With Knights of the Frozen Throne due to rotate out soon, it’s worth reflecting on the massive impact Hero cards had on ladder. Introduced with Death Knights, we’ve seen Hero cards as a recurring theme. With a powerful battlecry, armorgain, and new and (sometimes) improved hero powers, they’ve completely changed the lategame of virtually every deck. With so many Hero cards released, what can we learn about the design of these cards?
A big factor in making Hero cards fun is that their hero power doesn’t just do the same thing turn after turn. The most beloved Hero cards are not the ones that do the same thing over and over. At their best, Hero cards create a new dynamic occurrence every turn. This can be achieved either through random rotation of hero powers, random card generation, or through interaction with cards in your hand or on your side of the board.
The alternative can promote a playstyle that is both one-dimensional and boring. For instance, when Bloodreaver Gul’dan creates a 6 health swing every turn, the game can become a deterministic matter of mathematics. To avoid this, more Hero cards should include elements of unpredictability in their hero powers, especially high-powered ones.
Good examples: Valeera the Hollow, Deathstalker Rexxar, Hagatha the Witch, Doctor Boom, Deathseer Thrall
Bad examples: Bloodreaver Gul’dan, Scourgelord Garrosh, Malfurion the Pestilent
Certain Hero cards, especially Death Knights, are completely critical to the game plan of the deck they represent. This can pose a problem. When they’re drawn early, the opponent feels bad, like they’re locked out of the game by the massive tempo swing and inevitable long term value. Meanwhile, you can feel cheated if you don’t draw them, desperately digging through your deck as your chances of victory slip away.
What tends to work better is Hero cards that complement your gameplan, not reshape it. These cards are nice to have in the right situation, but aren’t the total focus of your deck. In this way, they inform more flexible deckbuilding and help tone down the frustration of when they are and aren’t drawn.
Good examples: Hagatha the Witch, Doctor Boom, Scourgelord Garrosh, Deathseer Thrall, Malfurion the Pestilent
Bad examples: Shadowreaper Anduin, Bloodreaver Gul’dan, Frost Lich Jaina, Deathstalker Rexxar
Because of their huge value potential, Hero cards are potent anti-control tools. Others gain massive anti-aggro power from their battlecry and hero powers. Unfortunately this can lead to greater polarisation. It can make anti-control decks even more effective, but clunkier against aggro (and vice versa). Just look at Scourgelord Garrosh and Valeera the Hollow. Both are incredibly powerful at anti-aggro and anti-control respectively, and thus increase the polarisation inherent in decks like Control Warrior and Quest Rogue.
A better approach is to design Death Knights with flexibility in mind. They can be useful against both aggro and control without being oppressively powerful versus either. This way, decks can include them without making them inherently more polarised in an already polarised meta.
Good examples: Malfurion the Pestilent, Shadowreaper Anduin, Hagatha the Witch
Bad examples: Valeera the Hollow, Scourgelord Garrosh, Uther of the Ebon Blade
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com