Silence, which for the completely uninitiated removes any effects applied to creatures, either in the form of their card text or generated by other cards during a game, is one of Hearthstone’s original mechanics. Various Silence effects were sprinkled throughout the Classic set, from the card Silence itself, and other spells like Earth Shock and Mass Dispel, to the Battlecry ability of minions like Ironbeak Owl and Spellbreaker. Despite the effect’s prominence in the initial release, we’ve barely seen any Silence cards since then—and that’s a good thing.
In addition to his illustrious record as an MTG pro, Kibler was lead designer on the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, which was the paper precursor for Hearthstone. He is also currently senior game designer on Solforge. He can be found on Twitter here (opens in new tab) and you can watch his Twitch stream (opens in new tab) here.
The problem with Silence is fairly simple: it just isn't very fun. Without their abilities, minions in Hearthstone are nothing more than a collection of attack and health numbers, and the way they interact is a completely straightforward mathematical equation. While Chillwind Yeti and Pit Fighter are powerful cards in the Arena, they don’t exactly make for the most compelling gameplay.
Hearthstone is at its most fun when synergies can manifest and cool things are able to happen. The more prevalent Silence effects are, the less incentive players have to even try to assemble combinations of cards that are more than the sum of their parts, and the more likely they are to be disappointed when they piece their combo together only to see it nullified by yet another hoot hooting Ironbeak Owl.
That said, there's a place for Silence in Hearthstone. It is important for players to feel like they have the ability to interfere with what their opponents are trying to do outside of having to outright kill every minion that gets played. While it’s cool that every once in a while a Divine Spirit/Inner Fire deck can kill their opponent in a single hit, it would be far less cool if it happened all the time and there was little or nothing that you could do about it.
Keeper of the Grove is one of the best Silence cards in the game due to its flexibility. It's a Druid class card, though, and not all heroes have a unique Silence card.
The particularly frustrating thing about playing against Silence effects is that it doesn’t matter what your minion does when it gets Silenced—it doesn’t do that thing anymore. Whether you’re relying on a big taunt minion to keep you alive, using a Mad Scientist to pull you a key secret, or just piled a bunch of buffs onto a Dragonkin Sorcerer, when it gets silenced it just turns into a pile of stats and nothing more.
But with each new release, some people keep asking for more cards with Silence effects. Why exactly they want more of them isn’t something I really understand, since the entire nature of the Silence mechanic is that it covers all of your bases. With Ironbeak Owl and Spellbreaker around, how many more Silence options do you really need? Anyone who wants access to a silence effect can already have it, and attached to a body no less. Maybe there are people out there who really want to build the AntiMage theme deck or something…
As an alternative to adding more generic Silence effects, I'd much prefer to see more powerful but narrow cards that target specific abilities, or specific classes of minions. We've seen some cards in this vein like Scarlet Purifier, Lil Exorcist, or Light’s Champion, but there's room for a lot more options, and frankly a lot better ones. Many of the “hate” style of tech cards that Blizzard has made aren’t effective enough to justify their narrow application, with the obvious exception of cards like Loatheb and Harrison Jones.
Lil’ Exorcist and Scarlet Purifier both fell flat despite the popularity of Deathrattle heavy decks when they were released because of their inability to stop the real problem in those decks, which was Undertaker. But don’t worry—Ironbeak Owl was on the case! These days, few decks are nearly Deathrattle-heavy enough to justify the inclusion of Lil’ Exorcist, and Scarlet Purifier notably fails to kill the most popular Deathrattle minion in Piloted Shredder. If either actually impacted the opponent’s Deathrattle abilities themselves, though, perhaps they’d find a home
Recent 'tech' cards like Scarlet Purifier have proven too limited in application to see regular play, but Kibler sees a place for more powerful specialist cards to counter powerful threats.
Right now, lots of decks play Silence effects, but for wildly different reasons. I’d like to see cards that directly address individual abilities, so that players who are specifically looking to deal with those categories of cards have more options. If there were an efficient minion that could remove Taunt—say “Distracting Dog”—perhaps that’s a card that aggressive decks might use. If there were a minion that prevented Deathrattles from triggering while it was in play—like “Graveyard Guard”—maybe that would be something that control decks would reach for to help deal with things like Haunted Creeper and Piloted Shredder.
Ultimately, the goal of such designs would be to increase the diversity of cards played, and thus the variety of ways that games play out, as well as reducing the frequency of generic Silence effects showing up and ruining everyone’s fun by turning off game text left and right. Hearthstone is more fun when cards actually get to do the things they say more often.
It’s possible that more powerful, narrow answers wouldn’t actually drive many people away from playing Silence effects, since there’s something to be said for the security that comes with having an all-purpose answer to anything. But that’s okay—the point is not to eliminate Silence altogether, but just to mix things up so the answer to everything isn’t always just to totally remove its text. But if there are attractive enough options that offer alternatives to the ever-present Ironbeak Owl, some players will certainly take them, and that would be a step in the right direction.
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