Understanding Card Value and Stat Distribution
Dreadmaker returns with an excellent theory article that's a highly recommended read for both experienced and new players to Hearthstone!
If you ever watch professional streamers play hearthstone, you’ll hear them talk about ‘value’ all the time. Phrases such as “this is such a value card,” “It’s already achieved its value,” or even “it’s not worth it” come up all the time in reference to hearthstone cards, and sometimes it’s difficult to understand what they mean, or how they apply to you.
For instance, people call the Chillwind Yetia “value” card all the time, and as you get more experienced, you learn it’s ‘good’ for some reason. But people don’t tend to talk about why it’s good. By the same token, people laugh off the Magma Ragerand call it a terrible card all the time. Why do they do this?
In this article, I want to get a little bit theoretical, and talk about what exactly it is that makes a card “valuable,” and how you can tell whether or not it’s worth putting a given card in your deck or not. You already know that the Chillwind Yeti is great, and the Dalaran Mageand the Magma Rager are not; my hope is that by the end of this article, you’ll be able to understand and explain why.
A short disclaimer before we begin: This article WILL NOT address particular attributes like divine shield or taunt, or even specific battlecries on cards. For the same reason, this article doesn’t go into spells. These more complicated subjects may be addressed in a future article, but today, I want to look at the drop-dead basics: minions, and the numbers on their cards.
The Fundamentals: The Vanilla Test
The first and perhaps most obvious quality of any hearthstone minion is its stat points. There are 3 numbers on any given minion: its attack, its life, and its mana cost. One of the first and most important determinants of a card’s value is whether or not the card has enough stat points on it to merit its cost. Typically, you’re looking for a 2:1 ratio of stat points to mana cost.
For instance, if a creature costs 3 mana, it should have 6 stat points on it (either life or attack) in order to be worth its cost. We tend to call this the “vanilla test,” because we ignore the text on the card, and only look at the numbers – its basic (or vanilla) state. As an example, look at the Raging Worgen. It has 3 attack and 3 life, and it costs 3 mana. It has 6 stats for 3 mana, which means it passes the vanilla test.
The Dalaran Mage, however, only has 1 attack and 4 health (5 stats) for 3 mana. Since it doesn’t meet that 2:1 ratio, it doesn’t pass the vanilla test.
If a minion passes the vanilla test, generally speaking, we tend to think of it as having good value; if it doesn’t, usually we tend to think it doesn’t. Cards that pass the vanilla test with more than a 2:1 ratio, then, are considered to be very high value, because they have more stats than average for their cost. This is why people tend to love the chillwind yeti – he has 9 stats (4/5) for only 4 mana.
The vanilla test is generally a good indicator of which cards are inherently valuable and which ones aren’t. However, this doesn’t explain cards like the Magma Rager or the Mogu’shan warden, both of which are typically thought of as lackluster cards, but both of which also pass the vanilla test. The reason that people generally don’t like these cards is because of their stat distribution, another important feature in determining card value.
Let’s talk about attack and life. If the theoretically ‘average’ card (as determined by the vanilla test) has double its mana cost evenly distributed between attack and life (i.e., 4/4 for 4 mana, 5/5 for 5 mana, etc.), what effect does a higher life or attack value have? Let’s look at attack first.
Let’s say we have an average 2 cost minion and an average 3 cost minion. Under normal circumstances, if they attacked each other, the 2 cost minion (2/2) would die, and the 3 cost minion (3/3) would be brought to 3/1, which means it could then kill something else. However, what if the 2 cost creature’s stats were distributed so that it was a 3/1 instead? If this were the case, the 2 cost minion would trade with the 3 cost minion, and they would both die, despite the larger minion’s higher cost. This is what we call “trading up,” and generally speaking, we think that minions that can do this are valuable.
What about life? Life totals are a little different. They don’t allow minions to trade up; they instead all them to trade for more cards than a standard card would. For instance: let’s say a Chillwind Yetiattacks an Ogre Magi. They’re both 4 cost minions, but the yeti has 1 more health. As a result, the yeti stays alive to trade for another minion (or spell, or something), whereas the ogre is dead. Since you want to be spending less cards than your opponent, it makes sense that higher life totals are typically useful.
There comes a problem with higher life totals, though – it means that generally, the attack of the minion suffers. This means it’s less likely to be able to trade at all.
For instance: Let’s pit an Earthen Ring Farseeragainst a Dalaran Mage. Because the Dalaran Mage has 4 health as opposed to the ‘average’ 3 for its mana cost, it survives the attack with 1 health left – most 3 cost cards like the raging worgen or the harvest golem wouldn’t have survived. However, since it only has 1 attack, it also didn’t kill the Earthen Ring Farseer. In fact, they can attack each other again, and the farseer will still be alive, and the mage will be dead, simply because his attack stat is so low. As a result, people tend to dislike creatures like the Mogu'shan Wardenor the Oasis Snapjaw, because even though they pass the vanilla test (the snapjaw more than passes it), their stat distribution makes them less likely to kill things, which isn’t very useful.
This is equally true for strong attack minions that have low life totals. Yes, the 3 cost Magma Ragercan trade up for a 7 cost Core Houndor a 6 cost Lord of the Arena (both rare minions, incidentally, due to their lackluster health totals for their cost). However, it has such little health that a 1 cost card, or even a hero power, could easily kill it.
Therefore, there is a balance to be struck here. When you’re building your own decks and choosing which minions to include, it’s important to understand what effects attack and life distribution will have on the value of a card in combat.
A final example on this point: let’s talk about the Ancient Brewmastervs the Chillwind Yeti. They have the same (high) amount of stats, but they’re just distributed differently – one is 5/4 and one is 4/5. People regard the yeti as the better card (ask yourself: when was the last time you saw an ancient brewmaster in a constructed deck?), but why? Well, at 5 attack, the brewmaster can trade up with some big minions. However, the 4 life total is only average. Swipe, Flamestrike, and Soulfireall kill it without modification, and a lot of 4 cost minions and above have 4 attack, so it’s likely that it won’t live through more than 1 attack against another similar creature.
With 5 health, though, the yeti is significantly more resilient. Very few spells do 5 damage, and none of them are AoE (leaving particularly good blade flurries aside). Except for Fireball, an excellent card, all the other spells that do 5+ damage cost more than the Yeti.
The overwhelming likelihood is that the enemy will have to expend at least 2 cards to deal with it, and with 4 attack, even though it can’t trade up as effectively, the yeti can very adequately kill most minions at 4 cost and below. And so, at the end of the day, even though these two cards have the same amount of stats, even distributed very similarly, 1 point can make significant difference to a card’s value.
Theory, I think, is best served in small doses, and as such, I’m going to end off here for today. As has hopefully been made clear, card value, even without considering all of the complicated battlecries and effects, is a complicated topic.
There’s a lot going on theoretically when you choose, say, a 2/3 minion over a 3/2 minion for the same cost. In order to build the most effective decks, you need to understand what your purpose is in each stage of the game, and then you need to choose your minions’ stats based upon what that goal is.
If you intend to be oriented towards board control, you’ll want creatures with decently high life totals so that you can trade efficiently. If you’re interested in an aggressive deck, you’ll typically want creatures tilted more towards attack, not only so that you can do more damage more quickly, but also so that you can trade your small creatures up into their larger creatures for maximum efficiency.
In any case, I hope that this was a helpful introduction into the world of basic card value. As a closing thought, I produce a lot of youtube content about hearthstone, and I have a small series dedicated to deckbuilding. The first video in that series was about this exact topic, so if this article leaves any questions in the air, feel free to check it out for more clarification.
Outside of that, feel free to leave questions in the comments (here or on youtube) and I’ll try to get to them as quickly as I can! Hearthstone is a very simple game to pick up, but an obscenely difficult one to master; hopefully, this article has taken you one step closer!
Video: Deckbuilding with Dreadmaker: Understanding Card Value: