Strong neutrals can define metas, and Knights of the Frozen Throne was no exception. From headline eight drops to snowballing dragons, the expansion’s most powerful neutral cards have all shaped the expansion’s most impactful decks. While Death Knights and Jades stole the show, these cards have been quietly working in the background to warp the meta around them.
The Lich King
One of the expansion’s first neutral hits, Arthas, could conceivably be included in almost any deck. With beefy stats, a defensive Taunt and powerful card-advantage grating ability, he was near ubiquitous early on. This was especially true during the reign of Jade Druid. Thanks to Druid’s limited removal, he could be a handy curve topper for Midrange and Control alike. His massive popularity even helped create a mini-meta where the Black Knight was commonly run.
The late-expansion meta treats him less kindly, however. As decks become more refined, big blobs of late-game value are harder and harder to justify. Especially when other late-game powerhouses like others on this list had more immediate board impact for less mana.
King of seven in Arena and Constructed alike, Dr. Bone is still as popular as ever. Initial experiments with synergy cards like Skelemancer proved its value. Even without the synergy, its huge package of impactful stats justified its continued inclusion. Originally finding a home in Midrange Paladin, it has migrated over to the more popular Tempo Rogue.
Not only content to be a powerful inclusion in a number of board-centric Constructed decks, as a super-powerful Common it also has a huge Arena impact. The sheer stat efficiency of this card, coupled with the huge board swing, will likely mean that it will be a strong inclusion in any Midrange deck as long as it’s in Standard. Luckily, it has soft counters; Shadowreaper Anduin, turn six board clears and Silence effects can heavily limit its power.
Skulking Geist is arguably the worst card on this list, but it saw huge amounts of play regardless. When pre-nerf Jade Druid dominated ladder, Geist was one of the only ways Control could hope to survive at all. By discarding the infinite Idol win condition, Geist gave a faint hope of outlasting. However, the raw power of old Jade often overwhelmed its opponent regardless.
Despite all this, Geist saw large amounts of play across Control of all stripes. It created interesting side-effects too; catching other one mana spells in the wake of its scattershot approach to destroying Idols. Even now, if you’re facing off against a Control deck, it’s often wise to liberally spend your one mana spells before they get gobbled up by the greedy ghoul. Less popular now as Jade has become marginally less meta-defining, it’s still a must have for any decks that want to fatigue out their opponents.
Keleseth was never meant to be this good. Reviews and expectations panned it, initially with good reason. Before the Fiery War Axe and Innervate nerfs, it seemed unlikely that any aggressive deck could compete with Pirate Warrior and Aggro Druid without two-drops. But as these dominating early strategies fell away, Keleseth deck’s slower approach was given room to breathe.
The card is polarising; incredibly potent when drawn and crippling when not, but decks like Tempo Rogue and some Zoolocks are able to forgo this downside and do okay enough without it to justify its inclusion. Keleseth can easily win the early board single handedly, making every one of your subsequent plays outclass the opponent’s. Combined with Shadowstep and Patches, it can look almost reminiscent of Quest Rogue with the right hand.
Cobalt Scalebane almost screams arena card. Its mediocre stats and slow, win-more effect is strong in Arena, yes; but it also has been surprisingly effective in Constructed. It provides a solid five-drop for any deck that wants it, and is decent even without board control.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to its success has been the rise of Priest. Priest has almost no good ways to deal with this. Surviving Dragonfire and all other Priest AOE, only Shadowreaper or Shadow Word Death are effective counters. And when this card comes down on five, it puts you on a terrifyingly short clock. While it may lose out if Priest falls in popularity or more immediately impactful five-drops come along, it’ll likely be turning 1/1’s into 4/1’s for some time.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Custom cards via Hearthcards.net.
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