So it's the middle of the reveal season and while we're all having a fun time looking at what new ideas are introduced in Descent of Dragons, we can have a little bit more fun to see some more card ideas as made by players.
For this FCS, we're looking at a music-themed expansion called "Wynnstock Festival", which becomes an epic battle of the bands featuring Elite Tauren Chieftain back in the mix. We're interviewing Maysick for this set, with special guest appearances by Pircival and AcidNoBravery, who also featured as card designers.
This set contains several music references, specifically to various tropes of musical culture, as well as specific artists and songs. If you're a musician yourself, you're sure to crack a smile at the thematics of the set. I play drums and love rock music myself, and I sure did.
The set introduces a new keyword, Harmonize (a musical reference in itself). Cards with Harmonize cost (0) if you play a card (or cards) of a specific criteria listed on the card.
But in addition to that, there's also a special card type in this set. Composers. Composers are Legendary minions which are references to various musical artists, that are "ready for the stage" (gain cool effects) when you meet a certain criteria given. As this is a bit of a unique card type that requires context to understand, I've chosen an example (a first for this series), Rob Nalyd.
Give us an introduction to the set. What's it about? What are the themes? What are some cards that introduce the set the best?
"Wynnstock Festival started out as “unnamed community project” and there was a lot of development until it got where it is today - more on that later. Wynnstock Festival is a music-themed fanmade Hearthstone expansion that explores a musical festival in Elwynn Forest being thrown into chaos as E.T.C. takes over the show. From a flavor perspective, the set balances an exploration of musical cliches, conventions, & genres, and a Warcraft spin on “Battle of the Bands” with surrounding Elwynn natives and popular Warcraft rockstars. The keyworded mechanic is Harmonize, which makes a card cost (0) if you played another card this turn. There is also a class legendary cycle of composers which are pseudo-quest minions that get upgraded once you have completed a certain condition (think Jan’alai). Finally, some of our cycles included the return of legendary spells as “songs”, instrument weapons for each weapon class, and a troupe of Hogger’s territorial gnolls. We actually thought really hard about the cards that introduce our set the best, doing a lot of research on what cards Blizzard typically presents. We ended up choosing Air Guitar, Red Carpet Escort, Metalface Dilla, Groovy Goblin, and Desperation Row as our showcase cards."
How much experience do you have with making custom Hearthstone cards?
Maysick: "I’ve been making custom Hearthstone cards for about 3 years. Done some fun stuff like a podcast and livestream along the way, and I’m a moderator on the /r/customhearthstone subreddit."
Pircival: "I've been making Hearthstone cards for about a year or two. I've competed in a few competitions, and won some of them too."
Acid: "Making cards for 5 years, participating in competitions everywhere and winning some of them occasionally. Currently I'm more keen on talking about card design than making cards on my own."
Are you a musician yourself? Where does the idea of a music themed set come from?
"Though not a musician myself, I’m a huge music fan and tried to make sure Wynnstock was well-rounded in that regard. As previously mentioned, Wynnstock initially started out as a nameless community project which aimed to incorporate initial and final design roles into a community design project. We all started by listing out Warcraft locations and sociocultural cliches to lean into for our set idea. For example, an underwater set and academia-themed set were proposed, but we went with a music-themed set for both a challenge and to be original."
What was the inspiration for Harmonize?
"Our original keyworded mechanic, Encore: (X), was essentially a generic Twinspell/Echo that allowed a card to be played X amount of times before disappearing. Twinspell forced us to scrap that idea, and we actually utilized a bit of top-down design for deciding on Harmonize. We played around with a lot of music-themed words that might have gameplay iterations like Chord, Rockin’, Deafen, Solo, etc. We observed that some of the better Hearthstone keywords are ones that expand on mechanics that have been tested and positively recieved, and we felt that Arcane Tyrant was a well-received mechanic that worked very well with the Harmonize flavor.
As a post-mortem, it is difficult to know without playing whether Harmonize is any good of a keyword. Its immediate benefits are flexibility, interactivity of gameplay, and inherent build-around / reward mentality. But, its immediate issues are draw-dependency, polarized gameplay, and dangerous design space since it must be considered when is the earliest turn a Harmonize card can be played. Many praised the keyword in set reviews, and we included Blastback Bat as a “counter” to potentially dangerous Harmonize swarm decks. Finally, we also noticed that Blizzard likes to include a legendary that features the “fantasy” of a keyworded mechanic, that is, what would it mean to take the keyword to the extreme? We asked ourselves this question and arrived at either a card that made all your cards Harmonize with each other, or a card that was normally unplayable and required you to Harmonize an extreme combo to put it into play. We went with the latter for gameplay reasons, and Epicus Maximus was our final design. I think it well-replicates the feeling that cards like Colossus of the Moon, Zilliax and Master Oakheart create in regards to player perception of keyworded mechanics."
What's the deal with the new Composer cards you've introduced?
"Frostivus once pointed out that the most exceptional feature of Quests designs were its ability to provide a meta-game and mini-victory in each match of Hearthstone - even if a player does not win their match, they might feel rewarded in having completed their quest. I initially proposed a keyword called “Compose” which essentially acted as “Quest and Reward”. Once you play the required cards, it would immediately play them back with random targets.
We came to the consensus that while players generally enjoy random tempo-bombs like Yogg, Tess, and Shudderwock, they are just way too dependent on RNG and can be extremely frustrating in large quantities (Compose would have a card for each class, so it was simple too much). We tinkered with the idea of having the card simply return the cards you used to complete it to your hand, but this just felt like too much random crap in your hand and not nearly as satisfying a reward of the original quests of Un’Goro.
Instead of trying to innovate on the Quest formula too much, we decided to augment one of their biggest weaknesses - the restriction of draw and turn 1 play that they generally impose on the player. Composers are basically just quest minions where the quest is always active. We included Red Carpet Escort as a powerful neutral legendary tutor in order to compensate for our added draw-dependency, and I think we ended up with a pretty good result. Generally, we tried to create a diverse range of conditions & rewards. I think Cantor Cyrella does a great job at both of these. Nat’Khol was well received during the reveal, and we previously chose Metalface Dilla since the design team found it to be our most impressive composer."
Do you have anything behind the scenes you'd like to share? (I know you do)
"As previously alluded to, Wynnstock technically started development before Rise of Shadows was even revealed. There were some major hiatuses, but I’m glad we were finally able to release the set. We started the set with an idea of splitting up into initial and final design teams, but it never ended up working out - perhaps because of limited membership and availability, perhaps because of the lack of a rolling cycle of development like Team 5 has.
In Blizzard fashion, we wrote all of the flavor text in the last few days before release. Shout out to cheese for writing most of it.
Here’s some random fun cards I pulled out of our discord’s history (no context!):"
What's the most essential piece of advice you would give to people new to the fan creation community?
Maysick: "Find inspiration from any medium. I like music and physical board/card games."
Pircival: "Listen to all feedback. Even if it's not the best, there's a reason why they gave that feedback."
Acid: "Read. Read what others have made before - top cards, card competitions, custom expansions and classes - so that you know what you SHOULD be making in order to attract your audience. Also read design talks from members of team 5; those would help understanding what you SHOULDN'T be making - winmore, homogeneous, highroll, etc. The more you read, the better you are at making cards."
Do you have anything else you'd like to share?
"I wanted to create an impressive presentation for Wynnstock, so I created a card viewer website and took some inspiration from Hearthstone’s official reveal website. Once I am done adding some features, I will release it as open source.
Finally, I initially thought (as did others) that a music flavorspace for an expansion would be too limiting. Upon conclusion, I can say that this is definitely not the case. There are so many unexplored and scrapped ideas from a flavor perspective, and we were pretty careful about the ideas that ended up in the expansion. We kept the number of pop culture references and strict musical references in check, preferring to create cards that still made sense in a non-music expansion.
Thank you all for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed Wynnstock Festival."
That does it for this little mid-reveal FCS. Be sure to check out the expansion, and let us know what you think about it (and also Maysick himself if possible).