Some Of The Most Ridiculously Random Cards In Collectible Card Games

Some Of The Most Ridiculously Random Cards In Collectible Card Games
Image: Hearthstone

There are a lot of collectible card games coming out lately. Magic is still going strong, Hearthstone is huge, Bethesda brought out Legends, Gwent is lots of fun, and more (DOTA 2!) are on the way. But many of these games seem intent on mimicking Hearthstone’s spectacle-targetting randomness. Let’s poke fun at a few of the more ridiculous cards.

I don’t begrudge any Hearthstone players their fun. They know what they’re getting into, they play anyway, and that’s fine. But I’m a little disappointed that more games haven’t chosen randomness as a point of differentiation, thereby giving us an option for a less random game instead of just copying the genre leader. Even Gwent, as different as it is, isn’t something I’d ever play competitively because of potentially game-deciding die rolls.

One I’ve been meaning to check out when I have the time is Codex, which comes from the creator of the upcoming Fantasy Strike.

Image: Heartstone

Ah, Unstable Portal. An oldy but a goodie. Ol’ faithful. This one has been banging around in casino mage decks for a long, long time. Not a huge play, but a consistent one. It could’ve been a much more palatable card if it only dealt with creatures in your deck — effectively making it a sacrifice of planning in exchange for a reduced mana cost. But nope, they just had to make it out of a pool of every minion in the game. The same thing goes for Nexus-Champion Saraad, which gives you a random spell (out of all the spells) every time you cast your heroic ability.

And then Sneed’s Old Shredder is there to summon a random legendary minion when it dies. I actually like that they limit it to legendary, but still — the result of that die roll could decide the game, which is not okay.

But that’s nothing compared to…

Image: Hearthstone

Ah, Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End, the bane of people who like to pretend Hearthstone is an esport. Because nothing says “tournament ready” more than using the word “random” two times in your card description. This one has already caused controversies in high-profile Hearthstone tournaments, and it is absolutely possible to throw a Hail Mary with Yogg-Saron from a losing position to come out with a win.

Pure filth.

I don’t even feel bad for making fun of Hearthstone, as its developers have repeatedly said Blizzard targetted randomness for a more exciting spectator experience. But other games have been following suit. Enter Legends…

Wabbajack is about as nuts as it gets in Legends. Theoretically, you’d be whacking either a low power friendly minion or a high power enemy minion with this, and statistically you’re more likely to end up with a minion that’s towards the middle of the bell curve. But practically, with all the keywords and special abilities in play, this can be a game-deciding moment.

Wisdom of Ancients is probable my least favourite kind of randomness in Legends. There are several cards with this function. Royal Sage, Mundus Stone, Echo of Akatosh, to name a few more. With a full board, this reaches almost Yogg-Saron levels of “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be big”.

Heroic Rebirth is not too dissimilar from an Unstable Portal, though you have to give up one of your creatures. I’m also not much of a fan of cards like Flesh Sculpture or Blackmail, which is based on card draw randomness, but there’s very little planning or strategy in the use of the card.

Not even Gwent is pure of RNG madness, and while the Monsters deck is the worst offender (randomness is part of its core system), it’s actually a neutral card that comes out on top.

Image: Gwent

Johnny is legitimately about as nuts as it gets in Gwent, which is… Not very nuts. I don’t like it, but most of the other random cards in the game are at least based around strategies that use that card. They’re meant to be used in a very specific way, with known odds, making it a bit more like Poker to contrast Hearthstone’s 52 Card Pickup.

I’ll say this about Gwent, too. It has a lot of random shenanigans in its Monsters deck, which even has randomness built into its special trait… But at least players can’t follow up on a random move with a cheesy one-two punch. After every move in Gwent, the opponent gets a chance to respond, which by nature makes the randomness a little bit more manageable.

Cards like Johnny are definitely on the wrong side of the line for me still, and I’m a bit disappointed in the level of randomness Gwent has. It can change the outcome of the game, and I groan every time a Monsters casino decks rolls up. But at least I get a chance to respond whenever something crazy happens.

There’s also a lot more segmentation in Gwent’s randomness. Often random cards will be selected out of a pool such as the same rarity, or the same monster type, or the same power. Not only does that limit the craziness, it also allows you to manage that randomness and target it, such as with spider decks and cards that summon random spiders.

Did I leave any out? Which random-ass card grinds your gears? Are there any CCGs I didn’t mention that eschew randomness? Let everyone know in the comments below!


  • Personally I love the randomness. And I say that as someone who has been killed by my own Yogg-Saron more times than I have won with it.

    • I loved yogg pre nerf. It was fun. The stats Ben brode mentioned on the sub Reddit pre nerf was that overall, Yogg wasn’t deciding many games by huge swings, but more it was the few times it did, it stuck out in players minds generating a lot of dispoportionate frustration.

      • For that to happen in a competition at all though seems wrong in a game masquerading as competitive. Especially when an underdog can deliberately embrace it in a single elim situation.

        It sounds like by deciding” he just meant a swing in power, which is good, because I feel like most people talk about it just in terms of dealing a killing blow or causing lethal straight away. Pivotal moments can happen at the beginning & middle of a match as well as the end. Fair point to him then.

        There’s also an argument for there being SO MUCH randomness that, over the course of even one match, it could all balance out. I was just looking at some data that seemed to show that as of about a year ago, one in five cards had some kind of random element. Even higher than I expected.

        • My view is that randomness has never a barrier to competitive play, as long as it follows some basic principles, particularly the ability for players to respond to it. More broadly, randomness is an integral part of some of the most competitive games around, like poker, bridge and mahjong.

          Mark Rosewater (head designer, Magic the Gathering) wrote a great article on randomness and its applicability to games back in 2009, you can read it here.

          • Mmm, I’ve seen Rosewater defend RNG, and he’s very considered and elequent while doing so. I agree with him. But it’s worth pointing out that his game has the least RNG of all the popular virtual CCGs right now (pretty much just the card draw), while others are prioritising spectacle over balance.

            I put Hearthstone on the wrong side of that line. WAY over it. I actually think it’s embarrassing for players to be pulling out RNG cards in the final stages of a single elim. I could (and probably will) write a whole post about how an underdog – someone with maybe 35% odds to win, based on skill – could even those odds up by embracing RNG cheese.

            Of course not all RNG is created equal and a little bit is necessary, even in esports. CS and CoD would be much less interesting if spawns weren’t somewhat randomised. But no one can blame a loss on their spawns in CS, whereas it can be legitimate to blame a loss on Hearthstone RNG, which lessens its competitive credibility. Hearthstone RNG is the type that might balance out over 100 games, but it’s unlikely it’ll be balanced over the course of the one you’re playing right now.

            Even in those games like Poker that you mention, there are wagering systems to offset the randomness. If your opponent throws a Hail Mary, you can opt out of that exchange. Or you can call a bluff, which is more about playing the person than the game.

          • I take your point about poker, and that ties in to Rosewater’s point about being able to respond to randomness. The problem with it is all of poker’s decision making is done with only circumstantial knowledge of your opponent’s hand. You don’t know if your opponent is playing hail mary odds or has a comfortable chance until afterwards, so that information can’t educate your choice to opt in or out. The most important part of randomness in poker – the hidden hands – can’t be responded to directly, only by guesswork.

            I’m not suggesting Hearthstone’s approach is flawless, I think some random effect cards do need better balancing. I’ve played low-end competition Hearthstone so I’m by no means an expert or pro (my pro experience was as an MTG player and judge a lifetime ago), but for me personally I can’t say I’ve ever been frustrated at being beaten by Yogg. It’s so much of a desperate move that can backfire so easily that I’m just not bothered by it. I’m genuinely more frustrated when an opponent on the ropes topdecks a fireball or Arcanite Reaper to give them exactly how much they need to win when they were one turn away from loss.

            I really don’t feel like it harms competitive viability. Pro players rarely use random effects to begin with because they’re so hard to plan around. They’re almost never core to the way a deck functions, and they wouldn’t have gotten to the level of play they did if they hadn’t learned how to survive random elements.

            I look forward to your followup article on underdogs evening the odds because that doesn’t gel with my experience of the game so far. Most random effects are reasonably balanced such that the average result is on par with the card cost, which means it’s luck, not randomness, that creates the circumstances by which an underdog can win. But that same luck also gives that same underdog a smooth victory just through card draw alone. I’m eager to see (and debate) the points you plan to raise that would give a random-heavy underdog a higher win rate on average because of the random cards, and not just a statistical fringe result in a single game.

        • I kind of agree with blizzard, maybe not go full casino, but randomness is good. Keeps things more exciting. Strip away most of the randomness and you get the current HS meta.

          Random and unexpected outcomes is what make a lot of (e-)sports and can create memorable moments.

          I think it was Trump during an early tournament in GvG that lost to a doomsayers out of his shredder. It was a miniscule chance, and it was the one card that would result in a loss. Same with some of the yogg tournament outcomes, or Pavel and babbling book lethal.
          I couldn’t name any other moments, but those I can because of the randomness.

          More tournaments are not decided by randomness than those that are, but I don’t remember any of those.

          Brian Kibbler did a very good video on those sorts of ments, randomness in HS etc. a few months back.

  • Yeah, because the randomness free current meta of HS is being lauded by it’s community.

    Honestly, the only real complaint is that *sometimes* the randomness can completely determine a game.

    The reality is that sometimes is often very statistically low.

  • This is why I play Shadowverse – it doesn’t have the randomness and only has a small amount of RNG. Great! Obviously I find it fun too.

  • Is Hearthstone a card game?

    I’ve never seen a Hearthstone card; just images on a computer screen.

    I’ve seen and held a Pokemon card, a Magic card, a Yu-gi-oh card, but never a Hearthstone, Legends or Gwent card.

    Not arguing that these aren’t good, fun games. Just not ‘card’ games (I might accept ‘Virtual Card’).

    • That’s possibly the most pointless argument of semantics I’ve seen. Nobody says a car game has to be called a ‘virtual car’ game because it doesn’t involve real physical cars, or a zombie game has to be called a ‘virtual zombie’ game because it doesn’t involve real zombies.

      We dropped the use of the word ‘virtual’ to refer to things on computers years ago. It’s a card game because it uses cards, it doesn’t matter if they’re virtual or real.

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