Hello everyone! Welcome to my second Hearthstone article. For the people who missed my first article, let me drop a few words about myself: my name is Adrian Riedl aka Falathar on Hearthstone. Furthermore I’m a multiple Legend player and love playing Hearthstone because of its design and tactical depth. Todays article is about Hearthstone theory. A deep theoretical understanding will help you improve your Hearthstone gameplay and therefore your arena success and ladder rank.
If you want to win more in Hearthstone or any other game, the key to success is easy to find: be better than your opponent. For a lot of players it is unclear how to be better than their opponent besides not making game losing mistakes. The essence of Hearthstone or any other tactical game, be it a card game or a board game like chess, is to use the resources of the game better than your opponent.
The different use or the realization of all the resources in the game separate bad, good, very good and excellent Hearthstone players from each other.
As a longtime chess player I recognized quite quickly, that the theoretical concepts of chess are also true for card games. For better understanding and because everyone knows chess i will draw an analogy between chess and Hearthstone in this article.
So what is the first resource you encounter, once you start playing Hearthstone?
Cards are the most obvious resource in Hearthstone. Chess pieces are the equivalent to cards in Hearthstone. Everyone starts with a determined amount of cards. In chess the chess pieces vary in power and the cards in Hearthstone also vary in power. Furthermore every card gives us some options, like when to play it and how to play it. In Hearthstone it is a big difference if a card is in your hand or on the battlefield, because unlike chess the game starts with an empty board. The power of a card scales with the mana cost. Very powerful cards like Ragnaros the firelord are way more expensive than a simple Argent Squire. The optimal usage and therefore very good trading of cards with the opponent, will give you a very big edge, because card advantage means more options and more possibilities to win the game. The Hero powers are kind of virtual cards. Some of them are minions (f.ex Silverhand Recruits and Totems), while others are spells (f.ex. pay 2 life and draw a card). The optimal and frequent use of the hero power will result in a lot of card advantage, because you are trading virtual cards for actual cards of your opponent. One thing you should keep in mind is that every hero power is by design weaker than every real 2 mana card in the game, which leads us to the next resource.
If the only resource in Hearthstone was card advantage, players would always use their hero power every turn and classes who don’t produce card advantage like Warrior would suck. But another important resource is time. In Hearthstone or Chess, time is a virtual concept. Tempo or time has nothing to do with the rope or the chess clock. Time is the resource that determines how long a game will take (number of turns until someone has zero life points) and therefore decides which cards you can use in a given game. The mana costs of cards and the optimal usage of the mana crystals correlate with the time we have at our disposal in the game.
Ragnaros the firelord is a very powerful card, arguably the most powerful in the game if left unchecked. We will get a huge amount of card advantage if Ragnaros is on the board for several turns. However Ragnaros is quite useless, if we die on Turn 6. Nothing will be purged by fire, he simply did not matter. He was a dead card and your opponent had virtual card advantage because having Ragnaros in your hand did not matter. For that reason there are some decks, who sacrifice card advantage to gain a time advantage.
In chess tempo is als highly relevant. Tempo means developing your chess pieces more quickly and efficient than your opponent. When your chess pieces have a very good position on the board you have a time advantage over your opponent. A queen (in Hearthstone: Ragnaros the firelord) or a rook is only powerful if they have a good position on the board. The equivalent of a not well positioned queen in chess is having Ragnaros rotting in your hand. A tempo or time advantage will diminish the longer the game goes until it becomes highly irrelevant. In the late game the majority of time only having more cards or more powerful cards than your opponent matters.
Life points are another resource in Hearthstone. In chess the equivalent is the king. If a player has zero life points, he loses the game. From 30 to 1 life, they are a resource that can be traded for card advantage (f.ex Warlock hero power) or a time advantage (f.ex. Flame Imp– you trade 3 life for a very powerful 1 mana card, which will give you a time advantage when played early). Having lots of cards or having a great board presence does not matter if you have zero life points, so be careful with this resource.
The next resource is board presence. It is a big difference if a minion is on the board or in your hand. Better minions on one side of the board mean a good board presence and will result in time and card advantage. If your deck is built around board presence (f.ex Shaman, Zoolock), having a good board will result in a snowball effect. You make more favorable trades, therefore create card advantage and in addition to that you can also very nicely pressure your opponent’s life points. Therefore the three concepts of board presence, tempo and card advantage get blurry from time to time.
How do I apply the concept of resources?
After i explained the resources of Hearthstone i will now tell you how to optimally use them in the different Hearthstone decks. Every Hearthstone deck is different, so to optimally play them in Arena or Constructed you have to realize how you plan to win with your deck and what resources of the game you have to use in order to have the best chance to win. For example when you craft an Arena deck with lots of cheap minions and you play against a deck with better cards (and therefore more expensive cards), your main goal is to create a time and board advantage very quickly, you only want to trade if you absolutely have to. If you are on the other side and you have a deck with a lot of value, like multiple Azure Drake, Mechanical Yeti, Boulderfist Ogre and a great legendary like Cairne Bloodhoof and play against a deck who doesn’t have as much value, you want to trade as much as possible with your opponent, to diminish his time and board advantage.
First of all aggro decks are decks with a low manacurve. They have lots of cheap minions that cost 1-3 mana and very few cards that cost 4-6 mana. A typical and very popular aggressive deck is Warlock Zoo, which you can see above. You have many cheap minions like Undertaker, Flame Imp, Leper Gnome and some more expensive cards like Doomguard. With decks like Zoolock you have a big time advantage and therefore get a good board presence very quickly. The goal of aggressive decks is to beat the opponent as fast as possible, but in such decks damage scales with board presence. Because of that you want to have a better board than your opponent as long as possible. For that reason you play creatures like Dire wolf Alpha, Abusive Sergeant and Dark Iron Dwarf, so that you can make better trades with the opponent’s creatures. To completely ignore the board of the opponent at the beginning of the game and to use these cards to increase face damage is completely wrong, because using the buff of Abusive Sergeant to make good trades will weaken the board of the opponent and therefore will result in more overall face damage.
Sooner or later these decks may reach a point where fighting for board control is a lost cause, because overall the opponent has more powerful minions and spells, so the time advantage diminishes and you are about to lose board control. That is the moment where you ignore the opponents board and simply go for face damage. The correct timing is not easy and requires practice and experience. As already mentioned board presence and tempo are your most important resource, so try to have a good and cheap curve when you mulligan. Life and card advantage should be irrelevant the majority of the time, because you don’t want to play a long game. A deck like Zoo has because of the hero power and the abundance of cheap minions no problem to trade several cards for one card to gain a time advantage.
Although Hunter builds with Savannah Highmane can also be kind of aggressive, with fast Undertaker starts, they are not as fast as Zoo and have a higher curve, therefore they are not pure aggro decks and fall under the spectrum of aggressive Midrange decks.
Important resources: time advantage and board presence
Another aggressive archetype. The big difference between face aggro and normal aggro is that you don’t need a board to bring the opponent from twenty to zero life points. Cards like Arcane golem[/card], wolfrider and kill command usually don’t require a board the pressure your opponent. With a deck like Zoo it is very hard to win the game if you lose very early your board presence. Nevertheless board presence is kind of important for Face Aggro, because board presence means more face damage to your opponent. The majority of time you have no interest in keeping board presence, you only use the time of your limited board presence to further reduce your opponent’s life points. Face aggro decks are normally Hunter decks because the hero power is not reliant on board presence.
Important resources: time advantage
Control decks are almost the complete opposite of aggro decks. They way how control plays out against other decks depends on the class(I will get more detailed in my next article). In general control decks usually don’t care about having a time advantage or early board presence. Their main goal is to simply not die, and then play expensive and powerful cards that will crush the opponent. The importance of the different resources changes depending on the deck they play against. Against aggressive decks the most important resource are life points. Control decks will almost always die against them via damage not by getting out-valued. Against other control decks the most important resource are cards, usually you don’t care about your life total, you win by having more cards, so you don’t care a lot about board presence or time advantage. So for example not playing Sludge Belcher and simply pass the turn against a class like Priest, may be the best play if you are afraid it gets stolen. Overall the resources control decks fight for can get very complicated and depend a lot on the game/ board state so i will cover them in all their complexity in my next article.
Important resources: life (sometimes) and cards (sometimes)
Midrange decks are in the middle between aggro and control decks. They play less cheap minions/spells than Aggro decks but more expensive minions/spells. Usually for Midrange decks board presence is the most important resource against almost every deck, but depending on the opponent’s deck card advantage, time advantage and life can also become very important. Against aggressive strategies a midrange deck is a control deck that tries to stay alive, until they overwhelm the opponent with their card advantage. On the other hand against control decks they want to be an aggressor, because they can’t keep up with all the card advantage a control deck has access to in the late game.
Important resources: board presence
This is the last archetype of Hearthstone and Freeze Mage is currently the only viable pure combo archetype in Hearthstone. It’s not very popular outside of tournaments, because it has a very tough time winning against Warrior and Hunter decks. I’m aware that it’s an outdated list, but I just want to visualize how a combo deck looks like. A combo deck in Hearthstone does care about resources the least. You usually only want to delay the game and get the cards you need to win the game. With this deck you normally need Alexstrasza, double Fireball and one Frostbolt to win the game. Your main goal is to draw your pieces of the combo, if you don’t draw them it doesn’t matter how many turns you delayed the game. Your opponents card advantage is almost completely irrelevant, you only care about getting the cards you need to kill them and staying alive to that point.
Important resources: cards (super important) and your life total
I hope you all enjoyed my first theory article! The article is not very complex, it only scratches the surface. As already mentioned the importance of resources vary from matchup to matchup, so i will cover them in all their complexity in my next article. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments!