Anyone who played Aggro while Mean Streets of Gadgetzan was in rotation knows the pain of drawing Patches. Patches was one of the first cards to incorporate a recruit-like mechanic of jumping directly from your deck into play. This ability to get an early-game minion without costing a card or any mana was incredibly strong – so long as he wasn’t in your hand.
With Recruit and other deck-based synergies proliferating, there is increased pressure to not draw certain cards to maintain said synergies. Big Spell Mage, Kathrena Hunter, Taunt Druid, Cubelock: name a meta deck and their entire strategy can be undone by not having the right cards still in their deck. Although we’re past the days of Ultimate-Infestation-phobic Spiteful Druids, the difference between a deck with Dragonhatcher Oakheart and one without is night and day.
Even and Odd also have their own Patches in Genn and Baku. These understated minions are not directly detrimental to draw, but still clog up a valuable draw, and are almost always best off staying in the deck.
This poses a problem: when drawing specific cards loses you the game, it’s a horrible experience. In a card game, drawing cards is meant to feel good. But drawing the latest versions of ‘Patches’ feels terrible when your deck relies on them staying put.
Variance, but Not Variety
One of the biggest outcomes of having cards in your deck that lose their synergies when you draw them is added variance. Let’s say you’re playing Recruit Warrior. A decent proportion of games, you’ll draw most or all of your recruitable threats. This crashes the power level of your deck. Other times, you’ll draw few threats and recruit cards. In these situations, there’s not much difference except in the power level of your cards. You’re still playing a Lich King, but in one case you play him for 8 mana and in another you recruit him for 6.
This inclusion of massive swings in power level with no corresponding change in what happens in a game is both boring and frustrating. Sure, curving out with perfect RNG is satisfying, but that’s nothing compared to the frustration of games where your draw leaves you powerless. This supercharges the natural draw RNG of Hearthstone. When cards are not only useless, but actively damaging to your gameplan, frustration abounds.
Prayer, not power
Another key flaw in the way Recruit and similar mechanics operate is how it makes players powerless. Drawing is unavoidable. It happens at the start of your turn whether you like it or not. If you end up drawing cards that eliminate your deck synergy, there is often literally nothing you can do to avoid it. This creates a fundamentally unenjoyable experience, where bad things happen to you for no reason other than being the recipient of unlucky RNG. What’s worse, the opponent does not even get to appreciate your misfortune. It’s an entirely one sided affair of misery with no corresponding schadenfreude.
To make matters worse, it actively punishes players for doing what their deck must do to survive: draw cards. In almost all decks with Recruit-like mechanics, drawing is still necessary to win. But at the same time, each draw runs the risk of ruining your synergies. If you’re playing Hadronox Druid, you have to find those Naturalizes, regardless of whether or not that ruins your Oakheart. You simply have to hope that the game does not punish you from pursuing the correct play.
Luckily, there are potential solutions. Some already exist in the game. The prime example is Dead Man’s Hand, which can occasionally help Recruit Warrior to shuffle their threats back into their deck. Baleful Banker is a neutral, if inefficient option. Arena’s Taverns of Time event saw another potential solution in Possibility Seeker, which could essentially mulligan your entire hand.
However, the best solution would be to rework future Recruit mechanics. If Recruit-like effects could, if your deck had no targets, pull a minion from your hand, there would be less risk in drawing the “wrong” cards. Alternatively, if there were more ways to reward deckbuilding limitations without Recruit or adding understatted minions to your deck, then there would be far fewer times where you wish you had drawn literally anything else.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.