Goblins vs Gnomes Review: Part III

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The Goblins vs Gnomes cards are still coming fast and furious. I went a week without posting about them, and now I have a whole bunch of new cards to review There’s a lot of cool stuff in this batch, and I’m getting more excited for the new expansion to drop with every reveal.

If you missed my discussion of the previously revealed cards, be sure to check them out via the links below.

View Part 1 Here

View Part 2 Here

And on to the show! Let’s start with the proverbial elephant in the room (or, perhaps more accurately, the Highmane in the room): Hunter.

 

200px-Call_Pet

 

One of the frequent comments I’ve seen from the Hearthstone community regarding spoiled cards from the GvG set is that particular cards don’t have a role in decks of their class, and Call Pet is certainly one of those cards. It is certainly true that Call Pet doesn’t fit into existing Hunter decks, which are pretty much universally built to be aggressive, and aren’t really interested in this kind of effect. But if there were a more midrange or controlling build of Hunter with more expensive Beasts, Call Pet could be very powerful in it. Imagine playing this on turn two and drawing a six or seven cost Beast with it, which you can then cast on turn three! Savannah Highmane is already very difficult to beat when it comes down on turn six – on the third turn, I can only imagine that it’s Hex or bust.

I really like the fact that Goblins vs Gnomes is introducing a lot of cards that aim to pull classes in different directions than we’ve seen so far. It would be cool to see Control Hunter, but the card pool has to do a lot of work to outweigh the fact that the class’s hero power pulls it in a completely different direction. In fact, I think we’d have to live in a world in which the individual cards available to a Control Hunter were *much* more powerful than those available to an aggressive or midrange Hunter deck for that to ever happen, at least with any kind of broad appeal. I’ve had a lot of concern since I first played Hearthstone about how heavily hero powers influence games and class direction, and we’ll see how difficult it is for classes to go against the grain archetype-wise once new cards like Call Pet are introduced to the game.

Interestingly, as I discussed a bit in one of my articles about Shaman a while back, I think one of the ways in which hero powers restrict the strategies available to each class is not just in a proactive sense. Certain directions are more appropriate for certain classes because of their hero power, like Hunters tending to be aggressive, but certain classes are almost unable to play a controlling game due to the other classes’s hero powers – particularly Hunter. It’s no coincidence that Priest and Warrior are the most popular and successful Control classes, since they both have powers that can keep them alive in a long game against Steady Shot and the burst threat of Kill Command. While a Control Shaman or Hunter deck may be able to stabilize the board, without a real way to keep themselves alive, they’re often doomed to just die to Steady Shot. Instead, they have to focus on closing out the game before that happens, which is why successful Shaman decks tend to focus on burst combos with cards like Al’Akir and Doomhammer.

200px-Gahz'rilla

 

Speaking of powerful finishers, Gahz’rilla is an absolute monster, capable of ending the game in short order once it gets online. This is certainly the dream scenario with Call Pet, since you can Call on turn two and play it on turn three, though the odds of that happening are quite low. I don’t think this is a card that existing Hunter decks would want over Savannah Highmane, but I can certainly imagine Ghaz’rilla seeing a lot of play if the new set does bring slower and more controlling Hunter decks. Ghaz even starts with six power, which keeps him just outside BGH range the turn you play him, even if he’ll certainly grow well beyond that. There’s a part of me that’s really amused thinking about the possibility of a control Hunter deck using things like Arcane Shot, Wild Pyromancer, Deadly Shot, and of course Call Pet to control the board early and build up to finishers like this guy. I’m skeptical that it will actually be good for the reasons described above, but it certainly seems interesting to explore as a possibility. Even if it doesn’t end up being played heavily in a competitive sense, it will certainly create lots of cool moments that will end up on YouTube and Reddit, and that’s good enough reason for a card to exist.
200px-Feign_Death

 

I’ve seen a lot of commentary surrounding this card and claims that it’s overpowered and will somehow catapult Hunters even further to the top of the pack. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I doubt it will even be very good. Yes, it is a really powerful effect if you have a board full of deathrattle minions. If you have a Mad Scientist, a Leper Gnome, and a Loot Hoarder in play, you can draw a card, deal two damage to your opponent, and get a random trap from your deck for two mana, and that’s certainly awesome. But if you have just one of those in play, you’re spending two mana and a card for a very minor effect, and even with two it’s only just getting up to what you might be willing to pay. While you can certainly construct fantastic board states where Feign Death is the best way you can spend two mana, I expect those will be more than balanced out by the times you draw Feign Death with absolutely nothing in play to benefit from it and effectively waste your draw.

An important thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating any card in the context of existing decks is to consider what you’d actually cut from those decks to make room for the new card. What comes out of Undertaker Hunter to fit Feign Death? The deck is very much focused on curving out efficiently and pressuring the opponent, so you can’t just replace minions, especially those with deathrattle since you’re trying to add Feign. Knife Juggler? Unleash the Hounds? Eaglehorn Bow? All of these seem either more consistently powerful than Feign Death or provide the deck with an important dynamic that it doesn’t otherwise have, like the ability to come back when you’re behind on board. Feign Death is exactly the opposite kind of card. Its at its best when you’re already very much ahead, since its power level scales with the number of deathrattle minions you have in play. Is a situational card that solidifies your advantage when you already have a significant board presence really what you’re looking for?

My guess is that Feign Death shows up a lot, and a lot of people think it’s good because of the dramatic swings it can cause when you actually cast it, but over time people realize that it’s frequently a weak or dead draw and ultimately cut them from their decks.

200px-Steamwheedle_Sniper

 

This is another card in the vein of Call Pet and Ghaz’rilla, in that it seems made for a different kind of Hunter deck than we actually see right now. The effect is certainly very powerful. We’ve seen essentially the same thing before on Auchenai Soulpriest, though the context is very different. Soulpriest transforms the Priest hero power from one type of control-oriented ability – healing yourself and your minions – to another, which is dealing damage to minions, as well as offering the ability to deal damage to your opponent. Hunter goes from an aggressive ability to a board controlling ability. This means that the Sniper is generally going to have a harder time doing the same job of offering board control, since the supporting framework when it’s not in play isn’t as much in line with the goal of the card. Put another way, a Priest deck with and without Soulpriest in play plays much the same, though the Soulpriest offers the ability for them to pivot to a more aggressive stance. Steamwheedle Sniper fundamentally changes the way the Hunter hero power works, going from a purely aggressive clock to a board control effect, which means that a deck that wants to play this card won’t have quite the same tools to support the board control plan before this guy hits the board, or after he dies.

That said, most of the Hunter cards we’ve seen so far from Goblins vs Gnomes seem to be pushing the class in this direction, so maybe the huge influx of a different style of Hunter cards will really shake things up and spawn new types of decks. If Control Hunter does crop up, I’d expect this guy to play a significant role in it, since he’s a reasonably efficient body with a very powerful ability when you’re trying to play for a longer game rather than just going for the face.

And now for Druids!

200px-Mech-Bear-Cat

 

This is a really strange card to evaluate. Six is a lot of mana, so decks don’t tend to play a lot of them, and there’s stiff competition at that casting cost, including Sylvannas and Cairne for value-minded decks, as well as Sunwalker for defense. The Mech-Bear-Cat is a bigger body upfront than any of those, though it’s not clear that’s all upside, since the 7/6 body puts it squarely in the sights of Big Game Hunter. That said, the Mech-Bear-Cat’s unique ability to generate spare parts whenever it is damaged could certainly find it a place in decks that can take advantage of cheap spells. Recently, Lifecoach put up a strong performance with “Miracle Druid” at Dreamhack, and Kolento has also been streaming with his version of the deck. If it isn’t silenced or killed by an effect like Hex or BGH, the Bear-Cat can provide Violet Teacher and Gadgetzan Auctioneer with quite a bit of fuel, since it’ll generally take quite a few hits to get a six health minion off the board. DRUID_OF_THE_FANG.0
This another Druid card that pulls the class in a different direction than the standard Ramp or Token builds, and sadly another that may find itself oppressed by Big Game Hunter. Barring BGH, though, Druid of the Fang is a really strong incentive to build a Beast-heavy Druid deck, which is something we certainly haven’t seen before. I have to say that as a designer I really like seeing this card in the set. Giving players strong incentives to build around different minion sub-themes is important in fostering deck diversity. Goblins vs Gnomes clearly already has the heavy Mech theme, and it would have been easy to go really heavily in that direction and neglect other possibilities. As Undertaker shows us, sometimes just a single powerful card can be enough to get players to build their decks significantly differently. I have to wonder if we’ll see more support for beast-focused Druid decks in the set, whether in the form of cards like Druid of the Fang or quality Beast minions. If only cards like the Bear-Cat or Robo-Cub could have both Beast and Mech types to support both tribes…

200px-Whirling_Zap-o-matic
This is a very powerful minion for an aggressively oriented Shaman deck. Not only does it combo very well with cards like Flametongue Totem and Rockbiter Weapon, but it also just hits really hard on its own, dealing six damage a turn if it’s allowed to keep attacking. Shaman have a lot of really good tools for finishing off opponents, from Lightning Bolt to Lava Burst, and the Zap-o-magic can do a lot of the work softening your opponent up so you can burn them out.

Incidentally, Zap-o-matic also works very well with Shaman’s cheap removal. The nature of the Shaman card pool prior to GvG made it difficult to use Lightning Bolt as a tempo play, since the class didn’t really have many very good cheap minions. With this guy, every spell that clears an opposing creature out of the way can represent six damage, which makes all of the cheap removal the class has access to that much more valuable.

This is a card that will inspire completely new Shaman builds. I know that I for one am looking forward to playing with it.

200px-Dunemaul_Shaman
On the subject of heavy hitters, this guy is an absolute monster. On an empty board, Dunemaul Shaman will hit your opponent for ten damage every turn without any buffs, which is pretty outrageous for a four drop minion. I mention the detail about empty boards because of the 50% miss chance drawback – if your opponent has no minions, there’s no “wrong” target to attack.

I’m sure some players will be up in arms about any card that has an element of randomness, but this is the kind of managed risk that I think is okay. It’s kind of like Ragnaros or Sylvannas in the sense that you can plan your play around the nature of the randomness and mitigate or remove it entirely. Despite the elements of randomness inherent in these cards, skilled players are able to use them much more effectively by sculpting their gameplan around mitigating the risks.

It’s also worth noting that Dunemaul Shaman’s chance to miss isn’t strictly a drawback. If you’re playing against a deck like Miracle Rogue, you have a chance to attack an Auctioneer even if it’s Concealed. You can also potentially attack straight through Taunts into protected minions or your opponent’s face. In those cases, Dunemaul Shaman may be able to win you games that a minion without its “drawback” could not – and you even have multiple shots at it thanks to Windfury!

I expect to see Dunemaul Shaman finding a home alongside the Zap-o-matic in aggressive Shaman decks once GvG hits the streets. I know that will be one of the first decks that I build!

200px-Crackle
While I like cards like Dunemaul Shaman with random elements you can manage, Crackle is exactly the kind of random card that I strongly dislike. It isn’t an effect that you can plan around by trying to shift the odds in your favor like Ragnaros or Sylvannas. And the random element of the card isn’t particularly interesting or fun, either. It’s literally just a variable rate of exchange between mana and damage. The worst part about the card is that it actually offers a *good* rate compared to similar non-random effects.

Let’s compare Crackle with Lava Burst, which is a card that has seen a lot of competitive play. Crackle costs two mana, and deals 3-6 damage, or an average of 4.5. Lava Burst costs three mana and always deals 5 damage. If a player is looking for raw rates, Crackle is the better deal, since it deals nearly as much damage as Lava Burst on average for a full mana less.

This is the worst kind of randomness. A competitive player can easily feel priced in to playing Crackle because it’s such an efficient card, and then find themselves very frustrated when variance does not cooperate in clutch moments. The worst part is that Crackle is a targeted damage based effect, which is the sort of card that can have an explicit fail rate. If you try to kill a four health creature with Crackle and deal only three damage, it’s pretty much a disaster, since you have to invest the card and mana upfront, and – to add insult to injury – you’re Overloaded for your next turn.

Now, if Crackle were, say, a six cost spell that dealt a wide range of damage, like 1-20, I would feel a lot differently about it. That kind of card belongs in a much different space and is attractive to a much different kind of player. My problem is not with the existence of randomness in the game, but with the existence of explicit randomness that competitive players feel priced into playing due to efficiency, like Crackle feels like it may be, or uniqueness of effect, like Lightning Storm. I appreciate the value of randomness in games, but I feel like there are right and wrong ways to do it, and Crackle does it the wrong way.

200px-Iron_Sensei

Iron Sensei has a very powerful ability that can create a serious snowball effect if it’s allowed to stay in play for more than a turn or two, which is a scary thing for a three cost Minion. This effect seems especially powerful in Rogue, where you have cards like Backstab that can help protect the Sensei from opposing minions while retaining tempo, as well as cards like Sap that can help keep your opponent’s board clear while you rack up Sensei triggers and grow a huge army.

200px-Ogre_Ninja

Ogre Ninja is much less impressive to me than Dunemaul Shaman. We already have access to a big Stealth minion in Stranglethorn Tiger, and that’s not a card that sees very much play. Coming down later than Dunemaul Shaman also means the Ogre Ninja’s drawback is more likely to be a liability, since it’s harder to keep the board clear as the game goes on, and the reward for doing so is much less for the Ninja since it doesn’t hit as hard despite costing more. The card is definitely amusing, but I don’t expect to see it show up very often in ranked play, if at all.

200px-Sabotage

This card has gotten a lot of hype, but I’m not entirely sure why. Yes, there are certainly situations in which it is quite powerful, like in the Miracle Rogue mirror against an opponent with a concealed Auctioneer and a poisoned dagger. But the general use case of it seems like it’s basically just Deadly Shot for one more mana, which isn’t an effect that has been heavily played even at a lower cost.

Of course, context is everything, and Rogue decks tend to be more controlling, have access to Preparation, and play cards like Auctioneer that reward using spells, so Sabotage is positioned very differently than Deadly Shot. It does conveniently fill a hole in the Miracle curve at four mana, and give the deck a way to deal with cards like Spectral Knight or Shade of Naxxramas that can otherwise cause serious headaches. On the other hand, expensive spells aren’t generally what Auctioneer decks are in the market for, so I don’t see this slotting into existing Miracle decks as more than maybe a singleton except perhaps in response to a weapon heavy metagame.

200px-Snowchugger
This mini Water Elemental is a nice option for aggressive or midrange Mage decks. It’s especially punishing against classes like Warrior or Rogue that can rely on weapons to deal with minions. If you can fade Fiery War Axe or Deadly Poison for a turn, Snowchugger can cause serious problems for your opponent’s ability to make use of their cards, and can force them to use some of their premium removal on your two drop, which is a win-win situation for you. It also offers another way to enable Ice Lance and any future cards that may key off of minions or heroes being frozen, and redundancy is always valuable when you’re relying on that kind of synergy. All told, I expect Snowchugger to be a staple card in most Mage decks once GvG comes out.

200px-Felheart

Five is a lot of mana to pay for a spell, so in order for a five cost spell to see play, it has to do a lot. Five damage to a single target certainly doesn’t qualify as “a lot”, though thankfully Felheart is more flexible than that. +5/+5 to a Demon is certainly a powerful effect, though again probably not quite worth the cost, especially since it is virtually guaranteed to make the creature vulnerable to Big Game Hunter in addition to Silence effects.

I can imagine a dedicated Demon deck existing that might be in the market for a flexible buff or removal spell, but even then, this just doesn’t seem quite efficient enough to make the cut when it’s competing with things like Siphon Soul, Soulfire, Mortal Coil, Shadowflame, and the like. Even Demonfire already exists and sees pretty much no play, though five is certainly a much bigger number than two. My guess is this is a card that will be effective in Arena play, but won’t really break into into Constructed.

200px-Muster_for_Battle
I’ve seen a lot of talk about using Muster for Battle with Sword of Justice to make 2/2s instead of 1/1s. While that’s pretty powerful – resulting in three 2/2 minions and a 1/4 weapon – it’s a significant investment of resources, especially since you have to use the Coin in order to play both SoJ and Muster on curve. What is most exciting to me about Muster isn’t any of its combo potential, but how much value and board presence it offers for a single card.

I’ve always wanted to play Knife Juggler in Paladin, since it has such great synergy with your hero power, but most of the tools the class has don’t tend to mesh very well with an aggressive strategy. Muster is not only a great followup to Juggler because it spawns three minions, but also gives you a weapon that you can use to finish off an injured minion in the event that you fail to Juggle something to death. This is actually a really big deal, since leaving a minion at one health generally means your Juggler is dying the following turn, and being able to finish it off means the Juggler will live to put apples on heads another day.

Yes, Muster is vulnerable to opposing AOE like Fan of Knives or Wild Pyromancer, but it’s much more resilient to single target removal than the average three-cost minion. All cards have trade-offs, and what’s best is a matter of context.

Speaking of context and trading, just imagine following up Muster with a Cult Master, and then sending your troops in to their demise for fun and profit. Cult Master conveniently also works well with the Paladin hero power…

You know what? It seems like we have a new deck brewing here. And if that’s not the sign of an exciting new card, I don’t know what is.

200px-Cobalt_Guardian
On the other hand, this is *not* an exciting card. A 6/3 minion for five mana is hardly exciting in itself, and it’s exceptionally vulnerable to dying the turn you play it. You can play another Mech to give it Divine Shield, but that means you’re waiting to play it until even later, which makes it even less appealing. That said, I’m pretty glad this card is weak, because this is the kind of card that’s really frustrating to play against when it is powerful.
200px-Coghammer
Okay, now we’re back to the potentially exciting and powerful cards. A 2/3 weapon for 3 mana is hardly thrilling in its own right, but when it comes with Divine Shield for one of your minions, it starts to get a lot more appealing. While which of your minions gets Divine Shield is random, this is again an instance of manageable randomness, because you can choose to play Coghammer when you have only one creature, or at least only creatures you’re happy to end up giving Divine Shield. This will frequently mean trading away your Silver Hand Recruits or just sending them in to die before playing it, which is a lot more palatable given that you’re getting a weapon with which you can use to finish off whatever minion they suicided into.

All that said, a lot of the power of Coghammer is contingent on how good the weapon itself is. If you’re just in the market for Divine Shield on your minions, you’re better off playing Divine Protector, since it’s cheaper and controllable. Coghammer is great in a metagame full of Knife Jugglers, Mad Scientists, Flame Imps and the like, but less exciting against Undertakers that grow out of reach before you can hit three mana.

Coghammer can potentially offer a lot of value, but only in the right context. It’s the kind of card that certainly gets my attention at first glance, but seems less compelling the more I think about how it lines up against the potential format. If Zap-o-matics and other two health minions are all over the place, then I’m all about Coghammer. If not, though, this mighty wrench is going to have to find a different wielder.

200px-Scarlet_Purifier
Leper Gnome. Webspinner. Mad Scientist. Loot Hoarder. Haunted Creeper. All of them die to Scarlet Purifier’s Battlecry effect, and that’s a big deal. Sure, the fact that they have Deathrattle means that their controller is still going to get some value out of them dying, but getting a conditional Consecration attached to a 4/3 body for three mana is very, very powerful. Hunter decks in particular rely a tremendous amount on the early pressure their early Deathrattle minions can apply, and wiping out their board while developing your own can be a huge swing, and one that can nearly win the game on its own in the right spot

Of course, Undertaker doesn’t actually have Deathrattle itself, so everyone’s favorite one drop will emerge unscathed from the purification of the Scarlet Crusade. Still, the Purifier’s 4/3 body means that it’s generally going to be big enough to trade with even a fairly large Undertaker, assuming it isn’t taken out by an Eaglehorn Bow hit first. The 4/3 body is also pretty important against Nerubian Egg, since it means you can at least trade with the spider that spawns when the Purifier pops the eggs.

Ultimately, I like the fact that Purifier is a card that exists. It’s at a power level that it’s reasonable for people to play even against non-Deathrattle decks, but not so strong that it’s an auto-include over other options. Paladin decks that are looking to shore up certain matchups have this as a tool to reach for, and that’s the kind of card that makes for dynamic deckbuilding as metagames evolve.

200px-Lil'_Exorcist

Lil Exorcist is another card that I’m happy to see. Scarlet Purifier is clearly more powerful since it’s a class card, but Lil Exorcist is a great card for anyone who is looking for a tool against aggressive Deathrattle decks. It’s very inefficient against opponents without Deathrattle creatures, but potentially extremely strong against decks featuring a lot of them.

This is the sort of card that’s really important to have from a development perspective, because it’s a very clear option for any player who is looking for a strong card against Deathrattle decks. When there is a powerful strategy that is heavily supported by a card release, like Naxxramas clearly presenting a lot of tools for decks built around Deathrattle, it’s valuable to have straightforward options for players to use to fight back against those decks.

I’ve seen some players argue that more strong Silence effects is a good way to address cards like Undertaker or Deathrattle minions, but I feel very strongly that would be exactly the wrong direction. Silence is actually a pretty lame mechanic, since it provides a universal way to turn off everything that is interesting about your opponent’s cards. A proliferation of efficient Silence effects means that game text stops mattering, and game text is the most fun part about the cards. Otherwise games are just about raw rates of resource and stat exchange, and that gets really boring really fast.

Seeing cards like Lil Exorcist does make me wonder if Hearthstone might be well served moving to a tournament format that uses a mechanic similar to sideboarding in Magic. Sideboarding, for those who are unaware, is a mechanic by which players swap cards in and out of their decks from a preselected group of additional cards (known as their Sideboard) between games in a multi-game match.

I’ve seen a lot of people express that using a Sideboard in Hearthstone would be lame since there are so many powerful situational cards like Big Game Hunter, Harrison Jones, and Black Knight. I don’t disagree with that assessment with the initial card pool, but as the available options get bigger, there are a lot more possible options for sideboard, and you have limited space. And even if you do choose to use a bunch of “hate” cards, there’s still an interesting decision of which you play in your main deck and which you play in your sideboard, as well as what cards you swap out when you bring them in. Sideboarding is among the most complex and interesting elements of Magic, and I think it’s a concept worth exploring in Hearthstone, especially as the card pool gets larger.

But that’s more a topic for another time, when I revisit my commentary on the state of competitive Hearthstone, and my thoughts on how it might be improved.

For now – that’s a wrap on this edition of my Goblins vs Gnomes review. I’ll be back again when there’s more cards to discuss. Be sure to bookmark BMKGaming.com so you don’t miss a post!

Previous Goblins vs Gnomes Reviews:

View Part 1 Here

View Part 2 Here

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