I asked again if this was a way to increase spending from players, and Thompson said, “No, it’s not focused on that at all.”

I played it during an event near Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, California, this week. But that’s embargoed until a later date. I can say that after nearly testing it for about 6 hours, I didn’t get bored. The deck construction options — choosing from three hero powers and deck archetypes — made it more enjoyable and engaging. I stopped playing Rastakhan’s Rumble after a couple of weeks because it felt just like Dungeon Runs and Monster Hunt (I just completed my first 8-win run Wednesday, re-energized after playing this).

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t care for the single-player mode in Rumble, and Thompson notes how the community feedback played a part in these changes.

“I hope they do see we looked at Rastakhan’s Rumble and the feedback that they gave us about that as where things like the extra rewards, inherent rewards, within each chapter come from. Certainly that’s where tracking came from as well, this response to — why isn’t there some way to follow along which shrines I picked and which ones I won with, or which heroes or which class specifically I won with when it came down to Rikkar picking a specific class?” Thompson said. “All of those responses and that feedback absolutely played into a lot of the changes that we made in this mode, in ways we believe made this better. We really appreciated the feedback from the community.”

I asked if it was important that the players think that all these changes just didn’t come in response to their Rumble criticism, that some of these things were in development before Rastakhan came out.

“I don’t know how important it is for players to know we were working on it for more than a year. As long as the content we are making is compelling, engaging, brings a smile to people’s faces — and yes, I do hope it resembles or shows that we’re listening to players when it comes to the feedback they have from these previous experiences,” Thompson said. “If we’re going to see them as learning opportunities, then we need to treat them as such. We need to see the parts where players were really engaged and felt very excited, and also the parts that they felt could use some work.”

“As we head into 2019, we really are doubling our commitment to talk more with the community and engage them more in these kinds of decisions as they’re made. Really ask and solicit for their feedback,” Thompson added.

One of my favorite aspects of this was stumbling across what I felt could be a new way to play — Heal Druid. It worked well, and it felt good playing it. And it felt like something new, something I’ve never done before in Hearthstone. And that itself is an accomplishment after nearly five years of Hearthstone.

Better AI deckbuilder

Back when Hearthstone launched, I loved to play against friends with random decks. And they were true random decks — the builder would just throw 30 cards from your collection together. In 2016, Hearthstone introduced Deck Recipes, which are prebuilt decks you can craft. If you don’t have the cards, Hearthstone’s AI will suggest replacements.

It … wasn’t that good.

The new deckbuilder will still have recipes, but it’ll suggest cards that fit the current metagame. But you’ll also be able to make a deck of 1, 2, up to 29 cards and get recommendations from this new AI.

Random cardback generator

Above: Yes, I’m excited for this Random cardback to appear.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

I have 79 cardbacks in my collection, and Hearthstone offers a couple dozen more that I don’t have. But it’s a pain to change cardbacks. I tend to just use the same one for each deck. Hearthstone does so you can choose a specific cardback for each deck.

With the Year of the Dragon, Hearthstone is introducing a random cardback that, well, assigns a random cardback for each match. Lead designer Mike Donais said this will appear “from time to time” as well. I’m looking forward to playing each match with a different cardback. It’s a small thing, but such quality-of-life improvements do make a difference to some players. I’ll also get a kick out of seeing different cardbacks each match.

Arena: Seasons and Golden Heroes

The Year of the Dragon will see a shake up in Arena. It’s getting seasons, two-month blocks that will alternate between Standard and Wild (with the latest set of cards always in the rotation). This is subject to change, Blizzard said. So when this goes live, it’ll start with an Arena season with two months of Standard, and then it’ll rotate with two months of Wild sets plus the next expansion.

The idea here is to offer more variety to Arena players, as the mode can get stale between card changes and micro-adjustments to the offering buckets.

“I do believe the point there is to keep switching up the meta within Arena in a way that draws from old cards, but also new ones as well from time to time,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t create a stagnant Arena meta. Some of this came from Tavern Brawls recently that a lot of people will point to and say, ‘We did something similar in Tavern Brawls. Is this a part of that?’ Yeah, I think there were some learnings pulled from the tavern brawl. We found there were a lot of fun and interesting moments that happened when we did that. We do think there’s value in making Arena feel fresh and new and different from time to time, rather than letting it stay in a general gray area for so long.”

I asked if Arena players could expect other changes in Year of the Dragon.

“Possibly? I don’t think the design team even 100 percent knows yet,” Thompson said. “We’re very interested to see what player reaction is to this. We hope that the players let us know what they think of it and provide feedback for it. We think there’s a lot of fun here, just from the ever-changing side of it, but as we know more about what players find engaging and exciting and what maybe just elicits a shrug, then we’ll know what the next steps are.”

One quality-of-live improvement coming to Arena involves Golden Heroes. Right now, wins don’t count toward the 500 you need to earn a Golden Hero. But that will soon be changing. Players who focus on Arena may never play enough games in the other modes to earn progress toward these glittering portraits, so this will be a welcome change for them.

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