Year of the Mammoth is coming to an end. In roughly 2.5 months all of the 2016 adventures and expansions – Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan – will rotate out from Standard. You will still be able to enjoy the cards in the Wild format, but each rotation makes a huge impact on the game's most popular format.
With multiple key cards rotating out, and different strategies becoming obsolete, we should experience a huge meta change for the third year in a row (rotations first started with Whispers of the Old Gods back in 2016).
At the same time, the power balance of classes might shift heavily. Given that some of them aren’t losing a lot, while others will no longer be able to use multiple staples, the calculation is simple - there are clear "winners" and "losers" of this rotation. Between that and the fact that new expansion is going to have a bigger impact, we might see a significant meta shake-up.
In order to see which cards rotate out, you can just look at the list of cards released in 2016. Or, even better, you can just keep reading. In this article, I’m going to highlight the most important cards leaving Standard in 2018. Not only that, but also explain what impact those rotations are going to have. Since there is a lot to talk about, today we’ll start with the Class cards only and I'll cover Neutrals next time.
I’m going to divide rotating cards into two categories – “most important cards” and “honorable mentions”. Most important cards will be listed at the top. Those are the cards that will make a biggest difference – they’re played in high tier decks right now, or were an important part of the class identity’ for a significant amount of time. Honorable mentions will be listed below – those rotations won’t make as huge impact on the 2018 meta, but they’re still worth mentioning. They might have seen play in the past, or might be a part of an off-meta deck right now. But, without further ado, let’s start with the first class.
Back to TopDruid
As you can see, Druid is losing A LOT of cards with this rotation and there is really no deck that won't become significantly weaker. Starting with Aggro - Enchanted Raven is one of the best 1-drops available to the class, Mark of the Lotus is one of the main reasons to play the decks in the first place and Mark of Y'Shaarj is a solid card too. I wouldn't say that Aggro Druid will be unplayable, but its viability might rely heavily on the new, upcoming cards.
Another highlight here is obviously a Jade mechanic. It's gone. Jade Druid will no longer be a thing in Standard. I guess that many people will rejoice, as it was probably one of the least liked decks in the history of Hearthstone.
Druid class is also losing two ramp options - first is Jade Blossom, which is theoretically a Jade card, but it was also used in Big Druid, which wanted to ramp as quickly as possible. Another big loss is Mire Keeper, which was a staple ramp card in Druid for a long time already. However, it seems that Blizzard is willing to print more ramp cards (like the Greedy Sprite we've got recently), so given that ramp is the Druid's class identity, we'll most likely see more similar cards in 2018.
And finally, the class is losing two very versatile Legendaries - Fandral Staghelm and Kun the Forgotten King. First one was used in nearly every slower Druid deck - mostly to combo it with Wrath and Nourish, but it also worked very well with the Death Knight Hero - Malfurion the Pestilent. Kun, on the other hand, had two main purposes. It was played as a sort of tempo swing in the late game (on 10 mana, it was a free 7/7 on the board) or as a part of certain combos (e.g. in Malygos Quest Druid you could use it as a part of the combo to refresh your mana).
As for the honorable mentions - Feral Rage is gone. A card has seen quite a lot of play back in the day, but it was replaced by the better Armor gain options. Druid is the king of Armor right now, so losing Feral Rage is not a big deal. Dark Arakkoa - the card was used mostly in C'Thun Druid (obviously), but it wasn't a relevant deck in a long while already. It has also seen some play in Ramp/Big Druid decks simply as a big Taunt. Menagerie Warden was one of the highest rated Druid cards ever, but it never really took off. The card has huge potential, but we didn't have enough Beast synergies (especially slower ones) to make it good. It has seen some play in Beast-focused Aggro Druid, but that's it. And finally, Moonglade Portal was a solid option in some of the decks, but I think that Oaken Summons is just a better version of the card right now.
Back to TopHunter
Hunter is not losing a lot when it comes to quantity, but it might actually struggle at the start of the upcoming year. The main issue is not how many cards, but which cards. In this case - Hunter is losing a lot of early game. Aggressive Hunter decks need 1-drops, and losing both Alleycat and Fiery Bat might hurt the class a bit. Since it will no longer be able to play Pirate package (because Patches the Pirate is also gone), it will need to fill a lot of 1-drop slots now, and that might be hard. On top of that, the class loses a pretty solid 2-drops and 3-drops like Kindly Grandmother and Rat Pack. However, those are less severe, as there are some alternatives.
Cloaked Huntress is gone, so the "Secret Hunter" dream is also gone for now. The deck never really stayed for long in the meta, but Cloaked Huntress was a pretty significant Hunter card.
On top of that, the class is losing one of the best Secrets - Cat Trick. It will mostly hurt the Spell Hunter version of the deck that might be pushed out by Blizzard in 2018 (or might not, really hard to say).
One more thing worth mentioning is Call of the Wild being gone. The card used to be a Hunter staple, but it was nerfed quite quickly (from 8 to 9 mana). Even after the nerfs, it was played here and there. More recently, it has seen some play in the certain Spell Hunter builds and in the Spiteful Summoner version of the Hunter. You've played Call of the Wild as the only spell in the deck, and Spiteful gave you a random 9-drop (and a 4/4 body) for just 6 mana.
Back to TopMage
Mage is losing some important cards on multiple fronts. Let's start with the most popular and powerful deck right now - Tempo/Secret Mage. It will no longer be playable in the current form, as it loses Kabal Lackey, Medivh's Valet AND Kabal Crystal Runner all in one go. Firelands Portal might not be auto-include, but it was also a great option. Unless we get a lot more Secret synergies printed, faster Mage decks will have to move from Secrets towards other early game package. Mage will still be the king (or well, queen) of burn, but it will need another way to get ahead in the early game.
Without Babbling Book and Cabalist's Tome, Quest Mage looks to be in a rough spot. It will be difficult to get enough random spells to finish the quest consistently, and so we might see more random spell generation in the upcoming expansion (or else the Quest Mage will no longer function).
Volcanic Potion might not seem like a severe loss, but it was a solid tech card in Control Mage. However, more importantly, it's a cheap AoE gone from the pool of cards available through random effects. For example, an early game Potion from Primordial Glyph was often a clutch play that saved Mage from Aggro.
And obviously, Firelands Portal loss will hurt the Big Spells Mage deck, as it was auto-include - not only it's powerful by itself, but the 7 mana cost synergized with other cards in the deck.
Back to TopPaladin
When it comes to the Paladin, a deck that will take the biggest hit is definitely Murloc Paladin. Vilefin Inquisitor was one of the reasons why the deck is so powerful in the first place. Normal 1/1 tokens are worthless in comparison to 1/1 Murlocs, which can synergize with all the other cards like Murloc Warleader or Gentle Megasaur. Losing Grimscale Chum also reduces the aggressive potential of the deck - right now Murloc Paladin is left with only a single 1-drop - Murloc Tidecaller - and that's really not enough.
Rallying Blade was a solid weapon and pretty much an auto-include in multiple Paladin lists, but losing it won't be as bad as you might imagine. Aggro decks will stick to the Unidentified Maul, while slower decks might go back to the Truesilver Champion. It might not be the best, but at least there are other options.
Handbuff Paladin is gone. The deck was never really a high tier meta material, but it was played throughout the 2017 as an off-meta deck.
Control Paladin decks are losing a lot in terms of healing. Wickerflame Burnbristle was a great anti-Aggro card, which also made Corpsetaker significantly stronger. Ragnaros, Lightlord was often used in slow Paladin decks to seal the game vs faster decks after stabilizing the board. On top of that, Forbidden Healing and Ivory Knight are also gone - if Control Paladin will be a thing in 2018, it will probably be less reliant on healing.
Even though Stand Against Darkness was never really played in Standard, it was the best way to summon multiple Silver Hand Recruits available to Paladin. So while it rotating out might not seem like an important thing right now, depending on the direction they push the class in, losing it might make a big difference.
Back to TopPriest
Priest might be the biggest loser of the upcoming rotation. The end of 2016 and 2017 were great for Priest - it was getting more and more powerful tools, but now they will start to rotate out.
Most importantly, one of the most impactful decks of 2017 - Highlander Priest - is gone from Standard. Raza the Chained rotating out means that you will no longer be able to turn Shadowreaper Anduin into a machine gun. Losing Kazakus is also important, but the deck would probably be able to function without it. However, without Raza the Chained, the whole win condition is gone. While not as clear, the other popular Priest deck - Big Priest - is also losing a lot. Both Barnes and Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound will be gone. It means that Priest as a whole will probably need to move in a different direction - possibly focus on the Spiteful Summoner version more, or just play a classic, value-oriented Control Build (if that will be possible in the upcoming meta).
The class will lose two board clears - Dragonfire Potion and Pint-Size Potion + Shadow Word: Horror. Losing the Horror combo isn't that bad, as there are still other similar options (like Auchenai Soulpriest + Circle of Healing), but it's still one less potential removal. However, Dragonfire Potion is a whole different story. It was a staple in many Priest decks and one of the most powerful AoE clears in the game. While the class has got Psychic Scream recently, it's not really the same - Scream is probably even better than Dragonfire in a deck like Highlander Priest, which doesn't care about the value, but it's not a best removal if you want to build a classic Control Priest, which would rather remove threats instead of shuffling them (of course, shuffling a bunch of tokens will still be good, but answering a let's say board with multiple high value minions with Psychic Scream can backfire in the long run).
On top of that, the class loses Potion of Madness, which was one of the best early game removals in the entire game. Being able to often clear two minions for the cost of one card - or even better, use it on some small Deathrattle minion (like Loot Hoarder) and deny the value from your opponent while geting it yourself is what made this card such a powerful option.
Dragon variant is losing one of the most powerful cards in the entire game - Drakonid Operative. With vanilla stats, Dragon tag and a very strong Battlecry, it was an auto-include into any Priest build running Dragons. While Dragon decks might not be compeltely gone, it's a huge hit to their power.
Priest of the Feast was one of the best healing options, on top of a 3/6 body with a soft Taunt. Dropping it against Aggro usually forced your opponent to kill it, and if you were also able to proc it one or two times before, it was a huge win.
Kabal Talonpriest was one of the best 3-drops in the game with the solid stats and great effect. It made the Priest's early game much better and could snowball some games. The deck that will feel the loss most severely is Combo Priest, because Talonpriest was often used to set up a big Divine Spirit + Inner Fire turn.
And if that's not enough, the class is also losing some off-meta options. Purify is the most important one, probably. Silence Priest is not a meta deck right now, but it was for a brief period of time and it could have came back with the right cards. With Purify gone, Priest would need another way to Silence the minions in order to make the deck viable again. Embrace the Shadow was a solid alternative to Auchenai Soulpriest in the decks that didn't want to run the minion for some reason (e.g. in Big Priest). And Kabal Songstealer was a cool card in general - while it was not common simply because Silence is just more flexible, it has seen some play in the past.
2016 was not a great year for Rogue. While the class has got a lot of interesting cards (again), the number of the really viable ones was very limited.
As a matter of fact, I would say that only two cards Rogue got were really important. First one is Swashburglar - a 1-drop that cycles itself. However, the main reason why the card has become so popular is actually Patches the Pirate. Without Patches, it still might see some play, but wouldn't be an auto-include card it is right now.
And the second important card is Counterfeit Coin. I didn't rate this card too highly, but as it turns out, extra Coins in Rogue are always good. Having a way to activate combos early or to cheat out a big Edwin VanCleef on Turn 2-3 is not bad, and Miracle build could also cycle them with Gadgetzan Auctioneer.
Other than that, two good Rogue Legendaries are rotating out - we're losing Shaku, the Collector and Xaril, Poisoned Mind. Both of them have seen quite a lot of play in Standard, even though they were never "auto-include" cards that you couldn't live without.
On top of that, Southsea Squidface has seen some play in weapon-related, Pirate builds. But the reason I've included it is because of the Mill/Kingsbane Rogue decks, which use them in order to buff the weapon. That will no longer be possible in Standard.
When it comes to honorable mentions, there are quite a few. First of all - whole Jade mechanic. I've decided to put it into the honorable mentions simply because Jade Rogue was never really a thing, but if you was into that kind of off-meta decks, you won't be able to play it any longer. Then, Journey Below - the card has seen some play in Miracle Rogue, because it's a cheap spell. However, most builds replaced it with Hallucination from Un'Goro, and later those 1 mana spells completely disappeared from Miracle. Shadow Strike was a common tech back in 2016, but it disappeared from most of the builds in 2017. And finally, Undercity Huckster and Shadowcaster were mostly part of some off meta, fun builds like N'Zoth Rogue (although Shadowcaster has seen some more play here and there). And finally, Gadgetzan Ferryman rotating out means that Quest Rogue will be much weaker. It's already somehow difficult to consistently finish the Quest, and with two less bounce options it will be almost impossible outside of the nuts draws.
Back to TopShaman
I'll be honest - Shaman looks TERRIBLE going into 2018. It would really need an expansion full of broken cards to be viable. It's by far the worst class in the game right now (with only one "viable" deck that is low Tier 3), and it's losing so many tools that made the class playable in the first place.
First - the Jade package is gone. It's more than just Jade decks that will suffer from it - Jade Claws + Jade Lightning + Aya Blackpaw was a package put into nearly every Shaman build. The other two Jade cards only get a honorable mention, because full Jade build was rarely a "thing" in Shaman and most of the decks have simply used the package.
Evolve is gone, meaning that Thrall, Deathseer is the only way to mass-Evolve minions right now. Unstable Evolution is still a thing, but it works a bit differently and it's better in different scenarios - it's generally worse on the wide boards and better on 1-2 minions. But on top of that, Doppelgangster, which is the best Evolve target, is also gone. So unless we get more ways to Evolve, the mechanic might be dead.
Devolve is also gone - people weren't really looking forward to play this card at first, but it turned out ot be quite good. It works really well against Deathrattles, against buffs, and against wide boards you can't deal with (especially to hopefully set them up for AoE). In the end, it was an important tool in the class and with the Hex nerfed, Shaman will have a really hard time playing around buffed minions/Deathrattles now.
Maelstrom Portal is another important card rotating out - it was one of the better early game AoE spells and the main reason why Shaman could stay relevant in the early game vs Aggro decks. Lightning Storm is still a thing, but it's very slow and not something a faster deck wants to play, so Shaman might struggle with the wide early game boards even more.
Thing from Below was an auto-include into almost every Shaman deck. While it started off slowly, as soon as you've played 2-3 Totems it was already solid. It was like a Shaman's version of Corridor Creeper, with a higher emphasis on the mid/late game. 0 mana 5/5 Taunt was the tempo Shaman has often needed to come back after a board clear etc.
And finally, the good old Flamewreathed Faceless. It was called one of the most broken cards in the game for a long time, and it's still memed about, but it wasn't as strong as it looked like. Still, it was a solid, high pressure 4-drop that Shaman is losing.
As for the honorable mentions - there are a few more interesting cards there. Primal Fusion makes the Totem strategies less powerful, Eternal Sentinel gets featured, as it is the last way to remove Overload in Standard right now (and given the recent Overload-themed Spellstone it might be a thing in Shaman), Jinyu Waterspeaker and Hallazeal the Ascended were both quite solid healing options, while White Eyes was often a late game win condition in N'Zoth, the Corruptor builds (as you could shuffle a few 10/10 Taunts into your deck).
Back to TopWarlock
2016 was the year of Zoo Warlock, and so most of the stuff Warlock loses is related to Zoo. That said, the only deck that is really "killed" by the rotation is Discard Zoo Warlock, which wasn't relevant for a while anyway. Losing Malchezaar's Imp will hurt both versions, but Darkshire Librarian and Silverware Golem were played only by the Discard version.
Possessed Villager is a solid 1-drop, but there are many other options that are as good or even better, so losing it won't really hurt Warlock much.
Darkshire Councilman is probably the biggest loss on the list for the Zoo decks, as it's played pretty much ever since it was printed. While it starts pretty slowly, it has a high starting health, so it's resistant to most of the early game removals and a big part of AoE clears + it snowballs like crazy. After just two turns it can often be e.g. a 6/5 minion for just 3 mana.
Bloodfury Potion sees some play in Zoo right now, but it's not really a must-have card. It's good especially if you run the non-Keleseth version with Vulgar Homunculus, because playing both of those on curve means a 5/7 Taunt on Turn 3, and that alone can seal some of the games.
Crystalweaver sees some play in the more Demon-heavy lists (again, usually without Keleseth), but there are many alternatives.
And finally, Abyssal Enforcer. The card is great, and it was a staple in RenoLock throughout the 2016, and then later in other slow Warlock decks until Kobolds & Catacombs. However, K&C pushed Control Warlock in a different direction and the card is no longer necessary.
As for the honorable mentions - Renounce Darkness is gone. It was a meme card, but I know that a lot of people loved to play around with it. Then, Blastcrystal Potion has seem some play throughout its existence in Standard, although most of the people opt to run Siphon Soul instead, simply because of the extra healing and no mana set-back. It was better when Flamewreathed Faceless was all over the ladder and you often had to have a big removal on T4. And finally, DOOM! has never really seen play by itself, but it was a part of the Bloodbloom decks - attempts to revive Control Warlock in the Un'Goro. It's a cool card, but Twisting Nether is simply better most of the time (remember that drawing is often a downside in the late game).
All in all, Zoo Warlock will suffer a bit, but the rotation isn't enough to kill it. And if I had to give one prediction, Control/Cube Warlock will dominate the early ladder of the upcoming Standard year (unless it gets nerfed).
Back to TopWarrior
As you can see, Warrior isn't really losing a lot of cards. However, the cards he's losing are quite powerful. First - N'Zoth's First Mate and Bloodsail Cultist were one of the best cards in Pirate Warrior. Pirate synergy, weapon synergy, a body on the board. Pirate Warrior will definitely suffer from losing them. The deck is already weak - after nerfing Fiery War Axe, from a Tier 1 deck it has suddenly turned into a Tier 3 deck - it's crazy how much a single nerf can matter. Between that and losing Patches the Pirate, unless the Pirate synergy is heavily pushed in 2018, the deck will probably be gone from Standard completely.
Ravaging Ghoul is a really solid card that has seen a lot of play in Standard, mostly in Midrange/Tempo and Control builds. 3/3 body is not that bad for 3 mana, and getting an extra Whirlwind effect was amazing in those decks. You could use it to clear 1 health minions, to damage minions in order to trigger their effects (Armorsmith, Acolyte of Pain, Frothing Berserker), set up for another card (like Sleep with the Fishes) etc. However, the loss won't be that severe since Blood Razor was printed.
The rotation that will really hurt slower Warrior decks is Sleep with the Fishes. Given that it was pretty easy to set up with all the Whirlwind effects Warrior had, 3 damage AoE for just 2 mana was often a life-saved in faster matchups. Warrior still has Brawl, and the new Reckless Flurry is another AoE option, so it's not like the class will be left without AoE, but Fishes were definitely one of the best removals available.
As for the honorable mentions - Taunt Warrior was a thing only briefly, during the Journey to Un'Goro Meta. However, if you still want to play it, you will have to switch out cards like Bloodhoof Brave and Alley Armorsmith (if your build included them) and find some replacements. Blood To Ichor was a solid card in the Midrange/Tempo versions of the deck, as it could set up an Execute, or draw a card etc. while creating some board presence at the same time, but it wasn't played in a while already. And finally, with C'Thun gone from Standard, Ancient Shieldbearer is also gone. C'Thun Warrior was definitely the most powerful C'Thun deck out there and it was a relevant meta deck for quite a long time in 2016. Still, 2017 wasn't good for any slow Warrior deck, C'Thun build included, so seeing it gone won't really matter that much.
All in all, Warrior is not losing that much, but given that the class is not in a great state right now (it's pretty much on the bottom, with only Shaman arguably being weaker), it doesn't look good going into the next Standard year anyway.
Back to TopClosing
That's all, folks. At least when it comes to Class cards. I'll be back with the Neutrals soon - that one should be shorter, as there were less noteworthy Neutral cards in 2016 (although some of them were real staples, I'm looking at you, Patches).
Of course, rotation is only one thing. Another thing that will heavily impact the meta is how the first expansion of 2018 will look like. So far, every "first expansion of the year" had a huge impact on the game, and the pattern is probably going to continue soon.
What do you think about the rotation? Is your favorite deck going to die? Or maybe the classes you play aren't losing that much and you will still rock with similar builds after the next expansion hits? Let me know in the comments and until next time!
A Hearthstone player and writer from Poland, Stonekeep has been in a love-hate relationship with Hearthstone since Closed Beta. He's achieved infinite Arena and multiple top 100 Legend climbs. You can follow him on Twitter @StonekeepHS.