How exactly did we get here, and what did we learn in those harrowing months in the deserts outside Orgrimmar? Below are some of the most influential cards from Forged in the Barrens that, together, tell a tale of how this format started and of what might be around the corner.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

The first big expansion of the new year, Forged in the Barrens, sent Hearthstone players spiraling back in time to the age of classic World of Warcraft. General Chats churned with heated debates and wives went missing in the sandy wastes– it was a harsh and hostile world. Perhaps too well-guarded, the borders of this place maintained a cell-like enclosure around those grinding through nerf after buff after nerf until they finally broke free: there, Stormwind, just on the horizon.

How exactly did we get here, and what did we learn in those harrowing months in the deserts outside Orgrimmar? Below are some of the most influential cards from Forged in the Barrens that, together, tell a tale of how this format started and of what might be around the corner.

1) The Watch Posts: Protecting or Caging Hearthstone’s Barrens?

Hearthstone's Mor'shan Watch Post

Far Watch Post and Mor’shan Watch Post (along with their ugly duckling brother, Crossroads Watch Post) instantly stole the spotlight. Initial understandings of these cards were mixed, but then it became clear: these towers played way too much defense.

Originally printed with 2/4 and 3/5 stat lines the two best Watch Posts, Far and Mor’shan, dominated the early hours. Dealing four damage early was a near-impossible feat, and taking down a 3/5 without minions was dubious at best. These cards completely stifled the play patterns of everyone’s opening turns. Finally the nerfs came and the Watch Posts took a back seat, but the mark left by their constriction was undeniable. These cards began a new trend that would continue to shape the format: extremely powerful Neutral minions.

2) Mankrik, Kazakus, Blademaster Samuro, and The Dragons

The trend of Neutral powerhouses wasn’t just a random Rare here and there. Hearthstone dropped a pile of pushed Neutral Legends into the mix. This cemented the Watch Post trend: everyone gets to play with the New Good Cards, never mind your class.

This resulted in a new step towards homogenization, as with the Watch Posts, with lots of decks featuring shared cards. The last time a Neutral Legend saw tons of play across the board was Zephrys in 2019-2020. Forged in the Barrens had three, and on top of these new Neutral names came revisions to some old ones.

The big bad Dragons were reworked, and the new Ysera, Alexstrasza, and Malygos all saw regular play. Rogues, Druids, Warriors, Demon Hunters, nearly every midrange class looked to the Dragonflights for a brutal one-card win condition at the top of their lists. A change was stirring, with a general trend towards an increase in power level of the Neutral cards. However, Forged in the Barrens would double down on one more thing: Cheating on Mana.

3) Refreshing Spring Water, Sword of the Fallen, and Octo-bot

Hearthstone's Refreshing Spring Water (nerf edition)

Each player gets one additional mana crystal every turn. Traditionally, on turn three, you can only play one or two cards. Those that break this pattern tend to be extremely powerful, and Forged in the Barrens brought several. Soon, many were nerfed: Refreshing Spring Water was not-so-affectionately referred to as Pot of Greed, and Sword of the Fallen was a mandatory card to play in Paladin.

What did they share? Above all, these cards ended up generating mana advantages that demanded one’s opponent to be doing something unfair. Similarly Octo-bot reduced the mana cost of your hand by up to five or even ten by turn three. If you weren’t doing something broken, you needed to start. And the list didn’t stop there:

  • Celestial Alignment
  • Every Deathrattle Demon Hunter Card
  • Conditioning
  • Conviction…

These all saw play in dominant archetypes throughout Hearthstone’s Barrens journey, tinged with the threat of “You can’t beat them– join them.”

What does this mean for the future of Hearthstone?

Hearthstone's Katrana Prestor and Anduin Wrynn

There are two directions, much like the evil Katrana Prestor above and tiny Anduin below her. One takes us toward more powerful Neutral cards that may threaten the power of the Classes. The other is in the hopes and hands of the little King, toward a path of powerful but balanced Legendaries, strong win conditions for every class, and a harmonious but epic kingdom.

Keep your eyes peeled for Neutrals that continue the thread laid down by the Watch Posts, and don’t sleep on anything that says Reduce, even by one. We have the bloody clues that were scattered throughout the Barrens– which way down the forks will they take us?

Keep up to date on all of the hottest deck guides and breaking news here at esports.gg– and if anyone finds Mankrik’s wife: please drop us a line, we’re starting to get worried.

Steven Mullahoo -

Steven Mullahoo

| Twitter: @MullahooTTV | Twitch: Mullahoo

Steven “Mullahoo” Mullahoo is a Hearthstone coach, commentator, writer, streamer, and explorer. This Rogue main has been all over the fantastic world-- Mullahoo started the competitive Magic: the Gathering team at Tufts University, coached high school League of Legends teams, and played in not one but four Quidditch World Cups. Creator of the animated series, Scoop Universe, Mullahoo can be found hunting waterfalls as a cartoon geologist in the Northeast.