What Happened to the Charge Mechanic?

For a mechanic that always seems to crop up in balance discussions, Charge has been very sparingly applied for a very long time. It’s understandable why: even if you stat the minions in a conservative manner, expecting them to function like a burn spell, the myriad of buff options can turn even the most innocuous little bugger into the foundation of an OTK setup. Not only that, but a critical mass of such cards can also completely remove the importance of board control.

Missing in Action

Looking through the current Standard cycle’s card releases is an exercise in futility, at least if you’re interested in finding strong Charge cards. In fact, only two minions have the keyword in the entirety of the last five sets and even those don’t fit the mold of a classic Wolfrider: Knights of the Frozen Throne’s Chillblade Champion deals three damage for four mana and its Lifesteal properties make it more suited for a midrange-y approach than an aggressive deck while Charged Devilsaur from Journey to Un’Goro really only has Rush unless you manage to summon it instead of playing the card from hand. It also costs eight mana, making it more of a janky combo tool than a reliable OTK mechanism.

You’d find a similar scarcity of resources if you were to go back even further. Of course, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan gave us Patches the Pirate (more on that little fella later) but the set otherwise hasn’t contained a single pure Charge card. We did get the three not-so-little pigs with conservative stats and conditional Charge effects (for example, Leatherclad Hogleader but none of them ever saw Constructed play. One Night in Karazhan may have had many issues but it didn’t feature a single minion that could attack the face instantly, similarly to Whispers of the Old Gods.

In fact, the same holds true for League of Explorers as well – you’d have to go back all the way until August 2015 when The Grand Tournament was released, the last set to date which would bring along a multitude of such cards, four (sort of) in the neutral and three in the class-specific category. Argent Horserider instantly became a staple in aggressive decks and Alexstrasza's Champion would eventually become the cornerstone of a Dragon Warrior tempo archetype. Druid of the Saber would also see fringe play in the faster Druid builds but wouldn’t reach the same heights of popularity as the other two – similarly to Polymorph: Boar which would turn out to be an interesting option from randomly generated Mage spells but not one that you’d like to specifically include in your decks. Naxx and Blackrock Mountain would also not feature a single minion with the keyword and even GvG only gave us the spectacularly useless Gnomeregan Infantry, meaning Team 5 have only printed thirteen cards with Charge during the game’s entire post-Classic life cycle.

Interestingly, TGT would also feature a proto-Rush minion in the form of Icehowl – with an even more explicit restriction – and Skycap'n Kragg, a card that was later confirmed to be the original iteration of Patches whose release would be postponed due to its concerning synergies with One-eyed Cheat and Ship's Cannon. It also gave us Armored Warhorse, one of the many cards that were dead on arrival due to the Joust mechanic, but one that would also mark the shift towards a more prohibitive mana cost on minions with Charge.

This is a design goal that was explicitly confirmed by Max McCall last February in a forum thread, stating that “it’s specifically cheap charge minions that tend to cause problems, because they’re easier to combine with buffs and Faceless Manipulator. No one uses Reckless Rocketeer or King Krush for evil. We’re cautiously experimenting with more expensive charge minions that are harder to use in degenerate combos. The Hogriders in Mean Streets were the first example of this, and it’s reassuring to see that no one is using them to one-shot their opponents” while also confirming that they would „do more charge stuff in the future as we figure out what’s safe”. Well, it doesn’t seem like Team 5 have managed to identify that particular safe space just yet, especially if you consider that Patches the Pirate, one of the very few Charge minions printed around the time wreaked such havoc on the game.

Fun and Interactive

Beyond the buff- and copy-based OTK potential – which would lead to the demise of Warrior’s Charge spell and Force of Nature –, an overly high number of cheap minions with Charge can enable fairly potent one-track aggressive options. Piling burn upon burn and a set of minions that essentially function the same way creates decks like the pure Face Hunter archetype of old that hardly ever traded on the board and its main challenge was to sequence its damage output in the right order rather than getting anything to stick. No wonder many such Classic cards were nerfed over time or removed from the evergreen set: Arcane Golem and the 2-cost iteration of Unleash the Hounds was way too effective in that regard.

Clearly, Patches the Pirate was a very different story: it wasn’t a part of OTK setups (apart from perhaps some of Quest Rogue’s more degenerate gameplay experiences) and its damage output didn’t function as a burn element most of the time: instead, it was a high-variance +1/+1 early game minion presence with initiative, meaning it was very much about board control but it was still incredibly unwelcome. An extra trading option in the early game had massive implications, especially when it was coupled with additional buffs from Southsea Captain or Prince Keleseth. We’ve already seen often how  conditional 0-mana minions can be a massive thorn in the side – just ask Thing from Below, Happy Ghoul or Corridor Creeper – and the strength of such added initiative became very clear as Patches went from an omnipresent minion to a non-existent one after its nerf. The poor guy is no longer in charge.

The entire mechanic itself seems to be on the way of extinction, too. It’s fairly clear that Rush is becoming Team 5’s preferred replacement of Charge, allowing for the sort of board recovery that Max McCall’s forum post outlined without allowing for problematic amounts of face damage. If the game were designed today with the developers knowing what they already know about it, it’s doubtful that the Charge would even be present in the game due to the many complications it causes, at least on a keyword level. Even if a minion or two would have the ability, it would likely not even get a specific name due to its purposefully limited impact and presence in the game, similarly to how Enrage is handled nowadays.

For the purposes of board control, Rush pretty much achieves the same thing, even if it has a bunch of issues on its own. The new keyword clearly owes a lot to the old one, and it’s one of the more ironic elements of the game’s consistency issues that Warrior’s Charge spell has effectively been neutered into Rush, and Paladin’s Ghostly Charger also only has Rush as an ability, raising questions about its earlier versions during the design process.

It’s become quite clear for players and developers alike that you need to be very careful with Charge: the face is indeed the place, but it’s quite a sacred one, and the game is always more compelling when it’s a challenge to be able to hit it.


Luci Kelemen is an avid strategy gamer and writer who has been following Hearthstone ever since its inception. His content has previously appeared on HearthstonePlayers and Tempo/Storm's site.

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Leave a Reply


  1. Spidermannerdlikeme
    December 19, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    It’s really sad that we cannot go face any longer, Witchwood was probably my favorite s but I will never forgive them for creating rush, it’s actually almost worse than charge since there are so many rush cards. Problematic cards that involve rush include Dr Boom, the 3/2 mummy and more, for me, no matter what, the face is the place

  2. Re
    September 29, 2018 at 1:41 am

    When discussing about charge, why there’s no talk about Leeroy ? That’s the best charge card out there.

  3. Dizzle
    September 27, 2018 at 9:01 am

    I may or may not work for such and such under so and so. Another good question is when is the reverse coming out? I.E. can only attack heroes?

  4. CD001
    September 27, 2018 at 4:42 am

    I suspect it’s a mechanic that was basically wholesale lifted from MtG (Haste) initially… without fully realising the impact it would have when the attacker decides which target to hit, rather than the defender choosing what to block with.

    Haste is far less of an issue in MtG as even a massive Haste minion can be stopped dead in its tracks by a 1/1 token – especially if it’s got Deathtouch.

  5. Braedon Dillon
    September 26, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    *Cough* King Krush exists, that’s more then 2 in the last 5 sets