The Whispers of the Old Gods expansion was announced on March 11 and Blizzard has begun a slow reveal to build anticipation for the launch of all 134 cards this spring. Many of the cards that have been revealed are individually strong and emphasize the importance of control and anti-aggro. However, a significant portion of cards in the set will most likely revolve around one legendary in particular - C’Thun. As the official Hearthstone announcement says, “Where there’s a god, there’s a cult, and C’Thun especially is bringing plenty of friends to the table.”
Considering that a large amount of card power has already been allocated to C’Thun synergy, it is likely that Blizzard will invest a large portion of the remaining power to C’Thun combos as well. If this holds true, this expansion might prove to be the most linear and potentially non-interactive to date.
Eventually, the community will figure out which C’Thun cards are worth inclusion and which classes can most effectively utilize the C’Thun synergy, potentially leading to a few C’Thun decks rising above the rest. At launch, the metagame could devolve from the large pool of competitively viable decks that are played now, to a puddle of two or three strong C’Thun decks.
There was a similar effect with the last League of Explorers expansion with cards like Reno Jackson and Elise Starseeker. Renolock and an early iteration of Reno Fatigue Warrior quickly emerged as the most effective Reno decks and choked out any other instance of Reno-themed decks from competitive play. In the case of Elise Starseeker, Priest and Warrior also found ways to use Elise in a fatigue-oriented strategy, relying on their abundance of hard removal and survivability throughout the game and swapping out dead cards in the last few turns to reload in the face of large threats.
Of course, with numerous expansions backing up other deck lists, there is currently plenty of variation providing a diverse and dynamic ranked environment. Unfortunately, when Whispers of the Old Gods launches, two sets wielding the most impact, The Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes, will be rotated out of competitive play and numerous popular decks will be leaving with them.
Luckily for players, the new expansion has already shown glimmers of hope for deck diversity. Cards like N’Zoth’s First Mate, Hallazeal the Ascended, Forbidden Shaping, and Tentacles of N’Zoth all seem individually impactful enough to influence the state of the meta and ladder experience.
N’Zoths First Mate is similar to a scaled down Muster for Battle from the Paladin class. For one mana, you get a 1/1 body and a 1/3 weapon. On turn one, this is an incredibly strong tempo swing that can help clear a lot of early game minions and defend against hyper-aggressive decks. The inclusion of a viable one-mana weapon option might push the Enrage theme to playability.
The Enrage theme has another new tool added to its disposal in the form of Tentacle of N’Zoth, a one-mana 1/1 with Deathrattle (deal 1 damage to all minions). With Death’s Bite rotated out, this card serves as a cheap replacement for themes that need the Whirlwind effect. With new and cheap forms of Whirlwind effects available, we could see a reemergence of Patron-themed decks, utilizing combos with cards like Tentacles of N’Zoth, Whirlwind, and the like, especially when you consider that Emperor Thaurissan can discount these combos down to zero mana after one turn of his effect.
Forbidden Shaping is the strongest Forbidden-themed card revealed in the Whispers of the Old Gods set so far. It is a great card to ensure a solid curve for decks that might be lackluster in one or two mana curve slots. Because the card works off of your remaining mana, it can be used at any point in the game to maintain tempo when your draws might have been weak otherwise. The only downside to this card is that it is exclusive to the Priest class.
Finally, Hallazeal the Ascended is a card that will likely find a place in competitive Shaman decks. As a five-mana 4/6, it enjoys premium stats for its mana cost. Its text, “Whenever your spells deal damage, restore that much health to your hero,” turns damage-based removal into removal and healing for the same mana cost.
With plenty of aggro and spell-driven Shaman decks currently on ladder, it is unknown how strong the class will be after the launch of the Standard format. If other powerful options are not included to revitalize the Shaman class, this card may end up never seeing play, despite its inherent strength.
While it is uncertain if Shaman will remain competitive, this card would have been guaranteed to see play in the Warlock class. With Warlock predicted as being one of the hardest-hit classes in the post-Standard environment, it really needs a card of this caliber to help it fill some of the holes that Naxx and GvG are leaving behind.
Still, there are plenty of cards waiting to be revealed and we are on a good starting path towards healthy deck diversity and balance. Hopefully we will see more potential for deck diversity in the coming weeks in order to keep C’Thun from monopolizing the ladder.