The Glorious Art Behind Hearthstone's The Grand Tournament

There are knights on noble steeds; those who would bring them to their knees!

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Blizzard's popular strategy card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is getting its second expansion this month, The Grand Tournament. The update brings players to Northrend, where heroes from the Argent Crusade have gathered following the fall of The Lich King.

The Grand Tournament will introduce 132 new cards to the game, as well as an all-new minion power, called Inspire. We sat down with Hearthstone art director Ben Thompson to talk about the process behind designing art for the new cards, and what players can look forward to in the new board.

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"As with all adventures and expansions, [The Grand Tournament] is coming with a new board to help sell the vibe of the game and bring it to life further than even the cards can," Thompson said.

"There's all new clickables on each of the corners. That includes the archery stand in the lower-right corner, you've got your food tent in the lower left because any time you're at a tournament you've got your food tent where you have to go get your edibles. There's the crowd in the upper left that have a number of different reactions, some of which interact with gameplay. And in the upper right corner you've got your knight's tent, where they can prepare for the next tournament. There's a little bit of snow, because it's in Northrend. But this is our version of Northrend where spring has come and there's flowers and everything involved in there as well.

"With the archery down there, you can test your skills with getting a bulls-eye--fun stuff happens when you hit a bulls-eye or better. You've got your target dummy as well, in terms of being able to whittle away at him. Sometimes arrows go astray and may do him some damage too. Your food tent doesn't just serve pies, there's other stuff to consume. The audience in the upper left is my favourite, just because for the first time they're interacting with gameplay; they commiserate with you when you get hit for a lot of damage, they cheer for you when you do a lot of damage. If you hit above a certain numeric amount on a hero, they start putting in their two cents and scoring you on how good that hit was. In the upper right, you have that fun weathervane… You can start twiddling away at things like the banners and flags and stuff. From small to large, all the clickables are there that you can interact with, including that roasted ham in the bottom left which, careful that you don't let it burn!"

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Poisoned Blade

"This will be a weapon card where you're going to be able to give a weapon to a hero. Any time we do weapon cards we try to be very clear--it's got to be something that reads very definably as a single weapon and not focused on the character holding it, or on the spell surrounding it. Rather, the difference between daggers and axes and what not. So obviously this is something that is a poisoned blade. It feels like a short dagger, so probably very rogue-like in its usage. Typically, item cards can be a little more difficult in some cases for artists because they don't have the character behind it and all the different armour and stuff like that.

"It's often challenging to get the artist to do a weapon such a way that feels compelling and interesting and also still fit that World of Warcraft feel. In this case I think that they did a good job of that and it feels properly imposing while still feeling of Hearthstone, which is fun and big chubby shapes.

"Some of these weapons are based off World of Warcraft existing items, if you look at Doomhammer, that's a very iconic weapon. Because of that we want it to feel exactly like that, albeit, maybe our version of it. Other times, we'll often provide the artists with a series of references of other blades that are like that so that they can get a general idea."

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Wilfred Fizzlebang

"This is a character that ties to a previous character seen not only in World of Warcraft but Hearthstone as well. If you think of Lord Jaraxxus, the character that comes into the Warlock decks, replaces your hero, 15 points of health and changes your hero power and everything in the process.

"People who play World of Warcraft will know Lord Jaraxxus as the mis-summoned accident of Wilfred Fizzlebang. When you interacted with him in World of Warcraft, he summoned this great creature to try and do battle with you. In the end he summoned a warlord, somebody he has no ability to handle. It ends up being his doom, and then you have to fight Lord Jaraxxus in the game. We've kind of had a nod to that here where the shadow of Lord Jaraxxus is seen behind Mr. Fizzlebang. He seems pretty confident of himself, even though Lord Jaraxxus probably has other plans."

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Tuskarr Totemic

"This is an example of giving power to things like totems, because the Inspire power is about building on the powers of not only other minions.

"I love this race in World of Warcraft, they just have a fun innocence about them even though they're very steadfast fighters, they have just a fun bumbly quality about them as well.

"I think they work really well in Hearthstone, but in this case this is pointing towards totems and the powers that they have based on inspire as a hero power, kind of buffing them and giving them more presence in the game."

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Lock and Load

"Lock and Load is basically a power that changes the whole look and feel of the game when it's going off. It allows you to cast a lot of different Hunter spells simultaneously.

"Basically the art description for this was somebody that was going to use every bit of ammo at their disposal all at once. It's got kind of Rambo-meets-gnome quality here. It's a lot of fun to see when it comes into play in the game, but even if you look at the golden animation of this card, where the art is animated, it's really awesome because Max Ma, who is one of our UI artists, did a series of bullets cascading out of the guns and it's got this sense of awesome life to it."

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Skycap'n Kragg

"This one has become one of the marquee pieces for The Grand Tournament, for obvious reasons. I mean, the whole idea behind the Grand Tournament is that it's the unexpected champions from across Azeroth and all the races. The idea being that maybe the original tournament was put together by the noble and honourable humans but very quickly all these other races wanted to get involved too.

"So you've got some less-than-honourable and less-than-noble or even less expected versions of champions from across Azeroth such as Orcish pirates on overgrown parrots. I like this piece quite a bit in that it leans so heavily into what we in Hearthstone really try to get in our game throughout which is delightful surprise, lots of charm, lots of attitude in a kind of fun-loving way that's never really over-the-top or epic, other than epically charming. I think this guy captures all those things. It was one of those art descriptions that kind of came up where once we had assigned it to the artist it was just, 'okay, say no more, I know exactly what we're going to do here.' And it actually ended up being used as an image in our cinematic for The Grand Tournament. We couldn't be happier with how it turned out."

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Frost Giant

"Frost Giant is very much one of those denizens of Northrend that people who played World of Warcraft and played the original Argent Tournament setup will recognise. They were some of the original foes that you had to go crush and beat, be it through quest lines or otherwise.

"We've kept some of the content from Northrend and from the Argent Tournament as we moved to The Grand Tournament where it made sense to do so. This is one example. While we're no longer trying to put together the best band of people to kill the Lich King, there are trials that aren't jousting or battles of combat or archery. It's sometimes going and finding a big bad foe in the North and defeating him and bringing back proof of your trial. Knight's trials are still very much a thing in your medieval fantasy of Northrend."

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Justicar Trueheart

"This one's a fun one as well. This is one that starts to really point out the different feelings of a champion and what it means to be a noble knight on their steed, or in this case, on her steed. This was actually done by our in-house Team 5 concept artist Jomaro Kindred.

"It was one of the first pieces he did for the game. This one was a lot of fun because it was really about getting a strong female character who is representing not just her race but her class and getting her on a steed and showing how powerful they could be. It ended up coming out really awesome."

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Totem Golem

"This is one of my favourites. Steve Prescott was the artist on this. Steve has this natural ability to play with environments and natural subject matter in a way that makes them really fun and compelling.

"In this case, he got to take all this nature-inspired subject matter and put them into a living totem golem. It just feels very unique and very of Hearthstone while still occupying some place in World of Warcraft's lore.

"I love this piece to death. I love that there's also an original painting out there; he's one of the few people that we have as an artist who doesn't paint digitally, he actually does acrylics in this case. Somewhere, somehow, this painting is out there and it's a beautiful piece."

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Maiden of the Lake

"Maiden in the Lake is another good example of how we've gone through all these different mythoi. If you look at Arthurian legend and the Lady in the Lake, the one who gives King Arthur his sword, then carried over into World of Warcraft, and is now being represented in Hearthstone, it's just a really nice lineage of fable or mythology that's carried through. It helps cement in place the idea of that nobility, honour, and knighthood, in the same way that King Arthur did so many years ago. It gives you a nice feeling of a strong mythology or a strong place in history.

"I like the idea that this is a great example of a strong female character in a place of power, but not like over-power, or dominating in any nature. It's just a strong female character where a strong male could have worked as well. Because it's the Maiden in the Lake and it's got that strong mythology behind it, it's even stronger still. We try and do that whenever we can, really. Break the tropes where knights are men, and maidens are female."

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Ball of Spiders

"Ball of Spiders is one of those fun, horrific, and arachnophobic nightmares come to life. Ball of Spiders always was this fun sell idea in Hearthstone from years back. This idea of a spell that just gets out of control very quickly and becomes a problem for you no matter what. We always refer to a problem as like a ball of spiders; it's just going to come and unravel on you and you're not going to know how to handle it. It's one of those internal jokes to the team that became a card and a spell."

For high-resolution versions of the images shown, click through the gallery below.

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