Hearthstone Classic Update Reignites Succubus and Felstalker Card Art Controversy

Hearthstone's Classic mode will let you play the game roughly as it was in 2014, but the controversial Succubus card will remain Felstalker in the retro format.

Photo: Blizzard

Blizzard is bringing back the “classic” version of Hearthstone, which has proven to be all the reason some fans need to revisit a debate over changes to made to one of Hearthstone‘s classic cards, Succubus.

For context, Blizzard recently announced that the release of Hearthstone‘s upcoming expansion will also mark the release of a new “Classic” format that lets you play the game roughly as it was when it officially launched in 2014. While that may not seem like a big deal for a game where nearly every card ever made is readily available for crafting and play, you have to remember that quite a few balance changes have been implemented since Hearthstone launched. While many of those changes were welcome at the time, updates to certain cards meant that entire decks and strategies were either no longer viable or not nearly as effective as they once were.

The Classic format will theoretically allow players to revisit the game’s earlier days, but not everything will be exactly how it was. For instance, the rarity of some cards will be updated to more accurately reflect modern systems, and the Classic format will benefit from integration with Hearthstone’s updated rewards structure. However, there’s one change mentioned in the notes for the format’s reveal which seems to have captured the most attention so far:

“All balance changes for these cards over the years will be reverted, but cosmetic changes will remain. For example: Felstalker will be Felstalker and will not revert to Succubus.”

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What does that mean? Well, in July 2019, Blizzard announced that they decided to change some of Hearthstone‘s card art. All the changes they announced targeted cards that were either violent in comparison to other cards in the game or featured more sexualized characters. Here are two examples of both those concepts:

Hearthstone Bite card art
Hearthstone Secretkeeper card art

A popular theory at the time suggested that these changes were made in order to appease censors in China who sometimes target instances of violence and sexuality in video games. However, Blizzard has said that wasn’t necessarily the case. In a statement to PC Gamer, former Hearthstone team member Dave Kosak stated that the changes weren’t initiated because the team was “looking at ratings, or international [regulations], or anything like that” and rather because they “went back and really just brought everything up to our standards.” He also noted that they “wanted our artists to feel good about everything in the set.”

While there was always a debate about these changes, none of the original art alterations have been more controversial than those made to the Warlock class card, Succubus.

Hearthstone Succubus and Felstalker card art

Unlike many of the other cards that were changed in 2019, the Succubus card lost both its name and original art. The only other card to have its art and name changed at that time was the Warlock card Mistress of Pain (renamed Queen of Pain) but in that instance, the name change was minor and the art was still reflective of the original design.

To be certain, there’s a degree to which the frustration over this particular change can be attributed to fans who were annoyed (or at least willing to play annoyed) over the idea that one of the more popularly sexualized cards in Hearthstone had been significantly altered. In case you missed it, a similar controversy recently took over the Mass Effect community. As was the case in that instance, it seems more than reasonable for developers and artists to change their minds over a decision years after it was made and make what they believe to be the appropriate alterations.

There are a couple of unique qualities worth pointing out about this particular change, though. For instance, some have argued that the change doesn’t make a great deal of sense from a lore perspective. The Succubus was one of the earliest minions Warlocks could summon in World of Warcraft. While Warlocks could summon creatures similar to the Felstalker (Felguards and Felhunters), the Felstalker wasn’t part of the class’s minion stable. For what it’s worth, Felguards and Felhunters have their own Hearthstone cards. Hearthstone has also often played fast and loose with Warcraft tradition in the past and often goes so far as to parody classic WoW concepts.

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Some fans are also pointing out retaining this change goes against the idea of playing Hearthstone as it was at launch. The popular argument there typically mentions that, unlike Magic the Gathering cards or Pokemon cards (which are certainly having a moment right now), once a digital Hearthstone card is changed, you can’t really get it back as it was into your collection. The ability to make such changes is an advantage from a design standpoint, but it’s currently leaving some a bit disappointed that they won’t be able to “exactly” recreate Hearthstone as it was via the upcoming Classic format. We regularly see variations of this argument in any form of digital media where the inability to own a thing as it was can sometimes leave you subject to deal with changes made to its content or availability.

Just as it was when these cards were changed the first time around, there are already players saying they won’t touch Hearthstone‘s Classic format due to these changes. While it remains to be seen if a significant number of long-time players are quite that adamant, it’s worth noting that Succubus rarely saw competitive play even when Hearthstone launched with a comparatively smaller card pool.

We’ll bring you more information about Hearthstone‘s Classic format as we near its currently unconfirmed launch date.