About March of the Lich King and Death Knight
Hi, guys, all good? Recently it was announced by Blizzard the newest Hearthstone expansion, March of the Lich King, and with it the biggest plot twist in this game since Ashes of the Outland: the addition of a new class, Death Knight! On top of all announcements and releases, Blizzard gave an interview to many Latin-american websites, and Cards Realm was one of the invited media.
The group interview was with 2 members of the new expansion dev team: Eric Goodwin, Game Designer and Dominic Camuglia, Lead of the VFX team. Before the questions from the media came in, the team members introduced themselves and spoke a bit about their roles and the work in developing a new class.
Dominic Camuglia: basically, the main work the VFX team does (Visual Effects) is to develop the legendary cards animations, but for this expansion, we also worked a lot on cards from the Death Knight basic kit, which ended up being the biggest part of my work in this expansion.
Edward Goodwin: I was in the final design team for this expansion, so our main role was balancing, adjusting and giving the last touches to the Death Knight's cards so that they were at a level we thought was adequate for release.
Guests Open Questions
Antonio León (Tomy): for the preview of the release of the new expansion, Blizzard created an event with the return of Knights of the Frozen Throne to the Standard format. But at this time, as the Demon Hunter class wasn't yet released, there wasn't a Death Knight hero to accompany it. I would like to know if you guys had something in mind regarding that?
Edward Goodwin: this is an interesting question. When we got together to think of a way to create the preview event for March of the Lich King and the idea of relaunching Knights of the Frozen Throne got us really excited, I particularly wanted to see what Ice Fishing could do in this format.
But one of the discussion points was precisely that, that Demon Hunter didn't exist yet and that could be a problem. In the end, we believed that idea was too good, though it wasn't perfect because of that, and the impact of that addition would make up for the cost of putting this card in disadvantage.
Leonardo Ancajima: I would like to know if you plan to have controversial cards such as Theotar, the Mad Duke and your opinion on them?
Edward Goodwin: in this expansion, just like in any other, we like to release cards that even scare us a bit. We want things to be exciting, we want players to look at the new cards and go "Wow, Hearthstone is doing that now?!"
Sometimes we end up crossing the line, as, for instance, releasing Theotar for 4 mana instead of 4. But that won't stop us from releasing cards that cause impact, even more so because due to our new balancing philosophy we know we can go over the limits a bit, because we know we can act quickly in case things go out of hand, as we do balancing patches more frequently now and if cards have play rates which are too high and are causing issues, we will act.
So, basically, we want to shock you a bit, we want Hearthstone to be a fun game, but we are always careful so things don't go out of hand.
Pablo Raphael: this new expansion will be released a bit before Hearthstone World Championship. Will it be a part of the championship, as in the players will have access to the cards before the tournament?
Edward Goodwin: yes, it will! I believe so, players will have early access to the cards before lists are sent out, I don't know how long before, as this is our E-sports team work, but they should have access for at least some time before.
Pablo Raphael: is this a way to have feedback from professional players before the launch?
Edward Goodwin: as Worlds happen after the release of the expansion, it isn't our goal, as we would be past the point of making adjustments. But the tournament is an excellent way of showcasing the new cards in action and for sure creating involvement with the launch.
Xano: how much is the new update new player friendly and do you believe they will be able to enjoy it?
Dominic Camuglia: speaking for the Visual effects team, we did as much as we could so that the Rune and Corpse mechanics were very accessible and intuitive to players and I think it was really motivating to see how players immediately got what we wanted to showcase during the first few game tests.
So I believe from our point of view of understanding how Runes work, how Corpses work, this expansion is very new player friendly.
Elton, from Cards Realm: Demon Hunter was released in a 4 set meta and Death Knight will be released in a 6 set meta. What do you think about this, and what are the pros and cons of releasing a class when there are more available cards than when Demon Hunter was released?
Edward Goodwin: so, something I believe was very beneficial when we got together to create Death Knight was that we had learned a lot from Demon Hunter, as it was a unique experience creating a completely new hero class.
One of these was about when to release Death Knight. Like you said, it was released with 4 available sets, whereas the other one will be released with 6 sets. The main reason for this change was so that we could have as much Metagame knowledge as possible so that when the new class was released, we could have access to all the puzzle pieces about where other classes fit in.
A 4 set meta is an annual rotation meta, a whole year of content will be rotated out of the Standard format into the Wild format, practically all decks from the standard format were destroyed and that doesn't instill in us a lot of confidence about who will be the format's next leader, about how the meta game will be. Because of that, it is much more likely that we go over the top in a 4 set format, as you must well remember how Demon Hunter was super strong the first day of the release.
Whereas in the 6 set format, we already have a bigger knowledge on who's who, we know which are all the 5 sets, we are relatively confident about what each class must be even with the addition of new cards. So, with this knowledge, we want the new class to be cool and exciting, but not oppressive.
Rodrigo Flausino: the Reward Track was very good for players and the new Track from Battlegrounds is even better. However, for players that started out recently, it is practically impossible to complete the track before the new expansion. Have you considered doing something similar to Diablo Immortal and allow for level purchase?
Edward Goodwin: I can't speak much about the Reward Track, as I'm not in the team which is responsible for it, but I can guarantee March of the Lich King is very receptive to new players: you get the 32 cards from the Death Knight's Core Set after you complete the Path of Arthas adventure, besides 3 decks with the new class. It is a fun experience even if you didn't buy the Reward Track from the previous season.
Antonio León (Tomy): We've already talked about how strong Demon Hunter was at the time of its release and we have seen a lot of strong things regarding Death Knight, such as Patchwerk or Hero Power summoning minions with Charge, for instance. My question is, how exactly do you define power level and what the new class can do?
Edward Goodwin: when we got together to start developing Death Knight, our main inspiration was the World of Warcraft class. If you ever played WoW as a Death Knight, you have, for instance, Blood DK, a practically invulnerable tank draining enemies' health bars, or even you've played Frost DK, with many many explosive damage abilities and others to make your opponents crawl. If you've played Unholy DK, you were able to summon countless and endless hordes of Undead to listen to your evil orders.
And how does that translate into Hearthstone?
Death Knights are able to do everything really well and if we released it like that, for sure this class would end up being oppressive and that's where the Rune system comes in. We didn't think we could remove parts of the class' specializations or else we risked losing part of its identity.
With that we can add all these really strong abilities knowing there's a limit to how much a player can afford a specialization. With Death Knight, you can choose your strengths, but you also need to choose your weaknesses.
You can't have it all and I think that's great because it creates a lot of creativity from the players' side, if you like deck building, this system allows you to express yourself and try building decks in many ways.
Dominic Camuglia: we learned a lot with Demon Hunter. I believe the Rune system makes each deck seem incredibly unique and different, though they remain fundamentally inside what we expect from Death Knight.
Elton (CR): I know you guys plan expansions years ahead, and are probably working right now in expansions years in the future. I'd like to know if even with this previous planning, as next year we have a new Core Set rotation, if the observations you make with the release of this new series can impact what comes in or out of the next Core Set and if there's time for these changes?
Edward Goodwin: yes, for sure. At this moment we're already halfway through developing next year's Core Set. Regarding Death Knight, there are still a lot of variables in play.
We can add or remove Runes, redesign a card, and even alter the Core Set composition in case we understand there's a piece missing or if something doesn't fit.
RF: will there be an increase in Miniset cards due to the new class?
Edward Goodwin: unfortunately we still can't talk about the Miniset right now.
Antonio León (Tomy): I would really like to talk about the new Signature Cards. My question is if you will add a special Golden Pack or if the bigger chances of obtaining one of these cards will be in Golden Packs that we already have available? And do these cards have special effects such as Diamond cards or is the difference only in the card's full artwork? Finally, do Signature Cards count as Golden cards so you can play with the Golden Coin (available only if the deck was built 100% with Golden and/or Diamond cards)?
Dominic Camuglia: from my understanding, yes, the Regular Golden Pack will be replaced by one with a bigger chance of giving out a Signature Card.
As I don't work with the team that deals with that, I can't, however, confirm that with 100% certainty. Regarding the animation, yes, they have a special animation, as you would expect, besides the full card. We also worked on borders, so that the card is highlighted and really looks unique.
Edward Goodwin: in terms of the Golden Coin, I believe that's how that should happen, yes. Signature Cards must count as a requirement to have Golden Coins. In case that doesn't happen, it's a bug that should be fixed.
LA: do you have any interest in bringing the Rune system to other classes?
Edward Goodwin: the Rune system is very cool, I think it gives Death Knight that x factor, something that makes you know you're playing Death Knight when compared to the other classes. There is something interesting to think about in the future, things like "how will Druid be a few years ahead? Might there be any system that can be added to this class?".
But if we were to do something of that kind, if we wanted to revisit some class, in case we thought some of the heroes needed something extra, we wouldn't do it the same way as Death Knight, as it's not in our interest that all classes look the same. If something was done, it wouldn't be the Rune system, because that is a unique and core characteristic to Death Knight.
Dominic Camuglia: that's one of the many lessons we've learned when we developed Demon Hunter. When developing unique mechanics, it is important that they are embodied in the concept of that class so that it becomes a characteristic of its identity.
Elton (CR): I know you guys don't develop expansions with the Wild format in mind, but is there something from that format that affects some part of the design? For instance, the fact that this class was inserted in a smaller card pool format than other classes, does it bring something to the team's internal debate?
Edward Goodwin: the Wild format comes to mind in some designs. Sometimes we catch ourselves saying that "wow, this card will be really absurd if paired with that other one from the past".
When we analyze the format's balancing, we tend to analyze periods of time longer than when we analyze the Standard format, we don't like to shake things too much up there, as it is where you can use your old cards, but we are always careful to keep an eye out for everything.
Regarding Death Knight's position in the format, even with less cards available, we think it can find its place. Even Demon Hunter was able to find competitive decks with fewer cards than other classes.
Antonio León (Tomy): Could you talk a bit about the new Legendary Hero Skins?
Dominic Camuglia: we could compare Legendary Skins to Diamond cards, a unique version of that hero with exclusive animations.
Elton (CR): you stressed that you learned a lot with Demon Hunter's design and that you tried bringing that knowledge onto Death Knight. Which would you say were the biggest rights and wrongs you tried to bring or avoid in Death Knight's design?
Edward Goodwin: the biggest right move, for sure, is to manage to bring a new class to the game. It is something so big, it is a moment of great excitement to players. We want to see players excited about the game and see our target audience excited is a victory.
Hearthstone still has a lot to offer in the next few years and we want to have players alongside us in this journey. So what we learned with Demon Hunter was: yes, we will bring new classes!
Regarding wrong moves, the biggest one was the timing of the launch. As we've said before, we understood the advantages of a launch in a 6 meta set instead of 4 sets. Another difference is that we spent more time working on Death Knight's design, the team had a few months more developing the class' ideas even before the initial development team started to work on the class.
Another lesson, a bit smaller, was Hero Power. With Demon Hunter, we didn't work a lot on the ability until very close to the launch, but with Death Knight we focused on him so it was quite defined even before the initial development team started their work, as many of the archetypes and themes from this class end up focused on its Hero Power.
The team did a wonderful job with this ability: it hoards Corpses, looks cool to use and it is quite fun.
Dominic Camuglia: visually, we learned a lot with the experience of building Demon Hunter from scratch. We learned about how the User Interface would be presented, what the interactions would be like and we had a lot of time this time to really prepare this class well.
We had a good team of specialists to develop how things would work. We worked a lot on the Interface for deck building, both with Runes and with showing the Corpse count with their correspondent effect. I feel like we had a lot of time to straighten everything out in the end, I believe we were able to deliver a really nice result visually.
Antonio León (Tomy): which was the greatest challenge when developing the Death Knight's Runes for you?
Dominic Camuglia: I think for the Visual Effects team, compared to Demon Hunter, which primarily uses Fel magic, Death Knight brings these three specializations, Blood, Frost and Unholy, and we were like "ok, how will each of these spells present itself?"
With Frost, we already had an idea because of Mage and Warlock, but with Blood we had a bit of a challenge. We took advantage of the visuals used in Murder at Castle Nathria a bit.
With Unholy, besides everything, we're also bringing in the Undead tribe, so we needed to define how this magic would speak with them, the same way, for instance, as Magnetic as a mechanic speaks with Mechs. Though challenging at first, it was a lot for us to deal with, it was a very encouraging experience.
Though there were an overwhelming number of cards, I believe we hit a balance in showcasing each of the specializations - each one of them gives the impression of being a "Death Knight", even though they are different specializations, with a dark feel. I was very happy about what we managed to do.
Edward Goodwin: I remember sending messages to Dominic maybe five or six times during the expansion's development: "who did this effect on this Legendary card? It's too cool!". Our VFX team is amazing.
Design wise, it is challenging to work with Runes, but it's a kind of a fun challenge. We have all this new space to explore, find out what the class can do and something that helped us a lot when facing this challenge was the fact that we created a Rune power level chart, with what each one of the specializations had access to according to the amount of Runes needed.
For instance, Blood would go from single target effects with Lifesteal with 1 Rune to global effects with 2 Runes. With 3 Runes, you have Vampiric Blood, which changes your total max health, something that no other class has access to. So, we wanted this progression according to the amount of Runes needed, so when you skip from 1 to 3 Frost Runes, the effects will be bigger and way more unique.
The same goes for Unholy, in which you go from spending some Corpses to spending ALL your Corpses with Lord Marrowgar. This way, this Rune chart really helped us in the short and long run, to understand how to develop Death Knight, now and in the future.
Antonio León (Tomy): when a player faces a Death Knight, how will they know which Runes the opponent has access to? Will we be able to tell from seeing the opponents' cards or are there any indicators that show their Runes?
Edward Goodwin: so, that was something we did discuss before launch. We wanted 3 Rune decks of the same specialization played very differently than other 3 Runes specializations and we talked if it would be best for the game that you could see what you're playing against, as you can mulligan accordingly in case you are facing a Triple Blood Control, for instance.
What we concluded is that all classes go through moments like these, in which you have many archetypes possible. Nowadays, for instance, you have Aggro Druids, full of minions, you have Ramp Druid, totally different, in the same Metagame.
The mulligans against these archetypes are different things and they affect your planning. So, it seemed unfair to us to give this disadvantage to Death Knight regarding other classes and we decided not to implement these indicators.
When facing the new class, very quickly you will find out which is their specialization when you see 2 or 3 Rune cards, the same way that seeing a card indicates your opponent's class archetype.
Xano: what are you really excited to see at launch?
Edward Goodwin: I think the answer is quite clear, we can't even try to hide it: DEATH KNIGHT! This class is so cool! If I had to choose a specialization, Triple Blood is my favorite.
I have been crushing some of the dev team players with that, but each specialization has lots of fun things to do, without mentioning mixed specializations, there's one of Double Blood with Unholy which is quite fun. That makes us very excited: finding out what players will come up with as soon as the expansion is available.
There's a huge possibility here that players overcome designers and create things that we didn't expect. There's always the possibility of an amazing deck to spring out from these Rune combinations and that will be really cool, I always love it when players find ways to do crazy stuff that we would have never come up with.
Dominic Camuglia: it is really difficult to choose only one thing. I'm really proud of what the VFX team did, so seeing the players' reaction to all the effort we dedicated to Death Knight is the part that excites me the most.
Elton (CR): we all know that Hearthstone drinks from World of Warcraft lore, so as soon as Demon hunter was released, there was a lot of speculation among the players about which class would get a representative in game, Monk, Death Knight or even the new Evoker class. When did you decide it was time for a new class, was it decided right away it would be Death Knight or was there a lot of debate about other possibilities?
Edward Goodwin: we definitely discussed these options and how to implement them, but Lich King is such an iconic Warcraft character, and with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion coming to WoW Classic, it seemed to be the ideal moment to bring it to Hearthstone in a cool and inspiring way.
Dominic Camuglia: my first expansion was Rise of Shadows, which came a bit after Knights of the Frozen Throne, but even then we could feel the influence of Lich King over the team and when a possibility of working with his arrival to the game came, everyone was really excited.
Everyone wanted to see its return to the game and we used a lot of inspiration from that time for his development, this time permanently.
Elton (CR): thank you for the answer. I also prefer the addition of Death Knight, I'm not gonna lie.
Antonio León (Tomy): At this time, we see a lot of improvement regarding players' quality of life, such as events like the return of Knights of the Frozen Throne. How frequent can we expect things like these to be?
Edward Goodwin: the event system is something we intend to keep and expand. I can't tell right now about a future timeline, because I still don't know how, when and where they will happen, but big events such as this one are in our future plans.
We want to use this system to create nice new experiences for our players.
Dominic Camuglia: I agree. We have a lot of things planned, I can't talk about them right now but I guarantee from the Visual Effects point of view, there's a bunch of cool stuff coming.
Antonio León (Tomy): a very subtle change to quality of life that I enjoyed a lot was when you see a quest, a little arrow appears and leads you to the correct place to complete it. These little changes are great.
Edward Goodwin: I'd like to thank our Resource team for those little things. Was it something we needed? No, we had eight years in which we were not used to having these easy solutions.
But is it something that makes the game more pleasant? Definitely! I love the fact that the team has the freedom to add things to the game that they believe will make players' quality of life better, doesn't matter how big or small it is;
Antonio León (Tomy): so here is the last question of the interview. It isn't directly related to the expansion, but to card design as a whole. I know you can't speak directly about future nerfs or buffs, but about the already announced alteration to Theotar, the Mad Duke, why not alter the way it works rather than just adjust its numbers? In this specific case, I'd like to know what is the specific line of thought when deciding a card's inner workings.
Edward Goodwin: of course, I can speak a bit about this case from two points of view.
When we develop a card, the intention behind it is very important. When Theotar was being developed, the Meta had a lot of Combo decks and we wanted to add some disruption tools to the game. I believe Murder at Castle Nathria is definitely an expansion with a bigger focus on disruption than other sets, but with much more Tech Cards than before and there was a reason behind it.
Regarding nerfs and ways we deal with that, the philosophy me and the team have is that redesigning a card is kind of a last resource. When the player is already used to a card's workings, a redesign shakes the game's foundations - this player logs in and wonders why this card (Theotar) isn't working right anymore? They get confused, they get frustrated. Because of that, as much as possible we try to adjust the card's numbers, as that will help you reduce a card's power.
A 5 mana Theotar is weak enough in most decks, and few justify its addition. But the effect is still the same. You log in, and though it's more expensive, it is still the same Theotar as before. So it has a bit of that, when you establish what the card does, it might be frustrating and confusing.
Besides that, we tend to avoid making your deck stop working in one way overnight, instead we try to get that card's power level decreased. So that is a philosophy that we try to be consistent with as much as possible when we deal with nerfs.
Of course there are a few exceptions, such as Mindrender Illucia, for instance. We wanted it to be a control tool. But when we needed to redesign it, only changing numbers wouldn't be enough, because it was no longer being used in the way it was previously intended to. It was used by aggressive decks that emptied their hand quickly and gave their opponents nothing in return, effectively getting an extra turn.
This is a case where there were no number combinations we could use: increasing the cost a lot would make its original role useless and didn't make aggressive decks stop using it. So we had to redo this card.
It isn't something we want to do, as like I said it is a frustrating moment, but it is an option that we have to do in extreme cases. This is the philosophy behind trying as much as possible to do number adjustments or small redesigns instead of drastic changes.
Antonio León (Tomy): Wow, I learned a lot today! Thank you!
With that we ended the interview, quite excited about the new expansion. Having direct access to developers was a unique and very eye-opening experience.
I'm very proud of being a part of the Cards Realm team and of being able to participate in an event like this one. I hope all this information can help our readers and let the Lich king come! Best regards, and see you next time!