Forged in the Barrens: The Beginning of Hearthstone's Faction War
2020 has been full of ups and downs for Hearthstone and its players, and that is why Team 5 tries to kick off the new year of Blizzard's card game with a bang: Patch 20.0, which heralds the beginning of the new Standard
Year of the Gryphon
the introduction of the Core Set
and the new expansion
Forged in the Barrens
, is Hearthstone's single-biggest content update in history.
The coming changes with 20.0 will shake up Hearthstone's meta-game like never before, inviting both old Hearthstone veterans as well as new players to try out what basically will be a completely new game. And not only that: Team 5 also takes a chance to overhaul the "basic Warcraft experience" of their game with massive changes introduced through the Core Set.
The release of 20.0 will be accompanied by the release of Forged in the Barrens, an expansion starting off the Standard year with a showcase of
the conflict between Horde and Alliance
and, of course, the Barrens -- undoubtedly one of WoW's most important zones.
I'm Tharid, a writer for Wowhead's sister site Hearthstone Top Decks, and I'll be covering the new content around Hearthstone's Patch 20.0, the new Core Set and, of course, the upcoming expansion Forged in the Barrens. If you want to check out the most recent news about the expansion, head over to
Year of the Gryphon: Core! Classic! Mercenaries!
After a first look at
Team 5's roadmap for 2021
, the new Year of the Gryphon already looks absbolutely packed. Besides the release of Forged in the Barrens, players will get three major content updates in the form of the Core set, a new play format and a completely new game mode.
New Cards: Core Set
Together with the expansion release on March 30, the Basic and Classic sets, Hearthstone's very first "printed" cards back in 2014, will leave the Standard format (and move to Wild) and be replaced by a
. This set holds a total of 235 cards, tons of adjusted cards, and 31 completely new cards.
The Core set with all its old, adjusted, and new cards will also be free for all players
. All of those cards line up with the general look and feel of the class while fitting into the general Warcraft storyline that Hearthstone was built upon seven years ago.
The idea behind the introduction of the Core set is to free up much-needed design space by burying problematic card designs such as
. At the same time, the Core set will rotate every Standard year, which prevents certain card designs blocking fresh development ideas for years. Besides that, the fact that the Core set will be free to use for every player should make the free-to-play experience much better in the long run starting with the Year of the Gryphon.
As already said, this change will turn Hearthstone in the Standard format into a completely new game -- and not only because of altered card design. Team 5's storytellers used the free card slots to introduce classic Warcraft characters such as
, who all tell iconic Warcraft stories of the past.
However, Team 5 also didn't let the chance slip to include a "modern Warcraft" reference of everybody's favorite troll shaman Zekhan in the form of
New Game Format: Classic
Talking about Classic, it looks like the Hearthstone team loved the tale of Classic WoW that started in 2019, and decided to treat their players with a "classic experience" as well.
game format lets you play Hearthstone like in the good old days. Double
for just 4 mana -- all broken "vanilla combos" of Hearthstone are at the player's disposal.
Players have been able to play in the Classic format since last Thursday, and both old players that can dive deep into nostalgia as well as new players that experience the unique meta of 2014 for the first time seem to have a blast. If you want to try out Classic but don't know what deck to play, check out our constantly updated
Classic deck coverage
New Game Mode: Mercenaries
What came highly unexpected for the majority of the community was
the announcement of
, a new rogue-like game mode.
Following popular single-player games like Slay the Spire and Monster Train, Team 5 decided to bring a progression-focussed PvE-PvP experience to the Hearthstone table. We don't know much about Mercenaries yet -- which makes it likely that we won't see it's actual release during the first expansion cycle -- but it sounds pretty promising so far.
You will assemble a team of mercenaries, and with them you progress through a map full of bosses, puzzles, and other non-combat encounters, all while leveling up. Team 5 said that Mercenaries will feature a PvP mode where you can choose to fight real people on your way through the map as well.
The mentioned pool of Mercenaries will feature classic Warcraft characters such as Sylvanas or Ragnaros as well as newly introduced, Hearthstone-exclusive and class-identifying characters.
New Solo Experience: Book of Mercenaries
Speaking of Warcraft's new mercenaries, the mentioned Hearthstone characters will receive an exclusive story treatment as well!
During the last year, the Book of Heroes single-player experience told the stories of Hearthstone's class heroes such as
We don't know too much about the origins of Hearthstone's new story characters, but looking at their names and art alone, we can safely say that they're somewhat established in the Warcraft universe, potentially adding cool new details to the existing storylines through their
Book of Mercenaries
Forged in the Barrens
As you can see, the Year of the Gryphon doesn't hold back in terms of new content -- but the most important is yet to come!
Forged in the Barrens
, Hearthstone's newest expansions, will release on March 30 alongside with the introduction of the Core set. It tells the story of the Barrens, the iconic World of Warcraft zone in the heart of Horde territory. As already said, the Year of the Gryphon will feature a somewhat connected storyline that revolves around the conflict between Horde and Alliance.
The first expansion takes on the Horde side of that conflict -- and what zone would be a better fit than the Barrens? Once a lush forest and part of the night elven empire, the region suffered heavily during the Sundering caused by the destruction of the Well of Eternity and turned into a rocky dry steppe.
Just before the Third War, Thrall and the New Horde set out to travel to Kalimdor -- and found the Barrens. Together with the tauren and trolls under
, the orcs turned northern Kalimdor into their homeland under Thrall and the banner of the New Horde.
However, the Horde never really got rid of the threats roaming the Barrens: First there are the centaur, who -- although being defeated by orcs and tauren -- still roam the wildlands. One of their strongest commanders,
, terrorizes low-level Horde players in their nightmares up to this day.
And then there are the Witchwing harpies: These flying humanoid creatures mainly reside in the Northern Barrens under their matriarch
Last but not least, the quilboar still fight for what they call their homeland. Ever since the War of the Ancients and the fall of their god Agamaggan, they believe that the thorny vines of the Barrens are holy ground, infused by the
and remains of the wild god. Their home Razorfen, a humongous vine cluster in the Southern Barrens, also serves as the headquarter of their matriach
, who allied with the Scourge in order to revive Agamaggan -- a first for any humanoid race of Kalimdor back in the day.
But Forged in the Barrens doesn't only cover all the important lore bases of the Horde zone. As we all know, the region is most famous for one and one thing only: Barrens Chat.
That is why famous "Warcraft pop culture references" such as
and his wife Olgra (who has just recently
been found in the Shadowlands
) also find their way into Hearthstone's expansion, turning it into a wholesome game experience similar to the early and golden times of Blizzard's MMO.
New Keyword: Frenzy
The new keyword introduced with Forged in the Barrens is
. This effect triggers as soon as the Frenzy minion takes damage and survives. This is very similar to Enrage -- however, just like Spellburst, a Frenzy effect can only trigger once.
In terms of Horde fantasy, Frenzy just hits the nail on the head. Doing something powerful after taking damage suits the average Horde fighter and certainly feeds into the fantasy behind Horde racial traits such as
New Mechanics: Spell Schools and Ranked Spells
When it comes to mechanics, Hearthstone's upcoming expansion introduces two new concepts.
now mark certain spells with tags such as Nature, Shadow or Holy. Similar to World of Warcraft, synergies between spells within a spell school make them more powerful or cheaper to play. It is safe to say that this concept has been a fan favorite in the custom-made Hearthstone cards community, and it's a great addition to the stale class-focussed spell system in Hearthstone.
The second new mechanic revolves around
. Just like Spell Schools, these spells try to showcase the original feel of becoming more powerful as a character in the Warcraft universe. Ranked spells are more efficient once you "level up" in available mana, and that turns those spells into versatile tools in basically every class kit.
New Rewards Track & Diamond Cards
Alongside the expansion release, players will be able to tackle a new
. The introduction of this progression system that community members also call the "Tavern Pass" has been a hot topic in 2020.
After countless feedback threads on Twitter, Reddit, and the official forums, Team 5 decided to overhaul the general reward structure, especially compared to the structure of the old-school quest system. With the upcoming Rewards Track, levels have been doubled while the general experience curve stays the same. That means more meaningful progress for every player, while rewards are distributed more evenly.
In addition to that, several changes have been made to cosmetic rewards, as you can now obtain certain uncraftable Golden cards only through track progression.
On top of that, yet another cosmetic change will be introduced with Forged in the Barrens:
For Forged in the Barrens, only two animated Diamond cards will be released:
, the Hearthstone-exclusive Shaman mercenary, and
, once an infamous blademaster of the Burning Blade clan and member of the Heroes of the Storm hero pool. You'll get Samuro's diamond version through purchasing the Tavern Pass, and Bru'kan is locked behind an achievement that needs you to collect all expansion legendary cards.
Hearthstone's 2021: Content, Content, Content
Compared to the last two Standard year rotations, Hearthstone's content surge for 2021 is, even from an objective standpoint, nothing less than astounding.
Patch 20.0 covers all the bases, including Hearthstone's new game modes Duels and Battlegrounds -- all while releasing a high-quality expansion together with the Core set introduction. It is obvious that this is a direct consequence of the addition of development power across Blizzard teams.
However, it is just as obvious that Hearthstone's new development blood has fresh design and story ideas while staying more true than ever to Hearthstone's roots in the Warcraft universe, as Forged in the Barrens undoubtedly shows. We don't know too much about the other two expansions of the year, but the focus on faction conflict -- the bare reason of existence for the Warcraft universe -- could not be a better fit for a Standard year that tries to go back to the story where Hearthstone once came from.
Hearthstone and Warcraft fans alike surely are in for a treat with the Year of the Gryphon, starting off with Forged in the Barrens -- but only if you can find Mankrik's wife, of course!
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