The wait is finally over, and Hearthstone fans all around have been informed: “The Witchwood” will be Hearthstone’s first expansion in the Year of the Raven! With the first announcement came seven cards in total; two new keywords seem to enter the fray as well. Based on the given information, what content can we expect from the new set, and what lore stands behind it?
On first sight, many lore experts were instantly thinking about Witchwood in Highmountain, a very small and gloomy forest, inhabited by harpies and bewitched wildlife. However, Ben Brode announced on Twitter that the fantasy of the new expansion revolves around a forest called Blackwald. Located on Gilneas, the starting island of the worgen race in World of Warcraft. And oh boy, was that a relief, because Gilneas may be one of the richest sources of lore on the Alliance side of World of Warcraft.
Gilneas and the Blackwald have been part of the Alliance for the longest time; but after the Second War, Genn Greymane, King of Gilneas, decided to part ways with his back-then king Terenas Menethil of Lordaeron. As a result, the Greymane Wall was built to part Gilneas from the rest of the Eastern Kingdoms.
Decades later, this wall, which was once built for political reasons, was also meant to protect Gilneas from the invasion of the Scourge. Unfortunately, Gilneas was haunted by yet another threat called the Worgen Curse.
This curse invaded the lands after a certain druid sect called the Druids of the Scythe tried to fully embrace the power of Goldrinn, the ancient wolf god. In numerous rituals they lost themselves in this druidic wolf form, being trapped for eternities. After that, former Gilnean and now Scourge-related Archmage Arugal tried to recruit these wild creatures to serve under the Scourge, and while some of them still serve him to this day in Shadowfang Keep, many feral worgen still hunted in the woods of Gilneas.
Interestingly enough, the ancient Druid of the Scythe rituals took place in today’s Blackwald itself – more precisely within a big old tree called Tal’doren. Which is now inhabited by a former Gilnean nobleman and Greymane sympathiser called Lord Darius Crowley. He and some Night Elves, descendants of the Druids of the Scythe, try to bring balance to the Worgen race. Crowley and other nobles who play an important role could also be printed as cards in the new expansion.
Many citizens of Gilneas are infected with the Worgen Curse, including King Genn himself. Back in the day, he and several Gilnean nobles gathered to form a hunting party, and every full moon they went to take out wild worgen in Blackwald.
One night, Genn got bitten by a worgen, which meant that he was cursed to become a worgen eventually. Luckily enough, Krennan Aranas, the king’s Royal Chemist, who also saved Genn’s daughter from death after her birth, was able to develop a partial cure to the deadly curse, which enabled Gilnean worgen to keep their sanity even when transformed. Even their humanoid form could be maintained for some time; but once in a while, the full moon forced them to show their real worgen form.
This great storyline could easily find a place in the adventures of Hearthstone’s “The Witchwood”, and Genn Greymane has already been announced as a legendary minion card, so we can safely expect to see more Gilnean personalities make an appearance.
Another great indicator for more Gilnean history being told in the new expansion are the two new cards Phantom Militia and Militia Commander. The Gilnean Militia were a brave group of freedom fighters that stood ground against the invasion of the Forsaken in the famous Battle for Gilneas City. Together with worgen warriors they try to repel the attack of Sylvanas Windrunner and her minions. This battle showcases one of the main quest endings on the island of Gilneas in World of Warcraft. It also features many notable personalities like King Genn and his son Liam Greymane, who gets shot after trying to protect his father from a deadly poison arrow from Sylvanas.
The Queen of the Forsaken herself plays a starring role in Gilneas’ past, and she could definitely make a comeback to the Standard rotation as an altered legendary card, just like it happened with Ragnaros or Elise Starseeker. We could also see the Battle for Gilneas City as some sort of single-player content or altered lore-related storyline, similar to the Tales of the Fox during Kobolds and Catacombs.
As you may have noticed, it is incredibly hard to keep track of the history of the worgen and Gilneas in just one small article about it. It may be the most fascinating story arc in all of the Warcraft universe, just because it unites so many facets of years of great storytelling over comics, books and games about Warcraft. The fact that this small island and the people living on it have such an impact on the world of underlines the importance of their history in the great scheme of things. Up to this day, Genn Greymane has tremendous influence on Warcraft storytelling, as seen in the trailer for World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion “Battle for Azeroth”. And so many more stories would be more than worthy to be told both here and in “The Witchwood”, for example the impact of the brave night elf Belysra Starbreeze, or the “Gilnean Sherlock Holmes” called Halford Ramsey and his partner Cox.
The rich Gilnean history can also serve as a sublime “fertilizer” when it comes to genuine Hearthstone lore. The opening cinematic trailer already shows a Gilnean adventurer couple turning into worgen while defending themselves against the threats of the Blackwald. We have experienced such a development with other lore-heavy expansion themes like Knights of the Frozen Throne or Whispers of the Old Gods.
After the more light-hearted and adventure-focussed expansion Kobolds and Catacombs, The Witchwood will certainly feature a more grim and serious fantasy all around, and that is certainly needed; the history of Genn Greymane and his people surely ain’t no fairy tale, and that is why so many Warcraft fans adore it. So far the new expansion seems to hit the nail on the head, and as we will see more cards in the future, the Witchwood will hopefully tell the true story of the secrets behind Blackwald!
And just one last thing: Hagatha, the hilariously teased new Shaman Hero card, is, of course, not a part of Gilnean lore, so check our daily updates on Hearthstone Top Decks to not miss that extra special card reveal!