The Hearthstone team today announced a hugely exciting set of updates. Let me just bullet point it out for you to give you an idea of the scope, and then we’ll dive into the details:
– The Death Knight class is being added to Hearthstone and has impressively varied gameplay thanks to a Blood/Frost/Undead rune system and corpse mechanic. It will have 68 cards at launch.
– Alongside the new class will be a new expansion – March of the Lich King, which is rooted in Warcraft lore and is based around the Lich King’s Scourge attacking the Blood Elves of Silvermoon City. It will introduce a new keyword – Manathirst.
– Undead is a new minion type debuting with the set, and hundreds of legacy cards have also been tagged as Undead. Many minions are now dual-type too.
– Hearthstone is getting its first neutral spell – The Sunwell. Not only that, if you log into the game now you’ll get it for free.
– Starting now and going through to the release of March of the Lich King (on December 6), the entire Knights of the Frozen Throne set (originally released in 2017 and the first expansion to feature hero cards) has been added back to the Standard format.
– Signature cards are being introduced to Hearthstone, which have alternate expansion-specific art.
Okay, let’s go over the above in more detail.
The Death Knight Class & Runes
The Death Knight is only the second new class that’s been added to Hearthstone beyond the initial nine, and the team has really gone all-in to represent the myriad of ways there are to play Death Knight in World of Warcraft. At the core of its identity is the new rune system, which allows players to specialise in three different areas: Blood, Frost and Unholy.
When building a Death Knight deck, players have three rune slots they can fill, and most – but not all – Death Knight class cards have a rune requirement on them. If you’re triple Frost, for instance, you can include cards with one, two and three Frost runes on them, but can’t include any Blood or Unholy cards. On the other hand, if you include Frost cards with only one and two rune requirements, your third rune slot can be Blood or Unholy, allowing you to splash in certain cards from one of those other alignments.
It’s an involved new system, allowing for ten different combinations: BBB, FFF, UUU, BBU, BBF, FFB, FFU, UUB, UUF and BFU. Each of the three alignments, as you’d expect, has different strengths, weaknesses and play styles. Blood DKs are the control option, with huge minions, health manipulation and lifesteal. Frost DKs are all about spell synergies, direct damage, mana manipulation and some freeze. Unholy DKs, meanwhile, swarm their enemies with armies of the undead, so are aggressive, go wide, buff minions and are the masters of Corpses (which we’ll get to shortly).
When Death Knight launches, the first thing you’ll do is play through the class’ Prologue, which tells the story of Arthas Menethil as he goes down his dark path and faces off against major Warcraft figures like Uthar, Sylvanas, Illidan and Mal’Ganis. The Prologue serves as an introduction to the Death Knight’s mechanics and once you finish it the class is unlocked and you get the 32 Core cards and three starter decks. (The DK Core set, incidentally, is nearly twice the size of the other classes, and will continue to be that large in the future.)
Death Knights will launch with a total of 68 cards, which is 50% larger than Demon Hunter, which had 45 on release. Beyond the Core set, the Path of Arthas bundle will have 26 cards (the same number the other classes have received through expansions and mini-sets this year) and will come with three “advanced” decks. That bundle can be purchased separately, but it’s also included in the March of the Lich King pre-order Mega Bundle. And finally, Death Knights will have ten class cards in the new expansion, just like the other classes.
It’s a lot, but the Hearthstone team’s goal is to ensure that there are enough cards for each of the specialisations to have a viable deck or two, so no matter how you want to play your DK, you’ll be able to do so. Now, let’s talk Corpses.
Ghoul Charge, Corpses and the Undead
Death Knights are all about raising the dead, and this aspect of the class is reflected in both its hero power and in its use of Corpses. Corpses are an additional resource that Death Knights can call upon. A Corpse is added to the tally (shown beneath the mana bar) any time a friendly minion dies (although there are some exceptions), and then there are cards that spend those Corpses – generally for some bonus effect.
Crucially, generating Corpses is built into the hero power, which is called Ghoul Charge and summons a 1/1 ghoul with charge that dies at end of turn. Essentially it’s a one damage ping, but also a guaranteed Corpse. A specialisation like Unholy also has a number of Corpse generating cards, all of which tie into the strategy of choosing which runes to utilise – perhaps you add in a single Unholy alongside two Blood to ensure you have enough Corpses to activate Blood’s Corpse spenders?
To really cement this use of the undead, Hearthstone is also officially adding Undead as a minion type. And not just that, there will be Undead synergy (“If a friendly Undead died after your last turn…”) baked into the March of the Lich King set. Many of the new Undead are also Reborn (two Corpses for the price of one!), and the Undead change is retroactive, so hundreds of old cards have been freshly classified as Undead. Cards can now have two types too, so Patches the Pirate, for instance, is now both a Pirate and a Demon.
March of the Lich King
Hearthstone has delved more into classic Warcraft settings and characters over the last few years, and the new expansion, March of the Lich King, very much continues that trend. Set at the start of the second Scourge war (i.e. the events of Wrath of the Lich King), March of the Lich King is centred around Silvermoon City under siege, with half the classes aligned with the Scourge (Death Knight, Warlock, Priest, Shaman, Rogue and Druid), and half with Silvermoon and the Blood Elves (Hunter, Paladin, Warrior, Mage and Demon Hunter).
Each group of classes has shared themes. The Scourge classes, for instance, are concerned with the Undead, so Priests are raising the dead (small minions, don’t worry) and Warlocks are using soul magic. These classes have other interesting things going on. Rogue, for instance, is crafting concoctions, while the Nerubian link for Druids is back.
The Blood Elves of Silvermoon, meanwhile, have a (sometimes unhealthy) reliance on magical power, and that’s reflected in their unifying mechanic – Manathirst. Cards with Manathirst gain a bonus effect if you have the requisite amount of mana. They don’t spend the mana, they just get better at a certain point in the game. In terms of specific classes, the Mages belong to the Magisters and are masters of arcane magic, the Blood Knights are darker, more vengeful Paladins who have bent the light to their will by force, and the Fel Blood Elves are Demon Hunters and fel-addled outcasts.
Signature cards will also debut with March of the Lich King. These are a new cosmetic type of card featuring alternate art in an expansion-specific style and with a card frame that showcases the full art. 18 March of the Lich King cards will have a signature variant (15 of these are legendaries) and they come as a rare drop in card packs and are not craftable. Along with this, golden packs will be upgraded to “Signature Golden Packs” that have a “high chance” of including signature cards. Golden packs can be directly purchased now too.
The Knights of the Frozen Throne Return!
Back in 2017, Hearthstone asked the question – what if each of its (then nine) classes became Death Knights? The result was the introduction of hero cards and the Knights of the Frozen Throne set. It’s one of the most popular expansions Hearthstone has ever had, and the ideal set to bring back to the Standard format leading into the introduction of the Death Knight class… which is exactly what Team 5 is doing with the Knights of Hallow’s End event.
If you log into Hearthstone now, you’ll discover all the Knights of the Frozen Cards have been added to your collection – they’ve become part of the Core set and will hang around until the launch of March of the Lich King. The hero cards are certainly memorable – some verging on infamous – but will they be any good in 2022? It’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.
That’s not the only thing you’ll discover if you log into Hearthstone today. You’ll also get Hearthstone’s very first neutral spell, The Sunwell, for free. It has a very interesting effect, and will be entertaining to play with, even if it doesn’t wind up being all that strong.
Lastly, March of the Lich King will be released on December 6 in NA (so, December 7 in ANZ/Asia Pacific), and pre-order bundles are now live, so be sure to check out the details. For now, be sure to check out our Designing Death Knight video and our feature in which we go deep into the development of the new class with Team 5.
Cam Shea has been playing Hearthstone since beta and went behind the scenes of the Demon Hunter development process back in 2019/2020. When he’s not playing games he’s mixing records.
Source: IGN Video Games All