Is Power Creep Going To Destroy Hearthstone?
The concept of power creep is surprisingly undocumented, at least if you go by a quick Google-search. It's almost nonexistent Wikipedia-page defines it as “the gradual destabilization of a game due to successive releases of new content”.
If I turn to Extra Credits for an explanation, I get this: “elements introduced to a game over time grow in power as compared to the original elements of the game”.
I find it interesting that the initial example they’ve used was World of Warcraft – of course, as you all know, it’s also a game by Blizzard. The video can be found here, it’s well worth the seven minutes of your time if you are unfamiliar with the concept.
In any case, I find it highly worrying that the very first card expansion (however small it may be) already features many cards that are very clearly upgrades to their original counterparts.
It is visibly intentional in some cases as the developers try to fill in some serious holes in the metagame (most importantly the ability to tailor your deck against Miracle Rogue) but I would argue that some other cases were not planned and are showing signs of power creep looming large.
Of course, this list is subjective and the Naxx cards have not been around for that long, but I think this is an important discussion to have and I’d like to chime in. Let’s go through the dozen cards that concern me, in order of release date:
1 - Haunted Creeper
“Arachnafauxbia: Fear of overpowered spiders.”
The omnipresence of a card is generally a bad sign as it implies is most likely a clear upgrade over the cards available before – instead of bringing incomparables to the table, which would be the preferred design choice.
And Haunted Creeper is everywhere. It is in Zoo because it is ridiculously sticky, it is in the currently really popular Hunter decks because it is essentially an upgraded River Crocolisk, it is also played by Shamans and Druids to have a sturdier option than the 2-drops we’ve had available so far.
I’ve seen it pretty much everywhere but in the heaviest of control decks. If we call the Harvest Golem– one of the best 3-drops – a 3 mana 2/4, this card also deserves a similar designation because it is very difficult to remove both Spectral Spiders at once, much more so than with the that only takes a 2-mana investment by three out of the nine classes.
However, if I suicide a Haunted Creeper into a 3/2 and I proceed to finish the job with one of the 1/1-s the following turn, there is still something left behind that will at least eat up 2 mana of my opponent. It’s just better than most of the other 2-drops at the moment.
2 – Nerubian Egg
“Eggs are a good source of protein and power creep.”
It didn’t take a long time after the release of this card to hear the cries of people with (nerubian) egg on their face sdemanding a nerf. This is a very interesting card but it probably went a bit too far: this is essentially a ticking time bomb, an investment of time and tempo, playing nothing on turn 2, setting up the potential of getting a card on turn 3 that is a class above anything else that can be played at the time. It also provides some insurance against AoE cards.
However, I think there are simply too many enablers for this card. Most importantly, many of them also allow you to get a trade with the egg – which is a fine result in its own right – coupled with a gift of a 4/4 minion.
The main issue, though, in my opinion, is the fact that a 4/4 stays way too relevant for way too long. It allows you to kill many of the vanilla 5-drops (and don’t worry, we’ll make it to the Naxx 5-drops pretty soon). The should probably be either a bit more weaker as a 3/4 (allowing many of the cheap removal cards to kill it) or less beefy as a 4/3.
As it is, it is just way too powerful compared to other option on turn 2, provided you have an enabler. Which you most likely will if you decided to include it in your deck.
3 – Sludge Belcher
“DO NOT EVER GIVE HIM A ROOT OP.”
I’m very conflicted about this card. On the one hand, it fills a very important slot that was woefully empty in the game so far: the decent neutral 5-drop. That, in itself, is a good move by the designers. What is less good, however, is the fact that it is clearly better than the Sunwalker, while also costing one mana less.
The card is not overpowered by itself – which is, despite what the small modifications in the flavor texts may lead you to believe – not what I’m concerned about with this expansion. It’s the fact that they are simply more powerful than their vanilla alternatives, and instead of providing variety, they are providing stronger options.
This card works a lot better as an anti-aggro solution as it can be played a turn earlier while also being more difficult to get rid of – even after taking a removal spell on the chin, it leaves a small taunt behind. As such, it is clearly more powerful than the Fen Creeper, its contemporary counterpart.
4 – Loatheb
“Loatheb used to be a simple Bog Monster. This is why we need stricter regulations on card design.”
Often dubbed as “the miracle killer”, Loatheb has been included in the game to allow players to have even more options against Miracle Rogue. While I personally think that the addition of multiple affordable and quality taunts had more to do with the loss of power when it comes to that deck, this legendary also found its way in many other decks simply because its effect is just too powerful.
Making spells cost 5 more for a turn essentially renders it impossible to cast any meaningful ones, which basically stalls the game for one turn and cements board advantage. There are no drawbacks to its inclusion either, as 5/5 for 5 is a more than respectable statline, being able to kill almost every other vanilla 5-cost counterpart. It is essentially a more powerful Stranglethorn Tiger– again, fueling my worries about power creep. I think we’d all be better off if it only increased the cost of spells by 3 and/or make it a 4/4 for 5, like most 5-drops are with a powerful effect.
5 – Spectral Knight
“What do Faerie Dragons and Spectral Knights have in common? They both disrupt the flow of the game!”
Again, my issues are two-fold with this card: it is more powerful than most vanilla 5-drops (not only is it able to kill 4/4-s and survive, it is also untargetable by spells, therefore I think it easily qualifies into the club of power creep cards), but I also find it way too powerful.
Its effect, while many can’t stand it, makes sense to me: the Faerie Dragon’s effect allows aggro decks – remember those things? Blizzard doesn’t seem to – to establish a board presence early on without having to worry about cheap removal. I don’t mind that card at all as it also doesn’t allow me to buff it, making it a double-edged sword in that regard – however, the Spectral Knight needs no buffing at all to make it insanely powerful.
It shows it strength that it also found its way into some Constructed decks without having any immediate effect on the board – but I think its real strength is shown in Arena. I’ve already enjoyed drafting Spiteful Smiths in my arenas, even if I’m not playing with a class with weapons – a 4/6 for 5 is more than capable to stand its own against most vanilla 5-drops (I feel like I’m repeating myself here), killing them and surviving to tell the tale.
If you combine this with the effect of the Faerie Dragon, you get a card that instantly guarantees board control if you are not far behind, and a way too powerful catch-up mechanism if you are. I think it I currently the strongest card in Arena – the fact that it is a common and therefore is more likely to be drafted just makes it even more of a joke. (Surely it should be a Rare? Rarity is meaningless with the Naxx cards anyway when it comes to Constructed so I think some adjustments should be made for the other gamemode.)
6 – Deathlord
“Rise from your grave!” – Aggro players to their deck after the release of this card
I know, I know, no one plays this card except in some Priest decks. They don’t have to anymore. It's one-week spree after its release has single-handedly lead to the rise of Priest and essentially the death of ultra-aggro and Zoo. Of course, it is useless in a control-heavy meta but the reason we are in a control-heavy meta is basically this card: it gets a 2-for-1 of sometimes even a 3-for-1 deal against aggro decks and the summoned minion is generally going to be very weak in those decks anyway.
The only minion I can compare this to is the Mogu'shan Warden. The Deathlord costs 1 mana less, has 1 health and 1 attack more, while I would argue that its drawback is not big enough to justify its insane health total.
Not only is it a game-winner against aggro decks (or the worst thing to see as a Miracle Rogue-player), its drawback isn’t always that negative against control either. Not only does it draw a cheap minion sometimes, it is also very likely to make your opponent waste a very important battlecry.
If I play against this as Healadin and it draws my The Black Knight, Wild Pyromancer, Aldor Peacekeeperor Stampeding Kodoout on death, am I going to be happy?Of course not. Its inclusion is a metagame call but I still find it to be a much more powerful alternative to minions of similar cost and posture – again, making me concerned about power creep.
7 – Undertaker
“In the world where you can cast Undertakers, Argent Squires do pretty light business.”
Again, a card that found its way into too many decks: it is a 1-drop that has way too high potential to trade up. It is (apart from some Divine Shield-related shenanigans) essentially a clear upgrade over the Argent Squire, which is probably the stickiest 1-drop vanilla had to offer.
8 – Mad Scientist
“His mother wanted him to be a mage of a warlock, but noooooooo, he had to go and be a ridiculously overpowered card.”
Wow, this card! Remember the Novice Engineer? Remember how it used to be a 1/2 for 2 and even that required a nerf? Well, how about a 2/2 for 2 that not only gets you a specific kind of card, but also casts it for you for free? I have no idea what the developers thought when they came up with this card. It is simply more powerful than the version of a vanilla card that they have found too powerful as it was!
It is, of course, the staple of the currently really popular hunter deck and that is where it really shines (as mages run into hunters and die to Flares): instead of having to play a trap on turn 2, hoping it doesn’t get triggered, then playing my Eaglehorn Bowon turn 3, I can play a minion that will do damage, auto-cast the secret and will pretty much guarantee me the extra charge if I can play the bow on curve. It is just wrong.
9 – Zombie Chow
“Meaningless deathrattle. It’s what’s for dinner.”
This is probably the card that showcases the underlying design philosophy (and the issues with it) of most Naxx cards: their statline is above their vanilla counterparts but they have negative deathrattles.
Well, I’m pretty sure the counterbalancing just didn’t work out: these effects simply don’t seem to be powerful enough. Case in point, the Zombie Chow: its deathrattle does absolutely nothing if it gets traded in early, while its statline is of a 2-cost minion. It is often compared to the Flame Imp, but while that card is important for that particular class (needs strong early board presence, has an emphasis on disregarding on health), this thing is a neutral.
While I don’t think many control decks can really afford the two slots that a pair of these would take up, it is, again, simply more powerful than the vanilla counterparts and as such, are a worrying sign.
10 – Dark Cultist
“The Cult of the OP has found it’s best to mention their name when recruiting new cultists.”
Wow, the Construct Quarter is just full of way too powerful goodies, isn’t it? This card needs no introduction and probably no explanation either: even if it had no card text, it would be too powerful as it would kill almost all 3-cost minions and still survive.
However, if that wasn’t good enough to make it an auto-include in any priest deck ever, it also gives 3 extra health to a random friendly minion. Powerful? Yes. Too powerful? Yes. (More powerful than the vanilla alternatives? Yes.)
11 – Death's Bite
“Take a bite outta the Arcanite Reaper.” – unknown designer at Blizzard
This card is fine in its own right: it is essentially the Warrior’s Truesilver Championthat allows for some cool enrage effects (or synergy with Armorsmith/Acolyte of Pain). The problem is that it is simply more useful than the Arcanite Reaper, which is now not used anywhere at all, apart from perhaps some old-school face-rushing warriors. Again, the Naxx card is more effective than the vanilla counterpart, replacing it instead of providing an alternative.
12 – Echoing Ooze
"OOZE... Ooze... Ooze... (OP...)"
There’s still a few days to go until the release of the Frostwyrm Lair, but I figure this card is worth mentioning as it is definitely going to be way too powerful. Even if you don’t buff it in any way, it is essentially a 2/4 for 2, but if you buff it in any way, it just gets ludicrous. How about Mark of the Wildso you get two 3/4 taunts for 4? Or a Shattered Sun Cleric, so you get what is basically a 7/8 in three pieces for 5 mana? Not only is it ridiculously powerful, it is, needless to say, beyond anything the vanilla cards have to offer.
I understand that the developers want to promote battles for board control instead of combo kills, but I’m not sure that they chose the right approach. Even with the unique capability of being able to change cards after release (something MTG and other physical card games cannot do this easily), it seems like their card design is way too reactionary.
Also, Hearthstone is very popular as it is, much more so than initially expected: the new cards didn’t have to draw new players in with their flashiness, they did not have to be like this. The competitive scene will probably suffer a bit from these cards as well, seeing how they stifle player choice when it comes to deck-building. (Not that it seems to be a top priority anyway, seeing how they still haven’t implemented basic functions like stat-tracking, more deckslots and spectator clients…)
I’m enjoying the new cards but they made me concerned about the future of the game: will we see a 6/6 for 2 come the fourth new set of cards or a 20/20 for 10? If things go on like this, I would not be surprised by that, honestly.
Then again, these are just my personal assessments, not the gospel, so please let me know what you think in the comments! I’d like to promote some discussion on the subject.