Hearthstone tops 50 million players, Old Gods expansion goes live today

Blizzard's free-to-play card game is big business, but it's also changing in a big way.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister

It's the day that Hearthstone fans have been waiting for -- and there sure are a lot of those fans. Today, the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion for Blizzard's collectible card game is live, and it's bringing some major changes to a game that, as of today, is enjoyed by 50 million players on iPhone, Android, Windows and Mac.

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Some of your old cards won't work in Hearthstone's new primary game mode.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Those changes go above and beyond simply introducing new cards (you can see all 134 new cards here) or making old cards less potent, though both those things are also happening simultaneously. Blizzard's big new gambit, the one that could make Hearthstone even more profitable, is that many older cards will no longer be playable in the game's primary mode.

From now on, year after year, Blizzard will be encouraging those 50 million players to buy new cards to replace their old ones.

As of today, Hearthstone now has two primary game modes: "Standard" and "Wild." In the new "Standard" mode, only the original set of Hearthstone cards and the previous two expansions can be used. "Wild" allows players to use any card but could mean a more limited pool of opponents, which could potentially mean longer wait times between matches.

To ease players into the new mode, Blizzard is offering up to 13 free packs of cards for players who participate this week.

You can read Blizzard's explanation here.