Blizzard's solution to Arena balance in Hearthstone: remove the cards that suck

Hearthstone’s Arena mode can often feel like the unloved sibling to Ranked play, getting all the hand-me-down design decisions made for Standard and never getting to ride in the front seat of the car on the way to school. But today, Blizzard announced plans to address growing complaints over the state of Arena balance by removing certain cards from showing up in the draft altogether.

Today, Hearthstone game designer Dean "Iksar" Ayala posted a blog listing 45 cards that will no longer be available in Arena in order to improve balance between the classes. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of these cards are hot garbage. With the exception of Mage and Rogue, which are currently considered to be comfortably the best arena classes, Blizzard has opted to remove bad cards from the weaker classes, thereby raising the overall quality of their card pool, rather than taking good ones away from the stronger classes. The theory is that less junk showing up will mean more opportunity to draft good stuff.

In terms of the dominant Mage class, it has lost Faceless Summoner and Forgotten Torch, both of which are very strong—and maddeningly only common rarity, meaning you're likely to see them a lot. However, Firelands Portal, another common Mage card, has been left untouched. This was the card which kickstarted the recent uproar over Arena balance when the popular streamer Kripparian published a video ranting about its power level. But presumably Blizzard is unwilling to remove cards which have only just been released.

In the blog post Blizzard also said it's looking to develop longer term Arena balance solutions, including “the ability to adjust the rate that individual cards show up in your draft depending on a designer input value.” This is actually something senior game designer Mike Donais told us last month, and could allow Blizzard to manually make problem cards show up less, independent of their designated rarity. 

Personally, I think this is a somewhat hamfisted way to solve Arena’s balance problems. Certain cards showing up less than expected or not at all, with no indication in-game as to which or why, will leave inexperienced players (or those who don’t read official blog posts) out in the cold. Information is a valuable asset in any draft format, so obscuring that from what might be expected feels strange when there’s the much simpler solution in just changing card rarities—or introducing a Core Set like in Magic, which this is almost doing. 

Still, on a positive note it's very welcome to see Blizzard finally commit to making Arena better. You can find the full list of cards nixed from Arena here.  

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.