Lining up with the whole big Alliance-themed expansion announcement, PC Gamer sat down with two of the Hearthstone developers you've most likely seen around the inn by this point - Liv Breeden (Senior Game Designer, Initial Design) and Cora Georgiou (Associate Game Designer) - to talk through several points of interest; and not just only about United in Stormwind.

The interview was conducted by Brand Director Tim Clark, who has been following and covering the card-slinging scene for a long time; with assistance from Ben "Ridiculous Hat" Goodman, whose podcasting efforts have no equal on this mortal plane. You can read the entire flavorful take here; we will focus on some of the more relevant excerpts below, as there has been a fair deal of worthwhile information to highlight.


New Expansion and Mechanics

  • Tradeable cards fit the fantasy of a bustling city with many people to haggle with, even though technically we can only "exchange goods" within our own deck. 
  • There might be some initial head-scratching among players given the naming convention here (nope, Hearthstone is not actually turning into a Trading Card Game), but they should be able to adjust quickly.
  • A versatile take on the Choose One keyword from Druid, offering a different form of card draw to allow players utilize more cards from their deck. 
  • Tradeable actually started at 0 mana for balance purposes, but that proved to be "really good". 1 mana cost adds a little more weight to the decisions.  
  • We can expect to see some other cards that closely interact with this mechanic. 

Heavy Plate Card Image Rustrot Viper Card Image Fire Sale Card Image Impatient Shopkeep Card Image

Quote From Cora Georgiou

It definitely adds that little bit of extra consistency. If you're playing a deck with situational cards, you can afford to include them or tech pieces since if you're in a circumstance where they aren't super relevant you can just toss them back. And it gave us cool opportunities to make cards that interact with Tradeable cards or improve upon the mechanic as we go forward. It's nice extra reliability in deckbuilding.


  • As expected, Questline cards start in your opening hand once the game begins, just like all previous Quests. 
  • Not all final effects will "last throughout the rest of the game"; there are some powerful one-off resolutions as well.
  • They are meant to be something you build your deck around, taking a good while to complete for a game-changing outcome. 
  • Unlike old Quests that were all or nothing, each Questline having three steps ensures players can at least earn small boosts to help them along the way. 
  • It's fun to complete quests and have a built-in narrative to follow. Playing the final reward card should be a special moment that changes the stakes.

Sorcerer's Gambit Card Image Stall for Time Card Image Reach the Portal Room Card Image Arcanist Dawngrasp Card Image

Quote From Liv Breeden

You play them like normal quests but they're broken up into three parts—after you complete the first step, it transforms into the second step so you don't need to play it again and you just continue on the journey. Once you've completed all three steps you get a really powerful Legendary minion in your hand that provides big benefits. Some of them are long-term and some of them are one-offs but they're all definitely worth it.

The Demon Seed Card Image Establish the Link Card Image Complete the Ritual Card Image Blightborn Tamsin Card Image

Quote From Liv Breeden

We actually started with the concept of Questlines ending with a passive effect so things like [Varden's] permanent Spell Damage +3 for the rest of the game, but there wasn't enough impact to them. You wanted to play those cards and feel like you did the thing, rather than just have the quest turn over and go "yup, we did it". Going from Uldum where quest completion made your hero power change… that's a cool moment, but there's something really special about the original quests where I played the [reward] card and now we're in the second half of the game. The stakes are different now.


  • All mount cards operate in a similar way: first providing a spell buff to any minion of choice, and upon its death spawning a separate mount minion with the matching stats and ability to that of the initial effect. 
  • The terror of Arena that was Spikeridged Steed in its heyday is the most relevant example of old.
  • Warlock and Paladin will also get their own mount effects - which is most thematically fitting. Anyone who played vanilla World of Warcaft might recall sprawing questlines these two classes had to complete in order to earn their special free mounts. It was a pretty big deal back then. 

Ramming Mount Card Image Tavish's Ram Card Image Elekk Mount Card Image Xyrella's Elekk Card Image

Quote From Cora Georgiou

Yeah, they all operate the same way whereby you give a buff and a slight bonus to a minion. The mount that drops off has the exact same stats and same effect.

Quote From Liv Breeden
One thing about World of Warcraft is that everyone remembers getting their mount. It's a big story moment for the mercenaries—this is their mount and this is what makes their mount special. We'll see Warlock and Paladin get their special mounts as well.


  • Profession Tools are all weapons with 0 Attack value, instead using up one point of Durability each time their effect goes off. 
  • We have already seen a similar mechanic in play with Sphere of Sapience
  • Not all of them will affect cards in our hand - there's a board-based ability and other takes as well. 

Runed Mithril Rod Card Image Prismatic Jewel Kit Card Image

Quote From Liv Breeden
We wanted to get the fantasy of what it was like to do the professions without having to do something like shuffle in crafting materials to your deck or something like that. They're not all hand-based—there's one that's board-based, there's one that's cost-based, and there are other things out there as well.


The Issue with Priest

  • Priest can be notoriously difficult to balance as it has often dealt in extremes - and as we all know, the class just has that innate ability to infuriate opponents. 
  • They will likely continue moving away from the "endless generation Priest", by further toning down or capping the number of spells that can be created over a single game of Hearthstone. 
  • Even though the class might be slightly off the mark right now, Cora thinks that the gameplay at the core of Priest is actually fun. Be careful when sharpening your pitchforks! 
  • They believe it should be possible to find that sweet spot for the class again. 
  • The goal with Shadow Priest is to provide some of that forward momentum, directly doing stuff to the opponents and going face a little more than we are used to. 
  • Historically, Priest usually played a more defensive role in Hearthstone due to the nature of their Lesser Heal Hero Power (we did have a small detour with Death Knights and Shadowreaper Anduin). But this year's introduction of spell schools allows to more closely recapture that duality known from World of Warcaft - Shadow and Holy specializations. 
  • Certain Start of Game effects proved very divisive in the past, to put it mildly - mainly thanks to Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater - but Darkbishop Benedictus should provide the right amount of excitement and a different way to play from the get go. 

Darkbishop Benedictus Card Image

Quote From Liv Breeden
It's interesting for sure. If we look back at Rez Priest, that deck is really fun… for the person playing it. It's important that we have decks that are for those sorts of players, but we want to make sure that the people playing against them aren't tearing their hair out. 

[….]

But Shadow Priest is super different—there are cards like Insight for Shadow, but generally they're pretty forward moving, looking to directly do stuff to the opponent, and that's the goal in this expansion for Priest.

Quote From Cora Georgiou
It can be somewhat difficult to find that sweet spot. We've found it in the past and we're maybe slightly over right now, but I think the gameplay at the core of Priest—and I'm gonna get called a sadist for this—is fun! I don't hate Priest! 


Battlegrounds

  • What will it take for the game mode to finally lose its Beta tag? They've had internal conversations about it, and there's still a lot more they would love to be able to do. It should happen eventually! 
  • The Battlegrounds team is hiring and continues to expand (aiming for between 4 and 6 people); there are further plans in place.
  • The long-awaited cosmetics are just the tip of the iceberg for the art potential and ways for players to customize their own games. 
  • New bartenders in town (Ragnaros and Ve'nari) are fully voiced just like everyone's favorite Bartender Bob, allowing him to finally be able to take that day off. Their attitudes are going to be just slightly different... Keep trying harder, INSECTS! 
  • The team has to be careful while developing Battlegrounds further, as they struck gold by finding that enjoyable core gameplay and wouldn't want to mess it up. 
  • The big minion shakeup that's on the horizon (but won't happen before the expansion release) will significantly influence how gameplay styles change between various minion types and heroes. The idea is "what would a Standard rotation look like for Battlegrounds?".
  • Alas, no current plans for our good pal Tirion Fordring to re-enter the fray. 

Briny Bootlegger is a tier 3 pirate Battlegrounds minion with 4 attack and 4 health that reads at the end of your turn, if you have another pirate, add a gold coin to your hand. Briny Bootlegger tripled is an 8/8 that reads at the end of your turn, if you have another pirate, add 2 gold coins to your hand.

Nosy Looter is a tier 6 7 attack 6 health pirate Battlegrounds minion that reads every two turns, add a random Golden minion to your hand. Nosy Looter tripled is a 14/2 that reads at the start of your turn, add a random golden minion to your hand.

Quote From Cora Georgiou

For it to come out of beta… that's an internal conversation and something that we've been discussing what exactly constitutes taking the tag off. We feel that BGs currently is very enjoyable and something that our players really, really love. There's a lot that we would love to be able to do with it.

Quote From Liv Breeden

Yeah, one of the challenges for Battlegrounds is that we found this core thing that's super fun and different every game, and there's so much randomness going on. We don't really want to mess with the core gameplay, and making it more similar to constructed Hearthstone feels wrong so we definitely don't want to do that—leaning into the cosmetics is really important.


Other Topics

  • Cora has gone from Final Design to Battlegrounds to Initial Design, which is quite a journey. 
  • The exact card design with its creative and balance work might not be something people fully realize the intricacies of; it can be surprising how long it takes a single card to actually reach the public eye. 
  • Liv joined the team back in Knights of the Frozen Throne, with the idea of a 10 mana Mage spell filling the board on both sides. It wasn't good at the time (providing the opposing player with more initiative), but we've seen a similar concept eventually come to life with Yogg-Saron, Master of Fate.
  • You might already know that Cora was directly responsible for Sword of the Fallen, although she swears she didn't think that Final Design would ever keep it as 1/3. 
  • When in doubt, just blame BoarControl. Even if he wasn't on the team at the time.
  • Which classes we should look forward to in United in Stormwind? Liv points to Mage and Rogue as being cool, while Cora very much enjoyed the new Warrior Questline.
  • Deathrattle Demon Hunter was a novelty that even some people on the team were initially quite skeptical about. Liv believes they could do a better job coming up with other new archetypes rather than just leaning on the existing ones - not that it's necessarily a bad thing since players have their favorite designs. 

Quote From Liv Breeden

I really like Mage this set. Mage is super cool, Rogue's got some new decks that we haven't seen so I'd look out for those too.

Quote From Cora Georgiou

I think internally I've been playing a lot of Warrior when we're testing future sets and I've been including the Questline in that quite a bit. That's probably my favorite Questline of the bunch. It's very fun.

Quote From Liv Breeden
We launched DH with two pretty good decks but we didn't really have a great stable of cards so when we wanted to build up a new archetype we had to give it a whole bunch of new stuff like when Deathrattle came around. Even Final Design was skeptical and said that Deathrattle DH wasn't a thing… but we needed to make it a thing. It's building from the ground up a lot unless you're leaning on one of the older designs—which isn't a bad thing, but I think we could do a better job of that going forward in the future.


Bonus Content

This isn't the only time in recent weeks when Cora and Liv teamed up to share various insights (and not only about the game): their appearance on the Hearth and Home Podcast #9 might not've been on many people's radars, but it's well worth a watch/listen if you've got about 20 minutes to spare. 

The topics involve the game design process at large, typical working days at Blizzard, behind-the-scenes recollections, dedicated pet love, and more. We also found out that Liv Breeden will be the lead for the upcoming couple of sets, which brough to light the information of United in Stormwind being Alec Dawson's last set on the Initial Design team. He has now moved on to Final Design Lead on all that's to come. Plus that nerf of First Day of School might have some implications on the future expansions. 


If you'd like to see more of this kind of content, you should check out Clark Hellscream's YouTube channel. Aside from regular quality videos, there is more to be found in this particular series; including veeeery long marathon interviews with the likes of aforementioned Ridiculous Hat, Americas Grandmaster Rami94, and other people in the Hearthstone scene you might recognize. There are detailed timestamps in each video's description that allow you to jump into any particular topics of interest, so don't fret upon seeing their initial length.
Have you found any of the takeaways above especially appealing? Anything in particular to look forward to that has fully captured your attention? We would be curious to hear all your thoughts.