The Abandoned Mechanics of Hearthstone

Not everything works out in life: this also holds true about our favorite card game, specifically when it comes to gameplay mechanics and keywords. We’ve seen quite a few of them over the years that perhaps haven’t lived up the initial expectations or were never considered to be a long-term inclusion in the first place: today, they wander around the halls of Wild on a few cards that are only played for memery – and as it turns out, most of them were abandoned for a good reason.

Back in my Day

Even though it remains the most important and powerful set to this day, even the Classic collection of cards had some ideas that we no longer see in its original form: for instance, Enrage may still be around, but its lack of relevance and low power level led to its demotion to regular card text. They were mostly on the other side of the spectrum though, deemed to be too effective over time, a philosophy highlighted by harsh nerfs and Hall of Fame rotations. In a way, the Classic set remains a useful learning tool for both the players and the developers even to this day. However paradoxical it may sound, you are more likely to find permanently abandoned concepts in the later expansions of Hearthstone.

Perhaps the single most infamous contribution of The Curse of Naxxramas was the original Undertaker, plus an over-reliance on Deathrattle which led to a set of cards that made it incredibly difficult to properly clear your opponent’s board – an approach which was purposefully reined in over the years.

Goblins versus Gnomes was widely considered to be a major ramp-up in variance, and nothing epitomizes this better than the ill-fated Ogre “mechanic” which would give an overstatted card a 50% chance to attack the wrong enemy. (It didn’t come with a tribal tag and was inconsistently applied from the start: just consider Boulderfist Ogre and Ogre Magi from the base sets and Big-Time Racketeer’s Little Friend from MSoG.) Understandably, these cards never saw any play in Constructed, though Ogre Brute was unfortunately powerful enough to become a permanent fixture in the Arena due to its early value-trade potential as a 3 mana 4/4. The concept has never been explored since then.

Many Happy Returns

The next few sets all showcase very different examples of this phenomenon and a wide variety of reasons behind putting the specific mechanics to rest. While we mostly remember Blackrock Mountain for Grim Patron and Emperor Thaurissan, it also inexplicably gave a burn spell to Face Hunter with a re-draw potential in the form of Quick Shot. The class received two other cards with the same text and never got anything similar again to date: this sort of an effect is useless in every deck that isn’t hyper-aggressive but is way too good in those ones, adding very little in terms of interesting deckbuilding options. (It’s worth mentioning that the other two were minions – Brave Archer and Core Rager – and didn’t really see much play.) A few other cards also tried to reward you by temporarily reducing their cost for every minion that died on that particular turn, an effect which wasn’t used in this form since then but made a “power-crept” return on Corridor Creeper recently, making the cost reduction permanent.

The Grand Tournament’s main contribution to the metagame was Secret Paladin, with not much else making a serious impact from a set with an underwhelming power level and a keyword that was dead on arrival: Inspire was always going to be way too slow for Constructed, though it provided a very viable option for Arena decks. Wisely, Team 5 have realized that it is close to impossible to accurately calibrate the power levels of such a mechanic, and considering how it didn’t have too many staunch supporters, it probably wasn’t a large loss anyway. Joust has also been largely abandoned as it hasn’t provided a reliable enough boost for control decks, though it has seen a minor but fairly triumphant return in the form of Raven Familiar as part of Big Spell Mage in The Witchwood.

On the other hand, LoE’s Reno Jackson single-handedly made highlander decks viable in Hearthstone and they were a staple in the meta as long as he was part of the Standard rotation. While Kazakus’ presence for an extra year still gave a little bit of a twilight period for the archetype, no supporting cards have been printed since the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion. It’s not like those decks were overbearingly powerful, but they were certainly always strong enough to see play, and putting it on the backburner accomplishes the double goal of creating a varied Standard environment and making sure that Wild isn’t exclusively swamped by one-of decks like it was the case at the height of Razakus Priest’s reign.

Problem Children

In a way, the next two card releases mark the low point of Hearthstone’s design. One Night in Karazhan catapulted the already quite powerful Shaman archetype to stratospheric heights, wreaked havoc on Arena with the common Firelands Portal, introduced two Webspinner-likes and was the weakest adventure experience out of them all with insultingly easy encounters. And yet still, there’s something else that was perhaps even more misguided: the first meaningful push for the Discardlock archetype, a concept that tried to turn a tempo-for-value mechanic into a pure tempo one at first, then somehow a part of a value-based plan with the eventual Un’goro quest, Lakkari Sacrifice. In fact, the developers have regularly name-checked the archetype and stated that they want to give it additional support: it looks like that fight is over, at least for now.

Evidently – and understandably –, the deities from Whispers of the Old Gods haven’t received additional support either since the expansion they’ve dominated, but the set has also brought along an interesting and underexplored concept in the Forbidden cards, one that has only been featured on three cards so far, leaving a lot of design space for the future. Also, Evolve has very quickly become a staple of Shaman’s identity despite only having a few cards with its effect, and it was a bit of a surprise to see it completely rotate out at the start of the Year of the Raven – though it has shown up on one of the strongest cards in the Taverns of Time arena.

As for Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, it’s worth looking beyond the usual suspects. The three pigs – Tanaris Hogchopper, Spiked Hogrider and Leatherclad Hogleader – provided an interesting example of tech cards that could have been very interesting if they were more aggressively statted. Second-Rate Bruiser had a similar concept and it saw some play in Renolock decks at the time. Also worthy of note is Knuckles, the Hunter legendary that marked the first time Magic’s Trample mechanic of excess damage going to face showing up in Hearthstone – it’s only showed up as part of Explosive Runes since then. Makes sense: in such a tempo-oriented game, rewarding overkill could easily prove, well, overkill.

A New Dawn

It wouldn’t exactly be fair to call anything “abandoned” from the sets that are still playable in Standard, but it’s interesting to note that Adapt never really got off the ground in Constructed – Vicious Fledgling being the sole exception plus maybe Crackling Razormaw – but the lack of its inclusion ever since may simply be due to flavor considerations. Also, while probably no one expected Quests to return in later sets, the precedent set by Hagatha the Witch could very well mean that such cards could be printed in a future, providing an easy way for Team 5 to create an archetype from scratch. How about freezing 5 minions as Shaman for a juicy reward?

Recruit is likely also on the radar as a mechanic that is very difficult to get right in terms of power level: the cards with the keyword are either meta-breaking or absolutely useless so far. If you consider their non-interactive nature, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it were to be shelved similarly to Inspire or the Ogre cards.

The developers have consistently hit a nice balance lately with regards to introducing new concepts and keeping some of the older, more popular ones alive in later releases as well. While it’s impossible to tell what the next expansion will bring just yet, it’s likely a safe wager that the mechanics listed above will not make a return in the next release.

Yellorambo

Luci Kelemen is an avid strategy gamer and writer who has been following Hearthstone ever since its inception. His content has previously appeared on HearthstonePlayers and Tempo/Storm's site.

Check out Yellorambo on Twitter!

4 Comments

  1. CJ
    July 14, 2018 at 7:08 am

    I wouldn’t quite say knuckles has trample because he deals damage equal to attack regardless of minion health/damage blocking.

    Reply
  2. GreatLakester
    July 14, 2018 at 5:09 am

    I really do miss the inspire mechanic. I thought that was really fun.

    Reply
  3. Parallax
    July 14, 2018 at 2:11 am

    Wish I still had my lakkari sacrifice deck that was one of the most fun decks I ever played

    Reply
  4. Mm
    July 13, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Adapt was huge. Did you forget about Gentle Megasaur and Lightfused Stegodon? All in all nice article though. 🙂

    Reply

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