Some of you have asked for an Arena article, so here you go! Even though lately my main focus has been Constructed play, I’ve decided to take a short break and focus on Arena. To be more precise, focus on one of the most important aspects (arguably even even the MOST important aspect) of Arena play – drafting. I had some successful runs lately and I’ve started wondering – what makes a good Arena draft?
In the era of HearthArena, I don’t know a lot of people that draft decks by themselves. Most are using some help – either the tier list or even the tool that just tells you what to pick. And while I think that ADWCTA & Merps have done a great job making the tierlist, it’s really helpful etc. – I sometimes think that people should avoid using it.
The thing is, having a good draft is one thing, but knowing WHY it’s good is another. Is it important? Yes, definitely! If you show new player a very strong card and tell him that it’s strong without actually explaining why and how it works, he might not use the card’s full potential. I honestly think that drafting yourself and using HearthArena only as a guideline to consult the choices can make a difference and make a player improve at the Arena.
I’ll try to explain what makes a good arena draft. It doesn’t mean that every 12 wins deck needs to have all those things, but they definitely make it stronger!
High Quality Cards
The first and probably most important thing is something that players can’t influence. With every pick, you get offered 3 random choices. The card’s quality can range from terrible cards like Angry Chicken, through okay cards like Frostwolf Warlord and good like Azure Drake, up to insane cards like Muster for Battle. Card quality is important, because you play against another random decks. In Constructed mode everyone plays strong cards. In Arena, strong cards are more exclusive. The more of them you have – the better your run is going to look. Having high quality cards usually means that you’re going “outvalue” enemy without even doing anything. For example, if all your 2-drops are Shielded Minibots, the chances are that in a lot of games you’re going to dominate early game just because how strong they are. Another example is Pit Fighter in 5-drop slot. It has a good trade against a lot of other 5-drops, meaning if you drop it and enemy drops something weaker – he has to waste additional resources (mana, tempo, cards) to deal with it.
The sheer power of the cards is often what makes a great deck. Even if you don’t have a lot of synergies, even if your mana curve is a little off, having a lot of cards from this category is going to win you some games. The fact that you get offered 3 cards every time means that you have to pick the strongest one, which a lot of new players struggle with. Like I’ve said in the Introduction – one option is using some kind of tier list, but those rarely explain WHY the card is good. So, what makes the card high quality one?
Stats are the first answer. If the card passes the vanilla test, it’s a good start. If you aren’t familiar with what the test is, let me explain it to you quickly. Vanilla test assumes no card has an effect, no text of any kind. You just need to look at the base stats and mana cost. And then compare the card to others and ask yourself – would you play it? To make it more clear, here’s a quick example. King's Elekk – 3/2 for 2. Yeah, it’s definitely playable! 3/2 or 2/3 are the baseline stats for a 2-drop. Meaning it passes the test. Now, you look at the card’s text and you see that it has additional benefit. It passes the test + it has a positive effect, meaning it’s a great pick in Arena. Cards that don’t pass the test need to have very strong effects to be playable. For example – Bloodmage Thalnos doesn’t pass it. It’s 1/1 for 2, which is terrible. But the card’s effect is strong enough to compensate it. If the card’s stats are over the baseline stats, it means that the card most likely has negative effect. The card might be playable if the negative effect isn’t big enough. For example, Totem Golem has negative effect (overload: 1), but it’s a good Arena card because the negative effect isn’t a big deal here.
Obviously, vanilla test won’t always answer the question whether the card is good, but it’s a good start. Let’s start with good cards. If the card passes vanilla test and has no negative effect, it usually means that it’s pretty strong. Stuff like Bloodfen Raptor or River Crocolisk are in the middle, but that’s because there are a lot of stronger 2-drops. They’re still playable! But cards like Spider Tank, Chillwind Yeti, Pit Fighter or Boulderfist Ogre are very strong in the Arena just because of their stats. Most of the board control is done by the minion trading, which means that minion’s stats are way more important in Arena than in Constructed. So if you see that some card has the best possible stats without a negative effect – it’s most likely going to be good in Arena. If the card is slightly below the best stats, but has a positive effect, it’s also good most of time. For example, Dark Iron Dwarf. The card is 4/4, compared to vanilla 4/5. It loses 1 health, but it gains a great effect. Which obviously puts it very high on the list. Stranglethorn Tiger is another example. It also loses 1 health compared to Pit Fighter, but it gains the Stealth instead (and Beast tribe, which can be useful in Druid/Hunter). Vanilla test is the easiest way to check if the card is strong. But in reality, a lot of great cards are way below it. What makes them strong?
Their effects, obviously. This one is not that easy to judge and requires more experience. You’ll understand which effects are strong in time. A great example is Bomb Lobber. It’s a very strong Arena card, even though it’s only 3/3 for 5 mana. You would never play this cards just for the stats. But the effect is what makes it great. Dealing 4 damage to random enemy often means you’re completely destroying opponent’s 3-drop or 4-drop for free, while also gaining a 3/3 body at the same time. It’s like a 3-drop + Flamecannon combined in one card. Generally minions that remove opponent’s minions without dying themselves are very good, because they’re a good way to gain card advantage (“2 for 1”). Another examples are Stampeding Kodo, Argent Commander and North Sea Kraken.
And how can you recognize the card that is weak in Arena? First of all – stats. If the card has strong stats, even without any effect it’s going to be good, as shown above. So the bad card needs to have subpar stats. It also needs to have a bad effect. Either one that is very situational or just weak in general. The best example here is probably the Grimscale Oracle. 1/1 for 1 mana are bad stats and the effect only affects Murlocs, which you often don’t even draft. Not to mention that the effect is mirrored, meaning that if enemy has some Murlocs in his deck, you might actually not be able to drop it without buffing them. Same goes for the Grim Patron. It’s strong in Constructed, because it’s played in a deck that can consistently activate it’s effect. But in Arena only the Mage can really activate that effect without using any additional cards (thanks to the Hero Power). Meaning other classes have to rely on the cards that can ping (Elven Archer, Mad Bomber) or enemy small minions, otherwise it’s just a 3/3 for 5 mana. The effect is very hard to activate, which makes the card bad in Arena.
There is also one type of minions: very strong. Those are the ones which have vanilla stats AND a strong effect or they have just slightly below vanilla and insane effect. For example, Dark Cultist. 3/4 for 3 is great and the card’s effect is also very strong. Or the Dr. Boom, which we all know from Constructed. It has vanilla stats (taking War Golem as a baseline) + it summons two Boom Bots, which pretty much always get value. Example of a card that has below average stats, but great effect is let’s say Dark Iron Skulker. 4/3 for 5 is very bad, but getting a free Backstab on every enemy minion on the board is so strong that you don’t even care about the stats. Those are the minions you want in your Arena drafts, but you won’t likely get too many of them. Having like 10 of those minions in your deck nearly guarantees great, high win run.
But what about spells? Here, the rating is much, much harder. Spells are the effects only – you can’t take card’s stats as a baseline. Meaning it usually takes more experience to judge which cards are strong. But generally, the strong spells are in at least one of those categories:
- Flexible. They might have more than one purpose, meaning they will rarely sit dead in your hand. E.g. Fireball can be used as a removal or burn. Polymorph: Boar can be used as a removal or as a burn or to deny opponent’s ping on your 1 health minion etc.
- High tempo. It means that you counter opponent’s play for much cheaper than the play has costed. For example – Backstab. For 0 mana you can kill enemy 2-drop. Hex/Shadow Word: Death – for 3 mana you can get rid of opponent’s big minion (e.g. 8 mana one).
- High value. The spells that get more than 1 for 1. If you can destroy more than 1 minion with your spell pretty consistently, it’s probably going to be good. Most things that go here are AoE spells: Consecration, Flamestrike etc. But there are some others: Shadow Madness or Betrayal. Card draws (e.g. Arcane Intellect or Nourish) also get more than 1 for 1, meaning they are good, but might be too slow in some decks.
Example of a weak spell: Ice Lance. The first part of the spell isn’t that strong – the same can be done with a Spare Part, and Spare Parts effects aren’t worth 1 mana. To activate the second part of the spell you need the target to be already frozen, so you need to combo it with something else. Another example: Bolster. It requires to have a certain type of minions on the board (Taunt) before you can even use it – and even then you need at least 2 Taunts on the board to gain enough value for it to be worth running. In a lot of drafts you don’t even end up with a single Taunt and 2-3 is probably the average, so it’s very hard to even get +2/+2, not to mention +4/+4 or more.
There is also last type of cards: weapons. Most of weapons are good, there are little to no weapons that aren’t strong in Arena. Weapons usually combine all 3 categories I’ve listed above for spells. They are flexible, because they can serve as removals and as face damage. They are high tempo, because if you let’s say use Fiery War Axe to kill two enemy 2-drops, you’ve paid 2 mana to deal with 4 mana worth of enemy minions. They are also high value, because they often get 2 for 1 and some even more. The only thing about weapons is that you lose health when you use them – but that’s a low price for it. The only weapons that are bad are those that have negative effect (Ogre Warmaul) or situational effect (Cogmaster's Wrench). Oh, and there is also Poisoned Blade, but that should have it’s separate tier, because it’s so bad that it’s hard to even compare it to other weapons.
But, high quality cards can only get you so far. There are other things that are useful in a great Arena draft.
Identifying deck’s type + Adjusting Mana Curve
It might sound weird, how can identifying deck’s type make it stronger? But yes, it can. The further you’re into your draft, the more it matters. Obviously, it’s impossible to say anything about your deck when it’s one of your first 5-10 picks. But after 10th pick, the deck should start shaping. And you really need to take it into the right direction. For example, if you’ve picked a lot of small drops and burn spells, you’ll most likely want to make an Aggro/Tempo deck. If you’ve picked some late game value cards, some AoE removal or maybe even a big, slow Legendary, you also want to follow this type and make Control deck. Eventually, most of the Arena decks are going to be Midrange’y. You rarely get the opportunity to pick a pure tempo or pure control deck. If you do – that’s great, decks that have a clear style are usually the strongest ones. Those mish-mash decks sometimes struggle to find their identity.
If you’re around 10th pick, you can often still change your mind. Going for a Midrange deck is always the easiest thing to do and I’d probably recommend it for new players. Having a good curve with solid amount of early and mid game drops + a few bigger minions. That’s how the usual Midrange deck looks like. It doesn’t really specialize in anything, but it’s easiest to create by just picking the high value card and adjusting your curve a little.
But let’s say you’re trying to build a Tempo Rogue deck. You’re 20 cards deep into your deck and your curve is really fast, you have pretty much no late game drops. Now, you get to choose between Flame Juggler and Boulderfist Ogre. Both of the cards are very strong in their respective mana slot. You don’t have almost any late game in your deck, while you already have some 2-drops (not too many). You should probably go for the Boulderfist, right? Weeelll, I know it’s hard to pass the big drop when you don’t have any yet, but I’d definitely pick Juggler. The thing is – if you’ve already identified that you’re playing a tempo deck, you’re not going for the late game. If you play against a slower, more value-oriented deck, you’re very likely going to lose in the late game anyway, no matter if you have a big drop or not. So why not push your early game tempo even further with another strong 2-drop? This way you’re more likely to overwhelm enemy before it even gets into the late game and just finish him when he starts dropping big bombs. To do that, Flame Juggler is much better than the Ogre. This choice is actually hard, because strong 6-drops aren’t that bad in tempo decks. More extreme example would be something like Puddlestomper vs War Golem. Those two cards are similar in terms of value, but the first one would make you curve out in the early game even more consistently and the second one would… well, it would rarely do anything.
Sometimes you want to take the card that doesn’t fit your deck type just because of how strong it is. For example, if I had to choose between Salty Dog, Ironforge Rifleman and North Sea Kraken, I’d pick Kraken even in an Aggro deck, because of how strong it is compared to other picks. But if the value difference isn’t that high, I’d still pick the weaker card that fits my deck type more.
When it comes to the mana curve, no matter what deck you play, you NEED the early game. Obviously, Aggro and Tempo deck are putting much bigger emphasis on small drops, but even the slow deck need to have a decent amount of turn 2 and 3 plays. It’s important, because a lot of Arena games are decided in the first few turns. Tempo is a big deal in Arena and once you lose on the tempo, it’s very hard to come back. Arena offers much less comeback mechanics – AoE removals, big Taunts, heals etc. In Constructed the whole early tempo can be ruined by one mid game spell, in Arena it’s not always the case. You won’t see stuff like Brawl (you won’t see much of Warrior in Arena at all, but that’s topic for another discussion), Equality + Consecration, Lightbomb.
Even the Common AoEs aren’t drafted every run. Why is it important to have the early stuff? To put it simply – to not die. If enemy is ahead on the board, because he had early game and you didn’t, he can deal face damage every turn WHILE keeping the board control. Let’s say he has 3/2 and 3/4 on the board, while your first drop was a 4/5 on turn 4. It means that he just goes face with those two minions and drops his own 4-drop. So you start your turn with a 4/5 against enemy 3 minions. And you can’t do anything to clear all of them, you can just kill one (probably 3/4) and play another minion. But it means that enemy deals 7 more face damage while just ignoring your stuff and playing his own. Player who has tempo advantage also dictates the trades – he has a 4/1 and 4/5 minion on the board and you play a 5/4. Obviously, if you could choose which minion to kill, you’d kill the 4/5. But enemy will just trade the 4/1 off. It all means that having early tempo is very important for EVERY kind of deck.
You don’t expect that slow deck will completely keep up with the fast ones, but if you skip turn 2 against tempo deck, it often means that you could as well just concede. The only way to come back in this case are usually strong AoE removals and Taunts that can deny enemy the ability to go face. So, we have settled that you need to have the early game. What else? Here, it really depends on the deck type.
If you play a fast deck – you want 1-drops. Those build up the early game tempo. If you start with a 1-drop and enemy has no 1-drop, it means that you’re a minion ahead on the board. Even if the minion is small, it’s still a thing. 1-drops also fix the curve. Curving out and not floating mana is extremely important in fast decks. You want to use every point of mana every turn if possible. But what if you don’t have let’s say turn 5 play? Then 1-drops help. You can play a 4-drop + 1-drop. Or 2x 2-drop + 1-drop. They are very easy to fit into your turns. In this type of decks, while you might have a little late game, it’s not very necessary. You can stop your curve around 5 mana. You aim to finish your games around turn 6-7 most of time by rushing enemy down, meaning you don’t need big drops. For this type of deck, if you want to pick a big drop, try to pick a one that has board impact. Something like a War Golem or Captured Jormungar might be just too slow. Yeah, you drop it on the board, but it often actually lets enemy catch up on the tempo, because they don’t do anything until next turn. So, what big minions are good? Stormwind Champion is one example. It’s probably the best big minion in this type of decks. If you have the board, it can instantly gain A LOT of value. Not only you might get some free trades, but it allows you to push the face damage and makes your board more resilient against AoE’s. North Sea Kraken is another one – the instant 4 damage might push for more face damage or just protect the rest of your board (you won’t likely have a lot of minions by turn 9 with the Aggro deck). Drakonid Crusher is also solid, because most of time by turn 6 you should already take enemy down to 15 or below. While Drakonid Crusher is just a pile of stats, what a big pile it is. 9/9 for 6 mana is insane and without hard removal enemy shouldn’t have a way to kill it. When it comes to the spell, the ones that you mostly want are the burn and buffs. You don’t really need AoE and stuff like that, because you’re the one that is going to have board control through the early and mid game (at least that’s the plan). It doesn’t mean that you should pass on Consecration or something if your other options suck (sometimes if you play against other fast deck, they might outtempo you), but just don’t put a really big emphasis on those. A spells that can be used flexibly – as either removal or burn – are probably best. Fireball is probably the best example – it fits this kind of deck perfectly. If you need to, you can use it on enemy big minion to protect your board, so you can push for face damage. Or you can just keep it and use it to kill enemy from your hand.
If you play a Midrange deck, you want a little of everything. This type is really a mix of slow minions, fast minions, removals, burn etc. This is probably the most common type of deck, if you just pick the best card every time you’re most likely going to end up with a Midrange deck. This is a deck that plays out every game depending on what enemy does. Most of Midrange deck are rather flexible and can go for both tempo and card advantage moves. How to pick a good midrange deck? Most of the time you just want to pick the highest value option every turn, while fixing your curve a little. With Midrange deck you want to have a lot of early game, a lot of mid game and some late game (3-4 big minions are fine most of time and by big minions I mean 6+ drops). You want to have some removals, some AoE, some card draw… You get it by now.
If you play a Control deck, first thing you need to know is that Arena “Control” decks aren’t like the Control decks you see in the Constructed. It’s not a Control Warrior or Handlock. Those Constructed decks run almost no early game drops (they use removals instead) and have a lot of big minions to contest the late game. In Arena, Control decks are similar to the Midrange ones, but only a little slower and more reactive. Instead of dropping a threat each turn, you often want to just remove opponent’s stuff efficiently. Control decks generally go for the card advantage game. You want to kill everything enemy plays until he runs out of cards. And since you took the most value trades, you should still have some cards. Then, you just play them, take complete board control and win the game in next few turns. Control deck doesn’t need that many small drops, but it’s still good to have them. What Control deck wants is answers and value. Answers means spells most of the time, but a lot of minions are answers too. For example, Bomb Lobber is a removal, even though it’s a minion. What Control deck really wants is AoE. Mage is in Control Heaven if he draws into 3x Flamestrike. AoEs are the easiest way to get card advantage. The math is simple – you play one card and you get rid of enemy let’s say 2-3 cards. This way you gain card advantage. Other ways to gain card advantage are big minions. For example, Boulderfist Ogre can usually take 2 minions before dying – it gets 2 for 1.. If you run more big minions than the enemy, you’re very likely to win the value game. Yet another way to get card advantage is to simply play minions or spells that draw cards. Azure Drake is great, because it often trades into something, while cycling itself at the same time. If it kills one enemy minion, you’re +1 on card advantage. If you draft the Control deck, you want to prioritize answers over threats. In Arena, it’s not always possible, that’s why you’re still going to end up with a lot of minions. That’s what I’ve said at the beginning – you can’t make a Control Warrior. It’s a deck that can survive, because it runs A LOT of early game removals + weapons and Armor gain. In Arena, you can’t consistently draws as many answers. Having 6-7 spells in your draft is already quite a lot. It means that even if you play a Control deck, you still need to get some early drops to survive until the late game. Also, you DON’T WANT to pick too many big minions. It’s a mistake new Arena players are often making. Even for a slow, Control deck, 5-6 big minions (6 or more mana) should be enough. What is the use of big minions if you’re going to draw them in the early game and because of that never actually get into the late game? The general rule is that the more late game you have, the better you do against other slow decks, but worse against the fast decks. I can clearly tell you from my experience that there are a lot more fast decks in Arena right now, so don’t take too much late game drops.
My final advice when it comes to deck types is that you should NOT try to go for the combo decks. Those are incredibly strong in Constructed, but that’s only because you can put exactly the cards you want into your deck. When it comes to the tribe synergies, getting them is okay-ish. For example, Blackwing Corruptor is not a terrible card. If you draw into a lot of Dragons, it’s going to be awesome. But even if you don’t, 5/4 for 5 is bad, but not game-losing bad. Same goes for let’s say Tinkertown Technician – even if you have zero Mechs in your deck, vanilla 3/3 for 3 is not worst thing ever. You should, however, stay away from the cards that are good ONLY if you can combo them with others or only if you have some sort of synergy. For example: Junkbot. This card is terrible, because 1/5 for 5 is never going to get any value and you really need a lot of Mechs to make a use of it. Another, more common example is Grim Patron. While I’ve seen one draft, where guy had 2x Grim Patron, Unstable Ghoul, Mad Bomber, Elven Archer and things like that, it’s REALLY rare to get this card working (outside of Mage maybe, because then you can just play it and ping it on turn 7). Grimscale Oracle or Murloc Tidecaller also suck, because you NEED to have Murloc synergies for them to work. Cards that can’t attack and need activation are also bad unless you’re already far into your draft and you have at least couple of ways to activate them. Those cards are e.g. Ancient Watcher and Nerubian Egg. The general rule in Arena is that you want to draft the standalone strong cards, ESPECIALLY at the start of your draft. In your last picks you can look for some synergies – e.g. if you have a lot of Mechs you can go for the Cogmaster. But getting a synergistic/combo deck in Arena is very rare and most of time picking those cards too early will cost you a lot of games. I’ll explain it later in the article.
Spells are rare in Arena. It’s not like you don’t even see them, but you get much less spells offered than you get minions. Some drafts end up with only 1 or 2 spells. It’s because there are no Neutral spells in the game – all of them are class cards. So if you take a pool of cards from one class + add all the neutrals, drawing into good spells is hard. And it’s also important – since they are premium, if you have them and enemy doesn’t, your draft looks good.
But, why exactly are the spells strong? Arena is mostly a minion-based mode. You fight for the board control for the whole game, the one who wins usually wins the match. Every spell that might help you accomplish that is great. The main reason why spells are generally stronger than minions is that they’re instant. You can imagine that they have Charge. Let’s take the most simple example. Darkbomb – it deals 3 damage for 2 mana. You play it on a minion that has 3 health, it dies. Just like that. It’s like you’ve played a 3 attack minion with Charge (Wolfrider?) and ran into that minion. It’s even better, because it goes through the Taunts! Spells boost your tempo. If you’ve played a minion into their minion, they’d be the one trading. They might buff their minion, they might remove your with a spell too, they might even just play a Taunt and suddenly you can’t kill their stuff. Spells are a great way to control the board from your hand, without any minion presence. And if you’re already ahead – that’s cool too! If they play a minion, instead of trading your own stuff you can just kill it with a spell. Not to mention that AoE spells are probably the best way to keep the board control and get card advantage.
Buffs are strong for a similar reason. The stats you put on the board have “charge” if you play it on a minion that can attack. Cards like Blessing of Kings, Seal of Champions or Velen's Chosen allow your minions to take a trade and still survive. An example – you have a 3/5 on the board and enemy played his 3/5. Normally, you can’t kill it. You can just ignore their guy and play another minion. This is a valid strategy too, but you might want to kill their minoin without your dying. It prevents enemy buffs, it prevents some effects (the minion might be Violet Teacher for example). So, you can play Blessing of Kings on your own guy, turning it into 7/9 and then trade. You end up having a 7/6 minion against their empty board. 7/6 minion is very hard to contest in the mid game, it gets good trades against pretty much anything until some turn 6 plays. Not to mention that if enemy spends his turn to deal with it (e.g. with a spell), you just traded 2 for 2 and you have an initiative on empty board. One buff can turn the whole game around. A 3/4 minion turned into 5/8 with Velen's Chosen can often just contest the whole mid game and get like 3 or 4 for 1 (combined with Priest’s Hero Power). Silence isn’t popular in Arena, because you have only 2 Neutral cards that can Silence (and a lot of time they aren’t even the best pick). It means that buffs usually last until the minion is killed.
It doesn’t meant that every spell is strong. Generally, spells that impact the board are the ones you want. Those that don’t or those that are very situational / require combo are bad. So, for example, Shadow Word: Pain is a good spell. It can’t do anything else but impact the board. Explosive Shot is a great spell, because it can remove up to 3 minions! On the other hand, Mind Blast is terrible. For Priest the 5 damage doesn’t mean anything without board control. And once you get the board control, often you don’t even need the 5 additional damage – you just kill enemy with your minions. Reincarnate is another bad spell in Arena, because it requires combos to work. It’s good if you have minions with high quality Deathrattles (for example Sylvanas Windrunner), but you won’t consistently draw a lot of them. The second category of spells might actually be okay in certain decks, but it really depends on every individual case. Like, Shadowstep is a rather bad spell, but if you have a lot of cards with strong Battlecries, suddenly its power jumps up. Spells that draw you cards are generally average. They aren’t bad, great things to draw once you’re in top deck war, but early in the game you can’t afford to play them and lose the tempo.
Aggro and Tempo decks want the single target removals, buffs and burn. If they are the ones with board advantage, they don’t really need AoE removal that much. Single target removal are strong, because they are usually efficient – once a slower deck drops one big minion that would get great trades with your stuff, you can just remove it with a spell. Buffs are great, because they boost your tempo and put your minions out of removal/AoE range. And burn, well, once you get enemy low enough you often need something to finish them off if they stabilize.
Midrange and Control decks want pretty much all the spells that can clear the board. Buffs aren’t that strong in this kind of decks (they’re fine in Midrange, but less so in Control), because they need some board presence to use the buffs, and even then, most of the time they prefer to play a second big minion instead of just buffing the one they have (unless it has Taunt).
Synergies and Combos
I’ve explained before that it’s not something you want to look at when you start the draft. For the first 10-15 cards, you should draft solid, STANDALONE options and not look that much at the synergies yet. That’s how it works most of time, but sometimes it turns out that synergistic cards can be also strong stand-alone cards. Let’s first take a look at something that’s called tribes (or types) of minions. Under some cards you have a tag – it tells you which tribe the minion is in. If a minion has no tag, it means that it belongs to no tribe. There are quite a few of them, but let’s discuss the most popular ones:
Mech synergies usually requires you to have a Mech on the board (Tinkertown Technician, Goblin Blastmage, Upgraded Repair Bot). As you can see, those cards get considerably stronger when you already have a Mech on the board. Another synergy is the one between Mechwarper on the board + Mechs in your hand. You can play them for 1 less mana, meaning you can (for example) get out a Piloted Shredder on turn 3. A lot of Mech synergy cards aren’t terrible even if you don’t have any Mechs in your deck. For example, 2/3 for 2, 5/4 for 4 or 5/5 for 5 are a rather decent statlines. Definitely not greatest, especially since they have no additional effect, but you can play them. Those synergy cards are safe picks. You can get them near the start of your draft if your other options aren’t best. A lot of drafts end up with Mechs – there are 13 different Neutral Common Mechs, not to mention the class ones and the Rares+. But even if you don’t have any Mech in your deck, those will be okay choices.
The second biggest synergistic tribe are probably Murlocs. Constructed Murloc decks are semi-viable, because of the insane Murloc synergies. But you need a deck FULL of Murlocs to really make those synergies work. In Arena it’s impossible, so you should not pick Murloc cards requiring synergy. You can still pick those that are solid standalone cards – for example Puddlestomper is just a 3/2 for 2, which is fine. Murloc Knight is actually insane card, not because of the synergies, but because of how much value it can get over a few turns. But Murloc Tidecaller or Coldlight Seer require you to have a lot of Murlocs to be good and have very weak base stats. Meaning you don’t want them.
The third tribe are the Dragons. There are less Dragon synergies and most of them use the “Holding a Dragon” mechanic. It means that if you have a Dragon in your hand, the card gets the additional effect. There are only 2 common neutral cards with this synergy, so those are the ones you’re going to see most: Blackwing Technician and Blackwing Corruptor. Their standard stats are underwhelming, but they are still fine picks if your other options really suck. They get incredibly strong, however, if you get to activate the effect. Just remember that Dragons are much harder to get in your draft than Mechs. There are only 5 neutral Common Dragons, so the chances you’re going to draft a Dragon are much worse.
Some classes get their own tribe synergies. For example, Warlock has some synergy with Demons (and most of the Demons are only available to Warlock) and Hunter + Druid have some synergies with Beasts. It means that you can value those tribes in those classes A BIT more, but definitely not base your picks on that.
So, the rule is that in the first 10-15 cards of your deck you should only pick synergistic cards if they’re also okay standalone cards OR if you already have the ways to activate this synergy. For example, Clockwork Knight is an okay standalone card, but if you have Mechs its value goes up. But you shouldn’t pick Iron Sensei if you have no Mechs in your deck, because if you end up without any Mech, the 2/2 for 3 mana is incredibly weak. You generally should start looking at the synergies past pick 15. Then you start having a big picture of what will your deck look like. If you see that you’re high on the Mechs, you can start picking more of them and effects that synergize with them.
But, those are only the tribe synergies. There are also combos that are much harder to catch. Some cards just work very well with the others. I won’t write about every of them, because it’s impossible, but when thinking about your choices you should take everything into consideration.
Probably one of the most simple examples is Savage Roar in Druid (the case is similar to Shaman’s Bloodlust). At base, the card is pretty average. I’d even say it’s below average in a slower deck. But, the faster your deck is, the more value it can get. If you have only 1 minion on the board, it’s 4 damage for 3 mana, which isn’t really good. But if you have 5 minions on the board, it’s suddenly 12 damage for 3 mana, which is broken. The more minions on the board you have – the better the card is. It means that cards that generate additional cards (so called “tokens”) make Savage Roar much stronger. So, if you have a slow deck, the Savage Roar is probably like 3/10. But if you have Living Roots, Imp Master, Violet Teacher and Onyxia in your deck, Savage Roar suddenly gains MUCH MORE value. Soul of the Forest is very similar – with cards generating Tokens it can get much more value, but at the base it’s just below average.
Another card that requires synergies is Blade Flurry. To make it great you need either a bigger weapon or weapon buffs. At base, you can just destroy your Hero Power dagger for 1 damage AoE, which honestly sucks. But once you start picking up the weapon buffs – Deadly Poison, Tinker's Sharpsword Oil, Goblin Auto-Barber or even the bigger weapons like Assassin's Blade, Blade Flurry’s value goes up and up.
The last example I’ll give is the Antique Healbot. Besides the Mech synergy, which we can ignore for now, the card seems like it has no synergies with other cards. That’s kinda true. It doesn’t have synergy with other cards – it has synergy with your class or deck type. Antique Healbot gets much more value in classes that use their health as resource – Rogue, Warlock, to some extent even Druid or Paladin (if he draws a lot of weapons). It’s also decent in slower, Control decks. A lot of time Control deck has already stabilized on the board just to get burned by minions with Charge, weapons, spells. Healbot is great for those late game scenarios where you’re at only few points of life and you don’t care about weak (3/3) body. You want healing. So, for example, if you drafted a Warlock deck, possibly even one with stuff like Hellfire, Flame Imp or Wrathguard or if you play a little slower Rogue deck (especially with weapons & weapon buffs), Healbot gets much more value and becomes a good pick.
Those synergies between cards are things that you really need to look at. Blade Flurry is bad first draw, because you don’t know whether you’re going to have any weapon buffs in your deck. But as 20th pick if you already have 2-3 weapon buffs, it’s awesome. Synergistic decks are really hard to draft in Arena because of the randomness. That’s why you shouldn’t START your draft with cards like that, but as you progress, keep an eye on those things.
The more synergies are in your deck, the better it is. That’s what you often see in 12 wins decks – they have nearly Constructed level combos. I remember drafting a Mech Mage once, I had like 10 Mechs in total with 3 Mechwarpers, 2 Tinkertown Technicians and one Goblin Blastmage. It was one of my strongest Arena drafts ever and got 12 wins easily thanks to how powerful those were. But those decks are very rare sight, meaning trying to go for them from the start is very risky.
So that’s it, folks. There are few more subtle things that you need to take care about when drafting in Arena, but explaining each one of them would be too much.
I know that reading through this won’t suddenly make your drafts much better, but I really think that it’s important (especially for new Arena players) to do the drafting process yourself. HearthArena is a really cool tool, but it should be only a guideline, not a Drafting Bible. Drafting by yourself helps you understand why each card is good or bad, why it fits or doesn’t fit the deck, which might – in the long run – improve your play. I hope that this article have helped some of you to understand what makes a good draft.
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions – leave them in a section below!