Blizzard is preparing to unveil what’s coming next to Hearthstone at its BlizzConline event. This year promises to be bigger than most, as the company will not only be debuting its new expansion and annual changeover, it will also be making some big changes to how the card pool in Hearthstone works.
New Expansion Teaser
We haven’t gotten much information about the next expansion for Hearthstone, but Blizzard has started to issue teasers for whatever it is coming next. A short teaser-trailer titled “Quill You Be Ready” shows a lone adventurer in the middle of a dry landscape, who is then surrounded by the Horde logo.
Those clues have led many in the fan community to conclude that the next expansion will take place in the Barrens, a savannah-like setting in Kalimdor, under the control of the horde. The “Quill” in the title appears to be a clue as well, as the primitive Quillboar race is from the Barrens.
New Year, New Season
As usual, the spring expansion to Hearthstone will mark the changeover into a new year of content. For example, the current year is called the Year of the Phoenix, the umbrella term given for the three expansions that appeared throughout the 2020-2021 content calendar–Ashes of Outland, Scholomance Academy, and Madness at the Darkmoon Faire.
Each year of Hearthstone content includes three major expansions, alongside any bonus updates like the addition of the new Duels mode with Darkmoon Faire. The annual cutoff also rotates out certain sets into the Wild format, making room for new expansions that will be playable in Standard mode. Blizzard has suggested that its expansion plans from now on will also include mini-expansions mid-season, so we can likely expect three of those as well.
But this year will be even more of a radical change because, as already announced, Blizzard will be retiring the Classic and Basic sets into Wild in favor of a new approach: the Core Set.
The Core Set
As long as Hearthstone has existed, the main building blocks have been the Classic and Basic sets. The Basic set was a free, earned set in Hearthstone that you would unlock by leveling up each class, while the Classic set gave eager card collectors something to hunt when cracking open Classic packs. These are the cards that defined class identity and mechanics, and for the entire history of the game, Blizzard has built expansions around these features.
That will change this year. Instead of static Basic and Classic sets that never change, Blizzard is introducing the . This will incorporate hand-picked cards from the Basic and Classic sets and bring back some from Wild, and even introduce a bundle of new cards. Unlike the Basic and Classic sets, the Core set will change every year, allowing Blizzard more flexibility in rebuilding the foundation of Hearthstone for new expansions, providing a more dynamic experience. So this first set will be Core 2021, to be followed by Core 2022, and so on.
Also, unlike the Classic set, the Core set will be absolutely free, just like Basic. All of the cards in the Core set will be granted automatically if you’ve leveled up your characters the requisite amount, and each year when the Core set rotates, you’ll automatically be granted all of the new Core cards. That should make it easier for new and lapsed players to jump aboard.
Basic and Classic cards will be merged into a single “Legacy Set.” But we don’t know much about what cards will be included in Core 2021. We know it will consist of several Demon Hunter cards, as that class was added post-release, and the Priest card Shadowform will be returning from the Hall of Fame. Other than that, Blizzard has not revealed what’s included in the set of Core 2021 cards. The company plans to tell us more about the Core set at BlizzConline.
One other big change coming to the game, though, has already been announced. Hearthstone is adding a Classic Mode. This will let you play the game with the original bundle of cards, exactly as they appeared in 2014, before any balance changes. Many of the cards from this era have significantly changed since their debut, so this mode will be a welcome nostalgia trip. It also sports its own ladder and matchmaking pool, so you can compete, unlock achievements, and even reach Legend rank completely in Classic Mode if it strikes your fancy.
A New Tavern Pass
The new season will also bring a new Tavern Pass. The battle pass-like system grants experience for unlocking achievements and completing daily, weekly, and occasional event-based quests. Those experience points then go toward unlocking rewards like gold, card packs, alternate hero portraits, and even a special seasonal version of The Coin. And like every battle pass, you can unlock certain rewards only by buying into the pass.
The system was surprisingly controversial when it debuted last year because fans calculated that it was actually granting less gold than the previous quest-based reward system. Blizzard explained that it had planned to offer XP boosts through special events that would make it grant more rewards. But based on feedback from fans, the company concluded that it should rebalance its rewards track to be more generous without the need to take part in special events.
For the next Tavern Pass, we can likely expect Blizzard to maintain something similar to the rewards track changes it already made, with a more generous structure. It’s also probable that the new Tavern Pass will offer a new set of cosmetic rewards or another seasonal Coin. For example, reaching the end of the previous Tavern Rewards track allowed you to select one of 10 exclusive hero portraits. It’s possible Blizzard will just bring back the same selection, letting you pick another from the pool across multiple seasons until you collect all 10.
The release timing for the new Hearthstone expansion is unknown, but we can make an educated guess. Blizzard has tended toward short announcement-to-release cycles recently, usually no more than a month. That would make a release for the next expansion likely to come in March.
For the last six years straight, the first expansion of the year was released in April. However, the Year of the Phoenix winter expansion came in November, rather than December as previous expansions usually had, so it’s possible that Blizzard is intentionally shifting plans to adjust the timing for new expansions to come earlier in the year. A March release would also mean that Darkmoon Races, the mini-set released in January, would have come midway through the expansion season between November and March.
Often when Blizzard unveils a new year, though, it’s much more than just the upcoming expansion. It has often dropped clues for the full year of expansions, and last year, it even included an expansive content roadmap that teased additions like the new Duels mode. So we may get much more detail to come at BlizzConline.
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