At the end of last week we had the opportunity to interview Hearthstone's game director Eric Dodds, and talk about designing the new Adventure, balancing cards, and the state of the current metagame. After the interview, we also had a brief chance to play through the first encounter of Blackrock Mountain.
And so it was that with Eric watching over my shoulder - no pressure - I set to work on defeating the first of the Adventure's boss encounters: the Grim Guzzler. The first notable aspect of this fight is the opponent's extremely effective Pile On Hero Power. Without having to spend any Mana whatsoever, he summons a pair of minions straight onto the board at the start of each turn - one pulled randomly from his deck, and one from yours.
It's for this reason that you'd be wise to stack your deck with the heaviest, most value-laden minions you have at your disposal, and that's certainly true of the pre-made Mage deck I take into battle. My hand is so fat, in fact, that I can barely make a play during the early turns. Instead, I depend on making value decisions based on my luck of the draw, and you sense there'll be greater replay value to this Adventure as a result of this randomness.
As with many of the Naxxramas encounters, value-focused plays - combined with cautious prodding of the opponent - is enough to see me over the finishing line of this Normal difficulty encounter, but it's a fun series of puzzles to solve nevertheless. Throwing everything back at the Mulligan phase to get your duplicated-by-damage Grim Patron cards seems like a key part of the puzzle too, although it was a chance draw of this new card that led me to stumble upon the strategy after the fact.
It's a different kettle of fish when playing through the encounter on Heroic Mode, however. Here, the Grim Guzzler's Hero Power doubles up in his favour, yanking two minions onto his side of the board for every one gifted to me. I choose to stick with the pre-prepared Mage deck once more, as triggering the Grim Patron duplication with the Mage's Fireblast Hero Power seems like too much value to resist in this uneven fight.
As you'd expect, things become a good deal trickier when the opponent's side of the board board fills up twice as quickly. To compensate, I prioritise getting the Patrons onto the board and then expanding their presence, before making some careful decisions about trading minions and toying with the opponent's position.
It's at this point that I'm introduced to one of the more mischievous elements of the boss's deck - a card called the Dark Iron Bouncer. There are two important things to note about the Bouncer. The first is that if he's present on the board when Brawl is cast, then he's guaranteed to be the sole survivor of the fight, and the last one standing at the end of the rumble. The second is that this card will not be released for players to use - it's just for the fun of this particular fight.
In addition to wielding this rather unfair card - and like some of the more devilish bosses in Naxxramas - the opponent is capable of "cheating" too and packing more than two of each card type into his deck. That means you can never be entirely sure when he's run out of options, adding even more pressure to the trade-or-attack conundrum faced at every stage of the fight.
As for that Pile On Hero Power gimmick, it's not just a fun way of escalating the threat of an boss fight, it's also an opportunity to see something in action that isn't too common in Hearthstone - a true milling strategy. The Grim Guzzler has no option but to trigger that zero-cost Hero Power every turn, and so if you can hold back the worst of the damage, he'll soon push himself into the Fatigue system.
Or at least, you suspect that's the intended strategy. Thanks to the Legendary-laden deck I'm fortunate enough to be playing with, I get insanely lucky on the draw, pulling Ysera onto the board and then dreaming of all the right cards. Following a couple of lucky exchanges, I end up polishing off the boss using the traditional method of caution, control, and eventual destruction. I actually feel a bit sorry for Eric, who's just watched someone cheese their way past the intended challenge. To his credit, he's effortlessly magnanimous in his praise of my decision making.
He's also keen to stress that this encounter is just a taste of what's coming in Blackrock Mountain next month. With a further 16 bosses to overcome in the Adventure, I suspect you'll need more than a spot of luck to get your hands on the Heroic card back rewarded for polishing the lot of these dungeon-masters off..