There has been a lot of recent discussion about the state of constructed Hearthstone mechanics. Much of it has been about card generation and its effect on the game, but the Discover mechanic, highlander cards, variance, and mana reduction have also been discussed.
I want to have an in-depth discussion on these issues as they relate to Standard play, but I imagine Wild players can relate too. I also want to propose some small adjustments that I believe would keep the fun aspects of these mechanics in-tact while improving how they impact competitive play.
Some players (myself included) feel like the current implementations of these mechanics have produced constructed gameplay that makes either one or both players feel like they had little to no control over the outcome of the game despite the fact that there are multiple viable decks, classes, and playstyles; class winrates are fairly tight (as of this post); and many cards are played during (most) games.
I believe the problem has stemmed from 2 main issues:
- Focus on Board Control: The devs have had to try to make all games be determined by board control. They have consistently made design decisions that remove card combos that disregard board states to kill opponents, particularly from high life totals. We're talking about Freeze Mage combos, finishers that include Leeroy Jenkins + stuff, Prophet Velen combos, OG Patron Warrior etc. When board control is the deciding factor in games, players need to be able to swing board control around. Otherwise the player who got ahead would likely always stay ahead, which would be no fun. I think the mana reduction issue looms large here. Decks can't swing boards forever (some can't at all really) so gameplay can reduce to both players just trying to set up that one board swing that is insurmountable, like two people racing to complete their respective games of Solitaire.
- Each Game Should Feel Different: The devs have consistently stated their desire to make each game of Hearthstone (even those with the same deck) feel like a unique experience. This is a wonderful goal! A game will likely get boring quickly if it feels like you're doing the same thing every game. This is usually where the devs go when discussing the impact of RNG in Hearthstone. They believe that RNG in Hearthstone increases the skill cap because it forces the players to consider outcomes other than those that actually came from the deck. I guess this would be like if poker players didn't always know the deck would have 52 cards – 4 of each number, each of which is either Spade, Diamond, Heart, or Clover. This is where Discover and variance join the conversation. It feels like the devs have leaned on Discover and randomly-generated cards to add their desired variety to Hearthstone games. Unfortunately, I believe they have gone so far that games (especially long, drawn-out games) can devolve into situations where both players have hands (possibly even decks) entirely made up of cards that did not start in their decks! At that point, it feels like you're just playing Tavern Brawl. There are too many possibilities that can be equally likely, so the best play ends up being to not play around anything at all. This takes away one of the fundamentals facets of competitive play.
Both issues act to minimize or eliminate the interaction between the players, which (ironically) is the same complaint that people had about the notorious burst finishers mentioned earlier. Players want to feel like their decisions matter, but too often it feels like one of the following:
- Druid hits their ramp and makes a board on 8-9 mana while you have 4-5 mana to prevent a savage roar lethal. What can you do about that? With 4-5 mana? Not much.
- Druid misses their ramp and can't really do anything.
- Highlander decks hit their Zephrys, DQA, 6 mana Reno, Brann while curving out. The highlander cards are so strong that the highlander deck will likely just win these games.
- Highlander decks miss their highlander cards and feel like an decent arena deck. What can you do? You played substandard cards to enable the great cards you didn't draw.
- Puzzle Box wins the game. You couldn't play around Brawl and Plague of Death and Blizzard and Flamestrike and every other AoE that was equally likely but would have required a different setup to hedge against.
- Puzzle Box does not win the game. The Mage prayed to RNGesus and lost.
- Priest seemingly having all the answers or none at all.
These outcomes are very polarizing and there isn't much middle ground with many decks. These are the kinds of outcomes you could probably tolerate if they were 1-in-a-million type outcomes, but that is unfortunately not the case. It just ends up feeling bad and I know we all want to have a fun experience playing the game.
I would like to propose some adjustments to the mechanics that aim to minimize the overall variance of RNG in these mechanics while still keeping their spirit of fun and functionality in-tact.
DISCOVER (and Randomly-Generated Cards in General)
I propose 2 adjustments to Randomly-Generated cards (There will be 3 points, but 2 and 3 will be alternatives to the same solution):
- Cards cannot generate themselves: We saw the problem with this type of recursion with DQA. Not every card-generation card is this strong, but resource management used to mean something in this game. Control/grindy decks will have to be like Priest to win games since so many decks just don't run out of resources. Priest and Rogue are probably the biggest culprits in this discussion. We're talking about Renew, the 'Explorer' dragons etc.
- Show both players the chosen discovered card: Currently only the turn player sees the chosen card. With so many generated cards in the game, it is increasingly difficult to hand-track and have an idea what to expect. IIRC, the devs said they choose not to show card so that the other player doesn't feel bad if the card would completely beat them. I think this argument is misguided because the player will still feel terrible; just not until the card is revealed when they get destroyed. You feel cheated by the game and go away with a bad game experience. With this change, the other player can get the grief over with and save some time by conceding a match they learned they can't win.
- Both players see the discover options. Only the turn player sees the choice: This is my personal favorite. This way the card is still hidden from the player but at least you know the card is 1 of 3 choices instead of 1 in (a lot) (except Vulpera).
I understand many players love how powerful the highlander cards are and appreciate the deck-building challenge associated with making them work, but they produce very polarizing game experiences and appear in too many decks that aren't even highlander decks.
- I propose to change highlander cards to only work if the deck actually started as a highlander deck. IIRC, Iksar said they considered making highlander cards a start-of-game effect, but decided not to because they wanted people to be able to have counterplay to them (like bombs, albatross). They could avoid this by adding text to the battlecry that prevents the card from working if the deck was not highlander at the start of the game. Something like: "Battlecry: Do
if your deck had no duplicates at the start of the game". I don't know if the devs have a counter to track that through the game, but I think this could be a very helpful change.
This is a tricky subject because mana reduction involves doing things that you were never really supposed to be able to do. Rogue and Druid have probably had the most history with this with Innervate and Preparation. Now we have 0-mana cards flying everywhere in multiple classes. Not only do these create board swings that few decks could hope to recover from, but decks no longer lose card advantage while breaking the mana curve over their knee. There should be a cost to cheating mana.
Druid used to give up cards and health but now Overflow and Fungal Fortunes negate that.
Rogue used to spend everything (or near it) to make big Edwin, but now lackeys can actually add card advantage while Edwin beats on the opponent. Galakrond has been producing broken game states for over a year.
The Warlock quest hero power creates situations that just can't be answered, but Aranasi Broodmothers and Nether Breaths make it possible to actually just draw for a large portion of the game. This deck does take a lot of skill to pilot, but no one should have to reasonably plan around 0 mana Maly that the Warlock randomly drew into. With Emperor Thaurissan back in the day, you pretty much knew when the broken stuff was coming and pretty much what it would look like.
- I propose mana reductions should be by a given cost. We should not hard-reduce costs to 0. The range of possibilities is just too great to reasonably consider.
As stated before, I believe the devs are driven by a desire to create unique gameplay experiences for us. I've advocated before about adding more position-related effects to Hearthstone.
The Outcast mechanic could be a hint of things to come and I hope so. This mechanic is part of what makes DH interesting to play since you're negotiating how your hand will look a few turns in the future in addition to what your board will look like. I argue that more mechanics like this are a subtle, but very effective way to add to the skill ceiling of this game without bogging players down in complicated additional mechanics.
These issues don't show up in the class winrates or playrates. As mentioned before, the class winrates are pretty tight (minus Shaman). You can play most classes and perform quite well overall, but the game experiences are quite polarizing. Too often, you either win big or lose big. Long win streaks and lose streaks feel more common right now. Overall, that yields about 50%, but the experience feels more like a coin flip and that's a bad feeling. We want players to have fun and rewarding experiences while playing constructed. I believe the changes I've suggested keep the 'fun' aspects of these mechanics in tact while increasing the skill ceiling of the game and improving the game-to-game experience for all involved.
- Win streaked to legend in 2 weeks with Highlander Paladin, after coming back to Hearthstone having not played since Kobolds
- It feels amazing to win with a homebrew deck you’ve been building for a while
- vS Data Reaper Podcast 45: Meta Dynamics Summary and Discussion
More about HearthStonePost: "Suggestions to Improve Card-Generation and other Mechanics (Long Post)" specifically for the game HearthStone. Other useful information about this game:
- WILD UNUSUAL DECKS # 3. Hello everyone! Well Stealer Warlock won’t bother us anymore and the meta is back to about the same position it was before Miniset. With some experts on new cards. This post will consist entirely of shaman decks, mainly those enhanced by Miniset.
- Wild Weekly Challenge #120: “Buff-it Roulette”
- Which upgraded hero power is the strongest?
- Which class would be the strongest if only Hero Powers were available?
- How to become the bestest Priest player and get friend requests like never before!
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