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 it 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.

Advertisements

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.

What’s in the Box?

Back in December, I made a donation to Worldbuilders – a charity started by Patrick Rothfuss that raises money for Heifer International, and gives out donated items as prizes to lucky donors. A few weeks later, I got an email telling me I was one of the lucky ones and asking for my address. And today, I got home and found this waiting for me:

B87yJScIAAA-bgW

I had no idea what to expect, as I’d checked most of the boxes on what kind of prizes I’d be interested in. I decided to livetweet the unboxing, which ended with this:

B871MjOIcAEHH0n

That’s a copy of board game Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a signed copy of graphic novel Porcelain. I’m eager now to try out the game next time I’m at Newcastle Gamers.

So this post is just to say thank you to Worldbuilders, and congratulations on raising $882,156(!).

Edinburgh – Day One

As anyone who looks at my Twitter feed cannot avoid knowing, right now I’m in Edinburgh for a few days, mostly for comedy at the Fringe Festival. (I’d post my usual view from the hotel window, but I’m about three rooms down from where I was last year, so just go find that.) Anyway, I thought I’d post about what I’ve been up to here.

My train up from Newcastle wasn’t until after midday,  so I actually started out by going to Newcastle Gamers, where there was a full day session going on. I didn’t have a lot of time there, but got in on a few rounds of Two Rooms and a Boom with a large group, which was pretty good fun, then finished with judt a few quick games after. Then it was off to Edinburgh!

After getting tickets and walking around a bit to work out where some things are, I started out with a free show, “My Mother Made Me Do It”, a two person show with Sahar Mirhadi and Dan O’Gorman. That one was pretty fun, though I thought Sahar’s set was a bit better than Dan’s. That was followed by Dane Baptiste’s solo show, which was pretty good, and then Holly Walsh, whose show “Never Had It” I’m sure will be a contender for the best thing I see all weekend – highly recommended.

Finally, after grabbing a quick slice of terrible pizza, there was my one and only Edinburgh Book Fest event, with Lauren Beukes and C A Davids. That was very good, a lot of interesting discussion about their books and South Africa. Turned out there was a signing afterwards, but all my Beukes books are at home, and I was a little too nervous/self-conscious to get Davids’ novel and line up for a signature. (Argh.)

Anyway, it’s been a good first day. I have a lot more lined up tomorrow,  although annoyingly none of it is before 12 o’clock. Very few free shows in the AM, and I’m not willing to get more full price tickets than I already have. I’m not very good at finding things to occupy my time when it’s not already planned out, so not sure what I’ll do with myself all morning. The Royal Mile won’t even be going yet, so can’t even go for a wander by all the street performers there. Oh well.

I’ll be writing up another of these tomorrow, so you’ll see if I find anything.

Thursday Linkdump

A bigger one this week.

1. Authors Responding to Fans
Another one of those topics that stirs up a lot of argument on Twitter, this week it was about whether authors should respond to reviews, or to fan work in general. I’m going to skip most of that and just point you at the post where author Hal Duncan rips apart the notion that authors should keep their noses out of fan spaces. He lays it out in some detail, but his essential point is simple: if you’re working with something he created, he has every right to point out if what you’re doing with it is problematic. Duncan’s post is characteristically long, but worth getting to grips with.

2. Boy Books and Girl Books
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen talks about the problems we cause when we divide books up into “books for girls” and “books for boys”.

3. The Internet Makes You Dumb
Clive Thompson talks here about how use of the internet and social media is making kids smarter, not dumber.

4. Writing Diversity
Aliette de Bodard shares her thoughts on writing diversity in SFF, another topic that’s been popular recently.

5. Girls and Video Games
Elizabeth Simins has written a great comic about her life as a girl who likes video games. Go read it.

6. Fake Geek Guys
In this video, Jennifer Landa goes to Comic-Con to discover the truth about Fake Geek Guys.

Endings and Beginnings

For the last five years or so, I’ve been playing World of Warcraft. I’ve mentioned it before – it’s the reason I went quiet for over a year because I got in a bit too deep while unemployed. Anyway. This weekend, my raid group, the guild I’ve been with since I switched my account two years ago, decided it was done, and they’d not be continuing.

Which left me with a choice. I can try to find a new guild, start over with another group of total strangers, keep playing; or I can quit too. Right now, I’m looking at the second option.

I was on a six month renewal, so right now my account’s paid up until November. But I’ll not be raiding any more, and only playing casually. I’ll see the end of the current expansion pack, at least. After that, I’m done.

So what’s left is to decide what to do with my time. At the very least I’m gaining 6 hours every weekend, as well as all the other time spent logging in for little things. I don’t want to sink that time into watching TV, playing other games, or just checking Twitter.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be setting some time aside every day to do some writing. Blog posts at first: book posts, all the stuff I’ve been promising but not delivering for the last few months. After that, I hope I can talk myself into trying to write fiction again. I have a lot of ideas, but no idea what to do with them.

However it goes, there will be a change. In my life, and on this blog. Let’s see if I can do it right.

Twenty Twelve

Twenty-twelve will probably be looked back on as a very significant year for me. It’s a year of firsts, and of discovering things I hadn’t found before (but should have).

This year, I:

  1. Travelled abroad for the first time since my mid-teens. I went to Toronto – my first time crossing the Atlantic – did some sightseeing, went to Niagara Falls and –
  2. Met up with friends from the internet in real life for the first time. A few thousand miles from home I met with a couple of guildmates from World of Warcraft; it was nice getting to know them face to face.
  3. Also while in Toronto, on a bored evening, I joined Twitter. Several years late to the party, I’m now totally obsessed with reading my feed. It’s a very interesting way to see all these little bits and pieces from interesting people, share links and content, and occasionally some big conversation will start up that makes you think.
  4. I travelled up to Edinburgh for a couple of days for the Fringe Festival, saw a few good comedy acts and An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. I just wish I’d planned things better to get more seen.
  5. Spent a weekend in Krakow with my parents and some others. Didn’t do a lot, just saw a few parts of the city. On the last day we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was interesting – and much bigger than I had expected. The kind of thing you don’t forget seeing.
  6. I started little a forum-based role-playing game over on the Kevin’s Watch message boards. It’s my first time doing something like this, and I’m still getting the hang of it; unfortunately it’s been sorely neglected since I had the completion date on my house confirmed. Speaking of which…
  7. 2012 is the year I bought my first home. In November I completed the purchase on a little two bedroom flat, which I’ve spent the last month decorating and partly furnishing. I’m a little disappointed it is taking so long to feel like it’s ready, but I expect to be moving in about a week from now. It’s almost enough to make me feel like an adult. Almost.

So, with 2013 a new stage in my life begins – I move out of my parents and into my own place. I’m also starting a book club on Kevin’s Watch in January, restarting my Book-a-Week posts here on the blog, and getting back on track as a GM over on my game.

Here’s hoping for even more new things and firsts in the year to come.