Greetings! Descent of Dragons is just a few days away as I sit here and write this, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. With all the cards out and every pro making card reviews on their channels, I thought I’d try something different this time around with putting down my thoughts about the set in written form. Not everyone has time to watch a several hour long video, so I hope this format is helpful.
But let us back up a little: Who am I, and why should you care about what I think of the new cards? If you haven’t followed competitive Hearthstone, my name is Jon, better known as Orange. I’ve been playing Hearthstone full time for the past five years. I got several major titles and was also a Worlds Competitor in 2017. I’ve been around for a while and played a card or two throughout my days.
What about the new cards? To me, Descent of Dragons is one of the most difficult sets to evaluate in the history of Hearthstone. This is probably the highest power level we have ever seen in a single set. The individual power level of the dragons, Galakrond, and even some cards that support existing archetypes are through the roof. What this means is that the meta as we know it currently is most likely to disappear. If you just want to update your current favorite deck with a few new cards and play it on ladder, you are likely going to find yourself quite quickly getting beaten by the new archetypes that spawn from this expansion's release. But don’t worry. I’ll help you recognize some of these new, powerful archetypes and show you what to keep in mind if you want to build your own deck.
Let's start with the major archetypes and themes of the expansion. The heroic classes (Hunter, Mage, Paladin and Druid) led by the League of Explorers are getting very strong dragon-themed cards with each class getting a powerful, legendary dragon to lead the charge. Meanwhile all the E.V.I.L. classes (Warrior, Rogue, Priest, Shaman and Warlock) are getting the mightiest dragon of them all, Galakrond, to help them conquer the skies.
I’ll go over what I’m looking at building for each class and take a look at some key cards for each archetype.
First up, we've got Druid, which is heavily focused on ramping up to big dragons. The strongest card of the class and one of the single most powerful cards of the entire set is Breath of Dreams. To support Breath of Dreams we also got Emerald Explorer and Ysera, Unleashed. While Breath of Dreams looks very powerful, I’m a little skeptical to how powerful the rest of Druid's dragon cards are.
This is one of the few classes where rather than looking at the new dragon cards, we could instead take a look at the dragons from the classic set like Malygos and Alexstrasza to see if there is some midrange/combo hybrid deck that can make good use of Breath of Dreams. This works particularly well since both Breath of Dreams and the neutral card Big Ol’ Whelp do double duty in making our dragon synergies more consistent while also digging us closer to an eventual combo finish.
The second archetype that seems like it is getting some support (again) is treants. Goru the Mightree is a perfectly passable card on its own with stats just like Ancient of War. The ancient has seen a lot of constructed play, and the added bonus of buffing all your treants for the rest of the game is really big. But the card that excites me the most about treants is Aeroponics. If I were to play a Treant deck, I would look to start off with a shell of Treenforcements and Dendrologist as my early game. Then, I'd want to explore the synergy between Garden Gnome and Aeroponics together for the midgame.
Between Aeroponics, Force of Nature and Garden Gnome, you should be able to make good tempo plays while still keeping up on cards by turn five to bridge you into your late game. Blizzard has tried to push the Treant archetype on us for a long time, and I’m excited to find out if this is finally the time when it is going to be playable, but I won’t hold my breath.
It has been a long time, but finally we are starting to see some really powerful aggressive cards finding their way back to the Hunter class.
While the actual dragons of Hunter might not be the most flashy of the set, the support cards like Corrosive Breath and Stormhammer are very impressive for an aggressive approach. If you're not sold yet on Stormhammer, just think about how powerful Eaglehorn Bow has been when you add a single extra charge to it. These 2 cards really reward you for pushing early damage to face, so it makes sense to look at the low-cost dragons we got in this set to support that line of deckbuilding.
The classic set offers us a cheap, aggressive dragon in Faerie Dragon and Descent of Dragons also has Faerie Dragon's older brothers Evasive Feywing and Evasive Wyrm. Not only do we have some of the best racing tools available in Standard currently but our threats are also incredibly hard to interact with.
The only big downside that I am quite worried about when it comes to this archetype is how it is especially weak to Dragonmaw Poacher. Primordial Explorer helps a little bit, presenting a body that Dragonmaw Poacher doesn’t trade favorably into, but the rest of the deck seems rather weak to this card. If you are building this deck, try to figure out a way to deal with this 8/8 rusher without falling behind to much.
This is the list I am going to start out with myself as the expansion hits. Making use of the Battlegrounds all-star Nightmare Amalgam for a cheap enabler for all your Beast, Mech and Dragon synergies!
Mage has already been making waves in Standard these previous sets with Cyclone Mage and Highlander Mage over the past two expansions and it seems like Descent of Dragons is giving both archetypes a boost. While it’s technically possible to play a 2-of Dragon Mage deck I don’t really see any reason why we wouldn’t want the added power of Zephrys, Reno and the new card Dragonqueen Alexstrasza.
Malygos, Aspect of Magic is one of my favorite cards of the entire set because of its plethora of flexible options to choose from when you play it. Between Malygos, Zephrys and Reno in your highlander deck, there are just so many ways to recover from an unfavorable board position. Not only do we get Malygos, but Dragoncaster is basically Inkmaster Solia from the past but for one less mana, with powerful spells like Luna’s Pocket Galaxy and Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron that you can cast off it. I think Dragon Highlander Mage is looking like one of the strongest decks coming out of this expansion.
If you are more of a Mana Cyclone kind of person there are some cards that makes me think the deck could make a splash in the meta again. There has almost never been a Giant printed that hasn’t seen a lot of constructed play and I don’t think Mana Giant will buck this trend. It works great with Mana Cyclone and Sorcerer’s Apprentice while also being a fantastic target for Conjurer's Calling. Keep in mind that the Twinspell version of Ray of Frost discounts Mana Giant too.
I’ve seen a lot of people compare Chenvaala to Dragon Soul and I think the two cards are not even close to the same power level. Adding a respectable body to the card makes a world of difference. It’s also in a better class suited for that effect AND Elemental Evocation exists in Standard. Don’t sleep on this card because it is very powerful and fits perfectly in the Cyclone-mage deck.
The dragons in Paladin seem to be the weakest of any class. Amber Watcher is amazing and quite a lot better than Antique Healbot from the past. But it's also a card that you could just play in any Paladin deck without Dragon synergy.
Dragonrider Talritha looks powerful when you land it on curve, and Nozdormu the Timeless is a tricky one to evaluate. Without any experience with playing the card, I’d say the card looks quite weak. It's important to note how it “sets” you to 10 mana crystals and doesn’t “give” you the crystals. This means if you play Nozdormu on turn four, you will have no mana left to work with, and if you play it turn seven you’ll have three mana left if you didn’t spend any other mana that turn.
So far coined as “Pure Paladin,” this concept is a deckbuilding challenge we haven't seen before. My favorite analogy with Lightforged Crusader is to compare it to Divine Favor. Divine Favor let you play a very aggressive curve and then reload in the mid stage of the game. While Lightforged Crusader doesn’t draw cards from your own deck, a 7/7 for seven that “draws” five is VERY strong and allows aggressive Paladins to bridge into the late game.
Paladin decks since 2014 have been playing Truesilver Champion, and Lightforged Zealot adds a 4/2 body on top of it which is just absurd. These days, we see almost all decks play 20-25 cards being class cards regardless so I’d bet that just as we discovered that building decks Highlander-style wasn’t that much of a downside we will reach the same conclusion with Pure Paladin.
Are you guys still with me? Good. So far we’ve covered the tools that our heroes in the League of Explorers get to work with. Let's see how it stacks up against the League of E.V.I.L..
For those that haven’t followed the spoiler season that closely, Galakrond is a new legendary hero card that comes in different forms depending on which of the E.V.I.L. classes you are running. To maximize the efficiency of Galakrond, you’ll have to run cards with the “Invoke effect,” which can be found as class cards or neutral. The Invoke cards may look weak at first glance, but you are also getting an activation of Galakrond's hero power from whatever class you are playing even without having Galakrond in play.
So say that you are playing Devoted Maniac in your Shaman deck with Galakrond, the Tempest. This Galakrond's hero power is “Summon a 2/1 elemental with rush,” which means on top of Devoted Maniac you are also summoning a 2/1 rush. But if you were to play Devoted Maniac in Warrior with Galakrond, the Unbreakable in your deck, your hero gets +3 attack instead. This means that we need to evaluate each of Galakrond's class cards, its Invoke cards, and its hero power very closely together.
Shield of Galakrond and Devoted Maniac are the only two neutral Galakrond-Invokers. Neither of these look particularly impressive at first glance, but I’d imagine that we’ll end up running them anyway by just looking at how much more powerful Galakrond gets as you Invoke it. Then again, if we are going to run cards as mediocre as these it puts even more emphasis on how Galakrond's hero power has to be powerful so you don’t fall behind before getting to play him.
The other card that has be mentioned in this section is Kronx Dragonhoof. When you are building your deck around Galakrond, having a card that can find it on its own is a must have. I'm not much for telling people to craft legendaries on day one of an expansion generally, but I can safely say that you want to pair Galakrond with Kronx in all of the five classes.
Priest got some of the hardest cards to evaluate this set. There are a lot of powerful cards but not anything that is pushing the class in any clear direction. There are also effects on several cards that we’ve never seen before which makes them even harder to evaluate!
First thing's first: Galakrond, the Unspeakable. This card is giving me some serious Shadowreaper Anduin-vibes with its Battlecry. After you've played it, you get a hero power that is hard to evaluate. Safe to say it's going to provide you with a lot of value and staying power. The big problem with Priest's Galakrond that I see is how it isn’t very good at keeping up on tempo. When you Invoke Galakrond you are just stacking up resources, and with the low power level of the Invoke cards, you could easily fall behind to an aggressive deck.
How I’d imagine that you would want to build a deck around Priest's Galakrond is to just run the bare minimum of Invoke cards and just play it for its powerful Battlecry and late game hero power.
I am excited about some of the other cards Priest got. too. Breath of the Infinite is basically Consecration for 3 mana, and while Chronobreaker is far from the Dusky-boy, it is still a very passable card.
Both of Priest's legendaries have really unique effects, and to me they look incredibly powerful. Mindflayer Kaahrj is just a whole lot of stats for 3 mana most of the time and should be incredibly annoying to interact with in a favorable way for your opponent. Meanwhile, Murozond the Infinite looks like a very passable card to play at pretty much any point when you aren’t too far behind. I can imagine the card doing some really unfair things—typically the sign of a strong card.
Basically, a slower controlling style of Priest, with small splashes of Galakrond and/or Dragons looks like it has some potential. Because of the nuance and newness of so many of these cards though, I’d imagine that Priest is going take the longest to figure out how to build optimally.
Rogue got some interesting cards this expansion—none more interesting than its iconic, melting dragon Waxadred. This dragon just has really good stats for a 5 mana minion, and if you can abuse its Deathrattle, you've got yourself a really unfair card. Stowaway and Necrium Apothecary are also generously stated minions that help you do this.
If you want to go even deeper you can use Stowaway with already existing cards such as Pogo Hopper and Lab Recruiter, or if we are getting really crazy, might I suggest Stowaway with Shadow of Death or Academic Espionage?
As for Rogue’s Galakrond, my favorite part about it is probably the hero power that gives you a Lackey every time you use it or Invoke. We’ve already seen Rogue decks use Spirit of the Shark (@J_Alexander) with Lackey generators and Lackeys themselves and now we got even more support.
Another route you could take when building around this is that both Umbral Skulker and Praise Galakrond! provide you with cheap spells that you could pair with Gadgetzan Auctioneer for a miracle-style type of Galakrond deck.
After these last two months I’m not sure if anyone reading this even wants to hear about Shaman (thanks Evolve!). If you thought you wouldn’t face Shaman anymore on ladder as Descent of Dragons comes out, I’m afraid I've got some bad news for you.
Shaman’s Galakrond is probably my favorite out of the 5. While the hero power is probably the weakest when you play Galakrond, it hardly matters much because what is more important is how the Invoke cards let you keep up on tempo throughout the game.
Shaman is also getting what is, in my opinion, the best pair of Invoke cards. Invocation of Frost and Corrupt Elementalist let you stay on board with the rush-minions they summon so you can consistently curve out with Galakrond. Corrupt Elementalist Invoking twice is especially huge considering how powerful Galakrond gets at the last level spawning two 8/8's with Rush.
Galakrond isn’t the only card that gets benefits from Invoking though. Dragon’s Pack summoning a pair of 5/6 taunts for just five mana is very good on its own, but I’d also like to point out how Faceless Corruptor and Big Ol’ Whelp are two cornerstones of this set and probably cards that will see a lot of play. How good this card stacks up against those two just alone makes me think Dragon’s Pack is one of the strongest cards Shaman is getting this expansion.
Storm’s Wrath, Cumulo-Maximus, Squallhunter and Surging Tempest are giving Thunderhead and Likkim some extra support, and I’m interested to see how this type of Shaman is supposed to be built since Overload is always a very tricky mechanic to build a deck around.
I’m seeing a lot of pro players and streamers thinking that Warlock isn’t going to be very strong this expansion. To me, some of these cards look very powerful, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a slower Warlock deck find its way into the meta.
Warlock's Galakrond is my least favorite one by quite a lot. The hero power doesn’t seem particularly amazing, the Invoke cards are mediocre at best, and his Battlecry is very swingy and could turn out really poorly if you are unfortunate.
Looking past that though, we got Nether Breath, Zzeraku the Warped and Crazed Netherwing that all look completely crazy to me. I mentioned how Chronobreaker wasn’t quite the Duskbreaker of the past, but Crazed Netherwing absolutely is.
Zzeraku is probably my call as one of the most underrated cards of the set. I haven’t seen a lot of people talk about the card. But if you can ever land this on a board where you aren’t immediately dead, it should stabilize you easily since they first need to deal with this before doing anything else. Pressing the Hunter power looks a lot less appealing when it summons a 6/6 on the opponent's side. What’s important is how in slower matchups you can just use it as a big threat with your hero power or cards like Rain of Fire. I’m itching to play with the card and to see if my first impressions of it are correct.
Nether Breath is going to be the glue that holds this slower Warlock together as an early game removal with some necessary healing built in. I’d say this is the biggest reward for playing Dragons in the entire set, period. Paired with Dark Skies these two should make sure Warlocks get out of the early game, similar to how Defile was a cornerstone of Cubelock back in the day.
Last but certainly not least, we got Warrior. I bet all of you missed Pirate Warrior and Patches, right? While Patches thankfully isn’t back, Pirate Warrior could make a comeback this expansion. There are 2 cards this expansion that I had to reread after I first saw them revealed. The first is Breath of Dreams which I talked about earlier and the second one is Ancharrr.
Now Ancharrr’s power level is somewhat decided by how good the Pirates in Standard are. But along with the neutral card Parachute Brigand and Warrior-specific Sky Raider, the openers you can get from drawing just Ancharrr alone are very strong.
Warrior's Galakrond is nothing to scoff at either. The hero power is very similar to Shaman's in that it lets you keep up tempo while invoking Galakrond. The big difference with this hero power to Shaman's is that we can go face! Not only that but Galakrond's Battlecry is quite aggressive if you play minions like Grommash Hellscream and Kor’kron Elite for example. Scion of Ruin also synergizes really well with Galakrond in about every way imaginable.
Is there a way to combine Pirates and Galakrond in Warrior perhaps? Seems like all of Warrior's cards this expansion play for the same sort of game plan, so I bet there are a ton of things to explore in deckbuilding with this many options.
Some thoughts on the neutral cards
I thought I’d be able to cover most things by talking about each class. But there are some neutral cards I think are very important to keep in mind when building decks with the new expansion.
A card I predict will be one of the most influential of the set is Faceless Corruptor. Now this card looks pretty strong on its own, but if you can pair it with other cards that generate small tokens or Lackeys, the power level is through the roof. Glancing at the cards we currently have available, my favorite cards to use together with Faceless Corruptor would be Desert Spear and Lackey generators. You can also always use it on tokens laying around from SN1P-SN4P or anything of that nature.
If you are having trouble beating dragons, Dragonmaw Poacher is a very efficient way to deal with the small to midsize ones. Big Ol’ Whelp is my prediction as one of the most played dragons and Poacher stacks up very well against it while putting you ahead on board and in efficient use of mana.
Some classes have had access to 2/2's for 1 mana over the last couple of years, but we’ve never had a neutral one. Blazing Battlemage is a card that you’d want to take a good look at if you are trying to fill out your early curve in any aggressive deck.
There are tons of other very good neutral cards, but covering every single one of them is not the point of this article anyway. I’ll leave the rest up to you all.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I haven’t really written anything like this before so all feedback is greatly appreciated! And if you enjoyed this style of content, please let me know so I can consider writing more in the future.
Thanks for reading! Make sure to tune in to my Twitch channel over at twitch.tv/orange_hs 19.00 CE every weekday if you want to see how these thoughts translate into practice when the set comes out!