Last wing of Karazhan was released over a week ago. We finally got to play with every card this expansion has to offer. Meta is already stabilizing and we can see the way it develops. While it will still take few weeks for people to test everything and optimize their decks, a lot of trends already start to develop.
In this article I wanted to talk about the cards that seems to have biggest impact on the meta so far. And not only that – the cards that might have impact on the meta until 2018, when Karazhan rotates out of Standard.
I want to focus not on the cards that are strongest, but on those which had biggest IMPACT. Meaning they changed something even so slightly, they made people build decks around it, they impacted a given deck or class in some way (e.g. deck’s play style or how you play against a certain class). Those cards are usually also the strongest ones, but that is not the main criterion.
Most Impactful Cards
10. Nightbane Templar
I’ll open up with this one. Dragon Paladin has been getting some popularity recently and it turned out to be an alright deck. The best decklist hasn’t been figured out yet, as people are trying different styles, ranging from Aggro, through Midrange up to Control. Luckily, Nightbane Templar fits into every one of those. It’s one of the best 3-drops in the game. It gets a big advantage over already decent Blackwing Technician, because multiple bodies are harder to remove and get more flexibility when it comes to trading.
I don’t think that any of the lists is really top tier material. But I feel like Nightbane Templar, along with the other Dragon-related cards, has finally made Dragon Paladin viable. I haven’t played any of the decks myself, but I faced some of them on the ladder and seen some streamers play them. And I feel like they are definitely good enough to hit Legend with.
Example decklist: Thijs’ Dragon Paladin
9. Malchezaar’s Imp
When it comes to impactful Warlock cards – it was either this or Silverware Golem. I think that both cards are on a similar power level, but I’d say that Malchezaar’s Imp is what really pushed the archetype from “gimmicky” to “viable”. Silverware Golem is all about big tempo swings and Imp adds the very needed consistency to the deck.
And the archetype I’m talking about is obviously Discard Warlock, also known as Discard Zoo also known as Discolock. The deck, like the names suggest, is a Zoo-like Warlock deck that introduced some Discard effects. By playing cards like Soulfire, Darkshire Librarian or Doomguard alongside cards that improve discard effects like Malchezaar’s Imp or Silverware Golem, it can abuse the heavy tempo swings of discarding without getting punished by well, emptying your hand faster than lightning.
The Discard Warlock still competes with the classic Zoo for the “best Warlock deck” award. Even after playtesting a bit of both after Karazhan I can’t really decide which one is stronger. They seem very similar in power, so I guess we’re going to see both, at least for now.
I put it so low on the list, because even though it created a new archetype, the archetype isn’t really that different form the one we knew already – Zoo Warlock. It’s a little more swingy (in either way – discarding the right card swings the game in Warlock’s favor, but discarding wrong one in the opponent’s) but it still plays similarly to the Zoo we all know. Unless someone goes all-in on discard mechanic, but I don’t think that’s the right way to do that.
Example decklist: Xixo’s Discard Warlock
8. Onyx Bishop
For some reason, before the card released it was hated by the majority of players. Everyone was like “meeh, this is terrible, this is not what Priest needs”. But the truth is that Priest has got two good cards and one mediocre one.
Onyx Bishop is the card that pushed the new Priest’s archetype – Resurrect Priest – to viability. The card introduced a second Resurrect effect, which made the deck much more consistent and allowed people to really build around it. It pushed the new way of building a Control Priest decks. Dropping all the small minions (well, sometimes leaving Wild Pyromancer) so the resurrect could consistently hit the bigger ones – Injured Blademaster, Priest of the Feast, Sylvanas Windrunner etc. And so, if the deck works correctly, it can swing the tempo heavily in the mid game by getting those threats out again and again and again.
Sure, it’s probably not enough to bring the dead class back to life. But it gave a glimmer of hope to all the Priest players around the world. And as much as the “best deck of the worst class” might not be the biggest honor, Resurrect Priest is probably the best deck Priest has.
Example decklist: Eyecelance’s Resurrect Priest
7. Menagerie Warden
If Beast Druid turned out to be the way it was supposed to, this one would probably be on the top of this list. But right now I can’t say that Menagerie Warden has AS BIG impact on the meta as it might have. But I can’t deny that it has some.
First of all, Menagerie Warden is still the reason why Beast Druid is remotely playable as a non-Aggro deck (pre-Karazhan it was only Aggro). The card is still very powerful. And that’s why it’s here. While not a tier 1 deck, Beast Druid is decently popular on the ladder. It’s a deck you might face from time to time and then you need to have Menagerie Warden in your mind all the time.
While it combos best with Stranglethorn Tiger and you won’t likely have a way to counter that, you can counter the combo with any other Beast. When playing against Beast Druid, clearing every Beast they have – especially the big ones – is more important than ever. But not only that – even DAMAGING a certain Beast without killing it might be important. Let’s say you play Zoo Warlock against Beast Druid and he drops turn 5 Druid of the Claw. You can’t kill it. Normally the best idea would (unless you’ve played around Swipe) to just play some stuff and leave it at full health, so you can do better trades next turn. But right now, it might be good idea to run your minions into it and leave it at 1/2 health without killing it. Why? Because Warden now won’t copy a 4/6 Taunt, which would probably be game over for you, but a 4/1 Taunt which is way easier to deal with.
Another thing is that leaving minions that are in Charge form is scary. Let’s say you’re at low health against Beast Druid. He has 5/5 Stranglethorn Tiger and 4/4 Druid of the Claw (in Charge) on the board. You can only remove one. It would seem like removing Tiger is a better idea – after all it is slightly bigger. But it actually might not be, because Menagerie Warden now spawns second 4/4 Charge and you get 8 face damage instead of 5. Obviously, it all depends on the situation, but prioritizing minions with Charge is definitely a consideration now with Menagerie Warden.
I still think that Beast Druid might see play if they will push a new strong card or two next expansion. And I feel that Menagerie Warden is strong enough card so people will eventually make it work. If not this year, maybe next one. I put it on this list mainly because of its possible future potential and because it significantly changes the way you play against Beast Druid.
Example decklist: Stonekeep’s Beast Druid
6. Book Wyrm
While I think that Netherspite Historian might be a better card, it didn’t really change THAT much in the way you play the deck or the way you play around it. It’s a simple value card that enemy can’t really interact with. The only thing it brought is the fact that you might sometimes want to play around random Deathwing enemy might have gotten from Discover.
But when it comes to Dragon decks and playing against Dragon decks, I’d say that Book Wyrm made a big impact. People play it in slower Dragon lists, but surprisingly it had made cut into some Dragon Warrior lists as well. What’s important is that you actually can play around this card and you might want to adjust your plays if you know that enemy might use it.
It changes the late game dynamic of the Dragon matchups a bit. I’d say that it’s similar to playing around Priest’s Cabal Shadow Priest when it was played in nearly every list. Now you need to think before dropping a 3 or less Attack target in the late game. For example, if you have Alexstrasza’s Champion and Twilight Guardian in your hand, you might first want to bait the Book Wyrm with the smaller one. Playing bigger one right into the Book Wyrm might be a huge, potentially game-losing swing (both tempo and value).
Knowing when to play your own Book Wyrm and picking the best target also requires some planning and good knowledge of the meta (“Do I use it on a 2/3 or wait for a better target?”). Sure, it’s not the most skill-intensive card in the game, it’s far from it, but as long as it’s played it will have an impact on the meta.
Example decklist: Vlps’ Dragon Priest
5. Maelstrom Portal
Maelstrom Portal turned out to be one of the strongest cards in the expansion. Even though it doesn’t seem that impactful when you first look at it – trust me, it’s very powerful. It gives Shaman the much needed removal consistency and the ability to ping stuff. You know what’s really annoying when playing Shaman? When enemy kills your Totem Golem with a 4/4 and Tunnel Trogg with a 3/2 and he’s left with 4/1 and 3/1 on the board. You know what’s also annoying? When you Lightning Storm opponent’s board and he’s left with bunch of 1 health minions because of low rolls. It happens quite often.
Maelstrom Portal not only gives you the ability to ping, but also summons a random 1-drop. Which is probably about 2/1 on the average, but that’s fine. You can sometimes roll an Injured Kvaldir – 2/4 – but that’s not even why you play it. Since Shaman has quite easy access to Spell Damage (although admittedly hidden behind RNG roll), the fact that you can sometimes make it a 2 damage 2 mana AoE is amazing.
The card is pretty straightforward, but I feel like it had huge impact on the Shaman’s play style. Before that, leaving your minions at 1 health against Shaman was a good strategy. Outside of a 1/1 totem which had to survive until another turn anyway, Shamans didn’t really have ways to deal 1 damage. Now they do, so when trading you also need to take Maelstrom Portal into consideration. It makes games against Shaman harder, because efficient trading is the key to win this matchup and you can now get punished for doing exactly that.
Example decklist: Xixo’s Totem Shaman
4. Spirit Claws
Another Shaman card back to back. Lately everyone seems to be running Spirit Claws. Xixo created the Aggro and the Totem Shaman with Spirit Claws. Cerasi created a very popular Midrange Shaman build with Spirit Claws. Others have piloted it to high Legend ranks. The card turned out to be better than anticipated. I wasn’t sure whether only Bloodmage Thalnos and 2x Azure Drake is enough to make it work, I thought that we need another strong Spell Damage minion before it will be played. But I was wrong – between Thalnos, Azure Drake and random Spell Damage totems, it’s more than enough to make it active for a few times during the matchup.
But, why is this card so impactful? Because besides a very strong early game and very strong mid game tempo swings and high tempo removals, now Shaman gets an efficient removal in a form of weapon AND a way to ping when it’s not active. Yay for Shaman. The only early game weapon Shaman had previously was Stormforged Axe. And let’s be honest, the weapon was never amazing, but it was okay when 2 health minions were very common. But right now, in the meta dominated by 3 health minions, it’s not good enough. This, however, is a whole different story.
If you manage to activate it in the early game, you just dominate it completely. For 1 mana (well, plus the mana you need to play Thalnos or Totem) you can clear 2-3 minions from opponent’s side. It also gives Shaman a turn 1 play that pretty much can’t be countered (outside of the Acidic Swamp Ooze), especially by Dragon Warrior, which is still one of the most common matchups on the ladder. Tunnel Trogg can be charged by Alexstrasza’s Champion and killed for free. Argent Squire can get pinged and then killed for free by Blood to Ichor. But Spirit Claws they can’t interact with. And it actually threatens their early drops.
It also allows Shaman to sometimes be even more aggressive. This weapon is potential 9 face damage for 1 mana. “Just remove the Spell Damage totem” is also not always a viable strategy. If you don’t have any early game removal or weapons, you give enemy time to answer whatever you play. And if you have, you still might have a higher priority targets. I mean, if you have Frostbolt in your hand, you aren’t going to target Spell Damage totem over Tunnel Trogg. And thus if Shaman rolls it in the early game, it’s pretty easy to protect it with 3 damage weapon + all the other stuff they have.
The card had huge impact on every popular Shaman archetype and huge impact on how you play against it. You have to care even more about clearing every Spell Damage source they have right now. And you, once again, need to account for the fact that they might actually have a way to ping your minions. Scary times we’re living in.
Example decklist: Cerasi’s Midrange Shaman
Barnes was slightly overrated card. Most of the pros said that it’s going to be auto-include into a lot of decks and mess around in the meta. I’ve also said similar things. It turned out to be a good, solid card, staple in certain decks, but not having as much impact as everyone thought it would have. And that’s fine, no one likes their games being decided by turn 4 coin flip.
I still can’t deny that Barnes made a huge impact on the meta. First of all – people have started to build a more effect/deathrattle-heavy decks to put Barnes into. You know, like Midrange Hunter now plays pretty much every Deathrattle card they have access too? Barnes is one of the reasons for that – it can straight up win some games on turn 4.
Barnes was also featured in some Resurrect Priest lists – getting a big drop early and then getting it back on the board against and against can be really strong.
Then, Barnes is sometimes used in combo decks. If you run cards like Malygos or Archmage Antonidas in your deck, getting them from Barnes while still having a lot of mana to work with (let’s say on turn 10) is possibly game-winning.
You can’t really play around Barnes. You have to pray that the RNG won’t work in your opponent’s favor. That they won’t get exactly what they need. But I’ve put Barnes so high, because it changes the way a lot of decks are built. At first people thought that you will be able to throw Barnes into a lot of decks and it will just work. But that turned out to be completely false – you need to have A LOT of good targets in your deck if you want to play Barnes. So it impacted the meta, because players have started building decks around it.
Example decklist: JAB’s Hybrid Hunter
2. The Curator
I wasn’t sure about 1st and 2nd place, so they’re pretty interchangeable here. I think that both of those cards have huge impact on the current meta and most likely on the future metas too.
The Curator is a very interesting card. A lot of people have dismissed it, because it might have been hard to build a deck where you can utilize its effect to a full extent. But what they’ve missed is that you don’t have to. 2 draws is more than enough. Even if you sometimes end up drawing only a single card, it’s still alright. Then you have a Druid of the Claw that cycles itself for 2 more mana. Not the best thing ever, but okay.
And as it turns out, it’s very easy to fit two tribes into a lot of the decks. Especially into those who run one of them already. Lately the most popular deck with The Curator is Dragon Warrior. I mean, it obviously runs Dragons. Now, Fierce Monkey is a solid card in this deck and it’s a Beast. And you can also throw in Sir Finley Mrrgglton as a Murloc for a good measure, although you often end up drawing him in the early game. And there you go, a great Curator deck.
You can fit some Beasts or Murloc into pretty much any Dragon deck. E.g. Stampeding Kodo into Dragon Paladin. Just like you can fit some Dragons into the ones that already run Beasts – e.g. Azure Drake into Beast Druid. The Curator is also amazing in Murloc Paladin, which didn’t really need a lot of changes to fit it.
I find this card amazing in a lot of the decks. And it certainly made a huge impact on the meta – it altered the way a lot of decks are built to fit it in.
Example decklist: Sjow’s Dragon Warrior
1. Arcane Giant
And here we go. I think that this is the card with the biggest impact on the meta. Maybe right now The Curator is more commonly seen, but I feel like Arcane Giant was a HUGE step in the direction of making Spell-heavy decks strong. It seems like it’s a direction they’re trying to push things. With Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End being released last expansion and now we got both Arcane Giant and Medivh, the Guardian (I thought about putting him on the list too, but I feel like his impact wasn’t even close to the one of Arcane Giant). Arcane Giant is now staple in Token/Malygos Druid. It’s staple in slower Tempo Mage decks. It even created a “new” archetype – Arcane Giant Combo Warrior – although calling it new might be exaggeration, since it’s very similar to the Worgen OTK. Heck, but people even play them in Patron Warrior and Miracle Rogue.
If you play a spell-heavy deck, you’re bound to cast a lot of spells throughout the game. Since spells are mostly proactive, your deck should be well-equipped to remove opponent’s stuff and prolong the game. And if you play a long game with a lot of spells being casted, eventually you will have free (or nearly free) 8/8’s to drop. Sure, they are useless in the early game, but if you play a spell heavy deck you can sometimes drop them as soon as turn 5-6 if you really need to because of how many spells you cast.
And there is also no real counterplay. Enemy can’t stop you from playing spells and all he can do is keep removals for the 8/8’s. I even feel like the card is overpowered – it’s already incredibly strong, but imagine what happens if Blizzard releases even more cards that support this kind of strategy. Which is weird to begin with. For example, they don’t release Charge minions, because it’s hard to interact with them. But they do push out the spell decks that are really impossible to interact with without any ways to block spells (Counterspell doesn’t count, because it’s a class card and can be easily countered by something like Coin). But hey, it’s not like they’re known for their consistency.
And so I’ll have to say that Arcane Giant is the most impactful card of the whole expansion. It’s popular right now and it will likely be in the future. So if you enjoy playing decks full of spells, you should be really happy.
Example decklist: Fr0zen’s Token Druid
There are some cards that almost made to the main list, but I just thought that they didn’t make big enough impact. At least not yet.
- Kindly Grandmother – That would probably be my #11 if I had to extend the list. The card is very strong and it’s played in nearly every Hunter archetype, but it didn’t really create a new archetype or altered the way that Hunter is played. It’s just another solid, consistent 2-drop.
- Swashburglar – It also was close to getting on the list. Thief Rogue has became a semi-viable deck thanks to the Swashburglar. While Ethereal Peddler also helped, the 1-drop made it more consistent. It’s a value card with Brann, it’s a combo activator, it’s something to play on turn 1… Sadly, I don’t think that Thief Rogue is a viable deck. Still, I would say it’s #12 on the list.
- Firelands Portal – Again, very common in Mage, but I don’t feel like it really changes the way Mage plays. It just gives the deck spell-heavy Mage decks another removal and a little more burn. It had huge impact on the Arena, however.
- Priest of the Feast – It’s not staple in every Priest deck. 3/6 stats and the ability to heal yourself makes it amazing against Aggro while still being a solid minion in slower matchups. It doesn’t really have any impact on the meta, though. Just a strong 4-drop.
- Cloaked Huntress – This card MIGHT have huge impact in the future. Right now Secret Hunter didn’t really take off and the old archetypes – Midrange/Hybrid – remained on the top. You might play against Cloaked Huntress from time to time on the ladder, but from my experience it’s pretty rare occurrence. This season I’ve faced only a single Secret Hunters so far and I’m around rank 5 right now.
- Ivory Knight – Another Paladin healing card. At first I didn’t think that it’s strong. Then everyone played it and I’ve changed my mind. But right now I’m also not sure. The card is okay, because it’s pretty flexible – healing is always good against Aggro and value is always good against Control. But I don’t feel like it had really impacted Paladin and changed the deck’s play style at all. Especially since all the low mana Paladin spells make it slightly less consistent than it should be.
- Prince Malchezaar – Surprisingly, Malchezaar has quite big impact on the meta. For some reason, A LOT of people on the ladder play it. And while I understand that in the lower ranks, because it’s fun card, I’ve faced people between rank 10 and 5 this season who played it. Quite a lot of them. And I can’t get my head around why they do that. I mean, if they want to deliberately make their decks weaker – that’s their call, but I don’t recommend doing that if you’re serious about laddering.
That’s all folks. The list is mostly based on my own, subjective ladder experience and analyzing the decklists pro players play on the ladder (the serious ones, not the fun ones). Some positions were hard, for example the difference in impact between #12 (Swashburglar which is off the list, in honorable mentions) and #7 are pretty close to each other. But I’ve decided to close it up with 10 cards.
Overall I feel like Karazhan was a pretty good adventure. I’d rate it lower than League of Explorers, because that was absolutely amazing, but higher than the older ones like Naxx and BRM. It’s pretty balanced, it didn’t introduce any broken cards (maybe besides Arcane Giant…), but it gave us a lot of playable stuff and a few new archetypes. It didn’t flip everything around, but that’s not what adventures are supposed to do. We should still get a card pack expansion this year. I suspect it will be somewhere in December, but who knows, Blizzard is pretty unpredictable with their releases.
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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!