Hearthstone Mastery: Master Your Psychology

Welcome to the second installment of my Hearthstone Mastery series. Before we begin: have you read the first part about setting your goals? Have you decided on a Game Plan? If not, I highly encourage you to go back and do that – having a set goal and a Game Plan for your Hearthstone journey […]

Welcome to the second installment of my Hearthstone Mastery series. Before we begin: have you read the first part about setting your goals? Have you decided on a Game Plan?

If not, I highly encourage you to go back and do that – having a set goal and a Game Plan for your Hearthstone journey will help you make the most out of this article and virtually every other article you find out there. Having a bad plan is better than no plan at all.

Going Up The Angry Ladder

A couple of days ago I was going up the ladder. While playing Arena mode. How is that possible? Well, I wasn’t going up the Hearthstone ladder – I was going up the angry ladder.

I had a pretty good draft with the Mage, a solid deck all around – a pair of pyroblast, a pair of flamestrike, harvest-golem, chillwind-yeti, etc. I was pretty confident that I had a good shot of 12-x, and after reading and taking a couple of insights from Asmodeus’ 12-0 Arena Analysis , I was committed to focusing on my plays and having a great arena run.

My first opponent was a Paladin. Mage VS Paladin is usually a pretty even match-up in the arena, usually down to player skill if the draft was more or less even. I had a great draft and was confident in my skill.

He proceeded to destroy me over the next few minutes.

Whatever card I played, he had an answer. Whenever I set myself up for some good trades, he played a secret that protected his value. Every single card he dropped had immense board value. Eventually, on turn six he played mysterious-challenger, and five – FIVE! – secrets came into play.

I was up against Secret Paladin. In the Arena.

After it was done, I immediately jumped into the next game, annoyed and eager to wash away the feeling of defeat with a fresh win. I won that game, but barely. I went on to lose that arena 3-2.

So I started another one, of course. And another one.

By the end of the day, I had spent an afternoon playing Arena, and was way below my usual 9 wins average.

What had happened?

Enraged is Only Good on Minions

Inner Rage(366).png

See this guy? He’s probably gonna lose his next few matches.

I had been recording that first Secret Paladin game and reviewed it later on, to try to figure out what happened.

I had made no mistakes.

He simply outclassed my every play. Value for value, tempo for tempo,  he had me beat every time. I showed the game to a friend, and he couldn’t find mistakes, either. With the information I had available at each turn, I made the right choice time and again.

And he still crushed me.

The other games, however, were a different matter. As each loss piled on, I played more and more aggressively, taking stupid chances where I could have predicted my adversary’s move, paying less attention to the board each time, and even not noticing I had cards for lethal, once.

I won my last game of the day, but I played far, far worse than on my starting loss.

By then, I was angry at myself and cursing my luck for not being able to match my usual 9-3 average. I was annoyed I had spent an entire afternoon with little to show for it. I was jealous that everyone that I played against  always seemed to have the perfect play, higher-value cards.

I had lost my discipline, my winning mindset – my self-control. I wasn’t playing with a cool head and a calculating mind – I was being driven by emotion, by the desire to feel good from a win, to wash away the pain from the previous defeat.

Be Like Water: Master Your Psychology

I know this has happened to you.

Sometimes – be it Arena or Ranked –  you get the best cards; you get the perfect starting hand; you play perfectly – beautifully, even ! – and you’re even on a favored match-up.

And you lose.

It’s not “fair” but you lose. And it’s not “fair” because you know, deep within you know, that you did everything right.

But it is crucial to understand, and keep present in our minds, that on the other side of the board ( or screen ) there’s a human being just like you – and some times, you will lose to him or her, no matter what.

Sometimes, the chips just don’t fall your way. And that’s okay.

It’s really important to keep this in perspective, because otherwise, you will act like me: your judgement will be clouded by negative emotions – anger, disappointment, doubt – and since as humans we have limited brainpower, your brain is spending precious resources on those emotions, resources that could and should be applied to figuring out the next match.

There’s the comic book-inspired myth that a person in great emotional distress can gather up strength to push on against great adversity. But in real life, emotional distress usually just screws you up.

None knew this better than the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee. “Be Like Water” he advised:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”

Illustration by Zenpencils

Or, in other words, if you keep your cool, if you don’t let your emotions be influenced by what’s happened in previous games or even earlier in the current game, all your brainpower and focus will be targeting the current situation, and you will make better plays.

You can’t control what happens to you, only how you respond to it. So respond in a way that suits your goals and objectives.

Easier said than done, right?

We’ve established that you cannot afford to be distressed by whatever happens in your match, or set of matches. Now let’s look at some practical steps you can take to make it so.

Over the course of many years of competitive gaming I’ve found the following things work best for myself and some people I coached, but feel free to add your own in the comments:

The Golden Rule: STOP PLAYING

Now I want to make an important distinction here. You should stop playing immediately if you feel angry, or sad, or even mind-boggling bored. All of these will have a negative impact on your win rate. But what if you’re just not having fun?

Some people say that the whole point of playing is having fun, and you should stop if you aren’t having any. I disagree with this.

Few things are fun 100% of the time when you are trying to master them. I would venture saying none are. When you are going for mastery, for ambitious goals, you will always run into some pain zones. This is why it’s important to have goals. Keeping your goal in mind will allow you to push on when others quit – by the way, you know why they quit?

Because they might have said their goal was to “achieve x”, but in reality, their goal was having fun all along! I have 100% respect for people who recognize this, who can tell themselves “OK, I was mistaken, this isn’t really what I wanted. I just want to have fun.” Fantastic! Having fun at a game is, surprisingly enough, a pretty worthwhile goal!


And this guy? All he wanted was a shiny new sword, so he’s really happy with this sup-par warrior card! Fun!

But if you do have a different goal, a mastery goal, and you are not feeling the fun – keep at it. It’s normal. The pleasure will come later. Right now you’re not looking for fun – though if you have it, fantastic! – you’re looking to maintain a positive emotional state that will allow you to keep a straight course towards your goals.

The First Rule: Get Up!

The best and quickest way to change your feelings is to get up – stand up straight as an arrow – and walk away. Open your arms, stretch, shadow-punch the air a couple of times.

If you can, go punch a punching bag, or kick a soccer ball against a wall. Go out for a run. Failing all that, go play the Wii.

Part of the reason emotions cloud your judgement is that they mess up your brain chemistry. You wouldn’t expect to play well at Hearthstone while drunk on alcohol, so why do you expect to do it while drunk on hormones?

Physical exercise works wonders on that, it cleanses your brain chemistry and has your body produce focus-boosting substances. It will also force you to breathe deeper and longer, further oxygenating your brain cells.

Take care of your body and your Hearthstone skills will improve. Try it – I guarantee you’ll feel a difference.

Physical exercise is like your own, real-life justicar-trueheart. It’s that good.

The Second Rule: Go Do Something Relaxing

Relaxation is the mother of focus. In order to focus your mind on a game or a series of matches, you can’t go into them with a storm inside your head. Find a couple of relaxing activities. For me, brewing some tea with lemon – really savoring the smell of lemon being released from the hot water – works wonders, as does reading a book, some fiction.

A friend of mine watches stand up comedy on YouTube after whenever he’s had a losing streak. Comedy can do wonders for your brain. Or maybe a nice, warm shower or bath is your ticket. I’m sure you know best what relaxes you the most – and if nothing comes to mind, experiment! Just get up and do something to change your state of mind.

The Third Rule: Play Something Else

Be in the habit of having a pallet cleansing game or set of games. Sometimes it’s not practical to get up and go somewhere else – though that should be your priority, as simply changing locations can have a huge impact. Silly as it may sound, I’ve found that sometimes, all it takes is leaving my computer and going to play Hearthstone on the iPad on the living room couch. It’s enough to change my mood.

But realistically, it’s really useful to have another game you can play “just for fun”. You don’t even have to go that far – if you have Hearthstone, chances are you are running the Battle.net launcher. Just have World of Warcraft installed, it’s free to level up characters up to level 20. Or pick up Diablo III, I think that is also free up to a certain level. Or go to GOG.com and sign up for some free classics.

Playing video games casually is a wonderful way to relax and get out of a funk. You knew that already, right?

Your Assignment for Today

So because I really, really believe in having a Game Plan, today’s assignment is creating a Game Plan for controlling your psychology:

  1. Find out a physical activity you can easily do when you’re not feeling good about your Hearthstone playing. Decide on it – something that you have easy access to, can do on a whim.
  2. Find out a relaxing activity that meets the same criteria as above.
  3. Finally, install a video game that you can go back to when you’re in a funk and need some good, clean fun.
  4. Commit to doing one of these three whenever you feel angry, sad, disappointed or similar after a streak of Hearthstone losses.

Here is my list:

  1. Push-ups and shadow-boxing.
  2. Tea brewing and reading.
  3. World of Warcraft and Destiny.

What’s yours? Share in the comments!