This guide first appeared here.
Hey everyone, TinMan here! Its been quite a long time since I last wrote anything Hearthstone related. About 6 or 7 months now. I took some time off because I got a new job working as a Manufacturing Engineer at a medical device company which sucked up a lot of my time and energy so writing and streaming took a bit of a back seat.
Also I was somewhat burned out after prepping so hard to the Winter Prelims and then to just get eliminated 0-2 was very discouraging, and the tournament was so poorly run that it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I took a bit of a break from Hearthstone, but now I’m back.
I spend much of my free time playing some League of Legends, and managed to get from never playing the game or any other MOBA to Gold in just a few months. The game is really enjoyable, tons of depth, and lots of variety among the 130+ champions. It is basically impossible to play a game of League perfectly, since every moment you are making a decision and no one gets them all right.
I have always had a knack for picking up games quickly, and rising to a fairly competitive level with them. In Magic the Gathering, SolForge, and Hearthstone, I quickly went from learning the game to being quite competitive. But in League I was struggling a bit. I initially for placed in Bronze 1, gradually climbed through Silver and am now sitting in Gold. But the process has been much slower than I expected.
What was the difference? League isn’t a card game (unless you play Twisted Fate, then I guess it kinda is). It might seem silly to point out, but every other game I have been good at has been a card game. And I realized that I didn’t pick them up quickly just because they were competitive games, but specifically because they were card games that I already understood many of the fundamental mechanics behind them. But I had little intuition of MOBA mechanics and had to start from scratch.
League also has fundamental mechanics, the better players are able to last hit minions extremely effectively, have good map awareness, proper team fighting positioning, and can execute complex ability combos with perfect timing. The way to get better at League is to perfect these mechanics. The same is true for Hearthstone, there are several fundamental mechanics that not many guides address. Most high ranking players understand these concepts so intuitively that they aren’t even aware of them, and thus rarely discuss or write about them. This article aims to change that.
Just a disclaimer, this article probably won’t be too helpful to players who consistently get to say Rank 5 or above. But I think it will be very helpful for players struggling below rank 10.
So what are these fundamental mechanics of Hearthstone? I discussed some examples from League above, but for Hearthstone, I want to discuss mana efficiency, and turn sequencing. In the next article I will go in depth into proper minion trading.
Starting from your opening hand, you should be looking to plan out as many turns as you can in advance. Often times these turns are easy to plan, you have exactly one 2 drop, one 3 drop, and one 4 drop. But other times, planning your turns is more difficult, and you have far more options every turn. This is especially true if you have the coin.
As a general rule, I always advocate spending all of your mana every single turn if possible, and you should plan your turns and hero powers around this. It feels bad any time that I have to play just a 4 drop on turn 5, or use a removal spell with one mana left over. Any unspent mana is just wasted, so your 4 mana 4/5 is good if you spend only 4 mana on it, but if you play it on turn 5 and don’t spend the extra 1 mana, you played a significantly worse 5 mana 4/5.
So how do we go about being mana efficient? Like I said, sometimes your deck just curves out nicely, and there are not many decisions to make. But other times, you have to consciously order your turns to avoid having a wasted mana on future turns.
Take for example a Zoo Warlock deck. Your opening hand is 2 Flame Imps and a Dark Peddler, and you draw Power Overwhelming for turn 1. You have 1 mana so you play the Flame Imp. Your opponent plays nothing, turn 2 rolls around and you draw a Doomguard. You now have 3 realistic options: Hero Power to draw a card, play Flame Imp, or play Dark Peddler.
- We are still trying to develop the board, and have plenty of cards in hand so using 2 mana on a Hero Power is fairly weak here.
- Playing Flame Imp number 2 does add the most amount of power to your board. A 3/2 is larger than a 2/2 Dark Peddler after all. But it leaves you with 1 mana unused.
- Playing Dark Peddler is mana efficient. You don’t end up paying extra mana for it like you would with the Flame Imp.
Based on mana efficiency, Dark Peddler is the correct play. Although Flame Imp number 2 is more aggressive, and helps you push your on board lead, a few turns down the line, that one extra mana can come back to bite you. Lets say you draw some 3 drops, like Imp Gang Boss and Darkshire Councilman. You will want to play on of them on turn 3, but on turn 4, you won’t have a 4 drop. Instead you will have a 3 drop with one extra mana to spare.
Now if you had played the second Flame Imp on turn 2, you either have to spend the 1 mana on turn 4 by playing Power Overwhelming, or just not use it at all. You have now wasted 2 mana in the first 4 turns that did not impact the board. For a deck like Zoo Lock which relies so heavily on board control, this can spell disaster. Those 2 wasted mana are 20% of your mana budget for the first 4 turns, and thus your opponent who spends his mana optimally can have up to 20% more mana worth of cards played.
But if you play Dark Peddler on turn 2, you still have that 1 mana Flame Imp in your hand come turn 4, as well as the 1 cost card from the Peddler. You now have 3 options to spend the mana, Flame Imp, Power Overwhelming, and the 1 cost card from Peddler. Now you won’t waste any mana this turn either!
Lets say we are playing Face Hunter. The goal is obviously to throw as much damage at them as possible, but you should be planning the times when to use your Hero Power to maintain long term mana efficiency.
Let’s say on turn 6, you have 3 cards in hand, Argent Horserider, Leper Gnome, and Kill Command. Lets look at our options, disregarding the board state.
- Play Horserider and Kill Command. This maxes our damage this turn, and is mana efficient. Looks like everything we want to be doing with Face Hunter right?
- Play either Horserider or Kill Command, plus Leper Gnome, and use our Hero Power with the last 2 mana.
Option 2 is much better for long term mana efficiency. Obviously if Horserider plus Kill Command outright wins this turn, then of course you go for the win. But if the game lasts until next turn, saving one of those 3 mana cards and weaving in a Hero Power will optimize our damage output.
On Turn 7, we will draw a random card, plus have Leper Gnome. Now if that card doesn’t cost at least 4, we will be wasting some of our mana due to having 3 to spend between Gnome and Hero Power. But if we hold a 3 mana card, we have many more options with how to efficiently spend our 7 mana.
Think of it this way: By the end of turn 7, we will still have played Horserider, Kill Command, Leper Gnome, and the top card of our deck. But if we use the Hero Power on turn 6, then we get 2 Hero Powers off instead of 1, and get an attack in with Leper Gnome.
You have to think a few turns ahead to make sure that you are not hindering your ability to be mana efficient in future turns by optimizing your damage output or board presence this turn.
So now that you have decided on a line of play that will lead to mana efficiency, what order do you play your cards/effects in? Sometimes it doesn’t matter, like when you just play two 2 drops on turn 4. But in more complex situations the order of your cards/attacks can be very important.
Rather thank go through specific examples, I will talk about general considerations that you have to make when deciding the order of effects.
First, get as much information as you can as the first thing you do. There are several type of actions that fall under this category such as drawing cards (through Warlock Hero Power, Loot Hoarder Deathrattle, Arcane Intellect, etc.). If your plan for the turn involves on of these type effects, it is generally correct to do it first, or as early in the sequence as possible. This is because the extra cards you draw may give you a better play with your remaining mana. You may think you want to play a Darkshire Councilman with your 3 mana and Hero Power with the last 2, but if you draw into a Power Overwhelming, now playing that plus a 2 drop could be more appealing.
In the same vein as drawing cards, when your opponent has a Secret up, you should try to figure out what it is before deciding the rest of your turn. Playing your weakest minion first against a mage with a Secret is a simple way to test for a Mirror Entity as well as mitigate its impact.
Next, you want to minimize randomness. This most often comes up with cards like Flame Juggler, Knife Juggler, Fiery Bat, etc. that target random enemies. If you can clear out suboptimal targets before triggering their effects, then you can maximize the chance that the random effect lands on the target that you want. Seeing the result of these random effects also plays into the gathering “information step” since the outcome of these effects could alter the rest of your turn.
After resolving all the random effects (including drawing), you next want to look at the cards that make a immediate and predictable impact on the board. Cards like Dire Wolf Alpha have a static buff effect on the adjacent minions. By placing it in the proper spot, and trading off the minions directly next to it first, you can increase your total damage output by having multiple minions benefit from the buff. If you have a charge minion in hand, attack with your other minions first, then place the charge minions next to the Dire Wolf Alpha to again benefit from the static effect.
Also under this category would be to trigger predictable enemy effects, like say the deathrattle on Infested Wolf. You know exactly what will happen when it dies, so if you plan on killing it, make sure you do so before you cast a Swipe for example.
As your last actions on the turn, you should play your cards that have no immediate impact on the board state. Minions like Savannah Highmane are great, but do not have an immediate effect. They should be lowest priority in the sequencing of your turn. Unless of course you are going to then buff it with a Houndmaster or something, then you obviously play it before the Houndmaster.
As I mentioned before, many of these considerations are simply ingrained into the thought processes of higher ranking players. There are infinitely many situations that can come up in Hearthstone, and the reason why the best players can routinely navigate the complex game so well is because they understand these fundamentals. These aren’t groundbreaking ideas, but they are absolutely vital that you master them if you want to climb the ladder.