Hi, my name is Mats and this article is about my evaluation of the revealed cards from the upcoming Naxxramas expansion.
While I tried to substantiate my views, I could be wrong about some things and obviously play testing will be the ultimate judge. If you have different opinions, please explain them in the comments.
I’d also like to reference Value Town Episodes 26 to 34, and the Wiki (and indirectly Ben Brode) for useful information and ideas. Now let’s discuss each card, starting with the neutral ones. Hope you enjoy it!
With 4/4 stats for 3, Dancing Swords is above the curve. However, it does have the serious downside of drawing the opponent a card when it dies. Since 4 damage is not too hard to deal (Eviscerate, Swipe, Soulfire…), the Swords are unlikely to gain value, and will most often represent a 2 for 1.
While the card is decent early tempo play, it should become far worse later in the game where it is more likely to give the opponent an almost free extra draw. That being said, the card could see some play in decks that don’t care much about losing value, such as a hyper aggro and mill lists.
However, there are probably still not going to be viable mill lists after Naxxramas is released, and a fast aggro list might find better cards to run and be concerned that the swords will draw the opponent into answers. As Reynad said on Value Town, the sword probably represents a worse King Mukla, and I’m inclined to agree that it shouldn’t be a good card.
The Undertaker will function similarly to how a Secretkeeper does, and similarly it has the potential to be a 2 drop or stronger for 1 mana. This is really strong in an aggro or tempo decks if you can get the effect to consistently trigger at least once. The big downfall of Secretkeeper is that low-cost secrets are bad at the moment. The question remains whether there are enough good low-cost death rattle minions to make the Undertaker worth it. So far we have Leper Gnome, Loot Hoarder, Bloodmage Thalnos and Harvest Golem in the game, and about 4-5 of these could be included into an aggro or tempo deck. If we add the Nerubian Egg to the mix, then the Undertaker could probably expect to have good synergy with at least 6 cards in the deck. If more good, cheap death rattle minions are released, then the Undertaker could be a decent card in death rattle themed tempo or aggro decks. If not, then it’ll probably not see much play.
There’s no doubt that the Nerubian egg represents an excellent card if activated, since it can become a 4/4 body for very low mana cost. The question remains how this activation occurs, and if it activating it is convenient.
Lets go through some possible uses to get a picture of how powerful Nerubian Egg could be as an early tempo play. The dream for the egg is playing it on turn 2 and immediately casting Backstab on it. The other dream is coining out the egg on turn 1 and trading it next turn with the help of Dire Wolf Alpha. These gives a 4/4 for 2 mana on turn 2, a play which is only slightly worse than innervate yeti. However, this scenario is somewhat unlikely, given that a player would have to draw the two cards in their opening. The more common uses would involve a turn 2 egg followed by a minion buff (employing cards like Shattered Sun Cleric or Direwolf Alpha), which would allow you to suicide the egg into an enemy minion and get a 4/4 on turn 3 tempo. A 4/4 at turn 3 is strong compared to the current options (with the possible exception of King Mukla), most notably the Harvest Golem. So if the egg is made active the turn or the turn after it is played, it represents a strong opening.
Later in the game, the egg will still be useful. It exploits enemy spells that deal 2+ damage to the board, such as Consecration, spell power Swipe and Explosive Trap. This will, for little mana cost, sets up an easy comeback from a board clear, given that the Nerubian will be able to attack on the next turn (I assume that the egg’s death rattle works like the harvest golem’s does). Nerubian Egg will be somewhat inconsistent due to its reliance on other cards. However, I feel this problem will be minimal, since the egg can interact with both your buff draws and the opponent’s clear draws.
Another potential problem is that Egg, even if buffed the next turn, typically represents a low impact on the board the turn it is played. My suspicion is that the egg will be sort of card that is typically developed once the one has obtained board control, then is buffed up to suicide for the 4/4 or makes clearing awkward for the opponent. This is analogous to how Lorewalker Cho is now seeing play in some zoo decks to mess up the opponents turns, especially against miracle rogue. However, the Nerubian egg has a similar effect and can enable an explosive start.So the Nerubian Egg looks like a powerful card to include in a deck that has tools to claim board control early and enough activators for it. The obvious candidate is the Zoo warlock, but midrange decks, like tempo rogue, could be built around the egg as well.
The Nerubian Egg should be a kind of Ancient Watcher for Tempo and aggro decks, and has the advantage of being easier to activate, even though it is potentially slower and has less formidable stats. The egg is also weaker to silence, although current silence minions tend to have weak enough stats that most player will likely continue to refrain from running too many of them. Overall it seems that it should be one of the best cards shown so far, even if it requires a deck to be built around it, since it seems to have good utility through the opening and the middle game.
Shade of Naxxramas
I think that the Shade of Naxxramas is one of the weaker cards to be shown from the expansion so far. To see why I hold this opinion, let us imagine we get live the dream and manage to develop the shade on turn 3, and let us further imagine that our opponent doesn’t draw a way to remove it. On the next turn, it is a 3/3 for 3, which is subpar when compared to other 3 drops, at least immediately. For this reason I doubt that the shade will be included in aggro lists, since they want their minions to have an immediate impact, and would run 3 drops like Scarlet Crusader instead. If we wait another turn, we’ll end up with a 4/4 for 3, which is above the curve. However, this is almost the same as playing a 4/4 for 3 with the text that reads “this minion can only attack two turns after it is played”. This sort of minion would obviously be more mana efficient than usual, but would be pretty unimpressive tempo wise. Similarly, in following turns the Shade won’t grow to impressive sizes for the turn that it gets to attack on.
The best analogy I can think of for the Shade is Wild Growth. With Wild Growth, you invest 2 mana for an extra mana on each turn after that. The downside of wild growth, if played early, is that it costs 2 mana’s worth of plays and sets you back in tempo, which you can then reasonably hope to take back by playing out strong minions and spells sooner with the extra mana. If we compare the shade to wild growth, we can see that it must be significantly weaker. By playing the shade on turn 3, you’re investing a turn into a bigger minion later. But with the shade, you’re investing more mana and consequently a more important turn. Also, the shade will do far less to regain tempo than the extra mana will.
An extra mana represents a more permanent advantage than a minion that can be vulnerable to hard removal when it loses stealth, or strong sweepers like Shadowflame, the Auchenai Soulpriest Circle of Healing combo, and Equality together with Consecration or Wild Pyromancer. So I feel that the Shade represents a clear tempo loss. While it could get absurd value, you need to draw it early, have your opponent not draw an answer, and be facing a reactive enough opponent to be able to sacrifice your third turn. Unless the meta game becomes much slower, the shade is unlikely to see much play in my opinion.
I think this card will be at most average, but probably will be bad. My main cause of concern is that the Baron’s stats are quite poor, but I also have doubts about the strength of the ability text. Starting with the stats, Baron Rivendare has the same stats as Mogu'shan Warden. And those stats are really bad. The reason for this is that the vast majority of minions will trade into the Baron without dying, so your opponent will often be able to kill him for free if he has a solid board and you’re behind. Also, the Baron will not represent a threat to the opponent’s life total, so stats wise it doesn’t help you much on a board where you’re ahead either. The only good thing about the stats distribution is that it makes the Baron harder to kill if his effect is relevant.
If you’re banking on the use of the Baron’s death rattle on larger minions, like Cairne Bloodhoof or Sylvanas Windrunner, then you might be better served by the Faceless Manipulator, which would be similarly powerful when used on those minions and should be more useful, since it has synergy with strong minions that don’t have death rattle as well. The Nerubian Egg should be a good target for the Baron’s effect, but the Nerubian is the kind of card you would want to trigger before turn 4, or play just before an opponent would choose to clear, and I don’t see the Baron fitting too well into either scenario. Also, the egg will probably fit best into a tempo based aggro or midrange deck, and I’m not sure if either could afford the Baron’s terrible stats. Other death rattle effects are a too weak to justify the Baron right now, so there would have to be a fair amount of strong death rattle minions in the remaining cards to make the Baron playable.
Lastly, the Baron is the sort of card that becomes a lot weaker if it becomes common, since most of your opponents will play around it.
Class Specific Cards
In my mind, Duplicate is essentially a far worse version of Arcane Intellect. Instead of drawing you into cards left in your deck, which you probably want to cycle towards, Duplicate gives you more creatures that you’ve already played. What’s worse is that your opponent dictates which of your minions dies first, so a good player will try to give you weak minions when you need value and expensive minions when you’re under too much pressure to play them out. Further problems with Duplicate are that it gets you cards the turn after it is played or later, and that it requires you to have creatures you would want to have again in play, making it a little situational as well. The only upside is that you can combo Duplicate with Kirin Tor Mage, but this is inconsistent and the current pool of mage secrets don’t really favour the Kirin Tor.
This card should be really good. It is a 3/4, which is already a vanilla 3 drop’s dream. Even if it’s death rattle doesn’t trigger, the Cultist should be mandatory just because of its stats. If the death rattle has a target, then the Cultist represents 10 total stat points for 3 mana, which is even more amazing. The death rattle also has utility later in the game, for instance, you could suicide the cultist to land the buff on an important endgame minion.
Truesilver Champion is a good card. Whirlwind is also a good card (in Warrior Control). If you combine both and subtract the life gain you should also get a good card. I can only imagine that Death’s Bite will do work in a warrior control deck. It will allow the warrior to deal with middle game threats a little easier, and the death rattle whirlwind has good synergy with Acolyte of Pain, Armorsmith and so on. The death rattle might also help out against aggro decks a little, and could allow for a more midrange or combo focused warrior style. The only downside is that it competes with other good weapons like Fiery War Axe or even Gorehowl. It should be a good card regardless, even if only one copy ends up on some lists.
Avenge represents 3/2 stats for 1 mana, but the fact that it’s a secret somewhat complicates its use. It can’t trigger during your turn, so it’s up to the opponent to kill a minion for you. Fortunately, it probably won’t matter which minion is buffed as long as one survives, and the paladin’s hero power serves as Avenge fodder. Another downside is that a clear that kills all of your creatures at once prevents the secret from triggering, so it should perhaps be added to decks with slightly more durable minions. I think that the fact that you need at least two minions on the board makes this card best for aggro decks, which typically force the opponent to remove their creatures. The effect of these inconsistencies makes me hesitant to predict that Avenge will be a good card, but it seems reasonable to expect that it should be at least okay.
Poison Seeds looks like a card that is powerful in the right situations. Against a board that has only powerful minions, the seeds can gain excellent value and diffuse large threats. The seeds will at least be a good counter card to a Mountain Giant and a Conceal Gadgetzan Auctioneer. It’s unclear whether the fact that it doesn’t disable death rattles will be an advantage or a disadvantage. If your deck is built around solid death rattles like that of Cairne Bloodhoof, then Poison Seeds will likely perform better.
So much for the good news. The biggest issue of the seeds is that they will do little to nothing against aggro decks, whose minions tend to be quite weak anyway. Another unfortunate thing about the seeds is that they don’t really fit into the common druid archetypes. A druid midrange deck would likely be shooting itself in the foot by playing the card, since it tries to consistently develop its own minions and probably doesn’t want to turn them into trees. It could be used to preemptively remove taunts for the Force of Nature Savage Roar combo, but I doubt that would be worth more than a one-off, if it is run at all. The ramp druid also wants to develop its own big creatures each turn past a certain point, and I’m not sure it can afford the mana required to shrink the opponents minions, although it’s possible. The big problem is that the kind of deck you would want to run the seeds in is a reactionary control deck which doesn’t play that many minions, and this isn’t really druid’s style.That being said, I can the see a single copy of the seeds being good for specific meta games or tournaments, so I’d say it’ll be an average card at best.
If the Voicaller could summon any minion, then it would represent an excellent tempo play. However, the fact that it’s limited to demons makes its use far more awkward. The big trouble is that it would need a fair amount of demons to be effective, and current demon themed decks are bad. The reason for this is that outside of Flame Imp, Voidwalker and Doomguard, demon cards aren’t great (Dread Infernal, Lord Jaraxxus and Pit Lord aren’t too terrible). The big problem is that if you can’t get a Voidcaller death rattle off, you’re stuck with sub optimal cards and a deck that probably can’t function too well on its own. The Voidcaller won’t be able to carry a generally bad deck, so while has the potential to be good with more cards, I feel the other current demon cards let the Voidcaller down too much for it to see play.
With 5/5 stats, the Ambusher could represent one of the best 4 drops on an empty board in the game. The ability to get favorable trades against other strong 4 drops like Chillwind Yeti or Violet Teacher is quite valuable, so the question remains whether the death rattle represents a significant downside. A potential upside of the death rattle is that it can act as a bounce for strong battlecry effects. Rogue has some good options in this regard, most notably the SI:7 Agent, the Earthen Ring Farseer, the Defias Ringleader or even a Defender of Argus. If a small minion or token is sent back by the death rattle, then it’s also not a big problem, as these can typically be played into gaps of your curve and don’t represent too much of an impact on the board. It also could sometimes bounce back a charger for an emergency finish.
The obvious significant downside occurs when a high mana card is bounced back, since you’ve essentially sapped your own board and should fall behind in tempo. I think that the Anub’ar Ambusher will be strong, but needs to be in a deck with lots of little minions or relatively few minions to be highly effective. I suspect Tempo rogue or aggro rouge should be happy to include another power play similar to King Mukla, but there will likely be other uses for the Ambusher.
If Webspinner drew a card from your deck, it would easily be one of the best cards in the game. Unfortunately, it adds a random beast to your deck instead, so you could easily end up with something that you can’t use well. The card should probably only be run in a midrange beast deck, where beast synergies can make at least some use of the drawn cards. To determine how good the spider could be, I looked at all current beast cards that could be drawn and roughly rated them according to playability. Good cards are those which could be seen in a competitive midrange hunter deck, Average cards are those which aren’t to bad but generally not worth a deck slot, and Bad cards are just terrible. If you don’t agree with my groupings, just repeat the exercise with your own evaluations and see if you reach a significantly different result.
My results were: 11 Good cards (Timber Wolf, Stonetusk Boar, Scavenging Hyena, Starving Buzzard, Ironbeak Owl, River Crockolisk, King Mukla, Oasis Snapjaw, Tundra Rhino, Stranglethorn Tiger, Savannah Highmane), 7 Average cards (Bloodfen Raptor, Dire Wolf Alpha, Emperor Cobra, Ironfur Grizzly, Jungle Panther, The Beast, King Krush), and 5 Bad cards (Young Dragonhawk, Hungry Crab, Angry Chicken, Silverback Patriach, Core Hound). So judging by this, the odds are in the Webspinner’s favor with the current beast card pool. However, it would still seem like Flare should be a better choice, since it can draw a card from your deck. Still the spider’s 1/1 body has good synergy with Starving Buzzard, and if it trades with a hero power it can be a nice tempo play. Webspinner could be a playable card, but I think the random nature of it’s draw will prevent it from being really good.
Reincarnate (formerly Rebirth)
Reincarnate seems like a kind of jack of all trades but master of none card. When combined with a charger, it could allow it to attack twice and function like a worse version of Windfury (since it can’t combo with Rockbiter Weapon). It could also serve as a full heal on a target, or remove buffs like Mark of the Wild or de-buffs like Hunter's Mark. It’s last and most impressive use is to interact with death rattle effects. Warrior Control decks sometimes play Sylvanas Windrunner and immediately Shield Slam her to exploit the death rattle, and using Reincarnate on her instead is obviously far better. Similarly Reincarnate has good synergy with other powerful death rattles, even if there aren’t that many of them yet. I suppose that Reincarnate will be a decent utility card, and a single copy could be seen in Shaman decks.
Obviously Naxxramas was going to deliver some bad cards, but there are quite a few cards that could see play. I’m exited that some of the cards, like Anub’ar Ambusher and Poison Seeds, will require different deck building to be exploited properly. Hopefully this will add a lot more viable archetypes to the game, and I’m excited to see what else the set has in store. What do you think of the Naxx cards so far? Share them in the comments below!