Hello everybody and welcome back to another Fan Community Spotlight. It's the beginning of October, which means that it's the time of the year where we start to see some spooky things. In fitting with the time of year, and the rumors of a Death Knight class possibly coming to Hearthstone, we've got a custom Death Knight class to show you by someone who goes by the name of FrIkY.

Death Knight is a class that already has an established identity, not only within World of Warcraft, but also Hearthstone. If you look at all the Death Knight cards that were added in Knights of the Frozen Throne, you can already see some vague idea of how they might be designed if they were to become a fully-fledged class (although interestingly, they didn't receive any Freeze cards despite the fact that Freezing is an integral and iconic part of Death Knight's identity in the Warcraft universe).

This I think makes it a good class to build around for both beginners and veterans alike. The groundwork for how you can build the class is already there, but it's up to you to decide where you take it. Alternatively, you can choose to ignore that groundwork entirely and take the class your own way entirely. You may remember that I covered another Death Knight about 7 months ago, and if you look at these two takes of Death Knight side-by-side, you can really see how the same class can be taken in directions that make them feel so familiar and yet so distinct at the same time.

The Death Knight

Your base hero as a Death Knight is the typical choice for most people who make Death Knight classes, and that would be none other than The Lich King himself, Arthas Menethil. Arthas is only one of the most famous characters in the entire Warcraft canon among players and non-players alike, and one with a very interesting backstory for people who are aware of it (and if you aren't, then our lore expert GoliathTheDwarf can help enlighten you on that front).

For this incantation of Death Knight, your base Hero Power is Raise Ally which summons a 1/1 Ghoul if you don't already control one. If you do, it'll give that Ghoul +1/+1. When upgraded, it becomes Dark Transformation which doubles the stats of the Ghoul and doubles the buff it gives.

The Empower keyword is where things get really cool. When you play a card with Empower, you can choose to infuse the card (though it won't require any minions to die while it's in your hand) with one of three different Runes: Frost Rune which makes the card Freeze whatever it damages, Blood Rune which gives it Lifesteal, or Unholy Rune which gives it Poisonous. Each of these adds either 1, 2, or 3 mana to the card's casting Cost respectively.

Look at Rune Strike. Rune Strike normally costs 1 mana and deals 3 damage, but you can make it 2 mana and make it Freeze what it damages, or you can pay 3 mana to give it Lifesteal, or 4 mana to give it Poisonous.

Should you want to save your mana and don't particularly need the upgrade, you're not forced into buying it. You will also have the choice to not Empower the card by choosing No Empowerment, which will obviously not spend any extra mana. In the case of Rune Strike, it will simply function as just a 1 mana spell that deals 3 damage to a minion if you don't Empower it.

If you're curious as to how the Death Knight cards generated by Arfus and The Lich King factor into the class, the answer is that they are implemented into the class, but you should expect to see some changes to align their balance with cards you would put into a normal Constructed deck. As a matter of fact, The Lich Knight will actually receive the Xavius treatment and get changed into a cards with a different name and art, but otherwise function exactly the same. But now it's time to hear from the creator themselves, so let's pass the mic over to FrIkY to see what this Death Knight is all about.

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?

FrIkY: I'd say that my implementation of Death Knight is a bit of a mix between Priest, Paladin, Mage, Warrior, and Warlock, but most of my cards can't really fit into any of the aforementioned classes. Minion resurrection and the mechanic of copying cards from your opponent is what makes me think „that's kind of Priestly“. There's quite a lot of Freezing going on, mixed with dealing damage through spells, so that's obviously Mage. Minion buffs makes me think of Paladin, and strong weapons, armor, and attack gain reminds me of Warrior. The Warlock motive has to be self-harm which there are a few instances of, best example being Obliterate which is a card that everyone should already be familiar with. I think the best example of a card that feels like a mix of two classes, but can't really fit into either of those classes is Frozen Nerves. It's a single-target minion buff (Paladin) that only works as removal on Frozen minions (Mage). Dark Command is also a good example, it's a spell that gives your hero a lot of Attack for a turn (Warrior, Druid, or perhaps even Demon Hunter) and forces enemy minions to attack your hero causing you to lose a lot of Health (Warlock). Both of those examples are cards that could fit into already existing classes, but I think fit better into Death Knight, both thematically and mechanically.

I had a few pointers that I wanted to follow as I was designing the class. Firstly, I wanted my Death Knight to have a decent number of removal spells, be it single-target or area-of-effect removal, so that's one of the things I think it should be good at. Although, it only has two unconditional hard removals for now, Obliterate and Doom Pact. Secondly, since the class keyword Empower is all about gaining more power and acquiring buffs, it came natural to me that I should expand on that idea and add class cards that buff minions. The way Death Knight buffs their minions is similar to how Paladin does it, mainly through single-target buffs with the exception of Horn of Winter and Anti-Magic Shell which are board buffs.

Now, what the class clearly lacks is card draw. There's only about two class cards that draw from your deck, Instructor's Razor and Frost Strike, and a couple of cards that generate cards. The class also doesn't have any minion swarm, except for Army of the Dead and Relentless Onslaught, which are both high costed spells, one of which requires big minions in your deck to really work, and the other being more of a removal spell rather than a way of swarming the board. Its biggest limitation right now is cost reduction, which is mainly limited to reducing the Mana cost of Empower, or turning it into Health cost. There's also three cards, a spell, minion, and weapon which get their cost reduced to 0 if they've gained all three Empower bonuses from copying, but again, it's a cost reduction connected with Empower.

And as of now, the class doesn't really have any specific minion type or spell school synergies or bonuses. I think that's just something that would naturally appear whenever it would seem fit, based on the expansions and themes surrounding them. Dragon Death Knight archetype is certainly something that could exist, with Arthas commanding a bunch of undead Dragons along with Sindragosa. Maybe even Murloc Death Knight, where you'd command a bunch of undead, zombie Murlocs, in a similar fashion that Paladin does with their Murlocs, or perhaps something completely different. There's certainly potential.

What initially gave you the idea to make a Death Knight class, and how did you plan to differentiate it from other custom Death Knight classes?

FrIkY: "The idea to create custom classes for Hearthstone has existed in the community for a very long time, way before Demon Hunter was even a thing. First time I took part in creating a custom class was back in 2017, which was also Death Knight, but before Knights of the Frozen Throne came out. After the expansion came out, I lost all hope on there ever being a Death Knight class in Hearthstone because of the way Death Knight Hero cards were implemented. Don't get me wrong, I liked the way the Blizzard team at the time implemented Death Knight into each of the classes, it's just that having them in each of the classes meant that, well, a single Death Knight class is probably never going to exist. With Demon Hunter coming out in April 2020 and recent rumors and discussions of Death Knight becoming a potential new 11th class for Hearthstone sparked my interest again so I wanted to revisit my old custom Death Knight class and give it a new whirl.

My Death Knight class is designed after World of Warcraft's Death Knight, so obviously that's where I took most of the inspiration from. I also used to play and main as a Death Knight in World of Warcraft during the Mists of Pandaria era, so I have somewhat of a connection with that class. From what I've noticed, most other custom Death Knights focus a lot on Deathrattle and Deathrattle synergies, which I haven't really explored all too much. Flavor-wise, Deathrattles in Death Knight make a lot of sense and are quite thematical, it's just that it didn't occur to me that I should focus on that. I guess that's an oversight on my behalf. But then again, I could always explore Deathrattle synergies in the future. I also don't like the way other Death Knights implement Runes. Most of the time they're tokens which are generated from other cards or even Hero Powers, or as collectible cards which seem like a waste of potential for such a mechanic. As a main resource and mechanic of Death Knight, their Runes should be implemented differently."

Where does the Empower mechanic come from?

FrIkY: "When designing a custom class, I think it's exciting to have a special class keyword for it, however, it's important that your class keyword fits your class and isn't just an excuse to add a keyword for the sake of having a special class keyword. I also wanted a flexible keyword that could be used on nearly all card types. Minion-only or spell-only based keywords are fine for expansions where you can add a bunch of minions or spells and still fill the quota of „I've designed enough cards that use this expansion's special keyword“, but when you do the same with a custom class, you either end up with too many single-type cards that contain the special keyword, or not enough. This was a mistake I made on a different custom class I've designed in the past.

When deciding on how to best implement Death Knight Runes into Hearthstone, it was always a choice of „do something out of these three things“, since there are three main Death Knight Runes in World of Warcraft: Frost, Blood, and Unholy. So, for me, the best and the simplest way of implementing Runes was to assign a keyword to each of them. Frost granting the Freeze mechanic, Blood granting healing through Lifesteal, and Unholy granting Poisonous which destroys minions.

Initially, Empower was meant to be a mechanic that gives you one of those three bonuses but only for a turn, kind of like Adapt but for a turn. It sounded neat at first, but I quickly realized that it would only work on weapons and minions that had Rush or Charge, so it was very limiting. But then, I remembered an idea of a certain mechanic that circled in the Custom Hearthstone community, and it was the mechanic of „gaining a certain bonus if you have extra Mana to pay for it“. I looked it up afterwards, and for anyone familiar with Magic: The Gathering, Empower is essentially the Kicker mechanic, but limited to three fixed bonuses. Just like Kicker, Empower lets you give certain cards a bonus depending on the situation, and whether you want to give it a bonus or not. Sometimes you'll be content with just a 4-Mana 4/2 weapon, but at other times you'll really want to save that extra 2 Mana to give it Lifesteal and restore some of your Health.

During development I encountered a certain problem. Low cost minions with Empower had the issue of being simply too weak, even when Empowered. At first, Chillmere Knightfin was a 1-Mana 2/1 Murloc with „Battlecry: Empower.“ which meant if you used the Unholy Rune Empower for 3 Mana, you'd end up with a 4-Mana 2/1 Murloc with Poisonous. Solution? Add a secondary bonus that scales with the amount of Mana you spent on Empower. With that in mind, Chillmere Deathfin got turned into a 1-Mana 1/2 Murloc with „Battlecry: Empower and gain +1/+1 for each Mana spent.“. That way it scales from being 1-Mana 1/2 to 2-Mana 2/3, 3-Mana 3/4, and 4-Mana 4/5.

Currently, most of Empower cards do similar things, stalling, sustain, or removal, which I think is fine. However, I'm working on ways of adding unique mechanics that would benefit from Freezing enemy minions more than just for stalling, or using Lifesteal for more than just to restore Health to your hero. With enough creativity, I believe Empower could be used in more ways than just those three assigned positions."

Are there any other cards you wish to point out for any reason?

FrIkY: "Since I used World of Warcraft as my inspiration, I wanted to design a couple of cards that would closely resemble their WoW counterparts. That's how I ended up with Purgatory and Dark Simulacrum. In WoW, Purgatory is a passive ability that lets your character avoid death for a brief moment. If you can outheal the damage done to you during that brief moment, you get to live, but, if you fail to restore enough health, you die. I tried to replicate that by allowing your hero to go below 0 and thus giving you a chance to heal back up above the death threshold by the end of the next turn. It's a bit like using Time Out! from Paladin, or Evasion from Rogue, except it's not as reliable in preventing death and it has to be used at the right moment. As for Dark Simulacrum, it's pretty much what happens in WoW when you use it. You get to copy whatever ability was last cast by your opponent.

Another card that I'm really happy with is Highlord Darion Mograine, which is meant to synergize with and reward you for using Empower strategically. It's essentially three different Legendary minions in one. It also acts as the classic or staple Legendary for Death Knight. Thassarian and Koltira Deathweaver are also neat. They're supposed to be rivals who kind of do a similar thing and they both synergize with Empower. They would also be the only Death Knight minions featuring Windfury and Divine Shield. No real reason why they have it, I just thought it would be cool."

Options from Highlord Darion Mograine's Battlecry

Do you have anything behind the scenes you want to share with us, or perhaps a sneak peak of what's next to come?

FrIkY: "There are a few cards that got changed a bit, balance-wise or flavor-wise, but most of the cards I designed ended up remaining the same. The only big exceptions, if I recall, are Chains of Ice and Frost Wyrm. Chains of Ice used to be a 1-Mana Frost spell that read „Freeze a minion. It remains Frozen until it takes damage.“ and Frost Wyrm was an 8-Mana 9/6 Dragon that read „Deathrattle: Freeze a random enemy minion, permanently.“, which did not seem like fun cards, so I've changed them to what they are now.

As for a sneak peak of what's next to come? Let's just say that I'll continue making cards for Death Knight whenever I feel like it, but I won't necessarily keep making new cards whenever a new expansion comes out. I'll just design new cards at my own leisure and whenever inspiration hits me."

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?

FrIkY: "I've been designing custom Hearthstone cards for quite some time now. I think I first started making cards in 2016, since then I've had periods where I'd design a couple of new cards each day, or at least one card per day, and then have breaks where I wouldn't design any card for months, or maybe even half a year. Basically, I make cards on and off, whenever I feel like it. I have so many sets I wanted to create, but I never ended up finishing any. I want to make a full set + miniset of cards one day, but I want to make it right. I might make one soon, we'll see.

As for my design philosophies? I don't know, I suppose I always tried to abide by Blizzard's philosophies, or at least pretend that I'm designing the way Blizzard would. Whenever I make a card, I always ask myself „Is this something Blizzard would design? Would this fit into the game? Is this really what the game could use?“, and if I wasn't satisfied with the results, I would stop trying to make it work. Forcing a certain design to work usually means it's not good enough in the first place. I feel like the only really good cards I made are the ones I've designed on the spot. I'm not saying your designs can't be improved through feedback, it's just that if a card requires too much or constant feedback in order to work, it's probably not worth it."

Do you have anything else you want to share with us?

FrIkY: "At the end of the day, we're all just pretending to be game designers here, creating custom cards, classes, sets and whatnot. But you know what? If that makes you happy, then who am I or anyone else to stop you? Wanna make a new class? Go ahead. Wanna make a full set and miniset of cards? Do it. Wanna design a whole new gamemode? Be my guest! Just remember to have fun while doing it. I know it sounds corny, but it really is like that. I've had lots of fun designing Empower cards for Death Knight, in fact it was the most fun I've had with custom Hearthstone design in a long time. If you feel inspired to make a custom class of your own after reading all this, then I'm glad. I support you! Just remember, you won't always be happy with the results or feedback, so be prepared for that as well."

We've now made it to the end of the article, but this is far from over for FrIkY's Death Knight. There's still much more to see by clicking the banner down below, and in the future, you may see some follow-up articles when more sets are added.