With the release of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan tomorrow, I decided to revisit some lessons we learned when . Making predictions is obviously a much more difficult task than looking back, but the same ideas should apply from one set to the other. So, with our previous evaluations in mind, here are some potential sleeper cards to keep an eye out for from the new set...
The early game still matters most
One of the most important lessons to take away from previous expansions is how much the early game matters. Many players were skeptical about cards like Babbling Book and Swashburgler before One Night in Karazhan arrived, but it soon became apparent how good one-drops which effectively don’t cost you a card are. So straight away let’s look at some 1-Mana minions that could have a major impact on the Mean Streets meta...
Patches the Pirate: Starting off strongly, we have Patches—a 1-Mana 1/1 with Charge that will pop out of your deck and onto the board as soon as you play a pirate. This is quite possibly the strongest card in the entire set. What this card effectively means is that, in most games, Pirate Warrior begins with an extra card in their hand that costs 0, has a pirate tag, and can impact the board or an opponent’s life total the turn it comes out. It cheats Mana and cards, synergizes with other pieces of your deck, and is immediately impactful. There is no chance this card will fail to be good.
Small-Time Buccaneer: This neutral card can be directly compared with Flame Imp or Cogmaster. Likely to be run in Rogue or Warrior decks, for 1 Mana you’ll be getting five well-distributed stats (provided you have a weapon follow up, which you almost always will). The Pirate tag also means it synergizes with Patches and Bloodsail Cultist. It’s a fantastic tool for both dealing damage and establishing early board control, able to contest Mana Wyrms, Tunnel Troggs, and even Totem Golems with your weapon. The biggest thing to note about this card is that its value—especially for Rogue—will vary widely depending on whether you’re going first (usually preferable) or second. If your opponent has a chance to answer it with minions before you can weapon up, that’s clearly less than ideal.
Mistress of Mixtures: Unlike the our two pirate pals, this card provides a powerful and unconditional early body that aggressive decks cannot afford to ignore, because she will heal you back up if they do. Mistress of Mixtures gives control and combo decks a fantastic option for a defensive one-drop which has been missing since Zombie Chow rotated out. Being able to hold back a couple of turns of aggression is a very big deal for someone looking to get to the late game. Mistress of Mixtures even makes Barnes better in that regard as well, potentially increasing your ability to heal in the midgame.
Alleycat: This inexpensive critter looks unassuming at first, but it’s effectively Living Roots with a Beast tag attached. Yes, it lacks the direct damage flexibility of Roots, but I think it’s plausible to argue that Alleycat is likely to be better in Hunter decks than either Argent Squire or Fiery Bat.
As Hunters are going to be getting a lot of Beast token generators, the synergy Alleycat has with Scavenging Hyena might be worth bearing in mind too. If Hunter is viable, this card could well become their default 1-drop.
Grimscale Chum: When I’ve seen pros reviewing this card, many immediately jump to the idea of an aggressive murloc Paladin deck, and conclude it probably won’t work. While that does seem a natural fit for this card (and it probably won’t work), I actually don’t think you need many murlocs to make Grimscale Chum worthy of inclusion. It’s quite possible that five total murlocs (two Vilefin Inquisitors, one Sir Finley, and two Chums) could provide an appealing enough package without having to build your whole deck around fishmen.
The idea is bolstered further by Small-Time Recruits, another new card which can provide additional consistency for hitting in-hand buffs. In terms of total stats, you can still get 3/2 for 1 Mana, which is very powerful.
Which card will be the new Mysterious Challenger?
When considering potentially high impact cards, it’s important to look at the value and tempo they’re likely to deliver consistency. Remember: the fewer conditions required to achieve an effect the better. And here one card stands out above all others...
Finja, the Flying Star: For 5 Mana, this 2/4 with Stealth might seem underwhelming, and I suspect the Murloc tag and cute art has thrown people off the scent in terms of just how good Finja is. Let’s review what happens when you’re playing an Anyfin Paladin deck and trigger Finja’s effect:
- (1) You draw two cards from your deck. This effect is valued at 3 Mana and one card (Arcane Intellect), making it sort of like drawing three cards, but let’s call it two.
- (2) You play the two cards you just drew for free. Since that will be some combination of Bluegills and Warleaders, you just saved 4-6 additional Mana.
- (3) Those minions will likely affect the board immediately: the odds are good you’ll have pulled one or two Charge minions, which can immediately trade for an average of four extra damage on the spot.
- (4) You create synergy with your subsequent Anyfin turns. Many people say Finja might make your second Anyfin worse but overlook the fact he will often make your first Anyfin better. If you’re getting to the point in the game where you have played two Anyfins, odds are you’ll have won anyway.
So you’re drawing cards, thinning your deck, building synergy, saving a lot of Mana, and impacting the board immediately. This guy really has it all.
But how often will Finja be able to kill an enemy minion and activate his effect? Since he has Stealth and 4 health, he’s tricky to peel off the board for most decks. Against decks running low-health minions—think totems and aggro—Finja won’t need any help. Against more midrange and control decks you can combo his attack with Truesilver, Consecrate, another Bluegill or Warleader, Wild Pyromancer, or Equality, and that’s assuming you have nothing else on board. I’d say his ability is quite easy to activate.
Also, like Mysterious Challenger, this card (effectively) belongs in Paladin and has been prematurely written off by many people as too gimmicky. Remember all the people saying Secret-based Paladin decks would be bad? .
The real question is whether Anyfin decks in general will be good enough. They did just get some fantastic early-game sustain in the form of Mistress of Mixtures and the new legendary, Wickerflame Burnbristle, but we’ll have to see.
The dangers of Mana reduction
Cards which can unconditionally reduce their own Mana cost, or increase the amount of Mana you have to use in a turn, are always fundamentally dangerous. As such, it’s worth considering new cards which can be played for cheaper than they rightfully should be in order to uncover potential game swingers. We already covered Finja and Patches’ cost reductions, but here are a few others to watch...
Counterfeit Coin: Probably one of the only good cards Rogue gets this expansion, but it is really good. To address the obvious complaint, yes, it’s strictly worse than Innervate. That said, Innervate is arguably the best card in the game, so a worse version can still be very playable. In Magic: The Gathering, Black Lotus was the most fundamentally broken card in the game, providing a single burst of 3 Mana for free. While a card of that power level was never printed again, some years later one called Lotus Petal was released. It functioned the same way, but only provided a single Mana. Strictly worse? Yes. Subsequently banned and restricted in varying formats? Also yes.
Free Mana is good in small and large amounts. Throw in the fact that Counterfeit Coin benefits anything that says “combo,” your Questing Adventurer, and, of course, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and you have something that has the potential to fundamentally break how Rogue functions. Whether it’s good enough still has to be tested—because it does still cost a card slot, and is obviously terrible in top deck mode—but it has the potential to be a game changer.
Kun, the Forgotten King: You don’t need to know your memes to realise that a 7/7 for 0 Mana is good. However, Kun comes with a condition, which is that you have to survive until you have 10 Mana. Since it can’t swing the tempo in the mid-game, Kun is less threatening than Thing from Below. However, don’t sleep on his flexibility. The opportunity to choose 10 armor (either to stabilize or because you don’t have any other way to take advantage of the extra Mana that turn) might make Kun more powerful, on average, than an Arcane Giant. However, Arcane Giants can often be played before turn ten, which is an argument in their favor. Would Druid want to run three Giants given the chance? Possibly. Kun is a card to keep an eye on, but his high Mana cost makes him less scary than other cost reduction cards.
Inkmaster Solia: This card could singlehandedly make Reno Mage a serious deck. Solia will make for tremendous tempo swings, giving Mage players the option to clear the board with Flamestrike or Firelands Portal, and develop an additional 5/5 body for free. Even better, if you happen to pick up a 10-Mana potion from Kazakus, you can actually net 3 Mana by playing her and immediately dominating the board. In the worst (average) case, she can still draw you cards or pick off a smaller target, making her comparable to a Fire Elemental or Ancient of Lore. While she does require that you use her in combination with another spell, Reno Mage should always have at least something to utilize the effect with, making her conditional requirement a minor issue.
Kabal Lackey/Kabal Crystal Runner: Taken together, these two cards have the potential to make a secret-based Mage list a reality. Combined with Medivh’s Valet and Kirin Tor Mage, there might just be enough synergy to push the deck into competitive viability.
Since this would be an entirely new archetype, it’s quite hard to judge at this stage, but the largest problem for the deck to overcome is simply the fact that Mage secrets are less-than ideal when played on their own. Nevertheless, this deck is one worth keeping an eye on as you test your new cards, and if a solid secret package is discovered, Mage can have a new deck moving forward.
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan release on December 1. You can see the entire card set, read about whether Sottle expects the meta to slow down, and check out current list of the 25 most powerful legendary cards in the game.