Hearthstone’s control tools have gotten far more powerful over the years. AOE has gotten more efficient, lifegain is easier to come by, Hero cards give massive late-game value and spot removal is better than ever. Where once aggro dominated all, now it has multiple hard-counters. But while reactive tools have improved, one aspect of the Control plan has withered away. Strong, high-quality big minions are few and far between. Why have high-cost minions not stood up to the test of time? And do big minions deserve a second chance at greatness?
The fallen Firelord and lost gods
To answer this, let’s look back to an old king. Ragnaros the Firelord was an omnipresent and powerful tool in any deck that wanted to go to the late-game. His imposing presence and memorable intro was the forewarning to a brutal 8 damage fireball. The combination of beefy body, immediate impact and continual threat made him a great inclusion. But it also made him a target.
Citing omnipresent inclusion and immediate impact, Rag was packed off to Wild. Perhaps this was warranted; his random effect determined far too many games on a roll of the dice. But without cards as powerful as Rag available even as class options, the number of big minions played outside of synergistic combo packages has dwindled to almost nothing.
Of course, this isn’t universally true. High-cost minions are still played regularly. Unfortunately, they appear in a very different form to previous incarnations. Big minions used to be the mainstay of control or midrange decks; the final answer to other deck’s continual assaults. They helped with polarization issues by improving bad matchups, and made Control vs Control exciting rather than a boring slog to fatigue. But big minions aren’t like that nowadays.
You only really see two types of big minions in recent metas. One is less a standalone threat, and more of a combo tool or way to enable mana cheating. For instance, Taunt Druid’s big Taunts, Hunter’s Kathrena beasts or Recruit Warrior’s bombs. While this is still an interesting application of high cost threats, they no longer solve the same problems big minions did originally. And there’s an obvious issue when what are designed to be “late-game” threats can come down on turn 6 or sooner.
The other way you see late-game minions is the popularity of the Lich King. And while the Lich King is an admirably potent minion, I think we deserve a greater variety of options than the fallen prince we’ve seen a thousand times before. And there’s only so much one 8/8 can do.
Blueprint for better bombs
So what should be done? Well, a good start will happen naturally. When Kobolds and Catacombs rotates out, there won’t be many ways to Recruit minions left in standard. This means that Blizzard can print more powerful big minions without worrying about them coming down too early.
Another way to improve big minions would be to tie their power to things Control and Midrange decks are doing already. A great example of this is Geosculptor Yip, which rewards decks that aren’t just about getting threats out ASAP, by requiring the owner to cultivate a healthy armor total. Or look at how Shudderwock is a great finisher outside of his OTK variations in “tempo Shudderwock”, which gives Midrange Shaman a powerful finisher that isn’t as win-more as Bloodlust.
It’ll be a while before we can get minions on the same level as Ragnaros, but hopefully we can see worthy successors to him by the time the Year of the Raven finishes up.
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