Here’s what we think the themes for Hearthstone’s three Year of the Raven expansions are

This week saw Blizzard drop the first details for the Year of the Raven, the next 12 month cycle of Hearthstone expansions. As per the its Mammoth predecessor, the Raven will bring three new full sets of cards, but as of now we don’t what the theme of the expansions will be. We do, however, have a clue to work from. Team 5 likes to tease, and has once again released a promotional image to decipher. They did a similar thing last year, hinting at Un'Goro Crater with some jungle foliage and Knights of the Frozen Throne with with the chilly runic symbols favored by Death Knights.

This time, the three expansion slots Blizzard has teased have a very different look. Obviously the community is already feverishly debating what each one might be, and being PC Gamer's resident World of Warcraft enthusiast, I've decided to round up those theories along with my own observations to give you our best guesses at what Hearthstone's three 2018 expansions will be.

Now, with this being the Year of the Raven, many players are smartly looking at Medivh—one of Warcraft's most infamous heroes-turned-villain-turned-hero-turned-something-else—because the wizard often takes the appearance of a raven. As YouTuber Noxious points out, Medivh already starred in Hearthstone's One Night in Karazhan adventure, and if Year of the Raven will revisit him as a character, it will most likely explore new territory like the role he played in opening the Dark Portal to Draenor in The Burning Crusade expansion. Something to mull over as we get into the specifics of each set, starting with... 

Expansion 1 

The first expansion, which is likely to land in April, provides the most decipherable of the clues, as it prominently features thorns and plants encircling a slightly greenish gem. You don't have to be a Warcraft loremaster to reach the conclusion that this expansion will likely involve themes of druidism and, by extension, could also touch on the Emerald Dream. This otherworldly plane is actually a mirror of Azeroth as it would appear without the corruption of intelligent lifeforms. It is lush and full of life, and is (or was, if you've played WoW: Legion) protected by Hearthstone-favorite Ysera, the green dragon aspect. Being a plane full of nature and life, the Emerald Dream is also home to druids who can visit it both physically and in their dreams. Supporting this theory is the fact that when the first expansion launches, players will earn the new Druid hero Lunara for their first 10 Standard wins. 

Many players already believe that this expansion will focus mostly on the Emerald Dream and, perhaps, expand on game systems like Ysera's dream cards. Another plausible theory is that it could have something to do with The War of the Ancients, the cataclysmic conflict that sundered Kalimdor into two continents and created the Maelstrom, or the Battle for Mount Hyjal as depicted in Warcraft 3.

While an Emerald Dream expansion seems to be the leading theory, I'm not sold on it largely due to the coloration of the growth surrounding the gem. The Emerald Dream is, as its name implies, a pretty verdant shade of green. This expansion has a more gloomy shade—one that doesn't mesh well with the fiery red accents of the Emerald Nightmare as it was corrupted in Legion. Likewise, War of the Ancients or the Battle for Mount Hyjal both feel like a similar stretch in that vaguely dark green brambles don't really evoke the imagery I'd associate with either of these events.

My personal favorite theory, as shared by redditor Adernain, is that this expansion might be themed around Terokkar Forest, a zone from WoW's Burning Crusade expansion. Not only does Terokkar feature the same gloomy color palette, it also fits in with Noxious' theory that each expansion is related to Medivh through the opening of the Dark Portal to Draenor. Terokkar Forest would be an awesome expansion setting, too, what with the bird-men Arakkoa—might Hearthstone finally get a ‘Flying’-type keyword—and famous dungeons like Auchindoun providing a lot of cool design possibilites. 

Expansion 2 

Expansion 2's vibrant pink energy and portal-looking structure doesn't leave much room for ambiguity. As redditor captain_dark points out, the portal at the center of the image is almost an exact copy of the ones used by the Ethereals. These interdimensional travellers live inside the Twisting Nether, itself already a Hearthstone card, and are best known as collectors and traders of arcane artifacts—how is that not the coolest idea for a card set?

Again, the Ethereals fit perfectly with the ongoing theory that each of these expansions has something to do with The Burning Crusade expansion from World of Warcraft and, by extension, Outland. More broadly, smart WoW lorekeepers are suggesting that while Ethereals will play a role in this expansion, it is more likely themed around Netherstorm, another Outland zone. That makes even more sense if Expansion 1 is indeed Terokkar Forest.

Netherstorm would account for the pink energy swirling around the portal, as this region is torn apart by the Twisting Nether, causing explosions of pink lightning and a violet haze to engulf the area. The Ethereals, unsurprisingly, have a presence here, but there's plenty of other cool things for this card set to draw from. Kael'Thas Sunstrider, a Blood Elf prince, has a floating castle in Netherstorm called Tempest Keep which serves as both a dungeon and a raid. Maybe this will be the expansion we see Dungeon Runs make a comeback. Kael’Thas would also make for an incredible mage hero (he's kickass in Heroes of the Storm). The region is dominated by all manner of void and elemental creatures that haven't already been turned into cards, so again offers rich source material. 

Expansion 3 

As the furthest off, Blizzard deliberately makes the last tease the most vague. Unlike the first two, there's not much about it that is a dead giveaway. Looking more closely, however, you'll notice that the subtle green background and white teeth marks are actually painted on and look vaguely like a tribal symbol. The teeth also resemble the tusks of trolls (or orcs), leading some to wonder if this expansion might be related to trolls. If that's the case, the likely suspect could be Zul'Aman in the Ghostlands, another zone introduced in The Burning Crusade, but this time located in Azeroth.

That doesn't explain the watery-looking crystal in the center, however, which conjures up nautical-themed races like the Naga and their territory of Vashj'ir. Now, if that's true, that means this expansion breaks the Outland theme, as Vashj'ir is from the much younger Cataclysm expansion. It could also point us to Zangarmarsh or Serpentshrine Cavern, both areas in Outland that feature Naga in some form, a race which has barely been touched upon in Hearthstone beyond the Wild-warping Sea Witch.

Still, none of these theories are all that convincing, and none of them address the dark red rocks that surround the blue orb in the center. I've spent the better part of an afternoon pouring through various Warcraft wikis trying to figure out how the painted tribal patterns, blue orb, and rocks could all tie together and am honestly at a loss.

So what are your theories over what these expansions could be? While Expansion 2 seems pretty obvious, the other two are hotly debated and I want to know your opinion—especially if you have a clue that could help dispel the mystery surrounding Expansion 3. If you fancy yourself a bit of a Warcraft expert, hop in the comments and let us know what you think.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.