On the Eve of the Expansion
Journey to Ungoro will be the first expansion to release since I started playing Hearthstone, and although my Magic card evaluation skills are fairly well honed, I’m not sure how well those apply here. Particularly when it comes to evaluating a new card type.
Hearthstone to me feels like a game of much slimmer margins than Magic. Mana and color screw are removed from the picture, and even the power level gap between a staple Legendary and an unplayable basic card is fairly small in absolute terms.
Given these small margins, it’s hard to say whether a given quest will be competitively viable. I do think we can critique the design though.
The design of Hearthstone’s quests borrows heavily from Magic’s quests. Each serves as a form of temporary card and tempo disadvantage, recouped later by some eventual gain.
Magic’s quests largely fell into two categories: value quests and build-around quests. The former are simple quests that can be slotted into most any deck, netting a discount in mana at the cost of time primarily.
Divination or double Rampant Growth for two mana. And obviously the power level of each depends on deck construction and sequencing.
The build-around quests placed much tighter constraints on deck construction. At the time, a “Quest deck” implicitly referred to an all-in strategy that sought to cheat a high-costed equipment like Argentum Armor into play in the early turns. The primary contents of the deck were more or less fixed, from the quests and equipments, to cheap creatures that could quickly trigger the quest’s completion.
I’m a little disappointed that Blizzard has opted to go exclusively with this build-around approach, although I can imagine they might be holding smaller “value quests” aside as future design space. None of the quests offer much counterplay, directly or otherwise. There’s currently no way to bounce or destroy them, or remove counters (ala Vampire Hexmage and friends).
What I find most egregious about the design is how prescriptive the quests are. Do X action Y times. Especially when there are very few ‘X’ actions in the cardpool.
Take the Warlock Quest…
Currently there are really only 3 playable discard outlets in the cardpool, with a fourth being printed in Ungoro. Maybe Clutchmother Zavas will edge a card like Succubus into playability, but the fact remains, there’s not much room to maneuver in terms of your discard package. Your Soulfires, Malchezaar’s Imps, Doomguards and Silverware Golems (etc.) are already locked into your deck once you choose this quest. There’s some room to maneuver with the remaining contents, but it feels a lot like Jade Druid where large swaths of the decklist are more or less “pre-built”.
Now, admittedly I’ve cherry-picked perhaps the most restrictive example, and it’s likely that Blizzard has been fairly conservative here in their introduction of a new card type to Hearthstone. I do wish the quests had been more diverse in their size and scope, but the decision to print all quests at Legendary rarity likely precluded the existence of smaller “value” quests in Ungoro.
I am very curious, however, to see which quests will prove to be playable. Board control matters far more in Hearthstone than Magic, and stabilization much more difficult. The cost of a card and tempo in the early game is far from trivial, but some of the rewards are blatantly outrageous.
Let’s find out tomorrow…