Look, I get it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that. But as my Aesthetics tutor at university once explained, the argument that all art is entirely subjective is a weak-ass one. For instance, if you set out to write a heartbreaking ballad, but end up with a trombone-heavy Irish jig, then your artwork is bad in an empirically provable way. At the very least, you have misunderstood the brief, which is pretty much where I am with Hearthstone's new Signature cards.
Signature cards launched alongside the March of the Lich King expansion this week, and the reaction to the way they look has been overwhelmingly negative. The idea behind Signatures is that they're a new, extremely rare type of collectible card, designed to show off more of Hearthstone's often stellar artwork. The cards use a relatively minimal frame, feature a bespoke piece of art (ie different to the regular version), and have a visual style themed around the set they're part of. And that's where the problem with the first batch lies. To complement March of the Lich King, Blizzard has opted for an icy, monochromatic effect—and that's left these cards looking incredibly drab.
Rather than showing the artwork off, all the vibrancy has been sucked out. They're bland in the hand, and boring on the board. These spiky little grey blobs look less cool than the most basic cards! Being boring is a real issue, given how sought after these Signatures are supposed to be. The rarity of finding a Signature card is equivalent to that of a golden legendary, which means it will take roughly 181 packs (which is $180 if you're buying at market rate) to snag one.
(The drop chance of Signature cards is actually very slightly better than golden legendaries, because Signatures replace one of the commons in the pack, rather than the guaranteed rare-or-better quality card.)
Everyone's a critic
The reaction I've seen on Reddit, social media, and among content creators has been near universally critical. By far the most common complaint is how dull the cards look compared to their golden and diamond equivalents. In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that Hearthstone players would prefer vibrant colours, making it hard to understand how Signature cards shipped like this.
I mean, seriously, take a look at the Signature and Diamond versions of Blood Matriarch Liadrin in the gif above and tell me which one is worth hunting for. I asked my Twitter followers (a fairly Hearthstone-heavy cohort) how they felt about this new style of card.
Hearthstone folks, now that you've got your hands on them, wanted to see what you think of the Signature cards versus the style used for Diamond and Golden Legendaries. (This is for a potential article.) Tell me how you're feeling, and what if anything you'd like done differently pic.twitter.com/svbCdFgeNWDecember 7, 2022
Here's a small sample of the more constructive responses.
On and on it went, with the nature of the criticism proving remarkably consistent for a community which rarely agrees on anything: We like the idea, we hate the implementation. Even the dragon king, Brian Kibler, weighed in:
He makes a good point about the fact you can't craft or disenchant Signature cards, which means it sucks harder if you open one but would rather have the arcane dust to put towards a golden legendary. For balance, I did receive one (1) entirely positive response.
Signatures getting such a rough reception must also be a worry for Blizzard's bean counters, because it's obvious that they were intended to be a money spinner. (The game has been going hard on paid cosmetics in the last couple of years.) The Hearthstone shop now sells Signature packs which contain all-golden cards, but also have a 3x chance of containing a Signature card. For comparison, five Signature packs costs $24.99 (£20.99) compared to $9.99 (£8.99) for seven normal packs. Reminder: Signature packs still only contain a Signature once per every 60 or so that you open. So yeah, I get that they're optional and only for collectors, but as the intended audience it's still an oof from me.
There are some cheaper ways to acquire certain Signature cards. Two specific ones can be found on the current Tavern Pass rewards track, two random ones come with the $79.99 Mega Bundle, and three (non-legendary) Signatures are available as part of an in-game event happening currently.
Still, as a self-confessed whale who's spent several thousand dollars in Hearthstone, I can honestly say I have no enthusiasm for collecting Signature cards right now. Which, in some ways, is a blessed relief. There's a good chance that whatever theme Blizzard picks for the next expansion will be more appealing (although count me out of the inevitable chibi Signatures). I do think it's easy to see how much potential there is in the flush art style, as shown by these great fan-made, full colour alternatives that were posted to the Hearthstone subreddit by user foxy1618.
Here's another concept, this time from user imik_. It's amazing how much difference adding just a little bit more colour makes to the impact of the card.
Sitting here staring at the current crop of Signature cards, I wonder if the art was created in colour first and then had the monochromatic effect applied later, because I'd love for Blizzard to enable a toggle between the colourful and washed out versions if so. My guess is not, based on the original art for the Grand Magister Rommath Signature card, which is black and white. I also have some sympathy with the Hearthstone team, which is clearly under quite a bit of pressure to find new things to sell, while also pumping out three expansions per year.
I imagine there must be some envious glances being directed from Team 5 towards Marvel Snap, which was created by ex-Hearthstone developers. Marvel Snap cards feature gorgeous full-frame art that players are able to upgrade through multiple variants without the need to open bazillions of packs. It feels like a much more modern, consumer-friendly system, and makes a real virtue of divergent art styles. If I want to collect a deck of entirely pixel art heroes, that's a goal I can work towards. Hopefully lessons are being learned by Blizzard in time for the next set, otherwise this whale is ending up on the beach.
Update: Having seen this article, a Blizzard reached out to share the following statement from Hearthstone features lead, Chadd Nervig:
"The Hearthstone team is always looking for ways to surprise and delight our players, which means trying new things, taking risks, and taking in feedback to iterate. We heard your feedback and are taking it to heart—we’re already planning significant changes for our next round of Signature cards. More details to come soon."
I take that to mean the March of the Lich King cards will stay as they are, which is a shame but understandable, and we can expect significantly more poppy Signatures from the next set.