Closing that Gap - From Rank 5 to Legend!
Legend rank in Hearthstone is not an easy thing to come by. There are several thousand players who manage to get it each season, it’s true; there are also several million players of the game in general. If you can get through the grind and break into that magical hexagon, you will be part of the top 1% of the game’s players, and that’s absolutely something to be proud of.
So can you do it? Sure you can. It theoretically doesn’t take much to get there; all that is actually required is an ever-so-slightly higher than 50% winrate. If you have this, given an infinite amount of games, you’ll ultimately make it. However, it is admittedly a little more difficult than that in practice. In the final ‘bracket’ of ranks 5-1, you will be facing players who very rarely make mistakes, and who generally have a lot of practice. Depending on when in the season you’re doing the grind to get to legend, you’ll likely be facing mostly former legend players to get there. In most cases, if you can get up to rank five in the first place, you can definitely get to legend; it’s all about refining your style and your gameplay from there.
This guide is going to be aimed specifically at those people who regularly get up to rank 5 or so, but never seem to be able to make the push at the end. For people with lower ranks, it usually isn’t going to be these refining touches I’m about to suggest that are keeping you from legend. For instance, if you’re stuck at rank 15, in all likelihood, you need to work mostly on your mechanics – when to trade minions, when to go for the face, etc.
If you’re stuck around rank 10, it’s probably a combination of making mistakes and not having good enough game sense – that is, making sure not to set your board up for a swipe, or flooding minions on turn 6 against a mage. If you’re stuck at rank 5, you probably need a combination of things to push you over the edge, and that’s exactly what this article aims to give. It’ll be useful for everyone, I think, but if you’re stuck between rank 5 and 1, this one is for you.
Since there’s a lot of factors that go into becoming a legend player, I’m going to break it into two sections: Pre-game preparation, and in-game preparation. That’s right: Before you even begin a hearthstone match, there’s some stuff to think about on the path to legend, and that stuff is arguably even more important than the in-game stuff. Nonetheless, we’ll cover both in detail.
Sometimes you need prepare yourself before the game even starts. By learning these points before the game, will help you plug the holes that's stopping you from reaching that coveted rank.
1. Track your stats
The first thing you want to do when you reach rank 5 is very simple: start tracking your stats. There are a number of excellent stat-tracking services out there, and they all work fine. I personally used hearthstats.net. Most stat-trackers are actually applications that you download - they read your screen and figure out the results for you, which is great. Hearthstats has a similar app, but I actually stopped using it (or any other app) and just started to manually input my results onto their website because they make it so easy. If you go to the ‘recent matches’ tab under ‘constructed’, there’s a quick entry bar where you select your deck, your opponent’s class, whether you had the coin, and whether it was a win or a loss. In reality, this is all you need.
There are a few reasons why stat tracking is VERY important. The first is that it gives you real data that you can use to understand the meta, instead of just ‘feeling’ it. We’ll get to that soon, though. I think perhaps the more important thing it gives you is a reality check when it comes to numbers. Why do you need a reality check when it comes to numbers? Well, keep reading - I found that having current statistics helped me with every single point I'm about to make to you! This is just a very important thing to get into the habit of, and once you see how useful the information is, I promise, you'll thank me!
2. Understand that Losing is Okay
When you make the journey to legend, you’re going to lose a lot. Even the best players are generally happy with a consistent 60-65% winrate. That’s really, really good. For most people, your winrate is going to be a lot lower. By the end of my trip to legend this season, mine was 57% overall (from rank 5-1; I didn’t track from when the reset happened). I had several occasions where I lost many games in a row and tanked back down to lower ranks, but then I also had win streaks that brought me up several ranks, too. Keeping track of my overall win percentage was really key to getting it through my head that all of these losing and winning streaks were actually statistically normal.
A 60% winrate in hearthstone, at the highest levels, is tough to get to. But do you know what that looks like? 60% means for every 3 games you win, you lose 2. And most players don’t even have a 60% winrate. This means that you’re going to have to get comfortable losing in order to get to legend. What this translates to is a vast number of games you’re going to have to play.
People get frustrated because at rank 5, legend seems so close, but they just can’t seem to break into the next rank; In reality, at least half, and usually more than half of your overall games played in a season will be between rank 5 and 1. Get comfy; this season, I tanked down to rank 6 with one deck, and then switched to the deck that I ultimately used to get to legend. From that point, it took me 180 matches to make it to legend, and 106 wins. From where I started the season up to rank 5, I was on a winstreak for a lot of that time. I didn’t track those stats, but I have no doubt that well over half of my season’s matches were played in this bracket.
To give a further example, let’s look at Trump, who publishes his statistics regularly. Trump regularly makes free-to-play decks to climb the ladder. His first deck, the Mage, took 197 wins to get to legend, and 55 hours of game time. His free-to-play shaman and free-to-play zoo decks took 184 wins each. A lot of people track their stats using ‘wins’ as the metric, and I think for first-time legend players, that’s very deceptive.
Let’s assume for a moment that Trump has a 70% winrate, to take into account A) how great he is at hearthstone and B) the fact that he was tracking stats from the very beginning. That means that for his mage deck, he would have played roughly 280 matches in that season in the best case. Now, remember what I said about 60% being great? To get the same result with a 60% winrate, you would need to play 330 matches. Trump is one of the best players in the game, too, which means that in all likelihood, his numbers are below average, even for the free-to-play series.
What all of this means is that you shouldn’t feel sad when you lose. RNG happens, and bad matchups happen. That’s all okay. Even in a best case scenario, for every 3-4 wins, you should be expecting 2-3 losses. If you’re doing better than that, you’re doing exceptionally, and you should realize that.
3. Maintaining a Positive Mental State
Understanding that losing is okay is extremely important for a few reasons, but the biggest one is in keeping a good mental state. People get ladder anxiety and stress out about playing all the time, and it makes sense. If last night, you just got to rank 4 and 1 star, you don’t want your first 2 matches to be losses that put you back to 5. But by playing this way, you’re making it a lot harder to actually achieve your goal.
It is an absolute fact that angry players or players that have a defeatist mindset (“Of COURSE he would top deck the Doomguard;” “No Explosive Trapin my starting hand? Might as well concede”) are going to lose a lot more. Your decisions are going to be clouded by assuming your enemy will outplay you and win.
It’s a very difficult thing to do, but you will be at your best if you can remain calm while you ladder. Everyone does this differently, and so I can’t really prescribe a fix for everyone. But one thing I liked to do was to take a quick break if I lost 3 times in a row. That was a signal for me to step back and think about what I was doing. The other thing I really liked to do was to think very hard about why I lost a given game. Was it just RNG? If so, cool. That’s fine; that happens. However, was there a mistake involved? Did you let your opponents draw more cards than you should have? Did you set up efficient trades for him? That’s when to look more deeply at your play.
The key though, for me at least, is to recognize when you lost to RNG. In those games, you have to do your best to not get angry – it was nobody’s fault. The game has a lot of RNG elements to it, and that’s why even at the highest levels, a consistent 60% winrate is good. You have to be comfortable with the fact that everyone gets topdecked occasionally – even your opponents.
Another good exercise is to record how many times YOU win because of RNG. It’s a bit painful to do, because you’ll realize just how often a top-decked Force of Nature, Doomguard, or even Grommash Hellscreamsaved you from a loss! Once you realize how often the RNG goes in your favor, it’ll help to soothe the rage that may come over you when it doesn’t.
So, before I get to this stuff, I’d like to direct your attention again to the first half of this article. There’s a lot of stuff I wrote up there, and NONE of it has anything to do with what deck you’re using. That’s because it doesn’t actually matter what deck you use. The only thing that matters is that it’s reasonably consistent, and that it doesn’t have too many bad matchups. Having a few is okay; in fact, when I got to legend this season, I only had a 37% winrate against my statistically most common matchup! That’s fine, though, because I had a roughly 70-80% winrate against 6 of the 9 classes. There’s no deck out there that has a good matchup against everything, and you will have a weak matchup or two. This is completely normal.
1. Pick a Deck and Stick With it
I ultimately climbed to legend with a midrange hunter deck (before Reynad exploded the ladder with it, I’ll have you know!), and I stuck with it the whole way after that. As a result, my win rate continually increased every day I played it. On the first day, it was only 52%, but then it got to 60%, and finally 71% on the day I finally got legend. This is the advantage of playing with only one deck – you learn it inside and out. You learn how to mulligan effectively against every matchup, and you learn what you need to do to have the best chance of winning, even in matchups where you aren’t favored.
It’s very tempting when you lose several matches in a row to the same class to want to switch to the counter. Almost always, this is a bad idea. You end up not being quite as precise or effective with it, and you may well stop seeing the deck you meant to counter.
My most common matchup on my climb was midrange hunter, which I saw 49 times. However, my three next most common matchups – warlock, druid, and warrior – were at 37, 24, and 19 respectively (80 altogether). In my case, then, you can see – if I switched to a purely anti-hunter deck (and I was very tempted), I would probably have done less well against the rest of the field, and even though hunter was my most common matchup, it was still a minority of my overall matchups. I had 70+% win rates against all of these other three classes, and so they cancelled out my below-average hunter matchup. This is something to remember when you’re laddering – even your most common matchup is likely not more than 50% of your matches, and if you swap to the counter, you might just be hurting yourself in the majority of cases, even though it doesn’t feel like it.
My policy is to play at least 30 matches before you make any deck changing decisions. This lets you get useful numbers before you actually make a decision. When I was laddering this season, I encountered several of the same players multiple times, and a few of them used different decks every time. Almost invariably, I won almost every time against the people who were constantly deck-switching; I just knew my deck better than they did. So, even if you feel like you lose against a particular deck all the time with your chosen deck, that’s okay; remember that every deck has bad matchups. The key is to just pick a deck and stick with it.
2. Don’t Pick Control
Before I switched to midrange hunter this season, I started with the control warrior. I did this because I thought it would be stable, and it would have a reasonable matchup against everything. I very quickly learned that this was a mistake. Control warrior isn’t a bad deck by any means, and it’s certainly got a decent matchup against most things, but it’s very slow.
When you’re grinding out 200-300 games, taking an extra 5 or 10 minutes is a lot of extra time you have to spend playing. If you’ve been to legend before, that’s different; however, if it’s your first time grinding up there, it’s almost universally better to play an aggro or midrange deck. Slow decks make the losses all the more devastating, and although the wins can be pretty satisfying, you could have played 2 or even more games in the same time with a faster deck.
Understand the Meta
This one, in a lot of ways, is the most obvious thing you need to get legend, and it’s one that a lot of people talk about. In order to really succeed and push through the top ranks, you need to study the ever-changing metagame and actually adapt your deck to it. Now, does this mean that you should change decks to deal with it? NO! It means that you should change out a card or two in your deck to help strengthen your bad matchups if they’re popular enough.
Moreover, this generally also means not just blindly copying professional decks. These decks are built for the specific place where the pros are in the legend ladder, and that might not match what you’re seeing in your climb. This is another reason why recording stats is really important: It tells you in real numbers what classes you’re seeing on the ladder, and it allows you to adjust your deck properly to combat it.
The other important part about understanding the meta is understanding how the other popular decks work. By doing this, you can match up against them more confidently, because you can know their win conditions and do your best to prevent them. As a simple example, When playing against the zoo, it’s important to realize that basically all of their ‘burst’ damage comes from their Doomguards and Soulfires, which means that if they’ve used them both, you’re in a much safer place. Knowing the tools that your enemy has is important in understanding how to play yourself.
3. Do Not Multitask!
The final point of game advice I’m going to give you is this: When you’re going for legend in hearthstone, you have to be invested in the game. You can’t be sitting there reading reddit or some other website while your opponent is making their turn; you have to watch them carefully and get all of the information you possibly can from them. Players will often give away all kinds of information if you’re paying attention, and it can help you to make the right plays.
For instance, if you’re playing against a hunter and you see an arrow come out of their hand and target one of their beasts for a while, whether or not he plays the card, you can be almost 100% sure that he’s holding a Houndmasterin his hand. Why? Because hunters carry very few cards that can target their own creatures, and if he is, that’s probably what it is. If you aren’t looking at the game while he’s doing that, you’ve lost information! Later on, if you’re deciding whether or not to clear out a beast and you decide not to, that houndmaster that you could have known about might just lose you the game. Will not having information like this lose the game for you all the time? Of course not. But Legend is a game of inches, and every win counts. If paying close attention wins you even a few more games over the course of your climb, it’s worth it.
Getting to legend isn’t impossible, and if you can get to rank 5, you definitely have the ability to make it there. It’s a question of mental preparedness, good game-sense, and above all, a lot of patience and perseverance. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask here or on twitter (@DreadmakerHS). Additionally, below I’ve put together a video related to this – It’s long and frankly a little dry, but in it, I discuss my own trip to legend in a little more detail, and talk at length about the importance of tracking stats and being prepared mentally. Thanks for reading!