Hearthstone's Year of the Mammoth properly kicks off today with the release of Journey to Un'Goro—a new expansion that will hopefully do its part to shake up the moribund competitive metagame.
In the process, Blizzard is rotating out a bunch of expansions, as well as a handful of cards. They include Blackrock Mountain and The Grand Tournament (meh), as well as a handful of classic cards including Sylvanas and Ragnaros the Firelord. Like Goblins & Gnomes before them, they will go to Wild play, where they will never be used again.
The real loss, though, is League of Explorers. a spectacularly good adventure that represents Hearthstone at its smartest and most creative.
Here are just a few things that League of Explorers gave us:
- An often hilarious adventure with some really fun challenges, the best one by far being when the main villain, the dastardly Arch-Thief Rafaam, steals your deck and uses its against you.
- The excellent Discover mechanic, which was often referred to as the "good kind of RNG" in Hearthstone in that it was randomized but still gave you some control over your fate.
- A viable 1-mana legendary in Sir Finley Mrgglton, who made it actually kind of fun to play formerly broken classes like Shaman by allowing you to swap out their hero power (Shaman, of course, would later go on to become the god of the metagame now long after).
- Reno Jackson, God of Control.
With the release of Journey to Un'Goro, a lot of players are expressing relief that the Reno Jackson archetype is going away; but at the time, he was revolutionary. He actually made control decks somewhat viable and drastically hindered the aggro decks that had been ruling the roost to that point. It was only later that everyone got sick of him owing to the fact that he represented one of only a handful of viable decks.
The way Reno Jackson worked, basically, was that he would completely refill your health so long as you had no duplicate cards in your deck. What that amounted to was a long stream of random neutral minions, board clears, and other items that you would keep throwing out until the other side was exhausted. It wasn't the most enjoyable deck to play, but the mere threat of it existing served to curtail many of the most irritating decks of that period.
Reno wasn't the only control card, of course. Warrior players became rather good at using the Golden Monkey—a card more than a few people thought wouldn't be viable. Reno was only the most card in an adventure full of great ideas.
From that, Hearthstone's metagame got to be in a pretty good place, absent the frustration with dominant four-drops like Piloted Shredder. Most classes had viable decks, so you saw a fair amount of diversity even on the ladder. Sure, you'd see a lot of Zoolocks and the like, but you'd also see random things like Anyfin Can Happen—another gift from League of Explorers that would resurrect up to seven dead murlocs for 10 mana. It was kind of the worst when someone successfully pulled it off, but it was also so much fun to play that it made it kind of okay. At the very least, it was always fun to hear the half-dozen so cries of mrglrglmrglmrrrlggg as you prepared to face your doom.
For a while, at least, Hearthston was in a pretty good place. But CCGs must march inexorably forward, and things began to go off the rails a bit with the introduction of Whispers of the Old Gods, which brought with it both Standard play and irritating cards like C'thun and Yogg-saron—monsters who could swing games by themselves. More and more overpowered cards were introduced, aggro made its triumphant return, and Midrange and Aggro Shaman became the dominant decks. By the time Gadgetzan arrived, Blizzard had to undertake some emergency nerfs just to get decks like Pirate Warrior under control, and even that wasn't quite enough.
In that light, the advent of Un'Goro is kind of a relief, since it's a chance for Blizzard to hit the reset button and get things under control. It's just a shame that, like Naxxramas before it, League of Explorers is getting mothballed. Putting aside the loss of a handful of great cards, it's apt to make new players ignore the really excellent adventure since its rewards will no longer be viable in Standard play—easily the most dominant form of play despite Blizzard's best efforts.
For my part, League of Explorers kind of represented "peak Hearthstone" for me, as it was the point where I put the greatest amount of effort into acquiring new cards and building decks. It could be that I've just fallen out of it a bit, but none of the subsequent expansions have really clicked in the same way for me as League of Explorers, and I know I'm not the only one.
In that way, I suppose the departure of League of Explorers is kind of the end of an era for me. I just hope that Journey to Un'goro is the beginning of something new and great, because lord knows Hearthstone needs it.