Hearthstone is set to get a lot spookier on April 12 with the arrival of The Witchwood expansion. Between the 135 new cards, a couple of new mechanics, and the Monster Hunt single-player mode, there will be a lot for Hearthstone players to learn.
One man who can help us adjust to all the new additions is Stephen Chang, game designer on Hearthstone, and the authority on absolutely everything the card game’s dark and dank forest will bring. He spoke to us about why the Rush mechanic is being added now, in response to Charge’s shortcomings, and how both it and Echo will fit into the current meta.
Beyond that, Chang also talks about how the Hearthstone team considered the new mechanics in relation to the story of The Witchwood – including the Warg-state cards and their functionality. Also read on if you want to know about Start of Game and how that design flourish came from a logical analysis of Hearthstone. Oh, and what else will future Year of the Raven expansions contain? Find out below.
Have a look at all The Witchwood expansion cards revealed so far.
PCGN: Why was The Witchwood the right time to add Rush as a new mechanic alongside Charge?
Stephen Chang: Whenever we approach a set, we try to think of mechanics that fit the flavour of the set. The story of the Witchwood is the struggle between the creatures of the Witchwood forest that Hagatha brought to life. They’re attacking the city and the citizens of Gilneas are these werewolf-type creatures called the Worgen who can transform and rush into action to defend the city. We thought rush really captured that idea well. It also opened up a lot of fun design space to explore.
Charge was already a mechanic that we had explored a lot but there were some complications with it in terms of how much base damage you could do. With Rush we were able to explore it in a way where you were in place to take action and be very powerful without the risk of doing a lot of damage straight from hand.
How do you think Rush and Echo will fit into the current meta?
I think they’re both going to fit very well. For Rush, there was a lot of opportunity to add more power to the cards that have Rush, as opposed to what we could have done with Charge. It’s a very good mechanic for taking advantage of the board. Say you’re behind, it’s a very strong tempo play where you can play the card to get the action on trying to gain back the board. But if you’re ahead, it’s not as powerful – if they don’t have minions on the board then the cards with Rush you play won’t have as much of an impact – so you’re more likely to play some of your other cards instead and hold back the Rush cards for the opportune time to take advantage of the extra tempo.
For something like Echo, it’s very interesting in terms of the decisions you have to make. So you can choose to play them earlier in the game for a tempo advantage where, if you don’t have, say, another three draw card – if you have Phantom Militia for example – and need an early comp, then you can play on turn three, but if you have other options and can wait longer into the game then the card gains more value as it goes. That decision of when exactly to play that card is really critical and very interesting for the gameplay.
Are a lot of cards in this set designed to fill the board in tandem with Rush?
We like the type of gameplay where a player will develop the board and the opponent can have the opportunity to deal with that board. That interplay between both heroes is very fun for a lot of players, it’s something that we’re definitely conscious of.
One of the best parts of Rush is that we can take immediate action and interact with the board immediately and create these high tension turns of, ‘Oh, they have a taunt in hand, or a Tar Creeper, and then I have a Militia Commander, I can just play it on the board, deal with their top and then have other creatures take care of their back line’.
That type of decision making was something Rush was able to provide. In terms of filling the board with Echo cards, the decision of when to play those cards is very impactful and how long you want to hold it. Do you want to save it for other resources? Do you want to hold them to interact with other cards? For example, if you have an Echo card, with Hagatha the Witch you can gain a lot of resources from that. It creates a lot of interesting board dynamics, where you can utilise the board in different ways depending on the different states of the game and the different kind of board states.
Was it hard working around mana restrictions for Echo cards?
It actually made it a little easier. In general, when there are restrictions on what a design can have it opens up a lot of room for inspiration. With something like Echo, we found making it have a lower mana cost made a lot more sense and was a lot more fun. So we had that idea in mind when we were designing them. It made it easier to imagine the realm of possibilities for a card and then to try and find the best versions of those cards to explore that were the most fun.
The Warg-state cards fit into the story of the Witchwood. Is that something we should expect to see more of from you?
There are definitely other Worgen cards in the set. They’re also very interesting as, if you play them on curve as their human form, they always have more health than attack – that version is always a bit more defensive. If you are willing to wait a turn and play them off curve then you can activate them in Worgen form and generally those are more offensive, since the attack values on those are always higher. There’s a lot of tension there as to when is the optimum time to play these cards and depending on the situation.
It was designed with the idea of the effect on the Worgen side potentially being stronger. Some of them would be too strong if they were played on curve so we tried to offset it a bit on the Worgen side, since you have to wait an extra turn for it to change.
What’s the intention behind the new Start of Game mechanic?
The first actual card that used Start of Game was Prince Malchezaar, the one that shuffled five legendaries into your deck. It just made a lot of sense, as we were designing a mechanic based on the outlook that we had a mission for the effect on the hero power. [In The Witchwood] if you’re building an even or odd class deck, there is a very strong deck-building challenge to overcome to actually be able to make these cards.
It made a lot more sense in terms of how these decks would work to put it at the start of the game. If you’re playing a deck with a Genn Greymane, you’re not going to be able to play a turn-one drop because you don’t have any one-cost cards. We wanted a way to not be held back on those turns. By reducing the hero power you can still do something active on those turns.
As we were approaching the design of these cards we took that power into consideration, you having these effects at the start of the game. Since players are going to have to take on this very very challenging deck-building decision. We wanted them to be rewarded accordingly, where they get the effect of these powerful cards immediately, to be able to utilise that right away.
What is the effect of The Witchwood on deck building?
It’s definitely both restrictive and rewarding in terms of trying to find these combinations. You definitely look at your collection in an entirely different way, and it’s very exciting to look at your cards and go, ‘Oh, if I have this I can’t play Execute, so what alternatives do I have to Execute that I might consider playing’.
Or, if you have a key area-of-effect card that you might push in play for one of the classes, but you’re restricted against using that one, are there other alternatives that you might be able to find as part of that class? Or part of the neutral set that they’ve put into place in a sort of softer placement for that because you wouldn’t be able to play the strong version of that card?
Are you going to revisit Start of Game in other Year of the Raven expansions?
That’s something we’ll have to wait and see. It’s definitely a space that can be very jarring for players. It’s something we want to be ultra careful of. We don’t want to overwhelm the experience of when you start the game all these different things are happening. For these cards in particular, we thought it was worth that effort, and it was very exciting to explore and we want to see how players respond to that and see whether it was fun.
As a setting, was the Witchwood chosen with specific classes in mind?
It’s something we consider whenever we’re creating a set. One of the core things that we do when we have a new set we’re working on, is we explore each of the classes and the theme of the set through those specific classes. What kinds of archetypes can we explore within each class that fits the flavour of the set?
It’s actually very exciting for us to utilise that and try and find the mechanics that fit that flavour and something where players can play cards from that set and decks for that class and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a Witchwood deck’, because it has a Witchwood flavour and hopefully the mechanics do as well.
How will The Witchwood’s single-player work?
We’re doing Monster Hunt for Witchwood. It’s similar to Dungeon Run from Kobolds & Catacombs. Instead of using one of the nine hero classes, we have specific hero classes you can play as. We’ll have more details on that as we get closer to release and they’re going to be releasing two weeks after the launch of Witchwood.
What part of The Witchwood are you most looking forward to – the single-player, new cards, new mechanics? Let us know in the comments below!