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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.

  • Cytos Lpagtr

    its a game i will never play again simply because, all the fun decks i would be playing are already being played by someone, who deducts buying all the cards from his taxes. the barrier for fun deckbuilding is too high, so i outsourced it to TotalBiscuit

    he even cuts out all the boring games, which you can not do if you play the game yourself

  • Iconoclast

    The problem I have with HS is that there are maybe 5-6 viable builds and if you don’t play them you might as well become a punching bag for everyone else.

    I can build amazing decks with fantastic synergies in it, but I can’t bring those to bear because setting them up requires time, so either you get a lucky first draw or you are reacting to the aggressive player until either you die (most of the time) or your opponent finally runs out of steam (happens rarely).

    So what to do? Either I have accept that I have to suffer for refusing to c/p net-decks or I just join the fray and play the same decks as everyone else which I find really really boring.


    Frankly I’m glad newcomers are being put off playing Hearthstone further. I’ve been playing since it launched and I hate myself for it. Game is a glorified crapshoot…

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Bah. Bah, I say. I’m way…WAY from pro level in this game and I didn’t spend a thin dime on it for the first 6 months. And I was winning enough to have fun. Hell, Hunter alone has so many synergies with its beasts that a 0 cost deck will win and win hard against a lot of high-price opponents.*

    Hearthhead and similar sites are full of cheap and effective decks. Logging in, doing your dailies will net you a lot of the rares.

    *In my experience, YMMV, of course.

  • Astralwyrm

    I’ve seen Blizzard refund cards for their full dust value (the value of a card if you were to craft it with dust) when they’ve made changes to cards. I don’t see why they couldn’t just do that when/if they release a new edition. New players get some more potent cards and long time players can use the refunded dust to pick whatever they want from the new cards and what remains.

  • Robert Harrison

    I’ve been playing since day one (not beta though), spent some cash only on classic packs (maybe 20 bucks every month, I would have drank it otherwise), bought the expansions without hesitation, gotten some lucky card pack openings, and played lots of ARENA! I agree with your gripes about barrier creep, and Ben Brode recently admitted it’s a problem (along with power creep), but we’ll see how they plan on fixing it.

    But back to Arena, I think I got as many packs from Arena as I got from buying, because I play a lot of Arena. All of my gold goes to Arena. I’m not a great Arena player but it’s the best way to learn the game and for a new player to play with all the cards from the various additions without having to craft them. It’s a much more realistic endeavor than attempting to climb the ladder right off the bat, at least as things stand now. And quite frankly, I don’t find Ranked fun, although I play a lot of that too, I find it a much more grueling experience, and facing 6 facehunters in a row is exasperating. Maybe you should play more Arena!