“My name is Kel’thuzad, king of kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty and despair!”… Ok, fine, that may have not been a quote about Naxxramas, that may have been a quote from Percy Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”, but it does seem that the lich is getting more and more powerful as we are move further into the deep necropolis known as Naxxramas. And, as Kel’thuzad raises a more powerful army to defend his haunted doors, more new and exciting cards get released. This week opened up (kinda) the Plague Quarter, which, like every quarter, brings about both new cards to play with as well as more options for every hero. This article will look over the cards from the Plague Quarter, and discuss how strong (or not strong) they will be in both the coming meta and the August ladder season.
Honestly, I originally wasn’t going to mention Stoneskin Gargoyle at all in this article, but I feel like I shouldn’t leave it out as it is part of the Plague Quarter. A 1/4 for three is already weak, and it’s ability isn’t anywhere near strong enough to warrant serious play. It could be buffed in some decks (such as Druid) but the possibilities of this card are very few and very limited. Might be picked in arena (if you have nothing better) but probably won’t go anywhere beyond that.
The second common the Plague Quarter gives us is the very interesting Unstable Ghoul. This is perhaps one of the most undervalued cards in the set.The reason for this is two-fold. First, a card like the ghoul already exists (in the form of Voidwalker) so a 1/3 with taunt doesn’t seem terribly exciting. Secondly, this card also doesn’t seem to have an immediate impact on the board, and one power doesn’t exactly create a threat. However, while Unstable Ghoul may fit into every deck, it is a great anti-aggro card that has some very powerful applications.
The general rule of control is to always stay alive long enough to get to the late game where your big minions and powerful spells can take over. Unstable Ghoul, being a two part card, does this very well. Early cheap taunts aren’t always the best thing to play in control, but three health is significant enough that certain cards (such as Haunted Creeper, Argent Squire or a Dire Wolfed Voidwalker) can’t punch through. Add in the pseudo Abomination ability, and you have a very good early game option for most control decks. By being able to do one damage to all creatures this card deals with things like the increasingly annoying Haunted Creeper, has the ability to trade with two toughness minions (Knife Juggler) and also can finish off larger creatures later in the game. All of those factors add up to a very strong tool for control, and this is a card that, while not going into every control deck, has many applications across different varieties of play.
While most people aren’t talking about this, Unstable Ghoul seems like it would be a perfect fit for Shaman Midrange. Yes, it doesn’t exactly interact well with Argent Squire and Searing Totem, but it does help Shaman draw into its better threats and extend the game. Almost all of Shaman’s midrange cards are very strong (ranging from Lightning Storm to Fire Elemental) but getting to the later stages of the game without falling behind early has always been a problem against aggro. Unstable Ghoul fixes this problem rather nicely, giving you another creature, and while it may not be as strong as Wild Pyromancer, you will have the ability to drop it on turn two without needing a way to activate it as it inherently activates itself. Also, it’s great when paired with a Healing Totem.
A much more fringe example, I’m not entirely sure that Unstable Ghoul has a place in Control Paladin. As of right now, Kolento’s deck is the most popular iteration of this deck, and it does what it does very well. The plethora of healing, strong taunts and great lategame make it a very good choice against a large part of the field. It is true that the new deathrattle cards do give it some problems, but I’m not sure if the ghoul is the solution. I am mentioning this deck however, because as aggro grows stronger (and continues to grow stronger in the coming weeks) decks like Paladin are going to need all the help they can get. Yes, ghoul does kill off your own one/ones but if it triggers early on in the game that should hardly matter.
You might be saying to yourself “Midrange warrior? That’s not a deck”…Well, yes, that’s true. However, I believe that there is a strong possibility that there will be one (hello Death’s Bite) when the dust from Naxxramas settles. Control Warrior (which we will get to below) has been shifting to more of a midrange deck for sometime now, and cards like Unstable Ghoul, which procs Armorsmith and Acolyte of Pain while also providing a body to fight back against more aggressive decks, are just the type of things a midrange build needs. I’m not saying this card alone will give rise to a new breed of warrior decks, but there is possibility here, and that should not be overlooked. However, no matter how good Unstable Ghoul is in Midrange Warrior, it will be even better in its Control counterpart, which has been waiting for a card like this for a long time.
“Slam just isn’t that good in the current meta”. I have heard this adage time and time again from my Control Warrior playing friends. It is a sad fact, but Slam doesn’t pack the punch that it used to, and many Warrior players have been looking for a replacement for some time. They may have just found one. No deck stands to gain more from Unstable Ghoul’s ability than Control Warrior, whose only purpose is to make it to the late turns. This card is strong for all the reasons listed above (interactions with Armorsmith, another Whirlwind for Acolyte etc.) but is even more powerful in Control Warrior as, because their late game is so incredibly powerful, surviving the early turns is more key to this deck that perhaps any other.
Sludge Belcher, much like Unstable Ghoul, is a very hard card to evaluate at first glance. However, when you start to think about the different possibilities this card presents you realize how powerful it can be. Let’s go through some stats. For five mana you get a Sen’jin Shieldmasta. Not the best, but also it could be worse. In the evolving metagame a 3/5 with taunt seems to be easier and easier to answer, but therein lies the rub, Sludge Belcher is not just a 3/5 with taunt. It’s a 3/5 with taunt that also leaves a 1/2 taunter behind. That extra slime may not seem too important , but it makes all the difference. By being two taunts in one card, it almost acts like a Sunwalker, taking at least two hits to get rid of, while being a major annoyance to any deck trying to press through for damage. Yes, Sludge Blecher does have one less damage that Sunwalker, but it also costs one less, making it fit into the curve of a lot of control or midrange oriented decks.
So the big question is, where does this card fit? That’s an interesting questions because the answer really depends on the metagame. In a burst oriented meta this card reigns absolutely supreme. Giving two taunts for the price of one enables this to stop Leeroy cold in his tracks (even with Shadowstep) while also blocking two hits (or more) from a Doomhammer. It also shuts down the Force of Nature combo and takes away . Yes, like all taunts it is very weak to silence, but the fact that is generally has to be silenced speaks to the power of the card.
While Sludge Belcher has a lot of potential, the only deck I can see making great use out of him as it currently stands is Shaman. Most other control and midrange decks would rather have their current middle game creatures (Druid of the Claw, Azure Drake, Cairne) and he has no place in aggro. The reason that he will be good in Shaman is that more and more decks have been playing Ancestral Spirit, and while he is no Earth Elemental, he makes an excellent target that doesn’t overload you at all. That interaction could be very hard to deal with, and since they already have so many other great targets (Nerubian Egg, Haunted Creeper, Cairne) Sludge Belcher just seems like an excellent addition to the party.
Possibly the best legend in the set (which says something about the legend quality in Naxx) Loatheb is a card that has zero downside while also having very limited upside. To understand that sentence we should break down the evil fungus and see what he does. At his base, Loatheb is a 5/5 for five which, while not terribly exciting, is definitely a threat that needs to be answered. In this way he can also trade for creatures and kill of plenty of minions. In addition, and something that is often vastly overlooked, is that because of his ability, Loatheb is almost impossible to kill on the turn after he’s played. If you get him out on turn five the only spell that can hit him is Soulfire, which takes all of your opponent’s mana to play. As such, because his very sturdy 5/5 body will stick around for a turn unless he’s traded off with creatures, and because his ability also has the bonus of putting spell heavy decks like Freeze Mage, Miracle Rogue and Shaman back a turn, there is almost no downside to putting him into your deck.
Yet, that being said Loatheb also comes with very little upside. What I mean by that is, unlike a card like Ragnaros where you get to do eight free damage, more often than not his ability will be a non factor. There are plenty of good creatures at the five and six spots which would be played over spells anyway, and even against Miracle Rogue, a lot of the time they will simply play an Azure Drake and pass. In these games, he acts as a Stranglethorn Tiger that can be attacked. But, because he can be played later in the game to prevent lethal from Druid Combos, Leeroy/Shadowstep or Fireball he definitely has no downside. I just wish he gave a little more upside as well.
In terms of decks, I’m not exactly sure where Loatheb will fall. Because of his “setting you back a turn” ability, I do think he will be great in almost all midrange decks and might even find his way into control as a way to fight the mirror. Playing a 5/5 that takes away Control Warriors cheap removal and card draw for a turn could be very good. The same goes with stopping Freeze Mage from being able to draw cards and even Paladin from being able to play things like Humility, Equality and Consecration.
Tempo Rogue/Midrange In General
I think out of every deck, Loatheb will find a home in the Tempo Rogue type strategies, as setting your opponents back is exactly what you want to do in those builds. Combined with cards like Backstab, Sap, Eviscerate and Big Game Hunter, Loatheb can fit right into the curve of setting up your game plan while just destroying your opponents. That is really the point of the legend, and since Tempo Rogue seeks to do that anyway, this is probably his most likely fit.
The other deck Loatheb will be very strong in is Ramp Druid. There are already a bunch of strong middle game creatures in ramp, but the earlier you play Loatheb the stronger he becomes. Spells are often most used as solid removal or card draw during the third and fourth turns of the game, and Innervating into Loatheb on one of those turns could be a very large swing that shoots you ahead. Not only that, but it is no secret that Ramp also struggles immensely in the control wars. Because of the reasons stated above, Loatheb has the ability to help this fight a lot while also giving Druid a way to slow down other Control decks while building up their board with another large threat.
Shhhh…it’s a secret. The very definition of a niche card, Duplicate is either going to be very good, or very bad. I understand how that sentence reads, but my point is there is no middle ground with this card. If Mad Scientist (one of my favorite cards in the set) proves that there really can be a Mage Secrets deck, then Duplicate will absolutely be a part of it, combining with Kirin Tor Mage to create a very powerful engine. However, that does seem unlikely, and this card will probably sit unplayed in your collection for the coming months. The ability is very gimmicky, and because you have no control over when to trigger it (and the fact that you can’t trigger it) makes it very mediocre. Add in the fact that it doesn’t help the board at all and this card just doesn’t have that many applications.
The final card coming out of the oozing slime of the Plague Quarter, Webspinner seems like a very bad card at first glance. However, even though the random effect is a bad payoff for a 1/1 for one, there is much more to this card than first meets the eye. As a body with an additional effect, which also has the beast archetype, Webspinner looks as if it will make its way into many Hunter decks.
Let’s get this out-of-the-way: this card, while very interesting, has no place in Hunter Aggro. Stonetusk Boar gives also you a beast for both Buzzard and Kill Command, but also has the ability to able to provide a quick one damage. However, in Hunter Midrange this card has the ability to shine. Midrange decks are all about scaling up, and that’s exactly what this card does. With a deck like Tempo-Rogue or Midrange Druid you play early creatures (Loot Hoarder/Harvest Golem) to be able to make way for your bigger threats down the road. Midrange Hunter has always functioned on that plan, getting early beasts out to hold the board long enough for the Kodos, Highmanes and Snapjaws to show up. Webspinner does exactly this, giving you a turn one play, that has the ability to trade off early for payment later in the game. As already stated, add-on the fact that it is a beast, and the fact that it can be used with Hunter’s Mark, and this card falls exactly where the slower hunter decks want it to.
Randomness is not something many players (myself included) enjoy. As such, this card may seem like a little bit of a risk, netting you something like a Angry Chicken or a Hungry Crab when you really need a Savannah Highmane or a Stranglethorn Tiger. However, while you can discuss extremes, getting another River Crocolisk or Oasis Snapjaw is not necessarily a bad thing. Not only that, but even the smaller creatures still trigger off of buzzard and give you a body on the board. In that way, this card is a two in one that also grants you some extra board presence. In the worst case it gives you a small body for free (because it wasn’t in your deck to begin with) and in the best case scenario it just smooths out your curve, enables you with another draw, and gives you another Houndmaster target. Webspinner may only slot into one deck, but it will be a big boost for that deck, giving a value one drop while also enabling you to push bigger creatures into the later game.
The Plague Quarter may not give us the most exciting options, but it does give some new cards to the metagame and brings about a strong legend. While the roll out is just starting, there are many applications for the new cards which I will be covering in the upcoming weeks. Each quarter will bring about changes to the metagame and the Plague Quarter is no exception. Naxx looks like a blast so far and I for one cannot wait to delve deeper into floating Necropolis. Bring it on Kel’thuzad.