It’s hard to recall a time when the Hearthstone fanbase wasn’t complaining about some balance crisis or other, but one player is taking constructive criticism of Blizzard’s online CCG to an arduous new level. His name is Max and he has a mission: He will make his own Rogue weapon card every single day until Blizzard releases an official one. So far his custom pool of weapons has risen to 27 cards, and talking with him, he has no intention of slowing down.
Back in April, Blizzard announced a surprise nerf to one of Rogue's deadliest cards, . Originally, this two-mana spell let Rogue players destroy their equipped weapon in exchange for dealing its damage to every enemy minion and the opposing hero’s face. As far as many Rogue mains were concerned, the nerf was too heavy-handed. It removed the player damage and upped the cost to four mana, all but killing its viability.
at the time was that Blade Flurry’s high burst damage was “an obstacle to adding better cards for Rogues,”—note that Blizzard said cards not weapons. Earlier this fall, game designer the idea that Rogue’s identity would continue to be focused on weapons—especially compared to Shamans. "It's likely Rogue will be more weapon focused than Shaman in most expansions," he wrote. With Hearthstone's latest expansion, , many Rogue players expected to be compensated with a suite of cool new weapons. They were very wrong. Not a single Rogue weapon was released.
"I'm also an avid Rogue player and was very disappointed by the lack of weapons and weapon buffs in the new set—especially when Warrior got so many good tools for that exact purpose," Max says. "That was the general vibe going around, people were expecting there to be new weapons in the next few expansions and it hasn't been like that." But instead of just voicing that disappointment on the Blizzard forums, he tells me he saw an opportunity to do something a little more creative.
Put your money where your cards are
Twenty-seven days ago, he posted to the subreddit, a place for fans to share and critique their own card designs. "I will make new viable Rogue weapons every day until Blizzard releases a new one," he wrote. And for every day since, he's delivered. You can see an Imgur gallery containing all of his cards here or check out our gallery below. But taking matters into his own hands hasn't been popular with everyone in the Hearthstone community.
Max tells me it's never been about showing up Blizzard's own designers. "I love the concept of design space and I love to see all these mechanics being filled out, and I just felt like [Blizzard] was neglecting it. They opened up this space and they didn't do anything with it. It's not really a serious protest, I just like designing cards."
Part of what's interesting about Max's conviction is that, by all accounts, Rogues are a competitive class right now. According to Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper report, which aggregates statistics across over 100,000 Hearthstone games each week, Rogue is at Legend rank. "Rogue is in a good place right now," Max admits. "Some people would say, 'Oh, you're just bitching because your favorite class isn't good right now,' but that's not true." Instead, Max just wants to share what he thinks is possible with a more weapon-focused Rogue class.
"It's also bit self-serving," he laughs. "Piling up weapon buffs to make a huge weapon—that's the deck I've always played. That's why I have such a vested interest in it."
Tim, our , and I sat down to take a look over some of Max's card ideas, and while we both think the word "viable" might be a stretch in describing some of them, there's no denying Max is full of interesting ideas. Take a look at , for example, a creature card that when played gives Rogues a choice between three weapons to add to their hand. The cool twist? Those weapons can be discovered from any class.
One of the things we both really enjoy about Max's efforts is that he isn't just focusing on weapon cards either but any card that synergizes with them. His or are both great examples, each offering combo potential with the Scallywag adding a fun "joust" where each player draws a card and if yours costs more Scallywag gets a +1/+1 buff.
shows off what a 10-mana weapon-focused spell could look like, giving players a 3/4 weapon and two 3/2 assassins. If they combo it by using a 0-cost spell like Preparation, your opponent also loses all of their undamaged minions. It's an ultra-powerful card that—like all of Max's cards—shows just how much room there is for weapons to grow.
So far, Max’s growing collection of weapon cards is diverse and interesting, even if they're not all well-balanced, but it remains to be seen how well he can keep up as the days tick by. is an eight-cost spell card that steals a mechanic exclusive to Druids by having players choose between one of two abilities, which seems thematically out of place. It strikes me as a result of Max's inability to workshop an idea for no longer than a day or two.
A lesson in design
Through his self-induced challenge, Max has also picked up an interesting perspective on the challenges Blizzard faces every single day. "Hearthstone is actually really difficult to design cards for," he admits. "You're not allowed a huge lengthy effect, you're not allowed as many interesting effects. That sounds bad, but it's good because it keeps the design really tight and simple. Like, this card does this, how can I express that in as few words as possible and as few mechanics as possible?"
Even the feedback he's received, which hasn't always been or , has taught him valuable lessons. "As a designer, the worst thing you can have is someone say 'Oh, it's good I like it,'" he tells me. "That is the least desired response. Because a back and forth discussion always leads to learning and considering new perspectives. How careful should I be with this design? Should I design for when the card will be best used? Designed for when it'll be worst used?"
"You also have to weed out that feedback because people sometimes don't know what they're talking about. They can't see the vision for how it's going to be used, and that's a constant struggle between the players and the designers," he says.
With Mean Streets of Gadgetzan as fresh as a newly cracked booster pack, it's going to be some time before new Rogue cards are revealed—let alone new weapons. But Max is confident he can keep up the pace. "I can certainly see myself doing it for a very long while," he says. "I'm aware of the Hearthstone design process and I'm aware that they're already testing the next two expansions. They've already created all the cards and set their course. But who knows?"
While not everyone agrees with players taking a game's design into their own hands, you also can't really argue with Max's intentions: "I just thought it'd be fun to design Hearthstone cards."