The design team on creating the CCG’s newest expansion and their expectations for how the meta will change.
I’ve had a blast playing Shadowverse over the last year. Developed by Tokyo-based Cygames (a studio well-known in Japan for its hits Rage of Bahamut and Granblue Fantasy) this anime-infused card game takes cues from Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone, but is ultimately gratifyingly unique. That’s partly because of its innovative Evolution gameplay mechanic, but also because every class has a very defined identity driven by bespoke resources and abilities. In this game, combo Decks and super greedy control decks are alive and well.
To get an insight into Shadowverse as a whole, but more specifically, the goals and design process behind its third expansion, Tempest of the Gods, which is available from tomorrow, I sat down with Lead Game Designer Naoyuki Miyashita and Card Designer Yuichiro Sato. (I also spoke with Game Producer and Executive Director at Cygames, Yuito Kimura, but that will be published separately, so stay tuned for that interview.)
IGN: What would you say are the defining themes of Tempest of the Gods?
Naoyuki Miyashita: We’re not introducing any new abilities, like we did with Enhance in the last expansion, and up until now we’ve always had one legendary in each class. From Tempest of the Gods each class will have two legendaries with defining or powerful abilities, so we believe this will allow for more diverse deck building, and that’s one of the themes of the pack.
IGN: Are there any particular classes that you’re looking to lift up, or any classes that you think are a little too powerful right now?
With this new expansion we are focusing on… Bloodcraft, Dragoncraft and Shadowcraft. – Naoyuki Miyashita
Naoyuki Miyashita: We nerfed a couple of cards back in February, so in the current meta we don’t feel that there’s any particularly strong class out there. When we initially released the game, Forestcraft and Swordcraft were the two most dominant classes in that environment, and with Darkness Evolved it was Havencraft, with Rise of Bahamut Runecraft became more popular, so with this new expansion we are focusing on other classes – Bloodcraft, Dragoncraft and Shadowcraft.
IGN: Bloodcraft is getting some amazing cards in this set, and what’s so cool about them is that they’re all tied into Vengeance and using Vengeance more effectively. Where do you want Bloodcraft to go?
Yuichiro Sato: With this particular expansion we’re focusing more on Control Bloodcraft decks. Slower decks. In the future we want Bloodcraft to be played with different ranges of deck styles, ones that are faster and ones that are slower, so that’s where we want to take Bloodcraft.
IGN: In terms of Control Bloodcraft, what did you see its weakness being? That you’re dead by the time you activate Vengeance? Was it too slow? What have you specifically tried to address?
Yuichiro Sato: Yes, that was the intention, and until now, Bloodcraft – like you mentioned – there are many cases where you die soon after Vengeance is activated, or even if it does activate, we don’t have any finishers – any finishing cards to end the match, so that’s something we wanted to improve on.
IGN: Tell me a little bit about Mask of the Black Death, because that just seems to be such an unbelievable combo counter card. It means that your health can effectively be up above 20, it means you can be in Vengeance but have a buffer. It’s a really cool card.
Naoyuki Miyashita: Up until now, like you said before, Bloodcraft tended to die soon after Vengeance activated and there are combos in other classes that enable them to deal more than 10 damage in one turn, so it was easier for Bloodcraft players to die later in the match, so we created this card to solve that problem.
IGN: Did the design change from inception?
Naoyuki Miyashita: The ability actually didn’t change from the start – this was what we came up with.
IGN: Is it difficult to balance a card like this and a card like Blood Moon, because Control Bloodcraft has an unbelievably strong late game, so if you can survive enough turns you’re going to have the heavier deck… How do you ensure that Control Bloodcraft isn’t too strong?
Yuichiro Sato: Cards like this and Blood Moon makes it easier to win, if you manage to stay late in the game, but amulets don’t really do anything by themselves, so you need to have other cards and prepare for combos, so this is not one card that can automatically win the game. That’s where we have the balance of making sure that Bloodcraft doesn’t get too strong in the meta.
Naoyuki Miyashita: And in terms of ensuring this isn’t too strong we have many playtesters spending lots of time testing out these newly designed cards who are pretty knowledgeable about digital card games, so that’s how we’re ensuring the balance isn’t broken.
IGN: I’m always curious to find out what the reality of releasing a set of cards is versus your expectations. So, for instance, were your playtesters really able to accurately predict the kinds of decks people would play and the way the meta would develop? Obviously it’s 20 people testing versus millions of people.
We knew Daria was going to see a lot of play. That was our expectation. However, we didn’t expect so many people to have the Goblin Mage / Rhinoceroach Forestcraft decks. – Naoyuki Miyashita.
Naoyuki Miyashita: For example, in Rise of Bahamut, while we were designing the cards, we knew Daria was going to see a lot of play. That was our expectation. However, we didn’t expect so many people to have the Goblin Mage / Rhinoceroach Forestcraft decks. We were expecting more diversity in Forestcraft. So we do understand the 20 or so members here will not be perfect at playtesting to predict what’s going to happen, and we definitely do respect the million or so players out there. And there are times they go beyond us and that’s why we always analyse the match data after the cards release to look out for anything that’s standing out, and to make changes where and if necessary, like we did with the February changes. We’re always making sure the meta is healthy.
IGN: How important is the player base’s perception of the meta versus the actual empirical data? Numbers might say that things are in line, but if people feel like the meta is out of whack, that’s another thing. How important is it to take people’s perception into account?
Naoyuki Miyashita: We definitely think that how the player feels is important. We have a platform, such as SNS – like, Twitter, Facebook and other online forums… and many people said, for example, that Daria is too strong, please nerf this card, but on the other hand, we did a survey, in one of our official playguides that is published in Japan, and in the survey, the most popular card, that people voted for, was actually Daria. So while there are many people that hate the card, on the other hand, there are just as many people that like the card as well, so it’s very easy to see negative comments online, especially, but it’s important not to pay too much attention to that, and to actually look at the data, because, while we do respect how people feel, we also have to think about the people that actually love the card as well, so we think the actual numbers, the data, is the most important when it comes to making decisions.
IGN: Since we’ve been talking about Daria, let’s talk about the direction for Runecraft in Tempest of the Gods. It feels to me like the Spellboost cards have been downplayed a little and instead the focus is more on the Earth Rite synergy. Hulking Giant, in particular, could be a ridiculously strong card. Your thoughts on how you’d like to see Runecraft change with this expansion?
Yuichiro Sato: With this expansion, we were aiming for more variety in Runecraft decks, so we expect Daria decks, Dimension Shift decks and Earth Rite decks with Hulking Giant to be in the meta.
IGN: Where do you see Wordwielder Ginger fitting in? What archetype is that card for? It’s an interesting card, but it feels like a Daria deck can put stuff onto the board pretty quickly, and a lot earlier than this card can.
Yuichiro Sato: Ginger doesn’t really fit into any of the archetypes that we just mentioned. She’s another type – you have to build your deck around that card. Daria is definitely faster when it comes to filling your board, but Ginger is able to play more expensive cards that cost more play points, so Ginger decks will be slower, but will have tougher cards with more play points in it.
Naoyuki Miyashita: We are expecting [to do] a lot more with Ginger in future cards and future expansions.
IGN: Given that D-Shift and Daria decks are already quite strong, does that limit what you can do with Spellboost cards? Do you have to ease off Spellboost for a while?
Naoyuki Miyashita: With decks that focus on Spellboost cards and the Spellboost mechanic, if we have too many spells that are very light, that cost very little, then decks focusing on Spellboost could easily become pretty strong in the meta, so we are carefully making sure that doesn’t happen.
IGN: What’s the tipping point for Shadowverse to introduce formats? How many cards is too many? Obviously the more cards you have in the overall pool the less impact a new set will have.
Naoyuki Miyashita: From very early on in development we were thinking about making this game something that lasts many years, so we do definitely recognise the importance of introducing formats, like other card games out there. So that’s something we’ve always been preparing for and considering, however, we can’t really give you a specific number [of cards] or date at this point.
IGN: Moving on to Shadowcraft. How will it change with Tempest of the Gods?
We are focusing more on strengthening the mid-range Shadowcraft decks. – Yuichiro Sato.
Yuichiro Sato: With Shadowcraft, it’s not too strong right now. We do have aggro decks in play right now, but with the release of the next expansion we are focusing more on strengthening the mid-range Shadowcraft decks. Right now we have aggro decks and then we’re going to be focusing on mid-range decks with this expansion. We also have Nephthys, that’s a slower deck. We are expecting to see more variety in the range of deck archetypes, but with this expansion in particular we are focusing on the mid-range Shadowcraft decks.
IGN: One of the new Shadowcraft cards that really jumped out at me, in particular, is Minthe of the Underworld, because it lets you cheat on shadows. Is that, potentially, a dangerous mechanic to include?
Yuichiro Sato: As you mentioned, Minthe of the Underworld is a bit of a cheating card. With Shadowcraft you have to always prepare your shadows to activate abilities, but with this card you can skip that process.
Naoyuki Miyashita: We are aware that it’s going to be pretty strong in combination with other cards, however, when playtesting with other current cards, we feel it’s nicely balanced out. We do understand the importance of making sure the balance is kept there, but we do believe that going forward, creating new cards, it’ll be fine.
IGN: What I really like about this card – and many of the cards in this set, actually, is that they encourage you to look at your collection with fresh eyes. You can re-evaluate all the cards with Necromancy effects, for example. Or in Bloodcraft you might re-evaluate all the cards with Vengeance effects. Is that something you’re very conscious about? Designing new cards that open up all the old cards again?
Yuichiro Sato: That’s definitely something we were conscious of when we were creating new cards for this pack – to open up uses for old cards that are not used very much right now. That’s something definitely we expected, so we wanted the players to look at old cards and find some fun ways to use them in combination with the cards in this new pack.