Yesterday, Blizzard has announced changes to the Hearthstone Arena. They will come along with the nerfs to Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws, which are mostly targeted at Constructed and won’t really affect Arena that much. Arena news, however, is huge for anyone who plays that mode. Here is a quick summary of what’s going to happen:

  • Arena gets changed from Wild format to Standard format
  • Commons and Basics will be offered less often, in that place we’ll see more higher rarity cards (especially Rares, but also Epics and Legendaries)
  • Spells will show up more often
  • Neutral Classic cards will show up less often
  • Abyssal Enforcer and Flamestrike will show up 50% less often (compared to the other cards from the respective categories)

All 5 points (but especially the first three) are very important to how the new Arena balance will look like, but also to how Arena will feel like. But what does it mean exactly? Are we going to see even more Mages? Or maybe another class will start dominating? Let me try to answer some of those questions.

P.S. The card scores were provided by the HearthArena. The scores of some cards will obviously change with some cards rotating out etc. but they should still be good enough for the current theorycrafting.

Standard Arena

From next month, we will see Standard mode in Arena. While it will have an immediate impact, you should expect to see that change being more and more important as time goes by. Right now we only have 2 Wild-only expansions, but as soon as the next expansion hits and 2015 expansions rotate out into the Wild, Arena balance should shift heavily. For now, let’s focus on what does it mean right now. You will no longer be able to pick cards from Naxxramas or Goblins vs Gnomes. Below, I will list the most significant cards each class is going to lose with the rotation. Neutrals should more or less impact all classes equally. While yes, there are some cases of a card being much stronger in one class than another (e.g. Antique Healbot is much stronger in Warlock than Priest), analyzing each neutral card and their impact on individual classes would be nigh impossible with my current data (or lack thereof). By significant cards I mean Common and Rare cards with over 70 HearthArena score (if the card is very close to 70 and it’s impactful, I’ll still list it). While Epics are going to be more common, we’ll still mostly see Commons and Rares and I had to draw a line somewhere.

Naxx + GvG Rotating Out


Druid: Nothing

Mage: Flamecannon (80), Unstable Portal (71), Goblin Blastmage (71)

Hunter: Glaivezooka (95), Webspinner (79)

Paladin:Muster for Battle (130), Shielded Minibot (90)

Priest: Dark Cultist (91), Velen’s Chosen (86)

Shaman: Powermace (89)

Rogue: Nothing

Warlock: Imp-losion (108),Voidcaller (77), Darkbomb (76)

Warrior: Death’s Bite (106)


First rotation will benefit Druid, Rogue and Shaman most. Both Druid and Rogue lose nothing significant (Rogue already lost Goblin Auto-Barber a while ago, so the card doesn’t count). Shaman loses only a single card – a rare that was never really vital and would lose tons of power with most of the Mechs rotating out anyway. 

I’d say that Warrior and Mage are in the middle of the stake. Even though Warrior also lost only a single card, the card is a common that’s incredibly important tool in his arsenal. Warrior runs are often decided by how many strong weapons you draft, as they’re the best tempo tool available to the class with terrible Hero Power. For Mage, the loss of Flamecannon will hurt, but both Unstable Portal and Goblin Blastmage weren’t as impactful (as they are Rares and a little weaker in terms of power).

I’d say that the biggest losers this time around will be Hunter, Paladin, Priest and Warlock. Hunter is losing two powerful Commons, but the first one is most important. Glaivezooka was one of the strongest cards available to the class, which just needs to be aggressive to win the games. Paladin loses pretty much two of the strongest cards in their respective categories – Shielded Minibot is one of the most powerful commons and the reason why a lot of Paladin drafts had very strong early game. And Muster for Battle might be the best card in the whole Arena. With a 130 score, it’s not even beaten by the infamous Dr. Boom – the only other card at 130 is Abyssal Enforcer. Even though it’s only rare, having a single Muster for Battle improved the Paladin’s drafts significantly. 

Then, Priest is straight up losing two very powerful commons. Both Dark Cultist and Velen’s Chosen were very important tools in the Priest’s early game arsenal and might make the class’ first turns a little more inconsistent (again). Then, Warlock loses a very powerful (although a bit inconsistent) Rare card, the strongest one in its arsenal (and one of the strongest in the game) and two pretty powerful common cards. Voidcaller in particular had a usually way higher score in practice, as you’ve picked it mostly in the drafts with multiple demons – it’s a big hit to that tribe.

However, those changes are only the start. The first expansion of 2017 is going to rotate out everything from 2015 to Wild, meaning that the cards will also disappear from the Standard Arena. While we don’t know the release date yet, it should come out in 1 to 2 months from now (we’ll probably get some info about it soon). How impactful will the next rotation be?

BRM + TGT + LoE Rotating Out


Druid: Savage Combatant (88), Living Roots (85), Darnassus Aspirant (85), Mounted Raptor (78), Druid of the Saber (73), Volcanic Lumberer (71)

Hunter: Quick Shot (74), King’s Elekk (73), Powershot (73), Bear Trap (69)

Mage: Ethereal Conjurer (82), Fallen Hero (73), Flame Lance (72)

Paladin: Keeper of Uldaman (98), Murloc Knight (86), Seal of Champions (80), Argent Lance (74)

Priest: Museum Curator (79), Excavated Evil (78), Holy Champion (68)

Rogue: Dark Iron Skulker (97), Buccaneer (75), Tomb Pillager (75), Shado-Pan Rider (71), Unearthed Raptor (69)

Shaman: Fireguard Destroyer (78), Totem Golem (76), Thunder Bluff Valiant (75), Tunnel Trogg (73)

Warlock: Dark Peddler (108), Imp Gang Boss (106)

Warrior: Obsidian Destroyer (105), Fierce Monkey (82), King’s Defender (72)


Classes that lose least (which most likely means that they gain most) from the rotation are Mage, Priest and Warrior. When it comes to Mage, only card that will really hurt is Ethereal Conjurer, but the class still has plenty of strong Common cards to pick from. Priest loses an important AoE, but that AoE is rare anyway, so it’s not as big of a deal (it would be different if it was Holy Nova). Loss of Museum Curator hurts a bit, because that’s one less card to play in the early game (even though 1/2 body isn’t big, it’s better than using Hero Power) and the card has really great scaling into the late game. Holy Champion barely got on the list with just 68 score – the Common is strong, but not something to cry over. Then, Warrior. Because of Obsidian Destroyer, I wasn’t sure whether to put Warrior here or in the next category. The class is something in between “losing least” and “coming out even” – but in the end, I think that Warrior got enough strong tools in the last 3 expansions to compensate for the loss of that card. Fierce Monkey is also pretty powerful, but Warriors will get over it. King’s Defender is like a weaker, rare version of Fiery War Axe and while it’s still good, it didn’t have a huge impact on the class.

Classes that get out pretty even from the rotation are Hunter, Shaman and Warlock. Hunter struggles with the quality of Common cards. Even though it got some new shiny tools last year, with Glaivezooka, Webspinner and now 3 more pretty strong Commons gone, Hunter will have a much harder time putting a deck together. On the bright side, the class didn’t lose any ‘broken’ card. When it comes to the Shaman, the loss of Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem shouldn’t impact Arena as much as it will Constructed, but they were still vital to the Shaman’s powerful early game. Fireguard Destroyer is a well-rounded 4-drop and Thunder Bluff Valiant, even though it’s rare, provides insane mid/late game value, especially when you’re ahead. Then, Warlock. Even though the class loses only 2 cards, just look at the quality of those cards. They’re the strongest Commons available to Warlock alongside the Abyssal Enforcer which gets -50% offering rate too, making powerful Warlock commons much harder to get.

Classes that lose most in the rotation are Druid, Paladin and Rogue. Druid loses the highest amount of cards. And even though half of those cards are Rare, they’re all decently impactful. Not only does it lose most of the cards, it lost 3 strong Beasts, which makes other cards from the new expansions much less powerful (Mark of Y’Shaarj or Menagerie Warden). Paladin, while it lost less cards on paper, is losing its strongest Commons one by one. Besides the Classic core of cards like Truesilver Champion or Consecration, Paladin will have no strong Commons left. And Rogue… I didn’t mention another card that’s already out – Undercity Valiant. But even without it, it loses more and more powerful cards. While Dark Iron Skulker was a rare, it was the strongest Rare in Rogue’s arsenal. And with 3 more strong Commons gone, the Rogue class is left with pretty much no strong class Common minions.

Next Expansion will have huge impact

The rotation is only a part of the Year of the Mammoth power shift. While we clearly see which classes will come out on the top from the rotation itself, there is one unknown factor – new expansion. It is going to have a tremendous impact on the Arena’s balance, especially if the +50% offering rate for the latest expansion rule will stick around (not sure about that, it wasn’t confirmed yet as far as I know). Let’s look at the last expansion – Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. Even though it was the 8th expansion in the pool, some cards still left a huge mark on the Arena’s balance. Even a single card like Abyssal Enforcer has shaken up the Arena meta. With next rotation, 5 expansions will be gone from the pool. It means that the first expansion of 2017 won’t be the 9th expansion in the pool – it will be the 4th one (with WoG, Karazhan and Gadgetzan behind it). On top of that, we need to add another change – Classic Neutrals are going to show up less often, meaning more room for expansion cards.

So, the new expansion will be the X factor and we won’t be able to really tell how the Arena’s balance will look like without knowing the cards first. Of course, the rotations will have a huge impact too, but one or two powerful commons might turn the weak class (let’s say Paladin) into a pretty strong one.

Rarity Offering Rates

In the current Arena, around 78% of the cards in Arena are Common. The new numbers will be around 68% of Common, 20% of Rare, 9% Epic and 3% Legendary on the 26 out of 30 picks. The other 4 picks are guaranteed to be Rare with the chance of a higher rarity.

In the average draft, you’re going to see around 1 Legendary, 3 Epics, 8 Rares and 18 Commons. Of course, the numbers may vary a bit, but it’s still a huge change. While Common cards tend to be either vanilla cards or cards with very straightforward effects, Rares and up usually have more interesting texts. If you add the reduced offering rate of Classic Neutrals, which are also mostly “straightforward” cards, it means that Arena should be less about the stat value and more about swinging the game with Battlecries, Spells etc.

We’re going to see biggest increase in the amount of Epics and Legendaries offered. While I still don’t think that you should be playing around Legendaries (one per draft from the pool of dozens of cards is not enough to make you play around stuff), BUT playing around Epics might now be a real concern. For example, right now you didn’t really play around cards like Cabal Shadow Priest or Elemental Destruction, because they were really rare. Playing around them usually meant that you played into something else, something that might have been much more common. However, with around 3 Epics per draft, playing around them might actually make sense now in certain situations. Of course, you will still have to weigh potential gains and losses, but situations in which you will want to play around Epics will be way more common right now. 

We’ll also see more Rares, although the increase won’t be as big as the increase in Legendaries and Epics. While you’ve already wanted to play around some Rares, right now you will be even more inclined to do that. Cards like Mind Control Tech, Bomb Squad or Stampeding Kodo will be seen more often. Not to mention the rare board clears like Blizzard, Lightning Storm or Excavated Evil – those all were difficult to play around, as they were maybe in 1 in 2 or 3 drafts, not to mention the chance of the opponent actually drawing them already.

But measuring the impact of those changes on each class is very hard. Some classes have weak Rares/Epics that get really strong when you find some synergies (for example Warrior). Other classes strong rares but weak/average Epics (e.g. Paladin). One class that I want to highlight, though, is Hunter. While it has some bad rares, there are some diamonds like Savannah Highmane or Eaglehorn Bow. And the class Epics are really strong – Call of the Wild, Rat Pack, Snake Trap, Gladiator’s Longbow and Piranha Launcher are all rated really highly.

Spell Offering Rates

Spell offering rates are another figure that’s hard to analyze. I mean, it’s pretty obvious – classes with strongest spells will get stronger, while classes with weak spells will get weaker. But because the power of multiple spells depends on the draft and the synergies you get, it’s not so clear. However, I still think that measuring the power level of all spells available will be a good way to determine which classes will benefit more and which will benefit less. For that purpose, I took the scores of all Standard Common and Rare spells (similar reasoning as in the rotation analysis) and calculated the average. The higher the average, the more powerful are (well, on average) spells from that class. I’ll be honest that I was pretty surprised by some of them.

  • Warlock: 60 score average
  • Hunter & Priest: 59 score average
  • Mage: 58 score average
  • Shaman: 56 score average
  • Druid: 55 score average
  • Warrior: 53 score average.
  • Paladin: 50 score average
  • Rogue: 49 score average

So, in short: Warlock, Hunter, Priest and Mage should benefit from the changes. Shaman and Druid are in the middle of the stake, so it won’t impact them as much either way. And Warrior, Paladin and Rogue should get a bit weaker with this change. While Warrior and Paladin don’t surprise me, Rogue having the lowest spell score surprised me a bit. But then again, while the class has some very strong spells, it also has tons of situational/almost useless stuff.

Remember that it’s the average score of the spell offered. You don’t generally pick weak spells, so the average score of spells you pick won’t be so low. However, increasing the offering rate of weak spells means that your draft has a chance to become less consistent. Those are only the currently available spells, so new expansion might change things a bit.

Winners & Losers

While these are only predictions, unless the expansion really shakes up the Arena meta, some classes already seem to stand out. I’ll start with the winners. The first clear winner is Priest. While the class might get weaker after the first rotation (right after the patch), the second rotation should really make it better. The class doesn’t lose that much then, compared to the other ones. The class is already pretty strong in the Arena (because it got a few insane cards last expansion, most notably Kabal Talonpriest), it has pretty powerful spells on average (so the increase in spell offering rates should boost the win rates) + the class has some very strong Epic cards like Dragonfire Potion or Cabal Shadow Priest.

The most clear loser is Paladin. It’s already in a pretty poor shape, in Gadgetzan Paladin decks are either full of handbuffs to make your minions two times bigger than they should be or they just lose. First rotation, the class loses one of the most powerful commons and most powerful Rare in the whole game. Next rotation it loses even more powerful Commons. On top of that, Paladin doesn’t really have powerful Spells compared to the other classes – you’re going to see useless Secrets or cards like Holy Light more.

I think that Warlock is another loser. The class loses some very important cards, like the highest power Commons (Imp Gang Boss & Dark Peddler), but that’s not everything. The current Warlock’s power level is heavily influenced by the fact that they have the most broken Common in the game – Abyssal Enforcer. With Abyssal Enforcer’s offering rate being cut in half AND decks being more spell and less minion-centric, Warlock drafts will be much less consistent (even if you get Abyssal, you can’t guarantee that you will have a good board state to use it). 

Rogue is in an interesting spot. On the one hand, the class loses more and more Common drops. But on the other hand, since it will be harder to curve out with minions in general, Rogue’s Hero Power will shine. Unlike other Hero Powers, Rogue’s one is actually a meaningful play on an empty board, as it buys you some future tempo. So even without a 2-drop, Rogue will always have something to play on t2. Which means that even though the changes will impact the class negatively, it might actually shine because the Hero Power will be way more impactful with your chance to skip turn 2 way higher.

Mage should still be strong, I’d say that it should be in similar spot to where it is right now. Rotations won’t hurt the class that much, spell offering rate will be beneficial (more Firelands Portals and Fireballs is great for Mages). -50% on Flamestrike looks bad, but it shouldn’t be that terrible. Remember that Mages have access to other AoEs like Blizzard or Volcanic Potion which will now be more common. And at the same time, less minions in the decks might make Flamestrike not as necessary. At the same time, be careful about burn when playing against Mage. The class has a lot of spells that can target face (including the Epic Pyroblast) and more spells means bigger chance to get them.

When it comes to the other classes, it’s still hard to determine how the changes will affect them. They might really go one way or the other. And like I’ve mentioned a few times already, the next expansion will have massive impact on the Arena – even Paladin might turn out to be powerful if they get two Abyssal Enforcer-like Common cards (it’s possible, because Paladin might be next in line to “fix” after Blizzard will be done with Priest).

Closing

Meta, especially Arena meta, which isn’t studied as much as the Constructed one, is incredibly hard to predict. So while I’m pretty sure of some things (like that Paladin will suck), most of them are still up in the air. I think that the transitional state of the Arena we’ll see in a ~week might be most volatile. People will only have a month or two to understand the changes, adapt to them, get used to Standard Arena etc. And things will shake up again very soon. So if you play Arena, expect that the game will look way different after the patch and then way different again after the new expansion lands.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment. And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.

Good luck on the ladder and until next time!