Top 10’s: Best Designed RNG in Hearthstone

RNG. One of the most hotly-debated topics in the history of Hearthstone. Some people like it, some people dislike it, some people hate it, and some people (myself included) despise it with the fiery energy of a thousand suns. And yet, for all of the mistakes and absolutely horrible cards RNG has caused (next week’s […]

Introduction

RNG. One of the most hotly-debated topics in the history of Hearthstone. Some people like it, some people dislike it, some people hate it, and some people (myself included) despise it with the fiery energy of a thousand suns. And yet, for all of the mistakes and absolutely horrible cards RNG has caused (next week’s list) there have been some times where the design team has gotten it right. I am one of the first to call out Team 5 when they make a mistake, but it is important that their hits do not go unnoticed. It is extremely hard to get RNG right in a card game, and they’ve managed to do it more than once. In this week’s Top 10 we are going to look at those instances, delve into why they work and analyze how some RNG can be good for the game if it is made right.

Honorable Mentions

Undercity Huckster

While we explore this effect later on in the list (spoilers) Undercity Huckster is an example of good RNG because it is a fairly priced and well-statted card with a low impact ability. That is to say, you get to play your on-curve 2/2 while also developing value later on in the game. While sometimes the card is going to be exactly what you need, most of the time it is just a solid value card that makes your game feel unique. Though cool, this card stays off the list because the body does a little too much, and it pulls from too wide a pool for my liking.

Cabalist’s Tome

I really like Cabalist’s Tome. A lot. This type of card is very interesting to me because it is a card value engine that has a great trade off. You get three cards from a very strong pool of spells, but you also add nothing to the board. That type of trade-off is always fun because it raises the skill cap. The fact that there is a little RNG involved is no problem and always makes casting tome exciting. The only reason this just misses the list is because it does create a lot of uncertainty that can be very unfun to play against. Yes, getting double Pyroblast is cool, but not for your opponent.

The Top 10

10. The Portals

We begin the 10 with the newest cards in the portals. Though there are going to be some people who do not agree with this choice, I think all five portals have a very elegant design that should be explored more in the future. The reason for that is, a lot of the time you do not know what RNG cards are going to do. That is problematic because it can create some really frustrating game states for both you and your opponent. For example, when you play Flamewaker and hope it only hits your opponent’s minions to wipe their board or when you needed Imp-losion to roll four. On the other hand, the portals are going to put a body down. That is their job, and you play them with full knowledge that you are going to get something equal to the statline of the card. Firelands Portal will get you a strong card, while Silvermoon Portal will net you a 3/2 and Maelstrom Portal a 2/1…etc. That is not always the case, but you are rarely going to break the game because roll the wrong or right thing. Most of the time you get a median value, which is fine.

Another cool aspect to the portal cards is how half of the card is inherently not RNG related. I think that is a great way to go about using randomness that we really have not seen enough of. A lot of times, RNG cards are just all about being random. You have an effect and it’s random and that’s the whole card. You deal 3 to 6 damage or your summon 2 to 4 imps or maybe you do 2 to 3 AOE damage. Nobody knows. The portals meet that halfway by enabling you a set effect that is stapled onto a mitigated RNG ability. That means you are guaranteed to hit something you want (healing, AOE, a buff, armor, damage) and then you also get a body, which you and your opponent must react to. Yes, there are going to be times where you highroll, and yes, there are going to be times where you lose because your Moonglade Portal rolled a Corrupted Seer, but the swings with these cards are quite rare. And that’s a good thing.

9. Thoughtsteal/Burgle

Coming in just under the portals are the “thief” spells like Thoughtsteal and Burgle. These cards are cool because they are simply draw cards reformatted in a different and unique way. Instead of pulling from your deck they pull from your opponent’s. That is very sleek design that can also make games feel a bit unique. It also can be very fun to play with cards from your opponent’s class. Ben Brode has long stated that RNG needs to exist to makes games feel cool, and these do that quite well. I know I have casted my fair share of Fire Elementals and Druid of the Claws that were not in my deck.

The reason these do not make it past number nine is because there are certain times where these cards are extremely annoying. To get RNG right you need to be able to limit the amount of frustration it causes, and I am not sure these do that well. The reason is that you inherently cannot play around these cards, which makes them one-sided. As a result, while they open up a fun and interesting set of plays for you, they do not do anything but create puzzles for your opponent. Even so, I still think this is good design. I just wish Blizzard would limit the amount of these type of cards in the game. Having one deck with random cards is cool because that can be its advantage, never letting your opponent play around your hand. However, having multiple decks that operate in that manner can be a huge problem that drags down the game rather than pushes it up.

8. Totemic Call

Though some people are less-than-fond of it, Totemic Call (also known as the Shaman hero power) has always seemed cool to me because it is a prime example of what I call “plannable RNG.” That is to say, RNG that you can come up with multiple plans for depending on what you get. Anytime you find yourself saying “ok, if I get…then I…” or “if my opponent gets…then I …” you have a good example of RNG going right. Options and knowledge are two important aspects of good RNG, and this has both of them integrated into it. The fact that there are four totems is important because it has a high enough range where you really have to think about your certain options, but there is not so many where there is no way to plan for them. You also cannot get more than one, which means the more you make the less RNG there will be. That is a nice blend, and I applaud Blizzard for the way they have made such a volatile hero power work.

As interesting as the Shaman Hero power is, there are still going to be some games where rolling or not rolling the right totem decides the game. That is a little annoying and keeps this locked in at number seven. For the most part, that isn’t going to happen. Getting Spell Power for your Lightning Storm or hitting a taunt to prevent lethal are things that rarely come into effect, but they are there and they are worth noting.

7. Sylvanas Windrunner

Sylavanas Windrunner (like every instance of RNG) can lead to some extremely frustrating games and has caused me to lose my mind more than a few times. However, you have to admit she is pretty well designed. Not only does she have a very fair stat-line, but she is a good example of “controllable RNG” where you can mitigate just how much randomness she has. Sometimes she is going to be a complete die roll where she dies and you pray she takes the right thing, and other times you can carefully craft the board or a situation in a way where she steals exactly what you want. There are even times where you can kill her right away and never have to worry about RNG at all. Having some way to influence an RNG effect add some depth to the game, and it is something I wish the devs would explore more.

The other reason Sylvanas comes it at number seen is, despite her RNG, her ability is very strong. This is important because she gives your opponent ways to play around her as well. There are many games where she is going to set up a series of choices, and you have to try and decide which one is the best one. Do you simply ignore her and hope your opponent doesn’t have a way to kill her? Maybe you trade in your board or just sit back and take the gamble? How about you flood with a bunch of low-value minions in order to up the odds of her taking something bad? Anytime RNG can affect both players and open up each of their choices you have a well-designed card.

6. Voidcaller

From the void I come! Barely missing the top five (and I mean barely), Voidcaller was just an awesome card that perfectly encapsulated what “controllable RNG” should be. It was a minion with an effect that had to be played around (or with) effectively. The four drop demon is RNG in its lowest form, which is why it worked so well. Like Sylvanas, it’s ability could be heavily mitigated and required a certain amount of skill to use effectively. In fact, most of the time there was no RNG involved with it at all. That is unique and something we have not seen a lot of throughout this game. Most RNG effects are completely out of your control, but effects that have RNG you can actually completely get rid of is very nice. All you had to do here was get rid of all the low-cost or low-impact minions in your hand and you were in the clear. Yes, there were times where you would have to take the 50/50 on hitting Mal’ganis or the 1 in 3 for your Lord Jaraxxus, but with good planning you would almost always be able to swing for the fences. In that way, this card used RNG to promote good thinking and farsight in a way that very few cards do.

Note: Mad Scientist is also a great example of this type of RNG from a deck building perspective.

5. Webspinner/Swashburglar/Babbling Book

Coming it at number five, we have some of my favorite one drops ever made. Webspinner, Babbling Book and Swashburglar get lumped together because they are essentially the same card thrown into different decks and built for different classes. Burglar helps Rogue put opponent’s cards into their hand, Webspinner gave Hunter more beasts and Babbling Book gives Mage more spells. Those are all unique to each class they are in, and while the RNG is very random, it stays centered because it pulls from a certain pool of cards. That is very nice because it gives some information while also limiting just how wide the randomness goes. Pulling from multiple classes or every card in the game would have these cards too much of a crapshoot, but tightening what they can get is very nice. Out of all three, Swashburglar is perhaps the worst designed because its an entire class stretches a bit too wide for my liking.

Similar to the portals, these cards work well because they are low-impact. As noted with the portals, there will be games where you high roll that lucky Pyroblast or King Krush, but those are very few and far between. Much more of the time you are simply going to get a solid value card that helps you out down the line. In that way you have a 1/1 that says “draw a card from outside the game”. The body is low impact, rarely effects board state, and keeps the game around you fresh. That hits on all cylinders for me and solidly puts these into number five.

4. Tinkmaster Overspark (Pre-Nerf)

A nerf I still have a problem with to this day, I think Tinkmaster Overspark was a perfectly designed card. Yes, it was changed because it limited “fun” (an excuse Blizzard has run out one too many times for my liking), but the three drop was a fantastic use of RNG that I would love to see more of. What is nice about Tink is that he gave you a choice and forced you to react to different lines of play. Like Ysera, the gnome was only upside, meaning that his RNG was never going to rapidly swing a game. Yes, there were some times where you would lose to your opponent beating you in the face with a 5/5 Devilsaur, but you almost never used Tink on something that wasn’t going to kill you anyway. Even though a 5/5 is strong, it was much better than your opponent having a Ragnaros the Firelord or Ysera. The RNG they introduced to the the three drop got much too extreme after the nerf, but before it was just about perfect for my liking.

What I love about Tinkmaster Overspark is that his RNG was all upside. A big problem with cards like Tuskarr Totemic or Yogg, Saron Hope’s End is that they are too swingy. That is to say, you either blow your opponent out or play a very underwhelming turn that can straight up lose you the game on the spot. Though Tinkmaster seems that way at first glance, it was not the case at all. This card simply mitigated big minions, and did that by presenting you with two choices that were both worse than the thing you were transforming. Of course, there were times where you needed to roll the 1/1 to not die, but I think that extra little twist or one of the other made this card interesting. You could also use this on your own minions, which added to its skill cap.

3. The Ysera Effect

Coming in at number three is an ability that I like to call the “Ysera Effect.” This refers to any mechanic where a card puts a spell or minion into your hand from a specific set of cards that both you and your opponent have full knowledge of. This is most commonly seen in Ysera herself with the five dream cards, but is also present with any card that gave Spare Parts (Clockwork Gnome) and Xaril, Poisoned Mind. All of these cards are fantastic RNG design because the randomness if tempered and stays within a set of rules that you can actually freely play around. This is one of the only random effects that creates such a game, and I hope we see much more of this in future sets.

The number one reason the Ysera Effect breaks into the top three is because of how it works from both sides of the table. That is to say, not only do you have a new card to play around, but so does your opponent. Any seasoned player can tell you what Ysera’s Dream Cards are or what different toxins Xaril can spawn. That knowledge is important and makes for interesting games where you are trying to see all the potential lines of play your opponent could have and then choosing which ones to play around. Unlike something like Thoughsteal, which is almost going to end up completely random all of the time, this gives depth to the RNG and makes it so you and your opponent are both more engaged. That is simply awesome and more than deserving of number three. The only reason it isn’t higher is because of how good the top two are.

2. Brawl

Brawl comes it at number two because of just how well put together and thought out its RNG is. Yes, like so many other RNG cards, there are times where getting unlucky can lose you the game, but for the most part this card is only going to have upside. As I have explained, there are several types of good RNG. There is RNG that you can plan for and RNG that you can control. Here, we go back to Tinkmaster Overspark where we have RNG that is only upside. This type of RNG is perhaps the best type of RNG because it isn’t going to make the game a coinflip where one outcome wins you the game and one outcome just crushes you. Rather, this is the type of RNG that is almost always going to benefit you in some way, making it inherently less random. This card, despite its random outcome, has been in Control Warrior since the beginning and there’s a good reason for that.

Brawl kills every minion but one. Always. No matter what. No matter what happens, no matter what your opponent’s board state is, this card is going to remove minions. This is almost RNG without RNG. While there is some amount of randomness, it is very minimal and often will not have an effect on the outcome of the game. There will be times where your Zoo opponent’s Sea Giant or Doomguard survives the day, but you can plan for those situations by holding back hard removal just in case. That type of planning is what makes a good player. As mentioned with Cabalist’s Tome, RNG with a good trade-off is fun design, and this does that quite well. You get AOE for five mana, but something is going to live. That forces you to make choices and creates interesting scenarios where you have to plan different lines of play depending on what survives.

1. Discover

When it comes to good RNG, nothing comes close to discover. Nothing. This is the exact type of RNG that Team 5 should always strive for because it does so many things right. For starters, this is the best example of controlled RNG, and it works for two distinct reasons. The first is that it opens up brand new lines of play and keeps games fresh in a very organic way. Ben Brode once said you need some RNG in a card game to prevent it from becoming stale where there is always one set of right moves. I do not necessarily agree with that, but if you are going to open up new avenues of play, this is how you want to do it. Choices are always fun, especially when you can control those choices to always give you a beast or a spell or a hero power. In addition, you also get to play with cards outside of your deck or interact with ones you don’t have, which can be a very fun experience. The fact that this also gives you three options limit the randomness a bit as well.

The biggest reason discover tops our list is because it is an example of RNG that also tests skill. Most instances of RNG are very annoying to play with or against because they override skill. There is nothing you can do if you lose the one-in-eight rag hit or Sylvanas ignoring your five 1-1’s and taking your Mountain Giant. However, discover plays differently because, while you are given three random cards, you actually need to figure out which of those random cards you need for the current situation at hand. There are many games where taking the wrong card will lead to a loss, while taking the right one will lead to a win. That is always healthy for a game because it increases the skill cap while also furthering the fun factor and making your games feel differently. An A+ job all around and an ability I am shocked we have not seen more of. Bravo with this one Blizzard, Bra-vo.

Conclusion

As much as I detest all RNG-related things, when it goes good it goes really good. All of the instances on the above list have added a ton of fun to Hearthstone and have made game feel very unique. For those reasons, I thought it was time to show the devs a little bit of love. Now, we will be going to war with them next week, but before that battle comes, I hope you all have a good time enjoying the above list. Thanks for reading and, as always, let me know what you think.