Interview with our Expansion Creation Competition Winner - Servitors of the Loa
Back at the start of this Season of the Weekly Card Design Competition over on the Fan Creations Forums, we ran our first ever Expansion Creation Competition, asking competitors over the course of 10 weeks to create 84 cards for a fictional future expansion. We saw a lot of great ideas, but eventually made it down to one final winner - RazorOfArtorias and their expansion, the Servitors of the Loa! We took the time to ask them some questions about the thought process behind designing their expansion, as well as asking them for some insight into card creation in general.
Congratulations again to Razor for winning! You can check out their entire expansion here, and can find the rest of the finalists in our Finale Poll topic. Thanks to everyone who voted, and who continues to participate in the WCDC - we couldn't do it without you. Now, on to the questions!
One of the strongest points of your expansion that was brought up often in Discussion was the theme. What was the thought behind going for the "Servitors of the Loa"?
The original troll idea was from TrappedInLimbo, my teammate from Whispers of the Old Mods, a Team of 2 tournament on the r/customhearthstone subreddit, where we advanced four of the five phases with our Dual Class & Troll theme (Go Angry McChicken Team!). He created a troll tribe theme with their own Troll tag and an interaction based on killing your own Troll minions to trigger awesome effects (like Dragons "in your hand" or Elementals "played your last turn"). We also created a cycle of "Rituals", dual class spells from the Loa gods with powerful effects sacrificing your own Trolls.
I liked the idea but I thought its lore and flavor was stronger than the mechanic so I decided to use the Troll and Loa theme with a different approach in the ECC, without the Troll tag because I think it don't fits on the Hearthstone tribe structure (all Alliance and Horde main races, like Humans, Gnomes, Elves, Trolls, Orcs... aren't a tribe) and giving the Loa more agency in the expansion as a full cycle of nine Legendary class Beasts.
Prior to the Expansion Creation Competition, had you ever thought about creating an entire Hearthstone expansion? What made you decide to compete?
I was aware of Hearthpwn large Card Design Competitions like the Class Creation (I read the previous interview with Nurgling) or the Adventure Creation but back in those days I was not interested. When Expanding Horizons came out I felt pretty confident with my designs (some of them reached the Final Poll at the WCDC but never won) so I submitted my idea. I thought it was cool way to push me outside my comfort zone in my learning process but I did it without any hope, just for fun. When Servitors of the Loa overcome the first phase with a lot of votes and nice comments I decided to take this competition more seriously.
One of the big highlights of your expansion was the Voodoo mechanic - we even had a competition themed around it! How did you come up with it? Did you come up with the mechanic first, or the theme?
First was the Troll and Loa theme, then I worked on some mechanics I thought could fit the theme, like sacrificing your own minions, paying Health instead of Mana, etc. Then I remembered an old design I had about Flame Imp using the Health cost under the mana symbol (thanks Hearthcards!) instead of its Battlecry. I really liked it and visually was interesting but I wasn't sure about the idea using Health as a resource (I like it in some cards like Bloodbloom or Cho'gall, but not as a full mechanic).
So after a few iterations I've decided to create Voodoo (a troll related dark magic and drinking blood enhance it, so it fits perfectly with the theme) as an additional and optional payment. It's like if Flame Imp was a 1 Mana 2/1 that can get +1/+1 for 3 Health, if you like it. I think the posibility of choosing or not the Voodoo option it's interesting for the players, decision making is one of the strong points in a card game and also you have a large design space.
What was your favourite part of designing your own expansion?
My favourite part was designing all my Common cards because it is my favourite rarity (I love Pauper format - decks with only Common and Basic cards - in Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering) and they are perfect for conveying each class's mechanics and the expansion theme. I think a low mana and simple card, with one or two lines, is harder to design and balance than a Legendary card with a +8 Mana Cost and a ton of space for crazy effects. That's why my favourite cards from Servitors of the Loa are commons like Amani Fanatic, with Voodoo and Enrage at the same card it shows the expansion theme and flavor with a couple of words.
Also the Loa gods' Common and Rare minions were pretty cool to design because they have to be mechanically related to their masters abilities.
I'm a big supporter of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) principle for design and maybe that's why Servitors of the Loa feels a bit vanilla, with only a few "WHOA!" moments of exciment. For my next expasion I need to learn how to balance simple designs with more complex and crazy ones, and that's pretty hard.
What was the hardest part?
Designing and balancing the nine Loa gods, that was pretty hard and I needed a lot iterations (with three different Mana costs!) and the help of the Fan Creation Forum designers. As an old Magic: The Gathering player I wanted for my expansion a full horizontal cycle with powerful cards. In Hearthstone a full horizontal cycle consists of a card for each class with similar effects, so nine cards. I decided to use all my class Legendary card spots for my cycle and that was a good and a bad idea at the same time. A good idea because it's flavorful and a lot of people like them but a bad idea because I lose the opportunity to create some crazy Legendary class cards for impact because if you read one Loa it's like you've read all of them. Next time I'll try a full horizontal cycle with Epic or Rare cards instead.
And before we move to the next question I have to admit that finding art for my Paladin cards was crazy hard. The only one I had that feels like a Paladin was Argent Lancer - and I used it on a Neutral card! You fool! - while the rest were trolls with light and bright illustrations.
If we were to do an Expansion Creation Competition again in the future, would you participate? How do you think it could be changed to be a different or better experience?
Not in the near future because I'm with a new project not related to card design and I don't have much spare time but maybe if the new competition is in 3-6 months I think I'll participate, but this time with a more complex expansion (a lot of people told me the Servitors of the Loa feels too vanilla, like GvG, and they're right) and using all the design principles that I've learned working on my expansion and talking with the awesome card designers at the Fan Creation Forum.
And about the second part this was my first large competition and I'm really happy with all the 5 Phases and voting format, I think is fair. Also I really liked how the card itself is the protagonist, not allowing golden animations or fancy presentations, even in the Final Phase with the full Expansion already done.
Besides your own, what was your favourite of the other expansions submitted, and why?
I really liked all the finalists and that's why I didn't vote at the final poll but now, with the tournament finished, I can say my favourite expansion from the very beginning was Showdown at the Battlegrounds by Broeck1. The Horde vs. Alliance theme is flavorful and he implemented all the faction interaction in a clever way, the flag under the Mana cost is something I want to see in a future Hearthstone set. It was pretty awesome how each class has his own faction with Druid as a faction hate class and Rogue as the faction joining class. So cool.
My favourite cards from his expansion are:
We mentioned previously that there was a special competition to create a Voodoo card in honour of your expansion. Which submissions were your favourites?
A Serving of Servitors was awesome I really enjoyed looking at all the submitted cards! A lot of good cards were designed and I really loved the eight finalists, they deserve their spot there. But If I have to choose only one card I think it would be Voodoo Doll by Cogito_Ergo_Sum (also she's awesome and helps a lot with her top notch feedback in all the discussion topics). And close to Cogito's card was Voodon't by Toble, because I like funny and meme-ish cards, as you can see with my highlighted card VooDOOM! (a bad joke with Voodoo and DOOM!). Both cards have excellent flavor and illustrations, a voodoo doll fits perfectly with cards that interact with the Voodoo mechanic, like Vajaty, The Cursed Doll, one of my favourite cards of the set.
About the winner card, Orgoth, the Relentless by Turkeybag, I liked its flavor and the idea of an extreme Voodoo that forces you to gain a lor of Armor but I don't like instawin conditions in Hearthstone (I'm not a big fan of Uther of the Ebon Blade), and this one seems pretty easy to complete in a Control Warrior deck, which I think is powerful as it is. But it was their first win here so now their avatar has that cool Card Design Champion frame so I'm happy for them!
You've been a member of the site for some time, and have participated in many WCDCs. What would be your advice to someone looking to get into card creation? What do you think is the most important part of creating an entire expansion?
I've been designing cards for 6-7 months so from newbie to newbie I have a lot of tips that helped me to improve my designs in a few months. First, you should read the awesome starter guide Hearthstone Card Creation: A Primer. Your next and most important step is creating a ton cards, because the only way to learn design is designing, period. Take a look at the Weekly Card Design Competitions and jump into them without fear and don't forget to share your card to the Discussion topic before you submit it. The feedback from other experienced designers is pure gold, you have to fail and learn from your mistakes to improve your design and you need external opinions. Trust me.
Also you have to internalize that Hearthstone cards are quite simple. When you're new you have a ton of ideas and you want to put them in one card but that's a bad idea, cut them, keep the best ones and make a card with a maximum of 4 lines of text (remember the KISS principle!).
About designing an entire expansion I recommend you have some previous experience designing cards because it's a lot of hard work week after week. Another important point is the big picture of the expansion, you have to know before you get into the design how many cards you want, which rarities and how many cards with each keywords. Also try to give your classes one or two main themes for some homogeneity and flavor, like my Paladin cards all around Secrets and Divine Shield. In Servitors of the Loa the main ability of each Loa was one of the themes of its class.
Finally if you gain confidence as a card designer and you want to improve even more I recommend you to read/listen about Card/Game Design Theory. There's some videos about Hearthstone like this talk at the 2014 Game Design Conference or this official playlist. But my favourite design sources are from Magic: The Gathering, they have a ton of information, super detailed and you can apply what your learn to Hearthstone! Mark 'MaRo' Rosewater, the MTG Head Designer, has a design column, a podcast and also this impressive video at the GDC 2016.
Anything else you'd like to share with the community?
Just one curious note from Servitors of the Loa. The original art from my Legendary card Mar'li, Shadra's Priestess was +18 because she was topless but was the perfect art for my card (she's so badass and you can see Shadra at the background!) so I had to edit it and put some clothes on her to fit the ESRB teen classification of Hearthstone. ;)