The Roar
The Roar

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Dean Ayala talks new cards coming to Hearthstone, impact of recent nerfs

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7th November, 2018
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The 2018 Hearthstone Global Games may be over, with China being crowned champions, but the game isn’t checking out of the headlines for 2018 just yet.

The Championship Tour is, of course, still in full bloom – while a new expansion is heading our way in less than a month.

We spoke to lead final designer Dean Ayala at BlizzCon about what to expect from the new card set. In part two of this interview series, we look at the design processed behind some of the first-revealed cards, as well as the impact on the metagame the latest round of nerfs had.

You can check out part one of the interview, where we discussed the set’s overarching design goals, here.

The Roar: Let’s talk about the spirit cards, because you’ve saying every class has one and they all have stealth for one turn – or is that just the Rogue one?

Dean Ayala: They are all 0/3s and have stealth for one turn.

The Roar: Cool. Then with the Shark [the Rogue spirit card], it triggers your combos and battlecries twice, what design process did that go through and what can we expect to see from the unrevealed spirits?

Dean: Sure. One of the biggest goals that we had with this spirit and the Loa [legendary cards from this set] itself is we wanted them to work together in some ways, but not work together so obviously where it’s you always put these two cards in the deck and you couldn’t play them individually.

It was important to us that if you just wanted to play the spirit or you just wanted to play the Loa that you could do that reasonably without having to have both – or even having it necessarily be the best thing to have both – but we did want them to work together because the spirit is the spirit of the Loa essentially, right?

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The Roar: Yeah.

Dean: Each class has a spirit and each one references the Loa so it kind of makes sense thematically for them to work together.

We haven’t revealed what the Shark is yet, but you can probably guess that it’s going to be good with the spirit. It’s probably going to be a battlecry or a combo card.

It’s going to be something that when you have the spirit in play then playing this card is probably going to be pretty good and that’s the same with the rest of the spirits.

They are going to try to function in a way where they work together.

The Roar: For sure. Then we’ve got the first legendary in Shirvallah, the Tiger. One thing that struck me initially was that it kind of functions like the giant.

Was that a point of any contention when developing it, in that you’re basically making a giant that isn’t a giant?

Dean: Yeah. It’s something that we talked about it. I think that we wouldn’t of made Shirvallah an 8/8, right? Then it’s like really weird.

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There’s some qualities of the giant; one is as you do things the cost gets reduced, but also they’re all eight eights.

When we’re making a really high costed minions, we tend not to make them 4/12s too because that signifies they are a dragon.

The Roar: That makes sense.

Dean: There’s some differences. I think having cost reduction effects is one of the things that makes combos and really cool scenarios in Hearthstone happen. We’re not necessarily going to limit that to giants forever.

Yeah, Shirvallah does interact with that sort of mechanic in the same way a giant would, but it’s just a different take on it.

The Roar: Now, obviously it’s got Divine Shied which a very, very Paladin mechanic but interesting thing, to me, was the mana reduction for casting spells. Every class has spells, but you wouldn’t really think of Paladin so much as a ‘spell class’.

Was that a balance thing so it wasn’t too easy to reduce it with Silver Hand Recruits? What was the reasoning behind giving it a mana reduction for spell casting?

Dean: It was mainly something that didn’t feel like it broke their class identity. If you’re class in Hearthstone, you’re probably going to be playing minions and you’re probably going to playing spells.

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We probably wouldn’t want to spin them in a way where they’re casting a bunch of spells in a turn or doing very spellcaster things like Mages and Rogues do, but the idea is you’re paying a bunch of mana and playing these giant buffs because Paladin is a buff class, right?

The Roar: Yeah.

Dean: When people think about cards, like Blessing of Kings and Spikeridged Steed, those feel like Paladin cards. When you’re playing those cards then I think you’re doing something a little bit different than what Paladins are doing now.

I think nowadays Paladins are playing super minion-heavy decks and they are playing like odd Paladin and even Paladin. I think one of the main reasons to do Shirvallah is [so that] you’re playing a different deck.

If you want to play a deck with Shirvallah you’re probably going to have a deck that has a fair number of high cost spells or just a fair number of spells in general to make that good and if that’s true then that’s going to be a lot different than the current versions of Paladins.

The whole idea in making an expansion is that you log in and there’s new decks and you’re seeing new things and it feels like there is a new expansion.

The Roar: Awesome and, just lastly, I did want to touch on a couple of balance things. Recently you had a couple of nerfs to Giggling Inventor, Mana Wyrm and Avianna.

I want to touch on Mana Wyrm; when you are nerfing a classic card, is that something that is a bit more contentious and you have to take a bit longer before pulling the trigger on?

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Dean: Yeah, I think so. Obviously it took us a long time. Mana Wyrm’s a classic card and it’s been one of the most powerful cards in Hearthstone for forever, ever since Hearthstone was created.

It was one of those things where it just became more and more difficult to design Mage cards because I think the fantasy of Mage is you’re a spell caster. It’s really hard to make reasonably powerful low mana spells when Mana Wyrm exists just because it makes a card that’s already so good, so much better that it puts us in a position where we can’t do fun things.

Dean: It became a problem so much over time that deciding to change it in some way we felt was necessary.

There were a bunch of different options. We could have made it a 1/1. We could have rotated it to wild instead in its old form.

I think, ultimately, the decision we needed up going with was two Mana because taking it to 1/2 would have made it weaker, but we weren’t sure it was going to solve the problems that we wanted to.

It was going basically into every tempo deck and it made it really hard to make good low Mana spells.

I think if it was a 1/2, there’s a chance that maybe it wouldn’t do that any more but, when we were testing, we just found we still played the card and it was essentially just the same thing in a weaker power level so it didn’t actually solve any problems for us.

The Roar: That’s fair enough. I think Mage is pretty good at making it pretty hard to kill its minions, that would have been an interesting one.

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You obviously only made some balance changes recently. Are there any cards that you notice popping a bit from the community that you’re having a look at or they are on your radar at all?

Presumably you will have, a wild rotation coming again in four months time?

Dean: Yeah. I would say right now we’re pretty happy. I know a lot of people have been talking about classes like Druid and there’s a lot of people playing odd and even Paladin right now, but I would say in general, we’re pretty happy with how things are going.