Joseph Reviews: Knights of the Frozen Throne (Part 4)
Well, it's almost time. The reveal season has come to an end and we are all taking a trip to the frozen north. While I am not sure how Ice Crown Citadel is going to pan out, I do know that it is going to be an awesome experience. Not only do we have a ton of new interesting cards to play with, we also have a slew of Death Knights on top of an all-new single player campaign (I'm getting that Arthas Portrait!). There have been a ton of cards pumped out in the past few days. While I cannot cover them all, I picked out the ones I thought were the most interesting or most powerful to look at. There is some things I'm not a huge fan of in this set, but the things I like, I really like. I guess you can't ask for more than that.
Breath of Sindragosa
Like so may commons, Breath of Sindragosais being slept on. While this card got casually revealed, I think there is much more here than meets the eye. First of all, two damage for one mana is a fine deal. That takes care of most of the early minions in the game, and the fact that it freezes also gives you extra utility against bigger threats. While this card could sneak into some Freeze lists, I think it has the most utility in a freeze-based Tempo Mage. Turn one Glacial Shardinto turn two Sorcerer's Apprentice/Breath of Sindragosainto turn three Coldwraithseems like an awesome curve. Yes, it will not always work out that way, but things like Mana Wyrmand Arcanologistalso give you a ton of early consistency. I could even see the deck adopting Tuskarr Fisherman. The spell is random, but it only hits minions, which means you should be able to set it up. I could see fast Mage coming back, and if it does this card will be a big reason why.
Happy Ghoulmay just be the tempo card that early game Priest needed. It is an old rule of card games that you should never overlook mana reduction. Free things are almost always going to be dangerous. Sometimes that can be free removal, free ramp, or, in this case, free minions. A 3/3 for three is basic, but getting that reduction is not too hard to do. As Silverware Golemshowed us, a free 3/3 can do a lot towards cementing the board and swinging the game. Happy Ghoul has a requirement that Priest can easily fill on turn two, proving an early body that can hold down the board or curve right into Kabal Talonpriest. A lot of the current meta is predicated on getting ahead during the first two or three turns, and this card could really help with that. Just having something to play in addition to an early heal could also help Priest contest the board and fight aggro. It is also worth noting that there are classes (such as Shaman) that have healing built in. I could also see a world where tempo plays Hot Spring Guardianon turn three into a free 3/3. Happy Ghoul is not the most exciting or revolutionary card, but I do think it is a good one.
While Warlock may not have everything together, there is no doubt that is quite a strong card. Yeti stats on turn five is definitely behind the curve, but doing one damage to all of your opponent's minions is very strong. One sided clears are great, especially when they keep coming turn after turn after turn. For example, setting this card up with Doomsayerseems very strong, as does using things like Hellfireor Defileto get a full wipe. Five health on an empty board is hard for a lot classes to deal with. Though it is not as strong, I see this type of effect as something like Lyra or Fandral. Yes, most of the time it is going to die right away, but in the games that it doesn't, it should lock your opponent out in a hurry. That in itself is worth taking notice.
I am not sure if Control Warlock is going to be able to rise up from the ashes in the new set. However, it definitely has some potential. Every piece that comes out for a slower Warlock makes it just a bit stronger. The class has been at the bottom of the pile for quite a while, but as long as they have Lifetap they have a chance. It is easy to look at cards like Despicable Dreadlordand think "eh, that doesn't do enough," but that is selling the entire class short. You have to remove this card immediately or it is going to become a large problem. It is also a midrange body for slow Warlock that does a lot of work against token and swarm decks. That could help solve one of its biggest problems.
This has to be, without a doubt, the card I am most excited to play with on day one. At first glance, Shadow Essenceseems a bit slow. However, it allows you to play two additional copies of Barnes. If you think that's insane, it's because it is. Six mana is not great for a lot of minions, but what about a six mana Obsidian Statue? Ysera? Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound? All of the sudden this spell seems like a powerhouse. While this is a niche effect, I think it could easily lead to a very strong combo Priest build.
I took Y'shaarj Hunter to legend two straight months, and while Priest doesn't have the thinning that Hunter does, being able to go get your big finisher in three different ways is very strong. I could see a deck that only runs Obsidian Statue, Ysera, Y'Shaarj, Rage Unboundand Barnes. Then, you simply high roll your big, game winning minions as much as possible. Even if your opponent manages to deal with them, you can always use Eternal Servitudeto bring them back. Originally, servitude seemed a bit gimmicky to me. Combo decks need more consistency than a single 3/4 legendary to be good, and that is exactly what Shadow Essenceprovides. This one seems like an absolute all-star.
I am not sure if Spectral Pillageris going to be good right away, but this is a card I definitely think you should take note of. Six mana may seem like a lot for a combo effect. However, there are many games (many, many games) where you play eight, nine, or ten cards in a single turn with Miracle Rogue. And I'm not just talking about Gadgetzan Auctioneer. There have been times where I have just played Preparationinto Fan of Knives, into Preparationinto Mimic Podinto Coin into Counterfeit Coininto double Swashburglarand Hallucinationto discount Arcane Giants or create a monster Edwin VanCleef. Now, those type of turns can win you the game.
Anyone who played MTG knows the power of storm, and that is exactly what Spectral Pillageris. Yes, it does not match up well against Vilespine Slayeragainst minions, but notice that this thing can go face. And that is where it is going to go. Being able to instantly hit your opponent for eight, nine, or ten plus damage seems fantastic and gives you a new way to build Miracle. I could easily see this pairing up with things like Mimic Podand Valeera the Hollowto double up on cheap things and go off. Now, maybe all the tools aren't there yet, but I guarantee there will be a combo deck in the next year that uses the pillager as a finisher.
I heard you like healing. Blackguardis one of those classic midrange epics that will likely push Paladin even further into the stratosphere. Healing is something the class does anyway, and being able to deal damage while gaining health is pretty gross. What makes this card so good is that it works very well in both Midrange and Control Paladin. The best cards are the ones you don't have to work for, and this is a card you don't need to work for at all. It is just good. You can fit this into any bigger Paladin build and instantly turn things like Ragnaros, Lightlordand Lay on Handsinto value machines. There are many ways to gain health in Paly, and this rewards you for them all.
The other important thing to note about Blackguard is its body. Yes, three attack on a six drop is not crazy, but nine health? This thing is practically unkillable at the stage of the game it comes down. Not only does that mean you are likely going to be able to get value out of its ability, but it also means it is a great target for buffs. Sticky minions come in many different forms, and this is one of them. I can see many games where you slap a Spikeridged Steedonto this thing and go to town. A 3/9 is hard enough for many decks to deal with, but a 5/15 with taunt is absolutely unreal. There is no downside to this card and it will see a lot of play in the coming months.
Arfus/The Lich King
I thought I would lump these two together because they really do the same thing, which is put Death Knight cards into your hand. Before we talk about this deathly duo, we need to ask the question: how good are Death Knight cards? That is a tricky question, but to me a lot of them seem pretty underwhelming. Giving your minions +2/+2 is pretty niche, and there are going to be many games where you don't want to remove cards from your deck or overextend into AOE. While there is some good in the mix, I think you are going to need to get some real value out of the spells for them to be worth it. As with Ysera, having one is likely not going to be enough.
That being said, it should be clear that I do not think Arfusis going to be good enough for constructed play. Death Knight cards are good, but not so good that you want to play a 2/2 for four. Even with the deathrattle synergy, the card just doesn't do enough. Not to mention, the pup is also very susceptible to Potion of Madnessand Cabal Shadow Priest. In contrast, I think The Lich Kingcould do quite a bit in Standard. An 8/8 for eight is solid in its own right, and adding the utility of a free spell each turn it lives is quite good. I don't realistically think he will live more than two turns (at best) but the reoccurring value is great against control, while the taunt is strong against both aggro and midrange. He will likely find a home, while his dog will not.
Malfurion the Pestilent
Malfurion the Pestilentis a big....zzzzzzzzzz. Huh? What? Sorry, fell asleep on my keyboard for a second there. Undead Malfurion is easily the most boring Death Knight we've seen. But, does that mean it's bad? When breaking down the legendary heroes you need to look at three things: battlecry, deck potential, and hero power. In terms of Druid, the battlecry seems extremely underwhelming. The double taunt scarabs might get you a little bit of health, but I would honestly rather play any other big taunt or large finisher. In addition, poisonous minions just aren't that good. Blizzard is scared of that keyword, but two small 1/2's are too easy to play around. For seven mana I want more.
However, this card does shine with its hero power. Three armor a turn is strong against any aggressive deck, and three damage does a great job of both dealing damage and controlling the board. As such, while I don't think this card is going to light the world on fire, the extra armor and versatile hero power could push it right into ramp decks. Big Druid has gotten a ton of new tools that are going to move it into a new direction. The hero power you get from Mr. Pestilent could be a big part of that shift. I am not saying this is good, but I'm not sleeping on it either. Even without the battlecry there's an impact here that could help fill out a lot of new builds. I know I'll be playing it.
Now we're talking! While I have been down on the Deathknights so far, Shadowreaper Anduinis exactly the type of thing I wanted to see out of the undead. This card is very strong. Very, very strong. Now, I am a high-ladder constructed player. That means I am not going to spend time talking about silly Raza combos. If you want to try that type of thing, that's fine, I respect you, but that style of play seems more like a fragile gimmick more than anything else. What interests me about Shadowreaper is the fact that he is an incredible control tool. The battlecry is not always going to have targets, but even if you just hit one or two big threats you will be fine. Casting a couple Shadow Word: Deaths on top of five armor and a new, strong hero power is more than worth eight mana in my opinion.
Shadowreaper Anduinmay very well see its play in one-of decks, but I think this will shine in Control Priest. I took a traditional, all removal/AOE Control Priest to legend in June, and this makes that style of deck even better than it already is. The meta has slowed down a bit over the past few months, and while there are aggro decks, almost all of them are very susceptible to AOE. That puts slow Priest into a good spot. The class got so many new powerful tools with Knights that I find it hard to imagine it won't be at the top of the meta. Shadowreaper is not a finisher in that deck, but it is both addition healing and removal. The hero power also does a great job of controlling the board. This card bleeds slow Control, and that's how I expect it to be used.
Have I gushed enough about Tempo Warrior? Because I'm about to gush some more. Initially, I was going to use this spot to talk about Rotface. The eight mana legendary seemed a good curve-topper for Tempo Warrior and appeared to be the value tool they needed to cap games. That was before I saw Scourgelord Garrosh. Many people will see this card and think "eh." And the reason for that is people are going to think about this in terms of control. However, this is not a control card. This a board control/damage tool that allows you to instantly take over the game.
There are two parts to this card, and both of them have a lot of potential. First off, the weapon is an endless amount of utility. You get twelve damage when you need and, due to the amazing weapon ability, you also get three psuedo-Flamestrikes. Tempo thrives on cards that enable them to both push damage and control the board. The weapon hits both of those marks with flying colors. Then, a constant Whirlwind has a ton of synergy with the new tempo cards. Not only does it trigger Acolyte of Pain, Frothing Berserkerand Rotface, but it also helps stabilize lategame against swarm or token decks. If you want to control the game, play Fire Plume's Heart. If you want to bash your opponent's face in and top-off your curve, roll with the Death Knight.
Uther of the Ebon Blade
Another knock-out-of-the-park card, Uther of the Ebon Bladeneeds to be evaluated in the same way as Shadowreaper Anduin. That is to say, forget about the finisher. Yes, getting all four horsemen and instantly winning the game is going to be an awesome experience. However, most of the time (nearly all of the time) that is not going to happen. Rather, what makes this card strong is that it summons a 2/2 each turn. That upgrade is strong enough on its own, and gives you a way to constantly threaten or contest the board. Add the free armor and a super Ashbringer on top of that, and you have one of the best finishers around.
Something I will note is that the horsemen also need to be killed. This is something that many people may overlook, but the fact of the matter is that your opponent cannot simply let them go by. The 2/2's will end the game if there are four of them, which forces your opponent to react. I could even see games where your opponent has to ignore a large threat in order to take out one of the 2/2's. That type of pressure is great to have and gives control a way to play tempo. Control Paladin will almost certainly play this card, but I could see midrange running it as well. They already play Tirion Fordring, and this card costs one mana more for a whole heap of damage and healing. In fact, it may be a little too strong. Only time will tell.
Finally, we have Bloodreaver Gul'dan. Now, there is no doubt that the undead Warlock is good. Not only do you get to go full N'zoth with your demons, but you also get healing and what I believe to be one of the the strongest hero powers in the game. Dealing three damage a turn is incredible in terms of both board control and lethal. However, the lifesteal effect really pushes it up over the top. As such, Bloodreaver hits all the marks. It has an immediate impact, heals, and sets up a clock. For those reasons, this could be a wonderful tool for Control Warlock decks...If only Lord Jaraxxusdid not exist.
As much as I like the Death Knight, I believe, at the end of the day, it is a worse finisher than Jaxx. The demon lord has a faster clock, a stronger hero power, the same damage, and, in many situations, more immediate healing. It also costs one mana less, which is a big deal in slower control matches. For those reasons, I do not see Bloodreaver Gul'danmaking it into the meta. Yes, both cards operate in a slightly different way, but nobody caps off a game like Jaraxxus.
Well, there it is! Spoiler season is done and we are now moving onto the real deal. To commemorate the move, I will be publishing my usual Theorycrafting guide later this week and then getting back to my usual schedule of Weekly Legends and The New Standard. I always love a new set, and I cannot wait for this one to drop. There is a lot of fun here I cannot wait to try. Until Thursday, may you always bring a jacket to the tavern!