There is something immensely satisfying about really big minions. Their hulking bodies inspire awe and fear and hit the opponent’s Hero with a loud bang. The unfortunate downside is that they are costly to summon and weak to various forms of hard removal: investing nine or ten mana on a huge minion only to see it succumb to a Shadow Word: Death is disheartening.
Since the beginning of Hearthstone, various 8/8 Giants have provided ways to get big minions out more easily. For example, Handlock was based on its ability to use a big hand to summon cheap Mountain Giants and take damage to summon cheap Molten Giants. All Giants have a specific condition to decrease their mana cost, but in the end, they are vanilla 8/8 minions, and sometimes you just want something a little more flashy.
How do you get those flashy minions out early? There are a number of tricks available, and various “Big” decks make use of those methods to win games by summoning end-game minions early. In this article, we’re taking a look at the ways you can cheat out big minions in Hearthstone right now and various decks that have been built around these tools.
The Big Toolkit
Ways to summon big minions early fall into three major categories:
Increasing your mana supply.
Discounting the cost of the minions.
Using alternative summon mechanics to summon the minions instead of playing them for their regular mana cost.
Some of the ways to summon big minions are class-specific whereas others are neutral and available to all classes.
Back to TopIncreasing your mana supply (ramping)
Specific to Druid, this method relies on gaining mana faster than usual in order to then play big minions several turns earlier than would otherwise be possible.
The standard ramp cards are Wild Growth, Jade Blossom (also used in non-Jade decks when you really want to ramp up), and Mire Keeper. Furthermore, Nourish can be used to ramp instead of draw, and this has, in fact, become its most common use since the introduction of Ultimate Infestation.
Finally, there is Innervate, which gives you a temporary mana crystal, whereas the ramp cards give you permanent mana. Innervate was played in almost all Druid decks before it was nerfed – it used to give you two temporary mana crystals – but even in its current state as a class-specific Coin, it still sees play in Big Druid.
With all the ramp cards currently in the game, Druid can almost always get to a full ten mana two or three turns in advance, sometimes even as early as Turn Five. Statistics websites reveal that Druids have even played ten mana cards on Turn Four, although I have never personally witnessed this, only some Turn Fives. That’s quite powerful indeed.
Jade Blossom and Mire Keeper will rotate out of Standard in Spring 2018, whereas Wild Growth, Nourish, and Innervate are evergreens. Unless new ramp cards are printed, the current level of ramping will not be possible in Standard format after the next rotation, but there are still two new expansions about to be released before that.
Back to TopDiscounting the expensive cards
Another straightforward way to get big minions on the board early is to discount their mana cost. There are multiple cards that provide this effect in various ways.
Drawing cards and discounting the cards drawn
This is a commonly used mechanic in Big decks, as the decks include a large proportion of expensive cards and are thus likely to benefit from the mechanic.
Bright-Eyed Scout (Neutral) - An Epic minion from Journey to Un’Goro, Bright-Eyed Scout draws a card and changes its cost to five, no matter what it originally was. As the Scout itself costs four mana, this sets up for a play on the following turn. Of course, you may end up drawing a two-mana spell and making it more expensive, but the more big cards you have in the deck, the more likely you are to find one of them.
Far Sight (Shaman) - An Epic Shaman spell from the evergreen Classic set, Far Sight draws a card and reduces its cost by three. Compared to Bright-Eyed Scout, it has the upside that it always discounts the card drawn, but it also does nothing to develop the board, so it is usually a tempo loss.
Lunar Visions (Druid) - An Epic Druid spell from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Lunar Visions draws two cards and reduces the cost of minions drawn by two mana. While this sounds good, Lunar Visions sees very little play in practice: Druid has so many options to ramp up its mana that it does not need cost reduction. Lunar Visions also rotates out of Standard at the same time as much of that ramp, so it will not get a chance after the next rotation either.
Discounting cards while a specific card is in play
This variant has not really found its way to Big decks, as they generally want to focus on the big cards themselves and not on weak support cards.
Corpse Widow (Hunter) - A Rare minion from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Corpse Widow reduces the cost of your Deathrattle cards by two. That means free Kindly Grandmothers, one-mana Rat Packs, and four-mana Savannah Highmanes. Boasting a relatively strong 4/6 stat line for five mana, Corpse Widow is the most likely discount card to actually survive a turn and the only one that can also be useful immediately. Yet, it has not found a good deck to call home and is often better for summoning small Deathrattle minions instead of big minions.
Summoning Portal (Warlock) - A Common minion from the evergreen Classic set, Summoning Portal reduces the cost of your minions by two, but not to less than one. At four mana, this means that Summoning Portal needs to survive a turn to be useful, and that is too much to ask from a 0/4 minion. It has seen some experimentation, but no one has been able to really make it work.
Pint-Sized Summoner (Neutral) - A Rare minion from the Classic set, Pint-Sized Summoner reduces the cost of the first minion you play each turn by one. This rather unimpressive discount combined with a poor stat line and inherent weakness of cards that need to survive a turn to be useful unfortunately make Pint-Sized Summoner useless.
Discounting cards in your deck
The Druid Quest has seen hardly any play, and with the latest engine changes that made minions that acquire five Attack upon play not count for the quest, it has become even more difficult to build a Quest deck.
A look at the Wild side
While this article is focused on Standard decks, it is worth noting that there are some great tools to discount expensive cards in Wild.
Emperor Thaurissan (Neutral) is an incredibly powerful card that can enable huge combo plays. It is also the only card that discounts other cards currently in your hand, a category now missing from the Standard format.
Naga Sea Witch (Neutral) can help you build an army rapidly, and Aviana (Druid) can either build an army or go for a combo in specific decks. There’s also Dragon Consort (Paladin), although its power pales in comparison to the aforementioned powerhouses. Mechwarper is also a discount card, but it is usually used with hordes of mechs and not with big minions.
Back to TopSummoning minions or copies of minions
Instead of attempting to tinker with the cost of cards or your mana supply, you can also simply cheat out the minions with alternative summon mechanics. Why play the minions from hand at full cost, if you can summon them or copies of them by other means?
Summoning minions or copies of minions from your deck
Practically every Big deck uses some form of minion summoning as opposed to simply playing them from hand. These effects can be immensely powerful and make the best draws of Big decks all but unbeatable.
Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound (Neutral) - A Legendary minion from Whispers of the Old Gods, Y’Shaarj summons a random minion from your deck at the end of your turn. This is powerful by itself, although at ten mana it comes into play a little late unless you can ramp up or discount Y’Shaarj. It becomes insanely powerful if you can first use another card, such as Barnes, to summon Y’Shaarj or a copy of it, and then have Y’Shaarj summon more minions.
Barnes (Neutral) - A Legendary minion from One Night in Karazhan, Barnes is the ticket for all classes to get that early Y’Shaarj on the board. Barnes’ Battlecry summons a 1/1 copy of a random minion from your deck. While a 1/1 is not that impressive by itself, it retains all of the abilities of the original card, so even that 1/1 Y’Shaarj summons yet another minion at the end of the turn.
Shadow Essence (Priest) - A Rare spell from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Shadow Essence summons a 5/5 copy of a random minion from your deck. The copy has all of its abilities intact, so this can be especially powerful when it hits Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound or Obsidian Statue. It also plays extremely well into resurrecting that copy later on with full stats.
Meat Wagon (Neutral) - An Epic minion from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Meat Wagon’s Deathrattle summons a minion from your deck with less Attack than the Meat Wagon itself has. So far, this has mostly been used to summon Validated Doomsayers and the occasional Devilsaur Egg. It is a difficult ability to make good use of, but niche cases exist.
Madam Goya (Neutral) - A Legendary minion from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Madam Goya’s Battlecry allows you to choose a friendly minion on the board and swap it with a random minion in your deck. Madam Goya has seen some play in Shaman, as Totems are cheap and accessible tokens that can be used to make the swap.
Summoning minions that died
Summoning minions that have died is the specialty of Priest and the cornerstone of Big Priest. Hunter also has some tools to do the same, but not enough support to really make it work.
Eternal Servitude (Priest) - A Rare spell from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Eternal Servitude allows you to Discover a friendly minion that died during the game and summon it. This is by far the most powerful resurrect mechanic available in Hearthstone right now, as you can almost always guarantee a good minion. Also, note that the 1/1 copies summoned by Barnes and the 5/5 copies summoned by Shadow Essence return to their full stats when resurrected.
Onyx Bishop (Priest) - A Rare minion from One Night in Karazhan, Onyx Bishop’s Battlecry summons a random friendly minion that died during the game. It sees hardly any play, however, as it is itself a minion and a relatively weak one at that, so it does not play nicely with all the other summon effects used in Big Priest.
Abominable Bowman (Hunter) - An Epic minion from Knights of the Frozen Throne, Abominable Bowman’s Deathrattle summons a random friendly Beast that died during the game. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ensure that you hit a good target. For example, if you play a Savannah Highmane, and both the Highmane and the Hyenas from its Deathrattle die, you are more likely to get a 2/2 Hyena than the full 6/5 Highmane.
Resurrect (Priest, Wild) - The original Resurrect card, a Priest spell that summons a random friendly minion that died during the game, is only available in Wild. A mere two mana, it can be very powerful, if no weak minions have died. With multiple minions dead, Eternal Servitude rapidly overtakes Resurrect, as you get to choose the minion you want from three options with Eternal Servitude.
Summoning minions from your hand
There are only a few ways to summon minions from hand without paying their full mana cost.
Deathwing, Dragonlord (Neutral) - A Legendary minion from Whispers of the Old Gods, Deathwing’s Deathrattle summons all Dragons from your hand into the battlefield. Pulling Deathwing with Barnes and having some other Dragons in hand is a dream scenario with this card.
Alarm-o-Bot (Neutral) - A Rare minion from the Classic set, Alarm-o-Bot swaps itself with a random minion in your hand at the start of your turn (before you draw a card). Unfortunately, a three-mana 0/3 hardly ever survives to actually pull off the swap, so the card does not see any play.
Ancestor's Call (Shaman, Wild) - An Epic spell from Goblins vs Gnomes, Ancestor’s Call put a random minion from each player’s hand into the battlefield. If your deck consists of big minions only, you are very likely to win in this exchange. Alas, the card is available in Wild only.
Summoning copies of minions on the board
The downside of summoning copies of minions is that you first need to get the originals on the board somehow, but these effects can still sometimes be useful.
Menagerie Warden (Druid) - A Common minion from One Night in Karazhan, Menagerie Warden summons a copy of a friendly Beast on the board. I’m still waiting for someone to find a viable list where this card is played alongside Tyrantus, but so far it is mostly content with summoning more medium-sized Beasts.
Molten Reflection (Mage) - A Rare spell from Journey to Un’Goro, Molten Reflection summons a copy of a friendly minion on board. It is mostly used in combo decks to create more Sorcerer's Apprentices, but it can also summon cheap copies of big minions.
Sudden Genesis (Warrior) - An Epic spell from Journey to Un’Goro, Sudden Genesis summons copies of your damaged minions. The card has combo potential and can double the power of your board, but it has not found a good home yet, being mostly used for a combo with Don Han'Cho and Leeroy Jenkins.
The Big Decks
So, there are some tools available to get big minions on the board early. What kinds of decks can be built to take advantage of these tools?
Back to TopBig Druid
Big Druid relies on the ramp mechanic: getting to ten mana as early as Turn Five enables the deck to play a ton of big minions: there are whopping four ten-mana minions and two ten-mana spells in some versions of the deck!
The most common version nowadays – and one that Asmodai piloted to #1 Legend near the end of the October season – is heavy on Dragons. This is especially powerful against Priest, as it almost completely invalidates one of Priest’s most powerful removal tools, Dragonfire Potion.
Going Big with Big Druid is all about ramp. Once you have enough mana, you then have a couple of tempo tools available:
Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound to pull more minions from the deck
Kun the Forgotten King to refresh your mana crystals and get an extra 7/7 on the board
Medivh, the Guardian and his Atiesh to start summoning additional minions with spells, a free ten-drop from Ultimate Infestation, for example
With these tempo tools, Big Druid can repeatedly build wide boards. The key is getting a high mana pool total to start using them.
Back to TopBig Priest
Alongside Big Druid, Big Priest is another established and reliable archetype that is well-suited for a climb all the way to Legend.
Whereas Big Druid is all about ramp, Big Priest is all about summoning minions and resurrecting them. Its most famous tool is Barnes, which increases the win rate of the deck significantly if it can be found in the mulligan – and we’re talking on the level of 20 percentage points increase. This gives Big Priest a reputation as a high roll deck, but that is not really an accurate description.
Even without Barnes, Big Priest runs a removal suite on par with Control Priest of old, able to deal with board after board with Pint-Size Potion + Shadow Word: Horror combos, Dragonfire Potion, Shadow Word: Pain, and Shadow Word: Death.
If Big Priest cannot find Barnes, it gets another chance to summon big minions with Shadow Essence for six mana. That makes for a total of three summon cards, enough to be found reliably. Once big minions have been found, Eternal Servitude can bring them back to serve again, and Shadow Visions can give additional copies of Eternal Servitude to bring the minions back some more. It is not uncommon to face Ysera or The Lich King four times when playing against Big Priest.
The deck also includes Y’Shaarj, which can, in turn, summon even more minions.
While some other classes have attempted to emulate the success of Big Priest, many decks do not sufficiently recognize that Barnes is only one part of the package. Big Priest has other tools that enable it to win games even when it cannot find Barnes, and that makes it successful.
Back to TopControl Shaman
Control Shaman has had some good times, but it has not really been part of the meta lately. The most popular Control Shaman list right now falls within the broader scope of Big decks, while in the past N'Zoth, the Corruptor builds have also been common. This deck is already a bit more experimental and less solid than Big Druid and Big Priest, the leaders of the genre.
This Control Shaman build uses multiple Big deck tools:
Far Sight draws a card and reduces its cost
Barnes pulls a 1/1 copy of a random minion in the deck
Madam Goya can be used to swap a minion on the board with a random one in the deck
Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound summons other minions from the deck
Combined with a hefty removal package that includes Devolve, Maelstrom Portal, Lightning Storm, and Volcano, the deck can survive until it gets a big minion train rolling – and it can use Ancestral Spirit to give a big minion Deathrattle to resummon itself.
Back to TopBigLock
Warlock is one of the classes that, in theory, should be able to support a Big deck. There is a ton of removal available to Warlock, so survival, until big minions come online, should be possible. Traditionally the most big-threat-heavy Warlock deck has been Handlock with its Mountain Giants, but that deck does not use any of the Big tools to play minions on the board early, it only uses the inherent discount that Mountain Giant has.
This is not yet a fully refined decklist, but can perhaps give you some ideas on how to attempt going big with a Warlock.
Back to TopQuest Druid
Jungle Giants was already suffering and the latest engine changes made it even worse. Celestial Dreamer no longer works with the Quest. Faceless Manipulator no longer works with the Quest. Basically, anything that does not have five Attack straight from hand no longer works with the Quest.
However, the build that Monsanto brought to Americas Summer Playoffs still technically works – it has only had Innervate nerfed from two mana crystals to one. Quest Druid sees almost no play right now, so there are no more recent examples to draw from, but if you want to venture down the road of zero-cost minions that you draw en masse with Nourish or Ultimate Infestation, this might give you some basic framework to build upon.
Back to TopY’Shaarj Secret Hunter
I would not go as far as to actually recommend this deck, but you can try to go big with Hunter as well. This happens by taking advantage of Hunter’s good selection of spells and Deathstalker Rexxar's ability to create minions – the only minions in the deck are Barnes and Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound.
If you find Barnes, but don’t draw Y’Shaarj, Barnes will create a 1/1 copy of Y’Shaarj when played, and that 1/1 copy will pull the real 10/10 Y’Shaarj from the deck. That’s a 3/4, a 1/1, and a 10/10 minion on the board for four mana.
The deck has nowhere near the consistency of the top-tier Big decks though: if you draw Y’Shaarj, it will only pull you Barnes in the best case, or possibly be just a vanilla 10/10 for ten mana.
Secrets, summoning spells, and Deathstalker Rexxar gives the deck some means to win the game even without Barnes, but it’s an uphill battle with just those.
In the current meta, Big decks have a solid place, at least Big Druid and Big Priest – the rest are largely experimental.
The rise of Big decks was in large part made possible by the aggro nerfs midway through Knights of the Frozen Throne, and their performance in the next expansion will depend on whether aggro becomes stronger again and whether Big decks gain some new tools to summon big minions on the board early.
There are several mechanics that can support Big decks, and many of those mechanics only appear in a couple of cards right now. There is definitely room to print more such cards, and only time will tell if this is a path Blizzard chooses to pursue or not.
In the meanwhile, Big decks are living their golden age right now, so it is a good time to jump on board with either a proven build or to go more experimental with something else than Big Druid or Big Priest.
"Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is an analytical Hearthstone content creator and a regular legend player on the EU server. In addition to his articles, you can find his Hearthstone videos on Youtube and stream on Twitch. If you have any questions or comments, you can connect with him on Twitter.