The Top Five Mistakes in Hearthstone and How to Avoid Them
“Mistakes were made.”
Hearthstone is a game of inches. Once you get to the higher ranks and start fighting opponents who are of legendary quality, a lot of the time, a single misplay will cost you the game. Given that you want the highest possible win rate you can get while you make your climb to legend, that means that you want to eliminate every mistake in your play that you can. As a bit of a companion to my Getting to Legend guide, I thought I’d detail a few of the most common mistakes that I see (and have made!) on the ladder, and how you can avoid them. As before, this is a good general guide for all players, but I will be writing it specifically for those of you stuck in that dreaded rank 5-1 bracket.
So, without further ado, let’s get right to the top five mistakes in hearthstone!
5: Playing too Fast
Very often, players of high rank will play fast. It makes sense, right? You’re getting better and better at the game, so basic decisions are a lot quicker to make. Right? Not so much. Any legend player (or anyone close to it) will tell you that in general, as you go up the ladder, games start to get slower and slower. Reynad, one of the best players in the professional circuit, is known for occasionally “losing to the rope” in tournament settings, because he simply made his turn too slowly. Many other professional players like Trump and Amaz also tend to wait until the rope starts to burn before making difficult actions. Why is this? It’s because there’s really a lot of things to consider every turn!
Each turn you play, if you’re going to be thorough, you need to consider a whole lot of things. You need to consider what the best play on your curve is, and what makes the most sense given the context of the game so far.
Then, you have to consider what your opponent may have in their hand, based on your assessment of the deck they’re playing and their previous plays.
- Is that on-curve play you thought up actually ideal, given what you think the enemy may be holding?
- What plays could they possibly make with their mana?
- What do you need to do to win from here, and is the play you thought up going to further that goal?
- Can your enemy feasibly win soon?
- How can you prevent them from winning?
All of that, as you can see, is a whole lot more complicated than thinking “Well, it’s turn 6, so I’d better play my Cairne Bloodhoofnow since it’s on curve and I can…”.
Playing more slowly is an important practice because it allows you to thoroughly analyze all of your options, and maybe think about your enemy’s, too. It allows you to get more practice building game sense, and I guarantee that it will win you more games than playing quickly. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
Nothing makes you more frustrated than dropping back down to rank 3 because in your haste to slam a minion down and end the turn, you forget to attack with a creature. So, the take home message is this: Play slower, and then everything I say for the rest of this article will be a good deal easier to think about and follow.
Here's a trick that I used for a while when I was trying to force myself to play more slowly: Get a stopwatch, or a phone with a timer, and start it at the beginning of each turn. Don't make any plays until 60 seconds have elapsed. Obviously, you don't need this for turn 1 (or maybe even turns 1-3 or 4), but after that, it really does help to ensure that you're thinking through your options. Once you realize how much time you actually have to make decisions, you'll get more comfortable with taking longer, and your games will go much smoother.
4. Playing in the Wrong Order
There are a lot of times while playing Hearthstone that you’ll know something must be done on your next turn. You see your opponent make a play, and you decide immediately upon a given action. As soon as your turn comes, you do that action (say, putting up a life-saving taunt or heal, or using Shadow Word: Deathon a big minion), and discover you have 4 mana left over. What now?
A lot of the time, playing this way can result in sub-optimal plays. A lot of the nuance to playing Hearthstone comes from not just playing the right cards, but playing them in the right order. For instance, it is almost universally correct to use your card draw mechanics first, if you decide you’re going to use them, because it gives you more options.
For instance, if you’re on turn 10 as a ramp druid with a Wild Growthin your hand, unless you intend to play a 9-mana card or combo, it is almost always correct to Wild Growth into before doing anything else. Even if you had decided you wanted to do something, that new card you’ve just drawn may be a more efficient means of doing the same thing. People who play the Zoo tend to understand this very well – you almost always Life Tap before doing anything on later turns.
The order of play isn't just important when you can draw cards. Checking out secrets, for example, requires proper thinking to do in the correct order. For instance, given that the most common secrets to check for against a hunter are Freezing Trapand Explosive Trap, you want to ideally attack the hunter’s face with a small creature that won’t matter too much if it is killed or removed. However, checking for traps needs to be incorporated as a part of your turn’s process.
No matter how likely you think it is to be Freezing Trap, it is always incorrect to play a big taunt like a Sludge Belcherbefore you check the secret. If it turns out to be Explosive Trap, your taunt, even though it will still live, will be a lot less effective than it could have been. Will it lose you the game? No, it may not. But will it make it easier for your opponent to remove? Absolutely. Giving your opponent free ground by playing cards in the wrong order is a mistake that can cost you games, and when you’re going for legend, even one or two games lost this way is a big deal.
3. Being too Concerned with the Board
The question of when to go for the face and when to go for the board is perhaps one of the most difficult questions to answer accurately in all of Hearthstone. It’s all based on play style, and it’s also all based on the circumstances of the game and the board at that particular turn – there’s no hard and fast rule. However, it is generally the case that newer players spend too much of their effort responding to the board instead of pressuring the opponent’s life total. This, I think, comes from a general lack of comfort with how much damage can happen at a given point in the game.
For instance, think about this board state. Your opponent and you both have 20 life left. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you’re also both playing a low-burst class, like a priest or a non-combo druid. On the board, you have a 4/2, a 4/3, and a 3/2, and he has nothing. On his turn, he plays a 5/5 – Loatheb. What do you do?
To the newer player, it may seem like the reasonable choice would be to hit Loathebwith the 3/2 and the 4/2 and hit the face with the 4/3. After all, it means you’re still ahead on board, and his threat is off the table, right? It turns out that in most cases, I would call this the wrong approach. Instead, I would likely hit him in the face with everything. Why is this? You have 11 damage on the board, and by hitting him in the face, you bring him down to 9 life. He can’t reasonably hit you in the face with his 5/5 unless he has some means of clearing your board without him; otherwise, you have lethal on the board. He has to spend his 5/5’s attack clearing out one of your minions, and most of the rest of his turn trying to gain back board presence, too. At this point, you’ve pressured him hard enough that he has to fight just to survive – he can’t actually put the resources into killing you immediately, because if he does, you’ll just win.
What this means is that if you had spent 7 of your damage killing his 5/5, as a newer player may have been inclined to do, you would have helped your opponent to even up what would otherwise be a very lopsided game. At 16 life with a 4/3 on the board, your opponent can afford to be more aggressive; at 9 life with a 4/3, a 3/2, and a 4/2 on the board, your opponent has to go into major defense mode. You can think about it in reverse, too: if you do the damage, you can kill him next turn; if you leave a 5/5 on the table, if it isn’t a burst class, the likelihood of them finding another 15 damage to kill you is very small.
Are there caveats to this? Absolutely there are. Don’t do something like this against a druid who you’re sure is running the Force of Nature/Savage Roarcombo, for instance. The key is to understand what kind of deck you’re fighting and know their capabilities. That said, spend some more time each turn thinking about what the effects would be if you just decided to damage the enemy’s face instead of clearing their board; a lot more often than you’d think, you will find that their board just isn’t that threatening, and you could gain much more by ignoring it than by trying to trade! It certainly isn’t always the right answer – efficient trades and value win games, and giving your opponent the opportunity to make those trades is often not a great idea, but if you are able to put their back against a wall in doing so, it’s definitely worth considering.
2. Misusing The Coin
This is another tough topic with few hard and fast answers. It is very often, though, that I see people coining something out on the first turn, and then passing or just using their hero power on their second (or even third) turn because they don’t have anything to play. Using the coin effectively is all about optimizing your curve. People usually talk about the best “coin curve” as being 2-2-3-4. That means on turn one, you coin out a 2-drop, and then you regularly play a 2, 3, and 4 mana minion the following turns. This is a great play because you get a more powerful minion on the table a turn before you could normally, and still have a natural progression of minions to play as the game progresses.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the most effective use of the coin is always popping out a 2-drop on turn 1, or even a 3-drop on turn 2; it’s all about smoothing the curve. For instance, let’s say in your starting hand, you have a 2-drop, 2 4-drops, and a 6-drop. You could coin out the 2-drop, but then what do you do for turns 2 and 3? Presumably, you’d just hero power, or hope for a good draw. In this instance, it’s almost always better to pass on turn one, play your 2-drop on turn 2, and then coin a 4-drop on turn 3. This makes your curve a lot cleaner – instead of a 1 play and a 4 play, you have a turn 2, 3, and 4 play that flow naturally, and you still get a good deal of power out of using the coin – having a 4-drop out on turn 3 is very effective.
The same rule applies to Innervate. Could you Coin/Innervate a Chillwind Yetion turn one? Sure you can, and against a few decks (particularly priest), that’s a devastating play that’s very hard to answer. However, I almost universally prefer to save my Innervate until turn 3 to get a Druid of the Clawor some other 5-drop out on the table, because it’s likely I can follow it with a 4-drop naturally the next turn, instead of having no hand and a potentially awkward several turns after the massive Innervate play is made. When using Innervate or the coin, you should strive to smooth out your curve as effectively as possible, and to plan for future turns. Try to avoid throwing out something large early with no follow-up. Although there are exceptions to this, typically, that lack of follow up will allow your opponent to gain tempo over the turns where you’re unable to do anything and effectively negate your use of The Coin.
1. Winning the Battle but Losing the War
You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. You have the Force of Nature/Savage Roarcombo in your hand, but the enemy’s board is too threatening. He has a taunt up, and you can’t break through – you just don’t have the right cards. So, you have to blow your combo on clearing out his board. It’s fine though, right? You both have a clean board, so you can start fresh and maybe take the lead. Right?
Another example. You’re playing a control warrior mirror match. He puts down a Sludge Belcher, and you have no way of breaking through it cleanly. You do happen to have Grommash Hellscreamand a Cruel Taskmaster, though, so you decide that you’ll use Grommash to hit the taunt and enrage, and the Cruel Taskmaster to finish it off. No problem. He’ll have a little 1/2 taunt on the board, and you’ll have a 10/6 and a 2/2. Good deal, no? In short, the answer is that in both of these cases, it is not at all a good deal, and though you may well have won that battle, you equally may have lost the match.
One of the biggest problems I see newer players encounter in Hearthstone is losing sight of their win conditions. It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now of the game. However, in both of the above examples, you’re spending a win condition (and in the druid’s case, the win condition) of the deck on a board clear, and that’s almost always a good way to lose. Once you’ve used your combo, or your Grommash, for instance, how do you intend to win the game? Almost always, doing something like that will only cause you to lose the game more slowly.
Although this isn't always the case - sometimes, you just get into a bad spot, and there's not much for it - being forced to use a win condition on removal is often a result of being too flippant with your removal options early in the game. In this case, the mistake can be fixed by simply being a little more conservative with your spells. However, the really big mistake is in using your win conditions as removal when you don't have to.
In the above example with Grommash, unless your life total was really dwindling, it would almost assuredly be the better play to simply Armor Up and pass the turn. Although the Sludge Belcherwill still be on the table for your opponent, it isn't really a threat outside of blocking damage, and if you do happen to draw into removal the following turn, you still have a win condition in your hand that you otherwise wouldn't have.
It is extremely important to understand how huge a choice it is to spend a win condition on not actually winning. Once you understand that, and become more conscious of your win conditions in general, you'll be well on your way to mechanical perfection!
And so, there you have it. Hopefully, the video and the tips I've provided will be helpful to you in your climb to legend this season. As always, I'm more than happy to answer questions, and you can ask them here in the comments section below, on YouTube, or on twitter (@DreadmakerHS). Thanks for reading, and good luck on the climb!