Barely a day has passed since the doors of Blackrock Mountain swung open, and players are already calling one of its new cards the most overpowered in Hearthstone. For those not up to speed, beating the boss of the first wing in the new single-player adventure mode rewards you with ‘Emperor Thaurissan’, ruler of the Dark Iron Clan and owner of lustrous beard. As we noted in our voluminous review of the new cards, Thaurissan's effect is straight up nuts. The card reads: “At the end of your turn, reduce the Cost of cards in your hand by (1).” Note that this isn’t a one-time deal either. So long as Thaurissan stays in play, which your opponent will be doing everything to prevent, the cost of your cards will drop every turn.
Already the Hearthstone subreddit is filling up with screengrabs of crazily underpriced combos which players have been able to pull off. Having immediately added Thaurissan to all my Druid decks, I can confirm that playing Force of Nature into double Savage Roar on turn nine feels as dirty as it does amazing. That said, I still found myself perfectly capable of losing plenty of games, and it’s also worth noting that Thaurissan is a Legendary, meaning you can only include one copy, and often won’t draw him at all in fast games. So, is he really overpowered, or is he exactly the kind of fresh thinking Hearthstone needs? I polled some pro players and streamers to see what they thought.
First up is Andrew ‘Kitkatz’ Deschanel, best known for popularising the Control Warrior deck. “From a casual standpoint, I love the card,” he told me, before reeling off a combo involving Worgens, Charge, Faceless Manipulator and Inner Rage that could potentially do 56 damage in a turn. “From a competitive standpoint, I hate the card. Unlike Loatheb, you cannot respond to Emperor Thaurissan with your own, since the mana reduction effect happens every turn, rather than as Battlecry. The response has to be removal of the minion, curtailing optimal mana usage, while simultaneously ramping your opponent's mana with the minion's effect.”
The fact that Thaurissan costs six mana, and doesn’t do anything to the board the turn you play him, means he seems to fit best in midrange and late-game orientated control decks, rather than faster aggro decks that look to have closed the game out by turn seven. To find out what an aggro specialist makes of the card, I spoke to Keaton ‘Chakki’ Gill, the Team Dignitas pro who’s arguably the greatest current exponent of the keep-hitting-them-in-the-face approach. He told me: “I like Emperor Thaurissan because he adds a powerful new mechanic to the game. His effect isn't a true RNG effect, but the cards in [your] hand when he’s played are somewhat random, so it introduces new possibilities that are hard to play around. That is slightly annoying, but ultimately I'm in favor of having powerful cards.”
Both players agreed that the kind of decks which would best fit Thaurissan will be those that tend to hoard lots of combo cards or rely on expensive Legendary creatures. That’s likely to mean Control Warrior, Handlock, Freeze Mage and pretty much any type of Druid since they can play the Thaurissan early using ‘ramp’ cards like Innervate and Wild Growth.
Is Thaurissan’s effect actually overpowered though? “Depends on the context,” replied Hearthstone analyst Nathan ‘That’s Admirable’ Zamora, who previously helped me with some coaching and has already crafted a golden Thaurissan. “If everyone's trying to hit you in the face with Leper Gnome and Wolfrider, then no! But he certainly can swing games that would otherwise be lost, and I don't want to see the mechanic used again for quite some time, but I think it's good to raise the bar.”
Brian Kibler, (of Brian Kibler Gaming), thinks the jury is out for now on whether Thaurissan is unbalanced. "I don't know whether it's overpowered," he said. "It's certainly scary, and has the potentially to be hugely powerful in the right situations. I think people kneejerk to call any card that allows powerful new things to happen 'OP', but good and overpowered are different things."
Chakki also think it’s too soon to start worrying about nerfs. “Not sure if I'm willing to call anything overpowered after one day of play, but he seems very strong currently. His counterplay is basically playing an aggressive deck from the start and ignoring him, which a lot of people dislike… Ultimately, I do think he will appear in a lot of decks, similar to Loatheb initially, which is something Blizzard dislikes.”
Despite Blizzard’s dislike for any card becoming ubiquitous, they haven’t seen fit to nerf Dr. Boom yet, so my guess is Thaurissan’s effect on the meta will be allowed to bed in for some time. And of course there are still another 26 cards still to come from Blackrock Mountain, though I’ll be surprised if any of them has quite such a dramatic impact. Kibler certainly expects Thaurissan to make his presence felt: "I can definitely see Emperor changing the metagame, because it's the sort of card that can make entirely new decks possible and existing ones more powerful. It doesn't impact the board the turn it comes into play, though, which will make it weak against the most aggressive decks."
Kitkatz and Chakki suspect Thaurissan’s arrival could even return us to the dark days of the pre-nerf Leeroy Jenkins era, when players were able to do enormous amounts of burst damage in combination with cards like Power Overwhelming and Faceless Manipulator. “I think he changes the way games will happen in a really relevant way, especially for spectators," says Chakki. “[Thaurissan] artificially brings overpowered cards and combos that were nerfed in the past back into the game occasionally. That can be fun to watch, but also frustrating to play against.”
It's interesting that Blizzard chose to put Thaurissan in the first wing of Blackrock Mountain, rather than making players wait the full five weeks to get their hands on what was already billed as the best card. That suggests Team 5 is intent on his power being available to as many people as possible. What say you, readers? Thaurissan OP, Blizzard nerf pls? Or do you feel, as I do, that he’s going to make for some really interesting games over the next couple of months. Let me know the most evil Thaurissan-powered combo you’ve pulled off in the comments. Bonus points if it involves beating a Face Hunter.