Tips for coping with the cost of Hearthstone

There has been a lot of talk lately about the cost of Hearthstone, not least on this site, but most of it has centered on complaining rather than figuring out what can be done to minimize the cash or grind required to play competitively. Since the cost of the game, and the negativity around it, is driving some people away from Hearthstone, I wanted to share some thoughts about how to get the most amount of play experience for the least amount of money.

First, let’s be realistic about how much the game costs. If your goal is to have a complete collection of every card in the game (two copies of every common, rare, and epic, and one copy of every legendary), you will need to either invest a lot of money or a lot of time. The cost of a complete standard collection is estimated at between $1,700 to $2,000, assuming you're only using cash and start with nothing.

A good rule of thumb is that you’ll only need about a third of any given set

From my own experience it's possible to play to a high level without spending anything like that amount. Since I started playing in April 2014 I've rarely had any trouble constructing the top decks from either Standard or Wild, and that is fundamentally because you do not need most of the cards in the game

Let’s take Knights of the Frozen Throne as a good example, since it’s our most recent set. The most expensive cards in the game are the epics and legendaries, so let’s consider how many of them are seeing competitive play across all classes:

Epics

Of the nine neutral and 18 class epics, I’d say that list includes Skulking Geist, Corpsetaker, Ultimate Infestation and Obsidian Statue. The first two are only played in fringe cases, UI is played in some Ramp and Jade Druid, and Statues are only played in Big Priest. Realistically, then, you might think about crafting seven total epics (since Geist is usually a one-of), but you don’t really need to craft any if you aren’t playing those Druid or Priest decks. That’s either 47 or 54 fewer epics if you only want to be completely competitive (or about 21,000 less dust). 

Prince Keleseth

Keleseth has been the new hotness since the last balance patch, but if Kobolds & Catacombs introduces some good 2-Mana minions he's likely to see a lot less play. 

Legendaries

Of the 5 neutral and 18 class legendary cards, I’d say between six and eight of them are seeing play (Prince Keleseth, Lich King, Anduin, Thrall, and Malfurion are the big ones) but, again, most of them are class specific and not necessarily vital to success with that class. Assuming you want all the popular and fringe ones, that’s still 15 fewer legendaries that you’ll want to craft (or 24,000) dust.   

Simply put, most of the cards in any set do not see serious play.  A good rule of thumb is that you’ll only need about a third of any given set if you want to make every single meta deck.  

How many free resources are you working with if you want to avoid spending money to achieve that goal? Let’s tally up about how many in-game resources get offered to the average player each year in terms of packs:

  • About one classic pack from weekly tavern brawls
  • About 0.5 packs a day from daily gold
  • About 10 packs per expansion release (though this number varies)
  • About 4 additional packs worth of dust per expansion release (representing a free legendary card we assume gets dusted)
  • About 4 packs worth of dust a month from Rank 5 season rewards (assuming you dust it all)
  • Varying amounts of additional packs by picking champions at Hearthstone esports events    

Since there are three expansions per year, that is about the equivalent of 330 packs each year if you can hit rank five. This isn’t counting the amount of gold you can earn each day, which would max out at an additional 365 packs a year, as well as what you can earn from arena if you’re good enough. While that second figure does assume a lot of playing, the general point is that about 330 packs a year is a reasonable minimum amount of free stuff to plan for if you play the game about once every three days to clear your dailies. If you play it more regularly and earn daily gold/do arenas, that number easily climbs to somewhere between 400-500. 

While that may not get you all the way to your goal of having every relevant card in every class, it does get you pretty close. I have found that with a pre-order bundle each expansion, I have never wanted for cards and even have plenty of dust leftover to craft some golden ones (legendary ones at that) that I really don’t need. The money I have spent on the game has largely been cosmetic in nature; not functional (which you should never do as a budget player). 

Nevertheless, some people don’t want to spend any money at all (F2P BTW). Others just want to spend less. With that in mind, here are some more tips to keep the cost down to an absolute minimum:

Tip 1: Don't focus on every class

I find that there are certain classes or decks I am drawn to more regularly than others (Rogue-main for life). While it is nice to have the ability to make all the meta decks, it is largely a luxury, and one I don’t regularly make use of. Decide which classes you like the most and focus on them. 

Sure, it may feel a little disappointing if you cannot craft that Razakus Priest deck, but if you were only going to play it for a handful of games anyway—as I did—then it's not worth breaking the bank for. 

That’s not to say you ought to dust all the cards from unused classes—you can build up your ability to play more classes over time by keeping them, or at least the ones that are considered strong and seeing play—but you will reduce the shopping list of cards to craft each expansion substantially by only focusing on a couple of favourite classes.

Tip 2: Do realize there are very few 'Must-Crafts' 

There are some cards that are better than their possible substitutes. I haven’t seen many Rogue decks that don’t run Edwin, for instance. That said, there are almost always budget options you can replace them with that will function nearly as well. 

Though you cannot play Raza Priest without unique cards like Raza, Kazakus, and Shadowreaper Anduin, cards that are truly integral to a deck's strategy (and expensive) tend to be few and far between. You don’t need cards like Shaku, Leeroy, or even Keleseth if you want to make a successful Tempo Rogue deck. You might really want the Dr. Booms or Patches of the game, but cards like those usually go into lots of decks (like Token Shaman, Aggro Druid, Tempo Rogue, and Zoo).  

Just because you cannot craft every single card usually seeing play in a deck does not mean that you cannot play that deck at all. If you want to save money, alter a deck list with close substitutes and make it your own. You will usually not lose much in the way of win percentage if you make smart substitutions. It can be a useful exercise to compare and contrast different versions of archetypes, to see which cards are considered core, and which are flex spots that can be swapped out easily. Ray 'Blisterguy' Walkinshaw does some great infographics which illustrate this point nicely, as you can see from his Tempo Rogue example below (click to expand).


 Tip 3: Don't spend too much on any one set

The first pack you open of a new set will have five cards not in your collection, 100% of the time. Every pack you open after the first decreases that percentage. If you watch people opening packs (or do so yourself), you will notice that after, say, the 50th pack of an expansion, the odds of getting new cards have dropped substantially.

The expected value of a pack drops each time you get another one until you are getting entirely duplicates.

Because of those diminishing returns, the expected value of a pack drops each time you get another one until you are getting entirely duplicates. At some point it makes sense to stop getting packs from one expansion and start saving for another. The newer packs will simply be more valuable in the practical sense.

If you want this game to be as cheap as possible—to maximise the return on your investment—you need to demonstrate some impulse control and start saving for a new expansion after you’ve hit a certain threshold of packs opened. You may not have every card you want from that expansion yet, but that 100 gold will give you a better return if you can save it for a future expansion instead of sprinting to the store each time you have enough for a pack. 

Bonemare

Once the meta settled, it became abundantly clear that this powerful neutral common card was a rock solid craft. It's cheap and sees play in multiple top tier decks.

Tip 4: Wait to craft 

Patience is important again here. In every expansion there will be many cards hyped up that ultimately end up falling flat and not seeing play. If you craft those cards on day one of the release you likely waste valuable resources. 

Similarly, there are some cards that get overlooked only to ultimately over-perform. If you dust those cards on day one because they look bad in theory, you may end up having to recraft expensively. For example, dusting Keleseth because people thought he was bad at first and then recrafting him later is a net loss of 1,200 dust, which is about 12 packs, or over a week of saving.  

Try to give the meta time to settle before you make major crafting decisions. The longer you wait, the less uncertainty there will be as to what cards are good investments. 

Tip 5: Shun the wacky 

But what about experimentation? Isn’t that a big part of having fun in Hearthstone?

Sorry to be the fun police, but we've all seen streamers playing meme decks that look fun, even though they probably aren't very good. Now, have you ever looked over a meta report about what decks people are playing each week and seen large “other” columns that represent wacky decks being played in large numbers? Doesn’t happen. 

Decks that look fun or unique but don’t ultimately perform are usually bad investments because winning is an important part of having fun in the game for most players. People who experiment with wacky decks are unlikely to stick with them for long periods of time as the novelty wears off and the reality of poor performance sets in. 

The lesson to take away here is that every crafting decision you make comes at the expense of others. If you craft two Meat Wagons today at 800 dust to play the deck for an afternoon, that represents about 8 fewer packs you’ll be opening next expansion. If you find yourself struggling to keep up, untested or weak ideas are not going to be reliable investments for your fun with the game over time

Tip 6: Look out for deals on Amazon coins 

Amazon periodically runs promotions for its Coins, which can be spent on in-game purchases. Assuming you have an Android device with Hearthstone on, you can get a discount on the cost of pack bundles by buying the coins at a cheaper rate. As of today (November 14), there's a 25% saving currently on.  At least it'll take some of the sting out of the Brexit effect on packs.