One of the hardest things for a Hearthstone beginner to do is answer a simple question: is this deck any good? Although experience and research help us do so in time, it’s a huge challenge to overcome. This article is for all those who still struggle to figure out which cards are relevant for decklists. It will provide you with basic knowledge and give you the means to evaluate decks on your own. These basic principles of deck analysis work as well for a known deck (e.g. from a streamer) as an unknown deck from your opponent.
Part #1: Is This Deck Good?
As a coach, I receive many questions like:
- “Is card X really necessary for the deck?”
- “Should I craft X to build this? ”
- “Which is better to craft: X or Y? I can’t do both.”
- “Which cards could replace X or Y if I don’t have them?”
And so forth. This section tells you how to find answers to these questions yourself!
How can you figure out which cards in a deck are important?
Start with something very simple – figure out the name of the deck and its creator. This information allows you to search for further information about the deck. It will brings you to guides, similar decklists and meta stats. Once you have the name, you can easily locate related decks. You should then quickly browse through a couple of lists and check for common ground.
Here, we will use a Murloc Paladin deck as an example. If you find a card like Vilefin Inquisitor, Murloc Warleader, or Tirion Fordring in three decks called Murloc Paladin, you can be certain that those cards are necessary and worth crafting. On the other hand, Finja, the Flying Star appears in only one of the lists. This (probably) means he may be useful for a deck variant, but not strictly necessary. In the following illustration, you see an example demonstrating a frequent issue – deck naming.
There are synonyms for deck names that you can only learn by experience. Here, we have one “Murloc” deck and a “Midrange” one. Are they the same? More or less: one is a bit faster, the other a bit slower. If 60% of the cards in two lists overlap, the decks are usually pretty similar. In the end though, you’ll have to rely on your personal judgment (or ask your coach) to figure it out.
How do you know if a deck is fast or slow?
A decent indicator is looking at the deck’s mana curve. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the curve, the faster the deck is. There are certain exceptions (e.g. combo decks, like Quest Rogue) that are more “midrange” than the curve suggests. But overall, the curve tells you much about the tempo and game plan of the deck.
Here’s a slow curve and a faster one – the first deck has more 3- and 4-drops, and two 7+ mana cards. The second deck has more 2-drops and an additional 1-drop. It’s clear visually: the second deck’s focus is on the early game. As a result, the deck will more consistently play 2-drops on curve. However, its power will fall off after turn six! In contrast, the first deck will occasionally miss the 2-drop and maintain more power after turn six.
How can you rate your deck source?
After you find a deck somewhere, how can you determine how good that source is? Some indicators to look for include: proof of Legend with the deck, stats, a meta snapshot listing, a detailed guide, and whether it comes from an experienced source (like a professional player or streamer).
Among the best resources are:
- The r/CompetitiveHS subreddit: The forum for the competitive Hearthstone scene on Reddit, with strictly controlled content from a team of experienced moderators.
- The Vicious Syndicate Meta Report: A weekly breakdown of statistics, decklists, and matchup charts for Ranked Hearthstone. A team of experts constructs each meta snapshot based on data collected via track-o-bot.
- The Tempo Storm Meta Snapshot: Another weekly meta ranking made by experts. It contains decklists, matchups, and mulligan guides.
- And of course, your coach: Hearthstone coaches make a living by staying on top of the competitive scene and teaching what’s relevant. A good coach will always at least point you in a helpful direction!
If you find a deck (or variant thereof) listed in one of the meta snapshots, you can be confident the deck is at least somewhat viable. However, this tells you nothing about how easy or hard a deck is to play. As an inexperienced player, you may still struggle with advanced decks.
How to understand your deck: playtesting!
Simply playing the deck is a great way to figure out which cards are important! It also helps to watch a more experienced person play, but doing it yourself is best. If a deck is considered top-tier and you struggle with it, you’re probably doing something wrong. Don’t be ashamed or angry! Many decks are hard to understand at first glance, and small details can mean the difference winning or losing.
Remember to look for your own misplays instead of blaming the deck, your opponent, or random effects. There are sometimes games that are unwinnable, but when you almost always have a chance. Don’t hesitate to ask people for help with learning – book your coach here on Gamer Sensei!
Part #2: What Is My Opponent Playing?
In Part #1, we learned how to evaluate a known decklist. This section explains how to read your opponent’s (unknown) deck!
How do pros do it?
Professional players are constantly matching the opponent’s cards against popular decklists in their head. Many cards only see play in certain decks, so you naturally have more information the more your opponent plays. Usually a pro can predict their opponent’s deck and strategy after just one or two turns. How is that possible?
First off, the opponent’s class narrows it down to at most two to three options. For instance, an opponent playing Hunter is almost always an aggressive or midrange deck. If it’s Warrior, there are two more distinct options: Pirate Warrior (aggressive) and Taunt Warrior (controlling). The latter is a Quest deck, and Quest cards always show up as the left-most card in your hand. If your Warrior opponent keeps the left-most card, it hints that they’re a Taunt build. This leads us to the next point – the mulligan narrows it down further.
As a rule of thumb, the more cards your opponent keeps, the higher the chance they’re playing a fast deck and vice versa for slower decks. If the opponent doesn’t play any cards in the first three turns, they’re almost certainly playing Control. With these basic strategies in mind, you can predict what you expect the opponent to play!
Which staple cards should I look for?
Let’s assume the opponent is playing an unknown deck. What information can you gather? Here’s a list of common class cards that usually indicate fast or slow decks for each class. I chose these Basic / Classic cards because they will always be present in the meta and not change from expansion to expansion or after a Standard rotation.
- Druid decks can be very flexible in terms of tempo.
- Hunter decks are almost always fast due to the Hero Power.
- Mage decks can be flexible like Druid and hide their strategy for several turns.
- Paladin decks can play aggro, control, and even value-oriented Midrange.
- Priest decks are traditionally slow because of their Hero Power, but there is a fast combo deck with Divine Spirit and Inner Fire.
- Rogue decks almost always focus on a combo or tempo playstyle with cards like Sap, Preparation, SI:7 Agent, and Backstab.
- Shaman decks are among the most flexible. Be ready for anything.
- Warlock decks typically fall into one of two archetypes: Zoo (aggressive or Midrange) or Handlock (slower control or combo).
- Warrior decks are currently aggressive Pirate Warriors or value-based Control Warriors.
With all that we’ve discussed, you’re prepared to start reading both known and unknown decklists! You learned how to identify key cards, read the mana curve, find more resources for any deck, and rate their quality. What’s more, with a little experience and patience you can “read” your opponent and predict what cards they’re playing. Remember that practice makes perfect! You can also always book a coach to help with skill development here on Gamer Sensei. Until next time!