There’s something magic about certain cards. Every expansion has a few minions that at first, appears to be absolutely unplayable. But something about it inspires people. Instead of being cast aside, it is seized upon. Something that really should not work creates fleeting moments of hilarious effectiveness, in between embarrassing failures. But what exactly is it that creates the recipe for these kind of noncompetitive but strangely compelling cards?
A key component in these meme cards is that they can’t be too effective. Sure, building a deck around the Rogue Quest was compelling at first, but after a few weeks of ladder dominance it began to wear thin. The best meme cards skirt the edges of brilliance, while retaining numerous crippling flaws. A prime example is Majordomo Executus. It has tantalising potential, but could never achieve any kind of consistent effectiveness due to the suicidal eight health cap and prohibitive nine mana cost.
By keeping the card low power-level, it ensures the joke never goes stale, as those who have the courage to try it out are doing it out of love, not desire to grind out ranks.
To compensate for their over the top inefficiency, meme cards have to have a powerful pull. This is best achieved by it doing something no other card does. Weasel Tunneler embodies this perfectly. Sabotaging your opponent’s deck is the exact kind of wacky, nefarious scheme that gets people’s mind racing. It’s the kind of disruption you can’t get from any other card.
Not only does this allow for testing of new mechanics, it also lets Team 5 play it safe with potentially infuriating mechanics. If a weasel-tunneler-like card was ever competitively viable, it would be the most infuriating card in the game. But thanks to its sheer terribleness, it never feels horrible to play against, while still being hilarious when it works.
Of course, a card just being bad and innovative wouldn’t make it entertaining. It’s also necessary that the card is inconsistent; often relying on RNG to even have a chance of working. Shifter Zerus is perfect in this regard. Theoretically, with perfect RNG, it could be the best card in the game. However, the massive range of outcomes means that getting the right minion at the right time is almost impossible. This makes those one-in-a-thousand hail-mary situations where Zerus saves you that much sweeter.
By contrast, cards like Ticking Abomination are just consistently terrible, meaning that they never get those highs or lows where it decides games in your favour. Of course, this next ingredient sometimes changes this
They show up unexpectedly
The average Hearthstone player would never craft Nozdormu, much less put it in their deck. But sometimes, it can show up out of nowhere to decide games. In the Priest vs Quest Mage matchup, it’s actually a hilariously viable strategy to try and get Nozdormu off Free from Amber, disrupting their infinite combo with a 15 second turn timer.
These bad cards with unique effects also can make for some incredible game states. Archbishop Benedictus can be unexpectedly discovered vs a Fatigue Warrior. Lorewalker Cho can be evolved into. Back in the days of the Golden Monkey, a single Acidmaw could wipe whole boards in Legendary vs Legendary end-games. By not needing to show up in a deck to exist, meme cards can make the whole of Hearthstone that bit more exciting.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.
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