Year of the Raven Hall of Fame – Pruning the Standard Tree
A couple weeks ago, Blizzard announced the new inductees to the Hall of Fame for 2018. Just like last year, a selection of the most offensive and/or oppressive cards have been relegated forever to the Wild format. I’m going to take a deeper look into Blizzard’s choices and try to make a few predictions about their goals for the Year of the Raven.
At first glance, it’s clear that we have a mixed bag here. None of these cards are outliers in power level like we had last year, such as Sylvanas Windrunner and Azure Drake. In contrast, most of them are quite the opposite, not overly strong, but simply a net negative influence on the Standard metagame. The loss of these three will only affect a minority of decks currently in play, though of course new decks will be introduced when Year of the Raven actually kicks off with 2018’s first expansion.
This year, it seems that the devs are making small adjustments, not the sweeping changes we saw at the dawn of the Year of the Mammoth. Perhaps that bodes well for the current health of the Standard format, if only three arguably peripheral cards are being Hall of Famed. The Classic set remains the most powerful of all, but it is clear that that in preparation for the new Hearthstone year, its branches are now being gently pruned as opposed to lopped off.
The official announcement on the Hearthstone website gives us precious little about why Ice Block was chosen for the Wild format. It’s a ‘powerful card, and has been the centerpiece of Standard decks for years.’ So deck diversity is the main reason, according to Blizzard. This is the only predictable choice out of the three. Many players hate Ice Block with a passion, and it’s been a popular candidate for the Hall of Fame since the set was introduced a year ago. I doubt there will be many out there lamenting its transfer to Wild, apart from diehard Freeze Mage fans (who already will be playing Wild, since Ice Lance is chilling there now).
The fact that it’s strong almost goes without saying – it’s Hearthstone’s only true ‘get out of jail free’ card. Yet it isn’t overpowered, like many said of Azure Drake and Power Overwhelming. The streamer and YouTuber Kripparrian makes a valid point when he said that the card itself is less of an issue than the fact that it coexists with myriad different ways to generate multiple Mage cards. Two Ice Blocks is fine. Any more than that, grabbed from Primordial Glyph or Cabalist’s Tome (or Babbling Book, or Shimmering Tempest, or…), is unfair.
If Blizzard wants to make more cards that generate spells, they have to address Ice Block; therefore, we can safely assume that there’s plenty more of those the way in 2018.
However, it’s interesting when we consider that for most of the Kobolds and Catacombs meta, Ice Block has not featured heavily in most Mage decks. Tempo/Secret Mage is king (or queen) right now. Quest Mage and Freeze Mage, the two decks that rely completely on Ice Block, are neither popular nor strong. This has been the case for some time. Rather than a remedial change to an existing problem in the meta, the choice of Ice Block is evidently aimed at the future. I expect that we will only see Blizzard’s real reasoning when the new expansion is released.
I and many others were quite surprised when I read that Coldlight Oracle would be moving permanently to Wild. It isn’t disrupting the meta. For years, it has been a staple of one of Hearthstone’s most enduring deck archetypes – mill. It’s balanced, because it gives your opponent a ton of cards too.
Yet when you look closer, Coldlight Oracle is an obvious choice, for a number of reasons beyond those offered by Team 5. It’s flat out annoying; there are few things more annoying than seeing your precious deck go up in flames when a Rogue plays this Murloc for the third time in a turn. It is very weird, in comparison to the Standard set and even Hearthstone as a whole, just how many cards it draws – four in total. It’s a true outlier. Like Blizzard says, its ‘downside’ is not really a downside; rather, it’s an offensive tool that has no counterplay.
It will be a shame to see an iconic deck go the way of the Azure Drake, but for me, the fact is that mill decks really do belong in Wild. They’re the kind of ‘just for fun’ troll deck that the format excels in. Mill decks have never been competitive in Standard anyway, and the game will benefit from the loss of such egregious card draw.
Now here’s a shocker. Molten Giant is reverting to 20 mana, down from 25, as it departs Standard. Much like with Coldlight Oracle, this change is totally unanticipated - but it actually reveals some truths when we look a little closer.
Here we gain a fascinating insight into the developers’ perspective on the game. This is a totally unnecessary yet helpful boost to the Wild format, specifically to Control decks. Team 5 wants to revive old-school Handlock, an ancient Warlock deck that became extinct in its original form when Molten Giant became five mana more expensive, in April 2016. We can probably assume that if Hall of Fame had existed then, Molten Giant would never have been nerfed.
It feels like Molten Giant was included here as some kind of afterthought; it’s just a small bonus to those who enjoyed classic Handlock. Giants Hunter – which combines Giants with Naga Sea Witch to reduce them to zero mana usually by turn five or six – will become a little bit more ridiculous. But this is a welcome change. Handlock is a skilful deck, testing players’ sense of risk versus reward, and its resurrection in Wild will surely entice people to give that retro deck another try.
P.S.: RIP Holy Wrath.