Earlier today, Blizzard unveiled what's next for Hearthstone and there are some big things on the way. In addition to the next expansion, March of the Lich King, the long-running digital card game is about to add its 11th playable class: the Death Knight. It plays unlike anything in Hearthstone to this point and that's not a hyperbolic statement. Shacknews was recently invited to Blizzard Entertainment's Irvine campus to try out the Death Knight for the first time, witnessing a myriad of deck-building possibilities.
Upon building a Death Knight deck, the first thing to note is the new Rune system. This is a class-exclusive feature and allows players to tap into the Death Knight's power to build a specific type of deck. Here are the three Runes that players will find:
- Blood: Blood focuses on big minions and board control. Spells like Corpse Explosion and Blood Boil will work to keep the enemy side of the board cleared, while Vampiric Blood not only keeps your Death Knight alive, but increases its maximum health.
- Frost: Frost not only aims to freeze opponents, but uses the power of extreme cold to inflict damage. A spell like Frostwyrm's Fury will deal damage, freeze enemy minions, and put a 5/5 Frostwyrm on your board. Other spells like Horn of Winter and Glacial Advance can deal damage while also playing around with your available mana. Draw these with Overseer Frigidara, because if she draws two Frost spells, she'll also deal 2 damage to all enemies.
- Unholy: Command the legions of the Undead through Unholy Runes, which utilize the new Corpse mechanic in various ways. Battlefield Necromancer, for example, will raise a Corpse as a 1/2 Risen Footman with Taunt, while the Army of the Dead spell can raise five Corpses as 2/2 Risen Ghouls with Rush. Meanwhile, the Legendary Lord Marrowgar stands at an intimidating 9/7 while also raising all of your Corpses as Risen Golems that only get higher stats with a bigger Corpse count.
The Corpse counter is a new mechanic, one that grows with the death of each friendly minion. It's one that will take getting used to, because as long as the counter grows, the Death Knight's class cards become stronger. For example, Corpse Explosion is a Shadow spell that detonates a Corpse to deal 1 damage to all minions. If any are still alive, the effect is repeated. It's the Death Knight version of Defile, in a way, but the key here is that in order to repeat its effect, the Death Knight player needs to have the Corpse count to support it. With this in mind, raising and trading minions is a critical element of playing with this class.
There are two helpful tools to help the Death Knight increase its Corpse count. One is the Ghoul Charge Hero Power, which summons a 1/1 Ghoul with Charge that dies at the end of the Death Knight's turn. The other is the returning Reborn keyword, which will now be primarily used for Death Knight cards. An early example is the 3-Cost Graveyard Shift, which will summon two 1/1 Zombies with Reborn, providing four potential Corpses for the counter.
What I found most interesting about the Death Knight class is its build versatility. In a majority of cases, no two Death Knight builds will look the same. One player might build a Death Knight with two Frost Runes and one Unholy Rune (FFU) while another builds one with three Blood Runes (BBB). The combination of Runes used determines which class cards the Death Knight can pack into their deck. For example, the Lord Marrowgar Legendary can only be used by a Death Knight using three Unholy Runes. The Patchwerk Legendary can only be used if a Death Knight is using one or more Blood Runes. This creates a new (and interesting) challenge in deck-building, as players must determine which of the Death Knight's class cards would work best while also determining which ones are worth leaving behind. It's a challenge that will only grow into a greater conundrum, as Blizzard introduces Death Knight cards in future expansions that vary in Rune requirements.
Of course, the Rune system does present a problem for opposing players. If you're going into a game as a Mage, Warrior, or something else and you come across a Death Knight, you don't know what you're facing. You could be facing a Death Knight with triple Frost Runes (FFF), a combination Unholy/Blood build (UUB), or something totally different. An opposing player needs an idea of what they're up against in order to ultimately decide on which cards to play, which to keep, which to mulligan, or decide on an overall strategy. There's currently no way to tell which Death Knight is on the opposing side and that could feel unfair to some. Whether Blizzard ultimately addresses this in a UI update down the road remains to be seen.
The Death Knight is set to receive 68 cards from the outset with 32 of them being free in the Core set. The build possibilities are numerous and that makes the prospect of playing as a Death Knight exciting. It might not be so exciting for the other player, but at the very least, the upcoming March of the Lich King expansion is about to provide Hearthstone's other 10 classes some fun new deck possibilities. That's a story for another day.
The Death Knight class will be playable when the Hearthstone: March of the Lich King expansion releases on Tuesday, December 6.