Ben Brode on why Standard Hearthstone has to ditch the old card expansions

Force of Nature

PC Gamer: Can you give me any more insight into the rebalancing work you’re planning for the Classic and Basic cards?

BB: We are discussing this right now. It’s going to be a bigger balancing move than we’ve ever done for Hearthstone, but not wildly bigger. The goal here in general, with the whole Standard format, is to make the game able to shift more dynamically when new content is released. When we are looking at cards in the Basic and Classic sets, some of those cards are so powerful, and are used in so many decks, that it makes it hard for us.

If Piloted Shredder was in Basic or Classic, it would be on the list of cards to nerf because it really does affect our ability to make sets that have four-drops that are really going to shake things up. So I don’t know exactly which cards we’re going to nerf, and I don’t know exactly how many, but that’s the kind of thing we’re looking at—just to make sure that Standard is able to reach its goal of being a dynamic format?

PC Gamer: Okay, but are we talking more than 10 cards? Less than 20?

BB: Certainly less than 20 but definitely more than 2. [Laughs]

We’re not planning on buffing cards. In general buffing cards comes with a lot of downside.

PC Gamer: How about the Druid combo?

BB: I’ll say that Druid in general is one of our biggest concerns for being dynamic in a format where we have rotating sets, because so many of the cards that Druids are most drawn to are from the Basic and Classic sets. It’s really important to have strong Basic and Classic cards, but they have a higher percentage of very strong Basic and Classic cards than any other class.

PC Gamer: Let me try one more: Knife Juggler?

BB: I’m really interested in hearing the community’s feedback and what they think the problem cards are and... That’s a good note, I appreciate it. [Laughs]

PC Gamer: Will you buff any cards as part of this balance pass?

BB: No, we’re not planning on buffing cards. In general buffing cards comes with a lot of downside. Sometimes we print cards that make [other] cards inherently better, right? If we had buffed some of the Paladin secrets, as an example, we’d be massively regretting it right now. I also think we can just make other good, exciting cards in future sets—we don’t need to be constantly playing a game where we’re changing lots of things.

We’re going to be changing more cards than we’re really comfortable with. Our general stance on changing cards is that we want to be very conservative. It’s kind of disruptive to change cards when you’ve memorized what they do just by the art, and then all of a sudden they don’t do what they used to do anymore.

We have to make a big change for Standard, but we definitely want to change basically the minimum set we can get away with, and buffing cards means that we would be changing more cards than we need to. Don’t forget we’re going to release a big set along with the rotation, and it’s going to add a ton of new exciting awesome cards.

Mysterious Challenger

PC Gamer: Will you be rebalancing any more recent cards that are problematic, such as Mysterious Challenger?

BB: I don’t know, but the nice thing about cards that are in expansions and adventures is that someday they will no longer be part of the Standard format. We can also make cards in upcoming sets that are strong against decks that we feel like are a problem. Specifically [regarding] Mysterious Challenger, I think a lot of the power in that deck is actually contained in the Naxxramas and the Goblins Versus Gnomes sets, right? Piloted Shredder, Muster For Battle, Shielded Minibot, Zombie Chow, Doctor Boom, Avenge even. Those are really huge components of that deck, so I’m not sure it’s going to be as powerful in Standard as it will be in Wild.

PC Gamer: I had a shiver of excitement at the thought of all those cards going! Even with the rebalance, don’t you think we’ll eventually get bored of the Classic cards? Will any of us still want to be playing Defender Of Argus in five years?

BB: Having Classic and Basic in Standard does a lot of really good things for the game. One, if you take a break from Hearthstone and come back years later you always have a foothold in to the Standard format which I think is great. Also, they really sell the iconic flavour of the classes—cards like Fiery War Axe and Fireball, these are things that really help you understand what a Warrior or a Mage do in Hearthstone, and so those being your first experience of the game as part of the Basic set I think is also great.

We’re certainly not opposed to making more changes, but nerfing and buffing cards are things that we don’t do lightly.

But you’re right, we may regret things later in the future, we’re certainly not opposed to making more changes, but nerfing and buffing cards are things that we don’t do lightly. So we’ll continue to think about it, we’ll continue to iterate and make changes. The major goals, as you know, are to make a format that’s more dynamic and better for new players, and we’ll do whatever it takes to reach them and this is kind of our first stab at that.

PC Gamer: Won’t having the sets rotate out of Standard on an annual basis make it difficult to balance the classes against each other accurately? Warrior is losing a lot this time, but Druid doesn’t lose much because you haven’t printed any good class cards for it in a long time. It’s going to be dramatic on day one in terms of the power levels changing.

BB: It’s definitely going to be dramatic, and a lot of that actually is a brand new set entering the environment right? That always has huge ramifications on the metagame, and the really great thing about Standard is that it’s going to have an even bigger effect when there aren’t so many other cards that were just unlikely to be dethroned in that environment.

Hearthstone Curse of Naxxramas

PC Gamer: What’s the logic behind not being able to purchase old Adventure modes when they rotate out? They would still be fun for solo players and do a good job of teaching lessons about concepts like value and tempo.

BB: I think you’re right that it’s nice to be able to learn about those mechanics. I don’t think that the Adventures do really a great job at that though, or at least not directly. Not everybody learns those lessons. I think we could be doing more things to help new players learn complex strategy, and so we’re going to look into that going forward, but the biggest thing we’re looking at right now is Hearthstone going forward for many, many years—and in a world where we continually leave things in the shop, or in the UI, for new players, we wanted to be careful about where we’re sending you in your first Hearthstone experience.

Naxxramas could come back, we’re still talking about what the future of these Adventures is, and it’s still available for players who have already purchased it, but it’s just the kind of thing where we want to focus players on the new stuff.

On the next page: Crafting adventure cards and new tech cards options...

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.