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Hearthstone Developers discuss Questlines, Tradeable cards, and Profession Tools in exclusive Esports INQ interview

02:18 PM July 02, 2021

United in Stormwind, the recently-announced second expansion in Hearthstone’s Year of the Gryphon, introduces Questlines, Tradeable cards, and Profession Tools.

Esports Inquirer sat down with Hearthstone Senior Game Designer Alec Dawson and Lead Initial Designer Liv Breeden to take a deep dive into the development of the new expansion.

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Esports Inquirer: We saw Quest cards introduced in Journey to Un’Goro and further explored in Saviors of Uldum. Sidequests, which were generally not as impactful but not as restrictive as Quests, were then introduced most recently in Descent of Dragons. How did you go about developing Questlines for United in Stormwind? What aspect of Quests did you want Questlines to explore differently?

Alec Dawson: I think some of the things we wanted to explore with Questlines was this “staging” of the elements. That doesn’t only come through with the mechanics but the thematics as well. We want to be able to tell a story here, about how these Mercenaries level up throughout their adventure. During the midpoint of this expansion, this is when they start honing all of their skills and witness a bit of conflict unfold.  We had the opportunity to play this out with the three Questline cards that had incremental rewards.

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We wanted a different approach to Questline cards mechanically where things don’t feel like a continuation: players are actually on this kind of adventure getting, doing this until they eventually get a payout much like how Questlines work in World of Warcraft.

Liv Breeden: Mechanically, I think it’s really exciting too because if you look at Quests from Saviors of Uldum if you don’t complete the Quest it’s such a big investment that you didn’t get any payout for. When players complete the Quests, they get the reward immediately and have their “slam down legendary minion moment.”

With Questlines we’re trying to go for the best of both worlds where you get payout along the way, but you still have the moment where you go, “Alright, now we’re entering the second phase of the game, this is where things get real, my gameplan’s gone online, I’m going to destroy you now.”

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The new keyword, Tradeable, allows players to swap out cards with the keyword for a different card in the player’s deck at the cost of 1 mana. This adds another layer of intricate, post-mulligan decision-making to the game. Was there a time during the development of this expansion when you had a different keyword in the works?

Liv: Early on, we had Tradeable cost 0 mana, which was simpler in a way because you swap out a card with no cost. However, there was a big mathematical problem there because you could just run every Tradeable card in your deck. It’s not fun when you’re running Tradeable cards and their sole purpose was to just draw your other cards. Making them cost 1 mana makes for more impactful decision-making, “do I trade for 1 mana now, or do I hang on to this because I might be able to use this card in a couple of turns?”

Take for example weapon removal, which you don’t necessarily want to run in every deck. You might want to consider it a little bit more because even though you’re not up against a weapon-focused deck you’ll just spend 1 mana to trade it for a more appropriate card with respect to the matchup you’re in.

Alec: Tradeable cards underwent a bunch of iterations during development like if you play a Tradeable card you get to discover a card from your deck. Things really started clicking when we got the interaction where we drag the card over to the deck to make Hearthstone feel a lot like a physical card game.

Liv: I remember early on we also had Tradeable decks where you had a bunch of cards that cared about trading within your deck but it turns out that when you’re watching your opponent just push stuff into their deck and have a bunch of stuff come out, it’s not actually all that fun gameplay. We actually limited the number of cards that had Tradeable on them because the mechanic is fun but it’s really important which cards are Tradeable to make them more impactful.

Profession Tools, at first glance, look very impactful. The only real weapon counter in Standard right now is Acidic Swamp Ooze. Rustrot Viper is an interesting card as it increases the ways players can play against weapons. Given that players find some weapons noninteractive do you plan on adding more weapon counters in the future?

Liv: I think Profession Tools are super great because they’re like this analog to World of Warcraft Professions translated into Hearthstone. We don’t really do it like, one-to-one,  where you have a whole deck about gathering reagents. We wanted to focus on core Hearthstone concepts: drawing cards, playing cards, and the interaction of all those cards. If you look at Prismatic Jewel Kit, it’s a good example when you ask, “What’s jewel crafting like in World of Warcraft?” It’s gathering gemstones and crafting jewelry, or creating gems for sockets. Our analog is that you break down Divine Shields and then get the bits that are like golden gemstones and then you make stuff to help the minions in your hand get stronger.

The spellcaster classes don’t really get to use weapons very often so I think it’s a cool space that gives us a little bit more longevity. Minions are very temporary in Hearthstone, they get removed very quickly. Weapons, on the other hand, stick around for a turn or two. Cards like Rustrot Viper are really good especially if you hate playing against weapon decks so it’s good that we have those options but I don’t think we want the game to have so many weapon removals that you feel like you won’t be able to play these cards properly.

Alec: We usually try to hit a certain number of weapon removal in Standard at a certain rotational period.  Yes, Rustrot Viper fits into that criteria but the bigger part of a card like that is we tried to find where Tradeable cards work well. Tradeable works particularly well on these tech cards: things you don’t necessarily include in your deck but if a certain matchup becomes popular on the ladder you might include some weapon removal. That feels even better when there’s flexibility behind that and that’s what Tradeable tries to give you.

Liv: Some of the cards just stand on their own. With Heavy Plate you gain 8 armor and that’s very significant, it’s just a good card. In some matchups, say a control matchup against other Warriors, you might say “oh I don’t really need any armor right now, I’d rather have something proactive, let me trade it away.” It’s not even about being necessarily situational for the matchup, it’s about how necessary it is for your current turn. Having that flexibility is really great.

Read more about United in Stormwind, new Battlegrounds changes, and the Fire Festival here.

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