What if you were King of Hearthstone?

hearthstone 8 - What if you were King of Hearthstone?

Hey all, J_Alexander_HS back again today, on the eve of Blizzcon, to share some big ideas for Hearthstone. While we all are wondering whether anything beyond new cards will be announced (so far that answer has basically been, "No"), I know we're all hoping for something more at times. I wanted to look at some of those ideas for more today.

Imagine for a moment that you became King of Hearthstone. You could implement any changes you wanted to game, make new game modes appear, remove old ones, make balance change as you saw fit, and so on. What you would do? Why would you do it? Would your changes make the game more successful or drive it out of existence?

Today, I wanted to share my vision for the game; my dream patch notes (my tidbits of design advice, if you will). I’ve done my best to keep these as close to what I think is reasonably possible for commercial success and even within the realm of what could be financially beneficial. While I can’t know whether these would achieve their desired benefits for all parties, I can at least provide insights into why I think they’d be a good road map for the game for most everyone and usher in a bright era for Hearthstone.

Introduction to the Hearthstone 2.0 patch

For the last several years, Hearthstone has completely revolutionized the nature of online card games. It achieved its spot as an industry leader by innovating the nature of what an online card-game experience should be. Hearthstone has turned a card game into a video game seamlessly, in a manner that no competitor has been able to replicate. On that front, we should be proud.

Nevertheless, we cannot become complacent on that success and our existing formula. The world is changing more rapidly than ever these days, and the experience of Hearthstone game play is no exception. Since its inception, much of the world surrounding Hearthstone has been changing. We have more players, streamers, and independent websites analyzing the game than ever before. Information is spreading faster. More cards than ever are available. Veteran players are seeking novelty while new players are seeking to keep up. If we are unable to successfully anticipate that change and continue to innovate to meet these new challenges, we risk losing all the success we worked so hard to create.

With all great change comes risk. There is always the chance that by breaking from our existing formula we make something about the experience of Hearthstone worse. However, we run those same risks by sitting idly, waiting for our competitors to successfully explore those spaces we are afraid to go.

Today we are here to say that Hearthstone is willing to adapt to overcome obstacles, old and new. We are here to celebrate tradition as much as create it. And we are here to bring you Hearthstone 2.0

The Evergreen Set: Classic and Basic

Without question, the life blood of any game flows through the intersection of its ability to continue to attract new players while retaining old ones. This presents some difficult trade offs: veteran players want more content to consume at a quicker rate than new players, while new or free-to-play players may struggle to keep their head above the water. We need to create a system that meets the needs of these players at the same time.

The Evergreen sets – Classic and Basic – represent a great foundation for this purpose. New and returning players can have a base of cards they consistently build from, representing a “safe” investment in the game’s economy. The Evergreen sets are also great because they tie the game to tradition – the Warcraft universe – providing the story and world behind the game, as well as provide context to the classes. These sets tell you about what it means to be a Rogue or a Mage, allowing players to tap into that fantasy when they play.

For those reasons, we want to maintain the Classic and Basic set as they are, with a few changes.

First – and most importantly – we want to change the cost of these sets to help attract new players. There is an issue where many current players would not recommend the game to others because the barrier to entry is perceived to be too high. This was less of an issue when Hearthstone began. At that time, there were 245 collectible cards available for purchase or to earn while players received the 133 basic cards for free. Entry was much easier for new players. With more cards being released per year now than ever before, keeping up with new sets can sometimes be challenging enough. Add on to that the prospect of a new player building their foundational collection at the same time and entry can seem daunting.

For this reason, the entire classic set will now be provided to all players for free along with the basic set. This is an acknowledgement that the economics of that game have changed substantially. Regular classic cards will no longer be craftable, and all additional copies of cards in your current collection will automatically be converted to dust. Golden Classic cards may still be crafted or dusted at their normal rate. Additionally, Golden Classic Packs will now be available in the store for purchase.

It is our hope that this substantially reduced barrier to entry will bring more players into the game and retain existing players over time by making expansions easier to keep up with.

This change comes with further benefits concerning balance. Currently, interest for balancing cards needs to be weighed against the prospect that we would heavily damage the investments players put into their decks. Nerfing one card can sometimes remove entire decks from competitive viability, but refunds are not offered on the entire deck. This can leave a bad taste in the mouths of players who feel robbed by balance changes. By adjusting this economic end of the game, we are now freer to make more changes to all cards – whether from the Evergreen sets or expansions – without harming the progress of players as much.

This brings us to the second change to the Evergreen set: with the changes being made to the economy of the game, we have a perfect opportunity to adjust the balance of some Evergreen cards as well. Many changes we have made in the past for the sake of balance at the time have begun to look unnecessary in the long term. Simply put, the average power level of cards has increased over time as more enter the pool, so cards that might have been a problem in the past would not be ones now. We want to give players not just a lot of cards when they join Hearthstone, but many good cards to help them jump right in. As such, some old friends will be joining us back in Standard, and some old changes will be reverted.

The following changes will be made to the Evergreen set:

  • Wild Growth: Cost changed to 2. Excess mana ability changed to summon a 2/2 Treant instead of a provide an Excess Mana card. Druid’s ramping abilities are foundational to the class and what it means to be a Druid. While Wild Growth is a powerful card in the early game, it should be also be a weak card in the late game to offset that early powerful somewhat. Removing the Excess mana card and instead automatically summoning a 2/2 Treant provides fewer options for spell synergy and draw, making the card a greater liability in the late game.

  • Keeper of the Grove: Stats changed to 2/4. Keeper of the Grove was a common card found in Druid decks over time at a 2/4, but was never an oppressive force.

  • Ancient of Lore: effect changed to “Draw 2 cards.” At the time Ancient of Lore was being heavily played draw options were more limited. Since then a variety of more powerful options have arisen, making this change feel appropriate

  • Hunter’s Mark: Cost changed to 0, effect changed to “Target minion takes double damage this turn.” Hunter’s Mark has been changed several times due to the way the card interacted with Hunter’s methods of dealing 1 damage effectively. This updated card can still provide Hunter with efficient removal options, but will require the investment of more resources to gain that advantage.

  • Flametongue Totem: Cost changed to 2, stats changed to 0/2. Flametongue Totem has long been a staple of the Shaman class, allowing it to leverage its wide boards of small minions to gain an advantage. Since its initial change the card became too weak for serious competitive play. This change will return the card to useful status while toning down its sticking power slightly to allow for more counterplay.

  • Fiery War Axe: Cost change to 2. War Axe was a staple card in Warrior, allowing the existence of both successful aggressive and controlling archetypes. After its initial nerf, the class largely fell out the meta until it received many powerful cards from expansions. We like the idea of Warrior having this powerful tool available to keep the class viable.

  • Warsong Commander: Stats changed to 3/4. This change can be made simply on the grounds that at 3/4 Warsong probably doesn’t see play, but might be better as arena filler and at least represents some reason to have the card exist.

  • Mana Wyrm: Cost changed to 1, stats changed to 1/2. While Mana Wyrm could snowball games in unpleasant fashions, the 2 mana cost makes it prohibitively expensive. The new card allows aggressive Mages to have an early-game play while allowing opponents more options to remove it.

  • Preparation: Cost reduction on spells increased to 3. Preparation allows for the existence of many unique Rogue decks and fits the identity of the class well. While mana cheating is always a dangerous mechanic, it also provides excitement and big plays. Preparation is more reactive than many other cost-cheating cards the game has seen, as it only affects one spell instead of putting stats onto the board.

  • Abusive Sergeant: Stats changed to 2/1. Abusive Sergeant highlights the importance of board control in Hearthstone and encourages minion combat in ways to best capitalize on its power.

  • Leper Gnome: Stats changed to 2/1. Aggressive but not oppressive 1-drop minions have a place in Hearthstone

  • Mind Control Tech: Cost changed to 5. The effect of MCT has proven far too swingy and unreliable to produce adequate amounts of fun for players, relative to the frustration it creates. We recognized this when we removed it from arena. The current mana cost should make the card much more narrow in its usage and force decks that want this effect to control the board in other ways.

  • Equality: Cost reduced to 3 mana. At two mana equality was not particularly oppressive in any meta, and the jump to 4 mana has been excessive.

  • Arcane Golem: Stats changed to 4/1, now gains charge on Battlecry. Face decks have their place in the ecosystem of the game and this card can give them support

  • Charge: Cost changed to 3, gives a minion +2 attack and charge. Charge was a cornerstone build-around card for combo decks that never represented any appreciable part of the meta. By reverting this change we can let people build around the card in fun ways without negatively impacting the game

  • Priestess of Elune: Cost reduced to 5, Health restored increased to 5. Neutral healing options should also exist, and while this version of the card may still not quite be constructed-level playable, it is something substantially better than the existing version, which is exceptionally bad.

  • Big Game Hunter: cost changed to 4. BGH is something of a sanity check in the game. While it may kill cool, late game minions at a premium cost, it can also punish large minions hitting the board before they are “supposed” to. At four mana we expect BGH to see more play, creating more decisions and counterplay options for players.

  • Mindblast: Returned to Standard. Burst damage from Priest has long been a class identity, as exemplified by Prophet Velen. While the card has occasionally seen play, it has rarely been an oppressive force in the game.

  • Conceal: Returned to Standard, effect changed to “give a friendly minion stealth until the beginning of your next turn.” Stealth has long been a Rogue mechanic, fundamental to the fantasy of playing the class. However, a board-wide stealth effect can create too many non-interactive scenarios. We believe a more targeted stealth makes for healthier game play while retaining the class identity.

  • Power Overwhelming: Returned to Standard, effect changed to give a friendly minion +3/+3, then it dies at the end of the turn. Power Overwhelming fits the Warlock class identity of power for sacrifice well. The +4/+4 bonus might have been a little too large for 1 mana, relative to its downside, however.

  • Doomguard: Returned to Standard, changed to “Battlecry: Discard 2 cards. If you do, gain Charge”. Doomguard also fits the class identity of Warlock well, but decks began to find ways of skirting its cost while still gaining the benefit. As that does not fit Warlock well, the new Doomguard will only gain charge if the cost of cards was paid.

  • Coldlight Oracle: Returned to Standard. As Coldlight Oracle has never been an oppressive force, we feel comfortable returning it to the game. It poses one of the more interesting deck-building puzzles out there for players, and we encourage you to explore it.

  • Azure Drake: Returned to Standard. A flexible, powerful, but not oppressive card, Azure Drake will be returning to Standard. We believe that card quality has increased to the point that Drake will no longer be as played in as many decks as it used to be.

As the Evergreen sets are now freely available to all players, if any of these changes end up becoming problems now or in the future, we can feel a greater safety in changing them again without the risk of harming the player's collections. In that respect, we can create a non-rotating core set that can still, in a way, rotate internally. We will continue to tinker with this new set over time to suit the needs of the current meta.

The following changes have been made to other Standard cards:

  • High Priest Amet: Cost increased to six. We like Priest to have a strength of “Narrow but useful spells.” Amet violates that identity by dramatically increasing the consistency of the divine spirit/inner fire combo, turning all minions into potentially game-ending threats. At six mana, Amet can function more as a late game threat that gives opponents more time to respond

  • Untapped Potential: Quest Reward costs 2 mana to activate. When the Quest Reward for Druid was free, Druids were receiving too consistently-large of a power spike and their choose one cards began to violate class identity. Requiring that the hero power be activated with mana slows those power spike down and encourages Druids to make more choices about fighting for early board over rushing quest completion.

  • Mogu Fleshaper: Rush removed. Zero-cost minions are troublesome for the game, especially when they remove an opponent’s minion on the same turn and have the potential to be transformed into game ending threats early. We learned that lesson with Corridor Creeper, which still saw play as a 2/5. Mogu losing Rush brings us closer to that balance point.

  • All “If your deck contains no duplicates” cards will be changed to read, “If you deck BEGAN with no duplicates”: While the highlander mechanic is a controversial one among players – with many loving and others hating the mechanic – we want to at least limit these cards to instances where people built their deck a certain way and not reward players simply for drawing the cards in their deck. This will help maintain class identity to a greater degree, given the power of the neutral options.

  • Sn1p-Sn4p: Echo removed. In retrospect, putting what amounts to “charge” (magnetic) and “echo” on a minion that doesn’t take up board space was asking for trouble in the face of cost-reduction cards. Echo has been removed so that Sn1p-Sn4p can still find a home in mech decks without enabling early-game OTKs

Even More New Content

With more people playing and analyzing the game than ever, the time it takes metas to become “solved” has become shorter. Players figure out successful strategies quickly and game play can become stale. While balance patches can shake things up, they don’t feel good to some players at times, since it can feel like your favorite toys have been taken away. We want ways to shake up the game without having to always nerf cards.

As we have seen with the Rise of the Mechs and Doom in the Tomb patches, there is room for our team to explore ways of shaking up the meta without making existing cards weaker. We liked these events and want to continue them moving forward.

We would like to introduce a new card release schedule. In addition to the three standard full set releases each year, we will also be adding in 3 mini-expansions per year as well. Each mini-expansion will release 1.5 months after a full set and will contain 10 cards: one for each class and one neutral card. All mini-expansion cards will be provided for free and cannot be disenchanted. Golden copies can be crafted and dusted.

What makes these mini-expansions extra exciting will be the cards themselves. If you’ve ever wanted to design cards, this will be your chance, as all 10 cards will be fan creations, voted on by the community.

The system will work like this: following the release of an expansion, players will have two weeks to submit their own custom creations. Our team will select five of our favorites for each class and the neutral slot, after which players will have one week to vote on which ones they want to see in the game.

This will provide us with three weeks to get the cards created and added to your collections. We look forward to seeing all your creative designs and finding out how you will shape the game’s direction and inspire our designers.

New Ways to Play

The more competitive players among you have been asking for a tournament more for some time, and we are happy to announce it is finally here. In crafting this mode, we wanted something that could appeal to both casually-competitive and hardcore-competitive players, and we believe we have struck that balance.

One of the best features of Hearthstone is its ability to be picked up, played, and put down at a player’s leisure. Whether at home or on your phone, Hearthstone offers a great gaming experience. We want our tournament mode to reflect that, allowing you to play in tournaments as easily as you might play a game of casual.

The new tournament mode will mirror the arena format/the Brawliseum mode, allowing for competitive events to be played without needing to wait for brackets or set aside large chunks of time to play. This mode can be played casually – also like arena, as it will offer similar rewards – but will also reward players who complete at least 20 runs each month. If you do, the average of your first 20 runs will be calculated, and the top 200 players with the highest averages will be entered into a tournament that qualifies for major events and awards wonderful prizes.

You can read more about tournament mode here: https://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/what-tournament-mode-might-look-like-a-simple-idea-for-new-format/

We also want the regular ladder mode to serve as a gateway to Hearthstone glory. In addition to qualifications from tournament, each month the top 200 players in each region will gain an invite to a competitive event that leaders to similar qualifiers and prizes.

We want to make sure that the competitive Hearthstone scene is rewarding the most dedicated, consistent, and skilled players. There should be no question as to whether our competitive players deserve their spot at the top. To do so, we need many games and feel confident these systems will provide enough for us to assess player performance without asking too much of one’s personal life.

But we're not stopping there. We are also happy to introduce Custom Game Modes. Physical card games do not function within the rule set that online card games do. Players of physical games can sit around a table with friends and devise their own sets of rules and this has led to some very positive developments in games like Magic, the Gathering, sometimes even creating new formats. We want to replicate that experience in Hearthstone, and will now be offering players the options to create custom game modes with friends. Within these modes you can alter things like the turn timer, the types of cards allowed to be played, and even the cost and stats of the cards. Think of it like a build-your-own Tavern Brawl. Now, if you wanted to revisit Hearthstone during a specific era or pit decks from different meta games against each other, you can!

This mode is only available between players on your friends list.

New Reasons to Play

We were thrilled with the positive reception our idea for new 1,000 win portraits received when we shared the news with the community. We want to build on that excitement and offer players even more ways to customize their gaming experience with cosmetic items.

In the upcoming patch, a new currency is going to be introduced into Hearthstone: Azerite Crystals. Players will receive 1 Crystal per win in ranked, arena, or tournament mode, as well as a chest of Azerite at the end of each season based on your ladder rank.

These crystals can be used in an all new shop to purchase new hero skins, entrance animations, board clickables, and more. We love the idea of players being able to customize their experience to suit their fantasy and show off to other players, and this gives us you the opportunity to do just that. We also want players to always feel like they’re making progress towards a meaningful goal each game, and this achieves that goal as well.

For those of you who have been playing for years, don’t worry; all your existing wins will retroactively be converted into crystals as well, so feel free to start shopping. Additionally, Azerite Crystals can also be purchased directly in the shop in case you just can’t wait to show off your new heroes to the world.

More Communication

Have you ever wondered what’s on our radar? What our team thinks of the state of the game? Wonder no more, as we’re happy to announce a new monthly blog post where you will be able to gain some insight into what our balance team is looking at, what the diversity in the meta looks likes, and whether any upcoming changes are planned. By providing this glimpse into what our team does and thinks about, we can alleviate some player frustration and improve our own process.

We wanted to provide structure to our communication so that players know what to expect and when to expect it, rather than leaving them guessing about whether – or even if – some balance announcement will be made.

More Options

Since its beginnings, Hearthstone has remained a relatively compact game, without much in the way of options.There are some features that simply should be added into the game to help keep up with the growing demand for player requests. You can expect the following new features to be added.

  • Auto-Squelch: Emotes are a way of being social in Hearthstone, but not every player enjoys how they are used, especially in emotionally-testing moments. As we want the player experience to be positive in the game, we are enabling an option to automatically squelch all opponents without needing to click twice per game. Now if you enjoy being social, you can. If you don’t, you won’t be forced to be.

  • In-Game Deck Tracker: Currently many players rely on third-party software to track the contents of their deck. This new feature will allow players to do so right from the client itself. Use deck trackers to also check your own statistics throughout the season and learn about how well your decks are performing. Deck trackers will be disabled by default and can be enabled through the options menu.

  • Reduce Shaking: the board in Hearthstone will occasionally shake to add excitement to animations. We also understand this makes some players motion sick. If this is a problem for you, you can now turn those animations off.

  • Color-Blind Mode: Some players have difficulty telling card rarities apart. This new mode will change the colors to help those players see the difference more clearly.

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