[A forewarning: this article uses a decent amount of Hearthstone-specific terminology and might be tough to understand without some prior experience with the game. I apologize for this, but it’s tough to talk about an expansion to a game without an assumed knowledge of the basic mechanics. And if you haven’t played Hearthstone yet, check it out! It’s free!]
There was a time that I was so addicted to Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft that it became a serious personal health concern. I’d imagine minions battling in my head even when I wasn’t playing, and every time I tried to delete it, I found myself installing it again within the week. It took me a long time to eventually form a healthy relationship with the game. And then Goblins vs. Gnomes shows up and throws all that progress out the window in the best possible way. I’m playing Hearthstone every day again, but now I’m having the most fun I’ve had playing it since first downloading it.
The Goblins and Gnomes expansion introduces 120 new cards into the game, which can be purchased in packs or earned in Arena just like the original Expert packs (now renamed “Classic” packs). These cards almost entirely consist of goblins, gnomes, or their inventions, known in the game as “mechs.” There are also a handful of new spells for every class, as well as a new game board. Players get 3 Goblins vs. Gnomes packs just for signing in.
Two trends are immediately apparent in the new set. The first is the mechs, who synergize with each other and make for a fast and effective theme deck, while also working well with existing cards. The controversial second is a focus on random events, as many of the new cards give you a random card, deal damage to a random enemy, and the like. Many serious Hearthstone players insisted that this would make most of the new cards useless in serious play, or that they would eliminate the element of skill from the game, but in practice, that’s not true at all. The random elements don’t make the game unbalanced or overly luck-based, but they do make it really, really fun.
Take the new card Recombobulator, for instance, which transforms a minion into a random minion of the same cost. It’s pretty effective as a competitive card – you get to recycle existing minion for a fresh one, meaning that your Boulderfist Ogre that’s down to one health won’t die to a hero power. But man, does this card lead to some hilarious plays when the last card you expect suddenly appears on the board. The same goes for Sneed’s Old Shredder, which summons a random legendary when it dies. Not only does this make it a high-value card that’s hard to completely remove from the board, but it also makes for some huge and highly memorable plays when King Krush or Deathwing shows up out of nowhere, or some laughable failures when you end up with Nat Pagle or Lorewalker Cho.
In constructed play, Goblins vs. Gnomes has only made a moderate splash so far. Decks like Deathrattle-based Hunter and Zoolock are still dominant, but every deck has seen some degree of change since the introduction of the expansion. We’re yet to see if Mal’Ganis gives Demon Warlock the final boost it needed for people to play the theme, or whether the new Paladin cards finally make the class viable for tournaments, or if people are actually going to give Murloc Shaman a shot now that it has so much class-specific support. But right now, everyone’s experimenting with their decks in ways that make constructed a rather interesting playground. You can no longer know exactly what to expect out of someone’s seemingly familiar deck, because there always may be a new and unexpected element added that transforms it to a surprising degree.
Arena, on the other hand, has been considerably transformed. Now about 50% of your card choices are from Goblins vs. Gnomes, so nearly every card sees a degree of play. On the one hand, this makes the mode a lot more difficult for the time being; I used to have a pretty clear idea of what to pick, but it’s taking time to figure out whether many of the new cards are any good or not. I generally used to average 6 or 7 wins in Arena, but these days it’s more like 3. On the other hand, Arena has become a lot more skill-intensive and unpredictable due to all the new elements added to the game. If you’re playing against a Mage, maybe you’re keeping your number of minions on the board low to avoid playing into Flamestrike – but have you played right into Flamecannon instead? Maybe it makes sense to destroy a 3/2 minion rather than a 2/2, but what if the latter is also a mech and ends up considerably helping your opponent when they play Tinkertown Technician next turn? And have you kept in mind that you might draw that Mine from Iron Juggernaut any turn and kept your health high enough to keep you alive? These kinds of unexpected complications are what currently separate the strong players from the weak, and they’re what make Arena so interesting at the moment.
It’s too early to tell what effect Goblins vs. Gnomes will have on competitive play, or whether Blizzard has unintentionally made any incredibly overpowered cards. All I know is that I’ve been having an fantastic time playing the game lately, and I can’t wait to see how this set transforms the game. If you still haven’t checked out Hearthstone, there’s never been a better time; you’ll be on a more level playground with most other players as you’ll all be unfamiliar with the new cards, and there ain’t no price like free. And if Hearthstone has been sitting unplayed on your iPad for a few months, Goblins vs. Gnomes is a great excuse to jump back into the game.