Following what is now an unofficial Hearthstone tradition, yesterday's big expansion reveal also gave us the first tangible taste of the upcoming Voyage to the Sunken City card set: in the form of one Blademaster Okani. The expected pre-order Patch 22.6 meant a new free toy to play with (as long as you weren't among the unfortunate mobile crowd), and it has certainly made a splash upon arrival. Given what the Standard metagame has become, many players instantly felt that at least some of their pleas have been answered with a special way to disrupt their opponent's turn.
Now that we've had more time to witness Blademaster Okani in action, it looks like the mind games might be here to stay as part of our regular Hearthstone routine.
Ankoan, That's a Strange New Word
Very strange for anyone who hasn't played World of Warcraft or its Battle for Azeroth expansion (arguably, even then). Which pretty much forms the basis of inspiration for Hearthstone's upcoming Voyage to the Sunken City. It's not a grand revelation, of course, considering that all sets and so many of the cards have their place within larger Warcraft lore, just with an own unique tavern spin. We've recently covered this angle in greater detail:
Blademaster Okani, as it happens, is an actual Warcraft MMO character. The proud leader of the Waveblade clan that joins forces with the Alliance in order to fight off the evil Naga. So in a roundabout way, we could just consider this card as another thematic reward for the recent faction victory in the Honor race... right?
The Ankoan are a race of humanoids, deep sea warriors who are definitely not fans of the Naga, Hearthstone's newest upcoming tribe. If Blademaster Okani looks visually familiar, that would be due to being a descendant of the Jinyu, amphibian race native to Pandaria. We have seen a couple of them before, it's just been a while! Don't point out any potential Murloc genes (ahem, Coldlight Oracle), they might take offense.
See that particular resemblance? Also a blademaster who isn't an orc, that might be another first for Hearthstone. Somebody should send Injured Blademaster and Blademaster Samuro some flowers. It also looks like we might be seeing more Ankoan representatives in the near future, with Kotori Lightblade reveal marking the second one for the time being.
I don't think anyone has expected to see a Counter effect just become a Neutral tech card choice, what with the mechanics of Counterspell being a staple in Mage for so long. That's our best direct reference, but not the only one.
Remember The Amazing Reno (I mean, how you could ever forget any Reno card; that's a lasting impression for better or for worse)? Hearthstone developer Celestalon has indirectly made us recall those particular shenanigans while answering a few relevant questions:
Counters the minion, doesn't kill! No Battlecry or Deathrattle!
What if the minion has a passive aura like Kreen or Sorc, does it counter that?
Countering a minion completely removes it, like it was never played, same as how Countering a spell works.
The "secretive" part on a minion is also something we haven't really seen being experimented with since the chilly times of Fatespinner.
Anything carrying the trademark "Reno effect" should be, quite obviously, very potent. But we do not get to take it too far by using more than one copy at the same time or enabling 'infinite' stacking Battlecries.
Question: If you somehow have two of these on the field at the same time, and you set them both to Counter the same type of card, do they both go off, or do they trigger in order of when it was played (like Deathrattles)?
Both go off, you do not get to stack multiple counters.
This matters for any cards that can boost or repeat Battlecry effects. As Blademaster Okani might be often seen with the dreaded Shudderwock or Brilliant Macaw. If either of these cards repeats the Counter effect, you don't actually get to choose whether it's a minion or a spell, the game just picks at random. Mind games both for you and your opponent! But at least the owner eventually gets to see what has been rolled.
Brann Bronzebeard and Bolner Hammerbeak behave slightly differently when boosting the Counter picks. You can make it so Blademaster Okani blocks both a minion and a spell, but as noted above, no shenanigans beyond that. One minion would just get countered 4 times all at once rather than have the effect be spread to 4 separate minions.
Still, such a card makes for a breath of fresh air. Or... water. Hopefully nobody gets to drown in endless frustrations over getting their most powerful gameplan mercilessly countered.
Card Interactions and Decks
Blademaster Okani will likely remain versatile for a long time to come, with the power level of the card closely depending on the state of any particular metagame. It's obviously made to mess with the likes of Kazakusan Ramp Druid, where a few costly minions and a deck full of support spells can make some of the opposing turns and potential answers relatively easy to predict.
But if we're heading towards future game states full of lower curve minions and reliant on maintaining constant board presence (remember how that even looks like?), then it becomes a proposition mainly for classes with stronger AoE removals - if the price of including the card in one's deck is even worth it at that point. 4 mana should always make it easy to pair with something else later on, and we lived to see potential 0-cost clears like Shield Shatter.
And weapons, don't forget weapons. No countering any of those. Even though there aren't many of them capable of dealing 6 damage without any extra buffs. One other special category that escapes the means of direct Counters would be Hero cards - the likes of Magister Dawngrasp or Kurtrus, Demon-Render can always find a way for effective removal.
Since Blademaster Okani still needs to stay alive in order for the chosen effect to have a chance to trigger, it didn't take players long to figure out that any sort of Health buffs or Divine Shields can come a long way (including the idea of our own Swizard).
It's also the kind of 'annoying' tech choice that could fit into various types of decks. Besides Paladin, don't be surprised to see many hopeful Priests, Shamans, or even Demon Hunters learning the Counter ways. Perhaps we'll find an opportunity to showcase some of the more successful ladder picks where Blademaster Okani might become a staple; although it's worth noting that many competitive players are currently busy playing at Masters Tour Two, and they weren't allowed to bring this card to the tournament in the end (we will delve more into that below).
Let the Mind Games Commence
Counterspell and various other class Secrets have always had their fans and detractors alike. What is fun and skill testing for one person can be incredibly frustrating for another - if just guessing wrong or not having a suitable card to test with might lose the game on the spot, that's a very understandable sentiment.
But the kind of secret gameplay introduced with Blademaster Okani leaves a lot less to chance (or having to remember all possibilities in a given format without a deck tracker, a common pain when playing against Secrets). It's "just" these two options between a minion and a spell, with some ways to play around the whole thing.
Of course, that still leaves the distinct opportunity to mind game your opponent, even more so than pretending you've just played a different Secret than the one you had in hand. Get it right, and somebody is bound to feel very good about themselves.
Since Kazakusan Druid is pretty much the public enemy number one nowadays, it's no surprise that's what everyone thought of countering when they first saw Okani. Capture Coldtooth Mine is often a great "tell" of what's to come, and when a deck only plays 2-3 minions... the temptation to set up a counter is clear. Yet, that's also something the Druid player would expect once they saw Blademaster Okani landing on the board. At best one could earn a turn while they are forced to use 2x Lunar Eclipse or Scale of Onyxia for a clear, without wasting a card in the process. But what if we took it one step further and secretly chose Spell Counter instead? Perhaps our opponent gets baited and at least sees their spell vanishing into the nether - or, they might predict our intent and just dare to drop Kazakusan. So then if we know that they know that we know, we ought to default to picking Minion Counter instead, as originally desired? And down the rabbit hole it goes...
That's not even considering the instances where somebody might drop Okani later in the game and immediately manage to buff or hide it, thus making the opportunity cost of testing for the presumed counter that much greater. It's a pretty theory at least, but we also do know from all the years of Hearthstone practice that special cards such as Blademaster Okani have more often than not failed to leave their mark on the meta. As always time will tell in this particular instance, depending on what the rest of the new set and the upcoming rotation hold for us.
Masters Tour Ban
If you've tuned in to the ongoing Masters Tour Ruins of Alterac at any point during the broadcast with the hope of perhaps seeing the new card in action as the most competitive players attempt to mind game one another for their victory points and our amusement, you'd sadly only find the disappointment. Blademaster Okani was indeed meant to be that one secret card to spice up the big tournament, but due to prolonged mobile patch issues, that initial decision had been just as swiftly reverted. From the initial announcement:
Masters Tour Players
Blademaster Okani will be eligible to submit in your lineups for Masters Tour: Ruins of Alterac. Are you going fishing … or is it bait?
To the next corrective ruling 4 hours later:
That's really too bad. From a viewer's perspective, at least. As you can imagine, there were enough pro players who breathed a collective sigh of relief as their carefully prepared lineups had nothing to worry about in the end - after spending the first few hours frantically reconsidering all their options with the expected widespread early tech Blademaster Okani inclusions in mind. Then there were also known competitors understandably bummed by the whole thing, as the new 'spicy" card might've shaken up the status quo and put more rightful fear into all Kazakusan enjoyers.
The mobile issues eventually got fixed, but by then it was already too late for any unban hopes, what with the Masters Tour Two being underway. Turns out that being forced to delay a major patch only to have it released less than 24 hours before a large tournament was always bound to be a very risky proposition.
But hey, at least it wasn't the fault of our strange new Ankoan warrior. Blademaster Okani did nothing wrong to become a persona non grata; now he just needs to prove himself on ladder and perhaps make a high stakes competitive appearance during the upcoming Grandmaster playoffs.
Have you already encountered any mind games where Blademaster Okani played a major role? Got baited by or managed to bait your opponents? Any recommended decks or amusing game stories to tell? Share your initial experiences of the card with us!