Kobolds & Catacombs could be Hearthstone's scariest expansion yet

Kobolds & Catacombs, which launched in NA and EU today, is going to have a huge impact on Hearthstone. It contains some of the strongest cards in recent memory (maybe ever), and some of the most complicated. It's giving every class a weapon for the first time. And it comes with Dungeon Run, a bespoke, free-to-play single-player mode. The dust around the set is still settling, so it's unclear how much its impact will be concentrated in the immediate meta, or if it will trickle down to future expansions. Either way, Kobolds & Catacombs will definitely be an expansion to remember.

Sleeper hits

From Spellstones to Spiteful Summoners, these are five Kobolds and Catacombs cards we think will be surprise sleeper hits.

Everyone's wondering if and how K&C will shake up the long-established Priest and Druid meta. That's certainly possible, but Priest received some of the strongest cards in the set, and Jade Druid wasn't really missing anything either, so change won't come easy. Lots of new cards are also in the unfortunate position of being compared to standbys like Bonemare, which can make changes hard to justify. 

Many cards with the new keywords are among those struggling to stand out. There aren't many head-turners in Spellstones, Unidentified Items and Recruit cards. Recruit's tameness was especially surprising given its ancestor: Barnes, who's intermittently terrorized the ladder for years. According to senior game designer Peter Whalen, that's no accident: learning from Barnes was integral to balancing Recruit. 

"One of the things we learned with Barnes is that we want some of those moments that are super exciting," Whalen said. "And I'm still going to get huge minions in play, but we want to push them back a bit. That turn-six point seems like the sweet spot to feel like your opponent's had time to develop answers, you've had time to find your cards and understand what the early game's going to play like."

Spellstones have a little more bite to them. Jasper Spellstone gives Druid better minion removal and may push a Miracle Jade Druid, the healing on Warlock's Amethyst Spellstone should not be underestimated, and Jesse reckons Hunter's Emerald Spellstone and Warrior's Mithril Spellstone may surprise us. In the same vein, Unidentified Elixir is going to be good in Priest because buffs are good in Priest. That said, I'm more concerned with the decks they're going to fall into. 

Dark horses

First impressions for Hunter, Warrior, Shaman and Paladin are middling to weak. They got some groundwork cards that could establish interesting archetypes once they have another expansion under their belt, but mostly the classes got a bunch of average stuff. And average stuff doesn't cut it in a Bonemare, Jade Idol, Shadowreaper Anduin meta. 

But there are some cards that could overthrow Priest and Druid. Warlock, Mage and Rogue got a ton of powerful stuff that already feels fleshed-out. Kobold Librarian, Vulgar Homunculus and Hooked Reaver are strong tools for Zoolock; Aluneth could give Burn Mage the engine it needs; Dragon's Fury and Dragoncaller Alanna may inspire Big Spell Mage; Fal'dorei Strider is a powerful new tool in Miracle Rogue; and Kingsbane and Cavern Shinyfinder may be enough to build Weapon Rogue. 

Zoolock will be around as long as there are cheap, efficient minions. That's a given. And while Zoolock is strong against Druid, I think Mage and Rogue have a better shot at rocking the boat, particularly Aluneth-fueled Burn Mage and Spider-filled Miracle Rogue. Razakus Priest doesn't run much healing and struggles against Ice Block, and Burn Mage doesn't care about Jade Druid's board state. And historically, Miracle Rogue is good against both Priest and Druid.  

But just as there's real potential for decks like these to shut out the top classes, there's room for the latter to evolve as well. Between Twilight Acolyte and Duskbreaker, Blizzard has practically forced Dragon Priest on us. It is going to be strong, and Dragon Priest is good against classes that Priest usually struggles with, including Rogue. Razakus Priest also got a powerful new board clear in Psychic Scream. Similarly, Twig of the World Tree and Ixlid, Fungal Lord may be the keys to a crazy combo Druid, and Branching Paths will only make existing Druid decks more consistent. 

My point is, there are a lot of dice in the air. One way or another, cool stuff is about to happen. And while it's easy to assume Priest will only become more dominant, it's a hell of a lot more fun to be optimistic. Which is basically what we heard from Whalen, who said he's pretty pleased with the current meta. 

"With the new expansion coming out, it's going to change things," Whalen said. "Things always change when something new comes out, we'll see what the metagame shifts are. And if we need to, we'll act accordingly afterwards. The metagame is actually pretty awesome right now. We see a number of decks at the top tier that are different and play different. We're actually seeing the metagame constantly evolve. Big Druid just kind of came out as the ramping Druid deck and it's very powerful, and that's great to see. We see the aggressive Rogue decks, we see the Priest decks. A lot of classes have a lot of options for how they can play." 

Battlecry: Destroy Fun

Acidic Swamp Ooze has been a staple tech card since vanilla Hearthstone. Together with Gluttonous Ooze, Harrison Jones and even Poisonous Swamp Ooze, it has the potential to stonewall the new legendary weapons. 

Regardless of how viable they are, all classes are going to have even more options moving into K&C. Legendary weapons are a big part of that. Aluneth is an extreme example, but even cards like Rhok'delar, Hunter's inflexible legendary weapon, ask big questions. That said, the biggest question is whether the family of weapon-destroying ooze cards will ruin all the fun. Whalen, for one, isn't that worried.

"Depending on how the meta game plays out, it might become, 'yes, ooze is really important,' or it might not," he said. "But I think it's great that there is that safety valve, that ooze exists, that Harrison Jones exists, and that other ooze exists, and also other ooze. It's great that those cards are out there so that, if there are a lot of weapons and that becomes something that's really dangerous, the community will have a way to respond to it." 

Whalen also rightly pointed out that some weapons are better against ooze than others. Aluneth and Rhok'delar get immediate value, and Kingsbane and Val'anyr are recurring threats. Contrastingly, Woecleaver and Skull of the Man'ari are very vulnerable to weapon destruction, which only pushes them further down the totem pole. And personally, I expect we'll have bigger problems to tech against than weapons. 

Brains and brawn

Powerful cards aren't the only reason K&C is so exciting, though. It also has some of the most complicated cards ever, which shows Blizzard is becoming more comfortable with printing complex effects. Rin, the First Disciple would never have been printed two years ago, and neither would Master Oakheart. Of course, Rin is too slow for words and Oakheart is still at the theorycrafting stage, but the fact that they exist at all is a step forward. It means we may see more layered, nuanced cards in the future instead of just bigger piles of stats. 

We'd like it so that you're not going to win every time. You're going to have opportunities to try weird and crazy things.

Peter Whalen

And if we're talking about promising precedents, Dungeon Run is king. It's not just complex; it is head-and-shoulders above all previous single-player content. Hard mode Adventure bosses don't even compare. Dungeon Run was designed to be played over and over, and according to Whalen, it was designed to be hard. 

"These days the designers who've played it the most can do six to eight bosses," he said. "We made it a little bit harder just before shipping, so that number might go down a little bit. We're aiming for very, very good players to do around six on average, maybe seven. And that means they'll win a number of times. But we'd like it so that you're not going to win every time. You're going to have opportunities to try weird and crazy things. If you want to build the all Pyroblast deck, more power to you." 

Dungeon Run is also home to some crazy, complex non-collectible cards. Doubling your health and casting infinite Pyroblasts are everyday activities down in the dungeon, and the sheer number of unique treasure cards on offer suggests it won't get stale for a while. Like the new decks K&C will inspire, Dungeon Run is a new way and a new reason to play Hearthstone, and that's exactly what the game needs right now.