Last week, I talked about my experiences trying to find a successful build of Dragon Paladin. One of the points I raised was that the nature of the dragon tribal mechanic requires decks that want to use those cards to include a significant number of actual dragon minions. The dragons that exist, however, don’t actually fill many of the key roles that are important for midrange and control decks, like healing and taunts. This makes it difficult to cover all of the necessary bases while finding room for enough dragons, leading to “dragon decks” that barely have any actual dragons at all.
This week, I want to talk about filling some of those holes – not just for dragon decks, but for a variety of strategies that I feel could use a little bit of help. On top of that, there are a number of common situations that arise in Hearthstone that can leave players feeling helpless because the tools to deal with them simply don’t exist. Some of these cards are aimed at providing those tools.
Obviously these cards have not been truly playtested or balanced in any way, but I’ve given a good faith effort in my initial pass on casting costs and numbers. What’s important here is less the exact details of each card, but the general principles behind them.
All art is from Hearthstone itself or the original World of Warcraft Trading Card game, and the cards themselves were generated using this tool. Oh, and I’m colorblind, so pay no attention to the rarity icons – I have no idea what color they are anyway.
With that in mind, here are five Hearthstone cards I’d like to see.
Let’s start with a softball – a dragon with Taunt! As I mentioned both last week and in my intro here, I feel like dragon decks are currently seriously handicapped by their need to play a sufficient density of dragons on top of the basic necessities to survive. The Dragon Paladin deck with which I had the most success actually had more Mechs than dragons, since cards like Piloted Shredder, Antique Healbot, and Shielded Minibot all offer best-in-slot abilities and stats along with key effects, while there are no dragons that actually help keep you alive to the point that you can try to take over the game with the big bad dragons like Ysera and Nefarian.
I also think that Hearthstone in general is in need of more quality late game minions that have an immediate impact on the game, and the six casting cost slot is probably the most underserved of them all. The only six drop minions that see consistent play are Sylvannas, Savannah Highmane, Shieldmaiden, and Emperor Thaurissan. You may find an occasional Piloted Sky Golem or Cairne in the wild, or Cabal Shadowpriest in a Priest deck (if you can find one of those these days…), but there aren’t many good options for someone who is looking for a six drop to actually play a long game, since Sunwalker feels so outclassed by everything out there now. I don’t expect that a simple 5/6 taunt would dramatically change that for most decks, but it would at least be an attractive option for a dragon deck that’s looking to bridge into the later turns and wants to be able to play something that can help keep them alive right now.
Paladin as a class is in a pretty strange spot. A large percentage of the class’s cards are built toward playing a longer controlling game. Its hero power clearly aims toward winning attrition fights. But as a weapon class that uses its life total as a resource, Paladins are woefully lacking in quality ways to actually keep themselves alive long enough to claim that win by attrition. Sure, Truesilver Champion has a minor lifegain trigger on attacking, and cards like Aldor Peacekeeper can help reduce incoming minion damage, but generally speaking Paladins struggle to preserve their life total against any deck with significant direct damage – most notably Hunters and their hero power.
Most of the time, Paladins lean heavily on Lay on Hands to keep them alive, along with Antique Healbot. But the necessity of playing Lay on Hands restricts the number of other high end options available to the class, and being essentially forced to play Healbot to have any kind of chance against aggressive decks makes Paladins suffer against other controlling decks. Compare this to Warriors, who have access to not only Armor Up as a hero power to naturally survive in long games, but also cards like Shield Block, Shieldmaiden, and Armorsmith to further their durability at little cost.
My suggestion with Flash of Light is to offer a tool for Paladin decks to keep themselves alive that doesn’t come at as high an opportunity cost as something like Antique Healbot. As a healing/tank hybrid class, it seems strange that the best real survivability option for Paladins is a neutral minion. While cards like Seal of Light, Holy Light, and Guardian of Kings exist, none of them do quite enough for their relative cost to generally justify their inclusion except in extreme circumstances.
Compared to Shield Block, which is the closest comparable existing card, Flash of Light is marginally better in the late game because it offers one more point of effective healing, but it’s weaker early on since you can’t simply cast it to stack armor because it can only heal you back to your initial health. Similarly, armor is generally strictly better because it has alternate value, like synergy with Shield Slam and protection from Alexstrasza.
A card like Flash of Light could open up more options for midrange and controlling Paladin decks that currently suffer from having to play so many specific cards just to have any hope of beating aggressive decks. While many of those decks may simply switch the Lay on Hands and Antique Healbots they’re playing to Flash of Lights, that would give them the freedom to play more different high cost cards – and perhaps even more high cost cards in general, since they have better tools to stay alive. All the better way to fit MOAR DRAGONS!
I can’t be the only person who wishes a card like this existed. From Force of Nature plus Savage Roar to Warsong Commander plus Grim Patron and Frothing Berserker, Hearthstone is full of huge burst damage combos that involve Charge minions right now. Other than Warriors, whose health totals can get huge thanks to armor, most classes can do little to nothing about many of these massive burst turns other than winning the game before they happen. Similarly, Face Hunters generally play a huge array of charge minions, from Wolfrider and Arcane Golem to Unleash the Hounds and Summon Huffer (which has the erroneous name Animal Companion listed on the card for some reason), all racing to SMOrc you.
The inability to interact on your opponent’s turn makes Charge a really frustrating ability in Hearthstone. There is often literally nothing you can do to prevent the damage of a Charge minion – or a swarm of them coming out of the combo decks. While Taunt minions can sometimes absorb some of the damage, they frequently fall victim to silences or simply aren’t enough to stop the onslaught. In the case of the Warsong Commander combos, sometimes actually having a Taunt like Sludge Belcher in play can be an outright liability, since it simply offers the opponent another minion in play to damage and grow Frothing Berserker, along with a leftover slime for Grim Patrons to bounce off of.
While Encroaching Slime would also be vulnerable to silence effects against Face Hunters, it would still offer some defense against Wolfrider and company. More importantly, it can actually provide at least a brief respite from getting Charge combo-killed until your opponent is able to deal with it. And I think we all deserve that after dying to Charge minions oh-so-many times…
My original design for this card was that Hero powers cost two additional mana to use, which is why I chose a goblin merchant gambler type for the art as it reminded me of the Bitcoin casinos I play at. I changed the design to be more encompassing, but decided to stick with the same art largely because I have something of a soft spot for the Landro Longshot character in WoW. I actually wrote his backstory as part of my designer role on the World of Warcraft TCG, since he was the vendor from whom players received their loot card items in game. The first time I went to Booty Bay and saw the actual NPC was pretty awesome – it felt super cool to have had an impact like that on a game of which I was a huge fan.
In any case, the goal of this design is much like that of the last one – offer players a way to interact with something that they otherwise cannot. I’ve discussed my concerns about Hero powers many times before, and I actually think the nature of the Hero powers that do exist is a huge part of the current state of balance in Hearthstone. The classes with the Hero powers that are the most outright powerful (Warlock) or the most polarized toward supporting a particular kind of strategy (Hunter and Warrior) are the ones that have the most sustained success. The cards matter, of course, but the Hero powers are the things that you have access to every turn of every game.
One of the most frustrating things in Hearthstone, in my experience, is straight up losing to the opposing Hero power simply because there is nothing you can do about it. I’ve lost track of the number of games I’ve had total board control and multiple taunts and just lost to Steady Shot, or the number of games I’ve gotten to parity against a Warlock and just been buried by the card advantage of Lifetap. While I recognize that they’re part of the game, and they’re very unlikely to actually be changed, I would love to see cards that can actually interact with them.
With Landro Longshot, you can keep your opponent from using their Hero power as long as he stays in play, at the added cost of not being able to use your own. I made him a three cost 2/4 because I wanted him to be able to come down before Warlocks could lifetap into turn four Mountain Giant, and I felt like he should probably be small enough that he wasn’t too difficult to remove. It can certainly be frustrating to have a bunch of mana leftover that you can’t use based on what you have in hand, and I understand that’s a big part of why hero powers exist in the first place – but if Priests can say go without doing anything with a bunch of mana leftover all the time, I think other classes can deal with it now and then too.
Sensing a pattern here? Interacting with elements of the game that you can’t interact with right now – hooray! Like Landro and Encroaching Ooze, the idea of Mind Flay is to offer a tool for disrupting spell-based combo style decks, which currently pretty much don’t exist. There’s Loatheb, but it’s restricted to creating a single turn window to cut your opponent off from spells rather than actually dealing with them permanently.
I know some players who know my opinions about Thoughtseize in Magic might be surprised to see that I’m advocating for a card like this in Hearthstone, but they’re very different animals. Mind Flay is more like Duress than it is Thoughtseize, because it can only interact with Spell cards. It can’t do anything to stop your opponent from hitting their creature curve, or playing their weapons, so it’s not nearly as universal an answer as Thoughtseize is in Magic.
I made Mind Flay a Priest card for two reasons. The first is that Priest seems to have the most cards that mess with the opponent’s hand and deck already, between Mind Vision, Mindgames, and Thoughtsteal, so it seems thematically appropriate. The second is that Priest as a class is fundamentally reactive. Everything from its hero power to most of its spells are situational and reliant on the specific cards the opponent plays. Because the class is so reactive, it often struggles to close out games quickly, which makes it especially vulnerable to spells, whether they’re Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil plus Blade Flurry out of Rogue, Force/Roar out of Druid, or a board clearing Shadowflame out of Handlock. A card like Mind Flay would go a long way toward allowing Priests to actually have some kind of options to fall back on against these decks.
I don’t think this is a card that Blizzard is likely to make based on things they’ve said about their design philosophy for the game – to say nothing of the additional interface requirements. That said, without cards like this, I fear Heathstone runs the risks of many games playing out too predictably, simply because players can sit back and know that they can always string their spell combos together to win.
What do you think? Would these cards make Hearthstone more fun? What are some other cards that you’d like to see?