Anyone who has played Hearthstone for a long time knows that Blizzard (as well as myself) loves aggro. Most of the metas are defined by different aggro decks, and most of the long-standing archetypes in the game are aggressively slanted. However, that does not mean control has never had its say. It just means it is not quite as popular as other archetypes. Well, I’ve never been one to follow trends and this week we are going to give the slower archetype its due by diving into the best control cards ever printed. Control may be hard to get into because of time constraints and the legend cap, but it has had some real powerhouses. This list covers the ten cards that really helped decks go long.
Note: A good control card does not mean that it only fights aggro. A lot of people see control as just being able to beat aggro, and while that is true a good amount of the time, this list is much more than that.
Lay on Hands
The honorable mentions begin with one of the Paladin classics. Lay on Hands is a perfect end-game control card in that it provides two things that control needs: healing and card draw. This was a very strong card in the classic Paladin lists, acting as a trump card that would push you out of burst or lethal range while also filling your hand with more healing and removal. It only saw play for a short period time in control, keeping it in the mentions, but it had enough of an impact to make it onto the list.
Big Game Hunter
One of the best removal cards ever printed, Big Game Hunter was an incredible value card that gave a ton of popular control lists that all-important extra removal spell. While every successful control deck is jam-packed with removal, but having an extra card that could take out any large target was more than needed. The reason this stays in the mentions is because of how widely used it was. BGH was as much of a midrange card as it was a control card. As a result, it did not have the same impact on the archetype as cards further up the list.
Every control deck has needed solid finishers, and Ysera was the go-to option for a long, long time. Her ability is game-ending if unchecked, and she can grind down any slow list over just a few turns. However, she dropped off the side of the cliff in terms of popularity, and that cements her as a mention. Even so, there are few better ways to spend nine mana.
Though she only saw play in two decks, Justicar Trueheart proved to be an incredible asset for both Control Priest and Control Warrior. Four health or four armor a turn is extremely hard for many decks to match, giving Anduin and Garrosh ways to rapidly climb out of burst or lethal damage range. Even today she acts as a win condition for Warrior. However, her narrow impact and the fact that she is no longer used in Priest keep her just out of the top 10.
The Top 10
10. Lord Jaraxxus
Starting off out list is Lord Jaraxxus! Eredar Lord of the Burning Legion! As discussed in the intro, good control cards are not one-dimensional. Almost every strong card in Hearthstone is going to have some versatility, and Jaraxxus slides into number ten because of that versatility. The legendary demon has an incredibly unique power that makes him incredible against slow decks and healing when facing aggro. There has never been a better card against control than Jaxx, as no deck has enough removal to handle a 6/6 each turn. However, this card has also saved many a Handlock and Renolock player against burst and aggro by giving that small push up to fifteen. That versatility mixed with the fact that the demon legendary is also three damage a turn easily puts it onto the list.
Jaraxxus is the definition of a control card. He is a huge finisher that you only play into a situation once your opponent has been whittled down to nothing. However, Jaxx does have his setbacks, which is why he is sits all the way back at number ten. The biggest is the health cap. Setting your hero to fifteen can really hurt you in some situations (fatigue!) and can even be an immediate loss against quick damage. It also prevents you from changing into the demon lord if you think your opponent could have any burst at your disposal. Those limit what Jaraxxus can do, and how often he gets played, but he has been an auto-inclusion into all slow Warlock decks since early beta.
Slotting into number nine, Entomb is an incredible control card that really resurrected Priest when it first came out. The reason for that is this card is two different important control elements wrapped into one: removal and a finisher. In terms of removal, there are very few better options than Entomb. This card doesn’t just get rid of any minion on the board, it does so without having to worry about deathrattle from minions like Sylvanas Windrunner or Savannah Highmane. Though removal is an important part of control, this is the only one that makes it onto the top ten. The reason is that no other removal spell was so important to a control deck as this one was and none quite had the same amount of power.
While this card costs a staggering six mana, Entomb was more than worth it. When LOE was released most control decks relied on their finishers to win the game. However, soon after that control’s win condition became fatigue. Your whole goal was to stay alive long enough so that you and your opponent were out of cards. Once that happened, you used a big finisher or your ample healing to end the game. Entomb really pushed that agenda because it allowed you to play two more big minions without actually having to put those minions into your deck. One of control’s biggest problems is having to play finishers, which take up slots and limit the amount of healing or removal cards you can play. Entomb fixed that by turning your removal into finishers. It also made it so you could pretty much guarantee you were going to hit fatigue second, largely ending the control vs. control games.
8. Ragnaros the Firelord
Well, this is a fitting number eight. Since the dawn of control, there have been big minions. And since there has been big minions, there has been Ragnaros the Firelord. What makes this card such a strong control card is that it did three things that are all important for an end-game card. The fiery legendary controlled the board, acted as burst and presented a “must kill” threat that would dominate the game if left alive. Eight immediate damage is always going to be strong, but the fact that came down turn after turn really gave Rag that extra nudge into insane. This card was usually a removal spell tacked onto an 8/8 body that kept removing each turn he stayed alive. One of the biggest problems with control finishers is that they don’t do anything to take out your opponent’s minion. Rag helped bridge that gap, and could always put on pressure if there was nothing to hit.
Ragnaros has been used in a wide range of decks for a wide range of purposes. That keeps him down a few slots, as does the fact that he was all-but absent from the meta for nearly a year. Also add in the fact that he is inherently weak against swarm decks as well as deathrattle minions, and you can start to see why he isn’t higher. Even so, this card has been one of the go-to choices for control decks since the dawn of the game, and now that a certain hunter is gone, I doubt that is going to change anytime soon.
7. Reno Jackson
Due to his ability, you really cannot have Reno Jackson without a control deck. The six mana explorer is a very strong card with a very, very situational ability. However, healing is essential for control decks, and no card heals for more than Reno Jackson. Though his 4/6 body is more than underwhelming, the wise-cracking explorer has one of the powerful abilities ever printed on a card. Alexstrasza was once regarded as an aggro killer because she could heal you up to 15. This card costs three less and heals you all the way to thirty. As a control player, it is hard to ask for more than that. This card has saved many decks from burst and pressure in all sorts of situations. The reason he stays at seven is because he does require you to jump through some giant hoops to make him work and most of the other cards on this list were just good on their own.
Reno comes into number seven because of the sheer impact he had for a wide number of classes. One of the truths about Hearthstone is that certain classes are going to play midrange, some are going to play aggro, and some are going to play control. While those rules are not always set in stone, it is very rare that a card comes along and allows something like Rogue or Hunter to play the control game. However, Reno did exactly that, giving a ton of decks the chance to comeback no matter what the life totals were. Of course, Reno still didn’t quite have as big of an impact if your opponent had a solid amount of damage in hand, but there has never been a better follow up to AOE than healing to thirty. Even if your opponent did have a board, healing up could sometimes you buy you a key extra turn.
AOE is a huge part of control, but most of it is few and far between. The reason for that is how powerful full board clears are and how much they can swing the game in one fell blow. There have been some very strong AOE options printed Hearthstone’s past, but number six on our list is the best AOE card ever made. Period. Lightbomb is the closest thing Hearthstone has ever seen to true AOE, meaning it actually killed everything on the board. Most mass removal spells have some type of damage cap that prevents them from hitting large minions. Lightbomb was strong because it went in the exact opposite route, killing almost every single big minion in the game. This card was so strong that it gave Priest a set identity at the peak of deathrattle and sticky minions.
Though incredibly powerful, and so strong that losing it pretty much killed the Priest class, Lightbomb doesn’t quite hit the top five because its restriction did come to bite you from time to time. Not being able to kill one of Zoo’s 2/3’s (or Warsong Commander!) meant you were still open to taking damage after the clear. In addition, it also came at a time where sticky minions ruled the game. However, the six mana spell usually cleared enough of the board to prevent huge chunks of damage. That would keep pressure off and give you a few more turns to draw into healing or more removal.
5. Elise Starseeker
Continuing our finisher discussion, Elise Starseeker gets the nod to number five for her power level as well as the way she changed control as a whole. Most of the top five are neutral cards. The reason is that they affected the most control decks on the widest scale. Elise falls right into that scheme, because she gave every control deck a wave of finishers in an easy-to-use 3/5 body. In that way, Elise Starseeker is not just a finisher, she is the finisher. That is important because, as mentioned earlier, control used to have the finisher problem where they had to load up their decks with big cards. This would give them a way to beat slow decks, but it would make it so a slow draw would be game over against things like Hunter or Zoo. By putting Elise as your only finisher, you could then free up those slots for things like double Revenge or more removal. Elise freed up control slots and brought about a new age of control that is still well alive today. Going to fatigue no longer matter, because the Golden Monkey will always be there if things get too tricky.
4. Sludge Belcher
There are many abilities that define control, but I would argue the most iconic is taunt. And there has never been a better taunt card than Sludge Belcher. Though it seems completely innocuous at first glance, a 3/5 taunt minion that summons a Goldshire Footman upon death proved to not just be good, it was completely meta-warping. Fighting through the first half of this card was quite difficult. The five health dodged a lot of popular cards (like Piloted Shredder) and made it so your opponent had to trade in multiple minions to overcome the shell. Then, once that was over, there was still a 1/2 on the board that you could not ignore. That double-protection gave control decks a lot of time and locked down the board better than any other card in history.
Sludge Belcher was an insanely powerful card because of how well it allowed you to stabilize. Something you will notice about good control cards is that they stalled in one way or another. Belcher stalled twice, no matter how big or scary the minions you were facing were. This card was so strong that playing one at the right time would cause many decks to concede on the spot due to how much work it took to get through. However, as strong as this card was (and oh my God was it strong) Belcher was just as much of a midrange card as it was as a control tool. As a result, it doesn’t quite break into the top three.
3. Fiery War Axe
A class-specific card at number three? Oh, yes. Though it has obviously only seen play in Warrior, there is just no denying the kind of influence Fiery War Axe has had over the meta and the class as a whole. Control Warrior is the best and most consistent control deck ever made, and it would not exist if it were not for the 3/2 weapon. This card is just an absolute house that crushes (and has crushed) all sorts of popular openings. There have been very, very few early cards that have had more than three health, making this two all-encompassing early removal spells wrapped into two mana. Almost no control cards (or cards) have reached that type of efficiency, which rockets this all the way to number three.
This card is so strong that having it (or not having it) on turn two can shape an entire game. Almost every deck in the history of Hearthstone has wanted to start out quickly, and this puts all of those minions in their place. While things like Quick Shot, Darkbomb and Lightning Bolt can keep one minion off of the board, axe gives you two. Not only that, but it was able to stop a ton of cards before they could really get going. This weapon kept Undertaker in check, shut down both Tunnel Trogg and Mana Wyrm, and limited the value of cards like Northshire Cleric and Mechwarper. Turn two axe is the best opening Control Warrior can have against any deck, and there has never been a better control list than Warrior.
2. Antique Healbot
There have been many healing cards throughout Hearthstone’s history, but none had the wide range impact that Antique Healbot did. Neutral healing is very rare, with most of it being underwhelming options like Earthen Ring Farseer or Refreshment Vendor. Though Healbot had an extremely soft body, its ability was so incredibly useful that every control deck ran at least one copy (and most ran two no questions asked). Reno has the best healing ability ever made, but Healbot is the best healing card ever printed. The reason this is number two and the explorer is number seven is because Healbot was always eight health and it saw play in everything. It worked as a way to keep control out of burst range, buy extra time when facing down an aggressive push and stabilize after a big clear. This was the cap on many games, the last bit of extra health to put you out of reach and make it so your opponent could never kill you.
Eight healing for five mana is not the best deal, but add on a 3/3 body and the fact that this could be used by any class and you have the perfect storm. In fact, the only reason healbot is not number one is because it did very little when you were behind on board. Good control cards typically help you control the board in some way, clearing minions or putting up a taunt. Just healing does not do all that much, which is the reason things like Holy Light have never seen play. However, a body on top of eight healing went a long way. Healbot allowed the creation of a lot of slow lists that never would have normally been able to survive, making it one of the few true control staples.
1. Zombie Chow
DAH. Though there have been some very powerful control cards in the history of Hearthstone, nothing quite gave slow decks an edge like Zombie Chow. Removal and AOE are both good ways of keeping decks in check, but what really hurts control is their lack of early board presence (just ask current Priests). Hearthstone is a game where the attackers have priority. That means that whoever’s turn it is going to be able to dictate the pace. While that isn’t a huge problem for midrange or aggro decks, it has proven time and time again to be the bane of control. Slow decks often lose to faster decks because their removal or minions do come down until turn three or four. By that time they have taken too much damage and lost the board. Chow helped solve this problem by allowing control to contest almost every one and two drop in the game, bridging the gap until they could reach their more powerful cards.
What a world we live in where a 2/3 for one is the best control card ever made. Though the body was aggressive, the ability was soft enough that aggro decks never wanted to go near it. What made Zombie Chow so powerful in relation to other cards, besides its reactive nature, were its stats. There is a huge difference between a 2/3 and a 3/2. So much so that I doubt Chow would have been a third as good with two health. The three allowed it to run into a ton of early game cards (specifically Leper Gnome, Abusive Sergeant, Voidwalker and Argent Squire) and live to tell the tale. Then, it could trade again. That, mixed with the fact that it was also a one-for-one when facing Knife Juggler and Flame Imp, really pushed it over the top to the best control card of all time.
What a strong list. I have never had quite so many honorable mentions and I did not expect so many good cards. Control has always been on the edges of the game, so it is not easy to think about every card they played. There were a ton of top-tier cards that did not make it onto this list. So many that I think this could have been a top twenty or top twenty five. However, this is top 10’s, so that’s what you get. Let me know what you think of the list, and, as always, thanks for reading!