Ben Brode’s favorite meme isn’t playable: What happened?
As stated on a recent Reddit AMA, Hearthstone Game Director Ben Brode’s favorite meme is the infamous “4 mana 7/7”, Flamewreathed Faceless. Poking fun at the card’s perceived overpowered-ness and the community’s salt that erupted as a result, the meme now has an ironic twist: Flamewreathed Faceless is far from oppressive.
In fact, it’s currently borderline unplayable, seeing zero competitive use in any Shaman decks. How did this card go from all-conquering outrage and humor generator to storied collection-filer? How did the 4 mana 7/7 go from OP meme card to an unplayable meme card?
Rise of a Giant
When Flamewreathed Faceless was released as part of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion, it became emblematic of the power and frustrations expressed in the all-conquering Aggro Shaman. The card quickly slotted in, forming a staple part of the deck. Being able to plop down a huge body that required an immediate answer granted the deck some surprise wins. This was especially effective against Control or Midrange lists that lacked cheap, single-target removal.
The main advantage of the 4 mana 7/7 was how impactful just a single attack to face would be. 7 health is a huge chunk of starting HP, and against a deck as aggressive as old Aggro Shaman, it’s crippling. Even the presence of Flamewreathed Faceless in a deck can prove fatal, as saving removal for it can leave a Tunnel Trogg or Totem Golem unchecked, allowing burn to finish the opponent off.
Servant of Trogg-Saron
Flamewreathed Faceless’s fortunes were intimately tied to that of a far smaller minion: Tunnel Trogg. This minion determined the power of Flamewreathed Faceless in two main ways. Firstly, it was a key and powerful synergy tool for the card’s 2 overload. Flamewreathed Faceless’s downside was always the lack of immediate board impact. Even at 4 mana, a deck as proactive as Aggro Shaman could rarely take turns simply plopping down stats. Buffing Tunnel Trogg by 2 provided a much-needed immediate damage impact.
More generally, Tunnel Trogg was the card that lead Aggro Shaman to come into being, and its the card whose rotation returned it to obscurity. Without its niche as a punchy minion with which to top curves, Flamewreathed faded with it. But surely the sheer value and efficiency of the 4 mana 7/7 would give it other uses?
Stats don’t rule all
Unfortunately for meme-aficionados everywhere, Flamewreathed Faceless simply couldn’t find a home in other Shaman decks. Revive-focused “Bogchamp” Shamans flirted with it for a while, but ultimately its lack of taunt and crippling overload relegated it in favor of beefier Taunt minions that could be more easily comboed across multiple turns. Midrange Shamans found the tempo loss when it was hard-removed too damaging against control, and the vanilla body did little against aggro.
In short, the card fell into the trap of many Hearthstone cards: Not doing enough, soon enough. The downside of the overload meant that playing Flamewreathed became a short-cut to Tempo oblivion against many enemies. Sure it could trade favorably, but only if not removed and after giving up 6 mana across two turns.
If the card had Taunt or some other immediate effect, it perhaps would have lived on. But as it was, it became an unwieldy anchor on any deck that wanted to run out. Not contributing to win conditions and slowing down the game plan, it was an easy cut to make.
The meme, eternal
While Flamewreathed Faceless has vanished from competitive Hearthstone, it’s memory and memery live on. The joke changed/grew subtle. The punchline was less about Blizzard releasing an overpowered minion and more about the hysterical overreaction of Hearthstone’s community to ill-judged overpowered cards that prove anything but in the long run.
The fact that Purify sees play in strong, meta Standard decks without any changes, and the infamous 4 mana 7/7 is unplayable is a estament to the community’s collective inability to judge cards in the long run; and on the subtle and evolving ways memes can grow from complaints to community satire.
Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.