Resources & Dynamics: Part One

The concept of ‘resources’ within strategy games is fairly well-developed. There are hundreds of Chess articles (over hundreds of years) that point out how ‘Material’ , ‘Tempo’, etc  can be utilised. Likewise, in ‘Magic the Gathering’ people have been talking about resources for decades. Heroes of the Storm is a fairly recent game, but I […]


The concept of ‘resources’ within strategy games is fairly well-developed. There are hundreds of Chess articles (over hundreds of years) that point out how ‘Material’ , ‘Tempo’, etc  can be utilised. Likewise, in ‘Magic the Gathering’ people have been talking about resources for decades. Heroes of the Storm is a fairly recent game, but I have no doubt that at some point in future resources in that game will be well documented.

And finally we come to Hearthstone, in my research for this piece I came across three articles that do a decent job explaining what and how resources work:

If you have time, I recommend reading these articles as well as my own. 🙂   It is worth pointing out that Falathar (and I, for that matter) have a chess background, and that influenced his piece. Pvddr meanwhile, comes from Magic, and his experience/understanding of that game clearly influenced his article. The general point I am making is that when people write about ‘resources’ what they are doing is taking strategical concepts from one game and looking for ways to apply these concepts in a different context: The first major piece on ‘resources’ in Heroes of the Storm will probably heavily reference ‘League of Legends’ theory.

Now, as a writer, I have an interesting puzzle to solve: How can I write about Resources in a way that isn’t simply derivative of these sources? Indeed, if I cannot add anything new to the discussion what’s the point in writing? Well, fingers crossed, I hope that I have managed to write about the topic in an interesting, enlightening, and new way. I’ll let you guys be the judges of that!

Why Care?

Okay so let’s start by making some rather general points about strategy games. The first point I would make is that one key feature of almost all strategy games is that there are clearly defined end-states.  In Chess for example, there is no possible arrangement of pieces whereby the world is ‘not sure’ if White has Checkmated Black or not.

In Hearthstone, it’s a similar thing; either a Hero has one health or more (in which case the game continues) or he/she has zero health, in which case the game ends.  There is no grey area between these absolutes.

A second feature of almost all strategy games is that they typically only seek to measure the binary above (i.e. Win/Lose) and everything else is utterly irrelevant. In other words, if you are at 0 life then my life total (be it 1, 30, or OVER 9000!) is utterly irrelevant. Likewise, the power of your minions on board and the number of cards in hand are also irrelevant factoids.  I happen to like the way Pvddr phrased it:

“I like to equate life to the King in Chess – very minor, until there comes a point where it becomes the focal point of your game. Your first 29 points of life are basically meaningless, but the 30th means more than everything else combined.”

In short, the game only cares about winning or losing, it simply does not care (nor does the game seek to measure) how ‘close’ the game was.  The importance of this idea shall become a little clearer later on, I promise.

But for now just focus on the idea that the game doesn’t care or even know how you won, it simply knows that you did.

List of Resources in Hearthstone

  • Life Total
  • Available Mana (This Turn/Next Turn/ Total)
  • Total number of cards left in Deck
  • Number of Cards in Hand
  • Types of Cards in Hand (i.e. Weapon, Secret, Spell, Minion)
  • Card Combo’s/ Synergy (on Board/in hand)
  • Knowledge (of own deck/of opponents deck, of match-up,  of opponents hand [reading/telegraphing], etc)
  • Misdirection (e.g. Bluffing / exploiting opponents assumptions)
  • Board State (e.g. number of minions, power of minions, number  of taunts, etc)
  • Tempo/Time/Initiative
  • …and so on…

If you have read other articles I referenced, you maybe surprised by the length of my list: PvR and Falthar only talked about ‘the big four’ (i.e. Life, Board, Tempo and cards). My list meanwhile is twice that and I could probably add more if I put my mind to it.

With that said, I guess it could be claimed that a number of the resources above are just sub-concepts of some greater whole: ‘Synergy in hand’ is basically a sub-set of ‘card advantage’, as is ‘types of card in hand’. But some of the other resources I list (e.g. “knowledge”) are quite distinct.

In the next section, I’ll muse over the nature of resources, as well as providing a definition. The next section is highly abstract and philosophical, if you are uninterested in such abstruse discussion my may skip this section; all you need to know is that I define resources as things (real or ethereal) that can be traded. I also conclude that no list of resources will never be fully-comprehensive since resources are not just tangible assets but can also be artefacts of human understanding.

Definitions and Philosophy

Despite the common use of term ‘resource’ there isn’t a concrete definition of what they are; such vagueness, I think, gives me license to write about whatever the hell I want. 🙂  But anyway, here is my attempt at a definition:

Resource: “A resource is, in essence, something (not necessarily a ‘real’ thing) that can be bartered with and traded for.”

For those that are interested in the Philosophy, let’s now dive down the rabbit hole!

Firstly I want you to realise that If I have a block of wood I can trade that with a carpenter in exchange for money. Both of these resources are very ‘real’; both the block of wood and the money are tangible assets that can be seen and touched. In Hearthstone, we have some tangible assets as well: the cards we have in hand, for example, are a clearly identifiable resource we can use. And likewise, lifetotals can be measured objectively with ease.

But, resources are not necessarily tangible assets: the carpenter and I can have a conversation where the currency is ‘ideas’. Ideas are things that can clearly be traded with/for even though they are incorporeal things:

  • “The top 1% are Job creators” is an idea that ‘trades for’ low taxes on the rich.
  • “Matrydom” is an idea that the Jihadi terrorist will trade his life for.

It doesn’t matter how true these idea’s are; unfortunately we live in a world were bad ideas gain just as much currency as good ideas. But let’s steer the conversation away from the complexities of politics and move back to Hearthstone.

Now is not the time to discuss the metaphysics– and ontological status– of ‘ideas’ (that question even pre-dates Plato’s ‘theory of Forms’ by hundreds of years…probably). But I wish to point out one feature that most ideas tend to share: they are often man-made tools we use to understand the world around us.

Many of you are probably finding all this discussion a bit of a head-spinner (apologies 🙂 ), but no worries. All I want you to realise is that (as I mentioned in the introduction) the game itself only understands winning and losing; ‘Tempo’ does not exist as a tangible asset inside the game. Rather, ‘tempo’ is a concept we have come up with to try to understand why one side won and the other lost.

So we have gone from talking about resources as tangile objects (e.g wood, cash), to talking about them as potentially being ethereal things (e.g. ideas) and now we arrive at a new layer of abstraction: resources can be artificial constructs imposed upon a system, their purpose being to aide understanding.

An interesting corollary to the statement above is that no list of resources (given my definition of ‘resource’) could ever be fully-comprehensive.  Why? Because if resources can be artefacts of human understanding then a new resource can be discovered (food for thought: are resources discovered, or are they invented?) the moment some dude/dudette puts the pen to paper to explain something. And bam! We would then have a new shiny theoretical framework that expounds upon some notion that players only intuitively understood before.

Now, this is not to say previous authors were wrong to focus on ‘the big four’ resources, but what I am trying to say is that, in my opinion, their articles missed a trick: they failed to discuss some of the more subtle types of resources and their respective dynamics. In the rest of the article I will spend most of my time discussing ‘the big four’ but I will on occasion study the interactions of some of these lesser known resources as well.

Alright, so now that we have listed some resources (and explained why such a list will never be complete) let’s now turn to the question of how we can use resources.

The Blurring of Lines

Actually, before talking about how we can use resources I just want to write a short little paragraph about the blurring of lines. For example, though out this article I use the terms ‘tempo’ and ‘board presence’; I talk about them as if they are separate things. But in practice, these two concepts tend to blur into one big mess. Moreover, to once again quote Pvddr; “In Hearthstone, being ahead on tempo will often translate to card advantage, so the two concepts will get blurry from time to time”.  Likewise, ‘initiative’ is not quite the same as ‘tempo’ but explaining when, why and how they are different is tricky. In the space of three sentences I have basically suggested that several types of resources are not clearly distinguishable from one another.

I think that is best to think of these concepts as all being very closely related and try not to worry about disentangling them: Fortunately, not much rests upon sharp distinctions.

In short: resources are not always homogeneous easily identifiable things (but some are, such as life), rather, the lines between them are blurred and messy.  It is often inaccurate to look at your hand and say “this is a tempo play”, and “that other thing is a play for card advantage”.

With this caveat in place, I feel that we can now move on.

The Tension Between Resources

There is always a tension between resources. Almost all strategy games share a feature in that they are all about balance; when playing against a competent opponents you will rarely be in a position were you can simply improve everything; rather strategy games are all about trading one resource for another.

For example:

  • I play Sludge Belcher

Playing Sludge Belcher has a cost; we are trading ‘mana’ and ‘hand size’ resources in exchange for ‘Board Presence’ and ‘Tempo’. And presumably, if this trade where not worth making we would not have played the card!

Now let’s consider Sludge Belcher from the perspective of deck building:

  • Do put Sludge Belcher in the deck or Stranglethorn Tiger?

So here we see a tension (or ‘trade-off’) between resources; By choosing Sludge Belcher over Tiger we are forgoing the ‘Stealth Mechanic’ in favour of the ‘Taunt Mechanic’.  Moreover, I mentioned earlier that we play Sludge Belcher to gain tempo. And that is does!  But counter-factually speaking, we could have otherwise put Tiger in the deck instead of Sludge Belcher, and playing the Tiger would have developed more tempo. Thus, Sludge Belcher (when compared to Tiger) trades Tempo for other resources (i.e. ‘Taunt’ and ‘Deathrattle’).

Before moving on, I’ll show you one last quick example (note that I have ‘stolen’ the position below from this article):

So here there is a very basic choice: Mad Scientist or Mechwarper.

Both of these card choices develop tempo and board presence. But Mechwarper also develops card synergy (i.e. It makes your mechs cheaper). But’s here’s the trade-off:  all current Mage lists (be it Freeze/ Tempo /aggro / Mech / Echo Giants) all run Mad Scientist whereas Mechwarper is only used by Mech Mage. Thus, the trade-off one has to consider is basically this:

The utility of getting the Mech Synergy versus the utility of keeping vital match-up information hidden.

So that’s two rather basic examples, in the next few sections I’ll look at the tension between different resources in the game. In what follows I have decided to focus more on scope than on depth…

Card Type Dynamics

Okay, so let’s quickly look at the types of card in the game and consider what resources they typically trade for:

  • Weapons: Trade Life in exchange for card advantage and Tempo (on the second swing). 
  • AoE Board Clear: Trade Mana and Tempo/ Initiative for card advantage and Board Presence
  • Removal (Single Target): Trade mana (and sometimes card advantage) for Tempo and/or board presence
  • Secrets: Trade Tempo in exchange for whatever the secret does
  • Minions: Trade mana in exchange for Tempo and Board Presence.

I’ll explain some of these points below:


Consider for example Arcanite Reaper: If I kill Two 5/5 minions with the weapon I lose a whopping 10 life. But in return, I have probably got card advantage (those two minions were probably two cards) and I probably amassed tempo on the second swing of the weapon (because I played something else that turn).

Do take care to note however, that these are only rough guidelines; individual cards may mix things up (for example, when compared to the reaper, Gladiators-longbow trades 2 extra mana instead of using life).

Furthermore, to inappropriately quote Wittgenstein: “Meaning is use”. Basically, you only trade life for card advantage when killing minions, if you go face with both swings then you are trading card advantage and tempo in exchange for life total (of the opponent).

AoE Board Clear

Let’s study a position:

So here we are playing Druid and are going to assume that it is 100% certain that the Mage will Flamestrike next turn.  Now in this position we can clearly see that the Mage will generate card advantage: She kills 3 (or possibly 4 minions, if we play the Azure Drake this turn) in exchange for one card.  But, since she only has 7 mana this takes up her whole turn, which means any minion the Druid plays next we be met unopposed.

For arguments sake, let’s go face with everything but we will not play the Azure Drake. The Mage Flamestrikes. On our turn we drop the Drake, and once again Mage is on the defensive; she must find a way of dealing with our 4/4.  Ergo, the Druid has the initiative.

Removal (single target)

Removal is a little bit harder to generalise because the card text on removal it is a bit more varied than what you typically see printed on weapons or AoE. But as a general rule of thumb these cards tend to be ‘tempo neutral’ or better (you will rarely Hex a minion that costs less than 3 mana, hence you rarely lose tempo. To gain tempo, you hex big and expensive stuff) but usually single target removal is unable to develop card advantage (because they can only be used kill one minion, and one minion rarely costs 2 or more cards. To develop card advantage with Fireball, for example, you would need an opponent to cast Cold Blood on a 3/3)).  Moreover, some cards (e.g. Polymorph / Hex) leave little minions to deal with afterward,  and dealing with them typically requires some resources (be it a minion attack or a Hero Power, etc).


Secrets almost always cost tempo because the turn you play them is not the turn you gain the value. What you get in exchange obviously depends on the secret: Mirror entity trades for board presence and Ice Barrier trades for life.

With that said, Secrets are often ‘tempo neutral’: you lose tempo initially, but you claw some back on the turn the secrets trigger (but again, this depends on what, why and how the secret triggered).


Minions are usually pretty simple: you pay mana and you get a body (i.e. Board Presence).


So as this discussion highlights, they are some general trends among the different card types. When building decks (be it constructed or Arena) it can be worth thinking about these sorts of things.

For example, as a Warrior drafting too many weapons can have two big drawbacks; the first is that your hand maybe become cluttered with weapons leading to dead cards/draws. As for second problem, imagine a weapon with infinite attack and infinite durability (but it can never hit Heroes or be silenced) are you going to be able take a swing at every minion they play? Probably not. While the weapon is great in the early and mid-game, come the endgame you will probably be at such low life that attacking any minion becomes a dangerous proposition. My point? there is a limit to how much life you can realistically trade within a game; draft too many weapons and you exceed the amount your life total can bare (you could of course draft some life gain to compensate for a high weapon count, but that strategy has its own share of problems).  

Furthermore, not only should you analyse the types of cards in your deck, you should also study your hand: If your hand is full of tempo-orientated cards then it is probably wrong to play for card advantage. And so on.

Mechanical Dynamics

Okay, so in the above section I looked at the types of cards in Hearthstone and asked what resources they used and gained. We can do the same thing to understand card text (i.e. ‘Game Mechanics’) too:

  • Card Draw: Trades Tempo for ‘Cards in Hand’ (i.e. Card Advantage)
  • Taunt: Trades minion stats for Defensiveness
  • Charge: Trades minion stats for Tempo
  • Healing (Hero): Trades Tempo for Life Total
  • …and so on…

Take taunt for example: Spider Tank and Ironfur Grizzly are similar cards (i.e. they are both 3 mana tribal minions). But, the bear ‘pays for’ the taunt mechanic by having one less health point. So it is with charge too: Wolfrider has 3 fewer points of health when compared to the tank.

How can we use this knowledge?  Well Imagine we are drafting a Warlock deck in Arena and the second pick of the draft is between:

What do you do?

The first thing we could do is check out values of  all of these cards on a tier list. According to Adwcta: Shieldmasta is the best card with a score of 76, Yeti is 70 and Flame Imp is 66 (source).  But now let’s look at Warrior: Yeti has the same score of 70 but Shieldmasta has a score of 68 (-8 points!).

Why? Well firstly I’d like beginners to realise that Adwcta has probably built the best Arena Tier list on the internet. It’s the best for two reasons; the first is that he uses not just his opinions but has also collected data from thousands of arena runs to arrive at the numbers. The second reason? The list factors in lots of criteria (including ‘resources’).

Why is Shieldmasta better for Warlock than Yeti but in Warrior the reverse is true?  Well, just think about the respective Hero powers; Warlock trades life for cards (or life for stats in the case of Flame Imp, Pit lord), whereas Warrior trades tempo for life.  The Taunt mechanic is useful for Warlock since it helps mitigate one on the weakness of the class. Meanwhile, the Warrior has less need for defensive minions or mechanics, and so therefore should just pick the ‘beefier’ minion.

Here’s a quick little quiz to help test your understanding:

Question 1) Rank these three classes (Warrior, Warlock, Rogue) according to how much they are likely to value Antique Healbot.

Question 2)  Warrior or Warlock: Which class values loot hoarder the most?

 For the answers, just consult the tier list. 🙂

Individual Card Dynamics

Once you have got the hang of analysing card types and mechanics in terms of resources traded you can then begin to study individual cards:

  • Fel Reaver: Trades ‘Cards in Deck’ for Minion Stats.
  • Doomguard /King Mukla /Deathwing: Trades Card Advantage for Minion Stats and Tempo.
  • Harrison Jones: Trades Minion stats for Card Advantage.

Once again, take care to note that I’m talking in general, Doomguard doesn’t cost card advantage if you have an empty hand when you play him! This is actually an important point; how/when you play cards often has a greater impact on what resources are traded than the card text itself.

For example, consider a Paladin playing King Mukla on turn five with Hero power. We shall also suppose that the enemy is at 10 cards. In this case, since the banana’s are discarded, it is not true to say the Mukla costs card advantage. Moreover, Paladin Hero power + Mukla puts a total of 6/6 stats on the board, which is the same as Silver Hand Knight, so in this situation it’s not true to say you are gaining minion stats without the draw back either!

So what is Mukla in this particular case? Well, he functions more or less as a generic 5-drop.

But now imagine the opponent has 9 cards and you play him alongside Tundra Rhino: what is he now?  Well, he’s an incredibly efficient killing machine that also forced the opponent to skip a draw (the discarding of a card– as I shall discuss in part two– is mostly irrelevant).

So what is Mukla in this Particular case? Well, you are getting board presence, tempo, and card advantage (to some extent; since you are trading their draw step for  bananas).  

Resource vs Resource Dynamics

And now lets consider how resources typically trade amongst themselves:

  • Board Presence typically costs Card advantage. Will often produce tempo, card advantage (* see explanation below* ) and is easily converted into life pressure as well.
  • Card advantage typically costs Tempo (because you are playing fewer cards and/or the cards you play to generate the card advantage don’t develop big threats) but will often trade for mana efficiency (because you will often be able to play ‘on curve’) and card Synergy (more cards in hand means a greater chance of having a powerful combination of cards in hand).
  • Mana efficiency (playing the curve) will sometimes cost you card synergy (because sometimes your only play for X mana will be to use a combo piece) but will usually generate the max amount of tempo possible for your deck.
  • High life totals can often be ‘cashed in’ for card advantage. For example, refer back to the Mage flamestrike picture above (found in AoE Board clear section): the Druid had 3 minions on board with a total of 9 attack. Now if the Mage had 9 (or less) health She would be forced to play the Flamestrike. But at 30 life, she can actually wait a turn and see if the Druid played more minions. If he does, the Mage gets a more valuable flamestrike. This then, would be an example of exchange life (and tempo) for card advantage.

Before moving I have some explaining to do! I said that Board presence costs card advantage (i.e you have to play cards (which you could have otherwise saved) to get the board, most of the time) and claimed you can get life pressure and tempo in return. Well, to make things more complex, you can pay card advantage and get back card advantage too. This is because opponents my crumble under the pressure of a big board; for example, they might start using cards very inefficiently as they desperately try to defend. This ‘inefficiency’ will often lead to card advantage.

Consider the following:

Since this is not In-depth turn analysis, I do not wish to go into crazy detail about what the best play here is. But is strikes me that there are 3 basic plays:

  1. You can do nothing and hope for a better dream card and/or decent top-deck.
  2. You can Naru Kelthuzad (remember you have auchenai-soulpriest in play) and then Lightbomb and pray that sylvanas-windrunner doesn’t steal your Ysera (1 in 3 chance).
  3. The third play is to Hero Power Ysera, attack Windrunner (4 health left), Naru Kel’thuzad, and then Lightbomb. Finally, clear whatever is stolen with the Holy Smite.

I don’t want you to focus on what the best play is, rather, I want you to focus on how awkward everything is for the Priest (I have deliberately constructed a position where nothing is easy!). In many cases, Lightbomb has a lot synergy with High health minions (because enemy stuff dies and your stuff lives) but in this case high health is a problem owing to Windrunner. In fact, somewhat counter-intuitively, the Priest would be in a better position if Ysera was something a lot smaller.

Let’s suppose that the Paladin has 1 card in hand. He has spent 3 cards to obtain the current board state (total = 4 cards). Priest meanwhile, has 2 cards on board and 4 in hand (total =6).  If you go for the board clear plan (play #3) you have to spend 3 cards to deal with the board and you lose two minions (total = 5 cards spent).

In short, if the Priest wants to clear the powerful enemy board then the only choice is to be inefficient and trade 5 cards for 3 of the Paladin’s cards. Ergo, this position demonstrates the idea that board presence — while initially costing card advantage — can actually generate card advantage if the opponent has no other option other than to deal with the board inefficiently.

Okay, so that’s that dealt with. Now lets looks at another feature of ‘resource vs resource’ dynamics:

Resource Chains

Notice that these things can ‘chain’, so to speak.  For example:

In this image the Druid could use Force of Nature to clear the board. But at such a high life total (and with the Mage being so low) if might be a good idea just to skip this turn and maybe even skip the turn after next. By doing nothing for two turns we gain card advantage, and if that card advantage converts into card synergy (i.e. we draw Savage Roar) we win the game (assuming no taunts, heals, etc).

High Health — > Card Advantage — > Card Synergy — > Win.

When playing Hearthstone, a crucial skill to develop is understanding how and why you should try to trade resources of one type for another. In the Druid example we identified that Health is less important than card advantage. Moreover, we also decided that Force of Nature was more valuable as a card in hand than on board.

This position is fairly simple, but it is, I think, a good illustration of trading resources and how such trades can be beneficial (if you clear the board, how do you win the game?). 


So that concludes my introduction to resources, it was a bit of a bumpy ride but I hope everyone is feeling okay. 🙂  As always please feel free to leave any comments/questions below and I’ll get back to you.

Before closing earlier on I said that the game cares about winning and losing, not how ‘close’ the game is. Well hopefully the import of that sentence is clearer to you now than it was then. Basically, it is important that your Hearthstone play reflects a very simple fact at all tines: Getting the opponent to 0 is the goal, everything else is merely a means to an end.

As for part II, well I haven’t written it yet, but when I do, I’ll replace this sentence with something about it. 🙂

Okay, bye folks!

Further Reading and References