Creating the crazy creatures of Hearthstone’s Witchwood expansion
IGN recently published an interview with Team 5’s Lead Initial Designer Peter Whalen and Lead Final Designer Dean Ayala about the card design process during the development of Hearthstone’s Witchwood expansion. Throughout the interview, they discussed several card designs that ultimately did not make the cut and the impact the first expansion of the year makes on a design compared to the second or third set. We even learned that there’s an internal suggestion box for Blizzard staff to submit card design ideas!
So let’s take a look behind the scenes with the Hearthstone team.
On expansion design
Generally, there will be two legendaries for each class in expansion. In Journey to Un’goro, it was a quest and a minion. With Knights of the Frozen Throne, it was a hero card and a minion. In The Witchwood, it became a monster and a member of the town. Two different legendaries allowed decks to get developed in different directions compared to having a multitude of neutral legendaries where certain cards would go in a majority of decks (like Loatheb or Dr. Boom). We can expect this precedent going forward in future expansions. But who knows, maybe a new design philosophy will come into play and we only get one class legendary (but with more potentially powerful epic cards).
Cards introduced in the first set of a rotation will stick around a lot longer in standard compared to cards released in the last set and the designers need to plan their cards around that. The example given was a card like Drakonid Operative. Since many dragons would be rotating out from Blackrock Mountain at the time, they wanted to give dragons one last sendoff with the Operative. Had dragons been even more amazing from the first set released that year, then Operative might not have ever been released. Often times, it is the first set of the year that the design team will experiment with cards and mechanics the most. In a way, I’m glad the Operative didn’t come out earlier in the season. Especially in mirror matchups, the ability to just keep discovering itself over and over again would’ve made for a painful matchup.
With decks like Odd Paladin and Even Shaman in the ladder right now, there are no current plans to add odd or even effect cards in future sets. Had both Genn Greymane (originally slated for Whispers of the Old Gods) or Baku the Mooneater not worked out for those class archtypes in general, some odd and even cost cards would be released in the future to help propel Genn and Baku into the spotlight. Cards like Amani Berserker, Raid Leader, and Stormwind Champion — which haven’t been seen since classic — are seeing use again because of the even/odd archetype. I’m still rather fond of Baku in Odd Paladin, but in a way, I miss the explosiveness of Even Paladin (and Call to Arms).
On specific cards
Tess Greymane’s original Battlecry effect was to shuffle every legendary from your opponent’s class into your deck. Since Burgle Rogue was already generating card resources and advantage with Pick Pocket and Blink Fox, Tess was redesigned as a tempo generator which rewarded you a giant payoff after playing different non-Rogue class cards. Tess was (and is) popular when The Witchwood launched.
Nightmare Amalgam was first pitched in One Night in Karazhan as a 5-mana 5/6 but was deemed too powerful in tandem with cards like Finja and Murloc Knight. However, a 3/4 statline is fairly potent. Despite it being just about every creature type and benefiting from the interactions, the vulnerabilities means it dies to many the different crabs. The more I think about it, the more surprised that this card was created. There’s nothing else inherently special about it. It doesn’t come with a Taunt or a Rush or any other passive. The only thing unique about it is that it is an amalgamation of all the different minion types in the game. Would it be changed in the future if new minion types were released to incorporate those? Probably not. There wouldn’t be enough space in the card text area.
When Chameleos was first revealed, I figured it was another take on the Shifter Zerus effect. Maybe these were all card effects designed in the past but they couldn’t quite squeeze them all into one expansion. Even so, when it was pitched for inclusion into The Witchwood, the design didn’t change at all and it stayed as designed from day one. That must be quite a rarity. I can’t think of many cards that stay true from initial design all the way to final design.
When Toki was first pitched, some of the suggested effects included: “Battlecry: Un-nerf all of the cards in your hand.” and “Battlecry: Your next spell costs 0, but you pay for it next turn.” It was a neat way to get a card out now but pay for the costs later. There was another iteration where after Toki attacked, she would cast a random Mage spell on a random target. For a completely unfun design, another pitch was “Battlecry: For the rest of the game, you lose a mana crystal every turn.” I’m glad that iteration was shot down. There was a neat idea suggested where Toki’s Battlecry would be to discover a card from the future and then cards from future sets in development could be chosen. Unfortunately, had they gone that route, it would mean that those cards can’t ever actually be printed because those cards won’t be from the future anymore so they’d have to be made up.
There’s a lot more to the interview, though, so if you’re looking for more design detail, check out the rest of the interview over at IGN.
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