Hello everybody and welcome back to another Fan Community Spotlight. This week, the sun rises up for Ramanujoke who is appearing for the second time on this series to talk about a custom Hearthstone set. Last time he was here was to talk about a custom straight-to-wild collection of cards for a variety of different expansions. This time, we're looking at a set with a more traditional expansion structure, Folie of the Sun King and its corresponding mini-set, Party Plateau.
Ramanujoke goes into significant detail into both the overarching story as well as his thoughts on the design process of both collections of cards in their respective documents, but the main story of the set is mainly based on Alice in Wonderland. It's centered around the character of Anveena Teague who wakes up in Quel'Danas without remembering who she is or how she got there, and during her trek through the new lands, she encounters some new and old faces. Xyrella and Kael'thas in particular is pretty significant to the story.
Additionally, the set comes with a new keyword in the form of Absorb. Cards with Absorb can be dragged above your Mana Bar to pay X mana and give the card a bonus effect to trigger when you play the card, not unlike either Corrupt or Infuse.
Now let's talk to Ramanujoke to show off why this is... no joke!
What was the inspiration behind the set idea?
Ramanujoke: "So at the start of last summer I decided I wanted to make a Custom Set for Standard this time around. I wanted it to feel new, fresh and exciting. AS I didn't know very much about WOW, I decided to search Wowpedia until I found a story/ part of lore that I liked. That's how I ended up on the story of Anveena Teague and the Sunwell.
I have to say, I started this set WAY before Castle Nathria. It is funny to think that the latest Hearthstone Expansion was so close to home... I also chose this because I knew we might have gotten DK (at this point in time we only had clues) and that if I didn't finish my set before the announcement of the new class I would still have material to craft the DK part of the set... Unfortunately, March of Lich King ended up being so close to my set (theme, lore..) that I decided not to do a DK part.
Anyway, I love the story of Anveena Teague and I wanted to make something different with my set: have strong connection to a movie. I choose 'Alice in Wonderland' because of the similarities of the two characters and their respective development. I wanted a story driven expansion but also referencing WOW lore.
From there I started crafting the story: the involvement of Xyrella, Kael'Thas and more..."
What is the inspiration for the Absorb mechanic and how you use it?
Ramanujoke: "So lore wise, the Sunwell is really tied to the blood elf and their use of Magic. I wanted to find a keyword that could put into words this idea. Also I tried to find a way to bend the rules of classic Hearthstone. In the same way as the Dredge mechanic that manipulate the pre established order of card in your deck, the Absorb (X) keyword manipulate the Cost of a card in a certain way that express that idea of 'absorbing mana' and using magic... Funny thing, the original name for the keyword was Infuse (X)... There is a clip of me on my Twitch channel where I react to the annoucement of Castle Nathria... I didn't believe it ahaha.
So I had to change the name of the keyword at least.
I wanted to make Absorb card playable in two situations, before activating it and then after, but with a way more powerful effect.
After publishing the set, Gallon from Team 5 commented on it saying that Absorb(X) was really close to one of their first Manthirst (X) iterations... I keep landing so close to the official team it's flattering (maybe one day I'll be in...)"
What part of the set was the most fun to design?
Ramanujoke: "I think the Rogue, Priest and Warlock classes were my favourite to design out of the 10. They all get new archetypes with the 'Secretly', the 'Shard' and the 'Blood Portal' respectively .
The latest were also particularly hard to make. It's a somewhat complex one-time mechanic and even Gallon said so: it puts a lot of stress on deck building (in a way that, after a few month of reobservation could have been improved on). Still, I'm happy with the what I published, it's a good stepping point to get better!
Shards were also fun. I loved that idea of dual Holy/Shadow in Priest and having Shards (fitting with the involvement of Naaru in the lore) that switch between Night and Day forms was exciting and made for what I think could be a fun player experience.
The neutrals were a good test of how to create some cards/package that could work in multiple archetypes within your set: it's a good way to make your expansion feel more real as it's more connected!
Creating interesting effects for specific lore characters was a real challenge!"
A few standout cards in particular are Kael'thas and the Legendary weapons. What's the thought on those?
Ramanujoke: "Kael'Thas is definitely the elephant in the room for this custom set. He is the big bad of the story and I wanted his effect to by huge, so that It would feel important!
What is Staff of Disintegration? You'll have to look at the set for yourself.
I also wanted him to be unique in a way no legendary felt before. That's when I got to the idea of 'End of Game'. We've had a plenty of 'Start of Game' effects so I wanted him to activate the moment your opponent think they are going to kill you (if you met the condition of course). From there, your hero doesn't exist and Kael'Thas takes the wheel: new Hero Power, some Armor and a chain crazy Legendary weapons. In the Lore, you actually battle Kael'Thas by having to face against his 7 Legendary Equipments. I tried to transform them into something that would feel very Hearthstony.
Kael'Thas and its effect are definitely not perfect. The play experience, the balance and other could have been improved on if I had the ability to test it. It felt too hard to try and change him without having that option so I decided to send him like that, which is not 'that' bad!"
Are there any other cards you wish to showcase for any reason?
Ramanujoke: "Yes of course!
- Bound Aspect Kalecgos is my attempt to bring back feelings from the old Kalecgos but with a twist. It work as an hybrid between the old one and Kazakus. The Wild Magics are actual attacks used by him during the Sunwell Plateau raid where he is controlled by Sathrovar.
The "Magics" on the right stack with each other add extra effects. Kalecgos also appears to mistakenly not be tagged as a Dragon.
-Mu'ru the Chained Light and its counterpart Enthropius were interesting to design. I wanted to keep that dual feeling I had with the Shard but actually make this legendary lean towards the other subtheme for Priest which was Deathrattles. The symmetric effect and stats, I tried and think of everything to make this card tell a story.
-Royal Shudderwock is in the same spirit as Kalecgos, you can even see the similarities on the cost and Absorb effects. A twist on the old Shudderwock effect where you can replay opponent's battlecries as well as your own on board!
-Power of the Light was my attempt at expressing the ability of Paladins to tap into the Light to empower themselves while facing Kael'Thas. It's funny to see that it was a similar direction the Hearthstone team chose for Paladin this expansion.
-In the neutrals, I really like the Dormant Package of the 'Ailling Elves'. I tried to put into word a nice lore fact: blood elves actually became addicted to all the Magic they ingested. Making the minions go Dormant when you don't have anymore Mana left was the way I found for this problem.
- Dar'Khan the Traitor is also one of my favourite designs. In the lore, he betrails the blood elves and let Arthas intop Silvermoon (I think...) but he also has a importance in Anveena's story as he tries to capture her when realizing she IS the Sunwell. I had my effect: someone that always turn against you. You can play him on both sides of the battlefield, he has amazing stats for its cost but a Deathrattle that will benefits the enemy."
Do you have anything behind the scenes that you wish to share?
Ramanujoke: "Yes: Trying to craft an effect from a character already known by the player base either by lore (Dar'Khan) or by common culture (The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter...) was really long. But surprisingly also really eye opening on the depths in which you have to go to fully grasp a character and bring it to life in a way that everybody understands.
Also, don't be afraid to iterate on a card. IN the end for the set alone (miniset excluded) I probably made 250 ish cards and would have probably done more if I had the time! Creating customs cards is a passion but a passion that you can improve on by sharpening your skills. As a wise person told me recently: always simplify what you want to create. Why? It will always connect more with the audience.
Speaking of miniset I had to create the story for it before starting the main set itself: what card will ended up to the last 35 and why. By the way, I think that I managed to create of better sense of cohesion in the miniset and it's already available for anyone that wants to find it (a story for another time, perhaps?)"
Do you have anything else you wish to share?
Ramanujoke: "It's always a pleasure to be able to speak about design and explaining specific choices. But it's also important to realize something, custom cards are custom cards so even if you don't agree with the direction where one is heading, stay respectful while expressing yours concerns and criticisms because these are EXTREMLY VALUABLE as an aspiring card designer."
That will conclude this week's Fan Community Spotlight. Do let us know what you think down below, and you can check out the entire set as well as the mini-set by clicking the banners down below.