Ask and ye shall receive, it seems. After the last set of Blackrock Mountain cards were revealed under the title “The Dragons of Blackwing Lair” with nary a dragon to be seen, I lamented Blizzard’s deception in my review. And low and behold, the latest spoiler announcement on Twitter came with what seemed like an apology:
— Hearthstone (@PlayHearthstone) March 26, 2015
Well, apology accepted. This latest batch is 100% dragons, which is really what we all want, isn’t it? MOAR DRAGONS!
Let’s get started, shall we?
Now if we’d gotten this card in the dragon batch instead of that poser spell with the same mechanic, Dragon’s Breath, would anyone have complained? No! And while I might not have had high hopes for Dragon’s Breath, I think Volcanic Drake has a lot more potential. While they may have the same cost reduction mechanic, the payoff you get when they work is very different. In the case of Dragon’s Breath, you get four damage, which is only marginally more than Frostbolt, which already only costs two to start with. Doing a bit of extra damage marginally cheaper is rarely going to be a huge deal outside of one turn kill combos, which is really the only place I can see Dragon’s Breath having much of a place.
With Volcanic Drake, though, you get a 6/4 minion, potentially even for free. Getting bigger things into play faster, or being able to get more big things into play than you otherwise might be able to do with your mana – that’s a powerful effect, and one that has sustained value that can snowball games very quickly.
Imagine you and your opponent each have three minions in play. Not hard to picture, is it? That’s a game state that comes up quite frequently, in fact. Well, if you trade all of your minions into your opponents’, suddenly six minions have died this turn, and your Volcanic Drakes are free to play. You can potentially play two 6/4 minions for free, and then use the rest of your mana for your turn however you want! Imagine on turn five playing two Volcanic Drakes and a Loatheb into your opponent’s empty board – how in the world can you possibly lose?
I think Volcanic Drake has the potential to be a huge player in the new metagame. It will fit best in decks that naturally generate a lot of small minions to trade off, like Paladin with its hero power and Muster for Battle, Warlock with Implosion and Imp Gang Boss, or maybe hunter with Haunted Creepers and Unleash the Hounds. At 6/4, it’s in range of Truesilver, Swipe, and a Piloted Shredder hit, but it can’t be killed by Big Game Hunter, making it difficult for your opponent to remove in a way that can swing the tempo of the game back their way.
Even outside of the optimal scenario of six minions dying, Volcanic Drake is still a reasonable deal. Just a single trade and it’s a four mana 6/4, which isn’t outrageously powerful but is still a totally reasonable card. One more minion dying and suddenly you can play twelve power worth of minions on turn six. That’s huge!
And then there’s the combo potential with mass removal effects. You can use something like Hellfire to wipe the board, and then suddenly unleash dragons on your opponent! There’s a part of me that wished they were backheavy rather than frontheavy to go in the same deck as Lightbomb, but it’s probably better for the game that they don’t, and that they’re easier to kill when someone is able to spew them out for free.
Volcanic Drake may be the single most exciting card that has been revealed from Blackrock Mountain so far. Cards with cost reduction effects are something to which every TCG player should always pay special attention, and I can assure you that I’ll be directing quite a bit of my attention to building decks with Volcanic Drake as soon as I can.
And suddenly, armor is no longer strictly better than health! I kind of hope this card ends up seeing play, if only because the tension it creates between protecting your health to keep it small and maximizing your armor to use Shield Slam would be interesting to watch in Warrior matchups.
I came down unfavorably on Core Rager, which was similarly a conditionally overstatted minion, but I’m more optimistic about Drakonid Crusher. The card doesn’t leap out at me as exceptionally strong like Volcanic Drake, but it seems like it might have potential. A 6/6 body for six mana isn’t exciting, but it’s reasonable, and a 9/9 is clearly above the curve. Unlike Core Rager, you don’t have to build your deck or play in a strange way to turn on the Crusher’s battle cry effect. Reducing your opponent’s life total occurs naturally throughout the course of the game. Crusher is vulnerable to Big Game Hunter, but in situations where BGH is a concern, you can try to play the Crusher out before your opponent’s life total drops to the trigger threshold.
The biggest problem with Drakonid Crusher isn’t Big Game Hunter, but rather the same problem so many expensive minions face. It’s hard to pay a lot of mana for a single minion that can easily be killed by a removal spell, or bounced by Sap or Freezing Trap, without ever having a real impact on the game. There’s a reason that the high cost minions that see the most play are things like Sylvannas, Savannah Highmane, Ancient of Lore, Dr. Boom, Ragnaros, or Cenarius – they’re cards that have an effect on the game even if they themselves immediate die.
While Drakonid Crusher is pretty big, and can get really big, at the end of the day that’s really all he offers – stats. And when you’re getting the best deal for your mana, so he wins fights with everything else at his mana cost, suddenly he’s vulnerable to that ever-present dwarf with a gun. While I like Drakonid Crusher as a card, and I think it would be cool if it saw play, I don’t have high hopes. If Crusher does make an impact, it will likely be more for its status as a midrange cost minion with the Dragon type more than for its ability.
My WoW guild was one of the first worldwide to successfully defeat Nefarian. We spent several days on one of the Top 10 Worldwide lists on whatever raiding site was popular at the time (WorldOfRaids, maybe?) before being bumped to 11th by some other guild that reported a kill later that had apparently actually happened before ours. Or so they claimed. There’s a part of me that’s still a little bitter about that.
The Nefarian encounter in the MMO had two phases. First, you had to face a swarm of his Drakonid minions, who kept spawning from different doorways. This phase stumped us for the longest time, because it wasn’t even clear to us what we were supposed to do. We tried just fighting them, but they seemed to keep coming forever, so we thought we were missing some kind of trick to it. We tried any number of things, like trying to bring them over to kill them on Nefarian’s throne, all the way to trying to kite them through the entire rest of the zone to see how long we could survive in case it was on some kind of timer. Turns out we were way overcomplicating things, and the goal of the phase was just to kill enough of the minions to get Nefarian to get mad and show up.
The second phase was fighting Nefarian on the ground. It actually took us far less time to sort out than the first phase, mostly because it was actually clear what we were supposed to be doing – killing this big dragon in front of us. Of course, sometimes he was the one who killed us.
The defining element of the fight was the class call, when Nefarian twisted the abilities of a particular class against them for a brief time. Warriors, who were traditionally the tanks for most raids then (and especially for any fight with fear effects like dragon roars), were forced into Berserker stance, increasing the damage they took. Priest spells harmed instead of healed. Druids were forced into cat form. Rogues were teleported right in front of Nefarian. Mages polymorphed themselves. Paladins cast Hand of Protection on Nefarian, making him immune to physical damage. Warlocks summon infernals that attack the raid. And Hunters, because apparently Blizzard couldn’t think of anything better, actually just got their weapons broken.
Yes, while dealing with all of the other class calls required interesting strategic thinking and raid coordination, the Hunter class call required a macro to put your bow away in your inventory to avoid becoming useless for the rest of the fight – and having to teleport back and forth to town with a major repair bill. This may be something I’m also still a little bitter about.
I love the fact that the Nefarian card in Hearthstone pays homage to the class calls in Hearthstone by giving you spells from your opponent’s class to use against them. It’s a cool way of representing the encounter from the MMO and is certain to lead to some pretty hilarious YouTube highlights.
Outside of that, though, I doubt Nefarian will see much more play than the other big dragons that exist now. If you’re looking for a value card, Ysera is a better choice, since she provides a steady stream of dream cards that can help close out games, all of which are fairly strong, rather than just two random spells that may or may not be useful at all. I can just imagine getting something like Totemic Might and Reincarnation from a Shaman, or Deadly Poison and Blade Flurry from a Rogue, or Shield Slam from a Warrior. Spells are frequently very situational or synergy based, and you can’t rely upon them helping you close out a game like you can with the dream cards from Ysera.
She’s also a sturdier body in play, since she doesn’t die to Big Game Hunter. I feel like something of a broken record talking about this, but it’s going to be hard for any big minion like Nefarian to really be exciting when the big body that you pay so much mana for just dies so easily to the ever-popular dwarf with a gun. I want to play with Nefarian, because it seems like a fun card, but like Nozdormu and Onyxia before him, his vulnerability to BGH is likely to keep him from ever seeing much competitive play.
Oh, well. At least I have fond memories of taking his head and hanging it in Stormwind next to his sister’s almost ten years ago…