As Asmodeus covered in a recent guide on 12-win decks, single-target removal cards are often at the core of strong Arena decks (imagine a Shaman draft without any copies of [card]lightning-bolt[/card], [card]crackle[/card], [card]hex[/card], and [card]fire-elemental[/card]). It takes both experience and expertise to determine the best time to use these removals, though. If you use them too liberally, you may find yourself in a position where you have no answer to an enemy minion that absolutely must be answered in order for you to win. On the flip side, if you hold onto removal, waiting for the perfect opportunity, you can easily find yourself losing board advantage and the game as a result.
This guide explores ways to decide when to use and when to keep single-target removal. Below, I define single-target removal and divide it into 5 categories. I then discuss the impact of The Grand Tournament (TGT) on removal in Arena. The bulk of this guide is composed of 12 removal-related tips to help you achieve the coveted 12 wins.
This guide is intended for beginning and intermediate Arena players. If you find yourself losing games because of a minion that you didn’t have an answer to, this guide is for you. If you find yourself losing games when you’re left primarily with spells in your hand, this guide is for you.
This guide does not cover drafting removals. If you want to learn more about drafting removal cards, check out ADWCTA & Merps’ On Mastery of Arena (Draft – Advanced). This guide also does not cover board clears (e.g., [card]flamestrike[/card]) and multiple-target removals (e.g., [card]powershot[/card]). If you want to learn more about board clears, check out Sheng’s Beginner’s Arena Guide: The Importance of Board Clear.
[toc]Types of Removal[/toc]
In this guide, single-target removal is defined as cards that can remove an enemy minion from the board without relying on others cards or minions already on the board. Under this definition, removal can be divided into five different general categories, all of which function differently: damage cards, destroy a minion cards, return a minion cards, weapons, and minions with Charge. Not included in this definition are cards like [card]aldor-peacekeeper[/card] and [card]hunters-mark[/card] that manipulate enemy minion attack and health and buff cards like [card]blessing-of-kings[/card], which require you to already have a board. Also not included are cards like [card]knife-juggler[/card], [card]arcane-missiles[/card], and [card]flamewaker[/card] that deal damage spread across multiple targets.
- Damage Cards: the most common form of removal, these cards provide damage amounts to a single enemy minion, completely removing or helping to remove that minion. That damage may be direct (e.g., [card]fireball[/card]), it may be random in amount (e.g., Crackle), it may only apply to minions (e.g., [card]shadow-bolt[/card]), or it may apply to a random minion (e.g., [card]bomb-lobber[/card]). Also included here are cards like [card]fallen-hero[/card], [card]steamwheedle-sniper[/card], and [card]auchenai-soulpriest[/card] which enable or boost damage-based hero powers.
- Destroy a Minion Cards: while damage cards may not deal enough damage to completely remove a minion, these cards outright destroy an enemy minion. Some of these cards destroy any minion (e.g., [card]assassinate[/card]), while others replace a minion with another one altogether (e.g., [card]polymorph[/card]), destroy a random minion (e.g., [card]deadly-shot[/card]), or only destroy a minion that meets a particular condition (e.g., [card]sacrificial-pact[/card], [card]stampeding-kodo[/card]).
- Return a Minion Cards: this category of cards are similar to but different from destroy a minion cards. There are only 4 cards included in this category of removal: [card]sap[/card], [card]kidnapper[/card], [card]freezing-trap[/card], and [card]recycle[/card]. I include Recycle here because it functions similarly to the other 3 cards, which basically allow you to only temporarily remove a minion from the enemy’s board. I do not include [card]mulch[/card] in this category, since it actually destroys the enemy minion. As we will see later, these cards have special uses, which is why they deserve a category of their own.
- Weapons: for classes like Rogue, Paladin, and Warrior, weapons compose a significant portion of most decks’ removal. Also included in this category are weapon-like effects that grant or boost hero attack, such as [card]savage-combatant[/card] and [card]heroic-strike[/card].
- Minions with Charge: much like weapons, minions with charge can remove enemy minions via combat. In fact, most minions with charge have low health, so they are effectively one-durability weapons (more on that later).
The breakdown of the frequency of these removals is as follows. All numbers are current as of the release of The Grand Tournament (TGT).
Also helpful to distinguish between are small and large removals. Small removals such as [card]frostbolt[/card] handle smaller and even some midrange minions. Large removals such as [card]flame-lance[/card] handle larger minions like [card]boulderfist-ogre[/card]. Most destroy a minion cards fit into this category, though they can be used on smaller minions in desperate situations.
[toc]TGT and the Importance of Removal[/toc]
The release of TGT marked a seismic shift in Arena, especially in how players use removal cards. This shift is attributable to 2 major changes: dilution and the Inspire keyword.
Despite making up almost 20% of the entire card pool in Hearthstone, TGT only represents 15% of single-target removal in the game. Given Hearthstone Senior Game Designer Ben Brode’s confirmation that TGT cards are offered disproportionately more often than cards from other sets, this small discrepancy becomes even more apparent. Overall, you will draft fewer single-target removal cards than you did before the release of TGT, and you will need to adjust your strategy accordingly.
[cardinsert card=”muklas-champion” float=”right”]
The more noticeable change, though, came with the introduction of the Inspire keyword. Inspire minions never had a huge impact on Constructed, but they have completely changed the way Arena is played. In particular, Inspire minions like [card]kvaldir-raider[/card], [card]muklas-champion[/card], [card]kodorider[/card], and [card]murloc-knight[/card] have added consistent win conditions. If you can keep one of these minions alive for several turns, you almost certainly will win the game as a result. In this context, then, removing an opponent’s Inspire minion is not just a matter of dealing with a threat, but a matter of not losing the game altogether to that minion.
Given both of these changes, it would seem that removals are more precious and so should be used more cautiously. In some cases, this is true, but not always. As you will see in the tips below, sometimes it is better to use removals more liberally to solidify your board control or to push for face damage and end the game before your opponent’s Inspire engines can even get going.
[toc]12 Removal Tips to Help You Get 12 Wins[/toc]
Below are 12 tips and tricks for using and saving removal in Arena. The first 3 tips are the most important ones and are most applicable for Arena beginners (those averaging 3 or fewer wins). Intermediate players (between 3 and 6 win average) can up their game with the other tips, which cover more niche scenarios.
Tip #1: Use Tempo-Efficient Removal Liberally
If I could only provide one tip for new players about using removal, it would be this: almost always use removal if it helps you gain tempo on your opponent. For more about tempo, see my previous guide on playing with terrible cards in Arena or CynthiaCrescent’s Hearthstone Fundamentals: Tempo.
With removal, it is often very clear if it will gain you tempo: compare the mana cost of the minion you are considering removing and the mana cost of the removal card. If the removal card costs less than the minion it is removing, then playing it will gain you tempo. For example, if you [card]eviscerate[/card] a [card]lost-tallstrider[/card], you gained 2 mana worth of tempo. If you Assassinate a Boulderfist Ogre, you gained 1 mana worth of tempo. The larger the tempo gain, the more worthwhile it becomes to use that removal.
[cardinsert card=”eviscerate” float=”left”]
This is even more true in the early game. As Asmodeus’ analysis found, early game board control cards are the common denominator in basically all 12-win Arena decks. In particular, tempo-efficient small removals like [card]backstab[/card], [card]flamecannon[/card], and [card]eviscerate[/card] can help you simultaneously remove an enemy minion while playing your own minion(s) to help establish board control.
The lesson here is simple: all minions on your board are effectively removal. In other words, while minions already on your board don’t fit my definition of removal, they can still accomplish the same thing. If your opponent plays a Murloc Knight, it doesn’t really matter if you remove it with your [card]ogre-magi[/card] or with your Flamecannon. While it may seem more impactful to save the Flamecannon for the Murloc Knight, the Flamecannon may have been much more impactful earlier in the game to help you establish a board that could deal with a Murloc Knight on its own. In fact, a decision to save a removal that can gain you a significant tempo advantage is unlikely to appear to lead to a loss, but it also the most likely removal decision to consistently lose you games.
There are three extra considerations here that slightly alter the math of determining if using a removal gains you tempo. First, you should factor unused (floated) mana into the cost of both the minion to be removed and the cost of the removal. For example, if your opponent played that Lost Tallstrider on Turn 5, floating 1 mana, then your Eviscerate gains you 3 mana worth of tempo instead of 2. If, however, your only play with the Eviscerate is a [card]bloodfen-raptor[/card], the tempo gain goes back to 2 mana, because you floated 1 mana.
[cardinsert card=”bomb-lobber” float=”right”]
Second, removal attached to a minion (what I refer to as “removal on a stick”) requires you to break down the effect and the body. For example, a Bomb Lobber is essentially a Flamecannon on a stick. That “stick” is a 3/3 minion, which is an average to slightly below-average 3-drop. The effect itself, then, is equal to roughly 2 mana, so it will gain you tempo if used to remove a 3-drop or higher.
Another example: using a Stampeding Kodo on your opponent’s [card]gurubashi-berserker[/card] is obviously a massive tempo gain, but using it on a [card]river-crocolisk[/card] still gains you 1 mana worth of tempo, because the Kodo’s effect only costs 1 mana above its 3/5 body. For more about how to determine the base cost of a minion’s stats, check out Dreadmaker’s Understanding Card Value and Stat Distribution.
Third, weapons change the tempo math by spreading their removal over multiple turns. The best way to consider the tempo effect of a weapon is to imagine average cards you are likely to be able to remove with the weapon. A [card]fiery-war-axe[/card] played on Turn 2 may be worth anywhere from 0 mana (killing 2 [card]target-dummy[/card]s) to 10 mana (killing 2 [card]cobalt-guardian[/card]s) worth of tempo, but the most likely scenario is killing a 2-drop and either another 2-drop or a 3-drop, resulting in a 2-mana or 3-mana tempo advantage.
There are two notable exceptions to this tip: when you are already winning significantly and when you are already losing significantly. When you are winning significantly, you will likely eventually need to slow down, either to play around AoE or to translate board presence into value. At these times, it can be useful to save removal and trade in minions or use cantrip removals (more on those in Tip #9). When you are losing significantly, even a 2-mana tempo advantage may not be enough to swing the game in your favor. At those times, it may be the correct play to save your Stampeding Kodo for a massive swing like destroying the aforementioned Gurubashi Berserker.
Tip #2: Use Removal to Translate Board Presence into Face Damage
Using removal to wrestle for control of the board is extremely important, but so too is using removal once you already have control of the board. When you have control of the board, you may be tempted to save your removal cards to deal with theoretical enemy threats. In some cases, that is correct (see Tip #11), but in most cases, you are not making enough use of the inherent advantage you have on the board: face damage to your opponent.
For example, check out the board state below:
[cardinsert card=”flame-lance” float=”right”]
You have three minions on the board representing 11 total attack (a [card]panther[/card], a [card]refreshment-vendor[/card], and a [card]clockwork-knight[/card]). Your opponent has a [card]stonesplinter-trogg[/card] followed by a [card]frostwolf-warlord[/card]. You could just attack face with all your minions, but that would leave your Refreshment Vendor vulnerable, so removing at least the Warlord is important. If your only removal in hand is a Flame Lance (the image above is playing with a Druid, so some imagination required), you may be tempted to save it for a more impactful minion. However, if you Flame Lance the opponent Warlord instead of sending your Clockwork Knight into it, you can then attack your opponent’s face for 5 additional damage.
In general, then, you should preference using a removal card to remove an enemy minion over using one of your own minions on the board, since that minion could go face if you used removal. This is especially true for aggressive decks with low mana curves. When you have very few big cards, you will run out of steam eventually, and every possible point of face damage you can milk will be crucial to victory. This is why many experienced Arena players will play Deadly Shot on Turn 3 to remove their opponent’s 3-drop.
When using removal in this way, you should think about the tempo efficiency, but you should not be overly concerned with making inefficient plays. In the above example, the Flame Lance play is exactly equal on tempo, but you should generally be willing to lose some tempo (such as playing Assassinate on a [card]chillwind-yeti[/card]) in order to translate board into face damage.
The primary exception here is when the minions on your board are a liability, such as clearing out your 4-health minions before an anticipated Flamestrike, killing off your own 1-health minions against ping classes, or clearing out tokens to allow more room on your board. However, there is an additional exception: if playing the removal would make you break even on the board, but not playing it would allow you to advance your board presence, then you should probably not play it. For instance, if your choice is playing Flame Lance or killing off the Clockwork Knight with your own and dropping a Boulderfist Ogre, you should generally choose the latter.
Tip #3: Don’t Be Overly Concerned with Wasted Damage
[cardinsert card=”fireball” float=”right”]
Just as it is often tempting to save removal when minions on the board could deal with an enemy minion, it is also tempting to save damage cards for a time when they will deal exactly the correct amount of damage. For instance, some players will basically never play Fireball on a 4-health or 5-health minion. This tendency is generally a bad one, since it distracts you from what may be the correct play by prioritizing not “wasting” damage over the actually relevant concern, improving your board state.
In fact, in many ways, wasted damage is a misnomer: the damage a card needs to remove an enemy minion is far less important than the impact of the minion being removed. For instance, playing Fireball on an [card]earthen-ring-farseer[/card] is only occasionally the best play, but playing it on a [card]silver-hand-regent[/card] is more often the best play. When measuring impact, consider not just a minion’s effect, but the work it could do on the board. For instance, playing [card]north-sea-kraken[/card] to remove a [card]one-eyed-cheat[/card] may not feel right, but if the Cheat would be able to trade into your [card]salty-dog[/card], it almost certainly is right.
Tip #4: Be Willing to Play Removal on a Stick for the Stick
In Tip #1, I covered “removal on a stick” cards like Bomb Lobber and Stampeding Kodo. These cards are often considered good to great cards despite their slightly below-average bodies because they combine two separate cards into a single card. If they are offered, you are likely to pick them, so knowing when to play them is a key skill in Arena.
Most damage minions, such as Bomb Lobber and Fire Elemental, can safely be played on curve to remove or help remove whatever minions your opponent has. Minions with a destroy a minion effect, however, are trickier, since their effect is always situational. Tips #1 and #2 still apply here, but there are also cases where playing the minion simply for its body, without any use of removal, is the best play.
[cardinsert card=”stampeding-kodo” float=”left”]
To evaluate whether or not to play these minions just for the body, consider both how likely you are to be able to fulfill the card’s condition and how much impact on the board the body will have. Stampeding Kodo is one of the easiest conditions to fulfill, with more than a quarter of all minions in the game having 2 or less attack. Even then, many of those minions are early-game minions, so the likelihood that any single minion your opponent will play after Turn 5 has 2 attack or less is lower than 25%. If Turn 5 comes around, and you can either play the Kodo for the body or play a 3-drop, the Kodo is usually the correct play. However, if the Kodo’s 3 attack matters more than its health, then the 3-drop is likely the better choice.
[cardinsert card=”hungry-crab” float=”right”]
On the other end of the spectrum are cards like [card]hungry-crab[/card] and [card]rend-blackhand[/card]. These cards are generally considered bad because their conditions are so difficult to meet. Against any class other than Paladin, if you have Hungry Crab in your opening hand, you should probably play it on Turn 1, when its body will have the most impact on the game.
In between these are cards like [card]big-game-hunter[/card], [card]hemet-nesingwary[/card], and [card]the-black-knight[/card], whose conditions are somewhat difficult to meet, but not entirely unlikely. One of the most important things to consider with these cards is your opponent’s class. Playing The Black Knight prematurely against a Druid wastes what is potentially a massive swing because of the prevalence of Druid class Taunt cards. Playing it for the body against most other classes, however, may be the best play much more often.
Tip #5: Know When You Don’t Have to Remove a Minion
Most Arena players tend to save their removal too much, but one way players over-use removal is by removing literally every enemy minion played. It’s understandable, too: it only takes going face and getting burned by that decision a few times to make one cautious about leaving enemy minions on the board.
There are many cases, though, where neither spending removal from your hand nor using minions on the board as removal are the optimal play. In particular, there are four main times when you should think about not removing an enemy minion at all: when that minion has low attack and high health, when that minion trades favorably for you against all your minions, when that minion has a drawback for your opponent, and when you have spread your board wide. I will address each of these situations in turn.
[cardinsert card=”oasis-snapjaw” float=”right”]
First, you should not rush to remove minions with low attack values and high health values. This particular combination is not uncommon in Hearthstone with cards like [card]frigid-snobold[/card] and [card]oasis-snapjaw[/card]. The role of these cards in Arena, though, are generally to help mop-up smaller minions. If you decide not to remove an Oasis Snapjaw, though, you can force your opponent to only get full usefulness out of the Snapjaw after at least 2 turns of attacking. A key thing to remember here is that enemy minions without Windfury can only attack once per turn. By removing them, you are effectively making several turns worth of attacks for your opponent, wasting potential face damage in the process. Even a card with a seemingly powerful effect like [card]tournament-medic[/card] can easily be left alone, since attacking into it would cause you to lose at least 8 face damage, which would take 4 more turns for your opponent to regain with the ability alone.
Second, you can generally afford not to remove enemy minions that present no unfavorable trades for you on the board. This situation comes up less often, but it does arise occasionally. If your board of a [card]pit-fighter[/card] and a Fire Elemental is facing your opponent’s board of a single Refreshment Vendor, removing the Refreshment Vendor instead of further developing your board is often a mistake, since none of the trades your opponent could make with the Refreshment Vendor are particularly bad for you. Of course, your opponent may have additional removal to help change the combat math, but this street can run two ways, too. You can leave a trade that appears favorable for your opponent if you have an easy way to clean up the next turn.
[cardinsert card=”venture-co-mercenary” float=”left”]
Third, you should strongly consider not removing minions that present a drawback for your opponent. [card]venture-co-mercenary[/card] is the most obvious example, but cards like [card]ogre-brute[/card] and [card]fel-reaver[/card] can fit into this category. These cards may represent a very high attack on the board, but again, it’s important to remember that they can only attack once per turn, so you should weigh the effect the drawback will have on your opponent against the effect a single attack can have. If your health is low, you should absolutely remove that Venture Co. or Fel Reaver, but if you have plenty of health, you might be able to afford to slow your opponent down or bring them very close to fatigue by not using removal.
Finally, you should consider not removing an enemy minion if you have spread your board wide. If you have 5 small minions on the board and your opponent plays a Boulderfist Ogre, removing the Ogre should be a low priority. If you push for face damage, your opponent will likely be dead well before the Ogre can accomplish anything significant on the board. A very minor exception here: when you are facing a Warlock, be careful of leaving a potential [card]shadowflame[/card] target on the board.
Tip #6: Save Most Charge Minions for Important Enemy Minions
[cardinsert card=”wolfrider” float=”right”]
As I mentioned above, minions with Charge can serve as removal, but they are often mana inefficient, because their stats are sacrificed for the Charge keyword. As we saw in Tip #1, Fiery War Axe usually gains you at least 2 mana worth of tempo, but consider [card]Wolfrider[/card]. Wolfrider costs 1 more mana than Fiery War Axe, and it deals precisely half the damage. If used as removal, Wolfrider is guaranteed to die, costing you 3 mana for 3 damage, a poor mana to damage ratio.
Because of their inefficiency, most Charge minions should be avoided as removal unless they are eliminating a crucial enemy minion. If your opponent plays an Earthen Ring Farseer, it may be satisfying to Charge your Wolfrider into it, but if you have a [card]spider-tank[/card], the Spider Tank is almost always the better play. However, if your opponent plays [card]darnassus-aspirant[/card], its importance on the board means that Wolfrider is probably the correct play.
Notable exceptions to this tip include [card]druid-of-the-claw[/card], [card]doomguard[/card], and [card]argent-commander[/card], all of which are likely to survive minion combat, functioning closer to a 2-durability weapon like Fiery War Axe. When calculating the tempo math on these cards, you can consider them as functioning like removal on a stick (see Tip #4). A Druid of the Claw killing an enemy [card]illuminator[/card] is roughly equal on tempo, with the effect (4 damage to the Illuminator) costing between 2 and 3 mana and the leftover body (4/2) costing between 2 and 3 mana.
Tip #7: Use Return a Minion Cards to Setup Good Trades or Lethal
[cardinsert card=”sap” float=”right”]
Cards like Sap, Kidnapper, Freezing Trap, and Recycle have a unique effect that is more situational in its usefulness than straightforward destroy cards. These cards are basically temporary removal: they remove an enemy minion until your opponent replays that minion, either next turn (in most cases), much later, or not at all. The “not at all” scenario sounds very appealing, and that’s actually very possible if you use these cards in order to setup lethal in 1 or 2 turns (especially Freezing Trap, which complements aggressive Hunter decks very well).
Removal to setup lethal, though, is pretty easy to handle. The other way to use these cards is to setup good trades on the board. In many cases, you will be removing an enemy minion because it trades too favorably with your board (go back to that Clockwork Knight against your Refreshment Vendor). Return a minion cards can function as removal in these situations when played alongside another minion that helps swing the combat math in your favor. Sap alongside an [card]ice-rager[/card] to handle the Clockwork Knight means that your board is nowhere near as vulnerable to that enemy minion as it once was. In fact, if you can make your new board awkward enough for your opponent, they may choose not to replay the card you returned, making your return a minion card even more effective.
Tip #8: Use Redundant Removals Liberally
It may seem obvious to say, but when you have multiple copies of removal that do the same damage, you should be very liberal about using them. A Flamecannon and a [card]dragons-breath[/card] are generally redundant, and keeping one of them in your hand might be important, but keeping both is not.
This tip extends beyond simply considering your removals, though. You should also consider the attack value of the minions you have on the board and the damage of the board clears in your hand. If you have a Refreshment Vendor on the board, that [card]darkbomb[/card] in your hand accomplishes roughly what the Refreshment Vendor can on the board. If you have a Flamestrike in hand, you can use that to handle your opponent’s Murloc Knight, rather than holding onto a Flamecannon for it.
Tip #9: Save Cantrips Until the Right Moment
Cantrip (draw a card) damage spells like [card]starfire[/card], [card]hammer-of-wrath[/card], [card]wrath[/card], and [card]shiv[/card] are costed to accommodate their card draw and so should be used differently from other damage cards. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to use these as tempo-efficient removal, and even breaking even on tempo can be difficult to do.
[cardinsert card=”starfire” float=”left”]
As the two larger damage cantrips, the uses of Starfire and Hammer of Wrath are fairly straightforward. The situations when playing these cards are usually correct include when you can gain tempo or at least break even on tempo (e.g., Starfire on [card]mogors-champion[/card]), when you are winning significantly and can afford the tempo loss, when your other plays are awkward or float a lot of mana, and when your opponent plays a high-priority threat. In general, though, you should avoid playing these on curve and use them more liberally in the late game, when tempo matters far less.
Wrath and Shiv present interesting cases. Wrath, of course, can be used as a 3-damage removal, and there are many times when that is the correct play. However, I’d like to deal with using Wrath (and Shiv) as a 1-damage cantrip removal. Both cards are in classes whose heroes need to use their own health to ping minions, so one use for them is to save face damage. However, it is almost always incorrect to save face damage early in the game, since, especially in Rogue, face damage is your way of gaining board control. In the late game, though, Wrath and Shiv can help you ping a minion without spending valuable hero health.
[cardinsert card=”wrath” float=”right”]
Additionally, both Wrath and Shiv can be used in conjunction with the Hero Power to deal a surprise 2 damage to a minion or 1 damage to 2 minions. A common technique for Arena players facing a ping class is to either flood the board with 1-health minions or leave their minions at 2 health, and here, Wrath and Shiv can really help you deal with these awkward boards. They can also help you deal damage behind Taunt minions, something both classes struggle with otherwise.
Finally, both cards are absolutely the correct play when you have no better cards to play. In the late game, when your hand is mostly empty, the card draw effect of Wrath and Shiv are far more important than the damage they do. In the early game, if you only draw high-cost minions, cycling through Wrath or Shiv to fish for a lower drop is the right play.
In general, though, you should avoid playing either Wrath or Shiv when your Hero Power will do the same thing, the cards in your hand are perfectly playable, and your health is not a concern. In the case of Wrath, using the Hero Power allows you to keep a 3-damage removal in your back pocket. In the case of Shiv, using the Hero Power generates additional tempo from the extra charge of your weapon that using Shiv would not have given you.
Other cantrip removals include [card]holy-wrath[/card], [card]mortal-coil[/card], [card]slam[/card], and [card]quick-shot[/card]. You should generally play Holy Wrath conservatively, assuming it will do roughly 3 damage (most Arena mana curves peak around 3 or 4). Mortal Coil and Slam are best played when their cantrip can be activated, and Quick Shot is a cantrip only as a bonus. Do be sure not to get too sucked into the cantrip bonus of Quick Shot, because there are many times when using it early in the game is the correct play.
Tip #10: Save Removal for Your Opponent’s On-Curve Power Plays
As with almost all decisions in Hearthstone’s Arena, you need to think at least one and in many cases several turns ahead before using removal. In particular, you should save removal that perfectly deals with your opponent’s on-curve power plays. Against a Shaman opponent, saving your Fireball to deal with a [card]fireguard-destroyer[/card] or Fire Elemental is usually a good idea. Of course, if that Fireball can do more work being used, then you should use it, but in a 50/50 situation, saving it in anticipation of your opponent’s play is often correct.
[cardinsert card=”north-sea-kraken” float=”left”]
In general, you should only really consider class minions. Prior to a Priest’s Turn 3, think about how you would deal with a [card]dark-cultist[/card], but don’t worry too much about an [card]ogre-brute[/card] or [card]scarlet-crusader[/card]. If you have a Flamecannon and can choose between playing that to remove the Priest’s Turn 2 play and playing your own minion to contest it, you should usually play the minion and keep the Flamecannon.
That said, the North Sea Kraken presents an interesting case. The Kraken is one of the best neutral commons in Arena in part because it can remove a lot of minions with its 4 damage, but also because that 4 damage comes attached to a body that absolutely must be removed before it can pile on the face damage. It’s one of the few cards in the game that can take a roughly even or even slightly unfavorable board and straight up win the game from there.
Imagine you’re holding a Flame Lance in hand and considering whether to use it on your opponent’s Pit Fighter. If you have low enough health, you should use it no matter what, but what if you are not in danger of dying to the Pit Fighter? If you’re headed into your opponent’s Turn 9, there’s a decent likelihood, especially at higher numbers of wins, that your opponent will play a Kraken. Look at your board and your options in your hand and ask yourself: will I die if that happens? If so, then saving the Flame Lance may be the correct play. You can also always hedge your bets and not play the Flame Lance that turn, and if the Kraken doesn’t appear Turn 9, then Flame Lance the Pit Fighter or whatever else your opponent plays.
One final consideration here: if your opponent’s on-curve power play is likely to be a removal on a stick, such as a Fire Elemental, you should use your own removal (or not use your own removal according to the situation) in order to set up the most awkward board possible against that removal on a stick. If all your minions have either 1 health or 4+ health, the power of the Turn 6 Fire Elemental is mitigated to an extent.
Tip #11: Save a Removal When You Have a Huge Lead
Also known as the Deathwing Contingency, the situations where this strategy takes effect are both low impact and fairly rare. That said, when you have a massive lead in a game, you should always be asking yourself: how could I possibly lose this game? Just like the Kraken example above, if you would only ever lose to your opponent playing Deathwing, then you should keep that Assassinate or Hex in hand just in case that happens. The likelihood might be very small, but when you have covered all likely scenarios, you should be thinking about unlikely ones instead of not thinking and just hitting autopilot.
Tip #12: Play Mind Games with Your Opponent
I’ll end with another low-impact tip that can still make a difference in the right situation. If you’re reading guides like this one (and watching Arena streamers), then you should know that good Arena players think about their opponent’s possible plays all the time. As such, you can actually use removal to play mind games with your opponent. Every play you make in Hearthstone communicates something to your opponent, and a choice to use a removal is no different.
[cardinsert card=”flamestrike” float=”right”]
Imagine a common situation for a Mage in Arena: you’ve spent most of your cards and are down to a few cards, including a Flamestrike. Your primary way of winning the game is to play Flamestrike on a large board of enemy minions and win from there on card advantage. Your opponent, though, is likely to play around your Flamestrike by not spreading their board wide. If your opponent does this, you almost certainly lose. However, you may be able to convince your opponent to spread wide by playing your Fireball on a 4-health minion. If the Fireball is unlikely to help you win the game any other way, then playing the Fireball to bluff not having Flamestrike may increase your likelihood to win.
I know that the above tips are a lot to remember when thinking about whether to use or save removal in Arena, but it all boils down to tempo: if you can use removal in a way that helps you gain better board presence while dealing with enemy threats, do it.
Do you have other strategies for handling removal in Arena? Let me know in the comments below.