Season Four arrives and with it comes the Witch Doctor. Earlier information indicated that the Faerie Dragon was due in Season Four, but it seems as though the team felt that the Horde Hexxer should come instead.

The Witch Doctor is a 2-cost ranged support mini. Sitting at 300 health, it's surprisingly tanky for a 2g ranged mini, beating out the 3g Darkspear Troll and Pyromancer. The Doctor deals 90 damage per second in the form of a ranged channel attack, ticking 5 times per second (similar to Charlga, without the Bombard restriction), with range of 8. By itself, this is okay. It's a little bit lower than a pair of Murloc Tidehunters and about 2/3s of the Darkspear Troll. Though, keep your eyes out for the poison relic in dungeons, which will apply for each 0.2 second tick.

There's a twist. When a mini dies under the effect of the channel, it explodes, dealing 100 damage in an AoE. This means in group fight the Witch Doctor can contribute far more than the damage it has on paper (particularly against squads).

Although the Horde does have ranged minis and cheap minis, this is still a break from the norm for the family, but a welcome one. When you need to fill in a Horde slot, it can be difficult to commit to either an expensive, bulky mini like Stonehoof Tauren, or a niche mini like Sappers or Chain Lightning. Witch Doctor seems like a fairly versatile option for most armies, and a source of elemental damage is nice for the physical-heavy faction.

What about talents? Switching from General Practitioner to Specialist, we have:

  • Amplify Curse: Enemies killed by the Curse explosion also explode on death.
  • Spirit Ward: On kill, grant a shield to nearby allies, absorbing the next hit against them.
  • Alchemist: Periodically drop a potion, granting Bloodlust to the first ally that touches it.

Amplify Curse is an interesting one. Much like Living Bomb or Exploding Sheep, the explosion can cascade on large groups. The damage is half of that of Living Bomb and beats Exploding Sheep by 25, so it's a pretty potent option to have in a talent. Unfortunately, if the mini doesn't die, you get no bonus from it. It remains to be seen how well that works in practice, as the combat math lining up correctly is crucial for getting value out of the talent.

Spirit Ward also seems good. Although weak to fast attackers or squads, Witch Doctor excels at fighting fragile groups in the first place. Against slow attackers like a Molten Giant or Abomination, the shield can save a lot of health. With minis like Shaman and Cairne, Horde armies can become pretty tough to take down. The range of the shield effect is 8, which is pretty large, and allows a skilled player to take advantage of clever positioning.

Finally, we have Alchemist. The potions drop at the same rate as the Batrider's Fiery Surplus or the Gryphon Rider's gifts, every 12 seconds. Although Bloodlust is a powerful effect, it's not as clear to me how good this talent will be. If a mini picks up the bloodlust along a lane without fighting someone, it only counts as a 33% movement speed increase. Not bad, but on the face of things doesn't seem as potent as the other two options.

Overall, I expect the Witch Doctor to see a decent amount of play. It's a relatively efficient option for the cost, and the talents enhance the support role in different ways. As for PvP, we should note a few things. Cheap minis are generally favored for PvP, since they let you cycle into the counter you need. Spirit Ward might be able to negate the damage from Rocket Towers in some cases, and a ranged attacker is always nice for fighting Dragon Towers. Another possibility is to use Alchemist to set up a Bloodlusted Gargoyle or other Siege mini. I expect it to see some exploration in Season 4.

What other changes are happening in Season 4? We're seeing some improvements to the in-game economy. Daily Rewards are being improved to contain a potential of 300, 500, or even 1000 coins. You can also occasionally get Mega, or even Mythic Tomes. This is a pretty substantial increase to the ceiling of daily rewards, though we'll have to see the odds of getting these bonuses to feel the actual effect.

XP gems are going to be more valuable for the early and mid level players. This seems pretty important, especially for players starting to reach the steeper parts of the mid-level curve and churning out of the game.

PvP rewards are getting another improvement. The seasonal emote is going from a daunting 16000 rating to a more modest 12000. This means anyone capable of climbing out of the first 'real' bracket will get the reward. Combined with the rating inflation we saw in the last set of PvP changes, this should make it a fairly achievable goal to anyone interested. We're also seeing the Arclight Energy rewards go from 200 to 1000.

The final economic change is to the daily offers. Legendary Cores will be on sale for 4000g, providing another option for some of our larger ocean creatures. For others, we'll see the occasional Mythic tome for 1100g, which is probably the most accessible and important power increase for late-game players on offer. Some items like Arclight Energy are getting minor discounts, and the number of Rare Cores is going down, though no news yet on converting the surplus cores into something else. Finally, they're adding combination XP + Star combinations as another purchase option, allowing for better targeting.

Overall, these changes are positive. It's pretty clear that a large number of players are finding it difficult to finish the campaign, so the XP changes will help there. Daily Rewards being improved increases player retention, and any increase in rewards in PvP is welcome to try and get that critical mass of participation which enables matchmaking to become fair(er).

The addition of legendary cores to the shop is interesting. Previously it seemed as though there was very deliberate restriction on the sources as rewards from pinnacle-content. My belief is that this is probably downstream of the PvP changes. Since they made the inflationary changes to PvP, way more players have obtained the legendary core at the 20k reward point. But then the more obtainable the power becomes, the more obligatory it is to get those cores. Offering legendary cores for gold keeps them within reach of players who prefer not to PvP.

The players who will probably be the most unhappy by this patch are high-engagement but low-spending. For this group, they've probably completed most content the game has to offer at this point, and are far along enough in the leveling curve that there's few power increases left available to them without spending significantly more. They really need content, and while the new mini will be welcomed, it's probably not quite as much as they'd like. Hopefully one of the major content releases announced at Blizzcon comes soon.

Finally, we got a hint of in-game events, in this case, relating to the Darkmoon Faire. In World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, the Darkmoon Faire is a typical fete, fair or carnival placed within the fantasy setting, but with a dark and dangerous undercurrent lurking underneath. With the chaotic and whimsical nature of a circus paired with Lovecraftian themes, I'd expect to see something along the lines of surges, which should be a nice bonus for players of all playstyles. Let's hope that Very Soon means very soon.