Looking Back on Toki’s Chrono Chaos and the Year of the Dragon

Almost one year ago, I put a lot of time and energy into designing my own fan-made set. I wrote a post about the process and included all 135 card designs here, if you haven’t seen it yet. It was a hell of a process and I was very happy and proud of with how it was received by the community. Thanks to everyone for their kind words and encouragement after this went live!

Now that the Year of the Dragon has, presumably, given us all the new cards it has to give, I thought it would be a good time to look back.

One of my all-time favorite podcasts, Mark Rosewater’s “Drive to Work,” has a recurring segment called “lessons learned” in which Mark goes back to take a look at a Magic set he worked on and talk about all the lessons they learned from its successes and failures. That is, he highlights what worked, and what didn’t work as well as they wanted, and tries to talk about what Magic design as a whole has gained from the experience of making the set. It’s my favorite of his show’s recurring episode types because it give a lot of insight into the design process, both at the time the set was made and for Magic generally, going forward. It’s the type of candid and nitty-gritty design discussion that you don’t get many other places. I also like that it combines general design lessons with very specific examples and, as someone who played Magic for about half the time the game has been around, they are often examples that I have person experience with to boot.

When doing his episodes, Mark has the benefit of talking about cards that were eventually released to the public, which helps inform things like how well cards/mechanics were received and design and/or balance issues. He also has access to a sea of data, especially on the sets that have been released more recently, in the digital age. I, of course, don’t have any of that. But there’s another measure of how good my set was: how many things that I came up with have ended up in Hearthstone, and how those things were received by the community. At least in theory, there could be no better indicator of me being “on the right track” as a hopeful Hearthstone designer than for me to come up with something close to something that ends up in the final game. On the flip side, looking at stuff I missed/messed up on can be a good learning experience. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in and see how I did!

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Some Things I Predicted/Got Right

First things first, I called the year’s theme! I made my post a few days before the year was announced and, I don’t know why, but it felt like it was time for Dragons. Turns out I was right on that front and, in an unexpected twist, this was the year in which the annual theme was more important than ever before. Sweet!

Short aside: This year, I’m feeling like it might be time for the Year of the Phoenix. This is definitely part wishful thinking and part prediction, but there have been some talks about potentially remaking Priest’s Classic set–and mention of big announcements this year–so why not make 2020 the year of rebirth for Hearthstone?! I’d love to see this be the year that we finally revisit the Evergreen sets and switch to a rotating core, but more on that another time.

That’s not all, I was actually even closer on upcoming themes than that. The theme of my set involved Toki messing with time and, in doing so, drawing the attention of the bronze and infinite dragonflights. Both of those dragonflights are in Descent of Dragons, and so is the underlying theme of time manipulation (a little)!

Another overall theme for the year that I also incorporated was the callbacks to prior Hearthstone content. In my set, there was a cycle in which one of each class’s Legendaries was a remake of one of the class’s most iconic cards. As this was part of my “alternative timeline” theme, several other cards in the set were also references and remakes of old cards. The entire Year of the Dragon has been a similar parade of callbacks to Hearthstone’s biggest villains (the League of E.V.I.L.), heroes (the League of Explorers), and other iconic characters (like the Wild event as a whole, the Classic dragons resurfacing in DoD, etc.).

In terms of specific cards and mechanics, I’m pretty happy with some of the specific stuff I foresaw there as well. Here are a few examples:

– I called the return of the Bomb mechanic (albeit, I had it as a one-of card, not as a major set mechanic and cycle). I wrote during Rise of Shadows about how the Hearthstone Team’s decision to make the mechanic into a vertical cycle allowed them to get the desired complexity I was going for, without being too wordy or losing clarity, like I struggled with due to the fact I was only making one card. I don’t think a vertical cycle worked for my set, but maybe that’s the type of thing where you wait until it is the right set to do the cycle instead of doing the one-of.

– I made a card with the same effect as The Amazing Reno’s Battlecry, and I wrote what I thought was a really interesting twitter thread about the design decisions in wording the effects. The Twitter thread didn’t get much traction at the time, but it’s like a mini- blawg post if you want to check it out.


Jumping ahead a little to the “things I could’ve done better” portion, I think mine would’ve worked well as having the single-target card’s rules text say “erase from time” or “remove from the timeline” or something like that (including a card name change, if needed), to add that “poof” factor, but more on the issue with that later.

– I also had a version of the Scheme mechanic in my set. Though mine was a little clunkier in wording, and slightly mechanically different, it’s pretty close to a card (Dr. Boom’s Scheme) that actually shipped. Now, being similar to one of the most panned-cards ever printed probably isn’t something to be overly proud of, but the card did get printed, so I think it’s still a (maybe minor) win.

– I also designed another card with functionally the same effect as an unplayable card that ended up getting made. But, in this case, I think it’s something to be more proud of because: 1) the card would, at least potentially, be less unplayable in the context of my full set with the Scout mechanic; and 2) the card is at least inherently interesting, unlike Boom’s Scheme which, even if it were good, probably wouldn’t be all that exciting.

– I named something “Dragon’s Bane,” but it’s otherwise completely different from the Dragonbane that was actually printed, so that’s more like a fun coincidence than anything else and, considering how generic the name is, it’s barely even that.

– I made the Chef Nomi condition (“[few or] no cards in deck”) one of the substhemes/ smaller mechanics of my set, with a handful of cards (mostly in Warlock) relating to it.

– I made a baby Amalgam, pretty close to the one that Curator has in Battlegrounds. (Long-time readers may recall that I also essentially designed the original Nightmare Amalgam before it was printed, too). If you take a look at my set overall, you will see that I like Tribal mechanics and I make them a major subtheme in my set.

Some Other Stuff I *Think* I Got Right/Might See in Hearthstone’s Future/Just Thought I Did a Good Job About

Stuff that has already been implemented, of course, isn’t the only measure of success. We hope that Hearthstone will be a long-running, successful game with many years ahead of it and, with that hope, we can also look at our designs and see areas where we think the game may go in the future. We can also just see designs we’re proud of for some other reason. Here are a few of those:

– I’m still in love with my Scout mechanic. Sure, maybe it could be implemented a bit better, but I think deck manipulation is a huge area of design space and interesting gameplay that Blizzard has only barely scratched the surface of. I’m confident we will get something like this mechanic at some point in the game–if for no other reason that one day I’ll finally wear them down and get them to hire me, move up the ranks, and at some point, like 20 years from now, finally have the power to put it in the game myself.

– I like the “Dormant” subtheme, and I like that I, generally, played with the concept of messing with board space. This is an area that Hearthstone has explored a little bit, but which I feel still has a lot more to offer.

– I think some of my class themes (especially Shaman’s Tribe-shifting and Warlock’s self-milling) are interesting themes and ways that we might see those classes expand in the future.

– A few of what I think are some of the cooler individual cards I designed:

(Murozond’s hero power is, 2 mana: Deal 3 damage and destroy the top card of your deck.) I really like that the first three here subvert expectations, but in a way that interestingly expands the way you can play the game, not just for the sake of doing it. I like the last one because it just seems so perfectly like a Hearthstone card that could actually exist in the game one day… and because it’s an interesting card in its own right. I think these individual cards are some of the strongest I made in the set–even though my buddy wasn’t as interested in Time to Think as I was. As long as I’m showing someone other than him, these are some of the cards I’d point to first when showing someone what I did with this set.

Some Things I Got Wrong/Lessons Learned

Alright, with all that self congratulation out of the way, lets get to the meat and potatoes of this post… the self flagellation.

In terms of things I could learn from my set, I reviewed my designs with the benefit of hindsight, looked at all the community contacts, and talked to some game design friends about where it could have been better. Of course, a lot of the comments were about power-level concerns, of which I admit there were a few, but those were never my highest priority because this was always more an exercise in initial design than in final design. I also had at least on card where I forgot to put a minion tag on an obvious dragon and that had vestigial text on it from a prior version of the card, which no longer made sense in the final version. Again, these are things that would most likely get caught with more time, more (any) in-game testing, and a few more eyes looking them over. Even if they weren’t, that doesn’t seem like the most grievous of errors, considering that real Hearthstone just made that mistake themselves. The things I’m more concerned about here are more fundamental design issues and similar places where I think I could improve.

And while there’s a lot that I’m proud of in the set–including just the fact that I put in all that work to complete it at all–there’s a lot to learn here as well.

– At the highest level, one issue was with my set theme: “time travel” is, paradoxically, simultaneously too broad and too narrow at the same time. It’s too broad in the sense that it can–and my set does–cover several different time periods and events (how else would you sell time travel?). The problem there is that it makes it hard for people who aren’t the most engaged to track how all the themes and other bits of flavor go together. It makes the set appear disjointed, as it looks like it’s doing a ton of different things, and it’s only when you remember that the theme is time travel that you start wondering how the Iron Horde are in the same set as some characters from the War of the Ancients, or why either of them are in a set with Dragons, etc. It would probably need a stronger, more overt structure–like maybe an adventure where each wing takes place in, and involves using/earning, one of Chromie’s epochs–to make a theme as broad and vague as “time” work.

On the flip-side, the theme was too narrow in that by just making it “time,” I limited myself on flavor as well. I definitely felt this while designing the set, as there were many instances of card names feeling a little clunky, or repetitive, because I couldn’t think up any more puns or aphorisms concerning the concept of time. It was pointed out to me that Hearthstone tends to do two flavor themes for each set (Karazhan, but disco; dragons having an air battle; trolls/loa and wrestling, etc.). Doing that in the future would: 1) make my fan sets feel more Hearthstoney; and 2) help concentrate the set’s theme on those points, which will simultaneously give me more to work with and also make my set feel more streamlined.

– As mentioned above in discussing Reno, and in my twitter thread on “poof,” I had an overall issue with plain text in my set. As discussed in the twitter thread, digital card games like Hearthstone have a powerful tool that allows them to sometimes use less precise/clear language: the game itself. If you want to find out what a card does, and you aren’t clear from the text of it, you can usually just play it and the game will show you! But, I leaned a bit too heavily on that tool in my set. Too much of this tool adds a barrier to entry and player frustration, so traditionally, Hearthstone only does it a few times per set. I had too much of it, and it’s something I’ll try to keep an eye on for future designs.

– Another big issue I had was with the role that some of my card designs played. To explain: it is generally the role of the evergreen sets to establish class themes, archetypes, etc., whereas it is the role of the expansions to iterate on those in new and interesting ways. Obviously, I knew this going into designing my set, but I didn’t quite realize how Hearthstone tends to make this work. What Hearthstone tends to do is to rely on the evergreen sets to establish the “core,” workhorse cards for most decks in a class, and then use the expansion cards for the more exciting stuff like build-arounds and finishers.

Who’s having the fun?

Rogue and Druid are good examples of this: both classes tend to have at least one archetype in most metas that uses 10-15 evergreen cards to build a backbone for the deck, and then which uses expansion cards (C’Thun, Jades, Pirates, Galakrond, etc.) to fill in the rest of the deck. The expansion cards tend to give the deck its name, and make it feel new, whereas the evergreen cards make sure the deck still feels like a deck from that class. This works best when the finishers are big flashy expansion cards, because the human brain remembers the big flashy thing that killed you more vividly than it remembers the 10 evergreen cards you played to set it up.

(Related tangent: the nerfs to the Druid and Rogue’s evergreen toolkits, and the current calls to maybe look at Rogue’s evergreen toolkit again are not, in my opinion, because this method is inherently wrong, but more because the balance is/was a bit off and because people get tired of seeing the same thing so much even if it’s a good thing–I still want a rotating core, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Back on topic: Rogue is actually a particularly good example because it’s the class in which I probably failed in this the most in that I made a ton of workhorse cards that, I thought, had interesting mechanics and takes on classic Rogue themes. But, none of them really popped.

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Sid Meier, of “Sid Meier’s ___” fame

Looking back at my Rogue designs, and going over them with a smart friend, I was reminded of a related design lesson that, it appears, I lost track of while designing my set. Legendary game designer Sid Meier has a famous design principle which is often phrased as a key question every designer should ask themselves when designing their game: “Who’s having the fun?”

The premise of the design principle is that it should be the player of a game who is having the fun, not the game designer, and certainly not the computer. I know, players having fun while playing your game, what a novel concept, but it’s really easy to fall into the trap of really clever designs that exist more because you wanted to do something tricky than to serve the ends of the game.

Let’s take a look at my Rogue set:

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Timeshifting Recruiter is yet another card I designed that falls into the category of “probably just a worse version of Zephrys,” even if costed appropriately, so go ahead and ignore that one. If we look at the rest of my cards, though, there are a lot of clever things here: I play with the set’s theme and new keyword mechanic, I have cards that reduce in cost if you do rogue-y stuff, and I have cards that either essentially (Sleight of Hand, Added Insult) or actually (Time to Think) do nothing unless you have the right situation for them. All very tricky, and very on-brand for Rogue, I’d say. I also have a few cards that are just solid and if/when tuned appropriately, would probably see some play.

The problem is that none of these cards are the finishers, build-arounds, or otherwise flashy cards that get the average player excited! Even though established players might look at stuff like Time to Think, Added Insult, and Sleight of Hand and see nutty tools for Miracle Rogue, even they would probably really enjoy that for a few days and then start complaining about how “the same” Miracle Rogue deck is “always good.” There are some good tempo tools there, too, but they are also more the workhorse cards than the flashy cards people remember. And Rogue is just the best/worst example of my designing this way in the set.

My set had a lot of solid cards that–once/if balanced for it–would probably see some play and fill in some decklists, but which wouldn’t “pop” in the way we like expansion cards to. I’m not saying that every expansion card has to be flashy–that’s obviously not true–but I do think I felt short of the mark on how many of those marquee, pack-selling, can’t-believe-they-printed-that-card cards I included in my set.

– There were a few mechanics in my set that didn’t quite work the way I wanted them to with how Hearthstone normally works. Obviously, I know Hearthstone better than most, and I tried to be very mindful of how cards would actually work in the game. If you go back to my original article, my game design document has several notes on specific cards that I anticipated raising questions in development, and tried to work them out myself. But, that said, there were some that I missed. A good example of this is in some of my Hunter cards:

The interesting gameplay that I was going after was forcing the player to either take a gamble or build their deck in a certain way (with lots of spells, or beasts, or Scout cards, as the case may be, to maximize the chances of getting the bonuses). The problem with that is that, in Hearthstone, we get a glowing yellow reminder aura whenever conditional effects are active. Oops! The mystery is gone and the interesting gameplay is ruined. It still kind of works in a time set, because now it’s like these cards are telling me the future, but that’s not the flavor I was going for at all with these cards, and it’s a mechanic that I think would probably work better in another class. Really, I’d prefer to noodle with my original concept. Luckily, there is a solution as to these specific cards: Make the effects “Scout 1 [card from your deck] and then [do effect] if the top card is [requirement].”

Another example, which would take a bit more time and energy to fix, is the set’s theme/mechanic (mostly in Shaman) of changing and/or augmenting minion Types. My friends pointed out that this may be something that the game client simply is not equipped to do at this point, since we don’t currently have anything that augments the tribal tag of minions–an area of the card that is explicitly not considered the rules text (for instance, you don’t Silence a minion’s Type). That probably doesn’t mean that the designs can’t happen at all, but it definitely means there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis to determine if it’s worth the time and energy it’ll take to get the system there. That’s always something to consider when adding new mechanics to the game.

Lynessa-field-blessaYet another example: Lynessa, my Paladin Legendary, doesn’t work the way I wanted it to because of something I expect I’m not the first person to fail to account for–localization! The “Blessings” are all unrelated cards from various different sets spanning all the way from Basic to Saviors of Uldum and, in some languages, they don’t all have the same term in their names! We can’t reference cards by name if the names aren’t uniform, at least not without re-naming all the outliers in other languages, which is a big, embarrassing undertaking for just one card.

There are also probably some other issues with the card, like the name (how much cringe is too much cringe?), the balance, and the variance between hitting a Blessing of Kings and a Blessing of Wisdom (also, does the Druid card Blessing of Ancients count?), but the localization hurdle is the biggest and most immediate. The solution would be make all the cards she can cast in this set, either as collectible cards or not, and make it clear that they are to be under the same umbrella, so the localization teams treat them as such and the card makes a lot more sense to everyone, no matter the language. This would also help with the balance and variance issues, since we could specifically design all the results to be more in line with one another. Anyway, always remember: think globally.

– If we get into the smallest minutiae of specific cards, there were definitely plenty that my buddy and I spitballed a bit and came up with better designs for. I’m not going to get into each and every one, but it just goes to show how helpful it is to work with a team of smart, like-minded people. I hear a lot that game design–and perhaps especially card game design–is about iterating on good ideas, and these conversations have shown me first-hand how important that could be. Here are a few more quick examples of things we iterated on:

  • After messing with a few cards and finding them to be too wordy–or finding my excuse for why I didn’t make a change to be card space–my friend suggested that we make the default for Scout be from your own deck and to only use “from __ deck” when you either- must or get the opportunity to Scout from your opponent’s deck (similar to how Discover defaults to your own class, but can sometimes Discover from different pools). This sacrifices a little bit of clarity and consistency in the text, but it does free up a lot of space throughout the set, and I don’t think very many people would be confused by that change. It also works because Scout is more common on your own cards anyway.
  • I had a subtheme of Dormant minions, and awakening them. To go with that, I had a Druid card that read, “Awaken all Dormant minions. Give them +2 Attack and Rush.” However, it’s not fun to have cards that too often do nothing, so this card would lead to less overall feelsbad moments, and therefore be a better overall card, if the two effects were not contingent on one another. So the card just gives all minions +2 Attack and Rush, regardless of whether they were just awakened. It still fits the theme and the mechanics still fit well together, we’re just exchanging a little bit of flavor for a lot of gameplay.
  • The Hunter cards discussed above were another bunch of cards that I had an idea for but had to iterate on with my buddies to get them to actually work how I wanted in the game.

Conclusion

Alright, so that was a lot of words, and now seems like a good time to stop. I don’t really have a great way to wrap it all together, so, uh, I guess I’ll just end this how Maro ends his: “I’m pulling into work, so you know what that means, this is the end of my drive to work. So instead of making– wait, no, so instead of talking Magic, it’s time for me to be making Magic. I’ll see you guys next time. Buh-bye.”

 

 

What I Want From Blizzcon

Hey guys! Sorry it’s been so long. I got caught up in some other stuff, and then work just tore into me for like a month straight. Even just writing this post ended up taking me two weeks from start to finish, just because I had so little time to work on it each night. Woof. I’m ready for a Blizzcon. So, let’s talk about what we might see there.

If you’ve been following the news–and by news, I mean not just my posts on Blizzpro, but also the real, boring, adult-style news that your parents follow–then you know that Blizzard’s not currently in the best spot it’s ever been. Blizzcon is supposed to be the “celebration of everything that is Blizzard” and, unfortunately, some fans who don’t feel like celebrating everything that is Blizzard at this particular moment. I don’t plan on using this post to talk about that. I’ll just say that I wouldn’t be surprised if this one were a little bit different than the others.

But, that said, we are now less than one week out, and, before all this started, we’d been hearing for a while now that this year was scheduled to be a particularly good year, SO IT’S TIME TO GET HYPED. Here are a bunch of things I’m hoping to see, expecting to see, and not expecting to see, contrary to what some of the rest of the community is expecting.

1. The Con Before the Storm

I expect that most of my readers are familiar with the official unofficial pre-Blizzcon event that is Con Before the Storm, but for those who are not, you should know that it’s an annual pre-Blizzcon event put on by the fans, for the fans. The event features all kinds of personalities, content creators, Blizzard employees, and, this year, ME! Yeah, I somehow finagled my way into the Hearthstone World of Podcasts Panel, and could not be more excited or honored to have been invited. It feels like a really cool validation of the work I’ve been doing in the scene, even if I’m more podcast-adjacent than a podcaster, so it feels amazing to be on it. The panel features some of the biggest Hearthstone podcasters in the scene, and it should be a great show. I hope you stop by!

HS-Panel-Shot

2. Other (New?!) Games

Moving on to the ‘con itself, but not yet making my way to Hearthstone, I’m really excited to see what’s coming from the rest of Blizzard’s franchises. I’m not as in to the other franchises as I am to Hearthstone, but I still play them on occasion, and I enjoy stuff like the lore and cinematics from them as well. Plus, successes for the other franchises always just lead to an overall better atmosphere at the con. We’re there to be excited together, so it’s more fun when we’re all excited!

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Don’t say the p-word.

And in that sense, last year’s Blizzcon felt like a little bit of an off year. They announced WoW Classic and Warcraft III Reforged, both of which were pretty well received, but also both of which of those were remakes. So while they were exciting, they weren’t as exciting to me as something that’s new. Diablo Immortal was new, and I *genuinely* really enjoyed it, but, as you probably know, it was not particularly well received by the core Diablo community–the people who were most represented at the announcement panel and who, up until a few weeks before Blizzcon, were expecting Diablo 4. That moment in particular definitely had the inverse of the effect I mentioned above–the Diablo fans’ foul mood kind of put a damper on the whole rest of the ‘con. It felt like I wasn’t allowed to be excited about Diablo Immortal or, to a lesser extent, pretty much anything else that was going on–especially something like Hearthstone, which already has some ties to… phones.

The rest of the franchises–including Hearthstone–did some good stuff, but not much more than what was expected (a new hero, a new set, whatever–we knew that was coming). Coming off of Riot announcing an entire new suite of games, it sure feels like Blizzcon could use a bit more fresh meat.

So, what are we getting this year?

Well, Diablo 4 is pretty much a given. Based on all the rumors and hype, it seemed like it was almost ready to be announced last year, and had to be pulled at the last minute. That might just be the community misreading things, but, regardless, the poor reception of Diablo Immortal last year means that Blizzard really wants to get back into the Diablo community’s good graces. We’ll also probably get the Diablo Immortal release date, of course, but given the disaster last turn, they’ll probably downplay that a bit. Thinking on it, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get it and they instead saved that for some other event.

We are almost certainly getting the Warcraft III Reforged release date because, you know, you don’t announce something and then just let it languish for a few years. It looked good when I played the demo last year, so I expect people to be pretty hyped to play it. We had a strong vertical slice of the game last year, so I wouldn’t even be terribly surprised for them to pull one of those, “And it’s live RIGHT NOW” situations, either. That’d be pretty dope.

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I’m not the only one who thinks Tracer looks super hot in this key art, right? Right?… Guys?!

There are also rumors we might get Overwatch 2! The original version is only about 3.5 years old at this point, so that would be a pretty quick sequel by Blizzard standards, but Overwatch is a game that undeniably changed gaming forever, so it would certainly make sense that Blizzard would push a sequel out and it’s exactly the type of announcement that would bring about all these rumors that this will be a banner year. One of the rumors is that Overwatch 2 will include a robust PVE, and that would get me super hyped. I enjoyed the original Overwatch well enough, but I’m not a huge fan of the fact that it’s almost entirely online PvP play only. If there’s some sort of campaign mode, with all the story, and varied gameplay, and lack of pressure to perform for teammates, I’m all in.

And how about we cap it off with something entirely new?! When I started writing this this thing, we didn’t know anything about what was going at Blizzcon this year, but two long workweeks later, and now we have ourselves a floorplan and a schedule. The schedule has people talking because it includes six (6!) different unlabeled “coming soon” time slots, all on the Mythic Stage. That sounds like some big announcements to me! Especially since a few of the known titles already have “update” panels on the schedule as well.

It’s been a few years since Blizzard’s had an entirely new IP (Overwatch) and we know that they’ve had at least a few things in the incubator for a while. Maybe, maybe, something’s ready to show. I don’t know what the new thing would be, but there are a few options. The autobattler hype seems to have died down a bit, but it would certainly fit within Blizzard’s strengths and, well, coming in after the initial wave of a genre is kind of the Blizzard way.

Or, speaking of genres (mediums?) the hype for which has died a bit, some sort of augmented reality thing might also make sense (like a Niantic game, but you’re Horde v. Alliance v. Burning Legion, maybe). Other major genres Blizzard might look to expand into include racers, fighters, and maybe even other sports games. None of those are particularly exciting to me right now, but I trust Blizzard to have thought of all of this, and more, and figured out something that works. I really doubt that all six of the untitled panels are new games–that would be INSANE–but I’d guess that at least 1-2 are, and I’m excited to see what they are. Maybe it’s something new to fall in love with like I did with Hearthstone.

3. Hearthstone

Alright, enough foreplay, let’s talk about Hearthstone. There’s a lot to be excited about in our favorite game, some of which is already confirmed (or essentially confirmed) and some of which is my own hopes and speculation.

The Next Set

One thing that we’re pretty much guaranteed to get is the next set. Under the current expansion release cadence (which we’ve had for a few years now), the last set of the year is always announced at Blizzcon and set to be released in early December. It’d be pretty weird for them to change that system in the middle of a year, so I’d say that’s pretty much a lock. As for what the next set might hold for us…

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If you haven’t played through the Saviors of Uldum single-player content yet, the hints are a little subtler than they are if you have, but there have been a lot of hints in the last few weeks that N’Zoth is not the only Old God we’ll be seeing in Standard this year. It all started before this Standard year even commenced, with Madam Lazul.

The prescient priest was a clue to me from the start for a few reasons: first, she kind of stood out as not really belonging in the “rouges gallery” of Hearthstone baddies like the others did. Part of that was probably necessity (there are 4 explorers and 9 total classes, so you need 5 baddies and who’s a better fifth?), but still, her presence left me asking why. But once we accept that she’s there, we are immediately reminded that she comes from the Whispers of the Old Gods set. In a year in which we’re recounting all of Hearthstone’s greatest hits, why wouldn’t we touch on the biggest bads we’ve ever seen? And finally, the spoiler clips themselves–it’s clear that she’s not in charge, but is instead channeling someone as she’s flipping the cards–and it doesn’t really seem like Rafaam’s all that much in charge either. After all, she summons him.

The obvious guess for who is influencing her (and Rafaam) would be one (or all) of the Old Gods. They’ve set this whole plan into motion so that they can escape from their prisons and… be all evil again. It’s always hard to comprehend motivations when you get to that scale, but I guess just getting out of prison is a good starting point.

Speaking of escaping, that’s exactly what they do in Uldum! The Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron’s in the set, which got my attention as early as reveal season, but then we got the solo content and, well:

Final-Plague

The last boss’s last hurrah is to release the four Old Gods! It just feels right that this year-long narrative ends with The Old Gods threatening to destroy the world (with maybe some dragons thrown in, like Deathwing–Corrupted by the Old Gods–versus the rest of the Dragonflights). Which is a nice jumping point from flavor to mechanics.

There’s nothing like a mega-baddy to convince the good guys and the bad guys that they need to work together. That, combined with a stray comment Mike Donais made on his daughter’s stream, makes me think that we might get the return of tri-class cards. Aside from it generally fitting the theme of this year–a “Hearthstone’s greatest hits” of sorts–the tri-class cards would kind of work in the sense that we have a three-sided struggle of sorts here. The Old Gods versus the League of E.V.I.L. versus the League of Explorers. I would expect they’d mix them up a bit, from last time (there are several permutations left to try and probably don’t want to reuse the same ones without also using their now-irrelevant clan names).

So, that’s what I’m expecting for the next set: Old Gods, dragons, and a team up between the bad guys and the good guys against the real bad guys, which might result in some cool factions or similar tie-ins between cards.

New Features; New Modes; New Game?!

I’ve been burned a few times before on this, so at the risk of seeming like a fool again: I think we might get a major overhaul or, at least a new button/game mode. First, the why.

There are a few reasons why I think now is the time. The easiest one is that it’s been a while since we added a new mode to the game (over four years, by my count of it being Tavern Brawl; a bit under two years if you’re counting from Dungeon Run). While the development teams, mission design teams, and event teams have done an amazing job making the modes that we have incredibly fun–I think the past year or so may have been the best that Hearthstone, as a game, has ever been–that can only go so far. There comes a time when we need a bigger shakeup, and it feels like it might finally be time. On top of that, I think the community’s unhappiness with last year’s decision to indefinitely pause Tournament Mode might also have made them really want to make sure they had something for us this year.

Another reason why now is the time is that it seems like they’ve been developing some interesting technologies to allow them to do so. We’ve seen them playing with solo content, pre-releases, and tavern brawls, all in interesting ways that seem–at least to the outside observer–to be expanding what the Hearthstone client can do. And that’s not even considering all the work we as players can’t see, either because it’s behind the scenes or because it’s not quite done yet. At the start of this year, Blizzard announced that they would be putting more resources into development for several titles, including Hearthstone, and I think they might have something to show.

And finally, the flavor. So, like I said above, I think the next set has something to do with the Old Gods being released, and maybe unleashing Deathwing on the world. You know what happens when Deathwing is unleashed upon the world? The cataclysm. The cataclysm happens.

Cataclysm

 

I can just see the announcement now: “This December, Deathwing is coming to destroy Hearthstone as we know it! … And from those ashes, will come… [thing]!”

Okay, so what will “[thing]” be? I don’t know, of course, but there are a few options.

The more ambitious fans are thinking we might get Hearthstone 2.0. At the very least, this fits that flavor point. This year–in which we have highlighted a lot of Hearthstone’s greatest hits–could be seen as a farewell tour. And, y’know, Deathwing and/or the Old Gods have destroyed the world, so… why not rebuild from the ground up?

It makes some sense, but I still think it’s a reach. Hearthstone 2.0 comes with some challenges that other sequels don’t. Namely, our collections. It would feel pretty bad to force people to switch over without shifting over their collections that they worked and paid for over the years. But if you bring collections over, then I’m not sure what you could do to make the game feel different enough to make a 2.0 make sense. And if you keep both systems available, then you’re splitting your fanbase and ~doubling the cost just to maintain and promote your game(s).

That’s why I think we’re more likely due for some other sort of shakeup. I see two such changes as more likely than anything else: 1) a new format and/or 2) a new game mode.

In terms of new formats, I’m seeing people speculating that this Treasures from the Tomb event may signal some sort of rotating card pool–either as a change to the way we handle our Evergreen sets, or as part of a new format. While we’re at it, we may as well throw this week’s Haunted Carousel Tavern Brawl into that same pile of speculation because of its inclusion of un-nerfed Dreadsteeds. Combined, we can have some sort of rotating format (maybe at the Arena cadence) with unnerfed cards? It can be the “Wilder” Wild format. The cards can be unnerfed because they are in a rotation, so any problems would only be for a few months, max. That would also allow them to more closely regulate Wild, if they wanted, as the “Wilder” format would be the place for people who want to go nuts whereas Wild could be a format for people who want to play with all the cards, but in a competitive, regulated, and balanced environment that some of the more competitive Wild players would like it to be. The “red x” problem with the more frequent rotations could be solved by the “convert to standard” tech we have, the “temporary card” tech we did with the Treasures of the Tomb, or both.

I like this new format idea, but I don’t think it’s the most likely upcoming change. It sounds fun for us more engaged players, but I suspect it’d be a lot to swallow for more casual players. And, on top of this mode being less hospitable to more casual players, using it as an excuse to “free up” Wild for more regulation would be a double-whammy for those players, who may find themselves with no place where they can just play their trusty old Jade Druid (or whatever) deck ad infinitum. On top of that, this new format mode would mean a lot of extra work from the devs: we’re adding curating this mode every couple months and continually balancing Wild on top of all their current obligations. Adding a bunch of work for something that is actively bad for their core audience? I think this is more likely, and better, as just a recurring Tavern Brawl format.

What I think is more likely, is that we finally get Sealed Mode.

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Okay, so yeah, I’ve said this before. I’ve been talking about adding a Sealed Mode to the game for… literally years. In case you weren’t around for any of the times I mentioned this in the past, and don’t already know, the TL;DR on “Sealed” is that it is a limited game mode (meaning that you are playing from a limited pool of cards you don’t pick before going into the mode–like Arena) with a designated deckbuilding portion. In practice, the way that it works is that you are given a pile of cards (say, 45 cards) that you need to narrow down into a deck (of 30, because Hearthstone) before you start playing your games.

I envision it as a subpart of Arena. Changing the term “Arena” from being synonymous with “draft” to it being synonymous with “asynchronous mini-tournament structure wherein you lock in a deck and play until you have 12 wins or 3 losses.” The Arena is the win/loss and prize structure, not the specific game mode or format you play within that structure.

By re-labeling Arena in that way, you can have Constructed Arena (the equivalent to Heroic Tavern Brawl and something to appease those of us still smarting over the loss of Tournament Mode), Draft Arena (the current “Arena”), and Sealed Arena. Then, when you pick Sealed Arena, you get sent to the same purchasing and class selection screens that you currently get in Arena and then, instead of being sent into the draft, you are sent into the collection manager with those 45 (or whatever feels right) cards. There might be some sort of in-between “Sealed pack” opening screen as well, I guess, to maybe connect the two and explain to the players where these cards came from. You create your deck, lock it in, and then plan until you have 12 wins or 3 losses. Easy!

I pitched a dev on it a long time ago, but was told there were several obstacles to making it work, many of which stemmed from the U.I. and/orworking with a sub-collection or alternative collection within the collection manager.

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My wish is my suggestion.

But, since my pitch, we have gotten: Zephrys, which initially involved an idea of opening the collection manager in the middle of a game; several Tavern Brawls that involved modified or limited portions of the collection manager; the current Treasures of the Tomb event, which shows they can do more with temporary cards in the collection manager; and, the pre-release events, which started with Boomsday and are essentially a very specific Sealed format that is only available for a few days and requires you to have bought one or more new set bundles. All of these innovations since my initial pitch, especially the pre-release events make me think that this is very possible to do. And maaaan, I really hope I’m right this time, because that’s the type of announcement that would make me really excited. And I think it would be popular in the community as well.

So those are my predictions and hopes for this Blizzcon. We’ve been hearing for a long time that this was going to be a good one, so I’m excited to see what all comes out of it–even if I’m way off base on everything. I just really hope that Hearthstone gets more than just an expansion this year. I’d love to see what else this game can do.

 

Re-blogging My Spot on Dot Esports

A while back, it was reported that Riot was being sued by California’s DFEH over their alleged failure to provide mandatory documentation necessary for the DFEH to complete its investigation into the allegations of sex and gender inequality at the company.

DFEH claims happen to be the bread and butter of my IRL legal practice for the past 4.5 years, so I thought it would be helpful for me to chime in and explain some stuff for people.

As you can see from that preview, the thread got a little bit of attention, including from a LoL reporter at Dot Esports. He reached out and asked me to clarify some things and point him in the right direction on some others, and ended up writing a piece on that more expanded explanation of the situation.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and that I got quoted as an authority for a fairly large esports and news website, so check it out here if you’re at all curious about what’s going on with Riot and what it might mean going forward. If they get a ton of clicks, maybe they’ll reach out to me again if there’s some other video game employment issue in the future. Which, unfortunately, kind of seems like it’s only a matter of time.

Rise of the Mechs and also the New Age of Hearthstone Design

Ben Brode left the Hearthstone team a little over a year ago and, while you can’t put the entire game’s design direction on one guy, 1) he was the Game Director at the time, and 2) a lot of other high profile people left at around the same time, so it was safe to expect that a lot would change under the game’s new leadership.

There were definitely some indications over the past year that we were entering into a new age of Hearthstone design after Ben left. It can be argued exactly when it started (see: when I said the December Rastakhan nerfs signaled the same), but recent Hearthstone events have clarified that this is not an uncharacteristic event here or there, but an entirely new direction for Hearthstone than we have seen in the past.

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Something, something, “New Directions”

The primary catalyst for this post is the upcoming buffs, set to go live tomorrow, as part of the Rise of the Mechs event, and announced right after the last wave of nerfs were announced. These are the first buffs Hearthstone has done since card values were set in Beta,* so they’re a pretty big deal! We also get a free legendary with the event which, for being just one card, has warranted a good amount of discussion as well.

* “First buffs” is technically inaccurate. Harvest Golem is the first buff that I remember (adding the Mech tag when it was very relevant and when there was no downside to it), and similar changes to Mountain- and Molten Giants can still only be considered minor buffs based on the card pool currently in the game. Speaking of Molten Giant, it kind of had a different “buff” as well in that it had a nerf get reverted. Still, what we’re about to talk about is on a whole different level from any of this, so it makes sense to think of it as the first buffs–or at least the first major round of buffs–that Hearthstone has ever done.

On Buffs as a Design Tool Generally

As long-time fans and students of the game know, buffs have long been requested (and denied) as a method of balancing the game. That’s part of what makes this round of buffs so interesting! But buffs are also an interesting design tool in their own right.

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Ours go to 99.

One reason why buffs are interesting is that they offer asymmetrical design space as compared to nerfs. Specifically, there is almost always a lot more room to buff than there is to nerf. This is because the easiest dials to turn in terms of adjusting power levels are the cost, the attack, and the health. By tweaking any or all of these three numbers, we can make a card move all around the relative power level spectrum. (A 2 mana vanilla 2/3 might see play in the right meta and with the right support, whereas it would take a lot of weird circumstances to make a 3 mana vanilla 1/2 playable and, at the same time, a 1 mana vanilla 3/4 is almost guaranteed to be broken.) But attack and health can only go as low as 0/0 (I’ve designed some 0/0 minions to essentially create spell cards that are minions, since the two have different cards that interact with them), while at the same time, with current templating, attack and health can go as high as 99/99!  The same is true for the mana cost lever as well: there are a lot more cards that cost 0-4 mana than there are cards that cost 6-10 mana, meaning there is a lot more space, on average, to make cards more pricey than to make them cheaper.

 

All of that means that, in terms of the most basic stats–the nobs that we know they most often turn when balancing cards–there is a lot more room to tune cards down (nerfs) than there is to tune them up (buffs).

There’s a similarly lopsided metagame-balance informational issue when comparing nerfs to buffs. When you nerf something, you generally look at a specific problematic deck or card or group of cards that you need to either hobble or completely excise for the overall health of the game. You have a specific problem, a specific goal, and a decent opportunity to figure out what will happen once the problem deck/decks/card/cards is/are gone. It’s all pretty concrete, at least as far as wildly unpredictable multi-variable equations go.

Take the most recent nerfs I talked about last week: I don’t know one person that was surprised that Rogue was the main target, or that EVIL Miscreant was going to be hit; and as most people predicted, Mage and Hunter rose up following the nerfs. Of course, as I noted in that post, the specifics of how they would do it and exactly what would follow were really hard to nail down without perfect information, but we had a decent idea.

Buffs are different. You can do buffs to solve any number of problems: as a circuitous method of nerfing a problematic deck/card; in order to push a specific archetype up; just because an interesting card wasn’t seeing play; or just, generally, to shake up the meta. To jump ahead a bit, it kind of looks like we got a bit of each in this round of buffs. And depending on which of those goals you have, you could have an entirely different pile of potential buffs to look at.  Finally, it seems to me that it is much harder to predict what will happen when you make buffs than when you make nerfs: instead of weakening/removing a deck, and trying to predict how the known system will react to that vacuum, you are adding an additional variable which could have anywhere between no impact at all to completely shaping the new meta. And her we did it 18 times!

Yeah, okay, that’s a lot of words. So what?

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Ooh, is this my blawg’s first gif? How… futuristic.

Well, we care about these differences because they mean a few things for design considerations. On the one hand, if your goal is to carefully mete out design space and preserve as much of it as possible for use down the road in a game that you hope will last years, if not decades, then it makes sense that you would be very hesitant to tap into this much larger buff space–you’d just use that space to print a better version of the card in some future set. On the other hand, if you never use buffs for balance purposes, then you are arguably severely limiting the range of adjustments you are allowing yourself to make the best game possible. But, back on that first hand, there are already soooo many things to think about when weighing balance changes, do we really need to open it up to an entire world of buffs as well?

Then, on that complete separate set of hands, you have to weigh how careful or disruptive you want to be with meta balance. The previous leadership preferred a light touch and time for the meta to correct itself. It makes sense to me that that might lead one to specific, targeted nerfs, instead of the more open option of buffs. The current leadership seems more willing to experiment, and to jump in more quickly if it turns out they make a mistake (more on that later), so it makes sense that they would be willing to dive into the unknown that might come with buffs.

I don’t think there’s a right answer; there are pros and cons to both approaches. It made sense to me that earlier developers would want to preserve as much as possible. It also seemed to me that buffs would eventually be experimented with as the game grew older and more design space was explored, and that the developers would want to use all the tools available in their arsenal in making the best game they can. I think it makes sense to use a limited amount of buffs for special events with lots of lead time to test changes and to use nerfs for emergency balance corrections along the way, as I think their current intended path is. Regardless, I’m excited to see how this experiment goes, and if they end up trying it again some time in the future.

On These Buffs in Particular

Alright, I’m going to give my quick thoughts on each of the card buffs. To avoid cluttering the post, I’m not including the pictures of each of the changes, so if you need a reminder of what the card does, check them out on the official blog post announcing the changes.

Gloop Sprayer to 7 mana, down from 8: Lucentbark Heal Druid decks have just started cropping up since the nerfs last week and this makes those slightly better by making copying something that much easier (including the fact that it now naturally fits in a turn with Witching Hour or Healing Touch, or fits in the same turn as Floop with a coin). It also means that Juicy Psychmelon now hits Lucentbark more consistently (some builds run Jipetto Joybuzz), which probably seems for the better. Finally, some people have noted that this is a slight Conjurer’s Calling nerf, as it makes hitting Rabble Bouncers, Astromancers, and the odd Dragonhawk just a little bit worse.

Mulchmuncher to 9 mana, down from 10: Now this one feels primarily like a Conjuerer’s Calling nerf, as Mulchmuncher was, in most situations, the best result you could roll off a Sea Giant. I don’t think this actually makes the card playable in Token Druid because it’s not the cost that was making it not see play, but the fact that it does not fill a role the deck wants right now. That might change if the meta shifts to one where Token Druid needs to fight through big taunts, or if we get another wave of Treant-synergy cards in the coming sets, but right now I don’t think this changes Druid much.

Necromechanic to 4 mana, down from 5: The first of two new 4-mana 3/6 minions from these balance changes, which might have been an intentional choice to make things line up a bit more favorably against Dyn-o-matics, or might have just been a happy coincidence.

Of course, Deathrattle Hunter already wiped the floor with Warrior, so that nerf would come more from the increased play rate of the archetype as a whole than from this one card tweak. That said, this does seem to be a really powerful card now, and it is certainly working as intended in terms of making me want to play Deathrattle Hunter. A 4-mana 3/6 is pretty tough to get rid of, and is already an acceptable vanilla minion, but add this much value to the effect, and it feels like another Houndmaster Shaw (yes, I know Shaw isn’t seeing much play now, but that’s just because Master’s Call is so good; now that we’re playing non-beasts, we play all 3 4-mana 3/6 minions in this deck). Necromechanic at 4 also means it curves nicely from a Spider Bomb or Ursatron on four; or with a Nine Lives the turn after you play a Mechanical Whelp (oh baby!); that it’s easier to fit in Fireworks Techs; and that it now fits in the same turn as Oblivitron, Savannah Highmane, or Unleash the Beast (to help protect the mechanic) on 10. This is definitely one of the changes that I think has a chance to make a big impact.

Flark’s Boom-Zooka to 7 mana, down from 8: The reason why this card was not seeing play was not the mana cost as much as it was the lack of good targets and tools to build around it, and the difficulty of building around a Legendary that you can’t tutor out or anything like that. Obviously, at a certain mana point this card will just be OP enough that it would just have to see play, but I don’t think that mana point is 7. If this didn’t see play last year, when we had Rexxar and better Deathrattle targets, I don’t see this working now just because it is ever-so-slightly cheaper.

Unexpected Results to 3 mana, down from 4: This one feels like it might have initially been created at 3 and then moved to 4 to avoid making Odd Mage too powerful, before the decision to Hall of Fame Baku was finalized. At 4 it seemed almost good enough, but not quite there. We currently don’t have a viable Tempo Mage build, but this seems pretty solid and possibly good enough to warrant one. Spellzerker or Elemental Invocation + Cosmic Anomaly on 2 into this on 3 seems like a really good tempo start if you can get it. Mage still has a Mana Wyrm sized hole in its early tempo-minion suite, though, so it’s hard to say if that’s enough to carry. I foresee people experimenting with this for a while but then deciding that Calling is just better. At least when you get this off of Mana Cyclone it’ll be a bit better for you. Hell, you might even just run it in Cyclone Calling for its Khadgar and Sea Giant synergy.

Luna’s Pocket Galaxy to 5 mana, down from 7: 

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Personally, I’m planning on whipping back out my Conjurer’s Zoo Mage.

This seems big. Or, at least, pretty big. A two mana reduction is a huge drop, so this card is much more powerful now. On a basic level, being able to play it two turns earlier means that two more of your cards can get hit by it. It’s also easier to skip a turn 5–though it still hurts–than it is to skip turn 7. Two less mana also means that you can weave the card in more easily, even if not on 5, and that you can do things like Sunreaver Warmage + Pocket Galaxy; Pocket Galaxy + Arcane Intellect + Play the two 1-mana guys you just drew; or Pocket Galaxy + Frost Nova + Doomsayer on 10! The card was already seeing fringe play, especially in specialist lineups, so I expect this to get a lot of attention after it goes live, especially from me in particular. It can be used in Conjurer Decks, Control/Value decks, or combo decks. All of those still get stomped by Hunter, though, so the metagame may not end up the most hospitable to it in the immediate future. I do expect this to see some play in Standard before it rotates, though.

Crystology to 1 mana, down from 2: This one confuses me. We just sent Divine Favor to the Hall of Fame because it was “one of the most cost-effective draw spells in the game” and “card draw doesn’t also need to be one of Paladin’s strengths.” And then, literally 10 days ago, we nerfed Raiding Party because it was too efficient, targeted draw. And now we’re buffing a Paladin card to become one of the most cost-effective and efficient targeted card draw cards in the game. The difference between 2 mana and 1 mana is huge both in percentage reduction (50%, of course) and in terms of what that means practically for how much easier it is to weave in to your off-turns.

Crystology was already played generally, and Divine Wrath Paladin was already starting to get some traction at the higher levels of play, and now it seems incredibly pushed. This is also really good in the Magnetic Paladin that has seen a little play recently. Considering that Paladin has barely seen play in the Rise of Shadows meta, this seems like a concerted effort to give them something OP to hold on to, but we all know how dangerous making intentionally OP cards can be. I expect this to be one of the best cards in the game after the buffs go live.

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Divine Favor over there in the Hall of Fame like.

Glowstone Technician to 5 mana, down from 6: That Magnetic Paladin deck I mentioned in the Crystology section also uses Glowstone Technician and it’s also pretty good in there. At 5 mana, some people are comparing it to Fungalmancer and, while there would normally be a big difference between buffing cards in play versus cards in hand, that difference is lessened when the cards in hand then immediately have initiative due to Magnetic. It obviously won’t be as ubiquitous as Fungalmancer, since it’s a class card and it only fits into one, maybe two potential class archetypes, but it still seems very much in the conversation for aggressive or midrange Paladin decks now. The double-buff to the Magnetic deck, by hitting both cards, means it might just jump right up into meta relevance.

Extra Arms to 2 mana, down from 3: Whenever aggressive or midrange Paladin decks are good, Blessing of Kings is playable. It has been confirmed that both halves will be reduced to two, so this is strictly better than Blessing of Kings. Ergo, this card will be very good if there is room in the meta for some sort of aggressive or midrange type Priest, like Silence Priest or Inner Fire Priest. Hitting a Northshire Cleric with this on two might just end the game in some matchups, and it’s good with Wild Pyromancer and/or Vargoth, too. I’m not sure if the tools are there yet, but this card is good enough that it will be a real consideration for the next year or so until it rotates.

Cloning Device to 1 mana, down from 2: FeelsIrrelevantMan. I’m not certain why this was 2 in the first place, since it doesn’t seem good enough even at 1–maybe they were afraid of Radiant and/or Lyra before those rotated. In that vein, there’s a small chance you play this in something like Nomi Priest where you just want to maximize cheap spells, but I don’t think this has a place even there. The list is pretty tight, and this doesn’t seem better than anything that’s already in it.

Pogo-Hopper to 1 mana, down from 2: I think the entire community is either way over-hyping this, or way underestimating it. I was initially in the underestimating camp, but I played a mock-up and it was surprisingly strong! Dropping Pogo-Hopper down a mana makes it much easier to play and bounce on the same turn, and dropping it to 1 specifically means that it gains synergy with Magic Carpet and Witchwood Piper (while still allowing you to play a lot of good 2+ cost synergy cards). It seems like if the deck does what it wants to do, it’s very hard to beat it after turn 6 or so, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a new Quest Rogue on our hands. But even if that’s not the case, I’ve already seen Pogo-Hopper in Specialist sideboards to beat out slow control decks, so at the very least that strategy gets better. Luckily, there already appear to be natural counters to it (such as the current meta top-dog Midrange Hunter), so I’m not as concerned as the Pogo-Hopper enthusiasts/doomsayers would have you be.

Violet Haze to 2 mana, down from 3: Hmmm… I’m not sure about this one. The cost seems right at this point, but this isn’t the strongest pool of Deathrattles we’ve ever had and, even after the Raiding Party nerf, Rogue is not currently hurting for ways to give itself more fuel. My guess is this doesn’t see any play unless subsequent expansions help it out, but it will sure warrant more picks off of Ethereal Lackey now.

The Storm Bringer to 6 mana, down from 7: This is another card that was already almost good enough in current Standard, and sometimes finding its way into Specialist sideboards. Obviously, it will be better in those roles now and probably see more play for it. It’ll also feel a bit better off of Hagatha as well. But where I think this will make the biggest impact is in Wild, where they still have Even Shaman, because this seems to fit in juuuust right.

As an aside, I like that a few of the Legendary spells were buffed in this batch. For as cool as it was to have a semi-unique cycle, about half of them didn’t feel very Legendary and, while I understand and agree with the notion that all the best cards can’t and shouldn’t be Legendaries, it feels good to me to give these floppier ones a bit more life.

Thunderhead to be a 3/6 stats, up from a 3/5: Yet another card that was already fringe playable (really, one of the best reasons to play Shaman), so this buff will only make this card even better. Obviously it will see play because it already does. Overloady aggro/ tempo Shamans are close. I don’t think this is what will put them over the edge in this expansion, but I do think that 1-2 more good Overload cards is all it will take to make it a meta contender, and that once it is, this card will be a force to be reckoned with. Of course, this will also make the Murloc Shamans that already run it just that much better.

Spirit Bomb to 1 mana, down from 2: Another big “meh” from me. We are currently in a metagame in which there is not very much life gain, so Warlock can’t go throwing its life around like it used to. If this didn’t see play in Evenlock, which had Spellstone to maximize its power and had a specific issue with Hench-Clan Thugs that this could have solved, I don’t think it will see play now. It doesn’t help that Warlock’s not in a great spot in the current meta, and that the one deck it currently has (Zoo) is totally disinterested in using this, though the next buff might have something to say about that…

Dr. Morrigan to 6 mana, down from 8: WOW. Dr. Morrigan went from a situational, slow, medium-value card, to something that could be a better version of Cairne as its base, or even a viable combo-piece. I think the card pool is still probably too shallow to do a “Big Warlock” deck in Standard, but I suspect it will happen at some point this year. Also, Wild already has a deck this works in, so that deck will be a little better now. This feels like a healthier version of Barnes in that it’s a card with next to no downside and potential for huge upside.

Security Rover to 2/6 stats, up from 2/5 and Beryllium Nullifier to 4/8 stats, up from 3/8: 

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Dr. Boom looking at the buffs

Okay, so I get it. We’re doing a thing where each class gets two cards buffed and Warrior’s Boomsday cards are pretty redonk, so this is almost as mild of a buff as you could do without completely scrapping the idea of this whole event. Still, it feels wrong to give Dr. Boom a buff when many of us, myself included, felt he probably should have been on the nerf list last time around for how bad he feels to play against. And these are two of the most annoying cards they can get off of Dr. Boom!

One counter-point I’ve heard is that these two cards still aren’t going to be played naturally in decklists, but that almost feels worse to me, because it means that these buffs aren’t really adding to deck diversity or decisionmaking, but are instead just buffs to Dr. Boom and Omega Assembly, two of the strongest cards in the meta. I do note that they went with smaller buffs on these cards than on most of the other cards on this list (1 mana is worth at least 1/1, so buffing 0/1 or 1/0 is less than half the buff we did to some of the other cards), so at least there’s that. I hope the other buffs and current natural predators do enough to keep Warrior from being too annoying.

SN1P-SN4P

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On top of all the excitement of the card buffs, we are also getting a free golden legendary! And this guy’s good, too. Eccentric Scribe is currently fringe playable, and SN1P-SN4P is almost categorically better. I think this card would have shaken up the meta a bit on its own, even if it were not for the card buffs. That does make me wonder if they needed to do both in order to make this event stand out, but I’m okay with them over-doing it every once in a while to make sure that something really pops. The card did raise some issues, though.


Is There an Echo in Here?
No. No there is not. After I spent a whole month explaining and defending Blizzard’s decision not to keyword Echo on Witch’s Brew, they turn around and do this to me. You know what? Bring that “am I a joke to you” guy back down here!

Alright, so serious speaking, Peter Whalen has explained the dev team’s position on this. Basically, one of the downsides (apparently the main one in their eyes) for putting Echo on Witch’s Brew was that it would result in a year of Standard with a “floating” keyword on just one card. Since SN1P-SN4P is considered part of Boomsday, which is in the same Standard year as Witchwood, that would not be a problem.

I get all that, but it still seems odd to me. Although it’s the same set as Witchwood practically speaking, it’s still not actually the same set.  It’s just not. As far as I know, this is the first set-specific keyword that has crept its way out of its home set, and that opens up a whole new world of possibilities! I like turning conventions on their heads, especially when they’re the types that were mostly just adopted from physical card game roots. The reason why Hearthstone has always been the best digital card game is that it took full advantage of the digital medium, and this is another example of that–even if it throws the CCG old-timers like me for a bit of a loop.

The Minor Issue of Breaking the Whole Game

One other thing to note about SN1P-SN4P is that almost immediately after it was announced, the community noticed a game-breaking interaction. By reducing the cost of SN1P-SN4P to 0, its Echo ability allowed it to be played infinite times (not really, because of the rope, but enough times to OTK from normal health totals). Reckless Experimenter reduced it to 0, so that meant that people could never leave a mech up at any point after turn 5 or risk getting OTK’d from hand. Oh boy.

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SN4P yo Kangor’s. Broken mech.

At that point, the team had a few options. One option was that they could let the broken interaction go live and done an emergency patch only if needed, but that timing would be incredibly tight with the Las Vegas Masters Tour starting on June 14th and probably needing decklists at least a few days ahead of that. But there was another problem with that plan: this interaction, even if not competitive, is just bad for the game. It just is.

So the team bit the bullet, admitted that they had made a mistake by missing the interaction, and announced that Reckless Experimenter would be getting a slight nerf when the patch went live to avoid the issue entirely. Although Priest fans were disappointed by the decision, I felt it was the best option of the choices before them at that point because it barely affects Reckless Experimenter (and lets her keep doing her cool thing) whereas removing Echo from SN1P-SN4P would have required a complete rework.

As for how this happened, Dean “Iksar” Ayala explained on twitter that they simply didn’t have their full development and balancing time for the card, which was added to the event after its initial conception, so they didn’t have time to test that particular interaction without disrupting their normal development cycle. Obviously, that’s a problem they would like to avoid in the future, but I suspect that they will be extra careful next time they do something like this and, perhaps more importantly, they have demonstrated that they are able and willing to fix any mistakes that do happen to get through for any reason. Although the issue was an unfortunate oversight, and I hate to see the devs get egg on their face like that, the way that they immediately and effectively fixed things before they could even become a problem gave me even more respect and faith in the dev team than before.

Quick Thoughts: 5/22 Balance Patch

Holy hell, right after I hit “publish,” we got another huge balance change announcement. I have no idea why they weren’t done at the same time. This is madness! Anarchy! Anyway, this post, in its current form, relates only to this bunch of changes, announced yesterday. I’ll update with the other changes, announced today, once I get a chance to look them over and, more restrictively, some time to write up my thoughts.

Generally: Good. Rogue was clearly too powerful, and the meta always likes a little shakeup.

On the Rogue nerfs: each card individually makes a lot of sense to me. I expected that each of those cards were on the list, as each was incredibly powerful. Prep felt like it was a long time coming, Miscreant has been probably the single most important card to Rogue in the Rise of Shadows meta, and Raiding Party was, in my opinion, overtly too powerful from the moment it was printed. In fact, this is arguably the second time Raiding Party had to be touched–the first one was just a bit more roundabout. What I didn’t necessarily expect was that all three of the cards would be nerfed at the same time! Making Raiding Party go to 4 means that Coin might become even more important to Rogue in order to facilitate curve plays.

On Elysiana: I don’t know why they didn’t make it 10 mana. I don’t know if the strategy of playing bouncers on the 50/50 chance you get the coin will actually be viable, but I can’t imagine a worse outcome for competitive play, and I don’t know why they would risk it.

Not touching Dr. Boom surprises me a little, because, contrary to Peter Whalen’s statements on the point, I think that card feels pretty awful to play against. I think just a slight nerf would make a big difference and make the card feel a lot more fair to play against instead of just a slow, inevitable death by infinite removals. My proposed change does make his “summon three 1/1s” hero power awkward, but I think that’s an acceptable sacrifice for the overall health of the deck and class. I think they thought Warrior was not as big a problem and/or would be kept in check by the decks that Rogue previously kept down, but even if that were the case, I think I would have changed Dr. Boom just for how bad it feels to play against.

Not touching Mage concerns me a little bit, because that deck has a lot of feelsbad moments, and it also involves a lot of overt RNG in the form of the generated spells from the Mana Cyclone–if it becomes dominant, there will be *a lot* of complaints about it. This goes back to the coin Elysiana thing–it’s bad when competitive play seems to be decided by luck instead of skill (even worse when that’s actually true). In fact, the Coin differential seems potentially much higher for the meta decks in this meta than in previous metas, and that might be its own problem to look into.

I hope Hunter keeps the Mages and Warriors in check, but even that feels like choosing between the lesser of two evils, because Hunter is already right up there with the top meta dogs before the nerfs, and the nerfs almost exclusively hit its biggest weakness. Add to that, the fact that it has good matchups against the two “heir apparents” for the title of “strongest deck” in the meta, and you have yourself a third contender for the throne. If Hunter becomes dominant, then that brings back the aggro decks from early in the meta (Zoolock, Murloc Shaman, and Token Druid), which completes the rock-paper-scissors with Warrior. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

Discussing Design: Rise of Shadows

Rise of Shadows has been out for about a month now, and, with the initial madness–and the second wave of madness during Worlds–behind us, I thought it’d be a good time to discuss some of the design decisions in the set. The set did a lot of interesting things design-wise, and I wanted to highlight some of them that people might have missed.

Witch’s Brew, the Echo Not Heard Around the World

I’m going to kick things off with what was the first Rise of Shadows design decision to get the community talking. As readers will likely recall, there was a bit of a throwback theme in Rise of Shadows in which each of the members of the League of E.V.I.L. got a card that hearkened back to their original set (with the caveats that Rafaam was his own card and that Dr. Boom visited Boomsday, instead of GvG). Hagatha’s throwback card was the third or fourth one to be revealed, and it caught everyone a little bit by surprise.

200px-Witch's_Brew(90654)
A very “echo-like” card.

Witch’s Brew is a really strong card, it fit well into one of the well-defined angles for Shaman this set, and, it was certainly reminiscent of one of the keyword mechanics in Witchwood, “Echo.” In fact, it operates exactly as though it had Echo. And that got the people wondering why it didn’t just have Echo.

To their credit, the devs took to twitter and explained their reasoning. It made sense to me, but a lot of other people maintained that it was stupid. I don’t know those people didn’t understand the reasoning here or if they just disagreed with it, but I thought I’d explain a bit anyway, just to make sure.

I’ve already written about keywords before, as has Peter Whalen of the Hearthstone design team, and so has one of my all-time favorite designers/instructors, Mark Rosewater, from Magic: the Gathering, so I’m not going to re- re- re-hash all of the keywording discussion at length here. You can check out those linked articles (and Drive to Work episode #552) if you want more explanation.

For this blog post, it’s enough to say that there are real costs to pay to keywording mechanics, and that some of those costs continue to carry over even after the initial keyword use. Those costs include things like barriers to entry for newer players. When the cons no longer outweigh the pros of a keyword, it makes sense to give it a break (like we did for Enrage).

In this case, some of the pros to the Echo keyword did not really apply in Rise of Shadows: Echo never really saved much card space, and this is a simple card, so it didn’t need extra text space anyway; Echo was no longer as flavorful, as “echos” seem to better fit a haunted forest than a floating magic-city; there was no mechanical hook for Echo in the set (“search for a card with echo” or “whenever you play a card with Echo… “); and the word “Echo” was fairly descriptive of the effect, but certainly not more so than the actual rules text was. Meanwhile, some of the cons started to crop up: it causes player confusion when an effect is keyworded but there’s no apparent reason why (I’m still waiting on another card with the “Counter” keyword); and, the “debt” of adding a keyword to a set is no longer worth the cost when it is literally the only card with it.

The point I’m trying to make here is not so much that the dev team made the right call (although, considering how quickly the mob dispersed on this matter and comparing that to the lasting effect of this decision, I’d say they did), but more that I’m pretty sure they had a nice long discussion about the pros and cons of the decision before they made it. Personally, I might have tried to avoid the issue entirely by making Hagatha’s throwback card a Worgen effect card, but perhaps they did try that and it didn’t work for them. You always have to do what’s best for the set, and for the game overall, even if it means you get a bit of twitter hate in the short-term.

Bombs

Ticking Time Bomber
In case you don’t remember

Bomb Warrior has run the gamut this meta from fun meme, to enemy number one, to suboptimal, and back to reasonable meta consideration. To me, that indicates that it was pretty well placed, in terms of power level (Warrior has other issues). However, it’s not the power level of the bomb cards that I really love–it’s how they managed complexity. You see, when I built my fan-made set, I too wanted to include bombs in it. Well, just one bomb. My set had a time theme running through it, and a deck manipulation mechanic, so I thought it’d be cool to make a “ticking time bomb” that placed a bomb at a known spot in your opponent’s deck, instead of at a random spot. It was a flavorful card that worked really well with the set’s main mechanic, so I was pretty happy with it.

Seaforium_Bomber
The best analog at the time I was making my set.

The problem, though, was that the text box was pretty crowded. Looking at the prior examples of Seaforium Bomber and Juggernaut, the standard template for this type of card included a line of text explaining what the bomb does (“it explodes for __ damage.”) That simply did not fit in my version. In fact, if you look at Seaforium Bomber, there’s very little extra room in the text box at all.

So I had to make a decision: either I would scrap the cool, flavorful card that fit really well in my set, or I would break template. This was not an easy call. Templating serves some important functions, and, as a lawyer whose CCG background is in physical cards, I’m one of the big proponents of similar templating whenever possible. In the end, I felt the set was better with the card in it, so I made it work. With Seaforium Bomber having just come out and set the expectations (though it didn’t see much play at the time), it seemed like players could pick up on what a “Bomb” meant and did. Still, I felt like I absolutely had to make the card and Epic, even though most mechanics come down in rarity after their first appearance. And there was still some risk of player confusion.

The Rise of Shadows team undoubtedly had the same space issue when they wanted to make more complex Bomb cards, such as Wrenchcalibur and whatever else didn’t make the cut (methinks, perhaps, Dr. Boom’s Scheme was initially a bomb card, until they realized that was absolutely busted). However, they had an elegant solution to the problem.

They added two Bomb-shuffling cards: a basic one that followed the normal template and a more complex one that cut the reminder-like text to make room for the additional language. By making the basic version clean, simple, and most importantly, at a lower rarity, the team made sure that players saw the templated version more frequently and (usually) before they see the more complex version. Any less-enfranchised player who might have otherwise gotten confused by Wrenchcalibur was essentially given reminder text within the set. This gave the designers the best of both worlds: minimal card confusion and the freedom to do more complex effects. I couldn’t really do that with my set because bombs were not a sub-theme of my set, but perhaps I should have found a way to do something like this–or saved my design for a set where I could.

Making Cool Effects Within the Framework of the Game

imagesI have it on good authority that a simple “your opponent reveals their hand” is a little hard to do within the constraints of the Hearthstone client (or, at least, it was within the past year or so). I don’t know exactly why that’s the case, but I suspect it might have something to do with the “highlight what your opponent is looking at” feature combined with the fact that our hands are in reverse order from how our opponents see them (think about it). Anyway, the “why” isn’t important for this point. What’s important is just that they can’t do it right now (or, more accurately, they probably *can* do it, but it’s not worth the investment of development time and resources). So, given that constraint, I think Madam Lazul was a really clever workaround. It’s the archetypal example of game development being all about solving problems to get your tools to do what you want them to do (some funny examples–and shortfalls–in this thread)And this particular solution resulted in a card that, I’d argue, is more flavorful–traditionally, psychics don’t always get the full picture, more like bits and pieces, so her only seeing a few cards instead of the whole hand seems to fit even better.

All Killer, No Filler

I also like how they designed this set to have the various themes and mechanics of the set play off each other a bit. For instance, Nomi and Warlock’s shuffle effects make you want to draw cards, whereas the Bombs punish decks that draw heavily, and Rafaam and Elysiana clean bombs out of your deck. It looks like they put some good amounts of effort into making sure the various major pieces came together nicely.

cycle
“Beats” or “is beaten by?” I guess it’s the nature of cycles that the arrows could be going in either direction. Well, you get it; I’m not redoing this high quality image.

In fact, it seems like very few cards in this set could be fairly categorized as “filler” cards, with almost every card in the set getting at least some consideration for constructed play, and at least a few of the stragglers being very relevant in Arena (I’m not a big Arena guy, but I know at least Burly Shovelfist falls into this category).

Now, there are of course some outliers that are somewhere between “suboptimal” and “game breaking,” depending on who you ask and which game modes/formats they play, but those types of things are incredibly difficult to predict ahead of time and I think they did a pretty good job with the set overall, those issues notwithstanding. (Potential nerfs are a complicated and extensive topic, especially in this meta, that would/will warrant another blog post, if I can find the time. Likewise, this topic kind of makes me want to jump into a conversation about the Specialist format and the Masters Qualifiers, but that seems like another other post, for another time.)

Deep in Flavortown

awesome-sauce-clipart-70697The last thing that I really liked about this set, from a design perspective, is that the flavor is over the top, and it promises to be that good for the whole rest of the year! When they first introduced the idea of “Year of the ______,” I thought it was an indication that Hearthstone would be adopting something like the mtg “block” structure. They didn’t do that for the first few years, but here we are, with one unified story across the entire year. This is cool because it lets fans follow the story of the characters over the course of multiple sets, adding a layer of enjoyment to the game. As I write, we’re just a few days away from the single-player content release, and I’m really excited to see how it develops. And I’m even more excited to see how it will all come together at the end of the year.

This type of relationship between sets also lets the developers do cool stuff with cards that more directly relate to other cards from that year (like what they have announced they are doing with the lackeys), which is another cool benefit.

In short, this feels a bit long time coming, but now that it’s here, I think the set and the game as a whole are better for it. Not every player is going to care about things like the lore behind the cards, but for some players it adds a lot to the value of the set. I’m excited that we’re here now.

In a lot of ways, I think this is the best-designed Hearthstone set that has ever been made, and I’m excited to see how this train keeps rolling. Congrats and great work to everyone who helped make this set happen.

 

Introducing Toki’s Chrono Chaos!

Early on in this blawg’s existence, when I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it and also had unreal expectations about how difficult it would be to get a job at Blizzard, I started posting about each application (and subsequent rejection), thinking it would be a cool peak behind the curtain for other hopefuls once I got a job there.

Well… Who would have figured it’d be tough to land one’s dream job at a standout company in an already highly competitive field?

mouse-1024x768

After the first few rejections, it felt weird and kind of needy to keep posting about them, so I gave up on that for a bit. Though, I did continue to apply whenever I saw a position I thought I’d be qualified for.

Cut to September last year. Hearthstone had openings for two positions: a position on the Initial Design Team and a position on the Live Content Team. I was interested in both, but Initial Design was definitely the dream. I spent a couple days perfecting my application, sent it in, and almost immediately got rejected. Like, within about an hour. It was, frankly, shocking–even for someone who had at that point been rejected for similar positions a few times before.

But then, a few hours later, I got an email telling me that, on second blush, they’re going to push my application through. They said that the initial rejection came so quickly because competition was particularly fierce for this position and lots of professional game designers were already in the applicant pool. They didn’t explicitly say it, but I took that to mean that they pretty much auto-rejected anyone who did not already have experience in the industry. And, to be clear, I don’t begrudge them for that–when you’re getting hundreds of applications for one position, you have to narrow down the field somehow. Still, something on my application caught the screener’s* eye and he decided that all my “extracurricular” work in the Hearthstone community earned me at least a second look.

That second look ended up getting me to the design test phase. The design test was fun and interesting, and in retrospect I definitely missed on one or two things, but I nonetheless did well enough on it that I was still chugging along. I made it to the interview phase, where I got to talk to some of our favorite designers* about our respective thoughts on the game at the time, which was, again, just… so much fun.

* I’m intentionally omitting the names of everyone I dealt with, for reasons, but I reiterate my thanks to any of them who happen to read this!

downloadAgain, I felt like I did pretty well, but I definitely spent the next few days kicking myself about all the things I should have said. Still, I must have done okay because they told me I was in the final four candidates, and that they signed me up for a second interview as well. But, a few weeks later (there was a delay for Blizzcon in the middle there), I was informed they were going with one of the other candidates. I may or may not have gone home and ugly cried that night.

But, that’s not the point of this blawg post!

I asked for some notes back on why application and interview, and the people I spoke with were kind enough to give them. There was some advice on my performance on the design test, and a little bit about my interviews, but one of the main things that I took away from it all was that I was just still too green. They reiterated that most of the people who even made past the first look already have game design experience, and that all three of the other four finalists were already game designers. Even some of the specific notes on my design issues seemed to be things that people who have designed more cards might have been able to avoid. Some of my ideas were good, but not quite flushed out. You get the point.

So, I decided to level myself up for next time a few different ways including, pertinent to this post, by designing a bunch of cards. In fact, I decided to design an entire set. And now I’m done with it and I’d like to share it with you! I also thought it might be fun and interesting to go into the thought processes and techniques behind designing an entire Hearthstone set. That’s the point of this blawg post.

Introducing Toki’s Chrono Chaos!

Toki-Chrono-Chaos-P1
Wow, so official and genuine!

Toki’s Chrono Chaos (“TCC”) is my fan-made set design. You can also see all my cards below, created using the Hearthcards card generator. You’ll notice that they don’t have art in them. There are a few reasons for that, but if you want to look at my final design doc (with notes, voicelines, flavor texts, and art directions), then you can find that here.

Of note: I designed this set to be the first set of the Year of the Dragon–calling my shot now that that’s next year’s theme–and without trying to predict what cards, if any, go to the Hall of Fame with rotation this year, or get nerfed between now and then. One important set of possible nerfs that I am not considering is Genn and Baku, which I have instead chosen to design around and address in a card in the set.

Another quick note: these are all initial design type designs. Obviously, I don’t have a balance team or a public test realm or anything to make sure I didn’t make something broken, so odds are that some of these cards can’t go into the game as designed. I tried to do my best to avoid issues (and I flag a few things in my game design doc that I’d have final design concentrate on), but you can’t catch them all–that’s why they have a Final Design Team! So, while I appreciate any and all feedback, keep in mind that a simple “that card is busted” won’t necessarily be the most helpful.

Alright, that’s enough exposition, let’s get into the good stuff! But, before I can dive into the cards, there’s one thing you need to know in order to make sure you understand them…

A Brand New Keyword!

I designed one new keyword mechanic for the set: Scout. The mechanic is modeled after Magic: the Gathering’s “Scry” mechanic, but adapted to work within Hearthstone’s rules and U.I. preferences.

Toki-Chrono-Chaos-How-It-Works
Sorry, I made this in Powerpoint–yes, Powerpoint–so you can’t actually click these buttons.

The point of Scout is that it allows for strong synergies and consistencies without overpowered “tutor” effects or too much card drawing. At the same time, it also allows for some interesting counterplay in the cards that allow you to Scout your opponent’s deck. I think it’s a fun and interesting way both to make sure your deck works as intended, and to offer a less painful “hate” card for degenerate combo decks.

If you’re trying to imagine the U.I., I see it kind of like a mulligan-phase pop-up when you play the Scout effect, where you mark the cards to place back on top of the deck and then confirm.

The random aspect is for simplicity of understanding and use, as that works better in Hearthstone’s constraints than a system where you specifically select what order the cards go in. I think this is the best implementation of the various versions I came up with.

Okay, so now can we look at cards? Now we can look at cards.

Here’s 135 Original Card Designs!

Druid

 

TCC-Druid-Cards
Man, these turned out kind of small. I hope you can click on them to enlarge…

Druid has some nods to archetypes that were pushed in recent sets (Hero attacking, big beasts) as well as some Druid classics (Choose One and ramp), but the “new” mechanic that Druid is exploring is the dormant/awaken mechanic. We’ve seen the mechanic before, but only in very few specific cards. I think the mechanic fits well thematically because of the ties between Druid and the Emerald Dream, especially with Cenarius during the War of the Ancients. I think the mechanic also fits well in the set’s time theme, as messing with dormant cards feels like slowing or accelerating time. I have some notes in the design doc (again, link above) about the mechanics of Cenarius and the phrasing of Hibernate, if you’re curious.

Hunter

TCC-Hunter-Cards

Make Hunter go face again! There’s been some chatter recently about how Deathstalker Rexxar was a fun and interesting card, but that it took Hunter too far from its “color pie” and into things that Hunter isn’t really supposed to be good at. This set is about bringing Hunter back to what it was always supposed to be: Aggro, Midrange, and Beasts (specifically Animal Companions)! You’ll notice that in both sets so far there has been a “re-imagined” legendary from the class’s past (Kathrena will have rotated when this goes live). I made a cycle of those for each class because I liked how it played into the time travel theme.

Mage

TCC-Mage-Cards

Toki’s Hero Power is “Scout 1 card from either player’s deck.” I see her passive effect working by making the deck kind of “glimmer” as your right-most card does when you have Stargazer Luna out, and then the card being revealed as part of the mouse-over on your deck. Hopefully that can be done without allowing trackers to always show that card or something else wonky. Mage was originally even more about Scout, because it fits both mechanically and thematically, but I decided to pair it down a bit and add a tempo/secret sub-theme because I know they like to make it so that you can play each class in more than one way. As Mage is currently one of the good Baku classes, I also tried to be cognizant of that while designing and costing cards.

Paladin

TCC-Paladin-Cards

Nozdormu’s Hero Power is “5 mana: Shuffle a copy of this into your deck. Then disable your Hero Power.” The Battlecry adds one of each of the three Bronze Dragons shown above into your hand. The Lynessa “Blessings” are the three “Blessings” in the game already: Kings, Might, and Wisdom. There is a big range of values with the random Blessings, but they’re all at least decent and you will usually just win if you get her on a decent board, so it felt like acceptable RNG. She is made with Odd Paladin in mind as a cool finisher-type, but that seems fair at 9 mana. The Hourglass of Time is part of a mini-cycle of cards in the set that summon permanent aura-type things onto the board, like the Warlock quest reward. This one gains you 2 Health at the end of each turn.

Nozdormu was hands-down the toughest individual card for me to design for this set. For a very long time I had this effect where he would always start the game on the bottom of your deck, so you had to dig all the way through “time” to find him, but that ended up causing issues with card space economy and possible rules issues. Then I also came into the issue that he is a marquee card who is very powerful in lore, do I didn’t want to do him wrong (again), but I also knew that we are trying to power down hero cards as compared to the Death Knight era. Specifically, I had issues because the types of effects you want give the dragon aspect of time are the types of effects that are kind of problematic for gameplay (things like, “immune to fatigue,” messing with turn timers, taking extra turns, etc.). I decided the effect that I gave him does a cool pseudo immune to fatigue thing, that is very powerful in the late game, but hopefully does not go too far down the “infinite value” path we’re trying to avoid in Hearthstone going forward.

Priest

TCC-Priest-Cards

Velen works like Chameleos, Shifter Zerus, etc. except that instead of transforming into a card that exists outside of himself, he just transforms into different versions of himself: if they have mostly minions, he gains “Battlecry: Add a ‘Mind Control’ to your hand.”; if they have mostly spells, his battlecry adds a Thoughtsteal; and if they have equal amounts of the both, including if they have 0 of both, he adds a Holy Fire. Erase from Time is a bit verbose because Hearthstone does not have an exile/banish/remove from game feature. I thought about adding such a feature, but quickly decided it would be weird because we don’t have graveyards, so it would be asking players to keep track of two different invisible realms that mostly don’t affect the game board and have different sets of rules but probably seem pretty similar to less enfranchised players, so this slightly wordy alternative felt like the better route at this time.

Rogue

 

TCC-Rogue-Cards

The “Hearthstone Legends” mentioned on Timesifting Recruiter are: Sylvanas if the top card is a minion; Loatheb if it is a spell; Harrison Jones if it is a weapon; and Ragnaros if it is anything else. As the “tricky” class, I like the idea of Rogue being the class that most messes with the other player’s deck, and the removal combos well with that because if their minion is something you can’t deal with next turn, you can just Scout or shuffle it away. I also really like the idea of a card that does literally nothing unless you combo with it; I’ve been looking for a place to make Time to Think for a while now.

Shaman

TCC-Shaman-Cards

The pun that started it all! I had the idea for a card called “Menagerie War Den” since before I even decided to make a Hearthstone set. I thought it was funny to have two cards in the game whose names were homophones and, I guess, I still think that’s funny because there’s a bit of that elsewhere in the set as well. The card has been pretty much the same the whole time: an aura effect that buffs multiple minion Types (this version gives Murlocs +1/+1, Totems +1/+1, and Elementals +1/+1, worded in such a way that if a minion has multiple of the minion Types, it gets multiple buffs). This card was one of the first I made when I designed the set and was the original namesake for the set itself (more on that below)! I ended up scaling back the tribal theme to put more an emphasis on the time theme, but Shaman still hits the tribal theme pretty hard–and it makes sense to me that the class that kind of does “everything” would be the one that cares about multiple Types. As an aside, I use “Types” because that’s the last official name for “tribes” I’ve seen and found in my research, and I call it “minion Type” so there’s no confusion about “Types” meaning minion/spell/weapon/hero. I intentionally make changing your opponent’s types start at 4 mana because I don’t want Shaman to be able to too efficiently combo those cards with cards like Hungry Crab.

Warlock

TCC-Warlock-Cards

Warlock was a little tricky because it felt a little disjointed. Even though Mal’Ganis and the Purging of Stratholme tie directly into the Infinite Dragonflight lore, it would probably feel weird to an outsider to have dragons and demons and own-deck-destruction going on in the same class. I tried to clean that up a bit by tying Mal’Ganis more directly to the Scourge (via his name, even if not cannon), and by tying the Infinite Dragonflight to the self-deck destruction, which I like as an analogy for bringing about the End Time and as a mechanic that feels very Warlock-y. With Cataclysm and Bloodbloom rotating, the destroy own deck isn’t a concern with Mecha’Thun, but it is a concern just in terms of overall power and pricing, so it’s one of the areas I’d want the Final Design Team to specifically look into.

Warrior

TCC-Warrior-Cards

I didn’t want every class to do Dragons, but it would have felt weird to not hit Dragons in Warrior after it was one of the class’s main themes last set. So I looked for Infinite Dragonflight ties to the Warrior class and I found a perfect one with Kairozdormu saving Garrosh (leading to the creation of the Iron Horde). I use Rush as a key mechanic for the Iron Horde because it is one of the few Keyword mechanics that inherently ties in to the set’s “time” theme, and because it is a very Warrior mechanic (at least in the year of the Raven).

Neutral Legendaries

TCC-Neutral-Leg

Toki and the Curator were two cards that were with the set in some version or another the entire time. Toki’s pretty much been unchanged since before the set was even formulated, as my answer for both “infinite value” Hero Cards and the Genn/Baku issue. I’ve also wanted to “redeem” Illidan ever since I started reading Warcraft lore and learning about him, so I hope this card does it for him. The other two came about throughout the development process, as cards that specifically tied in to this set.

Neutral Epics

TCC-Neutral-Epics

You get to do some fun stuff in Epic, but I still ran into space issues with a few of these cards. Ticking-Time Bomber, for instance, has to use the Hakkar format instead of the normal “Bomber” format, but I think players can handle that and I try to make it easier by using the same “Bomb” that players already know from Seaforium Bomber. Long-Term Investor is one of my favorites from this bunch.

Neutral Rares

TCC-Rares

Rares are kind of weird in that they feel a bit like the slush bucket where you put all the cards that might have gotten fudged one way or another to Epic, or Common, or even to a class card, instead, but which weren’t because they didn’t fit or weren’t as on-point as another card. You’ll notice a few Illidari in my neutral set. I felt like Illidan needed his crew with him, but I could also see the decision to save that for a later date and make them Warlock cards. Depending on feedback from my fellow developers, I could see the Rares moving around a decent amount, based on the needs of the set.

Neutral Commons

The banner thing I made looks cool, but the commons didn’t fit well into it, and the ones above already make the images pretty small, so I’m doing a neutral commons dump, just like a real set spoiler! You should definitely be able to click on these individual guys to enlarge them.

The Process

Oh, you’re still here? Awesome! Thanks for sticking with it.

I started working on the set right after the new year. I ‘m still working full time, of course, so I’d spend nights, weekends, and bathroom breaks reading lore, keeping up with game design discussions, and, of course, designing cards. Today, the day of posting this article, I may or may not have basically just skipped work to write this all day. One of the main takeaways that I got from this all is that 135 cards is a lot!

TCC started as a tribal set called “The Menagerie War.” The story for that set was that Toki went back in time and somehow ended up in an alternative timeline where the Karazhan “menageries” kind of took over Azeroth and were engaged in global tribal wars. As I worked on the set, I kept the tribal theme, but I leaned more into the time travel aspect and realized that Warcraft lore already has some pretty good hooks for it, so I used some of those instead of creating a new timeline story.

I started with some of the marquee legendaries that I wanted to anchor the set on. Toki was always a hero card in the set, and Toki was also always a neutral legendary who answered hero cards (as well as Genn and Baku effects). That whole “Toki going back in time to stop Toki from going back in time” thing just kind of spoke to me on a thematic level, and I felt like that second Toki was necessary for the health of the game in this upcoming year (it was designed before recent hints that they might be changing Genn and Baku). The Frenetic Curator got touched a few times, but has been in the set in one form or another since the start as well–it did start out as a tribal set, after all.

Once I decided I wanted to do the Infinite Dragonflight angle, I knew I needed Nozdormu and Murozond. It felt odd for Toki to be a hero card whereas they were not, just as it felt odd that only about 1/3 of the classes would have hero cards once the Death Knights rotated out, so I decided I wanted to make them into hero cards as well. That would also further highlight Toki Too as a character in the set.

That’s when I hit a bit of a snag: Noz and Murozond are the leaders of their respective dragonflights, so it made sense that those dragonflights would appear in their respective classes. But, the classes that had gotten dragon support lately, Hunter and Warrior, were two of the classes that had hero cards that would not be rotating when this set came out. I didn’t want every class to have dragons, but I certainly didn’t want some classes to have two hero cards whereas most classes did not have any. I decided it would be okay to keep the dragons in Warrior (where it was hit hard last set) and drop them from Hunter (where they never really took off–sorry Sean Ryan) and Priest (which already had plenty of time to play dragons over the past few years). That way, Paladin could have the Bronze Dragonflight (which seemed to work thematically and was a callback to Paladin’s earlier dragon cards) and Warlock could have the Infinite Dragonflight, because evil stuff goes in Warlock and because the mechanics seemed to work there.

IMG_7092
Some of my notes and drafts from this project.

Once I decided the marquee cards around which the set would be based, I looked into the overall structure a bit, to see what else needed to be filled out. I already knew from my work on card reveals that the last few sets have had the same breakdown of cards: 90 class cards (2 Legendaries, 2 Epics, 3 Rares, and 3 Commons per class) and 45 neutral cards (in a 5, 9, 9, and 22 breakdown). I also noticed other high-level trends, like how about half of all the class cards tend to be minions and how the mana costs are roughly evenly split between odd and even. I even started looking into things like how many of each of the core mechanics are in the average set. In all, I saw no reason to deviate from the formula for this set. So I built the table (modeled after one I had seen in an article sharing old Naxx designs) based on those numbers and started filling in the cards I knew I wanted. That table is what you see in the design doc.

A decent chunk of the cards came pretty easily, especially once I decided what themes/ mechanics I wanted the class to explore. In terms of specific cards, most of them were designed by coming up with a mechanic first, then a cost that worked for that mechanic, then stats to go with the cost, and then a name. Some of the cards didn’t come as quickly, so I dedicated some days to figuring out what a particular class wanted to do, or what a specific legendary would look like. The cycle of legendary callbacks came somewhat organically: I made a few because they fit the theme and story of the set, and because I generally liked the idea of going to alternative timelines to see alternative versions of our favorite cards, but then once I had about 6 or 7 of them I knew I had to finish the cycle, so I tried hard to come up with the last few. Hopefully you can’t tell which were organic and which came after.

About half-way through, while researching how some card effects I wanted to do would be worded, I realized that Hearthstone had already touched on the themes I was working on in the Taverns of Time event. In my excitement for finding the perfect hook, I had forgotten it had already been used. But Taverns of Time was a limited time event that was somewhat smaller in scope–and did not have a tribal theme–so I thought I could still do my thing without any issue. Even though a few of the Taverns of Time cards would fit pretty well in my set, I decided not to use them for two reasons: 1) it would make a weird situation where uncollectible cards were now collectible sometimes; and 2) I wanted to make a fully original, complete 135 card set. So I tried to steer clear of the Taverns of Time stuff, mostly just checking it for notes on card formatting and to make sure names did not overlap.

There were a few specific cards that gave me a lot of trouble, but in the end I was left with a bunch of neutral commons as the last things I had to try to work out. It’s tough to balance novelty, flavor, and (low) complexity in so many cards, but that’s arguably one of the most important places to get it right, since much more players will see all the neutral commons than all the other cards. I think complexity creep might have been the hardest part for me, as I kept wanting to do the really cool things that were a little more complex and, at the same time, was ham-stringed by the fact that Hearthstone has yet to do a reprint or a functional reprint and is, therefore, starting to exhaust all the easy commons–especially at lower casting costs, where there is less room to play with statlines. I think we will get our first reprints or functional reprints soon ™. Coming up with so many generic-but-thematic names was also a little tough.

Then came a few rounds of checks and revisions. I looked to what was rotating out to see what core cards needed to be replaced in the card pool (by my estimation, the main things I had to make sure to include were odd-cost weapon removal, midgame neutral taunts, and various 1-drops, since we were losing all our best ones). I checked cards for typos, formatting, and space issues, which sometimes required me to rework or even completely scrap a card. And, when I finally felt like it was ready to share, I started inputting them into Hearthcards, writing this post, and making the graphics you see here. Even during that process I caught some issues–mostly with card text economy–and had to do a few reworks. But once I did that, I called my first set design done! It was time consuming and difficult, but it was also enlightening and fun, so I’m glad I did it.

That’s All, Folks!

 

Woo! That’s a lot, but that’s all. Thanks as always for reading. As you might be able to tell, or guess, this took a lot of time and effort, so I really hope you like it and I would really appreciate it if you shared it with other people who you think might enjoy it. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comments below. Just know that if I don’t answer right away it’s because I spent all my workday wrapping this up to go live today and I have some IRL work I’m catching up on.

 

 

 

Rastakhan’s Rumble Nerfs Announced AND Implemented

When I’m being good, I get into bed at around 10 or 10:30, kiss my wife goodnight, and immediately try to go to sleep. Most recent nights, though, I’m not “good.” Instead, I usually spend half an hour to an hour on my phone (bad sleep hygiene!), playing one of my various phone games and/or browsing Twitter for an hour or longer past my self-imposed bedtime. That has led to increased caffeine intake just to make it through the workday which, in turn, has led to further issues sleeping. It actually became a bit of a problem, so two nights ago I made the conscientious decision not to pick up my phone after I washed up and got into bed. That was a terrible mistake.

Skip bedtime; see nerf announcements.

It was a terrible mistake because mere minutes after I must have put my phone down, Hearthstone dropped a bombshell on us (link)! There were to be nerfs to several meta-defining cards, and the nerfs were going live tomorrow. In fact, the nerfs went live early in the day as well, so I barely even saw the announcement before I saw that the patch was live! I have had a chance to read the announcement, though, so let’s talk about it.

I. The Timing

Perhaps the most interesting part of this nerf announcement and implementation is the timing of it all. They did a few new things here, and specifically asked for our input on it, so I’m going to devote a lot of words to it.

Dev-Note-Nerfs
You guys made me do this.

There are two distinct issues of timing with this nerf announcement and implementation: 1) the timing of the nerf within the expansion cycle; and 2) the (incredibly short) time between announcement and implementation. Logically, it seems like it makes more sense to talk about the former and then the latter, but I wrote this whole thing out and found that it read more easily to hit the shorter topic first, so…

The (almost complete lack of) time between announcement and implementation would have caught me by even bigger surprise were I not sleeping through most of it. It is massively uncharacteristic and something that the team is definitely experimenting with. Clearly, the intention is to remove as much of that “lame duck” period between nerf announcement and implementation that many players hate, but it comes at the cost of destabilizing the entire tournament scene because now every single player and tournament organizer will always have to have some sort of contingency plan for what happens in the event that the cards are different tomorrow than they are today. That adds a ton of extra stress (and cost) to your partners, and hurts the integrity of the game as an esport, so I’m not a fan.

I’ve spoken to some people about it, and seen comments online, that this problem wouldn’t effect official Hearthstone events (because Blizzard surely wouldn’t do that), but 1) that still sucks for all the smaller events; and 2) even this very first time they’ve done this, it impacted a fairly big-deal event (the WSOE 2 Hearthstone Showdown–a large invitation-only, women/non-binary-only tournament featuring notable professionals and personalities, and many of the “premier” casters, and which had been promoted by the Blizzard on official channels), so I’m not sure where the line for “official” is drawn, or even if we could expect it to be respected.

Sure, tournament players make up a tiny portion of the player-base, but it is a false dichotomy to treat this as a zero-sum game where “regular” players are hurt by any consideration for tournament players. This is kind of like the corollary to my argument on why Tournament Mode is important to the game: tournament play extends so much further than just those players who are most immediately affected. Tournament players are some of the very most engaged players in the scene, and their ability to participate in tournaments contributes massively to our game’s community. Three weeks ago, everyone was talking about how important the tournament scene is to Hearthstone, but if we want that scene to exist, we have to foster it. Giving them a tiny bit of a heads up so that they can appropriately react to card changes does not seem like much of a “concession.”

All of this doesn’t even account for the “regular” players who like the “lame duck” week between nerf announcement and implementation. These are people who want to say farewell to their beloved deck, who want to craft and try out the most “broken” deck of the format for “free” before the disenchant period begins, or who don’t log in daily and, therefore, for whom this one-day announcement was akin to no announcement at all. I have no idea how many players that includes, but I know it’s not 0 because sometimes I fall into that second category.

And even if it were an issue of tournament players’ needs versus those of regular players, there’s just the issue of empathy: is the average player really unable to suck up a few days of the game being less-than-ideal in exchange for not completely ruining an event (or, if this practice is to be extended, an entire way of living), especially in this case where the nerf isn’t any sort of emergency?

Don’t answer that; we both know the answer. I just don’t like it.

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The average Hearthstone player, blissfully ambivalent towards the needs of other players.

And, to be clear, I’m not advocating that we delay patches until days on which there are no sanctioned events. The game has gotten to the point that that would probably be next to impossible, and we will have even more events under the new competitive system next year. Trying to avoid all of that would be tipping the scales much too far in favor of the tournament players. All I’m saying is that giving a week’s notice, or even just a few days, is good practice if we want to have any sort of meaningful esports scene in this game (which, I think, we all do). That would give organizers enough time to figure out what they want to do about the unexpected change, including allowing players to resubmit lineups (or decks, if we shift to a one-deck format). It’s great that we can implement changes more quickly now, but I think there’s a lot of value in the prior announcement, and I hope we return to it (especially in situations like this, where there is no apparent need for an emergency fix).

DHq4PruXcAAV4y2
Remember this balance nightmare?

On the second point, it’s also worth noting that this is the earliest we’ve ever had a nerf in the expansion cycle. It’s not even close. Even the Knights of the Frozen Throne “oops, we broke the game” nerfs came about a month after the set launched. Even though there were early signs of problems in the Frozen Throne meta, the team at the time (it is worth noting that it was a very different team back then) specifically responded to early calls for nerfs by saying that they needed time to assess the data and evaluate what changes needed to be made, if any. They also stated that they like to see if people would find the solutions themselves.

Here, it has only been two weeks since set launch! Keeping in mind that a lot of the data from the first days of any expansion is “tainted” by people meming around and testing bad decks, and that it takes time to not just decide that a nerf must be made, but also how it will be made, it seems like these nerfs are based on maybe one week of “proper” data! Even if there were early signs of balance problems, this was an incredibly fast nerf!

And that’s a not insignificant “if.” Because even though there were some clear winners and losers in the early Rastakhan meta, including some of the decks affected by these changes, none of those decks yet appeared to really be problematic to the point that the team needed to step in.

Instead, it seems like one or more of the following things happened: 1) this was a nerf based purely on preventing and/or correcting “staleness” in the meta; 2) this was a preemptive balance change, because things are secretly worse than we can see on the outside and they want to get ahead of problems before people start leaving for holiday breaks and more major tournaments happen (including the upcoming seasonal Playoffs and Championships); and/or 3) nerfs were planned before the expansion even launched.

To me, any or all of these options feel like pretty big changes in Hearthstone game balance/nerf philosophy. Or, at least, the culmination of about a year’s worth of decisions indicating such a shift. I try to be mindful of the fact that humans often try to find patterns where there are none, but this changing philosophy does seem to track back to Ben Brode’s departure. We do not know who was the interim lead after Ben left, or who (if anyone) has replaced him, so it will be interesting to see if this new direction continues. I love game design, and I pay especially close attention to Hearthstone’s design principles (I’ve written about them several times before, including here and here; you can also check out my Game Design Resources tab for a collection on others’ thoughts on the subject), so this really intrigues me.

To briefly (lol) comment on each of those reasons that I think might be at play here:

DVzzp9xVQAAGxJ-
No nerf for you!

Regarding freshness, the team’s former design philosophy appeared to be that nerfs purely for freshness’s sake were bad for the game. The idea was that there were downsides to changes, such as player confusion, a loss of confidence in the development team, and a loss of perceived value to individual cards in players’ collections. It also takes away the opportunity for players to “break” the meta, something that a lot of players very much enjoy doing. And, of course, there’s always a chance that changes end up accidentally breaking the game, which would be a bit embarrassing and would then require yet more changes, causing a negative feedback loop. Therefore, while the most entrenched players generally wanted more frequent updates, it was thought to be a net negative overall. Changes would only be made when necessary, and the Standard development and rotation schedules would handle freshness.

However, we have seen this design notion change over time. It started, in my opinion, with the Witchwood balance patch. At the time of the nerf announcement, it appeared that no nerfs were actually needed, but that bigger problem was that people were still mostly just playing the same decks as they were in the Kobolds and Catacombs. In hindsight, it turns out that Even Paladin was better than we had realized, so there was probably some balance-based reasons for that change as well, but it nonetheless felt like the first indication that the team would be willing to make changes based on the problem that the meta was just boring–as distinguished from a metagame that was actively unfun due to one or more decks in it (such as appeared to be the case with the initial Quest Rogue nerf).

Then came Boomsday, a set with a fairly small impact on the game in terms of new archetypes, basically only adding Odd Warrior initially and giving us a glimpse at Deathrattle Rogue at the very beginning and the very end of the set’s cycle. That meta was generally balanced throughout, and incredibly diverse, so when it came time for the semi-regular mid-expansion nerfs, the team opted not to make any. This was a decision that caught a lot of people off guard, but it made some sense to me because it was in keeping with the established prior design notions that changes should not be made if they are not necessary. The people revolted. After a lot of negative feedback, but no major shifts in the metagame, the team quickly decided to go back on their decision and make a few changes. Giggling Inventor and Mana Wyrm were both incredibly powerful cards that shaped the meta at that time, such that it would have been reasonable to have nerfed them for those reasons, but the timing of the decision makes me believe that they were not primarily changed for their power level and were instead changed (mostly) because the community told the team that we wanted changes. (Aviana is a different story, but I’m focusing on the Standard changes). The team was rewarded by this decision because the meta was shaken and freshened up, and the balance did not suffer for it.

So, in sum, the Witchwood patch was announced when it appeared that the only issue was staleness, but it turned out there was a secretly oppressive deck that reared its head shortly after the announcement was made. I call that a balance change that had freshness as a contributing factor. Then in Boomsday we had a balanced meta with a few powerful cards that didn’t need to be changed, but could have been, and the decision to change them came after the community expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that there were not changes. I call that a freshness change that was backed by power-level and pervasiveness concerns.  The team was rewarded for both those decisions, and now we have a freshness change arguably without the backing of power-level concerns. That is, it seems like it might be the first nerf made just for freshness reasons.

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So Fresh.

However, if the reason for these changes was purely for freshness, then I’m not sure the timing was right. This metagame was just starting to shape up, and even though early indications were that it was not nearly as impactful as some might have hoped, a lot of people (including myself) were still experimenting. One would think that if the plan were to keep people interested in the game for the maximum amount of time, the better route might have been to let the initial hype of a new set ride out a bit longer, allow the meta to settle, allow people to juuuust start to get bored, and then make a change. My gut inclination is that we had a couple more weeks before getting to that point. By jumping the gun on that, we now have an issue with freshness on the flip side of this nerf. That is, unless we’re prepared to make another change during this cycle (which would not be unheard of, but seems un-ideal), we’re now stuck with the same meta for 3.5 months until the next card changes. Making the change this early is a gamble that we won’t get bored of the post-nerf meta too quickly, and I’m not sure if this decision will result in a net gain of freshness over the course of the set’s cycle.

Unfortunately, this time, I think it might have been hard for the team to find another week or two in the schedule. One more week would have put the patch going live right around the developers’ holiday time, which I’m okay with them trying to avoid. Two more weeks would put it right up against the EU Playoffs deck submission deadline (based on a source telling me the NA schedule, I believe their deck submissions are due January 7th, the Monday before their Playoffs). So pushing it right up to that submission deadline wouldn’t really be fair to the competitive scene, either. All this might have been avoided if World Championships were still at Blizzcon and the expansion cycle were shifted accordingly, but we’ll have to tackle that rant at another time. I guess we’ll just see how this plays out, and if they choose to do something like this again in the future.

If this as a preemptive balance change based only on Rastakhan’s Rumble data, then this is a big change in how much information (and how much time) is thought to be needed before making a decision of this magnitude. As stated, I personally felt like we were still in the experimental stage of the meta. But if the data were reliably showing that the meta was settling into something problematic, then I guess it could be enough to warrant changes. Still, I’m skeptical that this was what happened or, at least, that it was the only factor at play here. My skepticism is heightened by the fact that Hunter was not touched by the nerfs despite the fact that Hunter appears to have been the early leader in the Rastakhan meta.

If this nerf was planned before the set even went live, that would be really interesting. Common sense dictates that you wouldn’t want to release a flawed product, and it could be argued that if your new set does not shake up the metagame without an after-the-fact nerf, then it is a flawed product. By that logic, they should not have released the set if they knew that it would not do what it needed to do. But design cycles don’t work that way: the set needed to come out when it did for the entire system to work. And for the set to come out by the release date, it needs to be finished by at least a week before that. Which means these types of major design decisions need to be made bore that… so on and so forth… Maybe they just ran out of time.

That then raises the interesting question of when the decision was made. After all, these nerfs could have been done at the same time as Giggling Inventor and Mana Wyrm, about two months ago. I’m not sure how late changes happen in the cycle, but we have heard in the past about how certain cards were submitted very late in the process, so I assume the set was still being worked on at the point that the Giggling Inventor nerf was made. On top of that, Giggling Inventor happened very quickly after the announcement that Giggling Inventor would not be nerfed, so that particular round of nerfs might have been rushed in order to respond to the overwhelming community feedback. Maybe they’ve been working on these nerfs ever since then. Maybe this set’s final design was done in tandem with these nerf designs. Man, that’d be an interesting design challenge, and would be a great example of the various aspects of Hearthstone working in tandem with one another to form a sum greater than its parts. I hope this is what happened.

If the nerfs were planned before the set, I might have preferred that the nerfs go live at the same time as the set, as that feels “cleaner.” Putting the nerfs in with the set launch appeals to the benefits of the prior regime’s “make as few changes as needed” mentality (in terms of number of times the game is changed) and would also allow time for a proper announcement period. However, I could definitely see it being the case that the nerfs were designed as a “probably, but not definitely” that would be ultimately decided by whether early data matched their expectations. That would also be a nod to their prior design philosophy that nerfs should only be done if needed (resulting in overall fewer nerfs over time). It also means we get roughly double the hype period after launch, so that’s cool. It’s an interesting discussion of pros and cons that I wish I could learn more about.

Anyway, that’s enough about the timing of it all. I can’t believe I got this far without talking about the actual card changes. Here they are:

II. Druid Changes

Wild-Growth-NerfNourish-Nerf

The Druid changes are really interesting because they specifically chose not to make these changes when they made the Giggling Inventor nerf, which was when Druid was arguably stronger in the meta than it was immediately before this round of nerfs. At the time, I thought the decision was signalling that Nourish would be moved to the Hall of Fame. That, coupled with the fact that many other problematic ~Druid cards would be rotating naturally (Spreading Plague, Malfurion, Ultimate Infestation, Twig, Spellstone, Branching Paths, Oaken Summons, Arcane Tyrant, Hadronox, King Toggwaggle, and Master Oakheart ), would bring the entire class’s power level down significantly. I thought Wild Growth would not be touched because it was iconic and because those other changes would be sufficient to address the overall power level. Obviously, I was wrong about all that.

The decision to do the nerf now might indicate a few things, including that this set was intended to “power down” Druid, but did not do so significantly enough for their taste; other decks stepped in to play the role in the meta that Druid previously held (which was all roles–Hunter’s on the job now); or, as discussed, this was just a change for freshness. Even though Druid as a class is being powered down significantly by rotation, these two cards are evergreen, so there is also a chance these changes were made with future sets in mind.

In terms of the effect of the changes, I think they were good. They are significant enough to matter, but not enough to completely neuter the cards–this is the sweet spot, in my opinion, that most nerfs should aim for. They couldn’t just do Wild Growth, because that would still let you Wild Growth into Nourish. They probably could have just done Nourish, but Wild Growth was the more powerful of the two and they *might* have been concerned with Even Druid if they did that (probably not, but, y’know… they could have been). The nerfs aren’t too crippling because you can still ramp from Nourish to Oakheart, 3-4 turns before your opponent gets to that mana point. You can’t Spreading Plague before your Oakheart, so your turns will sometimes be clunkier now, which is, of course, intended. Other major considerations include what Druid’s supposed to do on 5 mana now, the fact that Druid can no longer use Prince Taldaram, and the possibility that Druids can now pick up Keleseth (though early indications are that people are opting not to).

We’re seeing multiple pros (example 1, example 2) post that the class is still good, while HSReplay just reported that it has both the lowest play rate and the lowest winrate in ranks 4 to Legend. It’ll be interesting to see how these nerfs pan out in the long run. I suspect the pros are closer to correct and that the class is actually still fine. Regardless of what happens in the coming months, though, it looks like Druid’s probably in for a rough year (finally) after rotation.

III. Level Up!

Level-Up!-Nerf

Oh wow! I think this might be the most impactful nerf. Odd Paladin is significantly weakened, likely dropping from Tier 1 (where it has been, at least in terms of ladder performance, almost since it’s inception) to Tier 3 or so. As intended by this nerf, the deck will just be substantially less explosive now, meaning that midrange decks can actually keep up and control decks will be able to stabilize more easily. I think the deck will still be possible to play, but that there will be little reason to do so, and its play rate will drop off drastically.

Notably, this decision seems to have involved some of the same points of consideration that the Giggling Inventor nerf involved. Namely, two concerns: 1) changing a card that is used in Odd- decks to an even cost means that those decks “won’t work” any more, which is confusing and frustrating for less engaged players, and likely at least somewhat of an exit point; 2) does changing the card to be accessible by the other side of the coin just substitute one problem for another? In the case of Giggling Inventor, those considerations came down on the side of “over-nerf it to keep the mana cost Odd.” This time, it appears those considerations came down the other way as a “keep the card strong by changing it to Even.” I think Even Paladin might become one of the best decks in the upcoming meta now that it has a big payoff again. If so, we will see the two sides of this coin, which will make for good data for the team to consider in future instances when they are faced with this decision–a decision that will likely come up again at some point between now and when Genn and Baku rotate.

IV. Saronite Chain Gang

Saronite-Chain-Gang-Nerf

The Saronite Chain Gang nerf is weird for a few reasons. First, the stated reason for it is to kill Combo Shudderwock (in Standard–Wild still has Doppelgangster), but Shudderwock didn’t seem to be a problem in terms of winrate (Tier 3 at all levels according to Vicious Syndicate). Looking at the matchup spread, this does not seem to be in order to fix issues that might have been created by the other nerfs, either. Chain Gang was going to rotate in a few months anyway, so this does not seem like an interaction that they needed to correct. Instead, it seems like they just did not want Combo Shudderwock to exist in Standard for the next few months or maybe, specifically, for it not to exist during Playoffs and Worlds?

ToastGasm
ToastGasm

Maybe they were off-put by DisguisedToast and his followers using the combo to ruin the ladder, and were actually responding to that without saying as much, but that seems like a meme that has already come and gone anyway, so I’m not sure if that was worth trying to correct. Normal wincon combo Shudderwock is a little annoying to play against, but not so much so that it seems like it had to be changed.

 

Second, the change is weird in that Chain Gang was the progenitor of handbuff mechanics in current Standard, which is a core mechanic for Warlock in the most recent set. Handbuff Warlock was predictably bad, but this just feels like kicking them while they’re down.

In terms of the metagame impact of this change, Chain Gang was played in a lot of non-Shudderwock decks in the meta, some of which were off to early gains in the Rastakhan meta (such as Keleseth Tempo Rogue) and others of which are likely getting big gains after these balance changes (including Deathrattle Hunter, Even Paladin, maybe Token Druid, and most any other deck still using Prince Keleseth). Looking at the list, it could well be that this card was nerfed for general balance and powerlevel reasons and that Shudderwock was the easy scapegoat to blame for it, instead of just one of the many reasons for the decision.

V. Leeching Poison

Leeching-Poison

This one was a long time coming. Kingsbane is a really cool card, but Leeching Poison made Kingsbane decks incredibly frustrating to play against. They have been a problem in Wild for some time now, and it’s good they came up with a solution that works solves that issue while still letting people play Kingsbane. It is a little odd that this change, and the timing of it, essentially made it such that this stall-based version of Kingsbane only got about a week to shine in Standard, but I think most of the community is okay with that.

One interesting thing to note is that with nerfs to both Kingsbane and Shudderwock, slow, grindy decks (such as Odd Warrior, Big Spell Mage, and “traditional” Mind Blast Priest) get relatively stronger. There are still plenty of counters left in the metagame, including OTK Paladin, Taunt Druid, and… almost any Hunter, so we’re good for now, but I do have some concerns for what will happen after rotation, when Odd Warrior will lose very little and all its current counters will rotate out. I hope and expect that Team 5 has something in mind to handle that, though.

VI. Not Hunter

maxresdefaultThere weren’t any Hunter nerfs. Hunter was one of the best classes going into this set, and got a bunch of buffs from the set, and is by far the most popular class on the ladder (at all ranks except for Legend, it appears). Suffice to say, it would have been perfectly reasonable to do something about Hunter, though it is not exactly clear which part would have to be touched (Deathstalker Rexxar seems like the biggest individual offender, but reversing the decision to expand his Beast pool seems like asking for trouble; any other change seems mostly irrelevant).

If the decision to nerf was made before the set was launched, that might explain why Hunter was not touched, but it does seem like this would have been a predictable outcome anyway. Maybe Hunter was left alone due to the fact that most of its power cards will be rotated and, in the meantime, it needs to stay in order to keep Odd Warrior in check. Maybe the team just wanted Hunter to have its chance to be the best class again for a little while before it loses a ton of tools to rotation (Rexxar, Candleshot, Play Dead, Terrorscale Stalker, Wandering Monster, Dire Mole, Razormaw, Bearshark, Flanking Strike, Spellstone, and all the Spell Hunter cards–yikes!).

Regardless of the reason why it wasn’t touched, it will be interesting to see if these nerf decisions end up creating a meta with an unacceptably high population of Hunters on the ladder. As discussed above, this was one of the risks of making a nerf decision early in the meta and/or when the meta does not need rebalancing. Early indications are that Hunter is incredibly popular on the ladder already, and I suspect it might continue to grow as it is the main power class that was not touched by the nerfs and a strong counter to the rise of Odd Warrior.

VII. TL;DR

TL;DR: The card changes all seem good. I understand that there are pros and cons for the lack of notice before the changes, but I didn’t like that aspect and I think it is a net negative for the game so I hope it does not continue. Mostly, I’m just very interested in how this all went down and I hope to learn more about it some day. Thanks for reading!

Rastakhan’s Rumble First Impressions

Alright everybody! I’m back and recovered from Blizzcon, so I finally have a chance to sit down and share my thoughts on the next expansion, Rastakhan’s Rumble (announced at Blizzcon, releasing December 4th).

Rastakhan_s_Rumble_Logo_enUS

As most of you probably know, the set name, theme, and 12 cards were announced over two Blizzcon panels. In this post, I’m going to look at some of those cards, as well as more general themes, to give you my initial impressions of this upcoming expansion.

First things first: the name is a little tricky (I’ve already misspelled it about a dozen times). At first, I had some concerns about SEO and all of that, but I’m sure we’ll get used to it like we did Karazhan. Also, my understanding is that Rastakhan is/was a pretty big figure in Warcraft lore who I just haven’t yet met in my lore dives, so there’s probably a good chunk of people who already know the name. I’m hoping to learn more about him.

Also, while we’re on the topic of first impressions, holy moly that intro song and video are hype! Hearthstone always nails the musical compositions that go with sets, but this one seems particularly good. So, with that in mind, it shouldn’t have been surprising that Christie Golden helped with the lyrics. Give it a listen if you somehow haven’t yet done so, because it’s a good old time.

Now that that song is never getting out of our heads, let’s get into the meat of things.

New Keyword Mechanic: Overkill

fa64366fd31bef2948591a91f64b1476a4084dd4794bd430b1bcbbe6aef02a52The very first card that we saw, if I recall correctly, was the new Warrior weapon, Sul’Thraze, showing off the new keyword mechanic, Overkill. Overkill means “trigger the following effect whenever you deal more damage than is necessary to kill a minion.” The effect reminds me of Magic: the Gathering’s Trample mechanic, which is great because I’ve thought for a while now that Hearthstone could use some similar design space there.

Trample, like Overkill, is a great mechanic to keyword because it is simple to understand mechanically, descriptive and flavorful, and because it saves card text space. If you look at my post on keywording from a while back, you can see that Trample/Overkill tics all the important boxes. Magic came to that same conclusion a long time ago and decided to make Trample an evergreen mechanic (meaning that it shows up in just about every set). In fact, Trample was in Magic’s initial set, and has been an evergreen mechanic for as long as the game has existed.

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Not much of a problem now that Giggles is gone.

However, like Team 5, I thought that a straight port of MtG’s Trample mechanic would not do enough work in Hearthstone. In Magic, a big creature could be indefinitely held at bay by a string of smaller creatures jumping in front of its attacks every turn (this is called “chump blocking”). Therefore, the Trample mechanic is pretty much necessary in that game in order to make big creatures have any value (at least, in the colors where other forms of evasion don’t make as much sense flavor-wise, such as in green). In contrast, Hearthstone rules dictate that the attacker chooses attack targets. Therefore, unless your opponent has several small, inexpensive taunts, a direct port of Magic’s Trample would not do you a ton of value, as you could just attack face if you wanted to go face. In fact, a direct port of Trample might have made the game less interesting, instead of more interesting, as it would just remove player choice between maintaining board tempo and pressuring the opponent. Unlike Magic, Hearthstone (at least in its current iteration) already does enough to encourage players making big minions.

Bated-arrowThat’s what makes Overkill such a great mechanic! The devs took a great mechanic from another game and tweaked it to make sense in Hearthstone. Now the mechanic encourages player choice (do I go face or would I rather activate my effect?) while still keeping the aspects that make the keyword so great. Because Overkill is not as mechanically foundational as is Trample, that also opens the door for diverse and flavorful uses of Overkill, as we are already seeing. Overkill is even a slightly better word for the mechanic than is Trample because, for flavor reasons, Trample really only fits on creatures whereas Overkill can go on minions, spells, weapons, etc.

Finally, Overkill is also really cool because Magic’s Trample is an effect that is either on or off (like Hearthstone’s Divine Shield), so it can’t be “stacked” to gain additional effects from more than one instance of it. Overkill can. That means we can get cards like, “Friendly characters have ‘Overkill: X'” and that card will work with minions and weapons (maybe, depending on the exact rules wording) that already have Overkill. That could make for some really interesting interactions.

As an aspiring game designer, I always appreciate good design. But the design that gets me most hyped is when I have an idea and see a problem with it and then see that the designer noticed the same problem and found a great solution to it. So, I’ll say it again, I LOVE OVERKILL. I also really liked Fool’s Bane, so Sul’Thraze seems like a really cool and interesting use of the Overkill mechanic.

A Cycle of Spirits

The next cards I want to specifically highlight are the Spirits that were revealed:

In Rastakhan’s Rumble, each class gets one Spirit, a Loa (a legendary minion), and a Champion (legendary minions for each class, except for Hunter, whose champion is a hero card). We also saw a cycle of shrines that is tied to the set’s non-collectible content (PVE content and a series of upcoming PvP Tavern Brawls).

The first thing I want to note is that I appreciate the strong cycle structure apparent in this set. For those who don’t know the lingo, a “cycle” is a collection of cards that are linked together in some way (often by name, rarity, and/or mechanics). The Rastakhan Spirits are a strong cycle because they are all the same rarity, they all share a name (“Spirit of ____”), they are all around the same cost (4 or less), they all share a mechanic (“Stealth for 1 turn”), and, I believe, they all have the same stat line (0/3).

Hearthstone has certainly had strong cycles in the past (such as the Quests and Deathknights), but the past couple sets usually just had one or two cycles per set, many of which seem understated. Prior to Un’Goro there were not many cycles at all. This appears to be the first* set that was specifically built around a strong framework of cycles (the Spirits, Loas, and Champions) which, in total, make up 20% of the set!

* Okay, maybe not first. Long-time readers might recall that I was equally hyped about the use of cycles in Kobolds and Catacombs, but the cycles seem even more pronounced this time, so I’m even more hyped.

Why am I so excited to see a set embracing an overt cycle-heavy structure? Per usual, I turn to the master, Mark Rosewater. For those who don’t know, Mark is Magic: the Gathering’s Head Designer. I like referring to his work because he has over 20 years of game design experience, because Magic is the progenitor of the entire TCG/CCG game genre, and because Mark loves sharing his game design knowledge in articles, podcasts, videos, etc. In any given card design topic, Mark’s extensive  body of work usually has something on point. In this case, I know of at least one article and one podcast episode (#463) in which Mark covered the topic of cycles and their value to card game set design.

According to the professor, there are lots of benefits to using cycles in card set design:

  1. Cycles are aesthetically pleasing in that they satisfy players’ (sometimes subconscious) desires for order, balance, and completion.
  2. Cycles can help enhance flavor. This is particularly evidence in Rastakhan’s Rumble, where the cycles represent each class’s loa (literally, their god), champion, and spirit–we can look back at this as a set where each class’s champion channeled their loa’s spirit to fight for dominance in the arena! We can also see how this has worked in prior sets; I think Knights of the Frozen Throne is another particularly strong example.
  3. Cycles can help highlight class identity (in the article, Mark considers this part of flavor, but I think it’s worth its own point) by showing each class’s take on whatever the cycle is about).
  4. Cycles allow each class’s fans to experience the cool new thing. For example, before Knights of the Frozen Throne came out, everyone wanted to play as a deathknight. However, some players are strongly devoted to one class, so if every class didn’t get a deathknight, then those players would feel left out.
  5. Cycles allow game developers to “cheat” class identity restrictions a bit in order to do cool things, because players are willing to “suspend belief” as it were to see how a class might take on a mechanic or theme that it might not normally dabble in. This is not one benefit that I had thought of before reading Mark’s article, but it makes sense. For example, one does not normally think of Priest as a gladiatorial class, but we get to see what a Priest champion would look like as part of this cycle, and that might show us something cool that we might otherwise have never seen.
  6. This one is a DeckTech original, not one that Mark mentions, but I think of it as another benefit of cycles: game balance. When every class has to do something similar, but in their own way, it helps bring a structure to the set that–at least in theory–helps balance the set. An example from when I played Magic was the (original) Ravnica Guildmages. The Guildmages were a cycle of uncommon 2/2 that each cost 2 mana and had two effects, one in each of their colors. While there were definitely some that were stronger than the others, their base stats and pricing meant that they were mostly on around the same power level, which helped balance the guilds, especially in limited formats, wherein 2 mana 2/2s saw the most play. Now, this isn’t always the case (an early Magic cycle gave blue one of the best cards ever–Ancestral Recall–and gave white a card so bad that I had to look it up to remember what it was–Healing Salve), but it seems like more similarities would tend to result in more similar power levels than not. Rastakhan’s Spirits feel pretty similar to me where their strong similarities in cost, bodies, and mechanics will probably make them naturally gravitate towards more similar power levels.

Of course, you don’t want every card in a set to be part of some cycle or another–that would be restrictive of design space and too blunt, or opaque (if everything is part of one or more cycles, players might miss the connections), or both, and would hurt the overall set. But, with all the above-mentioned benefits to cycles, you can see why I’m down with them as a strong design component of any new set. In fact, in that podcast episode I mentioned above, Mark goes so far as to say that he finds cycles so valuable that he starts most set designs with the set’s cycles and that, while he could design a set without any cycles, he believes it would make the set worse to deprive himself of such a useful tool.

Okay, so that’s why I like cycles generally. Now, let me explain why I like the idea of the Spirits cycle specifically:

Hearthstone has been struggling with figuring out how to make compelling build-around cards. At first, they started with powerful cards that rewarded you if you built around them properly. Reno Jackson feels like the progenitor of these types of cards, but more recent examples include Prince Keleseth and the deathknights. The problem they found with these types of cards is that decks using them felt incredibly different based on whether or not they drew the card they were built around. Think of how different games are when you have Keleseth on 2 versus when you do not (for some decks it’s as much as a 15% jump in winrate), or how some matchups basically just come down to who draws their deathknight first (like the old Reno Priest mirrors). Pushed too far, that made games feel more based on luck and draw RNG than skill.

To try to counteract that, the team came up with methods to make sure that the payoff is not so draw dependent, such as Quests and Genn/Baku. The pendulum then swung in the other direction where some players complained that the games felt too samey. Every single game you tapped for the first 3-4 turns and dropped a Mountain Giant; or you play the Quest and then just play a taunt every turn until you get to sling Rag shots. This made players feel like their decisions did not matter for a different reason: because all the games felt so similar, they quickly learned the right play to make in every circumstance (or so they thought), so their decisions did not feel meaningful.

I like the Spirits because they seem like another solid attempt at rewarding a deckbuilding challenge. A very important point here is that the Spirits are only rares, which means that the decks that build around them can run two copies! As announced at Blizzcon, each class’s Spirit and Loa will actually work well together, too, so now you have three build-around cards in your deck. The end result (in theory) is that your games won’t all feel the same because you’re not guaranteed to start the game with an effect or a certain card, but that your games won’t often feel decided by luck, either, because you know the build-around decks have a lot of chances to draw their build-around cards instead of just the one draw that decides matches.

There are another couple of cool things about the Spirits cycle. I like that they are rares, because that feels like the right rarity for a card that you want a lot of players to have access to two copies of. I also like that the Spirits and Loa work together, but that the Champions hit on another theme for the class. This means that there will be more intra-class diversity, hopefully keeping up the trend of incredibly diverse metagames that we’ve seen this entire year. When there are so many options, it ups the chances that there is at least one deck for everyone in any given meta–even if you tend to favor just one or two classes. This also means that if a mechanic/theme flops the class will not necessarily be dead in the meta or, conversely, if a mechanic/theme is strong, then the class might not have such an overwhelming amount of tools for it that it becomes OP.

Speaking of the Loas…  4ba48a1465442a6f91337f63255030c587454443eeaf7226a1e900a12f4962cc

Hir’eek, the Bat caught me a bit off guard. As shown in the reveal video, it is designed to work well with hand-buff mechanics like Spirit of the Bat and the tools we got in Boomsday.

Continuing a mechanic/theme from one expansion into the next is not generally a noteworthy thing, but I found this particular instance to be odd because I thought the Boomsday cards felt out of place. Handbuffing first really became a thing with the Grimy Goons in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, so it felt like the mechanic “belonged” more to those classes. On top of that, the copying mechanic felt like more of a Rogue identity to me (it seems pretty “tricky” and feels a lot like self-bouncing), so the mechanic felt odd in that direction as well. Omega Agent felt particularly out of place as the art looks like it is of a ninja, which makes it seem even more Rogue-based. Even Kibler thought it was a Rogue card when he first saw it, though in fairness he is colorblind, so there’s more than one factor in play there.

But handbuff Warlock feels odd not just because it hasn’t been part of the class before, but also because it is anti-synergistic with discard effects! If you buff something and then have to discard it, then you wasted your buff and you feel terrible. In Hearthstone (so far, at least), you can’t pick what you discard, so the two mechanics don’t seem able to exist in large amounts in the same space. Discard is pretty core to Warlock, it always has been, and it matches the feel and theme of the class really well, so it seems to make more sense as the mechanic to push if we need to choose between the two. If we get a card that lets us choose what we discard, then this theme makes lots of sense because then you can narrow your non-targeting buffs to hit what you want (it would also be a really cool and interesting U.I. update and tool for future card designs). But we don’t have any sort of reveal like that right now, so I don’t get why we’re doubling down on this theme.

Entirely-Too-Hot Takes on Power Levels

Sharkfin-FanSharkfin Fan seems potentially really strong, especially in Wild where they have Ship’s Cannon. I’m sure they intentionally placed it at 2cc so that you don’t get to easily curve from Rogue Hero Power into this, or even more dangerously, play it with the upgraded Rogue Hero Power. It will be interesting to see what other Pirate synergy we get (some of which we already know to be in Rogue) in the upcoming set, and to see if we get any 1-mana weapons, which would be a great curve into this if they are even half-decent.

 

Immortal Prelate and Shirvallah, the Tiger both seem pretty solid, work together, and seem to fit right into the “Breakfast Paladin” with Meatwagon and Eggs that we’ve seen pop up lately. Lynessa, Prelate, and Spikeridge Steed seems both powerful and annoying. Shirvallah also makes Corpsetaker even better, though I’m not sure we even have room for that in the deck. Likewise, this feels like when they wanted to give Dragon Priest one last hurrah in Mean Streets, so maybe it’s finally worth it to play the Quest. Regardless of exactly how we build it, the deck seems pretty strong and pretty annoying. We don’t have many silence effects in the game, and I don’t anticipate us getting many more in this set, so this is my incredibly-too-early break out deck for the set.

There were a decent number of other interesting cards that were also revealed, but nothing that really rips at your attention like other set reveals have with things like Deathstalker Rexxar and Rin. I think Time Out is being both over- and under-rated by the community, I really like how Hex Lord Malacrass changes your decision trees in the mulligan phase, Spring Paw seems solid, Void Contract might see play once Rin leaves, and Surrender to Madness is… well, it seems appropriately named. A lot of the cards we’ve seen so far make me go, “interesting…,” so I really want to see more before I start judging too much.

Final Points: the Pre-Order Bundle and Lack of New Features

[Eminem voice] This is the part where the hype breaks down. [/Eminem voice]

Unfortunately, not everything during the Hearthstone presentations felt like a win and, even worse, those less-than-stellar parts seem to have somewhat overshadowed all the ~3000 words of good that I just went over.

Blizzard has announced the details of this set’s pre-order bundles (and those pre-orders are now live). It was cool to get a specific date and for the pre-orders to immediately be available, but I found the actual details of the pre-orders to be pretty disappointing. Whereas in Boomsday they experimented with pre-order bundles directed at bigger-spenders, this time they are experimenting with bundles directed at those that are a bit more budget-minded. That’s cool–I’m all for giving options to people who don’t want to drop $50+ per expansion. My issue is just that this is the first pre-order bundle comes with no in-game additional value over the one-pack-per-dollar price point that all pre-orders have (at least since I’ve been buying them). I appreciate in-game cosmetics, but I don’t care about them so much that I will pay for them (I conscientiously chose not to buy Magni, for instance), so this feels like I’m getting less value for my dollar than I did in the last two sets. Compared to Boomsday, we are missing out on a Golden Legendary; compared to Witchwood we are missing out on 20 packs! 70 packs versus 50 packs for the same amount of money is a huge price change, and a really feelsbad moment.

It feels even worse because past experience has taught me that this purchase is all but required to get a good sampling of the new cards, but buying the preorder makes me feel like I am being forced to buy a hero portrait that I wouldn’t otherwise pay for.

In sum, this is the first set in a long time where I am legitimately not sure if I should buy the bundle or go without for a while and only buy cards when they go on a “real” sale and, worse yet, both decisions leave me feeling bad instead of excited about my purchase. I understand that asking for three pre-order bundle options might be a bit much, but I really would have preferred 20 packs or a Golden Legendary over a new skin.

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Yeah, this is gorgeous, but I don’t think it’s as pretty as 20 packs or a golden Legendary.

Another big bummer was that we only got the new set, which was something that was 100% expected. After the cancellation of tournament mode, it feels like a lot of us in the casual-core community have been grasping at something, anything, to get a little more out of the game. Some of us convinced ourselves that recent legal actions (telling fan-run “leagues” that they cannot call themselves “leagues”) might be signaling some sort of change to Hearthstone Esports (an official league of sorts), but we didn’t hear anything about it at Blizzcon. That announcement may yet come, though, as major esports announcements tend to come a little after Blizzcon, to better align with the esports downtime and new year (for example, the current Masters System–a huge shakeup in Hearthstone esports–was announced on December 12th last year).

The single-player content did not feel particularly new or exciting, either, as it seems like it is just another attempt at tweaking the Dungeon Run structure. Dungeon Run was awesome, and I am glad that such an amazing innovation is still being implemented by the team, but it did not help the feeling that we weren’t getting all that much that was truly new. Even the announcement panel itself felt like a re-skin of last year’s Kobolds and Catacombs announcement, but without Ben Brode, which kind of felt like it was just setting poor Peter and Liv up to fail to meet that impossible level. Only someone like Brode could get a crowd full of fans happily chanting for their own certain death, and I think it might have been better to handle that panel a little differently so that the comparison to last year’s panel could not be so readily made.

When I sat down to write this article, and actually put into words all the good things that I liked about the announcement, I convinced myself that I am very excited for this set and all the good things it has already shown us that it will do. I just wish that it didn’t take convincing. I think if they had done a little better on one of these last points, that might have gotten me and people like me there. Still, now that I have looked at everything this set is doing, I’m super excited to see what comes next!

Hearthstone: Very Much Still in the Works

Oh boy. Strap in, everyone, because this is going to be a long one.

Yesterday, Hearthstone made a blog post entitled “Hearthstone: In the Works,” the purpose of which was to highlight the state of the game as the Hearthstone team sees it now and to announce upcoming changes to the game and… changes in plans. The post has the entire community in a tizzy and, I think, reasonably so. I expect there will be a deluge of content on it, but I haven’t updated this blog in a while and the post specifically asks players for feedback, so I figured I could get the last two months’ worth of content all in one really long post.

I’m not going to talk about every point in the blog post–like I said, someone else will surely cover whatever points I miss–I’ll just touch on the ones that I have something in particular to talk about. For ease of reference, I’m going to start each section with a quote from the post and following it up with my thoughts. But there are also a few general things I want to address first.

A Few General Things I Want to Address First

How to Give Feedback

First of all, the community’s reaction to this post has reminded me that I should have done a dedicated post about how to give feedback a long time ago. I have touched on it before, and before that, but it really deserves a more in-depth treatment. Unfortunately, I already expect that this post will be huge without that full post added into it, so this post will not be that post that the topic deserves. Perhaps one day I’ll come back and do it justice, but, for now, here’s what you get.

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When giving feedback, it’s better for everyone if you’re not a dick about it.

There are a few reasons why one might give feedback, but the reason that I am most concerned about now is “because you want the recipient to address a concern of yours.” Now, if you want to convince someone to do something, you are going to need them to listen. And if you want someone to listen, your best bet is to treat them with respect. When you attack people, they naturally get defensive. When you insult people, they often (rightfully so) shut the conversation down entirely.

 

We know from experience that the devs put a lot of time and energy into listening to feedback, even imperfect feedback, but why chance it? Also, it’s just better to be nice to people… like, generally. Don’t be a dick.

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Mark Rosewater, the man who established “flannel and a t-shirt” as the official Game Director uniform.

Second of all, keep in mind that you have imperfect and very incomplete information. Mark Rosewater, Head Designer for Magic: the Gathering, gave a famous GDC talk entitled “20 years, 20 lessons” in which he talked about 20 lessons learned during his (then) 20 years of experience as a game designer (I think he’s at about 26 years now). One of his lessons (number 19) is that the audience is good at finding problems, but bad at solving them. The reason for this is that we have no idea what technological limitations the team faces, what’s coming down the pike, what ideas have been tested, what ideas maybe don’t work for other reasons, or, in most cases, even the most basic ideas about how game design works. Offering solutions without all of that incredibly important context is often unhelpful and, sometimes, might be actively detrimental as a distraction. What is much more relevant and helpful is identifying what the problem is and why you think it is a problem/how it makes you feel.

 

Finally, keep your feedback clear and concise. This is something they really hammer at us in legal writing because so many of us lawyers just love to show off their fancy words and complex sentence structures. That said, it’s also just good advice for almost any form of communication. If the recipient can’t understand you, or even if they can but it requires them to put in more effort to do so, you are putting unnecessary walls between your feedback and the recipient. I’m *definitely* breaking the “concise” part of this tip in this article and I fully expect that it will make some people “TL;DR” it–I just hope that the clarity and insight makes up for that for the people who this message is most tuned towards.

So, to sum it up: keep it short and sweet, and try to focus more on what you think the problem is, and why, and less on how you’d solve it. I’m going to break these rules a little bit here and in my other posts, because I’m trying to flex my game design muscles, but even still I’ll be focusing on what I think went wrong and why I feel that way.

A couple resources on getting better at giving and receiving criticism:
Drive to Work Episode #535, “Constructive Criticism”
Drive to Work Episode #545, “Design Lesson #19: The Audience is Good at Finding Problems, but Bad at Solving Them”
How to Tell What Critique is Helpful and What is Not (from Ask a Game Dev)

Remember, We Are Glad the Hearthstone Team Communicated with Us

Even if we don’t like the communication itself, we should keep in mind that we have been asking for this type of communication for a long time, and we should celebrate that we are finally getting a clear look into where the team is on key issues affecting the community, hearing about events ahead of time, and even seeing thought processes before final decisions are made.

If we shout them down now, they might learn that they can only communicate with us with news they know we’ll love, or with only final decisions like they used to, or worst of all, they might just decide it’s not worth talking to us at all. We want them to talk to us, and we have to accept that not everything will make everyone happy (most likely, nothing will ever make everyone happy), so we can’t teach them that talking to us is a bad idea.

Alright, now I’m on to the actual post itself.

On to the Actual Post Itself

The State of the Meta

We’ve seen the meta-game start to stabilize in the wake of The Boomsday Project’s release. Decks like Odd Warrior, Odd Paladin, Token Druid, Tempo Mage, Taunt Druid, Zoo Warlock, Quest Rogue, Secret Hunter, Even Paladin, Deathrattle Hunter, and Even Warlock, have all been top performers.

While those decks stand out from the pack slightly, there are effective decks from every class. Evolve Shaman and Combo Priest have both seen success, for example.

Overall we’re happy with the excellent diversity of decks we’re seeing at all levels of Ranked Play.

 

Cards to Watch

Giggling Inventor is hugely popular and shows up in a lot of decks. We intended for Giggling Inventor to be powerful because we’ve found that having powerful neutral Taunt minions tends to make games more interesting. We’ve seen that with cards like Sludge Belcher and Tar Creeper in the past. Cards that fulfill this role need to be strong to get that job done, but there’s a line where they might be too good.

We aren’t planning any changes to Giggling Inventor for now, but we’re keeping an eye on it in the meantime. We’d like to know what you think.

I group these two together because I think they are closely related. As to the first point: the metagame is undeniably diverse and balanced, incredibly so. It has been since the Witchwood round of nerfs. However, I do not think that is the end of the question. First and foremost, a game should be fun. Fully aware of this fact, the Hearthstone team has made game changes for purposes of fun in the past (the first Quest Rogue nerf, especially, comes to mind). I think balance and diversity are more means to the end of maximizing fun than they are ends in themselves. We have seen this sentiment from Team 5 before, saying things in interviews like “it’s not so much our concern that every class is tier 1 as it is that every class has at least one cool thing it can do.” I don’t want to read too much into something that is not even stated in the announcement, but I do notice that “fun” is not mentioned here.

“Fun” is, of course, subjective, and hard to pin down. But I feel, and I have heard other players say the something along the same lines, that things like overly-polarized matchups (like those that tend to accompany decks like Quest Rogue and Odd Warrior) are not fun because it feels like the match is decided before it begins. A lot of people also seem to feel that the metagame becomes less fun when it becomes “stale,” and at this point it feels like Boomsday did not change much in terms of the “staleness” of the metagame, since so few cards from it are seeing play and most of those cards more slotted into existing archetypes than created new ones.

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How could you hate that smile?

Speaking of those few Boomsday cards that made an impact on the metagame, the decision not to touch Giggling Inventor was a big surprise to me. I actually like the reasoning for pushing a powerful mid-game taunt in every metagame: it slows the game down and forces trading, thereby encouraging more interaction and bridging the gap between mid- and late-game which allows control decks to exist. It actually may be the case that Giggling Inventor is the only reason why so many archetypes can exist in this metagame, and, to an extent, how they can balance each other out. I also agree with the sentiment that the card does not seem too powerful. After all, there are plenty of answers to it and it is usually more of a nuisance than something that just wins the game on its own.

So, in sum, I don’t disagree with the reasoning here. However, the reason why I was surprised by the decision is that it seems to run contrary to previous decisions to nerf cards because they were ubiquitous and/or meta-warping. There is no doubt that Giggling Inventor is, at this point, both. And while it is fine to change design/nerf directions, I think it might have caught a lot of players off guard. Additionally, while I see the value in breaking the mid-set nerf wave pattern now, before players decided it was the new design cycle, it seems like a lot of players had already grown used to it and therefore found this decision to be doubly unexpected.

If I were to sum it up, I personally feel fine with these announcements. They just mean that I have to adjust my mindset to stop waiting for the nerf that I thought would be coming around now. However, I think the underlying problem for the people who are complaining is that players feel like they are not being heard and their expectations are not being met by this lack of change to the Standard metagame. They expected and asked for nerfs to Quest Rogue and/or Giggling Inventor in hopes that it would make the balanced meta into a “fun” one, and then no such changes were made.

Side note: if this Giggling Inventor decision is not reversed right away, it means we will most likely be stuck with her forever, or at least until late January 2019. Here’s why: since they’re not doing it now, they won’t do it before HCT Fall Champs in mid-October. But they probably won’t want to do it late October because they will have the Halloween event going on and will be building up to Blizzcon hype. They might do it in the lull between Blizzcon and the new set, but probably won’t because they’d rather focus on new-set hype and because they traditionally prefer to add cards to deal with problem cards if they can and with a set so close, they’d probably rather just wait and see if the problem solves itself. They won’t want to do it right after the next set launches, because they will want to see how the post-next-set meta settles to see what, if any, problems still persist. That means the next window is probably about a month after the set launches (the fastest nerf they’ve done in the history of the game was about a month out), but that window is tight because they will want to give players time to test and submit decks before World Champs (correction: Winter Championships) in mid January. Therefore, it seems like we’ll probably have to wait until at least late January, after Worlds is over, for a change–if one is ever to come.

Wild Balance

There’s been an ongoing discussion within the team regarding how Wild should play. Right now, Wild feels somewhat like Standard but with an elevated power level and a vast library of cards. Should Wild live up to its name more, where we allow really crazy and powerful combos to happen, even in the early game? Generally, it’s harder for any one strategy to be dominant in Wild since everything is so powerful and everyone has access to so many tools, but do we want those strategies to exist? We know that there are players who would prefer to have a mode that offers that kind of gameplay.

There’s also the point to consider that the reason to have multiple modes in Hearthstone is for them to play differently, so there are downsides to trying to put the reins on Wild too much. But we also recognize that there might be decks like Naga Sea Witch that become too prevalent and simply aren’t fun to play against.

We’d love to hear your opinions about what you want from Wild. What do you think of how it is now, and what’s the role you see for it in the future of Hearthstone?

Overall, it seems like everything I said before about players not feeling heard seems to go double for the Wild community. I don’t play much Wild, and I certainly don’t have as much information about it as Blizzard does, so I will let others take the helm here on the specifics, but I have seen pretty much all of my friends who play Wild complaining about Druid since day 1 of Boomsday. In fact, I saw them complaining about it since the moment Juicy Psychmelon was announced, because they knew this problem would happen (well, the basic problem–Star Aligner was a little surprising). Now they feel like Blizzard didn’t consider Wild before printing the melon, didn’t listen to them for the past two months, and then, to add insult to injury, asked for them to give all that feedback that Blizzard has spent the last few months ignoring.

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So juicy.

Again, I understand and appreciate the issue Blizzard has here. It is hard to know exactly how Wild should look. It makes sense to me that if the mode is not to be part of the HCT equation, then it should not need to be regulated as heavily because imbalances are not as important to overall game integrity. But I also hear Wild players saying that for a mode all about exploration and fun, it feels very un-fun and limiting right now due to the overall power level of Druid warping the entire meta. So perhaps a slightly heavier touch is warranted.

Overall, to an outsider like me, this feels very similar to the Naga Sea Witch issue. I expected it to have been solved the same way, and I still think it will at some point get a similar treatment (my guess is Aviana goes to 10, which makes the Melon less potent because it misses your full combo and forces you to run Innervate).

Per usual, I’d like to see a slightly different solution that involves creating new formats and game modes. I think we could have the best of both worlds if we added a third format where there are no restrictions, but make that format intentionally casual/unsupported whereas we convert what Wild is now into a more curated format that has at least a little bit of HCT significance to it (a dedicated Tour Stop or two, similar to the Magic Pro Tour’s mixture of formats). But I know all of that is a much more long-term plan than we are discussing at this point, so let’s just call that a possible 5-year plan for the team to think about instead of a response to this specific post.

New Classic Cards
New Player Experience Improvements
Fireside Gatherings
Esports
Welcome Bundle’s Roaring Return
Hallow’s End

A couple quick-hit topics that I’m not quoting in full because I want to touch on them only briefly. All of these were at least neutral for me, and some are positive. I highlight them here briefly because I think an important part about feedback is to give feedback on what we like as well as what we do not. This type of feedback is good because 1) devs will more likely do more of the stuff that they hear a lot of positive reactions to, so it benefits us to tell them we like it; 2) it makes it easier for devs to take your negative feedback seriously, so you don’t just come off as a troll or someone who is impossible to please; and 3) devs are humans, with feelings, and sometimes a little bit of positivity shining through a deluge of negativity can go a long way towards letting someone know that they and their work are appreciated. So:

The new Classic cards look great. They are pretty much exactly what was to be expected in those slots (the people complaining about the lower power level clearly missed the point), new cards are always hype, and I could see some situations where some of these (especially the Mage cards) might see some competitive play.

The new player experience changes seem great, and the fact that you let more established players skip the extra content feels even better. This won’t affect me at all, since I already have an alt account that I barely play, but it seems to make great sense–good work there.

Fireside Gatherings: cool. Again, it doesn’t affect me much, but I’m all for giving Innkeepers more tools to put on the best events they can.

Esports: thanks for the reminder. I’m already going and I could not recommend strongly enough that anybody who can make it out gets a ticket. I have been to a few of these seasonal champs (I think I might have been to every champs that was open to the public and took place at the Burbank Blizzard Arena, but I’ll have to check on that) and they are my favorite Hearthstone events. COULD. NOT. RECOMMEND. STRONGLY. ENOUGH.

Welcome Bundle’s Roaring Return: a great deal that I will definitely pick up. I wish I could choose from the pool, because right now I have a 50/50 between getting a card I really want and a card I’ll never play, but I can see reasons why the team chose not to allow this–including the fact that new players, who this is ostensibly for, would be the least likely to take advantage of the benefit of choice.

Hallow’s End: sweet. This was one of the best events… ever. I’m glad it is coming back. That said, I kind of already expected it to come back (and come back each year, maybe?), so this is not as attention-grabbing as any of the other things in the announcement.

In-game Tournaments Update
Earlier this year we talked about adding a new feature to Hearthstone that would make it easier to organize tournaments for Fireside Gatherings and private events. The team has been working on this feature for some time, and it was originally slated to arrive this year. Unfortunately, In-game Tournaments are now on hold, so we wanted to take this opportunity to explain why.

We have a lot of plans to improve many features of Hearthstone, including its social experience, and In-game Tournaments are an important part of that. Tournaments can serve many different audiences, but the implementation we’d arrived at catered to a very specific audience of players. Instead of broadening Hearthstone with an exciting new way to play, it felt “tacked on”, and wasn’t integrating well into the larger Hearthstone experience.

Ultimately, we were forced to conclude that we needed to think about how and where we want to improve Hearthstone’s overall social experience before we can tackle adding a satisfying and robust implementation of In-game Tournaments that all players can enjoy. As developers, sometimes we have to make the difficult decision to step away from a design that isn’t working. We no longer felt that the end result would deliver on everyone’s expectations or the high standards we have for Hearthstone.

As a result, while we want to revisit In-Game Tournaments at a later date, the feature is on hold for the foreseeable future.

And there it is. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I wanted to go about this post, and spent a good chunk of that time considering doing a full post on just Tournament Mode because this is the most important part of this announcement to me, and it’s not even close.

I have been looking forward to tournament mode for years–years–and when it was finally announced that the team was planning to launch something this summer, I saw a glimmer of hope. Tournament Mode was the thing I have been most excited about this entire year. To say this is a disappointment is putting it lightly.

I understand that sometimes things have to get abandoned in development, but this feels like the rug is being pulled out from under me. And the fact that it was announced as something that would happen this year makes the fact that it now won’t be happening feel like a betrayal.

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That said, the first paragraph in this section has me thinking the team was never building what I was hoping for anyway.  It sounds like they were just trying to make some sort of Fireside Gathering companion app thing, and I don’t think that’s what most of us wanted or what the game needs. I am not surprised that they found it was not worth pursuing. To be fair, they warned us time and again to temper our expectations, and that it would start out focusing on small groups of friends, etc., but I guess I always held out hope that they would end up making something better than what they were building sounded. I have faith that whatever else they are pursuing in the “social” sphere will do a better job of doing what this version of Tournament Mode was trying to do.

In the hopes that perhaps someone at Blizzard will read this post, and make it all the way down here to my 3900th word and beyond, I’d like to briefly share what I was hoping and thinking Tournament Mode would/should entail, and why I think it is not just a good idea, but actually necessary for the long-term health of the game.

What Tournament Mode Means to Me

Okay, so this is going to sound crazy to some of you, but I really liked the way MTGO did events/tournaments (if you click the link, you will immediately see why Hearthstone did not adopt this model–it is too cluttered and ugly and menu-like for Hearthstone, but that’s not the point here). Basically, it worked like this: 1) players bought tickets to enter the tournaments; 2) you would spend some amount of tickets (depending on the event) to get entry; 3) the event would either go off as soon as there was the correct amount of players or at a scheduled start time (again, depending on the type); 4) you play until you are knocked out or you win; and 5) you get prizes based on how well you do. It’s that simple.

I think the basic system could be ported over to Hearthstone cleanly (I don’t say “easily,” because I mean to say that it is simple to conceptualize clearly, but I admit that I have no idea how hard it would be to implement). It would require:

  1. “Tickets” (or whatever the team wants to call them) to be added to the store. We already have Arena Tickets that get given out for free during and after events, so I’d just use that.
  2. A sub-menu to enter the “Tournament” lobby. I would throw it under “Arena” so that Arena offers either “Draft”/”Limited”/(whatever they call it) or “Constructed.” but I could see “Play” being reworked if someone wanted to for whatever reason.
  3. Once you enter Tournament->Constructed, it would pop up a version of the deck editor, but with only 4 deck slots. It is core to Tournament Mode that the client locks in your decks and prevents players from changing decks between matches–that’s one of the whole points of the mode. Once all 4 decks are filled out, something will pop up that says something like “Enter Next Available Tournament” and “Wait, I’m not Ready.”
  4. Once you click “Enter Next Available Tournament,” you get a queue timer like queuing games on ladder. It could tell you how many players still need to join instead of doing a time in seconds/minutes. You can un-join until everyone joins, with maybe a couple seconds time to back out once you get all the necessary players. Once you get the full tournament, it runs automatically. Like MTGO, there could also be special in-client events at set times as well, but most tournaments would just continuously run once they are ready.
  5. The tournaments themselves, in my mind, would start out simple: 8-man tournaments, with a single-elimination bracket, four classes, one ban, Conquest, Standard. Eventually, these basic things could be expanded on and other options added.
  6. Players will be expected to be at their devices throughout the entirety of the tournament. When a round ends, the next round starts. When a round starts, you have 10 minutes to begin the match.
  7. Bans would look like an inverse version of picking a character to start an Arena run with, where your opponent’s four classes are displayed and you pick one to ban. Again, bans are core to the tournament experience and are the main differentiation from regular ranked play and tournament play. Since the system keeps decklists locked in, there is no worry about players cheating their decklists, so I think the system would not need to show opponent’s decklists–this will make the system cleaner and easier and, as a bonus, we get to play closed list tournaments again; I always liked those more.
  8. Before each game, the system will show you your opponent’s remaining classes and your remaining classes, and the match score, and allow you to pick your class for your next game. Once your opponent does the same, the next match begins.
  9. Once you are done, you get a prize based on how well you did, including a participation prize for losing in the first round. This would probably be similar to the Arena/Brawliseum prize structure to begin with, but that is another point that can be tinkered with as the system/format evolves.

What was most important to me is that the system allows easy access to more competitive play, even–or perhaps especially–for non-professionals.

Why Casual-Competitive Play is Important to Hearthstone

There is a reason why Heroic Tavern Brawls and Brawliseums do well (I think): people want that type of limited-commitment competitive outlet to play. There are a lot of us who want to compete in Hearthstone on a higher level, but who feel locked out of doing so (usually, due to time commitments). We want a chance to prove ourselves, to better ourselves, and to earn some prizes in the process, but we can’t take time off of work to fly around the world chasing tour stops. What we can do, is clear an evening to sit down and play.

Frodan, the smart, empathetic, and knowledgeable guy that he is, had a great Twitter thread about this, in which he completely nails how I feel:

Frodan

I would play the hell out of a true, dedicated Tournament Mode for just this reason. But it’s about more than just keeping us casual-competitives engaged.

Esports viewership, at its core, needs to be two things: aspirational and inspirational. Players need to be able to recognize the game they are watching as the game they know and love, but at the same time recognize that the people they are watching are  better than the viewer. Once you have both those things, you create a positive feedback loop in which players go from playing the game to watching the esport (to learn), and then go from the esport to the game (to implement what they learned), and then back to the esport. Hearthstone is very good at hiding players’ misplays from them, so it has taken years for the game to shake the bad “it’s all RNG” rap, and, even still, Twitch chat is almost always filled with people dismissing the caliber of player they are watching. If more players actually tried building lineups, learning matchups, and playing through tournaments, they would see just how skilled the top players are. Those viewers would become better esports fans for their newfound understanding, and some of them will become the next wave of professional players.

I also have to believe that casual-competitives are also a large untapped revenue source for Blizzard. I never bought a preorder bundle until I started playing in Challenger Cups because I never before had any reason to have more than one, maybe two top tier decks. By giving more players more reasons to learn 4-8 decks, instead of just the 1-2 they would have otherwise needed for ladder purposes, you are necessarily going to increase sales. That, of course, is on top of sales for the actual entry fees in the tournaments and additional revenue from the better esports fans, mentioned above.

Right now, the Challenger Cup initiative fills this role to an extent, but it still feels like a leap from ladder to Challenger Cups because the Cups feed directly into HCT and offer very little in the way of prizes outside of that. They are also less accessible because, of course, you have to go through third parties instead of doing it through the client. I would love to see the in-game tournament mode work in tandem with the Challenger Cup system to give players of all levels a clear next step to strive for.

All in all, I’m pretty disappointed right now. I understand why we are where we are now, but I can see where we could be and it makes me sad to feel so far away from it. But, for now, I guess I’ll just go learn Quest Rogue since it looks like it’ll be sticking around for a little bit longer than we expected. Thanks for reading, everyone. Catch you all next time!