Getting into Hearthstone: Tips and tricks
Blizzard’s new collectible card game is entering its final round of closed beta, and will open to the public within the month. However, I (and my GameZone colleague Jake Valentine, who you’ll undoubtedly hear from soon enough) managed to sneak my way in during the last round of beta keys, and have spent many hours with the game since. As a gamer well-versed in the ways of strategy and card games, I can confidently say that Hearthstone is a relatively simple but deceptively complex beast. This makes the game easy to get into but expectedly difficult to master. Here are a few tools of the trade to help you get to the end of that record.
Know your opponent
"Eeny, meeny, miney, mo" will not get you very far.
This is strategy 101, but I’ve seen plenty of flagrant misplays based solely on the fact that my opponent was treating my deck like that of another class (there are nine to choose from). There are two sides to every card game: the moves you make, and those of your opponent. It follows that your moves must interact with and anticipate your opponent’s. However, the class-specific cards of Hearthstone affect this basic formula greatly.
If, for example, you’re up against the Mage, a class loved and loathed for its plentiful damage-dealing spells, you’ll want to spend your creatures wisely, lest you overextend and have your only line of defense annihilated by a board-clearing spell like Flamestrike. The same goes for the use of your removal if matched against, say, the Druid, who tends to play longer games and drop beefy creatures like Ironbark Protector in the late game. The Warrior’s weapons make for abrupt damage potential, the Rogue can combo into oblivion out of nowhere, and the Priest is able to keep creatures alive with ease—every class must be handled differently, and you’ll want to match your plays accordingly.
TL;DR: Don’t play Dust Devil turn one against a Mage. They will laugh, as mages often do.
Use “The Coin” wisely
Hearthstone has a rather interesting mechanic for balancing turn order. While the player to move first has a small tempo advantage and can gain control early, going second earns you an extra card (which increases your ability to redraw a good starting hand) and a unique card called The Coin which can be used to gain an additional mana crystal (the game’s primary resource) for one turn. This creates an opportunity to level the playing field with the first-turn player, or more importantly, give yourself an edge by playing a higher cost card early.
What it is not, is the time to play a first-turn Novice Engineer, hero power, or the like. Don’t get me wrong, there are situations where that may be a wise move. But more often than not, you’ll want to hold onto the coin until you’ve got a guaranteed (or as guaranteed as you can get in card games) opportunity to win out. That could be a turn-one Knife Juggler, a turn-two Harvest Golem, an early Swipe or even an end game 11-mana combo—whatever gets you ahead.
You don’t have to spend money
Buying dozens of card packs is not the quickest way to start winning Hearthstone; that’s just the fastest way to stockpile a collection. There are more than enough cards at your disposal at the onset to start learning the game, and many more can be unlocked by simply practicing with the various classes. What’s more, there are daily quests available allowing players to earn an additional 40-60 gold a day on top of the allotted 100 from play mode (10 gold per 3 wins). If, like me, you’re set on not paying for packs, good news: there’s a better way to earn them the stingy way than 100 gold a pop.
Use your gold on arena, not packs
"There she is—your prize!"
Hearthstone offers three play modes: Practice, against AI; Play, which offers ranked and unranked forms of constructive format in which players create and play decks from their personal collection; and Arena. After paying the 150 gold entry free, (or $1.50) Arena mode has you pick a random hero from a selection of three and then construct a deck out of sequential arrays of random cards. You then pit your deck against players who’ve done the same, and play until you lose three games or win nine, with each win earning you a better award at your round’s end.
In any case, you are guaranteed an expert card pack from entering arena, and if you manage to win seven times, you’ll make enough gold to pay for a new ticket as well. Better still, if you can win four times, you’ll make up the 50 gold difference from buying packs outright, and have gained experience with and knowledge of various cards in the process.
So, what’s better: 100 gold a pack or 150 gold for a potentially free pack and a shot at significantly greater rewards, namely a ticket’s worth of gold and two packs from a full nine wins?
Removal is for creatures, not your opponent
This is a fairly nitpicky gameplay gripe, but the fact of the matter is that if I’d gained 10 dust (which is used to craft cards, by the way) for every Lightning Bolt, Frostbolt, and Arcane Shot I’ve taken to the face on turn one or two, I’d be able to craft an archive. Hearthstone ultimately revolves around creatures—their effects, attack strength and health. Removal spells are therefore best saved for picking off creatures and gaining field control, and realistically should only be used directly to an opponent if it guarantees their defeat.
Don’t be afraid to disenchant
I realize that the legendary you happened to pull in your third pack looks very cool, but unless you’re sitting on a real goldmine (Alextrasza, Ragnaros the Firelord, or the like), you’re probably better off trading it in for a few rare-grade cards or even a nice epic. The same applies to cards you simply don’t like, even if it’s technically good; if there’s a card you want and you own a card that you don’t, trade up. You can always pull more cards and earn more dust.
Build a good constructive deck, even if you’re an Arena-head
Even if you find your free time consumed by a love for the Arena, you’ll want to work on building and learning solid constructive play—that or break out the digital wallet. All that gold’s got to come from somewhere, and unless you’re a true master of the Arena, you’ll need to get it outside of your round’s earnings. That means you’ll be spending some time in Play mode, and therefore in need of a deck that can win consistently.
This ties into an earlier tip: It’s often best to focus your dust on strengthening one class—your favorite, obviously—to improve your ability to win gold. However, this is easily the flimsiest of this list’s bits of advice, as many players likely enjoy the collective aspect of the game more than its competitive side, and many more will enjoy experimenting with several classes.
There’s plenty more to say about Hearthstone, and, I must admit, I’ve yet to figure it all it out. Or even most of it. So do me a favor and post your own tips and tricks in the comments.