Greetings! Thank you for strolling into my neck of the woods, I hope these articles reach each and everyone of you in good spirits and fine health. Several weeks ago, I started to write this series with the intent of destroying your feigning need to copycat those top-tier decks, and in doing so, stop you from having to ride the coat tails of other individual’s ideas. To conceptualize this series, I had to make a hypothesis for the reason behind most Hearthstone player’s need to net deck, opposed to fulfilling their Hearthstone goals based upon their own merit. My conclusion is that while most Hearthstone players are able to cobble a few wins together with a well pre-built (net) deck, most struggle with actually building one of their own. Now, I’ll admit there are some widely published and publicized decks out there that are EXTREMELY solid builds, and consequently because of the ease of their availability, it’s often easier to essentially copy and paste those decks into your own deck lists, than it is to put forth the time and effort to build a deck on your own. Beyond that though, I think a major reason behind the net deck need, is either due to inexperience and lack of knowledge to understand what is needed to build a competitive and viable deck of your own.
This series was written with the intent of offering guidance to players who are recently new to Hearthstone, or for individuals who are intermediate players who can play a deck that is already constructed for them, but don’t know how to construct one on their own. Additionally, I admire you free to play cats out there who more than anyone need to rely upon their own ingenuity because you lack fundamental cards that go into many of the net decks that are floating around out there. I encourage you to read up on the previous installments of this series which you can find HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and finally HERE if you haven’t already. When you’re ready feel free, to join me on the last leg of our journey to counter the net deck.
Step #1B: The Hero Class
Okay, the last few installments of this series we discussed how imperative it is that you begin your build with deciding on a deck archetype. This is the MOST important step, without it your deck has no purpose; no identity. The archetype is the exoskeleton of the entire build, the foundation from which to build to upon. This step is so critical, I’ve used the past several weeks covering each basic archetype thoroughly to give you an idea of what strategy each one relies upon for piecing together wins, as well as what type of cards, mana curve, and play style is needed to be successful with each one.
This first step along with the next is all done prior to even looking into your collection manager. If archetype choice is the first step, considering a hero classes is step 1B. Along with deciding which deck archetype, you’re going with you’ll also need to then decide which hero class best supports your archetype choice. Certain hero classes lend themselves more easily to certain archetypes, while others not so much. For example, the Hunter and Warlock are better suited for aggressive builds more so than a Priest or Warrior. You’ll find greater success incorporating your archetype choice within a hero class that best supports it, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to piece together some variation of an aggro type deck into a Warrior hero class (I’ve seen it done), what I am saying is you’ll find greater difficulty trying to design a deck that doesn’t lend itself naturally to a hero class that easily merges into a specific archetype.
Step #2: Synergy
To further narrow down which hero class to gravitate toward, consider that every deck designer starts off with two basic elements: deck archetype and deck synergy ideas. When you first come across a certain card or maybe a mechanic in action, you may think you might want to build around those concepts specifically. Personally, I see this in my own game play when I’m up against an opponent who has just slayed me with an outright awesome idea, combo, theme, or mechanic that causes me to think, “Oh, wow I should totally make a deck based around that!” Especially, with this newest LoE expansion maybe many of you have looked thoroughly at a new card and thought of ways to incorporate it into a build in broad strokes. Surely, I can’t be the only one who has had this train of thought, in fact if you’re reading this and shaking your noggin’ up and down in agreement, congratulations this is the next step in building a credible deck of your own.
Deck synergy can be best defined by understanding how well your card choices interact with one another, and is the second step in your journey to building a viable deck of your own. Understanding synergy is important because it centers your focus when building and assists you with never losing sight of the goal within the deck. For example, if you decide to design a Rogue build around the deathrattle mechanic, the finished product will have a substantial amount of cards with deathrattle in it. I know that sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people will begin a deck build with a certain mechanic, or specific card in mind and get off track with incorporating cards that might be fun to play, but in reality serve no purpose to the overall strategy of the deck and in most instances hinder and weaken it altogether.
Step#3: Deck Theme
After choosing a specific deck archetype as well as a hero class that supports it, you’ll need to consider what type of deck theme you’ll be implementing into your build. There are several deck strategies that tend to create their own synergy a little easier than others, however with a little outside the box thinking a good deck designer can synergize a build despite a weaker theme, awkward mechanic, or an overlooked card. For the most part, deck themes are centered around a specific tribe such as Mech, Dragon, or Beast. Others are centered around a Hearthstone mechanic like Deathrattle, Overload, or Handlock. Others still revolve around a specific card Like reno-jackson and malygos. The core of the build will require cards that synergize well within the selected theme, or cards whose effects can bolster and amplify said theme. Additionally, don’t forget to keep in mind the theme and hero class need to further synergize into the overall deck archetype which if you recall is the exoskeleton of the entire build.
By and large synergy is a pretty straight forward concept for most players to begin to master in a short period of time, very few start off with a Mech theme and end up with a ton of Beast minions for example. However, what do you do while trying to build a different kind of deck altogether that requires you to figure out ways to help yourself? Let’s take a look at FREZZE MAGE for some answers. There are readily available Freeze Mage net decks floating around all over the web, after taking a gander at many of them you’ll see that most variations are centered around stalling the opponent for a long time through Secrets and other tactic stalling spells, until big late game creatures like alexstrasza or archmage-antonidas can be unleashed upon the board.
You’ll notice that the vast majority of the FREEZE MAGE decks all have a common core of like cards, which is to say regardless of the variation all of them incorporate the same must have elements. Spells like frost-bolt and frost-nova are efficient ways to interact with minions and stall the board. Getting into the late game, powerful removal spells like blizzard and flamestrike interact with the enemy’s minions to clear the board, while keeping your own life total high. Throughout the entire deck, you’ll notice that there are many minute card interactions that synergize well one another. mad-scientistnot only reaches into your bag of tricks withdrawing Secrets, but also provides game tempo to keep up with your opponent all while cycling through your deck and little making it that much easier to grab those scary fatties when you need them. Furthermore, those 1-drop spells synergize well with Antonidas and ice-lance ICE LANCE is so good against those frozen enemies (which is not at all a difficult feat to pull off due to the copious amount of Freeze-like spells readily available).
Most of you are well versed with Freeze Mage, it’s a deck build that isn’t exactly breaking news within the Hearthstone universe. I covered the above paragraph to make a point: Other than class, these cards were not grouped together and showcased to be proficient for a Mage Control Deck. Using the guidance I’ve provide this far, many of these cards don’t exactly follow the bullet points I’ve layed out, in some cases this build actually contradicts many of them altogether. The early original brewer of the Freeze Mage deck build had to do a lot of outside the box thinking, and really consider what cards would work well with each other to create the synergy required to make this a competitive and viable build.
Step #4: The Win Condition
Every deck designer desires their deck to win, and to win big. There is just something awesome about building a deck on your own and then going forth to absolutely decimate people with it. My hope in writing this series in the first place, was to provide all of you the means of experiencing that feeling for yourselves, which is just a totally different feeling then you’ll ever experience winning with an upper tier net deck.
Many people completely overlook this critical step, when architecting their own decks. It’s easy to lose sight of the deck’s win condition over the course of deck construction, as you become consumed with synergy and card interaction. A deck’s win condition doesn’t necessarily have to be just one card, or even a few Legendary minions either (although it could be). It could be a group of cards or maybe a specific mechanic that whittles your opponents health away a little at a time. The key here is to define the deck’s win condition for yourself.
More often than not a deck’s win condition is tied directly to its archetype which is tied directly to the deck’s strategy, which you can read more on in the previous articles of this series. For example, if your goal is to construct a combo deck, then you know your win condition hinges on playing several cards sequentially to wipe your opponent out within a turn or two, similar to that slick OILY ROGUE or PATRON WARRIOR of old. If you’ve decided on a CONTROL WARRIOR, then you know the goal is to last long enough through the late game to unleash those wicked fatties to pound your opponent to dust. Often times the win condition and the overall deck’s strategy is the same, if not, at the very least the two will correlate with each other and go hand in hand.
A recent deck in the current meta revolves around Reno Jackson; a Highlander build that causes your opponent to over commit his/her resources to either get rid of yours or implement his/her own win condition just before Mr. Reno comes onto the scene rescuing your sticky buns from the fire and negating all of your opponents hard work in the process. Good ‘ol Jax Reno in this instance could be looked at the deck’s win condition because he simultaneously restores you to full health, while you strategically caused your opponent to expend his/her deck’s resources to kill you off. Jackson swooping out of the sky like Superman may save the day, but in some instances it could be more in an indirect way. In actuality what truly wins you the game is turning loose an enraged grommash-hellscream or a combination of spells and attacks in latter turns. In some games Jackson Reno could be the very card that induces the rage quit, in others he’s the card that paves the way to the actual win condition.
Nailing down your win condition can be one of the more difficult elements in deck design. Sometimes, it’s helpful to re-analyze your finished product and ask yourself, “How is this deck going to actually win”. If the answer doesn’t jump right out at you, think back to your deck’s archetype and consider the engine that drives its specific strategy. Every step in deck construction builds upon the previous one, so if you lose sight of a particular aspect look back and think about your end state. Since, the archetype is the deck’s foundation many of your answers can be found just remembering the elements of your particular deck type.
Step #5: Card Draw Mechanics
Every deck regardless of archetype, hero class, theme, or win condition requires a means of keeping steady card draw to keep the resources in your hand fresh and your deck from becoming stagnant. A well constructed deck can still carry its weight even if after a Mulligan, if you should draw into cards that will sit in your hand utterly useless, until several turns into the game-that is to say as long as you implement good card drawing mechanics.
How much card draw that’s needed is directly related to three elements of deck design and Hearthstone gameplay: archetype, win condition and the game’s current meta. Combo decks will need more card draw than Mid-range, while a Control deck will need a few less than an aggressive type. Every deck will require just a little bit above the norm, if the meta is inundated with aggro style decks, or conversely a little less if the meta is running more on the slower end. There are several nuances that will dictate how much card draw your specific deck will require, which is why this is one element (of many) of deck design that will require several tweaks as you go along. As a guide, I’ve listed deck archetypes below as the “rule of thumb” each typically requires on average to keep game tempo moving and card cycle fresh:
- Mid-Range: 2-4
- Control: 1-4
- Comb: 3-5
- Aggro: 4-6
As I stated earlier these are not numbers written in stone, there are several factors that will ultimately dictate how much or how little card draw your deck will require, but by and large I’ve found these numbers are a good basis for a solid starting point. There are several card choices available when deciding which to include to make your card drawing engine run. It’s important to make good, sound decisions when making your considerations. In the back of your mind, you need to remember the choices that you make should further your cause and not hinder it. For example, maybe an azure-drake would fit better into a TEMPO MAGE variation as you’ll receive BOTH a card drawing mechanic as well as a spell amplifier, all of which synergizes seamlessly into your overall build, than would a loot-hoarder or gnomish-inventor. On the other hand, perhaps lay-on-hands would prove to be a better more quality choice for a MID-RANGE PALLY, over a gadgetzan-auctioneer as you’d benefit more from the life gain AND card draw than you would from the Auctioneer due to the small amount of spell availability typically found in most variations of a mid-range Paladin build.
The goal here, as with all your card choices should be to make selections that address the deck’s need while at the same time providing value either through cost efficiency or through an additional effect that synergizes with your deck’s theme, win condition or archetype. Don’t forget to look closely at each choice before making your final decision, because maybe a card you aren’t leaning toward may contain more than meets the eye. Perhaps, you’re too invested in Loot Hoarder’s stats to consider his inclusion into your final cut, but maybe the side of the fence you’re leaning toward is not taking into account, that in most instances he’ll trade pretty efficiently during the early game, into an opposing minion while also addressing your need to have sufficient card draw. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, especially if the card you really need doesn’t exist within your personal card manager. Work with what you have to find the next best thing, because maybe the next best thing could be potentially better.
Step #6: Tech Cards
I’m going to keep this section of the final leg of our Countering The Net Deck journey fairly short, primarily because my colleague Asmodeus has already written a very good article on this subject matter very recently, which you’ll find HERE. However, I would like to piggy back off of Asmodeus’ assessment a bit, highlight some important concepts and also throw in my two cents just to provide another prospective to assist you further with your own unique deck designs.
WHAT ARE TECH CARDS?
Isn’t this the most obvious starting point? What are they? Some people refer to these card types as utility cards or tech cards-2 different names to describe the same aspect. Tech cards refer to certain card types that do not necessarily interact well within the deck’s design or even overall synergy, but are rather reactionary cards that deal specifically with threats and in-game mechanics that an opponent may potentially play or take advantage of. A deck architect will usually select a tech card for inclusion based upon its ability to debuff a nuisance enemy minion or remove it entirely. The importance placed upon these cards stems from their potential ability to swing tempo massively in your favor, by either getting you back into the fray of a losing game or solidifying your control of the board.
HOW TO INCLUDE TECH CARDS
First and foremost, when deciding which cards to include to strengthen your build, it’s a safe practice to focus on how your specific deck will work in and of itself. Additionally, you need to have a very good feel on the current meta game; having a very solid grasp on what type of threats the masses are playing and what popular in-game mechanics are the flavor of the season is important so you know what tech cards to include to counter those threats. For example, dr-boom has been a deck staple in the meta game for seemingly forever, which is why so many decks regardless of synergy or win condition or any other element of deck design will run at least one copy of big-game-hunter. There had been a spike in weapon usage also, (which seems to be dying down a bit) which is the reason so many players included harrison-jones.
Knowing what deck archetype you’re intending to play, as well as having a firm foothold within the current meta can significant narrow down the options when it comes time to picking out what tech cards would be most beneficial to your build.
TECH CARD PITFALLS
It’s EXTREMELY important to realize that while tech cards are probably the most fun to play, having to many in your deck will cause your deck to run too wonky and too situational. Its counter productive to include a high number of these cards for no value, as you scramble around the entire game as to not lose board control.
You can’t plan an entire deck design based upon what you think an opponent’s strategy or deck build might be. Instead, just keep a couple of slots open within your own build for those tech cards that have a high chance of seeing a popular minion or mechanic in the current meta that can be used nutrlize it.
Another common mistake many players make is including a specific tech card to counter a specific opponent type (e.g. one blood-knight for a control warrior to battle a Paladin). The problem with this idea is that this strategy is highly unlikely to yield the dividends that are hoped for. The inclusion of one card is not going to provide a win based on an unfavorable matchup, after all they’re tech cards not super cards. What often ends up happening in this scenario is that the tech card ends up becoming a dead card the majority of the time or is unsuited for the deck altogether. It would be better to switch decks or scrap the build altogether if you are encountering unfavorable matchups consistently.
There are a fair amount of viable options available when making tech card decisions, but only a few are favored and actually see regular gameplay. These cards rotate in and out like a revolving door to adapt to the ever-changing meta game. This is why I’ve placed such a high importance on your ability to understand your deck’s archetype, which will narrow down your options. The trouble is, after the auto include of ironbeak-owl, and Big Game Hunter, there is usually only room available for one additional card of this type. This is why in my opinion, the tech card aspect of deck building should always be reserved for the final step. Its more important to fill out your ranks with core cards and card draw mechanics first while concentrating on your deck’s synergy, theme and win condition utilizing those leftover slots for tech cards to keep your deck from becoming to overloaded with situational elements.
Step #7: Putting It All Together
This last step should be used to sit back and give your work of art one last once over, before heading into the thick of it. There are a couple of aspects you should be analyzing in this final element of deck design. Doing so, isn’t that time-consuming and could pay dividends down the road.
During this phase think back to your actual deck construction steps, and try to remember what sequence you used to begin piecing together your masterpiece. This is important because, if you started out throwing in tech cards for example, the possibility exists that your deck is too heavy with those cards types and light with core cards. The sequence of your build is extremely important especially if you’re a bit inexperienced, because what cards types you start your build off with are usually the ones the end product contains the most of. Listed below are the steps you should’ve followed when considering your card types.
1. Neutral Cards
2. Class Cards
3. Card Draw Mechanics
4. Tech/Utility Cards
If you follow the above road map, the final product should end up containing the correct balance of cards in terms of numbers throughout the entire build. Remember, your card choices for the most part should tie into or amplify the decks overall theme, synergy, archetype and win condition as a whole.
THE MANA CURVE
The next thing you should to look at (and should be keeping an eye on periodically about every 8-10 cards you add to your build) is your deck’s mana curve. The curve is dictated for the most part by the archetype, and with a few exceptions should mirror the mana curve as I’ve outlined below with minor variation:
AGGRO: Early Game (T2-T3) Spike
Mid-Range: Bell Curve
Control: Inverse Bell Curve–Early Spike of inverse curve should contain removal shenanigans, late game
spike should contain big, scary threats.
Combo: This one is tricky. Most combo decks resemble the same mana curve as a control deck. However, due to the nature of a combo deck, reality says they’ll actually “curve out” once they actually assemble their combo. For further guidance refer to the Combo archetype guide you find HERE.
Some cards in Hearthstone require, a schematic of certain mechanics to be initiated before the value of said card can be garnered. One example is nerubian-egg, whose deathrattle effect triggers a 4/4 nerubian in its stead. The goal with this card is to somehow, funnel your opponent’s attack into the egg, thus forcing him to “pop” it and ushering in that 4/4 prize at the bottom of the cereal box. An alternate strategy is to buff up the Nerubian Egg’s attack stats, to trade favorably into an enemy minion or at least just enough to “pop” it open and whittle away at the health of a larger enemy minion. As most players know, successful triggers for this minion include (but are not limited to) sunfury-protector , defender-of-argus, shattered-sun-cleric, and power-overwhelming. Should your deck run these trigger type cards, which require a catalyst of sorts to gain value, the rule of thumb is to include at minimum 4-6 (1/5 of the deck) catalysts in order to successfully retain the card’s value. It’s a good idea, to double-check that your deck is running the correct number of catalysts to trigger the desired value from the cards that require it, before you rush off into the live action.
The thing about deck building is that it isn’t as straight forward as putting together a coffee table from IKEA. There are an infinite number of mitigating factors that contribute to the overall success of your individual design. The goal with this series was to provide you with a simple road map to guide you in the right direction and define some of the more complicated components to deck architecting. It’s important to note that when designing a deck for the first time, it doesn’t need to be a huge, complicated undertaking. Initially, you can start off on a smaller scale designing a fun, simple deck used for casual play, before jumping into the big leagues of meta-breaking decks.
Above all else, when you first start to build a deck is sure to have a plan in mind. You want to have a main idea to build around or a certain strategy for a specific class. Once you’ve got a firm grasp on what you want your deck to look like, you can then begin the process of adding cards to the core of the deck first. Remember, to include cards that add value to your overall game plan, while at the same time fit into the archetype exoskeleton. Keep in mind what it means for your cards to maintain synergy, and lastly check to make sure your deck has a concrete win condition. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and try to new things to experiment with different ideas.
In the end, deck building isn’t about fitting a particular mold, or trying to build the next great thing. What it boils down to, is your own creativity and individual ideas that define who you are as a player. Build something, that suited to your play style, and provides you with ease and comfort during game play. For those of you who have followed this series since its initial conceptions many weeks ago, I thank you whole heartedly for remaining supportive and dedicated to our journey. I’ve done my best to inlay whispers of subliminal messaging throughout the series, to steer you away from latching onto those top-tier net decks every season. While many of those decks are extremely powerful, well thought out and well-designed builds, they don’t necessarily need to find their way into your deck slots verbatim. Maybe I’ve provided you some helpful ways to make an existing deck better or even ways to make an out of date build current and fresh. Net decks will always be available, hopefully I’ve provided you the keys for an alternate way of approaching the game, and your success can now be contingent upon the one person who has your best interest at heart—yourself.
Until next time!