If you're just catching up on the news, a pretty big change was made to Arena just ahead of the Frozen Throne launch last week. The first two cards you'll be presented with in each draft will now have a certain synergy with one another, thus laying the groundwork for you to build a more thematically interesting deck that can exploit those foundational synergies.
It's an interesting enough idea to shake the mode up, but the problem here - beyond Blizzard making barely a mention of the change publicly - is that some of those synergies are 100% jank, while others are comparatively god-like. You feel compelled to build your deck around the poor synergies because it's the best shot you've got though, even knowing that you'll be running up against people with better luck than you, and not necessarily better judgement.
Now I have to admit to being a little bit uncomfortable about the artificial tinkering that's started happening with Arena over the last 12 months: spell card rates being changed, specific cards being banned and what have you. As necessary as it may be now that the card collection is so big - and the power-creep so real - there's something that feels wrong to me about meddling with the purity of Arena.
Despite that, I accept that these changes are necessary and healthy as long as all this under-the-hood work keeps Arena feeling like...well, Arena. This is different though. These synergy draft changes are a fundamental repositioning of the model, and I think Blizzard's on very shaky ground in arguing for experimentation and refinement while still taking people's money.
Compounding the problem of the change itself is the poor communication about it. It's my job to be plugged into every minute detail about Hearthstone seven days a week, and although a new expansion means I've naturally been swamped in the changes to Ranked play (Metabomb is predominantly a site about covering the best decks in constructed), even this change passed me by entirely. It passed everyone by.
So, in the rare moments I've been able to dabble in Arena between roadtesting new decks, that's my Gold or money being handed over for something that simply doesn't work the way it did a week ago, and with barely a passing mention that those changes have been made. It's not a tweak behind the scenes to card drafting rates, it's a reformulation of the entire ethos of Arena and it feels like cheating. I certainly felt a little cheated when I caught up on the news.
As much as I want to embrace game director Ben Brode's recent sentiment that there should not be an "us and them" mentality when it comes to Hearthstone's development, the reality is that “us” pay and “them” receive. When an established service or product changes so radically overnight - and without sufficient notice - it had better be a unanimously well-received improvement or you'll get the reaction you deserve.
When cards get nerfed, there's a generous serving of dust as compensation all round. What compensation for Arena players if this new drafting model is rolled back or even just adjusted again?
These two problems - the management of communication and change implementation - can be answered by Blizzard releasing a PTR for Hearthstone's Arena mode. WOW has one. Overwatch has one. Diablo has one.
The problem here of course is that Hearthstone is a free to play game, and time spent enjoying a free beta is dead time in terms of revenue. It's surely not an accident that the intro tutorial can't be skipped on alt accounts, and that it's painfully slow to gain access to that glorious free Arena ticket. It's annoying, but everyone understands it has to be this way.
Nevertheless there are Arena-focused community experts like ADWCTA and Merps of Lightforge, Kripparian - and countless others - who will surely invest time testing these changes, because they care deeply about this side of the game.
They want it to work every bit as much as the developers do, for the love of the game, and every bit as much as the money men do for the sake of Hearthstone's financial viability. Perhaps the PTR could be invitation-only and limited to a select few representatives in the community. Even a halfway house PTR that provided drafting only would at least provide space for pre-release feedback, improvement, and greater dissemination to the community of the changes that are coming.
Ultimately the Hearthstone developers can change what they want about Arena. They can double your health in the mode overnight, or halve the number of cards in your deck if the numbers tell them that's a better experience.
People have the right to know about these changes before handing their money over though, and Hearthstone will be a better, healthier game if that feedback comes in the form of words rather than a sudden drop in revenue.
We have invited Blizzard to comment on this article, and will update it if we receive a response.