Get ready to dive into the underwater not-quite-paradise of Zin-Azshari when the Voyage to the Sunken City expansion arrives to Hearthstone in the coming April. We had an interview session with Chadd Nervig, Features Team Lead and Valerie Chu, Senior Narrative Designer, regarding the latest card set. It introduce new keywords ( Dredge, Colossal ) and a new minion type ( Naga ), surely to be further expanded with a mini-set soon enough.
Dredge is a keyword that lets you look at the bottom of your deck, while Colossal live up to their names as being huge monsters and creatures. The Colossal creatures share the oceans with the Naga, who are the original denizens of Zin-Azshari.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
How do you guys balance the new race / keywords so that the current cards are still meta and not powercreep?
Chadd Nervig: Let’s talk about the Naga a little. They’re a new minion type that are very spell focused. For example, the Spellcoiler is a pretty basic version of a Naga. Its effect is “Battlecry: If you’ve cast a spell while holding this, Discover a spell.”
You’re going to see Naga be played in a whole bunch of different classes in some regard, some making full deck archetypes around them. About getting that balance right, this is part of a new rotation / Standard year, so you’re going to see a whole lot of new deck archetypes in play too. We do a whole lot to ensure that the balance is just right to allow for new cards and new gameplay to show up in the meta.
Will this expansion make a certain class rise into the meta? Will we see the new card additions be a bit more balanced among all classes? Which class do you think will benefit the most?
Chadd Nervig: There’s no goal to increase the power or popularity of individual classes specifically, but there is for different playstyles. I think the rotation will help slow down how things play out, and give an opportunity for things like Colossal cards – massive minions that are split across multiple minion slots – time to see play.
Speaking of the Colossal keyword, could you give an example of it in actual play?
Chadd Nervig: The new Colossal keyword is on these massive creatures that are too big to fit on one minion. They start as one card but whichever way they enter the battlefield – through playing, recruiting, copying, etc. – they come with their appendages, splitting their main body, into their arms. The main body and appendages have interesting synergies to play into your class or deck archetyle, or simply be generally strong minions.
For example, Colaque, the Druid Colossal, is a massive sea turtle that works as a general purpose Druid minion that can go into a lot of decks. One thing I like about these cards is that they’re painted as one large mural / art piece that each individual minion is a part of.
Valerie Chu: I really like the Colossals because they create this excitement in your match, changing the pace in a big way that is fun to either tackle the challenge, or throwing down the gauntlet to your opponent.
DESIGNING THE EXPANSION
Which comes first: the expansion setting or the keywords?
Chadd Nervig: The overall theme and flavour is generally the starting point as the inspiration to come up with mechanics to match it. Brainstorming for a new expansion takes place many, many months ahead of time, a process that takes about a year or so till actually launching the expansion. We have a bunch of expansions that are in progress or in consideration whenever we start a new one, and the mechanics kind of affect which expansion to work on each time. We just try a lot of things and see what works best for the time.
Valerie Chu: One of the guiding ideas that got everyone thinking was the idea of going underwater. Zin-Azshari stuck out as a very historically important location in the Warcraft universe, and in Hearthstone, we have the ability to explore new places, see new sides of the region that you maybe didn’t get to spend too much time in before.
Another thing was just bringing in Sir Finley, right? Because he’s a Murloc, he’s great in the water, but we never really got to see him underwater before. It turns out he’s having a wonderful time, and all those underwater creatures are also getting their time in the sun, especially the Naga getting to be their own tribe and centerpiece of the set instead of a few cards here and there. We get to see how they work together and their relationship with the magic and arcane, and it’s especially exciting when you know their lore; former Highborne Night Elves who used magic to disastrous effect on Azeroth.
Chadd Nervig: For the times the card you need is at the bottom of your deck, Dredge is the keyword for you. You get to look at 3 of them, and pick 1 to put at the top of your deck. It skews your next draw, and adds a new element of your bottom of your deck being the central focus for a bunch of cards. Take the Azsharan Sweeper which puts a stronger version of itself at the bottom of the deck; you Dredge it up, and you can get an advantage.
Valerie Chu: It pays to plan ahead! You never know what’s lurking next to the sunken card, so I’ve really enjoyed playing with that.
Will the new keywords be exclusive to the Naga deck / have the most synergies with Naga or will it be available in older archetypes?
Chadd Nervig: Naga is a permanent, evergreen addition to the game, so we’re going back to update existing minions to have the Naga minion type where applicable. Within Voyage to the Sunken City, Colossal and Dredge are keywords specific to this expansion.
The new keywords is thematic with the whole water world setting, but were there others that you thought of that didn’t quite make the cut? An idea of what could have been?
Chadd Nervig: We had different versions of Colossal. Would they work as an extra large minion that took up multiple spaces on the board? Or maybe having the appendages and main body sharing health? The one we felt had the most synergy is the version you see now, where they come into play together and have interactions that would otherwise behave as separate minions or parts.
For a lot of these designs, the keywords were always with us early in development, but how exactly they worked took a lot of iteration to settle on.
What is the “vision” behind Dredge, and how you’d think it will work in the meta?
Chadd Nervig: Dredge is ultimately about changing the direction of how your draws happen and have synergies with the bottom of your deck. The “vision” was that you’re exploring this undersea world you want to explore, and find relics, treasure, to bring it back to the surface. Balance wise, I think it will create new elements players will work around and optimize to their playstyle.
ABOUT FUTURE CONTENT
Will Naga be available in Battlegrounds?
Chadd Nervig: There’s plenty of potential, but for now, we’re focused on the initial launch of the expansion.
Voyage to the Sunken City seems like a setting that would be nice to see in Mercenaries.
Chadd Nervig: We’re not going to talk about what Mercenaries content will be in Voyage to the Sunken City, but we have some great content coming up.
How about characters that you haven’t yet been able to fit into expansions, could you tease more about the future stuff?
Valerie Chu: Well, we’re headed to the realm of Azshara and the Naga, so we’ll be seeing what sort of influence she’s had on these set of cards. We’re also always looking at hero skins, who would be good to add to Hearthstone. Please keep an eye out, and we’d love to hear who you want to see as a playable hero, Mercenary, or in other modes.
This round, we featured Ambassador Faelin in the cinematic, Sir Finley coming back for some time in the spotlight, and the mechagnome Ini Stormcoil who’s the engineer of the ship. You’ll get to see more of her when we get to Faelin’s storyline.
What is your fave card from the expansion?
Valerie Chu: I really love Ambassador Faelin. He’s got such a fun personality. Then the Colossal cards are really a highlight of this expansion and his ability ties into those. Faelin’s always causing trouble wherever he shows up.
Chadd Nervig: I want to echo that appreciation for Ambassador Faelin. I also want to highlight the Azsharan Sweeper and Sunken Sweeper, not necessarily as individual cards that are my favourite but the Mech Mage archetype is coming back for a more modern take, so I’m excited for that.
Thanks to Chadd Nervig and Valerie Chu for taking the time to answer our questions! How’s your theorycrafting going with the revealed cards so far? The next Grandmasters after the expansion should be giving a good idea of how the meta’s settling in that seabed…
Voyage to the Sunken City will be launching in Hearthstone 12 April 2022. Full details can be found through the official blog.