THE END IS COMING!
Well, the end of Raven sets in Standard at least.
So, I thought I’d write up some thoughts on my experiences with the three releases of 2018: The Witchwood, The Boomsday Project, and Rastakhan’s Rumble!
Theme: A Haunted Forest!
Mechanics: Echo, Rush, Even/Odd, “Worgen”
Infamous cards: Shudderwock | Baku the Mooneater | Genn Greymane
Additional Content: Monster Hunt
THEME: The year started out following in the footsteps of Kobolds and Catacombs, putting players in another classic Dungeons and Dragons environment. However, this time there was a definite villain: Hagatha the Witch. Not only would Hagatha play an interesting part in the Monster Hunt itself, she would also become a recurring character in the Year of the Dragon.
MECHANICS: Mechanically the set introduced a new “evergreen” keyword in Rush, which all-but ended Charge as a mechanic. Echo was somewhat successful, though didn’t see much play once Year of the Dragon got rolling (Sn1p-Sn4p being the only real exception). The Even/Odd mechanic was so ridiculously powerful that all cards from the set were moved to the Hall of Fame a year early! Finally, the “Worgen” theme was probably the worst ever implemented: while other themes might have been weak, too strong, or even bad… the Worgen were 100% forgotten.
INFAMOUS CARDS: Here we see the obvious choices of Genn and Baku – cards so powerful that the entire year revolved around them and their effects. As mentioned, Team 5 responded to this unexpected power by rotating ALL cards using that mechanic to Wild a full year in advance. I also included Shudderwock because he truly is infamous. Shudderwock’s cries of “MY JAWS THAT BITE, MY CLAWS THAT CATCH” echoed over and over again, creating nigh infinite loops of damage, or freezing, or healing, or (usually) ALL OF THE ABOVE. Blizzard actually addressed Shudderwock’s powerlevel through several means: once by reducing the animations speeds (not that it helped), and again by limiting him to a maximum of 30 Battlecry triggers. And still he’s abused for ridiculous effects in Wild.
ADDITIONAL CONTENT: Monster Hunt was the second iteration of the Dungeon Run concept, and thus Team 5 took some effort to implement a more cohesive story into the release. As would be expected from a sophomore release, I would consider this overall better than the original Dungeon Run. Whether being limited to 4 heroes is an improvement or not is a matter of opinion, but the combos enabled by the dual-class setup was definitely interesting. Blizzard still didn't implement some of the progress tracking we would receive in Year of the Dragon releases, but there's no denying they had found a formula for success.
Theme: 6/10 – A haunted forest is just interesting enough to keep you interested, while also being vague enough for creative freedom.
Design: 3/10 – Echo is good. Rush is great. However, Odd/Even created too many problems and Worgen were completely forgotten.
THE BOOMSDAY PROJECT
Theme: FOR SCIENCE!
Mechanics: Magnetic, Legendary Spells, “Projects”
Infamous cards: Zilliax | Luna's Pocket Galaxy
Additional Content: The Puzzle Lab
THEME: Dr. Boom is a pointless and powerless weenie in Azeroth, but in here he’s a true Mad Scientist in the classic James Bond sense. After his rise to fame during Goblins and Gnomes, Team 5 gave him his own expansion and told him to, “Go Nuts!” The result was a wild collection of themes and mechanics that really only works in a game like Hearthstone. And, as with the Witchwood’s Hagatha, we would get to see him again in the future.
MECHANICS: The mechanics of Boomsday were, outside of Odd/Even, the most impactful of the Raven. This became more evident once the Frozen Throne Death Knights rotated out, but even from the beginning several of the Legendary Spells were used to create new decks and interesting interactions. The Magnetic mechanic would enable new power boosts in Standard, but also enabled an entirely new Tier 1 aggro deck in Wild in the form of Mech Paladin. Unlike the “Worgen” subtheme of Witchwood, several of the Boomsday’s “Projects” saw play in Tier 1 decks.
INFAMOUS CARDS: UNITY. PRECISION. PERFECTION. Hearthstone minions tend to walk a fine line between powerful and overpowered. Sometimes, a card will come along that is hated because of its power. Other times cards are hated because they are ever present (though not necessarily overpowered). Zilliax, though, is one of the few (only?) cards that is both powerful, regularly seen, and still loved. He hasn’t left us yet, but some of us are already in mourning. While I considered adding Dr. Boom’s hero to the “infamous cards” section, I’m not sure he qualifies. Especially when compared to Luna’s Pocket Galaxy – a card that was buffed, nerfed, and still played in today’s game. While several of the other Legendary Spells supported various legit (if not Tier 1) decks, Luna’s Galaxy created its deck.
ADDITIONAL CONTENT: Taking a break from the Dungeon Run, players were finally provided with a "puzzle mode," and it is beautifully implemented. New technology allows players to relaunch the puzzle to try different solutions, and several of them required detailed knowledge of how Hearthstone "logic" works. However, as expected, the replay value for the Puzzle Labs is seriously lacking. I still find myself revisiting Dungeon Runs and Monster Hunt, but I haven't touched Puzzle Labs since first completing it.
Theme: 8/10 – FOR SCIENCE! This may be Hearthstone’s ultimate theme. Warcraft has never taken itself too seriously, but Boomsday really embraced the ridiculousness in entirely new ways. Where else can you see giant cannons launching minions on the board just to die? Or Paladins who utilize “The Light” as lasers? Or an OLD GOD rebuilt as a ROBOT??
Design: 8/10 – Most of the design rating belongs with Magnetic. This mechanic fits Dr. Boom’s established personality, communicates an interesting fantasy (building giant robots), created entirely new deck options in both Standard and Wild, AND the UI implementation is super intuitive. Additionally, each of the Legendary Spells is both unique and sits well within each of the different classes. As I look to the future of Hearthstone, I want more like Boomsday.
Theme: A Troll Loa Tournament!
Mechanics: Overkill, “Spirit Shrines”
Infamous cards: Shirvallah, the Tiger | Hakkar, the Soulflayer
Additional Content: Rumble Run
THEME: Are you ready to RUUUUMMBLLLLLLLLE????!!!! God do I love the theme of this set! An arena full of spectators watching as Trolls engage in mortal combat supported by their respective animal Loas! And that’s about all I can say about Rastakhan’s Rumble.
MECHANICS: Both mechanics introduced in this set were absolute duds. Overkill follows the Inspire mechanic of being interesting on paper, but difficult to balance. Out of the 9 “Spirit of the…” Shrine, only two (Rogue and Shaman) ever saw real play. One or two of the others saw some experimentation (Priest and Warrior), but they were effectively ignored by players. And, sadly, that’s really all that Rastakhan offered.
INFAMOUS CARDS: In all honesty, only Shirvallah deserves to be in the infamous cards section. This card created a new OTK Paladin deck that saw consistent play for the pretty much the entire time it existed in Standard. However, I included Hakkar because 1) It’s one of my favorite cards ever created, and 2) It also created a new deck (that was never very good) in the form of Togwaggle/Blood Druid.
ADDITIONAL CONTENT: Sigh. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but Rumble Runs continue the meta theme of the Rastakhan set: poor implementation. We did get some interesting additions to the run in the form of Shrines, but we LOST the story telling elements from the Monster Hunt. Simultaneously, the Rumble Run required several balancing changes – the original release was markedly more difficult than the previous Dungeon Runs. At the same time, Team 5 found themselves under fire by "completionists" who wanted to complete all 27 possible clears (I'm one one of those players who created a spreadsheet to track my completed runs), but found the randomness of which shrines offered fairly off-putting. All of that said – if you haven't revisited Rumble Run in awhile, the balance changes did make it much more interesting, and the Shrine effects are interesting enough to provide a different/new experience from Dungeon Runs and Monster Hunt.
Theme: 7/10 – I truly love this theme. Not only is it interesting to see the Loas and their respective priests, but the 1v1 nature of the Rumble should have been a perfect fit for the 1v1 nature of Hearthstone.
Design: 3/10 – However, the power level of the cards simply didn’t work. Just look at my comments on the infamous cards – the set simply didn’t have the effect it should have. I believe some of the “power creep” we saw in Descent of Dragons can be attributed to the lackluster reception of Rastakhan.
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