Thoughts on Knights of the Frozen Throne

Knights of the Frozen ThroneI play a lot of Hearthstone, but I don’t usually post much about here. But with the newest expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne, launching in a day or so, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on the set, and where the new cards might take the classes going forward.

This is a long post, as I had a lot of free time on my hands during a flight.

For reference, here is a gallery of all the new cards.

Druid

One thing I think is clear: Druid of the Swarm will see play, and I’m not sure what will happen in a meta where a two mana Poisonous card is popular. It may change the way people build decks, needing to either deal two damage or keep small minions around on the board.

Druid of the Swarm’s other form, as well as the 3 mana Crypt Lord card, are going to give Token Druid some very significant (and annoying) board protection which should see the deck continue to appear regularly on the ladder, and stronger than before.

Malfurion the Pestilent, the Druid Hero card, is one of the most consistently playable in the set, and I expect to see it in most slower decks. I can’t say the same for Hadronox, which as a 9 mana Deathrattle without taunt, is far too slow for all but the greediest control players – it just doesn’t compare to N’Zoth.

One last card that could make waves in Druid is Ultimate Infestation, which in itself is almost as powerful as a hero card – it’s pretty much two 5 mana Kazakus potions in one card (though it draws more cards than Kazakus). It comes at a 10 mana cost, and requires a suitable board state, but I can see it played as a one-of in Big Druid. (People are making noise about Quest Druid, but I still don’t see much reason to play it.)

Hunter

Control Hunter might happen, but it probably isn’t going to. Stitched Tracker and Abominable Bowman are great cards, and at least the first will be played, but Hunter still lacks some of the tools to make a slow deck worth it. Right now most Hunter Deathrattle minions have anti-synergy with Bowman, so it’s going to take another set or two to make Control work.

Midrange on the other hand could make a comeback, perhaps in a slower version with Deathstalker Rexxar for the late game. Rexxar is one of the weaker Hero Cards, providing a lot of value but not much more. Secret Hunter is also gaining some tools, but nothing quite on the level of current Secret Mage – people will play it, but it’ll be more annoying than successful.

I do think there’s an outside chance that Face Hunter could resurface, with the new Abusive Sergeant-alike Acherus Veteran, but odds are low. Personally, I’m interested in experimenting with Quest Hunter and Prince Keleseth, as a card that makes the 1-drops more impactful, but I have no illusions that it will actually be a good deck.

Mage

Mage got an interesting package of cards in this set. I don’t see them bringing about any new powerful deck types, but the existing ones will get a little more refined.

Probably the least predictable of Mage’s new tools is Frost Lich Jaina, a somewhat powerful Hero card but one that doesn’t have an immediately clear place. The battlecry would seem to encourage Elemental Mage, but I just don’t see that taking off. It’s still playable as a standalone, and who knows, maybe there will be a tier 3 Control deck.

Blizzard keep printing cards that interact with Freeze mechanics for Mage, but I still don’t see them coming together into a deck. (Coldwraith is going to dominate arena, though, just by being a 3 mana 3/4.) I also don’t see Secret decks changing all that much – Glacial Mysteries is just too expensive, and even the best outcome of 5 secrets on turn 8 is just going to annoy your opponent without actually gaining you much.

Paladin

Paladin is going to be a class to watch out for in KotFT. The Paladin Hero card, Uther of the Ebon Blade, is, like Malfurion, a solid, playable card that will make it into any slow deck. The Four Horsemen win condition is unlikely to make a huge impact, but it’s going to be annoying to play around.

The focus of the new set for Paladin has been Divine Shield synergy, and they have a lot of interesting tools there; I don’t know if they’ll make a top tier deck on their own, but we’ll have to see. Bolvar Fireblood will probably see play with minimal synergy (Righteous Protector, Rallying Blade, Wickerflame Burnbristle, and Tirion) just because it makes a great Spikeridged Steed target. My own interest is toward Handbuff Paladin, which I think is getting a lot of useful options (see Corpsetaker), but I’m not convinced it’ll be any stronger than it was in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan.

The unknown factor in Paladin, as far as I’m concerned, is aggro: they just got a very powerful 1-drop, Righteous Protector, which could open the way for a new fast deck to take over. Watch out for that Rallying Blade synergy.

Priest

I’ve mentioned a few times so far where I think aggressive decks might rise up – or just get better – with the new expansion cards, but if there’s one thing that could keep them in check, it’s the number of whirlwind effects in the set. Spirit Lash is one such effect, and it’s going to be a staple in Priest. It might need a spellpower boost to clear some Shaman and Druid boards, but it’s going to do a lot of work against Pirate Warrior and Divine Shield decks (even if it does no healing there). And of course it offers a whole new way for Priest to mill itself with Circle of Healing.

Beyond that, there are a few decks that have people excited. Shadowreaper Anduin when combined with Raza the Unchained is likely to be a force to be reckoned with – watch out for big Radiant Elemental + Lyra the Sunshard turns. The set also gives several cards to a new deck type, based around cheating out big minions with effects and then resurrecting them – Eternal Servitude is a great card in itself, and Shadow Essence can do great things in a deck built for it. Expect those to be combined with Barnes to summon an endless chain of Obsidian Statues, the new powerhouse big drop – alongside Ysera and The Lich King, of course. Embrace Darkness has been called out as slow, but I guarantee you it will be played – Priest as a class can afford to take one hit before the switch.

On the “interesting but not quite viable” side, Shadow Ascendant and neutral card Happy Ghoul call to mind the possibility of a new style of Priest play focusing around cheap minions (perhaps with Mana Geode and Kabal Talonpriest). Wait and see on that – maybe next expansion.

Dragon Priest didn’t quite die with the standard format rotation, but it’s not what it once was. New neutral card Bone Drake offers the chance of a revival, giving fuel to the “hold” mechanic and even giving Priests potential access to the new Mage legendary Sindragosa. Finally, Quest Priest hasn’t really been on my radar, but right now I’m sitting looking at Tomb Lurker and Bone Drake and wondering…

Rogue

Rogue is going some interesting places. While we didn’t get much here for Miracle Rogue – it didn’t need anything really – what we are getting is a whole bunch of cards that preserve your life total, weapon value engine Doomerang, and a Hero card that can generate new combos through extra copies of cards in your deck.

Doomerang and a new Rogue weapon pair well with the hero, which removes your dagger hero power, and I can easily see a new deck emerging from those three cards. On the other hand cards like Spectral Pillager and Bone Baron just don’t fit what Rogue wants to do – it’s like Blizz thinks if they keep printing more mid-cost 5-attackminions we’ll eventually just break down and use them.

Roll the Bones throws a bone to Deathrattle Rogue, but the card’s unlikely to be as powerful as it seems at first glance (look at Wrathion), and Rogue is still lacking something to make Deathrattle decks work. Don’t expect much of that.

Shaman

Blizzard have tried with one card set to introduce a whole new style of deck to the Shaman class. Freeze effects are all over, but with Moorabi and Ice Breaker the only payoff, I’m not convinced they’ll be worth the space in a deck. (Though Moorabi could be a nice just-for-fun build-around, allowing Shaman access to minions from other classes.) The one exception among these Freezes is Voodoo Hexxer, a perfectly fine card on its own. While Avalanche looks like a half decent AoE, Shaman have plenty of good AoE already.

Thrall, Deathseer is, simply put, the worst Hero card in the set. It’s cheap, and double Evolve is a strong battlecry, but Evolve Shaman needs minions on board, and removing the Shaman hero power is exactly what you don’t want to do. I’ve seen it said in other card reviews: what Shaman wants to do on 5 mana with a full board is not Evolve, it’s Bloodlust.

The only other place Shaman has really been given anything is for Murloc decks, but Quest Shaman just doesn’t need much card draw, which leaves Ice Fishing dead in the water.

Warlock

Probably the class I’m most excited about in KotFT, Warlock has been pretty much dead for the last few months, having had its two big decks, Zoo and Renolock, gutted by the standard rotation. How is Blizzard fixing this? By giving it the strongest Hero card in the set, Bloodreaver Gul’dan.

Let’s be fair: Warlock has a few absolutely terrible cards in this set, as it seems to in every set, but the good cards it’s getting are great. Gul’dan’s Hero card has the strongest hero power in the game, one which not only lets you tear apart opponents with 3 damage a turn, but also provides healing, exactly what Warlock needs in the late game after Life Tapping away its health. And on top of that you’re resurrecting a board of demons, which are likely to include taunt, charge, and other effects.

I’ve seen a couple of opinions on where Bloodreaver Gul’dan can go – some people see this as the time for Krul the Unshackled to finally see play (and it could work), but I’m more interested in looking at Quest Warlock. A lot – a hell of a lot – of players think it’s a terrible idea. They look at discard and see the worst case scenario, discarding your Hero card, and then what are you going to do? But I’ve been playing the deck lately, using a build by Brian Kibler, and it’s really not that bad, even when you get unlucky and discard Jaraxxus. I see Gul’dan offering more options to the deck, adding a third win condition alongside Jaraxxus and Nether Portal, and Discardlock clearly offers some of the strongest possible outcomes for Gul’dan’s battecry. Add in Blood Queen Lanathel for a beefy body and more healing, and you’re going places.

The other good cards for Warlock are Despicable Dreadlord, offering ping to a class that lacks it on a reasonable body, and Defile, one of the best but most complex board clears in the game. You’ll see a lot of both cards. On the other hand, Treachery, Gnomeferatu and Howlfiend are complete junk, and Unwilling Sacrifice is only borderline.

The other thing to look for is a potential Zoo revival, if only through the strength of a few interesting neutral minions and perhaps Sanguine Reveler. It still won’t be as strong as before, however.

Warrior

Will the reign of Pirate Warrior finally be over? Haha no. But Warrior are still getting some interesting and powerful cards in the set.

Control Warrior might be receiving a bit of love with Mountainfire Armor (a weird card, and a hard one to evaluate) and Blood Razor (it’s almost as good as Death’s Bite, which means it’s pretty damn good), but most of the help is going to tempo Warrior, including the Hero card,  which provides a constant supply of Whirlwind effects. Combine with Animated  Berserker and Blood Razor for easy activation of all on-damage effects. The issue I’m having is picturing what Tempo Warrior does without the best of those effects, Grim Patron. Rotface sits in a similar space, with a very high upside, but it’s expensive and inconsistent, and the new Valkyr Soulclaimer just isn’t a strong card.

No, I think what we’re going to see is an old fashioned Control Warrior using new activators for Acolyte of Pain, Armorsmith, and Grom Hellscream, while Pirate Warrior maybe picks up a couple of new cards (Forge of Souls for weapon consistency, Phantom Freebooter as a new curve topper) and runs with them. The nature of the new Hero cards means the set doesn’t really bring anything to Quest Warrior – they didn’t even print any good taunts.

Neutral

Knights of the Frozen Throne has probably the most interesting set of cards Hearthstone has ever received, with new ideas used on the majority of the set, so there are a number of neutrals worth looking at.

Corpsetaker is going to be in a lot of decks, particularly Paladin, since it provides a lot of value if you’re​ including Divine Shield, Taunt, and Lifesteal anyway. Bone Drake is a significant addition to the Dragon type, though many classes lack the synergies to be worth playing a full Dragon deck now.

Unique cards like Meat Wagon are going to prompt some experimentation even if they don’t make a big impact (I’ve seen talk of Handbuff, but who wants to pull an unbuffed minion from their deck?). Skulking Ghoul is going to appear everywhere for the first few days and then mostly disappear. And while not new, expect a lot of weapon removal in the Frozen Throne meta.

Of course the big hitter of the set, and the new legendary that’s going to see the most play, is The Lich King himself. A big card with taunt and a powerful end of turn effect, it’s going to be in every control deck at first, and then maybe a few less once people decide they can’t afford to keep burning cards from their deck. Expect it to still be very popular. (Arfus far less so – it’s a 4 mana 2/2, it’s just not worth the one random card.)

Everyone can see the three Blood Princes are junk, though people will try to make them work.

That’s It

I’ve covered everything that seems worth covering, though my coverage likely isn’t worth all that much. What remains is to wait until tomorrow (or, well, Friday morning,  I’m in Europe), open packs, and see how wrong I was.

Which one card everyone crafts will turn out to be complete crap? Which joke of a card will dominate the meta for the next year and a half? Which card from three sets ago has been completely forgotten and is about to be everywhere? I’ll probably write another, shorter post in a few months to see how well I did here.

Nine Worlds 2017

I got back from Nine Worlds Geekfest yesterday, and before I get working on my packing for Worldcon – it’s tomorrow! Aah! – I thought I’d get down some brief thoughts about it, particularly given my last post.

This year went better than last year, I’d say. The content was mostly great again, but the main thing is that I managed to not fall down an anxiety rabbit hole again, managing it by just giving myself permission to go off to my room and do something on my own a couple of times. Though I still spent far too much time standing around awkwardly on my own, the folks at Nine Worlds are pretty friendly and welcoming. I got onto quiz teams at the beginning and end of the con, and spent a little more time gaming than I did last year.

I’m still terrible at eating properly and looking after myself while on holiday. I survived on the included breakfast in the morning and a Tesco meal deal in the afternoon, which isn’t exactly a balanced diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Helsinki – in Norway last year I managed, but would spend far too much time trying to convince myself to go inside restaurants for each meal. I’ll survive, I guess.

But overall it was pretty good this year. I think if I keep going I’m likely to get gradually more comfortable there – at least in part because I might start to feel like I know people. I’m not quite there yet, since I still managed to feel like an outsider whenever I was around other people. Whether I go again next year might depend a little on my employment situation, though. We’ll see.

Anyway, Worldcon 75 awaits! I’m curious how the culture of the two cons will contrast.

Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

Colossal

colossal_28film29Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is a strange film to have to describe to someone. When you say “it’s a dark black comedy about alcoholism and abusive relationships starring Anne Hathaway, who finds out she’s causing a giant monster to attack Seoul”, you get some puzzled looks, because yes, this is a weird mashup of genres. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in; what little I’d heard suggested it would either be a huge disaster, or that I would love it. And hey, it’s not a disaster.

Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, is an unemployed writer with an alcohol problem. After being kicked out by her boyfriend she moves back to her home town, where she runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job at his bar. Gloria quickly settles into a pattern of drinking all night with Oscar and his buddies, often waking the next day with no memory of the night before.

And then the news starts reporting about a giant monster that has been materialising in Seoul, South Korea, causing terror and destruction. Gloria quickly comes to the realisation that she is in fact causing the monster to appear, and it is mimicking her actions.

It’s a pretty blatant metaphor: the monster destroying Seoul as a stand in for the damage Gloria causes to those around her with her self-destructive drunken behaviour. Where things get really interesting is after she shares her discovery with Oscar and his friends; Gloria’s relationship with Oscar begins to take a darker turn, and their influence over the events in Korea become part of an increasingly abusive cycle.

It’s so obvious what the film is doing with this premise that it seems like it shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Despite some jarring swings in tone in the early parts – when the monster attacks are first reported I felt like this would fall apart after all – the film really manages to sell the idea that this is what is happening, and this is what real, flawed people would do with that power. The performance by Sudeikis in particular, with the gradual reveal of his abusive nature, is excellent.

This can be a very dark film, and it is tackling some serious subject matter, but it also manages to have incredibly funny moments, even when what’s happening perhaps isn’t something that should be laughed at.  The tone does clash at times, but for the most part it’s handled well, and I think the portrayal of domestic abuse is something the film does well and treats somewhat respectfully. If there’s one problem on that end it’s that the resolution of their conflict is maybe a little too easy and neat.

One final thing I feel is worth bringing up, and which adds a small caveat to my otherwise strong recommendation, is that this is a film about two white Americans in New England whose personal problems are acted out upon the lives of thousands of South Koreans; the very real death and destruction they cause is far removed from them, existing for the purposes of the film as part of an extended metaphor for the control abusers can hold over their victims. As a white westerner myself I don’t think there’s much I can say about that, but the use of Asian lives like this without providing them a real presence or agency in the film seems like something that deserves addressing.

That said, Colossal is unique, weird, and features some brilliant performances. It might not work for everyone, but I very much enjoyed it and would recommend checking it out. It’s in cinemas in the UK right now (though not in all of them; I had to travel a little out of my way to see it).

You Should Be Watching: Movies with Mikey

Movies with Mikey is a video series by Mikey Neumann on youtube channel Chainsawsuit Original (which he shares with Kris Straub), and it is just awesome. Mikey’s distinctive style and humour in his videos manage to bring across a real love for the films he’s discussing, and he has a real knack for finding the heart in those films (yes, some of his videos will make you cry). And pretty often he manages to come at films from a different direction than I might have expected.

This really is an excellent series and I highly recommend watching and subscribing to the channel. Here are a few of my favourite Movies with Mikey videos to get you started:

What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains (Logo)
I first heard of the game What Remains of Edith Finch when Jim Sterling posted a video about it, and immediately I knew I wanted to play it. As much a piece of interactive storytelling as a game, it reminded me of Gone Home, a game I loved, which involved your character exploring an empty house, reading documents and receiving pieces of story through voiceover narration.

Gone Home, however, contained very little game – it mostly involved picking up objects to read them, and occasionally inserting a cassette tape into a stereo. On that measure, What Remains of Edith Finch is quite different. While the basic mechanic of exploring a large, empty house is similar, Edith Finch uses this framework to connect a series of short stories, each told in a different style through a different mini-game, with varying levels of interactivity. The first, for example, is the diary of a young girl, and you play as her through the increasingly fantastic story she tells in her final entry, with the movement and actions changing as the story twists and turns in the way that stories by small children often do. Other stories can be as simple as a slideshow, or a flipbook cartoon.

The story goes like this: about a century ago, the Finch family travelled to America from Norway in an attempt to escape the family “curse”. After arriving, they built the big, strange house in which the family has lived since, and it’s in and around this home that each member of the family has died, one by one, some as children, some as parents, very few having reached old age. In the game, Edith Finch Jr., currently the only living member of the Finch family, has returned to the house in search of their stories. The lives of the Finch family are preserved in their rooms, each one abandoned exactly as it had been when the occupant died, and later sealed shut; the rooms hold their stories, and each story is about a death.

This could have been a very dark game. It’s definitely a sad one. But the game doesn’t just tell us how a group of people died, one by one – it tells us the stories about how they died, each coloured by the perspective of the storyteller, and often with a dose of whimsy that cuts through the sadness. The darkest, saddest chapters in this narrative are also usually the most fantastical. The death of children is always going to be a difficult subject, but What Remains of Edith Finch manages to capture in each child’s story the sense of wonder and happiness those children held in themselves while they were alive.

In a sense, Edith Finch is about the power of stories. This is a family that is constantly telling stories about itself, the “family curse” among them. We see stories used as a way to come to terms with loss, but we also see stories that keep people trapped, preventing them from moving on. Maybe Great Grandma Edie was wrong for keeping the stories alive; maybe her daughter Dawn was wrong for protecting Edith Jr. from those same stories. This game isn’t about giving definitive answers to such things. These stories aren’t there to give us the truth but the feeling of it; just as the game is not so much a challenge as an experience.

I played What Remains of Edith Finch on the PC, but it’s also available on the PS4; I hear the controls might be a bit better there – they could be a bit finicky in places with the mouse. Either way, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s a short game – about a couple of hours – but worth it.