We've been invited last month at the preview of Hearthstone's Witchwood single player content, Monster Hunt, where we sat down and talked about what's new in the game's meta and what's to come for Blizzard's card game, with none other than Mike Donais, Hearthstone lead designer.
Before going technical, here is some information about Mike that you won't find in the interview:
- Huge fan of Matt Mercer;
- Loves RPGs;
- Worked for Wizards of the Coast and helped them design D&D Miniatures;
- Fan of Brian Kibler's stream;
- Calls Rdu (most popular Romanian Hearthstone player) Răducu.
Softpedia: Favorite card and favorite expansion?
Mike Donais: My favorite card is Reno Jackson. Being able to heal right in the middle of the game, when you needed the most, it's great. And because it's in Wild you can use cards like Duplicate and get extra value by playing Reno Jackson multiple times, so I really like that archetype.
League of Explorers had only five legendary cards in the expansion, and all of them were great. Elise, Reno Jackson were perfect hits, so this is the expansion I like most gameplay-wise. For story, my favorite expansion is Kobolds & Catacombs. I was playing role-playing games since I was 8 or 9 years old and being able to design and work on the new mechanics and flavor that sort of brought me back to that time, and having fun again in that space was awesome.
Softpedia: With the launch of a new expansion, a new Hearthstone season kicks off, this time is the Year of the Raven, which means that other sets are rotated into the Wild. Which card or deck archetype you're glad it was rotated in the Wild?
Mike Donais: Well, I love Ice Block, but I also hate Ice Block. The thing about this card is that it creates all these decks that play completely differently than the normal Hearthstone decks. I think it's really important card games to have decks that play totally differently. I think Gadgetzan Auctioneer does that, Ice Block does that, so I think Ice Block did tons for Hearthstone and made it a real card game.
However, I'm also glad that after five years it's gone, so there's space for other cards. We'll make new cards that change Hearthstone in a fundamental way. I think Baku and Genn, the two new legendary cards in Witchwood kind of do that, your hero power is changed in turn one and that can have a huge impact on any class you play. I want to continue to make cards that are powerful, crazy and change the game in a fundamental way, and now that Ice Block is gone, there's room for new ones.
Softpedia: After the Witchwood expansion made its debut I had to delete all my previous decks with one exception – the Cubelock. It's the only one that's still competitive in the current meta, but I believe there's room for other decks too.
Mike Donais: Over the last few weeks we've seen tons of different decks. Certainly, Cubelock remains very strong since it only lost N'Zoth, but we'll keep an eye on that. Still, people are playing all kinds of stuff. We've put in cards for every class that allows players to build their decks in different kind of ways.
There's usually two different ways to build your decks for each class, but with Genn and Baku there are basically two more ways to build your decks for every class. So, there are like four new deck archetypes for every class that you have to evaluate and see if it's good or not. Also, some of them might not be good right now, but they might be good in the future, and some are great right now. That's what makes Witchwood so great.
Softpedia: Do you think that crafting Baku, if you don't already have it, is essential to building a competitive deck after Witchwood's release?
Mike Donais: Well, you're not going to put Baku in Cubelock. If you're excited about one of the Baku decks, I think it's a good investment because it's neutral and can be used in nine different classes. Also, when we release new cards in the future, you can go back and see if Baku is better in that class or not.
It's the same with Genn, I think at first people were like “we're not really sure where you're getting with this,” but in the last couple of days, suddenly there's a Genn warlock deck because you can play Mountain Giant and Drake, Hellfire is another good card.
There's been a good Genn shaman deck with which some of the folks reached top 50 legend, so there's a bunch of good Genn decks once people figured them out. Those cards (Baku and Genn) are going to do a lot of work for us over the life of Hearthstone.
Softpedia: On that note, now that Witchwood is live, I thing there's a surge of players who choose to play a certain class that received the most benefits from the expansion. People have been asking for a better Priest class and you delivered a few expansions ago, but not it looks like the Shaman is making a comeback and I believe the Warrior has good cards too. So, these changes are planned to give each class a moment to shine each expansion? Are you rotating these classes or you try to make them as balanced as possible from the start? Or you don't think about that at all?
Mike Donais: We definitely think about all that stuff a lot. So, for example, if Paladin was the best class before the Witchwood and Warlock is now the best class, we really look careful not to give them too many good cards that would make them even more powerful. If we do, hopefully they're for a different deck, so we might give Warlock good cards that don't go in a typical Warlock deck that people are already playing. This is one of our focuses and when we try to make Shaman and Warrior better because they're not seeing enough play we don't rush it.
Sometimes, it may take a couple of expansions, we don't want to go “oh, look, here are 10 good cards” because that could go terribly wrong. So, it takes a little while, but I think that people are playing 3-4 types of Shaman decks, and the same goes for the Warrior (Quest, Control, Rush). I believe the Rush cards that we've just added are very strong, so there's a lot of stuff going on for them.
Softpedia: The decision to nerf some cards is based on the meta or the tournaments? Or you're taking into consideration both before doing any balance changes?
Mike Donais: Yes, we're taking into consideration both those factors and other factors too. We look at what's the most powerful deck using stats, we also look at what's the most played deck because sometime they're not the same. Tournaments matter, but tournament data can be easily misinterpreted because you can ban certain decks in tournaments and the meta is pretty different.
We focus a lot on what rank 15 players feel, what rank 5 players feel, what legend players feel, and sometimes, even if a deck is not the most powerful or the most played on the ladder, it still needs some changes because people felt bad when playing against them.
Softpedia: It took you a very long time to nerf Patches, can we hope that balance changes will now be delivered faster?
Mike Donais: Patches was around for a very long time, but other cards we've nerfed after two months. We decided to nerf Patches after such a long time because he was part of borderline decks, which were pretty good, but not necessarily overpowered. People have found cards in the new expansions that made Patches decks even more powerful, decks that were pretty scary.
Keleseth made Patches a bit better. We didn't want the Wild to suffer from this aggressiveness of Patches forever. He was actually limiting a lot of decks because of the power he can put in the first two or three turns, and if you didn't built a deck with a whole bunch of answers to that or you didn't draw them, it was just a really bad gameplay experience.
The same thing goes for Raza. This specific card was creating a very strong priest OTK deck and we decided to change that even though we knew the card will be moved to Wild because we also care about Wild and I think people appreciate that we do pay attention to Wild.
Softpedia: Let's say I'm a gamer who's never played Hearthstone, but I've heard of it. How would you pitch me the game in just one sentence?
Mike Donais: Fun way to relax, and it exercises your brain while doing it.