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Hearthstone 'One Night in Karazhan' Interview: Designers on Purify, Arena, and Secrets

We talk with lead designer Dean Ayala and senior software engineer Rachelle Davis about the controversial Purify card, the philosophy driving the upcoming Arena balance tools, and why a Secrets Rogue isn't on the way.


Hearthstone's "One Night in Karazhan" adventure is nearing its conclusion, and already having a big impact on the meta. Shacknews spoke with lead designer Dean Ayala and senior software engineer Rachelle Davis about the adventure's most controversial card, the plans to shake up Arena balance with a more personal touch, and why Secrets aren't likely to expand anytime soon.

Purify was just released this week as part of the Menagerie, and it's been savaged leading up to release, including in our own review. Ayala echoed lead designer Ben Brode's public statements, suggesting that the team saw the sentiment change as they were nearing release. 

"I was pretty happy with Purify going in, because a lot of people were really excited about building that deck," Ayala said. "Going in, about a month before release, the conversation really began to set on, 'Priest isn't a powerful class,' at least from a community perspective. So to get a card where the power level isn't reaching 8-10 internally, I think maybe Karazhan may not have been the right time for perception."

Given the long lead times to finalize art for adventures, though, it's likely that the team couldn't have pulled Purify if they'd wanted to. Plus, Ayala said, it's not as if they have lots of readymade cards just waiting in the wings.

"I wish there was a list of thousands of cards to pull from," he said. "The reality is that it's hard to come up with designs that make sense for each particular set. We're really iterating up to the last minute."

If Purify seems to be dominating the conversation surrounding this expansion, that's at least partly because the outcry led to an unprecedented move: excluding the card from Arena entirely. In his comments on the decision, Brode had revealed that the team is actively working on having more control over Arena, with a greater degree of specificity as to how often a card appears. Pulling Purify was a stopgap measure until it can implement this. Ayala expanded on the team's plans. 

"We could pretty easily go in and say 'Warrior's not as powerful as Mage so let's make Death's Bite show up, you know five times more,' or something. I think that that's something we would not do," Ayala said. "If we wanted to make it so Mage was less powerful, I think we would keep in cards like Unstable Portal that are high winrate cards, but maybe we might pull back on something like Flamestrike that isn't really the most fun thing to play or play against.

"So it's really about finding the cards that people are the most upset with. It's not exactly super fun to lose to a deck that has six Flamestrikes in it, but if you have a deck that has six Unstable Portals--or, I even think Firelands Portal is a pretty fun card to utilize in the right circumstances. If we want to make Warrior more powerful we want to make sure that we're adding cards that are more fun and not necessarily just more powerful. And when we're taking cards away from classes we want to make sure aren't the really iconic fun things for those classes too. We have the tools right now to remove cards completely so that's something we're investigating as well."

Davis added that the plan is to generally "improve the tools we give our team to tweak what goes into the Arena and the frequency, and that's a pretty large endeavour that I'm pretty excited about because I get to code it."

This adventure also introduces a new Secret card, after the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion oddly didn't include any at all. At the time, Blizzard told us they were taking a break from Secrets to reevaluate how best to utilize them. Now that we have a new one, Ayala indicated that the retirement of Mad Scientist from Standard meant the team wanted to introduce new Secret synergy, rather than just new Secrets themselves.

"There's a lot of Secrets right now," he said. "So I think that when you're designing [Secrets], I think a good place to start is a card like Cloaked Huntress, which allows you to make a deck where you can put a bunch of Secrets in there. So the fact that we made a new Secret, you could make a deck with Cloaked Huntress and the Secret card. I think going forward, we're just going to make sure it's a build-around that makes you want to put Secrets in your deck. I think a card like Cloaked Huntress might be the right place to start instead of just adding a bunch of crazy powerful Secrets."

So is there any hope for a new class getting Secrets? Only three classes in Hearthstone use the mechanic natively, rendering some neutral cards like Secretkeeper limited in scope. The community has noted that in terms of flavor, Rogue seems primed for using Secrets. But that doesn't seem likely, due to the sheer card investment needed to kick it off.

"Adding to a new class is hard because there needs to be a critical mass of Secrets," he said. "If we were like 'Rogue could use Secrets, let's give them one,' it's not really a Secret. So to add Secrets to a class you really have to go all-in. Five Secrets, two build-arounds. And if you don't really enjoy playing a Secret deck, that's all your class got in an expansion." 

Meanwhile, the design team has to keep up with several different environments all at once. Not only do you have the Standard and Wild formats, the team also has to plan ahead for next year's set, when some of the prior ones will cycle out of rotation. 

"It's an insane juggling act and there are a lot of moving pieces, but I can tell you the way the team thinks about adding new cards to the environment has definitely shifted because this is new to us, across the board," Davis said.

As for the here and now, the meta is still in the kind of slow fluctuation that always comes with the progressive release of new cards during an adventure event. Ayala says he's glad to see Onyx Bishop and Priest of the Feast making some waves among the community despite the concerns about Priest's power level before the adventure. He also predicts one much-maligned card will find a home eventually.

"I think Moroes is actually not terrible," he said. "If youre a deck that can afford to wait around, a ton of tokens can be really strong in the decks it can survive against. I think Moroes will find a place."

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