If you’re reading this, you’ve likely made it through the Hearthstone guided tutorial: congratulations! You now understand the basic rules of the game, but what you now see is a myriad of, possibly confusing, options. You can build your own custom deck, you can battle it out with AI or real opponents, you can buy cards, and more! Understandably, this is all a little bewildering, so where should you begin? Let me try to help out the beginners who are now where I was about a year and a half ago.
Take Time to Try Out Each Class
Hearthstone has specific deck restrictions based on what class is chosen before the deck-building process begins. Each class has its own hero power, exclusive cards, strategies, and lore that is based on World of Warcraft, another Blizzard franchise. Certain players often gravitate towards one strategy or another. Do you like to be the aggressor? Hunter or Warlock might be a good fit. Does annoying your opponent by stealing their cards seem appealing? Try out Priest. Every class has competitive decks to offer, so you should explore what’s out there.
To begin, I suggest you take your brand new Mage deck and try your hand against some of the AI classes. Whenever you defeat one, it will unlock that class for future use, as well as a few of its basic cards. On top of this, you’ll also accumulate experience and level up your Mage. As you rank up to level ten, you’ll unlock the rest of your basic class cards. Don’t be afraid to tweak your deck as you go and try them out. Mages are known for their powerful spells, so cards like Fireball, Frostbolt, and Flamestrike are keys to your success.
After this, repeat the process with your other classes. All of them have cards to unlock and different strategies. This stage will start to teach you, through trial and error, what cards suit particular strategies and give you some experience. Once you’ve unlocked all of the classes, you could even try leveling up against the Expert AI and real opponents in casual or ranked mode. You won’t win every game, but you’ll see the beginnings of competitive strategies and gain more experience for your class, to boot.
Maximize Gold and Free Cards
Some people refer to games like Hearthstone as being “pay to win,” in that you can spend real money on card packs and adventures to have a competitive edge. In my opinion, there is no problem with putting a bit of money into a game one enjoys, but it is far from necessary in Hearthstone. If you’re smart with your resources and train your skills, you can go far without spending a cent. By maximizing the gold you receive in-game as rewards, with some patience, you can find all the cards you need for success.
New Hearthstone accounts are given a head-start in this endeavor. There are a variety of one-time quests, akin to achievements, that reward players with gold, packs, arcane dust, and other prizes. You’ll receive gold for playing five games in Practice mode against AI opponents, for unlocking every hero, and for playing a game against a real opponent. I won’t provide a comprehensive list, but most of these quests should be completed naturally as one tests out the different game modes.
On top of this, there are several other ways to accumulate gold. For every three wins in Arena or Play mode against real opponents, you’ll receive ten gold. Also, every day, you’ll be given a random new quest, with some simple objective. Typically, it involves winning several games with a specific class, but there are other options. These quests offer between forty and one hundred gold, or even a pack of cards! By playing a few games per day consistently, you’ll be accumulating new cards surprisingly quickly. Once per day, you can even “re-roll” to reject a quest for a different random option. This is a nice option for players who specialize in certain classes or are looking for the maximum gold yield possible.
The last method of earning gold is more advanced, and I would recommend that players avoid it until they have a slightly better understanding of the game mechanics. The Arena is a “draft” game mode, where players pay gold or money to enter and must build decks from a limited selection of cards before facing off. Without flashy combos or rare cards, the Arena sets players on a relatively level playing field and tends to reward the more skilled challenger with the win. The Arena is a “three strikes and you’re out” format, but once a player can consistently rack up at least three wins before being kicked out, it’s more efficient than buying packs with gold. For managing to get twelve wins, the maximum, a player can be rewarded with some combination of several card packs, arcane dust, several hundred gold, and even rare cards!
Professional players have dedicated their Hearthstone careers to the arena, by writing tier lists for arena, updated for each card expansion, and even developing programs that help players to evaluate each draft pick in the context of the cards chosen so far. Needless to say, it’s impossible to sum up everything, but the principle of card value, or the relative impact of a card, permeates Hearthstone. To maximize the value of a card, one must carefully consider when it is effective or ineffective given the state of the game and potential combinations with other cards. Value is not everything, but in arena, it is especially important. The best arena decks have consistent cards that are powerful on their own but also can synergize with other cards to contribute to an overall strategy. They also play cards of a variety of mana costs to allow strong plays on most turns.
Unlock the Naxxramas Adventure
It can be tempting to spend all of your gold on card packs, but trust me, it goes quickly. While you’ll eventually have to use your gold on packs to start the search for specific cards, I feel like the solo adventures, particularly Curse of Naxxramas, are a better buy for new players. In the adventure, you’ll play through a short “story” mode of various bosses and unlock exclusive, guaranteed cards along the way.
Not only is it a matter of knowing what you’re buying (because cards received from solo adventures do not have the element of chance that packs do), but the cards in Curse of Naxxramas are particularly powerful and flexible. Well over half of the thirty cards exclusive to Naxxramas are used in highly competitive decks, and cards like Zombie Chow, Sludge Belcher, and Loatheb can fit into a variety of them. Naxxramas can be purchased with gold or real money, but if you do decide to invest a bit into Hearthstone, this would be the best bang for your buck.
Personally, I find it hard to ration my gold and often end up spending it on card packs immediately, but the “crafting” mode in the collection manager might be even more tempting. Unlike many other collectible card games, Hearthstone doesn’t allow trading between players. Instead, you can strategically use a resource called “arcane dust” to create cards and add them to your collection. The price of these cards is based on their rarity and ranges from forty to sixteen hundred dust per card, or even more if you want an aesthetically pleasing, yet functionally identical, “golden” card. Cards in Hearthstone come in four rarities, which are Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary, in order of increasing rarity.
There are a few ways to obtain arcane dust, such as playing in the arena or performing well on the ranked ladder, but the primary method is “disenchanting” or deleting cards from your collection. This allows you to take the cards you don’t want and turn them into ones you need. However, it’s more like pawning them than an even trade: you’ll usually end up with somewhere between 10% and 25% of a card’s value in arcane dust when you disenchant it.
This is why I advise new players to hold off on crafting until they have a bit more experience. Once they’re versed in what cards will be powerful long-term and which aren’t quite up to par, crafting definitely has its place. Until then, it’s easy to get caught up in fads or spur of the moment decisions that will leave you with a cleaned-out collection. On the other hand, only up to two copies of a card can be played in a deck, so it is usually completely fine to disenchant extras beyond that number.
Play Real Opponents
It can be intimidating to finally test your skills against real players, but my advice is to lose early and lose often. By playing against AI opponents, you may start to develop the skills of board control and manipulating minion combat to your advantage (also known as “trading” minions favorably.) However, you won’t understand the true power of a class’s cards and combos until you play real opponents. They’ll hold back their removal spells to bait you into overextending before clearing your entire board. They’ll hold back minions in their hand to maximize “battlecry” effects, or minion effects that trigger when they are played from the hand. Basically, playing against humans is a lesson in risk. You’ll learn when to hold back and when to go on the offensive.
Outside of general principles, each class has its strengths and weaknesses, and playing opponents who take this into account is critical. For instance, many classes have “board clear” or “area of effect” cards that can clear off a weakened board very efficiently. However, Druids typically only play Swipe, which deals four damage to a particular target and one to the rest. Because of this, an effective strategy against Druids is to swarm the board with mid-range threats that can’t be efficiently cleared by the spell. On the other hand, Druids also have a nasty combo once they reach 9 mana that combines Force of Nature and Savage Roar to deal 14 damage. Often referred to as simply “combo”, this card pairing ought to be a central deciding factor when your life total gets low against the class.
Other classes have even more unconventional game plans that require adaptation to defeat. For instance, Priest’s primary drawing mechanic is through a card called Northshire Cleric, which allows the Priest to draw a card whenever a minion is healed. Typically, responding to a weak minion with another weak minion at the beginning of the game is a reasonable strategy, but simply holding back and skipping the turn is sometimes the best option available against Northshire Cleric. Not only will the opponent use their hero power to restore their Cleric to full health after attacking your minion – they’ll also draw a card and be at an immediate advantage.
Another non-traditional deck type is the Control Warlock, also known as Hand Warlock or “Handlock,” due to its abuse of its hero power to always have a full hand. As a Handlock reduces its own life, it may be tempting to invest resources into direct damage, in order to win the game quickly, but this would be a mistake. The Handlock will simply respond with a Molten Giant, a whopping 8/8 minion that becomes cheaper when its user has a lower life total. Then they will play one of their many healing effects to return to a safe life total, and you no longer have much of a chance. Playing against a Handlock often means skipping attacks altogether until you’ve accumulated answers to Molten Giant.
Choose a Win Condition
As a long-time card game enthusiast, deck-building is the most consistently valuable skill I have developed. Without a cohesive deck, you’re handicapping yourself before the game begins. However, building a good deck doesn’t mean filling it with the rarest cards, the most powerful combos, or answers to every situation.
The best way to begin building a deck is to define its win condition. Very generally, every deck’s strategy is to reduce the opponent’s health to zero, but you need to be more specific. Does your deck whittle the opponent to a moderate health total before bursting them down with charge minions and spells? Does it exhaust the opponent’s whole deck and out-value them in the long-run? Does it fight for board control and seize the win around turn ten? All of these are effective, depending on the circumstances, but one or perhaps two, at maximum, is best for creating a deck that is both consistent and cohesive.
New players often make the mistake of putting together “mish-mash” strategies, over-thinking potential opposing plays and trying to build a sort of tool-box in anticipation of these plays. However, in Hearthstone, there are very few ways to search your deck for particular cards, and you will rarely draw into a specific card for a specific scenario, exactly when you need it. Instead, it makes more sense to play cards that contribute consistently to the game plan and to limit situational and reactive cards to a few spots (such as a copy of Big Game Hunter or Harrison Jones.) Also, you can use two copies of each card for a reason! Your most crucial cards should often be run in multiples to reduce variance over time.
Stick to the Plan, if Possible
Building off of this, your game plan should be a constant consideration throughout the course of the match. An aggro deck that spends too many resources trying to destroy the opponent’s minions will quickly run out of steam, and a control deck that blows its reactive answers on small threats won’t have them for the late game.
A key principle here is deciding when to attack the opponent’s hero versus when to attack their minions. This will vary with the type of deck one plays, but it also comes down to the situation. Even an aggro Hunter will occasionally be forced to use Kill Command on a minion. You should be aware of the board state at the beginning of your turn, then plan as far ahead in that turn as possible before making any moves at all.
If the standard plan of action looks grim, be flexible and consider other options. Unless you are playing an aggro deck, however, it is rarely correct to attack the opponent’s hero full-steam ahead, if there are threats present on board. The game is won by killing the opponent’s hero, but it is played by first killing their minions. Many players have difficulty with this concept and will waste spells by using them on the opponent’s hero too soon. A tempo Mage could certainly use Arcane Missiles on turn one to deal three damage to the opponent, but that’s still a far-cry from victory. When the opponent plays a minion in response, this Mage is already behind.
Learn from Your Mistakes
Even after well over a decade playing games like Hearthstone, I’m able to offer the advice above because I made each of these mistakes, to some degree. So, don’t be discouraged! There will be times in playing the game that it seems like nothing goes your way. You don’t open good packs, your opponents have all the luck in the world, and you’re stuck at your rank on the ladder. In times like these, you can either get frustrated and quit, or you can improve yourself. Take a breath, reconsider your strategy, and try again. Whatever happens, just keep playing!