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Hearthstone Journey to Un'Goro Card Reviews (Part 1)

Another Hearthstone expansion is stomping its way to digital release soon, and this one takes a Journey to Un'Goro. The new set of cards is set to drop in early April, with a distinct dinosaur theme. To prepare for Un'Goro, I'll be resuming weekly card reviews, with new editions every Monday leading up to the release.

Journey to Un'Goro introduces three new notable mechanics that will be seen throughout the card reviews:

  • Quests: Each class gets one of these 1-mana spells, which gives you certain conditions to fulfill for a big reward. Including a Quest in your deck means it will always appear in your Mulligan round, so you can count on it appearing from the start. This also means that each class gets two Legendary cards: one Legendary minion, and one Legendary Quest.
  • Adapt: The plants and animals of Un'Goro have evolved the ability to gain an extra attribute of your choosing. Cards with the "Adapt" keyword can be boosted with extra attack or health, Divine Shield, Taunt, etc.
  • Elemental Tribe: Many of Un'Goro's denizens are part of the new Elemental tribe, and existing cards like Ragnaros will be retrofitted with the tribe.


(2) Arcanologist (2/3) 

Battlecry: Draw a Secret from your deck.

Mage Secrets have always been used sparingly, partly because they're the most powerful and therefore most expensive ones around. Arcanologist allows you to guarantee you get one in your hand, just in time for your Kirin Tor Mage to cast it for free. The draw consistency introduced by Arcanologist might be enough to make Secrets a more viable build-around, but likely not. Secrets are too easy to play around and don't create a clear win condition. More likely, if Arcanologist finds a home, it will be as part of a larger spell-based deck.


(1) Awaken the Makers

Quest: Summon 7 Deathrattle minions.
Reward: Amara, Warden of Hope.

The first Quest is a doozy, rewarding Priests for playing Deathrattle-heavy decks. Meanwhile, it's introducing a few notable Deathrattle minions at low cost to help ramp up the curve. Once you fulfill the conditions, Amara is a 5-mana 8/8 that sets your hero's health at 40. That's a huge life advantage, especially with a Priest that can heal.

It's easy to see this kind of deck working in the abstract. A Deathrattle deck lends itself to a longer Control-oriented game, which Amara would help close out. That said, we'll have to see how much the meta slows down and if other Control options trump this one.


(1) Crystalline Oracle (1/1) 

Deathrattle: Copy a card from your opponent's deck and add it to your hand.

Crystalline Oracle has bad stats, and with only one health it can't even take advantage of the Priest's Hero Power. It does come with the benefit of half a Thoughtsteal, but it's randomized as opposed to the Discover mechanic of Drakonid Operative. All that means it may appear in the Awaken decks that need Deathrattle minions, but even then other Deathrattle minions might be better choices.


(8) Dinosize

Spell: Set a minion's Attack and Health to 10.

Likely more of a flavor and fun card than a competitive one, this Paladin spell is like a beefed-up Blessing of Kings. There is a chance for some synergy with cards that come with effects like Divine Shield, or using it as a Pyroblast-like finisher. But Pyroblast is barely played in Mage decks, because there are more efficient ways to finish off your opponent with multiple small spells instead of one huge one. The same likely goes for Paladin. It's better to have several minions on the board than one hulking brute that can be taken out or disabled.


(5) Elise the Trailblazer (5/5)

Battlecry: Shuffle a sealed Un'Goro pack into your deck.

This is one of the first must-have Neutral cards we've seen, and it further makes a star of Elise. While her original card is being cycled out, this one may be even better. It only takes two steps to complete her conditions: play Elise, then play the pack for two mana. For that, you get five cards, and Blizzard has said Elise has better luck than average. You'll always get an Epic and most of the time you'll get a Legendary as well. Having five extra cards as resources is a big advantage in longer Control match-ups, and this version of Elise doesn't replace your other tools in the process. Count on seeing a lot of her.


(2) Explore Un'Goro

Spell: Replace your deck with copies of "Discover a card."

Explore Un'Goro is an odd duck. It's not a very good card, as it replaces your careful strategy with an entire deck of controlled randomness, and essentially adds 1 mana as the cost of discovery for every card you play. It's also hard to see how this fits into the Warrior archtype, so its class alignment is very strange. All that said, this isn't a card that's built for serious tournament play. It's meant to enable fun weird decks, and to that end it will do fine.


(4) Gentle Megasaur (5/4)

Battlecry: Adapt your Murlocs.

Though we haven't seen this dinosaur in action, its card text seems to imply that it will fit a single adaptation across all the Murlocs you have on the board. For maximum impact, you'll want to have at least two on the board, even with its decent stats for the cost. Still, in a Murloc-heavy deck, this could be a powerful effect or even a finisher. 


(2) Golakka Crawler (2/3)

Battlecry: Destroy a Pirate and gain +1/+1.

You may not know it from looking, but this hungry little crab has already created something of a stir in the Hearthstone competitive scene. Golakka Crawler is either the perfect answer to a meta overrun by pirates, or the kind of heavy-handed design that Blizzard should know better to avoid, depending on who you ask.

I can see the merits of both arguments, but there's a more subtle element at play here too: the likelihood is that Golakka Crawler will curb the pirate dominance by sheer nature of its existence. It may take a few weeks of Pirate Warriors getting their faces bashed in by crabs, but you personally may never need to actually include it. Pirate players will know this is an ever-present threat and drift away from leaving themselves vulnerable to it, similar to when we saw a sharp reduction in Secret Paladin after Eater of Secrets was printed. So if you don't open a Crawler, don't worry about crafting it. The environment itself will probably render it unnecessary quickly enough.


(4) Lakkari Felhound (3/8)

Taunt. Battlecry: Discard two random cards.

By itself, the Lakkari Felhound isn't great. It only has three more health than Sen'jin Shieldmasta, which means you're trading two discards for three health. That's a bad trade, unless you can cheat the system so that it doesn't discard any cards.

However, in combination with Lakkari Sacrifice, the Warlock spell, it might just be worth it. Having two pings that go towards its powerful quest effect could be enough to make it worthwhile, and being a big and relatively early taunt could help you stretch out the game long enough to get the full effect of the quest reward. Once you can actually fulfill your Lakkari Sacrifice, your endless stream of imp resources make you a force to be reckoned with, even if you did have to shed some cards to get there. Lakkari Felhound can help you on your way.


(1) Lakkari Sacrifice

Quest: Discard 6 cards.
Reward: Nether Portal.

Discarding six cards should be easy enough, especially with a card like Lakkari Felhound making up 1/3 of your total quest criteria. In exchange for that, the Nether Portal is a new kind of card, creating a permanent fixture on your side of the board that cannot be removed. It will constantly spit out two 3/2 Imps at the end of every turn, forcing your opponent to deal with a steady stream of damage alongside whatever else your hand can dish out. In a longer Control-style match-up, this could even outdo the long-game of Jaraxxus.

So far, both Quests we've seen have been very oriented towards long Control match-ups, with very different flavors for each. Warlock's is very powerful, for a class that has already found consistent success with variations on Handlock. 


(2) Pyros (2/2)

Deathrattle: Return this to your hand as a 6/6 that costs (6).

The Mage Legendary this time around is a minion that keeps on giving. Mages have never been much of a minion-based class, and Pyros attempts to address that by giving you one that can keep coming back at a reasonable cost. After the 6/6 for 6, you get a 10/10 for 10. Those stats aren't great, and by itself, the minion probably isn't good enough to hold on.

Two factors might change that. The first, how much Elemental synergy is present in Un'Goro to get the maximum impact out of every Pyros. The second, whether the Mage Quest synergizes with Pyros in any particular way. The Priest already has a Deathrattle-based Quest, so it's unlikely the Mage does too, but we'll see. At the very least, N'Zoth could bring back all three of your Pyroses, letting you start the cycle over again for longer games.


(2) Shadow Visions 

Spell: Discover a copy of a spell in your deck.

This Priest card is a clever way around the requirements for what we refer to as "Reno decks." That name is about to become defunct, since Reno Jackson is cycling out, but other cards are carrying the mantle of big rewards for crafting a deck with only one copy of each card. Shadow Visions lets you cheat the system a little, by giving you a second copy of a spell on demand, without breaking your Reno criteria. That makes it an excellent tool, but it remains to be seen if such a utilitarian feature is needed.


(4) Sherazin, Corpse Flower (5/3)

Deathrattle: Go dormant. Play 4 cards in a turn to revive this minion.

Sherazin probably isn't very good, but it is very interesting. It introduces something resembling a graveyard mechanic from Magic: The Gathering, by folding itself up and letting you revive it under certain conditions. But, the requirement to revive it is probably just too steep. Even a Rogue which specializes in combos can only play four cards in a turn so many times. With liberal use of Coin copies, you'll be lucky to revive it four or five times. Its health makes it very vulnerable and once it's gone you'd have to try to revive it all over again. 


(6) Sunkeeper Tarim (3/7)

Taunt. Battlecry: Set all other minions' Attacks and Health to 3.

Sunkeeper Tarim is a strange Legendary for Paladin. It appears to take over the functionality of Eadric the Pure, which is cycling out with Un'Goro. Instead of setting enemy attacks to 1, it sets them to 3, along with Health. Its Taunt means that in theory, your opponent will have to run 2-3 of its weakened minions into Tarim to take him out. Plus, it could buff your own weaker minions, like Silver Hand Recruits.

However, the scenario where you'd be universally weakening your opponent's minions while helping your own will be rare. That makes this so conditional it may never actually be useful.


(7) Swamp King Dred (9/9)

After your opponent plays a minion, attack it.

Swamp King Dred, this round's Legendary for Hunter, is a big pile of stats for its cost. That comes with the trade-off that you can't really control how it attacks. It will go after any minion your opponent plays, including cheap poisonous ones that would kill it instantly. 

If your opponent has no poison minions, though, they will probably have to sacrifice a few minions to get Dred off the board, especially if you play him on turn seven. He's basically a minion-based Super Snipe, and if your opponent can't deal with him immediately they're staring down nine damage on your next turn. Plus he could serve as a great bodyguard for Savannah Highmane.


(3) Tar Creeper (1/5)

Taunt. Has +2 Attack during your opponent's turn.

Tar Creeper is a very clever solution for a defensive minion. Rather than make a new pile of stats, it forces a trade-off. Tar Creeper is weak on offense, but great on defense. Plus, since the attack bonus is a buff instead of a flat statline, you could buff it and continue to get the effect. Other defensive options may serve better, but Tar Creeper is at least a neat idea of how to approach the problem of encouraging defensive decks without making them too strong.


(4) Tortollan Shellraiser (2/6)

Taunt. Deathrattle: Give a random friendly minion +1/+1.

This is a fairly vanilla but solid Priest defensive option. It has Taunt, and its Deathrattle effect makes it synergize with Awaken the Makers. It's not quite the powerhouse of Twilight Guardian, which is cycling out, but it's probably a little more balanced.


(5) Verdant Longneck (5/4)

Battlecry: Adapt.

This Druid card was the first Adapt minion that we saw, and the reason is pretty clear. It's the most vanilla version of the effect possible. 5 mana for 5/4 in stats is bad on its own, so Blizzard must be counting Adapt worth at least one stat point at minimum. That Adaptation could go into making this a heartier minion, or a larger one, or with one of several effects as necessary. You'll only have three options, so it's difficult to say how consistently you'll get exactly what you need, and that will make-or-break the Adapt mechanic on the whole.


(5) Volcano

Spell: Deal 15 damage randomly split among all minions. Overload (2)

Volcano is another expensive spell for Shaman, spreading its cost between two turns. Like Elemental Destruction, it is likely to totally wipe out a board full of small or mid-sized minions. Unlike Elemental Destruction, it has the potential to single-handedly wipe out a Deathwing in a pinch. That makes it a little more versatile, at the cost of consistency. There's always a chance your Volcano will miss the one minion you really needed it to hit.

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