Hearthstone's Rise of Shadows expansion features an Avengers-style team-up of villainy

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There's nothing like a supervillain team-up to make the do-gooders quake in their boots. Spider-Man's constantly battling the Sinister Six, the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Mutants, and soon Hearthstone players will go up against - or embody - the League of E.V.I.L., a cohort of iconic villains from sets past. Hearthstone's next 135-card expansion, Rise of Shadows, is all about the bad guys, kicking off Hearthstone's Year of the Dragon on April 9 in delightfully nefarious fashion. 

Hearthstone veterans will surely recognize the big baddies they defeated in previous storylines, who have been united (and given new titles) under the wicked leadership of Arch-Villain Rafaam (the dastardly ethereal who served as the final boss in the Adventure campaign for The League of Explorers). Rafaam has persuaded a motley crew of villains to join him: Blastmaster Boom (the incendiary goblin inventor from The Boomsday Project), Madam Lazul (the foreboding fortune teller in Whispers of the Old Gods), Swampqueen Hagatha (the shaman responsible for the corruption in The Witchwood), and Heistbaron Togwaggle (the avaricious Kobolds & Catacombs boss who robbed many a player of Dungeon Run victory). Together, they've pledged to bring doom and despair to Dalaran, the mystical floating city that's crucial to Warcraft lore. 

It's always a treat to see the return of recognizable faces from Hearthstone's history, and Rise of Shadow's plot is setting the stage as the first part of a year-long trilogy spanning all three expansions of 2019's Year of the Dragon. The League of E.V.I.L.'s logo looks a bit like an upside-down Illuminati symbol, and you can expect to see it peppered all over the artwork throughout the set. But this corrupt cohort won't go unchallenged: the Defenders of Dalaran are ready to fight them back and protect the innocent, effectively dividing the set into factions of good and evil. The former includes the Paladin, Hunter, Druid, and Mage classes, while the baddies are Priest (Lazul), Rogue (Togwaggle), Warrior (Boom), Shaman (Hagatha), and Warlock (Rafaam).

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New mechanics reward your patience 

Having had the chance to play with the new set, I can vouch that the added mechanics for Rise of Shadows are a hit in both gameplay and theme. Villainous classes get Schemes, cards with seemingly minor effects that grow every turn they stay in your hand. They're also callbacks to the respective villain's powers; for instance, Shaman gets the Hagatha's Scheme card, which replicates the battlecry of the Hagatha hero card by dealing an increasing amount of damage to all minions. You'll usually be happy to see these Schemes in your opening hand, knowing they'll get better and better as the game goes on - and even though they're far less impressive when drawn late, they can still have a small effect or inform your line for future turns. The League of E.V.I.L. also gets some pesky henchthugs in the form of Lackey minions, 1/1 devotees who cost one mana and bring some handy battlecries to the mix.

Meanwhile, the Defenders of Dalaran get access to Twinspell cards, one of my favorite keywords in recent memory. Acting like a limited version of The Witchwood's Echo mechanic, Twinspell simply adds a single-use copy of the respective spell to your hand. Druids can use their Twinspell card The Forest's Aid to summon five 2/2 treants - and if the opponent manages to clear them, you can instantly refill your board by recasting the Twinspell copy. 

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Aside from the Schemes cycle and the Twinspell keyword, Rise of Shadows will also incorporate callbacks to older sets, but with a twist. For example, Priest's new spell Forbidden Words kills minions based on your mana investment, acting as the inverse of Forbidden Shaping from Whispers of the Old Gods. The battlecry on Warlocks' Arch-Villain Rafaam, a Legendary 7/8 taunt minion, is a throwback to The League of Explorer's Golden Monkey. Mage minion Kalecgos is another Legendary 4/12 Dragon with an extremely powerful effect just like Ysera and Malygos (just make sure you don't coin it out and waste the free spell). And Spellward Jeweler is the much-needed return of a neutral, skill-testing tech card similar to Mean Streets of Gadgetzan's Dirty Rat, able to confound combo decks for a turn if you play it at the right time.

It's good to be bad 

Just like past sets, Rise of Shadow is offering two bountiful bundles: paying $49.99 will get you 50 card packs, the Jewel of Lazul cardback, and a Legendary card, while $79.99 gets you 80 packs, the cardback, a Golden Legendary, and the Madam Lazul Priest hero. Lazul is the first Priest hero to be added since Tyrande Whisperwind made her debut back in 2016, so Priest players will want to snap her up. And somehow, we've managed to get two troll heroes back to back, what with King Rastakhan joining the Shaman hero lineup in Rastakhan's Rumble.

As a longtime Hearthstone player, I feel like I'm always excited for the debut of a new set - but Rise of Shadows is particularly fun in the way it calls back to past expansions and celebrates the theatricality, deviousness, and inevitable blundering typical of supervillain team-ups. Rise of Shadows pre-release events begin on April 5, which is also when you can score a free Legendary card just for logging in, and the expansion officially launches on April 9. Soon after, the solo adventure - which I can't wait to tell you more about - will be added in May.

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