'Hearthstone' Lead Developer Pushed Demon Hunter 'to the Limit'

It's been two weeks since the Ashes of Outland Hearthstone expansion was first released, and it's giving players their first taste of the Demon Hunter class and 135 new cards. An entirely new meta has been shaped by Illidan and his gang of demons, who have become the main stars of the Hearthstone competitive scene. The class was so powerful upon release that a day-one patch was implemented mere hours after the expansion went live.

Hearthstone ashes of outland demon hunter patch
Metamorphosis might not need a nerf, but it is powerful Blizzard

"The first couple hours [of release] were like, wow this is really exciting, Demon Hunter is really powerful and really fun to play," Senior Game Designer Dean Ayala told Newsweek. "And then by the third and fourth hour we were like, 'It's actually really, really powerful.' And then I think by midday everyone is kinda like, 'Okay, this is clearly more powerful than everything else, like, what's going on here?'"

The goal with Ashes of Outland and Demon Hunter was to "push cards to their limit" and see how innovative the designers could be with the limitations of the card game. Demon Hunter was introduced and immediately a monster on the ladder. Ayala has no problem saying that it "released probably more powerful than any other individual deck ever in Hearthstone, outside maybe early Alpha and Undertaker Hunter."

Among the day one nerfs, Skull of Gul'dan stands a head above the rest. The card was created to be a "fun" card draw engine that utilized the Outcast mechanic introduced in the expansion. During play testing, the Skull was placed in higher-cost Demon decks and wasn't activating its Outcast effect that consistently. But on day one of release, players gravitated towards the low-cost aggressive versions of class decks, making the Warlock's cranium a consistent value engine.

"It was a really fun card and I think that everyone that played it, or everyone that played that deck, saw it as something that they were kind of excited to cast," Ayala said. "So we wanted to push it to the limit for those reasons and it ended up not really working out."

Though the Demon Hunter power level has been curbed, it is still far from being a lackluster class. According to HSReplay, the class has the highest win rate with 53 percent of games won and is still a constant force on the ranked ladder. Trying to balance the class without removing its identity has been a constant conversation in the workplace meetings of the developers. They ask questions like, "Do we take these cards that we really, really like that represent the Demon Hunter fantasy or do we change them?"

Twin Slice and Battlefiend decide matches if they start in your opening hand. That is frustrating to play against and can make games feel like they require less skill. The challenge comes with either nerfing these powerful cards (potentially increasing their mana cost or making Battlefiend a 1/2) or changing other cards that may not have as much of an impact on games but players can struggle to deal with, like Priestess of Fury or Altruis the Outcast. Both were created as "game-ending cards" that completely alter the shape of the board when played correctly and could potentially see mana increases in the future.

Hearthstone ashes of outland demon hunter patch
Priestess of Fury still gives me nightmares Blizzard

Demon Hunter might be getting most of the spotlight, but there are still other cards that are causing havoc on the battlefield. A patch is expected to drop sometime next week that will nerf problematic cards, including these four that have been plaguing the meta with their insanity.

Kael'thas Sunstrider- "There are two aspects of Kael'thas. He can play a zero-cost spell twice or even three times in a turn and we could say only the first spell that you cast. Or we could nerf the mana cost and there are benefits to both. Changing the mana keeps the dream and fun part of the card alive, you play Kael'thas to have these crazy power turns. We are leaning towards increasing the mana cost because we want to keep the Kael'thas dream alive, we just don't want it to happen every game."

Frenzied Felwing- "It's a card that can snowball the game out of control really early. It's really hard to come back from double Felwing. Now that Demon Hunter exists they are utilizing it really well and we don't want to be hindered by past cards. The thing we are trying to get away from is being able to cast a card on a turn you have no business casting it on. It's the extreme early game swing stuff that we try to get away from and Felwing falls into that bucket a little bit."

Sacrificial Pact- "Cards like Golaka Crawler and Sacrificial Pact, sometimes called hate cards, where you either have them or you can't catch up. That's a little more extreme than we would like and Sac Pact has been a really nice card for a long time but Ashes of Outland and Demon Hunter has made it really powerful. Our leading candidate is having it only affect friendly demons, so it still works in decks like Galakrond Warlock."

Bad Luck Albatross- "It's supposed to be included against duplicate decks but it is being included at such a wide rate right now because the cost you pay for it is not much. It's effect honestly isn't that powerful, it just feels so good to be able to use it against Spell Mage or Pure Paladin, but metrics-wise it's not very good. If you are really only interested in winning games, you should take Albatross out of your deck."

Hearthstone developers are working to make sure that the game is fun and playable for as many as possible. Over the past year, a rework to the ranked system was created, more balance patches have been rolled out and more direct communication has been made with players. (Earlier this week the developers hosted a reddit AMA.) There are "10 or 12" people on Ayala's team who listen to the feedback and want to respond more but struggle to deal with the non-constructive negativity.

"I know that they're reading Reddit and kind of being disappointed by some of the reactions," Ayala said. "It's not about getting positive feedback; if players are upset with something or they don't like something, we absolutely want you to point those things out. It's not about praising the things that we do, it's just about speaking to each other kind of like humans. It can get frustrating sometimes to hear that we don't care or that we aren't doing anything because I see all these people that I really care about pouring their heart and soul into this stuff."