Strategy: Playing the Terrible Games

Sometimes, things don't go the right way for both players. Learning how to overcome those few games can become very useful in your HS toolbox.


Hi there folks,

Welcome to my think-out-of-the-box article. We are not speaking about time dragons or crazy deckbuilders here, we are speaking about some strategy to use in-game.

As you might be aware of (hopefully), designing your deck strategy in advance, knowing your match-ups, metagaming, taking the right decisions between many good plays are key factors to winning Hearthstone games.

While it might be easy to create a sequence like

Noble Sacrifice -> Knife Juggler -> Muster for Battle -> Truesilver champion -> Sludge Belcher -> Mysterious challenger -> Dr.Boom,

And even easier perhaps to get crushed by a similar sequence, sometimes, more often than you might realize at first glance, your finely-refined game you have prepared becomes a trench warfare which is difficult to determine the outcome of and will require a far greater skill to cope with.

That’s what I would call “Playing the terrible games” and that’s what I would like to try explaining you today with this article. I hope you will learn something new while not getting asleep too fast and that you will be able to use it next time you get an awful card in your hand.

Recognizing The Key Factors

To adapt to those kinds of games, you really need to recognize that you are presently playing one. Because they require plays and decision making processes that more than often will have you accepting bad plays just for the sake of it.

So if you are misled, chances are that you will just be making bad plays for nothing, which would result in missing chances to win the game, which is logically the opposite of what you should want when turning on the Hearthstone software, (hopefully again).

  • Your hand: generally you will recognize easily whether or not you are playing with a bad hand. Key factors: you mulliganed all your cards in the starting hand, you were not happy with what you got then, you are having an unnatural set of card costs in your hand like T1-T1-T4-T4-T8, and you start the game.

Why is that that you’re more often in the bad spot when starting the game? Simply because the coin gives you flexibility to avoid being stuck during too many turns. With the same hand as earlier, you would be able to play something like T1 then power then coin into T4 then T4 and in the meantime get back on your feet. It can counterbalance strange stuff happening like bad cards hitting the board.

  • It should logically be easy to determine if your opponent is also stuck like you but strangely many players fail to manage that because they are victims of the syndrome of “my opponent has everything he needs as usual” even when it is wrong. How many times have I heard complaints against tempo mage games while the tempo mage did not even get his Flamewaker in fact so he was basically just playing cards directly which in a synergetic deck is poor.

Try to imagine what your opponent should play at a given time, try to look for underpowered plays, it can give you good indications of your opponent’s hand. Using the tracker can give you indications about the number of cards he mulliganed, and whether he is playing the cards he already had or the one in just drew which is also a strong indicator of what his behavior means. If I see a late game card hitting early, I am always wondering what it means.

On a side note, setting up a tracker will help determining if you plays were correct, it is really important. For example, if you go right into a Swipe you thought your opponent did not possess, it is good to know if he just drew it or if he was concealing it earlier. Getting a tracker is definitely the step that has led me to be legend every month since I installed it. So I wanted to tell it so you could benefit of it, now it is done. (Be assured that I don’t own any shares in the tracker software company).

  • At higher levels (I would like to say from rank 5 because I tend to overestimate people but in real it starts at legend effectively), people will be more likely to bluff so try to recognize that type of plays, or maybe I should say to stop underestimating people because they generally make better plays at higher levels.

For example when I started playing games at legend level I was thinking that if the priest was not playing Holy Nova against a full board on turn 5, it was meaning he would be in a bad spot and I would go face most of the time. Well, I learned then that a coin on double Northshire Cleric on turn 6 with 2 wounded servitors on the field was a much stronger play than a simple turn 5 Holy nova killing all my guys, even if it meant for him taking 12 more damages in the process. Lesson hardly learned.

So I adapted my way of playing depending on my deck of course. You don’t want to lose the game because you spent time trading servitors and lost to Chillmaw on turn 7. Adapting, as matter of fact, is even more important when playing bad games. As if each and every weapon you draw is becoming a permanent Hammer of doom.

How to Adjust Your Games

I want you to remember the last time you saw poker on TV. There was that guy looking stupid holding a pair of Kings getting beaten by a strange youngster with a 7 and a 2 because he thought he had made three Queens. Now at poker, you can bluff more easily than in Hearthstone and that’s sad, but that does not mean you don’t have to try to read your opponent’s mind and cards.

Considering your defensive and offensive cards, it is generally easy to determine what to do, as they are essentially plain in the way you use them. You draw a Piloted shredder? You play it if you don’t have better to do. As simple as that. You get an Ancient Watcher out of its death? Well now it is not that simple a choice for the next turn.

Now there are some cards that don’t behave the same way when playing bad games. You need to adapt the way you see them

  • AOE are the main changing factors here. You had the habit of playing them for killing 3 servitors, maybe 4 if they were 1/1. Well, if playing a terrible game, killing one correct minion that you cannot kill otherwise might be a good idea because in most decks, you cannot afford to lose one turn of attack, or one turn of support brought to him. The classic case being leaving the guy brought by the Piloted Shredder alive to see him getting Blessed by the Kings and impossible to kill or silence afterwards. How not nice!
  • One-shot cards, as I like to call them, are even more precious in the bad games. Ironbeak Owl, Aldor Peacekeeper, Big game Hunter, Brawl, Sap should be kept in hand and hit the right target. If you can kill a 7/3 with your weapon, maybe you should do it, and keep BGH in Hand, because the next guy to come might be a Mysterious Opponent with his buff.
  • Think out of the box: you are not playing in comfort but on a dangerous ground. What should you do to make sure you win? On the opposite, if you feel your opponent is weak, and you have the chance to kill him with 2 turns of attack, maybe you should play BGH on the 7/3, because you opponent has shown weakness so it can be worth the try, or force him to play a good defensive card on a crappy minion. You need to open your mind to other ways of achieving your goal of winning the game.
  • Direct blasts should be saved, especially if being versatile: playable on both servitors and heroes. In terrible games, people tend to play more cautiously if in danger, so stacking cards to burst them at the end is even stronger than in normal games AND it often happens that you cannot kill a mere Sludge Bencher by yourself, and that your Order to Kill becomes necessary on that given turn (and yes, I know that it is a play that does not give you value, but you are playing a bad game right now, remember).

Now, Be Your Own Strategist

Now that we have understood what this trench warfare is, we can apply it. Of course I cannot go through all paths as terrible games are deep, and long, and often tend to go to a single topdeck here and there, or so most people think. But I did not say random nowhere, because there are general scenarios of what can happen in the 5 main situations you can encounter.

  • If you are playing against the aggressive deck being the controllish one, a terrible game would probably be one when you don’t draw your solutions to his threats, but he is not having the best threats (it is difficult to imagine that he would not play anything, even if it can happen with secret paladin for example). Try to be selective about which minions to kill because it might be a disaster if you run out of gas on the wrong targets.

For example, against Face Hunter, leave the Haunted Creeper on the table for as long as you can, because it is basically doing no damages to you and you’re not actually trying to prevent as much damage as possible, just to be selective in which damages you prevent to win on the long run.

The reason is that on the long run, you’re going to find your solutions or your threats that are bigger than his, and eventually going to win on the long run as he will keep drawing 1-cost or 2-cost minions. Try to think early of how your opponent can finish you and prevent that while keeping a solution for the you-know-who big minion will come. It is generally very easy to narrow down the scenario to one or two things to avoid, such as keeping a good solution against Tirion Fordring versus Secret Paladin.

Control decks are usually very strong at playing terrible games. They play cards that can turn the table at once, like Brawl for warrior, or the new Reno Jackson for mage (or whoever wants to play it) and they are very solid on the long run, so they are not afraid of a bad start. But if you are playing controllish with a not-so-controllish deck, it might become a problem. So be afraid if you are a midrange, you might need to be a little more aggressive than usual to push for damages at the first Bloodlust you’ll find.

Overall Very Favourable Scenario

  • Well, if you are smart, you probably have guessed that playing the aggressive deck against the controllish deck in a terrible deck can be as complicated as it was easy on the other part.

There is a generic advice to follow: try to play your worst minions first to see what happen. You want to be able to judge what your opponent can afford to kill, or not, and will kill, or not. Try to use resilient minions or minions that turn into other. Try to forget some reflexes because in a terrible game, you might see strange plays incoming.

Now this is a very tiny spot to balance because if you don’t push hard for damages early, you’re getting exposed later. What you generally want to do is find a solution to finish your opponent with direct damages and stack it into your hand so that you can take him by surprise and go lethal quickly. Easier said than done but possible because remember, you’re having bad cards now so, if they are in your deck, they’re probably good for something.

On the opposite, since you’re having this bad hand, you can’t overextend too much against AOE, because it would mean game is over. Try to find that balance, or if you think it is impossible, go face and prepare to accept getting Consecration in your face.

Overall Very Unfavourable Scenario

  • In control vs control, terrible games will go to fatigue most of the time (well, they already do, anyway, so it is not that much of a change) because you’re playing more defensive than offensive cards, and pretty much no early offensive cards. So by the time you start playing, both players’ hands will be clogged with solutions and it probably will go to fatigue. Learn to identify that early and limit your draws, like not playing Acolyte of Pain unless you are confident you have a combination of cards to win later. In fact, for most control decks, a mirror is a match-up were most of your cards lose their efficiency, so a terrible game as per definition stated above.

Very Favourable if You Identify What’s Happening First

  • In aggro vs aggro, the terrible games are not that terrible. It is usually a battle of supporting minions so try to think ahead as much as possible about what will happen in the next few turns. I generally try to go face as much as possible so my opponent does not realize I am in a bad spot. By doing so, I will force him to do my trades for me, getting additional games and eventually some car]d advantage out of it. It’s a risky business though, as an Animal Companion or a Void Terror well played can turn tables around pretty fast.

 Very Favourable If You Manage to Get Free Damage

  • Finally in mid-range vs mid-range, there is one important thing to know: identify whether the threat opposing you is acceptable or not. For example, in the tempo mage mirror, paying a Fireball to kill Emperor Thaurissan is acceptable if I consider that I cannot handle what’s coming after too soon but if it’s followed by Archmage Antonidas I might regret it bitterly (well I agree I am probably in a bad spot). The thing is: If we have had a terrible game so far and the opposing mage is holding a card from the start of the game, there is a high chance it is a very strong minion. It might also be something else, for sure, so try to get identification on those cards staying in hand as fast as possible because it will be required later in your decision-making process.

Overall Equal, Favourable If You Read Well

To conclude on the subject so far, Terrible games happen all the time but people don’t accept it. It generally creates tales such as how my opponent with only one card in hand played Grommash Hellscream + Cruel Taskmaster and killed me directly.

It is vital that you accept that they exist!

Well, in that specific spot, when telling the tale, you probably should have realized that you did not put enough pressure on the guy to force him into playing Cruel Taskmaster early, or that he was keeping a card from the start of the game, which in case of a warrior deck on turn 10 often indicates Grommash if still sitting in the hand.

That article was very general but the goal was to provide you with a feedback on that factor of the games often forgotten so that in your next sessions you add to your many thoughts during the game a new one: “Are we playing a good game now?” If you do that, I’ll be the happiest man ever (not really). Try to do that during your next session and come back to me with some figures, or tell me how you changed your plays after thinking “wow, that game is sucking

Thanks for reading this humble fellow,

Bisous, Jerigole.