This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience at the Blizzard panel at the PAX East gaming convention. After some news about new heroes for Overwatch and new maps for Heroes of the Storm, it was time for the real meat of the panel – the Hearthstone announcements. Thanks to teasers on the Hearthstone web page and a little data mining by the public, the fact that Blackrock Mountain was the next Hearthstone adventure wasn’t really news. But details about the release date – next month! – and the content of the adventure itself? Well now, those were certainly exciting.
I’m especially looking forward to Blackrock Mountain for a couple of reasons. As a player, any release of new cards is exciting, because it means an opportunity for discovery and problem solving all over again. New content is the lifeblood of any collectible game, and the ever-shifting landscape of the metagame is what keeps things interesting over time. I’m particularly looking forward to the impact that the weekly wing releases will have on regular events like the Kinguin Pro League in which I am participating, since the steady release of new cards will cause metagame changes from week to week.
As a designer and fan of the WoW world, I’m interested to see how Blizzard interprets Blackrock Mountain, and Molten Core in particular. In my days working on the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, I was the lead designer of the Molten Core Raid Deck. It was an interesting challenge to try to be true to the expectations of players familiar with the zone from the MMO while creating a fun and challenging experience for everyone, whether they played WoW or not. In any case, that’s a story for another time.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the Blizzard interpretation of the zone looks like, and revisiting the bosses and other encounters that were such a big part of my World of Warcraft experience so many years ago. If there’s no Blackrock Spire whelp room encounter with a special effect when you play Leeroy Jenkins, I’m going to be very disappointed.
Oh, and I’m looking forward to all of the dragons. This adventure sounds like it’s going to be Christmas in April for me!
Without further ado – let’s take a look at the cards!
This is a pretty cool and fun looking card that can get out of hand very quickly. As a 3/3 for five mana that doesn’t impact the board immediately, it’s likely to only ever see play in decks built to abuse its effect, even if it is incidentally powerful against things like Fan of Knives, Consecration, or Swipe. Warrior is the class that has the best tools to damage its own minions, with Whirlwind, Cruel Taskmaster, and Death’s Bite all cards that are currently played that can help churn out additional Grim Patrons to overwhelm your opponent. Most exciting of all is probably Bouncing Blade, which – if it works as one might suspect – can quickly fill the entire side of your board with Grim Patrons. I expect to see Grim Patron showing up more in highlight reels on Reddit than in tournament winning decks, but the ability is powerful enough that I would not be shocked to see some bar fights in ranked play now and then.
Dark Iron Skulker offers a board-wide Backstab effect attacked to a 4/3 body, which is a very powerful if very metagame dependent effect. Right now, Rogue decks aren’t really hard pressed for mass removal effects, with both Fan of Knives and Blade Flurry to help take out opposing swarms. While both of those cards require some amount of spell power or a buffed weapon to reach the damage potential of a Dark Iron Skulker, they are also able to hit damaged minions, allowing them to work better with the actual card Backstab or other incidental damage. Current rogue decks also tend to be quite spell heavy, and Azure Drake is stiff competition for any new five drop that might come along, since it’s pretty much universally effective no matter what the opponent is doing. My inclination is that Dark Iron Skulker is unlikely to end up being a card that leads to new build or ends up a staple in existing ones, but that Rogues might reach for if decks that flood the board with small minions become popular.
Now you’re speaking my language. Before now, the only incentive to build a Dragon deck in Hearthstone was because dragons are inherently awesome. But now, “Because it’s a dragon” is a legitimate reason to include a card in your deck! Blackwing Technician offers a pretty huge reward for playing a dragon-heavy deck, as a 3/5 minion for just three mana is a better deal than anything we’ve seen so far.
The “if you’re holding a Dragon” mechanic is a new one for Hearthstone, and one that makes a lot of sense both thematically and mechanically for dragon tribal synergies. Mechanically, having cards that required you to control a dragon in order to gain a bonus, like with Murloc and Beast cards that exist right now, would not work very well with dragons, since most of them tend to be big and expensive, and thus you couldn’t turn on those bonuses until very late in the game. Thematically, it also makes sense, as the creature that are ruled by the dragons are inspired by them even when they are behind the scenes. A beast only responds when a Houndmaster is there to train it, but Blackwing Technicians cower at the thought of their draconic masters even when they are high in the spires of Blackwing Lair above.
And this is another one. Much like Blackwing Technician, Hungry Dragon has excellent stats for its cost. A 5/6 minion would be above the curve at five mana, and Hungry Dragon only costs four. The drawback of giving your opponent a random one cost minion – as food for the dragon, clearly – is a real one, but not one that can’t be mitigated. This feels like the sort of card that fits best in a deck with a lot of early, resilient minions that can help clear out the little morsel at a low cost. This and the fact that both Blackwing Technician and Hungry Dragon have such high health for their cost makes me want to play them in a Priest shell, since high health minions work especially well with the Priest hero power, and the Priest hero power also helps mitigate any damage the spawned minion might do to the Dragon or the rest of your board. Priest also happens to be the class that makes the best use of Zombie Chow, thanks to Auchenai Soulpriest (and the ability to heal it), and Zombie Chows are great for eating opposing one cost minions.
I suspect Hungry Dragon will be another cornerstone of Dragon decks, offering a strong midgame presence that’s a great followup to the Technician. I would also not be surprised if it sees play in decks that aren’t at all build around dragon tribal mechanics, but are built to fight for early board presence and have good tools for mopping up the minion from the battle cry. I know this is a card that I’m certainly excited to play, and it will be making its way into many of my decks when it’s available.
This is a card that has been pretty poorly received by the community at large so far, and I can understand why. It requires that you meet multiple conditionals in order for you to get value from it. You not only have to be holding a Dragon when you play it, but your opponent also has to have a Legendary minion in play that you want to kill. And even then, you get an 8/4 body left over out of the deal, which not only trades down the curve against just about anything your opponent might have in play, but is also vulnerable to Big Game Hunter.
All those things are true, and yet I still think Rend is a very powerful card.
One thing that’s easy to lose sight of when you’re evaluating a card is how much raw power and value you’re getting from it. Yes, you might be able to use Big Game Hunter to kill almost any minion that Rend can kill, and for significantly less mana. But when you use Big Game Hunter, you expend a card, and get a 4/2 body in return. When you kill one of those same Legendary minions with Rend, you get an 8/4 body for that very same card. That’s much more powerful, clearly, and certainly worth the extra mana if you have it available. A Big Game Hunter is easily mopped up by a small minion or weapon hit without much consequence, while Rend is much harder to get off the board painlessly, even if he does trade down the curve.
There are also a whole slew of Legendary minions that Rend will kill that BGH never will. Cards like Kel’thuzad, or Tirion, or Sneed’s Old Shredder, Vol’jin, Archmage Antonidas, and Cenarius all die to Rend, while BGH sits in your hand doing nothing. While I may not like the effect Big Game Hunter has on the game of Hearthstone, that effect leads some players to build decks that are largely impervious to the battle cry effect of BGH. Many of those decks still contain Legendary cards, though, and Rend is perfectly suited to wiping out all of them.
If that’s not enough to persuade you, think about this. If your opponent plays Dr Boom on an empty board on turn seven, can you think of a better card to respond with than Rend Blackhand? Suddenly, your opponent is the one on the back foot, forced to respond to your 8/4 minion with just two Boom Bots in play. If Dr Boom is in every deck, then shouldn’t Rend be a great option for any deck that can consistently trigger him?
I expect to include Rend Blackhand in a lot of my decks once Blackrock Mountain is out, and I expect that others will eventually do the same.
That’s all we know for now. I’ll be back to chime in on other new cards as they’re revealed, and to build new dragon decks as soon as I can.