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Hearthstone – Standard is THE Standard

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

I don’t get people who are angry over Team 5’s decision to introduce the Standard format. Literally every complaint has a gaping hole in it. Let’s crush a few, for fun!

“I bought these cards, and now I can’t use them!”

This argument makes no sense. Go play Wild. Those of us who enjoy Standard (everyone but you) will play Standard.

“I want to be a pro Secret Paladin player forever!”

If you want to be a professional Hearthstone player, you have to spend money to keep up. That’s the fucking business model. And at least you have it easy. If you’re any good, you don’t really have to spend that much money when a set comes out; you should have a bunch of gold and dust stockpiled. You don’t even have to get off your ass for the most part. Do you have any idea how much time and money it takes to try to become a professional Magic player? You’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on cards, and travelling hundreds of miles a WEEK to follow around the various tournament circuits, just hoping you post enough good finishes to at least break even.

“Wild will eventually be a dead format!”

Yep. That’s why they made Standard, so players don’t feel like they are on a slowly sinking ship with no where else to go.

Do you know WHY Wild, without extreme policing from the Hearthstone developers, will eventually die out? There are three main reasons. Let me hit you over the head with them.

#1 – Power Creep

Let’s say Team 5 is designing a new Hearthstone set. Every set needs some vanilla-ish creatures, to fill in the gaps, for flavor and feel reasons, and because not every card can be super complicated.

BB: “Let’s see, we need a four mana guy that has a solid body.”

YW: “Well, we made Chillwind Yeti, then in GvG we made Mechanical Yeti. What’s next?”

BB: “We really want people to want to buy packs of this new set so we keep our jobs, so we need to make this minion playable in Constructed.”

YW: “I know, let’s make it a 5/5! It will be awesome!

::NEXT YEAR::

BB: “5/5 Yeti was a hit, even if it did create confusion about what having a “yeti” means, but we have another set coming, and people need to stay excited!”

YW: “Hey, let’s make it a Dragon too!”

::NEXT YEAR::

BB: “If we don’t give it a Battlecry, people will just use the old one!”

::NEXT YEAR::

YW: “6/6!”

I think you get where this is going. Power creep stops a developer’s ability to design cards that are balanced for the game. You need to sell these cards you design, and so you always have to make the next one better than the last.

#2 – Growing the player base

Believe it or not, not everyone in the entire world plays Hearthstone, but Team 5 would really like to continue growing the player base, and really, players should want that too (but that’s another topic)!

Let’s say it’s four years in the future. There are now like a dozen expansions for Hearthstone and nine adventures. Let’s assume Team 5 somehow managed to avoid power creep from ruining the game yet, and so the meta is full of cards from all products. A new player hears about Hearthstone from his friends, and creates an account. He completes the tutorial and gets all his classes to ten. He eventually creates his own deck and ventures into Constructed, where predictably he gets his ass whooped. Undeterred, he decides that because he really likes this game, he wants to buy in and build decks like the decks he sees on ladder. He clicks on the shop, frowns, does a little math, logs off, and never comes back.

What happened? Our prospective new player realized that the chances of him getting the cards he wants in packs are incredibly low, and since he only needs a few cards from each set, most of what he gets would be dusted, but only getting 1/8th value on the VAST majority of cards would mean he needs to spend about $1000 to build the deck he wants.

#4 – Design Space

This point sorta ties into power creep in a way, but it’s more about complexity and similarities between cards, and even less tangible things like Hearthstone’s flavor and feel.

Hearthstone has a very simple layout. Hand, deck, and board. Stuff goes from deck, to hand, to board, and then eventually it goes away. This is the essence of Hearthstone, and its simplicity in game play is one of the reasons why its OK to add animations of the cards crashing into each other with voice overs. You wouldn’t want the game to be too busy. Think about what MTGO would be like if every time you tapped a mana, your lands did things, like animated or played noises. Magic already has many physically moving parts (even in the digital realm since MTGO is played using a virtual board), and so having all that extra stuff would just be distracting, confusing, and probably annoying.

Now think about the new cultist cards in Whispers of the Old Gods. Whenever you buff your C’Thun(wherever it is), a little portal opens up on the side of the board and you briefly see him getting buffed. It’s a cool little effect, but it also serves a game-related purpose because it reminds the players of how big Captain Eyeball is, so you need to have it.

From a developer standpoint, that ‘space’, where you summon something and this little portal opens up to show what happened, is taken. In order to retain Hearthstone’s essence of simplicity in game state representation, they now cannot continue to design things of that nature, even if they were completely unrelated to each other, because you can’t summon a minion and have like nine things happen. You would lose the essence of Hearthstone.

The other side of design space is much simpler. Often times, when developing a set, there is a central synergistic mechanic, like GvG’s mechs or The Grand Tournament’s inspire. Sometimes developers like to return to an existing space because they still have great ideas using it. Now, without Standard, any new cards designed all have to be balanced against the existing cards, and without a doubt often times when exploring a design space cards are designed that, for balance reasons, cannot exist together. With a rotating format, there is no worry about those old cards. A perfect Hearthstone example for this is Goblins vs. Gnomes. I guarantee you that at some point Team 5 will want to try again at a mech-themed set, and they won’t have to balance everything around the existence of Mechwarper.

Wrap-Up

There are plenty of reasons to look forward to Standard. New decks, new cards,and a new format. To those of you who still don’t get why it wouldn’t be fun to play against Mad Scientist (a perfect example of a card that restricts design space) forever, I promise you that this is the right long-term decision for everyone. I was there when Magic created Standard, then Extended, then Legacy, then they axed Extended for Modern. Some of these formats were not well received, but now they provide a rich variety of metas, some quickly shifting and some not, that allow for players of all tastes to find a format they enjoy.

See you at the inn!

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