Knights of the Frozen Throne is Hearthstone’s boldest expansion yet

Knights of the Frozen Throne is less than a week from its August 10th release. With the majority of the cards released, Death Knight heroes are getting the lion’s share of attention and hype. But beyond these new undead heroes, Knights of the Frozen Throne is quietly pushing at the limits of Hearthstone’s core design philosophy in the boldest way yet.

Whether or not it will work out is still up in the air. Regardless, it’s hard not to admire the risks and brave steps the designers are taking with these exciting new cards.

Discarding from the opponent’s deck

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Skulking Geist doesn’t care where your one mana spell is. Hand or deck, friend or foe, it’s getting destroyed

Tech cards traditionally interact with the board. Be it Hungry Crab or Harrison Jones, almost all specific counters deal with something in play. Dirty Rat pushed the envelope; it countered strong battlecries by threatening minions in the opponent’s hand. However, this type of tech card is insufficient in providing a counter to that enemy of Control: Jade Druid. You can’t interrupt the infinite shuffling of Jade Idols by any traditional mechanic.

But Skulking Geist is not traditional. Not only does the upcoming minion discard cards of a specific type for the opponent, it discards them from their deck. This is arguably the boldest tech or disruption card yet printed. Cards in your deck, providing you had the hand space to draw them, used to be sacrosanct. They were untouchable. However, Skulking Geist cares little for past convention, and will rip Jade Idols, Shield Slams and Inner Fires out of decks without mercy. It cannot be played around, and completely disrupts Jade Druid’s draw-till-they-drop gameplan.

How this will feel is yet to be seen. The level of community worry over the underwhelming Gnomeferatu’s deck discard effect indicates that players may react more negatively than expected. But considering the level of frustration and vitriol thrown at Jade idol, this may be a small price to pay.

Complex cards

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Corpsetaker is wordy without being difficult to understand

Imp-losion was one of the swingiest cards of Goblins Vs Gnomes. Its outcome ranged form terrible (2 damage and 2 Imps) to crushingly powerful (4 damage and 4 Imps). Many publicly wondered why it didn’t follow a more balanced range of outcomes. For instance, the number of imps could vary inversely with the amount of damage (2 imps for 4 damage, or vice versa). However, it would break one of the implicit rules of Hearthstone: If a mechanic can’t be expressed incredibly simply, it can’t be on a card.

Knights of the Frozen Throne challenges this. Not only are there cards that involve complicated concepts like “If {condition}, cast this again”, there are cards with more text than seen yet. The boldest is Corpsetaker, which has a staggering 16 words spread across two sentences.

Longer descriptions and more complicated game mechanics can be taxing to learn. But it’s refreshing to see cards unafraid to flirt with wordiness. Too many good card ideas would be gimped by overly-conservative simplifications. In a game as complex as Hearthstone, it’s far more important that cards will do what they say they do.

Unprecedented deck manipulation

As Tavern Brawls have proven, creating a deck with many copies of a few super-powerful cards can be brokenly powerful

The amount of value in your deck used to be fixed and absolute. Fatigue was both a threat and a gameplan. However, Jade Idol broke those rules by allowing the shuffling of infinite value. Beyond Jade Idol, Knights of the Frozen Throne allows deck manipulation on an unprecedented scale. As I discussed in Why Dead Man’s Hand is impossible to evaluate, cards like Dead Man’s Hand and Archbishop Benedictus are the first time that players have had control of what cards they’re able to add to their deck on a massive scale.

With the Fatigue win condition irrelevant for a while now, this new mass deck manipulation allows alternate paths to victory. The potential of marrying Priest and, say, Mage, cards on a massive scale is a daunting one indeed. As is the potential of infinite N’zoths or endless streams of Arcane Giants. Still, this bold approach to solving the late-game value conundrum facing many control decks has huge potential.

A new Exodia

Could this be the face of the end of the world?

While combo deck’s “win conditions” have been apart of Hearthstone ever since the first one turn kills were established, they all had a hidden asterisk. Winning in Hearthstone has always been down to dealing damage; and that’s left it counters. Armor or cards like Ice Block interferes with them, making it so that there were counters to any conceivable combo. Even Un’goro’s Quest “Exodia” mage is undone by a well timed Dirty Rat, Ice Block, Counterspell or Eye for an Eye.

Knights of the Frozen Throne adds the first (non-Jaraxxus) way to kill your opponent that revolves not around damage, but simple destruction. Summoning all four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” from Paladin’s Death Knight Hero Power will simply win the game immediately. This combo, combined with bounce effects, or hero-power refresh abilities, could potentially kill opponents even through defenses. Ice Block, insurmountable Armor totals, or even an Eye for an Eye while at one health would do nothing.

While still counterable by a clutch Dirty Rat, Coin denial (in Thaurissan-less standard), secrets like Potion of Polymorph or simply racing your opponent down, destroying your opponent without dealing down is one of the boldest combo introductions. This is simply because it’s not dependent on what every other combo has relied on: damage.

Tutoring for early removal

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All your early-game needs in one handy package

Forge of Souls is freshly revealed at the time of writing, and is already looking like a strong inclusion in Control Warrior decks. Drawing two cards for two mana is almost always great value. Where Forge Souls breaks new, brave ground is in what it tutors. Tutoring is not new to Hearthstone, but the ability to tutor for early-game board control tools in the early game is.

If Forge Souls turns out to be a staple, it will completely upend Warrior’s consistency. The fabled guaranteed starting War Axe will look a lot more like reality, and the nightmare of a post-mulligan hand stuffed with unplayable spells and nine drops will become far less frequent. Forge Souls, together with War Axe and the New Blood Razor, is an early game in a box. Potentially, it could rescue even the clunkiest of starts.

This kind of massively improved early consistency will allow Warrior decks to more readily break deck-building rules. More importantly, Warrior will be at the mercy of early-game RNG far less frequency. This kind of added reliability to early game could not only reduce frustrations but also go a long way to making Hearthstone more competitive and skill-based. Or, at least restrict RNG to the entertaining Yogg-Saron variety rather than the perfect curve vs zero removal kind.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Alex Church is an avid Hearthstone enthusiast since shortly after release. He has achieved legend multiple times, including a top 200 EU finish. He mains Control Warrior and his favourite card is Bash

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