Four things we want to see in the new Hearthstone expansion

Hearthstone Stefan “Sumadin” Suadicani

A new expansion is coming, or at least getting announced. Following Blizzard's pattern it seems to be a ”true” expansion meaning over hundred new cards released.

”Hell, it is about time” is all I can say to that. Goblin vs Gnomes launched seven months ago and this period where only 31 new cards got released in between has definitely put its mark on the staleness of Hearthstone. And obviously it is looking to be 7.5 months before we get the announcement which ends up being about 8.5 months in total before we are likely to get the full expansion.

Oh well, I am massive fan of Blizzard games so at this point I am somewhat accustomed to expansions that arrive anywhere from three to twelve months later than they probably should have. Blizzard will release when Blizzard is ready, that is how it always have been.

At this time we only got very vague hints to what is coming, though I would like to take this moment to discuss what I personally hope to see from this forthcoming expansion. Tinkering with card designs and pondering what comes next are some of my favorite parts of TCGs and something I have done with Hearthstone in the past. Arguably with some degree of success.

I am not going to go over the obvious which is new card themes and cards with new intriguing design. It is obvious that they will be there but trying to predict what kind is impossible, even if we got some hints that the expansion will center around the Argent Tournament. Instead here are my hopes based on what i think the game currently needs.

 

1. Balance changes

 

Blizzard has stated that they don't like to change cards. Neither with buffs, nor with nerfs. They have been rather open about this. They like that a new expansion causes a period of innovation and they like that there is a period of consistency. I am going to say I like this system. There is value in both of these phases and it is a system that can foster a healthy relation between Blizzard and their customers.

However it will break down if two or more of these phases of consistency end up being exactly the same or close, if it turns out that there really isn't any innovation to do as the expansion really didn't add anything sufficient. That is when the level of staleness goes up. That is when balance changes become a valuable tool to erase those degenerate elements that stand in the way of evolution. And I have to be frank and say that I think Hearthstone has quite a few of those currently. A new expansion would be the perfect time to address some of those.

There is a common assumption that rotten elements can always just be “released” away typically by including some specialized tech that hits these elements just where it matters. I see it a lot when I look up other peoples suggestions. Cards that make players unable to use hero powers, cards that make players unable to use charge minions etc. To tell you the truth, the idea that such cards can work is a myth that needs to die.

The right way, the only way, to handle degenerate elements is to nerf them.


This is basically because any game element that ends up being so potent that it can be considered degenerate already has to be brutally consistent. It must be something that breaks the gamestate almost every time it is used and it needs to be used almost every game. A counter card, however, per definition is only ever as consistent as the non-degenerate deck's chance to draw it and be able to use it at the right time. At the same time these cards often suffer from being almost useless in other matchups.

A good example comes when looking at miracle rogue. Before Naxxramas it was one of the most prominent decks in the meta as well as the most frustrating one simply due to its sheer lack of interactivity with the opponent. Blizzard responded promptly by adding several cards to combat the style. [card]Deathlord[/card] to punish the minion-light style, [card]Spectral Knight[/card] to punish the reliance of targeted spell removal and of course [card]Loatheb[/card] to completely demolish the idea of having one turn with seven or so spell cards played in one long draw combo.

To what end? Not an awful lot. Miracle stayed relevant as most of these cards weren't good enough to be used against regular decks and Miracle rogues would ultimately end up using [card]Loatheb[/card] themselves. The death to Miracle didn't arrive until Blizzard basically destroyed its win conditions by first nerfing [card]Leeroy Jenkins[/card] and thus destroying the combo with [card]Shadowstep[/card] and then later landing a final blow with the [card]Gadgetzan Auctioneer[/card] nerf. Those were the final nails in the coffin of a deck that had been ravaging the meta for months.

Two card changes. Accomplishing what 30 newly released cards could not. And that is really the way to look at things. The right way to handle degenerate elements, the only way, is to nerf them.

My most wanted balances changes:

 

[card]Battle Rage[/card]:

Draw power is an area where a lot of TCGs historically have had a few serious mess-ups within their first sets and Hearthstone has been no different with [card]Starving Buzzard[/card] being a great example. [card]Battle Rage[/card] can safely be considered another such mess-up. Its design can consistantly surpass its manacost in drawpower. This means that it was really only a matter of getting a suitable win condition before everything around Battle Rage was bound to explode balance wise. [card]Grim Patron[/card] happened and now everything has exploded. I would be shocked if nothing happens in this regard.

[card]Piloted Shredder[/card]:

Piloted Shredder is a four drop that by all applicable measures is currently overstat-ed. It constantly favors out other four drops regardless if they are class cards or have larger tribal synergy. It actually doesn't have much to do with its RNG as even an average result like a 2/2 still makes it a more solid minion than most others in the slot. Yet Piloted Shredder has so many options that are better than that and very few that are worse. This makes it better than almost any other conceivable four drop regardless of decktype. And that is something that can only be fixed aggressively.

Steady Shot:

Burn styles of any kind have historically speaking been incredible frustrating to play against. Due to the way they interact with normal decks (or rather don't) they have also been almost impossible to balance correctly. It is telling that ggressive Hunters are still a top deck just behind Patron Warrior even through every expansion before Blackrock has also resulted in a nerf to an aggressive hunter deck.

This should signal that it is time to grab this issue by the roots and normalize the aggressive potential of Steady shot while adding in some much needed utility that would allow hunters to pursue a different strategy. A strategy that is hopefully a bit more balanceable.
 

2. Anti-aggression

 

If the meta of Hearthstone keeps getting faster then we are soon going to have to account for relativistic effects. Aggressive decks have been all we have been seeing for several months now.

There are a couple of factors behind this. Low cost minions like [card]Haunted Creeper[/card] have either gotten extremely resilient to removal or there is no positive point in killing them like with [card]Mad Scientist[/card].

There is also a very high variance in the demand from current anti-aggression cards which leaves all of them ineffective. Taunt is useless against burn and easily silenced. Healing is ineffective against aggro and has to be restricted in power in order to avoid mill decks. This variance combined with their overall uselessness in control/midrange matchups makes both of these mechanics insufficient in our current meta.

It is not that aggressive decks can't be fun to play against but an aggro-centered meta gets very one-dimensional over time and also excludes a large part of the cardpool, namely most things costing 5 or more without having taunt.

The next expansion would be a prime time to look into cards that could force people to slow down a bit and punish decks that focus too heavily on being able to inflict the final point of hero damage rather than being able to win on the board.

Examples:

Elitist Jerk:

As mentioned, one of the causes to this aggressive meta are the impossible resilient low drops. The idea here is to hit them where it hurts which means hitting them all at once and without killing them. This fits as most of those minions have very low  attack.

Acherus Deathcaller:

Once again intended to impact smaller minions, specifically those with Deathrattle. Hopefully this would do a better job than the anti-deathrattle cards that Blizzard released in Goblin vs Gnomes, [card]Lil' Exorcist[/card] and [card]Scarlet Purifier[/card].

It would also add increased utility to the other anti-aggression cards, [card]Zombie Chow[/card] and [card]Deathlord[/card], leaving face decks sad when both players get healing and when Ragnaros gets pulled out as the same time as their [card]Leper Gnome[/card].

Araknath:

Finally I would like to present a design that is meant as a universal tool against burn, combo and other decks whose primary focus lies in finishing the hero off in one massive play even if they are relentlessly behind on the board when it happens. It works only for one turn but a lot of times that is all that you will need.

Such absolute immunity has great potential for abuse (see also [card]Ice Block[/card]), so I wouldn't be too surprised if it ended up with harsher restrictions should Blizzard ever release something like this. This is easily the most dangerous design presented here gameplay wise.

 

3. Overload love

 

Shaman is in a peculiar state. It is a class with a completely unique mechanic to its name, Overload, and it alters the pace of the gameplay completely. This should leave tons of room for unique and interesting card designs, yet this mechanic along with the class itself has fallen short in the meta. If I were to blame anything for this it would be negligence on Blizzard's part. Curse of Naxxramas didn't add anything to Overload. Goblins vs Gnomes added Overload cards but most of them were extremely random and lacked focus as one centered on the stupid Ogre mechanic that completely flopped while the two others introduced a Murloc path of shaman, which really didn't add anything to the existing Overload theme.

Blackrock Mountain stepped things up by adding two cards to fully support the overload theme. Two steps in the right direction but still too little too late when the two expansions beforehand were been about five steps in the wrong direction. Which is why the next expansion needs to step it up on this area.

Examples:
 

 

Ancestral Renewal:

For being a healing class in WoW, Shamans have surprisingly few options in Hearthstone for healing and most of them are too restricted in usage to be useful in constructed. I think that is something that could be worked with and something that at the same time could incorporate the Overload mechanic.

Unleashed Fury:

Tempo has always been the issue with the Overload mechanic as Shaman falls way behind when a big overload play turns out to be insufficient. Unleashed Fury would allow for a strong follow up at the cost of more cards which could give a boost to the crusher Shaman. An interesting deck that otherwise hasn’t seen much use lately.

I'll be honest, it is impossible to predict where Blizzard will go with Overload, the mechanic is just too unique. I just know that we need to see some significant and focused support and these examples are meant to be just that. Also they are one mana spells because I want [card]Gazlowe[/card] Shaman to be a thing. Him and Thrall go way back.

 

4. Legacy support

 

This is one of the most sure things to happen but I would still like to mention it. One of the most interesting things to see with new expansions is not just the cards that are released but the cards that become possible to use with the new set.

It is also an incredibly efficient way of shifting up the meta. A new expansion may “only” release 120 cards but if it manages to give ten previously unused cards a place in the meta then the overall effect on the meta is as if 130 cards have been released.

We are talking about one of the most common practices in term of TCG releases, so it is practically certain to be there. Still, here are some examples:

LMS Mark II:

Goblins vs Gnomes released a ton of really interesting high cost mechs but most of the mech tribal support focused on the usage of cheap mechs and so without any significant tribal support and without the immediate effects of the dragons, all of these mechs fell short. Even the impressive [card]Sneed's Old Shredder[/card]. LMS Mark II would be mech support centered on these cards.

Dragonkin Juggernaut:

Many have stated that dragons are lacking a taunt and honestly it is something I agree with. That being said dragons are typhically big expensive minions and big expensive taunts that aren't named Tirion have a habit of being utterly awful. My idea is to try something slightly bigger and slightly more expensive.

In all seriousness this is primarily meant to work as a deterrent for opponents going all out against dragondecks. Force them to consider slowing down a bit which in turn risks them losing out to the traditional elements in dragondecks like [card]Blackwing Corruptor[/card].

Imperator Mar'gok:

I would not be too surprised if at this point Blizzard considers the ogre miss mechanic dead on arrival, I know pretty much everyone else does. Still it would be interesting to see if there could be any salvaging to this complete faillure and the logical step would be a card like Mar'gok that erases their miss chance and allows the player to use the Ogre's stats to their full potential. Then again, you can already do this with [card]Wailing Soul[/card] so I don't know if this would do anything.

This concludes the things I would like to see for the upcoming expansion. We will see at the 22th what Blizzard itself has been cooking up. I myself hope to find something fitting these criterias.



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Stefan “Sumadin” Suadicani
Former Editorial for Gosugamers Hearthstone