Hearthstone's Card Balance Philosophy with Eric Dodds

Patch 4458

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Hearthstone's Card Balance Philosophy with Eric Dodds

Quote from Eric Dodds

Heya Heya!

Making changes to Hearthstone cards isn’t something we take lightly. We take many factors into account and collect massive amounts of data in order to make the correct balance decisions for the game as a whole. Today, I’m going to talk about our philosophy behind card balance and some of the reasons  why we make changes to cards. I wanted to give you all some insight behind our core philosophies and shed light on how cards evolve to be in-line with those philosophies as we move past the beta testing phase and into release.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a new member of the Hearthstone team—Mike Donais. Mike has more than 10 years of card game design experience and is already applying his wealth of knowledge by working tirelessly on many of our recent card changes. As a part of the Hearthstone design team, he ensures that cards and card balance follow the philosophies we’re going to discuss in this blog.

With that said, let’s get into how we approach Hearthstone card balance. A card can be changed for a lot of reasons:

A card causes non-interactive games

  • Hearthstone is at its most fun when you’re solving an interesting puzzle each turn.  Your opponent’s minions, your minions, and the cards in your hand are all pieces to this puzzle, and when your opponent removes parts of the puzzle, it can be less fun to play.
  • Freeze spells that affected the opponent’s board were changed for this reason. Decks that used these cards didn’t rely heavily on minions, so playing against it wasn’t all that interesting because your enemy didn’t have minions out to interact with. 
  • Cards and combinations that can kill your opponent from a high amount of Health without any minions starting on the board are also not very interactive, and this is why we recently changed Charge and Warsong Commander.

A card is frustrating to play against

  • Sometimes a card can be very frustrating and really not fun to play against—that’s enough of a reason for us to step in and change it.
  • We made an adjustment to Mind Control’s mana cost a while back for this reason. Increasing its cost made it less prevalent and gave the opponent more time to play with their big minions.
  • Pyroblast was changed because it was both frustrating to play against and it was causing less interactive games. These two reasons often go hand in hand.

A card is causing confusion or isn’t intuitive enough

  • Frostwolf Warlord was changed some time ago for this reason.  His health used to fluctuate as the number of minions you had in play changed and this created some confusion, especially if the Warlord had been damaged.  We changed his power to a Battlecry, rather than constantly triggering based on the board state, so it was consistent and easy to understand at first glance.

A card is too strong compared to other cards of that cost

  • Card diversity goes down when everyone is playing the same cards at a certain mana cost. We want to avoid the feeling of limited minion choices based off of strength and cost while you are deck-building.  The game is more interesting and dynamic when you see a variety of different cards and classes.
  • The Shattered Sun Cleric changed for this reason because most decks ran it versus other cards of the same cost, lowering card diversity and causing predictive gameplay.
  • Sylvanas Windrunner, Novice Engineer, and Defender of Argus were also changed for this reason as they made it harder for a player to choose other neutral minions at their costs.

A specific build or style of play is too strong

  • In general, we have not been making very many changes because of this reason. Our general philosophy with Hearthstone is that players should look forward to building a wide variety of creative decks with the classes they enjoy playing. We want these decks to have the power to potentially counter opponent’s strategy rather than having us swing the nerf bat to make every class functionally similar. 
  • You may potentially see cards in future sets that are more effective against a wider assortment of strategies, further diversifying the ever-evolving meta game within Hearthstone.   We’ve seen MANY different classes and deck-types cycle through the top slots over the last few months, and we look forward to seeing players build, play, counter, re-build, and theory-craft new decks as we add additional cards in the future.

A card is too weak

  • We’ve dramatically slowed down on changing cards for this particular reason.
  • Once we’ve reached Open Beta, we will be very close to locking down our cards and not making changes to them except in emergencies. We want to be able to quickly hone in on a balanced set, so changes we make would need to be low-risk. 
  • Too many fluctuating changes to cards potentially extends the time we need to spend in Beta.  Even minor changes can take a card from obscurity to prime-time—achieving balance is a very delicate thing.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how we decide which cards to change, I want you all to know that once we go into Open Beta with Hearthstone (which is happening soon!), we plan to make very few card changes, unless they are absolutely necessary. We want players to find their own creative solutions to different decks, not to wait for us to nerf the flavor the month. 

Giving you confidence in your cards and the play environment is very important to us, and each card change we make potentially undermines that confidence.  If players find a really great deck, we’ll try and slip some fun counters to that deck into the next expansion for you, instead of nerfing those cards directly.   

These latest balance changes should be close to the last changes we are making, with maybe a couple more coming before we go live. Your help in coming up with incredible, creative, and ruthless decks during our Closed Beta test really helped get us into great shape for the launch of Hearthstone. From all of us on the Hearthstone team, thank you!

-Eric Dodds

Lead Designer

Comments

    +1
    #17 VampireX (Beta Patch 4482)

    this is deck building, limiting legendaries and epics is a way to handicap those with less cards or better to say back to a F2P/P2W issue. card games are not fair to a new player, you have to collect the cards to have the "better" decks... making it so everyone runs the same basic decks is not only boring it ruins the flavor...

    +1
    #16 awright531 (Beta Patch 4482)

    limiting legendary amounts in constructed ranked would be a good thing.  I don't think I would be necessary in casual games but ranked has such a specific meta type that 3-5 legendary cards per deck seem to be the norm, and ironically they all tend to be the same 3-5 legendary cards.  Newer players or players who don't have time to devote to grinding gold or dust will always be at a disadvantage in comparison to those who have spent more time playing. 

    By limiting the number of legendary cards (and possibly epics but this would not be necessary at this time because most decks run less than 5 epics on average) you would force players to prioritize legendary card abilities and impact. therefor specializing their decks, adding more focus on a specific strategy, and removing the catch-all cards that most of the current meta legendary cards focus on.

    +1
    #13 Odins_wrath (Beta Patch 4482)

    Limiting legends is a good idea.  2 seems appropriate . 4 epics

    +1
    #14 Jackie_Bop (Beta Patch 4482)
    Quote from Odins_wrath »

    Limiting legends is a good idea.  2 seems appropriate . 4 epics

    why is that a good idea? what makes you say that?

    +1
    #8 Black_Drag0n (Beta Patch 4458)

    "Hearthstone is at its most fun when you’re solving an interesting puzzle each turn.  Your opponent’s minions, your minions, and the cards in your hand are all pieces to this puzzle, and when your opponent removes parts of the puzzle, it can be less fun to play."

    A playstyle that does not rely on minions still puts up those riddles for the opponent. And in fact those puzzles become much more diverse if they are not minion centered but have all different focuses and completely different solutions. Forcing a specific playstyle removes many puzzles that would have been fun to solve.

    "Freeze spells that affected the opponent’s board were changed for this reason. Decks that used these cards didn’t rely heavily on minions, so playing against it wasn’t all that interesting because your enemy didn’t have minions out to interact with."

    Your first point actually contradicts with this statement as you tell us what makes the game fun is solving puzzles. Even if there are no minions it still is a puzzle and solutions are already found.

    Further I am wondering why you keep nerfing cards in the surrounding of the plays you dont want to have in the game instead of taking down only the key cards. Why warsong commander and not a change to molten giant? Why Pyroblast and not Iceblock. It is not Pyro which lets a mage ignore the board but iceblock.

    "Card diversity goes down when everyone is playing the same cards at a certain mana cost. We want to avoid the feeling of limited minion choices based off of strength and cost while you are deck-building.  The game is more interesting and dynamic when you see a variety of different cards and classes."

    In every tcg/ccg i know there are staple cards for different deckarchetypes. Sometimes they just are the most useful ones and sometimes it is just a trend and players will follow. Diversity is created by different playstyles not different minions that fullfill the same role.

    +1
    #18 eroginous (Beta Patch 4482)

    This is a very good post. I often wonder if Blizzard really understands card game design when I look over the cards they have created for the first set of HS. A see far too much redundancy and not enough variety when it comes to card design. It doesn't help that cards from the 9 classes cannot be played with each other, and there are only two types of cards in the game: spells and minions

    I also don't agree with his opinion on what makes HS fun. I've been playing in the Beta for months now and I've hit a wall where I am confident there is nothing left for me to do in the game except grind out quests and accumulate gold. I don't look over HS cards and imagine what cool deck ideas I could build because, quite frankly, none of the cards available right now are exciting to me.

    This is a stark contrast with MTG, where I used to be at work, coming up with deck ideas and interesting card interactions to build decks around. I used to be anxious about getting off work to build MTG decks and test them out. I've never felt that way about HS and I don't think I ever will.

     

     

    +1
    #7 ArtistBogrim (Beta Patch 4458)

    If I had to reply to this post, I would just ask them to release more cards. Before I got my beta invite, I was under the honest impression they'd hold true to the "open beta before the end of the year." I don't think the issue is making changes to cards, but the fact that we should first expect new cards added to the game after several months, maybe even half a year. Changing cards seems like an easier way to shift the meta into the direction they want rather than releasing new content to help address those decks.

    +1
    #6 VampireX (Beta Patch 4458)

    =X insanity!!

    +1
    #5 TheMannchild (Beta Patch 4458)

    I like most changes that have been made and continue to be made but still wish two things would be addressed. I think that Epic cards should be limited to 1 per deck and also feel like there should be a limit on the number of legendary cards in a deck. I don't know if the number should be 1, 2, or 3 legendary cards per deck but i think there should be a limit. The other change i would like to see is to the coin. I think the coin offers too much benefit for the player going second. Maybe a change that removed the coin completely and allowed the player that goes second to have 2 mana on his first turn, followed by 2 mana on his second turn, and then increase by one after that would be good, maybe make the coin only be useable the first 2-3 turns.

    +1
    #9 Grimdrome (Beta Patch 4458)

    The coin is basically as good as it's going to get. While you might feel the coin gives you an advantage, it really doesn't. If you go second you have less of a win chance. Going first has a 55%~ win rate. The only exception to this is rogue as the coin can be used for combo purposes.

    +1
    #10 TheMannchild (Beta Patch 4458)

    I did not know that going first has a 55% win rate, if this is true then i take back what i said about those changes. I still feel like the other changes i mentioned would really help balance the game, especially limiting the amount of legendary cards 1 deck can have.

    +1
    #12 Grimdrome (Beta Patch 4482)

    My mistake, it's slightly less than that, but going first still has a higher win rate. http://hearthstone.blizzpro.com/2013/09/12/ben-brode-talks-the-coin/

    +1
    #15 Thiron_ (Beta Patch 4482)

    So, 1-5% average benefit in going first, with some cases where going second is better - I think that's close enough to call balanced.

    +1
    #4 Pucciosa (Beta Patch 4458)

    it means we will never play a combo deck on HS ?

    +1
    #1 xskarma (Beta Patch 4458)

    In short the HS team is asking all of us to stop demanding nerfs and buffs and to start getting creative to solve problems and better at playing the game and building decks. I approve.

    +1
    #2 Fluxflashor (Beta Patch 4458)
    Quote from xskarma »

    In short the HS team is asking all of us to stop demanding nerfs and buffs and to start getting creative to solve problems and better at playing the game and building decks. I approve.

    Actually playing the game instead of whining on the forums? MADNESS.

    +1
    #3 xskarma (Beta Patch 4458)
    Quote from Fluxflashor »

     

     MADNESS.

    Totally

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