Two full expansions for the price of one? Who would've ever seen that coming a good while ago! Okay, so perhaps we kind of did. Hearthstone really went all out for this one: nobody had a chance to tire of the final (often stale) month of the Murder at Castle Nathria Standard meta, when there was this refreshed experience waiting in the wings. Doubly so, for anyone who wasn't around playing the game way back in 2017.

At least that was the prevailing optimistic theory when Patch 24.6 gave us a chance to try the old cards in a new setting back on November 1, inserting Knights of the Frozen Throne into the existing Core Set for a limited time. As is often the case, the actual reality might've proven to be a whole lot less impactful. But we couldn't have known that at first. 

And now this tasty Hallow's End treat goes away for good once more, as the new March of the Lich King expansion launches fully; making this a second farewell to the original Death Knights. But only for Standard players, as it's going to be business as usual in Wild. Even Arena and Duels get to keep the Frozen Throne expansion for another round.

Still, it was a worthwhile experiment for the Hearthstone team to conduct. We can already look back and say with full confidence it all went down far better than the infamous Doom in the Tomb event - the only other precedent where certain Wild cards were allowed to re-enter Standard (for two full months). Taking place in 2019, the idea is not being remembered most fondly; especially not on a competitive level. And it took a long time for the game to dare try something of the kind once more, this time on a far greater scale. Perhaps it's a sign of things to come? 

As Knights of the Frozen Throne has done a fine job thematically tying into the new era of March of the Lich King, let's say a proper goodbye and take a trip down memory lane. 

Knights of the Frozen Throne and the Lich King

Known as the 6th Hearthstone expansion and released on August 10, 2017. Back in those chilly times when Ben Brode was still at the helm (now he's too busy Snapping with Marvel instead). It gave us the very concept of Hero Cards in the form of notorious Death Knights, and the Lifesteal keyword.

There was a separate Solo Adventure of Icecrown, where defeating the 'Master of Trash Talk' Lich King with all classes resulted in earning a special Prince Arthas skin, along with several packs along the way. Ah, good times. It's a fight well worth revisiting, especially as Anduin (Priest). You might even recognize many of the other featured bosses now reappearing as playable Legendary cards for March of the Lich King. It's all connected!

The expansion is also remembered for its very unusual, solemn narration trailer, so very different from the typical Hearthstone musicals or other silly, lighthearted antics. Still gives me chills to this day. 

The powerful choir music comes from the unforgettable World of Warcraft expansion called Wrath of the Lich King, which has recently enjoyed its modern Classic remake. Back then, it also meant the introduction of the first special class to the MMO game - you guessed, Death Knight was its name. 

And so there could not have been a better thematic choice or timing to celebrate the arrival of March of the Lich King, heavily drawing the inspiration from both of these titles. It must have been a long time coming, at least as a concept plan - considering the memorable quote used by former Hearthstone Game Director Ben Lee over two years ago. 

Quote From Ben Lee

are you planning anything that has to do with the undeads from world of warcraft

My son. The day you were born, the very forests of Lordaeron whispered the name, Arthas. My child. I watched you with pride, as you grew into a weapon. Of righteousness. Remember, our line has always ruled with wisdom, and strength. And I know that you will show restraint, when exercising your great power. But the truest victory, my son, is stirring the hearts of your people. I tell you this, for when my days have come to an end, you, shall be king.

Well, here we are at the end of this particular short journey; now with all the answers in our grasp. As the Lich King has stepped off the Frozen Throne and began marching. 

Wave Goodbye to the Original Death Knights

Perhaps you already know them by heart, perhaps you never had a chance to witness the true power back in their heyday. It was enough to eventually get said Hero cards disabled for the Arena. Too bad we couldn't just combine Hero Powers with the current Fractured in Alterac Valley powerhouses. Or on second thought, perhaps we should've just been thankful for that particular limitation.

Thrall, Deathseer Card Image Deathstalker Rexxar Card Image Malfurion the Pestilent Card Image

Scourgelord Garrosh Card Image Shadowreaper Anduin Card Image Valeera the Hollow Card Image

Uther of the Ebon Blade Card Image Frost Lich Jaina Card Image Bloodreaver Gul'dan Card Image

As it turned out, most of them just weren't powerful enough to become household names in the current Standard meta, some 5 years later. The times have changed greatly indeed. The new expansion Death Knights will undoubtedly fare much better, possibly echoing some of that infamous reputation their counterparts earned in their time of glory. 

Other Notable Cards

Not all memories were necessarily as good; for example Prince Keleseth caused a fair amount of nightmares in its heyday (and yet, it didn't stick around long enough for the final month of Castle Nathria: the now and then being notably different). Saronite Chain Gang at least still lives on in memes, for it can go on, and on, and on... While poor Skulking Geist couldn't find any Jade Idols to burn in Standard. We will always vividly remember Snowflipper Penguin winning us over with its high cuteness levels, even when it doesn't erroneously appear in Duels Buckets. 

Prince Keleseth Card Image Saronite Chain Gang Card Image Snowflipper Penguin Card Image

Unsurprisingly, a couple of the Frozen Throne cards already existed in the current iteration of the Year of the Hydra's Core Set: you might recognize them as Righteous Protector and Drain Soul.

This was also the type of expansion where several classes decided to be rather annoying. Druids with their Spreading Plague (rightfully nerfed at one point) and Ultimate Infestation, which felt immensely powerful at the time (we've seen it reappear for this meta, due to Celestial Alignment). Warlocks with their Defile or occasional Gnomeferatu. Or Control Priests with Obsidian Statue versus Control Warriors with Dead Man's Hand. We all 'loved' it when the games refused to end, after all. 

While we indeed saw the return of Spreading Plague and Defile, the other cards didn't seem to take hold. Instead, we watched Big Priest experiment with Shadow Essence, while Boar lovers adopted a copy of Spirit Lash. There was also Charge Warrior finding a decent use for Forge of Souls.

 Defile Card Image Shadow Essence Card Image Spreading Plague Card Image Forge of Souls Card Image

Despite early attempts, the current Standard never did match Wild when it came to Rogue's Spectral Pillager. And unsurprisingly, we didn't get to relive that time when Shaman had lost its mind and went almost all in on the Freeze mechanics (plus a shred of Murloc support). Alas, Moorabi, the dream that was never realized.

Paladins, Mages, and Hunters had always looked somewhat aimless in that set. Glacial Mysteries, huh. So it's no wonder it didn't impact their Standard lifetime this time around either. In the end, nobody has really made true on the promise of buffing Chillblade Champion to greater proportions just so it could go where Sire Denathrius couldn't. 

Spectral Pillager Card Image Brrrloc Card Image Bearshark Card Image Chillblade Champion Card Image

That about sums it up, for the most part. There weren't many other cards making any larger splashes, or even entering the Standard meta conversation long enough to matter. 

Frozen Throne vs March of the Lich King Changes

Not all of the cards from Knights of the Frozen Throne have made it into the Core Set completely unchanged. There were two notable exceptions: The Lich King himself, and the trusty dog companion Arfus (not quite alive, either of them). Not any mechanical updates per se, but rather something to do with the card text itself: using the form "Lich King" instead of "Death Knight", in order to avoid any added confusion going forward. The reasoning behind such semantic adjustments was actually explained by Chadd "Celestalon" Nervig (the set lead for March of the Lich King) some weeks ago, during the IGN's Frostmourne card reveal

Quote From Celestalon
The cards are functionally still the same, but we tweaked the wording on the old Lich King card to say 'add Lich King cards to your hand' instead of saying 'add Death Knight cards to your hand,' so there's no confusion about like - okay, is it now pulling from all 68 Death Knight cards? No… Lich King and Arfus still give you those Lich King cards.

The Lich King Card Image Arfus Card Image

And while those Lich King cards have and will remain as they always were, we are also seeing some of their refurbished versions making it through for the newest expansion. Once more, it's all connected. As all things Lich King should be. 

Quote From Celestalon
When we were starting to develop Death Knight, we were looking back at the cards that we had made for the Lich King back in Knights of the Frozen Throne and seeing which of those could be potential ideas for Death Knight cards. I think it was a cool idea to just start from - hey, there's an existing base there, can we try making those collectable cards? And maybe we'll have to do some number tuning on them since they were more of treasure type things before, but as we tried them out, we found several of them do fit.

And that's how we got back the iconic Frostmourne, folks. 

Quote From Celestalon
We knew we had to get Frostmourne in somehow. So we started from the actual token from the Lich King… [and] we were questioning - is the power level on this fine? Yeah. Turns out it is. So we've got Frostmourne as a collectable card. Exactly - no changes at all - from how it was.

With Death Knight, we can tune Death Knight overall with the knowledge that Frostmourne is part of their set. Whereas before, Lich King was a neutral card - maybe we could have done it in a specific class, but it felt more appropriate to come directly from the Lich King back in Knights of the Frozen Throne.

Frostmourne Card Image

In the end, not all of them were meant to reappear for the modern day.

Quote From Celestalon
Some of them are sort of duplicated by other ideas or… weren't really appropriate for regular play. Something like stealing your opponent's minion out of your deck and playing it - for Death Grip - didn't have the sort of thing we wanted Death Knight to regularly do, but something like Army of the Dead? We changed the design a bit, but summoning a swarm of minions? Absolutely what we would want them to do.

Death Grip Card Image Death Coil Card Image Death and Decay Card Image Doom Pact Card Image
Notoriously absent.

As for the few we are going to be able to play with, we can compare side by side.

Quote From Celestalon
Army of the Dead we also felt like the design change on that was thematically very similar, but functionally different enough that we changed the name of the old one. So the old one is now 'Army of the Frozen Throne' - it still does exactly what it did [before], but just so there's no confusion. We thought having the new Death Knight class having a spell named Army of the Dead was too important and we had to have that.

Army of the Frozen Throne Card Image Army of the Dead Card Image

Quote From Celestalon
Another one that fit really closely was Obliterate. Obliterate we wanted to add a rune requirement to it, so it requires one Blood rune and we ended up tweaking the art a little bit for gameplay reasons - we wanted it to be no spell school in the Blood type instead of a shadow spell school. So we tweaked the art to be more red than more purple. So that fit.

Obliterate Card Image Obliterate Card Image

However, Anti-Magic Shell was not able to remain unscathed. 

Quote From Celestalon
That was a little sharp, a little extreme of an effect. So we toned that down to only +1/+1 and adjusted the mana cost appropriately so that one fit too. Overall it was just a [process of] - use these as a starting point because it was really cool to be able to bring back those cards. And some of them worked out great and we're really happy with that.

Anti-Magic Shell Card Image Anti-Magic Shell Card Image

From One Death Knight to Another

And now it's time to turn the page towards the next chapter, as the Lich King continues his march and the new Death Knights are set to take over. But the spirit of Knights of the Frozen Throne will definitely linger in the chilly air, perhaps for many years yet to come. 

It's a rare thing, even for Hearthstone and its Warcraft inspirations, to be able to connect the past and the present in such an elegant manner. Let's see where this new journey can take us. 

Did you play Hearthstone back when Knights of the Frozen Throne originally premiered? Found any new/old favorite cards during its brief presence over the past Standard meta weeks? What do you think of all the thematic connections between that set and the newest arrival in March of the Lich King? Let us know in the comments!