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I’ve never been happy to hear a sheep’s bleat as I was while playing the demo for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods.

Blizzard Entertainment announced the new 134-card, Lovecraft-themed release today. The publisher invited a mix of journalists, community members, and professional players to see a small slice of the new expansion and talk to Hearthstone designers about introducing these malevolent monstrosities. And we played two decks built around six of the cards that it showed to us — one mage, one druid.

And because of the interactions built between C’Thun and his cultists, who buff him no matter where this Old God is during the match (he grows stronger if he’s on your board, in your hand, or in your deck), you’re going to want to keep some removal cards such as Polymorph (a Mage spell), Hex (a Shaman spell), or Big Game Hunter (a neutral minion who kills cards with 7 or more attack) in your lists — providing Blizzard doesn’t whack Big Game Hunter upside the head with the nerf bat, off course, once the new Standard format rolls out with this expansion.

How C’Thun and the cultists feel

Both decks held C’Thun, a 6 attack/6 health legendary for 10 mana that deals as much damage to your foe’s minions and hero as he has attack, and its cultists: The Beckoner of Evil (a 2 attack/3 health minion for 2 mana that gives C’Thun a +2/+2 wherever he is on the board), and the Twilight Elder ( a 3 attack/4 health minion for 3 mana that gives C’Thun a +1/+1 at the end of your turn).

I played eight matches with the demo, and I took a few things away about this C’Thun cult.

  • Mulliganing for cultists was a blessing and a curse. In two matches, my foes put out Beckoners of Evil on turn 1 and turn 2, and C’Thun ended up never dropping on the board. Now, a 2/3 on the board on turn 1 is a threat, but going all-in on the cult isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to win the game. But it does put pressure on your adversary to come up with answers and prepare for C’Thun’s arrival.
  • You want to remove Twilight Elder from the board as soon as possible. This was a problem when playing Druid, a class that doesn’t have a lot of early removal. If I had a Wrath in hand and a minion on the board, I could do it — or use my hero power in conjunction with Wrath to kill one on turn 4 (or earlier if I had an Innervate or Wild Growth). Swipe worked, too, but again, you needed 4 mana to answer this threat.
  • A ramp druid deck could be a good way to get C’Thun out early, but you want to make sure you have ways to get other cultists out so that when it hits the board, the dark entity is strong enough to wipe out your foe’s board and deal some damage to the opposing hero as well.

The mage deck I played was well equipped to deal with the threats this cult poses. Frostbolt, Fireball, and Polymorph provide players with a strong suite to counter C’Thun, and board clears like Flamestrike still flip the board. Frost Nova bailed me out once when I was able to freeze C’Thun and draw a Polymorph on my next turn, turning the frightening Old God into a weak, fearful sheep.

The corruption spreads

Blizzard added three other minions from this new set to play with: the Corrupted Healbot, the Polluted Hoarder, and the Validated Doomsayer. The Doomsayer and Healbot each cost 5 mana, and the Hoarder is 4 mana. These all twist their existing counterparts, the Antique Healbot, the Loot Hoarder, and Doomsayer.

With C’Thun and his gang lurking, I found myself reluctant to give my foe any additional card draw, so the Polluted Hoarder became a problem for me. Do I kill him and give my foe that extra chance to draw a cultist or C’Thun? Sure, this question is pertinent in any Hearthstone match, especially in well-defined meta environments when dedicated players are running tuned decklists. But I could feel the tension of C’Thun, and that added to my reluctance to take out the Polluted Hoarder. This sense of dread is something the design team, I’m sure, wants to happen when it comes to facing C’Thun decks, as it fits the theme of these troubling old powers so well.

Corrupted Healbot poses the same question as Zombie Chow — the tempo you can earn from a stronger minion comes at the cost of giving your foe some health when it dies. Corrupted Healbot is 6/6 for 5 mana, but when it dies, your adversary gains 8 health. This, of course, looks like a strong card to run in priest decks, as Auchenai Soulpriest turns your healing effects into damage. This worked well in the druid deck, where you could use ramp cards to get it out early and either deliver damage to your foe or control the board against weaker minions.

Validated Doomsayer riffs on Doomsayer’s ability — if you don’t silence or answer it, you must deal with a significant threat. But instead of wiping your board, the Validated Doomsayer turns into a 7/7 minion. Sure, you can use a removal spell, but you can also let him power up and attack and use another answer — an Aldor Peacekeeper if you’re playing Paladin, a Big Game Hunter — to deal with it. It didn’t bring that same sense of dread that I got with the card draw that Corrupted Hoader promises, and I found it easier to play around and deal with.

I had trouble appraising these cards because in my experience, their 4 and 5 mana costs kept clogging my hand, ruining my mana curve. These cards have a great deal of potential, but we need to see more cards from the set — and the changes from any nerfs to Classic and Basic cards with the rollout of Standard — before these cards’ true strengths will be known.

And if they can overcome Polymorph.

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