Let's talk about Hearthstone: Strictly-Better-Than Cards

Around August last year, Blizzard released The Grand Tournament, an expansion for Hearthstone, which featured two peculiar cards: Evil Heckler and Ice Rager. Evil Heckler happens to have the same stats and card text as Booty Bay Bodyguard, but holds a lower mana cost of four instead of five. Ice Rager, on the other hand, happens to cost three mana like Magma Rager, but has two health instead of one. In the following expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods, these strictly-better-than cards were nowhere to be found. I will be discussing the details of this design philosophy and how it affects the dynamics of the game.

Magma RagerIce Rager

Firstly, these two cards were not the harbinger of power creep. Power creep is a phenomena in which introduction of new cards create a surge in the current power level of the meta. For example, if a new four-mana card was introduced that happens to be stronger than a Piloted Shredder (one of the strongest four-mana drops in the game), that would definitely be considered a power creep. Power creep hurts a game in many ways. Not only does it steepen the curve for new players and deter potential players as it makes older cards useless, but it may also encourage repetition of such behavior. With that being said, the introduction of Evil Heckler and Ice Rager brought about no such hint of a power creep. This is because the two “replaced” cards, Booty Bay Bodyguard and Magma Rager were already weaker than other cards of the same costs. In fact, both of these cards still did not see constructed play.

Booty Bay BodyguardEvil Heckler

The unique thing about Hearthstone when compared to other TCGs is that everything is online. Nerfs and buffs can be readily pushed as Hearthstone doesn’t have to deal with issues like making sure printed cards match their official effect. With that being said, Blizzard tries their best to avoid resorting to make changes to cards, because it’s confusing for newer players to have to adapt to constant changes. In the past, Blizzard nerfed cards such as Warsong Commander because it both creates a stale metagame (where everyone and their babies played Patron Warrior) and it prevents Blizzard from creating cards that could combo too strongly with it. Unfortunately, the sad state of Magma Rager or Booty Bay Bodyguard is not urgent enough for Blizzard to bring down the hammer. There is just no merit to buffing cards that are never played into cards that are still never played. Although it did little to affect constructed play, it made arena decks stronger in general (which, in my opinion, improves the overall experience).

Piloted ShredderWarsong Commander

At the start of 2016, Blizzard announced that they will now start to rotate sets out of standard, making older cards unplayable. This sets strictly-better-than cards in a slight pickle. It’s purpose is to serve as a “buff” to classic cards, but if these new cards are going to be rotated out of standard anyway, it doesn’t make much sense to just buff these cards temporarily. Of course, these cards will still reside in the arena, but with this awkward dynamic around standard, I doubt Blizzard would produce any more strictly-better-than cards. With every single expansion, Blizzard always highly value the thematic design behind each card. There were no demons introduced in Whispers of the Old Gods (because the Old Gods are enemies of the demons) and certain keywords like Discover aren’t carelessly thrown on random cards unless they make sense to the overall theme (like A Light in the Darkness). This may be a stretch, but perhaps strictly-better-than cards was part of The Grand Tournament’s theme. Blizzard just wanted to see people laugh over when a joust appears between Booty Bay Bodyguard and Evil Heckler. It’s a pretty spicy meme opportunity and with the introduction of Am’gam Rager, you know Blizzard doesn’t pass by a spicy meme opportunity.

A Light in the DarknessAm'gam Rager

About the Author:

Hello, my name is Tanat and I'm from Bangkok, Thailand. I'm a Game Design and Development student at Rochester Institute of Technology and I like to explore the depth of game mechanics and game designs and how they bring the game together as a whole. You can find me on Twitter at @ttanatb.