Knights of the Frozen Throne card review: Blood-Queen Lana’thel and slow Discardlock

Hearthstone’s Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion card reveal season has started! We can expect to see multiple cards revealed on daily basis for the next couple of weeks leading up to the expansion itself.

In this post, I take an in-depth look at Blood-Queen Lana’thel and slow Discardlock.

Blood-Queen Lana’thel

Blood-Queen Lana’thel is a legendary Warlock class card from Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion. It is a five-mana 1/6 minion with Lifesteal and a special effect that it has +1 attack for each card you have discarded during the game.

In some ways, it is reminiscent of the old Paladin legendary, Bolvar Fordragon, but it is a lot better than the good old Bolvar: Lana’thel gains attack no matter where it is. It can be in the deck, in your hand, or even on the board and it gets buffed whenever you discard cards. Furthermore, it has Lifesteal, so it can help you heal.

That said, it is not a very strong card. That one base attack is just so little: you need to discard three cards just to make it a 4/6, which would be a decent statline. Furthermore, you need to avoid discarding Lana’thel itself, so if you happen to draw it, you are somewhat forced to play it on the board and proceed to buff it there rather than have it sit in your hand waiting for the right moment.

Discard is an aggressive mechanic. When you lose so many resources to discarding cards, you have to win through tempo and the tempo gains you get from discard synergies (such as Malchezaar’s Imp, Silverware Golem, and Clutchmother Zavas). A relatively expensive minion without Charge is not an ideal match to the mechanic.

Slow Discardlock – confusion or the future?

Blizzard has attempted to push a slower Discardlock before, in Journey to Un’Goro. Ultimately, the Warlock class quest Lakkari Sacrifice and the big discard Taunt minion Lakkari Felhound were unable to gain popularity, in large part because they simply did not synergize well with the mechanic they were designed to be the figureheads of. Blood-Queen Lana’thel follows in their footsteps.

What would it even take to make Lana’thel and the slower Discardlock good? Publishing a ton of overpowered Discard synergy cards could help with that, but the end result would be disastrous for the gameplay experience: would you like to have your games decided by whether your random Discard effects hit the right cards or not, day in and day out?

Another path would be to give the player more control: if you could either choose which cards you discard, or have a convenient way to return the discarded cards to the board or to your deck, you could play with a long-term plan instead of going full aggro.

Allowing players to choose the discarded cards would cause balance issues: the power level of the current Discard cards is based on the downside that you lose random cards. Being able to hit that Silverware Golem or Clutchmother Zavas every time would make Discard immensely powerful. If such an ability was available early in the game, Discardlock would be a premium aggro deck that just runs over other decks. If it happens only late in the game, you would end up playing two different games between the early game and the late game where you activate your power – and if Warlock gets no additional healing (the thing currently holding Control Warlock back), this slow Discardlock would be no more viable than Control Warlock currently is. In fact, it would probably be worse either way.

The one remaining avenue is to enable reshuffling discarded cards back into the deck or resurrecting them – Cruel Dinomancer is a step in this direction, but as just a single card that resurrects a random card, it has not been sufficient to affect the archetype. More such effects would enable Discardlock to have enough resources to go for a value gameplan instead of a tempo gameplan. If the effects were similar to Cruel Dinomancer, a double random element would remain – first it is random what you discard, and then it is random what you resurrect from that pool of discarded cards. That’s a lot of random right there. A full reshuffle back into the deck, either as a one-time effect or on continuous basis – discarded cards returning to the deck instead of being burned – would reduce the randomness somewhat.

Again, however, Warlock would require some healing to be able to play the long game, and if any of that was added, people might just play regular Control Warlock over any Discard archetype. Unless, of course, you tie all that healing into the Discard mechanic and thus prevent any non-Discard Warlocks from healing effectively. I really hope Blood-Queen Lana’thel does not foreshadow this type of forced use of Discard mechanic as the only way to play Warlock.