Should Hearthstone add a “graveyard” mechanic — and would that finally “fix” Priest?
What’s bad about playing against a Priest in Hearthstone currently? If you ask players, the answer should be almost unanimous: Resurrection mechanics are super frustrating for the person on the receiving end of them. Yet, the current design for the class revolves almost exclusively around it: Put up some big, beefy taunts, then summon copies of them. When the opponent invariably kills them, resurrect them. Summon even more copies of them. Resurrect them again. Rinse, repeat, until your current 30-40 minute game ends — assuming no one conceded yet, out of boredom and/or frustration.
I understand the sentiment, but maybe we don’t need to be that extreme. We can fix it! We have the technology!
— Listen to Nexus Gaming News! (@GarrettArt) May 20, 2020
The Priest class has always been an extremely reactive class: You play almost all of your turns looking at what your opponent is doing, and then using your tools to undo it. Rarely have there been Priest decks that take the initiative, that are proactive. Perhaps the most memorable example was Razakus Priest, from the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan era. It was an extremely fun deck, but Blizzard didn’t like how it played more like a Mage than a Priest, in the way it repeatedly had you blasting Shadow magic at the opponent’s face.
With that in mind, they recently revamped the base set for Priest, and toned down those “Shadow” effects; that is, effects that dealt direct damage to the opposing player. Instead, they made it focus more on what their fantasy for a Priest is: healing, and buffing things. Which… had the unfortunate result of doubling-down on its reactive nature.
Having a class that is fully reactive, by itself, wouldn’t be a problem — as long as the opponent was given tools to counteract that. But Hearthstone is not really a game that allows for a lot of counterplay. Each opponent has their own turn, and during their turn, the opponent is completely unable to perform any actions. There is no back and forth, like in other popular card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Legends of Runeterra. If a player decides to do things, they just do things, and you have to wait until your turn to deal with them — making it super hard to prevent an opponent from, say, casting a spell that brings back from the dead all of their strongest minions at once.
What, then, could be done to make Priest a less frustrating class to play against?
Enter the graveyard.
How could a graveyard mechanic “fix” Priest?
As can be seen in the three Magic: The Gathering cards above, that game has a mechanic called the “graveyard.” Basically, it’s card game afterlife: Whenever a minion is destroyed, a spell is cast, a card is discarded, etc., it goes in there. And even though players can’t directly do anything with their graveyards, there are plenty of cards that allow them to interact with it, in a limited fashion.
The fact that the graveyard exists opens up many possibilities of card effects that Hearthstone doesn’t have: You’re able to look into your graveyard, searching for something. You’re able to destroy things that are in there, so that they can’t be brought back. Maybe you’re even able to take things from your opponent’s graveyard! That could be a very interesting mechanic for Hearthstone, since Priest already does have many card-stealing effects anyway.
If Hearthstone implemented a graveyard mechanic, cards that resurrect minions could have limits imposed upon them. For example…
- Only allowing you to resurrect the first minion that entered it (in a game, or in a turn), rather than any. This would add a huge amount of counterplay, since the opponent would be able to determine which of your minions goes in there first, depending on the order that they kill things.
- Only allowing you to resurrect minions up to a certain cost. No more playing a card that brings back three 10-cost minions at once, causing your opponent to ragequit and uninstall Hearthstone (probably).
- A neutral minion could be added that allows you to discover things from your opponent’s graveyard, and destroy them from there. Again: counterplay!
- Maybe there could even be graveyard-related keywords that could be added to certain minions. Let’s use our imagination now:
- A keyword like “Lingering” could ensure that a minion is always brought back whenever another minion is resurrected.
- Another keyword like “Obliterate” could not only destroy a minion, but totally remove it from the game, instead of placing it into the graveyard. Once more: counterplay!
- And yet another keyword like “Phantasmal” could ensure that minions keep all buffs even after death — so that, if they’re brought back, those buffs stick to them.
The graveyard, whatever name you want to give it (hint, hint: Shadowlands), could be the class-defining mechanic for the Shadow side of the Priest class — much like the Black color decks in Magic: The Gathering. Shadow has nearly lost its place in the Priest toolbox ever since Blizzard decided that it shouldn’t deal direct damage anymore. A few mind-control effects still exist, but those have the potential to be as frustrating as resurrection mechanics. There are certainly other avenues to explore that ensure healthier, more fun mechanics.
If resurrect worked in this more limited fashion, it would no longer be used solely for crazy, game-defining, rage-inducing combos. Instead, it would play into the core Priest fantasy of buffing minions. You would make your minions stronger, and then you would keep bringing them back, perhaps still buffed, to keep fighting. It would be a fairer approach to the resurrection fantasy.
Other classes, like Warlock, could also benefit from it: it would go perfectly well with their Discard mechanic (which has always seemed promising, but never quite worked). There would be plenty of interesting possibilities for other classes as well, especially those that have resurrect-like effects in World of Warcraft (Shaman, Paladin, Druid), or are related to otherwordly realms such as the Emerald Dream. But it should be a Priest mechanic, first and foremost.
I feel like this might be an interesting avenue for Hearthstone to explore. It might make Priests less frustrating to play against, give a nice new identify for their Shadow side, open up design space for classes other than Priest, and simply benefit the game as a whole, with an entire new game area, full of brand new possibilities to explore.
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