Darkmoon Races - Hearthstone's First Remedy of 2021?
A lot has happened in Hearthstone’s 2020, and Blizzard’s card game community embraced the good and the bad alike. The new year starts with a world premiere: For the first time ever, Team 5 decided to release a mid-expansion mini-set that adds a total of 35 brand-new cards.
The mini-set called
doubles down on the recent expansion setting around Darkmoon Faire, Azeroth’s most illustrious and mysterious amusement park, and takes its visitors on yet another ride - or race, in this case. Besides the new mini-set,
introduced much more Hearthstone content,
including new Hero skins and a special portrait
of one particular young lion that will also be featured soon in the newest edition of Book of Heroes!
I'm Tharid, a writer for Wowhead's sister site Hearthstone Top Decks, and I'll be covering the new content around Hearthstone's mini-set Darkmoon Races and Patch 19.4. If you want to check out the most recent news about the expansion, head over to
Why a Mini-Set?
Darkmoon Races is not the first exception of Team 5’s rule to only add new cards with new expansions. Events like
the Rise of the Mech
introduced individual new cards as well as card changes and shook up Hearthstone’s meta-game before, but 35 completely new cards?
From a design perspective, shortening content cycles can mean multiple things: First off, player retention has always been a major challenge for Hearthstone, not least because of the competitive market that Blizzard themselves had established in the first place. Keeping online card-flingers engaged these days is not easy, and mid-expansion content updates definitely help with this ongoing issue.
But not only that: Team 5 being able to dish out Hearthstone’s most high-quality content - new cards - on a more regular basis is a direct result of
Blizzard’s announced efforts to increase development capacities across all teams
Last but not least, the price structure behind Darkmoon Races is great: For a total of 2000 gold, players are able to purchase the full 35-cards set. The community already did the math, of course, and it has come to the conclusion that, especially compared to buying normal Madness at the Darkmoon Faire packs, buying the whole set is a really good deal.
The Race is On - But the Story Is Not
In terms of Hearthstone’s meta-game, and after looking at the most used community outlets, the release of Darkmoon Races and future mini-sets is more than welcomed across the player base. The fact that the go-live of this mini-set went under the radar of many people turns it into a more exciting opportunity to experiment with cards, classes, and their archetypes - because there have been almost zero efforts by Blizzard to advertise the mini-set release through advertisment tools like theorycrafting streams.
Sadly, this great “meta” gameplay advantage results in a complete lack of storyline and setting. No story teasers to speculate about, no separate announcement trailer with developer appearances, no catchy trailer music.
Is that a problem? Not for the majority of the player base. Players know that DMF is a crazy place, and it looks like there are races happening as well. So far, so good, nothing out of the ordinary, especially in the Azeroth version of the Hearthstone universe.
The Rising of Old Mechanics
But Hearthstone still, with all its limitations and the mid-expansion non-euphoria, manages to tell a story - and this time through its cards more than anything. The teaser text on Darkmoon Races’ official page points towards a return of all who attended the Standard Year of the Phoenix, and that also takes in card mechanics.
To revisit the mechanics established during the Year of the Phoenix is not only fitting to the name of Hearthstone’s current Standard year - it makes sense from a design standpoint as well. Team 5 knows how mechanics work in the different environments of their game, and to put a whole bunch of new cards with known mechanics makes it easier for players to implement those cards with known effects into their existing decks as well.
Darkmoon Details Tell the Tale
However, that still leaves the player with a very generic theme and story about the mini-set - but not if you take a closer look at the history of Hearthstone's big brother, World of Warcraft!
First off, WoW players and Darkmoon Faire fans will know a whole lot about the races of Azeroth’s favorite amusement park.
, Darkmoon’s Race Official and most likely a direct reference to NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, introduces players to one of Warcraft’s most risky race tracks.
As two of the racing quests,
Welcome to the Darkmoon Races
The Real Race
are one of the sources of the precious
Darkmoon Prize Tickets
, the currency and access to everything desirable around Darkmoon Faire, the races enjoy great popularity among the player base.
Several harder achievements are also tied to the Darkmoon Races, including
Darkmoon Racer Roadhog
that requires you to finish the race within eleven tolls, the racing time unit, and rewards the fastest racers with the popular toy
And Hearthstone expands on the fantasy of Malle Earnhard’s diverse racing track in old fashion: For example, cards show a whole bunch of WoW mounts such as the
Ashes of Al'ar
, or Legion's
The inclusion of these mounts stands for Hearthstone's different content phases in the Standard year and continues to tell the tale of a deciding Darkmoon race between the best of the best from Outland and Scholomance alike.
WoW's Recent History in Hearthstone
Besides the usual suspects of the current year, another very special character will attend Hearthstone's Darkmoon Races: A particularly dark horse called
Dark Inquisitor Xanesh
enters the competition, a character most Warcraft players know from
Battle for Azeroth's Ny'alotha raid
Dark Inquisitor Xanesh, card art by Jamin Kim
Besides their own creative and more than often crazy storytelling, It is fascinating to see how Team 5 incorporates recent World of Warcraft story and character elements in their card game. In Hearthstone's last main expansion, Madness at the Darkmoon Faire, even raid bosses such as
G'huun the Blood God
made an appearance in an otherwise insane Old-Gods-themed set.
And this isn't necessarily restricted to Hearthstone cards only: On February 2, Blizzard will release the fifth edition of Book of Heroes, Hearthstone's single-player lore experience, which will feature the story of Anduin Wrynn, King of Stormwind and High King of the Alliance.
The included Hero portrait shows young Anduin in full SI:7 armor, a look that caused major confusion in the Hearthstone community. What most Hearthstone players and Warcraft fans don't know is the fact that in his early years, Anduin has been trained by Valeera Sanguinar herself,
after many other attempts at teaching Anduin how to "properly fight" had already failed
In recent times, Anduin starred as one of the main characters in the storylines of BfA and Shadowlands - and while it is crystal-clear that the Book of Heroes series will feature every single hero of Hearthstone, the artwork of Anduin's newest hero portrait definitely shows a new and much more mysterious side of the otherwise just and honest son of Varian Wrynn. Maybe this special portrait is a nod towards Anduin's
rogue-like behavior as a prisoner of the Jailer and Sylvanas
Good Things Come in Mini-Sets
Hearthstone, as always, bends the story of Azeroth's universe with its new mini-set and Patch 19.4. Blizzard's card game has reached a point where multiple game modes are updated even between expansion releases, may it be through simple card balance patches or more comprehensive content updates such as Darkmoon Races.
It's safe to say that the release of Darkmoon Races will have a positive impact not only on player numbers but also on player satisfaction. And that again is not only related to the release of 35 new cards: Patch 19.4 introduced updates for Battlegrounds and Duels as well as a new Arena rotation, so players that moved into playing Hearthstone's additional game modes surely won't go away empty-handed.
Many have not forgotten the disasters of Hearthstone's 2020, but even critics have to admit that 2021's first big content update looks like a convincing effort at regaining the trust of Hearthstone's once-loyal community.
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