Mage, more so than any other class, can be defined by the diversity of archetypes that it carries. Between Mech, Freeze, Flood, Exodia (infinite Fireballs), Tempo, Fatigue, Reno, Giants, and Mill, Mage definitely has more choices of play styles than any other class. However, many of these archetypes owe their viability to GvG and Naxx cards, and specifically Echo of Medivh. Many of these archetypes revolve around the fact that Jaina can create multiple copies of minions that are in her decks, in fact, I would say this creature duplication has become part of her class identity. With the removal of GvG and Naxx, many of these decks lose their win conditions, or in the case of Mech Mage, they lose almost everything within the deck.
Due to the inherent uniqueness of cards such as Duplicate and Echo of Medivh, unless a functional reprint is brought along in the newest expansion that will be released alongside the Standard format, then these archetypes will no longer be competitively viable. Mage will then be relegated to either Freeze or Tempo archetypes.
The Keystone of Duplication
So why is Duplicate and Echo of Medivh so important to Mage Archetype diversity, and where do these archetypes depend on those cards? It is because the duplication effect of those cards allows you to copy key minions and produce effects that you normally would not be able to make in any standard deck.
Echo Molten Mage can go from an empty board to a board with 48 power on it, threatening lethal immediately with 6 Molten Giants, in a single turn. Exodia Mage uses the 2 extra copies of Sorcerer's Apprentice to reduce spells by 4 mana so that Fireballs are free, and Archmage Antonidas generates unlimited Fireballs off of that interaction. Fatigue Mage uses extra copies of Sludge Belchers, Doomsayers, Coldlight Oracles, Healbots, and Deathlords in order to out-value their opponent and burn through all 30 cards in the opponent's deck. And one of the sticking points of Reno Mage is the ability to Echo Reno, allowing the Reno Mage player to pull off the Reno effect multiple times. Without Duplicate and Echo of Medivh, none of these strategies would even be possible!
The Importance of Meta Diversity
The number one factor that leads to stale and boring metas is the health of archetype diversity. The more viable archetypes there are, the more in flux the meta can be, which leads to more interesting lineups and decks that are used at tournaments. While Mech decks are, barring a miracle, going to be kicked out of standard, many slower Control and Combo decks lose their key defensive cards, in the form of Sludge Belcher, Zombie Chow, and Antique Healbot. Without these excellent stalling cards, most classes will not have the ability to branch out into slower archetypes due to having issues with survivability and game stabilization.
Gul'dan, on the other hand, will remain the hero with the most diverse palette of decks available at his disposal due to the versatility of his hero power. Most Warlock decks, such as Handlock, Zoolock, and Malygos-lock, revolve around continuous usage of the Warlock hero power and strong neutral minions that synergize with having a large hand size. However, aggro decks are poised to become the strongest types of decks in Standard, especially Hunter decks. My growing concern about the upcoming Standard format is that there simply won't be enough viable archetypes within the Standard meta to ensure that it does not become stale quickly.
A Possible Solution?
One idea that that is circulating regarding the preservation of certain archetypes within the Standard meta is enshrining certain cards in the Classic Set. This will allow those cards to be used within Standard and the respective archetypes that depend on them will be able to go on and be used competitively in the future, since Standard will be the only format that Blizzard will support competitively.
Cards with unique mechanics such as Loatheb were proposed to be part of this new set of "enshrined" cards. I propose that one card from every class that defined its play style during that format period be preserved every format rotation. So for Mage, that card would definitely be Echo of Medivh, Warlock keeps Voidcaller, Rogue keeps Tinker's Sharpsword Oil, Warrior keeps Death's Bite, Shaman keeps Whirling Zap-o-matic, Druid keeps Tree of Life, Hunter keeps Glaivezooka, Paladin keeps Quartermaster, and Priest keeps Lightbomb. Those cards have all seen play in a variety of archetypes in their respective classes, but most importantly, by keeping them within the legal bounds of Standard it improves meta diversity of their classes greatly.
Blizzard has yet to reveal the upcoming expansion that will be released in tandem with the Standard format and the planned balance changes to certain cards within the Basic and Classic sets have also yet to occur. While this lack of information may cause some people to shy away from anticipating what may happen in the new Standard format, I, on the other hand, propose analyzing it with whatever tools we have now, so that we may predict what changes need to happen and what mechanics need to be preserved so that the new format is the best that it can be.
One of the challenges facing the Hearthstone developers in regards to balancing in Standard is ensuring that the meta remains diverse and healthy, which is a valid concern that players share. Echo of Medivh is certainly one of my most favorite cards in the game, due to its versatility and the unique mechanics it has, and I will be very sad if Blizzard do not keep that game mechanic going into Standard. But otherwise, I am filled to the brim with excitement and cannot wait to see what Hearthstone has in store for us!
Written by BlitzBotV2