"Wait, so how much does he cost now? Isn't that insane?" There is genuine incredulity in my spluttered questions, which were directed at the Hearthstone team over Skype two weeks ago. "It's a 7-Mana 2/4 that summons an 8/8 with charge? Is that not barmy?" On the Dave Kosak, the missions lead designer, who laughs raspily. "Honestly, I think our final design team had the same reaction," he says, adding that it took a lot of testing before they "finally felt comfortable enough to lean into the crazy". Nonetheless, as Liv Breeden, who is an initial designer on the design team notes, this new version of Brann Bronzebeard "sounds bonkers, right?"
Indeed it does. Part of my incredulity stems from the fact that prior to our conversation, this was not the card that Blizzard had sent me. In the run up to this reveal, I received a bunch of art, including the Dinotamer Brann card, which at that time had a different Battlecry that summoned two 5/5s with Rush (see panel). And truthfully, though I was excited for that card, I was nowhere near as hot for it as I am for this one. Check out Dinotamer Brann making his grand entrance in the video below.
You see, King Krush holds a special place in the black hearts of Hunter mains as one of the OG vanilla Hearthstone legendaries. It has one of the coolest entrance animations in the game: a board-shaking, Jurassic Park-style STOMP, STOMP, before Krush slams down ready to dome whichever hapless soul you're playing against. Sadly, at a whopping cost of 9-Mana, the big T-Rex has proved too expensive for most of Hearthstone's life. But that should change once Saviors of Uldum, the game's latest expansion, lands on 6 August. Dinotamer Brann will give Hunter decks access to King Krush on demand for a full two Mana less—provided you meet the restriction of running no duplicate cards.
Card design is an iterative process, with tweaks being made to the stats and text right up until release. That's particularly true when the card in question is one of the thematic stars of the set, as is the case with Brann and the other redux explorers. Here you can see an earlier version of the card which summoned two 5/5 Devilsaurs with Rush. Powerful for sure, but undeniably less dramatic than pulling Krush out of your pocket on 7-Mana. Fun fact: The Devilsaur design got so far down the line that they even had their own names: Duke and Duchess.
It's that limitation which Blizzard thinks—hopes, prays—will ensure Dinotamer Brann doesn't become OP. "Your deck is so inconsistent," explains Breeden, referring to the fact you can only run one copy of all your cards, meaning you inevitably have to make sub-optimal inclusions that hurt consistency. "I mean, yeah, you can find a Dire Mole on turn one, but what's your second Dire Mole? You have to dig really deep [into the card pool] to get Brann's payoff."
All four of the returning League of Explorers heroes have been designed using the no-duplicate rule to activate their effects. Here's what the others do:
Sir Finley of the Sands (Paladin class): 2-Mana, 2/3
Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, Discover an upgraded Hero Power.
Elise the Enlightened (Druid class): 5-Mana, 5/5
Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, duplicate your hand.
Reno the Relicologist (Mage class): 6-Mana, 4/6
Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, deal 10 damage randomly split among all enemy minions.
Check out their art below.
All powerful, but in terms of pure flavour you can't beat Brann. Kosak isn't worried about re-using the no-duplicates mechanic, which was fairly polarising when it was first introduced due to how Reno's mega-heal swung games. "We're excited about the no-duplicates mechanic in general because it's interesting to play," he says. "Your games are all going to feel very different, and you have to be a skilled player to pilot these decks because you can't guarantee what you're going to draw."
One thing to bear in mind is that Blizzard confirmed that there is one more card in the set which synergises with the no-duplicate mechanic. How strong that is will have a bearing on the power of these cards. It's also worth noting that during Reno's original reign, his natural home was in Warlock and Mage—both classes which have multiple ways to clear the board and stall the game long enough to draw into your most crucial cards. Whether that's true of the Hunter class remains to be seen, but there are reasons to be optimistic.
Is that a T-Rex in your pocket, or...
In terms of power level, there's an interesting comparison to be made between Dinotamer Brann and Inkmaster Solia, the Mage legendary from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. She also cost 7-Mana, but had better stats at 5/5. Her text reads: "Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, the next spell you cast this turn costs (0)." In a singleton deck, that meant Solia could be used to cast super-expensive Mage spells like Flamestrike or Pyroblast for free. But despite her powerful effect, Solia wasn't an auto-include in Reno Mage, largely because you also had to have the exact spell you needed in your hand at the same time, making her a little clunky.
Dinotamer Brann should have no such issues. Provided your deck meets the singleton requirement, you're always going to get an angry T-Rex ready to fire at your opponent's dome. Or, in a pinch, trade with a beefy minion on the board—but honestly, if you're not sending King Krush upstairs, are you even playing Hunter? The other obvious advantage that the new Brann has over Solia is that Krush will often stick around, whereas a spell will not, meaning your opponent has to worry about removing a chonky prehistoric boi on the subsequent turn.
Kosak tells me that despite all the explorers sharing the no-duplicates mechanic, the team wants them to feel very different to play. "We iterated on Brann quite a bit," he says. "The mechanic kept changing throughout the set [because] we were looking at ways to solve the problem of how to create an aggressive deck that has no duplicates. Which is a real challenge."
Interestingly, Breeden says that one of the earlier designs involved Brann instantly halving the opponent's life total. That kind of effect can do massive damage if the card is drawn early, but has less impact in the late game, which ended up feeling a little odd and inconsistent in an aggressive deck. After that came the King Krush idea, followed by experimentation with the double Rush dinos due to the design team getting itchy about the power of the Charge effect.
"In the end we came back to King Krush just because it was so much more satisfying," she says. "We wanted something splashy that was big and extreme, pretty much off the bat… It's cool to see designs go through iteration and roll back. Like: 'No, no. We actually had a good design here.'"
So what kind of deck will want to play Dinotamer Brann? The smart answer is: any deck that wants to kill the other player. A more serious question is whether Hunter—a class which has historically wanted to be winning games around turn seven or eight—will have the necessary tools to build a deck entirely from one-off cards. To that I would answer: probably. If you look at the most viable Hunter builds right now—Midrange, Secret and Mech—there's probably a singleton version that combines a lot of their strengths without sacrificing too much of the consistency.
The voice of the jovial explorer is provided by actor Carlos Larkin (above), who also does Brann's older brothers Magni and Muradin in World of Warcraft, as well as a host of other characters. "Brann and I have a long history, he tells me. "His flavor is always kind of a little Mike Myers, a little Indiana Jones, a little Billy Connolly, and a whole lot of attitude." As for how he distinguishes the Bronzebeard bros, Larkin says: "I'm given a reference file beforehand so that I know he is going to be a viola or a cello in terms of timbre. But other than that, it's pretty much the same accent. With Muradin, he's a little more aggressive than Brann. And Magni is, as the name implies, a lot more magnanimous than the other two dwarves."
The fact that Hunter has powerhouse cards like Zul'jin (one of the few Hero cards currently in the Standard format), Dire Frenzy and Unleash the Beast makes me think that there must be a competitive Dinotamer Brann deck out there. As does the fact that Blizzard's designers will surely want all the new versions of the League of Explorers heroes to see substantial play, so you can bank on their power level being viable. Plus, there are still another 10 or so cards to be added to the Hunter class as part of the Saviors of Uldum expansion, not to mention all the new neutrals.
In Wild, Dinotamer is potentially even more bonkers when you consider the depth of the card pool (hello again, Deathstalker Rexxar) and the fact you can combo new Brann with old Brann for double Krushes on the same turn. Hell, you can even run the original Reno for that huge healing insurance policy. And of course, for flavour's sake, it just makes sense to fit the original King Krush in too. "You're a Dino Tamer, right?" agrees Kosak. "It would be weird to not run more than one dinosaur."
Damn it, of course he's right. Dinotamer Brann is the kind of set-selling, big ticket card which players will rush to craft on day one of Saviors of Uldum dropping, and screw the enchanted dust cost. Expect to hear a lot of STOMP, STOMP on ladder next month.