I’ll make the intro short and sweet: this is a guide about arena drafting. My Stats over 1500 games.
Table of Contents
- General Principles
- Tier List
- Class Card Pick Orders
- Conclusion and VODs
I’ve said this elsewhere, but let me say this again: “arena RNG” is mostly an illusion. There is a deceptively large amount of skill to arena, and it took me watching weaker players to figure out where it was coming from.
I’ve been coaching several players over the last few weeks, and most of the time, they’re in the right ballpark about what to do. When they draft, they usually take the right card, and I’ll only disagree with about 5 picks. When they play, they’ll often make good calls… they just won’t be making the best calls.
To them, it looks like they are drafting ok (they are), playing ok (they are), and occasionally losing to really bad luck, like bad drafts or opposing legendaries (they are). They’re not making any absolutely horrible plays, and yet it seems they can’t break 6 wins. So what’s going on? Is it just RNG?
The problem is that they are making tons and tons of tiny mistakes that, added up, are having a huge subtle effect on their results. If you make a mistake in a game like Super Mario Bros, you end up IMMEDIATELY DEAD. It is super obvious that it was the bad jump that killed you. But if you make a mistake in Hearthstone, it goes largely unnoticed and it’s not at all clear that the reason you lost was because of that mistake.
I’ll give you an example. Suppose your opponent plays a reasonable sized creature. You can actually kill it with on-the-board damage, leaving your creatures still pretty healthy, but instead you decide to spend a premium removal in your hand. Okay, that’s not a large mistake, and it might not even affect your result. But if your opponent plays a huge Legendary 5 turns later, then using that removal spell might be the difference maker. And the scary thing is: you’ll never realize that spending that removal was a mistake, because it happened 5 turns ago and is only now affecting the game. It will *look* like you just got unlucky and your opponent topdecked a Legendary, but what *actually* happened is that a small mistake 5 turns ago cost you the game.
In my games, my opponent will often top-deck a legendary, and I’ll swear and moan… but I’ll have accrued such a large lead over the game that I’ll just barely win, rather than getting blown out by the single creature. I’ll have made so many good tiny decisions over the course of the game that I can weather through a patch of bad luck. Of course, this doesn’t always happen; sometimes I just lose!
Okay, so if you’re making tons of tiny mistakes that you aren’t noticing, what do you *do*? It’s not an easy question. Draft orders are easy to copy, but solid play is not. Watching streams is definitely helpful, but there are two kinds of “watching”: active and passive watching. Don’t just watch my stream or Trump’s stream or whatever to see what happens. Constantly ask yourself what you would do (you may even want to pause for complicated board states), and then see if the streamer does the same thing. You can hear hours and hours of spoken Japanese and still never actually learn the language; you only start to pick it up when your mind engages and starts trying to understand what is being said.
Alternatively, you could keep reading this guide.
The first 3 turns are incredibly important, and often decide the game on their own. Missing a 2-drop and using your hero ability instead ranges from “bad” to “terrible disaster” depending on which class you’ve picked. As a result, you should always have at least 4 2-drop minions in your deck. Don’t count removal likeas a 2-drop; you should have at least four minions that you actually expect to play on turn 2. Not every class has access to good 1-drops, but the ones that do should pick them insanely highly; they’re a huge tempo swing.
Not all 2-drops are equal. For instance,is surprisingly crappy, because it dies to everything (including some hero innates)! Usually it’s too fragile to even want to play it turn 2. Right now 3/2s are the best stats you can get for 2 mana, since they often trade up into 3 toughness guys. (3/2 nuke a weapon) is a premium example – a 3/2 that has a chance at a strong effect. Second best are 2/3s like . These kill opposing 2/1s and 2/2s, but those are pretty rare in this environment.
Besides having enough 2-drops (a necessity for EVERY deck), mana curve is tricky enough that it’s hard to nail down specific rules. Again, you need to be careful to differentiate between early drops and premium removal that you don’t really want to play turn 2.is great, but it’s not a 2 in the same way as . There are also grey areas; is totally fine to play turn 2, but you’re even happier to play a different 2 first in case the other guy plays a weapon.
That said, if we simplify things a bit, there are two major types of viable curves:
- The Trump style bell curve that centers around 4. This is just a balanced curve that tries to slowly pull ahead with good trades. It’s more of a control deck.
- The “wall of 2s, with a descending slope at the higher CCs.” This is what you tend to get if you highly value early game aggression and curving out.
Most of the time you should stick with 1. It’s a nice stable gameplan. But certain aggressive classes can do well with the second type of curve. They are Warlock, Warrior, Rogue and Hunter.
Rogue in particular likes the second type of curve, because
- Many of her top commons are 1 or 2 mana.
- is an incredibly powerful card (4 cards!!!) but is pretty much trash unless you’re able to empty your hand before the game ends.
- As powerful as Rogue’s ability is at gaining early board control, it becomes more useless in the late game as her life dwindles and the creatures get bigger. So she has a big incentive to try to end the game quickly.
As hinted above, it’s critical to mulligan aggressively into a nice curve. If you’re 1p, you ideally want a 2-3-4 curve. If you’re 2p, you want a 2-2-3-4 curve. 4-drops are usually a mistake to keep! Unless they’re amazing stuff like, sending them back is correct if you don’t have your earlier drops secured yet.
It can be correct to send back 2 and 3 drops that heavily depend on gaining board control. A great example is. This card is a total beating, but in order for him to work, you need to stick a different creature first. So he has a high chance of getting stranded in your hand if you don’t have an early drop, or if your early drop gets removed. Another example is . As insane as this card is, keeping it in your hand is risky. It’s basically saying, “I’m certain that the early game will go well for me, because this card sucks otherwise.”
Some people like saving guys instead of playing them on turn 2, reasoning they’ll have a bigger effect later. THIS IS A MISTAKE. For instance, ifis your only drop, go ahead and play her into an empty board! She will actually do more work for you than if you try to save her for when you have other guys. The same thing goes for ; try to save it if you can, but if it’s turn 2 and you don’t have another play, you need to pull the trigger and play it even vs. weapon users. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind too far for the weapon they play to matter anyway.
Even with the most aggressive decks possible, it’s usually correct to make smart trades rather than going to the face. The reason for this is four-fold:
- You get to do the best possible trade for you. Over the course of the game, the incremental advantage from making trades like a 3/2 into a 4/3 really adds up.
- If you decline to trade, your opponent gets to make the *worst* possible trade for you.
- You run the risk of your opponent buffing the creature and getting an even better trade than you thought was possible. wins games, but not if you keep his board clear.
- You also run the risk of your opponent playing a sweeper (mass removal spell), killing all your guys and leaving his guy on the board.
So it’s usually worth it to just keep the other guy’s board clear, and keep snowballing a bigger and bigger board. That said, if you are playing an aggressive gameplan, you should in general be less inclined to take poor trades. A Priest has no problem trading two 2/2s in for an opposing 4/4, but a Rogue should often avoid that same trade. Furthermore, even the most passive deck has a critical point at which it becomes correct to start swinging at his face. It depends on the sweepers your opponent could play and the cards in his hand, but usually this critical point happens when swinging into his face threatens lethal on his next turn. Having some extra “reach” in your hand (e.g., , ) often speeds up this critical point by a turn or two.
Often, you’ll find that you can threaten lethal in the next few turns if he doesn’t have any particularly devastating plays, or you can play things safe and go for the long game. How, then, do you gauge when you’ve reached the “critical point” to start attacking their face? Well, it’s a basic risk vs. reward question. As such, I think it’s worth mentioning the golden rule of all risk vs. reward decisions:
When you’re ahead, try to minimize variance. When you’re behind, try to maximize it.
Note that “ahead” can mean a whole lot of things. It can mean you’re a better player than the other person (maybe they just playedturn 1). It can mean you have an amazing deck. It can mean you have more life and more cards. It’s a pretty complex subject that you’ll just have to use your best judgment on, but usually people have an okay idea of whether they’re ahead or behind in a given hand.
When you’re ahead, you want to reduce risk as much as possible. You should be willing to sandbag a few minions in your hand, in case he has that. You should be willing to conservatively trade down your minions, in case he has a surprise buff to pull back into the game. You should play like a scared baby, trying to reduce variance in as many places as possible.
The opposite is true when you’re behind. You want to dump your hand, because if he has that, you’re dead anyway. You want to attack his face, to give yourself a window to draw into a burn spell and kill him from a hopeless position. It’s #YOLO time.
So to answer the question in general terms, when deciding whether to go for the risky endgame play or not, the first thing you need to think about is how favored you are if you try to play for the safe, grindy long game. How many cards do both of you have? What’s your life total? What Legendaries are in your deck? How good is this player, anyway?
The second thing you need to consider is how likely going for the face is to actually work. This is too situation specific to talk about much, but a big factor is always how many cards he has in his hand. The fewer cards, the less likely he’ll be able to answer an all-in endgame threat effectively.
Playing around sweepers is probably the biggest decision point in the latter half of the game. It can be tough to decide how much you want to get wrecked by that. To rephrase the golden rule of thumb:
If you’re confident the only way you can win is if he doesn’t have board sweep, then act as if he doesn’t. Otherwise, play like a scared baby.
The default strategy is to make sure your opponent gets at most a 2 for 1 from his sweep. So against a Paladin, it’s probably better to save your 3rd 3/2 in your hand rather than play it and get wrecked by. The other important thing to do is to make sure to “trade down” right before your opponent hits mana for his common sweeper (4 for Paladin, 5 for Priest, 7 for Mage). Sweepers are okay if your opponent has an empty board with you, because you can play the first creature and maintain the tempo lead. On the other hand, if you get your board cleared while your opponent still has minions, the game is probably over.
But it’s actually more complicated than that. One thing to do with a large card lead is to commit *just* enough to the board to force a board sweep. Give them a nice 2 for 1, or maybe a bad 3 for 1. If they *don’t* play, often that’s a signal that it’s safe to commit more and take away the game.
It’s also somewhat important to take premium rare sweepers (, , ) into consideration. Chances are if your opponent ever got a chance to draft those, he did. So they show up much more often than most rares. On the other hand, they’re still rare, so I don’t think you can afford to let them dictate your play too much. They should color your play; if you have two options, one of which is better against , then play that one. But if you only see one really good play and it happens to fold to a , go ahead and go for it.
I’m arbitrarily grouping these guys into 3 categories: A, B and C. A consists entirely of Mage, who in my mind is just clearly above the rest in power. B classes are also okay, but not quite as strong. C classes are a big drop, and I would avoid them if you are worried about gold.
|Tier A||Tier B||Tier C|
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so for common neutral pick orders, I’m just going to link you to Trump’s list. So far, I haven’t seen similar lists for the class specific cards, so I’ll list them here. For each card, I’ll list a neutral minion that’s about the same pick order. If the card is better than every neutral minion, I’ll call it “Premium.”
If you’ve made it all the way here, thanks for reading! To conclude, here are some 9 win runs for each class:
(sorry, I don’t play this class much :3 )
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