Hearthstone’s final annual expansion has earned a reputation for being a bit much come the end of the season. Not in terms of content, I’ll take all the new cards and mechanics I get in a game that can grow stale within a series of weeks.
No, I mean in terms of power. It happens with nearly every last expansion with the Hearthstone team usually dropping cards that are ludicrously more powerful than the cards released in the previous expansions of the year. It’s a double-edged sword in its execution: Introducing a set of cards that as a collective whole are generally more powerful is a way of providing tools to decks and classes that have been struggling in the metagame but also often provides those decks that are already insanely powerful even more opportunity to dominate.
Such was the case with the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion, lifting Warlock out from the depths with the introduction of Void Lord and Carnivorous Cube, making for an almost unbeatable control deck and in the same breath allowing Tempo Rogue, which was already a Tier 1 deck, even more room to play aggressively with Corridor Creeper. This is all to say that Descent of Dragons had somewhat of a reputation before it even launched and with many of the cards revealed leading up to the expansion going live and already appearing incredibly powerful, I think a lot of Hearthstone players drew a very tense breath. Yet despite those expectations I firmly believe that Descent of Dragons may be the most fun Hearthstone expansion I’ve played in a while.
Which I think says a lot about what the Hearthstone team was trying to do with this expansion. I’m not going to sit here and try and guess what the developer’s intentions were but I have to imagine that adding some fun into the meta-game was a large influence on their design goals. That could probably be said about any expansion, but the sort of cards introduced in DoD feel distinctly…joyful, I suppose.
I think it’s fair to say that the second dragons become the primary source of inspiration in anything most people are probably going to enjoy it a little more. Using Galakrond, the literal father of all dragon-kind in the Warcraft universe, as a source of power has allowed the developers to go into some really powerful and interesting decklists. That’s always the concern about introducing important Warcraft characters into Hearthstone: You want their card to reflect their power and significance. While we all bow our heads in mourning for poor Bolvar Fireblood, it’s nice to see that Galakrond not only carries a great deal of importance when designing decks around the class-specific mechanics, but that the bonuses he adds are both wonderfully flavourful and useful.
With the exception of Shaman having the most obviously broken version of Galakrond, something Blizzard has admitted to being in the process of nerfing as we speak, it’s nice that such a monumental character has a tangible effect on the game. Galakrond feels like C’thun but with more presence: He’s not the win condition you’re desperately searching for but the second he hits the board he has the power to gradually tip the game, helped along by his Invoke minions.
I’d like to take a second to go back to that word “fun”, the one that’s so dangerous to throw around in the Hearthstone community. It’s still far too early to comment on the meta-game, besides the obvious exception that Shaman is painfully dominant at the moment, so I won’t comment on what will definitely be strong in a month’s time. Yet what I think is feasible to comment on is how enjoyable so many of the classes are this expansion. I made for decks for Descent of Dragons: Malygos Handlock, Pirate Warrior, Ramp Dragon Druid and my personal favourite that I will make work again, Miracle Rogue.
They’ve had varying degrees of success, with Miracle Rogue often being demolished by the faster decks due to Rogue’s continued lack of effective board clears with Druid suffering the same problem. Pirate Warrior feels like a throwback to 2017 with the hyper-aggro deck bearing a lot of similarities to it’s older brother and Malygos Handlock…well, I’ll admit that was more for me. I like Malygos decks and it’s plain to see that a more Control orientated Handlock would no doubt be a lot more powerful, given how useful cards like Abyssal Summoner and Crazed Netherwing are. Yet they all still felt good to play.
I think that might be the crowning success of Descent of Dragons. The new cards and the decks using them just feel…good. Satisfying. Previously there were always archetypes and classes that felt distinctly weak, often a result of them receiving what felt like off-cuts. Yet Descent of Dragons feels like those well-designed cards vastly outweigh the bad ones. Look, you’ll always have something like Nozdormu, The Timeless or Nithogg that will likely never see play. That’s just a fact of designing for a card game that has hundreds of cards.
However, when you compare those stinkers to the monumental successes of Faceless Corrupter, Parachute Brigand and Dragonqueen Alexstrasza (and the, hopefully, eventual return of Highlander decks) I think Hearthstone might just be at it’s most enjoyable with this expansion. Which is a real relief considering that I found Saviours of Uldum thoroughly underwhelming. It’s clear that a lot of effort has been placed into allowing all players, old and new, an opportunity to get their Hearthstone experience started with a bang and I can only hope Blizzard retains this momentum going forward.
Praise be to Galakrond and all hail Pirate Warrior.
Last Updated: December 19, 2019