Hearthstone Card Upgrades & Substitutions

Ever wonder what's a good substitute for that incredibly expensive Legendary card? Or what is an upgrade to a card that's holding your deck back?


If you are like me in the sense that:

  1. You are cheap and fundamentally against paying for a Freemium game like Hearthstone where you have the option of buying packs, but you’d rather spend in-game gold to purchase them.
  2. You love collecting cards, even if it’s a Gold version of a really useless card so you don’t enchant them into dust when you could

Or you are:

  1. You are completely new!
  2. All of the above?

Then you may have run into a situation where you want to craft that awesome Aggro deck but you don’t have 1600 dust for a leeroy-jenkins…

Or you only have 800 dust but you have to choose between an Epic or saving for a Legendary…

Or you flat-out only have opened 10 packs in your life, and of course you don’t get any good cards! ORRR you open a pack and it goes nuts and says “LEEEEEEEGENDARY” and OH SWEET IT’S MY FIRST LEGEN-WAIT FOR IT-…oh, it’s only a lorewalker-cho… ?(????) why life so cruel (but you keep him anyway). Fear not, this guide will teach you how to look for suitable substitutes while weighing in the pros and cons of your substitutions.

Basics of substitution

Like any substitutions in any game or sport, you are looking for the right function.  What are you trying to achieve? Of course some cards have more than one function, and that’s what makes them so desirable.  The correct question to ask yourself is, what is the bottom-line use of the card you want. Things to consider include:

  • Health of the minion
  • Attack of the minion
  • Cost of the minion
  • Special abilities, such as the following but not limited to: Taunt, Divine Shield, Charge, Increased Spell Damage


azure-drake is a 5 cost 4/4 with Draw 1 card and Spell Damage +1.  Are you looking for a 4/4 minion? A Draw 1 card ability? Or a Spell Damage +1 card?  Chances are, you are probably looking for a Spell Damage +1.  azure-drake is great because you also get to draw a card, but if you need a 4/4 minion with Spell Damage +1, why not ogre-magi?  He costs 1 less, but you don’t get a draw a card… This is where you would have to weigh out the pros and cons.

Card examples

Let’s talk about some examples in detail to further demonstrate these ideas.

Azure Drake

We’ve already started talking about azure-drake and so this would be an excellent example to start with.  What are we looking for?  We have:

  1. +1 Spell damage
  2. 4/4 minion
  3. Draw a card

The biggest use I’ve seen for azure-drake is for his +1 Spell Damage and his presence on the board.  It is hard to trade a 3 attack minion for him and thus the opponent must think twice about how to get rid of him.  I think the Draw a Card is an added bonus.

So what is a common card that has +1 Spell Damage?

  • kobold-geomancer: 2/2 for 2 cost and +1 Spell Damage.  Pros: Cheap.  Cons: Dies too fast.
  • dalaran-mage: 1/4 for 3 cost and +1 Spell Damage. Pros: Cheap (3 cost) and has 4 life, so can withstand hits.  Cons: Only 1 attack.
  • ogre-magi: 4/4 for 4 cost and +1 Spell Damage.  Pros: Cheaper than 5.  Cons: No Draw a Card feature.
  • archmage:4/7 for 6 cost and +1 Spell Damage..  Pros: 7 health makes him live pretty long.  Cons: Costs 6…

So which would you go with? I would argue ogre-magi.  As mentioned before, it is 4/4 so no better nor worse than the Azure Drake, and still has the +1 Spell Damage effect.

EDIT: DarkArbiter has given me some pretty good feedback about how a lot of players actually use azure-drake for their card draw ability. For this reason, people are running gnomish-inventor as a great substitute. Remember, it just remembers on why you are replacing what you don’t have.

Harrison Jones

Here’s a pretty easy example.  harrison-jones destroys your opponent’s weapon and draws the number of cards equal to its durability. For 5 cost he is also a 5/4.  What is the main use here?

  1. Destroying your opponent’s weapon
  2. Drawing cards

I would argue #2 is nice bonus, so let’s go with #1.  The only other card that destroys opponent’s weapons is acidic-swamp-ooze for 2 cost and 3/2.

  • acidic-swamp-ooze: 2 cost for 3/2, destroys your opponent’s weapon.  Pros: Cheap and free. Cons: No added sweet card drawing bonus.

A winner!

Leeroy Jenkins

leeroy-jenkins is a 4 cost for a 6/2 with CHARGE (and summons 2 1/1 whelps for your opponent).  What are we looking for?  I would argue:

  1. Cheap cost
  2. High attack

Doing a quick search for minions with Charge, we have the following similar minions:

  • wolfrider with 3 cost, 3 attack.  Pros: 3 cost, 3 attack.  Cons: Ehh…..3 attack. That’s 3 lower than leeroy-jenkins.
  • korkron-elite if you’re a Warrior.  4 cost for 4/3, which is 2 lower now.   Pros: Ahh, 4 attack!  Cons: Warrior only.
  • arcane-golem Ah! 3 cost for 4/2!  Pros: Only 3 cost!  Only 2 attack lower!  AND you can have 2 of them in your deck, which makes them more likely to get drawn!  Cons:  Gives opponent a mana crystal
  • stormwind-knight 4 cost for 2/5 ehhhh 2 attack moving along, nothing to see here
  • reckless-rocketeer Oh wow 5 attack?  Which is only 1 lower? Oh wait it costs 6. Next.
  • argent-commander 6 cost for a Divine Shielded 4/2.  Is this what we really want? Pros: Divine shield!  Cons: 6 cost.

As you can see, I would argue arcane-golem is the best substitute for leeroy-jenkins.  You lose 2 attack, but it costs 1 cheaper, and if you’re about to combo it with something like cold-blood for a fatal blow, maybe it’s enough to win the game.  argent-commander is also 4 attack, but it costs 6.  If you need a 4 burst damage to get rid of minions, then this would be a good choice because he has Divine Shield, but if you are planning on comboing a bunch of buffs on him, you are only left with 4 mana (assuming you are on the 10th move) to do so. Arcane Golem will leave you 7 mana crystals.

Bloodmage Thalnos

bloodmage-thalnos is a low-cost Legendary card.  He has:

  1. +1 Spell Damage ability
  2. Deathrattle: Draw 1 card ability at a 1/1 for 2 cost.

This example is a little bit easier.  Let’s look for similar minions with similar abilities.

  • kobold-geomancer: 2 cost for 2/2, also +1 Spell Damage.  Pretty solid choice.  Pros: 2/2 for same cost.  Cons: no Draw 1 card ability.
  • dalaran-mage: 3 cost for 1/4 with +1 Spell Damage.  Pros: 4 health, lasts longer. Cons: Costs 3 mana instead of 2
  • novice-engineer: 2 costs for 1/1 with immediate card drawing.  Pros: Get the card immediately rather than Deathrattle.  Cons: No +1 Spell Damage.
  • loot-hoarder: 2 cost for 2/1 with Deathrattle card draw.  Pros: 2/1, still has card draw ability. Cons: No +1 Spell Damage.

If you are looking for the Spell Damage for a low cost, kobold-geomancer is your man.  He is also 2 cost, and gets a +1 Spell Damage, but he’s 2/2 instead of 1/1! And you can put two of them into your deck.  However, if you want to draw cards, try loot-hoarder or novice-engineer.  I like loot-hoarder better because it is 2/1 and not a 1/1, and the chances of your opponent silencing you to deny you a card draw is pretty low.

Cairne Bloodhoof

cairne-bloodhoof is a 4/5 for 6 cost with a Deathrattle: summon yet another 4/5. Wait what, 2 4/5’s for a price of 6?? That’s amazing! Take my money! But wait, we’re not spending real money, so instead let’s take a look at his stats and find a substitute.

  1. 4/5 Health
  2. Deathrattle: summon another 4/5 minion
  3. 6 cost

Let’s start looking at some alternatives:

  • 2 4/5 chillwind-yetis?  Pros:…you can summon both at the same time, given enough mana? Cons:8 cost, and is two cards instead of one
  • Hey look, harvest-golem has the same ability… but it’s only 2/3…

Maybe we are looking at this the wrong way.  When you are going up against a cairne-bloodhoof, what is the typical scenario that happens? For me, that card usually trades out 3 or 4 of my low attack minions, i.e. it acts like two 4/5 tanks = one 8/10 tank. Who can similarly tank for us?

  • sea-giant: an 8/8 tank.  Pros: 8/8, potentially can get out a lower cost than 6. Cons: Potentially can’t get out for a lower than 6.
  • molten-giant: also an 8/8 tank. Pros: 8/8, potentially can get out at a lower cost of 6. Cons: That means you already took at least 14 damage.
  • mountain-giant: yet another 8/8 tank. Pros: 8/8, potentially can get out at a lower cost of 6. Cons: Need to draw a lot of cards for that.
  • boulderfist-ogre: a 6/7 for 6 cost.  Pros: Guaranteed 6 cost, pretty tanky, stronger than 4, got 7 life. Cons: Doesn’t have a Deathrattle summon so when it dies, it dies.

HOLD IT! You can argue that Cairne has a “soft taunt” where he poses enough of a threat to get rid of him through trading. Who else has a taunt, soft or hard? Cue the lights!

  • sunwalker: tadaaaa, a 4/5, 6 cost, taunt and divine shield aka “gotta hit me twice” card.  Sort of like Cairne. Pros: 6 cost, a hard Taunt, Divine shield! Cons: With Cairne, you need to do 5 damage to the first cow, then another 5 damage to the second cow.  For Sunwalker, you can get away with 1 damage, then 5 damage.

So I would argue sunwalker is your best substitute. However if you don’t have her, boulderfist-ogre works just as well, and could even hit harder if not dealt with!

The Beast

the-beast is a 9/7 for 6 cost with the downside that he will Deathrattle summon a 3/3 for your opponent if killed.  I don’t see many decks with this card in it, but for exercise purposes let’s go over this case study.  He is a 9 attack with 7 life for 6 cost.  He is also a Beast (har har).

  • core-hound: 9/5 for 7 cost. Pros: No deathrattle benefits for the opponent.  Still a Beast.  Oh, and it’s free.  Cons: Costs 1 more, has 2 less life.
  • ravenholdt-assassin: 7/5 for 7 cost, but with Stealth.  Pros: Has Stealth for higher chance of staying alive.  No Deathrattle benefit.  Cons: Costs 1 more, 2 less life, 2 less attack, and not a Beast (if you care about that).
  • war-golem: 7/7 for 7 cost. Pros: Same life as The Beast.  No Deathrattle benefit.  And again, he’s free too.  Cons: Costs 1 more, 2 less attack.

I don’t see anything else closely related, so those are your 3 options.  Which will you pick?  I will argue that core-hound would be my winner, because at the end of the day, it is still a Beast.

I am assuming Hunters will utilize the-beast more than any other class simply because there are cards that enhance beasts.  Perhaps you already had a tundra-rhino in play.  Summoning a 9 attack with free charge is amazing.

But it really depends on your deck. If you didn’t have a charge ability, then maybe staying alive is more important, so the other two options are potentially better.


Don’t get discouraged when you are looking for a deck and the author has published a deck that requires 4 legendaries.  Try your best to find the best substitute and never get discouraged.

Ask yourself what it is you want to accomplish and stick with that idea.  Don’t try to diversify your options by looking at other “suitable” substitutes if they digress from what deck you are building.  The only way to finally replace your substitute with the Legendary is to get win more games, get more gold, and open more packs.

I’ll leave you with some food for thought:  You might be tempted to buy packs, maybe even in bulk.  Even though I am in support of Blizzard and I love this game, I wouldn’t advise you spending real game cash for packs (instead, maybe buy the Naxxramas expansions, or future expansions).

Once you slowly begin to saturate your collection with basics and rares, opening packs come with diminishing returns. Each pack will most likely have 4 commons and 1 rare at worst.  That disenchants to 40 dust per pack.  You would need to disenchant 40 packs on average to obtain 1 Legendary. That is $49.99 if you buy in bulk. For one Legendary. Assuming you only get commons and rares that you are willing to disenchant.

Let me know if this guide was useful.  Feel free to leave me comments and suggestions or any other great substitutions you have found to work well.  Good luck and don’t get too discouraged!