We’ve played a priest with near-unlimited fireballs and a druid with frost shock. The new Hearthstone cards coming this year will change the way you play the game.
A limited selection of the 132 new cards from December’s “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” Hearthstone expansion were available to play at BlizzCon 2016 this weekend, and we saw and played with them all.
The cards introduce a major discovery mechanic to the digital game: tri-class cards, which include some meta-shifting cards for some existing decks. Mean Streets has three “gangs” or factions of cards, each serving three classes. The Grimy Goons offer cards for paladin, hunter, and warrior; the Jade Lotus offer cards for druids, rogues, and shamans; and the Kabal offer cards for mages, priests and warlocks.
While each faction has a particular flavor — Grimy Goons are more likely to focus on pure force, while Jade Lotus offers stealth and sneak attacks — all of them have discovery cards that enable players to pick from cards in all three assigned classes. Tri-class cards are marked with a small icon under the mana cost reflecting the faction.
“We’re interested in seeing a change to how players approach games,” senior software engineer Rachelle Davis said. The team built in both individually powerful cards, plus a number that follow themes set by the gangs that make up the expansion’s factions.
“It’s less about killing players out of nowhere and more about ongoing strategy,” senior game designer Peter Whalen said. “It’s not just about blowing you out of the water.”
Here’s what those cards were like to play in sample games with a priest, a paladin and a druid. Because I couldn’t choose my decks, instead being assigned them at random from a select group of cards, I didn’t get the chance to try out some fun cards like the Piranha Launcher, sure to be a face hunter staple (5 mana, 2/4 weapon that launches a 1/1 piranha each time your hero attacks.)
These were some of my favorites after playing with them.
Tri-class discovery cards
We saw a variety of these at the show. The 2-mana, 1/1 Grime Street Informant offered our Grimy Goons paladin the opportunity to choose one of three cards from a class, hunter, or warrior decks. The 5-mana, 5/3 Lotus Agents card gave my druid a chance to discover a class, rogue or shaman card. The 3-mana, 2/2 Kabal Courier offered a discovery of mage, warlock, or class card for my priest.
The discoveries can be game-changing. My priest was down 30 hit points to 5, with a full array of enemy minions and a depressingly empty board on my side. It was time for a concession.
But thanks to card-draw mechanics among my minions that had just died, I got a Dragonfire Potion — more on that in a minute — and the Courier. One of the discovery options from the Courier was the mage legendary Archmage Antonidas, with his get-a-free-fireball-for-every-spell-you-cast bonus.
I won the match.
Yes, other minions and spells offer the mechanic of discovering a card outside your class (like the neutral Grand Champion, which grants a random Paladin card), but most of these generate cards from your enemy’s class or deck or change the whole nature of your own deck, such as the warlock’s Renounce Darkness. Tri-spec cards offer you a selection not typically seen outside of Tavern Brawls, with a somewhat predictable flavor because of the three classes involved.
They’re still a random-chance cards, and sometimes the selection you get will be crap. The minions they generate are underpowered because of the bonus, so bad discoveries are especially disappointing. But I suspect these will become staples in some decks.
This new board clear offers an atom bomb for priests, who have typically had weak options with the 5-mana spells Holy Nova and Excavated Evil. It does 5 damage to all non-dragon minions on the board, and makes priest dragon decks more interesting.
“If you’re playing a dragon deck, it’s insanely powerful,” Davis said.
Of course, some of the best dragon cards will disappear from Standard-mode play soon. When the Hearthstone year rolls over, cards from The Grand Tournament and League of Explorers decks will become ineligible for Standard mode.
But even without a dragon deck, Dragonfire overshadows mage Flamestrike or warlock Hellfire for resetting the board when you’re at a steep disadvantage.
In practice, this 6-mana card was a late-game monster. Even a substantial lineup for the opposition can be decimated in a single stroke, and with the reasonable mana cost, picking off any stragglers or re-establishing board position of your own isn’t too difficult.