A Look in the Past: Removed Cards

Just like most of the other products, before showing it to a wider audience, Hearthstone was tested – mostly by the devs themselves, their families and friends. This period was called “Alpha” testing and it was over way before most of you have ever heard about the game – on August 16th, 2013 – when the […]

Introduction

Just like most of the other products, before showing it to a wider audience, Hearthstone was tested – mostly by the devs themselves, their families and friends. This period was called “Alpha” testing and it was over way before most of you have ever heard about the game – on August 16th, 2013 – when the game turned into the Closed Beta instead. Closed Beta was still hard to get into and there were still a lot of changes going on, but nothing as big as in Alpha.

The thing is – during the game designing period or the Alpha testing, there were a few cards in Hearthstone that aren’t available to us right now. For different reasons – some of them were too strong, some of them allowed broken combos to exist, some of them they just didn’t like and the rest were remade into cards we all know right now. While in most cases the reasoning behind making and removing those cards were unknown, I’ll try to take a closer look at them and answer one important question – would the card be strong right now?

P.S. Some cards have very poor quality, because they’re taken out of some old videos or screenshots. Some of the cards were also remade using the existing tools in order to keep them up to date or increase their overall quality.

Removed Cards

I’ll go through them alphabetically. But first of all, I want to bundle up together 3 cards here and 2 cards below that I won’t focus on for different reasons.

In pretty much every article or video about removed cards, there is a lot on focus on those three. But I won’t focus on them for one simple reason – they were just experimental cards. They were never meant to really get out of the testing period the way they look. Blizzard decided that since it’s a digital card game, it allows for some interesting mechanics to exist – stuff that would never work in the paper card game. So they’ve tried to explore it by making cards that would be impossible to pull off in let’s say Magic the Gathering.

Results were really interesting, but interesting is the only word I can use. Auto-Pecker and Worldflipper don’t really accomplish anything besides confusing the enemy. And Devouring Ooze is broken mechanic. It’s a card that would land in every deck after a losing streak. And sure, it would increase your chance to win the next game if it was a 6/6 or something, but imagine being on the receiving side. It’s just not fair, it would feel like cheating. It’s not your fault that enemy lost last X games and yet you have to deal with an overpowered minion. For those simple reasons, those ideas were threw into the trash.

One thing I’d like to mention, however, is that they should learn something from that. They used to test different ideas that wouldn’t be possible in paper card games. But they’ve decided to stick with probably the worst one – excessive amount of RNG. And they seem to forget that being digital card game means that they can adjust the card’s power level any time they want. Not only nerfing, which they do from time to time, but also buffing – which they haven’t done in a long while.

And those are the other cards I won’t focus on, because they basically exist in the game in different forms. Satyr was changed into Stranglethorn Tiger, probably because they did want to make Demons a Warlock thing and not Neutral thing (the only Neutral Demon is Illidan Stormrage, but he’s an iconic character). And the Syndicate Spy was changed into Worgen Infiltrator for some reason. Maybe they did want to have more Worgens in the game? It’s hard to tell at this point, but basically the only things that have changed are names of those cards and the arts (well, and the tribal in case of Satyr).

But let’s get started with the other cards now. Some of which actually did make some sense and I’d like to see them again!

Even a 1 mana “draw a card” would make cut into most of the Rogue lists. A way to cycle through the deck to get closer into the Auctioneer / Leeroy combos / Malygos / N’Zoth / whatever the deck needs. A cheap way to activate combo cards, without even losing a card (because it would cycle). And insane synergy with Auctioneer himself.

But no, it wasn’t just a 1 mana “draw a card”. If you combo’d it, it would be a 1 mana Arcane Intellect. In Rogue. And let’s be fair – it’s so easy to combo a 1 mana card. The card was beyond broken back in the day and it would still be broken right now.

In the end, they did the right thing and replaced the card with Shiv. But mind you that the first version of Shiv was also broken – it used to do the same thing it does right now, but cost 1 mana instead of 2. So it was basically an auto-include into every Rogue deck back then. Glad to see both of them gone.

Remember how I’ve just talked about the old version of the Shiv? Yes, old Shiv was basically the same thing as the old Arcane Blast. In other words, insane. The current Arcane Blast is also a strong card. But imagine seeing this one in the Tempo Mage. Free 1 damage + cycle with Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Check. 2 damage + cycle with any spell damage? Check. Strong with Flamewaker? Check. A cheap way to get a Fireball of Archmage Antonidas? Check.

Oh, and not to mention that it would be pretty strong in Freeze Mage. Big part of playing Freeze Mage is cycling. And this card would be really good at it. You could often kill a 1-drop or finish something off after the AoE or just combo it with the ping to kill a 2 health minion and still draw a card out of it.

I think that in the early stages, Blizzard has underrated the card draw mechanics and made them too strong. Some of them still made it through, but they weren’t THAT strong and right now they’re balanced by the class they’re played in (Power Word: Shield) or by being situational (Battle Rage, Divine Favor).

A bigger version of the Pint-Sized Summoner. And well, a smaller version of the Aviana (with a 1 minion per turn limit). Honestly, I’m not sure why the card was removed. Maybe it was too strong back in Alpha – I don’t know. Right now it would be a pretty balanced card. 5/3 for 5 are terrible stats, but then if he survives a turn, you get an additional effect, which is 3 mana cost reduction on a single minion. So you could play let’s say Ragnaros, the Firelord for 5 mana. Or play a free 3-drop. The effect is strong, but 3 health minions with strong effects rarely survive. I feel like Emperor Thaurissan has even stronger effect and how many times it survives past turn 5, even though it has 5 health?

And in the rare scenarios it would survive, it would boost the player’s tempo. I think that the card would be fine right now. I don’t even think it would be played that much. It seems like a fit into more tempo-oriented decks, but that would mean that you have to put a 5/3 for 5 in that kind of deck, which is a tempo loss, that only has the POTENTIAL upside (tempo gain) if it survives. So after thinking about it for a while, think the card would be only mediocre right now.

We had a stronger version of this card released recently in Druid – Addled Grizzly. And it sees zero play. I don’t really know the reason why this one was taken down, because it seems pretty well balanced. You have to play a 2 mana 2/2, but then you get some potential buffs on the Beasts you play.

Oh, and one keyword here – it’s whenever you PLAY a Beast, not SUMMON. It means that the card wouldn’t work with Unleash the Hounds, Animal Companion or Call of the Wild, because those all are SUMMONED. So the most optimal way to play it would be with small drops like Fiery Bat, Huge Toad, Kindly Grandmother etc. But even in the best case scenario, the card wouldn’t be broken. I think it would be just fine right now in the game – probably not played, but it could have potential snowball effect as a price for the downside (2 mana 2/2).

P.S. Savannah Highmane was added in its place back in Alpha.

Shield Slam face” is a common Twitch chat joke. But what if I tell you that you actually COULD Shield Slam face back in the day? But it seems that they’ve decided that it was a little too strong. And while I don’t know how it looked like back then, I know that it would be insane finisher in Control Warrior right now, given how many new ways to gain Armor we have. Back in the day, Warrior could Hero Power for 2 per turn, play Armorsmith or Shield Block. And that’s it. Right now, we have some more ways to do that. Starting with Justicar Trueheart, which allows Warrior players to gain insane amounts of Armor over time, going through the Bash and Ironforge Portal that get some extra Armor, ending with now-out-of-Standard Shieldmaiden and Ancient Shieldbearer in C’Thun decks (especially when combo’d with Brann – that’s 20 Armor). I think that’s the reason why this card was ultimately changed into Shield Slam. If you give Warrior more ways to gain Armor, maybe at some point it will be so easy that dealing that much damage to the opponent will be too strong. But dealing that much damage to the minion is more balanced. After all, even if you stack up to 40 Armor, Shield Slams very rarely go above 12 (and usually 8 Armor is enough to kill most of the stuff people play).

I’m really glad that the card got changed, because it would be too strong in certain matchups. On the other hand, Control Warrior would be way weaker without Shield Slam, so it was a good change overall.

A pretty interesting card, but it would be way too strong in this form. It’s like the opposite of Bloodlust (or Savage Roar to stick to the Druid’s cards). For just one mana, you could make a lot of free trades, and efficient trading is the best way to get the board lead. If Druid would ever get ahead on the board, playing any minions would be very scary, because they could be killed for free thanks to this card.

I still think the idea behind the card is good – it’s strong, but situational. It promotes playing for the board – doing trades etc. instead of rushing face, which ultimately still gives enemy more time to find some answers. However, the numbers on the card would need to be tweaked to make it balanced.

Part of the infamous Rogue combo. To explain it best, I’d need to start with how the old Rogue’s Hero Power looked like. It used to not only give Rogue a 1/2 Dagger, but also have an option to add +1 Attack to the existing weapon instead. So back in the Alpha, Rogues used a strategy – stack weapon’s attack to 7-8, then play 2x Envenom and just kill the enemy with HUGE weapon. This lead to nerfing the Rogue’s Hero Power and changing this for Blade Flurry.

But that was back in the Alpha. Would this card be still strong? I don’t think so. Rogue doesn’t have very strong weapons. Weapon buffs? Sure, but it’s still hard to make a big one. The best thing we could hope for right now would be playing Assassin’s Blade and buffing it with 2x Deadly Poison. That would pump it up to 7 attack, and then 2x Envenom for 28 damage in total. And you’d probably have to do that in a single turn, or else you’d be completely devastated by any weapon destruction, so you’d probably have to add Preparation to the combo, making it 6 cards combo.

I think it might be comparable to the current Malygos decks, but Malygos can also double-up as a board clear with Fan of Knives – this combo couldn’t. Malygos also isn’t stopped by Taunts, this combo would. Yes, you might Sap something, but that would require 2 more mana, so either some Thaurissan procs, coins from Pillager or another Preparation. But it would still be a pretty cool combo cards. And pretty useless outside of that specific combo deck.

That card is… pretty fine, actually. Priest has a lot of situational cards, but I like this one, because if unnecessary, it can still be cycled. Control Priest is the deck that floats so much mana, so spending 2 mana to cycle wouldn’t be terrible if you’d need to. And then, this might be a cool anti-Aggro card. Not terrific, because you’d still need board presence in the first place, but I could see it being used in something like Resurrect Priest. You play t3 Injured Blademaster, then on t4 you Resurrect + play this. You end up with a 4 mana 4/7 Taunt.

I honestly think that people wouldn’t mind adding such a card to Priest in the future. It’s definitely not something Priest desperately needs right now, as the worst class in the game, but it might be okay in the future.

P.S. Shadow Word: Death was added in its place, so it was definitely a good change for the Priest class overall.

This card seems very specific and something that would fit more into Magic the Gathering than Hearthstone. The reason is that HS has no sideboard. You never want to play tech cards that are so incredibly specific that they work only against a small part of the decks. Because they would decrease your win rate overall instead of increasing it. This would be a great counter to Freeze Mage in something like Zoo, but you wouldn’t want to play it against any other deck. So it would see virtually zero ladder play, maybe some fringe tournament play to counter certain lineup.

Maybe they’ve realized that the card is too specific for Hearthstone. Maybe they’ve planned to add a sideboard to the game (at least to the tournaments), thus making cards like that more useful. Or maybe they’ve planned to make Freeze effect much more common than it is right now. At this point, we’ll probably never know.

Initially, Priest was supposed to be the class that can “interact” with opponent’s hand and deck. We’ll see another card like that down the line and we still have some some cards that remind us of that plan – Mind Vision, Thoughtsteal and Mindgames. Those were left in the game, but the cards that depended on the number of cards in opponent’s hand were removed.

If they followed that idea – left those cards and printed some more, the Priest might have a Fatigue/Mill deck right now, which might actually be a cool thing.

This card is pretty strong nonetheless. With just 4 cards in the opponent’s hand, that would be 8 healing for 2 mana. It would go up to 20 healing vs 10 cards, but that’s nearly impossible. It’s a healing card that would be stronger in the slower matchups than in the faster ones, which might be counter-intuitive. But it would also be broken with Auchenai Soulpriest. It’s very easy for a Control deck to have 8 cards in the hand, so with Auchenai that would be 16 damage for 2 mana – damage that can target face, not only minions.

It’s a cool idea, but it would be very hard to balance properly.

P.S. The card was changed into Holy Fire.

On the first glance, the card seems extremely weak. And it is – it could as well say “this turn”, because at 1 health it means that enemy will kill it for free immediately. To get value out of this card, you’d need to immediately follow it with at least 5 other cards – because this card costs 4 mana and that would gain you 5 mana.

But the thing is, the card got removed, because it could be abused. Dropping 2x of those for 8 mana would mean that any card under 2 mana is free to cast. And so it means that you could use Youthful Brewmasters for free. And so, dropping 2x Mana Spring Totem, 2x Knife Juggler and then chaining the Brewmasters (getting one back to your hand with the second one) resulted in potentially OTK turn. Potentially, because you were limited by the turn timer on the ladder. But back then in friendly play, so also in the first tournaments, there was no time limit (unless it was forced by the tournament organizers), meaning the combo was a guaranteed OTK with even a single Juggler.

That was most likely the reason why the card was first nerfed from 2 to 4 mana (it used to cost 2 at the start) and later removed. And it wasn’t even a well designed card in the first place.

P.S. The card was changed into the Far Sight.

That’s the other Priest card I was talking about. This one, however, is significantly weaker than the last one. It has only one job – dealing damage to the opponent’s face. On average, it would be another Mind Blast. Probably slightly stronger in mill/fatigue decks, if you could force enemy to draw with something like Coldlight Oracle. But since it can’t heal you, can’t heal your minions and can’t damage opponent’s minions (like Greater Heal can with Auchenai), its used would be severely limited.

With Greater Heal being mostly superior and probably borderline broken, I don’t think that this card would see any play. I mean, Mind Blast is not played outside of the combo decks for a good reason. And you’d still prefer to play Mind Blast and not this in combo, because of the consistency. Maybe some kind of fatigue/mill/combo deck with both this and Greater Heal? Not sure.

P.S. The card was replaced with Lightspawn. Not much of an improvement if you ask me.

A bad card with unnecessary RNG element involved. It is good 25% of the time and it sucks 75% of the time, which is a great example of a terrible card design. So I’m glad that it didn’t get into the game in the end. It probably still wouldn’t be played, because 25% chance is too low, but it might lead to some outrageous scenarios of enemy dropping two of those early and cashing in on a lot value after some lucky rolls. In the end, Nat Pagle was played in a similar manner. It was stronger, because it had twice the chance to draw and 4 health instead of 1. He was eventually nerfed and started drawing at the START of your turn, not at the END, and thus the reign of such “draw at random” cards have ended.

Doesn’t that remind you of something? Yes, it is very, very similar to the current Warrior’s Bash. With one exception – Armoring up is generally stronger than healing. On turn 3, you might be at full health, so healing will be useless, but Armor will always be good. I think that would be an okay card, especially since Priest’s 3 mana slot is generally a weak point. But nothing insane. Since Penance was a pretty iconic Priest spell in WoW, they will probably release it at some point, but just like Arcane Blast, it will most likely look different.

P.S. The card was replaced with Temple Enforcer.

It seems like a very strong card, but it would probably be unplayable. Priest is NOT a board flood class. Such a card would be great in Zoo, Aggro Paladin or Token Druid (they have Power of the Wild already, but more synergy with Violet Teacher wouldn’t be bad at all). So it’s a card that doesn’t really fit into the Priest. It was replaced with Inner Fire, which is another weird choice in Priest and also very situational. I mean… I don’t even know which one is worse.

I remember how Murlocs were a dominating force in the early days, especially Murloc Warlock. It was one of the first strong and consistent Aggro decks. And I can’t imagine him having this card too. I mean, the deck has played Murloc Raider, and this one would be so, so, SO much better. Murloc deck relied on the early snowball to win the game. And this card would do exactly that – snowball the game. Murlocs are cheap already, the most expensive ones costed 3 mana (with a single 4 mana one – Old Murk-Eye). It would be so easy to flood the whole board with Murlocs on turn 2 after dropping it on turn 1. If you got out 2 of those in the early game, that would be instant game over for the opponent.

So yeah, I understand the reason why it was removed. Murloc decks would be beyond broken in the early days with this card.

An interesting bonus I felt like showing you guys. Blizzard had a lot of struggle to balance the win rate between going first and going second. Avatar of the Coin was one of the ideas – instead of the Coin (Gain 1 mana this turn), you used to get a free Wisp when going second. It was a bad idea for multiple reasons, mainly because it would be useful only in the fast decks. You don’t need 0 mana 1/1 if you play a slower deck, it’s pretty useless. In the end, they’ve decided to give the second player current Coin + one extra card. Going first still has an advantage, especially with proactive decks, but it’s not as massive advantage like it would be without those countermeasures.

Closing

There were quite a few fun and interesting cards that were removed during the game’s Alpha. I feel like some could make a comeback right now and they wouldn’t be as broken or weird as they were be back in the day. And one thing I have learned from studying the removed cards is that Blizzard has always struggled with Priest’s identity. Is it interacting with opponent’s hand/deck? Is it healing? Is it dealing damage? Is it focusing on removals? Is it buffing minions? Is it powerful, but situational cards? It kinda shows right now – Priest class is that weird mish-mash of different ideas instead of focusing on some strong identity that nearly every other class has.

I didn’t play during the days where those cards were in the game (not many did, after all Alpha wasn’t something easy to access) so I can’t really know how strong they are and if that was the reason they were removed. But I did play pretty soon after, in the Closed Beta, so I can imagine a lot of those cards making a big fuzz in those days where only Basic + Classic cards were available to the players. I’d still like to see some of them making a comeback, because something that was broken back in Alpha might not be right now – people have learned how ot play the game, build the decks, counter stuff and we have much, much more cards that are high on the power level. What do you think?

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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!