The second part of the series was really popular. Big thanks to everyone who read it! If you haven't, you can check it out here: 5 Common Mistakes Intermediate Players Need To Avoid.
And here we are, at the final part of the series. First let me explain what I mean by "experienced players" for the sake of this article. This is probably the smallest group among the three. People who are playing the game for longer than a few months - a year, two years etc. They have thousands of games played and are consistently passing the "rank 5 wall", often hitting Legend. They have a great understanding of the meta and the game mechanics. They are in the couple percent of best players, but it doesn't mean that their play is flawless.
This is the group that I can watch most in the game. I'm playing hundreds of games in Legend each season, so those points will be based on my experience - some of them are also the mistakes I make. And this is obviously the group where you can put all the pro players into. While their plays are correct most of the time (they certainly make less mistakes than average Legendary player), pro players also make some of those mistakes sometimes, especially under the pressure (like playing last chance match in tournaments).
1. Playing not to lose instead of playing to win
I hear this thing getting repeated quite often. But what does it really mean? What's the difference between two playstyles?
Playing not to lose means that you, well, do everything to not lose. You take the defensive stance, you try to not take any risks, you play around everything you can. On the other hand, when you're playing to win, you're willing to play high risk, high reward style. Go big or go home. People are generally promoting the second play style. So what's wrong with the first?
To be completely fair, a lot of times there is nothing wrong with playing defensive, playing around everything etc. It's often a viable way to win the game. The concept of playing to win doesn't mean that you should always go all-in and go for the most risky plays. It means that you should take calculated risks, knowing that their outcome should - on average - yield a higher win percentage. It's especially important when you're behind. It might be counter-intuitive, but the worse your situation is, the less defensive stance you should take. You have seen or played those games for sure. The ones where you know that you're going to lose and you're just pushing back the inevitable. There are games that you just can't win by playing defensive. You need to take the risk and go for the improbable outcome, even if it's just 1%.
Let me give you an example. You're playing a Malygos Warlock against Control Warrior. He is at 15 health, but has upgraded Hero Power (Justicar Trueheart), Armorsmith on the board, he hasn't played Shieldmaidens yet, overall he's very likely to get out of your range very soon. Now, you have two options - clearing his board, passing the initiative back to him and playing the long game. Or you can go for Malygos + 2x Soulfire. You're going to have 3 cards left in your hand after playing Malygos and first Soulfire, so you basically have a 66% chance to win the game and 33% chance to discard the second Soulfire and - most probably - lose the game. Now, what would you do?
The first approach might feel much safer. You don't throw away your win condition, you wait until you're going to have a guaranteed lethal. But is it safer? Warrior is getting out of your range next turn. You use this turn to play AoE, so the Warrior has initiative and can play something. He probably has more removals and stuff too. It's not like you won't win the game, but it's probably a 50/50, depending on the draws and a lot of things.
The second play is high risk, high reward one. A lot of people would be afraid to take it. But most of time it would be a correct thing to do. Unless you're SURE that you have more than 66% chance to win the game by going the safe route, you can instantly decide the game in one roll. 66% chance to win the game is very good and it's a solid move even if you lose the roll. If you had a card that wins you the game 66% of time when you play it, you'd auto-include it in every of your decks. It's true that you could lose one roll, even 5 rolls in a row, but given big enough sample size it's worth to take it.
Another example, that we don't really see much nowadays, is a "yolo Rag", as shown on the screenshot. Some of you probably noticed that it's a pretty old one - it's from a match played about 1.5 years ago. During the times Ragnaros the Firelord was a staple card in every slower deck, that was a move you often had to take - a lucky Ragnaros roll to win the game. Let's say you're at 8 health and enemy has 8/8 on the board. You have no sure way to remove it. If you do nothing - you die next turn. Now, you have two options to survive. You can play Antique Healbot and guarantee that you'll get out of their range (let's say they don't play a deck that has some kind of burn). This is a safe play, a play not to lose. Yes, you get out of range and buy yourself one more turn. But at the end of the turn you're basically in the same spot, probably even worse, because enemy can develop something else and you're left with a 3/3 or even aren't if he removes it. Yes, you have a slight chance to draw into removal next turn. But even if you have two removals left with 10 cards in your deck, your chances still aren't that high. Your other play is to drop Ragnaros. It's basically a coin flip - it hits opponent's face and you lose the game or it hits the 8/8 and you're at much better spot. Not only you remove the 8/8, but you also have your own big minion on the board. While you have a 50% chance to just lose the game on the spot, if you win the roll you suddenly have serious chances to win the whole game.
The decision above was pretty easy, but it gets much harder when your chances get lower and lower. What if enemy also had a 1/1 minion on the board? Now you'd only have a 33% chance to win the roll. Would you still take it? While it depends on the rest of your hand, your deck and the exact matchup, I wouldn't blame someone for doing it. If your chances to win are otherwise much lower than 33% (and they probably are), taking a calculated risk and going for a 1/3 roll is a solid move.
2. Playing too fast
Why did I decide to put this mistake into "expert players" part? Because it's most significant when you play at the high level. Playing too fast is always wrong, but small mistakes that are the outcome are most crucial and punishable.
This one is pretty easy to explain. And it's one of the things I need to work on. When you get more and more experienced, you start making a lot of plays based on your feelings, on your experience instead of analyzing each situation individually. Because let's be honest - you've been in this spot hundreds of times already. You don't need to think about anything. But sometimes playing too fast, without analyzing the whole situation might lead to slight misplays.
No one likes to play against the Rope Masters, people who take whole 75 seconds to move every turn since the beginning. But I can't blame them, because that's what you should be doing when you want to maximize your win rate. Think about every possible play and how it is going to affect this turn and next turns. Think about what enemy can do to answer it - will it be easy? Or maybe you're forcing to play him off-curve?
Yes, there are some obvious turns. But it doesn't mean that you need to play them fast. Maybe you're going into Secret Paladin's turn 6? It means that it's going to be a really hard turn, maybe you need to think how to deal with it right now, because you won't have enough time to think about the best possible play next turn? Or maybe you just need some extra time to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your hand?
Another thing I really need to emphasize is this: THINK FIRST, THEN PLAY. I'm catching myself too often on just starting some play and then really thinking about it when I'm already in the middle. Now if I realize that I made something wrong, I can't go back. But if I first considered every option and only then gone for the play, I could make it better. I've lost way too many games because I've played too fast and made a stupid mistake because of that.
And the last thing about playing too fast is missing lethals. Sometimes seeing lethal isn't as easy as just counting the damage on the board. There are tons of different shenanigans, especially if you play decks like Oil Rogue, where the number of possible plays each turn and the removal/burst potential is really high. If enemy is at low health or you have some burst potential in your hand, calculate whether you can kill the enemy each turn. That's the biggest mistake you can make - not sealing the game when you can do that. Realizing that you had lethal when you're already doing different play is a really bad feeling, which gets even worse if you get punished for it and enemy wins the game in the end.
3. Misplaying the matchups that go to fatigue
Fatigue is a serious win condition. For over 2 years I've been playing, I've seen some people denying that. "No, decks that intend to grind you out and kill you with fatigue are fun/gimmicky/not viable". "I shouldn't draw cards? What are you talking about? I'll kill enemy before he can fatigue me easily". In reality it's not that easy thing to do.
The Fatigue decks aim at getting rid of every threat you play and slowly grinding you down in different ways - stalling the game until fatigue, forcing you to draw the cards, milling your cards. Game gets to fatigue while they still have some kind of advantage (depending on the deck it can be more health, more cards in the deck, more threats) and they kill you when you're completely out of cards in your deck. Yeah, there are fatigue decks like Mill Rogue and Mill Druid (probably the most popular ones), but there is also a Fatigue Warrior or Priest, which are also a serious decks, but they just stall the game until fatigue instead of milling the enemy. And to be honest, even Control Warrior and the new Control Priest (with Entomb) SHOULD consider a fatigue win condition, because it happens very often in certain matchups.
About 2 months ago, in the October season, I was grinding Legend with Fatigue Warrior and I wrote a guide about it (you can read it here, but it's slightly outdated right now). What really struck me is that people at high ranks (around Legend and in Legend) didn't know how to play against the Fatigue decks. Well, I can see that some of them have thought that I'm playing the Control Warrior and I don't blame faster decks for drawing the cards. The deck actually sucked against fast decks that could cycle a lot, it was just too slow. But out of ~20 games against Control Warrior (it was more popular than now), I've lost only one. And that was because enemy got Justicar Trueheart way before me AND he knew how to play the matchup. Control Priest was similar - I won most of the games against Control Priest, I don't remember exact stats right now, but I've only lost 2 or 3. It's one of the reasons why the grind to Legend was relatively easy - most of the very slow matchups (besides Handlock) were easy wins for me.
The most common mistake was, obviously, drawing cards. And to make things more clear - it's not like you CAN'T draw cards in slow matchups. If you desperately need some removal, yeah, draw the cards. If your hand quality sucks and you're not going to win with that, draw the cards. It gives you slight chance that you'll kill the enemy before fatigue or maybe force him to draw too. What you don't want to do is to draw a lot of cards OR to draw the cards when you don't need to. When enemy Warrior has played Acolyte of Pain in the mid/late game, I've used Bouncing Blade to force 3 card draws. How many times they have emoted "My thanks" like I did something wrong and then lost in the long run. Or the Priests. It was really fun to leave their Northshire Cleric on the board in the late game (it was too risky in the early game). At first they were happy and even drew a card per turn. But when they've realized that I'm not killing it on purpose and that they're 5 cards ahead of me some of them stopped healing their own minions and other have even killed their own Cleric with Shadow Word: Pain so that they could heal their minions again. Yeah.
Other thing I was doing in Control Warrior matchup was leaving a bait with 2 Durability weapon. I've equipped Fiery War Axe or Death's Bite and waited. Most of the opponents have seen a really great Harrison Jones opportunity and took it. But in reality I forced them to draw 2 cards and I didn't need that weapon anyway, because I had more and the weapons were often used just to deal 6/8 damage to the opponent's face. With them drawing 2 more cards, instead of 6/8 damage, the weapon has dealt 20+ damage in fatigue.
Alright, they might have not known that I'm playing Fatigue Warrior, not a standard Control Warrior. So I don't even blame Priests for playing an early Northshire, because that's how they beat slow Warrior decks. But if it was already the late game, they should have known that kind of deck I'm playing and that I WANT them to draw cards. Not to mention that Control Warrior mirror is very similar. You often DON'T ever cycle that Shield Block and don't ever use the Acolyte of Pain. Dropping an Acolyte in the late game is just asking for getting punished.
But why is it so important to put this on the list? Because fatigue win condition is a real deal. Especially right now - there are a lot of Control Priests on the ladder and one of their win conditions in slower matchups is in fact Fatigue. We also have decks that include Elise Starseeker that also aim at long, fatigue games and winning them by changing the useless cards in their hand into Legends when the game is nearly over. They still aren't optimized, they will surely still go through a lot of changes, but it's a thing. And last, but not least, the good, old Control Warrior. While some people enjoy more Midrange style of the deck, I've seen some very slow and greedy lists being played in high Legend ranks. It's not really popular right now, but might be in the future (it's one of the decks that's never have been really out of the meta).
So remember, if you suspect that the game will go to the fatigue AND your hand doesn't suck a lot, don't draw cards. You put yourself at a disadvantage in the long run. If you're both playing slow decks, you can rarely outtempo the enemy, outvaluing him is also a hard thing to do, so having 2 or 3 more cards in your hand often won't matter, but might just kill you in the end.
4. Wrong sequencing and minion placement
That's another mistake which is common throughout the whole player base. And another one that is most likely to get punished when playing on the high level. I've combined two of them in one point, because they are kinda similar and both very easy to commit.
The first one is wrong sequencing. And by that I actually mean a lot of things. Not drawing before playing other things, playing cards in the wrong order, not checking the RNG effects before proceeding with the rest of your turn etc. Probably the most commonly seen when playing Warlock. One of the oldest Hearthstone mementos is "Life Tap first" and it's probably the best example of this mistake. Let's say you play Zoo Warlock and you're at 8 mana. You intend to play Knife Juggler + Imp-losion this turn. You're sure that this is going to be your play and you'll have 2 spare mana. So you'll be Life Tapping, right? Then do it first. In a lot of cases it doesn't matter, because you already have a good play in your mind. But it's better to know what your next card will be before doing the play that you're going to do anyway. But in certain cases it might actually change your play. Maybe you draw into Doomguard and suddenly have lethal? Maybe you draw Power Overwhelming and activating your Nerubian Egg will be a better play? You never know until you see what your next card is. Even if it's not going to directly change your initial play, you might alter it having the new card in mind. Like when you draw into Void Terror, you might want to drop the Egg instead of some other 2-drop to give yourself a good Void Terror target next turn.
To sum this point up, if you're sure that you'll be drawing this turn - do it first, before committing to other plays. When you want to kill a 5 health minion with Swipe + Wrath for 1, cycle the Wrath first. If you want to play a Loatheb + Fan of Knives, Fan first. There is simply no way that this order will be wrong, but it has a slight chance to be wrong the other way round. But it's not only about drawing, it's about most of the RNG effects. If you're going to play Mad Scientist + Unstable Portal this turn, you might play the portal first. Maybe you'll get something that you want to play instead, like a strong 5-drop? Sometimes it gets a little more tricky. For example, popping the Piloted Shredder before playing other stuff. On the one hand, it might be a good idea. If Doomsayer drops out of Shredder, but you've already committed with a big Legendary, you've basically screwed yourself. But on the other hand, if you're at 7 mana and you want to play Dr. Boom, a Mana Wraith might drop out of Shredder and if you have no way to kill it you might not be able to play your 7-drop. So while it depends on the exact situation and your hand, you often want to kill Shredder FIRST, before getting your other minions out. On the other hand, you might want to cast spells BEFORE killing Shredder in case the Lorewalker Cho is a pilot. Shredder shenanigans are really hard and honestly, most of the people just ignore them, since you have only slightly above 1% chance to get an exact 2-drop that is going to screw you. But since Piloted Shredders are in nearly every game you play, that 1% chance is a lot when you want to play at the highest level.
Another common mistake is misplacing your minions. People often don't care about this, because it rarely matters whether your minion is on the left or on the right. I've noticed that Arena players put much bigger emphasis on this one, because spells that also target adjacent minions are a real deal. You don't really see the Betrayal or Explosive Shot in Constructed, but you do in the Arena. But it's not like you don't ever see things like that on the ladder.
So, the first and most obvious things are YOUR OWN cards. Some decks are running, for example, Defender of Argus or Dire Wolf Alpha. That is a mistake a lot of Zoo Warlock players are making. Every turn you need to think about your minions placement, because you might draw one of those and then it matters. Having a 1/1 minion between the big stuff you want to Taunt up is often a real nuisance. Your Nerubian Egg being on the other side of the board from another minion you want to Taunt is also a bad placement. It's also very common to misplace your own Piloted Shredder. You don't want to play it on the side (unless you also play around other stuff this way), but in the middle of your minions. This way if it drops a Dire Wolf Alpha or a Flametongue Totem, you get the highest possible value of the buff. So if you have a lot of minions on the board, it might be a good idea to place him between the 1/1's or other small, expendable minions - this way if the attack buff drops out, you can easily make some good trades with them.
Probably the only deck on the ladder right now that you have to mind your positioning against is a Freeze Mage. Cone of Cold is a pretty common card, and it targets only 3 minions. So what you want to do is either put a minion in Stealth between two of your high value/attack minions (since enemy can't target minion with Stealth, he won't be able to freeze both) OR put the biggest threats on the opposite sides of the board if you have more than 3 minions. It prevents enemy from freezing your strongest minions with one spell. It might gain you some extra points of damage or force enemy to use an additional freeze like Ice Lance on one of your minions, so all in all it's a win for you.
There aren't really any other spells like that being played right now, but some might be added in the future, or they might be played in new decks (like Powershot would be a good card if Control Hunter would ever become viable) so have them in mind.
5. Not thinking a few turns ahead
This point is probably the hardest one to talk about. It's not something that I can give you a few examples off and you'll know what to do each time. It's something that's very hard to learn and comes with the experience. Thinking ahead. But not only a turn ahead, because that's what most of the good players do. Sometimes you have to think 3-4 turns ahead. Sometimes you need to form a game plan in your head since turn 1. Yeah, that's a good thing to say. You need to have a game plan and then try to execute it. Yes, you're going to have to adjust it during the match quite a few times. And yes, the plan won't always work. But knowing what you want to do in each game is very important.
Depending on the deck you play, the matchup, your hand, the board etc. you might want to adjust your future plays accordingly. For example, when you play against a Freeze Mage and you have Loatheb in your hand. You might just drop it right away, yeah, that might be a good play sometimes. But you should think about the future turns - you should think about keeping it, because it might get much more value later. Maybe you want to drop it on turn 7? This way enemy has no way to Freeze your board, because Frost Nova (the cheapest Freeze) will cost 8. Maybe you want to drop it on the turn you pop the Ice Block? Then enemy has no way to play another Ice Block AND clear/freeze your board. Maybe you want to play it after Alexstrasza to buy yourself one more turn? No matter how you'll end up using it, you should be thinking ahead. Not just this and the next turn, that's not how you win a lot of games.
Keeping the removals for enemy key minions. Using the Freeze Mage example again, it might be tempting to Entomb that Emperor Thaurissan instead of trading your board in. But what if that's your only removal? Then if enemy plays Archmage Antonidas and freezes your board, you might just lose the game on the spot. Entombing would be the best play this turn, but if you think a few turns ahead, it might turn out completely wrong.
The point is that sometimes using the cards in the best possible way this turn might be wrong in the long run. Players often tunnel vision on the current or next turn, ignoring what might be important in the future. That's often the reason for the other point on the list - losing in fatigue matchups. Thinking about fatigue game plan since turn 1 is another example of thinking ahead, which even the good players often ignore.
And to clarify something - I'm not saying that it's always correct to adjust your plays for something that might happen 5 turns later. Sometimes going for the best play this turn, for the highest tempo etc. is the way you're going to win. Especially if you're playing from behind OR you're playing a fast deck, then you often have no option to play around something that might come later or might not even come at all. Sometimes you need to go all-in, you need to hope that enemy won't have certain cards and won't be able to punish you. But even then, at least consider it, think about what might happen 2, 3, 5 turns later. That's a great training and you're going to see improvement after some time.
That's it folks. That was probably the last article in the series. There are a lot more mistakes I could cover, so I might do an extra one if you'd like to read it. The list is, just like previous one, based solely on my experience and observations of playing at ranks 5+ and in Legend on EU every season. It means that your experience might be completely different. If you see other mistakes or you don't agree with some of I've mentioned, put the suggestions in the comments :)
If you have any other comments or suggestions, also leave them in the section below!