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Blizzard’s digital card game is gearing up for a new year with a slew of changes – including a whole new expansion! The Year of the Phoenix promises to be “Hearthstone’s best year yet” – and includes a slew of changes to improve the player experience. The game has had some rough times lately with rapidly dropping player numbers as well as migration to other card games like League of Runeterra (which has launched in beta recently).

Every year, certain “problem” cards are rotated out from the Classic set to a special “Hall of Fame” so that the meta can remain healthy. (Basically, these cards are no longer playable). This year, the rotation includes Mind Control Tech, Mountain Giant, Acolyte of Pain, Spellbreaker and of course – everyone’s favorite meme Leeroy Jenkins. Leeroy offers burst damage for a surprisingly low amount of mana, often being a finisher in many aggressive decks. Being an evergreen card that found itself into almost every aggressive deck meant that Blizzard needed to find a fix for it. Mind Control Tech and Spellbreaker were removed because they were deemed too good for the effect they offered – basically having decent stats as well as a decent effect. The Mountain Giant and Leeroy removal seemed a bit rushed, especially from an organization which laid quite some focus on game balance (perhaps buying into the demands of a majority of the players).

Priest is getting a major overhaul this expansion. All of Priest’s card draw as well as damage dealing effects are being removed, only to be replaced by other cards which are made to be more in line with Priest’s ability to heal. One major card leaving Priest’s collection is Divine Spirit, which allowed Priest to double the health of any minion – a card which many combo decks relied on for dealing a lot of damage in one turn by combining its effect with Inner Fire (another Priest card which makes the attack of a minion equal to its health). The developers believe the changes will help Priest’s class identity while allowing him to come up with new strategies to mark a presence in the meta.

The entire ranked system is getting an overhaul. With individual ranks, there will be “leagues” too that help reflects a player’s skill group. At the start of a season, all players drop to the lowest rank, but the amount of stars gained with each victory depends on the rank gained in the previous season. There’s also a hidden MMR rating which is set based on the rank pushed in the past seasons, which ensures that newer players do not get to play against older players and get their hopes and dreams crushed within a single day. Ranked rewards at the end of the season are also vastly improved, now granting extra rewards for the first time a particular rank is reached.

One of the best changes is that from the Year of the Phoenix onwards, no player will get duplicate cards. This rule was used only for legendaries earlier , but now it applies for each card of a new expansion. Till you complete your collection of commons, rares and epics, you will not receive any duplicates. One of the major downsides of playing Hearthstone was its prohibitive cost, and changes like these do mitigate the woes of the players by quite a bit. The official subreddit for the game has crowned this change as the best announcement for the expansion. Another big thing is that returning as well as new players can get one complete deck of their choice from the deck recipes of each class. Needless to say, it improves the new player experience immeasurably.

These are quite a few big changes for the game. Team 5 got quite a few replacements in staff, and the new team has been working on quite a few stuff (pun intended). Apart from these changes, a roadmap of the Year of the Phoenix has also been released, which shows that they are working on much more – including a new game mode which “closely resembles Arena”. It is the best time for players to return – there’s a lot more in store including a whole new expansion worth exploring.

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