So, you’ve decided to get back into Blizzard’s card battler.
Maybe it was the arrival of the new Autochess-inspired Battlegrounds mode. Maybe it was the introduction of the game’s first on-going single-player storyline. Maybe it was the recent ending of development on The Elder Scrolls: Legends.
Regardless, you’re looking to break back into the Hearthstone ranks. Here’s what you need to know.
What did I miss?
Even putting the Blitz Chung Hong Kong protest controversy to the side, 2019 was a pretty stacked year for Hearthstone.
All told, the game received a total of three sizable expansions: Rise of Shadows, Saviors of Uldum and Descent of Dragons.
Rise of Shadows added 136 new cards to the game. It introduced new Lackey minions to the game alongside the new Twinspell keyword. Cards with Twinspell create a copy of themselves (minus the Twinspell keyword) when cast.
Saviors of Uldum added 135 new cards to the game. It reintroduced Quest cards to standard play and added the Reborn keyword to the mix. Minions with Reborn return to life (with 1 health) when destroyed.
Descent of Dragons added 140 new cards to the game. It also introduced Galakrond hero mechanics, new Side-quest cards and the Invoke keyword. When played, cards with Invoke activate the dormant effects of any Galakrond hero cards you have in your deck.
In addition to spicing up the game’s meta, each of these expansion brought with them a modular, roguelike single-player adventure. Together, The Dalaran Heist, Tombs of Terror and Galakrond’s Awakening tell a continuous story that follows the League of Explorers and the League of E.V.I.L. as the two organisations chase one another across Azeroth.
Lastly, there’s Battlegrounds. Inspired by autochess games like Underlords and Teamfight Tactics, Battleground is a unique mode that tasks eight players with drafting and fielding a team of minions in a round-based battle to the death. It’s a lot of fun.
For more on Battlegrounds, check out our first impressions of the new mode here.
The good news here is that Hearthstone hasn’t changed in any sort of fundamental way in 2019. It’s still Blizzard’s turn-based, fast-paced fantasy card battler - for better or worse.
That being said, there are a few key changes that have been made to the progression structure and standard card pool.
Blizzard reduced the number of Stars required to advance in ranked play
The Complete My Deck feature was improved to better choose the strongest stand-alone cards from what you have available.
Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne and Kobolds & Catacombs expansions have all rotated out of standard play
You can now resume in-progress single-player content after unexpected disconnects, closures, and crashes.
You can now access your card collection even when your device loses internet connectivity
Vanish and Mind Blast have been removed from the game.
Eight new Classic cards have been added in their place: Siegebreaker, Gift of the Wild, Righteousness, Brightwing, High Inquisitor Whitemane, Barrens Stablehand, SI:7 Infiltrator and Arcane Devourer.
Where to start?
If you’re more multiplayer-orientated, the best place to start is the deck construction part of Hearthstone.
Depending on how long it’s been, there’s a good chance that your old decks are no longer viable for play in Standard. Assuming that’s the format you like to play, you’ll need to update those decks before you can continue to play with them.
If you open up an non-legal deck in Hearthstone, the game will suggest alternatives for the cards you can no longer use. These recommendations are usually OK. However, you’re always going to have more success choosing alternatives for yourself as you probably have a better idea of what the design and intended win condition of your decks actually.
Alternatively, building a new deck from scratch can be a helpful exercise to get your brain back in the habit of thinking about the more abstract strategic aspects of Hearthstone.
If you’re more inclined towards Hearthstone’s single-player content, then I’ve got some great news: the three single-player adventures added to the game in 2019 are probably some of the best solo-friendly content Blizzard has ever made.
Each level of the adventure challenges you to build and upgrade a deck of cards that becomes steadily and steadily more overpowered as you take down bosses. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a ton of replayability.
Last but by no means least, there’s Battlegrounds. Added earlier this year as an alternative to the game’s existing arena mode, Battlegrounds lets you jump right to the fun part. You don’t have to think about whether or not your deck is or isn’t good enough. You just have to focus on playing well and making smart in-the-moment decisions. If you’re finding the idea of jumping straight back into ranked play a little overwhelming or intimidating, Battlegrounds is your best bet.