On Hearthstone: Minion Type Synergy

Many Hearthstone players will have a finger hovering over F5 waiting for each new Goblins vs Gnomes card to reveal itself. The first official expansion of Hearthstone, GvG has many people excited about wacky combinations, downright broken cards, and of course, the new minion type Mech.

I wanted to take a moment to focus on Minion type synergy in Hearthstone (with comparisons to Magic: the Gathering) as we all assemble our robotic armies to climb the ladder with. Minion types are not very widespread in Hearthstone as of yet. You have two predominant types, Beast, and Demon, with Mech arriving shortly in GvG. This is a fairly underexplored aspect of Hearthstone when compared to Magic, wherein most creatures will have a minimum of two subtypes (for example: Creature - Goblin Warrior).

With Magic’s expansive card catalogue, you have many cards that care about creature types. Some cards are beneficial, some detrimental to specific creature types. So far in Hearthstone, it is always beneficial to be a Beast or a Demon as there are no current cards that cause damage to, or destroy specific minion types.

Here is where I think Blizzard needs to be careful with the design of Mechs (and maybe to look back on the design of Beasts). When a card is made that has built-in synergy with another card, without any cost to the player, it automatically becomes better. To mitigate this, Magic often plays with the initial power and toughness, mana cost, or abilities of the creature to make it less playable on its own. This obviously has exceptions, but at the common rarity you will often have a general theme throughout a “tribe” (shared creature type). For instance, many Goblins are quite weak on their own so cannot be played effectively by themselves. The idea then is to have many hordes of weak Goblins which boost each others’ power, or let them all attack the turn they come into play. Or if you look at the classic tribe Slivers - which when initially developed benefited all players’ Slivers - many were over-costed for their base stats. However the more Slivers you play, the better they all get, so the extra cost to play them is mitigated through their increase in power level.

The main issue with the current minion synergy in Hearthstone, is that there is no cost associated with being a Beast, Demon, or Mech. If you take a quick look at the many Beasts in Hearthstone, you will notice that their mana cost and base stats are generally on par with many minions that have no associated type. Blizzard has tried to fix the “broken” card Starving Buzzard, which enabled many card-drawing combos due to its low cost of 2 mana. While its stats were not very impressive as a 2 mana, 2 attack, 1 health - when compared to the neutral card Loot Hoarder - another 2 mana 2/1 - the potential to draw more than one card should easily cost more mana. After many Hunter decks dominated the ladder, Blizzard made the change to Starving Buzzard and turned it into a 5 mana, 3 attack, 2 health minion with the same ability.

These are the changes that should be happening to Rare and lower rarity cards with minion types - or add more cards that counter minion type strategies. Epic and Legendary cards are supposed to be very powerful, and showcasing this through lower mana costs, higher stats, beneficial types, and abilities is what defines these cards from the rest. However, things like River Crocolisk, which on a glance seems very unimpressive, but because it is a Beast, which enables many other cards - should cost more. The benefit of curving out on par with your opponent, while developing synergy, is too powerful as is. And looking at many of the Goblins vs Gnomes cards, it seems apparent that we’ll have a similar issue on our hands with Mechs.

There are still many GvG cards that have yet to be revealed, so maybe more cards dedicated to the dismantling and destruction of Mechs are on their way. But I am sure there will be many a balancing act in Hearthstones future, shortly after GvG is released. The beauty of Hearthstone comes in the ability to watch a new game develop and with such similarities to Magic, we have a framework from which to witness it all unfold.