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To coincide with the recent launch of Hearthone’s latest expansion, The Witchwood, we’ve published a three-part interview series with Lead Final Designer Dean Ayala.
Today is the third and final segment, where we discuss how some of the sets more notable legendary cards came about, and what impact they’ll have on one of the world’s biggest esport’s metagame.
The Roar: Let’s discuss some legendary cards from this set. I wanted to start with Glinda Crowskin because she comes across, to me at least, as one of the ones who could’ve been the riskiest from a balance point of view.
Dean Ayala: Yeah.
The Roar: What was her design process like? Also, is she a big reason Molten Giant got moved to wild?
Dean Ayala: I think the reason that Molten Giant got moved to wild is not because of Glinda. It’s kind of hilarious that you would be able to play that many Molten Giants in a turn. I guess we were going to move Molten Giant, anyway.
There was so much community sentiment around, “Hey, we really like this card, Molten Giant, and we want to be able to play its old cost” and that was something we wanted to do pretty early on. So it’s possible that Glinda couldn’t have existed in her current form if Molten Giant was in standard, but that’s not something we ever really play tested with, just because that’s not something that we were really concerned about in wild.
The wild format is so crazy and there’s such powerful things going on that it’s not really a concern of ours that Glinda-Molten Giant is going to be taking over the wild metagame any time soon, but in standard it’s possible for that to have been quite powerful. But we didn’t really play test with them much, just because, we had known that Molten Giant was gonna go to Wild later, before Glinda.
As far as Glinda’s design goes, one of the things that we try to do is that, if we have these new mechanics and strategies going into the set, we like to have cards that hook into those mechanics. So having a card that says, “Your minions have Echo” is a clean and understandable design once you know what Echo is and it really helps keep going with the vibe of the set. It’s just like a simple design, I think, once you understand what Echo is. It’s one of the easier ones to come to.
But, you’re right; it is really risky when you basically say, “Any card in the game has Echo”. We specifically designed all the echo cards how they are just so they’d have a pretty even power level. Because a lot of the Echo cards cost one, originally. The Shaman one’s the lowest costed one. But originally, we had the [Ghost Light Angler] 2-mana, 2/2 Murloc as a 1-mana 1/1 Murloc with Echo and that was wildly too powerful, we thought.
The Paladin buff [Sound the Bells], I think, was also 1-mana, so we tried to tune all of these specific Echo cards in a way that they would be able to be played but not too powerful. So it’s like when you give any minion in the game Echo, that’s kind of scary. So it’s certainly a big risk, but it was one of our favourite ones to play test.
There’s lots of like, cool Summoning Portal shenanigans, Sea Giant. Even playing Glinda with six Wisps on turn six is not [bad]. Putting Wisps in your deck is a stretch, but, even that interaction is quite powerful if you do that on turn six. So that’s pretty risky and, I think going forward, we’ll have to look at basically all Warlock minions and all neutral minions to make sure that nothing too crazy is happening with Glinda that would be a danger to the metagame in any way.
But I think any time you’re making a really exciting card with exciting effects, you’re gonna lose some design space. That’s just sort of the reality of card design. So you have to be willing to accept that in order for us to be able to do this cool thing, we’re not going to be able to make x-card or y-card or z-card, and that has to be something that you have to go in able to accept or you’re never going to be able to make cool cards.
The Roar: Well, that’s fair enough. Another one that struck me as slightly risky was Chameleos because he’s, in a way, like a CCTV feed into your opponent’s hand. How did that card come about?
Dean Ayala: I forget who designed that card. That was one of the first cards that I remember reading off the sheet and I think the first time people would read it and they’d get really, really excited.
We do this thing where we bring in people from around the company, you know, we’d bring in people from the World of Warcraft team, we’ll bring in the Overwatch team, and we’ll show them all the slides of all the cards and just sort of not talk at all, ourselves, and sort of let them talk and get feedback, and see what’s exciting to them or not.
Because the first time you read a card, how excited you are is something that’s really important to us, and Chameleos was probably the most resounding, “I’m really excited to play this and put this in my deck and see what happens. That’s like a really, really cool effect.”
I think because of that it was something that we really wanted to make sure was in the set in some capacity, even if we had to change it a little bit, but I think it ended up fine.
There’s a bunch of different effects like Drakonid Operative or, basically a lot of Priest stuff, where you can see what’s in your opponent’s deck. This is a little bit different because you get to see something different every turn in your opponent’s hand, but you make a pretty big sacrifice. If you really want to see various cards in your opponent’s hand, you kind of have to have this dead card in your hand that’s not doing anything for a very long period of time, which is a pretty big sacrifice.
A lot of times, especially at the higher level, I think the kind of player that would be upset their opponent knows the cards that they’re playing, those players have a pretty good idea what’s in their opponent’s deck without having any information at all.
That comes from just from understanding the metagame and knowing lots of things that are going on in Hearthstone that given moment, so I don’t think it’s too big of a frustration point. And it was also just a really exciting card for people to read, so we’re pretty happy with that.
The Roar: Cool. Blackhowl Gunspire is one of the more unique ones from the set. It sort of strikes me as a card that could be a game changer, but I can’t quite see the support cast, yet. How’d the design team come up with that one?
Dean Ayala: Yeah, that one’s a bit dangerous. I think it’s probably on the weaker side right now, but it’s one that’s easy to build around, because say there’s something like, I mentioned this before but say there’s something like Jade cards. I think that like if Journey to Un’Goro came out, and it was like the dinosaur set with elementals, you know, prehistoric times or whatever, and we made more Jade cards [it would be strange].
So it’s hard to build on that kind of archetype, whereas Blackhowl Gunspire, it really just works with what Warriors do, generically, which is like Whirlwinding, damaging your own minions. So I think even if Gunspire is on the weaker side for The Witchwood specifically, it’s a really easy one to build on, because one of the core fantasies of Warrior is doing all the soft-damage, whirlwind effects.
We’re absolutely going to do more self-damage whirlwind effects for Warrior, just like I’m sure we’ll do more Silver Hand Recruit for Paladin or more ramp and big Druid sort of things from Druid.
It’s just one of their core fantasies, so I think that over time it’s really likely that Blackhowl Gunspire will get better. It’s just a matter of trying to have more pieces, like the 4-mana weapon that Whirlwinds and Cruel Taskmaster and those kind of cards. The more those cards get released, the crazier Gunspire gets every time. So I think there’s gonna be a long future for that card, so we’ll see how it goes.
The Roar: That’s fair. And the last one I wanted to ask about was Duskfallen Aviana, because I think a lot of players thought she would should be a prime dusting candidate when she was revealed. Was that a reaction that surprised you at all? What tips would you have for using her?
Dean Ayala: Duskfallen Aviana’s design changed a lot over time. I think the original design was that your first card, or cards cost five or something like that? That was really frustrating to people just because they would get to play like, one card per turn, so if you were playing an aggro deck, that basically meant that you would immediately lose the game.
The Roar: Yeah.
Dean Ayala: I think there’s still room for that card. It’s just a matter of timing. It’s like, it truly needs to have more support cards for Aviana. It’s hard to really make it work right now, but I would say it’s another one that’s pretty easy to make more support cards over time.
I think for Gunspire, it’s the same idea. I think Druid has cards like Ultimate Infestation. Now that’s obviously pretty good with Aviana if Aviana sticks, and there’s also different meta-games where if your first card every turn costs 0, like if the entire meta-game is based on aggro or something like that, right? Well, it’s not really that big of a deal for your opponent’s cards to cost 0, but it’s a huge boon for you because you can play these giant minions.
But right now, you have the meta-game, there’s a lot of Cubelock and there’s a lot of taunt Druid and stuff like that, so playing Aviana is really risky and more a control meta like we have right now, just because your opponent can kill your minion and also play a minion of their own.
So, it’s probably not the right metagame for Aviana, but I think in a metagame where things get more aggressive and Druid has a bit more armour so they can stabilise it a bit more longer, there might be some room for Aviana.
The Roar: That’s fair. I actually got a gold one of her and dusted it, so now I’m starting to sweat a bit. On the general power level of some class legendaries, I think some fans looked at the Druid and Warrior legendaries versus the Priest and Warlock ones and thought there was a bit of a discrepancy. Do people put too much weight on a class’s legendaries when they assess how that class will be in an expansion?
Dean Ayala: I mean, it’s hard for me to say if they put too much weight on it, because I think a lot of people, they look at cards that are common and rare and epic, and they say, you know, “These cards are really powerful, and they’re gonna make huge impacts,” and in a lot of cases they do just because specifically for the reason that, if there’s a really powerful rare card, you can put two of it in your deck versus only putting one of a legendary in your deck.
But, it is our goal with every class for them to have new archetypes that are relatively powerful that they can play with, but it’s not the goal of every individual card. So, I wouldn’t put a bunch of weight on the competitive balance of Hearthstone on the legendaries, specifically.
Dean Ayala: I think in a lot of cases, that’s actually pretty good, because if the linchpin of every deck was the two legendary cards, it would be pretty hard to keep up. So we try to make a lot of really powerful common and rare cards to make the game a bit more accessible as well.
So you’re opening a lot of these really powerful cards and you don’t have to depend on your legendaries to carry you through. And some legendaries are there for having a bunch of fun and aren’t necessarily directed at being super top level competitive play. To us, we think that that’s okay.
I get that that can be frustrating at times if you are a super competitive player and you open up the legendary and it’s sort of like, the for-fun. If you’re a competitive player and you open up Renounce Darkness as one of your Epics, I can get how some of it is disappointing, but on the flip-side of it, a card like Renounce Darkness is some players’ favourite things to play and it’s all that they play because they think it’s so fun.
The Roar: I’ve been wrecked by that card so many times. More than I care to count.
Dean Ayala: Yeah, it’s our responsibility to make cards for all different audiences, so some of the legendaries are always gonna be really powerful, and some of the legendaries are gonna be exciting to a side of the audience that’s trying to have a bunch of fun as well.