Just a few weeks ago the developers of Hearthstone announced the game’s latest expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne. Players have been wondering when the digital card game would tackle the story of the Lich King ever since the very first expansion—now they have an answer in the form of 135 new cards coming to the game mid-August. At first only five cards were revealed, but this week began the slow drip-feed of details fans have come to expect when a new expansion appears on the horizon.
Two new mechanics are being added to the game. Cards with Lifesteal will heal you for every point of damage they deal. Players are hoping this might be a healing option for classes that typically have no healing effects, like Hunters and Rogues. Also being introduced are hero cards, legendary spells that transform your hero into a death knight with strange new powers. While Deathstalker Rexxar certainly looks OP on paper, I have a feeling hero cards might not be any more useful than the quests from the last expansion. If any of them actually dominate the meta, they’ll get nerfed just like the Quest Rogue.
From the cards revealed thus far it appears that Knights bears a striking resemblance to Curse of Naxxramas, the very first expansion to Hearthstone. Thematically, there is the prevalence of undead monsters, mad scientists, and necromancers practicing black arts. Mechanically, there is a focus on Deathrattle, an effect triggered when a minion dies, which also defined Naxxramas. The Warriors got a new weapon, Blood Razor, which is the spiritual successor to Death’s Bite, a popular weapon with an identical whirlwind effect from the first expansion. Loatheb was easily the most used legendary from the set due to his ability to gain you tempo by making your opponent’s spells too expensive to cast. That card dominated the meta until it was finally moved out of standard play. But there is a similar card in Knights, the Nerubian Unraveler. Not quite as powerful as its predecessor, but it also isn’t a legendary, meaning you could have two in your deck. Any card that allows you to mess with your opponent’s turn has the potential to shape the way the game is played for the rest of the year.
Knights of the Frozen Throne has an onerous quest ahead of it. Not only is it adapting a beloved chapter of Warcraft mythology, it also has to fill the dinosaur-sized shoes of Journey to Un’Goro, one of the most successful expansions in the game’s history. Un’Goro finally accomplished something the devs had been trying to do ever since Goblins vs. Gnomes—it actually slowed the game down. Fast, cheap aggressive decks no longer rule the ladder. Slower control-oriented decks gained a lot of useful tools for making the game last longer than six turns. Aggro is still a viable strategy, as evidenced by the plethora of pirate warriors still out there smashing faces, but it’s not quite the unstoppable force it used to be. It’s too early to tell what kind of impact Knights will have on the game, but it certainly looks like it will be fun to figure out.