Happy Valentine's Day everybody. Do you know what I love? Fan-made content! Could you tell from the 80+ installments of this series that I've made in the past 2 and a half years? (yes, believe it or not, it really has been that long)
(Drinking game: Take a shot every time you read "Death Knight", including that time just now)
Today we've got a person by the name of Dank to talk about a custom Death Knight class. Death Knight was the first new playable "hero class" added in World of Warcraft all the way back in 2008 when the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was released. The idea of adding a Death Knight class to Hearthstone has been floating around in the minds of players since essentially when the game was launched in 2014 (yes, believe it or not, it really has been that long again) and has been a popular choice for custom classes since. Death Knight cards would be implemented into the game in Knights of the Frozen Throne, but only as a tiny pool of generatable cards via Arfus and The Lich King and not a fully-fledged class. While the idea would be thought to be dead by many, the addition of Demon Hunter in 2020 has once again brought up the question of when/if Death Knight will ever be added to the game as a playable class.
Despite the fact that Death Knight has historically been a popular choice for class makers since the game's inception and as well as the ever-existing question of it being implemented into the real game, this is the very first time the class has appeared on Fan Community Spotlight. One obstacle that has been present on designing a Death Knight class is to consider what implications the Death Knight cards from Arfus and The Lich King have on the class. Do you try to implement them into the class somehow or ignore them entirely? Well, fortunately Dank has figured out a solution to this problem. The class is still in very early development featuring only an Initiate set, but it's still very much worth taking a look at and has more planned.
How fitting giving that it's February and by all accounts, it is still Winter. This is also the very first installment to feature this new thumbnail design to accommodate the updated game tags, so do let me know if you like it.
The Death Knight
As a Death Knight, your base hero is Arthas Menethil. Arthas is one of the most iconic characters of the Warcraft universe and one that carries a huge backstory. He was formerly a Paladin of the Silver Hand trained by Uther Lightbringer (and can be seen in this form in-game via the Prince Arthas alternate Paladin hero), and a childhood friend and later romantic partner to Jaina Proudmoore.
As a character, he is depicted as The Lich King and while he isn't the only person in the lore to hold this title, he is the one who is the most prominently depicted.
Your base Hero Power is Raise Ally, which is a 1-Cost Hero Power that adds a 2/2 Ghoul to your hand that costs 2 mana (with the same artwork as the Ghouls generated by Arrogant Crusader, Necrotic Geist, Val'kyr Soulclaimer, and Vryghoul). Upgraded, it becomes Raise Army which adds two Ghouls to your hand. The class does not contain its own class-exclusive keyword.
Now we hand the spotlight over to Dank to talk about how this variant of Death Knight came to be.
Give us an overview of the class. What does it do good at? Where does it falter? Which cards give us the best first view of the class?
Dank: "Death Knights are undead champions of the Scourge serving under the Lich King’s rule. They can be described as evil reanimated Paladins, and this is reflected upon their class identity and gameplay mechanics. Death Knights wield the power of undeath, being able to resurrect and control the undead as well as unleashing dark magics at their foes. As such the class excels in Deathrattle synergies while also having a good number of minion removal tools. Because of their durability and presence in Northrend they’re also efficient at stalling, whether it be gaining life, having taunts, or freezing enemies. Lastly, making use of the large undead armies within the Scourge, the Death Knight can swarm the battlefield with ease as the smallest of minions are easily expendable.
There are however weaknesses that compensates the strenghts of the class. The Death Knight shares a common weakness with the Paladin, and that is dealing direct face damage with cards. This means the class doesn’t receive cards such as Fireball, but are still able to use weapons and other methods to damage the opponent with. A weakness that seperates the Death Knight from its counterpart is being weak at buffing minions to greater amounts. They will still have ways to buff minions, but not having as much of bigger buffs as the Paladin.
A known fact is that cards generated by the Lich King minion and Arfus will be included in the class as collectible cards, but with slight tweaking or as complete reworks. Because of this the text of both minions have been updated to avoid any confusion."
What initially gave you the idea to make a Death Knight class, as well as the specific new mechanics that are at play here?
Dank: "The concept of playing as an undead warrior is very cool to me. Although the Death Knight is a popular choice for a custom class, the idea has always been on my mind for a long time up until this point. I wanted to do my own spin on the class since the other custom Death Knights from what I’ve seen were very lackluster. Their cards were either underwhelming or too complex, and most of the time their class’ main mechanic was overdone to death. As such I wanted to stay away from that and be original as much as possible.
The most difficult task was designing the Hero Power since it is what defines the class’ identity and how it plays out. Not only that the Hero Power also creates the building block for future mechanics that could potentially synergize with it. it took a while but in the end the Hero Power became what it is now. Some mechanics that spawned from the Hero Power includes discard and handbuff as those will be later used in one of my other custom expansions.
The class doesn’t come with its own keyword as there is no need for one. Instead the class makes use of interesting designed cards and unique side mechanics to form its identity. One of the class’ side mechanics are Runes; 0 Mana spells that activates when a condition is met. They are a combination of Secrets and Demon Hunter’s sigils except they can be activated on either players’ turns. Runes and runeforging is a big part of the Death Knight fantasy and it was a duty to fit that concept into the class somehow. Originally runes were going to be used as a class keyword but was later scrapped in the design process."
Were these mechanics designed first and the rest of the class around that, or were they made to go with what was already built?
Dank: "The mechanics and themes for the class were finalized first before any card design. Once they were done the first few simple cards were made and later on some interesting cards using the new mechanics and themes."
Are there any other cards you wish to point out for any reason?
Dank: "There are three cards that stood out from the rest after finishing the starter set for the Death Knight. The first card is Runeforge, and for this one I just love the unique take on your typical 3 Mana draw two cards spell. Not only that but it is very flavorful given the idea of runeforging. The second card, Ancient Archlich, is designed both as a meme and as a strong late game value engine as long as you meet the requirements. This card is also beloved by me for its design. The last card is well liked from a flavor standpoint. The bonus effects given are the same ones from the Adventurers in the Wailing Caverns miniset, and they both share the same stats as Ghouls."
Do you have anything behind the scenes you want to share with us, or perhaps a sneak peak of what's next to come?
Dank: "One of the possible designs I had for the Death Knight’s Hero Power revolved around the specializations Blood, Frost, and Unholy. For this the Hero Power was 2 mana and included three seperate powers that would swap to another each time you use one. You would start as one of the powers and would later switch depending on the situation. Although this seemed cool on first glance it was more fitting for a class like Monk instead of Death Knight, and was therefore scrapped entirely.
I’m currently working on a whole custom «Year of the x» that includes three expansions and minisets featuring the new class, and have already begun designing for the first expansion. The theme and mechanics are a secret for now, but here is a Death Knight card as a sneak peak for what is to come:"
How long have you been making your own cards? What design philosophies do you have that you wish to share and spread to new creators?
Dank: "I began creating custom cards around 2016 after watching some of Kripparrian’s «Best User Created Cards» content on Youtube. As someone who started playing during Naxxramas I was always curious and wondered what thought process went behind making new cards for the game. Then, after watching Kripp’s content, I went and designed my first few cards. They were simple at first, but later on the cards would improve as I learned from others and looked at other people’s creations for inspiration.
When designing cards, I recommend designing whatever comes to your mind. There are two fudemental steps that I follow when making a custom card; first come up with the card’s effects and mechanics, then balance and flavors come last. Card design is like making a cake, you want to create the effect first since that is the main part of the cake, and balance/flavor is the icing that you put on the cake later. These two needs to coexist since without each other since they’re what makes up a card, much like a cake. As stated before learning from others is a must for improvement. This can be looking at other people’s work or looking at ingame cards to see how they are made and balanced. I always have the Hearthstone library up when making cards as they help me pinpoint when I need a direction to go."
Do you have anything else you wish to share?
Dank: "Aside from the things I’ve covered so far? Not really, but when the first expansion is done I would love to have a discussion about it’s development to go with the Death Knight class"
I have no clever comment to transition into the closing words, but here we are at the end. The entirety of the class can be viewed by clicking on the banner below (and you should do that because it's, no pun intended, pretty cool). I wish you all a happy Valentine's Day today and a happy launch of Onyxia's Lair tomorrow.