Ah, I still remember the old days… I was first hooked on Hearthstone with Arena back in November 2013. I liked Mage, but my hero of choice was Rogue. The hero power was just too good: 2 mana to deal 1 damage – twice?! But I wasn’t Legend material yet: before Hearthstone, I used to play Yu-Gi-Oh! semi-competitively. In Yu-Gi-Oh!, (at least back then) card advantage was everything. If you could secure a two to three card lead, it was usually possible to grind the opponent out and win.
My card gamer’s background made me overconfident. It’s Rogue vs. Mage in the Arena, and my opponent Coins out a 3/2 Bloodfen Raptor. In this spot, you might like to answer back with your own 2-drop and hope for the trade. Well not on my watch! Who cares if I have a 2/3 Crocolisk in my hand… We can kill that minion for free with our Dagger! Swing once now, once again next turn and voila! The beast is dead, and we got what we crave: card advantage.
The beast was indeed dead, but so was I – to double Fireball around turn 8. I was starting to realize that Health is a resource, and you can’t overuse it! Every minion in Yu-Gi-Oh has “Taunt,” but that’s not the case here! There are three resources that you’ll have to consider if you want to win reliably… The holy trio of Hearthstone: Health, Card Advantage, and Tempo!
Resource #1: Health
Easy, right? You start with 30 and that’s the cap. This is the oxygen of Hearthstone – run out of Health and you’re done! Some classes (Warrior & Druid) have easy access to Armor and can thus “surpass” the cap. Aggro decks try to remove the Health of their opponent as fast as possible, while Control decks are content to take it slow. Health is an odd resource, because it only ‘matters’ when you don’t have it. We’ve all seen an opponent stabilize and win from an infuriating 1 HP!
Resource #2: Cards / Card Advantage
There are a few ways that cards can be used as a resource. First, more cards obviously give you more options. Having access to a variety of cards lets you use them in efficient ways! Some cards can also deal with two or more of your opponent’s cards (like a Flamestrike killing 3 minions). These situations are called “value plays” or just “getting value.” Cards are the most important resource when slower decks clash.
Resource #3: Tempo
This is probably one of the hardest concepts in Hearthstone to understand. In 2015, pro player Sottle described tempo as a measure of your progress through the game, against which the main limiting factor is Mana restrictions. You’ll also see the word tempo used to label specific decks, like Tempo Mage. The best way to understand tempo is to look at what you’ve accomplished in comparison to the Mana you’ve used! This basically means ‘being ahead on board’ or presenting threats instead of simply answering them. Historically, the class with the most tempo-oriented cards is Rogue. Access to a 0-Mana removal in Backstab makes Rogue a tempo powerhouse, and it’s even better these days with the unconditional removal and 3/4 body of Vilespine Slayer!
Understanding Tempo: “Fast” and “Slow” Cards
The words fast and slow are often used in the Hearthstone community, and they can be confusing to newer players. “Slow” describes a minion that requires a turn to do something after being played. One example would be Ysera, a card that has a very powerful end-of-turn effect. It balances an extreme cost of 9 Mana and lack of immediate impact with a huge upside if you can survive until next turn. A similar but “better” slow card is The Lich King, because its Taunt guarantees you some breathing space.
On the other hand, “fast” cards have an immediate effect on the board state. Some of them can also trade up, like a Kor’kron Elite or Flametongue Totem-boosted minions. Removal cards are also “fast” but they usually don’t summon a minion. One exception would be Firelands Portal, which can create huge value and tempo swings!
- Firelands Portal: “I can kill a 5/5 Thing from Below and summon a 5/5 too!”
- Ultimate Infestation: “Hold my beer… ;)”
There are four primary ways that you can exchange these key resources for each other. Let’s look at each in turn!
Sacrificing Cards for Life
This is a staple of Priest’s gameplay, but this kind of effect is usually not very impactful outside of aggressive matchups. Some cards do nothing but gain you life and are narrow in application like Greater Healing Potion. Others are combined with a body (hopefully an efficient one) like Priest of the Feast or Earthen Ring Farseer. These latter two at least give you a beefy minion on board!
Sacrificing Cards for Tempo
In other words, just gaining tempo – such as being the first to play a strong minion which demands an answer from your opponent. The nightmare scenario of a fast Innervate into Vicious Fledgling is a perfect example of trading cards for board presence!
Sacrificing Life for Tempo
This is one of the most interesting trade-offs, and is often undervalued by new players going up against aggressive decks. There are often situations where you can use a spell or Hero Power to remove your opponent’s minions, but it’s sometimes better to develop a bigger minion of your own instead! After all, reacting is not always ideal: it gives your opponent the initiative to make the first move again.
The most common way a control deck stabilizes is by playing a big minion and then clearing the opponent’s board. From there, you can use the big minion to trade favorably and gain even more card / tempo advantage. One prime example that some control decks used in the past (notably Warrior) was Ysera.
Sacrificing Tempo and Health for Cards
In the abstract, Life Tap is the best Hero Power… After all, it’s the only one that can accumulate straight card advantage! In practice, however, it has to be used carefully. There’s the obvious cost in Health, but also a hidden cost in tempo since you’re spending Mana that could otherwise go into developing the board. The tempo loss is usually the more important of the two!
On the other hand, some decks plan around giving up tempo advantage in the early game. Control decks try to out-value their opponents by virtue of drawing more cards. For examples, think of Arcane Intellect, Northshire Cleric, and Acolyte of Pain. A control deck is usually happy to sacrifice 3 Mana and some Health to draw for more powerful future turns. E.g., Control Warrior plays Acolyte of Pain (a relatively weak 3-drop) so it can reliably find Brawl to deal with the opponent’s board.
Resources for Victory!
Knowing when to exchange these resources for each other is an advanced skill that even pros can sometimes struggle with applying. Do you get upset when you run out of cards, or find yourself obsessing over getting as much card advantage as possible? Remember that tempo and Health can be equally important – if not more so – in faster matchups. The next time your hand is close to empty or contains low value cards, don’t panic or admit defeat… Try to utilize your options in the most efficient way possible so you have a chance to win! And if you’re having trouble figuring out which resources to conserve in a given game, check out my guide to winning tough matchups here!