The Comprehensive Showdown in the Badlands Preview

Fistful of Corpses

Fistful of Corpses is very reminiscent of Shield Slam, utilizing the corpse count as a resource to deal damage to a minion. This is a very efficient single-target removal, since Death Knight can easily get the corpse count to a high enough number to deal with any kind of large, late game threat. All for just one mana.

The only problem with the card is its rune restriction. A Blood/Unholy split means that this spell can’t realistically see play in anything other than a Rainbow Death Knight, which is an archetype that has never been close to a competitive level. This set could change things, but our confidence isn’t high. Fistful of Corpses would have been a staple card in Blood-Ctrl Death Knight if it only required a Blood rune. Instead, we consider it to be a fringe card that’s going to be as popular as Rainbow DK manages to be.

Score: 2

Farm Hand

As a 3-mana discovering Undead, we can compare this card to Nerubian Vizier, which is a staple in Death Knight decks. Farm Hand has superior stats, but its discover pool is much worse. The most important part is that its discount is far less reliable. Nerubian Vizier is very easy to plan for and activate, while Farm Hand needs to be played the moment you draw it.

On top of that, it carries a significant rune restriction, limiting it to Unholy-centric decks. Considering its unreliable activation, the card at its baseline is just shy of being good enough. A 3 mana 4/3 that discovers from a mediocre pool of cards wouldn’t see play in any existing Unholy decks, or likely future ones too. Swap the attack and health values, then we’re talking.

Score: 1

Reap What You Sow

We think one of the most important aspects of an excavate card is whether we can play it in all situations of a game. There will be moments when you just want to spend mana and don’t have the ideal situation for a card, but playing it is still the correct move since it “invokes”, in Galakrond terms. It helps you progress to your “quest”, in Stormwind terms.

Reap ticks those boxes since, even though it’s a spell, it can target face. Remember how bad Down with the Ship was when it could only target minions? It makes a big difference to be able to spend your mana regardless of what the opponent is doing. A 3-damage spell is worth around 2 mana, so adding 1 mana to excavate (generating a high-quality card) seems reasonable. This card is a good step for Death Knight’s excavating ambitions.

Score: 3

Pile of Bones

Pile of Bones is a secondary payoff for excavation. Once you play it, it’s a body that resurrects back to life every time you excavate. The 2 mana 2/1 is very weak at its baseline, so it’s clear that you need to excavate multiple times to get your mana investment’s worth. In addition, it has a very strict rune restriction, so you can’t play Pile of Bones in any deck, but only in those that give up on a triple rune path.

The upside of Pile of Bones is that it’s a good corpse generator, can help you fight for board over a long game, and help you reduce the cost of Reska quickly. If you attach the effect to every excavate card, it certainly makes the package more appealing, especially if you find Pile of Bones early. You could even build around the card more aggressively by copying it, creating a resurrecting army. But what happens if you draw the card late? It becomes very weak. More importantly, is Pile of Bones even a strong mulligan keep, considering its dependence on finding excavate cards? It does strike us as a card that could become a trap for some strategies.

Score: 2

Crop Rotation

Four rushing 1/1’s for 3 mana is a very good deal. You can compare this to Security or Coordinated Strike, from the Demon Hunter class, to understand how impactful it could be. The one downside is that the minions die at the end of the turn, so you can’t develop a board with Crop Rotation. We think that’s okay for Unholy Death Knights, since they have plenty of ways to develop boards, but few ways to respond to the opponent’s.

What’s more is that Crop Rotation summons undead minions, which activates a lot of synergies in the class. On top of the good rate of 4 corpses for 3 mana, Crop Rotation forms strong combos with Acolyte of Death and Sickly Grimewalker. Draw 4 cards or clear an enemy board, no matter how big it is, with 4 poisonous rushers? This is the card Grimewalker needed. We think most, if not all, Death Knight decks that run an Unholy rune are going to run Crop Rotation.

Score: 4

Skeleton Crew

Skeleton Crew is a very interesting excavate card with varying upside. If we assume that a vanilla 3/3 is worth about 2 mana, we’re paying 2 mana for the excavate ability, but the treasure that is produced costs 0. Treasure costs range from 1 to 4 mana, so if Skeleton Crew excavates for the first time in the game, it’s nothing special. But, if you manage to excavate a Tier 3 or Tier 4 treasure with Crew, then the upside is very significant.

It is true that such an outcome is more likely to occur later in the game than it does on turn 4, where a discount might be most impactful (and still possible), but cost reduction on cards of a very high quality cannot be underestimated regardless. Skeleton Crew is one of the better excavate cards.

Score: 3

Corpse Farm

Corpse Farm is a big corpse spender. For 3 mana, we can spend up to 8 corpses to summon a random minion of that cost. Summoning a random 8-drop for 3 mana is obviously very strong, even if it cannot reasonably happen on turn 3. If we compare Corpse Farm to Corpse Bride, it’s clearly much better thanks to its cheaper cost.

This card could finally help Death Knight players realize their long dream of utilizing Stitched Giant. If we can generate 7-8 corpses by around turn 5, we can play Corpse Farm and drop Stitched Giant on the same turn.

Another important utilization for Corpse Farm is in Rainbow DK. The archetype has long struggled to fuel its build around card, Climactic Necrotic Explosion, with the subpar corpse spenders available to it. It now gets a high-quality corpse spender with a single rune requirement. Will it be enough? Let’s say it’s a massive step forward.

Score: 3

Harrowing Ox

Ox is another secondary payoff for excavation. If you’ve excavated twice, it reduces the cost of the next card you play by 7 mana, essentially giving you the opportunity to fully refund Harrowing Ox’ cost. The card seems easy to activate, since it’s likely that you’ve managed to excavate twice by turn 7 in a deck that’s dedicated to excavating. The question is how we can best leverage Ox.

Generally, Ox encourages us to run expensive cards, especially those that cost 7 mana. This maximizes our discount potential and allows us to make a strong play once Ox is available. Frostwyrm’s Fury or Frost Queen Sindragosa come to mind. But we can’t just ignore the potential utilization with more expensive cards. A free Ox coming down alongside The Primus, for example, helps us protect the Titan. It could allow us to drop a Cage Head on the board without losing initiative, a problem that Cage Head decks tend to suffer from.

Ox’ expensive cost means it’s quite reliant on supportive deck building.

Score: 2

Maw and Paw

A 4-mana legendary with a unique stat line that screams survivability. Maw and Paw generate 5 corpses at the end of your turn, which is a guaranteed benefit. Should they survive to the start of the next turn, they spend 5 corpses and grant the player 5 health. This is a persistent ability that continues to occur as long as they’re alive. This health gain isn’t just a heal, it’s an increase in the maximum life total, much like Renathal or Vampiric Blood.

As an 8-health minion, it’s quite difficult to remove on turn 4. Even if the opponent manages to kill it, they still might sink 8 damage into it. However, Maw and Paw’s stat line means it’s a terrible card at trading. If you’re behind, or you play the card later in the game when more potential removal is available, the card may not accomplish much.

Much like Fistful of Corpses, our main issue with the card is its rune restriction. It would be a staple in Blood decks if it only required a blood rune. Instead, it needs to count on Rainbow DK becoming a real deck, to see competitive play.

Score: 2

Reska, the Pit Boss

Reska is a high attack rush minion with the original Sylvanas deathrattle, a random Mind Control effect. Considering its rush keyword, it’s much easier for Reska to make use of the deathrattle, since it can impact the board immediately and you can direct it to steal the best enemy minion through a good trade.

The main limitation comes with Reska’s cost. Its baseline cost is a massive 20 mana, but the discount potential is huge. Reska gets discounted from any minion that died this game, both friendly and enemy minions. This means that in a class that specializes in minion death, Reska’s mana cost could be discounted very rapidly.

Reska’s most notable utilization is with Death Knight’s Tier 4 treasure, The Azerite Rat. A resurrected Reska can enable a very powerful swing. But other shenanigans are also available, such as Death Growl and Yelling Yodeler. The main limitation of Reska is its rune restriction, which very clearly directs it down the path of an excavating deck. That’s not too bad, considering that Death Knight’s excavate cards are quite strong.

Score: 3

The Azerite Rat

Although Tier 4 treasures are not collectible constructed cards that you put in your deck, we must discuss them as individual cards, since they largely influence an excavating strategy in their respective classes.

Since the entire excavate package is locked behind a Frost rune, we can consider the Azerite Rat a single Frost rune card. Frost Death Knights are probably the worst utilizers of this treasure in a vacuum, so Rat is likely forced into a double Unholy angle.

The resurrecting ability is targeted to the most expensive friendly minion that died this game, so it can be fully leveraged through deck building to resurrect a specific minion you plan for. Rush minions are good targets for resurrection since Reborn and Lifesteal are immediately cashed in. Reska is probably the perfect target, but we can’t discount the ability to resurrect and give Reborn to The Primus, even if the buff and the lifesteal aren’t too impactful in this case.

Another minion that’s quite appealing to resurrect is Blight Boar from Cage Head. This opens more Cage Head OTK possibilities since we can summon a Boar with Reborn for just 4 mana. We are very interested in this direction.

Overall, Rat has quite a few options. Considering that the excavate cards in Death Knight are quite strong, there’s a good chance the Azerite Rat will be competitive, even if the secondary payoffs (Bones, Ox) aren’t too hot.

Score: 3

Final Thoughts

Showdown in the Badlands Set Rank: 8th

Overall Power Ranking:  10th

Although Death Knight did get some neat cards and packages, there’s still a sense of stagnation surrounding the class. While the number of potential Death Knight archetypes is high on paper, none look super convincing to us.

The excavate package in Death Knight is quite good. The Azerite Rat is an evocative deckbuilding piece, with Reska looking like a prime target. This package might go into Rainbow, Plague, Frost, and even a Cage Head OTK deck.

Rainbow Death Knight has a lot of work to do. Corpse Farm is a nice step, as is the buff to Stitched Giant going to a single Unholy rune. Survivability comes from Maw and Paw in addition to Fistful of Corpses. Is that enough to bring it to serious competitive play? The archetype’s finishing potential still looks questionable.

Many players think highly of Plague Death Knight going into the expansion, due to its potential strength against Highlander decks. We understand this argument, but we don’t like it. Beyond a potential Excavate/Reska package, you’re looking at a very similar deck that’s already been struggling this expansion. Therefore, entering a higher power format doesn’t look promising.

Even if it has a theoretical edge against Highlander decks, it’s likely going to crumble against non-Highlander decks. Is it a good spot to be in, hoping Highlander decks are dominant to the point your niche usefulness becomes competitively relevant? What if Highlander decks don’t dominate the format? What if they do, but then they get nerfed? These scenarios don’t bode well for the Plague archetype’s long-term future, at all.

Meanwhile, Death Knight’s older and outdated archetypes got close to nothing. Frost-Aggro might tinker with excavating, but it doesn’t have a great way to leverage The Azerite Rat. Unholy-Aggro is likely to play the same 30 cards. Blood-Ctrl would have loved Fistful of Corpses and Maw and Paw, but it’s been decided they can’t access these cards. As if Blood-Ctrl is some major threat that we can’t support any further.

We just don’t like the class’ direction. Rune restrictions need to be more lenient, to allow more creativity and possibilities, rather than limit them. Right now, it feels like they’re just here to tell you what you cannot do.

1 Comment

  1. The problem with the DK rune system is less that it’s “too restrictive” and more that there is not enough incentive to run decks that aren’t mono-rune. This is less of a problem with Frost-Unholy since there is some support for deathrattle decks there, but there is no reason at all to run a Blood-Frost deck, and the only Unholy-Blood archetype that currently exists (Handbuff) isn’t interested in running Maw and Paw or A Fistful of Corpses. It’s true these two cards don’t really make sense in their current iteration but a better solution would be to design them to also work in a potential Blood-Unholy archetype rather than just knocking off an Unholy rune and calling it a day.

    The way the rune system should ideally work is that the more general, building-block type cards should have one or no rune. The more runes a card has, the more powerful and specialized it should be. However, two-rune cards should still be designed to work in multiple archetypes. With that in mind, Reska, the Pit Boss is a good example of a well-designed two rune card since it synergizes both with the corpse-heavy Rainbow DK and the UUF Deathrattle DK. If neither of those archetypes pan out and they “buff” Reska by removing a Frost rune I’ll be pretty disappointed, since that’ll create even less incentive for players to try out interesting rune combinations.

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