(Note: Brad Watson will return in two weeks with his regular column.)
The World of Warcraft Trading Card Game Worldbreaker expansion will be making its groundbreaking, earth-shattering, pun-related-to-a-Cataclysm release on December 14th. You can check out the full spoiler at this website thanks to the Darkmoon Faire in Los Angeles.
The spoiler has been out for a few days, and in general people seem excited for the new set. Love it? Hate it? Well, here's someone to love or blame for your like or dislike of the new set. Cryptozoic was kind enough to let Daily Metagame interview Patrick Sullivan, the head developer for the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game at Cryptozoic Entertainment and the lead developer for Worldbreaker.
I got a chance to sit down with Patrick Sullivan the Tuesday following the Darkmoon Faire in Los Angeles. After some introductions, I got into the interview questions right away. Take a look below for a typed layout of the interview.
(Note: I will consider podcasts or Youtube for interviews in the future. For now, until I learn how to use the tools required for that, you will have to enjoy this interview in transcript form. To simulate the experience of talking to Patrick Sullivan, feel free to interject in between questions with good beatdowns, tales of Legacy for some other game, and discussions about the Clippers)
Mike: For those of you who don't know, what is your name, title at Cryptozoic Entertainment, and your involvement on the Worldbreaker expansion?
Patrick: My name is Patrick Sullivan. I'm the game designer and head developer of the WoW TCG for Cryptozoic Entertainment, and the lead developer of Worldbreaker. I sort of set the philosophical tone for how each set is developed.
Mike: Can you elaborate on what the difference is between developer and designer for those who may not know the difference between the two?
Patrick: Design means coming up with the mechanics and direction of the set. Ben Cichoski (the lead designer) interacts more with Blizzard Entertainment, what the sets should be about, what flavor should be seen in the block, etc. Ben then highlights what is needed, what the central themes are in each set, what the central theme is of the block, and more. Design decides on these general themes. Design also comes up with keywords which are seen in each set and block. He was the one who came up with the Stash mechanic for this block.
Where I come in is how the cards actually play. It's not just power level. There's a lot of perception that it's all we focus on, but we also decide how complicated our commons are, whether cards are violating what our trait map says a certain class or race or faction can do (priests being unable to destroy weapons is an example of this), and I make sure the game is fun to play at all levels.
Mike: I was curious when you started working on the WoW TCG back at Upper Deck. This was also your first set that was done from start to finish at Cryptozoic. What has been your history with the game, and what have you done since the shift to Cryptozoic?
Patrick: Servants of the Betrayer was my first set, and I was on the tail-end of it. My first full set was Hunt for Illidan. I was moved to a different team at UDE during Blood of Gladiators and had nothing to do with Fields of Honor. That's actually why I look at people with confusion when they talk about Fields of Honor cards. It's a big blind-spot for me. I was on the tail-end of development again with Scourgewar and I became the development lead with Wrath Gate.
When I moved over to Cryptozoic, I became lead developer and will be overseeing the general development of each set even when I'm not head developer on a specific set. Andrew Wolf is actually the head developer for set 14, so while I won't be looking at development as closely as he does for that specific set, I'll still be offering feedback.
Mike: What made this set different from the R&D perspective compared to the previous sets at Upper Deck?
Patrick: With Scourgewar, we still had a lot of things carrying over from UDE. With Worldbreaker, we felt that we could treat this set like our fresh start. There were things that we weren't happy with regarding the state of the game, as it moved away from a general theme for the decks to extremes on both aggressive decks, solo decks, and control.
The mid-range issue was actually one of the first judgments I made when I started working on the WoW TCG. Servants of the Betrayer was my first set, and I started to see one of the problems. Control decks could just buy a turn here, stop attacks a turn later, stall some more, buy another turn with another stall effect, slow the game down with versatile cards that answer multiple card-types, and then drop [Illidan Stormrage]. That was the control game plan. Drop Illidan. It hasn't really changed much, only now it may be to drop [Highlord Tirion Fordring] or [Kel'thuzad]. Aggro decks are the other extreme too. There is no relevance to guys like [Tewa Wildmane] anymore, or general mid-costed dudes that could win the game on their own or attack and make some fair trades.
When we shifted over to Cryptozoic, we decided to take a look at those things that were bothering us. One of those deals with mid-range. We decided that it fit the theme of Cataclysm. The online game just had a reboot. We can take that flavor and run with it. Nothing is sacred. We can make the necessary changes on quests, rulings, and whatever is needed to make this game play better.
In regards to quests, our Core testing when we moved to Cryptozoic was the new Core Constructed format (year 3 to year 5), but you can only use the quests from set 13. This was to see if the games played out better when quests like [A Question of Gluttony] were no longer legal. It's going to be a long time until we are back to that level, but we liked how the games played in our testing.
(To read up more on Patrick Sullivan's thoughts on quests in Worldbreaker, be sure to check out his article on the Cryptozoic blog)
Mike: How did you go about with developing Worldbreaker with those thoughts in mind?
Patrick: Complexity of commons was one thing I wanted different from the other sets. The game is plenty complicated and I felt we needed to scale complication back on the more common cards. When we try to make the game more approachable, we needed to start justifying why we had a text box on a guy. If we couldn't, we'd get rid of the text. Every effect, everything on the text box had to be justified. Allies shouldn't have text on them just for the sake of having an effect. They also shouldn't have a paragraph of text on them if they're common. It also makes making starter decks easier.
Mike: One of the complaints from Scourgewar limited was the bombiness of the set and specifically the first set in the expansion. Do you feel that Worldbreaker and the Cataclysm block as a whole is designed to play out a little fairer in limited?
Patrick: We wanted to reduce the impact that bombs had in limited for this set. There are still bombs in sealed pack and draft, but they're often more expensive to be effective. You aren't just out of the game the moment they resolve. You may resolve an Eranikus or Korialstrasz but your opponent isn't just dead. Those are expensive bombs that may give you an advantage but there's also cards that answer them. With Scourgewar, there were just some bombs you simple couldn't beat early, like Deathcharger or Death Wish. If those cards resolved against you early, you were pretty much done. We didn't want that play experience to continue in Worldbreaker, and I think we did a good job making sure that won't be happening as much.
There's some room that we can't work with. If we want a good cheap constructed rare, then it's obviously going to have an impact in limited. But we made sure to limit the number of times that experience happens.
Mike: The set's not even out but I'm sure you've heard a lot of feedback on the set. What do you feel are your biggest successes with Worldbreaker?
Patrick: I'm a big fan of how limited plays for this set. One of my regrets with Drums of War block is how you look at arena, honor, and the race matters theme, and those things very rarely ever mattered in limited. The time you had two arena guys in a draft that did something together was rare by the time the last set came out. The times your race was significant was rare. With this set I feel we did a much better job of weaving the mechanics of the set into limited. The goblins, worgen, and the dragons matter.
As far as constructed, its' still very early and there's still a lot to process. Even something like [King Genn Greymane] and [Trade Prince Gallywix] ask you to look at the whole set for the new allies. Greymane asks you what every worgen ally looks like, what the heroes look like, what they do, and how do they curve with him. Same for Gallywix. It takes a while to explore, and that's just two cards. This process takes a very long time to do. I heard a lot of people talking about individual cards, but not about what they'll do with the more complicated ones. It's a lot for them to take in for just one weekend.
I also think we did a better job with the epics in this set than year's past. Opening up an epic should make you feel good. In prerelease's past for Heroes of Azeroth, I opened up a [Teebu's Blazing Longsword] and a [Krol Blade] and I just thought, “Come on!!! Unless there's some way to make this stupid thing go infinite, this blank uncommon is just worlds better!”. Epics should never be that bad. I think for this set, we did a good job making the epics exciting. When people open a booster pack, they should be excited when they get an epic. They won't be excited if they open Teebu's Blazing Sword, but they will if they open something like Greymane.
And with that, I want to thank Patrick Sullivan for his time with this interview and once again thank Cryptozoic Entertainment for the opportunity to talk to one of their developers about their new Worldbreaker set. We hope everyone is enjoying the content here on Daily Metagame so far, and we look forward to bringing you more! Check back on Monday for Jack Fejer's latest article in his column 'Journey to the Core'!