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.
Few cards in the new expansion, let alone the entire set, offer that kind of clearing power, and that’s deliberate, the developers said.
“We aren’t pushing for that kind of deck. We don’t want the thing you couldn’t anticipate to be 30 damage to the face,” Davis said.
Blizzard showed off just a few Legendaries at the show, but they all fascinated us, and not just as end-game cards. The 3-mana, 2/2 Wickerflame Burnbristle turned out to be surprisingly versatile. It has divine shield and taunt, making it a hard minion to get off the board, and damage done to this minion heals your hero — a nice early-game card that provided some strong benefits in a defensive deck.
For decisive end-game plays, we liked the 10-mana, 7/7 Kun the Forgotten King. He can grant you 10 armor, useful for warriors and those at low health, but he can also refresh your mana crystals — essentially, giving you a 7/7 minion and a second turn. Playing Kun changed the course of at least one match in the games I played.
But the 4-mana, 3/3 Kazakus generated the most Blizzcon buzz. Rather like Reno Jackson (and potentially used in combination with League of Explorers member), it requires that your deck contain no duplicates. If you meet that condition, its battlecry creates either a custom 1-mana, 5-mana or 10-mana potion.
As you select more mana, your potions gain more and more powerful effects. For a 5-mana potion, you might do five damage and summon two random demons (not just cards from your deck and not just for warlocks), for example. For each effect, you have a choice between three options, building a custom potion that can include a huge number of combinations.
It was surprising how often I and my opponents chose the 5-mana option for gameplay. Those potions are still incredibly powerful, though less gamebreaking than their 10-mana counterparts. And given Kazakus’ 4-mana cost, they slot in perfectly as a followup cast just when you need it most.
“It’s very skill-testing, and it’s very fun,” Davis said.
Interesting normal cards
The 0-mana Counterfeit Coin was a nice mana boost, adding one crystal for this turn only. It’s a good addition for ramp decks.
The 5-mana, 5/5 Lotus Assassin gains stealth every time it attacks and kills a minion. Realistically, you may sacrifice this card against a heavy-hitter deck, but it was very useful for picking off zoo deck minions and for surviving one extra hit after a bigger takedown — one of a hunter’s Call of the Wild trio, for example.
For zoo deck players, Pilfered Power costs 3 mana but adds a mana crystal for every friendly minion you have. It’s clearly a situational use card at best, but in combination with a “fill the board” card it could represent an extra turn.
Another interesting play for defensive decks is the 1-mana, 2/2 Mistress of Mixtures, which has the deathrattle effect of healing both heroes for 4. It’s essentially the deathrattle version of the 4-mana, 3/5 Refreshment Vendor (whose battlecry heals both players), with a much lower mana cost. It was useful in our play, but only when held for a later turn as a filler.
“I love this point of the release cycle,” Whalen said. “We’re revealing cards and seeing players react and figure out the strategy.”
This deck offers one other thing that is truly new: The environment and concept. Gadgetzan doesn’t look anything like this in the World of Warcraft massively multiplayer RPG, where it’s a small desert/port town.
“We have the freedom to deviate,” Travis said. “We can take what they gave us and that’s our starting point. We have more content that is Hearthstone-brewed than ever before; it’s separate, but inspired.”