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The Quest Questions

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.

Image result for leeroy jenkinsImage result for reckless rocketeer hearthpwn

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.

Khalni Heart ExpeditionIor Ruin Expedition

Divination or double Rampant Growth for two mana. And obviously the power level of each depends on deck construction and sequencing.

Quest for the Holy Relic

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…

Breath of the Wild: The Open World Dilemma

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been showered in a chorus of praise since its release, and while I wasn’t ready to jump on the Nintendo Switch hype train, I did dust of my Wii U to give the game a shot.


Reviews painted a picture of a world bristling with possibilities, a massive canvas to be unlocked through cleverness and ingenuity. I was particularly captivated by discussions of how to cross through wintry terrain. The author of one review mentioned that he and his friends had each found their own solutions, like cooking a warm meal or finding more heat-resistant clothing. In my play through, I devised a third solution: carrying a torch and simply running past any monsters that stood in my way.

The beginning of the game was a work of art. You learn various survival skills, from strategically chopping down trees to bridge a chasm, to raiding a camp full of sleeping mobs to steal their roasted meat. While restricted to the tutorial section, the game felt like the perfect mix of classic Zelda and modern game design. None of the extended tutorial of Twilight Princess. Off the bat the game felt right. And exciting. And fresh.

That magic carried me through the opening ours of the game, joyfully discovering landmarks around the map, sneaking through areas that seemed to exceed my character’s power level.


Eventually I worked my way to one of the game’s four major dungeons, where I found myself stuck, momentarily. As you enter the dungeon, the game pans to a treasure chest containing a map. The chest itself is blocked behind jail-cell bars. The same bars that had, in a previous shrine (mini-dungeons that pepper the map), opened upon completion of a puzzle. I made the assumption that it would (again) open once a later objective had been met. Unfortunately, without the map (which holds controls for interacting with the dungeon itself), progress became impossible. I spoke with a friend who made the exact same “mistake”, so this may be an issue of poor communication on the game’s behalf.

Regardless, once I found the map, the dungeon became quite breathtaking. The mechanic for manipulating the dungeon via the map was novel, and the process of solving the total puzzle felt adventurous.

After completing my first major dungeon, I wandered through the map, gaining hearts en route to my second. This dungeon was almost insultingly easy. Boss included, the whole thing took a brisk 15 minutes. Even by the second time novelty of manipulating the dungeon via the map had worn off. This is where the game started to lose me.

The game incentivizes exploration by awarding items that strengthen your character, and this process implicitly links exploration to the primary goal of defeating Ganon. But what if your character is already strong enough? The connection to the main goals is severed. And without that connection, the act of exploring the map and completing shrines felt not only pointless, but actively counterproductive. My friend echoed this sentiment, claiming that over time the game felt more and more “chore-like”.


Over time I found myself passing shrines without entering them, merely running to my destination. I never had to chop down a second tree, and eventually didn’t feel the need to engage enemies at all.

After finishing three of the four major dungeons, I took on the game’s final boss, and beat it rather easily.

Fundamentally, Breath of the Wild is a fairly challenging game, but once I had mastered the challenge, the game’s magic was lost. The game’s core mechanics were delightful, but I found myself wishing they were tied to a game that preserved its difficulty and early-game charm better. A Zelda roguelike perhaps?

The Hearthstone Ladder

Hearthstone has a strange ranking system.


For the uninitiated, Hearthstone has 25 numbered ranks (25 is the worst), along with the legend rank for top players. The system is fairly transparent. To advance in rank, a player must earn a given number of stars. Players earn a star with each win, and lose a star with each loss. A zero sum system. Almost. Almost….

A second star is awarded for a win during a “winning streak” (three or more consecutive wins), and players cannot lose stars for lost games below Rank 20 or at Legend rank.

The steady influx of these extra stars gradually inflates ranking over time. Basically, the rank distribution over time looks like this elaborately crafted MS Paint graph:


This is clearly a ridiculous dynamic. Over time the entire population climbs the ladder, so a Rank 14 game played on January 2nd is significantly harder than a Rank 14 game played on January 28th.

This dynamic interacts unfavorably with the Hearthstone’s in-game reward system. Players earn end-of-month rewards based on their highest rank achieved during the month. If you set yourself a given goal, the most efficient way to achieve it is to play at the end of the month, when your climb will be filled with lesser-skilled opposition. Likewise, ranked games at the start of the month feel mostly irrelevant.

Setting aside the absurdity of a ranked system that cares about what time of the month you play during, we see that this system undermine ones of the core principles of matchmaking by increasing the likelihood of pairing players of disparate skill levels.

Personally, my issues with the ranking system are likely compounded by Hearthstone’s free-to-play trappings. With other games, I only play them when I’m in the mood to enjoy them, but with Hearthstone my motivations aren’t always so pure. Am I playing to enjoy the experience, or to add more cards to my collection?

I know it’s not wholly rational. In terms of actual currency, the hourly value of Hearthstone play is abysmally low. And if it at any level it feels like work, then grievances like this one are bound to annoy.

For me, it’s difficult to fully ignore and disconnect from Hearthstone’s reward system. And I can feel it affecting my behavior in tangible ways. In other games, I climbed to the equivalent of Hearthstone’s “Legend” rank simply for the sense of accomplishment. There were no in-game incentives. The value of obtaining, say, Master rank in Starcraft 2 was simply the pride of your achievement.

Yet in Hearthstone, the in-game reward for reaching Legend is only marginally better than the reward for reaching Rank 5. So that’s where I’ve stopped my climb. I didn’t feel properly incentivized to climb higher, yet in other games I continued to climb with no tangible incentive at all. Achievement can feel priceless, but what about when you give it a price?

It’s getting better though. I’m forcing myself not to grind, and to only play when I’m actually excited to play. I still think the ranking system has some fundamental flaws, but at a certain level I think the onus is on me to not let myself get annoyed and burnt out on my own hobbies.

Contest: Design a Cube Card

by: Jason Waddell

It’s contest time! For this contest, we’re looking for you to submit one and only one custom made, cube-able Magic card. The card should follow the spirit of my recent article ‘Building a Cube: Archetype Design‘. Specifically, I am looking for cards that:

  • are independently playable
  • have synergies with one or more cube themes or subthemes

Although the focus is on design, we will also take into consideration the aesthetics of the card, including name, art and flavor text.

Contest Rules

  • each entrant may only submit one card
  • a card image must be provided
  • although the design should be grokkable on its own, entrants may provide a description the design. the description can have a maximum of 200 words
  • entries must be sent to me on the forums via PM, by midnight, Friday, February 5th. 

The winner will be awarded $25 in ChannelFireball store credit.

Discuss this article in our forums.

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