always been about having knowledge of a wider range of cards, and being forced to play obscure cards. With sets of cards being rotated out, there will be a lot fewer cards to play with, and it will resemble Standard Ranked play much more.
It is important to point out though Dean used the phrase “Standard,” we don’t know what this means exactly. While it is heavily implied this means a reduction of card sets available to play with in arena, we don’t know the details. This includes:
- Will arena follow the same standard rotation as ranked?
- Will this standard arena set be permanent, or will there be certain months where certain cards come back? There was previous chatter about themed set arena months.
- Will the upcoming “wild” arena cards be gone for good? We have a banlist now, but those banned cards occasionally show up in Discover or through a random minion outcome.
- A number of cards are banned in the arena draft (e.g. Undercity Valiant, Snowchugger). Will any of these card be reinstated, or remain banned?
Dean mentioned cards like Flamestrike, Firelands Portal, and Abyssal Enforcer (best card in this meta) being too powerful, where the arena meta is dictated by these powerful cards. Thus, he mentioned having fewer common cards in an arena draft.
Big deal here for arena, I think bigger than the possibility of Standard rotation.When you play the current version of arena, you typically play around powerful commons, you sometimes play around powerful rares, and you never really play around powerful epics/legendaries. Reducing commons in the arena will completely break this fundamental dynamic, and will completely change how you play the arena.
The power level of great common cards is further magnified when you consider increased class offering rate, and set offering rate.
e.g. Abyssal Enforcer OP = (Bonkers value) x (Common rate) x (Class bonus) x (MSG bonus)
Right now, I’d say about 66-70% of a draft is made of common cards, over 20 of your cards should be common in most drafts. Rares are likely to be the prime beneficiary of in the reduction of common cards. But what if Epics were increased to a big level? That would make the arena a virtual clown fiesta, given the zany nature of Epic cards. More Legendary cards will also be interesting, though Legendary cards tend to be feast or famine in the arena, and people will be going for stuff like Deathwing and Dr. Boom most of the time.
Dean mentioned that they are looking to have more spells in the arena, given that there seems to be a 50-50 split of spells and minions in constructed. I guess there is a want for arena to focus less on having a mana curve, to play minions on each turn.
Arena has always been about minion-based combat. The reason for this is mainly because:
- Minions “do more” than spells. They contend with the board better, they can attack things, they fill turn curves, etc.
- While damage/removal spells are premium, a lot of spells are situational, and thus not good for the arena, given it may not help your current deck. Reliability is the key.
While this idea may sound good, I am not a big fan of it at all. It devalues the need to fight for the board, which is such a key skill for arena. Knowing when to trade versus when to go face is huge. This variety of fighting for the board with weird cards is a big appeal in the arena for me.
Having more spells leads to less board interactions. Mages are notorious for being the class that plays off the board best in the arena, given the big availability of good board clears. It is always frustrating to play against Mages with nut decks in the arena, and this just plays to the Mage’s strengths. While the spells would go up concurrently for all classes, some classes will benefit, while others won’t.
The ability to reduce the number of minions in a draft also leads to questions like, what happens to the value of weapons? Are they treated like spells or minions or just themselves?
Fewer neutral basic minions
This point is a bit of an amalgamation of the above two, but Dean did specifically state changes to “neutral, basic minions” mentioning cards like River Crocolisk and Magma Rager. Mentioning River Crocolisk as a problem gets at the point of attacking the need for a minion-based mana curve. Magma Rager was likely thrown in as a defense mechanism to not give too much information away, as mentioning Chillwind Yeti would’ve put the icing on the cake.
The mention of reducing fewer neutral basic minions opens up a slew of questions on its own. As basic/free cards, these minions should be part of the standard rotation of cards. Does this confirm that the standard rotation set in Arena is different than that of Ranked? Exactly how much lower of a chance will we see these cards, compared to Classic set neutral? Does this reduction also apply to basic class cards?
Of course, some of the vanilla curve minions like River Crocolisk, Chillwind Yeti, Boulderfist Ogre and War Golem are on here. While reducing/removing these cards would definitely spice up the minion quality of any draft, a lot of these cards are great. Shattered Sun Cleric! (You will pay for that, cur!) Sen’jin Shieldmasta! (taz’dingo!)
A very important point is that Dean mentioned that [some of] these changes are all but confirmed, and slated for a future patch release. I doubt that all four of the changes I mentioned are set in stone as of now, but I would venture that they are likely to happen. I don’t want to say they are confirmed changes to the arena, but it is the plan.
- This is a bitter pill to take, but a necessary move to preserve arena. The soul of the arena is corrupted, for continued survival.
- This change is a first, that is why it is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable change. If this game persists longer, such rotations would be accepted easier down the line.
- While we have an idea of where the arena is headed, the Q&A today opened up many, many more questions, as I had feared it would.
- Arena gameplay is changing drastically. I hope to adjust well enough to at least play at my normal level.