The announcement is here! Three Classic cards will depart the Standard format when the next Hearthstone expansion arrives in spring: Ice Block, Coldlight Oracle, and Molten Giant.
The expansion also triggers the annual set rotation, where Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan will rotate out into Wild.
In this post, I take a look at the Hall of Fame cards and what their departure means for the meta. Of course, the new expansion will bring along new cards, so any predictions are not final.
The departure of Ice Block has been rumored about for a long time, and the official news hardly surprised anyone. Many people have hated the card and the way it made Freeze Mage, and later on Exodia Mage, impervious to damage while the Mage put together their lethal combos. The use of Ice Block was not limited to combo decks though, it also saw play in grindy Control Mage builds and even in aggressive Secret Mage builds, which could happily skip trading while protected by their precious secret and go for a full-on face race.
Mage combo decks are the ones most hurt by the rotation, so mostly Exodia Mage in the current meta. Exodia Mage was already focused on creating random spells, and sometimes trying to push through numerous freezes and four or five Ice Blocks was simply an exercise in futility. When the rotation hits, Exodia Mage loses a major defensive tool, and one that was often not limited to only two copies given the nature of the deck.
Secret Mage can obviously survive. Many builds already used other secrets over Ice Block, so while some variants will need to be re-evaluated, the archetype itself is not in danger because of the rotation. Without Ice Block, it will be more difficult for Secret Mage to go for a pure face strategy, and they need to pay a bit more attention to the board, but they can still do fine.
What about Control Mage? Ice Block plays a different role in recent Control Mage builds compared to other Mage archetypes: it is mainly a card to protect against combos. Control Mage may run only one copy, or only one Arcanologist to tutor for Ice Block, because they don’t really care that much whether they find it in the early game, as long as they can find it in time to survive combo turns and rebuild from there.
In the current meta, Combo Dragon Priest is the main reason for Control Mage to run Ice Block at all, and in many pockets of the meta it is not needed at all. I’ve played a version without Ice Block comfortably during the climb and in legend: a version without secrets can more easily run Bright-Eyed Scout for some additional card draw and tempo, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
With Frost Lich Jaina and Arcane Artificer, Mage has survival tools beyond Ice Block. In the long term, evergreen Mage survival has taken a hit, and Mage will need a steady stream of survival cards to keep up, but on the bright side Mage can have different ways to survive over time now instead of relying on Ice Block only.
This was a surprise to me, I really did not see it coming. The reasoning was interesting, too:
Its “downside” can destroy opponent’s cards and prevent opponents from playing the deck they built—which in turn limits some designs related to Battlecry and effects that return a minion to hand.
The description sounds like Blizzard is concerned about mill decks becoming too strong. We have seen Mill Rogue (Kingsbane Rogue), Fatigue Warrior, and even some Grumble Mill Shamans with Murmuring Elemental, but none of them have really been top tier. They are great against control decks, but typically crumble against pure aggression.
Other than that, Coldlight Oracle has also been a tech card against control and combo decks, limiting their power whenever they have become too prevalent.
This is curious. One could argue that having your board frozen a dozen times, or Rin, or Dirty Rat, or Skulking Geist, or even Gnomeferatu, also prevents you from playing the deck you built. Of course, all of those cards rotate out of Standard eventually, so you can argue that there is a difference.
With the current card pool, then, active milling is the domain of Warlock with Gnomeferatu and Rin, the First Disciple. With Dirty Rat rotating out, there is currently nothing that stops Warlock from using Rin as they please – killing it off when played with a buffed up Spellstone, if everything else fails.
This is a buff to Warlock, control decks, and especially to combo decks, who no longer have to worry about losing that one key piece on their road to victory. What combo decks will exist in the new Standard depends heavily on the next expansion, but they have one less obstacle to assembling their inevitability.
Molten Giant is not only going to Hall of Fame, it is also getting un-nerfed! The card used to cost 20 mana, but it was nerfed to 25 mana and to obsolescence in 2016, effectively killing Handlock as a deck. It’s getting back to 20 mana again!
So, you can play Handlock again in Wild! However, you probably rather use Naga Sea Witch anyway to unload some free giants much sooner and more easily – the change makes no difference to a Naga-enabled Giant, as its base cost is always five, so after you’ve taken mere five damage, it becomes free.
Molten Giant has had no use in Standard anyway, so its rotation makes little difference. It only saw niche play in some Quest Mage decks, and they would not be able to use it effectively without Ice Block anyway, so this rotation does not matter for Standard play.
When the rotation happens, you will get a full dust refund for the rotating cards, up to the number of copies that fit in a deck, and you also get to keep the cards themselves.
Therefore, if you already have two copies of each of the cards, you’re all set, additional copies do not benefit you. It also does not help to craft golden copies if you already have regular ones. You can just sit back and wait for your dust fix.
However, if you don’t already own all these cards, you can craft them now in either regular or golden (don’t do both) and receive all of your dust back when the rotation happens – and some extra, if you then disenchant your copies.