Welcome friends! My name is Blackacre and I’m a Top 20 Hearthstone Legend player.
This is a guide for players who are struggling in Hearthstone. You love the game, but for whatever reason you can’t seem to achieve your goals. Maybe you just can’t seem to climb any higher on the ladder or maybe you aren’t able to get as many wins in arena as you would like. Whatever your personal goal may be, I want to give you the tools to achieve it. I am not going to give you a new deck list or explain how to play an established archetype. Those are valuable resources, but today I want to help you improve the most critical aspect of your Hearthstone game – the way you think!
Understanding the Game You Play
The makers of Hearthstone have gone to great lengths to hide something from you. They hired artists, programmers, and sound technicians and paid them salaries all so that you wouldn’t realize one fact. What truth could be so horrific that they would go to this trouble to hide it?
The truth is that Hearthstone is nothing but math… Yes, when ragnaros-the-firelord does a fancy animation while entering the battlefield it is still math. When leeroy-jenkins yells his trademark “Time’s up! Let’s do this” while attacking the opponent it is still math. All of the artwork on the cards may be beautiful, but it is just there to hide the math. The entire game is one big spreadsheet and you need to recognize that fact if you are going to approach the game with the right mindset.
So now that we know the dirty truth about Hearthstone what can we learn from this? Once we understand that Hearthstone is a game that is based on math and probability we can look at the mechanics of the game with a rational mind. We have all played a mad-bomber and had it hit us in the face 3 times. So why does this happen? It may be tempting to assume that the universe simply hates you, and it certainly feels that way at times!
In reality this is simply the result of the variance built into Hearthstone playing out over a large enough sample of games. Most times you play that Mad Bomber you won’t get the worst possible outcome, but those times don’t stick in your memory. At those times you feel as if justice was served and they simply fade away from your mind. The times that stick in your memory are the unlikely occurrences where you feel like you were robbed, but that is the wrong way to think, because that thought process only considers the game you are currently playing. Yes, it is unlikely that Mad Bomber will hit you in the face on any particular instance of playing the card, but over a large enough set of games it will happen.
You need to recognize this when you choose to play a card like Mad Bomber and more so when you choose to play a game like Hearthstone, because the variance in the game not only comes from cards with “RNG” like Mad Bomber, but from the random nature of card draw. You start the game with 30 cards in your library and if you could put them in any order you wanted, you could have an incredibly powerful deck, but the designers of the game know that we all love the thrill of drawing the right card at the right time, and because of this they built that element of chance into the core mechanics of Hearthstone. When you are building a deck or even choosing to play certain cards during a game, this should be a concept that is in the back of your mind.
Now that we understand that this variance is part of the game, how does it affect our mind set? Since we know that there will be games when we repeatedly draw the worst possible card turn after turn we have to recognize that there is simply no way to win every game.
Even if you play 100% perfect, you will lose games. Once you appreciate this you will realize that your goal should not be to win every game. Your goal should be to optimize your play so that you win all of the games that variance will allow you to win. Even the best players go on losing streaks. As long as you are playing your best you shouldn’t be upset when this happens, and if you aren’t playing your best it might be time to take a break and refocus your mind.
Information is King
So how do we achieve our goal of winning all the games we can win? We need to look a little deeper at what Hearthstone really is at its core. Hearthstone is a game of hidden information that is revealed slowly over the course of the game. You can’t make the most optimal play unless you have paid close enough attention to this information to fully understand the circumstances of the game up until that point.
Let’s take a closer look at the information that is available to us on a particular turn of the game. You queue up a new game of Hearthstone and you are lucky enough to be matched against a “Worthy Opponent.” As the game begins we have the least amount of information that we will ever have in the match, but we still have information if we choose to recognize it. You look across the game board and you see two things.You see the class that your opponent is playing and you see his/her name. The opponent’s name probably won’t give you much information, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. If you have played this opponent before you might have a good idea of the type of deck he or she is playing. That is information you can use if you were observant enough to remember your opponent’s name in a previous game.
Regardless if you have ever played him or her before, the opponent’s class should give you a large amount of information. There are 382 collectable cards in Hearthstone. The moment you see your opponent’s class you can eliminate 200 of those cards from your opponent’s deck, as they are limited to other classes. Moreover, if you are playing constructed, since most players use popular streamlined decks, you can probably reduce the entire deck list to 3 or 4 different variations at most.
You have to be aware of the decks that are currently popular to fully utilize this information, but it is information that is available to you.
If you are playing arena you have a much greater variety of cards that you are likely to see, but you do have information that should help you narrow the possibilities. What information is this? It is the simple fact that you are playing arena. Because you are playing arena you automatically know that the majority of your opponent’s deck will be made up of common cards as those are the one most frequently offered during the selection process. You know that the higher the rarity of a particular card the less likely it is to be in your opponent’s deck. You also know that there are general opinions about what cards are more valuable in arena so those cards are more likely to have been picked by your opponent.
You can also derive some information from the number of wins you have thus far. If you are sitting at 0 – 2 you are much more likely to face unorthodox cards than if you are at 11-0. The higher your wins the more likely you are to be facing an opponent that has multiple powerful cards at key points in the game. If you want to play at your best you need to recognize this information is available to you and let it inform the way you play.
This may seem like a lot of information before the game has even started, but we aren’t done yet. Now that we have considered all the information we have derived from our opponent we need to turn our attention to ourselves. What information do we get from looking at ourselves? We get our entire deck list! You can’t know whether you want to keep a card during the mulligan phase unless you know all the other cards in your deck that you can potentially draw in its place. This may seem simple if you have been playing a deck for a long while, but when you pick up a new list or start a new arena it will require effort from you to know what cards you have access to at this point. Knowing your own deck is information you have available to you, it is up to you if you want to use that information.
As the game starts even more information will be revealed to you. If you are playing constructed the first couple of cards your opponent plays can often give you an idea of what type of archetype you are facing. Most decks are well established, so when you see cards that are only in one type of deck you can be relatively certain of the majority of the rest of that deck. Further, this may seem obvious, but Hearthstone limits your number of copies of a card you can put into your deck to 2 for non-legendary cards and 1 for legendary cards. So as soon as your opponent plays a copy of a card you know that they either have access to 1 or 0 more of that card depending on if it is legendary or not. That is information that is available to you, but you won’t be able to utilize it unless you are paying attention to the cards that your opponent plays throughout the game.
If you have a strong memory, then you might be able to remember everything your opponent played, but if you don’t you might want to quickly jot down the key cards that are played so that later in the game when even more information has been revealed to you, you can utilize all of that information to make optimal plays.
All the tools in the world won’t fix a leaky faucet if you don’t use them
Hearthstone is a game of mistakes. Over the course of a game of Hearthstone you will have to make dozens of decisions. Some of these will be straightforward and some of them won’t. The difference between an okay to good player and a legendary caliber player is actually very small.
Over the course of those dozens of decisions the okay player will only make 1 or 2 mistakes, and in some games those mistakes won’t even affect the outcome, but over the course of many games those mistakes will lower your win rate.
So how do we avoid making those mistakes? It is all about being disciplined in the way you approach the game. I am going to give you a simple 3 part mental checklist to follow on every turn of every game of Hearthstone you play. If you do so you will make fewer mistakes and win more games.
So your opponent has just passed the turn to you. What is the first thing you do? Slow down! You have a minute and a half for your turn in Hearthstone and you are being foolish if you don’t use that time to your advantage. Put down your mouse/iPad/etc… and simply think before acting. You should know exactly what you want to do with your turn before you start taking any actions. So what do we think about?
1. Do you have lethal damage?
This may seem obvious, but there is no easier way to improve your win percentage in Hearthstone than by never missing lethal. Even high caliber players miss lethal on occasion. This usually happens when your opponent has been putting you on the defensive for most of the game. Your opponent has been pressuring your life total and you just haven’t felt comfortable so you develop the mindset that you need to react to whatever he or she is doing.
We can avoid this by being disciplined in the way we think about our turns. You will feel silly when you are on turn 2 of the game and you are asking yourself if you have lethal, but if you discipline yourself to make this a part of every turn of your game, then you will never miss lethal on those later turns when you would do so otherwise. Once we know that we don’t have lethal what do we think about next?
2. What plays is my opponent likely to make on his/her turn?
Before we even consider what plays we want to make this turn we should be thinking about our opponent’s plays. For instance if you are playing against a Shaman and he or she will have access to 6 mana then you should consider the possibility that a fire-elemental will be played next turn, or if it is a Druid and he or she has 5 mana then a druid-of-the-claw should be on your mind.
This step requires a certain amount of knowledge to be highly effective, but thankfully if you don’t know all of the potential cards that your opponent could play, doing this exercise will teach you! If you ask yourself what plays your opponent might have next turn and you don’t know the answer then you should simply pay attention to what your opponent does play and learn from it. Add this information to your memory and use it the next time the situation occurs.
3. What plays do you want to make the next few turns?
Once you have an idea of what your opponent is likely to do on his or her next turn we start to plan out our turn. If we can set up lethal for the next turn then that may be the best line of play, but even if we can’t we should be aware of what we intend to do with our next turns so that we can sequence our plays in a way that uses our mana efficiently.
This is a lot easier if you have a hand full of cheap cards, but if you have all expensive cards, then making sure you play one each turn might be important to your development. Take the time to think through these later turns before deciding what you want to do with the current turn and you will be rewarded with more wins in the long run.
At the end of the day Hearthstone is a game that most of us play to have fun. If you are the kind of player who enjoys the game regardless of the outcome these techniques might not be for you, but if you want to win as many games as possible these tools will give you a leg up on the competition.