Hearthstone's history of adding new modes is a mixed one. Battlegrounds has been so successful that it's arguably supplanted the main Standard mode, but Mercenaries was a shuttle crash from start to finish. Classic, which as the name suggests gave players the chance to time warp back to the vanilla version of Hearthstone, was fun at first but with Blizzard opting not to add any expansions, interest dropped off fast. So I wasn't shocked to learn last week, on a call with modes design lead Matt London and features lead Chadd Nervig, that Classic is getting the chop. It will be replaced by a new mode, called Twist, which also looks to leverage old cards in players' collections.
Set to launch in beta later this month as part of patch 26.6, Twist is its own format with a ranked ladder, monthly rewards, and rotating set of rules intended to unlock previously impossible synergies and create new deck-building challenges. The ruleset being used for the Twist beta, which will run through June and July, is being dubbed 'New Age'. When building a New Age deck you will be able to pick cards from the following expansions, with the twist being that no neutrals are allowed.
- Ashes of Outland
- Scholomance Academy
- Madness at the Darkmoon Faire
- Forged in the Barrens
- United in Stormwind
- Fractured in Alterac Valley
- Voyage to the Sunken City
- Murder at Castle Nathria
- March of the Lich King
- Path of Arthas
- Festival of Legends
By combining sets from eras that weren't previously playable in Standard together, all sorts of new combos become possible. Existing archetypes also threaten to become much more powerful with the addition of cards that weren't in the pool beforehand. For example, the no neutrals rule immediately makes me think of the Pure Paladin archetype, which doesn't use neutrals anyway. Now consider the fact that Ashes of Outland contains the Libram package which can now be run alongside more recent cards like The Countess and Elitist Snob, and you've got something disgustingly powerful brewing.
Speaking to the developers, they confirmed that the overall power level of Twist—specifically for the New Age test—is being pitched above Standard but below the (total degeneracy) of Wild. Part of the impetus here is that the intention behind Wild was to provide players with fun ways to interact with the older parts of their card collection. But by its very nature, Wild decks only become more and more OP over time, meaning it's not a mode you can really dip into just to goof about, because the meta revolves around ruthless efficiency.
Once the beta has played out, Twist will go into a short hibernation period before re-emerging later in the year. We don't yet know what future rulesets will look like, but Nervig and London talked about leaning into dual-class cards, featuring all the Mech expansions, and leaning into 'singleton' cards. In testing, London says they tried a version where all cards cost zero mana: "Games ended early," he said laughing. As its name suggests, Twist being gimmicky is a feature not a bug. It's fair to think of it as akin to an enhanced version of Tavern Brawl, only with a ladder.
Speaking to the designers, I got the sense that the goal is to breathe new life into constructed Hearthstone at a time when its under more pressure than ever. At present, players spend a couple of weeks (at most) after each expansion solving the meta, and then many drift back to playing Battlegrounds or other games entirely. Twist, which aims to have a new rule set every month, is a way to keep players in that fun meta-solving phase. Inevitably, Blizzard is going to be selling 'Battle Ready' Twist decks, which I suppose serve the purpose of enabling players who don't have substantial collections from the era covered by the rule set to get involved.
As for Classic, I can't say I'll mourn its loss. I've been a player since beta, and it was fun to revisit the vanilla era, but I wouldn't want to live there. When asked why Classic is being culled, Blizzard confirmed the suspicion that interest was high at first but lost engagement quickly due to being a static format. However, what feels very uncomfortable to me is that Classic packs have been available in the shop all the way up until today. Players who invested any amount into buying them are going to be out of pocket when Classic dies. Such is the way with digital card games, but it sucks, and combined with the relatively recent shuttering of Mercenaries, which also sold its own packs, is a bad look for Blizzard.
[Update] I put that point to Blizzard and got this statement from an official spokesperson in return: "Classic Packs contain cards that were valid in Classic, but (the Wild versions of) those cards are still valid in Wild too." Whilst that's true, I would maintain that if you bought the packs specifically with a view to playing Classic, that's no longer going to be something you can do.
Economics aside, I am enthusiastic about Twist. I think it will potentially offer a place of refuge when the Standard meta gets stale. To that end, I asked whether a potential future Twist format could involve banning the Priest class entirely. Nervig and London laughed at the idea but said nothing is in the works. They did tell me they've kicked around the idea that each player could choose to ban one class, which I love. Not just because it would mean dodging your most hated type of opponent, but because eliminating a particularly unfavourable matchup would free you up to build your deck in new ways.
A special preview of Twist will be streamed by content creators on June 22-23, during which time Twitch drops will be enabled up to a maximum of nine free packs. For more info on Twist, take a look at the official blog post.