Revealed during the HCT Spring Championship in Shanghai, Knights of the Frozen Throne revolves around ice, death and the powers of corrupted Death Knights. From the cards shown and the debut trailer it’s pretty clear that these things will play a role in the way the next season of Hearthstone esports.

“From an esports standpoint we align to the expansions so we can develop our seasons along with the meta,” said Che Chou, esports franchise lead on Hearthstone, during HCT Shanghai. “What’s great about the expansions is that they keep the competitive seasons fresh – every season has it’s own personality. I love the fact that we’ve wrapped competitive so closely around the expansions,” he closed.

With this in mind and so many card reveals happening even now, what does what we’ve seen tell us about how the new season will look? With so much ice and undead power, so far we can expect a Bearshark, plenty of deathrattles, resummons and frost mechanics (to the delight of many Mage players, I’m sure).

First off, the two revealed hero cards (the big new Legendary type that changes your hero power and icon) look to be the ‘must have’ card for the standard decks of this set. Frost Lich Jaina and Deathstalker Rexxar both have very unique hero abilities that allow for new combinations of cards to work in a set.

For instance, Deathstalker Rexxar gives the armor and hero power value to take the class into a longer, slower game. The ability to live out past turn six, drop the hero card and start building beasts with the combinations you need in any given turn really makes for some interesting competition, and fascinating viewing.

Just like Rexxar, Frost Lich Jaina offers to buff minion based mage decks, giving elementals an edge with lifesteal to keep your hero in the game. Trading into minions is a lot more difficult when they get health back from you doing so, but leaving them alive opens up much more healing. The ability to keep a steady frontline while casting spells with the hero power makes Mage all the more interesting going forward.

Lifesteal is the new keyword for the set, returning the damage dealt by a card to the hero as health. Cards like the Paladin’s Chillblade Champion (a 4 mana 3/2) will use this to create pressure on the board for opponents, while spells like the Priest’s Spirit Lash (2 mana) will heal you 1 for every minion on the board, damaging your own minions to keep a draw cycle going when combined with Northshire Cleric or Acolyte of Pain.

Oddly enough, three of the currently revealed neutral legendaries revolve around your deck not having 2, 3 or 4 mana cost minions to get value out of them. Full deck buffs, minion copies and keyword procs are on offer for those who find the way to incorporate them into their decks, but for now, time will tell as to their viability – they could be scarily powerful without us even knowing yet!

Speaking of Legendaries, the few class specific ones shown are quite crazy and have the same “will they work or won’t they” discussion as the neutrals. Archbishop Benedictus, the Priest Legendary, shuffles a copy of the remaining enemy deck into your deck. I personally can not wait to see what crazy things come from decks built around that, and hopefully it informs more of the Priest set.

Sindragosa looks to be a much more solid legendary to play for Mages, summoning two 0/1 frozen champions that give a random legendary minion to your hand. Having two new legendaries offered at random are always a coin flip, but having them up your sleeve is never bad.

The druid set is one of the most interesting ones from the teases thus far, factoring in deathrattles and secret deathrattles into the way they play. That and a great stall tactic, spreading plage (5 mana), make for some strange combinations that may all click once Death Knight Malfurion is fully shown. I also really dig the art design for their set – how would evil Druids operate, and what dark aspects of nature will they harness?

Paladin is looking to revolve around divine shields, sure to synergise well with some of the classes’ older cards. Shaman however is going down a similar path to Mage, getting a whole host of card kill and retrieval mechanics through freeze cards. Being able to drop a Moorabi (6 mana legendary) and make copies of cards frozen after (including while buffing your own minions with Cryostatsis) seems rife for amazing combos and true “woah what just happened” moments.

Rogue is yet to get much in the way of a tease, with the current lineup of cards offering lifesteal, poisonous and an immunity upon playing shadowblade (3 mana weapon). Warlock is in a similar spot, with some discard archetype buffs given in Blood Queen Lana’thel, but other than that no clear synergistic theme coming out.

Warrior looks to not change too much, offering plenty of armor buffs and survival rewards for earlier cards like Val’kyr Soulclaimer (3 mana 1/4). Again, when we finally find out the Death Knight version of the hero I’m sure the class twist will emerge. That’s been the most exciting part, waiting to see what crazy things Blizzard is doing with their heroes.

From the look of the cards as a whole I’d say this icy expansion is going to slow down play a bit. Freezing puts the game on ice against aggro decks, and armor gain from hero cards plus lifesteal should keep heroes alive much longer. Whether this builds to one turn kills or just a slow ramp in power, it will be fascinating to watch the pro scene and even more fun to experiment with our own ideas and card synergies.

In the end, we won’t know how dramatically the meta will shift until the cards are in the hands of the community and inevitably some cards turn out to be way too good. As that becomes the norm, and people build to counter that, we’ll get a good idea of this season’s ‘personality’. Until then though, I know for sure that we’ll see some very different styles of play in heroes, which is very apt thematically. If heroes die and are tainted by power, who knows how that would shape their abilities and styles. I guess we’ll find out the hard way, beaten down in a hail of frostbolts when the Lich king takes over Hearthstone this August.

For everything Knights of the Frozen Throne and Hearthstone esports, check out the expansion hub here and look out for more features as the release draws near on Respawn Ninja!