Today Blizzard announced its next Hearthstone expansion, the spooky haunted forest theme titled The Witchwood. And though the company has only revealed six cards so far, those six pack a lot of flavor and implications for this expansion’s direction–especially thanks to the introduction of two new keywords. Let’s take a closer look.
Pumpkin Peasant – This card is actually represented as a pair, because as it sits in your hand it will shift from a 2/4 minion to a 4/2 and back again. Hearthstone has certainly toyed with similar effects before, with cards like Molten Blade or Shifting Scroll changing to randomized cards from a pool of weapons or Mage spells, respectively. This represents a different type of shifting, though, because it occurs in a predictable pattern. That means you can plan several turns ahead, knowing exactly what it will be when you need to drop it. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Blizzard continuing this idea with more cards that shift in your hand in a clockwork pattern.
Phantom Militia – This is the first of two new keywords introduced in this expansion. The Echo keyword allows you to play a card multiple times in a single turn. While Blizzard has executed a similar idea in the Shaman’s Unstable Evolution card, giving it a keyword suggests the developer has much bigger plans for this mechanic, in this expansion and beyond. Keywords can also signal interactions with other cards that may let you perform tricks like reducing costs or increasing effects.
The card itself is a fine utility staple, giving you a decent Taunt minion that can be doubled or tripled up as necessary. It’s not the most exciting inclusion, so the introduction of a keyword is really the more interesting element here.
Milita Commander – The only class card introduced so far in this set is a Warrior card that debuts the other new keyword, Rush. Rush is essentially Charge, which allows a minion to attack on the turn it is played, but it’s limited only to other minions. We can already see how this new keyword is opening up additional design space for Blizzard. This minion would be way too powerful if it could attack the enemy Hero, but as limited to other minions it seems pretty fair.
The studio has tried to implement a similar limitation before with Charged Devilsaur, which inserted the minions-only limitation as a Battlecry. It was possible to cheat around the Battlecry though, so devoting a new keyword should avoid that problem altogether.
Azalina Soulthief – One of the neutral Legendary cards already revealed, Azalina Soulthief could allow for some huge gameplay moments. If you’re running out of cards against an opponent with a full hand, it’s an easy way to swing the game back in your favor. Alternatively, if you suspect your opponent is putting together a wicked combo, you can take their pieces and try to pull it off yourself. It’s easy to see how this could become a tech card against powerful decks, since it has such an immediate effect to answer whatever your opponent has coming.
Genn Greymane – This is one of a pair of cards with similar effects that are vitally incompatible. In the past, Hearthstone has printed cards that upgrade your Hero Power, and cards that reduce the cost of your Hero Power. With the ability to use both together, players have put together combo decks like Shadowreaper Priest that were too powerful and subsequently needed to be nerfed. Greymane gives the power-reduction effect, but only if you construct your deck with even-costed cards. That could be a serious disruption to your play tempo and limit your options, but as a trade-off, the impact is available right from the start of the game.
Baku the Mooneater – The mirror image of Greymane is Baku, which upgrades your Hero Power from the very start by building a deck of only odd-cost cards. These upgraded powers will presumably be similar to the ones introduced by Justicar Truehart, which rotated out of Standard a long time ago. Greymane’s cost-reduction will likely make its limitations easier to deal with, but having an upgraded Hero Power from the very start of the game could see you through.
Most importantly, since it’s impossible to build a deck out of only even and only odd cards, you can’t use Greymane and Baku together. Forcing players to choose a lane should make for more diverse strategies.
The Witchwood will launch in mid-April with 135 new cards. Blizzard has opened pre-purchases of a bundle that includes 70 packs, with a few packs and a free Class Legendary available as a login bonus near launch. It will kick off the Year of the Raven, which will also mean older sets will be cycled out at the same time.