Hearthstone's bad guys are sick of the merciless beatdown that has been handed to them over the last few years, and are now teaming up for revenge in Rise of Shadows. Due out on April 9, the new expansion includes 135 cards, and will launch alongside the annual rotation of the Standard format, which sees several older sets restricted to use in the Wild mode. At the same time, a number of problematic cards will be sent to live out their days upstate in the Hall of Fame, where Sylvanas runs a not-at-all sinister farm.
Conscious of the criticism that Hearthstone has become too dominated by obnoxiously high-damage one-turn-kill combos, Rise of Shadows will include several tech cards designed to specifically disrupt opponents looking to burst you down from full health. Here's one of those cards, which given its efficient stats-to-cost ratio, will probably find its was into a lot of decks.
As recently revealed, Rise of the Shadows is the first installment in a new attempt to tell a single story over multiple sets, both in terms of the cards themselves and how the newly expanded PvE mode plays out. That story centres on The League of E.V.I.L., a villainous supergroup formed by Arch-Thief Rafaam, the largely forgettable big bad from The League of Explorers adventure. For his second shot at the spotlight, Rafaam has corralled nefarious characters from various other sets, and together they've set about capturing the floating wizard city of Dalaran, for reasons which will become clear later down the line.
Rafaam's dream team comprises Madame Lazul from Whispers of the Old Gods, Hagatha from the Witchwood, King Togwaggle from Kobolds and Catacombs, and—of course—Dr Boom, from The Boomsday Project. Their alliance isn't purely for flavour purposes, though. The class alignment of these characters means that Warlock, Priest, Shaman, Rogue and Warrior are going to be considered the 'evil' choices during the Year of the Dragon, which begins when Rise of Shadow launches. That also means that the remaining classes—Druid, Hunter, Paladin and Mage—are now billed as the good guys, under the banner of the Defenders of Dalaran.
But that's honestly quite enough lore for a game that's fundamentally about doming people with buffed Stonetusk Boars. Let's take a look at some of the cards, and more specifically some of the new mechanics and themes being introduced in Rise of Shadows, starting with…
What would an E.V.I.L. scheme be without expendable underlings to carry it out? Lackeys are a new type of 'token' card in Hearthstone, meaning that these aren't cards you can open from packs because they can only be created by other collectible cards. The Battlecry effect of EVIL Miscreant, pictured above, is the perfect example of how to make lackeys—in this case adding two at random to your hand. Each of the possible lackeys costs 1-Mana and has 1/1 stats, but they also come with a high utility effect attached. As for what kind of deck might want Lackey-generation, the obvious suggestion is anything that wants to swarm the board, but I suspect their versatility will ensure Lackeys see quite a bit of play. And although there's an obvious RNG element to creating them, the fact there are only five possible Lackey outcomes will likely make them a relatively consistent choice.
Sadly, not all nefarious master plans are easy to execute. Some take a little more time. That's the idea behind the E.V.I.L. classes' Scheme cards, which grow in power the longer they sit in your hand. Take this Shaman AoE spell, for instance. In its most vanilla form, it costs 5 Mana to deal 1 damage to the entire board. Or in other words it's a brutally over-costed Whirlwind. But if that same card sits in your hand for half-a-dozen turns, it's going to do six damage to every minion for the same cost, making it an under-costed super-Hellfire. Of the new ideas shown so far, Schemes are the cards I'm least sold on. It feels like they'll only really be useful as part of incredibly slow control decks, and even then they're usually going to be a terrible top deck, and too clunky to keep in your opening hand.
Similar to the Echo keyword from The Witchwood, cards with Twinspell enable you to make high-value plays by casting the same spell twice. When you cast a Twinspell, it puts a second copy of the card in your hand, which can then be played in the same turn (if you have enough Mana), or saved for a future turn. Note that the second copy created won't have the Twinspell keyword on it, so you can't keep generating additional spells. Think of Twinspells as two-for-one cards, which will be particularly potent combined with effects that you want to have access to multiple times. In the example above, the Druid player can potentially refill the board the turn after it's been wiped using the second copy of The Forest's Aid. Also note the Treant synergy, which might help make cards like Mulchmuncher and Treespeaker more potent. Whereas Lackeys and Schemes will only be available to the E.V.I.L. classes, Twinspells are exclusively wielded by the Defenders of Dalaran.
Though not a keyword itself, 'Callback' is a cycle of cards (ie a themed subset) in Rise of Shadows that will see popular ideas from previous sets reprised. In the case of the card above, Forbidden Words borrows the 'Forbidden' theme from Whispers of the Old Gods, which delivers a different effect depending on how much Mana you spend when you play it (though it always has to be the entire remainder of your Mana). The card will provide a flexible, if not the most efficient, hard removal effect for Priest, which has traditionally struggled to remove 4-Attack minions. As to what other old favourites will make a comeback, we'll have to wait and see. Who knows, maybe there'll even be a new Inspire card. (Rest in peace, my sweet Murloc Knight.)
When the shadows rise, Dalaran will fall! Announcing Hearthstone’s latest expansion #RiseOfShadows! 😈 https://t.co/bfoaFl6hqf pic.twitter.com/5TEHxm5mteMarch 14, 2019
As is the money-spinning tradition, players will be able to pre-purchase various card bundles at a discounted rate. The 50-pack version comes with the Jewel of Lazul card back, a random legendary card, and costs $50. The 80-pack bundle also comes with a new skin for Priest class: Madam Lazul and a golden legendary card instead of the regular one. You can only buy one of these bundles per account, and the same goes for the Shadow Bundle, which will be available in the first week of the expansions release, costs $10, and includes nine packs plus an Arena ticket. On a less expensive note, there will be a quest chain in the run-up to release that will reward players with a currently undisclosed number of free packs, and a random legendary card. Pre-release will begin on April 5, meaning players will be able to open packs they've ordered early when attending sanctioned events.
My only slight disappointment with what I've seen of the set so far is that Blizzard confirmed there won't be a new Hero card in this expansion. With the Death Knights from Knights of the Frozen Throne rotating out at the same time as Rise of Shadows launches, it's likely the case that Blizzard felt players needed a break from the mechanic, although in recent sets I think the design team has got the power level spot on with Hagatha and Zul'jin. Okay, maybe Zul'jin is nuts actually. As you were.