Blizzard announced yesterday that Hearthstone would be getting some changes to its Classic set, and the initial excitement has given way to a familiar sense of dread - it feels like the new cards are underpowered and at odds with what the classes they represent actually need. Hearthstone has recently been the beneficiary of a series of card buffs for the first time in the game's history, creating a more dynamic meta where most decks have powerful options, leading to back-and-forth gameplay where it never really feels like a player is out of the game.
Previously, Hearthstone had been known to severely nerf the problem cards in a meta. It began all the way back in beta when Hearthstone nerfed Mind Control, one of the first problematic cards the game ever had to deal with, and has been a standard approach for Blizzard ever since. The issue with nerfs are that they feel bad for players who have invested in powerful cards and decks only to see them taken away. Blizzard offers the ability to "dust" a card, which deletes it from the player's collection for a resource that can be used to craft new cards, for its full value when it is nerfed, but that doesn't account for the various other cards that were synergistic with it and were also rendered less valuable. On top of that, it tends to slow the game down, reducing powerful strategies into more grindy ones that take more time to accomplish a similar goal.
Buffs, on the other hand, have made Hearthstone exciting again, giving way to a number of new decks and a meta that has at least four or five different classes threatening to take down a tournament match - more than there's been in some time. Unfortunately, the new changes head backwards. Instead of buffing other cards in Classic sets or nerfing the cards affected slightly, Blizzard has chosen to outright remove Vanish and Mind Blast, placing them in the Hall of Fame, a prison of sorts that renders cards unplayable in any format. The reason for these changes are explained in the Play Hearthstone blog, stating that:
"While we like Rogues' knack for getting out of sticky situations with targeted removal, Vanish...negates one of their intended weaknesses, reduces our ability to design towards their strengths, and makes it much harder for players to strategize against a Rogue.
Mind Blast gives Priests the ability to inflict a large amount of direct Face damage. We want to limit the amount of damage that Priests are able to deal from their hand, which will allow us to make cards that better emphasize their strengths in controlling the game."
In short, the design team feels as though it might be over-prioritizing class identity. Asymmetric strategy games don't succeed because each class or race does something entirely differently, but rather that they do some things well and others worse. For Rogue, Vanish was one of the most exciting cards for potential combo decks, and forced players to respect over-extending into a Rogues board - something that's already enticing since Rogue is notoriously bad at healing itself, meaning rushing it down can hurt the class greatly. Vanish didn't even kill threats, but rather gave Rogue a turn to breathe.
Mind Blast offered Priests a similar chance at combo finish decks, and was one of the few ways the class could deal damage. It was also restrictive and rigid, only allowing players to go after an opposing player's health total rather than the flexible removal other classes have that have a wider range of targets.
Furthermore, the new cards being introduced in their place are, in short, laughably weak. Plaguebringer is an over-costed minion that gives another minion Poisonous, and will likely barely see play. Radiance is Flash Heal, another card that was only used for combo decks in Priest in the first place, and does very little to affect the board, slotting in as a niche card for Priest decks.
The problem here is obvious. Hearthstone is once again moving in a direction to water down cards rather than buff others, and it will lead to the same stagnant, 30-turn gameplay that turned off so many viewers over the past couple of years. If we learned anything from the Death Knight meta - other than that those card types were busted in half - it was that games that go a long time are only interesting to a point. When they become the standard, it becomes much harder to watch at length. Hearthstone will also be adding new cards to Classic besides the replacements, and they're in line with a similar philosophy:
Looking at each of these cards, it's very clear that they all want the game to go long. The cheapest among them is a 3 mana Legendary that adds another random Legendary to a player's hand, which can only be effective in a longer game. The rest are costed such that they'll be playable in mid-range or control strategies.
This is fine to an extent, because Hearthstone's early struggles were characterized by the game's speed, chiefly that the fastest decks were way too good compared to people attempting to play slower. Now it seems like we're skewing far too heavily in the other direction, with cards designed to make sure almost every game goes long. Even if most of these Classic cards never see play - and it's likely they won't - it feels like Blizzard is playing it way too safe with them. Hearthstone can nerf or buff cards at will, something some of its competitors, like Magic Arena, can't do thanks to the asymmetry it would cause with tabletop play. That's a strength, and Blizzard seems reticent to embrace it. Until the developer is willing to, it feels like we'll be getting some really watered-down effects with the excuse that class identity was the most important part of the design, something that rings hollow in a game that's had such diverse and interesting class dynamics in different metas up to this point.
Source: Play Hearthstone