After five days of coverage of the most intense Magic events of the year, most of the community needed a well-deserved break, myself included. Fortunately, this past week delivered two new gaming expansions to occupy my time. First came the new Goblins vs Gnomes expansion for Hearthstone. Next came The Dark Below for Destiny. I spent most of my week playing both while ignoring everything about Magic the Gathering.

Expanding Our Horizons

The anticipation of Christmas morning is an exciting time for the (privileged) youths of the (industrial western) world. The gifts are all wrapped up and sitting under the tree for days or weeks ahead of time. You’ve dropped some subtle hints, and your parents have asked some targeted questions, and maybe you shook the boxes once or twice, so you have a pretty good idea of what’s inside. Then the morning comes and you open your gifts and that’s when things really get special. Until the wrapping paper comes off, and the boxes are torn open, you really don’t know if you’re getting a magical new toy to play with, or a hideous jumper from your weird relatives.

Gaming expansions are very much the same experience.

We’re all familiar with the quarterly expansions to our beloved Magic: the Gathering. This week, two other popular games in the digital space had expansions. First, Blizzard’s online card game Hearthstone released its new Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion. Then, Bungie’s video game Destiny had its own expansion bringing new content to the popular console first-person shooter. All three expansion experiences, Magic, Hearthstone, and Destiny, have many similarities, and a few key differences where they can all learn from each other.

The Dark Below

Bungie’s first expansion to their popular MMOFPS Destiny was very highly anticipated as it came off the heels of several incremental patches which drastically increased the enjoyment of the game. I’ve been playing Destiny regularly with fellow Hipsters writer Matt Jones since the game launched a few months ago. Over that time, Bungie had done an excellent job of improving the quality of gameplay and all seemed in order for the release of new content.

The expansion itself contained a new storyline, new equipment, new dungeons, and a new NPC with her own daily quests. All of this seemed well and good and I was excited to download and fire up the game and jump right in. A few of my buddies and I got into the new story missions and found them enjoyable and even an improvement upon the content in the core game. The new weapons and gear we acquired felt special in a new way and we have been enjoying the expansion thoroughly. To celebrate the expansion Bungie featured the new content as the weekly featured dungeon.

But not everything smelled like roses for Bungie. What about all of the old content? Well, it turns out that a lot of the new content, especially the weapons and armor, made the old content redundant. In fact, one of the biggest issues seems to be that the final dungeon from the core game has been made completely obsolete by the new content. Sure it’s a ton of fun, and some of the weapons you get are powerful, but on the whole, it may not be worth the effort for people trying to grind their way to the level cap.

If we’ve learned anything from Magic: the Gathering its that players don’t like it when the old cards they have become obsolete. This is why Modern is such an immensely popular format. Players can acquire decks with the knowledge that they will remain viable for a long time. Expansions often mean new decks, and minor tweaks to existing ones, and shifts in metagames, but they rarely mean the end of an entire deck. Bungie would do well to learn this lesson and make it so that players who don’t have the time for the expansion don’t feel that their experience is lessened because of it.

Goblins vs Gnomes

So how about we talk about a non-Magic collectible card game expansion. In case you live under a rock, Hearthstone is an online CCG created by Blizzard, makers of the somewhat successful MMORPG World of Warcraft. The new expansion introduces a new cardpool that’s a little smaller than a small Magic expansion. The cards are now legal in all constructed formats and were added to the card pool for drafting a few days ahead of the release.

Blizzard clearly took some queues from Magic in their release structure. Although the cards were scheduled to release on a specific date for constructed play, Blizzard made them available in the limited environment a week early, so that players could experience the new set but could not acquire the cards for constructed play. This is very reminiscent of a Magic paper pre-release tournament. Players were enamored with the ability to enjoy the new cards earlier than expected.

Not unlike Bungie’s expansion for Destiny, Blizzard’s Goblins vs Gnomes expansion had a bit of a major hiccup. It turns out that the default packs in the Hearthstone store were still the classic packs, not the expansion. Countless players spent their money and in-game gold on buying old packs instead of the new ones. This resulted in the European release of the game being delayed, and Blizzard having to exchange a large number of packs. In the end, they put things right, but it was a very stressful experience for many.

Fate Reforged

With the release of Magic’s next expansion very close to us, what can we learn from Blizzard and Bungie’s recent expansions? From Destiny we learn that it’s good to feature a new product heavily. I think it’s safe to say that Wizards already does this with the pre-release, release, game day, and Pro Tour events all featuring the new expansion. We also learn however that we need to keep the existing products meaningful. The Standard, and Modern, environment should change from the new expansion, but hopefully not to the extent where people regret acquiring the Khans of Tarkir cards they’ve been using. I trust that Wizards will continue to be successful in this as well. From Goblins vs. Gnomes I think there is a big lesson that Magic can learn. Players want to play with the new cards and they want limited environments to reflect that. We’ve been promised that the block design hinges on the limited format so we will find out over the next month or so what that means. Hopefully it will mean a meaningful expansion experience that will allow the game to continue to grow with each expansion.

The Quick Hits

  • Jared Yost analyzes the cost of Modern staples and speculates on what might be included in Modern Masters 2015 [MTG Price]
  • Caleb Durward played in the inaugural weekend of PPTQ tournaments and shares his thoughts [Legacy Weapon]
  • Danny Brown is bummed out about $10 packs and thinks it’s a huge slap in the face to limited players [Quiet Speculation]
  • Mark Nestico has learned to give in and love the Siege Rhino no matter how stupid its face (or casting cost) are [Star City Games]
  • There’s now a petition to get a third Un-set created. I signed it. So should you [iPetitions]
  • Ant Tessitore takes a look at the pros and cons of having comedic flavor text on Magic cards [Gathering Magic]
  • Mike Linnemann wants to see some stellar Modern card artists make appearances for Grand Prix Modern Masters 2015 [Gathering Magic]
  • Danny Brown feels that the pricing models for MTGO and DOTP are grossly archaic and compares them to the modern mobile gaming market [Quiet Speculation]
  • Adrian Sullivan examines the heck out of the new PPTQ system and ultimately thinks it will work out [Star City Games]
  • Jason Alt wants to be prepared for Grand Prix Las Vegas and presents all the early registration info for us [Quiet Speculation]

Wallpaper of the Week

Narset is a pretty rad character. She’s the khan of the Jeskai clan and she’s the bad-ass martial arts master behind Deflecting Palm. Narset was also featured in this week’s edition of Uncharted Realms. It also features Sarkhan, Zurgo, and the Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. Wizards has really been hitting it out of the park with Uncharted Realms lately, and tying it in with the wallpaper of the weak this week is a nice touch. Also, since Narset is this week’s desktop I thought I’d share this sweet alter of Jedi Narset.

Grade: A-

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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