Hey, guys. I am a casual Heartstone player and former (also very causal) MTG player from the late 90´s to early 00’s.
HS, as any card game since MTG, has learned a lot from the old guy, and has a lot to improve as well. I´d like to take a closer look on the rotation, standard and base set issue, since we are approaching the end of our first standard year.
In MTG, there is such a thing as a “core set”, mainly composed of cards either from classics “always been there” cards or reprints from previous expansion packs. There are 18 such sets, that I think can be divided into 3 or 4 eras: Alpha to Revisited, 4e to 10e, and 2010 to Origins (or 2010 to 15, and Origins is a new era, I don´t know, haven´t played in a while…).
On the first era, from 93 to 95, there was basically one core set, with a couple of cards added in Beta and some 39 in Revisited. During this era, there were 6 expansions, around 100 cards each.
The second era sew the introduction of the 2 sets of 3 expansion cycle, and each new core set lasted for those 2 years. Each 3-expansion sets had a larger introductory (350) and two smaller (140) expansions. The average new card rate on the core sets was close to 45%, with a little over half of the cards being reprints.
On the third era, they kept the 3 expansion sets/year almost untouched, but the core sets were released in an yearly basis, with a slightly higher than 55% new card average. This increase in 2015 and Origins, current players can help shed a light on that.
There were 2.448 individual cards ever printed in the core sets. Most of them (60%) made single-time appearances, while others were printed at least twice. Serra Angel (16/18), Giant Spider and Nightmare (15) are the leaders of reprinting.
What I think we can we take from this design philosophy?
The games’ rhythm is getting faster.
People need more rotation and more access to new content to keep interested. We see faster core set rotations w/ less reprints.
It is possible to keep a rotating core set.
Cards such as Spell Blast ware on the original Alpha, didn´t see any prints from the 6e to the 2014 set, when it was printed again. With a somewhat larger card pool, we could have cards rotating out just to make spectacular returns in latter sets down the road.
Since people on MTG can play any version of a legal card, returning players can have some value of their older cards. This is even better than what we currently have, since either classic cards are too good and there is no new meta, or there is too much power creep and classic cards are irrelevant anyways.
Cards can be added to core sets. And taken out.
I don´t have the data on the origin of new core cards (and won´t look for it. Sorry.), but as far as I know, most (if not all) were from expansions. This means that if devs want, cards can come back after rotating out. This would make it possible for a Reno meta in 2020 (it would feel fresh, regardless of what you think of it now).
This “off-expansion” return can be good, since there is no need to keep up with the themes. Think of some time in the future Blizzard would like to have the C´thun Druid or Warrior back on the Meta. They can reprint it, together with Shieldbearer, Arakoa and a couple disciples, without feeling obliged to include a Hooded Acolyte or an Usher of Souls. Or the other way around: they can reprint the big guy together with only support for the classes that didn´t hit the meta this year and see if they can make it on a new meta.
Those added cards, as well as any Classic cards, can be taken out or given a “time out” if too prevalent on the Meta. If we add Reno to the Core Set and people get fed up of being rich, he also can hit the road.
I believe that it would be healthier for Blizzard to have a yearly Core Set, composed of cards that are from either the current Classic set or any amount of expansions. Each year the cards available on the packs of the year and legal on Standard would change together with that list.
This would both make for new and interesting decks more often, but also increase the return on investment for developed cards: It is worst for Blizz if people play against Azure Drakes for 4 years in a row and they have a Sludge Belcher rotting on wild when they could alternate the two cards on standard without fedding up people.
Counter arguments I can see:
Having a less stable Core set makes for a more costly development, since there are lots of interactions devs have to test. If they already know how about half of the playable cards go together, there is more resources for creating and testing new cards.
There is more uncertainty regarding the game: this is good for people who like newer decks, but can be a pain in the ass of a F2P guy who invested all his dust into a Tyrion for his Paladin deck, just to see him out of the standard for a couple of years in a row.
I think their plan is definitely to revisit the "core" set at some point.
But HS is still young and the classic set is far from balanced which could easily be seen by how good druid and warrior were, when they went from beta to launch and how crappy paladin was. From this it readily follows that a class like paladin relies heavily on cards from expansions while others don't. This in turn means that arena and wild will be completely dominated by classes which 'have' to get better cards to even stay relevant in standard.
So I don't think it's question of if, but when. Note that this is still the first year of standard.
As someone who quit the MTG scene shortly after 4E came out, one of the things that made me decide to quit was that WOTC started rotating out too many cards and coming out with too many big expansions that only had a handful of playable cards in them. I agree that they need to rotate out SOME cards every year, but it should only be a handful, and the replacement cards should be just as good as the cards that are leaving. Otherwise you end up feeling like the whole things is just a marketing ploy to get you to buy more packs just to get the 1-2 new cards that will actually see some use.