Sometime this month, Blizzard is expected to release Hearthstone's first adventure pack Curse of Naxxramas. The pack will come with single player adventures, along with 30 new cards that should shake up the metagame and breathe some fresh air into the ladder scene. Pricing details were announced yesterday, and now seems an apt time to begin looking over the cards we'll be seeing in Naxxramas. Thus far, five neutral cards have officially been announced.
Dancing Swords is an intriguing minion at three mana. The magical blades boast a highly coveted 4/4 body, able to ignore specific priest removal while still having a thick enough hide to endure most popular area of effect spells. In exchange for the amazing statline, Dancing Swords awards opponents a card upon expiring. In a perfect world, Dancing Swords is used to quickly mow down a foe before the deathrattle ever becomes an issue. It seems like we won't be seeing this minion in anything other than fast paced aggression setups.
The major question is, what current decks does Dancing Swords fit into? Mage, Shaman and Warlock aggro have fast enough win conditions to merit use, but what would be dropped? At three mana, Dancing Swords could very easily replace Harvest Golem, offering players another option. It's definitely more dangerous than Harvest Golem, but it also fares better against area of effect spells and does two more damage per hit. Dancing Swords will be a very good play in the early game, and likely a reasonably poor play in the late. The risk might prove too rich for some, but for gamblers, Dancing Swords represents huge upside.
Additionally, the three spot is surprisingly thin when it comes to quality options in terms of the neutral minion pool. Harvest Golem has managed to become such a fixture because of this. Dancing Swords could very well challenge it for supremacy, at least in more aggressive decks.
Do you like Mana Wyrm? If so, Undertaker will probably be right up your alley. It's a quality one drop in the right setup and because it gains HP as well as attack per deathrattle minion played, it can quickly boost itself up to being decently problematic in the midgame. Imagine a series of plays that look like this:
Turn 1. Undertaker
Turn 2. Loot Hoarder
Turn 3. Harvest Golem
Hearthstone has a solid library of quality deathrattle minions, and that's only likely to improve as the rest of the Curse of Naxxramas set is revealed. If a deck is built to accommodate deathrattle mechanics specifically, Undertaker could be a very strong play. The downside is that it starts with two health, and not Mana Wyrm's three. The one HP difference is actually a lot bigger than some might suspect. That said, there's always the option to simply combo down two to three deathrattle minions with Undertaker later on in the game. Undertaker, similar to Dancing Swords, represents an element of risk versus reward, but with a far more palatable downside.
Unlike Dancing Swords, Undertaker has no immediate place in any of the popular decks currently dominating ladder. Argent Squire and Leper Gnome are still more reliable, and will likely remain the more regular picks at the one drop slot. Undertaker has potential, just in a deck we haven't seen yet.
If you're into mind games, Nerubian Egg is an interesting option. It's an investment of sorts. It won't immediately put pressure on the board, but the 0/2 for two becomes an intimidating 4/4 upon perishing. The immediate line of thought here is that Nerubian Egg will be a great minion to drop when it comes time to force out opponent area of effect spells. The prospect of wiping out a board just to have a 4/4 appear is unpleasant at best. Unfortunately, if an opponent does not find themselves forced to clear the board in one fell swoop, there's always the chance this egg just sits around on the board not accruing value.
The realization leads us to question just where Nerubian Egg fits. Immediately, I think shaman or druid. Both of the classes feature spells that allow them to pump out lethal damage via minions crowding the board. Savage Roar and Bloodlust could allow Nerubian Egg to function similar to a totem. It might not offer buffs while alive, but in death it becomes something a lot more menacing. Nerubian Egg could also find a place in Zoo Warlock because of all the stat buffing that goes on through Abusive Sargeant, Dire Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus, among other minions. If dropped early, it could represent a real problem for classes looking to use board clears to get themselves back into the game.
There's a definite downside to Nerubian Egg if silenced or ignored, but there's a lot of room for it to be messed around with.
Shade of Naxxramas
Shade of Naxxramas is easily the card I feel least comfortable about when it comes to neutral minions. The three drop gains a +1/+1 at the beginning of its owner's turn, and enters the board with stealth. Yes, it could absolutely just win games if left alone long enough, and yes, it could force out area of effect spells awkwardly, but it seems to require a lot of specific situations to shine. Inevitably, I'll end up eating my words at some point as a Shade of Naxxramas slaps me for 12 damage, but I'm still reluctant at the moment.
It, like Nerubian Egg, represents an investment, and turn three feels a bit late to begin making investments. Unlike Nerubian Egg however, this investment should at least yield something playable (a 3/3) on the following turn. My other major issue with this card is that it's difficult to see where exactly it fits. Generally speaking, most of the Hearthstone epic level neutral minion pool is reserved for cards that serve very specific purposes. Big Game Hunter, Blood Knight, Molten Giant, Southsea Captain, all of these cards are intended to be used as very specific points. Shade of Naxxramas just appears to be a three drop that can get very big if left to its own fiendish devices.
The plus side to this card is that it could potentially fit in a lot of different decks, be they control, midrange, et cetera.
The one time Lord of Stratholme is apparently a lot of bark and no bite. The 1/7 for four won't be summoned because of his martial prowess, but rather his novel ability to make friendly deathrattles activate twice. Baron Rivendare, similar to Undertaker, will likely require a completely original deck to get the most value out of, as it's just not worth running him in a deck for Loot Hoarder, Harvest Golem and Cairne Bloodhoof. This isn't to say he won't be a powerful option. He'll just require some finesse to make work.
What's most intriguing to me about the deathknight is his synergy with priest spells like Divine Spirit and Inner Fire. Yes, this experiment has been tried before and doesn't generally work, but Baron Rivendare is a lot more useful than Mogu'shan Warden or Oasis Snapjaw. He'll provide decent value without ever being buffed, making him more flexible. Baron Rivendare's definitely an interesting option with a lot of potential value, depending on what the rest of the Curse of Naxxramas set looks like. He'll provide veteran deck builders with a welcome challenge.