Welcome to the Forged in the Barrens issue of Archivist’s Lore, the series of guides where we look at legendary minions from a Hearthstone set and tell the story of those cards based on characters in World of Warcraft, comparing how well the effects of the card match the character in lore. For Forged in the Barrens, a little over half of the legendary cards have roots in WoW, with the other half mainly being the ten new Hearthstone-original characters called mercenaries whose stories are told over the course of the Year of the Gryphon. While there are many WoW characters in the set, several of them are minor and don’t have much story, but it still gives us something to go on.
Mankrik is both an unimportant quest-giving character in WoW and a legendary character in the history of the game and community. Story-wise, he’s a simple orc who lives in the Barrens and gives adventures (players) the quest of finding his lost wife, Olgra, only for her to be found dead, much to Mankrik’s sorrow. The two had been separated while battling a pack of quilboars in a small tauren camp. While Olgra was overcome by the attackers, Mankrik was revived by a tauren druid who found him and tended his wounds. Not knowing whether Olgra was alive or not, Mankrik watched the Crossroads every day looking for quilboars to take his vengeance on. After learning of his wife’s fate, he erected a small monument to her and traveled the Barrens seeking to kill more quilboar and destroy their homes in retribution. It has been hinted that he may have found some sense of healing, and even romance, with an orc shaman named Mahka.
What made this quest and character famous is the fact that this quest was in the earliest days of WoW when the game was a lot harder without many of the features it has today, including quest markers. Players had to search the entire zone of the Barrens—which was huge back then and was split in two later in the game—for Mankrik’s wife without any guidance on where to look. This resulted in lots of people asking for help finding her in the zone’s game chat, cementing the character and quest as something of a meme or running joke throughout Warcraft history. Nowadays, people may refer to a quest object that’s hard to find as “Mankrik’s wife”.
The flavor of this card’s abilities are a beautifully perfect match, referencing both the quest and the story. First you have to “go on a quest” to find Olgra after getting it from Mankrik, a quest where she could be anywhere in your deck and hard to find. Then, when you draw her body, you get a buffed-up Mankrik who flies into a rage by attacking the enemy hero, just like how he sought vengeance against the quilboar.
Final Verdict: A card based off an enduring meme from WoW’s history as both a game and story that captures it all perfectly in the card’s effects.
Samuro is a blademaster, a samurai-like member of the Burning Blade clan (thus the pun in his name). The way of the blademaster is an ancient one among the clans, even at the time of the formation of the Horde. They served as an elite fighting force for the Horde during the First and Second Wars against the Alliance, but watched as the rest of their clan was fully consumed by demonic corruption. The blademasters made a vow to purge this corruption from their clan and eventually joined the New Horde created by Thrall, serving as his elite bodyguards. Samuro is the last of the old blademasters to wear the banner of the Burning Blade clan and set off on a warrior’s pilgrimage in his search of honor, redemption, and vengeance for his fallen clan. At one point, he teamed up with Rexxar as part of a squad to waken forces from the human kingdom of Kul Tiras that were threatening Horde lands.
The flavor of Samuro’s card is simple, yet on point. Demonstrating the Frenzy keyword newly introduced in Forged in the Barrens, he combines it with Rush and a damage ability and animation representing a slashing sword to illustrate the flavor of a quick and deadly warrior.
Final Verdict: This card does a good job of representing the elite skills of a blademaster with its ability to rush in and deal a devastating sword slash before its enemies even know what hit them.
Vol'jin was the leader of the Darkspear tribe of trolls that joined the Horde. He was a close friend of Thrall, served a brief time as Warchief of the entire Horde before his death, and even played important roles from beyond the grave. However, all of that would take up too much of this guide and will have to be discussed elsewhere, as this card focuses on Vol’jin’s role as a shadow hunter.
Shadow hunters are powerful masters of voodoo and shadow magic, voodoo meaning a strong connection with the powerful loa spirits the trolls worship. While troll empires in the past once were the rulers of the entire race, as time and the troll civilizations changed their role evolved to be powerful champions and almost mythical heroes of their people. Few ordinary people can understand the power a shadow hunter possesses and they are seen with mixed admiration and fear, for they can bless and curse.
In relation to how well the card expresses all of this, I have to say that I find the connection rather “second-hand” since it shares a similarity with the original Vol’jin card from back in Goblins vs Gnomes. That card involved swapping as well, but with the health of another minion. The idea of draining or buffing someone’s health by swapping it with you own isn’t super explicit, but makes sense within the flavor of something a shadow hunter might do. Swapping minions, however, is hardly a connection at all on the face of it and doesn’t express the flavor to anyone unfamiliar with a shadow hunter as well as it could.
Final Verdict: Ironically, the original Vol’jin card makes a better shadow hunter than this one in terms of effect flavor. Animations can help, but they only go so far.
Now we come to the first of several legendary cards in this set who aren’t major characters, but are key fingers in the Barrens in their own right. Kargal Battlescar is an orc commander stationed at Far Watch Post, a small outpost in the northern Barrens meant to keep caravans safe and guard against attacks from quilboar or the Alliance. Kargal is a loyal soldier of the Horde and takes his job as commander of the watch post seriously, despite its lack of glamour. In the game, he gives players quests to kill quilboar who are causing various problems in the outpost and disrupting the caravans.
The flavor match of this card is pretty perfect in my book, as his entire synergy is flavored as watch posts and lookouts, fitting his job in WoW very simply and snugly.
Final Verdict: Not much to say here except that this simple card of a simple character is a great flavor match and adds a lot to communicating the flavor of the Barrens themselves as a set theme.
Do you like death knights? Of course you do because they’re edgy and badass. Do you like pigs? I have no idea, but let’s just say you do for the sake of argument. How would you like what is essentially a pig death knight? Really cool, right? Yes? No? At any rate, Death Speaker Blackthorn is the leader of the Death’s Head tribe of quilboar, a group of undead quilboar controlled by the Scourge and the lich Amnennar the Coldbringer. They live in the quilboar capital of Razorfen. However, Amnennar was eventually defeated and, being a lich, his spirit returned to his phylactery. After this, the Death’s Head was rendered leaderless and Speaker Blackthorn rose quickly through the ranks of the cult. Shortly after usurping control, he heard the lich whisper to him, promising power and riches if he could return Amnennar to life. Compelled by the power of undeath, Blackthorn searched for the phylactery returned to Razorfen to complete a ritual to bring the lich back to life. In WoW, he’s a dungeon boss who players kill in an attempt to stop this ritual.
Given his own undead nature and his role in working to resurrect Amnennar, another undead being, resurrecting deathrattle minions is quite fitting for Blackthorn’s flavor. I have no clue what any of this has to do with demon hunters, but I’ll cut them some slack since finding ways to work in a class with such a narrow focus story-wise can’t be easy. I’ll just assume that the flavor is being shared with the warlock class of focus on characters with general dark powers. I think that’s sensible enough for the purposes of Heathstone flavor.
Final Verdict: Strange choice of class for this minion, but overall the effect makes perfect sense and fits the character’s flavor nicely.
Another wicked resident of Razorfen, Plaguemaw appears in a quest to aid a disguised red dragon named Belnistrasz in performing a ritual to destroy a macabre idol the quilboar are using as a sinister oven to consume people they abduct from the Barrens. Adventurers/players must guard the dragon and protect him when Plaguemaw attempts to interrupt it and protect the idol. However, this card depicts some past version of Plaguemaw, as the version fought in the WoW quest is undead and, well, rotting.
This card is confusing from flavor. While a druid connection can be seen with the living Plaguemaw depicted as some sort of dark thornspeaker (that is a magic wielder who grows the large thorny place quilboar live in) the card’s connection to taunt minions or resummoning has no clear connection.
Final Verdict: This card’s flavor is confusing to say the least and has no obvious connection with the minor WoW character it’s based on.
Barak Kodobane is a centaur, the highly-aggressive bastard descendants of a strange union between Zaetar, son of Cenarius, and the earth elemental princess Theradras. They have a history of enmity with the tauren people who live in the same lands. Barak himself is a new leader who has risen among a centaur tribe called the Kolkar. His rallying leadership turned the Kolkar from a disorganized problem for the tauren to a real threat. He resided in an area of the Barrens known as the Forgotten Pools and was slain by adventures/players to prevent more aggression against the tauren.
From a flavor perspective, there is little to match here. Barak only has two abilities in WoW: shooting and throwing nets. He has no known connection with magic, but perhaps drawing the spells represents filling a quiver of arrows or some such?
Final Verdict: The character is so minor that there honestly isn’t much to match here from his abilities, so I’m frankly impressed if any flavor matching can be done regarding him in the first place.
Remember Death Speaker Blackthorn? He’s the one Mordresh Fire Eye can thank for being raised into undeath. Mordresh used to be a shaman in life, but his new undead nature has twisted his connection with the elements and is something of a pyromaniac. All of his powers are fire-based and he throws them around with glee to burn anyone who threatens Blackthorn’s goals.
The flavor for this card makes a lot of sense with the mage hero power being Fireblast. By building up fire damage yourself, you can unleash Mordresh’s own crazy-powerful burning abilities as he scorches all your enemies on the board. It would have been cool to see a connection with specifically fire spells, but the card still makes sense like this.
Final Verdict: This card walks the balance between just serving as a card with a cool effect to fill a niche, but also have a reasonably strong connection with the in-game character.
While most of the Barrens is purely Horde territory, the Alliance has a foothold in it as well in the form of a fort named Northwatch Hold. This is where Cannonmaster Smythe works overseeing the cannon defenses of the fort against Horde attackers along with his partner Cannoneer Whessan. He tasks players with manning the cannons and driving back invading forces.
Smythe’s relation to secrets could possibly be a reference to having some sort of hidden reserves to defend the fort or secret weapons to drive back invaders, but this is yet another character with no real story, so we can’t say for sure.
Final Verdict: Not enough information from the original character to say it doesn’t make any sense, so feel free to come up with reasons it does.
One of the great threats to those who live in the Barrens is the harpies, twisted descendants of the wild god Aviana. Serena Bloodfeather was the matron of the Witchwing harpies in the northern Barrens and ravaged Horde caravans in retribution for her sister’s death at the hands of Rexxar years ago.
While there isn’t an obvious connection between this card’s effect and the character’s flavor, harpies are capable of powerful magic and some members of the Witchwing do carry strange objects called blood shards. It isn’t impossible that one ability of this powerful harpy matron could be to sap or drain the strength from others to empower herself, but that’s all just guesswork at this point.
Final Verdict: No obvious connection to the character, but the effect doesn’t feel out of place at all.
Among the undead forsaken, apothecaries are masters of alchemy who tend to be sinister manufactures of new plagues and very likely broke into the real world at the start of 2020. Sometimes they can be helpful, though, creating potions and poisons that can benefit their allies. Apothecary Helbrim is a forsaken who has traveled to the Barrens in search of rare plants and reagents to use in his experiments, such as native fungal spores.
This card effect and flavor could have fit any character who’s a member of the Royal Apothecary Society, but Helbrim fits just fine. It makes perfect sense that his experiments with reagents from the Barrens can give some random results. Thankfully, they’re ones you will always benefit from in some fashion.
Final Verdict: A good match of flavor for a character with an occupation such as this.
When the Old Horde was first formed under the manipulations of Gul'dan, demonic corruption was all the rage and warlocks were the backbone of elite forces. However, when Thrall reformed his new Horde years after the old one had fallen, he was very careful to avoid the corruption that had plagued his predecessors.
Neeru Fireblade is a member of the Burning Blade clan, just like Blademaster Samuro, but unlike the honorable Samuro who wants to purge corruption from his clan, Neeru embraced it and wishes to corrupt Thrall’s Horde in the name of the Burning Legion. To accomplish this, he became an advisor to Thrall, claiming that not all warlocks were bad and that his knowledge of demons could benefit Thrall to identify and defend against them. Of course, he was a complete liar and used his position to secretly aid the Burning Blade and their masters in the Shadow Council. One chief way he would do this was by luring adventures into a cavern under Orgrimmar called Ragefire Chasm under the pretense of weeding out demon worshipers lurking below the city. In reality, it was a test for the acolytes to prove themselves by killing people Neeru had deemed troublemakers.
Neeru’s plans weren’t as secret as he thought, though. Thrall was secretly on to him and used adventurers to thwart his plans, likely following the advice to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Neeru stuck around for years until Garrosh Hellscream took over as warchief and worked to purge all the warlocks from the Horde as part of his obsessive quest to make a “pure” orc-only Horde along with looking down on the other Horde races. When Horde rebels and members of the Alliance stormed the city of Orgrimmar to bring an end to Garrosh’s tyrannical reign, they found Neeru and the other warlocks of the Horde hung in an underground cave. Thus ended the tale of Neeru Fireblade.
In terms of matching flavor, there is nothing that seems to be directly related to Neeru specifically but it’s a good effect for a warlock card in general. Something specifically related to the character would likely involved his role as a “double agent” and messing with your opponent in some way. Nevertheless, as a general representation of his role as the warlock who sacrifices for power, it’s pretty good.
Final Verdict: Nothing that can be called a character-specific effect, but it’s nice to see this character highlighted as a powerful warlock in general.
Now we come to the grand finale of one of the oldest and most powerful orc warriors in the history of the Horde. Varok Saurfang was renowned for his strength and honor and had been with the Horde from its beginning before they ever came to Azeroth. He had a brutal past from the foundation of the Horde where he had joined Grommash Hellscream and the other orcs in an assault on the peaceful draenei of Shattrath City and slaughtered men, women, and children. These actions eventually filled him with deep regret. He was so respected by both the Alliance and Horde that they chose him to lead a joint-faction assault on C'Thun’s prison of Ahn'Qiraj when the Old God began to stir and his armies threatened Azeroth. Saurfang later recovered his long-lost son, Dranosh, in Outland, only to lose him in Icecrown when The Lich King turned him into a death knight. Again, Saurfang’s reputation was honored by the Alliance as they peacefully allowed him to retrieve his son’s body after he was defeated.
Saurfang repeatedly stood up against tyranny in the Horde when warchiefs like Garrosh Hellscream and Sylvanas Windrunner led the Horde down dark roads. He died fighting a one-on-one duel against Sylvanas in order to trick her into exposing her true distain for the Horde and losing the loyalty of many of her followers. Enraged, she killed him with blast of dark death magic before abandoning the Horde to peruse her own agenda in the realms of death. Through his heroic actions that day, Saurfang prevented many deaths and was honored by Horde and Alliance alike.
Saurfang’s card mechanics are a reference to both his own skills in combat (he was famous in the game for his cleave ability to damage many players at once if they attacked him from the other faction) as well as his leadership of the Horde. Since Frenzy is a mechanic meant to embody the spirit of Horde warriors, it makes perfect sense for Saurfang to be shown rallying these warriors to his side, perhaps even reviving them after they’ve gone down, and leading them in a reckless berserk-like attack against the enemy.
Final Verdict: There could be other ways to immortalize this orc of legend, but this is a good a way as any and the Frenzy flavor contributes a lot. Overall, very good.
Thank you for joining us on this exploration of the stories behind Forged in the Barrens legendary cards. This set may have a lot of characters with little story of their own, but it’s still great to see them get the spotlight. Remember that Dr. Boom himself started out as a forgettable minion with hardly any story in WoW and he became a Hearthstone legend. Sometimes being turned into a legendary card can give a character a second wind for fame. Besides that, this is just a great assortment of characters to show off the diversity of friends and threats you can find in the Barrens.
What card is your favorite? Which character concept or story do you like the best? Based on the stories, are there any effects you would change to better match them? Let us know in the comments below.