Top 10’s: Best Removal Spells of All Time
Let’s face it, minions get a lot of love in Hearthstone. In fact, they get so much love that it is hard to ever take time to really appreciate the other half of the game, the spells. Spells are a crucial part of Hearthstone, and the one thing that really sets the different classes apart. There are a ton of types, all of which have a things. In this week’s Top 10, we are going to specifically focus on removal spells, the unsung heroes of the game that act as a glue and hold so many different archetypes and classes together.
While this certainly can be argued, I would say no spell type is more important than removal spells. Finishers are strong, card draw and combo are good, burn has its place, but every class and deck needs some type of removal spell. Those come in many forms (and all look a little different) but they are all essential. This was a very hard list to make, as there have been numerous powerful removal options throughout Hearthstone’s history. However, after some deep thought and personal reflection (not to mention a wiki search for “spells”) I have come up with what I believe to be the ten best removal cards that Blizzard has ever made.
Though I thought long and hard about this one, I simply do not think that Mortal Coil has what it takes to join the G.O.A.T’s. The one mana spell has been used to kill (or finish off) every type of minion the game has ever seen. It is incredibly versatile, cheap to play, and has an extremely strong ability. Even so, it is not quite impactful enough as it cannot be used to kill something big on its own. This card is definitely worth a mention, but it is not strong enough for the final list.
Shadow Word: Pain
A very good card that has seen play during a lot of different formats, Shadow Word: Pain failed to make the list because it is a niche card rather than a set ability. When it is good it is great. However, most of the time this card is only played in a certain aggro-based meta or sits rotting in your hand. Sometimes good cards are just not good enough to make the final list, but it has seen enough tech play to be worth a mention.
As strong as this card is, and as good as it is in a vacuum, it has not seen anywhere near as much play as the cards below. Polymorph is an insanely powerful effect that has seen very little play throughout the history of Hearthstone. As such, you simply cannot match it up against staple cards that come around time and time again. However, it gets a mention because it has one of the strongest abilities ever printed for a spell.
I lump both of these mentions together because they both fell short for the same reason: damage. When looking at these cards as a whole, they are two of the best spells the game has ever seen. However, a lot of that has to do with the fact that they do so much damage for so little mana. Each of these cards are very solid removal, but they are burn first. That fact alone prevented them from being matched up against the greats, because other cards just do removal better.
The Top 10
10. Siphon Soul
We begin our list with a scary efficient card that has graced all slow, midrange, or control Warlock decks since the early days of beta. Siphon Soul is the complete package removal spell that works very well with Warlock’s style of play because it clears while healing. Not only that, but it can straight up remove any minion in the game. Any. Minion. “Destroy a minion” are not words to be taken lightly, and they usually are immediately followed by some type of drawback. However, not only does Siphon Soul not have a drawback, but it actually comes with a bonus. Healing for three is incredibly relevant in Warlock as a way to offset Lifetap and can be used in numerous situations to keep you alive.
While strong, there are two things holding Siphon Soul back from being higher on this list. First, is its mana cost. Six mana is a lot to ask out of a removal spell, which usually need to be cheap in order to be effective. As a result, the price you have to pay for killing any minion in the game is giving up an entire turn. Sometimes that won’t matter, but sometimes it will keep you off of priority. Second is the fact that Siphon Soul is usually played as a one-of. Once upon a time, the early versions of Handlock would run two since deathrattle was not yet fully realized and most decks relied on big finishers to end games. However, as minions got better, this card got worse, keeping it as a silver bullet rather than an auto include.
9. Shadow Word: Death
Shadow Word: Death, when you need to kill the big guy dead. The most important thing about removal spells is efficiency, and while this card may not be as strong (or as exciting) as some of the higher-up picks, it could be argued to be the most efficient removal spell of all time. Three mana for a kill spell is very good value, and three mana for a kill spell that can take care of any five-plus attack minion is very, very good. Yes, there are a lot of cards that this spell cannot hit (keeping it at number nine) but it has been and continues to be a Priest staple. There will always be big minions in Hearthstone, from midrange threats to early beaters to heavy finishers. Having a card that can deal with all of them so efficiently (and also kill off your own Sylvanas Windrunner) is essential to the class.
While pain only really gets a lot of value when drawn during the early turns, Death gets you value at all stages of the game. The only thing holding this card back from being higher is how situational it can be. Everyone knows that four attack is a Priest’s weakness, and there are many games where you will die to a horde of small minion with one or two of these staring back at you from your hand. However, for every game where that has happened, there are ten when a timely death saved you from an Innervate or late-game finisher. There is not too much more to say about what this card does or how it’s used, it’s just good.
8. Hunter’s Mark
While Face Hunter was dominant for a long time, Midrange was once heralded as king. During that reing, Hunter's Mark was one of the main weapons Rexxar used to vanquish his foes. “Free” has always been a very dangerous word in card games, and this spell is a very good reminder of why. Every card on this list (with one exception) costs a good amount of mana for both its effect and class. Paying two mana for three damage is fair, as is paying four for six or six to kill anything in the game. However, being able to take any minion, no matter how big or small, down to one health for zero (or one) mana breaks all the rules of conventional removal. While this card is only number eight because you do need to actually have a minion or way to do damage to make the spell work, very few cards led to the tempo swings like this one did.
What made Hunter's Mark so strong pre-nerf was the ability to kill something for free while also adding a huge threat to your own board. Even now, it still can be a huge swing for just one mana. Hunter has always been a class that wins most of its games once it gets ahead due to the power of its burst and hero power. If you ever get control of the board as a Hunter the game is usually over. There are many ways to make that happen, and this card was key to that type of success. While there are better options for removal when looking at the game as a whole, this was an important part of the class for quite some time.
In the same way that Northshire Cleric has made Priest into what it is, Swipe has made Druid. Every single class in the game has its set of “auto includes”, cards that are so inherently strong or powerful that you would never use that class without them. While Druid has had many auto includes in its time, Swipe has been one of the most crucial. Not only does it give Druid a way to clear out a midgame threat before dropping down or ramping into their own minions, but it also serves a psuedo-AOE that allows them to fight back small minions. Druid is a class that has never been great against swarms. They have no conventional AOE and usually spend their early turns ramping as they get hit for chunks of early damage. While taunts offset that a bit, Swipe can really be a lifesaver and help set up the board for things like Druid of the Claw. Another reason Swipe comes it an number seven is because of how strong it is with spell damage. It works perfectly with both Azure Drake and Bloodmage Thalnos (which both ramp and token once ran a long time ago). Add in the fact that you can go face and you have one of the best midgame removal options ever printed.
While this may seem a little high, Backstab is an absolutely insane card when you really start to think about it. Going back to the discussion of Hunter's Mark, zero mana has haunted Hearthstone players for years. It crushed them with Innervate, made them shiver in fear of Preparation and caused many a sleepless night at the prospect of a turn eight/twelve attack Grommash Hellscream. Backstab fits right into that overpowered trend by giving Rogue a way to kill almost all early game minions without using any actual resources. Removal spells are supposed to give tempo swings, and there are very few cards that can give such a huge turn around like this one. Not only that, but it also does some disgusting things with combo (SI:7 Agent says hello).
At its base, Backstab is a card that gives Rogues an extremely efficient way to both control and mitigate the early board. That is important for all decks to be able to do, but it is crucial for almost all versions of the class. Valeera is and has always been about the combo, and having access to a free spell that also stalls until the midgame is essential. However, this card has also seen play in Aggro, Midrange and deathrattle. In fact, I would say this card is the number one reason Rogue is even able to exist in the way that it does. The caveat on Backstab (needing to hit an undamaged minion) keeps it just out of the top five, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t crucial to its class.
5. Shield Slam
Warrior has long been the removal class, and Shield Slam is one of the reasons why. One mana removal is very hard to come by in Hearthstone, and the ones that do exist either do little damage (Lightning Bolt) or have some horrific drawback (Naturalize). Shield Slam comes in at number five on our list because it has neither. In fact, this card almost always reads “one mana, destroy a minion” or rather, “one mana, do twenty plus damage to a minion”. This card has been strong since day one. However, it got very powerful when Warriors had access to Shieldmaiden, and then went through the roof with the inclusion of Justicar Trueheart. Being able to load up your armor in one turn and kill something off was an essential tool that helped Control Warrior just run over midrange decks. /Shield Slam has helped save many Warriors from death and rapidly swing the tide of a game.
The only thing holding this back from being higher is the need for armor. Though this usually isn’t a problem for any slow Warrior playing things like Shieldmaiden, , Armorsmith, Justicar Trueheart or Ancient Shieldbearer, it can come up from time to time. Like another card higher up on this list, Shield Slam can sit in your hand while you stare down a formidable board. This is especially true when facing down an aggressive “go big” deck like Zoo or Shaman who can routinely chip away at your armor over the course of the game. However, those situations come up less often than not. Most of the time, through a thousand different avenues, you are going to be able to kill anything you want.
As good as Fireball is (and my God is it good), it has nothing on Frostbolt. Two mana, three damage spells have become the norm in Hearthstone, but none have ever come close to what this simple Mage card can do. There are two reasons for that, and both need to be explored to understand why this comes in at number four.
The first is how strong this works with Mage as a whole. While Darkbomb gave Warlocks a way to answer turn two plays and gave Hunter a way to draw into surprise lethal, each of those cards are much less effective because they do not have the spell synergy that Mage does. Cheap spells are very valuable in Mage, combining well with Flamewaker, Mana Wyrm and Sorcerer's Apprentice. For all of those cards, having a very cheap way to control the early board is absolutely essential. Mage builds off of itself, and not having access to the two mana spell would absolutely destroy the dependency that they build on.
The second (and more important) reason this removal spell is so high is due to the fact that it can freeze. Being able to remove a minion is good, but being able to lock down a character for a turn is invaluable. This is the only removal spell in the game that can actually be used over two turns to get rid of a threat. That is to say, you can use it on a big minion to lock them down, and then finish them off with something else depending on your next draw. That is a very strong ability that gives Mage a lot of extra versatility when it comes to killing larger minions. While many decks need to use their board to nullify Flamewreathed Faceless or an early Innervated minion, Mage can use the two mana spell.
While Shield Slam is very strong, it is does quite have the raw power that Execute does. Both cards are situational in their own way, but while Shield Slam absolutely needs a card or two to set it up, Execute can be triggered in a thousand different ways. While this card does have a condition, it is a condition that rarely matter because of just how many ways Warrior has (and had) to trigger it. Whirlwind, Revenge, Cruel Taskmaster, Ravaging Ghoul, Death's Bite, Inner Rage are all ways to get this one mana spell going, and that does not include running in your minions into your opponent’s and hitting things with your weapon. This card is extremely easy to trigger and kills anything in the game.
Execute has been a warrior staple for some time. Though it made a name for itself in control, even in decks that don’t typically run a lot of removal, such as Patron, Tempo and the old Aggro decks, this card was almost always an auto-include. Damage is something that happens early and often throughout a game of Hearthstone. Having a one mana (one mana!) card that can feed off of that is crucial. It is true that the best removal spells are the ones that you don’t have to work for, but this card is an obvious exception. This has been saving Warriors for the past two years and will continue to do so for as long as Hearthstone is around.
Number two on our list is such an absurdly powerful card that it is often used as a win condition as much as it is a removal spell. Entomb rocketed Priest to the top of the meta during the days of LOE, and deservedly so. This card is a no-nonsense, see-you-later, removal spell that’s power level is just not seen in Hearthstone. The reason that this card (and number one) are so much better than any other removal spell in the game is that they remove rather than kill. While killing minions is undoubtedly strong, everyone knows that getting around deathrattles is much, much better. Sylvanas Windrunner and Tirion Fordring are just two examples of cards you want a clean answer too rather than letting their deathrattle go off. Not only does this card clear without triggering the rattle, it lets you take the card as well.
Entomb may cost six mana, but, as stated, it is a win contion in a lot of matches. That is something no other removal spell can boast. Priest is a deck that loves to go long, and the older control versions would simple out-stall their opponent’s by killing everything and just taking the things they couldn’t. Entomb is not just a solid tool against every single minion in the game, it was also a way Priest can outlast all other slow decks by ensuring they both hit fatigue second and have more end-game threats. Outlasting has always been the name of the game with Priest, and few cards do it better than this.
When it comes down to it, there is just no better removal spell in the game than Hex. That goes in terms of efficiency, mana cost, tempo swings and raw power. Most removal options either cost a good amount of mana, or are situational. Hex easily clears all of those benchmarks, costing a mere three mana for an absolutely insane ability. Making your opponent’s minion, no matter how small, scary or buffed, into a 0/1 frog with taunt is a massive swing. Back during the days of beta, I would often joke that my Ragnaros the Firelord or Sylvanas Windrunner were “just going to be frogs” and even now that hasn’t changed. Everyone who plays against a slower or midrange Shaman must live in fear of Hex and how quickly it can swing a game.
The reason this and Entomb made the top two of the list is that they are some of the only removal spells in the game that simply get rid of a minion rather than destroy it. No deathrattle, no nonsense, just gone. However, Hex is much better than Entomb because it is half the mana cost. While you do not get to play the minion later on, that does not matter with the way Shaman plays. Every single iteration of Shaman, from aggro to early midrange to mech, were all tempo based. As a result, they want a card that can cheaply remove any possible threat that comes their way. That keeps control of the board, helps your minions get in damage, and holds onto priority as well. You want to kill things, that’s for all the other removal on this list. You want an answer to every single card in the game for three mana? Hex is it.
Well, there’s my list. Removal spells are some of the coolest spells in the game, and man have there been a lot of good ones. I was not sure what this list was going to look like when I set out to make it, but I was surprised by just how many options they were. I hope you guys enjoyed it, and let me know any future lists you want to see. Thanks for reading!