Knights of the Frozen Throne released only a few days ago, but the meta is beginning to crystallise and settle. Druid, Paladin and Shaman are strong early contenders for Aggro and Midrange decks, whereas Priest and Warlock dominate Control. Most of the impactful new inclusions have been class cards. Spreading Plague, Righteous Protector and Shadowreaper Anduin have propelled their respective classes to meta dominance.
However, a few powerful Knights of the Frozen Throne neutrals may yet shape the meta. Perhaps the strongest of these is the new Dr. 7: Bonemare. Or as I like to call it, Dr. Bone.
Bonemare isn’t especially exciting, concept-wise. Minions that buff other minions are as old as Hearthstone. New players can immediately use the concept with the Basic Shattered Sun Cleric. What makes Dr. Bone isn’t so much a novel concept as the raw numbers and its defensive power.
In terms of raw stats, Bonemare is beastly (although unlike Bone Drake, it has no tribal tag). Its 5/5 body for seven mana is pretty bad, but combine it with the +4/+4 buff it gives, and it’s an impressive 9/9 worth of stats for seven. Not only that, but the +4/+4 it gives essentially has charge. In essence, it’s a four mana Blessing of Kings plus a three mana 5/5 in one card; an efficient package indeed.
To complicate things further for the opponent, these stats are not put into one target ripe for hard removal á la Swamp King Dread, Hearthstone’s other seven mana 9/9. Bonemare spreads out over two beefy bodies, both of which demand removal.
Another huge component of Bonemare’s strength comes from its versatility. As long as you have a minion on board, it can be used to fulfil almost any strategy. The fact that the buffed minion gains Taunt opens huge tactical options. Against Control you can go face of course, but it’s also handy to dodge a Pirate Warrior’s Arcanite reaper to the face. It’s a perfect tool for trading as well, as you can selectively apply the buff to get the best value. The ability to grant Taunt also means that it’s often safe to push face damage with the buff target, as the opponent will likely be forced to trade with it anyway.
While Paladin and Shaman can make best use of buff synergies with their hero powers and minions, Warriors and Druids have also found good use for it. The card’s sheer power and lack of efficient answers means that it’s likely to remain a popular curve topper for some time to come.
A Midrange Messiah
There are downsides of course. It requires a minion target to be effective, and is otherwise almost useless. However, most decks that would consider running Bonemare can easily flood the board. What’s more, if worst comes to worse it can still be played with a one drop or hero power for a quick dump of stats. Though the opportunity for trading is lost, throwing down two mid-sized minions, one of which has taunt, can often be enough to save or close out the game.
This balance between aggression and defensiveness makes it perfect for Midrange decks of all stripes, from aggressive to those leaning to Control. Being incredibly powerful whether you’re the “beatdown” or not is a rare trait in a card, but Bonemare manages it. As long as a deck is Midrange, it is likely to want this card.
New, experimental versions of Aggro Paladin have even been considering dropping cards like Tirion for Bonemare! Coming down one turn earlier, it fulfills a similar purpose of a value bomb that also protects the face and pushes damage. Here we come to a slightly troubling nature of the card. Due to being a powerful Neutral minion, it may erode class identity by squeezing out classic Class minions. If Warriors cut Grommash, if Paladins cut Tirion, and if Warlocks cut Doomguard for this, then games start to feel stale and similar.
Blizzard has wisely shied away from these kinds of omnipresent Neutrals in the past. Midrange decks make up a huge proportion of the Meta, and if Bonemare finds its way into all of them, it could lead to a troubling blandness between classes.
Countering Dr. Bone
Worryingly, Bonemare doesn’t have many direct counters. The Black Knight deals with the buffed minion, but trades poorly with Bonemare itself. Spellbreaker reduces the power of the buffed minion; but often the toughness will remain untouched if it has already traded. Dirty Rat can bring the body down early, but is still a risky and anti-tempo counter.
By far, the best counter to Dr. Bone is simply to clear the opponent’s board prior to it coming down. While this isn’t always possible, it’s worth considering if you’re holding onto the Brawl or Dragonfire Potion. Otherwise, consider playing a deck such as Freeze Mage that’s effective against Midrange strategies.
Or you could even run a Bonemare of your own, and leave others to make these tough decisions on how to clear your board…
Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.
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