Hearthstone keeps on expanding, and now it has once again via the release of Witchwood. The new expansion also meant a change of year, from Mammoth to Raven, and with that, three expansions were taken out from the Standard circulation: Whisper of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. In other words, 135 cards were introduced, and more than 400 where taken out - which of course meant a lot of changes to the meta-game.
Among the 135 new cards there are two new game mechanics: Echo and Rush. Echo applies to both minions and spells, and are cards that can be played more than once in a single turn, provided you have enough mana crystals of course. Phantom Militia, for example, is a 2/4 minion with Taunt, which costs three mana crystals. This means that with nine mana crystals, you can summon it three times in a single turn. Sound the Bells is a Paladin spell that costs two mana crystals, and it offers +1/+2 to a minion. This means that, with four mana crystals, you can apply it twice, and with ten, you can apply it five times.
This makes Echo a very versatile mechanic, meaning that it can be adapted to suit different contexts. Let us again use the Phantom Militia as an example. If on the third turn your opponent already has several minions on the board, you may want to play Militia immediately in order to try and contain those nasty minions. In doing so, you can only play it once, since you only have three mana crystals at that stage. If you can wait until later, however, when you have more mana crystals, you can play it more than once as described above. The Echo cards allow for this flexibility, where you must consider whether it is best to play the card sooner, or later, and multiple times in a row.
Rush is a much simpler mechanic, and also, less interesting. In essence, they are similar to the Charge minions, although they're worse since they can only attack other minions when played. There are some promising minions in there, and we've already seen some interesting concepts with decks based around it, but in practice, we've yet to see them properly realised. At least for now, there are very few decks built around this mechanic, and those who have Rush minions in their decks usually use them as a utilitarian card, without a real impact in their game plan.
Witchwood is inspired by supernatural elements, and Worgens (Warcraft's werewolves) are a big part of that. This allowed Blizzard to present some cool new cards based on the Worgen's ability to transform between human and beast. The Pumpkin Peasant, for instance, is a 2/4 minion with Lifesteal, which costs three mana crystals. But, due to his Worgen nature, he will turn into a 4/2 in the turn after you draw him. Whenever he's in the player's hand, the Pumpkin Peasant, and other similar cards alternate between the two states in each turn, making them interesting dynamic cards. It is up to the player to decide what the most advantageous transformation is, depending on the context of the game.
Among the 135 cards, one is proving to be extremely popular: Baku, the Moon Eater. It's a legendary 7/8 minion that costs nine mana crystals. By itself Baku isn't particularly interesting, but his special ability is very attractive. As long as the player only holds odd cards in his deck, his heroic power will be improved before the game starts. This means that the Warrior can equip four points of armor, the Paladin can summon two 1/1 minions, and the Hunter can deal three points of damage to the opponent, as examples.
Having this kind of ability so soon in the game is proving to be an attractive advantage many players are adopting. The prospect of abandoning even-handed cards is not particularly pleasant, true, but this doesn't seem to be discouraging players. Still, not everyone is using Baku, and we have seen several high-quality decks that don't use the card.
In addition to the 135 new cards, the expansion will also introduce Monster Hunt, a single-player mode. Whenever you start an adventure you will have to choose between four special heroes in order to defeat eight increasingly difficult bosses without losing. When you lose, the adventure ends, and you will receive a reward. The value of that reward will be set by the number of enemies you defeated during the adventure. It seems to be a fun proposal, but for now, it's impossible to evaluate since Monster Hunt will only be released in the coming weeks.
Witchwood is yet another quality expansion for Hearthstone which, in conjunction with the change of year, has brought plenty of changes to the game and its decks. As it stands there are many "cookie cutter" decks, which is normal, but we believe there is potential for some interesting arrangements after players start to experiment a bit more with the cards. We were somewhat disappointed with Rush, a far less dynamic and interesting mechanic than Echo, but still, even if only one of two new mechanics proves to be a great addition to the game, that's still a win in our book.