Iksar Looks Back on the Balance and Design of the Curse of Naxxramas Adventure

Iksar Looks Back on the Balance and Design of the Curse of Naxxramas Adventure

Just over 4 years ago (Jan 27, 2015), Blizzard announced a nerf for Undertaker who had been tearing up the meta since August 2014 when the Construct Quarter wing was released. This was brought up over on reddit and Hearthstone's Dean "Iksar" Ayala took this as an opportunity to revisit Naxxramas, the first set he worked on.

  • Undertaker was a miss. Dean play tested a lot with Warlock. The team was much smaller back then.
  • Deathlord was originally a 2/6.
  • Mad Scientist was known to be very strong. Helped players experiment more with secrets.
  • Sludge Belcher was designed to be better than Druid of the Claw, "the gold standard for premium taunt minions".
  • Voidcaller is not a card they would make in present day Hearthstone.

What were some of your favourite memories from the Curse of Naxxramas adventure? Face Hunter was so beautiful, my one true love.

Quote from Iksar

Undertaker still makes me laugh. Naxxramas was an interesting small set to balance. Personally, Naxx was the first set I ever worked on so I look back on it fondly. Some design anecdotes....

Undertaker: Was just a miss in terms of balance. I remember doing most of the playtesting with Undertaker in Warlock because that was traditionally where snowballing board control decks were most successful. It was still extremely powerful in that deck but Undertaker in combination with Scientist in Hunter made it way over the top. We did play that version but just not enough to realize. The whole content design team was four people back then, so we had a lot less time to playtest due to the fact we also were responsible for designing the next set and building the Naxxramas single player. Today, our whole content design team is much bigger.

Deathlord: Was originally weaker because we hadn't done anything with an effect like this before. Was 2/6, then eventually up to 2/8. As a balance person, this is one of the cards I was most happy with. It's difficult to get weird effects like this to a level that ends up being played, but not in a way that people just put in all their decks. Ended up being both a moderate disruption card and an option in aggro heavy metas, but faded out when neither of those things were very relevant.

Mad Scientist: Definitely one of the strongest cards we ever made, but that was something we knew going in. It drove a few new decks and got players to think about putting interesting secrets in their deck like Spellbender or Snake Trap when those cards hadn't really seen much play. I don't think Scientist is a good example of a classic or basic card, but as an adventure card that eventually leaves standard I think it did a great job.

Sludge Belcher: Aggressive decks were very powerful in both pre and post-naxx playtesting, so we knew we wanted some solid options to combat that. Druid of the Claw was kind off the gold standard for premium taunt minions back in those days, so we made something that was just a little bit better than that. We liked the gameplay of having a powerful neutral Taunt option so much we went on to create many more like it. Some cards that can thank Sludge Belcher's example for their power level: Annoy-o-Tron, Stonehill Defender, Tar Creeper, Corpsetaker, Twilight Guardian, Saronite Chain Gang, Rotten Applebaum, Witchwood Grizzly, Zilliax, Bog Creeper, Chillmaw, Primordial Drake, and uh.... Giggling Inventor! Some of those were less powerful than we had planned, some more :).

Voidcaller: A good example of a card I'm glad exists, wouldn't change, but not a card we would make in present day Hearthstone. I love the bluffing situations it creates where your opponent has to assess the risk of what might be behind the Deathrattle vs the potential reward of destroying the minion before you have a chance to summon your demon. Also love that it drove a more big-demon centric deck. The part of the card that makes it something we probably wouldn't do today is the huge early-game swings it created and the the ridiculous upside potential of something like Voidcaller -> Voidcaller -> Mal'Ganis. Even though the average outcome was ok, the range of outcomes is just so wide that playing against the best outcomes can feel unfair.


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