Now that we’re a couple of years into Hearthstone’s life, certain things feel like they’re going to be ever-present fixtures. Like Priest being bad, Flame Juggler hitting face when you don’t want it to, and Kripp’s opponent needing precisely those two cards to win. Canadian streamer Octavian “Kripparian” Morosan is one of Hearthstone’s most popular personalities, best known as an Arena specialist who plays nightly for tens of thousands of viewers. Unlike the hyperactive vibe of many of the most popular Twitch channels, for the most part Kripp is almost horizontally laid back. Unless his opponent top decks a third Flamestrike, at which point you’ll be treated to the salt his chat clearly delights in.
Kripp’s mostly relaxed vibe belies a rigorous work ethic. In addition to his streaming schedule, he posts daily videos that are a mix of his most entertaining matches and reflections on game design, and has also cast innumerable tournaments, including the innovative Challenge Stone tournament, the idea for which came from his partner Rania and was run in conjunction with Tempo Storm. With Arena balance currently a hot topic, I spoke to him earlier this week about the current issues facing Hearthstone and how he sees the game’s long-term future shaping up.
PC Gamer: Blizzard recently re-balanced Arena by removing 45 cards. Do you like that as a method of balancing?
Kripp: Well, I think it will have an effect. What they chose to do is not going to change Mage very much. But it seems like Warrior and maybe Shaman might rise up a bit. The problem right now has to do with Mage not having a counter. Mage has always been a very powerful Arena class traditionally, but in the last three years you could make a deck that would just beat Mages. You’d play Warrior and draft early game and all the weapons you could get, and the Mage wouldn’t be able to stop you from just slamming them in the face really. But that doesn’t work now. I’ve tried building those decks, but it feels like you’re the underdog even with a strong Warrior deck built for the situation. Mage just went a little bit past the tipping point where they can’t be countered. I think that while the changes are a bit patchy, they’re good and accomplish some of the task [of countering Mage]. There are obviously better ways to fix Arena, but they explained that there are certain limitations to changing the game at any given time, and right now this is the best they can do.
Kripp made his name as a streamer with Diablo III, completing the game on Inferno difficulty using a Hardcore character a month after it came out. Before focusing on Hearthstone he also spent time streaming Path of Exile. You can watch him on Twitch every night from 12:30-9:00 am EST. You can also find him on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
But were you surprised they method they chose was to take bad cards from other classes out? Rather than nerfing more Mage cards.
Their solution for Purify—which they really screwed up by making a common Priest card—was exactly that, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that their temporary fix is an extension of that method. And yeah, there are certainly different things you could do, but a lot of them would affect Constructed, where they’re very conservative about changing cards.
I brought up buffing bad cards before, and the reply video I got [from Blizzard's Ben Brode] pointed out that at some point in time River Crocolisk was used in Hunter. But the thing is we’re so far detached from that world. They basically have buffed bad cards [in the new set], and they still see zero play. Frostwolf Grunt was essentially re-introduced as Pompous Thespian. Have you seen that card in Constructed, because I haven’t? There’s obviously a good opportunity to change useless cards in Constructed. I’ve played a lot of games, and in general Blizzard has a conservative approach to change. So it doesn’t surprise me.
Prior to the release of One Night in Karazhan you called out Firelands Portal as an example of Blizzard not paying enough attention to Arena balance. Has it had as negative an impact as you expected?
Yeah, basically exactly as much as I thought. It’s extremely close to Fire Elemental. I think it’s now the second best common card according to the Hearth Arena tier list, which is what I use because they’re statistically-driven. Fire Elemental is behind Flamestrike now, and the results so far indicate that Firelands Portal is slightly better than Flamestrike. It’s exactly where I thought it would be and in my opinion it was pretty obvious.
It’s not that they screwed up on this one card, they screwed up on lots of cards. I went back through the different expansions because I wanted to make a video pointing out all the screw ups over time, but the funny thing is I couldn’t find any rarity screw ups until after Blackrock Mountain. All the expansions prior it seems like they took Arena balancing into account when giving rarity, and then after that it just went everywhere.
We saw the biggest difference from going first versus going second with The Grand Tournament. That’s where it really hit home how, for some decks, gaining a tempo lead makes them impossible to beat in some cases. It seems like that’s where there was a fork in the road. Either someone was no longer in charge of it, or importance was no longer given to it. But a lot of problems have been caused since that time, and One Night in Karazhan definitely had some of the worst offenders with Firelands Portal and Purify.
Prior to the release of Karazhan, the other big flashpoint was around the state of Priest, which led to our card design competition. In hindsight, do you think the community overreacted, given that cards like Priest of the Feast and Onyx Bishop have seen Priest played quite a bit since?
Not for Arena. I don’t think I’ve even seen Priest of the Feast in Arena, because I’ve only seen like two Priests and I guess they didn’t happen to draft that card. The thing is, for Constructed, as someone who reviews cards publicly I’ve learned to never underestimate any card that heals you. I’ve been surprised so many times now. Anything that heals has a decent chance of being played, and Priest of the Feast obviously had that. Onyx Bishop was a pretty interesting one. I wasn’t that optimistic about that card, but I wasn’t a total naysayer. The resurrect mechanic is a pretty interesting… I mean, it’s a good deck, but it’s not a top tier one. Rez Priest doesn’t really work. These cards are decent but they don’t push Priest anywhere near the top of the ladder.
Kripp has learned never to underestimate the power of healing when it comes to evaluating cards.
It’s not getting played at tournaments.
Right. Actually that’s kind of surprising to me. I haven’t really followed the tournament scene that much in the last few weeks, but I thought Priest would see some play because it can counter some aggro decks that aren’t Shaman.
These kind of community uproars seem to occur fairly regularly. Do you think that’s because Blizzard is slow when it comes to intervening over balance?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve mentioned constantly, throughout the years, directly to them in my videos. I get that there are two sides to this. There are the people who love playing one deck, with the same cards, against the same decks, and then fine-tuning. Like, they’ll play it for a week against 40% Shaman, add in a second weapon removal card, and win more. That clicks for them and they’re happy. This idea of refining your deck very meticulously and slowly is an aspect of playing that some people like. But I’m not one of those people. I’m obviously very against that.
In my opinion, when you play ranked mode it’s only enjoyable until you get to the refinement phase. Ranked mode dies when there are three dominant decks being played with almost zero innovation and they’re all meta-ing each other, so there’s no room for your crazy deck idea. 99.9% of the time it’s not going to be hugely successful because of that.
If [Blizzard] changed stuff all the time, it wouldn’t even have to be for the better. A lot of the very powerful decks only take a week or two to be realised, but if you’re always changing cards you kind of circumvent the requirement for balance. If you’re constantly changing the game, you never really find out what the best decks are at any given point, and you’re always in this state of discovery. That might take a little more development time, but the more regular the updates, the less of a requirement it is to actually have the game balanced. I don’t even think the game has even ever been that balanced.
When you see tournaments play out it looks more balanced than it is because the dominant decks get countered or banned. But the ladder situation should not revolve around one or two ridiculously powerful decks that are also, generally, very simple to play.
I think you recently said that One Night in Karazhan felt rushed. Why do you think that?
It was just kind of hints. Like little landmines all over the expansion. If you just showed me all the cards, as an Arena player I’d be outraged by the rarity distribution. It’s not like I’d miss it. And the people who develop Hearthstone do play Hearthstone. So either they missed it, or the people in charge said “no, no, we’re doing it this way”. Both of which sound ridiculous, right? You can’t play Arena and propose or accept that Purify would be a common card. It’s mindblowing. So the only explanation that I have is that they had very tight deadlines, and a lot of steps in their development process were skipped. You see that in the card rarities, you see that in the class balancing. The cards in this set are not built to counter those from the last set. They have nothing to do with punishing the insane popularity of Shaman on ladder.
Shaman actually got better!
Yeah, right! I’m also someone who really loves the PVE content. In Hearthstone it has been done really well in the past. Naxxramas was amazing, League of Explorers was amazing. Just the adventure experience. You play Normal mode, see cool mechanics, and AI that doesn’t completely suck. The Heroic modes in the past adventures were genuinely difficult, but in some of [Karazhan] it was just painful. It wasn’t only that the encounters were so ridiculously easy, it’s that there was no difference from Normal mode.
The biggest offender was Nightbane. You start the fight at 10-Mana, and always go first. So you have a 10-Mana start over an AI which doesn’t have any exceptional cards in his deck. How is he supposed to beat you? That’s normal mode. Fine, I’ve played this as a Tavern Brawl six times over, but okay it’s pretty cool. Then you put it on Heroic and they just added 15 HP on the guy. How is that Heroic? It’s ridiculous. It has zero added difficulty. Zero. To make that fight difficult you’d have to give the boss 1000 HP, because when you have a 10-Mana advantage, with the current power level and the fact the AI is terrible most of the time, you’re winning by a landslide.
Next page: Kripp on the competitive scene and the future of Hearthstone.