5+1 Mechanics from Magic: the Gathering Which Would be Welcome in Hearthstone

With MTG:A emerging as a very viable digital version of the granddaddy of card games, their implementation of complicated mechanics has to be a great learning opportunity for Team 5. In fact, many assumed that the expansion teaser where King Togwaggle took a sneak peek at the top card of a deck was meant to foreshadow the adaptation of the Scry mechanic – which inspired us a to take a look at other mechanics from Magic that could potentially be a good fit for Hearthstone!

It goes without saying that the fundamental mechanics of Magic greatly differ from Hearthstone’s. The card-based mana gain and the defenders’ ability to choose the specific blockers for each attack makes the latter much more tempo-focused and somewhat snowball-y, and the developers’ conscious decision to limit interactions on your opponent’s turn to a minimum also blocks a certain portion of the design space. This meant that many mechanics of Magic were immediately out of the question for this thought experiment. (Sorry, but effects like Spectacle or Ascend would be way too good for aggro!) However, we still found quite a few that we thought would make interesting additions in the favorite game of Azeroth’s taverns…

1) Scry

“Scry is a keyword action that allows a player to look at a certain number of cards from the top of his or her library and put them on the bottom of the library or back on top in any order.”

Like many other keywords from Magic, Scry had its own tentative demo in the game from the very beginning in the form of the Classic set’s Tracking: it gives you an ability to check the cards on the top of your deck and to decide which one to draw out of them. Crucially, Scry does not draw a card by itself, it just shows you the one(s) on the top of your deck: your decision is whether to keep it as your next draw or to put it to the bottom (which functions as a discard effect in almost every scenario). Information or a small chance to adjust your draw: it’s a nifty little mechanic with a reasonable power level and one that you can liberally dish out for a cheap price. However, Hearthstone’s 30-card decks would likely warrant a more conservative card design so that combo decks don’t get out of hand.

2) First Strike

“A creature with first strike deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.”

While Divine Shield works somewhat similarly to this, this is a permanent effect, one which both tempo decks and slower Control archetypes (potentially with beefy Taunt minions) could take advantage of. It’s frighteningly powerful with Hearthstone’s rules of trading, especially when minions of similar size are concerned, but if employed right, it could add a lot of spice to certain game scenarios and it could be featured as a Spellstone-like mini-inclusion in a particular set.

3) Kicker

“Kicker is a keyword ability that allows the player to pay an optional cost when casting a spell to achieve an additional effect.”

Basically, Kicker means that if you are willing to pay more mana for a card, you’ll get an extra ability (or stat boost) on it. This makes these cards more flexible as even if their base cost is low, they are still able to carry their weight in late-game situations, especially in topdeck wars. In a way, Kicker also harkens back to the Omega cards, though it’s the payoff and not the casting cost that’s From a UI perspective, Hearthstone’s Choose One cards for Druid already present you with a choice at the moment of playing a specific minion, which means that this keyword would fit in fairly seamlessly.

4) Amass

“As you amass, if you don’t already control an Army creature, you create a 0/0 black Zombie Army creature token. Then put a number of +1/+1 counters on one of your Armies equal to the number after amass. If you do control an Army, you don’t create any new tokens. Rather, you’ll put those +1/+1 counters on an Army you control.”

Forbidden Ancient with bells and whistles: in Magic terminology, this keyword takes a lot to explain but it’s actually fairly simple. “Amass x” spawns a special minion with x/x of stats, and if you play another card with the same keyword, it piles the stats on the existing minion. Technically, every card is a spell in Magic, which sidesteps the sort of odd distinction which could complicate Amass’ usage in Hearthstone. It still works as a battlecry or as a spell effect, and it features a similar kind of decision-making mechanic as the Magnetic cards as you have to decide whether to buff an existing minion further or to go for a new one later down the line.

5) Convoke

“Convoke works by allowing a player to tap creatures rather than pay some of the mana cost of a spell. Each creature that is tapped pays for either {1} or one mana of one of the creature’s colors.”

Implementing Convoke wouldn’t even require a keyword in Hearthstone: a card that costs (1) less for every other friendly minion on the board. We’ve seen a lot of similar ones in the game, though none specifically with this kind of a text. Sea Giant gets its cost reduced for minions on either side and Frostwolf Warlord gets stat bonuses instead of a price change. Arguably, this would be way too much of a “win more” effect for tempo decks – however, it would make a lot of sense for Paladins flavor-wise, especially seeing how the class’ control-oriented archetypes were thoroughly neutered over the years, this would be another way to lean into the process by pushing their tempo builds.

+1) Planeswalkers

It might sound ridiculous to take one of the most impactful and iconic concepts from Magic, but it’s worth noting that there’s sort of a precedent for it in the game. Cast your mind back to the tutorial where you fight King Mukla!

At one point, he summons his big brother, a humongous 6 mana 10/10 with an appropriately massive token on the board. If you squint hard enough, it might just remind you of a Planeswalker card in MTGA, oversized in display and effect, shunted off to the side to emphasize its speciality. Even if you didn’t go overboard with their myriad of abilities – for instance, making them like the shrines from Rastakan’s Rumble by providing an area effect until they’re removed from the board –, they could provide interesting mid-game decisions for particular matchups.

Maybe in a few years? Yeah, probably not. However, the other keywords could very well find their way to Hearthstone over the next dozen or so expansions.

MTG keyword descriptions courtesy of mtg.gamepedia.com

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!

7 Comments

  1. GlosuuLang
    July 19, 2019 at 12:56 am

    5 MTG mechanics that would be welcome in Hearthstone: Mana screw, Mana flood, Hard Counterspells, Targeted Discard, Land (mana) destruction. 🙂

    …just kidding 😉

  2. OldManSanns
    July 18, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Good thought-provoking article. I would argue that we already have something comparable to Kicker in the “Forbidden” cards (although all the ones they’ve printed so far have been underwhelming) and the “Echo”/Cast Again cards. I would also argue that Heroes are already somewhat comparable to Planeswalkers in effect–both give you an ongoing “once-per-turn” ability and many will also grant an ongoing effect similar to an emblem, but I will admit that Hero cards just don’t feel as “cool” as PWs.

    Your most interesting proposition is Scry. I think one of the biggest challenges with Hearthstone right now is that it is so much “feast or famine”, so if you’re playing an off-meta deck (e.g., homebrew, budget, meme-y) its really easy to loose tempo, get punished, and spend the rest of the game praying you top-deck what you need to stabilize. In Magic, a lot of midrange and combo decks will include Scry cards so they can increase the odds of drawing the cards they need without sacrificing too much tempo.
    But as you predict, the problem is: how in HS do you help the players caught behind without also just helping winning players snowball more? [See: Corridor Creeper] Between the smaller decks, the use of automatic mana crystals instead of land cards, and the generous mulligan rules, I can’t think of any way to make Scry less of a potential offensive weapon.

  3. Fareh
    July 18, 2019 at 10:46 am

    First strike would be nuts in HS, super oppresive, because you dictate wich creature its attacked, unlike MTG, where the defending player chooses wich creature (if any) blocks.

  4. Thanatos
    July 18, 2019 at 6:08 am

    Besides de mana generation, another great difference between MTG and HS is that a player does not act during the opponent’s turn in HS. I think this is one of the reasons it’s taking so long to take MTG to mobile. Everything a players does can be answered right away, it demands good internet connection, both players to pay attention to the game 100% of the time (in HS streamers alt+tab a lot during opponents turn)…

  5. Taznak
    July 18, 2019 at 6:04 am

    I think Hearthstone should not be looking to MTG as inspiration, honestly. I find some of MTG’s basic design to be incredibly flawed and dated, from land cards that lead to every other game being decided by one of the players getting mana screwed or mana flooded, to defender’s advantage during combat leading to stalemates where neither player wants to attack.

    Of course Hearthstone wouldn’t be the game it is without the countless lessons drawn from MTG, but I find those lessons have been learned, assimilated and implemented by now. I’d much rather see Hearthstone try to learn from other, newer card games: maybe a Slay the Spire-style single player adventure, or try and implement some new mechanic from a game like Shadowverse, Mabinogi Duel, Elder Scrolls Legends or Artifact.

    MTG:A may be more successful than many if not all of these other competitors, but it’s not where I’d go to look for new ideas.

    • Smasher101
      July 18, 2019 at 7:43 am

      If you play formats other than standard stalemates are incredibly rare and “every other game” especially with the new mulligan rule is a massive exaggeration its more like once in 10 games.

  6. MJT3ll3r
    July 18, 2019 at 5:47 am

    Oi! How old are you trying to make me, ex magic player, feel? MtG “GRANDfather” of CCG’s and then mentioning all kinds of mechanic I never heard of (except first strike ofc). 😀 😀 😀
    Nice article and it reminds me of the fact that if MtG goes mobile, I’ll probably bid HS goodbye. 😉

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