Mike Donais on Frozen Throne's Impact on Hearthstone, The Final Design Team

Mike Donais on Frozen Throne's Impact on Hearthstone, The Final Design Team

PC Gamer's Tim Clark sat down with Hearthstone's Mike Donais to talk about the impact Frozen Throne had on the game and how the final design team works. You can find our recap of the interview below.

The Final Design Team

  • There are four members on the final design team, with other designers working with them sometimes.
  • It's nice having a small team because they can all sit down with each other and don't have to play catch-up constantly.
  • Each day the final design team plays decks they want to experiment with. Sometimes they focus on specific combos.
  • Using live data, they'll grab the best decks and tweak them with unreleased cards to test how they perform.
  • If a card isn't that great, they'll tweak it, even last minute.
  • There is a lot of collaboration between all members of the Hearthstone team when they're looking for card design ideas.
  • During Un'Goro's final design, they spent less time changing card designs and more on iterating upon the balance.


  • Lots of variance during the Frozen Throne meta.
  • All nine classes are viable and doing pretty well.
  • It's important that players feel comfortable playing their favourite classes and doing well with it.
  • The card nerfs gave players a good excuse to switch up the decks they're playing.
  • They'll never be able to get an exact feel for every card during design due to differences in the live meta.
  • Spreading Plague seemed weaker internally due to them testing it against a broad type of decks and not only aggro.

Standard Rotation

  • If they were to rotate a set out of Standard each time a new set was released, it wouldn't change enough.
  • A large rotation also makes it more likely to force players to change things up.


  • Prince Keleseth was already seeing some play before it got popular and it was doing well.
  • Mike thinks one of the Death Knights is probably the best pure value card in the game.
  • Without the Death Knights, Tirion Fordring was probably the best value card.
  • Barnes causes big swings and high variance in an unfun way. It will eventually rotate out though. (Next year!)
  • Raza the Chained and Shadowreaper Anduin were potential targets for nerfs.
  • Ultimately, Raza+Anduin is really hard to play and Mike thinks the power level of the deck is pretty good.
  • Drakonid Operative was a card they intentionally made overpowered so Dragon Priest could see the light.
  • Innervate made Ultimate Infestation a more reasonable card.


Quote from Mike Donais

Do you think that sometimes less can be more in terms of how you describe the reasons for nerfing things?

I'm a big fan of transparency and just telling our players what we actually are thinking and what we mean. Most of the players can understand where we're coming from and I think it helps them to know. If I just tell you why I nerfed it, I think someone like you will be like "Well okay, at least I understand your reasoning. I might not agree with it, but I like to hear it." So that's my goal.

Because we can have a friendly conversation about cards and enjoy it, but on the internet it's a slightly different case. I'm astonished by how aggressive and at times abusive that conversation can get. How do you personally cope with that kind of thing?

One of the things I learned over the years is that the people who are trying to learn from the blog posts, will learn from the blog posts. And the ones that don't want to, won't—they'll just make up their own interpretations. So I write for those guys who want to read it and want to learn from it and understand where we're coming from. Those are the guys that I write for.


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