IGN: The League of Explorers’ legendary cards have had a big impact on the way Hearthstone is played – it’s an incredibly strong set. I want to go through them card by card, but first of all, from a broader perspective when you were starting the design process, did you have any particular character archetypes in mind that specifically fit the League of Explorers pulp adventure theme? In other words, did you start with the flavour of the legendaries first or the abilities?
Ben: It was a little bit of both... originally the treasure map mechanic was on a card called Treasure Map.“
When you first played Treasure Map it shuffled a clue into your deck, then you played the clue and it led you to the Golden Monkey, which got shuffled into your deck, and then you played the Golden Monkey, and it was a little bit convoluted and the clue was a little bit weird, and so when we had the opportunity we moved that whole mechanic onto Elise Starseeker, and it felt less crappy when you didn’t get the monkey, because you always got a minion, at least, and then you set yourself on this quest. And we moved it there because obviously she’s this great cartographer, so she’s all about that. So that gave us a good opportunity to take that mechanic that we’d built to really sell the flavour and feel of exploring and adventuring onto one of the cool legendaries.
We call it the difference between top down and bottom up. Sometimes you start from the top with a cool flavour design and we go down from there, and sometimes you start from the bottom with a cool mechanic and build the flavour on top of that.
Like, Brann Bronzebeard doesn’t have an especially specific relationship with battlecries, but we knew we wanted to do a battlecry doubling legendary and so we put it on Brann Bronzebeard. Reno Jackson was similarly built. We knew we wanted to reward decks that played only one copy of every card, and so we ended up with that mechanic. We tried to make the flavour fit as best we could, but it’s kind of how those things generally go. Rafaam was more of a top-down design, in that we really wanted the flavour of this guy who collects these artifacts from all these different worlds, and so he gets to use his crazy artifacts. So it depends on the legendary, but it’s kind of all over the place.
IGN: Looking back on that conversation you had to go ahead with it, and with the set in general, how consciously were you thinking about slowing the meta down, or in at least giving control players a few more tools to combat the faster decks?
Dean: Balance-wise we tend to look at – what are the best decks right now? What are people playing the most right now – which is probably even more important. We make sure we don’t give the classes that are being played the most already better cards. Or, at least, we try not to do that, because we don’t want 40% of the population to be playing one deck, because Hearthstone’s, frankly, not as fun when you’re not running into different things more often.“
So with Reno, it was a really really exciting control card, and at the time, there was less of that kind of deck running around. I don’t think it was really – oh, the meta’s getting too fast, let’s really slow it down – more so than it was – this deck’s not really getting played all that often, so if we make this type of deck played more often it’s going to affect positively if we want a varied experience. So it’s really more that than saying aggressive decks are too strong.
IGN: Moving on to Arch-Thief Rafaam. Any time you release a very high cost minion, it has to have a pretty profound effect. Or, at least, you have a bit of room to breathe when it comes to the high mana cost design space. So how did Rafaam change? Was he always going to be a high costed minion with a powerful Discover effect?“
Ben: He was always going to be a high cost minion, because I think it’s important to have the big bad guy of a set be this menacing, big feeling guy. And Arch-Thief Rafaam, he was the big bad, so I wanted an exciting splashy high cost legendary. He fit the bill… it wasn’t always Discover.
We had tested a version of Mogor the Ogre, but with spells, so any time you cast a spell it had a 50% chance to hit a random, different target. That was the very first design. It kind of melded well with him as a kind of thieving, liar, trickster… but it was a bit weird.