Hi everyone, den here writing for the very first time on HSReplay.net's blog.
For this premiere, I would like to discuss what is in everyone's mind in the Hearthstone world: The upcoming expansion “Murder at Castle Nathria.”
Last Thursday, multiple content creators took part in the traditional theorycraft streams where they tested the expansion before its release.
Most of the time, these streams are met with various reactions–from those who can't wait to see the new cards in action to others who despise the fact that part of the surprise is now ruined.
I felt like the overall community reaction was quite positive. Several streamers hit their highest viewers count yet, and discussions about archetypes have flourished on social media.
So what has changed this time around for the theorycraft streams to do so well? It could be that new streamers have been picked with a nice mix of entertainers, pillars of the competitive scene, and old timers taking part this time. Or it could be that the current metagame isn't as engaging for a lot of players, so viewers couldn't wait for a change of pace and embraced a new Hearthstone, even just for a day.
While those factors probably affected the overall success of the operation, I believe there is a much simpler answer: The upcoming expansion.
Indeed, Murder at Castle Nathria is ironically quite the riddle to figure out. It possesses a great mix of obvious new archetypes (Imp Warlock, Evolve Shaman...), synergies we need to figure out how to support (Relics in Demon Hunter, Volatile Skeletons in Mage...) and a big scarecrow who could ruin it all: Druid.
With all those elements in a single expansion, Murder at Castle Nathria's impending release has set the perfect stage for us to wonder what will unfold on August 2nd!
1. Will Malfurion ruin the party?
Every good story needs to feature a great villain, and Murder at Castle Nathria has the perfect candidate for the role in the Druid class.
Already a tier 1 hero as we speak, Malfurion is one of the few who didn't get a brand-new archetype heavily pushed amongst its 10 new cards.
Sure, the deathrattle synergy received a bit of support with Hedge Maze or Sesselie of the Fae Court. But compared to Demon Hunter relics, Mage Skeletons, Warlock Imps, or Rogue Secrets, Malfurion's set was mostly good, solid cards that could fit in multiple archetypes.
Planted Evidence, Widowbloom Seedsman, or Topioz the Shrubbagazzor are examples of cards that don't push a specific archetype. Rather, they look to be available for any Druid deck looking to use Mana or Nature spells as its primary mechanic. (A shocking strategy for the class, I know.)
If you think about it, with 4 already competitive archetypes (Beast, Ramp Alignment, and Prestor), nobody would want to see Malfurion have a fifth deck contending for a Tier 1 spot. But on the flip side, does anyone really want to see those archetypes reinforced either?
And what would a good Hearthstone villain be without a signature RNG card, which Malfurion also got: Convoke the Spirits.
After playing the card in a couple of games, I realized Druid has many useless spells in its pool. The card isn't also as reliable as Rune of the Archmage because it is fully random in its targeting. Yet, the problem for many people when the card was revealed simply was a resounding, “WHY?”
Indeed, sometimes it's a card's competitive quality isn't the most notable thing about it. But the class already has a lot of upsides and is receiving even more potential. It doesn't seem necessary to me, but time will tell.
To round it up, and as every great villain in history did, Malfurion also found some sidekicks in the new neutral cards. Sire Denathrius or Kael'Thas Sinstrider to name the most expected ones are looking to fit perfectly in the Druid class. The star of the expansion can easily be activated with Flipper Friends or Scale of Onyxia for example. Kael'Thas should benefit from the discounted units Malfurion plays in its deck, like Frostsaber Matriarch or Naga Giant, as a way to trigger its ability.
Going into Thursday's streams, I personally was very curious as to how good Malfurion would be compared to the other classes.
I had little doubt it would look miles ahead of most other classes, benefiting from already pre-built archetypes and a starting power already ahead of the pack. Yet, I was wondering if a counter would be discovered, or if we would manage to be able to play everything in a single deck.
I have no doubt that Druid is going to be scary in this upcoming expansion. But even more scary, some players already found a way to play almost everything that is broken in Druid in a single deck like Nohandsgamer does with this "Water Druid" updated list:
2. How good is Imp Warlock?
Enough with the guest looking to ruin the party, let's talk about those who bring the fun to the Castle!
If Malfurion has basically already been figured out, other heroes might be in for quite the change of pace. Amongst those, Gul'dan and Thrall are looking like great candidates to surprise the other guests with a new archetype.
Let's start with Imp Warlock, likely the most anticipated deck of the new expansion. Combining both the nostalgia of the old Zoo archetypes and potentially representing an early Druid counter, Gul'dan Imp synergy should be amongst the most played deck on day 1 of Murder at Castle Nathria.
The deck is surprisingly easy to build, as more than 20 cards feel mandatory in this deck, and has a friendly gameplay style, focusing on developing some board and buffing synergies. Imp Warlock has everything to be the good guy of the Murder Party, one that every guest wants to talk to, or rather play with.
The big question going into the theorycraft regarding the deck was, “How much broken stuff can we do with the deck?” It's a reasonable doubt if we look at how other minion type synergies like Murlocs and Mechs have performed during the Sunken City era. For the Imps to become a competitive deck, we need to be able to find either some flexibility (something the Murlocs clearly lack). Or we need to find play patterns that are so reliably oppressing that it doesn't matter anymore if we are flexible or not.
Well, I think this deck has enough of the second point to make a reasonable push at being competitive. Thanks to Vile Library, Mischievous imp and Imp King Rafaam, the deck is able to refill and develop threatening boards out of nowhere. I was particularly shocked at how good Vile Library was, the card routinely being worth 2 Blessing of Kings.
While I wasn't so high on the Infused synergy, feeling it was rather slow and making for quite awful topdecks. Imp Warlock draw ability (Gul'dan hero power and Impending Catastrophe) makes up for this flaw, and actually made me look for more infused units to play in this deck. It also helps to have cards like Fiendish Circle or Wicked Shipment which can infuse a unit to full on their own.
If you aren't a fan of the Imp mechanic but still looking for a board based deck, Evolve Shaman is looking like another early good deck to go with. It took me only one combo of Tiny Toys plus Convincing Disguise to be thrown right back to the end of 2019, when Desert Hare and Evolve were destroying the ladder.
Curving out Muck Pool into Maze Guide, followed up with Brilliant Macaw and Crud Caretaker is a curve a lot of guests at the party should be pleased with.
Once again, this might be a deck to keep Druid in check in the early days of the expansion. So although we might have been spoiled of discovering for ourselves if those archetypes would be competitive or not. We at least have a duo of proactive decks to fight against Malfurion for every one out there who anticipated Druid would ruin the party in Castle Nathria
3. Where am I playing all those new flex packages ?
The dormand Wildseeds, the Volatile Skelettons, Illidan's relics or Valeera's Secrets, this expansion features a lot of packages we will have to figure out where to include.
If up until this point, we covered the “easy to build” archetypes, either featuring decks we already played or with a lot of cards feeling natural to play in, a category of guests isn't so simple to figure out.
One could think that Blizzard made it easy for us, as these packages of cards come in pre-built, and one just simply has to test them with different cores. But in reality, it is because these cards come in sets of 7 to 9 cards that makes it difficult to build around.
Outside of Stag Charge in the Hunter cards, which looks great in Quest Hunter, ot Double Cross in Rogue, as a simple draw 2 card. It feels almost impossible to play any of these cards without their associated .
As such, going into the theorycraft streams, I was really curious as to who would find something convincing enough to make those rather unflexible guests be a part of the show.
The easy fix I saw several streamers go for was to play those cards in Prince Renathal decks. Yet, because of the highly synergistic nature of those packages, looking to play their cards one after another in order to build some momentum, I'm not sold on how good the Renathal route is for now.
In classes like Mage or Demon Hunter, who are much more versatile in how they use their resources, Prince Renathal could be the way to go. But for Rexxar or Valeera, even though they can use the extra health for sustain, these classes look to be much more about the tempo rather than the value they can get from these new cards.
The most convincing deck I had the chance to try was a Mage combining both the Hero power and the Volatile Skelettons. As both synergies can push direct damage, the deck felt quite versatile and able to to end the game when needed. Yet, one could argue Big Spell Mage's ability to cheat out a ton of mana will make it retain the crown of best archetype for Jaina.
It was clear looking at the decks using those synergies that they would require much more work than Imp Warlock or Evolve Shaman would in order to get close to a finished product. But this might be the whole value of the theorycraft streams this time around.
They allowed to start a discussion around these packages of cards, and could help get to their refined builds faster.
It would potentially allow those decks to compete with the anticipated staples of the next metagame earlier than expected. The arrival of these more complex strategies could lead to a mix of decks that would be much more interresting than the expected Druid against Imp Warlock that was looming on the horizon during the card reveals.
Even with dozens of streamers roaming Castle Nathria, it feels that a lot is left to explore in order to help Murloc Holmes solve the mystery. And you might have noticed I didn't mention Priest, Warrior or Paladin in this piece, but those classes also got new cards worth exploring.
Obviously, the early-access streams will always ruin the fun for those who are eager to test the new cards for themselves. But this time, I feel like Thursday evening raised a lot of questions and didn't solve much that we did not already know. Which should be exactly what those streams are for in the end.
If you are curious as to what to play when the expansion releases, you can find a ton of decks on twitter from the various streamers who took part in the event. In order to write this article, I was inspired by Nohandsgamer, Meati, Luna, Bunnyhoppor, PocketTrain, Jambre, Feno and many others content creators.
Otherwise, I'm sure there will be another write-up closer to the expansion release covering every deck you should try on day 1.
Thanks for reading, hope you appreciated the long write-up. And good game everyone !