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HearthstoneMar 1, 2019 10:00 am CT

Year of the Dragon to introduce Hearthstone’s most ambitious single player experience

Happy Hearthstone new year! In homage to the Chinese calendar, each Hearthstone year has an animal representative. The Year of the Raven is ending and now the Year of the Dragon is on the horizon. We bid a fond farewell to the cards from Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds & Catacombs. Powerful — maybe overly powerful — features like Death Knights, Legendary Quests and Legendary Weapons are headed to Wild.

Hearthstone will give one pack from each of the outgoing expansions each day you log in from March 25 to April 2. With the free Year of the Raven packs stopping on a Tuesday, most players expect April 2nd is the launch date for the first Year of the Dragon expansion. If you’ve been following my guide for saving gold, you should have about 4,000 in the bank right now.

Here’s what you can expect from the new year.

Deeper and more ambitious single player

The sets coming in the Year of Dragon are aimed as much at the player who loves PVE content in Hearthstone as they are for the Arena fiends and ladder climbers. Players will participate in a story spanning the entire year. It unfolds through Dungeon Run-style missions. You’ll start with a class, a starter deck and starting hero power. You’ll upgrade your hero throughout the run choosing card buckets and treasures. After the run, there will be a non-combat Tavern encounter to refine the deck. This sounds like you’ll be building an entire PVE card collection, swapping cards and treasures in and out as you test them against the Tavern Innkeeper. There are nine heroes in all, each with three Hero powers and four starting decks you can unlock through subsequent runs. This brings in MMO-like elements like leveling up your hero, getting new spells (starter decks) and talent points (hero powers).

The single player adventure will feature a normal mode, a Heroic mode, and — an Anomaly mode? No clue what that is. In an answer to one of the main frustration with Rumble Runs, this new adventure will give you a way to track your victories, and let you pause mid-game.

The yet-unnamed single player experience launches one month after the expansion. It unlocks over the course of four weeks. It will be like the wings from the original adventures with one new wing (set of encounters) per week. You’ll receive the first chapter and one character: a mysterious, yet familiar Mage character. My money is on Toki, Time-Tinker. Based upon our many adventures in World of Warcraft with Chromie, wibbly wobbly timey wimey would make for a solid story.

All this wonderful single player goodness comes with a cost. After the first chapter, you can purchase additional chapters for 700g, or $19.99 in real currency or Blizzard Balance. If you do nothing more than completing your quests every day, you can earn 700g in about a week and a half. Each chapter gives you two new characters to play and level up. When you complete the chapter, you’re awarded three card packs for that expansion. Complete all five chapters, and you’ll receive a special card back and a pack filled with five Golden Classic cards.

The key is going to be getting the difficulty curve right. Dungeon Runs were fairly balanced. Monster Hunts danced the line. Rumble Runs launched overpowered and received nerfs. Details are light — as you might expect — but its great to see a huge emphasis given to the single player experience.

Don’t feel forced to play what you don’t want to

Judging by my Twitter feed, players are excited about the more frequent updates to the cards available in the Arena draft coming in the Year of the Dragon. Halfway through each expansion, the sets used for the draft will change. This promises to keep the Arena experience fresh. Arena wins will also now count toward the Golden Hero portrait award.

With the changes to the Arena and PVE, the developers are creating each mode to stand alone from the other — and from the ladder. Arena players no longer need to participate on the ladder if they don’t want to. PVE players can reroll their quests — even special event quests — to find ones which don’t require victory. Some quests only ask you to play a certain number of cards from a class or play a set number of turns. I have constructed decks with nothing but class cards to complete some of these quest fast. PVE players can funnel their gold into new chapters instead. The card back earned from the PVE adventure could become a flag in Casual play communicating to the other player “I’m just here so I won’t get fined, and complete my quest.”

Departing Hall of Fame cards completely redefine Ranked play

For those of you who are interested in ladder play, the Hall of Fame rotation doesn’t shake up the metagame, it puts it right into a blender.  Nine cards are getting the Hall of Fame designation. Hall of Fame means a card which would normally be allowed in Standard is no longer permitted.

The first two card moving to the Hall of Fame are Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater. These cards upgraded your hero power, but restricted your deck to only even or odd cards. The upgrade far outweighed the restriction as Even and Odd decks became some of the best decks in the game. As each subsequent expansion added more cards, it got easier and easier to build decks around them. Each class had at least one Even or Odd deck, some had both. Genn and Baku are doing collateral damage, too — their support cards like Gloom StagBlack CatGlitter Moth, and Murkspark Eel are going to the Hall of Fame with them.

Genn and Baku made my list of the top five cards any player should craft. The good news, if you followed my advice, is you’ll be getting a full refund of all the arcane dust you spent to craft the card, plus you get to keep the card in your collection for Wild or Brawl play. If you opened these cards — including their support cards — from packs, congratulations, you’ll get free dust too. If you don’t have the cards, it’s a good idea to go ahead and craft them if you have the dust available as they are essentially free. You’ll get the dust back when the next expansion launches and be able craft cards from the new expansion with it.

Why did these two prove so overpowered when Justicar Trueheart gave these same upgraded powers during The Grand Tournament? Genn and Baku provided the upgrade from turn one. Justicar didn’t upgrade your Hero power until you played her on turn 6 at the earliest. You would also have those games where Justicar hid at the bottom of your deck and you’d never see the upgrade.

The other cards getting the Hall of Fame designation are impactful as well. Charge minions continue to give the Hearthstone team trouble and Doomguard is the next charge minion headed to the Hall of Fame. Naturalize provided Druid one of their only tools to remove big minions, and now its gone. Druids have been a dominate force for several expansions; perhaps this reins them in. Divine Favor provided the most efficient card draw in the game and will no longer be available for aggressive Paladin decks. Other cards like Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and Malygos continue to avoid the Hall of Fame despite developers continued diligence in watching them.

I understand all of the cards moved to the Hall of Fame were powerful and dictated the metagame to a large degree and I can see where removing them makes sense. My Odd Quest Warrior wasn’t going to survive the rotation anyway as the quests rotate out. However, I don’t agree with taking these out while at the same time not doing anything about Mecha’thun decks. These decks need to do nothing more than draw their entire deck as fast as possible. They provide no tension between staying alive and completing the combo. They aren’t fun to play against, and I don’t think they’re fun to pilot.

Deck builder tool gets smarter

There are two halves to any Hearthstone game, building the deck and piloting the deck. Either can win or lose you the match. Players go outside of the game to sites like Hearthstone Top Decks or Tempo Storm to get the best decks. Blizzard introduced Deck Recipes which give suggested decks to players in game. If you’re missing a card, the game offers suggestions. The decks and the suggested replacement both are okay but not great. The Legendary minion, Whizbang the Wonderful, gives you one of the current suggested deck recipes at random with all the cards whether you own them or not.

Principal Hearthstone Game Designer, Mike Donais, said “If you own all of the cards, for example, and you go into any class and hit make me a deck, it’ll make you the best deck of that class. Literally the highest win-rate deck of that class. The smart deck builder is updated regularly – usually every single day. It looks at high ranked players, usually rank 5 and above.”

The new deck builder will look at Blizzard’s own internal metrics. All of the external sites rely on voluntary data collection, so this should be a far more accurate picture overall. My biggest concern is looking at Rank 5 win rates might give a distorted picture of the best decks for all players. Decks which work at Rank 5 sometimes don’t work as well at Rank 20. Lower ranks tend to favor more aggressive decks where players are trying to grind up as fast as they can. In addition, sometimes there’s a higher skill cap on piloting those Rank 5 decks.

The Year of Dragon looks to address many of the issues with Hearthstone, and I’m excited about the new features. If you’d like to give the Hearthstone team some feedback, they’ll be hosting an AMA on Reddit on Thursday, March 7 at 1:00 p.m. PST.

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