Hearthstone's Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion has been out for a few days now, bringing with it powerful Death Knight hero cards and exciting new strategies. But there's one change to the game that players are not happy about: the new "forced synergy" picks in Arena.
In Hearthstone's Arena mode, players create a deck by choosing one of three cards presented to them, a process which is repeated until they have a 30-card deck. With the launch of Knights of the Frozen Throne, Blizzard implemented a new system where the first two picks of an Arena draft are limited to a much smaller pool of "synergy cards"—that is, cards that interact with other cards of a similar type and improve in power the more of their ilk you include. These might include "tribal" cards, such as Elemental or Beasts, or Jade Golem-producing cards.
The idea is that based upon whatever synergy-related cards you pick up in the first two rounds, you can then collect additional synergistic cards throughout your draft, resulting in a relatively cohesive deck. However, in practice, the new system doesn't seem to be proving popular.
Multiple highly-upvoted threads have sprung up on Reddit detailing why the system isn't working, but the gist is this: the synergy cards offered are the sort that get more powerful by having multiple minions of a certain type, such as Servant of Kalimos or Book Wyrm, but drafting one doesn't guarantee you to get the synergy cards needed to make them good. In fact, they may even force you into picking sub-optimal cards later on in order to feed the synergy pushed at the beginning.
"It makes no sense for them to come at the start," said Redditor OverlordLork in a highly-upvoted post. "If I've already picked a few pirates, and I see a Southsea Captain at pick 20, then sure I'll grab it and hopefully find some more pirates by the end. But why would I want one at the start in hopes of getting pirates?"
In addition, the pool of synergy cards seems to be quite small, which means the same handful of cards are popping up in a lot of decks. "I am constantly picking between Zoobot, a murloc and Book Wyrm between all classes," said Redditor Gauss216. "This is annoying. I wouldn't mind the synergies if I was offered 2 dragons in a row, or 2 Jade cards in a row. But it is constantly Zoobots, and shitty murloc cards."
The small card pool is also messing with Legendary distribution. If a player gets a Legendary pick in their first two offerings, there's an even smaller pool of "synergy Legendaries" to pick from (and most of them are bad). Kazakus is one of the few viable picks, and players are taking note of his prevalence.
Blizzard's Team 5 has taken notice, as both game designer August Dean Ayala and game director Ben Brode responded to one of the Reddit posts. But that doesn't mean synergy picks are going away—only that Blizzard is "monitoring the situation" and "collecting feedback."
"Regarding 'synergy picks,' one of the areas we think Arena is weak right now is the ability for players to feel really clever during the Arena drafting process," Brode said. "Often you pick cards that are individually powerful, but taking a card that is powerful given other cards you might see is very risky. It's been difficult to provide the ability for players to chase synergies (and to feel clever by doing so), while maintaining the 'anything can happen' feel that makes Arena awesome. This was a first foray, and the community feedback will feed into our next iteration. We consider Arena, and hell, the entire game, to be a collaboration with the community."
It's nice to know the team is listening, but the response didn't sit right with everyone.
"Please test your changes internally, run them (the specific changes, not the general idea) by pro arena players, before implementing them," said ADWCTA, who co-produces the Lightforge Arena tier list. "Until then... Please stop experimenting on the live Arena servers, until you have fully developed AND tested your idea."
I understand the desire to evolve arena and collect community feedback in the process, but ADWCTA has a point. Arena has always felt a bit like an afterthought to Blizzard—Hearthstone's red-finned step-Murloc, if you will—so having changes tested out by the paying community, rather than internally beforehand, is a bit insulting. But hey, at least Blizzard is listening—even if the changes are slow to come.