SDCC 2017 | Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne Interview with Jason Chayes

During San Diego Comic Con 2017, we were invited to the Lich King’s Ice Cream Citadel to not only get a taste of delicious ice cream, but also to get some info on Blizzard’s upcoming Hearthstone expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne. Joined by the Hearthstone Production Director Jason Chayes, we managed to get some details about the game.

Jason Chayes (JC): Just to refer, I’m Jason Chayes, the Production Director for Hearthstone. We’re here basically to celebrate the launch of our next expansion, which is going to be coming out in a few short weeks, around the middle part of August. We have finally sort of taken Hearthstone — Do you play much Hearthstone?

David Poole (DP): I played a lot early on, and then I just kind of fell off, and I still have it on my phone, I still open it up from time to time to get new cards.

JC: Okay, great! So you know all about the game and how it works and everything. So this is the first time we’ve actually taken Hearthstone to the Icecrown Citadel, which is kind of this very revered place in WarCraft lore. It sort of sits at the heart of Northrend which is this frozen continent in the north part of Azeroth. At the heart of Northrend is the Icecrown Citadel, sitting on top of the Icecrown Citadel is the Lich King, who sits at the Frozen Throne.

DP: Nice!

JC: So for Hearthstone, with this set, we’re actually going to be introducing a new card type for the first time to kind of blend with that theme. The new card type is a hero card, so with the way it works is you play it and it actually replaces your hero you’re starting with an upgraded hero, essentially with brand new powers. And the way it ties into this theme, with the Frozen Throne, is that your hero is essentially being corrupted by the dark powers of the Lich King, and is being turned into a death knight. So in this case, one of the ones we’ve announced is Deathstalker Rexxar, so Rexxar is kind of the classic hunter hero of Hearthstone. You’ll put Deathstalker Rexxar into your deck, and if you play him, he actually pops up onto the screen in front of you, floats around again, it kind of comes down and changes and corrupts, twists Rexxar into the Deathstalker form.

And so at that point, he basically gets five additional armor, he gets this battlecry effect that does two damage to every one of the bad guy minions, but the biggest thing he has is the new hero power that’s called Build-A-Beast. If you use it, it’ll present you with three different beasts. You can pick which one you want, then it will present you with another three beasts, you pick one of those, and it will actually stitch together those two beasts to this Frankenstein style into this uber beast that you’ll then unleash against your opponent to try to do massive damage. So it’s kind of taking the spirit of what he was, this great hunter, and kind of twisting it to the death knight type.

DP: So this only effects Rexxar for the most part?

JC: Yeah! Each of the heroes has their own death knight form, so we so far just announced Rexxar, but we’re going to be announcing the rest of them here in the next few weeks, but they’re all going to have similar incredibly strong powers. The question is: do you want to be seduced by the dark side and kind of be corrupted by the power of the Lich King? Can you stay on the light side? So that’s kind of a theme you’ll see throughout this set.

DP: Is that going to effect the gameplay at all as far as the light side/dark side thing? Is there a karma system in play?

JC: No karma system, it’s purely just “do you want to use all these powers that can sway you to the darker side?” a little bit, or you kind of use other things. In the context of Hearthstone, it really comes down to what type of decks does it unlock for you. There’s a lot of new deck types that we think will come out of this next release.

DP: Do we know how many cards are coming in for the new expansion?

JC: Yea, there will be 135 new cards. For the legendary cards, you’ll have new legendary death knights for every class. We’ll also have a bunch of really cool legendaries like we normally have that are part of the neutral card set. One of the ones we talked about is Prince Keleseth, so the way he works is a two mana… 2/2, but he’s an interesting card because he sort of speaks to this idea of making build-your-own cards, cards that sort of shape the entire deck strategy to sort of take you in a particular direction. So what he does, he has a battlecry effect, which if you have no other 2-cost cards in your deck, you’ll just have to pick them from your deck creation process, then he’ll actually give all the minions in the deck +1/+1. So he buffs the entire deck if you can kind of build around his restriction, and beating that will help create new different deck types and the shapes of them as well.

DP: Nice, so obviously the Lich King is a very popular character from Warcraft III, is there anymore of that lore from that specific story branch being implemented into the expansion?

JC: You’ll definitely see, for example, some of the characters  that you’ve seen in the Warcraft universe before. So if you’ve ever experienced the Icecrown Citadel raid from World of Warcraft, there’s a bunch of bosses you have to fight before you can finally challenge the Lich King on the frozen throne, and all those guys have been brought into Hearthstone. So we actually have eight missions — this is the first time we’ve ever done this, where we’ve brought or released an expansion, and have accompanying missions with it. We’ve had adventures in the past, but we’ve never fused them together, so for this release, we’ll have eight missions.

The very first one will be a prologue, and if you can defeat that mission, you’ll get a free Death Knight hero card. But some of the characters, you’ll recognize. We have Professor Putricide, kind of a well known sort of mad scientist from Icecrown Citadel. We have Blood-Queen Lana’thel, who’s kind of like this vampire queen, she’ll be there and you can challenge her again. A lot of characters that you’ll really remember like Sindragosa, who is kind of the Lich King’s undead giant frost wyrm, like his number two, his bodyguard. So she’ll be there as a challenging boss. A lot of those characters that players familiar with the lore will recognize.

DP: Do you think this expansion is going to heavily effect the balance? Do you think we’re going to see a lot of people just going all dark side? Or do you think it will still have a lot of people sticking to the light side and not give into the death knight urges?

JC: You know, our goal with this is always to design cards that do mix up the meta and actually lead people into creating new deck types, and seeing different sort of pushes in directions that we haven’t seen before. So our goal is to introduce new — seeing a lot of the stuff become played in all levels of play. So I think so, you’re going to see a lot of death knights showing up, new card types showing up, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what the community comes up with new deck ideas.

DP: So you mentioned missions launching as well with the expansion. Is there going to be any special brawls for the expansion?

JC: There definitely will, we actually have already started that process. So we actually had, just before the announcement, we had the Fire Festival. Ragnaros came out and said “this is a festival in celebration of me!” That kind of brought with him some new experiences, new brawls to experience, a different UI skin around the entire Hearthstone experience and that just transitioned to the Frost Festival, which is Ahune, who is essentially this ice lord, challenging Ragnaros to see who has the better festival. So we’re kind of bringing this whole idea of celebrating the launch into all aspects of Hearthstone. He’s now affecting the arena, in terms of the types of things you’ll see a little bit of as well. They’ll bring new card packs that you can earn, all kinds of cool stuff that are changing the experience you might see otherwise.

DP: Obviously with this game series, you’ll always bring in a lot of different artists to draw the different cards and everything. Any new artists? Or is it all who we’ve seen?

JC: We have some pretty traditional and classic artists we’ve been using for many years, and we are always looking for new cool, creative talent that we want to bring into the mix. We have an art manager on our team who spends a lot of time reviewing portfolios and finding people who really capture the Hearthstone vibe, so we’ll probably see a mix of old and new with this release.

One other thing, since we’re here at Comic-Con, the first time we’ve ever done this, is released with (Knights ofFrozen Throneas well. We just released, or we’re going to be releasing shortly our first comic. It’s set in the Hearthstone universe. It’s a set of three comics that kind of gives you some background on what happened to all these classic heroes, what happened to Rexxar, what happened to Jaina, how did they get corrupted, what happened when they became corrupted, so that will be rolling out as well in the next few days.

DP: So you’re trying to implement a true story here. In the past, we’ve only had the adventures, but you’re really trying to push the narrative here?

JC: We’re taking outside of the game a little for the first time. Having some more background stories and lore, and context and cool things that we can do that we haven’t been able to do as much in the game, and sort of bring that out through different — because we love comics as well, telling different stories through that too.

DP: As far as the characters go, the different heroes, I know since we only know about the upgrade for Rexxar, for the current non-upgraded cast, do you have a favorite?

JC: In terms of what they’re going to turn into?

DP: Yes.

JC: Uhm…That’s a good question. There’s some really cool ones for sure, it’s hard for me to say which one’s my favorite. I think Jaina is pretty awesome, what she can do. Gul’dan has some pretty cool tricks up his sleeve also, so we’re excited to — you’ll see these all very soon, but we’re pretty jazzed to share that with everybody.

DP: And you said that’s going to be announced in the next coming weeks?

JC: Over the next two weeks, we’re going to be announcing all the cards in the set. Coming up, so the next probably two to three weeks we’ll probably see all that stuff.

DP: Alright, I have to ask. What motivated you guys to do the ice cream event?

JC: To do the ice cream thing? I think this really came from — we always brainstorm different ideas for this set, and one of the things we struggled with at the very beginning of this particular release is “How do we handle Arthas? How do we handle the Lich King?” you know? The history of Arthas transitioning into the Lich King is a very dark, tragic, sad story. How do we do that in a way that’s consistent with Hearthstone, with it’s light, whimsical, fun, and kind of different game, and what we found was that we don’t want to change the core of who the Lich King is. We want him to be this sort of uber supreme bad guy, so the way we brought him into Hearthstone is he’s just kind of like this very, very good Hearthstone player, who’s not afraid to let you know that. He’s kind of a jerk about it, he’ll start putting you down, tell you your collection’s inadequate. He kind of dusts cards that are better than what you have in your collection, so he’s kind of this powerful guy.

We made this narrative where he thought he might be able to come to Blizzard, get a job at Blizzard as a designer, tell our designers how to do it. It didn’t quite work out so one of the things he also does is he runs an ice cream shop. So the story behind this is this is the Lich King’s ice cream palace. He’s got a couple different flavors in there, it’s in line with the fun, silly vibe we have of Hearthstone. Plus you know we wanted to have a cool way to go — everyone who’s here at the show to come out and get some ice cream and just have some fun.

DP: Well I think that’s all the questions I actually have for you.

JC: Okay, awesome!

DP: Thank you!

Blizzard is currently rolling out previews of the new cards for Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne, and they’re still in the process of revealing all the death knight cards. It’s only a matter of time before they announce the official launch date this month, allowing fans to play with the new cards. For those interested in the comic to get some context on the new expansion, we have links for part onepart two and part three available. For a high quality gallery of the inside of the Ice Cream Citadel at Comic Con, feel free to take a look below (unfortunately we missed Jessica Nigri for our own pictures).