HearthStone

A Closer Look at the Poor Design of Druid’s Quest

hearthstone 4 - A Closer Look at the Poor Design of Druid's Quest
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Hey all, J_Alexander_HS back again today to take a deeper look at Untapped Potential – the Druid Quest – and attempt to explain what the designers might have been thinking about when they made it, why it fails short of that goal design-wise, why it doesn't fit class identity, and altogether needs a rework.

Initial Design

Though I wasn't in the room when the card was being designed, I can take some pretty good stabs at trying to understand why the quests look the way they do. When designing Quests, the team seemed to be trying to capture things classes did and/or cards types they had to determine completion conditions and rewards. Rogues burgle cards and use weapons, so the quest involves burgling cards to get a weapon. Priests heal and buff, so the quest involves healing things to be able to buff them. It all makes sense there.

The Druid quest seems to be designed to do two things: encourage Druids to play more "Choose one" cards and provide an alternate type of ramp. Ramping involves spending mana in the early game not developing to make larger plays in the future. This is how Wild Growth operated: spend 2 mana and 1 card now for an additional mana on all future turns, up to 10. So, the Druid quest involves not spending all your mana now (kind of like ramping) to make more powerful plays in the future (getting both options on your "Choose one" cards).

Now, Druids are playing more "Choose one" cards then ever and are approaching ramping in a new way. So all's good, right? Well, not so much

Problems and Complications

  • Too Much Consistency

The first problem that arises with the design is the matter of how the quest gets completed. Because the completion of the quest requires no input from the player – they don't need to draw any cards or do anything, quite literally – it always completes on turn 4/5 depending on whether one goes first. The only real way to alter that is to go first and draw Innervate to accelerate by on turn (or be a bad player and spend your mana). Any deck in any other class in the game can complete the quest roughly as easily as Druid. That makes the completion condition fail on the initial design front. While it looks like something Druid typically does, the reality of the situation is that it's actually something any class could do as well, quite unlike all the other quests.

For perspective, I have built Quest Rogues that dedicate half the deck to completing the quest and watched Druids consistently beat me to completion by a lot. That's clearly strange.

The consistency of the quest is reminiscent of cards like Baku and Genn, which triggered at the start of the game. Instead, the Druid quest simply triggers on turns 4 or 5. This makes games play out very similarly*, which gives rise to another problem

(*At least with Wild Growth sometimes the Druid didn't draw it, which was an interesting part of how the deck functioned. These days, with Quest available, I doubt anyone would play a 2-mana Wild Growth as it's less consistent and unneeded)

  • The Deck Doesn't Play Choose One Cards

I know this one might sound weird, but it's true: the Quest Druid deck doesn't actually play "Choose One" cards. I say this because there simply isn't ever any choosing happening. Druid doesn't play Starfall, the card which is a 5-mana choice between 5 single-target damage or 2 AoE damage; they play a different card which is 5-mana deal 7 damage to one target and 2 to all others. If the former option is literally never seen in a game with the deck, then it's not the card being played.

Oasis Surger is never either a 5/5 with Rush or two 3/3s with Rush. That card has never been played in the deck. Instead, it's a different card that happens to be two 5/5s with Rush for 5 mana.

To be fair, I'm actually underselling those cards, as cards like "Upgraded-Starfall" benefits from spell damage twice, and cards like "Upgraded-Oasis-Surger" get better with Floop.

In this respect, while the quest encourages Druids to put "Choose one" cards into their deck, that's only because they're going to transform into different cards altogether. In terms of encouraging "Choose one" cards to be played, then, the Druid quest has failed in practice. This is, by the way, a function of the former issue: consistency. Because the quest never fails to activate, the Druid is almost never in a position where they need to play the actual "Choose one" cards they put into their deck.

What makes the "Choose one" mechanic interesting – flexibility at the cost of power – is entirely brushed aside with this quest reward. So not only are "Choose one" cards not seeing play in any practical sense of the word, but their fundamental design is being ignored.

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You need to look no further than a card like Hidden Oasis to make this point clear. That card is terrible in terms of its power. If you have to choose one, a 6/6 with taunt for 6 is weak, and a 6-mana heal for 12 is weak as well. That card would never see play and, indeed, that card doesn't see play. Instead, "Upgraded Hidden Oasis" that heals for 12 while also being a 6/6 Taunt for six mana is absurdly powerful, giving cards like Reno Jackson a run for their money. But there's nothing interesting about it. There's no choice. Just raw power.

Hidden Oasis tells another interesting story about how much Untapped Potential limits the design of Druid's "choose one" cards moving forward: if a "choose one" card can be that bad on its own, it's hard to imagine any future choose one card that's good on its own without also being broken with the quest reward.

  • Breaking Class Identity

Tying the two above issues together – where "Choose one" cards are consistently transformed into broken, and altogether less-interesting cards – we end up in a situation where Druid starts doing things it's not supposed to.

Druid, as we are told, is supposed to be weak at single-target removal and AoE. This was the justification for sending Naturalize to the Hall of Fame; to help enforce class identity.

But what is the 5-mana spell that does 7 damage to one target and 2 to all others doing in Druid? That is premium single-target (and AoE) removal which almost any deck would be happy to play. What is that 5-mana minion that summons two 5/5s with Rush doing in Druid? That is both a major threat and premium removal that any deck would happy to play. What about the 3-mana 4/6 with Taunt, Rush, Poisonous, Stealth, and Spell Damage? That also sounds like premium single-target removal (among other things). The 2-mana deal 4 damage to a minion and draw a card? Making matters worse, Druid gets extra copies of these with Floop and Worthy Expedition.

Now you might be saying to yourself, "The Class Identity blog post was released after Untapped Potential* was already designed, so you can't really fault the design team for that." That first part might be true, but that doesn't mean the quest couldn't simply be reworked.

It's quite easy to rework cards that are dramatic outliers in terms of the envisioned class identity so long as you're willing to compensate the players for the changes. If class identity is supposed to be important to making the game work, then reworks are certainly in order.

Reworking the Quest

With all the said, here are a few suggestions for how to rework the quest and why they work better

  • (1) Make the reward cost mana to use. This turns Quest Druid into something similar to Quest Shaman. Effectively, it turns "choose one" cards into nested choices. First, you choose whether you want to play the base version of the card for less mana, or the upgraded one for more. If you chose to play the base version, you then choose one of the two modes. This delays the time that Druid requires before turning super sayian, and might actually result in Druids having to make more choices in the early game (Do I need to complete my quest ASAP or use the base versions of these cards to fight for board, as I can't just bounce back immediately?). This would dramatically decrease the power of the deck to point it probably wouldn't see play, but it would still reflect better design.

  • (2) Change the completion condition. Requiring that the Druid actually have to do something to complete the quest changes the consistency of the deck. If the deck is less consistent, Druids may also need to actually play the base versions of "choose one" cards sometimes. This might actually make the choose one cards see play, instead of the upgraded "don't choose one" versions.

  • (3) Change the reward itself. If you want the "choose one" cards to see play, perhaps the completion condition should switch to playing X "choose one" cards and the reward doing something else Druid themed, like summoning one or more minions.

Whatever the choice ends up being, the current version of the quest is too consistent, failing to get "choose one" cards to be meaningfully played, constraining future design heavily, and breaking class identity. It's hard to think of something good about the design in practice, except for the fact that some people want to do broken things with Druid and this is the way they can do so following the gutting of the classic set.

Which was better designed, wasn't it?

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