Kosak: There's a top-down approach, where you start with a fantasy and you try and build a mechanic, or the bottom-up approach, where you build the mechanic and then build the fantasy around it. And we do a lot of both on Hearthstone. So we didn't start with Genn Greymane and then try and figure out a mechanic - we had a very cool mechanic, and we wanted characters to sort of embody that mechanic.
By having Genn Greymane be a figurehead of that mechanic, he becomes important, and we wanted him to be an important character.
Ayala: [With the exception of Genn,] the Worgen designs are probably the most top-down. It'd be pretty weird if we did Gilneas and The Witchwood set without some sort of Worgen transformation mechanic.
We really wanted to do that, so it's just a matter of "Ok how can we get that idea - which is such a core fantasy, humans turning into werewolves - how can we get that in? With each expansion, how many deck archetypes do you think is a good number for each class? Ayala: In design, we usually try to make two or three per class, then some of those taper out over time.
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Really the number is as high as we can get it, but I think we're happy if we can create a totally new archetype for each class; that's quite difficult to do. If you asked a variety of individuals, their definition of a new archetype is different. For some people, unless this archetype is Tier 1 and played by professional players, it's not actually real. For us, if it's being played at some amount, and it's fun for some level of player, that's a success for us. If we can deliver a fun experience for some of the audience, that's really the goal.
What does [Hearthstone development team] Team 5 think are the most crucial cards that are leaving the Standard meta for Year of the Raven?
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I'm actually pretty sad to see all the Old Gods leave Standard, just because I think they're one of the most successful things we've done. It was insanely difficult to say, "Ok, they're Old Gods, they've gotta be 10 mana! So having N'Zoth leave, and of course Yogg C'Thun is still played at a pretty high rate in the lower ranks nowadays, so I think C'Thun is really fun for people.
Barnes leaving is really high impact for a lot of decks that exist. Jade is a huge one too, because a whole deck type is just basically whipped out of Standard. Do you think it's even possible to have a meta where all nine classes are equally viable? Ayala: It's certainly possible, and we've been pretty close a lot of different times - but it's not even necessarily the goal. Maybe we can get to a point where every class is equally played, but when you look at the metagame, is there something fun for each of the classes, and are people generally happy? That's the goal of it - sort of a soft goal, because it's hard to equate with data exactly that that's happening - but the goal is mostly the perception of fun, rather than looking at numbers and saying we did a good or bad job.
Ayala: It's something we thought a lot about, actually. Warlock itself, the perception of its power level I think is not out of control at this point; people feel like they can beat Warlock, and I don't think there's been a huge outcry of "Warlock is too powerful and needs to get nerfed! And with rotation happening, there's going to be a bunch of new decks - but Warlocks, as a lot of people have pointed out, don't lose a lot.
Mistress of Mixtures, maybe N'Zoth out of their control packages - but the core thing of what they're doing with [Carnivorous] Cube and Possessed Lackey still exists. I think that's the number one thing we're looking at, post-rotation: did Warlock not lose enough in comparison to everybody else, and what did they gain in Witchwood that made their decks better or worse? The hope is always that we don't have to make a change, because it's important for us that players feel like it's them figuring out the puzzle of the metagame and being able to develop new decks to solve issues, rather than us coming in and changing the meta by hand.
You should have the chops to fight against those other players and pull out the wins. Kosak: Particularly if you've invested in Warlock and you're excited about Warlock. You don't want to have it just change arbitrarily because designers are like "Ah, too much! Ayala: Yeah, exactly. It's something we're going to look at but we don't feel like it's necessary today. With Coldlight Oracle moving to the Hall of Fame, are you trying to nullify mill decks in Standard, or are those strategies still worthwhile? Ayala: Mill decks are an interesting beast, because for a lot of people, it's their favorite deck - some people play Mill Rogue and that's all they play, 'cause they love mill decks.
I think if Mill Rogue were the most popular deck in Hearthstone that might be quite a frustrating experience, but no, it's not our purpose to say "Oh, we don't like mill decks, so therefore Coldlight is being removed".
The Witchwood - Hearthstone Wiki
I'm sure mill decks will still exist in some form. I really like the recent adjustments to Ranked, where you only drop four ranks at the end of each season, but it feels like it positions Legend rank as something that anyone can attain given enough time. Do you think every player deserves to be able to hit Legend? Ayala: It's really interesting I often hear [things like] "Based on math, you'll eventually get to Legend! Even if you start at rank 5, in order to go plus over the course of the season, it just doesn't happen unless you are very good at Hearthstone. I understand the mathematical argument, where if you played a billion games, you'd probably get there - but in practice, I think it's really the skilled players that are getting to Legend.
Kosak: I feel like Legend - that star, that card back - should be something that's not a gimme. Ayala: It should mean something, and I think it does. We also made the change where every rank now has 5 stars. Progressing from 22 to 15 or whatever, there's a lot more stars involved, so you have to win more games in order to make that happen.
So I think Legend still means a lot, even if you don't get reset as far - you should still feel very good about that. Kosak: It wasn't important to us to spread the people out, so that your skill level matched up a little better. We had a lot of people bunched up around 20, so when you were playing on rank 20 you had no idea [what you were up against]. I was playing the other week, and went up against an all-goldens Pirate Warrior, and I was like "What is this guy doing at 20?
Dude, get out of my rank 20!
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I think it's going to be a much better experience at any point on the ladder. Walk me through what happened with the unexpected power level of Corridor Creeper. Ayala: We played a lot of Token decks originally; it was really powerful obviously in Token Shaman decks. But sometimes when you're playtesting, things don't seem as powerful as they end up being in live. We knew there were some really powerful Token decks going on, but I don't think we foresaw that Corridor Creeper was going to be so good in such a wide variety of decks. We actually had a pretty good feel for the power level of what it was like in decks like Token Paladin and Token Shaman - but cards like Patches made the cost go down so rapidly that, even if you drew the card on turn 3 or 4, you were still pretty happy about that.
It was just sort of a miss in terms of the balance team - if we end up nerfing a card, then it's pretty much admitting that "Hey, this card ended up being slightly more powerful than we had planned on. Ayala: Yeah. It just made the experience of "Okay, what deck am I going to play against that's playing Corridor Creeper?
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He has been devoted to the study and practice of witchcraft for over forty years. Raven is co-founder and co-director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle, a modern Mystery School tradition of pre-Christian European beliefs and practices. Raven currently lives in New England with his beautiful wife and co-author Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. He enjoys such things as collecting Silver Age comics featuring Dr. Strange, working in the herbal garden, and occasionally relaxing on the porch with a nice cigar on a warm summer night.
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