Latest Hearthstone Expansion Marches Into Uncharted Territory

Hearthstone, Blizzard’s flagship online card game, releases a new expansion every four months. December’s launch debut – March of the Lich King – moves the game forward in ways it never could in years past.

March of the Lich King marks the 29th expansion for Hearthstone since its release in March of 2014. I started playing in August of 2015, and haven’t looked back. Although I haven’t played every expansion through their lifespans, I’ve experienced nearly everyone. The seasonal changes that affect the game’s structure have kept me playing all of these years.

How does an online card game last nearly nine years and keep things fresh? The developers at Blizzard made sure that only cards released within the last two years are active for ranked online play in standard matches. Three additional online match-making modes use additional cards from years past, but I’m not interested in what Hearthstone was – I’m interested in where it’s going.

A New Expansion Brings A New Solo Adventure

Hearthstone Arthas

The March of the Lich King expansion is accompanied by a new Solo Adventure – a prologue following Arthas Menethil’s descent. It’s as good as you’d expect it can be in adapting World of Warcraft lore into a card game. But the real highlight of the prologue is getting to play with each of the new decks that were added to Hearthstone for the game’s newest class: Death Knight.

Unlike in years past, March of the Lich King offers three new deck archetypes that revolve around the new Death Knight class. These are hybrid versions of established decks for the other ten classes from Warlock to Demon Hunter.

As baseline decks in Hearthstone go, you have your aggressive, control, or mid-range decks – a combination of the first two. However, wide varieties exist within these archetypes, too. 

The new Death Knight cards add additional complexity to the game’s meta which will be difficult to measure on day one, but a few things stood out right away.

Three New Deck Archetypes Breathe New Life Into An Old Meta

New decks in the expansion

The Death Knight class allows players to mix and match cards of different Rune types into their deck. These rune types are Blood, Frost, or Unholy, each with advantages and drawbacks.

During the prologue, I didn’t have much trouble defeating the computer-controlled enemies. Interestingly, in a live match, these decks perform differently than you’d expect. 

I’m not sure equating these Blood, Frost, or Unholy decks as a rock-paper-scissors allegory works well, either. I only have one deck for Death Knight that is of one rune type, Unholy, and I won only two matches out of six. When I switched to the Frost Death Knight deck, I also had some Blood rune cards. I faced off against an opponent with only Unholy rune cards in their deck, and I managed to secure a come-from-behind win on my first attempt.

With any card game, randomness is to thank for many comebacks, but so is strategy. I thwarted my opponent’s game plan by randomly destroying a card they needed to secure a late-game victory. From there, I had to fend off an onslaught of enemy minions – even sacrificing one of my own to regain health to last at least one more turn.

Battlegrounds in Hearthstone

This victory was quite fun, and showcased the strength of what Death Knight brings to the table: If you have multiple rune types in your deck, it’ll feel like you’re playing two different types of decks, or classes, at once.

So, what does this mean for the other ten classes of Hearthstone? They’re clearly not outmatched, thanks to their March of the Lich King cards. Unlike Death Knights, the other classes don’t have any exclusive rune cards to use. Still, they have been awarded cards that enhance minion stats or flood the board with difficult-to-deal-with taunt minions or spells that can remove any pesky nuisances. 

Changes Will Come, But What Comes After?

What comes next for Hearthstone?

It’ll be interesting to see what nerfs hit which cards in the coming weeks, as is standard practice to attempt to make every class’s cards more balanced during live matches. But a more intriguing development, in my opinion, will be witnessing how the meta evolves over the next four months. 

Most of the matches I played on day one of the launch featured other opponents playing the Death Knight class as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if people had an idea of what works best for the new class within two weeks. Coupled with the fact that major Hearthstone players and streamers have posted clips of their games days before the official launch, and you have a recipe for greatness.

That said, the new cards from March of the Lich King won’t rotate out of standard play until late 2024, or perhaps early 2025. And since current standard play uses cards within the last two years, there may be four or more expansions over the next year, alone.

I’d love to see how the Hearthstone developers innovate in future expansions, because the new Death Knight class feels so thematically interesting to play as. Hearthstone players had nine classes to play as for the first six years, until Demon Hunter came into the fray in 2020, forever changing the meta.

Now with Death Knight in the rotation, Hearthstone veterans will have to learn how to play as – and play around – a new class, yet again.

Time will tell if the new cards are a signal to the player base that deck-building will become more creative going forward or not. Death Knights will always have their three runes to build decks with from this expansion onward, but if the developers transfer over more classes from World of Warcraft into Hearthstone, I could imagine Blizzard has a card game on their hands that they can keep going for the next decade.

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