Hearthstone's Card Balance Philosophy

Hearthstone's Card Balance Philosophy

Heya Heya!

Making changes to Hearthstone cards isn’t something we take lightly. We take many factors into account and collect massive amounts of data in order to make the correct balance decisions for the game as a whole. Today, I’m going to talk about our philosophy behind card balance and some of the reasons  why we make changes to cards. I wanted to give you all some insight behind our core philosophies and shed light on how cards evolve to be in-line with those philosophies as we move past the beta testing phase and into release.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a new member of the Hearthstone team—Mike Donais. Mike has more than 10 years of card game design experience and is already applying his wealth of knowledge by working tirelessly on many of our recent card changes. As a part of the Hearthstone design team, he ensures that cards and card balance follow the philosophies we’re going to discuss in this blog.

With that said, let’s get into how we approach Hearthstone card balance. A card can be changed for a lot of reasons:

A card causes non-interactive games
  • Hearthstone is at its most fun when you’re solving an interesting puzzle each turn.  Your opponent’s minions, your minions, and the cards in your hand are all pieces to this puzzle, and when your opponent removes parts of the puzzle, it can be less fun to play.
  • Freeze spells that affected the opponent’s board were changed for this reason. Decks that used these cards didn’t rely heavily on minions, so playing against it wasn’t all that interesting because your enemy didn’t have minions out to interact with. 
  • Cards and combinations that can kill your opponent from a high amount of Health without any minions starting on the board are also not very interactive, and this is why we recently changed Charge and Warsong Commander.

A card is frustrating to play against
  • Sometimes a card can be very frustrating and really not fun to play against—that’s enough of a reason for us to step in and change it.
  • We made an adjustment to Mind Control’s mana cost a while back for this reason. Increasing its cost made it less prevalent and gave the opponent more time to play with their big minions.
  • Pyroblast was changed because it was both frustrating to play against and it was causing less interactive games. These two reasons often go hand in hand.

A card is causing confusion or isn’t intuitive enough
  • Frostwolf Warlord was changed some time ago for this reason.  His health used to fluctuate as the number of minions you had in play changed and this created some confusion, especially if the Warlord had been damaged.  We changed his power to a Battlecry, rather than constantly triggering based on the board state, so it was consistent and easy to understand at first glance.

A card is too strong compared to other cards of that cost
  • Card diversity goes down when everyone is playing the same cards at a certain mana cost. We want to avoid the feeling of limited minion choices based off of strength and cost while you are deck-building.  The game is more interesting and dynamic when you see a variety of different cards and classes.
  • The Shattered Sun Cleric changed for this reason because most decks ran it versus other cards of the same cost, lowering card diversity and causing predictive gameplay.
  • Syvlanas, Novice Engineer, and Defender of Argus were also changed for this reason as they made it harder for a player to choose other neutral minions at their costs.

A specific build or style of play is too strong
  • In general, we have not been making very many changes because of this reason.   Our general philosophy with Hearthstone is that players should look forward to building a wide variety of creative decks with the classes they enjoy playing. We want these decks to have the power to potentially counter opponent’s strategy rather than having us swing the nerf bat to make every class functionally similar. 
  • You may potentially see cards in future sets that are more effective against a wider assortment of strategies, further diversifying the ever-evolving meta game within Hearthstone.   We’ve seen MANY different classes and deck-types cycle through the top slots over the last few months, and we look forward to seeing players build, play, counter, re-build, and theory-craft new decks as we add additional cards in the future.

A card is too weak
  • We’ve dramatically slowed down on changing cards for this particular reason.
  • Once we’ve reached Open Beta, we will be very close to locking down our cards and not making changes to them except in emergencies. We want to be able to quickly hone in on a balanced set, so changes we make would need to be low-risk. 
  • Too many fluctuating changes to cards potentially extends the time we need to spend in Beta.  Even minor changes can take a card from obscurity to prime-time—achieving balance is a very delicate thing.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how we decide which cards to change, I want you all to know that once we go into Open Beta with Hearthstone (which is happening soon!), we plan to make very few card changes, unless they are absolutely necessary.  We want players to find their own creative solutions to different decks, not to wait for us to nerf the flavor the month. 

Giving you confidence in your cards and the play environment is very important to us, and each card change we make potentially undermines that confidence.  If players find a really great deck, we’ll try and slip some fun counters to that deck into the next expansion for you, instead of nerfing those cards directly.   

These latest balance changes should be close to the last changes we are making, with maybe a couple more coming before we go live. Your help in coming up with incredible, creative, and ruthless decks during our Closed Beta test really helped get us into great shape for the launch of Hearthstone. From all of us on the Hearthstone team, thank you!

-Eric Dodds

Lead Designer

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