Ragnaros set the bar for “bombs” (high cost minions). Strongly statted with a powerful, board impacting effect, it’s a double whammy of tempo and value. Now, it is deemed too oppressive to be in the game. In the Year of the Mammoth announcement, Team 5 explained the rotation;
“Dozens of cards in the seven to nine mana range never saw play because Ragnaros was always the easy choice in that range.”
The implication is clear; Ragnaros was just too strong, and removing him from Standard will increase diversity.
A lack of competition
But was Ragnaros too strong? Sure, he saw play in plenty of decks. However, he was hardly universal in the way true met-warping monsters like Dr. Boom were. Paladin regularly ignored him in favor of Tirion; Warriors preferred the AOE of Baron Geddon; Warlocks found him unnecessary with Jaraxxus. His impact could swing games, but rarely decided them the way that Reno or Kazakus draws can. Perhaps the real problem with Ragnaros is less that he was overly strong, and more that he had no true counterpart, no playable neutral value equivalent.
In the classic and basic set, for example, there are only two neutral eight drops. Other than Ragnaros the Firelord, there’s only the nigh-unplayable Gruul. Even today in standard, there are only eight neutral cards of that cost. Of those, four are understatted with worthless effects, if any (Boogeymonster, Gruul, Eldritch Horror and Fossilised Devilsaur). Doomcaller only works in C’thun decks, and Chromaggus and Medivh are both understatted, require comboing with other cards, and provide no immediate effect on your opponent’s board.
Playing a good turn in Hearthstone’s late game usually requires both advancing your own board presence and inhibiting your opponent’s. Once you get to turn eight and beyond, tempo doesn’t stop becoming a vital resource. If anything, it becomes more important against many decks, as this is the point where your opponent is counting up lethal damage while trying to prevent yours. Here is where Ragnaros shone for slower decks; providing both a massive threat, and either pressuring the opponents’ lifetotal or removing a threat.
While the desire to prevent such a card becoming too ubiquitous is admirable, it’s doubtful that simply removing it is enough. When Ragnaros is removed from Standard, it’s quite possible that many decks that would have run it would not instead run the exciting new flavor-of-the-month eight drop. Instead, they may simply forgo any kind of high-end finisher or value injection, relying instead on fatigue or more mid-game burst. Especially if any printed new cards fall in the same power-level as Chromaggus or Force-Tank MAX.
We need finishers
With the rise of Jade decks set to continue after Year of the Mammoth comes in, the necessity for strong, game-ending cards has become more vital than ever. Control can no longer rely on Fatigue to win, and non-Jade midrange archetypes need late-game tools to compete.
But more importantly, bombs are often simply more “fun”. As well as being strong and impressive, they also allow the designers to introduce powerful, interesting synergies and interactions. Think Kel’thuzad, Nzoth, or Medivh; all provide thoughtful plays and counter-plays, as well as unique game-play situations.
Building better bombs
So what’s needed for the next generation of high-cost cards?
Expansions and adventures typically contain very, very few high-cost minions. Fillers like The Boogeymonster or Fossilized Devilsaur should not be tolerated, as they add virtually nothing to the game. While it all doesn’t have to be Ragnaros-levels of value and tempo, everything should at least make an effort at playability.
- Interesting interactions
Synergies and deckbuilding are a key part of what makes Hearthstone fun, and high-cost cards should be a catalyst for that. Cards like N’zoth, Varian Wyrnn and Archmage Antonidas are all examples of this, especially since they reward creativity. Cookie cutter prescribed decks like C’thun are less rewarding to build and play.
- Board impact
If high cost cards are to be more than super-greedy anti-control tools, they need to have immediate board impact. Either taunt, removal, or lifegain are vital to making a bomb worthwhile and decent against all deck types. Taunt in particular is far too stingily given out.
- Consistent Strength
While every card should have its counter, some high-cost cards are too easily countered by specific, oft-played cards. Back before its balancing, it was Big Game Hunter that reduced the playability of almost all high-value minions. Now too many strategies like multiple C’thuns or N’zoth revives are overly weak to transform effects. Bombs should be playable against all opponents, not simply punishing those which don’t have easy access to certain types of counter.