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Upcoming Hearthstone Game Mechanics Update

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Gameplay Engineer Josh Durica discusses a couple of upcoming changes to game mechanics.

These mechanics changes address some rare interactions (Disguised Toast has presented a lot of them in his videos), but they are still substantial changes in Hearthstone's core systems.

The first one is that "After" effects will only activate if they were present for the original action. The example presented in the video is that if you pull a Wild Pyromancer from your opponent with Shadow Visions, the Pyromancer won't trigger from the Shadow Visions.

The second change involves the sequence of triggers. Currently, the game checks for triggers first on the board, then on your hand and then in your deck (and with the same order for the second player). Now the game will simultaneously check for triggers in all three zones. This will prevent cards like Bolvar Fordragon to trigger off themselves.

A more in-depth explanation with various other examples and a glossary of terms can be found below:

Blizzard LogoDaxxarri

Hearthstone has a lot going on under the hood. The cause-and-effect relationships when cards are played are relatively straightforward and easy to predict, but because of the way certain events are timed, some very surprising things can happen in rare circumstances. We want cards to work the way that you guess they might—in other words, we want the game to work intuitively. 

In the upcoming patch, we’re making some changes in pursuit of that goal. We want Hearthstone to continue to be strategically deep: a game of careful choices, calculated risks, and exciting events. So we want to be extra clear that this update isn’t a change in depth; instead it’s one step in an ongoing effort improve Hearthstone’s mechanics.

Hearthstone’s core gameplay won't change, but what will change are some rare edge-cases. 

Please be aware: what follows is a detailed look at Hearthstone’s mechanics by Hearthstone Gameplay Engineer Josh Durica. If you want to delve into the nitty-gritty details regarding how this change will work, read on.

First, A Glossary
Event
Events
 are interactions that occur throughout gameplay that can cause triggers to activate when they happen. 

Example Events:
  • Whenever a Card is Played
  • After a Card is Played
  • Deathrattle (When this minion dies)
  • Whenever a Minion Takes Damage
  • At the End of Your Turn


Trigger
trigger has two parts: an event (usually starts with “Whenever”, “After”, or “At”), and an effect. Sometimes triggers can also have a condition (usually noted with “if” or “while”, but sometimes noted by qualifiers like “your”).

Example triggers:
  • Whenever you cast a spell, gain +1 Attack.
  • After you cast a spell, deal 1 damage to ALL minions.
  • At the end of your turn, give another random friendly minion +1 Health.
  • If you control a Secret at the end of your turn, gain +2/+2.


Zone
In Hearthstone, there are three zones where triggers can happen, and they happen in order: First, any triggers in the Battlefield, then those that occur in a player’s Hand, and finally those that belong to cards in a player’s Deck

Sequence
Whenever an action is taken, Hearthstone executes a sequence of steps to resolve what happens. 

Here’s a simplified example sequence:
 
  • ACTION: A card is played (this begins the sequence)
  • EVENT: Whenever A Card is Played
  • o Whenever A Card is Played triggers resolve

  • Card ability activates
  • EVENT: After a Card is Played event occurs
  • o After a Card is Played triggers resolve


Here’s what that sequence would look like using actual cards, if you had a Questing Adventurer and a Flamewaker on the board, and then played Frostbolt:
 
  • ACTION: Frostbolt is played (this begins the sequence)
  • EVENT: Whenever a Card is Played triggers resolve
  • o Questing Adventurer gains +1/+1 

  • Frostbolt’s text resolves: Deal 3 damage and freeze
  • EVENT: After a Card is Played triggers resolve
  • o Flamewaker shoots two missiles


This is a simple example, but a sequence can incorporate many events and triggers.

Keep in mind that dealing damage, destroying a minion, and other things can interrupt sequences with new sequences, like in this more detailed example:
 
  • ACTION: Frostbolt is played (this begins the sequence)
  • EVENT: Whenever a Card is Played triggers resolve
  • o Questing Adventurer gains +1/+1 

  • Frostbolt’s text resolves: Deal 3 damage and freeze
  • o NEW SEQUENCE: Damage dealt
    o EVENT: Whenever a Minion Takes Damage triggers resolve

  • EVENT: After a Card is Played triggers resolve
  • o Flamewaker shoots 1 missile

  • NEW SEQUENCE: Damage dealt
  • EVENT: Whenever a Card Takes Damage triggers resolve
  • o Flamewaker shoots another missile

  • NEW SEQUENCE: Damage dealt
  • EVENT: Whenever a Card Takes Damage triggers resolve


In Pursuit of the Goal
If you watched the video in our recent blog post, then you saw two different examples of cards triggering in counter-intuitive ways because they weren’t present when the sequence that activated them took place. That sets the stage for the primary goal we wanted to accomplish with these changes:

If you want to trigger off something, you need to be present and valid when that something first happens.

A more technical way to say this is: In order for a trigger to activate from a sequence, it needs to be present and valid at the time the sequence began.


This means any card featuring a trigger that appears in the middle of a sequence can’t activate during that sequenceSo, when you play a card (or when a card is destroyed, or an attack occurs, etc.) you only need to consider what is currently on the board instead of guessing what the board state might be in the middle of the sequence. The Mindgames + Wild Pyromancer interaction showcased in the video is an example of an interaction improved by this change.

The valid qualifier is more subtle, but equally important. Before any trigger can activate, it needs to be validated. Each trigger has its own specific validation step, which allows the trigger to filter when it should and shouldn’t activate. For example, the Whenever a Card is Played event occurs when any card of any type (Minion, Spell, Weapon, etc.) is played. However, we want a card like Flamewaker to only trigger when a friendly spell is cast, so the Flamewaker’s validation step checks the card type and controller of the card played. In other words, Flamewaker’s trigger is only valid if the card played was a spell cast by Flamewaker’s controller.

Before our changes, we would validate triggers whenever their related event occurred, even if that was in the middle of the sequence. After the mechanics update, all triggers are validated when the sequence begins, and then they are only allowed to activate if they were valid from the start. 

For further insight, let’s look at a bug that will be addressed by the update:

Currently, if you have a Djinni of Zephyrs on the board and cast Entomb on an enemy minion, your Djinni of Zephyrs will trigger, sending itself back to your deck. Not great for you or the Djinni! Djinni of Zephyrs triggers off the After a Card is Played event, and his validation step should only pass if the card played was a spell cast on a different friendly minion. Entomb is a spell, but it was cast on an enemy minion, so why does Djinni trigger? 

Remember: the After a Card is Played event occurs after the ability on the played card resolves. In this case, that card is Entomb, and its ability moves the enemy minion into your deck. When the enemy minion enters your deck, it becomes a friendly minion. So, by the time the After a Card is Played event occurs, Djinni’s trigger is valid, because the minion is now friendly. 

After the mechanics update, Djinni’s trigger is validated at the beginning of the sequence when the enemy minion is still on the battlefield, and because the trigger isn’t valid at that point (since Entomb counts as being cast on an enemy minion), it’s prevented from triggering when the After a Card is Played event occurs.

There is one final change we should mention, which is a tweak to when we validate triggers across different zones. Currently, the order in which triggers are validated and activated looks like this:

1) Validate Player 1 Battlefield triggers and then activate those that are valid.
2) Validate Player 1 Hand triggers and then activate those that are valid.
3) Validate Player 1 Deck triggers and then activate those that are valid.
4) Validate Player 2 Battlefield triggers and then activate those that are valid.
5) Validate Player 2 Hand triggers and then activate those that are valid.
6) Validate Player 2 Deck triggers and then activate those that are valid.

That approach meant new triggers could appear in the middle of a sequence and still be activated, and a trigger’s validation could even be affected by previous triggers’ activations. The Bolvar Fordragon/Spirit Echo interaction detailed in the video was an example of a weird interaction caused by this.

After the update, the order now looks like this:

1) Validate all Battlefield triggers
2) Validate all Hand triggers
3) Validate all Deck triggers
4) Activate Player 1 valid Battlefield triggers
5) Activate Player 1 valid Hand triggers
6) Activate Player 1 valid Deck triggers
7) Activate Player 2 valid Battlefield triggers
8) Activate Player 2 valid Hand triggers
9) Activate Player 2 valid Deck triggers

This means all triggers are validated before any trigger is allowed to activate. Since all triggers are validated using the same game state, then triggers that appear in the middle aren’t allowed to fire. It’s important to note that the order in which triggers are activated is unchanged. 

Here are some more examples of sequences and their results before and after the mechanics update:

Card Played
Example Interaction:

Player 1 has a Mad Scientist on the board, and a Mirror Entity in their deck.
Player 2 plays Stampeding Kodo.
Before Update
1) Stampeding Kodo kills Mad Scientist.
2) Mad Scientist pulls Mirror Entity into play.
3) Mirror Entity triggers, copying Stampeding Kodo.
After Update
1) Stampeding Kodo kills Mad Scientist.
2) Mad Scientist pulls Mirror Entity into play.
3) Mirror Entity does NOT trigger, because it did not exist when Stampeding Kodo was played.

Minion Destroyed
Example Interaction:

Player 1 has a Piloted Sky Golem and a Wisp on the board (played in that order).
Player 1 plays Deathwing.
The Piloted Sky Golem spawn a Cult Master from its Deathrattle.
Before Update:
The Cult Master's power triggers off of the Wisp's death, and Player 1 draws a card.
After Update:
The Cult Master does not trigger off the Wisp's death, because it wasn’t present to see the Wisp destroyed.

Summon Minion
Example Interaction:

Player 1 has Starving Buzzard and Rotface on the board.
Player 1 also has a Flame Leviathan on top of their deck.
Player 1 plays Savannah Highmane.
Starving Buzzard triggers off of Savannah Highmane, causing Player 1 to draw Flame Leviathan.
Flame Leviathan triggers, dealing 2 damage to all characters.
Rotface triggers off the damage and summons Spiritsinger Umbra.
Before Update:
Spirit Singer Umbra triggers off the Savannah Highmane and summons two hyenas.
After Update:
Spiritsinger Umbra does not trigger off the Savannah Highmane, because she was not present when Savannah Highmane was played.

Thanks for Reading!
Of course, our work to make Hearthstone better won’t stop here!
Like the majority of odd interactions, each of these situations represents an edge case. While this update will address every situation we illustrated (among many others), there are still bound to be more. Keep in mind these are substantial changes to the core systems that underlie Hearthstone! We need to make them incrementally, and with the utmost care, but you can rest assured that we’ll continue to make improvements over time. (source)

Part of these changes are the fixed interaction between Evolve and/or Thrall, Deathseer and Unlicensed Apothecary. In a future patch, the team is also planning to make sure evolve effects won't activate any summon triggers.

Blizzard Logojdurica

This mechanic change actually does not affect the Apothecary/Thrall interaction because that’s due to a different issue involving evolve effects activating certain summon triggers. However, we ARE specifically changing Apothecary in the next patch, so that it will no longer trigger off evolve effects.
Additionally, while it won’t make the next patch, we’re planning to make sure evolve effects won’t activate any summon triggers in the future. (source)

 


 

Another issue with UA that was mentioned on reddit at some point, is that he apparently triggers twice on minions that transform. I can see that it's much less relevant, but it would be nice to see it fixed anyhow.

This is something we plan to address! (source)

This mechanics update, along with the removal of Arena synergies, are expected to hit live servers within October.

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These changes makes things even less transparent to people that don't study these changes, making things even more counter-intuitive because these mechanics aren't explained in detail in the game. They weren't before either, which is one of my points of criticisms for this game.

 

One of my first points regarding this is that new players aren't told anywhere except outside of the game that casting Wild Growth on 10 mana crystals will cause you to draw a card. This is one of those prime examples where "Oh so I didn't have to cast that on turn 8 to prevent it becoming completely useless." or them keeping it in their hand for the rest of the match since they drew it when they had 10 mana already.

 

With these mechanical changes, you'd expect the tutorial to get an overhaul or addition where these changes are explained by the Innkeeper, so that new players can quickly get in-depth on these changes.

 

 

But hey, that doesn't sell card packs.

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5 minutes ago, Yridaa said:

These changes makes things even less transparent to people that don't study these changes, making things even more counter-intuitive because these mechanics aren't explained in detail in the game. They weren't before either, which is one of my points of criticisms for this game.

 

One of my first points regarding this is that new players aren't told anywhere except outside of the game that casting Wild Growth on 10 mana crystals will cause you to draw a card. This is one of those prime examples where "Oh so I didn't have to cast that on turn 8 to prevent it becoming completely useless." or them keeping it in their hand for the rest of the match since they drew it when they had 10 mana already.

 

With these mechanical changes, you'd expect the tutorial to get an overhaul or addition where these changes are explained by the Innkeeper, so that new players can quickly get in-depth on these changes.

 

 

But hey, that doesn't sell card packs.

Actually, it's more complex than "that doesn't sell packs", imho. It's not a matter of work, it's a matter of attenction span.

As a game designer, I think that the small tutorial and the abscence of a rulebook to read is a major point in the success of Hearthstone as a videogame.

You know, people downloading a game couldn't care less about the rule, they care about fun. Hearthstone rules are built to be the most easy to understand and remember; if you compare HS to other TCG like Magic or yugioh, you'll notice that the first have a lot less of text. This means both that HS cards can do less things (for example, we can't have minion with active abilities, because the only interaction possible with a minion on board is an order to attack) and that HS cards are faster to understand.

When I started playing HS, I used a murlock deck made of only basic card. I don't think it was a wise choice. Before the first time I saw a strange interaction I was already addicted to the game, and I didn't care about how many games I didn't use Wild Growth after 10 manas. Write on a basic card "Gain 1 addictional empty mana crystal OR a card that let you draw 1 card if you already have 10 mana crystals" is too much. Try to understand, for maximize their sale, HS must be written as us player were a bunch of idiots. Because this is what sells pack more then everything.

The same is about the tutorial: the smaller it is, the faster I go playing for real. The tutorial is boring. Playing is fun. So, there is the need to explein things common in tcg like the phase of the events, the priority of effects, etc; but it's only about the competitive sphere, that comes a lot after the first download. But it's the first download that make you stay or leave! It's the first download that decides if you'll buy cards or not!
So, the few of us interested in a better knowledge of the game have to go outside, even if it is important. I can't count how many games I have won thanks to Toast's video about strange interactions between cards.

 

Sorry for the walltext, I hope to have explained well myself :)

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Yes I do understand the post. I think that's exactly the problem nowadays though; that people need games to be very simple to be fun.

 

Every time a new season starts I'm surprised to see people still break Divine Shield before using cards like Assassinate or Deadly Shot.

 

I guess it's just easy free wins for us that understand the mechanics very well but I'd still rather see a more even playing field.

 

As for card text, you could simply add it in the inspect window (Where you can also read the flavor text in your collection for each card) or have something like an in-game pedia that explains "Divine shield prevents damage but does not absorb "destroy" effects"; just very simple things like that.

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I don't think this really impacts new players to be honest. I certainly didn't know how things sequenced as a new player, whether it worked as it does now or as it will in the future would've had zero impact on my early game experience.

The information is out there for people who want to understand everything in depth. I don't see that it matters whether it's in-game or not. If people want to learn, they will. If they don't, they likely won't read walls of text in-game either.

Stuff like wild growth and divine shield, sure, it could be explained better. But it doesn't exactly take long to figure out. I can't remember hurling my tablet away in a fit of rage when I first figured out I'd missed a few card draws from wild growth. A lot of stuff that isn't explained becomes pretty evident just through playing.

Edited by Bozonik

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I love this: it explains why game design is difficult: it requires logical thought processes and attention to detail.

(Criticizing game design is easy.  Anyone can do it.)

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32 minutes ago, mimech said:

I love this: it explains why game design is difficult: it requires logical thought processes and attention to detail.

(Criticizing game design is easy.  Anyone can do it.)

The only complaints I saw about Hearthstone's rulebook are that there are bugs or illogical interactions coming from overly complicated rules, such as the Dominant Player issue, and that the rulebook is too complicated (see for yourself), and as a result many cards are worded inconsistently, like paladin secrets or transform effects pre-KFT. 

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I believe that in order for one to be able to claim that rules are overly complicated one needs to be able to demonstrate a simpler set, or at the least an example of such.

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9 hours ago, mimech said:

I believe that in order for one to be able to claim that rules are overly complicated one needs to be able to demonstrate a simpler set, or at the least an example of such.

There are many simpler rule sets, though most of them are for games that do not match what Hearthstone is, or is trying to be. So, the best example would be HS rulebook itself, but simplified. Removing the Quad Queue and Dominant Player issue to make the game more consistent, same for paladin secrets and mid-phase triggers. It was already shown that simplifying the rulebook is possible after Unlicensed Apothecary interactions and Explosive Sheep + Poison Seeds combo were fixed.

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