Consider the Booty Bay Bodyguard.
A measly 5/4 for five mana with taunt. An elementally, exceedingly bad card, superseded by even the meekest of commons like Fen Creeper or Silver Hand Knight. The power gap between it and the universally included Sludge Belcher is laughable, so it’s no surprise that the Belcher is hidden behind an austere wing of Naxxramas, while the Booty Bay Bodyguard appears in every starter deck under the sun.
This isn’t the case with every basic card, Sen’jin Shieldmasta is 3/5 for four with taunt that still sees a fair amount of high-level play right alongside its starter-deck inclusion. But that’s certainly the exception, not the rule. By and large, the class-neutral cards you start with in Hearthstone are bad. War Golem is a shadow of the much more expensive Dr. Boom, and the upcoming Dark Iron Skulker makes Stormpike Commando even more irrelevant. Goldshire Footman, Ironforge Rifleman, Frostwolf Grunt, Silverback Patriarch, all chaff, and all cards you’re forced to graduate from.
The cynic in us says that the reason Blizzard saddles us with these awful cards when we begin our Hearthstone career is so we’re encouraged to spend all our money on new packs to get the luck and dust necessary to craft a reasonable deck. That is, of course, true. This is a free-to-play video game and like all free-to-play video games it needs incentives for people to spend money. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on Hearthstone, and that’s honestly a pretty modest number compared to other players. However, I probably wouldn’t have spent that money if I could win games with Booty Bay Bodyguard in my deck. Sure, there’s the dream of grinding your way to Legend using nothing more than earned gold, and if you actually have time for that, well, god bless. The rest of us will be burning the money to keep the machine.
This is always the hangup I have when I try to explain Hearthstone to people. I talk about how the mechanics have been polished to a mirror shine, and how the competitive community is ridiculously strong and tight-knit. But then you’re forced to mention that, yeah, if you want to have a competitive deck you’re going to either have to play a ton of Hearthstone or make peace with spending say, $30, on digital cards. When you say it like that, it comes off kinda malicious right?
But here’s the thing. We need bad cards in Hearthstone.
It’s for Blizzard’s benefit sure, but it also helps us as players. It’s a learning mechanism. When I first started playing Hearthstone, I had no idea that the Booty Bay Bodyguard was bad. In fact it was one of my favorite cards, because I got to hit face for five hot damage while knowing that it had taunt, so I was protected. I didn’t know that it traded evenly with Chillwind Yeti which cost one mana less, nor did I realize that paying extra for taunt and subpar health was a fast way to lose a game. I ran Goldshire Footman and Lord of the Arena, and spent my first few weeks in Hearthstone watching those cards get swallowed up by the better, but not obviously so, minions like Knife Juggler and Harvest Golem. Eventually, after a bunch of pain and losing and sadness, I understood what makes a Hearthstone card good.
If new players came into the game with an already fashionable, superior deck, would they ever learn? Sure eventually, but it’s a lot easier to climb out of the muck of mediocrity when you’re watching your sub-par deck fail right in front of your eyes.
So yes, those terrible neutrals do line Blizzard’s pockets, but I think they’re also integral to what makes Hearthstone work. We’re always going to need bad cards to set the bar for the good ones.