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Dev interview with Producer Yong Woo about the Mammoth-sized changes in Hearthstone

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On February 16th (PST), Blizzard unveiled Hearthstone’s yearly plan for the second Standard year - ‘the Year of the Mammoth’. It will replace ‘the Year of the Kraken’, which started after the introduction of Standard format along with ‘Whispers of the Old Gods’ in last April.

In the Year of the Mammoth, 3 expansions, each with 130 new cards, are planned to be released. At the same time, Cards from ‘Blackrock Mountain’, ‘The Grand Tournament’ and ‘The League of Explorers’ will be rotated out of Standard format. Also, six cards from the Classic set, including Ragnaros, Sylvanas, and Azure Drake, will be made exclusive to Wild format by being inducted into the ‘Hall of Fame’.

In addition to these changes, there will be a timed login bonus event, new features for Fireside Gathering, official tournaments in Wild format, and a new alternate hero for Rogues - Maiev Shadowsong - all planned for release in the Year of the Mammoth.


Related article : Ragnaros and Sylvanas will 'go wild' in Hearthstone's new season


While the announcement promised a lot of changes and answered many of our long-standing questions, for each question answered there were just as many unanswered questions. So, we got ahold of Yong Woo, Lead Game Producer for Hearthstone, to learn about the many details and features we were all so curious about.

Here is our interview with him.

 

The new year has been officially named 'the Year of the Mammoth'. Could this primal name be related to Un'Goro like the rumors suggest? Also, can you tell us more about the new expansion?

We are not ready to announce it officially, so please be patient with us for a bit longer.


Will cards be periodically inducted into the Hall of Fame?

It's not something that we'll to periodically. For us, the most important aspect of Standard format is diversity. If a metagame largely consists of decks with similar cores and ideas, we'll consider making changes. The changes that we've just announced were done with this idea in mind, and we'll be carefully monitoring the statistics and player feedback.


Can you tell us more about the "single-player missions" that will be included starting from the second expansion of 2017? Are they basically adding adventures to expansions?

We looked for a way to deliver the lore and stories behind the cards to all users, even to those who were not willing to purchase adventures. Starting from the second expansion of 2017, players will be able to experience the expansions’ lore without any additional cost.


While we are glad to see a new alternate hero for Rogue, Warlock and Druid do not have any alternate heroes yet. When will we see them?

We cannot tell you the exact schedule yet, but we are definitely working on alternative heroes for the Warlock and Druid.

▲ Welcome to the Inn, Maiev!

 

It seems that the Wild format will need more than just new cards to be more popular. What rewards can we expect for Heroic Tavern Brawl using the Wild format? What else is on the way for the format?

We want the players to play Wild because it’s fun, not just because there are rewards involved. We have big plans for the Wild format in the future, including, but not limited to, Wild tournaments and events. We think of the Wild format as a place to play with all the cards that ever have been or will be a part of Hearthstone, so we want to support the format accordingly.


There was a big controversy in Korea regarding the Fireside Gathering. Are the new features related to Fireside Gathering aimed at addressing this issue?

While that incident in Korea is something that we are looking into very seriously, the new feature is more about new ways to enjoy Fireside Gathering.


Although Mean Streets of Gadgetzan was mainly about the three gangs, both the Kabal and the Jade Lotus exist as the secondary theme of top-tier decks, and the Grimy Goons are largely forgotten, along with Paladins and Hunters. Why do you think that happened?

The Grimy Goons are designed to be strong in the mid to late game, while losing tempo in the early game. That's why they are being pushed out of the metagame by fast Pirate decks. However, we expect the metagame to slow down somewhat with the balance patch, and there should be a bigger shift in the metagame after the Year of the Mammoth.


It seems that Jade decks will benefit the most based on the changes announced so far. Also, the Druid’s Jade Idol has powerful synergy with Gadgetzan Auctioneer while also making the Druid immune to fatigue damage. Do you think Jade decks will be balanced after the changes?

Again, our biggest concern for Standard is deck diversity. We want to ensure that players can play with the decks that they want to play with. If everyone starts to play Jade Druid, we will take action. Consider this: while Pirate decks are very popular, not all players are flocking to aggro decks.

▲ I personally don’t mind, but I hope this isn’t all that we see in future.

 

Speaking of balance, we need to talk about the Shaman. It was already a strong class before MSoG, and it became even stronger with Jade Golems in MSoG. What are your thoughts on the Shaman's domination?

We are aware of how dominant Shamans are in the Standard metagame. That's why we are going to nerf Spirit Claws, and we also expect to see the class changing dramatically after key cards such as Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem are rotated out.


It seems that the game is constantly speeding up. It was all about playing a minion on curve back in early 2016, and now it's not uncommon to see two or more minions on the field just after the first turn. What are your thoughts on this?

The speed of the game has been different for each expansion. Of course, the perception might be different depending on the decks that you see on the ladder. The current metagame does not only have fast aggro decks like Pirate decks, but also very slow control decks featuring Reno Jackson. We'll need to monitor carefully after the changes.


Just as Deathrattle and Secret were overpowered keywords, it seems that Pirates and Charge are too powerful compared to other keywords. Specifically, Charge minions are almost like damage spells that leave a body on board. Do you have any plans to change the keywords?

It's a hotly debated issue even amongst ourselves. We are considering giving penalties, like that of Icehowl (Can't attack Heroes), or reducing Attack. 

▲ Will the future of Charge be 'face'-less?

 

While the dev posts emphasize playing with decks that can counter the metagame, there is no guarantee that these decks will effectively counter the dominant decks; they also usually fall flat against non-meta decks. It doesn't seem that these decks can really be the right answer.

While we have emphasized diversity, having a deck that cannot be teched against, or being forced to play a boring anti-meta deck, can be considered problems. If these problems persist, we will remedy them with a balance patch.


While new cards are added every 3 or 4 months, there are hardly any balance patches in between these periods. Are there any plans to make balance patches more frequent than before?

Although we can make changes more frequently, the time it takes for players to feel tired of a given metagame is different depending on rank and preferred decks. For players who play a certain deck exclusively, their perception of the staleness can differ wildly depending on the deck that they have chosen. It’s hard to find the right middle ground between these players. However, rest assured that we are taking all feedback into account.


Can you tell us why Gadgetzan Auctioneer did not get inducted into the Hall of Fame?

We've pondered over it. However, Gadgetzan Auctioneer is a crucial part of many popular decks of different classes, so we thought it should stay in Standard. That’s actually one of the reasons why we’ve banned Conceal instead.

▲ Taking one for the team. R.I.P Conceal.

 

We've been hearing about how you consider the current metagame to be okay since it's better than it had been during the 'Undertaker' metagame. I'm pretty sure the current metagame is bad, but just not as bad as it had been during that time. Also, it seems that there are some differences in the perception of game balance between that of players and that of developers.

There might have been some misunderstanding during communication. We did not mean to say that at all. While balancing the game might be important, we will try our best to minimize any misunderstandings that may happen while communicating with players.


Do you have any plans to provide statstics or game records through official means?

We are thinking of adding a profile page that might have something like a player's favorite decks and cards, but it's not something that we'll add soon.


There were rumors saying that there are only four people working on Hearthstone's game balance. Is that true?

It's definitely an exaggeration. Adding cards and balancing the gameplay involve a lot of people and a complicated process. We have more than a hundred people working on those at a time, so it's definitely not just four people. (Laughs)


There are many speculations about the reason behind removing the subtitle, 'Heroes of Warcraft'. Could this mean that you may extend the boundary of Hearthstone beyond Warcraft?

It doesn't mean anything special. We still have a lot of stories to tell about Azeroth. Of course, you never know what might happen in 10 or 20 years. (Laughs)


Are there any plans to add new classes to Hearthstone in the near future?

We don't have any plans for new classes right now.


Thank you for your time. Do you have anything else that you want to say?

In this new ‘year’ of Hearthstone, we will try our best to make Wild format as enjoyable as Standard format. Also, we will look for ways to better communicate our intentions so that we can eliminate any misunderstandings.