Why Karazhan Is A Raw Deal For Hearthstone’s Priests

The last week was supposed to be a real funky one for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft [official site], with the launch of One Night in Karazhan. This is the latest add-on to the online card game, bringing four new weekly wings of tailored solo boss fights along with the 45 new cards which is what everyone (apart from you, inevitably) is not so secretly more interested in. So how come it’s lost the groove?

One Night in Karazhan is set during an epic party thrown by Warcraft’s most eligible bachelor and chief wizard, Medivh, which I know is playful enough to probably be at least slightly amusing/outrageous to hardcore lorephiles, and there’s also a pretty decent disco meets pound-shop-Disney-knock-off vibe to the whole thing which is easy to like.

We’ve only got access to a quarter of the new bits right now, but so far so good – I sat laughing in my computer chair at most of the sharp dialogue, fought a bunch of naughty plates and a sassy mirror, and there’s a chess duel that’s absolutely excellent and which I would like to play against a human opponent as soon as possible. If you’re looking to play through another batch of fun Hearthstone puzzles (and their accompanying outrageously difficult Heroic difficulty variants) then, yeah, money well spent. Thanks for reading.

But alas, all is not peachy. A bunch of players, notably fans of the much-maligned Priest class, feel like they’ve not really been invited to this lavish party.

To explain this I need to do a brief history lesson, apologies. Please do not be alarmed. While still very much about forging decks of 30 cards and taking on an opponent, Hearthstone is now a very different game today than it was two years ago.

After starting as a nimble little Blizzard curio, Hearthstone has now become the successful poster boy for a genre that every other publisher seems adamant to copy. Plus it’s now a game that, due to the regular addition of new cards across its nine separate classes, evolves every few months. Most cards now come with a two-year lifespan – after this point they’re shuffled away into the less prominent Wild mode, or they’re just always available in the Arena, Hearthstone’s random draft playground. This keeps the game shifting, allows strategies and power rankings to change and also ensures Blizzard can more easily lean into your wallet and pluck out generous fistfuls of shiny pennies every now and then.

In short, the launch of Standard mode in April turned the previously loose release schedule into something more planned, structured and official – everything feels more grown up. Hearthstone is now Very Serious Business, and the once-nimble little game has now gobbled up 50 million players and presumably a whole load more staff and, with it, internal bureaucracy and planning.

Now an expansion about a lavish party going horribly wrong has had its own soiree spoilt. Let’s have a look at why:

1) This card is Purify. And, wow, Purify has angered a whole lot of people, mainly due to the fact it’s absolutely rubbish. It’s a card exclusive to the Priest class, and when you play it you get to draw a card while silencing one of your own minions. That’s terrible because you would only ever want to silence (removing all status effects, good and bad) from your own characters under incredibly specific circumstances – and a reliance on reactive specificity is generally the Priest’s biggest problem at the best of times. The card is actually so rubbish Blizzard has blocked it from the Arena, because it makes a weak class even weaker. Each class will receive a total of 3 exclusive cards from Karazhan, and most armchair analysts consider all the Priest’s new cards to be pretty bad. If people unwittingly saw Karazhan as the “let’s make Priest better” adventure (and plenty of people did), then you can start to see why it all feels like a sucker punch.

2) Tucked away down here is the Moat Lurker, also new. This card costs a lot of mana and has terrible stats, but it can eat a minion when played – but they’ll spit them back out upon its own demise. Silencing it after gobbling up a big enemy card would be good, because that swallowed card will be out the game forever. A cool move to pull off, but it’s still a massive faff as you’d need to have both cards in your deck, and randomly in your hand, and be in a position to play those cards. And those cards are super expensive!

3) This is the Priest, Anduin Wrynn. Unluckily he almost never wins at a competitive level, so I bet he cops some flak from his mates with that surname. Back in the day, when old people will tell you how Mind Control only used to cost 8 mana and that sterling used to be valuable, everyone would fear the Priest. But no longer. I’m playing Karazhan’s class-specific challenge here, where you play using a pre-built deck, and this match took me about twenty times longer than when I just fought him with another class. Which is kind of the problem: anything the Priest can do, pretty much every other class can do better, and faster and without as much of a headache. And whereas most other classes are coupling off with phenomenal cards (Shaman, arguably the second most popular class right now, was barely played a year ago) that poor Priest has been stuck as a bridesmaid for a very, very long time. To stretch the metaphor to the limits, perhaps it’s time for the Priest to be the quirky star of his own empowering romcom, hmm?

And look, please do not think I am trying to say that every card in Hearthstone should be excellent. The game needs bad cards. Much of playing Hearthstone is trying to engineer your own luck around random factors – what’s in your hand, random status effects and then whatever your opponent is up to. Playing with experimental, fun decks built from wacky, unpopular cards is a reward in itself, and to beat someone with a deck you know they won’t have seen a thousand times already this month is a very delectable kind of pleasure.

But what happens when you want to, you know, consistently occasionally win? The problem is that some classes, such as Warrior, Warlock and Shaman, seem to have a greater concentration of excellent cards than say, the Rogue, Paladin (although as Paladins were brilliant six months ago nobody really minds that they’re rubbish now – c’est la vie) and the ever-unlucky Priest. Maybe it doesn’t help that the competitive classes can still enjoy the fun stuff, too: right now I’m playing a Warrior deck that seeks to win by buffing a bunch of shielded minions and it’s a hoot.

In response to Purify’s reveal, Blizzard’s affable Ben Brode (both Lead Designer and Hearthstone’s public face) took to YouTube (embedded above) to, basically, admit the team misread the situation slightly and admitted that perhaps Purify wasn’t the right card to announce given the circumstances – the right bad card at the wrong bad time.

In many ways it’s all a bit of a shame as everything else around One Night in Karazhan is excellent. If you ask me the response to this unholy predicament could have been softened a bit if Hearthstone got a little nimbler on its feet – this adventure’s development probably overlapped with Whispers of the Old Gods’ release and nobody could change course once the freighter had already started. That’s kind of a shame, I think, when you consider the game’s humbler beginnings. But surely, following this, it’s only a matter of time until we see a reinvention of the game’s weaker classes. Hearthstone’s next update, perhaps? Maybe then we’ll all feel like throwing a proper party.

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26 Comments

  1. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Staring eyes.

  2. Antongranis says:

    Purify seems like a decent card to me, in the right deck. But my winrate was pretty bad back then anyway, havent played for months, so what do i know?

    • Suits says:

      By the time you could practically play it, it’s won’t have much effect and you pretty much lost already anyway

      • Antongranis says:

        It could work with powerful cards that have side-effects for the enemy, such as zombie chow. But maybe such a deck dosent work…

        • Zmobie says:

          The problem is that oftentimes it ends up being as good as a single other card at the cost of 2 cards, but with a card draw. For instance, playing Ancient Watcher and then Purify nets you a 4/5 for 4, basically a Yeti. You might think “but you get a card draw” and yes, you do, but it costs 2 cards, and you will most of the time be better of with a Yeti and another good card instead of Ancient Watcher and Purify.

          • Antongranis says:

            Fair enough!

        • Tacroy says:

          Sure, but keep in mind that Silence, the zero mana silence any creature card, is also priest specific. You don’t draw, but at the same time you can also use it on an enemy if that’s better for you.

          Also, given how dominant aggro is in the current meta, a priest is very likely to have no cards on the field at the beginning of turn – and purify requires a target to play. So it’s not just two mana, in practice it’s two mana plus the cost of the creature you’re going to silence.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Even the designer says it’s deliberately designed to be crap.

      Not a fan of Ben Brode. Or more accurately, I really don’t like the Hearthstone design team’s philosophy. At times it seemed like they were heading in the right direction (eg, Discover instead of outright randomness), but nah. They have some incredibly bad ideas in their heads which won’t go away.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Aye, I truly don’t get it. “We wanted this card to be used in decks for funsies, so we made it so terrible that anyone playing a gimmick deck with it for funsies will have a horrible experience, getting completely trounced no matter what. Because never actually getting to accomplish anything with your fun deck is a fun time.”

        • Kitsunin says:

          Honestly though I think this is just a flaw with Hearthstone’s core gameplay system. In MTG, which for a long time I disliked, being able to keep a creature on the board often doesn’t give you much of an advantage, but it can, so a lot of strategies are viable, and funsie decks will often work against some of the variety of decks you see. Hearthstone is just so focused on tempo, that any turn spent doing something other than populating your side or killing your opponent’s side is often enough to kill you.

          Actually, I practically feel like Elder Scrolls: Legends’ two-lane system, with one of them offering a turn of stealth, is almost a full-on refinement of Hearthstone, with how well it “fixes” that system in my eyes.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Suddenly I don’t know why I thought this was on-topic. Well, I stand by my opinion, but it’s definitely…opiniony.

    • Jac says:

      Priest is already too combo dependent for this card to work at the moment. If you want card draw then just use novice engineer for the same cost and no requirement for you to already have a minion on the board.

      Non dragon Priest priests have desperately needed help with early game since the last card set but they release another two 4+ minions and this abomination.

  3. Morph says:

    A certain type of deck is weak? Welcome to collectable card games. These things are so hard to balance with the constant release of cards, which are designed many many months before they will get into players hands.

    I used to play Magic and their website was excellent at showing the designer’s point of view and how hard it really was.

    • Carra says:

      A year Shaman had their own rock-bottom “shaman” tier. Blizzard kept printing new great cards for the class and now they’re god tier.

      So naturally we expected some awesome cards for priest but we got nothing…

  4. Squirrelfanatic says:

    The issue with Priest is that it’s a class that’s designed to beat control decks. It’s a direct counter. In the current meta (which has been going on for a long while now) there are almost no viable control decks. Aggro is king and there are some very basic design principles behind this (i.e., a lack of board clears for example). Several popular/’big’ community members, including people like Kripparrian, Ratsmah, Kibbler, etc. have pointed this out.

    What Blizzard had not realised (maybe they did recently judging by Brode’s YT response to the Purify fiasco) in how much of a bad spot Priest has been now for a while. Expect some massively OP Priest cards in the coming expansions.

  5. Carra says:

    The first thing I did when looking at the new cards was take a look at the priest cards. Priests have been terrible in tournaments and constructed play for months. So of course, I was expecting some massively overpowered cards like Shaman got in the last few expansions (tunnel trogg, tuskar totemic, faceless, totem golemn) but well… they got purify, among the worst cards in the game.

    I do agree that Blizzard should try to make quicker changes. As I understood it these cards were already designed at least 3 months ago. But as the last 2 months showed priest really needed some help. Is it that hard to change a few cards? It’s a digital card game after all…

  6. satan says:

    I don’t miss dragon/control priest and it’s demoralising domination of the game, I do miss priests actually being competitive though.

  7. Shinard says:

    Priest didn’t get AS bad a deal as people make out. Purify is awful, yes, but it’s not the WORST card in the game and it has… some potential in the right deck. The other two Priest cards are actually pretty good, and some of the neutral cards in Karazhan seem tailor made for Priests. Arcane Anomaly, Medivh, Barnes, the aforementioned Moat Lurker… all excellent in Priest Decks.

    Basically, with all the publicity Priest is getting, and the generally better cards it’s also getting from Karazhan (barring, of course, Purify), I guarantee some amazing Priest decks are going to come out in the next couple of weeks.

  8. RanDomino says:

    Priest gets Priest of the Feast which is actually quite good.

    The biggest problems with Priest are that it has a hard time if it takes too much damage early and remains under pressure, and it doesn’t have good ways to either combo off or avoid being comboed out (such as how warrior can get well out of range by gaining armor).

  9. starclaws says:

    As someone who mains as priest, I can say that the current so called ‘meta’ people use is not very well established on priest. He can survive his own vs. control/spell decks of course. People keep saying he struggles vs aggro decks. Well then you don’t have enough taunts and early removal. People say he struggles vs zoo swarm decks like shaman. Well then you don’t have enough board clear. What people seem to forget is Priests true strength is using the enemies cards against them. By stealing cards, it allows you to have those extra taunts/board clears in holy novas and soulpriest+circle of healing and holding out for the late game where your true strength is. A lot of these aggro decks rely on card draws to swarm and it comes back to card trading efficiently.

  10. Premium User Badge

    timzania says:

    Blizzard’s mistake here was in missing the emotional investment people have in Priest. There’s always a worst class, and given that there are 9 separate classes, sometimes the worst class is going to be very far behind.

    For years it was Shaman, and that didn’t stop Blizzard from printing useless cards like The Mistcaller, while classes which were already strong got amazing new tools. And of course people complained, but not loudly, so they got the impression that they could afford to take it slow with this sort of thing.

    Thing with Priest, though, is that lots of people constitutionally want to *be* healers and always pick healer classes in RPG/adventure games. They feel like something they care about was taken away from them when Lightbomb/Velen’s Chosen/etc rotated out of Standard and Priest became uncompetitive. So for emotional reasons, despite the history, they assumed Blizzard would be in a huge hurry to fix Priest, and that they’d do it with Karazhan, even though nothing like that was ever promised. Then Purify was the match that lit all this dry kindling on fire.

  11. Fnord73 says:

    Is there such a thing as a Hearthstone Vanilla server? Because damn, its impossible to play now with a year old deck.