When Blizzard releases a new Hearthstone set and adds 130 or so new cards to the game, most players try to figure out how the new cards will change the way the game is played. But players often fail to consider whether the new meta will bring underused cards from older sets into the spotlight.
The Boomsday Project, which was released on Tuesday, brings some interesting new mech-focused decks into the game, a new “magnetic” keyword that allows mechanical minions to merge into powerful Voltrons and a bonkers new hero card for Warriors that brings fan-favorite character Dr. Boom back into Hearthstone’s standard metagame.
But the new set also introduces some strong combo drivers, particularly for Druids and Rogues, and that may bring a powerful but somewhat obscure combo-breaking card back into prominence in constructed play. So if you’re hoping to break out Malygos or Kingsbane in the new expansion, get ready to meet the Gnomeferatu.
The combo vampire
Gnomeferatu is an epic warlock class card from 2017’s Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion. It’s a female Gnome who has been turned into a vampire. She costs 2 mana and has 2 attack and 3 health, which is considered “vanilla” stats.
Vanilla stats are appropriate to a card’s mana cost if the card has no text; cards like Chillwind Yeti, Boulderfist Ogre or River Crocolisk, which is also a 2/3 card that costs 2 mana. Vanilla cards saw play in constructed Hearthstone earlier in the game’s lifespan but, as Blizzard has released many new synergies and potent effects, vanilla cards generally aren’t good enough.
Powerful minions in Hearthstone have those premium stats, but also do something else that is beneficial. A great example is Dark Cultist from the Naxxramas set; he’s got a 3/4 vanilla statline, and he also has a deathrattle that gives a friendly minion 3 health.
You probably still get your mana’s worth if you play him onto an empty board on your third turn and your opponent immediately kills him, fizzling his deathrattle, because whatever it takes to kill him will cost your opponent at least 3 mana. You’re probably well ahead on the board if you can get the deathrattle to go off and give health to another minion.
Gnomeferatu has a battlecry in addition to her vanilla stats; she removes the top card of your opponent’s deck from the game. The question of whether that’s good is an old one. And the answer depends on what you think the top card of your opponent’s deck is worth.
Your opponent still draws another card on their next turn, and they still have the same number of cards at every point in this game, so the card Gnomeferatu takes is basically the same as just having that card be on the bottom of the deck, and never getting around to drawing it.
That means a lot of decks — particularly aggressive decks — aren’t affected at all by Gnomeferatu. They’ve got a bunch of ways to kill you, and they don’t need every card in their deck to do the job, since they typically plan on a short game.
On the other hand, combo decks — decks that are built around creating a specific set of conditions that win the game, usually in a single turn — are definitely at risk from Gnomeferatu. You can sometimes break their entire deck if you take out a vital piece of their combo. The most streamlined combo decks tend to have only their main combo, cards that help them draw more cards to get the combo, and board control cards that hold the opponent at bay while the player sets up the combo. You can stop them completely if you’re able to kick out one of the support cards that are required to make the combo happen.
Combo decks are prominent right now. For example, Shudderwock Shaman is considered a top-tier deck. It uses the Shudderwock, which duplicates every single battlecry you have played during the game to duplicate the battlecries of Saronite Chain Gang and Grumble, Worldshaker. This causes Shudderwock to copy itself and send the copies back to your hand with a mana cost of 1. It also hits your opponent in the face for damage using a battlecry from a card like Lifedrinker. This creates a loop where you can keep dropping Shudderwocks until your opponent dies.
But since the entire deck is built around creating that scenario, the warlock will almost certainly win the game if Gnomeferatu takes out Shudderwock or Grumble before the Shaman gets to draw it.
So Gnomeferatu has vanilla stats versus an aggressive deck like an Odd Paladin. But against a combo deck like Shudderwock, it has “Battlecry: Maybe you just outright win the game.”
Unfortunately for the gnome, you don’t see combo decks like Shudderwock quite often enough for the potential to break a combo deck to be a compelling enough proposition to give Gnomeferatu a spot in most Warlock decks. Gnomeferatu should a good fit for the eternally competitive Zoo Warlock archetype, but most Zoo Warlocks currently play Prince Keleseth, who buffs all the minions in your deck if your deck contains no other 2-cost cards.
Right now, the Gnome vampire mostly just sees play in even warlock, which uses Genn Greymane, a card that reduces your hero power’s mana cost to 1 if your deck contains only cards with even mana costs. This deck can’t play the Prince because its condition prevents it from playing one drops or three drops, so it has to play two drops.
But combos could be ascendant
The Boomsday Project contains a lot of cards, particularly for Druid and Rogue, that might facilitate new combo decks.
Druid gets a new card that gives both players two mana crystals, reducing the number of turns the druid needs to survive before he can attempt to pull off his high-cost combos. The druid has access to a legendary spell that can potentially provide a bunch of extra mana for one turn; a card that reduces the cost of a minion in the druid’s hand, enabling plays that would typically cost more than 10 mana; a card that fishes expensive minions out of the druid’s deck; and a card that duplicates the last minion you played, even if that minion is no longer on the board.
All of these cards drive combos, most likely combos involving Malygos or King Togwaggle. Malygos is a legendary dragon who gives you 5 bonus spell damage. If you can find a way to get three copies of him on the board, you can kill your opponent with a couple of Moonfires.
King Togwaggle switches the players’ decks, and gives the opponent a 5 mana spell to ransom their deck back. The idea behind the Togwaggle combo deck is to use Druid’s various card draw tools to empty out your own deck, and then give the empty deck slot to the opposing player.
To stop them from getting their deck back, you either fill their hand by using Naturalize before you summon the king, so your opponent cannot get their ransom card, or use Azalina Soulthief to copy their hand, including the ransom, so if they take their deck back, you can steal it again.
The problem with this is that Togwaggle costs 8 mana and Azalina costs 7, so the only way to pull off this combo during the Kobolds and Witchwood standard metas was to break Twig of the World Tree to refresh your crystals after summoning Togwaggle, giving you mana to summon Azalina. Anyone with a card that can destroy a weapon could mess up that plan. But a couple of those new cards give Druids alternate ways to pull this trick off, so Togwaggle Druid might become a lot more viable.
Rogues are getting some new combo tricks in this expansion as well: a legendary spell that lets the rogue draw their entire deck, and a new minion that shuffles three copies of a friendly minion into the Rogue’s deck. Expect Rogues to be trying out their own Malygos shenanigans, as well as combos built around Faldorei Strider, using the legendary spell to fill their board with spiders.
Also in the mix is Mecha’thun, a 10 mana 10/10 card that wins the game if it dies while you have no cards on the board, nothing in your library and nothing in your hand. This seems like an incredibly difficult ability to pull off, and the general consensus is that it is a meme card. But if someone figures out how to make it work consistently, it could become the fulcrum of a powerful combo deck as well.
If Shudderwock remains a top deck, and even one of these other combo decks also becomes a top contender, we could be looking at a meta where combos are 30 percent of what you play against on the ladder.
Being able to put two Gnomeferatus in your deck, in that situation, that each have about a 7 percent chance to irrevocably break your opponent’s deck, may be good enough to give up Prince Keleseth for.
Metas are hard to predict
Part of the fun of a new Hearthstone expansion is that nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen. Cards that experts overlook turn out to be incredibly powerful or synergistic with other cards that people hadn’t thought about, while cards that seem strong often underperform, or the decks built around those cards don’t work as well as we hope.
There are good reasons to expect some strong combo Druid decks to join the Shudderwock Shaman and lead to a combo-heavy metagame. If that happens, Gnomeferatu is going to break a lot of combos.
Other unpredictable things could happen as well. Some of the low-cost cards in the new set could result in very strong aggro decks that kill the slower combo decks off. Or mechs could turn out to be more dominant than most players are expecting.
But you can never sleep on a card like Gnomeferatu. Situationally powerful cards are just powerful cards, waiting for the right situation.