Hey guys, Demonxz95 here, presenting my third and final new recurring series on Out of Cards called Hearthstone Hypothesis. In this series, we will be discussing the card design philosophies of Hearthstone, as well as why I believe that Team 5 designs cards the way they do.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted my first issue to be until I saw this post on r/hearthstone about a month ago from a user named Fluffatron_UK, talking about why Elusive is not a keyword. If you’re unaware, Elusive is an unofficial, although abundantly widespread term for “Can’t be targeted by spells or Hero Powers”, a mechanic found on cards like Faerie Dragon, Bearshark, and Soggoth the Slitherer.

Faerie Dragon Card Image

Keywording the effect would open up more design options

A large number of Hearthstone players are in favor of keywording the mechanic, but others aren’t. In their post, Fluffatron comments that “Elusive” minions are thematically not very “elusive” by the word’s dictionary definition (meaning “hard to find or catch”). If you look at Tyrantus, that thing does not look very hard to find, right? As to why Tyrantus can’t be targeted by spells or Hero Powers from a flavor perspective, I’m not sure. In this same thread, Mike Donais makes this comment:

Quote From Mike Donais

This is a great explanation. We talked about making a keyword for untargettable by some things. Maybe hero powers, spells, battlecries too perhaps? Maybe 2 of the three. It was close and we may one day do it if we have a lot of designs that we think fall into that category. As it is we release very few minions that are hard to target so it isn't worth a keyword yet.

One of the things we consider with the name is if you would expect to be able to attack it with minions. Elusive sounds like other minions would not be able to attack it. In fact many of the name ideas had that in common. It also sounds like a hero with a weapon might not be able to attack it.

Your suggestion of Warded would work quite well in communicating that spells don't work on it but weapons and minions can attack it.

A version of this that we tried out 4 or 5 years ago was blocking the first spell/battlecry that targets it but then the ward is gone. Very similar to divine shield. Spellshield made sense for that since it works so similar to Divine Shield except for spells (and maybe battlecries) instead of damage.

One problem with the current "Can't be targetted by spells or hero powers" is that minions like Big Game Hunter, Black Knight, and Spellbreaker can still target these cards making them vulnerable in a non-intuitive way. So maybe we should add battlecries if we keyword it.

Just wanted to give you some insight into some of the things we talk about.

About 8 hours after the thread was posted, another redditor named purewasted posted a counterargument, explaining that if Elusive is a bad keyword because the word doesn’t match its dictionary definition, then Taunt is a bad keyword for the same reason. Ultimately, the post was made to mock Fluffatron’s original argument, while providing a legitimate counter at the same time. Do most Taunt minions really taunt the opponent in any way? As far as I’m aware, the only ones that do that are Evil Heckler and Hecklebot. If the minions are taunting, why can’t we run past them?

Unpowered Steambot Card Image

Probably the least accurate Taunt minion in the game flavorwise

In World of Warcraft, Taunt is a Warrior ability that does exactly what you’d expect it to do if you play Hearthstone. It forces mobs to attack you, and only you for a few seconds. Ironically enough, the Wowpedia example is a taunt in the same way as Evil Heckler taunts you. This raises a few questions. Namely, if Taunt is a Warrior ability in World of Warcraft, then why does every class (except Rogue, currently the only class in the game without any Taunt minions) get it in Hearthstone? If Warriors in World of Warcraft can taunt enemies properly, then why can’t anyone in Hearthstone do that?

While we’re on a similar note, why can’t dragons fly, bypass Taunt, or breath fireballs? Why can’t Rexxar use his Eaglehorn Bow like a proper bow instead of a club? Why is that Garrosh with 7000 Armor does not appear to be slowed down by all of that weight? Why can’t fire thaw Frozen minions? The answer to all of these questions is ultimately straightforward. All of these simplify gameplay, as otherwise, combat would be too complicated. Simple gameplay is precisely what brings Hearthstone its players. This is why we don’t have cards with more than 4 lines of text.

But back to the question at hand with Elusive though, I want to look at Elusive minions from other games. If Elusive is supposedly a bad keyword because it doesn’t fit the dictionary definition of elusive, then let’s look at some “Elusive” minions from MTG. In MTG, Shroud is essentially the same as Elusive, except it can’t be targeted by abilities either.


Now tell me, do any of these things look “elusive” to you? I suppose Mist Leopard can run really fast because it’s a leopard. That’s okay, but if running fast is how it avoids spells, then why doesn’t it have haste (MTG equivalent of Charge)?

Sphinx of Jwar Isle can fly to avoid spells, but if it can fly to avoid spells, why can’t dragons in Hearthstone do that as well? The only Dragon in the game with Elusive currently is Faerie Dragon. I’m not exactly sure where its ability to look at the top card of your library (deck) comes from either, in terms of flavor.

Simic Sky Swallower can’t be “elusive” because it’s a huge freaking serpent. You’re going to see it. Because it’s apparently a “sky swallower”, it can fly as well just like Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Wall of Denial is a weird one. I struggle to understand how a wall can be “elusive”. Walls can’t move, so it should be easy to find, especially when it has a glowing blue aura and hieroglyphs around it. Then we got to the fact that the wall has Flying? Am I expected to believe that the wall is somehow supposed to be floating in mid-air despite not doing such in the artwork? Is it because the wall is tall, or because it appears to be dome-shaped?

The point I’m trying to make here is that card games simplify flavor and gameplay to fit the limits of their rules. MTG is a lot more complicated than Hearthstone, given that their Dragons can fly, and Hearthstone’s Dragons can’t, but they still need to make compromises somewhere. Not all of MTG’s Elusive, or rather, “Shroud” creatures are “shroud” by dictionary definition. Their creatures are simply “shroud” from a gameplay perspective of not being able to target them by spells or abilities. Now, this isn’t to say that flavor shouldn’t be a consideration at all, but ultimately, the gameplay is the more critical aspect in the grand scheme of things.

When you decide how a keyword is represented by in terms of verbiage, sometimes flavor gets in the way. I think we all question why Frightened Flunky has Taunt when it doesn’t feel like a Taunt card. Ultimately, there’s no reason why Frightened Flunky has Taunt other than from a gameplay perspective. But by the same logic, if you look at Bog Creeper, Obsidian Statue, or nearly any other Taunt minion, there’s no reason that these cards needed to have Taunt, yet we don’t complain about the flavor of these minions having Taunt because we’re already familiar with how Taunt flavorfully and mechanically works in Hearthstone. Team 5 decided to give them Taunt purely for gameplay reasons. When you look at Elusive, it’s ultimately the same thing. It’s just a word that describes the action. Is there a better word/phrase than Elusive to describe the ability? Possibly, but no matter which one you choose, you will always run into this situation.

So, why isn't Elusive a keyword then? One of the biggest counterarguments against Elusive is that Battlecries and attacks can still target it, and there’s no way to intuitively imply that. However, there’s nothing in the game that describes why spells, Hero Powers, or minion abilities can bypass Taunt. Similarly, when you read “Adapt”, I don’t believe that “Choose one of three randomly selected adaptations out of a pool of 10” is ever implied anywhere, yet it still exists as a keyword. MTG has reminder text on some of its keyworded cards, and Hearthstone has the tooltip which appears when you hover over a card.

Therefore, I propose that the tooltip for Elusive should be this:

“(but can still be targeted by Battlecries and attacks) - There you go.”

The other biggest argument is that Elusive cards are not made very frequently, so a keyword is not needed. I say however that maybe the reason Elusive cards are not made very frequently is... maybe because the mechanic isn't keyworded? Poisonous cards were extremely scarce before Un’Goro where it became into a keyword. Since then, Poisonous cards have been showing up a lot more often, since keywording the mechanic opened up the design space. Envenom Weapon is a card you couldn’t have made without making Poisonous into a keyword, or at the very least, it wouldn’t be very clean. Making Elusive into a keyword will similarly open up a lot of design space in that regard.

Since Elusive only appears on one card in the entire Basic/Classic set (Faerie Dragon), new players might be confused as to why there’s only one Elusive card when they start the game, which I feel is a legitimate argument. I reckon the reason Counterspell is the only card that uses the Counter "keyword" is because “counter” is already an English word that means precisely what it does in-game, so it’s perhaps not a big deal (though it may leave some non-native speakers confused).

So what do you think? Why do you believe Elusive is not a keyword? Let us know in the comments. Until next time!