So, Emperor Thaurissan has arrived on the block following the release of the first wing of
Naxxramas Blackrock Mountain last Thursday. And it’s fair to say he’s already made his way into the majority of decks on ladder.
And there’s a reason for that: he’s pretty good. Perhaps a little too good.
In fact, good enough that I worry his presence is likely to decrease deck variability. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s see what the good Emperor can do.
Emperor Thaurissan is one of the few mana acceleration cards available in the neutral pool, and unlike other more limited mana acceleration for creatures like Mechwarper or Pint-Sized Summoner, the effect is both immediate and universal. Playing him even with only four other cards in the hand is the equivalent of having two Innervates, and Innervate is a card seen in every Druid deck. The mana reduction also remains on the cards affected regardless of whether he is killed or not, and his effect triggers the turn you play him, meaning there’s nothing the opponent can do about it. Even more importantly, if he stays on the board, his effect further reduces the mana cost of the cards in hand.
The result of this is that Emperor Thaurissan alters the mana economy in a way few other cards can. He allows plays that are usually otherwise impossible. For example, combined with Malygos, he can easily enable one-turn-kills that were previously impossible. Indeed, Rogue may see an old and forgotten archetype return. Even old-school Miracle Rogue could make a comeback with it. But OTKs aside, the effect still enables turn-seven Force of Nature – Savage Roar Druid combos, significantly higher burst potential for Freeze Mage, and a colossal boost to any modern Rogue archetype. He enables playing more cards per turn in any other class as well.
Additionally, because his effect triggers each turn to further lower the cost of any cards remaining in your hand, he becomes a must-kill for the opponent. And with a 5/5 statline, he can be hard to remove. Indeed, his body by itself may warrant playing him in certain situations even when his ability will have little impact.
Ultimately, Emperor Thaurissan is one of those cards that simply has no downside. The stat trade-off for his ability isn’t even that steep. The only time you won’t wont to play him is when your deck just doesn’t have room for anything with a six-mana cost. This basically means Hunter, which, in its modern form, simply is unlikely to benefit from the card. If you’re having trouble playing all your cards by turn 6 with Hunter, you’re probably doing it wrong. But for everyone else, it’s simply hard to find a reason not to include him.
And this is his problem. He’s simply better than pretty much any other card in your deck, and certainly better than any neutral other than possibly Dr. Boom. So with Emperor Thaurissan, it’s not a question of whether to remove something to fit in him, simply a question of what card you’re going to remove. And there aren’t really any wrong answers. That’s just how good he is.
From a game design perspective, there’s nothing wrong with printing good cards. Magic: The Gathering designers have discussed this issue at length, describing how if they don’t print both bad cards and good cards, there’s little excitement to exploring the game and finding good cards. They describe how they intentionally print cards that are good, but appear bad, and vice versa, to enhance the discovery aspect of the game. However, in a game like Hearthstone, with a limited card pool, cards like Emperor Thaurissan are so clearly superior that, like the good Dr. Boom, they see their way into pretty much every deck. This doesn’t enhance discovery (especially since Emperor Thaurissan is an adventure reward, rather than drawn from a pack), but instead decreases deck variability. Everyone and their mother will play him, unless they’re playing Hunter.
And while Emperor Thaurissan may open up some new archetypes, like the aforementioned Malygos Rogue, I have my doubts. He’s a legendary minion, and therefore a one-of in any deck. He’s hard to build an entire game around, because you simply might not draw him. But when you do, he’s usually fantastic. For this reason, he appears more useful empowering existing archetypes rather than defining his own. Have a Druid? Then you play him. Mage? Rogue? Paladin? Yep, he’s there.
Look at Dr. Boom. He’s ubiquitous enough that most decks run a Big Game Hunter just to have an answer for him. But he doesn’t define any of those decks. No deck uses him as a necessary part – but they are empowered when they draw him. Granted, Dr. Boom doesn’t have the massive mana economy effect that Emperor Thaurissan has, but I worry the result is the same. Most decks play him, and when you draw him on curve, you feel pretty great. Everyone knows the opponent’s deck will have one. It all feels very samey-samey, to the point where the decks of different classes might start feeling the same as each other. This hasn’t happened yet, but if we see any more neutral cards of Emperor Thaurissan’s quality, we just might.
Let me know how you feel about the card. Is he fine? Does it need a nerf? Or does the game just need to catch up?