Hearthstone has now had its latest patch - 7.1.0 - applied to all versions of the game, and while the update itself isn't a huge one, it begins the Year Of The Mammoth, which will be mixing things up a little. It's not something to worry about just yet - the Year Of The Mammoth expansion pack cycle doesn't actually happen until Journey To Un'Goro's release in April - but it's enough to get us thinking about what will change. So in preparation we take a look at how these new changes could change the meta for Hearthstone:
Aggro Decks gettings nerfed
The first thing to start with is the recent patch changes that, while few in actual tweaks, affects aggro decks quite a bit. This is mostly thanks to the fact that Small Time Buccaneer has now been reduced to 1 health point. It might seem insignificant, but aggro decks - shaman, warrior or rogue particularly - could benefit from this card's effect to bring in a 3/2 body for only 1-Mana cost, a incredibly cost-effective card to play. It was a frustration for many, and now that it's been reduced to only 1 health, even with that effect still in play, it's not quite the unfair card to play against - many heroes able to dispatch the card with their hero powers with ease. The other card getting nerfed is Spirit Claws, an aggro shaman deck necessity up until now. With a similar effect to Small Time Buccaneer, this card low-cost meant it could give 3 attack for three turns at a minimal card cost. It's a big change, and both will reduce the viability of aggro decks - aggro shaman especially - once the meta begins to shift around. With some of the new cards coming in Journey To Un'Goro that will see players look to aim for the long game, we could see a considerable decrease in the amount of times you'll face an Aggro deck.
Now on to Year Of The Mammoth changes, and one of the decks that will likely be eliminated is the Dragon Priest, a once-upon-a-time underappreciated deck that many would find inventive ways for it to work. It was with the release of the last two expansion packs - One Night In Karazhan especially - that really bolstered the strength of this deck. But with many of the early game cards now being removed, Dragon Priest may well find itself in trouble. It all comes down to just how much Aggro decks are going to be reduced in popularity as to how well Dragon Priest can survive the meta shift. Most of the deck's stronger mid- to late-game cards are still in play and should help to keep it viable if it can get that far, but without much to protect it from strong early-game decks, Dragon Priest will have a hard time (once again) finding its place in the meta.
One of the 'big six' classic cards that Blizzard is removing is Ice Lance, and while it is by no means the most significant of the six to be removed, it will likely have a detrimental effect on the popularity of Freeze Mage decks quite heavily. Players were fans of Freeze Mage because of their ability to deal excessive amounts of damage, sometimes 30-points of health in a single turn. Ice Lance was a significant finisher to that, adding an extra 4 damage on top of a string of spells and freezes. This likely won't be enough to completely stop Freeze Mages completely, they've still a wide selection of tools at their disposal and can always switch out Ice Lance for an equal fire-based spell, but it's going to slow the deck down a chunk. It's the dual effect of the card that will be missing the most, its ability to freeze a strong card to slow its destruction in lieu of dealing damage. The problem comes from the loss of Emperor Thaurissan from Blackrock Mountain, too. Here was a card that would reduce the cost of all your cards in your hand, when played right making a string of cheap spell cards that lead to Freeze Mage's big threat, making Ice Lance a free card in the first turn of Thaurissan's play. That's not going to be possible
Since Reno Jackson is going to be cycled out of use, anything that tags his name onto the front of the deck is likely to become extinct as a result. It is the point of the deck, after all, and without it there is little reason for this deck to continue on. But that's a shame, because Renolock and Reno Mage decks have been popular ever since the card was released, its interesting card effect helping to recover spell casters from aggro deck damage and basically giving them the game by the time aggro decks have worn themselves out. The strategy of these decks was to control the board, either through minions or removal spells, utilising card draw wherever possible. Reno Jackson was the saving grace, the guardian angel that gave these decks a surviving chance to play through their full strategy. It's not that these sorts of decks won't be viable or at least played to some extent, but without Reno they'll need to find new ways to play through the planned deck - and they'll have to do it with a little more risk, too.
This isn't to say that Rogue decks will be completely unplayable once Year Of The Mammoth rolls around, but Conceal was such a strong card for the class that it's removal will likely see a reduction in the number of Rogues being played. In particular will be the Miracle Rogue deck, which leverages the ever-popular Gadgetzan Auctioneer to draw additional cards to overpower the opponent. Conceal was a major factor in the success of this deck, allowing the Miracle Rogue to keep the card for the core part of the strategy to allow for plays like Edwin VanCleef or Questing Adventurer to build up their strength. Without the ability to mask these strong cards - and therefore making them harder for the opposing player to remove - it's unclear quite how much value such a deck could have. Let's not forget that Tomb Pillager - a popular card for many decks, not just Miracle Rogue - is also being cycled out, another blow to the strategy of any deck that utilised Gadgetzan Auctioneer. There are solutions to the removal of Conceal, admittedly, but as with the Reno-decks, it's going to come with greater risk than in the Year Of The Kraken.