Hearthstone guide: 5 keys to winning and having fun in Blizzard's card game

PC Gamer

Article by Bo Moore

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft launched into open beta in North America on Tuesday. You can play it right now. But some of us were lucky enough to score a spot in the closed beta, giving us weeks or even months to learn the ins and outs of Blizzard's free-to-play online collectible card game. Here are some tips, strategies, and bits of beginner's advice to help you pick a class, master the arena, and even the playing field against Hearthstone's seasoned players.

Learn the classes

The first thing any player should do is unlock all the different classes, so stick to the AI while you get a handle on the basic game mechanics. This is helpful so they'll be available for completing daily quests, but more importantly for helping you learn how to play both with and against them. Mage and Paladin are probably the most beginner-friendly classes, as they both have powerful board-clearing cards and versatile Hero abilities.

The classes:

  • Warrior and Rogue are both weapon classes. They favor aggressive rushdown decks since your Hero will be taking a lot of damage from swinging at enemy minions. Druid's Hero ability is also semi-weapon based, so it falls into this category as well.
  • Mage has the most versatile Hero ability, being able to ping both minions and the enemy hero for 1 damage. It relies on maintaining board control via spells and abilities.
  • Shaman and Paladin both have abilities that summon minions, so they favor decks that revolve around maintaining board advantage and using minions that buff each other.
  • Priest is best suited playing minions with lots of health in order to take advantage of the healing Hero ability. Like Mage, it relies on maintaining board control, but via healing your own minions instead of pinging your opponent's. (Pro tip: Priest's heal can be used to mend creatures, not just the player.)
  • Warlock relies on gaining card advantage via its Hero ability, but since the price is health, aggressive rushdown decks are favorable.
  • Hunter's ability only deals damage to the enemy hero, making it one of the least powerful. However, many of its beast-type minions feature abilities that buff other beasts, which makes for a strong minion-based aggro deck.

Once you've found a Hero you like, be sure to unlock all of their basic cards. This should happen naturally if you're winning, but if you're struggling and feel your deck is underpowered, go take a few more swings at the AI and unlock those basic cards. Many of them are extremely powerful.

Don't be afraid of jumping into Ranked play. Especially with the new influx of players via the opening of beta, the lower levels of ranked play will be filled with other newbies. You can't go down in rank until you reach level 20, so there's nothing to lose, and playing in casual means you might encounter vastly more experienced players who just want to beat up scrubs for their daily quests without risking their ranking.

The Arena is your friend

Purchasing a single pack of cards costs 100 gold (or 2 for $2.99), while admission to the Arena costs 150 gold (or $1.99). You're guaranteed a pack at the end of your run, so worst case scenario (finishing with 0 wins) you're only at a net loss of roughly 40-50 gold.

According to Arenamastery.com , which has tracked the average rewards of thousands of Hearthstone Arena runs, 3 wins typically nets 41 gold in addition to a pack, some dust, and possibly additional cards. At 4 wins that gold count goes up to 66, and keeps climbing from there. In other words, from a money/gold to experience/enjoyment standpoint, spending your gold buying into Arena runs is much more cost-effective than purchasing packs outright. At 7 wins the gold count is up to 166 (again, on average), so that means another Arena run and a pack for free.

Take note that the drafting (card picking) phase of an Arena run isn't timed, so if you aren't sure which card to pick, take your time. Examine your mana curve. Look for card synergy. Tab out and do some research if you have to. (Important note: the cards you draft don't head to your collection after your Arena run , so don't worry about picking Rares or Legendaries just for the sake of your collection. Always pick the best card of the three for your deck, even if it's a common.)

The drafting phase is arguably the most important part of the Arena for beginners, as it will determine if your deck is on the same power level as your opponents. In constructed, a beginner won't stand a chance, as they simply won't have the card pool (read: legendaries) to stand a fighting chance without dropping hundreds of dollars. Arena decks only play other Arena decks, so as long as you draft well, you and your opponents will be on equal footing.

Learn what cards are worth playing

This is important when building a constructed deck, but especially so when drafting cards for the Arena.

Low toughness minions are largely useless without an additional ability, such as Charge (effectively turning them into a targeted burn spell) or Divine Shield (letting them survive more than a single hit). After all, the 5/1 for 3 Magma Rager looks menacing, but he's easily taken out by a measly 1/1.

Use battlecry minions to your advantage, as your opponent may not have accounted for them when calculating future trades. Cards such as Shattered-Sun Cleric and Dark Iron Dwarf are very powerful for this reason.

Learn the default cost for different stats and abilities, and use that knowledge to determine if a card is worth using

  • 2 cost should get you a 3/2, often with an ability.
  • 3 cost = 3/3 with a good ability.
  • 4 cost - The gold standard is Chillwind Yeti, a vanilla 4/5. Also very strong is Senjin Shieldmasta; compared to the Yeti it trades 1 attack for Taunt — well worth it.

Appreciate when cards have good synergy together, but make sure they still have value on their own. You won't always get the two at the same time.

Don't underestimate the power of large, expensive, powerful dudes. As a former MTG player I was used to keeping my mana curve low, only including a few things at 6 or more mana cost. In Hearthstone, since you always get a mana crystal every turn, you don't have to worry about missing a land drop.This doesn't mean you should stack your deck with 6-8 cost fatties, but certainly don't be afraid of including a few to take advantage of your large late-game mana pool.

Avoid cards that only deal damage to the opposing Hero. Board control is king, so inability to target minions makes cards like Sinister Strike and Headcrack poor choices.

Stealth states "Can't be attacked or targeted until it does damage," but it actually means "can't be attacked or targeted by ENEMIES until it does damage." In other words, you can buff your stealth minions before bringing them out of stealth.

As Sherlock Holmes says, take advantage of your powers of deduction

A 30 card deck is smaller than most CCG players are used to. This means it's often fairly easy to deduce what is in your opponent's deck — especially since there really aren't a great deal of cards in play at the moment.

Use the knowledge you have (what class they're playing, how much mana crystals they have, how many cards in hand, what cards have been played so far) to deduce what they might play on their next few turns, and prepare accordingly.

Learn what each class's single target removal spells and sweeper abilities are and plan accordingly. This might mean baiting a Polymorph or Assassinate with a moderately large guy before playing a bomb, or maybe holding back a creature or two if your opponent is in sweeper rage.

Remember who you're up against. Playing a 2/1 on turn 1 is a bad move versus Mage, as they can easily ping it with their Hero ability. Versus Hunter or Warlock, though, the same play isn't so bad.

Making favorable trades is key to victory

Hearthstone is all about board control and tempo, especially since you can't play cards during your opponent's turn.

Build your deck so that you know what your ideal first turn cards should be, and mulligan aggressively if those cards aren't in your hand. If you're playing first, then that's a 1 - 2 - 3 mana curve. Playing second (ie, with the coin) then it's 2 - 2 - 3. This varies depending on some hero powers (namely Pally and Shaman where the 2 drop is less important, since their ability gets them a piece on the board).

Learn when to trade and when to swing at your opponent's face. In general, the cost of the card(s) used to remove an enemy minion should be equal or less than the cost of the removed minion. In other words, you shouldn't swing a 2-cost 3/2 into a 1-cost 2/1. But a 1-cost 2/1 and a 2-cost 3/2 for a 4-cost 4/5 is a good trade.

Having said that, unless the only way is via a bad trade, it's usually best to target your opponent's creatures before their hero . In general, it is better for you to dictate the terms of the trade than your opponent. The active player always has the advantage by choosing the most favorable trades and being able to affect things via spells or battlecry effects. Take out your opponent's minions while you have the power.

Mentally adjust the value of your minions as they are buffed and receive damage, and take this into account when calculating trades.

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