Hearthstone Sheds Poor Design Decisions with Year of the Mammoth

Hearthstone has never seemed to really have a coherent design to it, often resulting in knee-jerk nerfs that take almost too long to ever come out. I have been playing Hearthstone on and off since before official release and almost since then, the meta has favored one clear deck over the others. There have always been a low number of viable decks but from those few there has always been one that is clearly better than the others. Often this is due to bad card design – not because the cards are bad or grossly over-powered (although sometimes they are!) but because not enough consideration was made in how this card will work with others.

The most egregious example of this was Patron Warrior – a deck based around a 3/3 that spawned a copy of itself if it survived damage – and Warsong Commander – a card that enabled all those 3/3s to attack when they normally weren’t supposed to. This decklist was strong because the Warrior class had enough cards that synergy really well with this combo – such as frothing berserker – and no other classes had a way to consistently deal with it.

Even when Blizzard makes a card that is intended for pure fun and not competitive, it can backfire. This happened with Yogg-Sauron. Yogg is a complete random card that often results in disastrously hilarious results but somehow the card still remained effective for the highest tiers of Hearthstone play. The resulting nerf, or change to make the card less powerful, also made it less fun to play because the card’s effect would rarely play out in full.

With the new announcement for the “Year of the Mammoth“, Blizzard is changing up Hearthstone quite a bit. The biggest change is moving cards in the Classic set – the core set of Hearthstone cards that were intended to be evergreen, i.e. never rotate out. Some of these cards have become staples, not only in certain decks, but also of Hearthstone. For people who have been platying from the beginning, Ragnaros and Sylvans (both being rotated out of Standard) were iconic legendaries that you hoped you would get in your next pack. These cards single-handledly turned the game around and for new players were both frustrating to face and drove them to continue playing in the hopes of every getting one of them. These cards perfectly symbpoloized what a legendary was meant to be.

However, even back then they were really strong. As new sets came out and adventures were released, legendary cards were a mixed bag. For every over powered and must have for a deck (such as Dr. Boom) there are tens of either too situational, less optimized, or just downright terrible legendaries. For a lot of them, it isn’t that they are bad but when compared to other, often less rare, cards their effects do not stack up. This is why cards such as Azure Drake were often included in decks that didn’t need the extra spell damage. Blizzard has created cards that fit into every deck and make it hard to find reasons to include others in the mana curve.

Their response is to take Classic cards and effectively retire them to what they are calling the “Hall of Fame” but in reality it is just removing them from standard. I have often felt that new cards in Hearthstone have been lacking at best or are extreme reactions to a certain deck archetype at worst. Part of the problem is that there just isn’t enough cards, or rather, aa large amount of cards are filler. Of course, TCGs need filler cards in them but when your basic card pool is small (compared to a lot of other card games) and a lot of your cards are weak, it makes it easy to create over powered cards without intending to do so.

The changes coming up in the next year seem to try to address this. The Classic cards being rotated out are to make way for other cards that could potentially be game breaking if paired with Sylvanas, for example. It should also make choosing cards more decision based. It also seems like Blizzard is going to be releasing more cards than they used to next year, with 3 130 card expansions. These changes will hopefully give us a more diverse meta game.

But I can’t help but look at this through the lens of their past blunders. There have always been cards that were auto-included – Dr. Boom, Shredder, Belcher – and unless they change their design philosophy (or actually formulate one as some would say) I have a hard time seeing them accomplish this. If they keep releasing garbage like their Rager cards, Hearthstone will fall into the same trap it always has.

Ultimately, I feel it comes down to the division between the creators wanting Hearthstone to be casual and the players wanting it to be competitive. It adds an extra layer of complexity where fun cards that are not optimized get thrown to the curb by t he players. No one likes losing and even at the lower tiers you will face people playing netdecks – even in casual mode. The end result is a bunch of cards that only get used as placeholders until the players can get the cards they really need, and a large number of cards that get overlooked.

Hopefully these changes will improve the game. It looks like Blizzard is trying to slow it down by reducing burst and removing cost-effective powerful cards. Their past card design decisions have limited their ability to maintain a compelling game and we will see if they have learned something with the Year of the Mammoth.

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