Hearthstone's new Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion is themed around a powerful set of Death Knight legendary cards, some of which have had a major effect on the meta. To help you decide which of these expensive cards to craft, I asked a panel of Hearthstone pros which they considered to be the most essential legendaries currently in the standard format. Each of the experts submitted a top 20, which I then combined with further research from conversations with players at major events which I've been casting to produce the master list you see here.
Since the release of Frozen Throne we've seen many existing deck archetypes—think Pirate Warrior, Jade Druid, and Murloc Paladin—remain powerful, while Priest has also enjoyed a resurgence. Overall the game has slowed down somewhat, which has led to a rise in popularity of cards that generate additional value. The Death Knights are of course strong in that regard, and you will find several of them scattered throughout our list.
Choosing which cards to craft is a very personal experience, and we've all blown dust on a legendary because we fell in love with its flavour. But our focus here is on the power level of the cards, and so each is presented with a short write-up explaining why the card is strong right now. You might want a particular legendary because it's playable in multiple decks, or perhaps it works best with your favourite class. However, the cards towards the top of the list are more likely to positively impact your results than those towards the bottom. That said, all our top 20 are potential game winners, so you should feel comfortable crafting any of them.
#20: Frost Lich Jaina
Despite the wall of text on Jaina that screams that she should be played in an Elemental deck, the card has so far found its niche as an alternate win condition for Control Mage decks. Full-on Elemental decks do not currently have the consistency required for high level play, although Baron Geddon’s new-found life as an Elemental is sometimes combined with Jaina to generate massive swing turns via a board clearing effect that also heals you.
As it turns out, the ability to create Water Elementals is usually enough value on its own. The diverse damage output of Mage's spells makes bringing enemy minions into ping range pretty easy, which means opponents are often punished for playing minions at all. Of course, this situation is win-win for the Mage, either they get another Water Elemental, or they gain control of the board. Once this process begins, Jaina restores lost Health at an alarming rate, which buys plenty of extra time to grind the game out.
The downside is that Jaina can be too slow against some aggressive decks, so she could fall out of favour if the meta speeds up. For now it seems her song of ice and fire is set to continue for at least another season.
#19: Scourgelord Garrosh
The venerable Control Warrior deck has been going through a period of change. The rise of Jade Druid, and the removal of Justicar Trueheart from Standard play, reduced both the viability of the archetype, and the interest of players in experimenting with it. But with Knights of the Frozen Throne came the introduction of Dead Man’s Hand. This epic card has given slowpoke Warrior mains hope, and injected interest back into the class. Although the inevitability posed by Jade Druid is still a problem, Warrior can now avoid fatigue in a similar fashion to using Jade Idol by re-shuffling its hand over and over again.
Damaging your own minions is an even larger part of modern Control Warrior builds than before. Cards like Acolyte of Pain and Armorsmith remain staples, but drawing cards with Battle Rage is also back, a bit like the good old Grim Patron days. This makes Scourgelord Garrosh's whirlwind-style hero power a useful commodity in both the control and mill variants of the deck.
What really pushes the card into playability, however, is Shadowmourne. We often talk about how good Ashbringer—the weapon generated when Tirion Fordring dies—is for controlling the board, but Shadowmourne arguably locks games down even harder. Against aggressive decks, one swing can potentially clear the board and effectively end the game.
It will be interesting to see what damage the nerf to Fiery War Axe does, but there are plenty of resources available to the class. Right now it's a work in progress, but it feels like a solid control archetype isn't far off. If that happens, Scourgelord Garrosh's visit to the top 20 will be more than a whirlwind tour.
#18 Thrall, Deathseer
The early debate around Thrall, Deathseer focused on whether the loss of the Totemic Call hero power would be too big a negative for the card to slot into Evolve Shaman. Now that we've had plenty of time to test the Death Knight, that seems much less of a concern. The replacement hero power, Transmute Spirit, can be used to generate a threat in a very different way to Totemic Call, by slowly boosting a single minion. Given that most Evolve Shaman decks have a wide array of small minions that are not particularly useful in the late game, this strategy is more effective that it might first appear.
At the current time, Thrall is mainly used as a third Evolve effect rather than inhabiting a new archetype. Having three ways to evolve your board rather than two represents a significant increase in consistency. Thrall does have some issues when compared to Evolve. For example, playing it on the same turn as Doppelgangster or Saronite Chain Gang is a much slower process, but on balance the gain in consistency has proved worth it.
As for other Shaman archetypes, such as Freeze, they haven't had much success so far. Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see if any slower decks end up using the Deathseer. Enthralling, you might say.
#17 The Curator
The case of The Curator is an odd one. The card ranked fifth last time around, and thus has seen a big fall, even though the discussion that applied then still applies now.
To discuss why it has dropped would involve a rather lengthy and boring case-by-case analysis of all of the decks it was previously played in, but the much shorter and snappier version is simply: Bonemare. The Curator and Bonemare are both cards which generate a lot of value, The Curator does this by drawing more cards, while Bonemare adds a large amount of stats to the board. Given that Bonemare does this while also adding immediate tempo to the game, and that both minions cost 7-Mana, The Curator does not always make the cut, as having too many expensive cards in your deck can mean you get left behind.
Don't be too distracted by the exact placement in our poll though—this is still a very powerful card, and sees plenty of play. Fetching up to three cards while getting in the way of an enemy attack is an absurd amount of value, and with Dragons, Murlocs, and Beasts still going strong in Standard, it looks like The Curator’s menagerie will be around until it rotates out next year.
#16: Edwin VanCleef
Edwin hates being on these lists because each appearance brings him closer to a potential nerf. The strength of the boss of the Defias Brotherhood is not only the chance to make an early 12/12, although obviously that's a big deal. The added benefit is that the cards which power up Edwin cheaply also help clear the board at the same time. Backstab can help remove opposing threats, while all manner combinations of Preparation, Eviscerate, Counterfeit Coin and Fan of Knives also help give him free rein to smash face.
All that said, Rogue players have long accepted that Edwin can't solo games often enough. Huge Questing Adventurers and cheap Arcane Giants are usually included to lend a hand too, as they benefit from the same synergies with cheap spells. Regardless, right now the class is far from overpowered against a field which includes aggressive decks that prey on Rogue's lack of healing.
#15: Medivh, the Guardian
Each time the meta slows down, Medivh gets a chance to live up to his Guardian moniker. Atiesh, his trusty weapon, is not only a value generator, but can also provide a handy additional ping effect on turns where you want to play huge spells. The traditional problem with an expensive spell, such as Twisting Nether, is that you don't develop anything of your own on the board that turn, handing initiative back to the opponent. In recent times, Firelands Portal and Ultimate Infestation have been the exceptions to that rule, but many big spells still suffer. Atiesh's minion-summon effect helps guard you while you fire off expensive spells—and in the instances where the spell summons minions already, it makes the game snowball even harder.
Let's also not lose sight of the fact that Medivh is also a 7/7 for 8-Mana, which is a reasonable threat in its own right. Presenting two different problems, which likely require different solutions (ie weapon and minion removal), can overload an opponent. Spare a thought for poor old War Golem, who just can’t get the staff these days.
On the next page: #14 to #6, including The Lich King and Kazakus...