So I was indirectly asked to write a newbies’ guide to Hearthstone, and I put it off for a while – sorry! But the recent official launch has prompted me to get my butt in gear and outline some of the things players should keep in mind as they battle on the Hearthstone board.
I think most, if not all, of these concepts should be obvious in hindsight, and more experienced players probably don’t need the tips, but sometimes all you need is for something to be spelled out for it to make sense and be able to use it more consciously. I am assuming here a basic knowledge of the game, so you know how to attack, cast spells, what each special ability (taunt, battlecry, etc) does, and so on. These tips are going to be about strategy and how you go about executing it. Once you have mastered these concepts, then you will be able to judge when it is profitable to break them (if ever).
Order of Operations
One thing that I struggled with when coming to grips with Hearthstone, and still do from time to time after playing a lot of Magic: The Gathering, is that there is no set “phase” for when you can do something. You can make an attack at any time, cast spells or summon minions before or after attacks, and generally order your actions for the greatest possible return. This becomes highly important when “Battlecry”, “Deathrattle”, and buff effects are factors. When considering your actions for the turn, figure out what benefits from which actions, and how to minimise the drawbacks of negative actions. Some examples:
- If you have a Knife-Juggler in play, dropping a minion or two on the board to see which enemy takes damage may change your attacks for the turn. You may be able to trade your Bloodfen Raptor for that Booty Bay Bruiser, rather than having to run a Chillwind Yeti into it. Alternatively, it might change your decision about whether to cast that Lightning Storm or Starfall. If the Knife-Juggler ends up killing one or two of the smaller creatures, only leaving their big guys, then maybe it’s not worth it. On the other hand, if it brings their big guys into Lightning Storm range too, then you just got a lot more value out of it! Going deeper, if you cast the Storm first, wiping out their smaller minions, then the Knife-Juggler has a greater chance (but not guaranteed!) of finishing off those big guys. The order in which you do things changes the risks and rewards.
- They have an Abomination in play. Playing your 2-Health minions before you kill it is bad, since your minions will die too.
- Casting Hex on a minion gives it taunt, so make sure you get your attacks in *before* you cast it. Unless you really really want that frog dead this turn…
- You can sculpt ‘random’ effects like Deadly Shot and Cleave into hitting the targets you want by strategically eliminating the extra targets beforehand.
- If you are unsure what to do first, or if you are hunting for an answer to a problem minion, using card draw actions (Novice Engineer, Azure Drake, Arcane Intellect, Warlock Hero Power, etc) is usually best done before you do anything else. Of course, you need to know what you are looking for, and the answer needs to be usable immediately (spending all but 3 mana to draw a card when your answer is Hammer of Wrath is not useful).
Barring special cards, you get one mana crystal per turn. This, combined with having no impact on your opponent’s turn, makes it incredibly easy to plan ahead. Starting with your opening hand, you should be spending each of your opponent’s turns planning what you will cast, in what order. This order will change as they play their own cards and make their attacks.
Ideally, especially in the first five turns, you should be aiming to use all of your mana each turn. This can mean blowing it all on one spell or minion, several smaller spells and/or minions, or a spell/minion + hero power. When you build your deck, you ideally want to be doing something every turn, so you need to include cards that you can reliably cast at every stage of the game. The concept of a good “mana curve” is that you are getting maximum mana efficiency every turn. When you have a hand like this
you can be fairly confident that you are off to a good start. There will be times that you absolutely need to cast that cheap removal spell instead of your big monster, and thus are left hanging with 4 or 5 unspent mana, but in general you need to know which cards you will be casting before you draw for your turn, in order to maximise your mana efficiency.
Shamans have an extra complication with the use of Overload. This requires you to plan out not only what you want to cast this turn, but how that will affect how much mana you have next turn and any restrictions that will place on your mana curve.
Card Value, or Card Advantage
This is the other aspect of efficiency. It’s the old adage “more for less”. You want your cards to do more work than your opponent’s cards do for them. This can get complicated, but generally means that you want to spend at most one of your cards to answer one of theirs. Every extra card of theirs that you answer (i.e. the more value you get out of your cards) is giving you card advantage. Over time, this wins you games.
You want to look for opportunities to eliminate more than one of their minions with one spell or minion of your own. This is where buffing minions really shine. A Battlecry that gives one of your minions Divine Shield, or +1/+1, or heals them back up so they won’t die in the next attack – these are all great ways of generating card advantage. Some spells give you this value too. Swipe, Flamestrike, Consecration are part of a group of spells called “sweepers” (because they can potentially sweep the opponent’s board clean). It is generally not a good idea to use them to destroy a single minion. You will be forced to at times, but this is an inefficient use of the spell and should be avoided as much as possible.
The flip side to this is that you want to minimise the card advantage that you give your opponent. Having big threats is the most common way of doing this, and this is where card advantage and mana efficiency overlap. By presenting the biggest possible threat with the mana available, you force your opponent to match you or fall behind. If they can’t match you, they need to start using two or more cards of their own to remove one of yours. Taunt and Divine Shield are major ways to force your opponent into trading two cards for your one. Just be aware of the cards you have used to buff your minions: using Power Word: Shield to buff one of your guys means that they are still breaking even if they spend two cards (even over two turns) destroying it. One of the most common ways of giving your opponent card advantage is casting all your smaller minions in the turn or two leading up to a mage’s Flamestrike. This is the most powerful sweeper in the game, and learning to play around it by starting to conserve smaller minions at turn 6 is a lesson that most people learn very very painfully (myself included).
The final aspect to card advantage is getting value out of your cards, with respect to power or mana. Ideally, each card that you cast should eliminate and/or be eliminated by something that cost more or is more powerful. The reason why Chillwind Yeti is so good, is that very few cards that cost 4 mana or less can destroy it, and many of those that can are rares, epics or legendaries. While the Yeti is outmatched by many 5 or 6 cost minions, the fact that it can’t usually be answered efficiently on turn 4 means that it is a very strong minion, which is why it is so highly valued in Arena play.
“Trading up” is the term used for getting the most value out of your minions. Using a Bloodfen Raptor (2 mana, 3/2) to kill a Kor’kron Elite (4 mana, 4/3 Charge) is trading up – you spent 2 mana to destroy 4 mana’s worth of minion. Using two of your (Paladin) Hero Power 1/1 Initiates to destroy a Knife-Juggler might be worse for mana (4 vs their 2) but the Juggler is so much more powerful than lowly Initiates that I consider it a very good trade.
Go Forth and Conquer!
That’s it for this article, if you are new to Hearthstone (and Collectible Card Games in general) then I hope you found these tips to be useful! Next time I will discuss more advanced concepts such as tempo, baiting, and deck archetypes (and how to play with or against them). Thanks for reading!