Power creep is one of the biggest problems in trading card games and can detrimentally affect their longevity and overall playability. Pokemon has been a prime example of this with decks now chock full of EX and GX cards and many no longer even utilizing one of the core fundamental mechanics of Pokemon: evolving. While power creep has taken many years and sometimes even decades to become extremely noticeable in other games such as Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone has simpler game mechanics which puts it at higher risk of power creep compared to other TCGs and CCGs.
Let’s look at some of the cards from the recently released Knights of the Frozen Throne set and compare them to cards from the base set when the game was originally released back in 2014; roughly three years ago.
Legendaries are obviously the most powerful cards in Hearthstone. A timely legendary card can completely swing a game from one you are clearly going to lose to suddenly winning it out of nowhere. They are often complained about on the forums from new players because if you have no legendary cards and your opponent is dropping one after another – it makes it very difficult to win and it feels like your opponent didn’t actually deserve or earn the victory through skill. The basic set has no legendary cards while the new Knights of the Frozen Throne has 23 legendary cards including ones like Prince Valanar which is a 4/4 with Taunt and Lifesteal for four, and The Lich King which is an 8/8 with Taunt that gets you cards every turn.
I will try to make the comparisons in the article between cards that aren’t legendary to show that just the regular cards in the set have benefited from tremendous power creep over the years.
Back in the day spending ten mana allowed you to play a Mind Control (if you were Priest) which took control of one of your opponent’s minions. This was a strong spell as it was better than simply killing a minion – you got to use it yourself. Depending on what you ended up taking, this could be back-breaking but there were also situations where it wasn’t very good at all.
Now, ten mana is almost a sure-fire win. There are a few ten-plus mana spells in Knights of the Frozen Throne but since Ultimate Infestation isn’t a Legendary it seems most comparable to Mind Control. Ultimate Infestation allows you to deal five damage, draw five cards, gain five armor, and summon a 5/5 minion. This is quite clearly better than Mind Control. It reminds me of Cruel Ultimatum from Magic: The Gathering but even better. The power creep is strong here.
There weren’t any nine mana cost cards from the basic set so there isn’t really anything to compare to. The new set has several playable hero cards at nine mana cost which are all extremely powerful. Not only do they upgrade your hero power but can also swing a game. For example, when you play Frost Lich Jaina arguably one of the weaker heroes, you gain five armor, summon a 3/6 Water Elemental, give all your elementals Lifesteal for the reset of the game and replace your hero power with one that says when it kills a minion, summon another Water Elemental. Seems good.
In the basic set, eight mana got you an Ironbark Protector, an 8/8 with Taunt...if you played Druid. The new set also includes an 8/8 with Taunt for eight mana that also adds a random Death Knight card to your hand at the end of each turn. Strictly better – and WAY better. It also can be played in any deck not just one specific hero’s. Talk about power creep.
Of course The Lich King is a legendary and I did say I was going to try to compare non-legendary cards to non-legendary ones but these cards are quite similar in overall functionality so it was worth noting the power difference. The only non-legendary eight-cost card from the new set is Glacial Mysteries which is a Mage card that puts one of each Secret from your deck onto the Battlefield. Hard to compare to the 8/8 with Taunt since it is so much different, but it is obviously incredibly powerful when you consider Mage secrets include cards like Counterspell, Potion of Polymorph, Vaporize, Spellbender, and Mirror Entity. Glacial Mysteries can lock your opponent down for several turns far more efficiently than a vanilla 8/8 with Taunt ever could.
Seven mana was pretty weak in the basic set. The card I saw the most of seemed to be Stormwind Champion which is a 6/6 that gives all of your other minions +1/+1. A comparable card is the new Abominable Bowman. Bowman is a 6/7 so already it is better but it also has a pretty strong Deathrattle ability in that it can replace itself with a beast that died earlier in the game. Stormwind Champion is decent if you already have a plethora of minions on the field to buff but replacing itself with a potentially even stronger minion upon death makes Abominable Bowman clearly better.
Six mana is one slot where there didn’t seem to be TOO much power creep (at least when you ignore the Legendary cards and only compare non-legendaries). The basic set had a few good cards like Dread Infernal, Fire Elemental, and perhaps Lord of the Arena which some people played. I still feel that cards like Blackguard and Bone Drake are stronger but I suppose that is more subjective since they do different things it makes them hard to directly compare.
The five mana slot had Booty Bay Bodyguard, a 5/4 with Taunt. The new set has Voodoo Hexxer, a 2/7 with Taunt that also Freezes any character it damages. So you still have a distribution of nine combined power and toughness between the two minions, but the new card also has a powerful ability attached to it. There’s the power creep.
Four mana used to get you a Chillwind Yeti, a vanilla 4/5. What does it get you now? How about Corpsetaker, a 3/3 that could conceivably enter the battlefield with Taunt, Lifesteal, Divine Shield AND Wind Fury? Or perhaps Saronite Chain Gang a 2/3 with taunt that copies itself so you are actually getting four power and six toughness spread across two bodies. Compare that to four power and five toughness on one body, the aforementioned Chillwind Yeti, and the power creep becomes even more obvious.
The new set has three-cost cards such as Mountain Fire Armor which is a 4/3 that gives you six armor when it dies on your opponent’s turn (the most likely time), Acolyte of Agony a 3/3 with Lifesteal, and Bearshark, a 4/3 that can’t be the target of spells or hero abilities. Compare these cards to what was available in the basic set such as Magma Rager a 5/1 with nothing special, Ironforge Rifleman, a 2/2 that deals a paltry one damage when it comes in, or Wolf Rider, a 3/1 with Charge. The new cards not only give you higher combined power and toughness (power creep) but also include much stronger abilities on them.
Here’s an even more obvious example: Fiery War Axe is a 3/2 weapon for three mana which was widely used back in the day. The new set has Shadowblade, a 3/2 weapon for three mana that also makes your hero immune the turn you play it. Strictly better. Power creep.
The new set has a card called Druid of the Swarm at two mana which can become a 1/5 with Taunt. The basic set had Silverback Patriarch, a 1/4 with Taunt, at THREE mana so not only is it strictly worse with less toughness but also costs more to play. Not to mention Druid of the Swarm also gives you the option to enter as a 1/2 with Poisonous depending on your situational needs at the time. This is textbook power creep.
We can look at several examples of power creep in the one mana slot as well. In the basic set you have Goldshire Footman, a 1/2 with Taunt. In the new set you have Righteous Protector, a 1/1 with taunt and divine shield. So you are giving up one toughness point for a Divine Shield which clearly is much stronger since the toughness difference is negligible anyway.
In the base set you had Elven Archer, a 1/1 that deals one damage when it comes into play. In the new set you have Wretched Tiller which is also a 1/1 but deals two damage to the enemy hero every time it attacks. Seems pretty strong in aggro decks.
One final example is Murloc Raider from the basic set, a vanilla 2/1 for one mana compared to Acherus Veteran a 2/1 for one mana that also has a battlecry ability of empowering a friendly minion by +1 attack.
While there are some obvious examples of power creep, overall it hasn’t been as bad as some other card games like Pokemon. The game still plays like it used to for the most part. Blizzard has done a fair job of mitigating the power creep with the game mechanics that the game utilizes. We’ll see what Kobolds and Catacombs brings to the game when the set is released in December.