No longer. As of rotation, the Basic and Classic cards will be out and a new core set of 235 cards – mostly comprised of existing cards, but also featuring 29 brand new inclusions – will form the baseline for the next year. This set will be completely free, and will be fully unlocked out of the gate for more experienced players, while newcomers will be able to unlock them all quite quickly. It’s a huge change, giving new and returning players a base collection that has value and ensuring that Hearthstone feels completely fresh for seasoned players. And best of all, the core set will change each and every year.
As part of Hearthstone’s Blizzcon 2021 announcements, we’ve now seen some of the new cards, and we’ve found out that magical spell schools are being added to the game – including retroactive changes to all relevant spells. And not only that, but the team are making a bunch of tweaks to existing cards to bring them into line with Hearthstone in 2021. I quizzed Game Director Ben Lee and Production Director Nathan Lyons-Smith about the core set to find out more. Here are some of the juicier nuggets from that conversation.
The Core Set for New and Engaged Players
Nathan Lyons-Smith: “I’ve been playing for a long time, since before I was at Blizzard. I somehow got a beta key and I was in and hooked, right? And I loved the Classic set, and then we got Naxxramas and we got Goblins vs. Gnomes, and over time, we’ve just seen some of the cards in the core set be super powerful, and as a result, we’ve sent them to the Hall of Fame because we don’t want to keep seeing the same cards over and over again. And then there’s some cards that just aren’t powerful at all and we don’t see those, and that’s generally okay for the experienced players, but [for] new players, you’re getting a bunch of cards that aren’t powerful now, and aren’t having as easy a time. And so this really does touch on new players getting a meaningfully powerful core set of cards, completely for free, to come in and engaged players are getting a big shake-up from what they’re normally seeing.
Hearthstone Core Set – Returning Cards and Tweaked Cards
“I think one of the things Ben describes really well when we talk about this as a team is, there’s some cards in the old Basic and Classic set that are power level 11, and then there’s some that are power level one. And it’s just scattered across the board, and it depends on all the cards we’ve created since then. So what I’m most excited about as a highly engaged player is, we’re able to curate this core set to fit really nicely with the expansions we’re planning to launch this year.
“And then next year, as we have another set of expansions launch, we’re going to have an updated core set that will be curated to work with those. And that feels really awesome to me as an engaged player. And again, I’m really happy that as we’re getting new players in or returning players coming back in, that it’s easy for them to get into, because here’s the core set. And it’s free, you earn it just like you earned the current Basic cards.”
The Core Set and Tying in With This Year’s Classic Warcraft Theme
Ben Lee: “We’ve tried to carry that [theme] across to the core set as well. I mean, that’s generally how we’re thinking about our content across all of our modes this year, there’s definitely some leaning into that classic era of Warcraft lore and history. So you can expect to see that appearing through Standard, Battlegrounds, Duels and also Mercenaries as well. In terms of the core set, we’ve tried to be mindful of that, but sometimes gameplay has to take precedence too. So there’s some examples that might feel a little out of place, but that card was really awesome for the core set and the mechanics and linking in with the way that it works. And rather than just making a new card with new art, it’s cool for players to have a call-back of, ‘Hey, that’s that card I played years ago, and it’s back.’ So in general, as a guiding light, absolutely, that’s totally on point, but sometimes gameplay has to take priority too.”
Designing New Cards for the Core Set and How That Fits With the Goals for the Year
Ben Lee: “I think the original idea comes from the fact that there were just some holes when you look at the set as a whole and what we would want to do in the future. Quite a lot of that’s actually in the legendary cards themselves. There’s some really awesome, fun designs in the legendaries in the Classic set, but they just haven’t really aged with the game and they’re not really competitive. And our players – Hearthstone’s evolved a lot, it’s very data-driven in terms of how players go about building their decks, the meta, et cetera.
“And having these fun cards, there’s definitely room for those, and we have those still, but I think [in terms of] the representation towards more like, ‘These are cards we want you to play, and these are cards that are just for fun,’ we’ve definitely skewed more in this [- the former -] direction, and I think you can see that across all of our expansions. So I think that’s one of the core principles of it, is that we want players to have this set of cards and for them to be realistically playable, we want these cards to be able to go in decks. Yeah, there’s obviously a few exceptions for that are like, ‘These cards are deliberately meant to be fun.’ Obviously some players will put them in decks, but they’re not going to be in like your Tier 1 meta decks.”
Riffing on the Old Designs for the New Malygos, Deathwing and Ysera
Ben Lee: “They’re very much inspired by it [- the original designs]. I think Malygos was hard to pull off, which is why it does something different. He still does something with spells, deliberately so, he’s the Aspect of Magic after all. But we wanted to try and keep the essence of the original card in those cases as much as we could, and be like, ‘What is the modern take on Deathwing? If we make Deathwing as new a card with the same idea in mind, what would it be?’ And I think Deathwing and Ysera are definitely the best examples of that.”
Hearthstone Core Set – New Cards 2021
The Number of Changes That Have Been Made to Existing Cards
Ben Lee: “I don’t know the number off the top of my head, it’s quite a lot, there’s a lot of subtle changes in there… you’ve probably seen the mana change to Assassinate, and the Overload changes to Shaman, there’s more beyond that though. Generally what we’ve tried to do is look to these cards and been like, ‘How can we make these more playable?’ And some of them just, like we’ve touched on already, they just haven’t aged well, and when you look back and you’re like, ‘Could this card be one less mana or could this card have plus +1/+1 on it?’ And the answer to that in a lot of cases is yes. So I think there’s some pretty cool implications here, not only for Standard, but also for Wild, because the reality is, players are going to be able to play those cards there too.
“And some of those cards are just – they’re just now better in Wild also. So the core set’s actually affecting a very broad spectrum of our modes, and beyond that as well, there’s actually a whole bunch of changes and reverts from cards coming to Wild as well, so there’s a pretty hefty list of what’s coming. Not all cards… but there’s a lot of Wild cards and cards from history that are getting changes and tweaks.”
Adding Spell Schools Into Hearthstone
Ben Lee: “There’s some pretty obvious, basic schools out there that are really in your face – Frost and Fire, and I think that’s where a lot of this comes from originally. There’s definitely a fantasy of like, ‘I’m a Mage player and I want to build a Frost deck,’ or, ‘I want to build a Fire deck.’ So it starts from that, and I think when we were looking at synergies and combos… We actually really love minion types, and I think that’s been really great for Battlegrounds. Minion type is actually a pretty core mechanic in Mercenaries as well. But players respond really well to it, it’s just super fun building a team of Murlocs, or whatever the case is in Battlegrounds.
“When you think about spell schools, it taps into the same kind of synergies and the same kind of player mindset, ‘I want to be a Fire Mage. I want to be a Warlock that throws Fel magic.’ The big schools that we’re really talking about here are Fel, Shadow, Holy, Frost, Fire, and Nature, and Arcane obviously as well. So a lot of it comes from Mages, but there are definitely other classes that dip into it. And also, this actually gives us a chance to really revisit Shadow as a Priest mechanic. Because over the last year or so, there’s a large group of Priest players out there that want to be able to not just be the healing and buffing class, they want to do something different. They love their class and they love some of its older identity, and something like this gives us a chance to bring that back to them as well.”
Nathan Lyons-Smith: “Yeah, I think the taxonomy is super helpful… and really fits into the theme of, ‘I want to build this type of deck or have this type of experience.’ But it also… give us tools to say, ‘Hey, you can do this kind of thing with this kind of spell.’ And that’s not flexibility we’ve had before, and so I’m really excited. We’ve carved out this new design space for the designers to go and explore, and see how they can lean into either more power or less power, depending on the spell school and how it gets used. So lots more to do, this is a permanent change and going back to all of the cards, and so I think there’s a lot more to come here.”
Spells Without Schools
Ben Lee: “Some spells don’t have schools, it’s a lot of what you would consider physical spells. Warrior is a great example of this. Let’s say you hypothetically have something that creates a taunt minion or something on those lines, it doesn’t really fit into a spell school. So a lot of it’s inspired by the art actually, if there’s a character doing a big Shadow spell in the art, it’s a Shadow spell, and in lots of cases, the naming links into that as well. And a lot of the older stuff, it isn’t deliberate synergies, we’ve had to keep that in mind and try and build into that, so it’s actually been a really fun exercise.
“We’re touching a little bit lightly on that in Forged in the Barrens, [but] in the mini-set that’s coming, we’re actually hitting it pretty heavily in some of the classes, so I think it’s going to be exciting to see. This is a permanent mechanic that we can lean into for the rest of Hearthstone’s future, so you can expect there’s going to be points in the future where players are going to be referring to decks as the Fire Mage Deck or the Ice Mage Deck. And I think that’s cool fantasy the players like.”
Exciting times for Hearthstone, and for those of you itching to see all 235 cards, the full core set will be revealed sometime next week. For now though, be sure to read our coverage of Hearthstone’s new expansion, Forged in the Barrens, and new mode, Mercenaries.
Hearthstone – Forged in the Barrens Reveal Cards
Cam Shea is IGN’s AU Studio Lead and has a serious soft spot for rave era breakbeat . He also played more Breath of the Wild than any other game last year. Catch him on Twitter. Maybe.