Since Blizzard’s Hearthstone launched in 2014, 1,594 cards have seen the light of day, some incredible, some terrible, and a majority just passing muster as “pretty good.” But which is best?
This is the question that Blizzard senior game designer August Dean Ayala set out to answer with a recent series of polls on Twitter, laid out like a March Madness bracket and home to 64 of Hearthstone’s greatest cards. The poll wasn’t officially commissioned, but it still received almost 200,000 votes. The way I see it, it is a pretty accurate representation of how the community evaluates card quality.
To spoil things right off the bat: the winner of the contest was the Goblins Vs. Gnomes expansion card Dr. Boom, a 7-mana 7/7 that summoned two 1/1 Boom Bots, each of which would deal damage to the opponent on death. The card was so legendarily powerful that back in its heyday, people would call him “Dr. 7” because if you had him in-hand on turn 7, the card was so universally good that it’d be the wrong move not to play him.
Let’s get one thing straight: Dr. Boom is a really damn good card, and that mostly has to do with how powerful it can be just on its own. Unlike many of the other top cards on Ayala’s bracket, you could run Dr. Boom in pretty much any deck and he’d be powerful enough to turn a game on its head. But Hearthstone has changed a lot since its early days, and an independently-powerful card is no longer all that impressive. Instead, by building your deck with cards that synergize well, you can create powerful plays that greatly outshine Dr. Boom
Take Spiteful Summoner, a 6-mana 4/4 that reveals a spell in your deck and summons a random minion with its same cost. In today’s metagame, people are using Spiteful Summoner in decks that run only 10-mana spells so that on turn 6 you essentially get a 4/4 and a 10-mana minion in one fell swoop. Unlike Dr. Boom, Spiteful Summoner works best if you’re running it in a very specific deck (the card would just be okay if you were running cheaper spells), but at 6 mana, it’s almost undeniably stronger than Dr. Boom ever was.
For that reason, prominent figures in the scene took to Ayala’s “Best card ever” thread to express how much they disagreed with Dr. Boom’s reigning spot. Some, like Petr “CzechCloud” Žalud, say that Dr. Boom is “not even in TOP100 strongest cards” available in the game today.
Others, like Paul “Zalae” Nemeth, took the chance to re-emphasize the power of strong early-game cards that can snowball into big leads, which seem to have been overlooked in favor of flashy late-game showstoppers. “I need to do my part to repeat that more until more people understand it,” Zalae said.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and agree with Zalae and CzechCloud: Dr. Boom is far from the best Hearthstone card ever printed. Sure, it was probably one of the strongest options at the time of its release, although if that’s the criteria, cards like Piloted Shredder, Sludge Belcher, and Shielded Minibot would surely give it a run for its money. But if we’re talking Best Card Ever, then it shouldn’t even stand a chance.
That said, I do appreciate Dr. Boom’s firm standing in the hallowed halls of Hearthstone mythology. In some ways, he represents a different version of Hearthstone—a version where decks could flourish by simply running the best cards in the set; where a card’s value didn’t hinge on figuring out powerful synergies.
Even if he was never as good as a puny, sticky 2-mana card like Shielded Minibot, the Doc was always flashier. His card text was vague enough to inspire fear in every new opponent he faced. He snickered maniacally when he hit the board. He put every one of his 7-mana contemporaries to shame.
In some ways, Dr. Boom is the closest analogue Hearthstone has to an American Dream; he was the rugged individual that lifted himself up by the bootstraps and didn’t need “the rest of the deck” to shake things up. For that reason, he’s a worthy poster child for every OP card released thereafter, even if he’s totally unplayable today.