Blizzard Almost Changed The Warlock Hero Power In Hearthstone, But Could Not Create A Replacement

Developer Dean “Iksar” Ayala recently took to Twitter to answer a wide range of Hearthstone-related questions, and one of the more interesting revelations was about the Warlock Hero Power. Blizzard apparently discussed changing the ability during the early stages of the game but could not find a reasonable replacement, so the plan was scrapped. This is fascinating to learn, because the Warlock class in Hearthstone has always been known for its unparalleled card advantage.

Life Tap – The Strongest Hero Power

Hero Powers reinforce a core aspect of class identity in Hearthstone. Jaina commands fire, Thrall summons totems, and Gul’dan sacrifices a small bit of himself for increased power, which in Hearthstone, translates to card advantage through more opportunities to draw through your deck.

On paper, any Trading Card Game (TCG) player would look at Life Tap and wonder how such a powerful ability made it into the game, as card advantage is one of the most important components to a winning strategy. This is truer in Hearthstone than other games due to a smaller deck size compared to something like Magic: The Gathering, as mana is automatically generated with each turn.

Put simply, the more effectively you draw through your deck, the more options are available for play each turn, which gave rise to several Warlock deck archetypes throughout the years. From the beginnings of Hearthstone, Handlock and Zoolock dominated the meta, both made possible by the ability to reliably draw cards as needed. Over the years, Zoolock has remained a viable deck, while Handlock has evolved but relies on quickly building a large hand size.

Bad Cards To Compensate For Too Much Power

Over the years, Blizzard has settled on revealing new expansions with a slow drip feed of card reveals. Every so often, Warlock gets some great cards that synergize towards making something meta defining, but all to often its newer cards feel dull compared to the shiny new toys given to the nine other classes. In short, this is because of Life Tap, as Blizzard cannot give great cards to a class with the best Hero Power. There needs to be balance, and that means creating cards that do not seem as impactful.

What Could Reliably Replace Life Tap?

Iksar stated that no change was ultimately made to the Warlock Hero Power because they could find a reasonable replacement, but what are some of the options they could have gone with?

One option might be to keep the spirit of Life Tap intact based on the Warlock class in World of Warcraft, sacrificing health for mana. The Hero Power could cost no mana, and upon activation, take two hit points in exchange for a single mana crystal refill. Cards like Flame Imp and Kobold Librarian already deal damage to the Warlock to compensate for an advantage in stats or card text, so this would be on brand for the power-hungry Orc. This would be exceptionally powerful in the early game, and gradually less impactful as the game progresses.

Another option would be to rework the ability completely. Warlocks in World of Warcraft Classic could select a talent called Soul Link, which forces their demonic pet to take a portion of the damage done to their masters. A Soul Link Hero Power might allow you to choose a minion to take damage whenever you would be damaged instead, exactly as the Legendary neutral minion Bolf Ramshield does from the Grand Tournament expansion.

Finally, Blizzard could simply nerf Life Tap in its present form. With the addition of the Demon Hunter class, we have seen that Blizzard is willing to break from the old requirement of 2-mana Hero Powers. Life Tap could be changed to cost three mana instead of two, effectively meaning that card draw on demand is still available, but at a far greater cost. It would be used less, and in turn, the years of card advantage afforded to Warlocks would come down to a more reasonable level.

Theoretical discussions around the Warlock Hero Power being changed can only be that: purely within the realm of theory. No matter how hard Blizzard would want to change the ability now to free up design space for the class, doing so would effectively destroy Warlock decks in Standard, and far more in Wild.

Changing Life Tap now might level the playing field going forward, but it means that years of underpowered card sets would be even weaker without the ability to quickly draw through a deck. Zoolock would have no reliable refill, and Handlock variants would no longer be able to quickly reach maximum hand size. If a change were to have been made, it would have been in the early days of Hearthstone, but it is still interesting to consider how the class might have been designed under a completely different ability.

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The Fantastic, Science-Fiction, and Horror are Patricio’s go-to genres for literature, film, and gaming. Dead by Daylight is his daily bread and butter as he writes for TheGamer. He teaches Spanish at McGill by day and writes next to his Staffy x Boxer rescue from the SPCA by night.

Patricio graduated from the University of Alberta in 2006, 2012, and will have one more degree in hand by 2020. Innovation in game development, the economics of making games profitable, and the downward, decadent spiral of former great gaming companies fuels his soul to write daily. Will Blizzard Entertainment do something controversial often enough to keep this reference relevant? Patrick certainly believes they will.

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