For most of 2016, and indeed much of the nearly three-year life of Hearthstone, one of the game’s nine classes has stood out as notably worse than the others on the ranked ladder: the priest. While a few semicompetitive priest decks have popped up here and there, nothing has lasted for long, and they’ve never compared to the top decks of other dominant classes.
If you need further proof, just look at the decks used in professional Hearthstone tournaments. Of the eight players who competed for the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship at BlizzCon this past weekend, only one brought a priest deck. And in 2015? Same, just one.
Hearthstone players have long debated about what the problem with priest is. Some say it’s core to the class’s design; its hero power, which allows it to heal any target on the board for two health, is extremely slow and ineffective compared to basically every other hero power in the game. It doesn’t deal damage like the mage and rogue hero powers, it doesn’t create minions like the shaman and paladin hero powers, and it can’t even provide you with a benefit when your health is already topped off, like a warrior’s hero power.
Of course, it doesn’t help matters that Blizzard has consistently introduced priest class cards that are designed interestingly but don’t actually improve the competitive standing of the class. This is why fans got up in arms about the introduction of purify, a mostly useless spell added in the One Night in Karazhan adventure set.
So how does Blizzard attempt to fix a class that many fans have all but given up on? The studio is starting by introducing a whole bunch of powerful priest cards in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, the new Hearthstone expansion revealed at BlizzCon.
“Changing the meta is always a major focus in an expansion, especially by the final design team,” Hearthstone senior designer Matt Place told Polygon in an interview at BlizzCon. “We’re always trying to figure out how to bring up the things we want to be good, and how to make them good if they’re weak. Our goal here is to not just give priest generic love, but to give them some specific tracks and provide different cards for those tracks.”
While Blizzard has not revealed anywhere near all of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan’s 132 new cards, even the handful of priest cards announced so far show a lot of promise for the future of the class.
Take for example the Drakonid Operative (pictured above). Dragon-based priest decks have been one of the few more reliable archetypes of the class since the early 2015 release of the Blackrock Mountain adventure set. Drakonid Operative builds further on that strength, while also embracing something else priests are known for: stealing cards from their opponent. Where classic priest spells like Mind Vision and Thoughtsteal give you purely random cards from your opponent’s hand or deck, the Operative has you discover a card, which means you get to choose between three options. When you pull a card randomly from your opponent, there’s a good chance it won’t be useful, but given a choice of any random three cards you’re much more likely to find something that will work in your deck.
Alongside this powerful minion, priests will also get a new dragon-related spell: Dragonfire Potion. This area-of-effect ability deals 5 damage to all minions except dragons, making it an auto-include in dragon decks. And honestly, given that board-clearing power, it’s probably powerful enough to make it into other decks as well.
Beyond Dragonfire Potion, priests are getting a couple more spells that Place said will help with priest control decks. Potion of Madness (pictured above) gives you control of an enemy minion with 2 or less attack until the end of the turn, allowing you to clear off part of an opponent’s board using their own minions. This is similar to the existing priest spell Shadow Madness, which allows you to control a minion with 3 or less attack until the end of the turn, but shifting down to one fewer attack has decreased the mana cost significantly, which is huge. It will be very easy to combo Potion of Madness with other high-value cards.
Priests also receive the Pint-Size Potion spell, another 1-cost that gives all enemy minions -3 attack for one turn only. Between these three potion spells, Priests will have a lot of options for board clears in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan that simply didn’t exist before — or especially not since the Goblins vs. Gnomes card Lightbomb rotated out of the standard set.
And finally, Place said the class will receive more traditionally strong general cards to fill out its lineup — stuff that may not be suited to any specific one deck but could work well in anything. His prime example of this is the Kabal Talonpriest (pictured above), a 3-cost minion with strong stats of 3 attack and 4 health. In addition to just being an all-around healthy body on the board, the Talonpriest has a battlecry of adding 3 health to a friendly minion of your choice that is already in play. This is the same stats and effect as the Dark Cultist card from Goblins vs. Gnomes except that the effect hits immediately and you get to choose where it goes, so it’s automatically better.
Beyond the Talonpriest, Mean Streets is introducing the concept of tri-class cards. Priests will be part of the Kabal gang alongside mages and warlocks, which means they’ll have access to certain tri-class cards — like the Kabal Courier, a 3-cost, 2 attack, 2 health minion — that will allow them to discover mage and warlock cards. Priests having the opportunity to pull in a couple of powerful mage spells to augment an already-strong deck could be huge in solidifying their role in the new expansion.
One way that Blizzard will be seeking to shake up the Hearthstone meta is not just in raising up struggling classes but also hopefully lowering the profile of some of the currently dominant deck types. For example, mid-range and aggressive shaman decks are absolutely destroying the ranked ladder right now. While Blizzard isn’t going out of its way to nerf cards and strategies from that deck, it hopes to push shaman players to try out other ideas.
“Some of the stuff we haven’t revealed for shaman yet gives them a new play pattern,” Place said. “The upside there, which people internally are very excited about, is the creation of a new type of deck for shaman. You’re not necessarily going to be facing just mid-range or agro shaman.”
So will Mean Streets of Gadgetzan finally push the priest class higher up the list of competitive Hearthstone decks? It’s too early to say, and as always, we’ll need to see the cards in action and see how they interact with the dozens of expansion cards that Blizzard has yet to reveal. But for the first time in a long time, it seems like priest players have a reason to be hopeful.