Activision-Blizzard’s famed digital collectible card game “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” (2014) is back again with its latest expansion, “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan,” and its arrival could not come soon enough. Anyone who’s been trying to climb the ladder in “Hearthstone” or get a decent result in the Arena as anything that’s not a Mage has been in for a hard time since the previous adventure “One Night in Karazhan” was released in August, pushing Shamans and Mages into dominance.
“Mean Streets of Gadgetzan,” which released on Dec. 1, is Blizzard’s way of shifting the balance of power back over to classes like Priest and Warrior, which have typically preferred slow decks, while pushing for more control-oriented Shaman decks as opposed to the oppressive Midrange Shaman that has proven to be the class to beat for the past several weeks.
New to the game are tri-class cards based on three underworld factions: the Grimy Goons, the Jade Lotus and the Kabal. Each faction represents three different hero classes: the Goons represent Paladins, Hunters and Warriors; the Jade Lotus represents Rogues, Druids and Shamans; and the Kabal represents Warlocks, Mages and Priests. The Grimy Goons are themed around buffing minions while they are in the player’s hand, the Jade Lotus makes use of special minions called Jade Golems and the stealth effect and the Kabal cook up some potent potions. Tri-class cards are particularly helpful for players on a budget, as these cards can be used for a far greater variety of decks than regular class cards, which makes life a lot easier when the player needs to complete a quest like “Win 5 games with Priest or Rogue.”
The post-expansion metagame is highly volatile, which makes these few weeks a great time to get back in the game and experiment with decklists and try to counter the most popular decks out there. Reno Priest and Warlock seem quite formidable at the moment, along with various types of Druids like Jade Golem Druid and Malygos Druid. Blizzard really wants Aggro Paladin and Taunt Warrior to be popular, but based on early playtime, this doesn’t seem this to be terribly likely, even with the buffs. As hilarious as they might be to play, those archetypes have proven inconsistent in the past. Instead, players have Pirate Warrior, a delightful deck that involves the Warrior repeatedly emoting “Happy Feast of Winterveil!” while relentlessly smashing faces in with large axes.
The good news is that one can make plenty of cheap decks in “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” and still compete with the meta decks like Pirate Warrior, which is also relatively cheap. Aggressive decks like Discard Zoo Warlock and Tempo Mage are still quite strong, while midrange decks like C’Thun get the job done as well, particularly for Warrior and Rogue who can make great use of a powerful new one-drop called “Small-Time Buccaneer.” By default, it’s a one-attack, two-health minion, but it can buff itself to three attack with an easily-satisfied requirement that the player’s hero has a weapon equipped, allowing it to provide a huge tempo swing in the early game. These decks can steamroll a lot of the new control decks quickly while also shutting down face decks like Pirate Warrior with taunts to protect oneself and plenty of removal to clear all those pesky pirates away. Even those on a budget can afford to build a reasonably strong deck like this, and that’s a positive indication that “Hearthstone” hasn’t abandoned the large part of its player base that is free-to-play.
Overall, the game mechanics introduced in “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” show that Blizzard is trying to slow down the pace of the game while focusing mostly on minion-based combat, which Blizzard believes is the most fun aspect of the game — fun for the moment, at least. All three factions place an emphasis on sacrificing tempo to generate value, creating games where there is some element of strategy and decision-making rather than just tossing out cards on a whim. Blizzard certainly deserves praise for listening to its players and attempting a solution, even if this expansion has its weak points, like the Rogue class in general due to lack of board clears. Hopefully, this expansion will, much like “League of Explorers,” shake things up in a substantial way and alleviate some of the frustrations players have had with the way certain decks that were extremely powerful did not require much skill to play well. Though it may be too early to say, all signs seem to suggest that the game is getting back on track after some missteps earlier this year.