If you are the type that appreciates a little bit of trivia background for your cards and overall game design, then this small yet elaborate story tying into the upcoming signature Rogue Legendary might be right up your alley. It was shared on Twitter by none other than Ben Brode - former Hearthstone Game Director and Rapper Supreme, who was there for the very beginnings of World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. There might not have been Hearthstone as we know it without WoW TCG, and it has continued to inspire this digital card game experience ever since.
Congratulations to all my friends at Blizzard and on the Hearthstone team on the exciting BlizzCon announcements! I saw the cool new Vanessa VanCleef card and was reminded of the hidden reference to the origins of Hearthstone. Did you see it?
So here’s the story. Once upon a time, @coryhudsonjones was interviewing at Upper Deck, and they asked him a hard question. How do you create a popular TCG to compete with Magic, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh?
On the spot, he invented the concept of “loot cards”, where you’d insert items that people would want from a popular video game directly into packs of a new card game, essentially guaranteeing sales, keeping the game afloat long enough to take root.
Obviously the game they partnered with was World of Warcraft, and they began work on the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, which included these new loot cards, where you could get in-game cosmetic items from packs!
In order to redeem the loot cards, someone came up with the idea for an in-world faction called The Black Flame. It was a organization that dealt in rare and valuable items, led by the Goblin Landro Longshot. You can see their insignia on his tabard.
Goblin Landro and Booty Bay, iconic World of Warcraft locale.
When you redeem a loot card, you have to go to Landro in Booty Bay in order to pick up the item. The card game tried to lean into this faction hard - their logo is on the back of every WoWTCG card!
One of the very first loot cards was the Tabard of Flame, a red version of Landro’s tabard. (And one of the first Epic Tabards in WoW at the time it released)
World of Warcraft Trading Card Game.
Curiously enough, the real life incarnation of Uther - that is, the guy you might know as Brian Kibler, happened to dabble in designing the Landro TCG card shown above. Small world.
I worked on the WoWTCG from the very first pitch all the way until 2008 when I joined the newly formed Team 5. (13 years ago?!) You can see how similar (ie. the same) WoWTCG and Hearthstone started out in this fantastic video from @Figluster
The WoWTCG clearly shares a lot of art and DNA with Hearthstone, although the games ended up fairly divergent in the end.
But it’s easy to draw the path from that first idea for loot cards, through that first loot card (the Tabard of Flame), to the WoWTCG, and all the way through Hearthstone. Quite the journey.
And hey, what’s that Tabard Vanessa VanCleef is wearing? ;-)
Oh look, the tabard.
So there you have it - perhaps it was slightly long-winded, but we've reached our destination. The aforementioned Brian Kibler has also chimed in with this particular tidbit:
Here’s something you might not know: The brand team at Upper Deck wanted the loot cards to have similar cache reflected in the TCG as the MMO - as in, they wanted someone to see you with the loot item in game and know you had a powerful card in the TCG.
Myself and the rest of the design team thought this was a horrible idea, since in the initial set there were only the ultra-rare versions of loot cards, so they’d be super powerful and also super rare, so I worked to design cards that looked good but actually weren’t. :P
I remember naming and writing the backstory for Landro Longshot, but I don’t entirely remember how the Black Flame came to be. I think we may have just brainstormed what a cool tabard logo people would want to wear would look like and reverse engineered it from there :P
While the connection to Hearthstone's Vanessa VanCleef might be tangential at best, we like engaging stories. And hopefully Edwin VanCleef's daughter will prove to be a worthy succesor, one that leads to clever Rogue plays rather than just cheating out a big pile of stats as early as possible. We will be sure to explore that connection in the coming months.
Did you enjoy Ben's storytime? Have your own related World of Warcraft or WoW TCG memories? Looking forward to the new VanCleef legacy? Do tell!