Rise of Shadows is 2019's first expansion for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and in addition to introducing 135 new cards, it also marks the game's entry into the Year of the Dragon cycle. However, before we look at what has been introduced with Rise of Shadows, let's recall what was removed from the standard sets, as that's just as important because each time Hearthstone enters a new cycle, all the decks over two-years-old get removed.
This year that means Journey to Un'Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds & Catacombs were all removed from standard play. In addition to these three sets, other cards were removed, namely Doomguard, Naturalize, Divine Favor, Baku the Mooneater, Genn Greymane, Gloom Stag, Black Cat, Glitter Moth, and Murkspark Eel.
These withdrawals have brought about profound changes in Hearthstone, breaking many of the most popular deck types that players have been using in recent years. This, in turn, means players had to find new strategies and decks, and this is where Rise of Shadows' new cards come into play.
The theme of the new expansion is the Evil League, essentially a gathering of Hearthstone villains aiming to overthrow Dalaran, the neutral city of the Magi. The narrative context of the expansion is of little importance at the moment (it will be when the next Adventure comes out, but that is for later), what really matters is knowing the three new mechanics introduced.
The first is a new type of minions, Lackeys, 1/1 creatures who compensate for their poor attributes with powerful Battlecries. These minions are usually added to the player's hand through other cards, such as Raise the Morale (Warrior: Cause 1 damage, if the target survives add a Lackey to your hand).
Another novelty are Schemes, cards that improve for each turn in the player's hand. For example, the Warlock Rafaam's Scheme is a three mana spell that summons a 1/1 Goblin. Very weak in this initial state, but for each turn in the player's hand, it gets a new Goblin, which means that after six turns in the player's hand, you can summon six Goblins 1/1 for three mana.
Finally, we have Twinspells, spells that after use add a copy of itself to the player's hand, with the difference that they no longer add a card. For example, Desperate Measures of the Paladin is a double spell that costs 1 mana and casts a random secret from the Paladin. The Paladin then receives an identical spell in his hand, except that it will no longer be a double spell, but a regular one.
That trio represents the three new mechanics introduced by Rise of Shadows. These types of cards have their uses but they're also far from making a difference like the mechanics we've seen added in other expansions. There are no decks built around any of them, and many decks even do well without them, which is a bit disappointing. Fortunately, they are far from being the only cards in the expansion.
As we have already mentioned, the withdrawal of several cards as we move into the Year of the Dragon forced players to adapt, to create decks with the new cards. It's too early to say what the Hearthstone meta will look like in a few weeks, but what we've seen so far has pleased us. Hearthstone was becoming a "win condition" type game, with decks designed to win only one way, a way that virtually guaranteed absolute victory if it was fulfilled. This forced players to play for a single goal and made it impossible for others to react if the "win condition" was reached.
This is much less common in Rise of Shadow, which has more traditional decks. From what we've seen so far, there are virtually no win-conditions, and players have to play more naturally, trying to find ways to take their opponent's life. This makes the matches more unpredictable, dynamic, and interesting, and still allows a bigger variety of decks.
As we have already mentioned, it is too early to say what effect Hearthstone's Rise of Shadow will have in the long run, but for now, we are having more fun with the expansion than we've had in a long time. If the idea of more dynamic decks and fewer overpowered strategies pleases you, then it's worth taking a closer look at the current state of Hearthstone.