“We didn’t know exactly how good Grim Patron was going to be”

High Justice Grimstone-cropped

What is the best place for players to experiment, though? Because it’s definitely not on the ladder. Even fairly low down people are netdecking very powerful decks that you’ll struggle against with something experimental, and if you go into Casual you’ll find people playing the exact same decks to do daily quests. Have you thought about creating a more friendly mode where there’s nothing to be won or lost, and people will be more inclined to try off-the-wall decks?

MD: Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s something we have talked about. Like you said, if there were no rewards for playing in one of the formats, then people would be playing it purely for fun and to try stuff out instead of to complete their daily quests. We’ll keep talking about that and see if we can find a good place to encourage experimentation.

How do you assess the success of a new set of cards? Do you base it on the number which get into regular rotation? It feels to me like Naxx had a particularly high take up of its new cards, whereas of the Blackrock set only Grim Patron has spawned a top tier deck that didn't exist before. Other cards like Emperor Thaurissan, Quick Shot and Flamewaker offer upgrades to existing archetypes. Do you have an internal review where you look back and decide whether a set was successful?

MD: For me, my main goal is not actually to get cards into decks permanently, but to have people experiment with new ideas a lot, which is slightly different. So, for example, Flamewaker caused people to try out decks with tons of spells in them. And some people had some success with that, but more importantly they experimented with it. So even if the Dragon decks, after a month of experimentation, don’t end up being the best decks—as long as people have had a lot of fun trying things out, then we've succeeded in one of our main goals. Grim Patron has shown up in a couple classes even though we expected it to be mainly Warrior or mainly Mage, and that’s pretty awesome too.

We’re still learning about Hearthstone, we’re learning about expansion releases and trying things out.

I saw Savjz getting wrecked by a Grim Patron Priest with Wild Pyromancers on stream. On the subject of Grim Patron, isn't that combo a bit dangerously close to the old Warrior one-turn-kill?I find it infuriating because I feel like I've been punished for having any dudes with lower than 3 attack on the board, but I also get punished when I don’t play dudes.

Yeah, that’s actually something we test a lot, and we think about and talk about a lot. The idea that there’s certain kinds of simple decks—like Druid decks where you play creatures, and you attack with them, and you play removal spells—but we also want our game to have some depth and richness. So, Gadgetzan Auctioneer went in a totally different direction, where you [rely on drawing into] some kind of combo. We want there to be a variety of deck types that feel very different, and make the game feel like it has a lot of depth.

Grim Patron

Grim_Patron (1)

The Grim Patron does that. It shows our game has some depth, and you can do some crazy stuff, but at the same time we don’t want players to not have any defence. If there’s nothing you can do against a Grim Patron deck, and it kills you in one turn for example, that’s a problem. So we watch that stuff really closely. We always try to add a little bit of craziness to the game and let people discover it. When we put Grim Patron in we didn't know exactly how good it was going to be. We had a good idea, because we played it a lot. We knew there was going to be some variance once people figured out what the best version was, and what the meta was going to be. I think we’re going to keep making some crazy cards in every set that are dangerous and hopefully going to work out.

Does that mean Grim Patron is on the watch list as a card that could be problematic?

MD: We’re always watching the meta game and Reddit and the forums, but it looks totally fine to me right now. It’s pretty healthy, it’s powerful, it’s a new deck type, it’s fun. One week it’s like “wow, Grim Patron decks are the strongest this week”, but the next week it’s like “Oh… a totally different deck is really strong right now.” So I think there’s enough variety right now that it’s not actively something we’re thinking about.

YW: I think it took some time for Grim Patron to actually be taken seriously. When it first came out, it was like “Oh hey, it’s this funny thing you can do”, and then it took time for people to learn how to play it very well. And now it’s taking the community time to understand how to play against it. I think the dust is still settling, we’re taking a look at it, but the fun thing is people are experimenting, trying new things, and then countering those new things in new ways. That’s exciting to us.

I know you won’t be nerfing Patron anytime soon Yong, I’ve seen you climbing pretty fast with it.

YW: You know the hilarious thing about that is that I try to only play decks that I don’t think others are playing, so if a deck gets popular I feel like I can’t play it anymore.

[You can find a guide to Yong Woo’s own Grim Patron Warrior deck here - Ed]

Best Hearthstone Legendaries Dr Boom

The other card that’s been discussed a lot in terms of balance is Dr. Boom. I actually think he’s fine, and defended him on this site, but when so many of the pros at tournaments are joking and calling him 'Dr. Turn 7', 'Dr. Balanced' and 'Dr. GG', it’s almost become an accepted thing that he’s unbalanced. How do you feel about him?

MD: We’re keeping an eye on him, but I’m pretty happy with the fact people are playing a 7-drop even in the rush decks. There hasn’t been a 7-cost minion that’s been playable for a long time, maybe ever. So I’m totally fine with people playing Dr. Boom. I would like to see more variety in the 7-drops, like if he was a class card and other classes had different 7-drop minions I’d slightly prefer that, but that comes with time and new cards being released. He’s very strong, though. He’s an awesome card.

If he was a class card, I’m pretty sure everyone would be playing that class. You’ve done two adventures now and the expansion—are you still looking for alternative methods of distributing cards? I would be really keen to see a card of the week or card of the month, so people got that regular influx of experimentation you were talking about earlier.

MD: The idea of changing the meta more often is a cool idea. We don’t have any plans to do that right now, but who knows in the future. We’re still learning about Hearthstone, we’re learning about expansion releases and trying things out. So in the future we could do something like that, but we don’t have any plans yet.

On the next page: the state of Shaman, helping new players, and future expansions.

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.