Hearthstone: A thought on Sap vs Mind Control – A Case of Owners and Controllers

Hello everybody, Geek Generation here.

I think Tavern Brawl should be playable today. I thought i’ll push this post through first before i go home to play later today.

Sap Mind_Control

I looking through hearthstone forums when i came across a question similar to this:

What happens when i Sap a minion that a Priest Mind Control led. The poster went on to say that the card text should say “Return minion to controller’s hand” and not “Return minion to owner’s hand”. It is only fair that those who do not understand the background of this issue cannot appreciate the differences between “controller” and “owner”.

I do believe that the roots of this pedantry between controller and owner lies in Magic the Gathering. It might have older roots, i’m not sure. The distinction between controller and owner arose from similar card interactions involving changing control of a creture and creature bounce (minions in Hearthstone = creatures in Magic the Gathering).

In Magic the Gathering, whenever a creature is bounced back to hand, regardless of the creature’s current controller, the creature is bounced back to the owner’s hand. This is completely opposite from what happens in Hearthstone when minions are bounced.

Magic the Gathering began as a physical card game. A game session in Magic the Gathering involves those physical card, all of which have owners. When a game session completes in Magic the Gathering (physical), players pick up their cards and bring it around with them. They did not have to reveal the cards in their hands.

The game designers at Magic the Gathering anticipated that this could become a problem with creature bouncing, if the creature cards did not return to the owners’ hand that is. All sorts of things could happen, from forgetting that you’re holding a card that’s not owned by you to forgetting that your opponent is holding your card to sleight of hand thefts to blame behavior arising from lost cards, etc.

Hence cards in Magic the Gathering had controllers and owners. If a creature has a cost that deals damage as a cost, then it would refer to the controller. If the card had to leave the board, it normally would refer to the owner.

Hearthstone did not begin as a physical card game. The contents of a game session are generated for the session and do not persist outside of the session. Hence, barring severe programming errors, cards do not have a chance to get misplaced when minions are bounced to the owner’s hand instead of the controller’s hand.

An obvious question is, which is the better method? Bouncing creatures to owner’s hand or bouncing minions to controller’s hand? I would say, if the developers intend to make both physical and digital versions of a card game, then they have to stick to the Magic the Gathering style to minimize card misplacement and also to ensure consistency between the versions. However, if a card game is ever only going to be digital, then i would say that Hearthstone’s style is makes more sense and is actually more elegant.

I know there’ll be alot of people with Magic the Gathering background who will disagree with me. At one point in time, i dislike the Hearthstone method too. But hear me out. There are three points i like to make with regard to saying bouncing minions to controllers hand is better.

1.) Bouncing a creature/minion to owner’s hand is a learned behavior/culture. Without considering the issue of card misplacement, one style doesn’t get better than the other. However, if we consider a card that has text “Return this minion to hand at end of turn”, a player with no background in Magic the Gathering would likely read the card as returning to controller’s hand.


2.) Bouncing a creature/minion to owner’s hand is made this way because of the possibility of misplacement of cards. As a digital, it makes no sense to apply the constraints of physical cards to digital cards. If digital card games allowed themselves to be constrained like they were physical cards, then cards like Unstable Portals would not exist. Because, they simply cannot exist in physical card games. Imagine the logistics involved in playing Unstable Portal as a physical card.

3.) If a bounce bounces a creature/minion to owner’s hand instead of controller’s hand instead, it creates an enhancement value to the bounce mechanic. Not only does the bounce does what it do, it also has a cleansing effect on mind control mechanics. So this does two things:
a) Increase the power level of bounce mechanics
b) Decrease the power level of mind control mechanics

Hex Frog

To me, a mechanic should simply do what it says. Additional properties like cleanisng should not be added to effects like bounce if we could help it. But of course, bounce mechanics do cleanse. A minion with +1/+1 gets cleansed of it when it’s bounced. Damaged minions come back at full health when resummoned after a bounce. But we should note that bouncing a frog doesn’t give us back the original minion.

If you mouse over a card with +1/+1, the +1/+1 will show up in the effects list. But if you mouse over a Frog, it doesn’t say, “This Frog was once a Ragnaros” and it certainly doesn’t says, “This minion’s owner is Joe, controller is Jane”. These texts, imo, would make for a very convoluted list of effects.

Consider this, if bounce could cleanse a minion of mind control, shouldn’t a Silence do the same thing as well? Which loops back into point 3. More cards get more value, mind control loses value.

Ok, this has become a pretty lengthy wall of text. So much for now, Geek Generation out.


Posted on 18 June, 2015, in CCG, Gaming, Hearthstone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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