The Future of Hearthstone’s Arena

The reveal of a few cards from Hearthstone’s upcoming adventure, One Night in Karazhan, has ignited a chain reaction of hot takes regarding the game. While the immaturity of the fan base has pushed these hot takes into memezation territory, the concerns are legitimate. I was among those in the arena community who were frankly stupefied to see that Firelands Portal is a common card. Priest loyalists, who mainly are focusing on constructed play, are up in arms about Priest being a weak class.

To respond to these concerns, two pieces of PR came out yesterday: a PC Gamer interview with senior game designer, Mike Donais, and a Twitter hangout thing with lead game designer, Ben Brode. With those interviews, we could glean a little about the direction of arena, the game mode I care most about.

Short term

There are no short term changes to the Hearthstone arena. The Karazhan cards will be slowly trickled into the arena, and will see an increased offering bonus during the draft. Because the class cards received will be common and rare, expect to see these cards a great deal in the coming weeks.

In the PC gamer article, Donais does talk about the Firelands Portal issue. It apparently boiled down to there being 2 good Mage arena cards and 1 bad Mage arena card. He stats the currently mystery bad card was destined to be a common, Firelands became common, and Babbling Book became rare.

I am being a little particular here, but I will make this point. Firelands Portal is not on the same tier as Babbling Book. Babbling Book is good, while Firelands Portal is great. Both cards are at the mercy of RNG, but 5 damage + RNG tempo minion just has more impact than 1/1 tempo + RNG spell.

The good news is that Firelands Portal is going to offered just as much as situational/bad arena card. On Reddit, Mike Donais responded to my comment, basically confirming that the card will not be the crazy sheep card in the trailer. Responding posters suggested a “Mega Shatter” card, basically a big AoE that is super situational. This would be a fine balance in my opinion, but remember that every arena pick has 3 choices. This bad card will likely not be picked by arena veterans, while Firelands Portal will be automatically selected. By virtue of people not picking said bad card, still expect to see at a Firelands Portal each time you face a Mage. It has enough value to pick over a second Flamestrike perhaps.

Long term

Ben Brode’s Twitter hangout had more juicy nuggets pertaining to arena. In the short video about Firelands Portal, Ben talked about Firelands Portal and more. Basically he acknowledges that arena imbalance exists and he is aware that Firelands Portal will be a problem. He cautions against the suggestion of not giving strong common cards to strong arena classes. Rather he suggested a possibility of individual card offering rates being tweaked, or other unsaid complex methods.

This is huge news. If offering rates of individual cards are affected, it will galvanize the soul of the arena.

Tier lists out the window

The most popular arena drafting tier lists, HearthArena and The Lightforge, rightfully separate cards by rarity. In a typical arena, you get a ton of commons, a handful of rares, maybe an epic or two, and a legendary like once every 3 arenas. Besides class cards getting a bump, and the current card expansion, all commons are offered the same amount of times as the next common. Let’s say Blizz comes in and says “let’s reduce offering rates of Flamestrike, Shadow Strike, and Seal of Champions to balance the arena.” What would this do? This would make those cards even better! So there is not only going to be a tierscore, but an offering weight of sorts, which will make a good card even more desirable. Tier lists will have to be reformatted from the ground up. I personally don’t use tier lists to draft anymore, but a lot of people will get confused by the sudden change and additional variable of consideration.


There is a bigger issue of transparency if offering rates for individual cards are affected. Would we know which specific cards are being offered less? Mages and Rogues could get arena nerfs, but we might not know for sure what cards are offered less. Further, the exact percentage reduction or increase of card offering rates would need to be know as well. Serious arena players like to know the math behind draft picks, and the future tweaks might not be too transparent in what changes are made.

Soul of Arena

People have suggested before that drafts be organized with a set number of rarities per draft, x spells, x minions, etc. I think this idea is crap. One of the main reasons I love arena is because it is not constructed. The joy of making a misfit group of cards gel as a unit is inexorable. I like the feeling of having a deck that has multiple Backstabs, Eviscerates and Shadow Strikes. I like that some arena decks have prayed to RNGesus and drafted 3 legendaries. I like that my opponent has 3 Flamestrikes. All of these experiences make arena what it is, a unique experience each time out. Tinkering with individual card offering rates kills this a little, stifling a bit of the spontaneity that comes with each draft.


Nothing is changing for now. Expect Mages, Rogues, and Paladins to continue kicking butt. Something will have to give down the line though. Whether it be continued arena imbalance, or just the growing number of cards in the arena provoking change. Something big will happen!




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