In a recent blog post, Blizzard outlined their vision for the nine classes of Hearthstone. Most of it was pretty uncontroversial; Druid should lack board clears, Hunter should struggle to heal and Paladins shouldn’t have much hard removal. But some of the ideas presented seemed to conflict heavily with the established identity and design decisions of existing cards. And others threaten to heavily limit some much-loved class archetypes.
First and most obviously is the grave differences between stated class identity and the reality. The best example of this is Mage. Currently, Mage relies on swarming the board with Conjurer’s Calling minions. Grave Horrors being a 50/50 outcome from Mountain Giant means they can create more big taunts than any other class.
You can draw similar inconsistencies with other classes. Hunter is meant to have access to almost no healing and have weak card draw and generation, but current Hunter decks often Dire Frenzy a Vicious Scalehide before drawing them with Master’s Call, giving them access to all three. Paladins deal huge face damage through direct damage Holy Wraths with discounted minions. Shamans generate huge numbers of cards while able to quickly cycle through their decks with Spirit of the Frog. What’s going on?
Just a Wishlist?
One response to this is to suggest that the class identity as described was just a plan for the future, not a way to address the current state of the game. Is this just a guide for future design?
But this argument is hard to buy. The immediate context for this class identity discussion was the rotation of two iconic classic cards. More cards were introduced to match these philosophies. If you accept that these class identities are important, they should make an impact on upcoming balance and design decisions on existing cards. That means looking at Mage’s waves of giant taunts in particular.
There’s one more key problem with Blizzard’s class identity vision. Some of the limitations and weaknesses would not only limit the archetypes available to classes, but also seem to contradict some of the best-loved decks of the past.
Just look at Warrior. Warrior’s meant to have limitations to card draw and minion swarms. Yet Patron Warrior, one of the best-loved Warrior archetypes, had both in spades. Similarly, the most effective and appreciated control Warlock decks needed multiple significant sources of both Neutral and Class healing to work. And Hunter has become a lot more interesting to play since it got better card draw and generation options.
If Blizzard sticks too rigidly to these new identity definitions, they risk losing what made these decks so fun and defining.
Guidelines, not Rules
While it’s good that Blizzard is exploring what makes class feel compelling, they should not treat them as gospel. But at the same time, they should recognise when existing cards do not feel right for the class. But this should be done on a card-by-card basis if they feel ‘wrong’.
Some, like Holy Wrath, can fit the fantasy of a class even if they don’t fit exactly onto the stated strengths and weaknesses. But others, like Spreading Plague, can feel wrong even if they don’t technically violate identity.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com
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