The Lich King's New Recruits: A DK Review
The new Death Knights were the most highly anticipated cards of the Knights of the Frozen Throne. The community was abuzz with excitement and loaded with questions about how the Death Knights would impact the game. As legendary cards with obviously powerful effects attached to them there was no question that at some of them would end up being played, but which ones would they be?
In this article I’ve ranked all of the new Death Knights and provided a quick rundown on how each of them has been faring in the early metagame. My goal is to let you know which of the Death Knights have proven to be the most powerful in practice and are currently the safest to craft. I’ve rated each Death Knight in several categories to help you understand where each card currently stands in the meta. Enjoy!
Tier 1: Druid, Priest, Shaman
Currently sees widespread play in a top tier deck and is safe to craft.
Craft Safety: 5/5
Malfurion might not be the powerful of the Death Knights in a vacuum but he is the most versatile a longshot. Along with Ultimate Infestation and Spreading Plague, Malfurion is a big part of the reason why Druid has become the most played class in the early KFT meta.
What makes Malfurion the number one Death Knight is that he’s rarely a dead card. He doesn’t require a special deck or particular set of circumstances to be playable. His battlecry ability is excellent when you’re behind on board and is almost always capable of buying you a turn of extra time, which is something that can’t be said for many of the other Death Knights. When you combine his flexible battlecry trigger and low setup cost with his upgraded and similarly versatile hero power, Malfurion the Pestilent is a card which is well worth 7 mana.
Currently played in every Druid deck except for Aggro Token, the only thing which could possibly make Malfurion the Pestilent a poor investment of dust is if Druid ends up getting heavily nerfed. Druid decks are the currently the most popular on the ladder by a wide margin, and one could easily make the case that some of their new cards (chiefly Ultimate Infestation) are bit too powerful. Even if one or more Druid cards end up getting a nerf, I still think that Malfurion is flexible enough to find his way into any Druid deck which doesn’t want to end the game before turn 7.
Craft Safety: 5/5
Shadowreaper Anduin has is currently seeing play in the majority of Priest decks and has single-handedly made Highlander Priest top tier. When combined with Raza the Unchained his upgraded Hero Power feels completely broken. Even without the Raza, the card is powerful enough to stand on its own as a finisher in non-highlander decks as well.
The battlecry trigger is better than it looks at first glance as it covers up one of the major weaknesses of the Priest. As a typically controlling class, Priest has no problem with wide boards of smaller creatures thanks to cards like Dragonfire Potion, Holy Nova, and Pint-Sized Potion plus Shadow Word: Horror. However, Priest has historically struggled to deal with boards that consist of multiple large threats. Thanks to Shadowreaper Anduin’s battlecry trigger, opponents of Priest are now now required to constantly play around the threat of having their large minions wiped away by a single card. Though Shadowreaper Anduin’s battlecry ability isn’t quite as flexible as Malfurion’s, it’s an ever present threat which has the ability to steal games on its own and punish opponents who over commit to the board.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where you regret crafting Shadowreaper Anduin so long as you’re a fan of Priest. He’s a necessity for Highlander strategies, and any Priest deck which is looking to have the game go long might be interested in him for his battlecry trigger alone. His strength in Control decks is what makes him a safe investment, but he gets a slight knock in the versatility category as Midrange or Aggro decks are not always be interested in an 8 drop.
Craft Safety: 4/5
Evolve Shaman was was already one of the strongest decks in the Journey to Un’Goro metagame, and it would be hard to imagine a more perfect card for Evolve Shaman than Thrall, Deathseer. His Battlecry trigger is incredible in combination with Saronite Chain Gang and Dopplegangster, and his upgraded Hero Power does a great job of ensuring that unwanted evolutions don’t stay on the battlefield for too long.
Though he is unquestionably great in the Evolve deck, Thrall, Deathseer hasn’t yet been able to find a home anywhere else. Evolve Shaman is still a solid deck, but if the meta ever becomes hostile to Evolve decks then Thrall might not end up seeing much play. Control decks vastly prefer the ability to create totems on an empty board to the Transmute Spirit, and synergy dependant decks like Murloc Shaman are probably not interested in evolving their carefully constructed boards into something random. There’s currently no reason to believe that Evolve Shaman will become unplayable in the near future, but if it ever does fall of the map then so too will Thrall, Deathseer.
Tier 2: Warlock, Rogue, Warrior
Currently sees play but is not featured in a top tier deck.
Craft Safety: 3/5
The biggest and baddest of all the Death Knights, Bloodreaver Gul’dan is a much better finisher in Midrange and Control Warlock than most would have expected. There’s no question that his upgraded Hero Power is awesome, the question was if you would ever have time to gain incremental value from it if the battlecry trigger didn’t do enough to stabilize the board. As it turns out, throwing double Voidwalker into a deck with Bloodreaver Gul’dan will buy a couple of Taunt minions to protect you the turn after he is played. The powerful new addition of Despicable Dreadlord is another welcome complement to a couple of other already strong demons like Abyssal Enforcer and Doomguard, which makes the battlecry on Bloodreaver Gul’dan much stronger than expected and a powerful finisher in control decks.
There’s not too much to say about the upgraded Hero Power other than its really, really good. A repeatable source of healing is exactly what controlling Warlock decks are looking for in the late game, and it won’t take many activations of Siphon Life before Bloodreaver Gul’dan has paid himself off.
Along with the new Death Knight card, the Warlock class picked up some excellent new tools in Knights of the Frozen throne. Cards like Defile were much needed additions to the class, as it was the weakest by far in Journey to Un’Goro. The jury is still out as to whether or not Warlock will be able to support a Tier 1 or 2 deck for the duration of the KFT meta, and if Warlock does prove to be viable in KFT I would fully expect Bloodreaver Gul’dan to see plenty of play. As things currently stand Control Warlock is strong enough to compete, but if Warlock remains the weakest class in KFT Bloodreaver Gul’dan might end up being a poor investment of dust.
Craft Safety: 3/5
Valeera the Hollow is currently seeing play in the majority of Miracle and Jade Rogue decks, but it’s still up for debate as to whether or not she card should be. Rogue decks tend to be speedy or combo oriented in nature, and in my experience with Valeera she has a bad tendency to rot away in my hand while I wished she was something less expensive. That said, her upgraded Hero Power has single-handedly won me games where I was afforded time to play her, and her battlecry ability is the very definition of buying time when you’re behind on board.
Valeera doesn’t come anywhere close to fitting into every Rogue deck but it seems as though she is capable of fitting into just enough of them that she will eventually emerge as a smart investment of dust. At the present moment she is far from a necessity, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she ended up starring in a new-look Rogue deck before too long.
Craft Safety: 3/5
Few would argue that Scourgelord Garrosh doesn’t pull his weight in Control and Enrage Warrior, the debate is whether or not these decks are actually worth your time. His upgraded Hero Power is an incredible facilitator for enrage cards like Rotface, Sleep with the Fishes, and Acolyte of Pain. Shadowmourne has also proved to be a powerful weapon which does an excellent job of cleaning messy boards.
Scourgelord Garrosh doesn’t come without his downsides. If you’re low on life then you’re not likely to be interested in trading Armor Up for Bladestorm, and Shadowmourne isn’t great against large minions on an otherwise empty board. Scourgelord Garrosh tends to be much better at closing out games you’re ahead in than he is at catching you up when you’re behind, which makes him a bit more situationally useful than some of the other Death Knights. He’ll be a lynchpin in Enrage Warrior if that ends up becoming a thing, and I would also expect he is powerful enough to sneak his way into any Midrange or Control Warrior decks which eventually surface.
Tier 3: Hunter, Mage, Paladin
Does not currently see widespread play but could still eventually find a home.
Craft Safety: 2/5
I’ll be the first to admit that I was totally wrong about my pre-KFT evaluation of Deathstalker Rexxar. My high hopes for this card might be falsely inflating his rating over Jaina and Uther. This was one of the first cards I crafted from KFT and I fully expected this card to be a powerhouse in Midrange, Beast, and Control Hunter, but Deathstalker Rexxar just hasn’t performed as well as most would have expected he would.
The battlecry on Rexxar seems fair given his relatively cheap mana cost, but I’ve found that it frequently doesn’t do enough to push an advantage when you are ahead on board. I’ve found that Hunter decks lay typically want to be pressing a board advantage on turn six, which makes playing Deathstalker Rexxar a massive tempo loss when compared to a card like Savannah Highmane. The Hero Power is an incredibly fun and compelling piece of game design but it doesn’t come close to touching Steady Shot in aggressive decks. Build-a-beast is amazingly versatile, and it has won me many a game where I’ve both had the time to use the Hero Power and the ability to play the Zombeast it created.
Midrange Hunter succeeds when it has board control in the early game and is able to build on that advantage into the midgame, something which Deathstalker Rexxar doesn’t do a great job of facilitating. I’m still optimistic that a deck will emerge which can capitalize on the powerful card advantage engine he provides, but at the present moment it’s hard to recommend crafting Deathstalker Rexxar to anything but the most dedicated of Hunter players.
Craft Safety: 1/5
An extremely powerful finisher for Control Mage, Frost Lich Jaina is currently struggling to see play after what looked to be a very promising start. She shined in the control heavy first few days of the KFT metagame, but has since floundered as aggressive have begun to resurface as she just doesn’t do enough to stabilize the board when you’re getting beaten down.
Frost Lich Jaina is excellent with already strong elementals like Pyros and Baron Geddon, but the supporting cast of elementals aren’t quite powerful enough on their own to warrant an elemental-focused Mage deck. She seems best suited as a finisher in Control Mage. If Control Mage can carve out a niche in the metagame then I would fully expect Frost Lich Jaina to chill out in many a deck list, but Control Mage has yet to prove itself to be a strong enough deck to make Jaina a safe investment of dust.
Craft Safety: 1/5
Before KFT was released, how many of you would have guessed that Uther of the Ebon Blade would be my bottom ranked Death Knight? Most were pegging Uther to be the most powerful Death Knight of the entire bunch, but he just hasn’t been able to find a home in anything but the slowest of Control Paladin lists.
Many were touting Uther of the Ebon Blade as a way to gain 20 life and stabilize a board from behind, but the fact that the lifegain from Grave Vengeance comes in installments means it doesn’t quite do enough catch you up if you’re under serious pressure. Uther of the Ebon Blade is at his best when you’re already ahead and looking to close out a game, which isn’t exactly something you’re looking for out of a card which has the potential to rot away in your hand for nine turns. Tirion Fordring costs one mana less and seems to do more to stabilize the average board.
Uther of the Ebon Blade features an incredibly compelling Hero Power, but tales of its “win the game” clause occurring with any kind of frequency were greatly exaggerated. In practice the 2/2 Horseman are easy to handle in most late game scenarios, and the Auctionmaster Beardo OTK has proven to be far too inconsistent to see play in competitive decks. As things currently stand, Control Paladin would need to see a major uptick in playability before I would ever recommend crafting Uther of the Ebon Blade.