Hold on to your butts and tie down your Battle.net balances everybody, because Hearthstone's got a new Expansion coming out: Journey to Un'Goro. That's right, everyone's favorite card game about an MMO game about a strategy game is dropping 135 new cards next week and has two other similarly-sized Expansions planned for later this year. The premiere of this new set marks a new year for Hearthstone as well: The Year of the Mammoth. With the previous year coming to a close, three sets from 2015 are going to be retiring from the game's Standard rotation: Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, and The League of Explorers. Only cards that have been released in the last two years are available for play in Standard Hearthstone, which is where most competitive players play. It's a good move employed by many successful card games such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, meant to keep the game accessible to new players while also keeping the developer's options open for future Expansions.
Speaking of expanding, this first year for Hearthstone's Standard format seems like it's been a major learning experience for the team. As Expansions phased out, designers realized that keeping the cards coming was a top priority, resulting in the dropping of the story-heavy but also card-light "Adventures" completely this year, such as Blackrock Mountain and League of Explorers. While they were very fun to play, both Adventures only added thirty-one and forty-five new cards to the game, respectively. As a result, the meta-game stagnated. The Grand Tournament Expansion, on the other hand, had almost twice as many cards as both of them combined. However, Blizzard has acknowledged that they wish to figure out how to combine the fun of Adventures with the sheer number of options given in Expansions, and hopefully they can pull it together for next year.
In the meantime, since all of the cards have been released, let's take a look at some of the best and worst cards coming to us when we venture into Un'Goro ourselves.
15 Amazing: Vilespine Slayer
In terms of sheer cost-to-power ratio, this card is terrible. However, this card can be just as powerful as Assassinate on turn five if you have a zero-cost spell to cast like The Coin or Backstab. What's better, the last combo card to take out an enemy was Sabotage, which saw pretty much zero play except maybe as a tech choice against Patron Warrior when that was still a thing. Players had no control over Sabotage, which took out any random minion the player had, whereas here Rogues can cherry pick the minion that's giving them the most trouble.
So in summary: a decently-statted body on the board and a one-shot-kill you can throw anywhere on your opponent's board in mid-game? Sounds like something that could swing the tempo your way. Also, if you're playing Jade Rogue, this is a wonderful way to clear the board for Aya on turn six.
14 Sucks: Giant Mastodon
Ah, jeez. Who invited Manny from Ice Age to our Hearthstone expansion? This card seems just about as annoying, with its incredibly subpar stat line for its cost. To put this in perspective, for one less mana you can summon an Eldritch Horror with the exact same stats, just without Taunt or the Beast tag. Alternately, for two mana less, you can summon a Bog Creeper with the same attack and only two less health.
Now, some might argue that Taunt and Beast warrant the excessive overpricing of this card, but while Taunt is a useful way to block minions and weapon-wielding heroes, it's far too simple to work around, especially as late in the game as this card will be played due to the cost. As well, the Beast tag should benefit from synergy with Druids and Hunters, but again, this card being so late game means that the buff you would've used on it has probably gone to a Savannah Highmane or Big Bad Wolf to get a better hold on the board earlier. Also, buffing something that expensive is really hard to do in the first place, so you need to do it on the minion with the best stats (i.e., not this card). And thanks to the new Beast-drawing mechanics this expansion is giving Hunters, this card only serves to crap up the possible draws.
13 Amazing: Lost in the Jungle
One day, somebody at Hearthstone HQ said to themselves "You know what? Paladins like summoning a bunch of little guys and turning them into big guys. Let's make a card that gives them a bunch all at once!"
That person ended up making Muster For Battle.
Sadly, times changed and Muster left Standard to the mournful wailing of Uthers and Liadrins everywhere. Yet, that one visionary's legacy lived on in cards like Stand Against Darkness and Small Time Recruits. Well, in Un'Goro, it seems that Paladins have found another good quick summon card.
This card is completely a discount compared to the Paladin's hero power: two mana for a 1/1 body on the board. And since Paladin cards like to buff their minions to almost ridiculous levels of value, this makes for a great starting play or mid-game swing when coupled with Sword of Justice or Steward of Darkshire, but is far too flimsy to be useful in the late game.
12 Sucks: Volcanosaur
Volcanosaur is a card that might be good and it might be terrible. The new Adapt mechanic being introduced in Un'Goro is a way of using the Discover mechanic introduced in League of Explorers to buff a minion as it hits the board. Of course, there's ten different adaptations that are chosen from at random and, depending on how your deck plays, you might only want one or two of them on your Volcanosaur. While having two Adapts increases the chances of getting a couple of favorable buffs, the odds are still against you.
It also doesn't help that the base stats, while fairly balanced, are a bit weak for the cost and when it's going to be coming into the game. On the plus side though, every player will be getting a gold copy of this card when Un'Goro comes out, so you'll definitely be able to see if it's worth putting in or making a free rare with the dust you'll disenchant from it.
11 Amazing: The Marsh Queen
One of the new Quest cards coming in the Expansion, The Marsh Queen provides a slightly moderate challenge compared to some of the others available for the other classes. It's important to note that if you put a Quest card in your deck, when you start a match, it immediately comes into your hand and you can choose to discard it or not. They all cost one mana, so you will be losing a very important turn early in the game to get this out. But if you can meet the criteria, most of the rewards given are worth the trouble and Queen Carnassa is definitely worth it. Not only is she an incredible 5-cost card for 8/8 worth of stats, she shuffles fifteen of Carnassa's Brood into your deck. Those little buggers are 1-mana cards with three attack, two health, and they let you draw a card whenever you play it. So even if your opponent can take down Carnassa herself, her kiddies are gleefully going to tear her killer to shreds. Also, both Queenie and her kids have the Beast tag, so Hunters can buff them for even more ridiculous value.
10 Sucks: Golakka Crawler
As it stands right now, it could be said that Pirates in Hearthstone are... plundering the meta.
I'm sorry. I'll be going now.
But seriously, Blizz had a problem with Pirate decks before Mean Streets of Gadgetzan hit, which only exacerbated the problem with cards like Patches the Pirate and the now-nerfed Small-Time Buccaneer. This card is, for better or worse, a direct attempt to give people frustrated by these decks an avenue to kill their opponent's favorite scurvy dog. In addition, the card's ability ends up making its already respectable stat line even better. The problem I'm foreseeing is when the meta shakes up, there will be no room for this card anymore, since all the Warriors will be expecting the Crawler in the first place and will either not be running Pirates or will have their own answer to it. That's the problem with trying to fix the meta-game so blatantly: it's going to change it and once the surprise is gone, so is the card.
9 Amazing: Shadow Visions
This card is an interesting twist on the Discover mechanic. It's a guaranteed way to get to a decent spell card to play out next turn or whenever it fits into your arc, since they're the spells you put into your deck to begin with. What makes it better is that unlike the Hunter's Tracking card, the cards you don't pick are not destroyed once it's all said and done. As a Priest, you're basically spending two mana to get the spell you know you're going to need later down the line. And since the Priest aggro deck doesn't exist, you were playing the long game to begin with. So you might as well be prepared.
It would have been a bit higher on the list if it was a little cheaper, because as it stands right now, you're giving up your second turn (or first if you went second and don't have a viable one-mana minion) to find a spell for later. If it had only cost one mana, it'd probably be a legendary card, but worth all the dust it'd take to craft it.
8 Sucks: Living Mana
Druids have a really hit-and-miss history with this game. They've created some of the more balanced and even some of the more broken decks Hearthstone has seen. Blizzard has tried to shoehorn in synergy with the Beast tag for them with varying degrees of success, because they figured since they shapeshifted into beasts from time to time, they should probably work well with the other ones in the game.
However, this is a case of experimentation gone way wrong. This is a great idea for a Tavern Brawl maybe, but as a card? Turning all of your mana into minions is a great way to get them frozen or otherwise incapacitated, crippling your tempo mid-game. It feels like the design of this card was to incorporate the glory days of Force/Savage decks, by giving the player a bunch of dudes seemingly out of nowhere, but giving them none of the immediacy, none of the same turn power that the old ones were known for. This card is the same late game play meant to be thrown out with buffs on the mana crystals, but in the end, it feels too slow and too risky to be viable in competitive play.
7 Amazing: Kalimos, Primal Lord
The first clause in Kalimos's card description is something we're seeing a lot of in Journey to Un'Goro. In addition, many neutral and class minion cards are getting the brand new Elemental tag, which allows buffing and synergies all over the place. Many of these cards are also good in their own right before the advantages of the new tag, as we'll see later in the list.
Kalimos as a whole is a card that's utterly dependent on his card text to make him viable. Thankfully for Kalimos, the Elemental Invocations are incredibly powerful, either restoring twelve health, dealing three damage to all enemy minions, six damage to one minion, or filling your board with 1/1 Earth Elementals. So not only is Kalimos a solid minion, he's full of utility for whatever the game may call for at the moment. And considering the mana curve that Shaman are going to have late game with elementals, there's not really a bad side to this guy.
6 Sucks: Tortolian Primalist
Do you ever just sit back, lace your fingers behind your head, and boggle your mind to try and imagine exactly how something so terrible could be brought into existence? That's pretty much how I reacted when I saw this card. First off, its stats are absolutely horrendous. Eight mana for a five-attack, four-health minion that can be smacked out of the game by a Flamestrike or Soulfire next turn is atrocious, so to make up for it, there must be some other amazing ability this card has, right?
It brings out three random spells, you choose one, and from there, the character you cast that spell on is also chosen at random. So you could try to cast a spell like Healing Touch because your opponent has lethal next turn, only to heal them for eight and doom you to dying a terrible, awful death. Could you imagine what would happen if your Pyroblast went wrong? Avoid, avoid, avoid this card at all costs.
5 Amazing: Blazecaller
Remember when I said we'd be getting back to Elementals? Well, we're getting back to Elementals. For those of you who don't remember, Fire Elemental has been a staple of Shaman decks since the game came out. Six mana, decent stats, and three damage to anyone as soon as it drops. Blazecaller ends up being the ramped-up version of this, with an even six health and attack, but also being able to fling five damage anywhere on the board. And of course you're going to have that Elemental set up next turn, because even if you don't get the Fire Elemental, there's going to be something else there for you to throw out.
Oh, and did I mention this guy works wonderfully with Kalimos? Because this guy works great with Kalimos. He ends what is essentially an incredible mid-to-late game curve for Shaman as soon as the Expansion drops. Of course, all the ins and outs haven't been figured out yet for Shaman Elemental decks, but even a simple combo like this means that with a little homework, there's definitely some great stuff to find.
4 Sucks: Dinosize
I mentioned that Paladins like buffing their minions, right? Well, sometimes that can go wrong. Let's do the math here for a second: dropping this on a low-cost minion will net you a 10/10 after only spending one mana on something like a Silver Hand Recruit from Lost in the Jungle. Doing this concentrates all the power on one minion. One minion that can easily be Assassinated, Polymorphed, or Hexed. All in one fell swoop, you've lost one whole turn on a minion that never had a chance in the first place.
There's no reason for a card like this to be this huge. It only leads to disaster, and unfortunately for Dinosize, Hearthstone players really like to avoid that at all costs. If it had only split the buffs up between two minions, or done something like Quartermaster used to do for Paladin minions back in the day, there might be something worth salvaging here.
3 Amazing: Fire Fly
Now, before you get mad, let me explain. One of the best things you can do in the early game is get a decent minion out on the board that you can build on to stop the advances of your enemy. With Fire Fly, we've got a great solution. Haunted Creeper was one of the most popular neutral minions from the Year of the Kraken, and that was because it stayed on the board in one way or another. What Fire Fly has over Creeper is that its Battlecry allows you to put another copy of itself into play at your discretion, rather than at your opponent's (since Deathrattle requires the minion to die before it triggers).
Even in the mid-to-late game, Fire Fly is a cheap way to satisfy the "If you played an Elemental last turn" clause of the new Elemental card texts. He's a great bridge if you didn't get your Fire Elemental to ensure the killer Blazecaller/Kalimos combo on turns seven and eight. There's absolutely no downside to this guy.
2 Sucks: Explore Un’goro
When the Whispers of the Old Gods Expansion hit, there was a card called Renounce Darkness. It was a Warlock-exclusive card that essentially turned the Warlock into another class, replacing their Hero Power with another class's and likewise taking out all Warlock class cards in the deck and replacing them with random class cards matching the new Hero Power, but they all cost one mana less.
It was an incredibly clever and unexpected card. It's a card that you want to workshop and run in dozens of different deck lists to see if it's worth it. Unfortunately, better men than I have tried, much to their lament (and ranking).
Explore Un'Goro is the exact same thing here, but at least several times worse. Your deck is completely replaced with a random mass of cards. Putting this card in a deck is you basically admitting that your deck building skills are so terrible that a spell that throws all of that strategy away (hey, shut up! Netdecking is hard work, you guys) will actually work better than what you brought to the game in the first place.
Although I guess it might work if you got a really crappy arena draw...
1 Amazing: Tie: Jeweled Macaw and Stampede
Hunters are getting a ton of love in this expansion, and nowhere is it more obvious than these two beauties. Stampede is the version of Lock and Load everyone wanted in the first place, and it's basically a great first play at any turn past the first, depending on your hand. Sure, you do end up rolling the dice and taking the chances of getting something lame like a Giant Mammoth or an Angry Chicken, but more than likely you'll get some gems more often than not. So if you're having problems getting to the cards you want in your deck, Stampede is there to act as a filler until they decide to show their faces.
Jeweled Macaw, on the other hand, is the long-awaited answer to Webspinner from so long ago. However, just like with Fire Fly, the Battlecry in the card text makes it better than its predecessor, giving you a random Beast as soon as the card hits the board. Again, it's a craps shoot as to the Beast you're going to get, but the odds are ever in your favor as a Hunter because of those sweet, sweet Hunter beasts.
There you have it! There were obviously a lot of cards that didn't make the list, so let me know in the comments what you're excited for, what you thought should have made the list, which cards you think are in the wrong places, or all of the above. And remember, the set drops next week, so get ready to get primal!