Hero Powers have long occupied a peculiar niche in Hearthstone's metagame. They can be extremely powerful; but more often than not, they are the power or last resort. They are what you use when you have two mana and nothing to spend it on. That's about to change, though.
Blizzard announced "The Grand Tournament" yesterday, an expansion based in part on the Wrath of the Lich King's Argent Tournament that is likely to bring some big changes to Hearthstone's established metagame. The most interesting of them is the new "Inspire" mechanic, which activates when you use a hero card. And just like that, Hero Powers have taken on a huge amount of significance, even comparatively weak ones.
Take the Paladin, for instance. At the moment, the best he can do is summon a weak 1/1 minion that can be buffed in any number of ways, but is otherwise mostly there to be annoying. Play the Coldarra Drake, though, which allows you to use your Hero Power any number of times, and you can suddenly have a whole board full of minions that you can buff at your leisure, giving you instant board control. Played at the right time, it can be devastating.
The classes that stand to gain the most from the new mechanics, though, are the Mage, Hunter, and Shaman, which just happened to be the classes showcased during Blizzard's event. The Mage's power, which can deal one point of damage, can now be used to remove much large minions from the board with the help of Coldarra and Maiden of the Lake. The Shaman can fill the board with totems while buffing their minions at the same time. And given the right circumstances, the Hunter can theoretically do 20 points of damage with their Hero Power alone, which is two-thirds of a hero's total health.
Between the buffs to the Hero Powers and the new Inspire mechanic, its fair to say that Hearthstone's metagame will soon be undergoing some radical changes.
Hearthstone's Power Creep Problem
The Grand Tournament brings with it 130 new cards, further bolstering a game that has seen two solo adventures and one expansion; and like all competitive games of this sort, Blizzard must now contend with the very real problem of power creep.
Power creep is a common issue in which larger and more powerful creatures are steadily introduced to the metagame, rendering previous minions obsolete. Pokémon is a good example of this phenomenon. There was a time when Snorlax's sheer bulk made him the biggest and baddest monster around; but with the introduction of Mega Evolutions, a slew of legendaries, and a host of new items, Snorlax can no longer take a bunch. He is now in the "Underused" tier according to Smogon, putting him in the same tier as Pidgeot.
A cursory glance at Hearthstone's new cards is some cause for concern in that regard. The Shaman, which has been historically weak on the ladder, will soon have the two mana Totem Golem, which puts a 3/4 minion on the field in exchange for one less mana growth on that turn. A minion with four health and three attack is capable of clearing of most any early minion off the board while being very hard to remove itself. In the meantime, the Hunter is getting the rather terrifying Lock and Load spell for two mana, which grants them a random Hunter card for each spell cast on that turn. Given how cheap Hunter spells are, that has the potential to be a tremendous card draw for the most annoying class in the game (it was not for nothing that fans booed lustily when Blizzard revealed that the Hunter would be getting a new spell).
When I mentioned the problem to Hearthstone director Eric Dodd, he told me that the team is very aware of the pitfalls of power creep and working to contain it, which of course they are. But some power creep is inevitable as a game continues to evolve. Hearthstone has done a fairly good job of containing it so far, but the Grand Tournament is the biggest test yet.
Overall, though, everyone I talked to seemed pretty positive on The Grand Tournament. Hearthstone's ranked play has gotten a tad monotonous with the unholy trio of Warrior, Hunter, and Warlock dominating play, and though Tavern Brawl and the always excellent Arena have kept things reasonably fresh, a new expansion is very welcome at this stage. Best of all, an Arena run will randomly earn you one of the three available decks, and not just an endless number of Grand Tournament decks.
The Grand Tournament launches in August, and includes a pre-order promotion in which you can get 50 cards for $49.99 USD. Enjoy the trailer below.