Does Hearthstone Need A New Board Space for Ongoing Effects?

Hearthstone largely trades on its simplicity when compared with existing trading-card games. There’s no fumbling with different kinds of mana, no interrupting the opponent’s turn with your own effects, no recycling cards from a graveyard. There is also no board space exclusively for ongoing effects (like Magic: The Gathering‘s enchantments). This is, perhaps, increasingly becoming a problem, especially since Blizzard is introducing effects that do indeed continue to exist without the presence of anything on the board.

Consider the newly announced Shaman legendary minion, The Mistcaller. The Mistcaller gives all minions in your hand and deck Mistcaller+1/+1. It’s a Battlecry, so it could be considered a one-time effect. But it’s an effect that lingers, impacting every minion played from then on, regardless of whether The Mistcaller remains on the board. Ten turns after he dies, minions will still be getting the buff.  Or, arguably, they already have. But from the opposing player’s perspective,  there’s (at least from what we’ve seen) nothing to remind him that this effect continues. It’s not so much a problem if only The Mistcaller does this, but if more of the same type of effect is introduced, remembering all of the effects in play will be a hindrance.

There are other cards with effects that can also cut across many turns without any indication on the board. Paladin’s Dragon Consort can cheapen a dragon played a dozen turns after it dies. This may well be relevant to the game plan of the opponent, but they will have to remember this effect, too, long after it has left the board.

The new card Fencing Coach will operate the same way, with an effect that might linger until it’s Fencing Coachused long after the Fencing Coach has left the board. These cards are noticeably different than the earlier cost-diminishing effects like Preparation or Kirin Tor Mage, both of which are limited to the turn in which they are played.

This trend is likely to continue. While there were none in the early sets, more recent sets have introduced cards that have effects that depend on things that the board does not track. Nothing tracks minions that have died (like Magic’s graveyard), but Resurrect pulls a minion from that hidden pool. And the new Frost Giant’s cost is reduced based on the number of times the controller’s hero power has been used, something that is also untracked.

But lingering effects should be tracked, lest they become a nuisance to follow in future expansions. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have cards that provide ongoing effects, but these need to be revealed in order for them not to be overwhelming.

Hearthstone currently has three places where lingering effects are typically shown. The first is the seven minion slots, where minions with a lightning bolt symbol carry ongoing conditions that trigger when certain conditions are met. Put a Gadgetzan Auctioneer on the board, and you draw a card each time you play a spell. Of course, the effect stops as soon as the Gadgetzan Auctioneer is killed.

The second place is the weapon slot. Put a Sword of Justice in place, and each minion played gets +1/+1 until the weapon runs out of durability. If the opponent destroys it with an Acidic Swamp Ooze, the effect, too, disappears.

Secrets, in a sense, are also lingering effects, ones that only trigger once, but whose trigger can be delayed across multiple turns. These might affect the board state, but they’re relatively limited in relevance across the entire game.

None of these spots make particular sense to host a new global effects notifier. A new one should be introduced, taking some of the plentiful board real-estate. Doing so not only ensures that future cards that create ongoing effects won’t be too hard to follow, but also allows for new types of cards that might both create and interact with lingering effects. In a sense, these might be like Magic: The Gathering‘s enchantments. They’re cards that stay in play, but aren’t creatures, and can only be affected by cards that specifically target them. Doing this would open a whole new level of depth to Hearthstone.

Consider a powerful Paladin spell that gives every minion played thereafter Divine Shield. This would obviously be a card that gained in value the longer the gameMaiden of the Lake went, and one the opponent would want to deal with before it proved overwhelming, The opponent might therefore have creatures with Battlecries that can remove such effects from their new home on the board.

Of course, this does increase the complexity of the game. But with it, it increases both deck building options and the design space in which Blizzard could operate. They’re already releasing one card that creates what is effectively a global enchantment, but it doesn’t appear they’re giving that effect any game space.

Consider also Inspire, the new mechanic in The Grand Tournament that will trigger whenever a hero power is used. The ability often feels underwhelming, because in order to utilize any combos from it, a number of creatures with Inspire abilities or relevant effects need to stay on the board, like Maiden of the Lake. Getting these cards to stay on board is likely to be about as difficult as transforming Mimiron's Head. It would be much more interesting if some of these effects could linger off of Battlecries, or perhaps be created simply by spell cards. Maiden of the Lake would likely be better as a 4-cost spell with the same effect, despite not getting the 2/6 body. At least you’d be able to rely on the reduction in hero power across multiple turns.

I hope to see some innovation in this space. Of course, there are also a lot of other mechanics that could be added, and this might just be one. But almost anything that adds more depth, more strategy, is good in my view.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Matthew Marinett

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