Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne Interview

Given that most of us here at MMOs.com are big fans of Hearthstone we were delighted to get a chance to speak with the Hearthstone team about the upcoming Knights of the Frozen throne expansion. While most of our questions had to do with the upcoming expansion we snuck in some more general questions as well. Now on with the interview!

Responses were provided to us by Mike Donais, Lead Final Designer, and Matt Place, Sr. Game Designer on the Hearthstone team.

Q: Blizzard recently announced the latest Hearthstone expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne. How did the Hearthstone team decide that it is time to head to Northrend?

A) Going to Northrend, and Icecrown Citadel, has been something we have been discussing for a long time on the team. The Lich King is one of the most iconic villains of the Warcraft universe, and something we wanted to make sure we do right. With the new way of having missions with expansions, we felt this timing was right for delving into this theme for an expansion. We can really tell the story of the Lich King not just through the cards, but also through the free missions.

Q: When you brought the power of the Deathknights to the existing characters of Hearthstone, what made you decide to add Hero cards, instead of adding a Deathknight class for people to play as?

A) When we first asked, “Hey, what if the nine Heroes give in to the Lich King’s dark bargain and THEY become Death Knights?” the team got super excited! We started brainstorming how this would effect each Hero’s class. Would the “evil” version of Malfurion abandon life and growth and instead focus on plague and death? The answer was yes, he would. And finding new designs and mechanics that fit with this evil vibe for each class was a ton of fun. We can’t wait for players to explore each class’s take on becoming a Death Knight.

Q: In the same vein as the previous question, who came to the decision to kill everyone? What was the dev team’s reactions upon first hearing “Hey, let’s kill off all 9 Hearthstone heroes and bring them back from the dead?”

A) This all stemmed from when we had the idea of the classes becoming powerful Death Knight versions of themselves. It’s similar to the lore of Sylvanas – she was killed by the Lich King and brought back to life as a banshee, because she was so powerful. So our heroes, they are also extremely powerful. They wouldn’t just be Undead, they would become powerful beings.

Q: What new and existing card mechanics will Knights of the Frozen Throne focus on? What is the internal process like when coming up with a new card mechanic?

A) Knights of the Frozen Throne introduces a brand new card type to Hearthstone, the Death Knight Hero Card. When played, your hero becomes a Death Knight, immediately giving you a powerful Battlecry effect and 5 addition Armor. But the real strength is in the new unique hero power. For example, Deathstalker Rexxar’s lets you combine two beasts into a single “Zombeast”. Adding together their Attack, Health and powers. And you can do this every turn!

Hero cards are a big focus for Knights of the Frozen Throne, and we want to ensure that everyone gets a chance to try them out. A free random Death Knight hero will be rewarded for completing the new prologue mission.

Knights of the Frozen throne is also introducing a new keyword, Lifesteal. Any damage a Lifesteal card deals will restore that much health to your hero. Not only will Lifesteal appear on several minions in Knights of the Frozen Throne, a few spells will have the keyword as well.

We also will see some additional Deathrattle cards in this set. It also fits well with the theme, and we’ve learned a lot as a team since the days of Naxxramas. We think Deathrattle will be a fun mechanic players will continue to utilize with this set.

Q: Prior to their removal, the League of Explorers, Blackrock Mountain, and the Curse of Naxxramas Solo Adventures required either money to play, or a massive amount of gold to unlock all of their wings. What was the motivation behind making the adventure leading up to the Lich King free to play in this latest expansion? Can we expect adventures to be free in future expansions?

A: We love the adventure content – it allowed us to tell a story around cards, and was something we know players really enjoyed. But as we kept making content, we realized that these stories were something we wanted everyone to experience, but we also wanted to have more content in a year. So when we decided to have three expansions in a year, we didn’t want to lose the story-telling we had with adventures. We decided that we wanted to pair up the content – so a lot of cards, but also alongside that missions players could access. And we wanted to make them free because playing the missions wasn’t the only way to get the cards. This also allowed us to be able to do more creative challenges with the missions, and really stretch our imagination with how we take the raid content of Icecrown Citadel to Hearthstone.

This is our plan moving forward – we want to continue to have missions tied to our expansion content.

Q: With every expansion, players expect new and exciting cards with unique abilities. But in making interesting and unique cards the issue of powercreep comes up. While powercreep can sometimes remedied through updates and balance changes, how do you try to actively avoid powercreep during the initial card concept and design process?

Like you said, we want expansions to be exciting and new and give you inspiration to create new decks. We want the meta to change with each expansion, so some of the new decks that emerge need to be as powerful or more powerful than previously existing decks. We have a few techniques for this but my favorite one is creating new deck themes using what I call 'build-around-cards'. Reno Jackson is a good example of a build around card because he created a whole new deck type without just inflating the power level of existing decks. People experimented with him and loved playing him, but he wasn't tier 1. That means we can release another card like Kazakus in that space and people have fun experimenting with the deck again. We like to look back at old cards that are tier 3 or lower and give them new cards to make the deck type fresh.

You can see this clearly in the priest class. People experiment with - Silence Priest, Elemental Priest, Dragon Priest, Kazakus Priest, Spell Priest and occasionally N'Zoth Priest.
Having 6 different deck types to play around with means that new sets can push the weaker archetypes while providing nothing new for the Tier 1 decks. This causes a fresh meta without having to make cards a lot stronger each expansion.

Q: In your video “Hearthstone: Announcing the Knights of the Frozen Throne,” you showed off the Year of the Mammoth roadmap. The roadmap shows a third expansion coming out in Q4 of 2017. With KotFT coming out in August, that only leaves three full months for people to enjoy playing and tinkering with these new cards prior to the next expansion. Are you concerned with players being overwhelmed with new cards? Are the two expansion card sets designed to complement each other?

A) This will be our first year having three expansions, instead of any adventures, so we are really excited to see what happens to the meta. With Journey to Un’Goro, even as we announced Knights of the Frozen Throne the meta was still shifting, and we think that’s great. We would prefer that things are always exciting in Hearthstone, and that content is released just as players have figured things out and start to be in need of more cards to try new strategies out with.

Q: Are you worried that new expansions increase the barrier to entry for new players? Are there plans to overhaul the new player/tutorial experience or to offer new players more options such as the $4.99 Welcome Bundle?

A) We introduced the concept of yearly rotations in order to help new players with this exact situation. Players who start now can focus on the cards that are in the Year of the Mammoth until they feel comfortable enough to branch out into Wild, or other game modes. We are always evaluating the new player experience in order to make sure it’s as welcoming as possible.

And as we mentioned before, we are giving away a free random Legendary Hero Card to everyone for playing the Prologue. And we’ve made all of the Knights of the Frozen thrones missions completely free as well.

Q: Finally, are you happy with the current mix of platforms Hearthstone supports? Are there plans to bring the game to other systems? For example, the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Desktop Browsers? Any thought of a physical Hearthstone card game or board game spinoff?

A: We are! We have no plans right now to move Hearthstone onto consoles, and having a physical card game isn’t something we intend to do, either. We love the design space of being a digital card game and what that allows us to create. There are so many interactions we wouldn’t be able to easily do otherwise.

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While I'm personally a bit disappointed Blizzard has no intention on releasing a physical card game based on Hearthstone, I'm still excited to try out the new expansion. Despite enjoying Shadowverse quite a bit, Hearthstone remains my favorite online card game.

All of the currently revealed expansion cards can be found here.

Been playing MMOs since I first got my hands on Ultima Online when I was 12 years old. Played so many games from Star Wars Galaxies to MapleStory to DAoC to World of Warcraft. Long time League of Legends player too! I'm also Known as "ReMo" and "Remotay"

  • A starter box of physical Hearthstone cards from one of the basic sets would have been an awesome holiday gift. Maybe one day!