Understanding Card Advantage in Arena

Greetings! Today we will talk about one of the main resources in the game. Hearthstone can be divided into 3 main resources. Those are card advantage, tempo and hero’s health. For this article we will be focusing on card advantage. We are going to explore what card advantage is, how to determine if you have […]


Greetings! Today we will talk about one of the main resources in the game. Hearthstone can be divided into 3 main resources. Those are card advantage, tempo and hero’s health. For this article we will be focusing on card advantage. We are going to explore what card advantage is, how to determine if you have card advantage over your opponent, how to exchange it with tempo or hero health and how to benefit from this concept. On top of that we will see how card advantage applies in arena.

Trading Card advantage

Before continuing we need to make sure to understand a concept of trading card advantage between your opponent. Let’s see what 1 for 1, 2 for 1, and so on means. In terms of card advantage Y for X means that you used X cards of yours to destroy Y cards of opponent’s. X will always be how many cards you used and Y will always be how many cards your opponent used. Here are few examples to help understand the concept: we use fireball to kill pit-fighter. We used 1 card – Fireball to kill 1 card from opponent – Pit Fighter. This was 1 for 1 exchange. Another example: We use lava-burst and lightning-bolt to kill opposing bog-creeper. This time we used 2 cards and destroyed 1 card from opponent. This was a 1 for 2 exchange in which we lost card advantage. If opponent kills our senjin-shieldmasta with river-crocolisk and bloodfen-raptor, we gained a 2 for 1 since opponent used 2 cards to kill 1 of ours. Exchanges of cards between 2 players are not limited to 2 for 1 and 1 for 2. There will also be instances when the opponent can gain 3 for 1 or even 4 for 1 with very strong late game cards like ysera.

Card advantage

Card advantage is a concept often used in card games. Card advantage is a resource that you can exchange between yourself and the opponent or you can exchange card advantage into tempo or hero’s health.

If you take the name literally it sounds like player with more cards in hand has an advantage. This isn’t the case as cards in the hand are not the only thing that needs to be considered when calculating card advantage. Card advantage includes both cards in the hand and cards on the board. On top of that card advantage should be calculated during your turn. When counting card advantage during opponent’s turn, add the card that will be drawn when it’s your turn. Say if during opponent’s turn you both have 3 cards each you will have the advantage as when your turn comes you have 4 cards netting you card advantage over your opponent.

Theoretically it seems easy to count card advantage. You count how many cards you have in your hand. Then you add how many cards you have in play on the board and voila. Do the same for your opponent and you will see if you have card advantage over your opponent. Theoretically it all works out fine, however in real games it gets more complicated quickly.

First of all comes the question of what do you consider a card on the board? If you just play a single minion like chillwind-yeti and it’s on the board without doubt it counts towards card advantage. Now what if gets damaged? Is it still worth a card? If you kill another minion with your Yeti and it survives how do you explain the exchange in terms of card advantage. It’s clearly not 1 for 1 since your Yeti is still alive on the board hanging out. It’s not 2 for 1 since you only killed one minion and you don’t know if you will manage to kill another minion for it to become 2 for 1. The truth is you don’t describe what exchange happened until your Yeti dies. If the wounded Yeti died to a fireblast then you got 1 for 1. If it died to another minion you gained card advantage by getting 1 for 2. We can’t say exact card advantage a minion gained or lost us until it dies. Only then we can conclude that the exchange was 1 for 2 or 2 for 1 ect.

After that it gets even more complicated. If you have silver-hand-knight for example, should you consider both Silver Hand Knight and Squire the same in terms of card advantage? It’s easy to see that Knight has a higher potential for good trades than Squire. Again it’s best to see what card advantage you gained or lost after both parts have been killed. How much is silver-hand-recruit worth? Of course it has a chance to kill a magma-rager. Yet most of the time Recruits will die for free. Therefore they aren’t worth a full card.

In the late game another problem arises. Imagine the situation: late game, both players running out of cards quickly. In your hand you have 2 cards while the opponent has 1. With no minions on the board you have twice the card advantage of your opponent. Now what happens if one of your cards is a wisp. Obviously The Wisp will have no impact on the board. It’s basically not worth a card. And the question arises – do you still have twice as much card advantage? In my opinion the answer is no. In this situations both players are equal in terms of advantage as Wisp shouldn’t be considered since it’s so low impact. It’s all situation dependant when a card will have an impact or not.

Overall more often than not it will be hard to notice if you have a small card advantage over your opponent.

How to gain card advantage

There are quite a few ways to gain card advantage in arena. Two main ways to get card advantage are using other resources to generate card advantage or to simply get card advantage from opponent. You can trade tempo and health with some cards in exchange for card advantage. For example using Warlock’s hero power. However that will be discussed later in the article.

The best way to get card advantage is to steal it from an opponent – to make an efficient trade (2 for 1, 3 for 1 and so on). This can be done many different ways. First of all a big minion with a lot health, which can trade down, is the easiest way to generate card advantage, even if it’s sometimes unreliable. By using 2 or more minions to kill one of yours, with each trade opponent loses more and more card advantage. Taunt minions are especially good at generating card advantage as opponent is forced to trade into the taunt minion unless he has silence. Big taunts like bog-creeper or sunwalker can be real card advantage generators.

Another good way to gain card advantage is AoE(Area of effect). Board clears, especially can net 3-4 card advantage from a single card. Smaller AoE like forked-lightning can make small card advantage, however cards like these are often situational.

Weapons can be a great source of card advantage. gorehowl or assassins-blade can be a gold mine of card advantage given you have enough health to spare.

Using card advantage to your benefit

How can you benefit from concept of card advantage? First of all card advantage is the main win condition of control/attrition decks. These archetypes aim to get more value from cards than their opponents. In the late game opponent will eventually run out of cards as a result of unfavourable trades. Then the control deck will be able to utilise the card advantage that has built up and control player will drop 2-3 minions on the board each turn while opponent will only be able to play the card he topdecked.

Nonetheless midrange and even aggressive decks sometimes can win by card advantage. In each game one player will be more aggressive than the other. Aggressive players sacrifice value for more face damage. Instead of doing favourable trades which will give aggressive players card advantage, they choose to go directly to face and let their opponent make trades. This allows defensive player to trade favourably and overtime he will generate big card advantage over the opponent. If during that phase the aggressive player won’t finish off his opponent, the defensive player will win with card advantage. Therefore it’s important to understand if you should be playing aggressive or defensive. This comes down to your deck and your class. When considering if you should be playing aggressive, make sure you have enough damage in form of spells or charge minions in your deck. This is crucial to finish off your opponent in the late game. On the other hand if you are considering to be defensive, make sure you have cards that can provide card advantage such as AoE or taunt minions with a lot of health.

Always be aware of who has the card advantage. If the difference is minimal, keep your original win condition. If you see that you are losing on card advantage more and more, you may need to switch your win conditions. If originally you could out value your opponent and win on card advantage, you may need to switch your focus on tempo and face damage.Instead of doing favourable trades choose a turn and go directly at opponent’s face. This will give you a chance to quickly finish your opponent off before he can utilise his card advantage to it’s fullest. If you’re falling low on card advantage you can also win by tempo. If you play many small minions instead of a big one, you can out-tempo your opponent. Since opponent’s big minion is only going be able to kill one minion from your side of the board, each turn you will get your board bigger and bigger. Use hard removal if the opponent plays a big taunt and you will win before opponent has a chance to put his card advantage to use. Always remember that big card advantage doesn’t matter if the player is dead.

From the start of the game player going second already has a card advantage over his opponent. Not only second player gets an extra card but also The Coin which is valued at around 0.5 of a card in terms of card advantage (basically half of innervate). If you’re on the verge of deciding between setting card advantage as your main win condition or tempo/health going second oftentimes may indicate that going for card advantage is the right choice

Trading between other resources

With some cards or hero powers we can exchange tempo or our hero’s health into card advantage. Warlock’s hero power sacrifices 2 mana and 2 health in exchange for a card. When playing an aggressive Warlock deck, it is advised to not hero power in the early to mid game. Why? Because as an aggressive deck you want to grab the board early. Since life-tap costs 2 mana it negatively affects your tempo. Instead of spending 2 mana to get a card and play a 2 drop on say turn 4, it’s better to develop two 2 drops. Only when running out of cards should you start using hero power every turn as a Warlock.

That example shows how important is to know your win condition and which resources are more important than others. It’s important to know if you need card advantage instead of tempo, health instead of tempo etc. If you know which resource you need or have too much or you can play your cards accordingly. arcane-intellect is a good card when you need some card advantage, yet bad when lacking tempo. 3 mana will put you far behind on the board than you could have been if played in a tempo deck. During the matches analyse your current situation and determine which resource you need the most and which you have too much of. If matched up against another control deck as a control deck yourself, chances are health will be the least important resource. In those situations feel free to use weapons more liberally, often taking a lot of damage in the process which is fine.

All resources can be exchanged into others with certain cards or hero powers. For example you can exchange tempo into card advantage with cards that draw more cards like sprint or arcane-intellect. Health points can be exchanged into card advantage with weapons like gorehowl or assassins-blade. Card advantage can be exchanged into health with healing cards as healing-touch. Card advantage can also be exchanged with cards like innervate. As you can see resources can be exchanged with correct cards when needed. Always be aware of your resources, which ones should be your priority and which ones aren’t as important.

Card advantage in Arena

In arena card advantage is often the main way to win games. Since the 3 cards offered during a draft are random, it becomes way harder to build a tempo or a truly aggressive deck. Aggressive decks require damage from hand to function. If luck isn’t on your side, drafting a truly aggressive deck will be tough as you will have to grab the board very early on if you plan to do all the damage from the board. The biggest exception to this is Hunter, who can easily finish off games without any damage from hand, relying on his hero power to deal the remaining damage.

Same goes for tempo decks, however they get affected less by the randomness of the Arena. There are many minions which put out multiple minions on the board. On top of that to succeed sometimes you will only need to land 2 or 3 good removal cards on big minions in the mid game to swing the board. Even though minions will get offered much more often than spells, it’s safe to consider that at least a few will show up throughout the draft.

It’s easiest to win with card advantage. This is because to get a good card advantage spells aren’t necessary and all you need is big beefy minions with a lot of health. From one big minion like bog-creeper you may generate up to 3-4 cards. Spells like flamestrike surely make life easier, however they aren’t necessary unlike with other win conditions.


That’s all for today. Hopefully you understand the concept of card advantage even better now. Follow me on twitter to stay up to date with my articles. As always thank you for reading.

Until next time.