Hearthstone pros on Knights of The Frozen Throne
From top players to the game’s developers, we get the inside scoop on the next upcoming expansion for Hearthstone, Knights of the Frozen Throne.
There’s that special murmur of excitement that comes with the announcement of every Hearthstone expansion. At a time when we’re tired of playing the same old decks and seeing the same old cards the promise of something fresh and new is immediately appealing. So, before kicking off the HCT Spring Championship finals, Blizzard announced that the second set to be released during the Year of the Mammoth will be Knights of the Frozen Throne. That’s right, we’re off to the Icecrown Citadel to take on the Lich King himself.
The expansion not only adds 135 new cards, it also comes with eight free single-player missions – much like the adventures released between previous expansions packs. Complete the prologue and you’ll be given one of the shiny new legendary Death Knight hero cards for free.
The question is: will this new mechanic see more play than many of the severely underused Quest cards from Journey to Un’Goro? Also, how will the influx of Lifesteal and Deathrattle cards affect competitive decks? And what does the addition of Death Knight hero cards mean for the possibility of adding new classes to Hearthstone? We put these questions and more to pro players and Hearthstone developers to hear their thoughts and expectations for Knights of the Frozen Throne
“I’m super excited! I was jumping from the floor the whole time [during the announcement] – for the whole time,” said Haiyun ‘Eloise’ Tang, clearly with more unbridled enthusiasm for the expansion than any other player. “It looks so exciting because this meta hasn’t changed for two months, so when I see something new I feel so excited.”
A big driving force behind that excitement is the new Death Knight hero cards. These nine sinister legendaries will replace your hero with a necrotic version of themselves, grant you a new hero power and can even have other effects when they come into play.
It's not, however, implemented as an entirely new class, something many players were speculating as a possibility for Hearthstone as the game grows older. Game director, Ben Brode, took to Reddit to explain why this choice was made.
“A class needs unique ‘space’, i.e. things they can do that nobody else can do. Only Paladins get Divine Shield, or ‘setting Attack/Health’, or 1-mana Secrets. Mages are the best at AoE and Blasty single-target spells. I think we are already having trouble carving out awesome space for nine classes. I want us to find more unique things for Warlock to do, for example. I think adding a 10th class makes this problem much more difficult, as we could be using that space to make our core nine classes more fun.”
The addition of Death Knight hero cards is neither a confirmation or denial that Hearthstone will eventually see new classes, but this is Team 5’s approach for now. The one example shown so far is the Hunter variant, Deathstalker Rexxar. Upon entering the battlefield he deals two damage to all enemy minions, adds five armour to your hero and gets the Build-a-Beast hero power. This ability is nothing like the cutesy toy store, but actually allows you to combine two beats together into a ‘Zombeast’ abomination.
“It’s really cool to see Rexxar’s new hero power,” says Jerry Mascho, senior concept artist at Blizzard. “Before he would shoot his bow and damage your hero. But now, he takes his Hunter abilities to the next step and it’s kind of almost disgusting. He’s literally stitching two beasts together and I think that coincides with his hunter nature, but it’s also an evil version of what that is.”
Meanwhile, Anthony ‘Ant’ Trevino is more interested in seeing how the Death Knight cards for other classes shape up. “I want to say Warlock because I’m not sure really what a Death Knight Warlock would do. That one or Shaman. Those are my two favourite classes and I do the meta snapshot for those so I would want to see what those two are like.”
As a concept, players are eager to try out the new Death Knight hero cards, but just how popular will they be in competitive play considering the last expansion’s major addition, Quests, were ignored in many tournament and ladder-worthy decks?
“Death Knight looks pretty different from Quest,” suggests Eloise, hopefully. “It looks very strong, like Jaraxxus, but it’s also very different from Quest cards. For Quest cards, there are only two classes that are really playable on ladder, but I think it’s more because the Quest doesn’t work with the class cards or the Quest doesn’t work with the meta.”
An important point to remember is that Knights of the Frozen Throne isn’t just introducing nine legendary cards to the game. We’ve only seen a handful of cards from the set so far and many other new ones could open up deck possibilities that have seemed too inconsistent or unviable with the current card library.
“Our final design team does a lot of work with that in mind,” explains Mascho. “Speaking as an artist I don’t really have much control over that, I don’t really have much input, but our final design team really hammer out how they think these new cards will affect the meta. They go through tonnes of iterations and they really understand how it will affect the meta, how it will work within the current set and past sets.”
Nevertheless, there are still some wild combinations that Team 5 don’t expect to see, as Max Ma, lead UI designer at Blizzard, reveals. “So, sometimes we’ll see this really cool new deck and we’ll walk over to our game designers and ask if they’ve considered this. One out of ten times they’re like...nope. So, yeah, our players are also outsmarting us sometimes!”
This is where many pro players shine. Players like HCT Spring World Champion, Frederik ‘Hoej’ Nielsen are excited by the potential of a whole new meta emerging and finding their own way amongst the new wave of confusion: “I don’t like to netdeck, I like to try new things and make them work.”
Even just after the recent nerf to Quest Rogue, Eloise is already trying to read the meta ahead of time by experimenting with Quest Mage and preparing new decks that may rise to prominence. “For most of the Quests, there is huge potential in them because most of them are not really playable right now,” she suggests. “If there is something we can do that makes the Quest more playable then it will be a perfect expansion, I think.”
Fortunately, Eloise might be in luck here – at least with one class Quest. Considering the theme of Knights of the Frozen Throne, it’s fitting that Blizzard has confirmed Deathrattle cards will make up a significant portion of the new set. That could do interesting things for Quest Priest, which had some traction in the early days of Journey to Un’Goro, but slowly withered away. Additional Deathrattle minions could give Anduin and Tyrande more options to complete their Awaken the Makers quest. Combine that with the development of the Lifesteal mechanic into a more prominent position with cards like Spirit Lash and you could see the viability of Priest rise.
It’s the first time Lifesteal is on a spell card, so that gains from plus spell power, and that’s a whole new combo that players can explore
“Yeah, I think Lifesteal,” says Ma, when asked what could usher in the biggest change with Knights of the Frozen Throne. “It already exists in the game. It’s the keyword we added. But it’s the first time Lifesteal is on a spell card, so that gains from plus spell power, and that’s a whole new combo that players can explore. I think there’s going to be some pretty crazy stuff they can do with that.”
With attention focused elsewhere, though, Ant is already talking with other players about the possible uses of the only neutral legendary announced so far, Prince Keleseth. The two mana 2/2 gives all minions in your deck +1/+1 if there are no other two cost cards in your deck. “They were saying that guy’s insane in Zoo and I was like, hmm, maybe you can put that with Small-time Recruits because Paladin has bad two drops anyway. So, just only play that! It’s exciting, new cards are exciting and I’m really looking forward to seeing more.”
The cogs are whirring and ideas are being shared with more sure to be discussed once further cards are revealed in Knights of the Frozen Throne from July 24. Then, the few weeks of intense theorycrafting can begin proper. With a release date set for some time in August, it won’t be long before we see whether any of these predictions hold true or if any unexpected cards cause a surprise and redefine the meta completely.