Hearthstone’s Eric Dodds on why new cards need to scare him

Hearthstone The Grand Tournament Lock and Load

Let’s talk about Hunter. When you showed Lock and Load, you almost seemed to giggle because I suspect you knew what the reaction would be. Hunter doesn’t feel like a class that needs such a powerful effect. One of the things that stops Hunters is that sometimes they ran out of gas, and this seems explicitly designed to give them more gas.

It does, but it gives them more gas if they’ve sort of saved up. If you look at the Rogue combo decks, they played for one big turn and did a bunch of stuff. And that’s why [Lock and Load] is interesting to me, because traditional Hunter decks pretty much dump their stuff on the table and have a bunch of cheap cards to run you over. But Lock and Load is actually built for “hey, I’m going to hang on for a little bit and then suddenly take board control and get card draw.” So I’m actually excited about it because you play Hunter a little bit differently when you’re playing Lock and Load, even though it is a super exciting card.

Is the world ready for combo Hunter? I don’t know if I am.

We’re gonna find out.

Before GvG came out, you made balance changes to some of the existing cards. Do you anticipate making balance changes before The Grand Tournament arrives?

That is a great question, and we’re always of course looking at the meta game. I certainly don’t have anything like “hey, we’re planning on changing this card” to tell you right now. I can say we’re always paying attention to the cards in the environment, and there’s always a fine line between “hey, this card feels really strong.” So, for instance, I can say, speaking to a card which lots of people like talking about which is Dr. Boom. We don’t have any plans right now to change Dr. Boom. He’s definitely a strong card, but it’s not a card that is breaking the metagame or causing problems at a high level so we currently have no plans to change him.

[Warsong Commander is] certainly a card that we're watching very closely at the moment.

I think Boom is fine. Let’s talk about Warsong Commander, because I watched Kibler [who talks about Patron Warrior here] play yesterday, and he died to 37 damage on an empty board. That seems to me to contravene explicitly what was said around the time of the Leeroy nerf about dying to enormous burst damage. Patron Warrior is hard to play, I don’t think you can just YOLO some cards out and be a legendary rank Patron Warrior, but it’s also not fun on the receiving end.

Yeah, it is tough, and one of the types of things we do talk about is the burst damage from an empty table and how that impacts gameplay. Certainly the Commander specifically is a card that we have talked about internally, it’s just that we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing before we move. So, again, I’m not going to say “hey, we’re planning on changing this card,” but I can tell you we’re definitely paying attention to that card right now.

That sounds like a “maybe”.

It’s not a situation where we’re like “oh yeah, everything’s fine.” It’s certainly a card that we’re watching very closely at the moment.

One of the things people get frustrated about is they feel like if they draw badly against aggro they’re just gonna die. Whereas with aggro decks, because you’re so stacked with low cost minions, it’s harder to draw badly.

Yeah, it’s tricky because there’s this eternal struggle between control and aggro. And if control ever becomes too dominant, and you’re not worried about aggro, the game becomes really slow. One of the awesome things about Hearthstone is there’s action happening every turn, and we certainly don’t want all the match-ups to turn out like the old school Freeze Mage where you just said: “Eh, we’ll all hang out for a long time and then suddenly somebody will explode.” We’re not excited about that. But on the other hand, if aggro is too dominant then it feels like whoever gets the good draw just dumps their cards on the table and wins. We’re actually pretty comfortable with the balance between the two right now. That being said, we’re always paying attention to it and I totally understand the concern, it’s just that there’s always two sides to that story.

The first Tavern Brawl pitted Ragnaros against Nefarian in a classic Aggro vs Control match-up.

The first Tavern Brawl pitted Ragnaros against Nefarian in a classic Aggro vs Control match-up.

Last time one of the things I asked about was how casual mode didn’t feel very casual because you could get beaten up in there by Control Warriors and Face Hunters still. Since the launch of Tavern Brawl, how far do you think that’s gone to addressing that as an issue?

It’s interesting because really the way we’ve been addressing casual is by looking at the matchmaking to make sure, behind-the-scenes, the matches are good. So if you’re a new player, it’s going to match you with somebody else who’s a new player. But if you’ve been playing some powerful decks in casual, it’s going to put you up against another person of about that skill level. Speaking of Tavern Brawl, what we really wanted was for people to be able to think about the game a little bit differently. Of course, the kind of thinking varies week to week. On the weeks where it’s a premade deck it’s very much more casual. But if you look at this week’s Tavern Brawl, where you start with 10 mana, it’s actually a pretty deep game once you start to think about it. That’s a pretty serious matchup, and some of the more serious players are going to look into it. So we’re providing a variety of experience that depends on the week.

People seem to respond very favorably to some Brawls and much less so to others. Have you learned anything about what kind of effects players like that has surprised you?

So far it’s actually been mostly what we have expected as far as people’s excitement. One of the things that’s important to us is having variety, which is going to mean some weeks you’re going to say “Oh, I loved The Summoner Competition, and I don’t love this one. Boy, I hope they come out with another really good one again”. Providing variety for all players has actually been an important part of Tavern Brawl for us.

On the next page: the future of Hearthstone, and why having scary cards is good...

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.