The last wing of Blackrock Mountain has been out for a couple of weeks now, and it would be an understatement to suggest that it has significantly altered the meta game. While I stand by my previous criticism of the adventure mode itself, finding it poorly executed and wildly inconsistent, it does appear that the new cards have altered the landscape more than I had predicted. For a relatively small set of cards, this is no mean feat.
Since returning to the ladder after my Italian excursion, I’ve found a raft of new decks being played that I never would have anticipated. The amount of experimentation is on par with the days after the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, and that expansion added almost four times as many cards as Blackrock Mountain.
Blackrock Mountain has simply made the game more fun, more diverse, and more interesting. For me, it’s revitalized my interest in playing the game. Is Blackrock Mountain the best Hearthstone Expansion? For my money, yes.
But why is that? What design elements has Blizzard incorporated that have opened up the landscape to make Blackrock Mountain the success that it is? Well, let’s take a look.
Solid Neutral Minions with an Excellent Mechanic
The neutral minions introduced by BRM are largely playable, in stark contrast to the last few sets. In fact, of the entire neutral set, only Drakonid Crusher and Majordomo Executus seem questionable. The rest, which almost universally are dragons or have dragon synergies, make regular appearances in the new slew of dragon-focused decks and in many existing archetypes.
Fortunately, while pure dragon decks are often made with these new cards, its not always necessary to build an entire deck around the dragon theme to incorporate these cards. The new effects that trigger with a dragon in hand is an excellent mechanic, as it allows for decks that include only a few dragons, while still getting a large benefit. Many Priest and Warrior lists that incorporate dragons are very far from being entirely dragon-focused, yet dragons still make significant contributions to their effectiveness. Blackwing Corruptor, in particular, has a very powerful dragon-based effect that might need only need an Ysera or Alexstrasza in the deck to activate. Chromaggus and Nefarian are also interesting high curve options that are seeing a fair amount of experimentation.
Naturally, Grim Patron must be mentioned. It’s a card that alone has turned Warrior into the number one ladder and tournament contender through its combo and one-turn kill potential. Whether this has proved too powerful remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a brand new deck that’s been brought into the meta game.
All round, the new neutral cards have either expanded the decklist options for old archetypes, or created brand new lists for many of the classes. These few cards alone have significantly contributed to the diversity now seen on ladder.
Class Cards that Reinvigorate Old Lists and Unused Cards
Many of the new class cards opened up new options and brought back unused cards into the game. While not all classes were treated equally (Priest, Druid and Shaman seemed particular losers), and while there are some cards that seem useless (Volcanic Lumberer, Dragon's Breath), for the most part the classes got cards that helped realize new strategies.
For example, Imp Gang Boss single-handedly saw Zoo Warlock return to the meta game. While many will decry this, it’s at least one more option that isn’t Face Hunter on ladder.
Flamewaker catalyzed a whole new Mage archetype – the Tempo Mage, which uses formerly little used cards like Arcane Explosion, Arcane Missiles, Mirror Image, and Flamecannon in a fairly effective deck.
Dragon Consort is responsible for the fair amount of Dragon Paladins on ladder for obvious reasons. As I write this, Brian Kibler is climbing ladder with exactly this deck in my other monitor.
Gang Up has helped Rogue solidify its Mill Rogue line-up by ensuring an endless string of Coldlight Oracles and preventing milling yourself out. While this list is not super competitive, I have seen this deck in tournaments recently.
Quick Shot is actually seen in a tonne of Hunter decks, and seems to help more mid-range Hunters deal with threats on the board. It’s a solid card that has helped Hunter move away from its Face-only archetype. Of course, it makes appearances in the face-only variants as well.
Unfortunately, Lava Shock didn’t prove to have the effect that many, including myself, had hoped. However, it’s a card that might have utility in the future if more and better Overload options become available for Shaman, including some potential Overload-dependant effects (i.e. do X if you have at least one overloaded mana crystal).
The good Emperor probably is overpowered, but perhaps he isn’t imbalanced. After all, he’s a neutral minion that every deck can make use of (and most do). However, unlike Dr. Boom, he’s not simply a better option than the other cards in his class as a body. Instead, his ability is fundamentally game-altering. While it’s powerful in any deck, it also opens up new possibilities of play by brining formerly impossible combos back into the game. Malygos Rogue has seen a bit of a comeback because of him, [Leroy Jenkins] is viable again, and many Druid and Warrior combos that couldn’t be done before now can be. This doesn’t just make existing decks more powerful, it opens the door to entirely different decklists.
It’s hard to say whether this is strictly a good thing. After all, who likes being killed by a turn seven Force of Nature into Savage Roar Combo? At the same time, if it causes some non-Grim Patron combo warriors or Malygos Rogue to see play, it’s hard to argue with it.
Perhaps this is a personal preference issue, but I despise overly random cards. GvG was a step too far in many cases for me, with cards such as Imp-losion, Crackle and even the Piloted cards. However, BRM significantly reigns in the random. While random effects still exist with cards like Fireguard Destroyer, Flamewaker and Hungry Dragon, these effects are unlikely to be as significant as the difference between a 2 and a 4 on an Imp-losion (at least so long as the current 1-drop options remain as they are). Whether this presages Blizzard moving away from random effects in general, or if this was merely to fit with the theme of the adventure, remains to be seen. However, personally, I look forward to a world in which games aren’t regularly won or lost by virtue of a random effect.
There are Dragons
Do you agree? Or has BRM been a disappointment for you? Let me know in the comments below!