Sinisa Bucan, January 12, 2017

Changes and Additions we Want From Competitive Hearthstone in 2017

2016 was a huge year for Hearthstone, especially within the game's competitive scene. With the introduction of the Standard format, the pros were satisfied, as it made the game more balanced and competitive. Furthermore, the Hearthstone Championship Tour saw significant improvements when compared to 2015.

Not only was it better organized and easier to follow, but it also introduced various changes throughout the year in order to improve the overall experience. One of the major changes was making all decks public prior to the start of the tournament. This meant that all players knew exactly what they were getting into, highlighting the strategic element of the game.

Blizzard has already announced further changes to the Hearthstone Championship Tour for this coming year, too: HCT is going global. That means that the regional Season Championships are gone. All players will fight it out on the global scene throughout the entire year, not just at the World Championship at BlizzCon.

Additionally, Championships will be synced with Standard rotations. Going forward, HCT tournaments will be aligned with planned content releases, meaning that each of the global Season Championships will take place during its own expansion pack cycle.

These are all great changes, but we want more.

Total Ladder Overhaul

This simply needs to happen as soon as possible. One of the best ways players can acquire HCT points is by working their way up the ladder.  At the beginning of each month, Legend players are relegated all the way down to rank 16. That means that each season starts off in chaos, with a lot of casuals and pros all being the same rank.

This situation leads to less skilled players avoiding ranked altogether for the first week or so. And getting to Legend is a total grind, which results in an inordinate number of aggro decks because players want to advance more quickly. There’s also a problem at the end of each season when players are frantically battling for high Legend ranks.

Hearthstone ladder could do with a little less anxiety
Hearthstone Ladder

The good news is that this will almost certainly change this year. A few months ago, lead designer Ben Brode discussed the state of ranked play on Reddit, explaining how Blizzard is “reanalyzing the number of ranks, the number of stars per rank, the number of bonus stars given out at the start of the season, and other parts of the system.”

We want to see more “checkpoints” on the ladder. For example, if you get to rank 20 or Legend, you are guaranteed not to drop down. Having a safety net on ranks 15, 10, and 5 would alleviate a lot of the anxiety players experience when they’re on a losing streak.

Tournament Mode

This is something players have been asking for since the very beginning. It would make organizing both professional and more casual tournaments a lot easier. It could also make more people tune in to watch competitive Hearthstone as they could do it through the client itself. Various tournaments could have different rulesets and criteria, and could be used by pros to train for the big HCT events, giving more casual players a feel of what’s it like competing in a tournament setting.

Hearthstone - Tournament Mode
Hearthstone - Tournament Mode

A month ago, news broke out that Hearthstone China would be getting a sanctioned tournament mode through a secondary application called "Hearthstone Box" developed by NETEASE. This will allow players to compete in automatic tournaments by installing the application on their computer and having it read data from the game client. Even though this mode isn’t developed by Blizzard directly, they did sanction it, which tells us that they are open to such an idea.

Changes to Standard

Ever since the introduction of Standard, Blizzard has maintained that this is only their first attempt and that changes to the format are not only possible, but probable. Ben Brode recently said that more cards from the Basic and Classic sets may be nerfed before the next Standard rotation. He even said that some cards from those sets might be retired to Wild to stop them from continuously dominating Standard.

People may or may not like it, but certain cards that have been staples since the very beginning might be on their way out (for example, Ragnaros the Firelord, Azure Drake, Tirion Fordring, or Sylvanas Windrunner). At the same time, Blizzard needs to be careful when it comes to class cards, because some cards are part of that class’s identity.

Is Ragnaros the Firelord on his way out?
Ragnaros the Firelord

But just as some Basic and Classic cards might get nerfed or retired, cards from other retired sets could make a comeback in one rotation. For example, once Reno Jackson rotates out, it’s going to change the metagame dramatically. Certain deck archetypes will simply cease to exist and could also ruin the value of some Kabal gang cards from the latest Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion.

Ben Brode has already confirmed that Reno Jackson is not going to be sticking around in Standard after the next rotation, but maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see some old favorites from Naxxramas or Goblins vs. Gnomes re-enter Standard for a year or two. We'll have to wait and see, but 2017 should be an exciting year for Hearthstone either way.

Sinisa Bucan

Siniša is a writer and translator from Croatia, a small European country on the Adriatic coast. Apart from being a passionate Hearthstone player, he enjoys all kinds of video games, including strategy, role-playing, adventure, and action. Other interests include listening to indie rock and travelling. You can follow him @SinisaBucan.