(Image: Blizzard Entertainment)

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

I’m currently in the throes of my annual Hearthstone binge, this one spurred by the sweeping changes Blizzard Entertainment made to its monumentally popular digital card game a few weeks ago. The game got an influx of new cards via the Lovecraftian Whispers Of The Old Gods expansion and a patch that weakens a few overused standbys, but a new format was also introduced for competitive play. Players now have the choice of building decks for either Standard or Wild. Standard locks you down to only the cards from the original set and the most recent expansions; anything goes in Wild.

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While I hate letting go of all those wonderful Curse Of Naxxramas cards, the introduction of Standard has proven to be a great decision. By cutting out more than 150 cards, the game instantly becomes less intimidating. The limited pool makes it easier to learn what’s out there and predict what might be in your opponent’s deck. The continued creativity of Hearthstone’s players means surprises are as likely and delightful as ever, even when you’re getting your ass beat.

Just as importantly, Standard gives the new cards more room to shine. Whispers might not be filled with the most useful cards the game has ever seen, but it does have some of the most ludicrous. Playing to the “ancient beings of unfathomable power” theme, the superstars of this set are massive creatures with absurd abilities that cost all of your possible resources to play. One peeks into your deck and summons a random minion at the end of every turn. Another casts a bunch of random spells at random targets, meaning it could just as easily wipe out your opponent as destroy itself and any other minions you control. Because of their reliance on randomness (something that people who favor serious competitive play have rightfully accused Hearthstone of using too often), these old gods aren’t dependable in the slightest, but they do make for tremendous fun when they hit the board. By giving out one of the better old gods for free to all players, Blizzard offers encouragement and a clear direction for new and returning card slingers.

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That dedication to keeping barriers low is a big part of why I’m loving Whispers Of The Old Gods, and Hearthstone in general, right now. Some hardcore players might complain that the introduction of Standard and a weak set of new cards is watering down the game, but the concessions Blizzard has made to levity and accessibility seem worth any potential damage to high-level play, which is too entrenched to suffer all that much. Between this and the simultaneous rise of a competitive scene and tremendous casual interest around Overwatch, Blizzard’s multiplayer shooter that sees release next week, I’d say the studio has really embraced its knack for finding the balance between the ease of entry that brings players in and the complexity that keeps them coming back.