Hearthstone Mastery: How to Deceive Your Opponent

Another Hearthstone Mastery, this time on the topic of playing mind games on your opponent - and not with the priest card!

All Hearthstone Is Based on Deception

Or so Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War”. Well, he said “war” instead of “Hearthstone”, but that’s just because Hearthstone wasn’t around at that time.

The point is: what the enemy knows, he can attempt to counter. What you know, you can attempt to gain advantage from.

If what the enemy knows turns out not to be true, he will have likely maneuvered right into our plans.

Here is a pretty simple example, one just about everyone that has played Arena has encountered: if you suspect your Mage opponent is holding a flamestrike, the basic play is to not overreach on the board. You don’t want him to get value from wiping out all your minions. So maybe you stick to two, sometimes three minions.

The risk here is that he may well have single-target removal, and burn your minions one at a time, until you are finally forced to play into flamestrike.

So you want to extend the board just enough to bait it out, because you have two solid 4-drops for the next turn. But you’re probably not going to get there with a silver-hand-recruit that your opponent can simply ping with their hero power, though.

So you lay down something that you would normally want to survive – let’s say a sorcerers-apprentice. The opponent takes the bait and plays flamestrike.

This is deception in a nutshell: the ability to say “look there” (the board) when actually the important stuff is somewhere else (your hand).

In the example above, the plan was “drop sticky minions after he spends his best removal tool”. But the plan that was broadcasted was “preparing to earn tempo advantage by casting several spells cheaper”.

Does he have one? Of course he has. They always have.

The Pitfall of Optimization

This doesn’t come easily because most top video game players are focused on “min / maxing” and relentless optimization – this is what makes your opponent in the above scenario use a flamestrike to destroy three minions when in reality he could just snipe the largest (perceived) threat. Most people are unable to resist the 3-for-1 trade, so they don’t even think about calling the bluff.

This played a huge role in my early Arena disasters. I would obsess about mulliganing for the perfect mana curve and then playing it out. I was playing by the numbers – so if my opponent did the same, and had slightly more valuable cards, he would beat me. You know that feeling, feeling that the opponent sets the pace of the game, that you are always one step behind, reacting instead of building your game? That’s sometimes bad draw – but often, it’s due to playing predictably.

Therein lies the problem of optimization: its power is predictable. If two players have the same knowledge of game mechanics, if both have a decent idea of what to expect from the opponent, and optimize accordingly, then the winner will be down to luck… Or deception.

Playing with secrets got me used to thinking in another way, though. Secrets are wonderful because they become optimal when you start thinking about what your opponent will think.

Pretty much only good for making the opponent think it’s something else.

The Art of Deception

Picture the following scenario: a unpopped shielded-minibot sits on the board. The Paladin player plays competitive-spirit, and has two mana left, plus a blessing-of-kings[card]. His opponent, a Shaman, has a [card]flame-juggler and a puddlestomper on board. How should this scenario play out?

An optimization-minded player would Hero-power his last two mana for a silver-hand-recruit that would either serve as cannon fodder or potentially get a +1/+1 and +4/+4 boost next turn. But ultimately, you would have little control over which of your minions your opponent would choose to attack.

But what about the statement made by not using those two mana? This sends a pretty powerful message to the optimization-minded player: that placing a 1/1 body on the board is less optimal than leaving 2 mana untapped. From here, he will infer the following: the secret must be redemption[card]. No other explanation is possible when considering optimization.

And so, your apparently bad move will have ensured the survival of your [card]shielded-minibot, because your opponent is unwilling to go into a potential net loss due to the repentance effect. Maybe it even got to keep its Divine Shield.

The threat of the secret was higher than the actual execution. This is what matters the most. The threat is more important than the execution.

Yes, I really like this card.

Patience is Key to Messing With Your Opponent

This is not to say that you should be doing bad plays in an attempt to “trick” your opponent all the time, or even to have him relax his guard thinking he’s facing a bad player.

That would be a very crude tactic, and if you’re at a high rank in the ladder, it will be very transparent. It would take a very arrogant and self-centered player to think that his rank 4 opponent got there on sheer luck, playing badly.

What we’re looking here is at feigning a different strategy. In the last article, I wrote about how to predict your opponent’s moves – now it’s time to turn those tactics on their head. To assume – again, at high-level play – that your opponent is familiar with the spectrum of tactics your deck uses, and to actively try to mislead them.

It’s important that you play the cards in front of you and be patient. Hearthstone is not the kind of game where you can set up complex or elaborate deceptions – you should always look for a window of opportunity to deceive your opponent, but it’s worth noting that it’s not – at least to my knowledge or experience – possible to build an entire strategy out of that.

Once again, they key is to look at all the possible moves. Before you play a card, consider:

  1. What is your purpose for playing the card?
  2. What will your opponent think its purpose is?
  3. Are there any synergies in play? Are you likely to draw any synergies soon?
  4. What synergies will your opponent fear / expect you to have?
  5. Is it to your advantage for him to believe you have a synergy ready? Or do you have it, and is there anything you can do to draw his attention away?

Hearthstone is a fast-paced game, so again, I stress: don’t go too deep into any line of thought. Go for breadth in your tactical thinking, considering as many options as possible, instead of going deep into any of them. The board can change completely in 1-2 turns.

If you really want to master this aspect of the game, you also need to master the probability space. I could go on about this for pages, but Asmodeus’ guide to Randomness in Hearthstone is simple and to-the-point, one of the best resources I’ve read on this topic so far –  go check it out.

Coin flipping is a good place to start to learn about probabilities and chance.

Your Assignment for Today:

By now you should have your goals and gameplan set; you should be emotionally stable and focused and if not, have specific tactics to get to that state; finally, you should have set up a daily training regimen that allows you to grow your skill as a player.

This is already a pretty meaty set of actions that will make you a better player regardless of your current level of expertise or whether you play purely for fun or competitively. So there’s really not an “assignment” per se I could give you now – I would just like you to keep mindful of this article’s topic during your next games.

Practice thinking about what your opponent would think, and thinking your moves 1-2 turns ahead. And remember, don’t touch those cards!

So, what mean tricks have you played on your opponents lately? Please share in the comments! 🙂