Hello everyone! I hope everyone is having a good time in the holiday season! In spirit with the holiday season, I don’t want to write a competitive article, so today’s article will be about a casual topic. Self made cards, I would like to see in some form, because I’m quite sure that a more balanced version of them would make the game more diverse and fun.
The design flaws of Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering
In my short life, I played a lot of different games. I played competitive Chess when I was a little boy. Later in school I started playing Magic the Gathering. Nowadays in my free time I play Poker, Magic and Hearthstone. When it comes to games I’m always more interested in design and game theory, than actually playing the game.
Hearthstone and Magic are both the premier collectible card games of our time, I think they can coexist, while they also can learn a lot from each other. Although they are very different in some aspects, they also share a lot of similarities. As with almost every game, each of them has some design flaws. Magic has a mana system with a horrific design. There will be those games, where one player is not participating, he can only play very few cards or not any cards at all and simply will lose the game. The equivalent in Hearthstone would be that every game you have a random chance that you don’t get any mana crystals at the start of your turn. The designers of Magic are very well aware of that problem, in fact they tried to mitigate it with a new Mulligan rule. But it is still there, and it makes the game a lot less fun. Magic is not a digital game, it is more than 20 years old and every card is designed upon this unfun design. So it’s kind of impossible to really change something about it. Another big problem in Magic is that minion removal is way too strong and flexible, which means that in the majority of competitive formats you don’t see any minions that cost more than 6 mana. The designers are also aware of that and are trying to change it, as one can see in the recent Standard formats.
The next design flaw is that one color in Magic, blue (In Hearthstone an equivalent are the classes), is inherently better than the four other colors, because it got the strongest aspects of card games, which are deck manipulation, card advantage and removal flexibility. This is something minor in the more relevant competitive formats that only have a two-year old card pool, but it is a big problem in formats that feature older cards.
And Hearthstone? Well first of all Hearthstone clearly tried to avoid some of Magic’s design mistakes. The mana system is much better, the class (=color) system is better balanced and minion removal is not as efficient, which makes more expensive cards competitive. But Hearthstone still has some design flaws. Cheap minions like Knife Juggler, Mad Scientist have an insane mana to power level ratio, while the more expensive minions are not as powerful. Also because of Hearthstone’s combat system, minions are more powerful than in Magic, because not only they are a win condition they also can act as some sort of removal by attacking other minions. This makes Hearthstone a game that is for my taste a little bit too much focused on tempo. Currently the best decks are decks that play the most powerful minions each turn (f.ex. Secret Paladin). In addition to that catch- up mechanisms (cards that support strategies that don’t need to play a very powerful minion each turn, because you will then play a board clear that will negate the tempo initiative of your opponent) like board clears are very expensive (Twisting Nether) or inconsistent (Brawl).
These two factors, the heavy emphasis on tempo and the lack of powerful catch-up mechanisms result in the lack of pure Control decks (f.ex. Control and Midrange Paladin are very similar and the distinction between them is mainly artificial) And that is a problem, because in trading card game theory, Control decks are a very good counter to Midrange decks. If Hearthstone had more powerful catch-up mechanisms in the form of board clears it would have an actual and strong counter deck against Midrange decks like Secret Paladin and Midrange Druid. Currently there is not a single deck that is very good (65 % winrate) against both decks, which makes both Midrange Druid and Secret Paladin an excellent choice for tournaments. And that reduces the variety and diversity of the game.
Pushing Control decks
Control decks are the weakest archetype in Hearthstone from a theoretical point of view. Unlike Aggro, Midrange or Combo decks they don’t have enough support cards in Hearthstone. This card is extremely powerful, but so is Mysterious Challenger. Like Mysterious Challenger it promotes an underplayed archetype and you have to build a deck around it.
Purpose: Envoy of the End would be a good addition to Hearthstone, because it would push Control decks and would also result into interesting deckbuilding decisions. You can’t just jam it into an existing Midrange or Control Paladin, because you can’t play Zombie Chow or Shielded Minibot or even Piloted Shredder. Instead you have to put cards like Argent Lance, Hammer of Wrath and Holy Light in your deck. No more games against a Paladin deck, where you can’t exactly tell if you face a Control deck or a Midrange deck. The game play of an Envoy of the End- deck would also be very different to existing decks and we would also have a good deck against Midrange decks, like Secret Paladin.
Giving Hearthstone’s tribals more unique identity
If the Pirate tribal ever gets as competitive as Mechs or Dragons, I have the fear that their gameplay won’t be very different to a Mech- deck. You play a bunch of cheap cards, a powerful two mana card with Ship’s Cannon instead of Mechwarper, flood the board and then you either win or lose. When I think about the identity and the soul of Pirates, I think of sneaky gameplay, ambush attacks and coordinated assaults out of nowhere. The old Backspace Rogue or Aggro Rogue had that kind of feeling. Yes you played some cheap minions early, but the main strategy of the deck were charge minions that you combo with underplayed cards like Cold Blood or Shadowstep. Back in the days the deck was very good, but also very skill intensive, so if Pirates ever become a thing I think an Aggro Rogue like gameplay would be a very good design choice, because not only would it make the tribal more different, but it would also give Hearthstone once again a very skill intensive Aggro deck.
Purpose: The bread and butter of Backspace Rogue was Coldlight Oracle with Shadowstep, which became weaker after every new expansion. To make a synergy heavy Aggro deck viable, it would need good card draw. With synergy I mean bad cards get better because of the synergy they have with each other (not very popular cards like Cold Blood and Shadowstep combined with some Battlecry or Charge Pirates) That is some cool and fun synergy. Having a mech tribal attached to some minions and their cost be reduced by Mechwarper is not something I consider as very cool design, and I don’t want to see a Pirate Captain that is a Mechwarper with a different artwork.
Making a Dragon deck Tier 1
Blackrock Mountain and the Grand Tournament gave life to various Dragon decks, but unlike Mechmage none of them were ever Tier 1. Dragon Paladin is underpowered, Control Warrior is just better than Dragon Warrior and Dragon Priest is also not that strong. The dragon archetype overall is very close to being powerful enough in a competitive environment, and I think it needs one more strong support card (With League of Explorers I was hoping for a defensive 6 mana Dragon). Making Dragon Consort a neutral card would definitely push Dragon Warrior and Dragon Priest, but maybe even too much. Dragon Consort is for a reason in the Paladin class, because Paladin is just not a very good shell for a Dragon deck.
Purpose: This effect is incredibly strong. Such a strong effect would need to have some sort of inherent drawback. Not being able to play any non- Dragon minions is a huge drawback in every class, but a Freezing Trap that can target a minion attached to body is worth it to build your deck around it. If you ever got a Kidnapper from Unstable Portal, you know what I’m talking about. Not being able to play Blackwing Corruptor would also make building a Dragon deck more interesting, because you have more deckbuilding choices.
Making Control competitive in more classes
Hunter, Druid and Rogue have one thing in common: they don’t have a good Control deck. Rogue and Hunter both have zero class cards that make you gain life points or increase survivability. So both Rogue and Hunter would need a lot of cards to make a real Control deck viable. Control Druid or Ramp Druid (Midrange Druid without Savage Roar and more late game cards) is actually really close to being viable. All its need is some sort of good minion removal.
Purpose: Control Druid gets a good minion removal and will be far more competitive. Giving the classic Combo Druid access to good removal for bigger minions is something very dangerous in my eyes, and should be avoided from the Hearthstone developers, unless they want Savage Roar to join the league of Starving Buzzard and Warsong Commander.
Making fun cards more competitive
Hearthstone has a lot of very cool cards. I have tried to build competitive decks with a lot of them, and from time to time I’m still playing my Shadowform Priest deck. I can make Legend with it and I could definetely do quite well with it within the Legend Ranks if I would play it more, but I don’t think for a second that it is competitive. Sadly. Changing your hero power is very fun, and Shadowform Priest is different and refreshing when compared to other Priest decks. It plays some underplayed cards like Holy Fire and Tournament Medic.
Purpose: A very powerful card, but unlike Mysterious Challenger it would promote a very skill intensive deck. Currently the main problem of Shadowform- Priest is that you only have two copies of Shadowform, which is a problem when you don’t draw into one of them. Having a card that gives you virtual additional copies of Shadowform, would make the deck a lot more consistent and powerful. Maybe the body is even too weak or the card is overall too powerful, you need testing data to be sure, but I would love to see a card that pushes underplayed cards like Shadowform. I already have two golden copies! C’mon Blizzard!
I hope you liked my article! If you have any feedback or maybe want to share some of your cool card ideas, feel free to do so in the comments! Currently I’m making a bunch of instructive gameplay videos for all the decks I have written guides about (Oil Rogue, Control Priest, Control Warrior etc.). So stay tuned!