Top 9 Death Knight Heroes in Wild

It’s been 2 months since the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne. The Wild meta has been abnormally unstable due to the unannounced changes to Naga Sea Witch that caught everyone by surprise, in addition to the recent wave of nerfs that affected some of the core cards for Warrior and Druid. Even after all those waves, the meta seems to have finally settled, and with the announcement for the announcement for the next expansion having been, well, announced, this is a good time to reflect on some of our pre-release opinions and predictions of the set. By reflecting on our thoughts, hopefully we are able to gain a deeper understanding of card evaluation and how to better measure the power of new mechanics.

I want to focus on the marquee cards of the set; the 9 Legendary Death Knight Hero cards. Taking inspiration from the awesomeness that is Lord Jaraxxus, these new Hero cards have a powerful Battlecry effect, grant bonus armor upon being played, and replace your current Hero Power with a supped up one. These cards were to redefine what it means to be a late-game bomb in this game. Of course everyone had their own opinions, including myself.


For context, here are some of the community pre-release polls for KFT. I got to experience the hype surrounding these Hero cards first hand, as I was managing the large majority of the card discussion threads over at r/CompetitiveHS all throughout spoiler season.

CompHS Pre-release Rating

1) Uther of the Ebon Blade

2) Valeera the Hollow

3) Shadowreaper Anduin

4) Deathstalker Rexxar

5) Bloodreaver Gul’dan

6) Frost Lich Jaina

7) Thrall, Deathseer

8) Malfurion the Pestilent

9) Scourgelord Garrosh

VS Pre-release Poll

1) Uther of the Ebon Blade

2) Shadowreaper Anduin

3) Bloodreaver Gul’dan

4) Thrall, Deathseer

5) Frost Lich Jaina

6) Valeera the Hollow

7) Malfurion the Pestilent

8) Scourgelord Garrosh

9) Deathstalker Rexxar 

Hearthpwn Pre-release Poll

1) Uther of the Ebon Blade

2) Thrall, Deathseer

3) Bloodreaver Gul’dan

4) Valeera the Hollow

5) Shadowreaper Anduin

6) Frost Lich Jaina

7) Scourgelord Garrosh

8) Deathstalker Rexxar

9) Malfurion the Pestilent

My Pre-release Rating 

1) Malfurion the Pestilent

2) Valeera, the Hollow

3) Bloodreaver Gul’dan

4) Frost Lich Jaina

5) Shadowreaper Anduin

6) Uther of the Ebon Blade

7) Thrall, Deathseer

8) Scourgelord Garrosh

9) Deathstalker Rexxar

Obviously, none of these polls are perfect, but with some extrapolation they provide a good-sized representation of the community’s thoughts at the time.

My thought process when rating Hero cards was as follows:

Playability: This is a very broad umbrella that I will be using to refer to a variety of different characteristics of Hero cards, which are:

  • Mana Cost: A lot of the value of Hero cards is in the Hero Power, meaning that time is a key resource; the sooner you can play a Hero card, the more uses you would get out of the Hero Power, and the more value you could squeeze. As such, I identified mana cost as one of the main prohibitive factors of Hero cards, and reasoned that one average the cheaper ones would be better than the rest.
  • Immediate Impact: This was the most important one since these cards are very expensive, and they need to have some form of impact if you are to live to see your next turn. The Battlecry effect is also the one part of the card that was guaranteed value, and therefore you would get to see the most often.
  • Hero Power: This was essentially a way of measuring how strong the card was as a standalone entity. If the Hero Power could generate a lot of value on its own, or if it required the support of other cards to function. This also involved comparing your normal Hero Power with the brand new one.
  • Context: This meant whether the card already fit within an existing archetype present in the current metagame, or whether the card was strong enough to create a new archetype on its own. This also included any relevant interactions with already existing cards, such as how existing Elementals interacted with Frost Lich Jaina.

Flavour: Most people may not care about this as much as I do, but I was really interested on what sort of twists they came up for each of the 9 Heroes. Why would they become Death Knights, and how do they act as one? This also accounts for the quality of the Emotes (in particular how they changed with respect to the normal heroes), which if I’m honest is where half the fun of playing a Hero card is for me.

 

With our criteria defined, this is how I would rank the 9 Death Knight Hero cards post-release in the Wild format.


Uther of the Ebon Blade

9) Uther of the Ebon Blade 

Unlike almost everyone at the time, I wasn’t impressed at all with this card outside of its flavor. To me it felt like most of the value of the card was in the Lifesteal weapon, but the fact that weapon hate is so powerful and easily accessible to everyone made me think this would be unlikely to be too competitive, especially at such a high cost. Also the fact that this couldn’t really be played on curve alongside Tirion Fordring (due to either weapon replacing the other one) was a big turn off for me. While the Hero Power is super flavourful and is technically an upgrade, it just pales in comparison to what other Hero cards are doing. That said, I feel like I did buy a bit into the hype for otherwise I would’ve placed this lower, especially because the flavour of the Four Horsemen is just so cool. However, the reality is that we live in a meta game where Tirion  is arguably too slow for the format as is, with most Midrange Paladin lists cutting him in favour of Bonemare, making the likelihood of the Ebon Blade seeing play very small. If Control Paladin ever makes a comeback, you can bet that this card will play a massive role in it by adding some very dangerous late game. But until that fateful day, Uther of the Ebon Blade remains a great meme card when you feel like playing some non-Mage Exodia decks.

 

Scourgelord Garrosh8) Scourgelord Garrosh

Similar to Uther, the fact that most of the value of this card seemed to be on the weapon was a big turn off for me. The Hero Power seemed like more of a side-grade than an upgrade at first glance, especially with how reliant Control Warrior decks have been on the Armor Up! Hero Power in order to even stand a chance against all the aggression of the format. Looking back, I really underestimated the usefulness of triggering stuff like Battle Rage and Sleep with the Fishes essentially for free. Even without any synergies, at least Bladestorm can be used as decent removal, being at worst equivalent to a Fireblast ping and getting better with more minions in play, whereas The Four Horsemen summons weak 2/2s that can be dealt with relative ease. Another thing that I failed to see at the time just how well Shadowmourne  synergizes with the Hero Power, allowing you to craft the perfect clears turn after turn. The main issue is that Scourgelord Garrosh hasn’t really found much of a home in Wild. The memetastic Mill Warrior popularized by Dog is a well known spot for Scourgelord, but Wild variations of the deck tend to for go the traditional “kill everything” plan in favour of a combo-style finish built around Brann Bronzebeard and Iron Juggernaut for mutiple Pyroblasts to the face, making the Sourgelord not as desirable. The Wild format does offer plenty of opportunites to experiment, particularly in Patron Warrior builds. However, the Warrior class in general has suffered greatly from the nerf to Fiery War Axe, and the traditional Control Warrior deck struggles in the current meta against both Jade and Razakus. While the Warrior class may have brighter days to look upon in the future, in the current meta Scourgelord remains near the bottom of the list.

Valeera the Hollow

 

7) Valeera the Hollow

Very expensive, but my thought process was that this was pretty close to Ice Block. Nigh-immunity for one turn seemed pretty powerful, especially when it could be followed up with something like Vanish. And if you do manage to survive after playing this, you essentially get to double all you’re draws by copying a card of your choice from your hand, as long as it costs 5 or less. You get to double dip on some of Rogue’s powerful Combos like Cold Blood and Eviscerate for insane reach, or Vilespine Slayer for insane tempo. I still believe this too be an incredibly powerful card, it’s just that, similar to the Scourgelord,  the decks it has found home in aren’t too competitive yet. There were some Standard Miracle lists that tried to abuse Arcane Giant along with Vanish and the Shadow Reflection Hero Power in order to essentially generate extra copies of the Giants, allowing you to play two 8/8’s every turn in an attempt to overwhelm your opponent. While promising, this list just seemed way to slow for the Wild meta game in my opinion, as it pales in comparison to what the Naga Sea Witch decks can pull off at the moment, both faster and with way less effort. Other decks where Valeera gets to shine in are Malygos Rogue, where it can help you double up your burn spells for massive burst, as of course Mill Rogue, which seems like less and less of a meme deck with every expansion.  Mill Rogue so far has proven to be the most promising out of the three decks, but even with the power of the Scourge the deck remains a niche pick for when you feel like targeting particular Control or Combo decks . As such, Valeera the Hollow remains at #7, for at least she has found a home in the format, albeit not a very competitive one for now.

 

Thrall Deathseer6) Thrall, Deathseeer

As soon as he was revealed it was obvious that Deathseer would have a home in Evolve Shaman. Being the cheapest out of all the Death Knights also couldn’t hurt its chances. I’m not really a fan of Evolve effects in general; while it’s certainly a unique and somewhat interesting space for Shaman to play in, I just find it too unreliable and irritating to play with. It’s just not fun for me. Even when ignoring all my personal biases, I wasn’t even sure that this card would be good in Evolve Shaman; the Hero Power seemed like a downgrade since it does nothing if you don’t have minions, while also removing a free source for minions for all the other cards in your deck that rely on board presence to function.  I just wasn’t sure that the deck would want a third copy of a Bloodlust-like effect. After a few months of development, it seems like the answer is that yes, Evolve Shaman does want more Bloodlust-like effects. Turns out that jumping two steps in Cost as oppossed to one makes a massive difference in the power level of Evolve effects. Another thing that I didn’t considered was how the Hero Power could be used to refresh large minions after trading, essentially healing them for free, which makes sticking a body for the next Hero Power much easier than I expected. Even still, I see little reason to play Evolve Shaman over Aggro Shaman in Wild, so I’m still not a fan of this card. As such, it remains in the lower half of the pack.

 

Deathstalker Rexxar

5) Deathstalker Rexxar

This was the first Hero card that was spoiled, and for a long time it was regarded by people as the worst of the 9, including myself. While a 6 mana Consecration with some Armor gain attached seemed passable, the Hero Power seemed so awfully slow that I had a hard time imagining this would see play. The fact that the minion was added to your hand rather than being put into play, as well as the limiting the pool to minions that cost 5 or less all made the Hero Power seem worse than it is. Flexibility is something that has historically been underestimated, and so the ability of Build-a-beast to create a minion to your specifications depending on the circumstances was something that most people probably didn’t consider. For this card, I think I underestimated just how fun it is to play with this card. Even when you are losing, crafting Zombeasts is just so entertaining that it barely even matters. Overall, I feel like a certainly underestimated this card. It is a fantastic tech-card for Hunter decks who are looking to go toe-to-toe against decks like Jade Druid.

 

Frost LIch Jaina

4) Frost Lich Jaina

There’s few things that feel better than turning the tide of battle against an aggressive opponent with an slew of heals and freeze effects. But the main thing that impressed me about this card is just how good of a standalone card it was. Yeah, you could build an Elemental theme around her, but you don’t need to do it for her to be good. Just cast your Frost Lich, and spam removal while you build an army for free. While she’s quite expensive and essentially forces you to skip your turn, this is less of a concern in a class that has access to Ice Block to buy yourself a free turn. Overtime she’s become my favourite Death Knight out of the nine. The moment she hits the board, it’s like you are suddenly playing a completely different game, where both players are looking for ways to min/max the amount of value the new Hero Power gets to generate, leading to a fairly interactive experience. Despite how powerful she is, currently controlling Mage decks, like Reno Mage, struggle in the current meta. With a deck that has historically been favoured against aggressive decks, the current meta of Razakus Priests doesn’t do Jaina any favours. While the Mage class survives on the back of Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker, the Frost Lich patiently awaits its turn to strike fear in the hearts of its enemies. 

 

Bloodreaver Gul'Dan

3) Bloodreaver Gul’dan

This card was the one I was most excited for in Wild, for obvious reasons. Being able to ressurect Mal'Ganis along with a full army of Demons seemed absolutely amazing. And that Hero Power is pretty much every Control Warlock’s dream come true, providing removal, reach, and the ever so important heals all in one. Not to mention just how cool the idea of Gul’dan becoming a vampire actually is. The fact that this card on its own managed to powercreep both Lord Jaraxxus and [N’zoth the Corruptor] in one fell swoop is both exciting and terrifying, a true testament to its power. Turns out that forcing you to invest an entire turn casting it makes it pretty balanced though.  This is the second Hero card I feel I was most accurate on, being pretty good but not necessarily at the very top. As one of the core cards of a revitalized Demon-focused Renolock, Bloodreaver gets to proudly sit near the top of the pack.

 

2) Malfurion the PestilentMalfurion the Pestilent

From my biggest miss we jump to probably my biggest hit. While most comments before release seemed focused on how low-value his Choose One ability seemed (7 mana for two 1/5 Taunts or two 1/2 Poisonous), I was thinking “Oh god, you can play a Death Knight on turn 3!”. Now, even after the Innervate nerf, Malfurion the Pestilent has pretty much become an auto-include in any Druid deck that isn’t trying to kill you by turn 5. He simply does it all; he gives you healing, reach, removal, and value all in one card. Most importantly, the nature of the Choose One mechanic makes him extremely flexible, allowing you to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in. As mentioned before, flexibility has historically been one of the most underrated aspects during pre-release card evaluation; a recent example would be how underrated Hydrologist was before release. And to top it off, I absolutely love the fantasy of Malfurion become a literal Lord of the Flies, bringing all the creepy crawlies out to play. As a newest addition to the list of auto-include Druid cards, Malfurion the Pestilent sits second in command on this list.

 

1) Shadowreaper Anduin

This is probably my biggest miss, and goes to show how important and how difficult it is to think of cards within context. Shadowreaper Anduin (or Shaduin as I like to call him) is NOT a problematic card on its own by any stretch. He is surprisingly balanced in a vacuum, due to the way the game naturally caps your mana at 10. This makes you have to choose between using cheap cards for multiple pings a turn (spending a fifth of your mana on each ping), or playing your expensive, likely more impactful cards. In his normal state, Shaduin deals an average of 4 damage a turn, which is good but not insane. What’s problematic is how he interacts in combination with Raza the Chained, removing the main safety valve of the Voidform Hero Power, which leads to a repeatable source of damage that you can use for no mana as long as you have cards in hand. I really underestimated the power of this combo, and as such rated Shaduin way lower than he really deserved before release. But even without any of the Voidform non-sense, Shaduin has one off, if not the best Battlecry effects out of all the Hero cards, essentially giving Priest access to Twisting Nether, allowing you to remove most of the big on-board pressure that would punish you for otherwise skipping your turn. As the center piece in Razakus Priest, the top deck in the Wild metagame, Shaduin remains far above at the top of the list until any balance changes are made.

 

Conclusion

And with that, I thank you for reading this article. Feel free to leave any comments as to what you liked, what could improve, and whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts. Hopefully taking a look at my thought process helped you learn a thing or two about card evaluation, right in time for the upcoming expansion announcement! Until then, stick around for more content, and see you soon!

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. greencoaster says:

    Shaduin is way better than Scorrosh. In both, game and name.

    • Deadhour says:

      …Which is why he’s #1, as opposed to Scorrosh being #8? I don’t get your point.

      • greencoaster says:

        just tried out the name pun which somehow was uneffective

        • Deadhour says:

          Well to be fair, since your comment I’ve gone on to adopt the name Scorrosh into my own vocabulary when referring to the Warrior DK, so I’d say you were more effective than you think : )

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