Learn. Analyze. Act. Solve the puzzle each turn presents, and win at Hearthstone!
What is it that separates a Hearthstone casual from a pro? In my opinion, the most important skills for playing at a very high level are analytical thinking and fast decision-making. Nothing else really matters (except maybe luck), since you don’t need extraordinary reaction speed, good aim or perfect timing. For many newer players, though, it might help to imagine a game of Hearthstone as a complicated puzzle that you must work through to achieve victory – like a Rubik’s Cube! Imagine the actions you take each turn as rotating the Rubik’s Cube walls. For you to “win”, it all has to align in a given pattern, just as your in-game decisions should ultimately lead to overpowering your opponent. But anyone who has attempted one of these devilishly difficult devices will tell you: knowing there’s a solution and actually finding it are totally different things!
Solving any puzzle, a Hearthstone game included, relies on three key player attributes: knowledge, experience, and performance. Everyone will have different levels of expertise in these fields, but it’s important to work on building all of them simultaneously! Let’s discuss in a bit more detail the difference between these interrelated subjects.
Knowledge can be best described as understanding how the game works and learning all the cards. When you begin your Hearthstone adventure, knowledge is quite natural to focus on because you have to learn all the classes, all the cards, what does what, how any given mechanic works, etc. etc. A perfect game mode for gaining that knowledge is Arena, since there you have access to all the cards while your collection is most likely still very small. Learning the main strengths and weaknesses of each class will definitely help you have a better grasp of what’s actually going on in the game.
Still, getting to know the cards, mechanics, and deeper interactions is just a start. To expand your knowledge base, you’ll have to learn about the current metagame, get to know the most popular decks, and familiarize yourself with common matchups and key cards. The good thing about knowledge is that it doesn’t require you to spend time in the game. You can browse Hearthstone-related websites, read articles, watch videos or streams, and learn from more experienced players, all at your own pace!
As you venture deeper into this mystical world of wizard poker, you will forge the knowledge you’ve gained into experience! In the Arena, you’ll improve your drafting and learn to pilot many different decks and classes. In Constructed, you’ll constantly get better with the decks you love, discover how to optimize your play and discover all the small synergies that they contain. Experience is similar to knowledge in that they both come in time. However, experience requires you to actively play the game and try to push yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with.
As an example, I focus on Arenas and play Constructed only a few days each month. I usually end up around Rank 5, just so I can get a decent Battle Chest at the end of the season. Because of how I approach the game, I spend most of my time playing Constructed between Ranks 17 and 5, so my “comfort zone” lies in that range. Trying to reach Legend is especially hard, since it requires that I leave my “comfort zone” and play at ranks I’m unaccustomed to. Blizzard designed the Battle Chest system to reward us for the best overall Rank achieved, in order to make players a bit less anxious about losing Rank. Nevertheless, I think most people will agree that even this can’t and doesn’t change the fact that we feel less certain of our abilities when outside our individual comfort zones!
This is where decision-making makes an even bigger difference and experience comes into play. When you feel confident about the choices you make, and have a good enough foundation to make correct decisions most of the time, your opponent’s Rank will generally not matter. My advice for building experience is simple: practice, practice, and even more practice! And don’t think about Rank, but focus on making the right decisions in each moment, even when the game is already won. Easy Legend, easy life!
The third field of focus when playing at a high level is performance. Sleeping enough, staying well hydrated, and controlling your emotions can all make a significant difference in all aspects of life, decision-making and videogames included. If you want to treat something seriously, no matter whether it’s school, work, or just playing Hearthstone, you have to keep yourself in both physical and mental shape!
Going for a fifteen minute run can help you to clear your head and release stress (especially if you’re getting tilted by Hearthstone RNG). Sleeping at least 6 hours a day will let you think more objectively and not become tired as quickly. The list goes on, and we could make a whole other article about this subject, but let’s just say that sleeping, eating, and exercising properly will help you manage stress, keep a clear head, and further improve your decision-making skills.
Putting It All Together
After theory, it’s time for some practical information! Let’s list some questions that every Hearthstone player can refer to when making a decision. As at the beginning of this article, we’re going to imagine each step as one rotation of a Rubik’s Cube.
- What are your options on board and in hand? click
- What deck is my opponent playing? click
- What’s the board state? Am I winning or losing on board? click
- What cards did they already use? What threats or removal can they still have? click
- Can we finish the game this turn? If not, can we set up lethal damage for the next turn? click
- Can they kill us faster? click
The most important of these questions is obviously “Can I win the game this turn,” however I would suggest you go through all of them every turn to practice analytic thinking as much as you can. You could also broaden the list by adding things that you want to focus on, such as “Is it better to use my board to trade or use removal from hand?” or “Is there a way to bait out a key card from my opponent suboptimally?”
In my opinion, there are essentially two kinds of situations on any particular turn. Either the (metaphorical) Cube is almost finished and you just need one or two final moves, or you have to work out a very specific way to play in order to maximize value and best prepare for following turns.
An example of the first situation would be simply playing one minion on curve each turn and going to the face with everything. Nothing to think about: anyone can do that!
On the other hand, let’s think about a hypothetical turn where you’re playing Priest and have a Wild Pyromancer and Northshire Cleric on board. There are probably multiple good lines you could play this turn, but it requires strong analytical and problem-solving skills to figure out the best way to clear the enemy board, heal back your minions, and draw cards at the same time.
When we combine knowledge and experience, as well as add a pinch of good-habit-induced performance, we can go through every step of making a decision and come up with the perfect solution for any situation. I consulted one of my teammates, Shadet, who’s an expert in speedcubing (completing a Rubik’s Cube as fast as possible) – he told me that it only takes about twenty moves to finish a Rubik’s Cube no matter how scrambled, assuming you make all the correct decisions. Hearthstone can’t be that much harder, right?
I hope breaking up the basics of decision-making and providing you with the Rubik’s Cube analogy will help you improve your Hearthstone play in practice and theory. I gladly welcome any comments and feedback, so please feel free to let me know what you would like to read about next time and consider booking a lesson if this guide helped. Good luck in your games!