Hey Friends! ThorSmash back again. As I’ve said before, I hit Legend early in the month and then mainly play Arena. I have a 6.3 wins per run average in the Arena, so I’m a little below being “infinite player” (7 wins per run). Given this average, I don’t claim to be an expert Arena player, but with this average and my experience playing Arena for a long time, I’d consider myself a very good player and would like to offer some advice to players looking to improve in the Arena.
Who is This Mini-Guide For?
In a nutshell, intermediate Arena players. This guide is meant for people who have played a bit of arena, but currently average somewhere around 3-5 wins per run. New arena players who are below that average number of wins will also benefit from these tips, and more advanced players will also likely benefit from some of my advice, but the guide was written with intermediate players in mind.
Tip #1: Use Great Resources
Hearth Arena is a great resource for three things. First, it can give you drafting advice pick by pick. Second, you can use it to track your statistics for every run. Third, if you build your deck with Hearth Arena it shows you interesting facts about your deck: the deck archetype, the card draw options you have, the reach, etc. It’s a really amazing resource. One thing to note is that, over time as you get better, you will end up disagreeing with a few more of the Algorithm’s choices during the draft phase and that is to be expected (its not a perfect algorithm) and very good arena players will disagree with the algorithm at least a few picks a run. But until you build up more experience and confidence, its often a good idea to trust the algorithm as it will make the “right” pick something like 27-28 cards out of a draft in my experience.
Grinning Goat, run by ADWCTA and Merps, have the best tier list in the business. They also were the key Arena experts who helped build the algorithm behind Hearth Arena, although the two have since parted ways. If you get really into the Arena, they have an excellent weekly podcast called “The Lightforge” that you can find on the iTunes store or on their website.
Use a deck tracker while you play the game. Since I play on a mac, I use HS Tracker, but any deck tracker will do. It’s really important to track that cards your opponents have played and the cards you have played.
Tip #2: Play the Best Classes
Everyone slightly disagrees with the exact ordering of the classes at the moment, but the general consensus is something like this.
Best Class Tier: Mage, Rogue, Paladin
Strong Class Tier: Druid, Warrior
OK Class Tier: Warlock, Shaman
Weak Class Tier: Hunter, Priest
Within the tier, I have put what I consider to be the slightly better class on the left. Almost everyone agrees the Top Three are on top, and that Druid and Warrior are close behind. The final four classes are a little more up for debate, but most people agree that Priest is the worst class and that Hunter and Shaman are also doing pretty poorly at the moment. Warlock people somewhat disagree about, but most think its middle of the pack and worse than Druid and Warrior.
The key point is this: if you are an intermediate player looking to get better, you should really try to play the classes in the Best Tier as much as possible and then Strong Class Tier when you happen to not get them. Rogue is arguably the hardest class to play in Area so I’d also recomend choosing Mage and Paladin more so than Rogue if you are a less experience player as turn planning with Rogue is considerably more complicated than for Mage or Paladin.
Tip #3: Draft Quality at the Start
For the first ten picks, and certainly for the first five picks, you really should choose the strongest cards based on the Hearth Arena/Grinning Goat tierlists. You can’t try to play a certain archetype ahead of time; you need to be flexible based on what are the best cards you are presented with. It can be tempting to think that you should try to play control as a Mage or fast/tempo as a rogue, but you should instead build your deck based on what the best quality cards you are presented with at the start of the draft. Because of the vagrancies of draft offerings, almost all Arena decks end up becoming something close to a midrange, minion-heavy deck with a few removals and a little bit of reach. Yes some decks are faster or slower, but almost all of them are playing close to a bell curve shaped deck in terms of mana costs (very few 0 or 9+ mana cards, a few 1 mana and 7-8 mana cards, and a much bigger number of 2-6 mana cards) and thus picking the highest quality cards at the start of the draft will lead to more success over time rather than trying to force your deck in one direction.
Tip #4: Focus on Your Deck’s Needs As the Draft Progresses
For picks 10-20 and then especially for picks 20-30, the situation reverses. Rather than focus on card quality, you increasingly need to focus on rounding out your deck to become a healthy arena deck. I break this down into a few subcategories of things to think about: minion curve, removal, reach, defense, and card advantage
Solid Minion Curve: You need a good minion curve to succeed in the arena and you must base your later drafting decisions on this reality. Let’s take two drops as an example. Most arena decks are looking to have something like at least 5-6 two-drops (cards that can be played on turn two). If you have say only three two-drops by pick 27, it’s almost always better to pick a Bloodfen Raptor, an average card, rather than a North Sea Kraken, a great Arena card because you will be too likely to lose the early game if you end up with only three two-drops and never get a chance to play your great Kraken.
Removal: Almost all Arena decks are better with some single target or AOE removal to alter the flow of combat in your favor. If your deck has 0-2 cards that can act as removal, and you find yourself in the later 20’s of picks, you should really look to pick more up quality removal if presented to you. Cards like Backstab, Frostbolt, Argent Lance are really important for removing high priority threats at opportune times.
Reach: Sometimes you can’t win on card advantage because your opponent has bigger, more valuable minions. In that case, you need to rush your opponent down. Almost every deck wants at least a few cards like Dark Iron Dwarf or Fireball that help you rush down your opponent’s life total and find lethal “from hand”. Charge minions fit the bill nicely. Note that weapons are generally amazing in Arena because they can either serve as removal OR as reach. If your deck does not have much reach, look to pick this up towards the end of your draft. Reach also helps you close out games when you are ahead on board to deny your opponent one more turn to topdeck lethal.
Defense: Basically every deck needs to be prepared to survive against faster decks. This means every deck really prefers at least a few cards with Taunt or healing. Since these cards typically are understated, however, you don’t want to pick them too soon (unless they are super quality like Sludge Belcher or Sunwalker), but definitely look to pick up a few as your draft goes on.
Card Advantage: Almost every deck wants to be able to generate card advantage if the game goes longer and you and your opponent are both running low on cards. There are two ways to do this: including direct card draw cards like Arcane Intellect or Cult Master or include “engines” like Murloc Knight or Ragnaros the firelord that generate virtual card advantage by staying on the board for multiple turns. Although not every deck “needs” card draw or an engine (some hyper aggressive decks can just play for tempo and kill their opponent’s early) the vast majority of arena decks, even quite aggressive ones, would like to pick up something that can generate card advantage for them.
Tip #5: Play Less Flexible Minions First
Since you aren’t as familiar with your arena deck as you are with your Arena deck as in constructed, Arena tests a player’s fundamentals of Hearthstone more so than constructed since players can rely on the specific card interactions in their constructed deck to guide their moves. Thus, my gameplay tips are applicable to constructed as well, but are particularly important for Arena play since the fundamentals matter more.
When you can have the option, it is better to play a minion that is less flexible rather than a more flexible card because the more flexible card will be more likely to generate value and tempo later in the game. This is most easily seen with mana costs: its generally better to play a four mana minion on turn four like a Chillwind Yeti rather than two two-mana minions because you are more likely to curve out on later turns (you can use one of those two-drops plus a three-drop to curve out next turn for example if happen to not have a five-drop).
The same goes for minions with charge and taunt though. On an empty board or a board where the taunt or charge will be unimpactful, you’d rather play a minion without these keywords because these minions are more likely to be good on later turns, even if played off curve, than vanilla minions. So if there is an empty board on turn three, for example, you would rather play a naked Scarlet Crusader rather than a Ironfur Grizzly because the later is more likely to get value later in the game thanks to it’s taunt.
Tip #6: Plan Your Whole Turn
In arena, I routinely see players routinely misorder their turn and you need to make sure to not make that mistake. To avoid that mistake, say aloud or in your heads every single step you will take and in which order you will do the mistakes and you will likely spot an ordering mistake. Although ordering can be very complex, below are a few guidelines for figuring out how to order your turn.
First, play buff cards before you use your minions! It may sound obvious, but I often see players “know” they are going to attack face with a minion, but are unsure which other minion they will drop. They attack and only then decide to drop the Dire Wolf Alpha next the creature that just attacked, thereby losing one point of face damage. Always think about how you might want to use your buff cards first before attacking with your minions.
Second, resolve most RNG effects first. If are on turn six and determine you are going to play Animal Companion and another three mana card on turn six, play the companion first because the companion you get might affect your turn. The same goes for Flamecannon, Bomb Lobber[card], etc. Do note that sometimes you want to attack first with your low-health minions before you play [card]Mad Bomber or Madder Bomber in case those pyrotechnics kill your own minions!
Third, after you plan the entire turn, play everything at once to avoid giving away information. If you stop to think midway through your turn, you give a clever opponent small pieces of information they might be able to use against you. For example, on turn 3, if you attack face with your one minion instead of trading with your opponent’s and then sit and wait for a minute before deciding which minion to drop, your opponent likely can infer you had multiple three mana minions to play. Alternatively, if you wait and plan for most of the turn and then attack face and drop the minion in quick succession, your opponent might not be sure you had multiple 3 mana minions to play and instead wonder if you were debating on whether to trade or go face. This is especially important when you are a class like Druid or Rogue with meaningful zero cost cards because sitting at the end of your turn with zero mana available is a huge tell that the player might have innervate or backstab and is debating whether to play them. As an advanced player, you might try to “bluff” by taking advantage of people’s assumptions (ex: rope one turn 2 when you only have 1 two drop to play), but this type of mindgame is not something you should focus on as an intermediate player.
Tip #7: Constantly Revaluate the Game State
Many beginners and intermediate players fail to adapt as the game develops. You always want to be asking questions like, “Can I play for the long, value game or do I need to end the game quickly because I’ll run out of cards first?”, “Can I race my opponent in terms of damage or do I need to protect my life total?”, “Which minions of his are my highest priority targets to eliminate?”. I’ll note two common mistakes I see newer players make in the arena because they fail to evaluate the state of the game.
Sometimes less experienced players keep making only 1 for 1 even trades later in the game even though they are behind on card advantage. This is bad because the person who is behind on card advantage needs to end the game quickly and take risks because even trades will end in the favor of the person with card advantage currently.
Other times, weaker players get greedy in terms of value and fail to protect their own life total. For example, if you are a paladin with a Truesilver Champion playing against a mage and you are ahead on board, but low on life, its often better to trade with a minion and go face with your Truesilver in order to heal/avoid damage and thus not lose to your opponent topdecking a fireball. When ahead, you need to always think about how much damage your hero can afford to take.
After every turn, you should make sure to reevaluate who is the aggressor, who is the defender, and what role you need to play in order to win the game.
The arena is a great place to hone your skills while we wait for standard, and its also really fun. Moreover, if you can manage 4 or more wins per run, you are “making a return on your investment” in terms of the gold to dust ratio and therefore you will build up your collection at an accelerated rate (even if you get GvG packs, they are still good for dust!).
Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced arena players, please let me know what you thought of this article and if there’s other types of Arena content you would like me to cover. I’m also happy to answer questions about drafting or playing Arena that you have.