Why do you call!? Hopefully because you want to build your own, unique deck, that will carry you to Hearthstone glory. I'm Vincent Sarius and today we're discussing deckbuilding. Discovering the intricacies and synergies between cards has always fascinated me. In fact, I see playing the game as essentially field testing to determine how my creations perform. For me, winning and losing is less important than the fun of striving to create the most perfectly optimised deck.
In this article I'm going to show you how I go about creating a new deck (you can jump to that here ) and hopefully encourage you to design a signature deck of your own. In order to create a truly great deck you must constantly cross-examine your choices and have have a firm grasp of what you're trying to craft. The first thing to establish is why you want to create a new deck in the first place, and here there tend to be two main motivations:
1) A 'reactive' deck. These are aimed at thwarting the current dominant deck in the metagame. So, for example, if Zoo Warlock and Control Warrior are the most commonly played decks, you might decide to create a deck with a very high win-rate against both of those archetypes.
2) A 'concept' deck. These are generally more exploratory in nature, and rely on the deck builder discovering hidden strengths and possible synergies in the cards, then seeking to develop a deck which can best utilize the resulting strategies. In Hearthstone, the most notable example of such a deck is Miracle Rogue , which was borne out of experimenting with the high damage potential of Rogue coupled with its plethora of cheap spells. It also relied heavily on continually drawing cards by spamming spells while a Gadgetzan Auctioneer in in play.
For the purpose of this article, we're going to create a reactive deck, partly due to the inherent complexity of creating a concept deck from scratch, and also because our new deck should prove effective immediately. The next step is to decide which class of hero we want to use. All have strengths and weaknesses, but each also has a unique flavour to their play style. For example, Mage has a large variation of stalling mechanics thanks to its use of cards which have the Freeze effect, while Warrior has insane durability from its hero power and cards like Shield Block or Armorsmith . Meanwhile the Warlock has a built-in card draw engine with its Life Tap hero power and very Mana-efficient cards.
When deciding on your hero, you should have a good sense of the way you already like to play and pick the class that best suits that. We'll be using the Mage today, because it's a flexible class and not particularly reliant on synergising the effects of particular cards together. It's also a relatively cheap class to craft good cards for, unlike Warrior or Druid. Next up, we need to decide what sort of strategy our deck is going to use…
Next: What type of deck is right for you?
If you've been reading up about Hearthstone, you've probably already seen decks referred to as 'Control', 'Aggro', 'Midrange', 'Combo' and so on. These terms, and others, are broad ways of describing a variety of decks which share similar characteristics and therefore strategies.
How they work is generally fairly self-explanatory, and often the type of deck you're building will become clear as you select the cards and refine them through play testing. However, sometimes you might set out with a specific goal – like creating a Shaman Aggro Deck – in which case all your card choices should be defined by that overall goal.
The next important question is what do we want our deck's 'Mana Curve' to look like. This is a complex and well-researched topic in card games, but the simple answer is you want to be able to play something, or be building towards playing something, on every turn. In Control decks, that will often mean spending your mana to respond to minions played by your opponent, so you need to be able to deal with single large minions and lots of little ones. The cards you use to do this are your 'answers'. Aggro decks, in contrast, need to be able to play a 'threat' on every turn in order to maintain constant pressure on the opponent.
Generally, with almost all but the most exotic decks you don't want to waste Mana or turns (although, as with everything in Hearthstone, exceptions exist). Consequently, when creating our deck we must carefully balance the card choices to ensure we're likely to draw a steady stream of playable cards, enabling each turn to flow smoothly into the next. It's not an exact science, but for a balanced deck you should look to include 6-8 cards that cost 2 Mana, 6-8 cards that cost 3 Mana, and 5-8 that cost 4 mana. Your remaining cards can then be made up of very cheap or more expensive options.
Next we need to consider the balance between types of cards, because the mix of Spells, Creatures, and Weapons (for classes which have them), will greatly affect how you play. Again, the hero you've chosen and the deck archetype you're building will be the major deciding factors. Mages and Druids will always have more spells in their decks than, say, Warriors.
A Mage deck which seeks to stall and control the game until the later stages might run 20-22 spells, whereas modern Zoo decks run as few as 2 spells because they're focused on spamming cheap minions.Weapons are generally very, very good value in terms of Mana Efficiency, because they effectively let you trade your hero's health for minion removal. However, that trade becomes less attractive as the game goes on, which is why Fiery War Axe appears in every Warrior deck, but the more expensive Arcanite Reaper is less common.
Let's talk a bit about card quality and frequency. The quality of a card should be the primary factor during your initial selection for your new deck. Though it's tempting to pile all your Legendary cards in, the likelihood is an un
balanced deck. Each hero needs to have its best basic cards included – a Druid won't get far without Swipe or Keeper of the Grove , while a Mage will sizzle out without his Fireballs and Mana Wyrms , and a Hunter might as well not exist without Unleash the Hounds .
The question of frequency refers to whether you want the maximum allowable number of a card, or if you want to just run one. There are two reasons you might want the maximum amount of a card: either to increase the speed at which you're likely to draw it, or because the card is so strong that being able to play it twice is desirable and increases the overall strength of the deck. As per the previous examples, Swipe is a case for a card which is so ridiculously strong that it makes sense to have two, while Gadgetzan Auctioneer is so integral to the Miracle Rogue deck that having a pair is essential to ensuring you can use the strategy as quickly as possible.
Finally, we need to decide on a budget for our deck, in terms of the cards we might want to craft using dust. While some players may have access to every card in the game, a lot more people will be just starting out and won't have access to certain key Legendaries that the most popular decks require.
It's important to note that while an expensive Epic or Legendary may improve your deck, if it is thrown in without any consideration, it's just as likely to hurt the performance of the deck. Ragnaros or Bloodmage Thalnos wouldn't do a Zoo deck a whole lot of good, while they would certainly help a Ramp Druid .
For our purposes, we're going to focus on basic cards, with a few commons and rares thrown in. You can either win the dust needed to craft expert cards in the Arena, or get it from disenchanting cards in your collection that you don't want. Alternatively, you can always pick substitute cards with similar stats and effects until you save up the necessary dust.
Remember, a lot of the time a first draft of a deck might not help you surge up the rankings, but don't scrap it after a couple of losses. A tweak here, a tinker there, and the deck may suddenly flourish in ways it didn't before. The main thing is to keep experimenting, and analyzing your games, so you better understand which cards are performing well and which you could switch for more effective alternatives.
Next: Vincent builds the PC Gamer Mage deck
Now it's time to build to put theory into practice. I'll be showcasing a Mage deck I've been working on lately which is largely 'reactive', but also includes a few fun 'experimental' cards.The goal of the deck is to beat Tempo Rogue, while making it a bit slower than the current popular Aggro Mage so that it has a bit more durability and is less dependent on drawing a good starting hand.
This strategy limits the deck's early damage output, but hopefully gives it more consistency when it comes to closing out games. First we need to create the core of the deck, and then move onto the filler cards – which are non-essential but help flesh out the deck and cover for some weaknesses and gaps.
[Note: The Mana Curve shows the number of cards picked at each Mana point from 0 to 10, cutting off at whatever value is highest.]
What are the highest quality cards available to the Mage? Fireball is a no-brainer for removing minions and attacking the opposing hero's face, while Mana Wyrm and Water Elemental are really solid minions, and Polymorph is just a great removal spell. They're all in. Frostbolt is also a great early removal spell, but can still be useful later in the game with its Freeze effect. Oh yeah, and of course there's Arcane Intellect . It synergizes brilliantly with Mana Wyrm, and Mage really does need that card draw potential.
Total Cards: 12/30
Right now we're looking really heavy on 4 Mana cards, as is often the case for Mage. What with all the early pressure we can exert with the Mana Wyrm, we should probably toss in a few more spells. Mirror Image is great when it's protecting a 3/3 Mana Wyrm. Another card that works well with Mirror Image is Knife Juggler , so let's have a couple of those.
Alright, the early game is looking pretty strong, but we need some method for closing out games in case we're forced to use our Fireballs for minion removal. Ice Lance receives some added benefit in a deck which also uses Frostbolts, Water Elementals and Mana Wyrms, so that's another good pick.
Since we're focusing on the early game so hard, and we have so many cheap spells while being light on minions, Sorcerer's Apprentice could offer a lot of value too.
Okay, how's the Mana Curve looking like now? 0-6-6-2-6, with a split of 8 minions to 12 spells. That means we're looking pretty light on 3-Mana cards and minions in general. What could we toss into the 3-Mana slot? Well, there's the good ol' Harvest Golem , but a lot of decks run Silence nowadays and besides, he's a bit of a slow-play and 2 damage isn't that great. Magma Ra … No, no, no, no.
Huh, what about Kirin Tor Mage ? I've always wanted to use that card more, and getting a 4/3 minion and playing a secret for free (which invariably usually costs 3 Mana) on the third turn could be huge for temp. Yeah, let's try two of those. And since we're running Kirin Tor Mage, we may as well run Mirror Entity , as it's the best Mage Secret. If they don't manage to play around it, and we get a 4-drop (effectively with Charge, for 3 Mana!), it's probably game over for them.
As we have so much pressure in the early game, there's a risk that AoE spells like Unleash the Hounds, Consecration , Lightning Storm and Hellfire could really screw us up. Since we have Kirin Tor anyway, let's try Counterspell . On paper its effect should be really strong. Let's take a quick look at what Tempo Rogue runs for its spells: Backstab , Sap , Eviscerate, Blade Flurry , Deadly Poison and Sprint .
The worst thing we could hit would probably be Backstab, but that could still screw up a possible Perdition's Blade or SI:7 Agent Combo kill, and if it negates their one and only Blade Flurry that would be huge. Yeah, Counterspell is worth running.
Four slots are left open. We're looking really light on card draw now, and with those Secrets our 3-Mana slot looks really heavy. I think we could use a few more mid-game cards.
Since our 4-slot is already so packed, we should look on the 5-Mana shelf, where we find… Of course, the Azure Drake will work perfectly in this deck. The +1 spell damage buff will sync with our arsenal of spells, while also giving us that little bit of card draw we badly need.
Finally, let's top the deck off with an Argent Commander in case we need a bit more damage to remove a pesky minion with taunt, and since the card is so good anyway. Finally, I want to add a Dire Wolf Alpha , because I'm always impressed by this card in Zoo and Hunter decks, and it seems like it could work really well with our Mirror Image. Done! You can see the complete deck list to the right hand of the page.
Total Cards: 30/30
From here, the deck's cards will be subject to change depending on a variety of factors. The metagame may evolve in a new direction, the cards may underperform or become redundant as new cards are released. Over a long enough period of time the deck may have so many tweaks done to it that it becomes a completely new deck!
Teching refers to specific counter-cards that players may introduce for tournaments or other events, which are specifically designed to destroy a particular strategy or deck-type while keeping this change secret so as to create an element of surprise.
A lot of decks have a few cards which could be changed out easily without damaging the overall integrity of the deck. In our example, the final two cards picked are just such examples. Overall our deck has a very Aggro-Control flavor to it: its aim is to produce a steady stream of threats, while countering potential plays against the opponent's threats using cards like Counterspell and Polymorph. Feel free to try-out the PCG Mage deck for yourselves and see how it does, altering cards to suit your particular playing style or card collection.
A lot of the fun in card games comes from the theorycrafting and deckbuilding. Sometimes it can be very quick, sometimes it can be tedious and frustrating as you struggle to make a certain card combination work when it doesn't seem to want to. But the reward when a plan finally comes together is immense, so don't feel daunted by the task and, as the Orcs like to say: Lok'Tar Ogar!