Ranked mode is by far the most popular one in Hearthstone. Hitting Legend rank is an ultimate goal of many players. According to Blizzard stats, only about 0.25% of players get there each month. If you're reading this, you probably want to be in that 0.25%. I won't say that it's easy and everyone can do it, but it's possible. If not in one month, maybe in two or three. Maybe you don't even aim that high, but you want to hit rank 5? Or just make your ladder experience better and finish higher than you currently do? If yes, this guide is for you.
But maybe a few words about me first, for those who don't know me. I'm playing Hearthstone for nearly 3 years already, I've started back in the Closed Beta. Ever since the current ranking system was introduced (yeah, it used to look way different) I'm hitting Legend rank nearly every season on EU server. While I haven't counted, I'm pretty sure I hit Legend 20+ times with a variety of different decks and tactics. I'm usually hitting Legend a week or two after season started (depending on how much free time I have to play) and I finish most of the seasons in top 200-300. I've also coached a few players to Legend already, even people who were stuck around rank 10-15 before and just couldn't climb higher. So, those are my credentials.
One of the most common things that my readers have always asked me was "tips on hitting Legend", "advice on how to effectively grind the ladder" and things like that. With a "slight" experience on that matter, I've decided to share some of my thoughts. Reading it won't suddenly turn you into a Legend player, but I hope that some of them will help!
Stop Making Excuses
That's the first thing I absolutely need to say. Oh how many times I've heard "I would try to hit higher rank, but...". But I don't have enough cards. But I can't build a viable deck. But I don't have enough time. But I'm not good enough. Stop doing that. With that kind of attitude you certainly won't climb higher.
Hitting Legend, not even talking about rank 5, doesn't require you to build a 10k+ dust deck. There are a lot of cheap decks that are completely viable. You also don't need to be a great deck builder - there are a lot of lists out there online you can just take and try. I'll give a few examples later in the article.
You also don't need as much time as you would imagine to climb higher than you are. It's all about win rate. When you boost your win rate, even playing the same amount of time you are right now, you will get much higher. If you're hanging around a 50% win rate, then even boosting it to 55% will be a HUGE difference.
And are you good enough to get higher, to hit Legend? Well, I don't know. Neither will you until you try. And that's the whole point - instead of making excuses, you need to try. Once you change your mindset you'll realize that a lot of the obstacles are pretty easy to jump over.
Choose Your Deck(s?) Wisely
First and pretty meaningful thing when it comes to the deck(s) you play. Do you pick one deck and stick to it or do you swap them all the time and play multiple decks? I don't have any stats to back up my claims, so it's based on my personal experience and experience of people who I have coached... but I think that sticking to one deck is much better.
Using one deck means that you can fully focus on it. Many decks most likely means many different play styles, jumping between them from game to game might mean you will make more mistakes. If you're not using any deck tracker, after playing each game with different deck you might mix them up and try to draw a tech card you have in another deck and not the one you're currently using. Also, instead of reducing the variance (and that's what you generally want to do on the ladder), you're increasing it. If using more than one deck works for you, that's fine, but you need to take the increased good/bad matchup variance into the account. But, the more important thing is - what deck(s) do you want to pick for the Legend grind?
Every class can hit Legend. Pretty much every deck that is semi-viable can hit Legend. It's mostly about the player, not the deck he plays. You don't have to play tier 1, top rated deck to be successful. That's one of the most common mistakes I see people making. It's much more important to pick a deck you're comfortable and experienced with than a tier 1 top meta deck. You have a much higher chance to hit high rank with a tier 3 deck you're familiar with than with let's say Tempo Warrior you're playing for the first time. For some players it takes dozens or even hundreds of games to learn how to play a certain deck. So instead of doing that, you should focus on the decks you already know.
But what if you are more experienced player, if you know how to play more than a single deck or you just want to learn a high tier deck anyway? Then, there are a few things you'd like to take into consideration. Fast decks are generally better than slow decks when it comes to ladder grind. If you have a similar win rate with a fast and a slow deck, pick the fast one. It means that you will be able to play more games per hour, so you will climb the ladder faster. Slow decks are good only if you can hold very high win rate over a large sample of games. So if you have a fast deck with 60% win rate and a slow deck with 70% win rate, the latter will most likely do a better job. You also want to pick a deck that works well against the meta you face. That's right, the meta YOU face. Remember that meta is different depending on your server, rank and even the point in the season. While "meta snapshots" are quite good representation of the popular decks, they won't help you with determining the exact meta YOU face. And thus we're going into the next point.
Keep Track Of Your Stats & Analyze The Meta
If you're going for a serious ladder grind, you absolutely should do that. ESPECIALLY if you're not very experienced and you can't easily get a general "feel" of the meta. Hearthstone, like any other card game, is to some extent a game of chance. While it's impossible to directly affect the RNG, you want to do everything you can to influence it positively. Big part of the game's RNG is matchmaking system. A lot of the games are decided even before the first turn is played out. Playing in a good matchup means your chance to win might easily be 30% higher than if you were playing in a bad matchup.
There are a few benefits of knowing the meta you play against. First is your deck's choice. If you still can't decide which deck you want to play, pick the one that fares best against the meta you face. So if you play against a lot of Zoo Warlock, you can use the Midrange/Tempo Warrior. On the other hand, you can also look for the LACK of some decks in the meta. Let's say you don't play against any Aggro decks at all - that's a green light to pick Miracle Rogue and start punishing the slow decks.
Another benefit is knowing how to mulligan. For example, Warrior is a really diverse class. You can play against Aggro version (Pirate Warrior), Midrange version (Midrange/Tempo Warrior) or Control version (Control/C'Thun Warrior). Mulligan against each of those might be completely different. But if you know how often you encounter each one, you can adjust your mulligan accordingly. If you're playing against 70% Midrange Warriors, then you should focus on Mulligan against that specific deck whenever you face Warrior, because the odds of you facing it again are the highest.
You can also adjust your tech cards based on the stats. If according to them, you aren't facing a lot of the weapon classes, maybe it's time to remove that Harrison Jones? Maybe it's better to add a Doomsayer instead if you encounter a lot of fast decks? Those might not seem like a huge choices, but teching correctly might increase your winrate by a few percent.
One question remains - how do you keep track of your stats? There are a lot of ways, actually. The one that doesn't require you to download any trackers is doing it manually. Open an Excel sheet or even grab a piece of paper + pen and keep track of every match. It's not the most efficient way + analyzing those stats might be pretty hard. But luckily, there are easier ways to do so. If you're only interested in tracking your stats, you can use one of the sites like trackobot.com or hearthstonetracker.com. Those should automatically keep track of all the games you play. Not only they let you see your match history, but also calculate the important stuff like win rate going first/second, win rate against each class or even allow you to revisit each match turn by turn. Cool, right?
However, if you want to go even further (Which I fully recommend) - you can download a deck tracker. Besides keeping track of all your stats and doing everything I've mentioned above, it also gives you an overlay with your deck over the game's screen, marking which cards you have already drawn, which are still in the deck + doing the same for the enemy (obviously only showing the cards he has already played). While I know some people who dislike the tool, I think the amount of information it provides is amazing and if you know how to use them, you can turn that into a serious competitive advantage. Check out my other short article to learn more about the tool I'm using.
Understand That Variance Is Inevitable
Like I've mentioned before, Hearthstone is a game of chance to certain extent. Sometimes the RNG doesn't work for you. Your mulligans are terrible, you face bad matchup after bad matchup, your Ragnaros missed the right target 5 times in a row... You need to understand that it happens and you can't do anything about that. And you also need to understand that "luck" doesn't exist. It's all statistics and probability. You aren't magically cursed by the universe to be the most unlucky person and only the bad things will happen to you. Your brain tends to remember the bad outcomes more - when some good RNG happens, it perceives it as something "normal" (trust me, every day you get "lucky" 1 in 1000 or something RNG rolls), but when those bad happen - it's suddenly not normal.
While this so-called "luck" might matter over 10 or maybe 30 games, after you get a larger sample it all evens out. If you play 200 games over a season, the RNG should even out - sometimes you will get lucky, sometimes unlucky. And that's why people who say that this game is "all about luck" are horribly wrong and just try to blame their bad performance on external factors. Since the luck factor gets eliminated over time, all that's left is the human factor. So when climbing the ladder, most important thing is how YOU play - throw away your lucky charms and focus on improving yourself.
That was my problem for a really long time. I used to get upset over every bad RNG outcome. Getting rid of that habit positively influenced not only my ladder performance, but also the fun I was having. The easiest way to explain a lot of lost games is to blame them on bad RNG, being "unlucky" etc. And that's something you should NEVER do. It pretty much never happens that you play the game flawlessly. Even the best players make mistakes on a regular basis. And that's how we get to the next point.
Learn From Your Mistakes
If top Legend players make mistakes, so do you. Even if you think that you played the game well, if you lost - you most likely didn't. You could do something better, you didn't play around a certain card, you didn't save a removal when necessary, maybe you even missed lethal. There are a lot of things that could go wrong.
But that's fine. Like I've said - everyone makes mistakes. It's not something to be ashamed of. What's important is to understand that you're not the best player and you still can improve. Once you realize that, there are some things you can do.
First of all - get rid of your bad habits. Everyone has them. Maybe you're playing too fast and you make mistakes because of that. Maybe you're playing to recklessly, right into the opponent's AoE clears and that's the reason you lose. Or maybe you miss lethal too often, because you don't count your available damage often enough. Those are easiest to notice, but might be hardest to get rid of. But it's very important to do so.
Then, if you play the game and you feel that you could have done something better, you could have won it if you played it differently - go back and analyze that game. You can either record your games or check out the "replays" - e.g. Hearthstone Deck Tracker allows you to revisit each game you've played, even though it doesn't look as good as the recording. Then, analyze the turns when you had to make some difficult choices and see how those choices affected rest of the game. In hindsight, it's much easier to determine whether the choice was good or bad. This way you learn what to do in similar scenarios.
If you don't feel like analyzing your own games or you aren't great at doing so - you can hire someone to do that for you. Hearthstone coaching is a thing. If you know someone who is better than you, you can ask him to spectate your games and point out your mistakes. If you don't know anyone like that - you can pay someone to do that (if you really want to improve). You can also find someone to analyze your games - then you simply record your games, upload + send them to someone and they will go through them and analyze for you. If you look around the reddit, you might even find someone willing to do that for free.
Having someone better "look after" you when you play Hearthstone is definitely the fastest way to improve, but doing everything yourself is also an option.
Focus On The Game
Stop daydreaming or alt + tabbing and focus on the game. If you want to play seriously, play Hearthstone instead of doing other things. Hearthstone is one of those games you can play on the "autopilot" - I was catching myself doing that pretty often. But that's really something you should avoid. It's your opponent's turn? Instead of going to grab a snack or alt + tabbing and browsing through reddit, think about your next turn already. Think about what he might be holding and what you need to worry about. Look at the cards he's grabbing. If Mage grabs a card and points at your 3 health minion, but then puts it away and decides to play something else - yep, it's a huge tell that he's holding a removal, most likely a Frostbolt or Forgotten Torch. That's an important piece of information - information you would miss if you weren't paying attention to the game.
Go through every possible line of play. Even if the turn is pretty simple, think about every move - why is X better than Y? How can you get punished if you play Z? Being good at Hearthstone doesn't necessarily mean making the best move - it means knowing WHY this move is better than all other available. And in order to do that, you need to be focused on the game instead of autopiloting or doing other things.
Yes, sitting through the entire opponent's turn instead of browsing the internet might be less fun. It might be boring, even. But you need to draw a line between playing only "for fun" and playing seriously. In the first case, you can do whatever you want as long as you're enjoying yourself. But you shouldn't expect to get higher rank or get better at the game. In the second case, even though you might have less "immediate" fun, there is a much higher chance you will improve, get higher rank and feel the accomplishment related to high rank finish.
It doesn't mean that you can't have FUN while playing seriously. If you pick a deck you enjoy and you like playing Hearthstone - you will still have a lot of fun. Especially if you're a competitive spirit and you like winning. But if you play to win, you should push the "fun aspect" into the background and focus on doing the best you can.
Cheap Competitive Decklists
I've promised to give you a few examples of decklists I think that are good for the Legend grind, while being cheap at the same time. But mind you, those aren't completely F2P lists. Some of them still require a 2-3k dust to craft, maybe a single Legendary card or something. But even if you're new to the game, you should be able to complete one or two of those decks pretty quickly.
- Midrange Shaman - One of the strongest decks in the current meta + very cheap at the same time. I've linked the Loyan's list from the last season, which uses only a single completely optional Legendary - Harrison Jones. It can be subbed by Acidic Swamp Ooze or even dropped completely if you don't face enough weapons to justify running it. If you prefer the faster play style, you can try the Aggro Shaman instead - it's also completely viable. I've linked the recently popular list Xixo used to get top 20 on EU. Most of the Shaman lists can be made with 2k dust, the only "expensive" part is getting 3 wings of LoE (2 in case of Midrange) for Tunnel Trogg and Sir Finley Mrrgglton. If you don't have LoE yet, that will be a great gold investment anyway - the adventure is full of great cards.
- Pirate Warrior - One of the most aggressive and fastest decks in the current meta, while having pretty high win rate at the same time. It's a great deck to grind the ladder with, just like Face Hunter was in the past. The only Legendary card it runs is Leeroy Jenkins, which honestly can be subbed if you don't want to play this deck competitively (as in high Legend ranks or tournament play). It also runs Sir Finley Mrrgglton, like the Aggro Shaman - another reason to get 3rd wing of LoE. Finley is more important, because it turns a crappy Warrior Hero Power (crappy for an Aggro deck, obviously) into something useful.
- Midrange Hunter - This deck turned to be even more popular than I've suspected, mostly because WoG introduced one of the most broken cards in the game - Call of the Wild. Even though the deck didn't get many new tools and lost some of the key cards in Standard (Mad Scientist), the power of this card alone is the reason why it's still a very popular and pretty strong deck. It can easily be played with zero Legendaries, making 2x Call of the Wild (Epic) most expensive part of the deck. The list I've linked runs Dreadscale, which is a tech against Zoo Warlock, but it's also a tech card and like most of the tech cards - completely optional.
- Zoo Warlock - Zoo is probably the most consistent deck throughout the HS history. Ever since it was created, it was always viable. There were times when it wasn't a tier 1 deck, but it eventually climbed back to the top every time. It's just a deck that will always be good - high tempo minions + flooding the board paired with Warlock's Hero Power will most likely stay a valid tactic even years from now. Zoo isn't the cheapest deck around - most of the lists run Leeroy Jenkins (including the one I've linked), some of them also use Gormok the Impaler. Imp Gang Boss and Dark Peddler are also important cards and in order to get them you need, respectively, 2nd wing of Blackrock Mountain and 1st wing of League of Explorers. But it's still in manageable 3-4k dust range (+the 2.1k gold you need to spend on adventures). However, if you can't afford that - the cheapest competitive list I've found uses no Legendaries and costs only 1.4k dust - Muzzy used this list to get top 20 Legend, so it definitely works.
All of those lists share a few similarities - they are strong, they are fast, pretty easy to play and relatively cheap. Meaning they are perfect ladder decks for less experienced players / players with smaller collections. If you have a much bigger collection, there are definitely more decks you can play, but those 5 are all easily Legend-worthy.
That's all folks. I can't teach you more. I mean, I most likely could, but you'd need the individual training, not the general course :P
I really hope that reading this will help some of you. I know that you won't jump straight from rank 10 to Legend in one season. Learning and getting better at the game is a slow process. Some of you will probably never get Legend, but don't get upset about that. Millions of people play Hearthstone and only a very small part of them ever get Legend. I think the most important part isn't getting Legend, but breaking your own boundaries. For some people it might be rank 5, for someone who is struggling to go past rank 15 - even rank 10 is a great achievement.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section below and I'll give my best to answer them. If you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!