Mulligan Phase: Curvestone
Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the test run of ”Mulligan Phase”, a hopefully upcoming series of articles dedicated to the design philosophy in Hearthstone, from my point of view, which sometimes uses other card games as examples. It has been a while since I’ve made a ”Muligan Phase” article. Last time I’ve talked about the design philosophy behind deck archetypes in Hearthstone and other card games. Today I am going to tackle a different beast and that is the popular statement ”This game should be called Curvestone”. Yes, I am going to talk about the curve in card games, why does it exist, why is it necessary and why is it so prevalent in Hearthstone.
Sit back, relax, and let’s dive right into this!
In this part of the article I’m going to cover all the basics regarding the curve for all of you who don’t really know what the curve is in card games (or know about it only because of the name Curvestone).
What is the curve?
While the curve doesn’t function the same in every card game due to differences in mechanics, there is a somewhat general definition of the curve and that is that the curve is the optimal resource distribution, in this case mana distribution, in your deck in relation to all other cards in the deck. What does that mean in Hearthstone? That means that when you’re building up your optimal mana curve you are looking to the ”golden number” of cards with different mana costs so that you can play the optimal number of cards each turn. The optimal number of cards per turn and the ”golden number” differs from one type of deck to another. Usually aggro decks top their cost curve at the 3 cost cards, sometimes 4 cost cards, but they rarely go above that number. On the other side of the spectrum, slow control decks top their curve at 9 and sometimes even 10 cost cards. Midrange decks are interesting ones because while they usually top at 6 cost cards while sometimes even going above that they have the highest number of cards in 3 and 4 slots (maybe even 5).
Why is playing cards on the curve important?
Playing cards on curve is important because of the way that the cards are designed and the tempo swings that they are meant to provide when played on curve. Regardless of what names the community might come up with for Hearthstone, it is not such a curve heavy game. What I mean by this is that although there is a huge advantage in playing cards on curve you don’t necessarily need to do it and you can have powerful plays by playing, for example, two 4 cost minions on your empty board instead of a one 8 cost minion, but I’m getting a bit off topic here. We will talk more about this in a minute.
So, back to the point, why is playing cards on curve important? First and foremost this depends on the type of deck that you’re playing. Since I’m mostly a control player I will try to explain it from a perspective of a control player aka someone who loves long games. All cards are designed and balanced around a mana cost ranging from 1 to 10. Yes, some cards are more powerful than other, but those cards are rare exceptions. Yes, they really are rare. I know that it seems like the game is filled with unbalanced cards and insanely powerful one drops and while I won’t deny that there are a lot of extremely powerful 1 drops in this game, and extremely powerful cards in other costs, those cards are a rarity in the bigger picture. We complain about them because they are strong, yes, this is true, but if you take all of the cards in the game into consideration then you’ll notice that those extremely powerful cards that are an exception to the curve ”balancing by cost” rule are in an extreme minority. The game has several hundred cards and maybe, just maybe, about 20 extremely powerful cards for their cost (I didn’t actually do the math on this but from the top of my head it is somewhere around 20). Due to that I won’t let the extreme minority dictate and shape my explanation on the importance of playing cards on curve.
So, all cards are designed and balanced around a mana cost ranging from 1 to 10 and some card are a bit better than the others. That is just the nature of card games. Because cards are designed and balanced around a specific cost than they are usually scaled, in power, by the same cost. What this means is that a 1 cost card, a 1 cost minion for example, can’t really compare to a 2 cost minion or a 3 cost minion. There are exceptions to this rule and the first thing that I’ve noticed when I wrote this is that there are actually a lot of 1 cost minions that can take out a huge number of 2 cost minions but that is usually just bad balancing (in my opinion). In a true Curvestone game, a 1 mana minion shouldn’t have more than 1-2 attack and 1-2 health while a 2 cost minion should never have less than 3 health. This, however, presents a problem for a game like Hearthstone because unless your minion has charge it will just sit there for a round and then your opponent will play his or her 3 health 2 cost minion which would make your 1 cost minion completely useless for anything other than hitting face. The game mechanic is what makes this perfect Curvestone and impossibility.
Back to the main focus of this subsection. So, we’ve defined that cards are balanced around a single cost. Good. Playing on curve is important to balance the power that you currently have on your board and to keep up with your opponent. If your opponent had just played a 9 drop and now it is your turn and you play a two 1 drops and a 3 drop, on an empty board, then you’re probably going to lose because your army of small minions can’t compare to the power of one big minion. It is important to keep up. Here is a better example:
Jimmy and Ben are playing a game of Hearthstone. Jimmy is playing a hunter while Ben is playing a paladin. The game is going on for 6 turns.
In those 6 turns, Jimmy had played the following minions:Jeweled Macaw Haunted Creeper
Animal Companion (yes, this is a minion)Houndmaster Azure Drake Savannah Highmane
In those 6 turns, Ben had played the following minions:Leper Gnome Knife Juggler
and the token and another Leper Gnome
and the token, Shielded Minibot and hero power
Which one has built up a stronger board?
In this example I’ve used Shielded Minibot because I couldn’t think of a generic 2 drop minion but if the board seems a bit too powerful than just replace Shielded Minibot with any other generic 2 drop minion. It is Jimmy who had developed a stronger board than Ben. The reason for this is the stat scaling that comes with playing higher cost minions instead of a bunch of lower cost minions. Yes, Ben had developed a stronger board for an aggro deck, but if we assume that Ben is not playing an aggro deck but something else than the winner is clear and that is mostly because Jimmy had played on curve. By turn 6 Jimmy is in such a powerful board position that Ben will have a tough time keeping up and will need to sacrifice most of his own minions to remove the ones that Jimmy has on his board.
I hope that this example and somewhat shown you why it is important to play cards on curve.
Makin Hearthsone ”Curvestone”
Ok, for this part of the article I’m going to do something fun. I’ve just explained the importance of playing your cards on curve and why is Hearthstone not an actual ”Curvestone”, or at least not a 100% ”Curvestone”, as the community likes to call it. I’ve explained why is it impossible to for Hearthstone to become a 100% ”Curvestone” game where everything needs to be played on curve for you to win but now I’m going to take this one step further. I’m going to show you what would Hearthstone look like if it were a 100% ”Curvestone” (this is getting annoying so I’ll just say Curvestone from now on) game. You might agree with me on this one, you might not agree with me on this fun, but nevertheless, this is my take on transforming Hearthstone into Curvestone.
An actual 100% curve game
First and foremost, I want to show you an actual 100% curve game. I’ve been playing card games my entire life and I think that I can confidently say that I’ve played pretty much every physical well know and widespread trading card game that exists, from Pokemon to Magic: The Gathering, and even more obscure ones like Harry Potter (yes, there was a Harry Potter card game at one point), Lord of the Rings, Legend of the Five Rings and even Star Wars (the one card game with 3 boards and dice). I’ve pretty much played it all, with maybe a couple of exceptions, and I’ve played them usually competitively. The point of this isn’t bragging but trying to make a statement that I’ve really played almost everything that there is and when I say that the following card game is an absolute 100% curve game, feel free to take my word for it.
The game that I’m talking about is Vs System, the older, canceled version, not the one that you might find in stores today. This is one of those more obscure games and I doubt that many of you, especially those of you who haven’t played many physical trading card games, have heard about. The short version is that Vs System is a game which features characters from Marvel and DC comics. The sets were always a 100% Marvel set and a 100% DC set, but you could mix and match characters the way that you want when building your deck. For example, you can have a deck with Batman and Captain America in it and you can have a deck with Green Goblin and the Joker in it. Since this is a Hearthstone article, after all, I won’t go into the details regarding this game but if you’re interested in hearing more about it just ask me your questions in the comment section or hit me up on twitter.
The reason why I’ve mentioned Vs System is because this is an example of a 100% Curve game. Each turn you would get a resource point by placing one card face down in your resource row. Just like in Hearthstone, you then spend your resource points to play characters, but unlike Hearthstone, only characters cost resource points. Plot twists aka spell are completely free to play (you just need to have an X amount of resources on the board. If you have a spell that costs 3 than that just means that you can’t play it before turn 3 but you can play 4 of them on turn 3 if you wish to do so). This had allowed the developers to fully focus around balancing character combat and this is where curve comes into play. In this game, 9 out of 10 times, you will lose if you’re not playing your minions on curve. There are some very extreme exceptions, even less exceptions than in Hearthstone, of 1 cost minions being stronger than 2 cost minions, but in Vs System there are clear stats rules on how strong a character can be based on their cost. You absolutely need to play on curve. A single 1 cost minion, without a buff spell, can’t take down a 2 cost minion. Three 2 cost minions can’t hope to take down a 6 cost minion. It is just the way that the game is made. If this isn’t a 100% curve game than I don’t know what is.
The transformation of Hearthstone
So, now that you know what a 100% curve Hearthstone game would look like.
First what we need to is to correct the stat distribution. All minions now have a set stat line to match their cost.
1 drop minions have stats ranging from 1-2
2 drop minions have stats of 3
3 drop minions have stats of 4
4 drop minions have the stats of 5-6
5 drop minions have the stats of 7
6 drop minions have the stats of 8
7 drop minions have the stats of 9-10
8 drop minions have the stats of 11-12
9 drop minions have the stats of 13-14
10 drop minions have the stats of 15-16
Despite their abilities, these minions will always have such a stat distribution to ensure that a single lower cost minion can never, without a buff or an aid of a spell card, take down a higher cost minion.
Next is the turn order and I’m taking this one from Vs System. Vs System is the only card game that I know of that has shared turns and what I’m going to do here is an oversimplification of that. Instead of my turn, your turn, we both play on the same turn and we both play a single card before going into an attack phase (this is a new addition to the game. You can’t play minions during the attack phase). First I recruit a minion and then you recruit a minion and this continues until we both agree to move into the attack phase. Instead of me attacking than my opponent attacking on his turn, I’m going to attack with a single minion and then my opponent gets to attack with his single minion, then I attack with my next minion and so forward. Also, all minions have charge.
What this does is that it prevents two scenarios:
Scenario 1: The first player will always have the upper hand because he or she will always play the bigger minion first.
Scenario 2: Smorcing is reduced, despite all minions having charge, because since minions attack 1 at the time both players get to react to smorcing and stop it before it grow out of control.
Life totals would also need a desperate upgrade. You can’t have minions this powerful running around when you have only 30 life.
Spells would have to be either free or much, much more powerful to compensate for the loss of playing a minion on curve.
In conclusion, I don’t think that Hearthsone is becoming ”Curvestone”. I don’t think that it will ever become a true ”Curvestone” with the current game mechanics and a drastic change, like the one that I’ve just shown you, should have to be made to the game in order to change it into a true ”Curvestone” game. With that we’ve reached the end of another ”Mulligan Phase” article and I would invite you to join me in the next ”Mulligan Phase” article where I will be covering the philosophy behind nerfs in trading/collectible card games and applying that philosophy to Hearthstone.
Do you think that Hearthstone is or will become ”Curvestone” one day? What other card games have you played? Let me know in the comment section below. As always if you’ve liked this article do consider following me on twitter https://twitter.com/Eternal_HS. There you can ask me all sorts of Hearthstone questions (unrelated to this article) and I’ll gladly answer them as best as I can!