A lot of fresh changes are coming to the Arena, starting soon (TM)! These changes were first announced in the first livestream, but now they are confirmed and coming to fruition. Let’s review the changes, and some immediate consequences that come to mind.
Arena is officially moving to the Standard format, after being inclusive of all sets since it’s inception. While it is clear that the drafts will be of cards from the Standard sets, it is currently unclear whether Wild format cards would appear via Discover, Transform, or random drops from Shredders. Arena currently exists in a format where draft-banned cards, like the C’Thun cards, could be obtained during the course of a game. In contrast, the Standard Ranked Play does not allow an opportunity to get Wild cards during the game.
Rarity distribution change
The rarity distribution of the draft will change to reduce the offering rate of common cards. According to Dean Ayala, the new distribution will consist of 26 of 30 offered cards being 68% common, 20% rare, 9% epic, and 3% legendary. The remaining 4 cards, would be rare or higher. While the rarity distribution for the 4 cards is unknown, one can expect the most common scenario of 3 rare cards and 1 epic. With this estimation, one can expect 18 commons, 8 rares, 3 epics, and 1 legendary on average in a draft. The article cited common cards being 78% of drafts now, meaning there are 23 common cards in the draft now. There is a reduction of 5 common cards, into more rares, epics, and seemingly almost a guaranteed legendary card.
More spells in draft
In an effort to devalue minion-based combat, there will be more spells in the Arena. While the blog did not have information on exactly what more spells means, Iksar stated in Reddit that spells will appear 20% more in drafts than previously. I don’t know the number of spells offered previously, but in the current draftable common card pool for all classes, spells comprise of 31.5% of cards. A 20% boost would be 37.8%, meaning you will see about 34 spells offered out of 90. This boost to spells means that common class card spells, from the most recent set will be cards that will show up most often in drafts.
Specific card reduction
2 big-time AoE cards, Flamestrike and Abyssal Enforcer, will be offered 50% less than other cards of their variety. Meaning Flamestrike will appear 50% less than any common Mage spell in the Classic set, and Abyssal Enforcer will appear 50% less than any common Warlock minion in the Gadgetzan set. The reduction of Flamestrike is likely a response to the boost of spells in the draft. Abyssal Enforcer is likely the most broken arena card made, so there.
Fewer neutral basic/classic minions
This one is a bit confusing, as the blog does not specify which minions will see a reduction from the draft. The blog uses the phrase “Classic” which refers to the first card set, and not the “Basic” cards you get for free. Iksar previously used the phrase “Neutral Basic Minions” when referring to what to target. Additionally, the staple vanilla minions, Chillwind Yeti and River Crocolisk, are Basic cards. While it is possible that Basic and Classic neutral minions will see a reduction together, the lack of distinction from this is unclear.
Throw everything you know out
Being a veteran player, one of the “skills” that I possess for the arena is an encyclopedic knowledge of the cards. I know what every card is called, does, and how the stats are distributed. Shifting to Standard Arena will immediately scrub out Naxx and GvG next week, and BRM, LoE, and TGT will follow with the next card release. That is a lot of cards that I will need to “forget about.” While this type of adjustment is done every time a new card set is released, this is the biggest drop-off of cards ever. And every card lost represents a change in playstyle. For example, we are going to lose the Paladin secret Avenge in a week, and this is likely the most drafted secret in the Arena. Now, everyone will have to shift the mindset that the secret is probably Noble Sacrifice. Little adjustments like these will have to be made for every card, and it will add up to a whole new learning curve.
Loss of staple cards
When you think of GvG and Naxx rotating out, some very good cards immediately come to mind. Haunted Creeper, Zombie Chow, Bomb Lobber, Piloted Shredder, etc. Even some more boring 2 drops like Mechwarper and Gilblin Stalker get the ax. The loss of cards from these earlier expansion, coupled with the reduction of Basic/Classic neutral minions is going take a huge chunk of adequately-stated minions. While I am aware that Blizz is targeting these appropriately-stated curve cards, these are current Arena staples. The whole methodology of what constitutes a “good card” in the Arena is affected by the loss of such cards.
One of the main concerns I had going into this whole change was the Arena’s loss of identity. The soul of the Arena is that you play with all the cards, and you try to play around the unpredictable. With the shift to Standard, you essentially play with all the same cards you will in Standard Constructed. This in turn allows a higher probability of Constructed deck synergies to line up for a draft. Coupled with the introduction of more spells, you are more likely to build something like a Constructed deck. Anyone who has ever drafted a “Constructed deck” in the Arena, knows that it is very powerful. The power of Constructed-feel decks could be the norm.
Another sense of loss are from players who play Arena as the “Wild escape” from the throes of stale Constructed. I guess the counter to this is Blizzard’s insistence of putting a lot more emphasis into the Wild format this year. I personally do consider Arena as a Wild escape, but could be willing to shed this mindset if I really wind up enjoying playing Wild.
Anyone who has an idea in the Arena knows that having legendary cards in the draft doesn’t really mean much. A lot of bad runs have occurred on my end, when I have drafted 2 mediocre-bad legendary cards. Epic cards have a bit of notoriety of being too niched to work in the Arena, and the pick of 3 bad epics is always a pickle. Common cards, the hallmark of consistent drafts, are going to see a reduction. Having more rares may help drafts, but the slight boost to Epics and Legendaries will not. From my calculations before, I expect 3 epics and 1 legendary per draft. While it may be a fun experience trying to make these cards work together, some drafts could just become a hot mess with all the epic cards.
The Naxx and GvG cuts will rid the arena of 141 draftable cards, while the BRM/LoE/TGT cuts will rid the arena of 193 draftable cards. Given the new expansion will plug in 130 cards, this will result in a net yield of about -200 draftable cards. With this massive reduction in the pool of cards, cards will show up multiple times in the draft, and by virtue of wise decision-making, the best cards will be picked more often. This is something that will regulate itself, as there will be close to 400 cards added to the entire pool by year’s end. But to start off the Year of the Mammoth, there will be repeats. Hopefully the days of 4 Flamestrike decks won’t be a thing, but don’t think you’ll be free of 3 Firelands Portal decks terrorizing everyone.
I’m not sure if this point has been made yet, but we are in for some longer games. By virtue of destroying the tempo curve-out strategy, and by adding more spells, games should last longer. While someone could draft a bunch of damage spells, spells typically bring reactive control to the equation. My last 12-1 run, lasted 79 minutes, or 6 minutes per game. This brisk pace of play will be compromised.
Given this is the biggest change to the Arena ever, it took some time to process. The shift to drop some sets was a necessary move to allow the Arena to exist, as too many cards would definitely be a mess. I had known about these upcoming changes for some time, and honestly have been dreading it a little. I struggle a bit with personal change, and the Arena is something that I pretty much partake in everyday. I won’t know for certain though, and I could actually have a great time. So I definitely won’t be abandoning the Arena just because it changed in a massive fashion. I will be writing more posts about this topic, stay posted!