Blizzard Shares Additional Insights on Death Knight's Class Design Themes for March of the Lich King & Associated Sets

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With the reveal season for the upcoming March of the Lich King expansion proceeding at full throttle, Hearthstone Game Designer Chadd "Celestalon" Nervig has kept sharing more dedicated insights regarding the new set - including Team 5's goals with certain classes and how the new cards work or actually came to be.

This new series - dubbed "Behind the Cards" and teased as a possibility a little while ago - was partially featured on the official Hearthstone Twitter, and might even become a staple going forward. Following that particular inspiration, in this article we've collected even more of Celestalon's insights on Death Knight, whose new cards will come from March of the Lich King, Path of Arthas, and Core Set, branching out to support several Rune archetypes. We expect even more of these "behind the scenes" thoughts to follow in the near future! 

If you'd like to read even more of such Dev Insights, we've also created a new relevant content tag, which can be accessed by clicking the banner below - whenever we'll publish other articles like this one, they will appear there as well! Including some of our coverage from the past. 

Strikes - A Card Cycle

First up, we have a card cycle shared between the three Runes: as you can see from the cards below, said cycle is about damaging spells which grant a remarkable upside in case you're able to kill a minion (not necessarily an enemy minion, although it is recommended!) with them.

How did this card cycle came to life? Celestalon shared that, late in development, Team 5 wanted to give slightly more Corpse generation to the Blood Rune and a bit more card generation to the Frost Rune; while accomplishing this result, the design team took the opportunity to turn the three "Strike" cards into a cycle, sharing the same core functionality.

Frost Strike Card Image

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Heart Strike Card Image

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 Plague Strike Card Image

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Quote From Celestalon

Late in development, we wanted to give Blood a bit more Corpse-generation, and Frost a bit more card-generation. We saw an opportunity to turn these 3 strikes into a ‘cycle’, one for each Rune, with similar resource-generating designs. #BehindTheCards

Why was the frost one 2 runes but the other two 1 rune? Wouldn't the cycle be even neater with them all at the same number of runes?

Would be neater, sure, but there are other competing factors, such as balance.

Frost Strike - Development and Theme

Speaking about Frost Strike, Celestalon revealed that, throughout most of the development, this card showcased the effect that now belongs to Glacial Advance. Things changed because when Team 5 decided to design the "Strike" cycle for the aforementioned reasons, they moved Frost Strike's original effect onto Glacial Advance instead of getting rid of it.

Frost Strike Card Image

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Glacial Advance Card Image

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Quote From Celestalon

Through most of development, this design was on Frost Strike. When we turned the Heart/Frost/Plague Strike trio into a cycle of resource-generating damage spells, we kept the old Frost Strike design around by moving it onto Glacial Advance. #BehindTheCards

Moreover, Frost Strike is part of another card cycle (together with Hematurge and Necrotic Mortician) which revolves around Discovering a card from the same Rune type.

Hematurge Card Image

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Frost Strike Card Image

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Necrotic Mortician Card Image

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Lord Marrowgar is a triple Unholy card that is meant to represent a huge board swing you can only access by giving up any Blood and Frost shenanigans. By being a UUU top end unit, it is only natural for Marrowgar to be designed as a very impactful card.

Lord Marrowgar Card Image

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Celestalon revealed that Lord Marrowgar originally started out as a "buffer", with a Battlecry that required you to choose a friendly minion, which would then receive a stats buff based on how many corpses you hoarded until that point. However, such design turned games into a race to make a minion stick for more than one turn, buff it with Marrowgar's Battlecry and then win the game.

Quote From Celestalon

The goal with designing Lord Marrowgar was to be the ultimate Corpse-spender. His design started out as just buffing your other minions. #BehindTheCards

But the gameplay there felt like it put too much focus on just sticking one minion, which you could then buff ridiculously with Marrowgar, and kill your opponent with. The solution was to have Marrowgar bring his own minions to buff, which couldn’t immediately go face.

Nom Nom Nom Nom - Your Turn

As you can imagine, a 6 mana 5/6 with Taunt and Lifesteal is not terrible, but not great either. Team 5 was aware of this, so they tried to buff Gnome Muncher in a way that didn't boil down to just increasing this unit's stats.

Gnome Muncher Card Image

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Celestalon revealed that they took the idea of a "Gnome Muncher" and turned it into a minion that "munches" the smallest minion on the opposing side of the board, which is a huge win from the flavor's side of things.

This is a clear example of top down design, meaning that a card is designed by focusing on its flavor rather than on its effect (as opposed to bottom up designs, which consist of creating a card starting from its effect).

Quote From Celestalon

Up until very late in development, this minion was just a big wall of stats, with just Taunt and Lifesteal, as a simple example of how Blood liked big defensive minions. #BehindTheCards

But at the numbers it was at, it just wasn’t worth playing, and we decided to give it an effect rather than over-juice its numbers.

After a few minutes of brainstorming, someone said, “Hey, what if Gnome Muncher munched gnomes? Like, every turn, it just ate the smallest thing in sight.” It didn’t take long to get from that idea to the final design that we’re shipping.

Get Yours On Cyber Monday!

As you already know by now, Unholy cards aren't very proficient at drawing cards, but they're the absolute best if you're looking for Corpse generation! For example, Meat Grinder gives you 3 corpses right off the bat, without needing to wait for any friendly units to die.

Meat Grinder Card Image

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This unit represents the design philosophy that sees Unholy minions as fairly easily to kill, to the point where you don't even need to dispose of your minions in order to capitalize on them!

Quote From Celestalon

This card design came out of a discussion focused on how Unholy Death Knights should feel like an endless army of minions. Their minions should feel easily killable, but where one falls, more would take its place. #BehindTheCards

With that sort of mindset, your minions are seen as disposable, and we thought, what if you didn’t even need to play them in order to get that Corpse value.

If You Think About It, It's Kinda Gross

Each Rune has different ways to spend the collected corpses: for example, Blood trades them for value and stats, Unholy receives board presence and resilience and Frost tends to capitalize of effect that repeat themselves.

In particular, Marrow Manipulator sets the standard for how Frost should approach the corpse economy.

Marrow Manipulator Card Image

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Quote From Celestalon

One of the things we tried with Corpses was to make each Rune feel like it handled Corpses a little differently, by creating different ways that each spent Corpses. #BehindTheCards

Blood would spend Corpses in large all-or-nothing chunks, Unholy would spend small amounts frequently, and Frost would spend variable amounts to repeat an effect multiple times.

We ended up finding those rules too restrictive, so loosened things up, but Marrow Manipulator stuck around as our star example of how Frost should spend Corpses. As soon as we saw that cute gnome artwork, we could all just hear her cackling with glee in our minds.

A Sprinkle of Creatine and You're Dead to Go

When designing buff cards and especially Unholy buffs, Team 5 was aware that they had to keep in mind many things, one of them being Death Knight's Hero Power: with a Charge generator being available every turn, the devs had (and will have) to be careful with blessing the class of too much reach.

Dark Transformation Card Image

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Anti-Magic Shell Card Image

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Dark Transformation perfectly incarnates this design: 4/5 in stats for 2 mana is very good in a vacuum, but the fact that it replaces the targeted minion instead of just buffing it means you won't risk giving the class too much from-hand burst. On the other hand, Anti-Magic Shell works better with wide boards rather than tall ones.

Quote From Celestalon

These two cards laid the groundwork for how we would think about buffs in Unholy. Anti-Magic Shell fit well to show that Unholy was meant to go wide, and Dark Transformation reinforced that by being a stronger buff the weaker the target. #BehindTheCards

It also being a transform played into how we decided to give their Hero Power Charge; it meant single target buffs weren’t allowed to add more Charge damage.

Last Minute Transfusion

Apart from Blood Tap, the entire handbuff package for Death Knight hasn't surprised the community that much: while buffing your units' Attack has the potential to push lots of damage, your strategy may just turn out to be a glass cannon.

Darkfallen Neophyte Card Image

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In particular, Celestalon pointed out that the initial intention was to have Darkfallen Neophyte as the only handbuff card in Death Knight just to set the precedent for future Blood cards; however, during development Team 5 wanted to expand the Blood Rune, so they ended up increasing the handbuff synergy!

Quote From Celestalon

We originally had only this card doing a handbuff in Death Knight, to set the precedent that handbuffing was something Death Knights (especially Blood) could do, since it was a safe way to do buffs without risking Charge damage from the hero power. #BehindTheCards

Partway through development though, we wanted to find something more for Blood to do, so expanded it into a larger package, with a few more handbuff cards, and a few minions that synergized well with getting handbuffed.

I Won't Let You Get Away With This, Frieza!

Among the removals Death Knight has at disposal, Corpse Explosion definitely jumps to the eye: although it needs some solid corpse generation in order to be cast at full power, this spell has the potential to be a 5 mana full board clear!

Corpse Explosion Card Image

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Although its general idea stayed the same throughout the entire development, Celestalon revealed that Corpse Explosion's exact mechanic changed multiple times, especially since many subtle (but still relevant) interactions were at stake.

Quote From Celestalon

The general idea of this card was in place from day 1, but the exact wording and mechanic details changed countless times. "Repeat 3 times", "Do 5 times", "and repeat this" etc. Little iterations on wording like that make a big difference. #BehindTheCards

Did you appreciate these insights? Are you excited for the new expansion? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Caro's Avatar
    2180 2417 Posts Joined 03/12/2020
    Posted 1 year ago

    That's a good thing to keep in mind - that Team 5 are aware of the DK HP and charge being so game winning. It's good to know we won't be seeing that many buff spells or cards that could be abused with the HP.


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