Your cursor quivers over the words “Play Ranked” backed by the pale blue glow of the Hearthstone swirl. You’ve just gone on a long losing streak and your last loss demoted you back to Rank 7. “Just two more wins and I’m back to 6,” you tell yourself. “Then maybe I’ll hit a win streak. Surely I won’t be paired against Murlocs again.” You have your tournament caliber Druid deck selected. You go to click the mouse, but hesitate. Another loss would be gut-wrenching. Blocking that thought from your mind, you quickly press the “Play Ranked” tile and the Finding Opponent Wheel starts spinning. A certain part of you hopes the wheel will finally fail to find a “Worthy Opponent” and pair you with “A Little Puppy” instead…
Table of Contents
Every one of us has likely experienced the above scenario at one point or another in our Hearthstone experience. Ranked Constructed can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the game. It’s a brutal roller coaster of ups and downs, where an hour of success can be snatched away by twenty minutes of failure.
But don’t fret!
Don’t Kick My Robot is here to help you achieve a positive win-rate in Ranked Constructed (often referred to as the “ladder”). Pull up a chair at the Hearth with me, [DKMR]Varranis, as we go through a step-by-step guide to success on the ladder.
Step 1 – When To Begin
You’ve just finished the tutorial missions and you’ve got a rocking Mage deck. Even Illidan Stormrage was no match for your Ogre Magi. Surely this fabled “Worthy Opponent” you’ve heard tales of will also crumble before your horde of spell empowering beasties.
Sad to say, but probably not. Especially at the beginning of a season (Ranks reset at the start of each month) the ladder can be brutal for beginners, even at higher Ranks. There’s no harm in dipping your toes in, but make sure to set expectations appropriately. Really one of the worst aspects of the ladder is the emotional circus of frustration it can wreck upon individuals with high expectations. Some of the best advice we can give players making their first venture into Ranked Constructed is that it’s ok to lose. Seriously. Don’t stress over it. There’s little consequence to losing early, so use it as a learning experience. It may be frustrating when your opponent plays Ragnaros the Firelord or another seemingly overpowered Legendary minion. But next time, take a step back. Look for a play you could’ve made differently in order to win. Maybe you cast a Polymorph on a Dark Iron Dwarf earlier in the game when you could have saved it for the Ragnaros.
When you begin your foray into Ranked Constructed is really up to you. There aren’t major consequences to whenever you choose to begin. If you plan to be successful on the ladder, you’ll need to be prepared. And we all know that’s why you’re really here.
If we had to summarize the keys to success on the ladder in one sentence, it would be the following:
Be prepared both technically and mentally.
Technical preparedness refers to your ability to create decks, your skill at playing those decks, and your knowledge of what cards other people are most likely playing (commonly referred to as the “meta”). Technical preparedness is the most complicated, and the one you’ll need first, so we’ll start there.
Step 2 – Be Prepared: Craft A Deck
Let’s clear up one common misconception first: you don’t need an expensive deck to succeed. Having access to all the assorted Legendaries provides you with more options for deckbuilding, but they are not necessary to make Legend Rank. Several popular players have made Legend with what are arguably budget decks. Reynad is likely the most famous example, making it all the way to Legend with a Warrior aggro deck without spending a dime. More recently, TMNTWEBB was briefly ranked #1 NA Legend with this Shaman deck which only used one Legendary. Obviously these feats require a good deal of skill, but you wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t aspire to have the same level of skill one day.
Our number one recommendation when choosing a deck to ladder with is to find a competitive deck you’re comfortable with. You will make smarter, stronger plays if you’re using a deck you understand well. There are many powerful decks out there, and there’s likely one you’ll enjoy playing and be eager to learn in-depth. Find it and stick to it. It’s no coincidence that most of the success stories you hear revolve around a player using one deck. Those players knew their deck inside and out and understood exactly the plays they needed to make to win those crucial games that make the difference. The real benefit to having a deck you are comfortable with is that you’ll be able to quickly identify the best plays in obscure board states and eke out small advantages every turn.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, there’s no shame in net decking (using a deck someone else created). A great way to learn to play well is to pilot the decks other great players are using and to understand those decks’ strengths and weaknesses. You can then exploit those weaknesses when facing the deck on the ladder or benefit from the strengths by playing the deck yourself. If you have the card pool, we recommend trying out various top decks in Casual play, with friends, or the early Ranks of the ladder. Even if you don’t face the stiffest competition, you’ll get a good sense of how the decks play and be able to decide what play style you prefer. For those players on a more limited budget, you can do the same with the basic cards you start with (check out our budget decks on the DKMR Forums if you need some direction).
[quote]Our number one recommendation when choosing a deck to ladder with is to find a competitive deck you’re comfortable with.[/quote]
Try to emulate the card choices in top decks to the best of your ability and take your budget versions for a spin. Each class and deck archetype has a particular “feel” of play as long as some of the card choices are similar. Once you find a class that works well for you, focus on crafting the Legendaries, Epics, and Rares you’ll need to play a competitive version of the deck. Having one very powerful deck will let you climb the ladder much more effectively than having several mediocre decks.
Druid is a solid class to focus on if you aren’t partial to a particular class or play style and merely want to succeed on the ladder. Druid has reasonable match-ups against most decks and can even pull out wins against some of its poor match-ups. This is an important factor in Druid’s popularity on the ladder. Since you never know what your next opponent is playing, having a deck that is ok against everything is a safer bet than playing a deck with a couple really good match-ups and a few really bad match-ups. One downside to playing your standard Druid Midrange deck on the ladder is that everyone is expecting it and has come prepared to beat it. Again, no one match-up is too awful for Druid, but Druid does have a giant red target on its head at the moment.
Once you have your deck: practice, practice, practice. Knowing specifically how your deck wins in each match-up is critical to doing well on the ladder and you won’t learn the nuances of your deck without a lot of practice. The little things will set you apart from other players and win you far more games than you realize. For example, say we are playing against a Rogue using Frescha’s Druid deck at the bottom of this article. We’re on the draw (going second) and have a Loot Hoarder. Do we Coin it out on turn 1 if we have no other turn 1 play? The Rogue can kill it on demand with their Hero Power, so does it matter whether we play it turn 1 or 2? It actually matters a lot. If we Coin the Loot Hoarder on turn 1, the Rogue player can use their mana efficiently on turn 2 and activate their Hero Power to kill our Loot Hoarder. If we don’t Coin the Loot Hoarder on turn 1, the Rogue will only use their Hero Power on turn 2 if they have no other reasonable turn 2 plays.
Let’s assume we play the Loot Hoarder on our turn 2 and the Rogue plays their own Loot Hoarder on their turn 2. Not only have we kept the Coin for use on a future turn but we’ve presented the Rogue player with quite the conundrum (assuming they didn’t use their Hero Power on turn 2). Now the Rogue must decide between removing the Loot Hoarder with their Hero Power and “wasting” a mana by only spending two mana on turn 3 or playing a strong 3 drop like a Harvest Golem and letting our Loot Hoarder either live or remove it with their own Loot Hoarder. No matter what decision the Rogue makes, we’re almost assuredly in a better situation than if we Coined the Loot Hoarder on turn 1. It’s even possible we could use the Coin to trigger a Violet Teacher later on in the game. Knowing these synergies and nuances is critical to playing your deck at a high level on the ladder.
Another exercise we find helpful in understanding a deck is to envision how I see myself winning with the deck. I do this both when making a deck and playing a game. When creating a deck, it’s important to have a solid way to finish the game. If you’re finding it difficult to imagine how you’ll win most games with a deck, it’s likely you need to rework something. As an example, I generally play AlAkir the Windlord and one or more Lava Burst in my build of Shaman. When I envision how I will win a game, it usually either involves Al’Akir and Rockbiter Weapon or Lava Burst, Lightning Bolt, and a spell damage totem. There are obviously other ways the game could end, but knowing that these are my common win conditions allows me to prioritize particular plays to enable one of those winning scenarios. Because of the synergy between Al’Akir and Rockbiter weapon, I will typically play Lightning Bolt as a removal spell before Rockbiter Weapon. They both effectively achieve the same task as a removal spell, but one could win me the game eight turns from now. Similarly, if I can see a clear path to victory in a couple turns utilizing Lava Burst as a direct damage spell, I will hesitate to use it as removal unless absolutely necessary.
This level of detail may seem daunting at first, but you’ll be surprised by what you pick up on the more you play your deck. Always keep in mind alternative plays to what you’re used to and consider whether they may be more powerful than the standard line of play. Knowing when to deviate from the normal line of play is an important factor in understanding your deck.
Step 3: Know The Meta
The meta refers to the decks and specific cards people choose to play at any given time (DKMR provides a Meta Report every Thursday). Since certain cards and archetypes are better or worse against others, it is favorable to know what the current meta looks like. For example, Shaman is generally considered strong against Druid decks because of its access to additional card draw and efficient removal spells. If you expect to face a lot of Druid decks on the ladder, it may give you an advantage to play Shaman. On a more granular level, Druid decks playing Force of Nature and Savage Roar have been especially popular. If you want to increase your chances of beating Druid decks who play that combo, you may improve your win percentage by adding additional Taunt minions to your deck. These are two trends that have occurred in the past month and are responsible for the popularity of Shaman and the resurgence of Defender of Argus.
Although it is important to play a deck you are comfortable with, it is also crucial to be aware of what your opponent might be playing. You don’t necessarily need to play Shaman because Druid is popular, but you need to know what cards your Druid opponent is likely to play and understand how your deck can handle those plays. For example, against Druid, I always play around the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo to the extent I am able. In the mirror match, I will sometimes heal with my Ancient of Lore if it puts me out of range of lethal from their combo. I will also try to ensure I have a Taunt minion in play immediately before my opponent’s ninth turn. I know most Druid players use the combo and I know playing this way has won me several games. The Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo is old hat by now, but the sooner you were aware of the popularity of the combo, the more you could adjust your play and deck accordingly and not lose to it. Staying ahead of the meta allows you to preemptively adapt to new trends and sometimes even take advantage of those trends by playing a powerful new deck and catching opponent’s off guard. Just as you can win by playing around your opponent’s cards, you can also win by playing cards your opponent will most likely not play around.
So what’s the best way to stay ahead of the meta? Reading articles, watching streams, and keeping track of the decks people are using to win tournaments and make Legend Rank is a good start. Pay particular attention to unusual cards you see good players using. Those are the cards you need to learn how to play around or consider playing yourself. Building a community of friends who play and discussing decks you encounter on the ladder at certain Ranks is another excellent method. By doing this, you and your friends will be more knowledgeable about what you are likely to face and can prepare accordingly. The Hearthstone meta shifts very quickly, so having a friend to talk to who just played a few ladder games can provide invaluable information. You’ll know much more quickly what tweaks you may need to make to your deck to compensate for current trends.
Big Game Hunter and The Black Knight are two cards that specifically come to mind when I consider cards I should use to tweak my current decks based on the meta. The more popular Warlock Giants is, the better Big Game Hunter becomes. After a brief hiatus, The Black Knight is cropping up in decks again due to the popularity of Defender of Argus.
Step 4: Endure The Grind
There’s no getting around it. Playing on the ladder can be a grind. Going on a huge losing streak is both emotionally and mentally taxing. The best thing you can do when things get rough is to walk away. Go do something relaxing and come back to Hearthstone later. After a tough loss, our first inclination is to mash the “Play Ranked” button and pick up an easy win to make up for it. Unfortunately, it’s more likely than not that the win isn’t going to be easy. If you’re still sour from losing earlier, you’re actually more likely to misplay and lose, extending your losing streak even more. Losing several games in a row never means you’re “due” for a win. Each game is a mutually exclusive event with unique external factors. If the grind gets too hard, take a break. I promise things will be better when you come back.
Avoiding losses is especially important on the ladder due to the rewards for win streaks up until Rank 5. You will progress up the ladder much more quickly if you can maintain a winning streak. Even after hitting Rank 5, it’s important to avoid losses. You need 25 wins from one star Rank 5 to make Legend. Each loss you accumulate adds 1 more win to that number. From my experience, Rank 5 to Legend is the most difficult part of the grind. Your opponents are generally all of a much higher caliber and you can’t make up for losing streaks with bonus stars from win streaks.
It’s critical to treat each game as a must-win and to focus on that goal. I highly discourage multi-tasking while grinding as you’ll miss some of the smaller plays that will win you games. Similarly, it’s important to be well rested. Avoid playing on the ladder when ill, tired, or upset as those things will likely also cause you to be distracted and miss important plays.
One of the biggest complaints We’ve heard from players is that they get “stuck” at a certain Rank and find it impossible to progress. This is likely due to several factors including skill level, the current meta, and time. It can take significant time to practice and research enough to do well on the ladder. If you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to playing Hearthstone, you may want to catch up with a friend who does before you play each day to see what the meta is looking like. If I feel like I’m not performing how I’d like to on the ladder, sometimes I will practice against teammates with the deck I’ve been losing to. This often gives me a fresh perspective and forces me to consider my plays more carefully since I’m using a deck I’m not used to. Practicing this way will also give you insights to beating that deck. Skill comes with time, and following steps 2 and 3 will get you a long way there.
We wish the best of luck to all of you as you grind to Legend! Sound off in the comments with any questions or other suggestions as to how to improve the ladder experience.
Written by [DKMR]Varranis
Discussions about this topic brought to you by Team [DKMR]
We’ve included the most recent version of DKMR’s Paladin Aggro deck. I’m not 100% sold on Redemption, but it definitely has its moments. JAB made Legend Rank recently with the Hunter Control deck below. Freezing Trap is particularly strong against many of Druid’s Innervate openings. [DKMR]Alchemixt used this Warrior Control deck to win the NESL Beta Cup #2. The Wild Pyromancers allow Frothing Berserker and Armorsmith to work overtime as well as serve as board clear against aggressive decks. Freshca played this variation of Druid to a third place finish in the Stone Throne Tournament. Watch out for double Savage Roar this week.