Hearthstone’s Ben Brode on Old Gods and Reynad's match-making theory

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The "Validated Doomsayer" is one of a number of new cards which twist old ideas.

PCG: You’ve mentioned that Druid is going to get some serious balance changes. How tough is will it be to keep the soul of the class? Combo and mana ramp have been the thing Druids did for so long, without them you would need to provide a lot of personality and new options all in one set.

BB: There are a lot of cards that Druid players would consider auto-includes right now. Even if we took that number down to still be the most of any class, you would have a lot of room to hit some Druid stuff, and Druid would still feel like it has a lot of class identity. There’s many, many strong Druid Classic and Basic cards. We won’t be touching most of those. So we’re still excited about the Druid identity, but there’s a lot of room to make expansion cards exciting to Druid again.

PCG: We’ve had several conversations about Secret Paladin in the past, so I understand your counterargument that maybe it’s not as good as many think, but in terms of community mood, I think a lot of people feel you wait too long to make changes. As an anecdote, a lot of my friends are playing Overwatch beta, and they say things get changed very fast. Obviously a beta is very different from a live game…

BB: ...and Overwatch is very different from Hearthstone. If I make your character in Overwatch run 5% faster, you won’t notice at all coming back to the game after four months, but if I change a number on a card you play every day, it’s very surprising. Suddenly you can’t play that card on turn four anymore and it changes your whole strategy. Your deck is built in a very specific way and it could undermine the entire deck with a very small change to one card. So in general I think with MOBAs and FPSs, the balance is somewhat invisible to players who are not engaged daily.

I think that decks like Secret Paladin do actually require a lot of skill to play perfectly.

PCG: How much do you factor into that conversation the skill that is required to play a particular deck? I think what annoys people is a sense that with Secret Paladin, similar to Undertaker Hunter, you just plop your stuff down and don’t really need to do too much else. With Patron and Miracle Rogue there was at least an element of timing, and managing your resources carefully.

BB: I think that decks like Secret Paladin do actually require a lot of skill to play perfectly.

PCG: Are you sure you want that to be a quote… ?

secretkeeper


Is Secret Pally too easy to play? She'll never tell. Or, seemingly, put on pants.

BB: [Laughs] It does! Absolutely. The people who are playing Secret Paladin and hitting Legend could be hitting Legend with other decks too. When you’re playing Secret Paladin against Face Hunter, as an example, when do you decide to be aggressive, and when do you start trading with minions? Those are hard decisions, and those decision points change through the course of the game. Often the game hinges on whether I attack their hero or their minions, and a lot of players get that wrong. What do I mulligan for? What is important to keep in my opening hand in this deck? I have Secretkeeper, do I keep this bad secret in my opening hand or do I throw it back in my deck? There are a lot of decision points that are quite difficult to make, but because some games you feel like you can curve out perfectly and dominate, playing against it you sometimes feel like, “I didn’t have a chance. My opponent just played the best card every turn and won.” But you don’t see what the other options they had were. It’s not autopilot.

PCG: Firebat argued that Hearthstone is too focused around minion-on-minion trading. He said that spells are overcosted, because you have to invest too much to clean up a minion like Piloted Shredder. How do you feel about the balance between spells and minions?

BB: When a World Champion comes in and says, “Here’s my perspective on balance,” you listen. But in this case, I actually feel like because control decks exist at all, like Freeze Mage and Control Warrior—those don’t just play the best value minions, they are trying to control the game in other ways—the fact that you play Frost Nova at all just flies in the face of the argument that only the best stats per mana matter. Obviously it’s not true. People do play cards like Doomsayer, as an example, and there are other decks as well. Those cards are strong, and that’s one way to build a deck, but it isn’t the only deck style available, and there are lots of decks that care about other things, other strategies and combos.

PCG: Have you heard Reynad’s conspiracy theory about match-making? He suspects that if you are on a high win rate with a particular archetype, say Freeze Mage, eventually the matchmaking algorithm will say, enough is enough, now you’re going to play against three Control Warriors in a row, because it’s trying to bring you back to something close to a 50% winrate.

BB: [Laughs] That is absolutely not true. Absolutely not true. In Ranked mode, we use only one piece of information to matchmake you, and that is your rank. We pair you with the person with the closest rank we can find in the amount of time we have, and that’s it.

Whispers of the Old Gods will be out in late April/early May. You can find a list of the most important cards leaving Hearthstone Standard here. Want to craft a new Legendary card? Check out recommendations picked by the pros here. Thanks to "Shevvek" for additional reporting on this article.

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