Hello, fellow traveler! I’m GreatWyrm on BattleNet (#1807), and I’ve been playing HS since season 4 (July 2014). This is my follow-up blog to HearthStone 101: Tips for Beginners. Here I’m going to get into the basic strategy and tactics you need to know to get a head start in this great game:
Before we get into deck-building, it’s helpful to explain a game fundamental: At its root, HS is a game of resource-management. You begin each match with 30 life, a hand of 3-5 cards, and 1 cumulative mana per turn. If you can use these resources better than your opponent uses his, you win the match!
Life: Most beginners instinctively avoid life-loss at all costs, but this is a faulty instinct. Your life total is a resource that you can use to win…so long as it doesn’t reach 0, of course. The obvious example of this is Lifetap, which allows a warlock to spend his life to gain a benefit. (And Lifetap is in the running for best hero power!) Because life-loss has no consequence until a hero reaches 0, many deck strategies include spending it in order to win.
Cards: You begin each match with 3-5 cards, and gain 1 more per turn. Card (dis)advantage is how many cards you have in your hand compared to your opponent. If you have more, you have the advantage; if you have fewer, you have the disadvantage. Certain cards, like Arcane Intellect, increase your card advantage. (One card spent to gain two = +1 cards.) Other cards, like Novice Engineer, are said to be ‘card neutral.’ (One card spent, one card gained.)
Tempo: Each turn, you gain 1 mana, plus the mana you had last turn. Tempo is how efficiently you use that mana compared to your opponent. For example, say your opponent has just used his first turn to play a Murloc Raider. On your first turn, you then kill the Raider with an Elven Archer. You’ve foiled everything that your opponent did on his turn, and put your own minion into play; you’ve gained tempo!
Deck-Building: Have a Strategy!
Before you start throwing cards into your deck, you should have a strategy in mind. The five basic deck strategies are:
Aggro: This strategy is very straightforward, minion-centric, and luck-dependent. An aggro deck seeks to win via elimination of the life resource; it floods the early board with small minions, and uses them to bring the opponent’s life to 0 before he can effectively react. The aggro strategy is popular among beginners because luck favors the underdog, aggro decks are cheap to make, easy to play, and quick to win or lose.
Midrange: As the name implies, this strategy is the midpoint between aggro and the following strategy (control). Against aggro, midrange plays like control; against control, midrange plays like aggro. This tactical variety makes the midrange strategy the favorite of many players.
Control: This is the slowest, the least minion-centric, and the most tactical strategy. A control deck seeks to win via the card resource; it eliminates early- and mid-game threats with tactical use of spells and minions, slowly building card advantage. When the opponent has played out his hand, the control deck then uses a big minion or two to win the match. Control is my own personal favorite strategy.
Tempo: A tempo deck seeks to win via tempo, by using card synergy to use its mana more efficiently than the opponent. For example, a tempo deck might play a Cogmaster on turn 1 (T1), followed by a Mechwarper and a Clockwork Gnome on T2, resulting in 3 damage and 3 minions by T2! Tempo decks win by creating a ‘snowball effect,’ where card synergy creates a quickly mounting threat which keeps the opponent on the defensive until his life hits 0. However, because card synergies are somewhat luck-dependent and can be interrupted, this strategy requires good deck-building skill and can be inconsistent in play.
Combo: Not to be confused with the rogue’s unique card mechanic, which is actually an example of card synergy, the combo strategy uses combinations of specific cards to spectacular effect. For example, a druid might play Force of Nature followed by Savage Roar, winning the game in one dramatic turn by dealing 14+ damage all at once! This strategy is even more skill- and luck-dependent than the tempo strategy: Building a good combo deck is difficult, and in play it tends to either win hard or lose hard.
Deck-Building: Pick the Right Cards!
When deck-building, it helps to keep a few things in mind:
Stats: When picking minions, pay attention to its attack and health (its stats). The best value minions give you more than twice their mana cost in stats: The Acidic Swamp Ooze gives you 5 stats for 2 mana, the Chillwind Yeti gives you 9 stats for 4 mana, the Boulderfist Ogre gives you 13 stats for 6 mana, and so on. If a minion gives you fewer stats than this, it should have text to make up for its lower stats.
Balance Attack and Health: Many beginners are tempted to think that attack is more valuable than health, but this is not necessarily so. Some players favor slightly high health or slightly high attack, but a balance of attack and health is usually best. For example, the Chillwind Yeti is preferable to the Oasis Snapjaw because the latter can kill hardly anything, while the War Golem is preferable to the Core Hound because the latter is so easy to kill. Keep in mind, stats are relative to a card’s cost; a 2 attack would be perfectly acceptable for a 1- or 2-drop, and a 5 health would be completely adequate for a 4- or 5-drop. But not so for a 4- and a 7-drop, respectively!
Don’t Let Them Have Nice Things: As a beginner, you don’t have nice things, so don’t let your opponent have nice things either! Many beginners are tempted to simply fill their decks with their best minions, and then try to duke it out in play. While I’m sure there’s a deck out there that can win this way, HS is designed with the following concepts in mind, and learning them will help you win:
- Removal: Cards, usually spells, which allow you to kill enemy minions are known as ‘removals.’ Virtually every deck benefits from removal; aggro decks use just a couple of removals to eliminate enemy taunts, while control decks use many removals to efficiently remove enemy minions. Fireball is the classic example of a removal card, while minions such as the Elven Archer include removal effects.
- Hard Removal: While ‘removal’ refers to effects that merely deal damage, ‘hard removal’ refers to effects which kill or incapacitate minions regardless of their stats. Hard removals are especially important to control decks, whose big minions often can’t be easily eliminated any other way, and vice versa. Assassinate is the classic example of a hard removal card, while spells like Polymorph also qualify, and minions like the Big Game Hunter include hard removal effects.
- Silencers: Though not as powerful as removals, cards which silence enemy minions can be very handy. You can turn a Piloted Shredder into a plain 4/3, Cairne Bloodhoof into a Yeti, Gruul into a War Golem, and so on. Silence effects waste your opponent’s mana, make his minions more manageable, and puts your own minion on the board. (Assuming you’re using Ironbeak Owls or Spellbreakers.) In other words, silencers gain you tempo much like removals do!