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Barrier Creep in Hearthstone

Todd Wohling / September 3, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Gaming, Opinions

I mentioned in my last commentary there are some issues arising from the release of new Hearthstone cards; “barrier creep” is the term I used to described the increasingly steep hill a brand new player has to climb in order to feel competitive in Hearthstone’s main progression mode, Ranked.  I’m going dedicate an entire commentary to elaborate on barrier creep and its potential long term effects on Hearthstone.

Examples of Barrier Creep?

The following is an example of barrier creep.  Let’s say a new player wanted to play an aggressive Hunter deck archetype.  Here are some of the key cards and the cost to acquire them.

  • 2xKnife Juggler: Base Set, Rare: 100 dust each
  • 2xHaunted Creeper: Naxxramas Spider Wing: $6.99 or 700 gold
  • 2x Mad Scientist: Naxxramas Construct Wing: $25 or 2800 gold
  • 1xSnake Trap: Base Set, Epic: 400 dust
  • 1xBear Trap: TGT Common: 40 dust
  • 1x Quick Shot: Blackrock Mountain, BRD Wing: $6.99 or 700 gold
  • 2xEaglehorn Bow: Base Set, Rare: 100 dust each

The cost of this deck is already high, especially if a player wants to play this deck on day 1 of him/her playing Hearthstone.  It requires Hearthstone Trogdor Decklistbuying the full Naxxramas adventure, 1 wing of Blackrock Mountain, and purchasing enough packs from the base set and The Grand Tournament to get the cards necessary to make the deck, or enough cards to disenchant to craft the cards to make the deck run.

It is true that a player could run a discounted version of the deck, but that discounting always sacrifices relative power, and thus wins, for lower cost.

An extreme example of barrier creep is the Dragon Priest archetype.  The version I personally run is super fun to play and close enough to the versions on the net that we can talk about them as if they were one in the same.

The Dragon Priest I run has 2 legendary dragons from Blackrock Mountain, 3 dragon cards from Blackrock Mountain, 2 dragon synergy cards from TGT, and an epic rarity card from Goblins v Gnomes.  The legendary dragon from the base set that I run, Onyxia, is run out of necessity; strictly speaking, it should be Ysera or Alexstrasza, but I don’t own either of those dragons yet.  Suffice it to say, the Dragon Priest archetype is prohibitively expensive for a brand new Hearthstone player to assemble on first picking up the game.  A new player would have to buy in to the base set, all expansions, and the Blackrock Mountain solo adventure to even make the attempt, and even then, some amount of dusting and crafting is probably going to be required to complete play sets of key cards in the deck.

The Expense of “Must Haves” in Hearthstone

Which brings me to a second issue with barrier creep.  The number of must have cards increases with every expansion and solo adventure.  I discussed the number of dragons from Blackrock Mountain that are required to play dragon priest a little earlier, but even a relatively cheap deck archetype like Warlock Zoo requires cards from the Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain adventures, plus cards from the Goblins expansion as well as TGT.

The original set had cards that every player must have in order to be competitive based on deck archetypes.  Leeroy Jenkins was a requirement for competitive aggressive Hunter and Rouge decks, for example.

With the release of each new set, the number of cards required to be competitive has increased.  Naxxramas added Haunted Creeper, Death’s Bite, Loatheb, and Sludge Belcher; each of these cards is a “must have” in a number of deck archetypes.  Goblins v Gnomes made “mech” deck archetype viable, as well as included Dr. Boom.  Boom became a requirement in almost every competitive deck.  Blackrock Mountain added Emperor Thaurissan, Chromaggus, Nefarion, as well as Grim Patron, the corner stone piece of a deck archetype that required cards from Naxx, Blackrock Mountain, Goblins and Gnomes, and now The Grand Tournament to be competitive.

Professional Grade Counter Arguments

The argument to be made against “barrier creep” is the occasional Twitch streamer that takes a fresh account, cobbles together a “cheap” aggressive deck archetype, and plays it in Ranked to legend.  Trump did this before the release of Goblins v Gnomes, and Firebat did it on the Asian servers not long before the release of TGT.

This isn’t a counter argument against “barrier creep” for a couple of reasons.  First, the standard against which I’m arguing barrier creep is an issue isn’t whether or not someone who plays Hearthstone as a full-time job can make Legend Rank on a free account.  A professional ought to be able to make Legend Rank starting with a fresh account for zero dollars.  The standard is whether or not a new player, perhaps even a CCG newbie, can make competitive decks upon first picking up the game and unlocking all the basic cards.

I don’t know how a new player does that, and it is only going to get worse.

Planning for the Future

Here’s the Catch 22 Blizzard finds itself in.  They have to include cards in the expansion sets and solo adventures that players will use in competitive decks.  If they don’t, then there’s little reason for players to acquire the cards in the first place.  At the same time, the cost to enter the competitive scene cannot continue to grow, else new players stare at the costs involved to simply field a competitive deck and ask what the point of even starting is.

Which is almost more concerning than “barrier creep” in and of itself.  I mean, what if Blizzard decides to solve “barrier creep” by creating a “Second Edition Base Set” from the regular base set, GvG, and Naxxramas?  What if they skimmed the Top 20% of the cards off the top from those three sets to make enough room for a card set of roughly 400 and rechristened it for Ranked play?

Impossible, right?  Utterly unnecessary for an electronic card game to have editions, so Blizzard would never do it, right? Blizzard is smarter than to pull a Wizards of the Cash, right?

I hope so, though, in all honesty, given the number of times Blizzard has screwed the proverbial pooch with card design, I’m skeptical that the chances are none they would just push the reset button and make absolutely everyone rebuy cards to play in Ranked.

What say you, Raptors?  Is there a way to control “barrier creep” in Hearthstone?


Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.