Mindset refers to the thought processes of an individual. While some people refer to mindset strictly as your attitude, I adopt a more broad definition that essentially drills down to two things:
- What to think about?
- How to think about it?
Many top Hearthstone players have a background in poker, Magic and other card games. This is because the skills from these games are directly transferable to Hearthstone.
In Hearthstone, as a frequent top Legend player, I argue that the difference between a legend and non-legend player is mindset. A legend player will know what to think about and how to go about it. In contrast, a non-legend player does not know what to consider when given a particular circumstance, and hence, are more likely to make ineffective plays.
In this article, I will discuss three aspects that you should consider each game: evaluating all options, critiquing your play, and controlling your emotions.
Evaluate all options
Like poker, Hearthstone is a game where decisions are made on imperfect information, which stems from:
- Your own deck—cards are drawn randomly, and you do not know what is coming next
- Your opponent’s hand/deck—you do not have information on what cards your opponent is playing and their current hand
- Cards themselves contain elements of randomness—often referred to as RNG (random number generator)
A key part of the mindset of a legend player is having an analytical mind that evaluates all options before making decisions on what to play. Top players in Hearthstone do not play a card without thinking through all the possible situations and repercussions from each option.
Therefore, in order to put this to practice, you must talk yourself through all the possible plays before playing your hand. While it may be tempting to quickly play a turn 6 Savannah Highmane or turn 7 Dr. Boom, there may be instances where these plays are not correct. Certain plays that are initially discounted as weak may be the optimal play once all options are explored.
This is a general outline of what you should be considering each turn. Note that certain aspects covered below are more relevant for different stages of the game.
Do you have lethal? (relevance: mid to late game)
While checking for lethal in the early game is pointless (unless you are playing a deck that has incredible burst early game, such as Mech Shaman), looking for lethal in the mid to late game is particularly important, as it is easily missed. Even professional Hearthstone players will, on occasion, miss an obvious lethal opportunity.
The consequences of missing lethal can be minimal, as you may have a very commanding lead and get lethal on the turn after. However, on occasion, it can the difference between winning and losing the game. Looking for lethal also includes planning for a potential lethal in the next 2 to 3 turns. If you think that you can potentially kill your opponent in the next few turns, you should try to play your cards to maximise your damage over those turns rather than over a single turn.
Does your opponent have lethal? (relevance: mid to late game)
While this advice may seem obvious, there are many instances where your opponent may have potential lethal. In most instances, it is a matter of counting up the damage on your opponent’s board.
However, you should also consider what your opponent has in his hand. For example, against a Hunter, you may need to add up the board damage plus a potential Unleash the Hounds or Kill Command. The rule of thumb when considering opponent’s damage potential is to account for just one copy of a card. The exception to this rule is when they have a large hand or have few cards left in their deck . In this instance, assuming the worst can save you from imminent death.
How do I win this game? (relevance: all game)
This may seem obvious, but in Hearthstone, you have to play to win. However, what a lot of people do not understand is that sometimes their line of play prolongs the inevitable rather than gives them a chance, however small, of winning.
For example, I was watching my friend play his Freeze Mage against a Control Warrior (very unfavorable match-up). The board was clear, he had 10 hp with an Ice Block in play, while the Warrior was on 28 HP with 14 Armor. My friend intends to play Alexstrasza but doesn’t know whether to set his or his opponents’ life to 15.
My response was that Alexstrasza had to be played offensively in order to win. Freeze Mage often struggles to get enough damage to finish off a Warrior and giving up 13 damage for a 5 health heal will lose you the game in the end even if it makes your life total slightly more vulnerable.
Another example is when I was playing against a Face Hunter with my Malygos deck (another unfavorable match-up). I had board control with 2 Si:7 Agents, but I was starting to get low on health. The Face Hunter plays an Arcane Golem and hero powers, getting my life to 11 hp. Here’s the situation visually.
In this situation, I chose to Sap the Arcane Golem, go face with the Agents and refresh my dagger. Now you must be thinking, why Sap the Arcane Golem when he can just cast it next turn for an additional 4 damage?
The reason why we Sap the Arcane Golem is because the Eviscerate is our key to winning. Provided that we are able to attack with our board the next turn, we can kill the Face Hunter with the Eviscerate and board damage.
How do we create the best possible board position? (relevance: all game)
While this is more relevant for decks that are based on board control, you should consider what play creates the most favourable board position.
The most appropriate example I can think of is in a Mech Mage mirror match. Say your opponent starts first and plays a Clockwork Gnome. You have the choice of either coin and pinging the Clockwork Gnome or playing a Mad Scientist (let’s assume that skipping the turn is sub-optimal). In almost all instances, pinging the Clockwork Gnome allows your opponent to put a new threat on the board and keep momentum and board control. On the other hand, playing the Mad Scientist not only threatens the Gnome, but triggers a free Mirror Entity on death which gives you a great chance to get control of the board the next turn.
What do you plan to play in the next 2 to 3 turns? (relevance: early to mid game)
You should aim to have a smooth mana curve over the next few turns, meaning that you should not play something that would disrupt this curve.
For example, playing as a Druid, let’s say you draw double Innervate, a Sludge Belcher and a Piloted Shredder and you are starting first.
There is no point in double Innervating a 5 mana minion on turn 1 if you are going to hero power the next two turns. A better play is to skip turn 1, Innervate the Piloted Shredder on turn 2 and Innervate the Sludge Belcher on turn 3. That way, you are developing a strong board with 2 consecutive turns, and it also allows time to draw into further plays from turn 4 onwards.
What is your opponent likely to play in the next turn? (relevance: all game)
Currently, Hearthstone has around 700 possible cards that players can include in their decks. Hence, it is very difficult to predict exactly what cards your opponent is playing. Fortunately, there are two factors that will provide you with a lot of information about your opponent’s deck:
- Their hero
- Cards they’ve already played
From the hero alone, you can eliminate all other class cards, that narrows the field considerably. Furthermore, you will notice that players tend to play the same few popular decks. Since last week, I’ve noticed that the introduction of Imp Gang Boss has given rise to Zoo again. This is most likely due to players net-decking the #1 NA Legend Zoo deck.
Another key indicator of your opponent’s hand is what they have played in previous turns. For example, a Mage that has played a Mechwarper is clearly a Mech Mage, with the usual assortment of Mechs and Archmage Antonidas as the late game finisher. Another example would be a Hunter playing a Leper Gnome and Worgen Infiltrator – a clear indication of Face Hunter.
Armed with this knowledge, you can hypothesise the likely plays from your opponent. For example, playing against a Paladin, the most likely plays are turn 2 Shielded Minibot, turn 3 Muster for Battle and either turn 4 Consecration or Truesilver Champion. By hypothesising the likely plays from your opponent, it can potentially change your decision-making for each turn.
Sequence of play
The order that you play your cards can be the difference between winning and losing. This includes misplays such as not playing Backstab before trading your minion (i.e. you cannot Backstab a damaged minion), or not counting your cards properly before Sprint and burning a card.
However, the sequence of play is also relevant for cards that are RNG based, such as the Boombots from Dr. Boom, Animal Companion, etc. For example, you are a Midrange Hunter racing for lethal. You have four minions on the board, and your play next turn will involve Animal Companion. In this instance, you would play the Animal Companion first before attacking with your minions, as there is a one in three chance that it will be a Leokk, which would give you an additional four damage in total from your minions.
The rule for sequencing is to play out your RNG elements first before making further moves. This is because you could spend too long pondering potential outcomes, when that time is better used after the RNG rolls happen and THEN reacting. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but in most instances, you want to let the RNG play out first.
Critiquing your play
The best players in Hearthstone (and in other card games) consistently evaluate how they played after a game. This is how the top players remain the best; they are constantly evaluating their successes and mistakes to ensure that their successes are replicated, while their mistakes are eliminated.
Hence, in order to improve your play, you must learn to assess your play after a game. Regardless of whether you win or lose, always take a brief moment after a match to critically analyse your performance. Even if you have just obliterated your opponent, it is important to think about whether you made the correct plays on crucial turns.
It is often tempting to just rest on your laurels when you are on a big win streak. However, this attitude is not conducive to improvement, as you will not develop your skills. It may be that you won all those games because your opponent did not draw into their key cards, or that they had terrible starting hands. Due to the law of large numbers, you cannot expect that this trend will continue indefinitely, as your ‘lucky’ moments will be balanced out by your ‘unlucky’ moments in the long term.
The easiest way to improve is to identify and analyse key turns from a loss. It is easier to identify misplays when you lose rather than when you win. Sometimes these mistakes can be very obvious, such as not counting whether a Druid player has lethal on you with Combo, or not playing around a single copy of Fireball or Kill Command. However, some mistakes aren’t as clear. There are many instances where you find yourself 1 to 2 damage off lethal, only to lose because your opponent drew the cards necessary to win. In this instance, you would have to think back through the whole game to see where you may have missed that damage that would have made the difference between winning and losing. In most instances, it is due to misplays such as trading instead of going face.
Control your emotions
Due to the inherently volatile nature of the game, it is quite easy to get frustrated while playing Hearthstone.
Personally, I have had my fair share of bad beats. In my push to Legend this season at Rank 1 four stars, I played a Handlock with my Malygos Rogue and was one turn from victory, with 5 friendly minions on the board while the Handlock only had a 1/2 Sludge Belcher token. However, I was also on 12 hp. Knowing that I was one turn away from victory, the Handlock made the only play he could in order to win by playing a Ragnaros and going all face. Let’s just say that his prayers were answered, and I lost despite a 5 in 6 chance of victory.
After experiencing such a demoralising loss, it is easy to become very negative and frustrated. This type of frustration can lead to irrational play in future games. Using poker terminology, this common condition is known as going ‘on tilt’, which originated from people tilting pinball machines due to frustration.
Tilt has a negative effect on your game because it is a distraction. You can clearly see that players ‘on tilt’ are not thinking about the most optimal play; instead, they are still seething from either misplaying, losing a match due to bad luck, or playing an unfavourable matchup. Indicators of being ‘on tilt’ are thinking:
- “I’m never lucky”
- “I can’t believe I didn’t play around combo!”
- When playing Face Hunter—“Not another Control Warrior, I’m going to lose this for sure!”
- When playing Freeze Mage—“2 Warriors in a row? Blizzard hates me!”
- When playing against a Face Hunter—“Why is there so much brainless Cancer in the meta?”
- When Ragnaros hits your face for lethal despite it being a 1 in 6 chance—“I hate Hearthstone, I’m never lucky!” (kidding, I just accepted it and won my next 3 games to get to Legend for the April 2015 season).
Consequently, you may find that your win rate starts to plummet. In fact, tilt is a very common reason for why people experience massive losing streaks; their negative mindset clouds their ability to think rationally.
Tilt can affect even the best of players. However, top players in Hearthstone are more likely to have control of their emotions. For example, if you have ever watched Brian Kibler or StrifeCro play, you will notice that they rarely ever lose their temper. This is because they have a clear understanding that Hearthstone is a game of chance, and that bad luck is something that must be accepted, as it will be balanced by good luck.
Hence, in order to manage tilt, you must condition your mind to remember that in the long run, bad luck will be balanced out by good luck. It is simply the law of large numbers—if you are making plays that give you 60% chance of winning, then in the long term, you will be winning 60% of the games. However, in the short term, you may get unlucky and only win 30% of the games, despite making plays that would give you a 60% chance of winning. In this instance, you have to put faith in the fact that your luck will balance out in the long run, and that your optimal plays will result in a higher win ratio.
Another trick is to take a short break to cool off before jumping back into Hearthstone again. Depending on how well you manage your emotions, it may be that you just need a short break to cool off before you can focus your mind on making optimal plays rather than being distracted by emotion.
Finally, do not get too caught up with losing a game. Due to the inherently volatile nature of Hearthstone, you may experience long winning streaks and losing streaks. Instead, your focus should always be self improvement, and whether you made the correct plays both for your wins and losses (as discussed in the previous section).
I hope that you have learnt something about the mindset of a legend player. If you have enjoyed the article, please give me a thumbs up! Feel free to leave any comments below or message my twitch channel (stream forthcoming): www.twitch.tv/k3lvhs