Lessons of the Princes

When it comes to the royalty of Knights of the Frozen Throne, the King gets all the attention. But whilst the Lich King was the headline act, the Princes have had a surprisingly forceful impact on the meta. Despite the initial panning they received, some of the Princes have come to support or even define decks. What can we learn from their impact, and what can this teach us about buildaround cards?

Taldaram, the predictably useless

Hardly an effect worth 3 mana, let alone building around

Of course, not all of the Princes made it into the meta. Taldaram is rare for a build-around, in that his effect is both terribly difficult to activate and just plain terrible.

Having no 3 drops in your deck is a crippling downside for almost any deck. It would be conceivably worth it if the accompanying upside was in line with the ruinous deckbuilding cost. However, the effect is arguably not worth even 3 mana. Taldaram’s ability to copy a minion’s text and effects is extremely situational.

The only possible consistent application for it is in a combo deck to get two Malygos or two Prophet Velen. But spell-damage combo decks are weaker than ever and most require 3 drops. The most likely candidate, Priest, also has Mirage Caller as an option that means you can still run Acolyte.

Keleseth, the meta breaker

Keleseth can decide games on turn 2

Who knew that forsaking 2 drops would be so effective? Keleseth has helped propel Tempo Rogue to the dizzying heights of tier one. The 2 mana Prince is reminiscent of Reno Jackson in that it comes with a crippling penalty and a suitably powerful upside.

The ability to give every minion in your deck +1/+1 is potentially gamewinning on turn 2. Especially if followed up with a Southsea Captain pulling a 3/3 charging Patches. While not worth it in classes with consistent 2 drop options or spell reliance, it can prop up classes with weak 2 drop options in aggressive or midrange decks.

The downside of course, is the dependence on draw RNG. Keleseth on turn 2 is gamewinningly powerful. Tempo Rogue has a 72% winrate when he is kept in the mulligan according to HSReplay.net. But later on, he’s often a dead draw. The added penalty of not running 2 cost cards adds a further gulf of power between a Keleseth draw and a non-Keleseth draw. And unlike Reno, there’s almost no time to increase your odds of drawing it by cycling.

Valanar, the quiet workhorse

Not especially exciting, but a solid inclusion in certain decks and metas

Valanar wasn’t the most impactful, but his implementation was arguably the most effective. Cutting 4 drops is far less detrimental than giving up 2s or 3s. His bonus of gaining Taunt and Lifesteal isn’t crushingly strong, but still extremely potent in the right deck.

Unlike Keleseth, he’s also a defensive option, with far more utility in the late game. Drawing him later on can even be more useful than on turn 4, as the Lifesteal and Taunt can save your skin. Their synergy can often result in 8+ in effective heal; not bad for a 4 mana 4/4.

What’s more, a less crushing deckbuilding requirements opens up interesting choices without making your game dependent on drawing the build-arounds. He also pushes midrange and control decks, unlike Keleseth’s stat-pushing aggressive tempo.

Lessons for Team 5

There are a number of insights to take from the impact and play of the Princes. Buildarounds can make or break a healthy meta, so determining the most interesting and fun ways to implement them is a worthy enterprise.

Taldaram’s message is simple: a crippling restriction requires a powerful standalone effect. Taldaram is simply too weak and situational to ever see consistent play.

Keleseth shows the other side of a coin; when an effect is too aggressive, too swingy, and too early. While the effect and restriction could be interesting, the fact it’s so important to draw it early on makes the decks built around it feel extremely high-rolly.

Valanar might be the sweet spot. With a consistent impact in any deck that runs healing, the downside is occasionally but not always worth it. As a defensive card but not one you will depend upon, draw RNG affects it less. Overall, Team 5 could do well to introduce more buildarounds with a similar philosophy of consistency, balanced impact, and non-crippling condition.

 


Images 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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