Mike Donais' Stream Q&A - Nerfs Leaked, Balance Discussion, and much more!




Mike did a birthday stream with his daughter where he answered a ton of Hearthstone questions! We've compiled everything for you here.

He hit on a wide variety of topics, like:

  • Wild balance, including Barnes
  • Arena Changes
  • Card Creation
  • Balance issues
  • Design space
  • Production pipeline for expansions
  • And much, much more

He may have also inadvertently revealed some nerfs that are coming. In this clip (also embedded at the very bottom of this article) he accidentally left his chat screen with someone else visible, in which he apparently is chatting about the coming nerfs.

UPDATE: These Nerfs turned out to be true. See our news post from Thursday

The cards in the clip are Extra Arms which apparently will be nerfed to 3 mana and Conjurer's Calling which will apparently be nerfed to 4 mana.


If you want, you can check the VOD out by clicking HERE

Lets jump to the questions!

Q: Can you talk about tournament mode at all? Why was it scrapped?
A: We liked the idea about it, but we didn't have an implementation that was both like relatively easy to do and would hit a lot of player desires.

Q: What is your favorite card?
A: I have a lot of favorite cards, but one of them is definitely Reno. I like the gameplay of having all different cards in your deck.

Q: What's the story behind recreating one of the cards you made for Magic in Hearthstone, being Violet Wurm?
A: I actually didn't create either of those 2 cards, but I worked on the set that both were in (in Magic and Hearthstone). I worked on Magic in the 2002 to 2010. So it was a fun coincidence that they were both cards I had worked on and almost identical. But I didn't actually make either one, sadly.

Q: Is there anything that has surprised you about the set?
A: That Zephrys is the best card from the set, I knew it is going to be good, but I didn't realize that it was gonna be that good.

Q: What card limits the design space the most?
A: That's a good question, there is a bunch, things like Malygos, Auctioneer, Alextrasza, but not too much. The other ones we moved into Wild, where they are less dangerous. Yeah, any Charge minions, Leeroy even a Boar are limiting design space. The nice things about Malygos or Auctioneer are that they cause you to play differently than create new decks, so we like to keep them in the environment, because as long as they are like tier 2 or tier 3 or they move in and out of the meta, they are actually really good for the game and design, because they make you play different types of decks than you normally play and you experiment with them.

Q: Mike, can you tell us what Rogue’s Plague was going to be before the class identity blog post led to an adjustment of that card?
A: Rogue Plague went to a bunch of different designs, one of the designs I remember is, give all your minions poisonous and that was really good, but it was often a full board clear and it's not something that we liked them having, so we did end up changing it into the weapon. Still pretty good against single target, but since your opponent gets it also, It's very balanced.

Q: Do you guys sometimes take inspiration from fan-made cards?
A: Yeah absolutely, we usually don't get an exact good design like a perfect design from fan made cards but sometimes someone writes something that inspires an idea and It gets changed a lot over the next year as it goes through all the different, you know, design steps and It'll come out looking sometimes completely different, sometimes similar.

Q: How many expansion have you made for the future so far? I heard it's usually 3 in advance
A: It's different stages of expansions, so it's like we are working on the concept about a year in advance of like, what is the theme going to be, you know, is It going to be about the Evil League or the good guys, things like that. And there's another expansion at the same time while all the cards are being designed and another expansion where they are being balanced and tuned and play tested. Then another expansion where the effects are going in, the arts going in, golden animations and marketing is getting ready to ship and it's going to streamers to give the card reveals and stuff like that, so whole bunch of different steps.

Q: Do you guys ever tweak expansions last minute to adjust for the meta from the current expansion since they're balanced so far in advance?
A: Yes. Actually about like the very last minute that we can adjust something, which is about 2 weeks before it comes out, we do a week of the final design team, which is like Chakki and the other balance designers, Iksar, and they go back and they go back to that expansion, they try to remember what it was about it and play some games with the idea that they know a lot more about the current meta and they try to balance around that idea, so there is always last minute tuning.

Q: Do you have any plans of having more tournament support for Wild?
A: I haven't talked to e-sports about that recently, in the past they talked about doing more stuff, but I have to check with them. Won't promise anything.

Q: SoU was way more impactful to Wild than any other recent expansion. Is that because you guys were creating Wild synergies intentionally?
A: We do think about Wild, but we are also trying to make some exciting cards, and these cards were so exciting that it turned out, even in Wild they are exciting.

Q: Would you guys ever send Warsong Commander to Wild and un-nerf it like with Molten Giant, or would it still be too oppressive?
A: We don't want to un-nerf Warsong Commander and the reason that we made such big changes to him is because it is a design restriction, like giving things charge, and It's just a bad idea, because there will always be some combos or new designs, that would be really bad if they had Charge, so we can't really revert that. Even though we might come up with a better design for it eventually.

Q: What is the highest rank you have ever been?
A: Legend 1 of course.

Q: What is your favorite decklist that you didn't see becoming a thing, but was found by the community?
A: I was surprised that community is playing Zephrys Rogue a little bit, I also enjoyed it even playing it a few times. Historically it is hard to remember, because a lot of them just happened, but Chief Nomi going into Druid was a bit of a surprise, that was pretty interesting, also I didn't know that new Reborn Combo Priest was going to be that good as it is now, being one of the best in the format.

Q: Do you guys consider the current meta game when you are designing cards? I.e if there is a lot of combo decks will you print more control tools?
A: Yeah, we definitely consider the current metagame, It's a huge part of it, we look at a whole bunch of data, to figure out, what decks are good, what classes are good, and then we design and balance cards so the decks that are like tier 3 get some cards, or the decks that are maybe about to rotate out and need a little boost before they rotate out, get some cards. We have really good data to help us to do that.

Q: Do you still talk to Ben Brode at all?
A: Yeah, we text occasionally, we talk a little bit, he is a good guy, we worked together for many years, we actually worked together on WOW tcg for a while too, 10 years ago. And my brother was his boss like 15 years ago.

Q: What are your thoughts about arena?
A: I like that we are experimenting, actually planning to do another experiment in while, where we go back to the system, because there are some people who have fun memories of the old system, where you could see powerful cards and weak cards in the same pick. Not necessarily a permanent change, unless everyone loves it, but i think it would be good temporary change, so people can decide how much they like it. And then continue to experiment in a different ways, we are doing the current experiment of changing which sets are in the arena to make it more different every 2 months, people seem to give a lot of positive feedback on that, so that's going well. And we will do more experiments after that, for sure.

Q: When you guys are making nerfs, how do you decide which cards to nerf if you think a deck is too powerful?
A: It is a mix of small factors and major factors. Major factors are the data to show like Is this one of the most powerful decks, and then within the deck, is this the most powerful card in it? Another major factor is how do you feel playing it and playing against it. Another factor is how good is to proceed by the community, which is similar to feel, but it's the sort of combinations of these 2 factors. Another factors is, is this card going to be changed because of new cards or because of the rotation or something like that.

Q: Are you planning on adding more interactions between certain cards and heroes like Rexxar and Animal Companion or Garrosh and Cairne?
A: A little bit, but not too much. There is a many of them possible, but when we do them, we are doing the most important ones. Especially in the adventures, each adventure has some cool stuff going on.

Q: What do you think about un-nerfing certain cards?
A: That was cool for Molten Giant, we talked about it and play tested it a bunch, for some of them it actually doesn't make sense, because it's a design restriction for the future, like for example making your heropower costs 0, that's a little bit of limitation. But yeah, if I think it's appropriate, we will definitely do that. The buff event was one of my favorite events that we have done. Recently we just took a bunch of old cards and buff them. Some of them we buffed too aggressively, but I think it made for some fun change-ups, and we can always nerf them later.

Q: Where are the Dragons at?
A: That's a good question...

Q: Saronite Chain Gang was changed to keep infinite Shudderwock out of Standard. Is there a reason why this card is still nerfed in wild?
A: Saronite Chain Gang would be really strong in other formats as well, Dopplegangster is the next best, but he is really slow, so it's pretty bad by itself.

Q: Has there ever been discussion about reworking the coin to not count as a spell?
A: We have talked about it, but it's really weird though.

Q: Have you guys ever considered any sort of in-game deck tracker?
A: Yeah, actually we talked about it a bunch, pros and cons and like how to display it without putting too much information on the screen, like overwhelming all the types of players. It's a bunch of work to build it, keep it up to date, have a great UI and great backend, so we just prioritize other things before that. For a long time, like all our work just went into making card sets, and now, we have a little bit extra for tavern brawls and like that. But we have more people now, so.

Q: Were there any cards in the SoU that you thought could see more play?
A: I expected Druid to be really powerful, I expected a crazy Druid combo deck with Elise, we play tested it, Chakki had this deck that like goes infinite, but it's like too weak compared to everything else right now.

Q: What does a normal work day for you look like?
A: So I wake up in the morning, I walk to work, I get there, I try to figure out, what are the challenges for the day, I call Ben Brode and I ask him, what should I do? I have all these challenges, and he goes step by step and he tells me what to do for each of them, so and I implement those, then I go on Reddit, and I read a Reddit for a while, I cry, people are mad, angry, and then I walk home. That's a normal day. :D

Q: Can you spoil what you’ll be announcing at Blizzcon? We promise not to tell anyone.
A: Yeah, if you don't tell anyone. Blizzcon will be better than It has been in like 10 years. It is going to be amazing!

Q: What're your thoughts on the current state of wild? any chance of wild sets getting buffs like boomsday?
A: One of the reasons people play Wild is because they want to like experience the game in it's purest form, like the classic way, so changing Wild up might detract from that for certain people. It kinda takes away the whole point of Wild for some people, so I don't think we will unless there is a good reason to.

Q: What percentage of cards actually make it from play testing into the game?
A: About 1 %.

Q: How many people in the dev team are working on arena?
A: A bunch of people spend part of their time on arena, no one spends full time arena.

Q: To ease the minds of some Wild players, have you at least heard us on problematic cards such as Barnes?
A: Yeah, we are keeping an eye on Barnes, we might do something about him.

Q: If you could reuse an expansion-specific keyword, which one would it be?
A: Certainly Discover, Rush, Poisonous, because we really liked those ones. We also like the Quests and they ended up being interesting and fun the second time too, so we are happy about that. I even kinda like Twinspell, so we could re-use this one day.

Q: Any plans to bring Inspire back?
A: Inspire is all right, but it was really snowballing, like if your Inspire minion lives you just get more and more ahead so it feels really bad, so we ended up having the last minute sort of figuring out we couldn't really do many different designs that didn't fall into the snowball category, so we just backed off and made the whole powerlevel worse, cuz we didn't have like 4 months to redesign the expansion or make a new keyword.

Q: Any chance of priest getting a half decent board-clear in classic/basic?
A: I don't want to play against the same board clears over and over and over again, but we could upgrade them a bit, we already talked about it a lot.

Q: Will there be any more hero cards? Or have they been overused?
A: We will still do them, but much slower, slowly put them out, when there is a good reason for them, we wanted to play up characters like Hagatha and Doctor Boom and the Evil league before the RoS came out and that's why we made those Hero Cards and when we think there is someone, who is really important to the story or you know, to deliver some type of message, we will do more Hero Cards. Or if there is a mechanic that would be appropriate for a Hero Card.

Q: Do you plan on buffing cards every expansion? Would you consider buffing neutral cards in addition to class cards?
A: No, we like to mix it up. We did buffs that time, so maybe we will do something else this time, or next time.

Q: Are you guys ever going to make previously available alternate heroes or promotional card backs available again?
A: Probably in some ways, maybe not all of them, but we will definitely do in some fashion, they are not exclusive.

Q: Why did you print EVIL Totem if one of the Shaman's weaknesses is card generation?
A: That was a meme, Shamans don't get weaknesses.

Q: Do you guys ever consider looking back at really old legendaries that were based around a theme (freeze shaman) and give them support now that they lacked back then?
A: Freeze isn't a great mechanic in general, like it's not very fun to have your stuff frozen all the time, so we decided to not go very hard on it after playtesting it a bunch, like playing it after 5 years as a Mage, so we ended up making it not that strong and I don't think we are going to ever push it, if we do, It'll be single target freeze, which is okay, because It's like killing something, much more likely than aoe freeze.

Mike was playing this deck the whole stream:
Mike Donais' Reno Mage (Standard)
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Minion (19) Ability (11)
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Here you can see the matchups (final score was 8-6 which is about 57.14 % win-rate):

vs Mage (Reno)
vs Mage (Reno)
vs Priest (Combo)
vs Mage (Reno)
vs Warlock (Zoo)
vs Mage (Reno)
vs Druid (Quest)
vs Priest (Quest)
vs Hunter (Reno)
vs Mage (Giant/Galaxy)
vs Warrior (Aggro)
vs Shaman (Quest)
vs Priest (Combo) 
vs Priest (Combo)

There was also a pretty good highlight after Mike got a Fireball, which he predicted before playing Vulpera and got it from the Mystery Choice for lethal damage (1/36 = 2.78 % chance):


As mentioned at the top, Mike also potentially leaked upcoming nerfs on the stream:




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