Blizzard continues to try and improve Hearthstone's Arena experience as time goes on. One of these efforts was the ability to change the appearance rate of individual cards, something they've started doing recently and touched on in the 8.4 patch notes. Game Designer Dean "Iksar" Ayala continues to be the main spokesman for Blizzard's efforts in this area and he took some time to discuss things on Reddit following the recent news.
Will Blizzard keep removing cards like Abyssal Enforcer?
I think it's unlikely we'll make changes like this going forward now that we have reasonable tools power to make slight adjustments to a wide variety of cards. The goal of reducing the rate at which some cards appear by large numbers is less to make arena balanced and more to make a small subgroup of people happier than they were before at close to zero cost to the the audience that is unaware of the changes. Ideally we would like to get to zero cards that have large adjustments or are completely removed and rely entirely on micro adjustments. Anything that has an impact on gameplay decision making or drafting we want to be transparent about going forward. Also, a couple people pointed out that faceless summoner wasn't on the list and that the classic/basic neutral 50% decrease was also unlisted. Was an oversight on my part, thanks for pointing it out. The rest should be correct, and I'll talk with community on where the best place would be to get a permanent location of these rules up that we can update.
Do you cater to hardcore players?
The goal is to create an environment where all player types have somewhere to go and be happy playing Hearthstone. To be honest it's actually easier for most designers to create content for hardcore users because they are usually hardcore users themselves. It's more difficult to understand the desires of someone who is a new player or someone who plays rarely, so trying to grasp some of that feedback from wherever we can is important.
Have you considered unbanning cards like Purify?
Totally reasonable and something we considered. We want to see what the impact is of the micro adjustments we made before adding more variables to the mix. My expectation is that these changes will not completely solve arena balance, but when we are at a place we're comfortable with I think it would be a good idea to reintroduce cool cards like Snipe that have interesting gameplay.
Are the micro-adjustments done automatically?
There is a lot of math/data involved in choosing the correct cards and rates to adjust by but a human still monitors those values and runs automation tests to make sure each of the classes still has a reasonable distribution of cards to make them feel like Druid still feels like Druid, Mage still feels like Mage, etc. That said, I still like to call this task 'machines balance arena' internally because it sounds cool.
What are your long-term goals for Arena?
Get to a place where very engaged arena players can see a pick between three classes and choose one based on what they feel like playing rather than an obligation to play one based on power level.
Keep the adjustments small enough that they don't impact a players gameplay or decision making. It isn't a disaster in the opposite circumstance, but we would prefer the correct way to play arena not involve having a long list of rules next to your keyboard as you pick cards.
Make sure the card pool stays diverse enough that each class maintains a unique identity.
On class power level and when Blizzard will make adjustments
In terms of assessing class power level I would argue that the data from places like Heartharena has always been there. Determining what classes have a higher win rate than others has been less a fun puzzle to solve and more a web page with a correct answer. When a new set comes out with a 2X bonus to those cards we are unlikely to make adjustments straight away to address class balance and I think that will be a great time for invested players to form opinions on the cards of the latest set and determine what classes stand to benefit most.
How can you look at records for the Arena since you don't have rankings like in Constructed?
The way we do this internally is similar but slightly different. In constructed, players have a matchmaking rating we track them with and if they make it to legend we match them and rank them by this rating. In arena we have the same type of rating, but it's currently not used for anything in client. We can look at all matches between players of same record same rating and look at class win rates of solely those matches.