Hearthstone – Interview with Ben Lee & John McIntyre on Duels, Madness at the Darkmoon Faire and more

Last week Blizzard announced the next expansion for Hearthstone, Madness at the Darkmoon Faire. This expansion marks a return of the Old Gods to Hearthstone in addition to adding Duels and radically changing rewards and progression. Madness at the Darkmoon Faire marks a huge shift for Hearthstone and we had the privilege to chat with Ben Lee & John McIntyre about the expansion and upcoming changes.

Launching on November 18 in Australia, Madness at the Darkmoon Faire will initially add 135 new cards to Hearthstone with a bonus mini-expansion of 35 cards coming in the next phase. The centrepieces of Madness at the Darkmoon Faire are C’thun, N’Zoth, Yogg-Saron, and Y’Shaarj, each driving a deck archetype and featuring their own devastating Battlecries.

Madness at the Darkmoon Faire also introduces a new keyword; Corrupt. Cards with Corrupt can be upgraded by playing a higher cost card while they’re in your hand. By corrupting cards, players can add additional effects and make their cards even more powerful.

Madness at the Darkmoon Faire

Speaking with Lee and McIntyre on the subject of bringing Darkmoon Faire into Hearthstone, the pair reiterated how Hearthstone tells its own version of stories from World of Warcraft. “We tend to think of these as the sort of tale you would hear in a Tavern while playing a game of cards in the Warcraft universe,” Lee explained, “so things are slightly warped or exaggerated or not completely accurate. Really, this has been an idea that we’ve been throwing on for a really long time.

“Darkmoon Faire has a little bit of mystery to it. Something evil and weird. There’s little hints of that. What if we just took that and dialled it up to 11 and just had like Old Gods wreaking havoc on the fair? I think the theme of Old Gods, which are these crazy beings and this sort of magical fare end up playing off each other in a really fun way.”

The Old Gods have appeared in Hearthstone twice before, thought it’s arguable their first appearance had more impact than the second. Coming back a third time means Blizzard has an even greater challenge in making sure each of the four cards is impactful but not entirely necessary in each and every deck. Lee explained how one of the goals of Madness at the Darkmoon Faire was to get the power level right for the Old Gods.

“With the previous Yogg Saron design, one of the challenges with its power level meant that the right thing to do was just to run into the run. And it didn’t feel like you were opting into this randomness. It felt like you were forced to run it because it was just top tier. It was hard to adjust that design because that specific design wasn’t very tunable and with the new version of Yogg Saron we want those same feelings of it feeling crazy and unpredictable. But we’ve installed ways to tune the card, balance it down if it becomes too problematic.”

The new version of Yogg Saron is a 10-cost minion who lets players spin the Darkmoon Wheel, provided they’ve cast 10 spells during the game. It’s a play on the original Yogg Saron but with all-new insane effects.

As for the Old Gods more broadly, Blizzard wants to recreate the feeling of the Old Gods appearing by designing the class archetypes of the expansion around the Old Gods. For example, N’Zoth can drive a Dragon ramp for Druid decks, while a N’Zoth Paladin deck will be quite different. Lee and McIntyre didn’t go into much detail on decks and archetypes as card reveals are still ongoing but there’s no doubt that theorycrafters out there already have some big plans for the Old Gods when Madness at the Darkmoon Faire launches.

All four of the Old Gods have been revealed already and as someone who used to enjoy playing with a C’thun deck I was confused by his new design. C’thun’s text reads, “Start of Game: Break into pieces. Battlecry: Del 30 damage randomly split among all enemies.” Lee explained that C’thun breaks into four spells that players need to cast before they’re able to summon the 10-cost minion. Each of the four spells costs 5 mana and they are;

  • Body of C’thun – Summon a 6/6 C’thun’s Body with Taunt
  • Eye of C’thun – Deal 7 Damage randomly split among all enemies
  • Heart of C’thun – Deal 3 damage to all minions
  • Maw of C’thun – Destroy a minion

Once the spells have been cast, a C’thun the Shattered is shuffled into your deck. It’s already been theorised playing a deck with no other 5 cost cards and utlising Lorekeeper Polkelt will put all four parts of C’thun’s body on top of a player’s deck. Combining this with the Shaman’s Heart of Vir’naal could see a player cop 60 damage. There aren’t many ways to survive that kind of hurt.

After Madness at Darkmoon Faire has been released, a mini-set of 35 cards will follow and increase the overall number of cards in the expansion to 170. Players shouldn’t be concerned about purchasing packs when the expansion launches and missing out on greats cards later on. “You can craft all of the cards without restriction”, Lee explains. “You don’t need to purchase standalone content to be able to craft them. In terms of rarity distribution, we generally tried to skew more towards common and rare so it’s not expensive to craft.”

Lee and McIntyre also make reference to the ‘no duplicate’ change that launched earlier this year. They’re seeing players unlock and collect common and rare cards very quickly with and so “getting hold of most of the cards from the mini expansion is acutally a lot easier than most people think.”

For the breakdown of rarities in the mini-expansion, McIntyre says there are a very small number of legendaries and epics with rare and common being the majority.

As a final not on Madness at Darkmoon Faire, Lee and McIntyre were kind enough to share the details of what Transfer Student would do when played on the new board. “It’s a Corrupt: Gain 2/2,” Lee says, making Transfer Student a pretty beefy minion.

Alongside Madness at the Darkmoon Faire, Blizzard is launching the all new progression and rewards system for Hearthstone which is a major revamp for the game. When the expansion launches, Hearthstone will include Achievements, a central Reward Track, a Quest change to include daily and weekly quests and an updated profile page with player info, stats and more.

All of this new information will be found under the Journal icon which is set to replace the Quest Log.

Achievements have become a standard feature for games in the last decade or so and their inclusion in Hearthstone is a long time coming. Examples Blizzard have given include;

  • Encounter another player with the Mark of Hakkar card back.
  • Finish in 1st place as Ragnaros the Firelord in Battlegrounds.
  • Collect all Scholomance Academy Demon Hunter cards.
  • Summon 1000 Murlocs.
  • Win a game without summoning more than 1 minion.

Lee and McIntyre describe implementing the Achievements system as a difficult challenge as they didn’t want to alienate new players with Achievements linked to older content. “We’re going a little bit light on in the number of achievements on purpose,” Lee says, “We’ll backdate over time. Maybe next Halloween we’ll do Achievements for Naxxramas and make an event of it.

“We purposely didn’t want to roll out the achievement system with achievemnets for everything cause the game’s almost seven years old and there’s a lot of content in Hearthstone. We don’t want players to feel it’s to overwhelming.”

The Reward Track is a new way for players to earn gold and card packs while playing Hearthstone. Like the Battle Passes which have become so ubiquitous in shooters of late, the Reward Track includes a free and premium path. The premium path requires a Tavern Pass and can be purchased at any time during the expansion to unlock all previously unlocked premium levels.

There are 50 levels in total in the Reward Track and each level is unlocked by aqcuiring XP earned from quests, achievements and from simplay playing Hearthstone. Blizzard has stated for Madness at the Darkmoon Faire, “Purchasing the Tavern Pass at any point during the expansion will immediately grant the Golden Silas Darkmoon Legendary card, a 10% XP Boost that lasts for the duration of the expansion, and all items up to your current level on the free track.”

The Reward Track will also grant players their very first Cosmetic Coins. That’s right, with the launch of Madness at the Darkmoon Faire, players will be able to customise their Coin and can choose which one they’d like to use from the Collections Manager. Madness at the Darkmoon Faire will include two Cosmetic Coins and players will be able to earn them by;

  • Completing all 50 levels of the Reward Track with the Tavern Pass.
  • Collecting 135 unique Madness at the Darkmoon Faire cards.

The changes to Quests in Hearthstone are some of the biggest included in this revamp. At the moment, quests are given daily and players can hold three at one time. Completing a quest grants some gold or occasionally a card pack. Once the new rewards system launches, Quests will give players XP instead of gold. Daily and Weekly Quests will be available while Legendary (event) Quests will no longer take up a regular slot. Given that Quests are one of the best ways to earn Gold in Hearthstone, Lee and McIntyre were quick to reassure players that the economy of Hearthstone won’t be affected by the change.

“There’s a lot of gold in the new systems and a lot of packs. We’ve taken a whole bunch of different rewards and put them in the system. Across the board, this is definitely an increase in rewards and there’s no intention to reduce the amount of Gold players are earning,” Lee explained adding, “I think we’re pretty generous, we’re trying to do a good thing with this project and I’m sure people will look at it in different ways. We believe it’s a really good system and great for the game.”

The last new inclusion we discussed with Lee and McIntyre was Duels. This new mode is essentially a PvP versiuon of the Dungeon Runs seen in Solo Adventures. Players select from one of the four offered Heroes, select a treasure and build a 15-card deck before doing battle. Like Arena, 12 wins or three losses will end your run, but unlike Arena, the longer you last, the more cards, treasures and power you acquire. Early Access for Duels has been live for those who pre-purchased the Madness at Darkmoon Faire Mega Bundle and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop. Duels is an exceptionally good, highly addictive new mode in Hearthstone and once it is available to the wider community, I envisage many players becoming exclusively Duels players.

Taking what was designed as a solo experience and expanding that to PvP must have been a challenge so I asked Lee and McIntyre about it.

“Dungeon Run is a pretty beloved format,” Lee tells me, “On the team and in the community, there’s been a lot of discussion about what that would be like in PvP. We’ve done a lot of testing on it. We’ve had our final balance designers take a look and try to push things in the right direction.

“The reality is, it’s pretty hard to get everything right and that’s one of the reasons we launched in beta or early access.”

Lee and McIntyre elaborated further telling me they were worried about deck building in particular as Duels uses both Standard and Wild cards. “Part of the magic of Dungeon Runs are the ways the Treasures interact with synergies and opther cards but it’s also part of the drawback.

“We need to hit a sweet spot where those things feel fair and fun and don’t feel too out there.”

McIntyre adds, “The Treasures and Hero Powers are really easy for us to change as opposed to cards. Players spend a lot of time or money investing in cards so we have to think very carefully about changing them. We care about the investment players have made.

“In Duels we can change Treasures and Hero Powers easily. It gives us a lot more control and that’s where a lot of the power lies in Duels; the Hero Powers and Signature Treasures. We’re super open to feedback and we’re willing to change them if we need to.”

There are lots of big changes coming to Hearthstone this month and there is still plenty more on the way. Speaking to Lee and McIntyre it’s clear Blizzard has a passion for Hearthstone and for giving the community ever expanding ways to play the game.

Madness at Darkmoon Faire launches on November 18 and the revamped Rewards system launches on November 12. Duels Early Access is available now and will launch for all players alongside the expansion on November 18.

Thanks to Ben Lee & John McIntyre for their time.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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