Game formats are distinct ways to play Hearthstone. There are three official game formats: Standard, Wild, and Classic. Other game formats present themselves in tournaments, such as 'Sealed Deck' or 'Pauper'.
Standard format limits players to using cards only from the last two years and from the Basic and Classic sets, Wild format allows players to use cards from any card set, and Classic format allows players to use only the unchanged forms of cards from the original Basic and Classic sets when Hearthstone first launched.
Standard format is the main game format supported by the developers and is the default format for new players and competitive Hearthstone, while Wild format is the default game format for the majority of Hearthstone's game modes, including Adventures and Tavern Brawls, though Standard is occasionally used for specific Brawls.
Standard format is intended to feature a fresher and more focused Hearthstone experience, with the limited pool of cards allowing greater design space and a more dynamically shifting meta, as well as more balanced play. In contrast, Wild format provides an unrestricted environment where players can utilize the full range of Hearthstone cards, resulting in an experience that is at a higher power level and a little less balanced. Wild format is only unlocked for new players once they have graduated from the New Player Ranks and have crafted or obtained a Wild card. Classic format features a static card pool, allowing for deck building in a very limited format. Classic format is unlocked for new players once they have graduated from the New Player Ranks and have crafted or obtained a Legacy card.
Game formats are different from match formats, which determine how games are played between two players in a head-to-head match (e.g. Conquest, Last Hero Standing). Game formats also differ from tournament formats, which determine how players advance through a tournament bracket with more than two players (e.g. Swiss, Dual Tournament).
- Main article: Standard format
Standard format or Standard is the more balanced and competitive Hearthstone format. Games played in Standard format include only cards from card sets released in the current or previous calendar year, as well as the Basic and Classic sets. Cards from other sets cannot be included in decks used in Standard matches, and random effects such as Murloc Knight, Summoning Stone or Discover will only select from current Standard options.
Standard format is only available as a format in Play mode matches (Ranked and Casual), Arena, and Friendly Challenges. Tavern Brawls may "occasionally" use Standard format, but are normally Wild. The focus for balance and design work, Standard format is used for all official (and most unofficial) tournaments, including the Hearthstone World Championship and Hearthstone Grandmasters. Standard format is also the default format for new players.
Standard format aims to provide a fresher Hearthstone experience. With older cards steadily eliminated from the format, the meta will shift more regularly and more significantly, since new cards will have a larger impact. Design space is also increased, since older cards no longer restrict the possibilities for creating new cards. The smaller pool of relevant cards makes it easier for players to acquire the cards they need to be competitive. The combination of a smaller card pool and less limited design space is also expected to help the developers to balance the game.
The prefix Standard is used to refer to cards, game modes and adventures which fall within the Standard format, or which are only available in Standard format. For example, a Standard adventure is one which is currently part of Standard format. Cards which are currently valid in Standard content are termed Standard cards.
Standard format is updated annually when the first new expansion of the year is released, marking the start of the "Standard year". The arrival of Standard format in 2016 saw Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes moved to Wild format, making cards from those sets unavailable in Standard format play.
- Main article: Wild format
Wild is technically the default game format, and is used for all game modes where game format selection is not available, including adventures and Tavern Brawls. However, where the player is able to select a game format, Wild format is locked for new players until they obtain a card which is not available in the current Standard format. Prior to this, the player will only be able to select Standard format and create Standard-only decks.
With cards from any set allowed, Wild format sees a far larger range of cards in play. As a result, more synergies and combinations are available, with a higher power level overall. The format is expected to steadily grow in power over time, outstripping Standard format, and allowing for 'wild' combinations not possible in Standard. This can also allow for a far greater variety of decks in play, making a refreshing alternative to the refined meta of Standard play.
The prefix Wild is used to refer to cards, game modes and adventures which fall within the Wild format, or which are only available in Wild format. For example, a Wild adventure is one which is no longer part of Standard format, while a Wild game mode is one which uses Wild format. Cards which are not currently valid in Standard format are termed Wild cards.
The symbol for Wild format is an infinity symbol formed from thorny vines. This matches the general theme of branches and vines overgrowing Wild interface elements, such as Wild decks, the player's Wild rank, and the Play screen when Wild format is selected.
- Main article: Classic format
Classic format or Classic provides a narrow playing experience, letting players relive or experience the Hearthstone meta as it was when the game first launched, and to discover new metas and strategies within a limited card pool.
In Classic format, all cards are uniquely presented in their base, unchanged versions. Rotations to the Hall of Fame are ignored, and new cards added to Basic and Classic are not available to use. The sole exception is cosmetic changes - for example, Deadly Shot uses its current art, and Succubus is still replaced with Felstalker. Mechanically however, players will be able to play Hearthstone as it was first introduced.
The majority of Classic format cards are contained in the Wild-exclusive Legacy set. Owning a Legacy copy of a card also unlocks its pre-nerf version for use in Classic. However, disenchanting a Legacy card will remove it from your Classic collection.
- Players are able to select Standard format through the Play mode selection screen, or when challenging a friend to a Friendly Challenge.
- Players queuing in Standard or Wild format will always be matched against players queuing in the same format.
- When challenging a friend to a Standard format duel, both players will only be able to use Standard format decks.
- At the end of each Ranked season, players will receive a Highest Rank Bonus chest based on their highest rank in Standard or Wild format. This means that players are free to focus on climbing the ladder in whichever format they prefer.
- However, the Highest Rank Bonus chest will only grant card rewards usable in the current Standard format.
- Ranked wins in either format will jointly count toward acquiring golden heroes, with no change from the current system.
- Players have a separate rank in Ranked Standard and Ranked Wild play. This was initially set based on the player's rank at the point game formats were added to the game. From then on, Standard and Wild ranks now function separately and will increase or decrease based only on matches within that format.
- Only the player's highest rank in either Standard or Wild is displayed on their friends list.
- Casual play uses a single MMR, shared between Standard and Wild play.[verification requested]
- Card backs and alternate heroes are unaffected by game formats, and are usable in all formats.
- There are no plans to alter or create new versions of the "Legend" card back.
- Which battlefields appear is affected by the game mode, not the game format.
- The split between Standard and Wild is not expected to have any "significant effect" on the time taken to find a match when queuing.
- As of January 2017, Standard format was by far the more popular format than Wild with around twice the number of matches played.
- Decks and the collection
- Decks can be either Wild or Standard decks, with the latter only able to include cards appropriate to the current Standard format. Players are able to select deck type in the collection. Switching a deck to Standard will mark all current Wild cards for replacement.
- When game formats were added to the game, all decks containing current Wild cards were converted to Wild decks, while those without any current Wild cards were converted to Standard decks.
- The arrival of game formats brought numerous user interface changes, specifically for sorting of card sets.
- Deck slots can be used for either Wild or Standard decks, without restriction.
- Players can use Standard decks to queue for any type of play, since all Standard card sets are also eligible in Wild play.
- While adventures are referred to as Wild or Standard, this only reflects the crafting options for the adventure's cards, and whether they will be usable in Standard format matches. All adventures will themselves be played in Wild format, allowing cards from any set to be used. Adventures will be developed with the full range of cards available in Wild format in mind.
- The developers are "still talking about what the future of [Wild adventures] is", although for the time being the emphasis is on helping new players to focus on the latest adventures. According to Yong Woo, the developers are "excited to make use of [Wild adventures] in the future", but haven't yet decided on the details of their return.
- The changes to crafting adventure cards make it cheaper to access cards from Wild adventures, since players no longer have to purchase one or more wings in order to obtain a single card. Players are also able to disenchant unwanted adventure cards, allowing them to craft other cards instead, effectively adding value to the purchase of adventures.
Standard and Wild
- The problem
- "Mostly we’ve kind of been trying to look towards the future of Hearthstone and make sure that we’re set up to be fun and exciting for many years. We don’t want Hearthstone to be a game that’s just around for a year, we want it to be around for a lot of years, and when we think about the cadence of releases and how to keep the game fresh and exciting, it’s not too hard to see where Hearthstone is headed if we don’t make any changes. The problems are that the game gets less and less versatile and dynamic with new releases because they have more cards to compete against, and it’s hard for new players to get into. Given those two problems we just felt like we had to do something." - Ben Brode
Prior to the announcement of game formats, players had expressed widespread concern over the future of the game. With an ever-increasing card pool, the effort and/or money required by players to create competitive decks was steadily increasing. The increasing range of card packs and adventures was also a concern regarding new players, who might have a hard time knowing where to start. More critically, the need to have new cards impact the meta was cause for concern over power creep, due to the need for new cards to outshine older options in order to get played. Without power creep, the prospect of certain cards staying in their dominant positions indefinitely increased the call for nerfs on cards like Dr. Boom and even Piloted Shredder.
With no plans to stop adding new content, it was admitted that this was a problem that would only get worse as the game expanded. Ben Brode states, "We didn’t feel like we were at the point of disaster just yet, but that feedback got louder and louder. If we didn’t do something soon it really was going to be affecting things for us."
In the last week of September 2015, 5 months before the feature would eventually be announced to the public, Blizzard took the unprecedented step of inviting prominent community members to a special meeting where the problem of the game's ever-expanding card pool was discussed, and current plans shared. Invited were well-known streamers and competitive players, including Trump, Reynad, Gnimsh, StrifeCro, Brian Kibler, Savjz and Eloise, as well as a small selection of press. The company's "work in progress" plans for game formats were presented to the group by members of Team 5 as well as Blizzard founder Mike Morhaime, for feedback, criticism and suggestions.
Several significant changes were made as a result of this feedback. "Legacy" format was changed to "Wild" format, in response to Kibler's suggestion that the title should feel more connected to Warcraft lore. Wild format was given its own Ranked ladder, something suggested by Savjz. Trump and Kibler were also in favour of rotating the Classic set out of Standard format, due to concerns that keeping both the Classic and Basic sets perpetually in Standard would eventually lead to stagnation. While the developers did not choose to adopt this change - due to wanting to keep a reliable core of cards in Standard for returning players - they did decide to remove Goblins vs Gnomes from the initial Standard format line-up, where previously only Curse of Naxxramas was to be removed.
Other ideas were not adopted. Notably, the removal of Wild adventures from the Shop, making them impossible for new players to purchase, was criticised by community members but was not changed. However, the developers explained that there were possibilities for the future of such adventures. Despite some disagreements, community members expressed appreciation at the openness and receptivity of the developers.
While the developers had planned to announce the upcoming changes prior to BlizzCon in early November that year, after the feedback received during the community sharing it was decided to hold off on this, taking more time to tweak and discuss their plans before revealing them to the public. Brode explained that the face-to-face community sharing had been better than the usual forms of interaction such as watching community members' streams, describing the meet up as "wildly beneficial". He also confirmed that similar events would be held in the future.
Reception to the plans were mixed, with concerns over losing access to old adventures (and to a lesser extent, card packs) the main point of contention. Some players reacted negatively to what they felt was effectively the removal of many of their cards from play (due to their no longer being allowed in Standard), while others praised the creation of a sustainable plan for the future of the game. The future of Wild format was widely debated, with some players believing it would go on to serve as an interesting and active format, and others predicting it would become unbalanced and barely used before too long.
The game formats were to arrive at the same time as the upcoming Whispers of the Old Gods, synchronising the removal of the cards from Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes with the addition of the new cards from the expansion.
With Patch 188.8.131.5251 the first changes appeared in-game in preparation for the arrival of game formats, mostly in the form of interface changes, including the addition of the long-awaited 9 extra deck slots. Special notices were added in the Shop to content which would become Wild at the start of the Standard year, and the Play mode screen gained the game format selection button (default format: Standard), although clicking it produced only a special message about the upcoming formats. The Wild format icon had also been changed from the classic Hearthstone swirl shown in the original promotional images to a thorny infinity symbol. More significantly, the patch featured an undocumented change updating the rules for which cards were uncraftable to the new system, more than a month ahead of the release of Standard format, allowing players to disenchant unwanted adventure cards for the first time.
A late change to the initial plans came on March 11, when the developers decided that players' friends lists would show the player's highest overall rank in either format; previously they had intended only to show the current Standard format rank. The changes was intended help players to enjoy the format of their choice, and "be recognized for their efforts ascending the ladder in Ranked Play, regardless of format."
- Card changes
The introduction of game formats was accompanied by a wave of changes to existing Basic and Classic cards. The intention of the changes was to address an over-reliance on cards from these sets, resulting in stale gameplay as new cards are unable to outstrip this already available options. By nerfing Basic and Classic cards, the developers hoped to help the release of new content to be more impactful, resulting in a more dynamic and shifting meta as well as a less stale experience for deckbuilders.
The planned card changes were announced on April 20, a week before the release of Whispers of the Old Gods on April 26/27. The official blog noted, "There’s a simple guiding principle that underlies each of the changes you’re about to see: New card releases should have an impact on Standard and enrich Wild, to make sure that Hearthstone is always as dynamic, fresh, and fun as it can be. ... We also still think it’s good for some signature Class cards to be in ... decks, too. For example, Innervate and Wild Growth embody the Druid’s unique strength, so we’ve chosen not to adjust them."
For a full list of the card changes made to prepare for game formats, see Card changes, or the official blog.
Druid was by far the class hit hardest by the nerfs. The official blog explained, "The most popular Druid decks are consistently composed of the same big chunk of Druid cards. That puts a damper on deckbuilding creativity and has left the Druids feeling stagnant. We want to inject some life into Druid deckbuilding, so we’re adjusting some of the worst offenders." The developers had previously stated that druid's reliance on such cards was something they had "known for some time" they would eventually have to deal with. Other changes included those to common Silence, removal and aggro deck choices, as well as altering Master of Disguise's function to open up design space for future cards. Most nerfs were intended to increase diversity by making the cards slightly less automatically-included in players' decks.
One other change was that Captain's Parrot and Old Murk-Eye, which prior to this were obtained through collecting all Classic Pirate and Murloc minions respectively, were made craftable, and the achievements that awarded them removed. However, despite official blogs having announced plans for this some time in advance, the change took a number of players by surprise, resulting in a swift reversion and temporary extension until May 1. This allowed players wishing to complete the related quests time to do so, as well as justifying the awarding of the Reward cards to frustrated players who had spent Arcane Dust meeting the requirements after the patch, without realising the quests had been removed. A side effect was that while not valid in Standard format decks, the two minions continued to appear in Standard format matches through random effects such as Murloc Knight and Ram Wrangler, confusing players.
Game formats were implemented on April 26/27 2016, with the release of Whispers of the Old Gods. Players logging in shortly after this date were treated to a special sequence (see Gallery, below) depicting the Hearthstone Zodiac, and the selection of the new Standard year, followed by a short explanation of the difference between the two formats and a chance to try converting a deck to Standard format. The convergence of game formats and Whispers of the Old Gods meant that the promotional quests "5 Old Gods Packs!" and "5 More Old Gods Packs!" had a dual purpose in promoting Standard format, offering Old Gods packs as rewards.
The advent of game formats brought substantial changes throughout Hearthstone, but perhaps most significantly in its effects on Ranked play. Where previously there had only been a single Ranked ladder, there were now two separate ladders for Ranked Standard and Ranked Wild, with players able to choose between two different paths for pursuing their laddering ambitions.
For players focused on Standard format, the regular removal of older card sets potentially accelerated the collection process for newer expansion sets, due to some players dusting their Wild cards. This was able to impact the longevity of expansions and affect the meta of Standard, due to a larger proportion of players having the dust to craft their desired cards for Standard at the very start of a new expansion. However, the intention of new game director Ben Lee in 2020 was to prevent players from falling victim to disenchanting their old beloved cards for the new game mode that was coming later in the year.
Future card changes saw cards moved from Standard to Wild, in order to help prevent staleness in the Standard meta. As with almost all card changes, if a card is moved to Wild format, the card will be made disenchantable for its full crafting cost for a short period following the change, normally two weeks.
With the advent of game formats in 2016, the developers planned to adopt a regular pattern for the release of new cards, with a new expansion at the start and end of each year, and an adventure somewhere in between. This was no longer the case anymore in 2017 with the release of three expansions per year.
- New Standard year
- Patch 184.108.40.20674 (2016-04-24):
- Official game formats implemented: Standard and Wild added.
- Accompanying card changes implemented.
- Patch 220.127.116.1151 (2016-03-14):
- Various interfaces have been updated in preparation for the arrival of game formats.
- A Wild/Standard button has been added to the top of the Play screen's right-hand window.
- Content which will become Wild with the arrival of Standard format is now marked in the Shop with special notices.
- The rules for which cards are uncraftable have been updated to follow the new model.
- Various interfaces have been updated in preparation for the arrival of game formats.
- A New Way to Play. (2016-02-02).
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-03-22).
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-03-19).
- Celestalon on Twitter. (2021-02-09).
- PlayHearthstone on Twitter on Twitter. (2016-02-02).
- .PlayHearthstone on Twitter. (2021-03-22).
- Formats Friends List Display Change. (2016-04-11).
- PlayHearthstone on Twitter. (2016-02-02).
- PlayHearthstone on Twitter. (2016-02-02).
- Designer Insights: Live Stream Q&A. (2017-01-13).
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-03-21).
- PlayHearthstone on Twitter. (2016-02-02).
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-03-22).
- PC GAMER: Ben Brode on why Standard Hearthstone has to ditch the old card expansions. (2016-02-02).
- Yong Woo on Twitter. (2016-02-04).
- #136 - The Angry Chicken: "Expansion, Adventure, Expansion" w/ Phil Kollar. (2016-02-24).
- POLYGON.COM - HEARTHSTONE AND COMMUNITY: INSIDE BLIZZARD'S RADICAL NEW APPROACH TO WORKING WITH PLAYERS. (2016-02-17).
- Hearthhead.com: Preparing Hearthstone for the Future - Blizzard Addresses Concerns, Shares Excitement. (2016-02-18).
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-04-10).
- Old Murk-Eye and Captain's Parrot. (2016-04-25).
- Yong Woo on Twitter. (2016-04-28).
- Yong Woo on Twitter. (2016-04-27).
- Nick D'Orazio, Tom Matthiesen (2020-03-26). Hearthstone directors Ben Lee and Nathan Lyons-Smith talk Year of the Phoenix. InvenGlobal. Retrieved on 2020-08-13.
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2017-01-13).
- Keeping Hearthstone Fresh (2016-04-20)
- Hearthpwn - Whispers of the Old Gods Developer Q&A Transcript, This Week in Card Reveals (2016-04-10)
- PC GAMER: Ben Brode on why Standard Hearthstone has to ditch the old card expansions (2016-02-02)
- Designer Insights with Ben Brode: A New Way to Play (2016-02-02)
- A New Way to Play (announcement blog) (2016-02-02)
- Game formats introduction sequence