The life of a collectible/tradable card game exists in cycles. First, new cards are released. Then comes the sorting-out period when new theories are proposed, tested, and either discarded or adopted after being put through the wringer. Eventually, the meta becomes established, the decks extensively refined, and the ride from chaos to stasis is completed. After which, the cycle starts anew.
Hearthstone has developed a similar pattern and, three months after the release of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion, things have gotten relatively calm at the Inn. Blizzard starts the next cycle on Aug. 11 with the release of its fourth Adventure, One Night in Karazhan.
For the uninitiated player, Hearthstone's Adventures are smaller expansion packs that come with a single-player campaign that's released in weekly wings over a period of four or five weeks. Forty-five new cards may not sound like a lot compared to the 130 or more we see in the larger expansion sets, but the cards in Adventures tend to be more tightly designed and a large proportion of them tend to see play. By my count, 23 cards, give or take a few, from the previous Adventure, The League of Explorers, has seen constructed play and even more are playable in Arena.
To World of Warcraft players, Karazhan is a name with a lot of meaning. In Azeroth, Karazhan was one of the most beloved raids, introduced back in WoW's first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Full of magic and farce, including a staged opera and a game of chess, I'd be shocked if Karazhan wasn't among the most-requested bits of WoW lore to mine, along with that surrounding a certain Lich King. After the darkly themed WotG expansion, full of Lovecraftian horrors and ancient grotesqueries, Karazhan returns us to the lighter, high-adventure style of League of Explorers.
One Night in Karazhan will be released over four wings, cost $19.99, and has a free prologue mission, which features a fight against a Silverware Golem and its army of enchanted dishes.
There's some important unfinished business, however. Cards! What good is a reveal without some new cards?
For a fairly vanilla card without any specific text outside the stats and the tribe, Enchanted Raven actually does something we haven't seen before. Despite rather limited stat distributions for one-mana cards in the game, this is the first 2/2 one-mana card that we've had yet in Hearthstone. Being a 2/2 instead of a 2/1 gives the card some survivability as it's not vulnerable to a ping on turn two and, also important these days, can survive a hit from an unenhanced Tunnel Trogg.
Also of key relevance is the fact that it's a Beast. Beast Druid is a deck that has hovered just on the edge of competitive relevance and having a card that can curve out and get maximum benefit from an on-curve Mark of Y'Shaarj might just push it over that threshold. While there are four one-mana Beast cards that Druid can access -- Angry Chicken, Hungry Crab, Stonetusk Boar, and Young Dragonhawk -- Enchanted Raven is better than them.
Yes, this card made me chuckle. But while I'm not sure this card will make it into a midrange Hunter deck (it's probably too slow for an aggro build), the card is more than a jokey reference to a fairy tale. Sticky minions of this type tend to shine in Hearthstone, with removal having issues dealing with positive Deathrattles of this type and silence effects rarer than before. Though 1/1 is a terrible stat line for two mana, the fact that it in effect draws and plays a perfectly reasonable two-drop card makes the card interesting and worth experimenting with. Haunted Creeper, a similarly designed card, was a 1/2 that summoned two 1/1 tokens and while I'd still take that card over this one (not a choice one can make in Standard), the Creeper was one of the very best early-game cards in its heyday.
Compound cards of this nature are always difficult to evaluate until you see them in practice. A six-damage Fireball costs only four mana, so is the loss of one point of damage and three additional mana worth the additional benefit? If Fireball is six damage for four and Frostbolt is three damage and a freeze for two mana, I don't think it unreasonable to call a straight-up five damage card -- unlike cards such as Flame Lance, this can also attack face -- be worth three-and-a-third mana or so.
Is drawing a random five-cost minion and playing it without battle cry worth a hair under four mana? I think so. A frequent problem of compound cards -- I'm thinking Cobra Shot and its three damage to both enemy minion and hero -- is that you don't necessarily want to do both things together. But straight-up damage that plays a minion? How often do you not want to have board control? In a Tempo Mage deck or possibly a Grinder-style Mage deck, I think we'll see this card.
A six-mana 4/4 is obviously underpowered in itself, but the Discover mechanic that also recovers health is something we haven't really seen before. While the card has reasonable value on its surface -- N'Zoth Paladins run Forbidden Healing which is fairly mana-expensive -- I'm not sure it's the card that Paladin really needs right now. Midrange/Control Paladins are missing the ability to contest the board early, something that has been missing with the loss of Zombie Chow, Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle and Coghammer. In Arena, where tempo is the name of the game, it's going to be hard to justify six mana on the effect.
Now here's a sign that Blizzard wants to encourage a different kind of Rogue deck than burst damage Miracle Rogue decks that tend to be the deck you mostly see in competitive, with the N'Zoth Rogue significantly rarer. A five-mana 5/6 is a competitive stat line, what you would expect to see for a vanilla card (Pit Fighter). Pit Fighter is an Arena god, but not specialized enough for competition, whereas this card might be. Mana reduction is an extremely powerful effect in card games and Hearthstone is no different here.
So many downright awful cards would be amazing for two fewer mana. Even the three-mana 5/1 Magma Rager, which many believe to be the worst card in the game, looks pretty darn interesting at just a single mana. The catch, of course, is that it only works on non-Rogue cards. Rogue has a few ways to get opponent's cards into their deck, with Undercity Huckster, Burgle, and among neutral cards, Nefarian, putting the cards directly into your hand (Gang Up puts them into your deck). Now, is the mana benefit to this kind of card thievery enough to make Rogue Rogue a thing? It might not be consistent enough. But a card with a reasonable stat line with such a powerful potential effect will see some experimentation.
In Arena, this card will see play mainly because it's a five-mana 5/6 and Pit Fighter is a top-notch card. The effect, however, will tend to go unused because you can't reliably get Burgle or Undercity Huckster into your Arena decks.
This one features a first for Hearthstone: A multiple tribal synergy card. Looking at the card, I can't help thinking that this is more a fun, goofy card than one that will see competitive play. However, I do see a scenario in which I'm wrong.
In itself, the Battlecry draw is not strong enough that The Curator can be part of a specific Beast deck or specific Dragon deck or specific Murloc deck. Mixed-tribe decks lose a lot of the synergistic value that's the whole purpose of a tribal deck. Where The Curator could possibly see play is on decks that have a particular Beast, Dragon, or Murloc as a key part of their win condition, thus giving them a second "out" to draw that card.
For example, Ysera is sometimes the lone dragon in a deck and the ability to get it in your hand late-game -- if you're playing The Curator, you've got mana to play with -- does have some value. For some decks, making sure you have Alexstrasza available and not the 30th card also has value. I'm not sure it's enough, in fact I don't think it is, but if I'm wrong, this is how I expect to be off the mark.
The flamboyant opera manager in Karazhan gets a surprisingly basic effect. While summoning a random card from your deck and making it into a 1/1 is better than summoning a 1/1 token. The 1/1s you summon could have a negative death rattle, but if you had many of those, you wouldn't put Barnes in your deck to begin with, after all. But the effect is too irregular for competitive play because if you can't rely on, say, playing a 1/1 Malygos, your Malygos deck would prefer to have a card that enhances your chances of playing the real Malygos in a beneficial position rather than a card that might summon an easily killable 1/1 Malygos.
So in most cases, the effect you can only really count on is Barnes being a four-mana 3/4 with a 1/1 token attached. That makes him close to Dragonling Mechanic, a four -mana 2/4 that summons a 2/1 mech token. I'd prefer Barnes to the Dragonling Mechanic, but the latter is not a card that sees any Constructed play and only an average-ish Arena pick.
But one thing Barnes does have: A really cool entrance animation!
Seven down, 38 to go!