What do the next few months hold for Hearthstone's balance?

Speaking with PCGamer, Game Director Ben Brode recently discussed the current outlook on the upcoming Standard rotation. Sometime this Spring, Blizzard will release the next set for Hearthstone, which should be an expansion, and once that happens The Grand Tournament, Blackrock Mountain, and League of Explorers will be removed from Standard. That time last year also marked the debut of the entire system and as such, there was a round of accompanying nerfs to 12 cards. With another season on the horizon, Brode says the team is beginning to consider making changes once again.

He recently took some time to answer a few comments and concerns that were posted following the interview.

Note: For clarity, the bolded text is a rough paraphrase of what Brode is responding to. They are not claims or demands made by Hearthhead.

Please think about reversing last year's changes since they were overkill. [Source]

We are currently having a problem where Standard is essentially dominated by Classic and Basic cards, and that is risky, if it continues to happen year after year. One solution that we tried when Standard launched, was removing cards from Classic by nerfing them significantly. If we nerfed them slightly, we wouldn't have solved the core problem.

Some of those cards are probably not too powerful for Wild, so we could have left them unnerfed if they only affected the Wild format, and that's why we've been discussing different options for our next rotation.

 

 

Are you really going to limit your potential changes because people might not read cards? [Source]

I don't feel like our choices are limited, just that we should shoot for nerfs that cause less disruption but achieve the same goals (i.e. changing mana cost instead of card text)

 

 

Brode justifies killing Handlock because changing Molten Giant helped Holy Wrath. [Source]

That's not what I was getting at, at all.

Some people like changing metas. You may not be one of those people, and that is totally fine, but we do think it's important that our Standard Format appeals to that audience. The fact that Handlock had been a staple of the ladder and tournament scene for years, with no end in sight (given it was entirely made of classic and basic cards, and so, immune to rotation) - that was our biggest reasoning for the nerf.

People have been wondering about Molten Giant's fate as it relates to Wild. I think it's an interesting discussion. It's something we haven't made a decision on yet, as I mentioned in the live Q&A and in the interview. When we're trying to make a decision, it helps to consider all the factors. I was enumerating the factors in the interview. Every change has consequences, and as designers, it's important to consider all of them, even if they aren't the biggest single reason to do something. I tend to think people are interested in our thoughts, and about the consequences of decisions they care about. That's why I mentioned Holy Wrath decks. They aren't the major factor in our decision-making, but it's a thing that would be affected by this change.

 

 

Warlocks only play Renolock at the moment so it doesn't seem to have helped diversity within the class. [Source]

It depends on what you value in a meta. If you value deck diversity, then Wild will always be better than Standard for that. If you value change in the meta, then no longer having Handlock in the meta in favor of other decks may be upside.

It's also hard to define a 'deck'. Renolock and Zoolock have seen significant changes. Less than a year ago, one of the most popular variants of Zoolock ran Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, Ironbeak OwlImp-losion, Loatheb, Dr. Boom, Sea Giant, Reliquary Seeker, Zombie Chow, Echoing Ooze, Gormok the Impaler, and Big Game Hunter. That's 18/30 cards that aren't run in the current Zoo variants. If we see a Zoo resurgence, does it still count as the same deck?

 

Update: Following this post's submission to Reddit, Ben Brode took some time to address a few comments which we've added below as they help clarify a lot of the points he was making.

 

"One solution that we tried when Standard launched, was removing cards from Classic by nerfing them significantly. If we nerfed them slightly, we wouldn't have solved the core problem."

This is embarrassing, he just openly admitted they nerfed the cards into uselessness so they wouldn't see play. Stop doing that, please. [Source]

This was in response to "why didn't you nerf Keeper of the Grove less?" 

We lived in a world where Druid had 22-ish auto-include cards. If we wanted to be able to release exciting cards for Druid in upcoming sets, we had 2 options: 
 

If we went with option 1 - we'd have to inflate the power level of the entire game. Just making better Druid cards, when Druid was already close to the best class, can cause other issues. cough Spirit Claws cough Our goal was to hit the classic set hard enough in Druid to make it so the meta would change with new sets. We could slightly reduce the powerlevel (i.e. 2/3 Keeper), but our goal was to make a big impact. We chose Keeper (because Silence isn't something we wanted to be an 'auto-include' effect, it should shift in and out with the meta), Ancient of Lore (because too much card draw can make games feel the same each time), and Force of Nature (because Charge). 

We nerf cards for many reasons. Usually it's because things are not as balanced as we'd like (Leeroy Jenkins, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, Rockbiter Weapon, Tuskarr Totemic, Execute, Knife Juggler). Sometimes it's because we have upcoming cards that are going to totally break an old card (Charge, Master of Disguise), and sometimes it's because it's a classic card, and while it may be 'balanced', it's making it hard for Standard to feel fresh and new when a rotation occurs. 

We could remove Classic and Basic entirely, but then our sets have to contain many more cards that do 'same-ish' things. We'd need larger sets, and they'd include cards like "Fireyball" and "Frostybolt" to reinforce the class identity and give you the baseline powers that make classes unique. It would also give us a less smooth complexity curve for newer players, who get the (very) simple Basic set, then see more complexity (Secrets, many keywords) in Classic, and even more in our rotating sets. There is also some amount of value in returning players being able to play a game of Standard without having to buy a significant number of packs. 

We've discussing another option recently - rotating a few cards out of Classic directly into Wild. (and allowing full dust refunds for them) It allows cards that are balanced - but a threat to Standard's ability to change each year - to exist for player who want to play them in Wild. We're still discussing if we feel there are cards that are in this category, and which changes to make, but it's something worth thinking about.

 

"I don't feel like our choices are limited, just that we should shoot for nerfs that cause less disruption but achieve the same goals (i.e. changing mana cost instead of card text)"

This is a faulty design philosophy & I'm disappointed they want to be so narrow in their adjustments. 
[Source]

Maybe I didn't make our philosophy clear enough. 

My favorite nerf, was Tuskarr Totemic. I think it was a needed change, and was super non-disruptive. If you missed the fact that we nerfed it, it doesn't really matter. The card looks and acts the same, for the most part. Your deck isn't suddenly broken, like your Patron Warrior deck or your Druid Combo deck. 

We still do make changes (like the Charge spell, recently) that are very disruptive, but our philosophy is that we should try and make less-disruptive changes where possible. It isn't always possible, and that's fine. 

The opposite design philosophy is to make the most disruptive changes where possible. I.e. welcome to your new Rockbiter Weapon . It's a 6-mana minion that says "Deathrattle: Give minions in your deck +1/-1."

 

They should want to make the right changes. Not the least disruptive changes. [Source]

 

We do. When multiple changes could be right, we prefer less disruption. For example, which is going to be more confusing when you randomly see Abusive Sergeant in a Tavern Brawl, post-nerf? 

  • 1/1 Abusive Sergeant 
  • Abusive Sergeant is now a (9) 9/9 with 'Your other minions have -2 Health. 

 

Both changes reduce the power-level of Aggro, and reduce the chance of Standard being another year where you see the same cards. Why not make the one that's less disruptive? 

Yes, I chose a ridiculous example to make my point.