The Year of the Gryphon looks set to be a helluva time for Hearthstone players, kicking off with some of the biggest changes ever to happen to the game landing simultaneously. We're just weeks away from the first expansion of 2021 (opens in new tab), and the current format that we've grown accustomed to over the past seven years is about to ripped up and reformed.
When that happens, the Standard mode will include the new (and free) Core set, Year of the Phoenix expansions, plus this year's upcoming expansions. Meanwhile. Wild will gain the Legacy set (Basic and Classic, some of which have been un-nerfed, and the Hall of Fame cards), as well as all the other cards from old expansions and adventures.
You can see exactly which 235 cards comprise the Core set here (opens in new tab). It's a mix of returning favourites from Wild, some entirely new designs, and old Basic and Classic cards which survived the cut—in some cases they've even been buffed.
That means we have some tough goodbyes ahead of us when Hearthstone's new year begins. Before we discuss the iconic cards that are leaving, it's important to remember that the Core Set is supposed to serve as a starting point. So, even though we're losing some staples, the idea is to create a bedrock of solid cards that will enable new players to be creative, and to help enable some of the archetypes that Team 5 wishes to explore in coming expansions. (It's also worth noting that the Core set will be refreshed each year, further helping the developers to keep the overall meta feeling fresh.)
To make things even more interesting, quintessential Hearthstone cards like Malygos, Ysera, and Deathwing (opens in new tab) have been reimagined entirely. Every class will feel the effects of these new changes, although it looks as though some have been hit considerably harder than others. There's a lot to cover, so let's take a look at some of the most surprising cards that didn't make the Core set cut, focusing on Hunter, Mage, and Rogue.
Hunter: Farewell, my loyal animal companion
Hunter is losing a lot of cards that have played a huge part in affirming its class identity. Sadly, the days of "always Huffer" are over as far as the Core Set is concerned. Animal Companion is out, and it's taking my beloved Huffer, Misha, and Leokk with it.
We'll no longer have the agonising choice of when to attack, or bide our time and wait for our secret to pop with Eaglehorn Bow either. The 3/2 weapon is rotating, replaced by Headhunter's Hatchet (a 2/2 that gains +1 durability if you control a beast) instead.
We've all foolishly left an innocent beast on the board only to be killed by the disgusting double Kill Command combo in the following turn. It always felt pretty bad to lose to this, and that may be why Team 5 thinks it's time to give it a rest.
The hunt continues for Rexxar, but these changes will undoubtedly impact several Hunter archetypes. Current Highlander Hunter decks feature all these cards, and Face Hunter will certainly miss Eaglehorn Bow and Kill Command. It's much harder to find immediate damage thanks to the removal of these cards, and the pool of Charge cards grows ever smaller with Stonetusk Boar switching to the Rush keyword. All of these adjustments take the sting out of Hunter's SMOrc approach, and the decision to include cards like Dire Frenzy, Headhunter's Hatchet, and Webspinner suggest that we'll rely on beasts even more than before.
Mage: Ice and fire
Mage is set to lose a lot of its freeze and burn cards, apart from Fireball, which joins the new 'Fire' spell school. Blizzard, Frost Nova, and Frostbolt won't grace the Core Set, which is a scary thought for Control decks, particularly as Rolling Fireball is also leaving due to its set rotation.
We'll still have Flamestrike as an AoE board clear, and it's now been buffed to 5 damage, but we'll have to depend on Cone of Cold if we desperately need to freeze our opponent's threats. This spell is now only 3-Mana but considering that we're losing Ray of Frost at the same time, it feels like the Core Set won't offer a substantial Frost base.
As a Mage, I can't think of anything more satisfying than a Pyroblast finisher. Alas, I'll have to find another way to make my opponent's squirm when their health reaches the sub-10 range. As I mentioned before, Fireball remains, so there's still some room for burn, but it's nowhere near as explosive as before and—crucially—players won't be finding Pyro from random Discover effects anymore.
As a fan of Highlander Mage (and previously Freeze Mage) I'm sad to see a lot of these cards leave Standard. Special mention also goes to Sorcerer's Apprentice and Archmage Antonidas, which stifles the future of Exodia (opens in new tab) decks as we know them.
Secret Mage is all the rage at the moment, and it loses Kirin Tor Mage. Vaporize is also retiring for now, but secrets will continue to be a focus for Mages going forward. Not only is this in keeping with their class identity, but seeing as this is the most popular archetype at present, it seems fitting.
I'm also grateful that we'll be welcoming Babbling Book back from the One Night in Karazhan set. 'Created by' is still a sticky topic within the community, but it's fun to have the flexibility of a few random spells to spice up Jaina's games.
Rogue: No more Edwin
Rogue's Core Set remains in good shape, retaining Preparation, Cold Blood, SI:7 Agent, and the newly buffed Assassinate. Tomb Pillager and Swashburglar are also rejoining the party. But it wouldn't feel right to highlight the biggest Core Set losses without mentioning notorious Hall of Fame dodger, Edwin VanCleef.
Of all the Legendaries on the chopping board, Edwin is the most popular card, and Rogues have been including him in most archetypes since Hearthstone's inception. I have no doubt that he'll continue wreaking havoc in the Classic format, but we'll certainly miss seeing Rogues winning games on turn two or three by going all-in on a Big Edwin. His daughter, Vanessa is the new VanCleef in town, but her combo effect adds a copy of the last card your opponent played to your hand. It's very much a 'value' card rather than an immediate threat on the board.
The majority of cards leaving the core Rogue set rarely see play, so it's not too painful to see them go. However, Eviscerate is one staple that won't make it into this year's selection. Rogue also loses its cheap quasi-removal spell, Sap, which has been a powerful tempo tool, but has often been cut to one or no copies in modern decks.
We'll have to wait until the Forged in the Barrens set is live before we can make an informed call on which classes have really won and lost the most from the Core set changes, but there is one neutral card that's poised to help fill the gaps in the above classes. Alexstrasza, the Life-Binder (the Core Set's new version of Alexstrasza) has a Battlecry that'll deal 8 damage to enemies, or heal friendly characters. With Kill Command, Pyroblast, and Eviscerates off the table, this is one way to make up for that lost damage. Although it does cost 9-Mana, which will make it a hard sell in aggressive decks.