Well, it’s finally spoiler season! Knight of the Frozen Throne reveals are here and I cannot wait to get to brewing. There is nothing I love more than a new set. Fresh cards are the heartbeat of games like Hearthstone and they always help bring new energy to the meta. Un’goro was largely a success, but things have more or less settled at this point. As a result, it’s about time we took a look towards the future. This article will be the first in my series of Knight of the Frozen Throne reviews, where I look at the new cards to see if and how they will fit into the upcoming constructed meta.
We only have a small fraction of the cards so far, but that doesn’t mean we cannot break them down. There is always going to be some information missing during the first couple spoilers, but we still know a lot from past sets and past metas. Not everything is going to pan out right away, and we may not be able to see the whole picture yet, but you can generally tell where cards are going. If there are some gaps, we’ll just fill them in.
Plague Scientist, while definitely interesting, is a card that seems like it won’t make the cut. I love the effect, but that’s where that love stops. This is a classic trap card that seems extremely good until you start to think about it. Poisonous is a powerful effect that allows you trade up. That’s awesome, but how much trading up are you really doing early on? Not only is it hard to get minions to stick, but most early minions are generally close to each other in stats. Going out of your way to combo a 2/3 to trade your 1/1 into a 2/2 or 2/3 just doesn’t seem worth it. Yes, there are some niche scenarios where you can get insane value (attacking Swashburglar into Flametongue Totem) but those are going to be few and far between. Most of the time you are working hard to achieve something your spells can do anyway.
Even if we get some strong early deathrattle, Plague Scientist also suffers from the fact that it matches up quite poorly to SI:7 Agent. Both need combo to work, but SI has a lot more versatility. The damage can go face, it can be used on your own minions, and it can hit things behind taunt. Scientist hits none of those checkmarks. Tempo is important in Hearthstone, but this doesn’t generate the tempo that decks (especially Rogue) want. Even if you can trigger this during the middle game, wouldn’t you just rather have Vilespine Slayer? Cool card, but will likely just be an arena all-star and that’s about it.
It is easy to dismiss Chillblade Champion at first glance, but the more I think about this card the more I like it. Charge is always going to be a strong ability, and when you combine that with lifesteal you get quite the punch. Though this has no place in the midrange Paladin lists that have been popular over the past few months, if Aggro Paladin comes back I could see this slotting right in. Every good aggro deck in the history of Hearthstone has had some way to fight against other aggro decks. Most of the time that is taunt, but lifesteal fills a similar role. Not only that, but the immediate three damage also gives you a way to be aggressive. For example, let’s say you’re racing against a Pirate Warrior or Hunter. Normally, when you get the board you are on low health and they take you down with their weapons or burn. However, with the champion you can get on the board and then climb out of lethal range. That turns the tide in two different ways and puts down a must-kill card your opponent has to use damage to remove. Not only that, but more charge is never going to be a bad thing. A 3/2 charge for four is understatted, but that won’t matter if you can grab the early board.
Yes. Now this is a weapon. Blood Razor is by far the strongest card we’ve seen so far. Warrior has proven time and time again that they can make good use of Whirlwind effects, and this one gives you two for the price of one. Not only that, but you also get a 2/2 weapon to pick things off with. As this card does one damage when it comes down and leaves, it is essentially a 3/2 that also pings the rest of the board twice. There are a ton of decks that would love to take advantage of that ability, and it will likely see play in every non-aggro Warrior list for quite a long time. All types of Warrior builds made use of Death’s Bite simply for the damage, and this card ramps that up in a meta where token and swarm decks are increasingly popular. What’s not to love?
Let’s take a minute to think about the different applications this card has. It triggers Acolyte of Pain, Armorsmith, Frothing Berserker, and sets up Battle Rage. For those reasons it should be a solid inclusion into Midrange and Tempo Warrior decks. However, it also acts as removal, clears the board, and can be comboed with Sleep with the Fishes for a cheap, effective clear. That will also make it extremely powerful in Control Warrior. This card is solid all the way around and should see serious play over the next two years. It is very rare we get a card with no downside, and while the 2/2 body may seem a bit underwhelming, the free Whirlwinds are more than worth the trade off.
Many people have glanced over Mountainfire Armor, but I am quite excited about the 4/3 for the same reasons I am excited about Chillblade Champion: tempo healing. I think Tempo Warrior could make a large comeback with the new inclusion of Blood Razor, and if it does, this card will be a big part of that resurgence. Six armor may not be a ton when fighting against slower control, but there are going to be decks that are going to have trouble dealing with this card. Many people have stated that aggro will simply ignore the three drop, and while that may be true in some cases, most aggressive decks these days want to pace the game. If they defer the board to you it will give you value trades, and if they want to pace you, you get to gain six armor. That seems like a win-win for any tempo build that seeks to move up their curve.
Yes, the armor is not going to fit into Control Warrior. The slower decks still have their taunt quest, and the ones that don’t are too busy with removal and AOE to worry about armor. However, it will make a fine addition to any deck fighting for the board. While this could be ignored in slower decks, if you have other minions and are pushing pressure your opponent isn’t going to be able to just take four over and over again. That makes them trade into you. This card is also fantastic against Jaina. Mage has become much slower over the past month, relying on burn and control to close out games. As they cannot trade well early on, they are going to have to deal with this in some way. That is great because the armor does more against that class than any other. That in itself is worth a look.
Ghastly Conjurer is an odd card, but it is one you should not sleep on. A 2/6 for four is not good. Let’s get that out of the way. The body is incredibly underwhelming and I wish it had one more attack. Even so, if Quest Mage is every going to comeback, it needs tools like this. Not only do you get a cheap spell from out of your deck, but you get a cheap defensive spell that helps buy you more time. A free Mirror Image may not seem like much, but it can go a long way towards eating damage and getting you to your Blizzards and Flamestrikes in once piece. In addition, you do also have a 2/6 that can help chip things down. A solid combination for anyone who wants to stay alive for the late game.
I also like this card in terms of Control Mage. I am not sure if the archetype has enough tools yet, but if it is going to exist this card is going to be a big part of it. It has been a long time since Grinder Mage was a viable deck, but this has everything that type of list wants. You get big, hard-to-kill threat combined with two cheap taunts. It stalls in a very strong way and may give Mage that extra bump it needs to survive during the midgame. This completely depends on how much good deathrattle is printed, but if there aren’t too many sticky minions, the archetype could flourish.
Another borderline card, Nerubian Unraveler is a strong minion that seems extremely powerful at first glance. However, let’s take a quick step back before everyone starts crying out “Loatheb.” Yes, the 5/5 has some similarities to the naxx legendary, but it is much, much worse. Six mana is a lot more than five and making spells cost two is vastly different than making them cost five. Even so, I think this card has some real potential. Not only does unraveler help top off a midrange curve, but it also can catch your opponent by surprise. For example, what if your Paladin opponent can no longer equip that Spikeridged Steed they were building towards? Or what if your Druid opponent can’t use that clutch Innervate? Most good players plan a few turns in advance, and if you throw them off of that plan it can weak havoc on their game. Even if they do have a way to remove the 5/5 with a spell, it is going to likely take up their whole turn. That then keeps you in control of both the board and priority. For those reasons, I think this card is a great midrange tool. Spells are incredibly important in Hearthstone, and you should never underestimate the ability to take them away. Especially for decks that mainly focus on minions (such as Handbuff Paladin).
Prince Keleseth/Prince Taldaram
The two princes are the only neutral legendaries we’ve seen so far, and my god are they underwhelming. I simply do not see the point of either of these cards, and I am not sure why they exist. Now, there may be a payoff for them at some point (play all princes get x bonus or something along those lines) but there is just not enough incentive right now. Regardless of what archetype you’re playing, curve is king in Hearthstone. Even control decks need things like Fiery War Axe and Shadow Word:Pain to keep up with faster decks. Gutting your early curve for very (veeerrryyy) small bonuses just doesn’t add up. I am so baffled by these cards that I cannot honestly see why they exist. I thought I would bring them up because the idea behind them is quite interesting, but they just don’t do anything game-breaking that is worth giving up key slots. In fact, their limitations are much more backbreaking that cards like Reno Jackson and Kazakus, and their payoff is nowhere near the singeltons. We may need more information before we call it, but if nothing else interacts with the princes they will easily be the worst cards in the set.
Professor Putricide sits in a very interesting space. On one hand, it is a (relatively) slow midrange card with a pretty strong ability. 5/4 for four has become the standard over the past two years, but it is still quite underwhelming. It can be aggressive if you want to push off of a good curve, but there are a ton of midrange decks (Token Shaman and Paladin) and aggro decks (Aggro Druid, Pirate Warrior) that can easily trade up into four health. For that reason, a 5/4 has to really do something powerful to see serious play. I am not sure if this card does enough on its own, but if you can get it out ahead of your opponent it could do some work. Nobody paces the board like Hunter does, and curving up into the 5/4 after a Cloaked Huntress or early beast curve could be strong. The only problem with that is, you typically need secrets to make this work, which means you need to cut beasts and ways to control the board. This feels like a more control tool, which makes me think it’s pretty weak. However, there is potential here.
What intrigues me about the professor is the fact that he, like both Fandral Staghelm and Lyra the Sunshard, is a value card that becomes insane if he isn’t answered. Those two legendaries were minions I rated very low because I just didn’t think they generated enough value. This card feels the same way, where it seems weak, but does need to be killed. However, it is worth noting that Professor, unlike the other two cards, gets capped very quickly. For example, let’s say he lives a turn and you have Freezing Trap and Explosive Trap in your hand. If you play the freezing trap and get an explosive trap for free you suddenly can’t play your other secret. That could be a big issue with the 5/4 moving forward. If I had to call it, I don’t think he’s going to see play over beast decks. But I’ve been wrong on this before.
Out of every card we’ve seen so far, this has to be one of the hardest to evaluate. Not only do we have no basis for what the other Death Knights do, but we’ve never seen a card like this before. Even so, I think the undead hunter is incredibly underwhelming. There are two things you need to break down when discussing Deathstalker Rexxar: it’s ability and hero power. First off, the hero power is not good. Yes, it is infinite gas, but infinite gas is only good in combo decks (see Jade Druid) or in slow Control vs. Control games. Hunter is not a combo class, and there are no more slow Control vs. Control games because most late-game decks (Mage, Quest Warrior) want to end things extremely quickly once they get there. There is almost no scenario where paying two to put together an over-costed beast is going to be worth it. Against aggro you’ll be run over, and against control you’ll die in a flurry of fireballs.
The other trap that Deathstalker Rexxar falls into is that Hunter cannot support a control archetype. Now, many of you may say “but, Joseph, this is the control card the class needed!” but you have to remember that this is one card in a deck of thirty. Most games you aren’t going to draw this, which means, for it to work, you have to have other powerful control tools. Hunter simply strikes out in that category. Blizzard has tried for a long time to get the archetype to work, but the tools just aren’t there. If they get a cheap weapon, a little bit of healing, and some big early bodies it could work, but right now I just don’t see it. Consecration on top of armor is nice, but that is also only going to be strong when fighting against aggro. The only way I could see this one working is a midrange tool for when you need more gas against slow decks.
The final card for this article, Sindragosa is a very exciting big game threat. However, simply being an exciting big game threat has never been enough. Though I’ve been burned in the past, I am going to say this card is good. Very good in fact. Why? Well, as covered with Ghastly Conjurer, I believe Control Mage is dangerously close to getting all of its tools together. I do not think Quest Mage is ever going to be able to be the combo deck, but I could see it as a slow, value-oriented list that slowly runs its opponent out of cards. If Grinder Mage is going to make a comeback, the dragon seems like a good finisher for it. Not only do you get a 8/8, but you also get two small bodies that generate more end-game value. Yes, it is going to take some work to kill the 0/1’s, but if you freeze and stall you should have time. Odds are that Freeze Mage will be better, but I like the possibilities the dragon opens up.
Something else to note about Sindragosa is that she works quite well with N’zoth, the Corruptor. N’zoth Mage has always had Pyros as a finisher, and now they just got another great card to combo with the old god. That in itself may be a strong enough finisher to make it all come together. Of course, Alexstrasza/burn does a similar thing, but deathrattle is not so weak to health gain. The 8/8 may even find itself into a dragon control Mage that leans on things like Primordial Drake or Book Wyrm. An exciting legendary that I cannot wait to experiment with.
Well, that’s the first round out of the way. Knights has had some underwhelming cards, but there is also a lot of stuff I really like. There is a long way to go, but there are already some cards I cannot wait to play with. That hype is only going to grow as time goes on. Hope you like the reviews, and I’ll be back with more next week.