Whenever a new Hearthstone expansion is released, you really need to give it time to breathe. Like a plant you’re trying to grow in that one corner of your apartment, you can’t smother it with attention from the get go; you’ve got to be patient. Sure, you can sit there and talk about the new mechanics, keywords and overall cards (that’s what I’ll be doing in a second) but if you speak about them in isolation, then you’re missing the point.
Hearthstone is often defined by its meta game, which is why it’s important to look at these factors contextually… and wait a week or two for Blizzard to nerf all the problematic cards. Remember when we had to wait months for that kind of response? Thus, after playing it for two weeks and an initial round of nerfs, I can confidently tell you that Forged in the Barrens is a mechanically interesting expansion that brings an added layer of complexity to the game but doesn’t really do much else that’s new or exciting.
Instead, it plays with what’s already in the game, taking Hearthstone to one of the more nostalgic opening levels of World of Warcraft.
Firstly, let’s talk about the new Frenzy keyword. It keeps in line with the theme of the Horde that’s obviously the main flavour of Forged in the Barrens and while that consistency is appreciated, Frenzy itself isn’t all that exciting. Minions with this ability will trigger an effect upon surviving damage the first time they’re attacked. After that they become a normal minion, albeit with less HP. It’s an idea we’ve seen in previous cards, just restricted down to a single-use scenario rather than as a consist threat.
To make up for that, some of these abilities are rather powerful; Efficient Octo-bot’s ability to reduce all costs of all cards in your hand by one mana is a huge opportunity for players on turn two, as just one example. It’s also fun to see the return of Grim Patron, just more manageable as Gruntled Patron only triggers that infuriating effect once. Overall, it’s a fun new ability to play around with but it’s nothing all that special or novel.
Yet where things do get interesting is the addition of Spell Schools. It used to be in Hearthstone that a Spell was a Spell, plain and simple. While minions could have different classes that often triggered synergies within deck archetypes (things like Murlocs, Mechs, Demons etc), spells have never received that kind of distinct classification. Forged in the Barrens changes this with the inclusion of Spell Schools, which split spell cards into a variety of different… well, school. Spells can now be Arcane, Fel, Fire, Frost, Holy, Nature or Shadow and while this may not look like much at first glance, it fundamentally alters how decks will need to be built, especially if Blizzard plans on continuing this mechanic in the future.
Even better, it’s been retroactively attached to cards that have been in the game for years. Having Spell Schools allows Blizzard to incorporate cards that only pull one particular kind of spell, meaning that digging for certain spells in your deck has become much easier… if you’re willing to potentially bloat your deck with the necessary tools to make it work.
The addition of Ranked Spells is also a neat idea, if somewhat derivative of older mechanics introduced in previous expansions. Forged in the Barrens introduced a Ranked Spell for every class; a spell that increases in power when you hit five mana and then eventually maximum power at ten mana. In terms of flavour it’s a very cool idea; as one of my World of Warcraft playing friends pointed out to me, it’s meant to capture the feeling of levelling up in one of the games first challenging zones. They present an interesting choice to the player: Cash in now for minimal rewards or hold out for later turns and try to maximise the value off a single card. So not an especially original idea, but a fun addition nonetheless.
So what has all this done for the meta? Well, the first two weeks of Forged in the Barrens, it was a Mage and Paladin frenzy. No Minion Mage took off thanks to the power of Deck of Lunacy, a card from the previous Darkmoon Faire expansion, which took off thanks to the extra removal tools ushered in the Barrens. As for Paladins… well, that class with secrets and proved to be almost impossible to properly counter due to its ability to rush secrets into play. Fortunately, the nerfs announced earlier this week should stem the tide on both classes. Deck of Lunacy has been upped by 2 mana making it a much slower card to get into effect (opening No Minion Mage up for steam rolling) while Paladins big swing card Sword of the Fallen can only be used twice before breaking. Oh, and Pen Flinger has been nerfed to only ping a minion now which is just great because it had the worst voice line in the game and I’m so sick of hearing it.
Going forward, I expect Shaman to pull into place as a reliable aggro deck thanks to its reliance on murloc synergies and even though one of Paladin’s best cards was nerfed, I think there’s a possibility it could hold on. Priest is doing funny things at the moment so value archetypes could be difficult to combat and Warlock may prove to be a sleeper of the set. Then again, what do I know? The Hearthstone meta is a strange beast that’s proven unpredictable in the past.
In any case, Forged in the Barrens is a decent expansion thanks to some clever alterations to the game’s mechanics but doesn’t add all that much to the new to the game. One has to imagine that it’s because it’s the set that’s kicking off a new year of play, The Year of the Griffin, so Blizzard was likely trying to keep power levels low as a bunch of old cards rotated out of standard. Still, it’s set a decent benchmark for the game thus far and I’m excited to see how the developers build on what they’ve established through the first expansion of the year.
Forged in the Barrens is an interesting expansion for Hearthstone that plays it safe while also introducing ideas that could make for some exciting changes in the future. – 7.5
Last Updated: April 14, 2021