With two months having passed since Hearthstone released its Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, the meta is starting to become clear. Numerous decks have come and gone, with a few shifts following a recent update, and many of those decks feature the game's new Death Knight Heroes.
In some cases, the Death Knights have become a necessity to stay competitive. Other times, they can be left on the sidelines entirely. But that does leave the question of which of the Death Knights tower above the rest?
Today, Shacknews is going to take a moment to rank Hearthstone's Death Knights by effectiveness, synergy, and prominence in the current meta. For those that have 1600 mana to craft a new Legendary, maybe give this a look first.
9. Uther of the Ebon Blade
It was tough to consider who should be at the bottom of the list, because all of the Death Knights are good in their own way. Uther of the Ebon Blade getting a 5/3 Lifesteal weapon, along with an Exodia Hero Power is pretty neat on paper. It puts pressure on the opponent to either keep the board clear or end the game in short order.
But Uther of the Ebon Blade rarely sees play in the current Standard meta, mostly because Aggro Paladins tend to end the game fast. Even with the nerf to Murloc Warleader, aggro decks centered around Murlocs are still the bulk of many current Pally decks. The idea is to end the game quickly by filling the board and using Sunkeeper Tarim. However, Bonemare has also created a solid backup plan for whenever the Un'Goro legendary hasn't been drawn. Bonemare simultaneously keeps the aggro train going, while adding a large Taunt minion in addition to its own 5/5 body. When Paladin can wrap up the game this quickly, there's really no need for a 9-mana Death Knight, is there?
The Pro Deck to Watch: Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan took Uther of the Ebon Blade for a spin when the expansion first came out, finding a way to utilize the Auctionmaster Beardo combo to trigger the Death Knight win condition. It's hard to pull off, but it's immensely satisfying to pop a Jade Druid with it.
8. Scourgelord Garrosh
The Warrior Death Knight is an interesting one, because his Hero Power basically becomes Whirlwind, allowing him to potentially clear the board while also taking advantage of any damage-related effects on his own minions. Knights of the Frozen Throne has specialized in giving Warrior minions that would get boosts from taking damage, including new legendary Rotface.
What puts Scourgelord Garrosh near the bottom is that he's not particularly prominent in the current meta. That's because the Warrior Quest from the Journey to Un'Goro expansion is still plenty good. The Ragnaros Hero Power is honestly too good to pass up and a wall of Taunt minions can ward off most decks, particularly the pesky aggro ones. Scourgelord Garrosh isn't bad. He's just not the best.
The Pro Deck to Watch: Jeffrey "Trump" Shih has helped popularize the Mill Warrior, a deck that takes advantage of the Warrior's new Dead Man's Hand spell and Coldlight Oracle to utilize a neverending deck, while the opponent inevitably gets fatigued. The Death Knight's Hero Power is a key component in making this work, since Sleep With The Fishes and Execute would control the board. It gets around the Death Knight's biggest drawback (lack of resources) and becomes an annoying deck to play against.
7. Valeera the Hollow
Valeera the Hollow is cool on paper, but the fact that she can't keep her shadow copies beyond the current turn makes her feel somewhat limited. That's not to say there haven't been some amazing combos, especially with giants and the minion-killing Vilespine Slayer. But there just hasn't been enough out there to make Valeera the Hollow worth building around. The one-turn Stealth is really useful when warding off a potentially lethal turn, but unless she's drawn something like Vanish, her options feel limited beyond that.
Valeera the Hollow hasn't been seen much in the current meta and there's plenty of reason for that. The biggest reason is that Disguised Toast has somehow defied logic and found that Prince Keleseth is not only useful, but incredibly powerful in a tempo Rogue deck. The 9-cost Death Knight card is entirely unnecessary here, which is why it's not seeing much action these days.
The Pro Deck to Watch: Thijs Molendijk has been testing the waters with Mill Rogue, using Valeera the Hollow's Passive Hero Power to keep the Coldlight Oracles coming. The immunity provided by Shadowblade helps the Rogue player stay alive, while the opponent draws into oblivion. It also highlights some of its issues, though, namely that you can overdraw, too, and wind up losing a key card.
6. Thrall, Deathseer
The Shaman Death Knights fits into the current meta perfectly. It's Evolve on steroids, taking the current field and evolving every friendly minion into something that costs (2) more. Works great on even the lowest level minion and is positively devastating on something like Doppelgangster.
The issue with Thrall, Deathseer remains that once resources are dried up, it's pretty much game over. If the opponent can clear the board with something like Twisting Nether or Deathwing, the Death Knight is completely defenseless.
On top of that, whereas the other Death Knights will likely stay powerful as time goes on, both Evolve and Doppelgangster are set to rotate out in the next Standard year, which is going to leave this deck completely wrecked, unless something new comes along in future expansions.
The Pro Deck to Watch: There aren't too many variations of the Evolve Shaman deck, but here's Alexandr "Kolento" Malsh showing how a standard version of this deck is played. He even tosses in Bonemare, which has become a darling of this deck, since it can buff up a friendly minion and then get evolved into an 8-cost minion with Thrall, Deathseer's Hero Power.
5. Deathstalker Rexxar
The Hunter Death Knight is in the middle of the rankings, but is number one in terms of pure fun. Playing Frankenstein with beasts is one of the most fun aspects of Hearthstone right now. The best part about creating a custom beast is that there are certain beasts that have answers for just about any situation. If there's a Pirate on the other side of the board, make a Golakka Crawler. Is a Murloc giving you trouble? Mix something with Hungry Crab in it. Need to clear the board fast? Mix an Exploding Bloatbat with a Stubborn Gastropod.
The possibilities are endless and the only reason Rexxar doesn't rank higher is that he has few health recovery options for the late game. Yes, there are Lifesteal beasts, but the game is likely locked up for the opponent by the time Rexxar can get it on the board. Other than that, Deathstalker Rexxar is crazy fun and is good for overwhelming the opponent with brute force.
The Pro Deck to Watch: For a good Deathstalker Rexxar, look no further than defending Hearthstone World Champion Pavel Beltiukov. He has Hungry Crab and Golakka Crawler for dealing with certain deck types or for maintaining tempo, while he also has Tundra Rhino to get those Zombeasts up and on their way.
4. Malfurion the Pestilent
It's hard to imagine anything Druid going this low, especially given that Druid is currently dominating the Hearthstone meta. The only reason Malfurion is ranked this low is that it honestly feels like Druid would still be dominant with or without the Death Knight card.
Druid's place in the current meta is mainly because of Jade Druid. Jade Idol has continued to propel Druid to the top and even though it's now stoppable with Skulking Geist, the damage is usually done by the time it's played). Blizzard's attempted nerfs have been a band-aid, but they also didn't address Druid's greatest weapon: Ultimate Infestation, which provides resources, armor, minion clear, and a 5/5 body. It's brutal and carries the Druid decks far more than the Death Knight.
The Death Knight acts as a supplement more than anything, which is why I don't feel good about ranking this higher.
The Pro Deck to Watch: We return to Kripparrian, who recently tried out the post-nerf Druid. His deck revolves around large bodies, like The Lich King, Ysera, and Deathwing, while using Malfurion the Pestilent to keep himself alive with armor or clear low-tier minions with his 3-attack power.
3. Bloodreaver Gul'dan
Bloodreaver Gul'dan can be hard to get to, given his high cost, but once he's played, he's one of the best Death Knight cards in the game. He immediately floods the board with demons, of which he has some supremely effective ones like Abyssal Enforcer and Despicable Dreadlord. And any end of turn effects are triggered immediately, offering even more incentive for that Turn 10 play.
Even if the Warlock's board is cleared for whatever reason, his Lifesteal Hero Power is a fantastic utility tool, either for removing lower-end minions or for putting additional pressure on the opposing hero. This Death Knight card has brought some life to the waning Warlock class, spawning some fun control and tempo decks and making Warlock great again.
The Pro Deck to Watch: There are several demons worth doubling up on, but Brian Kibler has found a fine Highlander Warlock deck that may be worth trying out. It ffers board clear spells, some health recovery options with Cult Apothecary, and a demon rush with Krul the Unshackled. It's a solid deck and a fun one to play.
2. Frost Lich Jaina
The Death Knight Mage is incredibly pesky for her tendency to keep herself alive. Granting Lifesteal to all Elementals makes it worthwhile to keep playing cards like Pyros, and Glacial Shard, while Baron Geddon can not only clear the board, but all of that damage delivered will come back to Jaina as health. That's nuts!
Add that to the new Sindragosa legendary, which can replenish the Mage's resources with legendaries, while also continuing to summon 3/6 Water Elementals and it makes the Mage the class that just won't die. Endless resources and her synergy in Elemental decks make Frost Lich Jaina a true nightmare to deal with and a powerful Death Knight to take into battle.
The Pro Deck to Watch: Cong "StrifeCro" Shu plays a different variation of the Death Knight Mage deck, using spells to control the board, while using Medivh, the Guardian to bring out new minions.
1. Shadowreaper Anduin
Shadowreaper Anduin may be as strong as his resources, but when he's on point, there's no beating him. Winning with him is largely dependent on Raza the Chained, which is set to exit the Standard rotation next season, but even without Raza, the Death Knight Priest is devastating and has the potential to kill slowly and painfully over several turns or completely wipe an opponent out in a single turn.
The best part is, the Priest has several different ways to work his magic and keep replenishing his two damage Hero Power. There's Radiant Elemental, which can make spells cheaper. There's Lyra the Sunshard, which can keep new spells coming along. There's also Elise the Trailblazer, which adds another 2-mana Un'Goro card pack, simultaneously replenishing resources while also continuing to refresh the Hero Power. And of course, there's Prophet Velen, which doubles the damage from the Hero Power and keeps the pressure coming.
The fact that the Hero Card clears the board of any 5+ attack minions is simply icing on the cake. Shadowreaper Anduin is at the top of his class and has become king of the current Hearthstone meta. Bring a lot of healing spells if you hope to stand against him.
The Pro Deck to Watch: Tune into the Hearthstone Summer Championships in two weeks to see some truly insane Death Knight Priest decks. But in the meantime, let's look at this Highlander Priest deck from James "Firebat" Kostesich for an idea of how the deck is played... from both sides.
Any thoughts on the list? Join the conversation and let me know in the comments.