The Grand Tournament is the second major expansion to come to Blizzard’s lucrative, $20 million a month collectable card game. The first expansion, Goblins vs Gnomes, came out in December 2014 and brought with it 123 new collectible cards, and the addition of the Mech minion card type.
Blizzard’s second card expansion, The Grand Tournament, launched earlier this week on Monday evening. The expansion brings with it 132 collectible cards, but mixes things up and brings new tactical elements thanks to the addition of a new keyword: “Inspire”.
Local supplier Megarom Interactive provided us with a pre-order of 50 packs of The Grand Tournament cards, which means that I’ve spent the last few evenings duking it out online with complete strangers in order to get a feel of what The Grand Tournament brings to an already enjoyable game.
The biggest game changer is the new Inspire keyword. Certain minions (around 21 in total) from The Grand Tournament set of cards are able to activate an additional ability straight after you activate your Hero Power. This suddenly makes Hero Powers all the more tactical and integral to your overall Grand Tournament deck builds and strategies. Very often I found myself holding Inspire minions back in my hand so as to have enough mana to cast the card and my Hero Ability immediately afterwards. Some cards, like the common Inspire creature “Mukla’s Champion”, can make an attack run with a full board of your minions even more devastating if you hold it back until you hit at least seven mana crystals. Inspire effects don’t get removed once your turn ends or the Inspire minion dies, so in the case of Mukla’s Champion, if you were to keep that card in play and activate your Hero Power on each turn, you could permanently pump up your active minion stats across the board.
Some of the Inspire abilities are very clever, lending themselves to varied tactics and some staggering combos. “Tournament Medic” is a neutral, four-cost, 1/8 creature with an Inspire ability that restores two health to your Hero. He’s super useful, just sitting there quietly feeding you health whenever you activate your Hero Power. The
six-cost, 3/5 epic card “Kodorider” has an Inspire ability to summon a 3/5 War Kodo. These are two pretty powerful examples of Inspire minions, but you do get weaker ones to fill opening plays, such as the one-cost 1/2 “Lowly Squire” who gains +1 attack thanks to Inspire.
Each of the Hero classes has at least one class-specific Inspire minion, but the vast majority are found in the neutral cards section, which is nice for those who stick to specific classes and tend to avoid others. I often find myself bouncing between Druid, Priest and Hunter, but hardly ever touch Warlock or Paladin.
Another feature in The Grand Tournament expansion is a “jousting” mechanic. Certain cards will, once cast, pull a random card from each player’s deck to compare mana costs. If you cast the “joust” card and your randomly pulled card costs more than your opponent’s, then your “joust” card gets an added bonus effect. This additional mechanic isn’t nearly as prevalent and game-changing as the Inspire keyword, but it does make casting this specific set of “joust” cards a little more entertaining and rewarding should you happen to win the joust. I just wish that Blizzard had included more of these cards, as there is only a handful to be found in the expansion set. It’s also odd that Blizzard refers to this mechanic as “joust”, but that keyword never appears on any of the cards.
Those are the two biggest additions brought to Hearthstone via The Grand Tournament. There are obviously over 100 other new cards that run the full gamut from common to legendary, so there’s plenty of new content to get you to dive back into deck building. I found myself deleting older decks and constructing new ones based on Inspire tactics alone, which is obviously what any worthwhile expansion should get one to do. The Grand Tournament has definitely added enough to get me back into Hearthstone.
That being said, I’ve got to wonder what this expansion will mean for those who choose not to drop hundreds of Rands on buying dozens of Grand Tournament packs. If you insist on accumulating your cards on a strictly “free-to-play” basis by saving Gold and purchasing packs that way, then I can’t help but imagine that the next few weeks of playing Hearthstone might be pretty tough. If you lack a substantial amount of The Grand Tournament cards, then facing off against an opponent with an Inspire-heavy deck is going to be extremely challenging, as they’ll get numerous buffs and extra minions whenever they cast their Hero Power. You, on the other hand, will just cast your Hero Power. And this obviously leads us back to the oft repeated question: is it hard to get into Hearthstone at this point in time? The answer to that remains “yes” IF you choose to stick to the “free” side of “free-to-play”. If you want to be able to get into the game properly and not feel overwhelmed by people with vastly superior deck builds to your starter decks, then you need to spend money, and that brings us dangerously close to notions of “pay-to-win”. But is that fair? This is a collectible card game after all, and even with physical card games like Magic: The Gathering, it was always the guys at school with heaps of money who were able to dominate the games during lunch-breaks. Guess it’s par for the course with this form of entertainment, no?
The Grand Tournament cards are available for 100 Gold coins per pack, or you can pay real money to get larger bundles. They cost the same as vanilla Hearthstone and Goblins vs Gnomes packs. They’ll also crop up in Arena chests if you choose to spend your time in that game mode.
My final feeling on this second expansion? I really like it. I’m already a big fan of Blizzard’s card game, but I feel The Grand Tournament has hit that expansion sweet spot far more accurately than Goblins vs Gnomes ever did. Inspire adds another layer of tactics, and there are some very clever effects spread across not only the Inspire cards, but other new cards found in the expansion. And that alone is enough for me to recommend it.