The Paladin spell Call to Arms will now cost 5 mana instead of 4. It’s arguably the most powerful card in both Murloc Paladin and Even Paladin (which in turn is the most powerful deck overall at the moment), so this change will mean Call to Arms will be weaker in the former, and can’t be played at all in the latter.
The Warlock minion Possessed Lackey will now cost 6 mana instead of 5. Both Cube Warlock and Control Warlock use Possessed Lackey to pull big minions – Voidlords or Doomguards – onto the board for free, which they then bring back using cards like Carnivorous Cube and Bloodreaver Gul’dan. It’s often played then hit with Dark Pact on the same turn, meaning the opponent isn’t given a chance to silence it or transform it. Speaking of Dark Pact…
The Warlock spell Dark Pact will now only heal for 4 instead of 8. As mentioned, this card is used alongside Possessed Lackey and the change means Warlock players can’t be as flippant with their health total.
Spiteful Summoner will change from 6 mana to 7 mana. These days this card is used in decks that only run 10 cost spells, ensuring that it summons one of a handful of very powerful 10 drops when it’s played. The most popular – and powerful – archetype is Spiteful Druid.
The Quest Rogue reward is also changing. Crystal Core’s text will now read “For the rest of the game, your minions are 4/4” as opposed to 5/5. This is the second nerf to the Rogue Quest. (Originally the quest only required players to play four minions with the same name. It is now five.)
Finally, Wild players will be pleased to hear that Naga Sea Witch will now cost 8 mana instead of 5. The card allows for minions like Mountain Giant and Molten Giant to be discounted to zero very easily, allowing for a swarm of giants to hit the board as early as turn five. The goal of the nerf is to delay this power spike until later, when opponents are more able to deal with them.
They’re an excellent set of changes and should address the vast majority of issues players have had recently. To find out about the thinking behind the nerfs and some of the other things the team considered, I caught up with Lead Initial Designer Peter Whalen and Lead Final Designer Dean Ayala.
(For those that don’t know, Initial Design cooks up set themes and the first solid iterations of many of the card designs, whereas Final Design is responsible for balancing cards, heading off potential problems and predicting what will happen before a set gets released.)
IGN: What are the core things in Standard that you’re looking to address with these changes?
Dean Ayala: There’s a bunch of really popular decks right now. I think there’s three versions of Paladin that are all very popular at different levels. Warlock is also quite popular – at mostly the high level – at this point. Some of those decks feel new and different. I think even though the Odd and Even Paladins play a lot of the same cards as they played previous to rotation, the dynamic of those decks still feels pretty different. So I think for Paladins specifically, it’s more about addressing a power level issue that we’re seeing. They are a few percentage points higher than a lot of the other decks so making a change to Paladin was more directed at just putting them more in line with some of the power levels of the other decks in the meta game.
“For Paladins specifically, it’s more about addressing a power level issue that we’re seeing. They are a few percentage points higher than a lot of the other decks…” – Dean Ayala
For Warlocks specifically, there’s just some feel bad moments when crazy things happen really early in the game. That’s sort of a core theme with a lot of the changes that we decided to make, that there are a bunch of really cool strategies out there, but sometimes those strategies just happen at a point in the game where it’s really difficult to go to your collection or just basically be any deck and have an answer for these things when they do happen. So something like Possessed Lackey and Dark Pact happening on turn five or turn six, it’s just really hard to deal with. And that’s the same thing when we’re talking about Wild, with Naga Sea Witch, where the Naga Sea Witch combo just happens so early that it’s really difficult for anyone to deal with when it goes off, so sort of just addressing that.
In terms of the rest of the meta game, things have been pretty positive for us so far. There’s a pretty good class representation and deck representation. We look at a dashboard usually and one of the general metrics that we use is how many different archetypes are above 50% which is sort of like a very reasonable, pretty strong deck. That number has been 12, 15 decks for a while now. We’re pretty happy with that and we think these balance changes will help the meta grow in a direction where some of the underplayed archetypes that are being pushed down by decks like Paladin and Warlock will have more of a chance and things will feel a little bit more fresh.
IGN: Do you think this is also about giving the Witchwood set itself more of an opportunity to shine? The Standard rotation is the chance to have a power level reset every year, but the problem is that a lot of the most overpowered cards have carried over and so they still define the meta. And if you look at, say, the current tier one decks, they run one or two new cards and that’s it.
Dean Ayala: Sure. We knew that was a risk going in. I think part of the goal with something like Standard or any new expansion is that people are playing new decks and the meta feels fresh, but it’s certainly not our goal to eliminate all past strategies. If you’re playing a Kobolds deck with a bunch of Kobolds cards, when set rotation comes out, it’s certainly not our goal to say, “Okay, now only Witchwood decks are good.” And then the next expansion, only that expansion’s decks are good. So it’s fine for a few decks to carry over.
I think it just becomes an issue when the population of decks that are being played – when it’s 40, 50, 60% of decks being played – are from basically the previous expansion cycle, where things just don’t feel as new anymore. I’m not even totally sure that we’re there right now but I think changing Paladin and Warlock specifically will help a lot of the Witchwood style archetypes, because those do exist – there’s Priest being played at a really high level that’s playing some of the dragon stuff and the deck feels I think a little bit different than it felt before. There’s stuff like Hadronox Druid, which isn’t even necessarily Witchwood but it is certainly new – that deck really wasn’t played for a really long time, so the fact that it’s coming into meta now is pretty cool I think.
Peter Whalen: And [it runs] Witching Hour which is a Witchwood card.
Dean Ayala: Yeah. Witching Hour is a huge piece of that.
IGN: Yeah, cool. I guess from my perspective, it’s fine for decks to carry over, but you want the game to feel really fresh at the start of a new year and so I think that it’s important to make these adjustments to try and achieve that and, as you said, give some of those lower tier decks a bit more of a chance to shine.
Dean Ayala: Sure, yeah. That is certainly a huge part of the goal. And then there is one of the other core parts of any balance change where sometimes we change something just because it has the potential to feel bad to play against and it’s creating an experience that’s not really that fun… Our goal is that players play the game and have a pretty good time.
IGN: Apparently Naga Sea Witch is so unfun that people are taking out ads to call your attention to it.
Dean Ayala: True, yeah I noticed that. (Laughs.) It was amusing. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for quite some time so we’re glad to be able to get it out in the public now.
IGN: I think the Naga Sea Witch discussion has been a really productive one actually because you guys have been talking about it for some time, the community has been up in arms about it for some time but the reality is it has to reach a tipping point. And I think your comments on Reddit were interesting about wanting to see if this was a flavour of the month or if this was actually going to be an ongoing problem and source of irritation for players. And yep, okay, it’s hit that point – time to do something about it.
Dean Ayala: Sure. Data does a really good job of sort of one thing. Usually, when we look at data and something isn’t an extreme high power level, that doesn’t really do a lot to tell you how fun the thing is to play against. But a lot of times, what it can tell you is how likely is this thing going to be to pick up steam and get played more or how likely is it to sort of fall off the radar and not be played as much.
“The idea of having a deck that has Naga Sea Witch and giants in it, conceptually, is pretty cool… It’s just that when that happens every other game, it turns into an experience that’s not that great.” – Dean Ayala
In the case of Naga Sea Witch and honestly some other decks in the past, we saw some data trends that were like, “Well, maybe it’s not really the most powerful deck… so maybe it will fall off in popularity.” Because conceptually, the idea of having a deck that has Naga Sea Witch and giants in it, conceptually, is pretty cool. I think that’s pretty cool. It’s just that when that happens every other game, it turns into an experience that’s not that great.
I think even in the case where you’re playing this on turn five and just playing a bunch of giants – even the case where this is happening one out of every 100 games isn’t super great, but you can sort of deal with that. It’s something that feels very different and there are ways for some decks to deal with it, just not as many as we would like. But anyway, the data sort of led us to a position where we weren’t sure that this was going to continue and be a thing. But what ended up happening is people started refining the decks and it ended up getting better every time to a point where it’s like, “Okay. Now not only has it been around for a long enough time but our metrics and the stuff that we look at does actually sort of show us that this isn’t something that’s going to go away any time soon,” which made it a fairly easy decision, with all of those things combined – we needed to figure out a change for it.
IGN: Wild must be a little tricky and a bit different to Standard though. I spoke to Yong Woo not that long ago and he was like, “Wild’s meant to be crazy. You’re meant to be able to do super powerful things.” So it’s finding that line between just the inherent power of a format where there’s a thousand plus cards and that kind of real “feels bad” kind of deck.
Peter Whalen: Naga Sea Witch in particular was an outlier even in Wild for just how extreme the moments were. It’s pretty early in the game – turn five is pretty quick. And we’re talking about a lot of attack, a lot of health and minions on the board, much more than you’re looking at, at that frequency, with basically any other deck. And so that’s really why we’re trying to step in. It’s important that Wild remains crazy and awesome but also that it remains fun and that it’s a fun experience, you can try all this crazy stuff. And like Dean said, Naga and giants were a bit too prevalent and a little bit too extreme.
“Naga Sea Witch in particular was an outlier even in Wild for just how extreme the moments were.” – Peter Whalen
Dean Ayala: Our philosophy on both formats is pretty similar. I think that the reason you see less balance changes in Wild than in Standard isn’t because we care less about Wild. It’s just the toolkit that you have in Wild is enormous. A lot of the reasons why you make a balance change is because there is something powerful that other classes and other strategies cannot deal with in any way in their collection and in Wild, that’s basically really challenging to come up with something like that just because the toolkit is enormous. You have every set and every card so it’s hard to find a strategy that’s just sort of one-size-fits-all, beats everything and is a huge problem and the meta can’t shift because of it. So Wild tends to see less balance changes for that reason because players are able to adapt a lot more easily in that format than in Standard.
IGN: Interesting. Let’s go through each of the card nerfs one by one. I’d obviously like to discuss what the change is but also other things that you considered and why you ultimately settled on the change that you have decided to make. So we’ve already touched on Naga Sea Witch but that’s a big mana increase. Why was eight the right number and what else did you consider? Did you consider reverting Naga Sea Witch back to the way it worked originally?
Peter Whalen: We did. We talked about a bunch of changes for Naga Sea Witch. Maybe more than anything else in this list. In part because we’ve been thinking about it for a while and in part because it’s not obvious what to do with it. There’s a question of – is the current gameplay with Naga Sea Witch and giants inherently unfun? Or is it just unfun that it happens on turn five? I actually think it’s great. I think being able to play Naga Sea Witch, then play a bunch of giants is cool. You get to generate a giant board. You get to build your deck in a different way. Now your deck has a whole bunch of giants so you’re interacting with things a little bit differently than you might have otherwise. And so we didn’t want to change Naga Sea Witch so that you couldn’t do that.
“We talked about a bunch of changes for Naga Sea Witch. Maybe more than anything else in this list.” – Peter Whalen
So we talked about changing it back to the old version, we talked about allowing one card a turn, we talked about Battlecry just being the next card that you play. A couple of different variants on it but we ended up deciding that we liked that gameplay and we wanted people in Wild to be able to continue to experience that, especially if they fall in love with that deck. If they really enjoyed that deck, we wanted them to have those opportunities. So the best way to do that was to push back the turn where it happens. So instead of having it on turn five, happen later in the game. And we talked about – is turn six about right? Is turn seven about right? Is turn eight about right? And we settled on eight mana, turn eight is about the right spot for Naga Sea Witch and a board full of giants.
IGN: It means you’ve got more turns to draw into them but need the tools to get you to that point of the game. I think it should be interesting to see what happens to this deck after the nerf.
Peter Whalen: It also gives other people more time, both to draw their answers and just to have mana to play their answers, right? Twisting Nether is now online, Psychic Scream is now online. There’s a bunch more options.
IGN: For sure. Next up, Spiteful Summoner. I love this card and I hate this card. Particularly after the Standard rotation, putting it in Druid, putting it in any class with a great ten mana spell, the outcome is always pretty dire for your opponent. So up from six to seven – walk me through the thinking behind this change and what was discussed.
Peter Whalen: It’s actually not really that different from the Naga Sea Witch. A lot of these are really about the philosophy. As Dean mentioned earlier, [we’re] pushing back when you’re generating lots and lots of stats on the board. When does the crazy thing happen? Let’s move it a little later in the game so that you have more time to do your strategy and also so that your opponent has more time to draw answers. So the Spiteful Summoner change is very much in that space. After rotation, we lost a lot of 10 mana cards that had weak bodies – the Old Gods in particular. There’s no 7/5 or 5/7 anymore, so that made Spiteful Summoner inherently more powerful in addition to the fact that several other very powerful cards rotated out of Standard. So now in Standard, Spiteful Summoner is meaningfully more powerful so it makes sense to move the mana cost up to reflect that power and also to push back when this crazy amount of stats is happening.
Dean Ayala: It’s also somewhat related to some of the other changes that we made. Paladin and Warlock are very strong right now and honestly, so is Spiteful Druid. So if we’re making changes to Paladin and Warlock, there’s some amount of concern that it sort of leaves Spiteful Druid at the top of the totem pole there. And so just because of all the stuff that Spiteful Summoner went through over rotation – because the 10 mana spells are so consistent now – putting it at seven mana just makes it more in line with what we think the power level should be for that card.
IGN: Did you consider the suggestion I’ve seen on Reddit recently which was that the Spiteful Summoner itself transforms into the minion?
Dean Ayala: What we wanted to do with this card I think we were able to accomplish by moving it to seven mana. And I think when we can, when your card does the same thing from before we changed the card to now, I think that that’s basically the ideal case. You can see visually that your card is now seven mana from six but if you’re not following the nerf patch stuff, it’s actually pretty jarring to play this card with text that looks pretty similar and then you play it and then it itself transforms into something new – the card just does something completely different now. Sometimes, we’ll make that judgment call where we change the design of a card when it’s necessary, but I think when we can accomplish the goals that we want by changing something that’s visual – so there’s less of a chance for you to play the card and it just do something totally unexpected – we’ll take that opportunity to do that.
IGN: And it’s not like the 4/4 body is the problem, right? It’s about the spike turn. So you’re pushing the spike turn back and that’s the key thing.
Dean Ayala: Yeah. Like I said… Sea Witch, Summoner and Lackey all sort of share that similarity where it’s just hard for any class to be able to handle the kind of thing that’s happening with Summoner on turn six or Lackey combos on turn six or Naga Sea Witch on turn five, so moving that to seven just gives a lot of classes the opportunity. Like Peter was saying, stuff like Physic Scream is now available or if you’re a midrange or aggressive deck, having that one extra turn to build up to that point is really, really valuable.
“Our intention wasn’t to totally remove Spiteful decks from the game. I think at seven mana, it’s still totally reasonable.” – Dean Ayala
And also on the flipside of this, our intention wasn’t to totally remove Spiteful decks from the game. I think at seven mana, it’s still totally reasonable. The consistency that you get, with getting stuff like Ultrasaurs and Deathwing from your 10 mana spells, I think you’re still definitely very much thinking about playing Spiteful Druid and Spiteful Priest and decks like that. So we expect to still see it around, just at a power level that’s more in line with everything else.
IGN: Yeah, for sure. Alright, let’s talk Possessed Lackey and Dark Pact. There are so many tools in Cube Warlock and Control Warlock’s arsenal that I can only imagine how complicated it would’ve been to try and decide exactly what to hit because there’s so many potential things you could hit, but I guess – as discussed – it’s all about pushing that spike turn back.
Peter Whalen: The same philosophy. We just want to move that a little bit later in the game.
IGN: And in terms of Dark Pact, I think this is a great change because the amount of heal that Warlocks have at their disposal right now is crazy. There seems to be nothing that Warlock can’t do.
Dean Ayala: For Dark Pact, there’s a couple of pieces of it that make it so powerful. One is the fact that with cards like Cube and Umbra and Lackey being around, the flexibility of it being one mana to destroy your own minion is super relevant. So the combo potential of this card at any given point, being able to squeeze it into your turns is pretty easy to do just because of the fact that it’s one mana.
“Being able to heal 16 with two of these essentially makes Warlock a healing class. They have more healing potential than a lot of the classes that I think people would consider healing classes.” – Dean Ayala
The other piece of it is obviously the health gain, being able to heal 16 with two of these essentially makes Warlock a healing class. They have more healing potential than a lot of the classes that I think people would consider healing classes.
So when we’re talking about Dark Pact, we opted to keep the piece of it that’s pretty cool – doing these cool card combinations with these different cards and having these combos go off – that’s the aspect of the card that’s pretty interesting and we like a lot. The fact that Warlock turns into this class where they have the Spellstone and they’re healing for eight with Dark Pact – the flavour of Warlock is you deal damage to yourself and then you heal it back and there’s like this push-pull sort of dynamic. Dark Pact’s healing for so much, it’s not really as much “deal damage to yourself and heal it,” it’s “do a little bit of damage to yourself and heal a lot.”
And it also means so you can do things really aggressively – life tap and play cards like Hellfire and Kobold Librarian and not really worry about your life total just because you have so much healing in your deck. So now hopefully with this kind of change, Warlocks will be a little bit more aware of their health total and care about it a little bit more and they’ll become a little bit more interesting.
IGN: It’ll be more about just trying to last until your turn ten Gul’dan play. So Dean, you posted a list of the cards that were being discussed as potential nerf targets quite recently. I’d really like to touch on the other Warlock cards that were discussed internally – what you were considering and why ultimately you decided to go with the changes you did. On the list was Bloodreaver Gul’dan, Kobold Librarian and Doomguard.
Dean Ayala: Sure. Doomguard’s been around for a really, really long time. And I would say with a lot of these changes that we’re considering, it’s one of those things where we try to identify all the pieces of the deck that makes it work, and some of the pieces of the deck that might make it frustrating and just try to have a meaningful conversation around, “Is there anything that we can do to this card that we would like that would be elegant in such a way that would make a lot of sense?” So we bring up all of these cards in conversation but not always do we come to a solution that we’re really happy with.
“Cubelock is a very powerful deck. Control Lock is a very powerful deck. How do we address that?” – Dean Ayala
I think for Doomguard, it was one of those cases where Doomguard was one of the pieces that makes the deck work really well but it was also part of the deck where you’re doing a bunch of Cube stuff with Doomguard which is generally what you do. Those are like the really late game combo cool things. And Doomguard’s been around for such a long time that there wasn’t really an elegant change that I think we were super happy with making so we sort of opted to keep that one as is pretty early.
With Bloodreaver Gul’dan, it’s certainly one of the most powerful cards in the deck but it is ten mana. It’s supposed to be the game turnaround card where if you have all these resources that died and you put in all this work over the entire course of the game, you’re able to play this card and sort of come back. And it’s one of the cool pieces that makes the deck really super build-around and powerful and the card is meant to be powerful. And ultimately… if you’re a midrange or aggro deck against a turn five Voidlord, that’s extremely difficult to deal with. Especially when you can’t interact with it really at all when you’re Dark Pact-ing it. Your silence doesn’t really matter if you can just do that on turn six, so we just felt like Possessed Lackey and Dark Pact were the two changes that we felt addressed [the issue best]. Cubelock is a very powerful deck. Control Lock is a very powerful deck. How do we address that?
And for Librarian, it’s slightly different in that Librarian is of course an extremely, extremely powerful card but… if you change Librarian… if you have a problem with Cubelock, Control Lock, that’s not really solving your problem at all. It’s okay for there to be really powerful cards in Standard and we’re going to make them in classes and Kobold Librarian is going to be one of those cards, then eventually, it’s going to rotate and I think that we’re okay with that. When there is an archetype that becomes so dominant at multiple levels we try to make changes that make an impact on that and Kobold Librarian didn’t really hit that goal as much as any of the other cards.
IGN: Let’s move on to Call to Arms. I’m very happy to see this card changed. While the community may have voted Dr. Boom as the most powerful card of all time recently, this is definitely up there.
Dean Ayala: Call to Arms is extremely powerful in Murloc and Even Paladin. I think one of the biggest surprises for me going in to the meta game was the strength of Even Paladin. We actually knew that Odd Paladin was going to be fairly strong and Murloc Paladin was going to be fairly strong, but I wasn’t totally sure about Even Paladin specifically, but that actually turned out to be the best deck in the meta actually. And Call to Arms is benefiting that deck more than anyone else so I think Call to Arms moving to five, it just actually works in multiple angles because it doesn’t affect Odd Paladin at all.
“Luckily for Even Paladin, they were the best deck in the entire meta game, so even though they’re losing their best card, there’s still a chance that the best deck in the game is able to survive that.” – Dean Ayala
Odd Paladin’s in, we think, a pretty good place. It has stabilised at play rate and win rate. It’s still on some of the higher population side but it’s something that we’re not super concerned about changing right now. And Call to Arms changing to five obviously makes it available to Odd Paladin but because they can’t include any two drops, I wouldn’t consider that a very good option for that deck.
Murloc Paladin is also extremely powerful and Call to Arms is still available but it’s just not as powerful, it costs five mana now. So we expect that deck to feel some of the pain from that. And of course for Even Paladin, it takes their best card in their deck just completely out of it. It’s completely restricted now. But luckily for Even Paladin, they were the best deck in the entire meta game, so even though they’re losing their best card, there’s still a chance that the best deck in the game is able to survive that. So we think that it was able to take all those three decks and how we feel about them and adjust them in sort of the proper way.
IGN: Cool. The other card that you mentioned on the Paladin side was Sunkeeper Tarim. What was the discussion around that card? That would have hit basically every Paladin archetype.
Dean Ayala: So for Sunkeeper Tarim specifically… our general balance philosophy is not to change things for the sake of change. It’s more to change if there’s an issue and let players sort of figure out the meta on their own and not really jump in heavy-handedly and change the meta for everyone. I think it’s important that when there’s a very popular deck in the meta that you can go to your collection and think, “How do I solve this problem?” If you’re a super high level player, you’re not thinking, “Well, I’ll just wait until the next change.” You sort of have the agency to go in there and figure out a new deck. So we don’t want to change too many cards for the sake of changing cards.
And for Paladin specifically, we just didn’t feel like Sunkeeper Tarim was necessary. Odd Paladin was in a pretty good place… you still pull it a lot of the time from Stonehill which is how people see that in that deck, but that didn’t really need a hit. For Even Paladin, obviously, Call to Arms leaving completely, we just felt it was enough, and sort of the same for Murloc Paladin. So we discussed it but ended up coming to the conclusion that we didn’t want to unnecessarily do too much to hurt those decks. But that said, we’re keeping a pretty close eye on all three of them just to make sure that post changes, it was enough and they’re not dominating the meta game even after the changes.
IGN: I thought it was pretty interesting that you were considering changing the Paladin hero power upgrade as well. Because even though Odd Paladin is not as strong as Even, its ability to flood the board is pretty formidable.
Dean Ayala: Sure, yeah. I think that when I originally posted all those potential changes, it was sort of in the sake of transparency. We had actually fallen off the changing Odd Paladin train probably about a week ago or so but we had discussed it a lot just because the population is very high. And I think any time we have a potential issue, it’s our job to come up with – if there needs to be solution, what is that solution? And I think for a lot of people, particularly at the lower levels, Odd Paladin is actually very, very popular. So I think it’s good for people to know it’s in our minds and we’re thinking about it even though ultimately we opted to not change that deck.
IGN: Sure. And if you did change it, would that mean that Justicar would change too or would it be a separate thing?
Dean Ayala: We would have had to discuss it a little bit more. I think in my mind that yes, it would have, but we would have discussed it as a group and decided, “Is it a Silver Hand Recruit still? Is it a 2/2? Are they two 1/1s that aren’t Silver Hand Recruits?” So there’s a bunch of solutions that I don’t think that we came specifically to on one direct one but we had a bunch of options. And by the time we decided that that wasn’t going to be something that we needed to do, we didn’t really solve that yet.
IGN: On behalf of the community, by the way, I think that level of transparency is really appreciated. I think that that kind of diffuses the tension so instantly when you go, “Here’s what we’ve been talking about,” and offer some specifics about the cards that are on the list. I think people really appreciate it.
Dean Ayala: Yeah, it can. Unless your opinion is directly what all of the community thinks and then there can be some downside. But I think all in all, you’re right. Just being transparent, and I think just being active more often, I think people give a little bit more leeway to people when you’re around a little bit more and you’re having that conversation more often, so we’re going to try to do that.
IGN: Excellent. Last card, The Caverns Below. The resurgence of Quest Rogue has been really interesting to see. Was this on your radar? It makes logical sense why it has happened and there’s a couple of tools like Vicious Scalehide that really propelled Quest Rogue back into viability at the start of this rotation.
Peter Whalen: There’s a couple of different pieces of it. One piece is Vicious Scalehide. Some of the new cards in the Witchwood that make sense in that deck. Another piece of it is that Quest Rogue has always been a meta game call. If the right meta game appears, Quest Rogue is very good against certain pieces in that, and Quest Rogue makes a lot of sense as a deck to play. And so with the new Standard rotation, the meta game is pretty ripe for Quest Rogue to be awesome.
Quest Rogue is fun, it’s a skill testing deck. It does a lot of interesting things. It also feels really bad to get rushed down by a bunch of 5/5 minions. Charged down by a bunch of 5/5 minions. And so we’re changing that, we’re making them 4/4 minions and so that gives you a lot more time to react to them. It makes it harder for them to kill you in one turn depending on what your life total is. Makes it harder for them to chain all those attacks together. It also gives you more opportunities as a defensive deck, as a control deck, to just clear their board enough times and deal with 4/4 minions instead of 5/5 minions so that you can interact with them better and create a more interactive game after the quest has already happened.
IGN: It opens up a whole new suite of tools to deal with them. Truesilver deals with them. Flamestrike deals with them. There’s lots of cards that suddenly kind of come into play to be part of a counter to that strategy.
Dean Ayala: Yeah. The role of Quest Rogue in the meta game in the past has been – we’re a deck that’s really good against extreme control and fatigue decks. And there is a tier of decks in there that were control decks that manage to do a bunch of chip damage over the course of a game that were able to defeat Quest Rogue. And introducing Vicious Scalehide made that much more difficult because you can’t really chip a Rogue down very slowly anymore because they can burst heal back up. Sometimes 10, 20 health with [Shadow]steps on Scalehide.
“If you have a very extreme control strategy, we actually still expect Quest Rogue to be quite powerful versus that even with the minions as 4/4s.” – Dean Ayala
So our intention with Quest Rogue is… it’s cool if there’s an answer to fatigue decks out there, right? Because sometimes those can be frustrating decks to play as well. I mean, if you have a very extreme control strategy, we actually still expect Quest Rogue to be quite powerful versus that even with the minions as 4/4s. But when you’re playing one of the more moderate control archetypes, you can get through all of those 4/4s in some circumstances. And I don’t expect the match-up for Quest Rogue to be bad in those circumstances but it’s more of a game. You don’t feel like the outcome of the game is going to be decided on turn one. It’s something that you play out and you’re really trying to figure out how to deal with all the stuff over time and it actually makes it a pretty interesting game.
IGN: How difficult was it to decide that the way Quest Rogue can counter certain things in the meta is important to have, so we need to nerf this so it’s still viable to some degree, versus the uninteractiveness of playing against Quest Rogue.
Dean Ayala: It’s extremely difficult, yep. (Laughs.)
Peter Whalen: Yep. That’s the game. (Laughs.)
Dean Ayala: That is the job though. You say it in reference of Quest Rogue but it really falls under tons of things. It was the same thing with Quest Mage… One of the biggest ones that I remember that people don’t really consider is C’Thun. C’Thun decks, you build up C’Thun over time and eventually you play an enormous minion that deals 20 damage to you or something, right? And the world where that feels too powerful feels super uninteractive I think. You just play a bunch of minions and all of a sudden, you play a huge guy and then you die. And the flipside of that is the Old Gods just came out and C’Thun is supposed to be really cool and it’s this new mechanic and if it’s really terrible, then that’s really bad too. You have to get it exactly right or it’s bad. (Laughs.) So it’s difficult but that’s what you have to try to do.
IGN: Let’s talk about timing. Looking back, a card like Call to Arms has always had a very high power level. Why wait on that change? Were you not 100% sure how things were going to shake up once rotation hit? What was the thinking around that?
Peter Whalen: In the context of the previous meta game, Call to Arms was a pretty healthy piece. Paladin was a part of that meta game and it was fun. People were playing it and enjoying it. So after rotation happened, we like to watch and see exactly how the meta game’s going to evolve and how it’s going to develop. We didn’t want to hit Call to Arms on day one because we wanted to see how the Witchwood was going to impact things. And we’ve gotten the chance to watch it, we’ve gotten the chance to see Even Paladin grow as one of the most powerful decks in the meta game, Murloc Paladin is another incredibly powerful deck, and so now it’s time to step in.
“When you have a card like Call to Arms, it becomes increasingly difficult to make even medium power level one and two drops…” – Dean Ayala
Dean Ayala: [In terms of Paladin]… previous to the expansion… Dude Paladin was super cool, but Murloc Paladin was one of the ones that utilised that card the best I think. When you introduce Even Paladin and Odd Paladin and just Paladin as a class, it becomes this thing that is a huge percentage of the population… I think it’s a little bit more at risk of the fun of the Hearthstone meta game now than it was back then. So that’s one of the reasons that we come in and make a change to Call to Arms now.
Also, actually, I was starting to feel – and Peter might have a different answer – but I was actually starting to feel the burn a little bit in card design just because Paladin traditionally is one of these classes that plays small minions and they do buff things and board swarms sort of things. And when you have a card like Call to Arms, it becomes increasingly difficult to make even medium power level one and two drops because if there’s a Call to Arms deck, it just makes the Call to Arms deck better, therefore, you can’t make any good Paladin two drops, which should be a core piece of the cards that you’re making, so that was one of the contributing factors as well.
IGN: Yeah, that’s interesting. Coming back to the idea that the Standard rotation should feel really fresh and we should be playing with the new cards, at what point do you think having the Classic set included in every single rotation is going to outstay its welcome? Do you see a time when you have to either change it around or change the structure of the way rotation works?
Peter Whalen: I think the Classic set helps us a lot. It does a really good job of grounding Hearthstone in classic Warcraft fantasy. There’s a lot of very core cards in there. Things like Fireball or Frostbolt or Wild Growth that are the core of what Hearthstone is and what Hearthstone has meant to a lot of people. I think also being able to collect those cards and say, “Here’s Hearthstone cards that I’m going to be able to use in Standard now and that I can use in Standard in the future.”
I’m not saying it’s impossible that we make changes to the Classic set. We moved a couple of cards to the Hall of Fame recently. We did that a year before. I think that there is certainly opportunities for us to change the Classic set or possibly at some point in the future, make broader changes like you’re talking about, but at least for right now, the Classic set does a lot of really, really good things as far as grounding both the gameplay and the fantasy of Hearthstone.
IGN: And let’s be honest, in some ways, it was kind of cool to see Raid Leader and Stormwind Champion suddenly in the meta game. I haven’t used those cards in Constructed since beta.
Peter Whalen: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Peter Whalen: And Amani Berserker too, right?
IGN: Yup. Turns out that card’s pretty good. Another broad Standard-related question – did you see the video Kibler did a little while ago where he was talking about every Standard rotation so far has had a way to kill enemy secrets or disrupt a secret strategy but once Dirty Rat rotated out, we no longer have a way to pull key combo pieces out of somebody’s hand? What did you think about that whole idea of having these tools that are always available in one form or another in Standard to allow things like combo strategies to still be around but then give players tools to use against them?
Peter Whalen: Part of the fun of Standard is that things come and go. And so sometimes you’re going to have a Standard season that has excellent answers to certain types of things. Maybe there’s really powerful secret counters, there’s really powerful answers to beasts or whatever it is. And other times, that’s going to be much weaker. Maybe those things aren’t going to be around immediately in the first set, maybe they come in a bit later, maybe they come in another Standard season sometime in the future. And so I think we don’t need every time as soon as one thing rotates out to immediately replace it, but I think having answers is an important thing and having different ways that you can interact with your opponent is definitely something that is very important to us.
Dean Ayala: Some things are more edge case than others. It’s pretty likely that we’ll keep around some form of weapon removal just because weapons are a really core piece of Hearthstone and basically not being able to interact with any weapons, that’s probably something that would be negative. Whereas something like Dirty Rat that pulls a combo piece from hand, that’s not necessarily something that always needs to be around I think. It’s cool when it exists but when it doesn’t exist… that doesn’t result necessarily in automatically a negative experience. That didn’t exist for a very long time before Dirty Rat and I think that there are plenty of fun metas beforehand, so it’s just a matter of finding the ones that are necessary and the ones that are not in some cases.
IGN: So looking ahead to when these changes are coming in, it’s all geared around HCT, right?
Peter Whalen: It’s mostly figuring out when the right time is for the community that we release these cards. Respecting pro players is absolutely a piece of that. Making sure that if you submitted a deck for HCT that we don’t put this in a time that’s really going to mess with you. I think historically, we’ve been pretty okay with releasing content and changing things up during the professional season. One example is that One Night in Karazhan came out during this type of qualifier event and so one week came out and then another week came out, so different cards were available at different times. So one piece of it is absolutely respecting the professional players, respecting the HCT season.
A piece of it is also just strictly production. When’s the best time that we can put these onto our servers and release them to our players making sure that we’ve implemented them, that we’ve tested them, that we’re confident that these are the right changes that we want to make.
Another part of it was just making sure that we had enough time between when Witchwood launched to let the meta game settle in, and like Dean has mentioned in the past, making sure that these aren’t decks that are going to come and go, that these are actually the most powerful things, that we have an understanding of what the changes are going to do, so it’s kind of a bunch of different things.
Dean Ayala: There’s a bunch of different factors like Peter is saying and I think as far as the HCT goes specifically, it took us a really long time to evaluate all this data and then see which decks we think are going to be powerful and the decks that we don’t think are, choose the exact cards that we wanted to change and sort of get consensus on all of that. And then once all of that stuff is in place, we start to figure out what is the most realistic time for us to be able to release this.
And then sometimes, you’re in a situation where the most reasonable time for you to release this is… in the middle of HCT. And you can wait a day and a half in order to do it after that, in order to be respectful of all of those players, so we’re never going to be in a circumstance where there’s HCT going on and we’re going to have to wait a month longer than we would have. But sometimes if it’s a day or two or three, that’s a more reasonable situation to be in to where you get to move something a day or two to be more respectful of those players. But we’re not talking about players had to wait a month longer than they would have otherwise, usually it’s just a couple days.
IGN: Thanks as always for your time guys!
Cam Shea is Editor in Chief for IGN’s Australian content team and is something of a Hearthstone tragic. He’s on Twitter.