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Hearthstone's game-changing new mechanic almost got cut entirely

"We were really down to the wire..."

Magnetic, Hearthstone's latest game-changing keyword, almost didn't make it into this month's new Project Boomsday expansion. In fact, it was so tough to implement well that it almost got binned completely.

Blizzard has spoken before about how Magnetic began life as Modular, a different version of the keyword which required you to choose one of two effects for your Mech cards, and that its ability to latch onto and modify a card went through various changes prior to release.

Speaking to Blizzard today at Gamescom 2018, however, Hearthstone senior game designer Dean Ayala told me how close the mechanic came to being omitted entirely, and what those original choices were which ended up getting changed.

"Magnetic is really interesting and one of the most interesting things for the set," Ayala told me, "but also it took us a really long time to get there. It took us much longer than most mechanics.

"Normally we have these mechanics locked in place 12 weeks in [to designing a set] and the card design lasts 28 weeks. For what ended up being Magnetic, we were really down to the wire... down to 23 or 24. And we could have shipped the set without it entirely, but it would have felt like a lot less stuff going on without it. I'm really glad we managed to make it even though it was really late."

The finished version of Magnetic allows minions to be merged together when you place a Magnetic card specifically to the left of an existing Mech. Its effects will then act as if a spell had effected the card, meaning it can also be Silenced. It's a hangover from an earlier version of Magnetic which specifically offered the choice of a spell-like change.

"We had a version of it called Modular, for a long time," Ayala continued. "You would play a Modular card and it would have two options - hey, do you want to attach this to a mech like a spell? Or, do you want to play it as a minion? And it felt kind of clunky. Thematically there are multiple ways you can choose to play mechs, but there are a lot of them a lot of them were Modular, so playing the game felt really slow.

"If you played one you'd have to choose one [of its options]. Imagine playing a game and it was all 'Choose One...' cards. It would take a really long time. We were trying to find a UI solution, it took us a really long time and then someone had an 'a-ha!' moment where one of the UI designers had the idea of attaching mechs [together]. We tried it on both sides, and the spirit of modular was the freedom to choose, which was interesting gameplay and nice to have more decision points as long as they don't introduce too much complexity. And we didn't think it did, so having left and right is cool."