One of the biggest recent changes in Hearthstone has been the nerfing of Warsong Commander from a key card in the game’s most dominant deck to one that will never see play outside of beginner or gimmick efforts ever again. While it was generally agreed that the card was overpowered in its charge-giving form that allowed Frenzied Berserker and Grim Patron to wreck havoc on everything else, many were angered that the card was killed off so thoroughly that not only is it worse than many cheaper, non-class-specific options but is also a blank pick when drafting an Arena deck. I put all this to the game’s senior designer, Ben Brode, and he gave a thorough, in-depth set of answers.
Hearthstone is among our best PC card games. Like, obviously.
First he explained why the nerf was needed in the first place, specifically on this card rather than the other couple of options that were creating degenerate issues:
“We put a lot of self-imposed rules on ourselves, and they’re based on sort of gut instinct on what’s good for Hearthstone. One of the rules was ‘we gotta stop giving charge to minions’ because that was creating 'un-fun' gameplay experiences. This is not the first time we’ve nerfed Warsong Commander. We messed up! We should have nerfed it worse last time! We just wanted to take it down a huge peg.”
Charge has long been the game’s boogeyman, with the original Warsong Commander granting it to all minions you played and allowing for some frighteningly powerful one-turn-kills. That was quickly changed to have the three or less power rider, but it wasn’t enough. Other cards that already came with charge, like Leeroy Jenkins, have had to have changes as well.
So changing the card was necessary, but particularly the Arena community was unhappy about the sorry state it was left in.
“One of the biggest pieces of feedback I heard was ‘hey, this hurts warriors in Arena, warriors are the worst class in the Arena, isn’t that bad?’ And that’s true - it isn’t great. Though it wasn’t that this was one of the better warrior cards in Arena and we turned it into a bad card, it was already not a great warrior card in arena. We’ve taken other steps to make warrior better - both of the commons in [the latest Adventure] League of Explorers are really great.
“In this case we felt like Warsong Commander wasn’t the place to make warriors better in Arena. We’re gonna do that in other ways. We just don’t want [this] card to be good any more. We made it [the way it is] because we don’t really want charge decks to be that good.
“There are going to be bad cards. This one doesn’t have to be the one that makes warriors good. We’ll make other cards to do that. This was intentionally targeted to be underpowered, not the flagbearer for warriors. We’ll do that in other ways.”
He also understands the frustrations around an unbalanced Arena, and hears the feedback that it feels like Blizzard don’t care about it when changes like this happen.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. We care a ton about Arena. We have more steps to do. We have to work harder to get arena more balanced. We’ve been talking a lot about ways to change rarity behind the scenes, or do other big changes, so Arena’s more balanced for the future. Subtle tweaks so we can balance it on the fly.”
These sound like good ideas to me, making it so that certain cards can pop up more commonly despite being rare for pack-opening and Dust-creating reasons would give Blizzard an immense amount of control over how powerful each class is.
When discussing the idea of formats for pre-built decks on the ladder, I also asked if changing the number of cards in Arena or splitting it so certain sets could be used on their own might alleviate some issues.
“Arena is crazy because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know like… there’s a lot of variance in Arena. But I don’t know, Arena is kind of a different issue. The big issue there is how many things do you have to keep in your head? It doesn’t have quite the same problems of an expanding card pool as the other formats do. So I’m not sure what the answer is for Arena.”
As for the Commander herself, I posited that leaving her at 2/3 meant that even if better charge minions that would appreciate her effect were made in the future, she still would not be playable and prevent those cards once again getting out of hand. Ben agreed, and also explained why it was important for her to still have a charge-related ability.
“We did want to maintain the connection to charge minions somehow. She says ‘charge forward!’ when you play her but we don’t actually want her to be good because we don’t want you playing lots of charge minions. We wanted to change the card as little as possible. We could have made it an 8/8 for 8 that gives taunt to all your Murlocs, or something, right? That doesn’t feel like Warsong Commander.”