We’re about to see less of Abyssal Enforcer and Flamestrike in the Arena — and a lot more Rare and Epic cards.

Hearthstone’s Arena mode is getting a raft of changes when the 7.1 update hits at the end of February. This patch affects the card pool and offering rates for Neutral cards and Spells. This is the mode in the market-leading card game where you select one of three classes, pick 30 cards (which are also random), and then play against others as you attempt to get up to 12 wins before you suffer three losses. It’s also one of the ways Blizzard monetizes its players — you either spend 150 in-game gold or pay $2 for each draft. Arena players have long felt neglected, and the changes should help shake up the mode.

As Blizzard said earlier this month, Arena will start using a similar pool of Standard cards that the Competitive and Casual modes use. This includes the Basic and Classic sets, the Whispers of the Old Gods and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansions, and the One Night in Karazhan adventure. The pool won’t include Basic and Classic cards that Blizzard pulled from the Arena last year in an attempt to improve class balance, along with the Whispers cards it left out of Arena when that set debuted last year.

The biggest takeaway here is that by reducing the size of the card pool by adopting the Standard format, Blizzard is making the Arena an easier place to play. Right now, it has more than 940 cards in its draft pool, and a sizeable portion come from sets that new players can’t even buy. It’s intimidating for them. But by limiting the cards in Arena to Standard, new players coming into the mode will get to play with the same cards they can buy from the current set rotations. This should help make Arena a friendlier environment for new and less-experienced players.

Jade Shuriken

Above: Jade Shuriken

Image Credit: Blizzard

“As more cards are added to the Arena pool, having each game feel meaningfully different actually becomes harder to accomplish. Many of the cool synergies between cards, such as Jade Golems or Mechs, live within each individual set release,” Blizzard said. “Attempting to create decks that utilize these meaningful synergies in a wide and diluted card pool will become more and more difficult as the Wild card pool grows larger. Arena runs then becomes less about card synergies and smart deck choices and more about being fortunate enough to be presented with the best card from each set. This change should put the focus back on the player for good, synergistic Arena choices and make Arena decks feel more cohesive.”

But Blizzard is also adjusting the rate that Common, Basic, Rare, Epic, and Legendary cards — along with Spells and Neutrals — appear during the draft. GamesBeat asked by what percentage these were all increasing, and Blizzard didn’t provide the information before press time. The studio said that Commons make up 78 percent of all Arena cards and “that number was too high considering that many of the cards that focus around individual class identity and power level rely on the common cards of any given class.” After the change, Blizzard said Common and Basic cards will appear less.


Above: Flamestrike.

Image Credit: Blizzard

It’s also reducing the offering rates of two powerful board clears — Warlock’s 7 mana Abyssal Enforcer (a 6/6 minion that does 3 damage to all characters) and the Mage’s 7 mana Flamestrike (which does 4 damage to all enemy minions and is so good that it’s the top Mage card on Arena specialists Merps and ADWCTA’s The Lightforge’s Tier List of card rankings). These two cards — which the community has a love-hate relationship with, as they make your decks stronger but feel bad when played against you — will now appear 50 percent less in drafts.

The next change is about Spells, which Blizzard says will appear more often in drafts after the 7.1 update (except for Flamestrike, of course).GamesBeat asked by what percentage Spells were increasing, and Blizzard didn’t provide the information before press time. The logic here is that too often, players who flood the board early-on with minions get out ahead, since the opponent can’t react with Spells they don’t have. The idea is to provide for more counter-play among minions and punishing players for mindlessly overextending, not rewarding them. The danger here, of course, is that too many spells prevent players from keeping minions on the board.

River Crocolisk.

Above: River Crocolisk.

Image Credit: Blizzard

Blizzard is also reducing the rates that Classic Neutral minions appear. GamesBeat asked by what percentage these were increasing, and Blizzard didn’t provide the information before press time. A number of these are “vanilla” minions that have stats but don’t have card effects attached to them, such as the 2 mana River Crocolisk (a 2/3 minion) or the 7/7 War Golem, a 7 mana card that is weaker than many others at that cost. The studio acknowledges while these are good tools for teaching Hearthstone, they don’t make for good choices in the Arena. “This helps make more room for spells, class cards, and expansion cards to show up at a higher rate,” Blizzard said.

The studio promises to watch these changes and adjust as new issues pop up, which could happen since class cards and Spells are more powerful than neutral cards. It’s hard to forecast how these changes affect the top classes in the Arena — Mage and Rogue have dominated since launch, and Abyssal Enforcer is one of a couple of cards from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan that have pushed Warlock to the top — or help bottom-feeders like Hunter.

After all, Priest is no longer “trash tier” after Mean Streets of Gadgetzan.