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Tweaking The Death Knight Rune System

For this challenge I wanted to take a look at the newest class to enter the Hearthstone roster, Death Knight. I personally love the flavor, mechanics, and the playstyle it brings to the game. The current Rune system restricts Death Knight more than any other class and it looks like it will be a design barrier for the class moving forward given the limited card pool. In this Design Challenge I will present my proposal for altering the Rune system.


All card art used is AI generated and was utilized to help mock up designs. The following designs are mine alone. I acknowledge some designs might need some tweaking and balance testing depending on the game state Hearthstone is in. I did my best to test out a majority of my cards with paper print outs and Innkeeper battles. 


Rune System

What Is The Current System?

The current Rune system allows Death Knight cards to have 0-3 Runes of the 3 types, Blood, Frost, and Unholy as all one type or as a mixture of Runes. However, a deck can only have cards in it that meet the rune requirements. This means that if you have 1 or more other Rune cards in a deck triple Rune cards cannot be included. The System as a whole was designed to promote deck building and create a give and take between the archetypes that each Rune supports. Aside from deckbuilding the runes do not serve a gameplay purpose. 

Rune System

What Is The Real Problem Here?

The main problem lies in the deck restriction of the Rune system. Each expansion grants a class 10 cards and each mini-set grants 3 more for a total of 13. By creating a secondary restriction on those 13 cards it heavily limits deck diversity in Death Knight. In a sense each Rune is it's own subclass of Death Knight and 13 cards is not a lot of room to make 3 unique archetypes for a set when other classes usually need all 13 cards to create 1-2.

The way it could be done is either all Death Knight cards in an expansion are geared toward a set of runes, or they are dispersed across the expansions of the year. Both methods hurt the class as a whole. If each expansion set is a given Rune, then players are stuck with the same archetype for a year or have to wait to play their favorite. If the cards are dispersed then the class is at a very low power level throughout the year until the final expansion of the standard cycle.

Since Death Knight's release it has had 3 core archetypes: Blood Control, Frost Combo, and Unholy Swarm. Triple Rune cards were designed to be build around cards like Lord Marrowgar, Soul Stealer, and Frostwyrm's Fury. This promotes players to choose all 3 of a rune rather than branch out. This was deemed an issue due to the Discover mechanic generating these very powerful triple rune cards. Do to this triple rune cards were removed from the Discover pool.


Rune System

Why Change Runes?

The Rune system currently limits card design for the Death Knight class moving forward. The system does give Death Knight a third dimension when it comes to deck building, but it does come at a steep cost. Locking class cards based off of runes of cards in a deck is intended to promote deckbuilding, but in practice actually hurts it. 

I really enjoy the concept of the Rune system and the thinking it promotes. However, when compared to other classes it feels like a handicap more than anything. 


Rune System

Rune Downgrade Proposal

My suggestion to alter the Rune system would be to downgrade the runes on most Death Knight cards and plan to make primarily 0-2 rune cards in the future. By making most Death Knight cards 0-2 runes it loosens restrictions on deckbuilding which gives Death Knights their deck diversity back while keeping the rune flavor of the class. Do to this I think triple rune cards should be created very rarely and if so during the 2nd or 3rd expansion of a year in order to grant enough card variety to make a full deck of 1 rune type.

In order to do this some triple and double rune cards might need a bit of tweaking to bring down their power level when moved to 1 or 2 runes, but over all I think it will go a long way in making card and archetype design a lot easier on the team. This isn't a huge overhaul of the Rune system, but rather a tweak to make design and the class less restricted in the long run.


Rune System

Rune Activation Proposal

This proposal would remove the deck restriction aspect from runes and instead give runes a new meaning. During deck building up to 3 runes can be chosen for a deck. Cards with those runes will have their runes glow blue in game showing they are active. For example, a deck with 2 frost runes and a blood rune will activate cards with 2 frost runes as well as cards with 1 blood rune, but not a triple frost rune card, a card with 2 or more blood runes, or any unholy rune cards. Active rune cards trigger an effect when played based on the runes they have for each rune they have. For example, in order to have all 3 runes activate you must have a deck that has all 3 of those runes otherwise only some of the runes would trigger.

Rune Effects:

Blood: Give your hero +2 Health
Frost: Deal 1 damage to the lowest health enemy
Unholy: Summon a 1/1 Undead

This system allows for all cards to be put into a Death Knight deck. However, it still stays true to the Rune system mechanic of adding deck building complexity. By tying a bonus to runes it changes the design philosophy of Death Knight. Instead of runes relating to the power level of cards it now is a mechanic that will impact the card's design. For example, a 2 mana 2/2 Rush with 1 blood rune and an unholy rune could find a home in a deck where it supports 1 rune, the other, or both. This would also mean that many rune cards would have to be rebalanced.

Seep Cards

I designed a Seep minion and spell for each class as well as a weapon for Shaman and Demon Hunter. For theming I leaned into One Night in Karazhan setting revisited with some new inspirations from old god style cards. This is a keyword I can see working really well alongside a return of the Corrupt keyword in a core set similar to how Magnetic made it's return in the year of the wolf.

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Bounties are a new type of legendary spell. At the start of the game if a bounty card is in your decklist it shuffles the bounty target into the opposing player's deck.

At the start of the turn when a player's mana crystals is equal to the cost of the bounty target it jumps into play for free from their hand or deck making room if it needs to. Killing, transforming, or bouncing a bounty target completes the bounty. This transforms the legendary bounty card where ever it is into the reward. 

Bounty Targets are marked with a crossed swords banner and Bounty Rewards are marked with a star banner.


Pie In The Sky

I had many ideations on the bounty gimmick at first. Early in development bounties were complicated and acted more like quests. Some of my early card designs led me to the rule of one way to complete a bounty which is removing the bounty target. 

When designing bounties I wanted to capture the feeling of being jumped by a boss or encounter while adventuring or battling. 
This led me to mana crystal timed encounters. This design allowed for the player building their deck with a bounty to know when the target arrives on board so they can plan for it.



Expansion For Bounties

The Bounty Gimmick came to me when thinking about traveling around in Azeroth, primarily in the Alterac region and how it might be similar to adventuring in RPGs or DnD. What encounters would you have navigating dangerous roads? What evils might be causing issues near by that would make people put out a bounty?

I thought it would be really fun for each class to have a bounty and a bounty hunter that has some connection to the target. It would allow for a lot of fun characters in an expansion and the theme of adventuring out in dangerous land for a reward.


Design Direction

I designed bounties to be skill testing for both deck building and in-game play. Bounties act as planned negatives with strong upsides upon removal. This gimmick would work perfect in an expansion cycle with minion removal and minion based combat. There are a ton of design opportunities to explore as well as flavor for hunting down enemies.


Bounty Cards

I designed 5 neutral legendaries as well as 2 legendaries for each class since each class has a legendary bounty, bounty reward, and normal legendary for the expansion. Card number 1 "Tal'Gran" is the only neutral bounty and he is also the free legendary given out to all players prior to the launch of the expansion. When designing bounties I did a lot of research into notable WoW figures and ones that could be stirring up trouble in the Alterac Mountains. I wanted the bounties to feel exciting, unique, and rewarding while also having the normal set legendaries playing into the themes and ways to kill the bounty targets. 

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The Evoker class is all about the Dragon Flights, Spells, Essence, and Empowering cards. Evokers in deck creation choose a dragon flight out of the 5. The dragon flight chosen determines their hero power in dragon form. 

The Evoker class has the unique Keyword called Aspect. Aspect Cards enter the hero into dragon form for a turn replacing their normal hero power. Aspect is shown as a banner like Tradable under the mana cost. The color of the dragon head symbol matches the selected Dragon Flight in deckbuilding.

Essence is a resource acquired by Evokers from casting spells and it can be spent on cards similar to Death Knights with Corpses.

I believe the face of Evokers should be Wrathion. He is the last remaining pure black dragon and the concept of staying hidden works well for a new class revealing themselves. He is a beloved character and would work perfectly for a prologue teaching players Evoker.

Other characters that would work well as cosmetic Evoker heroes would be: Kazakus, Lady Prestor, Reno Jackson, Victor Nefarius, The Main Dragon Aspects, and the Dracthyr Scalecommanders. Dragon form heroes could also change appearance based on the base Evoker hero players have selected. 


Evoker Identity

When designing Evoker I wanted to capture what they are known for in World of Warcraft. I explored their two routes of Preservation and Devastation as well as the role of dragons in their lore and creation. By dragon flight selection only effecting the Dragon Form hero power it allows for a lot of deck building creativity based around it. Each dragon flight having something they are good at thematically can promote cool deckbuilding and future card design. 

Base Evoker Hero Power
Channeled Blast:
1 Mana Deal 1 Damage to a Minion and Gain 1 Essence.
(Upgraded) Chromatic Blast: 1 Mana Deal 2 Damage to a Minion and gain 2 Essence.

Red Aspect: Passive: Minions Cost 1 Less, But Spells Cost 1 More. Cannot cost less than 1 or more than 10. Theme: (Minion) (Zoo) (Armor) (Rush)

Blue Aspect: Passive: Spells Cost 1 Less, But Minions Cost 1 More. Cannot cost less than 1 or more than 10. Theme: (Spell) (Combo) (Spell Damage) (Mana Discount)

Green Aspect: 2 Mana Give Your minions +1/+1, your opponent draws a card. Theme: (Buffs) (Healing) (Midrange) (Essence)

Bronze Aspect: 2 Mana add a copy of the first card you played last turn to your hand, but you don’t draw a card at the start of your next turn. (Value) (Time Manipulation) (Control) (Card Generation) 

Black Aspect: 2 Mana Give Enemy minions -1/-1, but your minions transform into random ones of the same mana cost if they attack this turn. Theme: (Debuffs) (Transform) (Aggro) (Weapons)



Evoker Expansion

When researching World of Warcraft lore I found out that Evokers Empower their allies. In a past design challenge I designed a keyword called Empower which allowed players to pay mana by dragging an Empower card over their hero to upgrade it. This fit Evokers perfectly. I really liked how the keyword Dormant was introduced and made Evergreen with the Demon Hunter class and I think Empower would work perfectly in the expansion Evokers are introduced.

The expansion I came up with is "Era of the Incarnates." Incarnates are powerful elemental dragons imprisoned by the dragon aspects long ago in the Dragon Isles. Having an expansion where they break out and each class gets an elemental dragon incarnate would be really fun and it would be a perfect time for Evokers and Dracthyr to enter the game thematically.


Design Direction

The Evoker class has tons of room to grow. The dragon flight's themes help keep the class on track design wise. This allows for Evoker card design to stay in line long term without the restrictions of Runes like Death Knight. In testing with the base class cards I designed it was really fun to make decks based around specific dragon flights or multiple to fill in the areas certain dragon flights lack in. I could see expansion design making really cool archetypes with this and it's a type of deckbuilding and class that the game hasn't seen before.

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Evoker Cards

I designed 32 core Evoker cards and 10 Evoker expansion cards similar to Death Knight when it came out. I dove deep into the WoW Evoker class with their Preservation and Devastation specializations, lore, play style, and abilities. It may sound weird, but I decided to not split the class into Preservation and Devastation like Death Knight and the rune system. The reasons for my decision is that It felt too similar to Death Knight in testing, it fractured the class identity too much, and it heavily limited future card design. Due to these reasons I explored the dragon aspects and landed with my Dragon Form hero power selection during deck building. This made the Evoker class unlike any other and paved the way for archetypes and the class moving forward without hard limitations.

Designing a class from the ground up is no easy feat and it took me months to fine tune. I designed Evoker to be a easy to learn hard to master class. It has 3 core pieces being Aspect, Empower, and Essence. I'm very pleased with how Evoker played in my paper tests and it become something I can really see entering the game in a couple years. After designing the core of the class it became really exciting to work on the Evoker introduction expansion "Era of the Incarnates" which takes place in the Dragon Isles and has Raszageth as their class Incarnate. For this expansion I wanted to expand on Aspect a bit more as an archetype while also providing hints at where the class could go moving forward.

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