Hello all, and welcome to my first column for IHEARTHU. A few of you probably recognize my name from my TCG and Minis gaming successes. For most of you, though, I’m sure I’m a stranger. Please allow me a brief moment to do a bit of socially acceptable bragging and introduce myself.
My name is Ben Isgur. I’ve been playing TCGs since I was 7, about 16 years ago, when my older brother first introduced me to Magic. I got into reading through Magic, which led to some odd words in my vocabulary startling my elementary school teachers. For any parents out there, yes, it’s an excellent learning aid. I spent my teenage years in comic shops, and eventually started travelling regularly to play tournaments. At 17, I travelled to Paris to play in the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game World Championships. I got 3rd, winning about $25,000 and the honor of having my achievement broadcast at the end of day at my High School, announcing to everyone how cool I was. Unsurprisingly, even money couldn’t make WoW + TCG cool to teenagers back then. Since that, I’ve spent 6 years travelling and playing competitive collectible games at a very high level. I was one of the most successful WoW TCG players of all time and arguably the most successful WoW Miniatures player. I’ve also had some success at Magic, notably top 8’ing GP Charlotte and being a part of Craig Wescoe’s Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze team. Nowadays, I day trade cryptocurrencies and write a blog about it. When the WoW TCG died, I was saddened, but I was simultaneously excited for Hearthstone.
And I was definitely right to be.
Hearthstone turned out to be a game of immense strategic depth that also managed to have the classic playfulness we’ve come to expect from Blizzard games. To my continued amazement, it also included the Arena format, which is incredibly fun. My talents have always shone brightest in what is called “limited” in TCG parlance—Arena is the Hearthstone analog. As a result, you can expect regular columns from me discussing Arena. Now, to the point.
I’m sure you’ve read a lot about various Arena strategies—when to trade minions, when to go straight at them. What cards to pick first, which classes are best. I’m not going to talk about those things today. I’m going to teach you how to murder people—how to go aggro in Hearthstone Arena. Why?
First, the common Arena guides don’t touch on the strategy. Looking over VivaFringe’s Comprehensive Arena Guide or Trump’s Arena Card Rankings or Nyhx’s Generic Common Minion Tier List, it’s obvious that there is something missing. They’re all focused on what I’d call the “default” Arena strategy. It’s not unlike the default limited strategy from MTG or WoWTCG. The default strategy is to do the same things your opponent is doing, but make better decisions during gameplay. If we both play a Chillwind Yeti on turn 4, but you attack me directly, while I play a Shattered Sun Cleric and kill your guy, it’s pretty clear who is winning. These guides are all focused on the same thing: how to build an Arena deck focused on building and maintaining board presence while slowly grinding the win out. That’s not to say they’re bad guides—I disagree with each author occasionally, but they have done an excellent job in general, and I’d happily recommend them to anyone completely new to Arena who wants a guide for building a normal, board-presence oriented deck. But the default choice is not the only choice.
Second, learning to play an aggressive strategy well in Arena can be very challenging, and unlock new understanding of the game for players. As always, you learn from broadening your horizons.
Finally, and most importantly: you can improve your Arena profitability by utilizing aggressive strategies if you’re either a below average player or a very above average player. Why those two groups?
Below average players stand to benefit from using an aggressive strategy because your games are shorter. Either your opponent ends up dead, or you get into a spot you can’t win from. In either case, the less turns there are, the less decisions you make. The less decisions you have to make, the less chances you have to mess up—but also the less chances your opponent has. With less decisions, what cards you draw and what your decks have in them matters more, and the difference in skill between you and your opponent matters less.
Very above average players also stand to benefit from using an aggressive strategy because your games are shorter—but for very different reasons. Put simply, it is more profitable to go 8-3 five times than it is to go 12-2 twice. Using ArenaMastery’s stats, going 8-3 gets you an average of 184 gold, 6 dust, a pack, .5 gold cards, and .3 regular cards. For simplicity’s sake, let’s agree to call it 300 gold of prizes. 8-3 five times is worth 1500 gold; subtract 750 in entry fees and you’ve made 750. Going 12-2 averages 331 gold, 6 dust, 1.3 packs, .8 gold cards, and .3 regular cards—in line with how we evaluated 8-3, let’s agree to call that 500 gold in prizes. 12-2 twice, then, is worth 1000 gold; subtract 300 in entry fees and we’ve made 700.
Five 8-3 runs is 55 games, while two 12-2 runs is only 28—almost exactly half as many. Are games that short if you play aggressive decks? Yes. In fact, I’d estimate my average game with an aggressive strategy is about a third as long as my average “normal” game. Why is this? Well, it’s partially because both sides concede more quickly if one of us is being aggressive. If they’re at 8 on turn 5 and I’m a 30-health Hunter, most sensible opponents just concede rather than waste time struggling in vain. Similarly, if they’re at 25 on turn 10 and have board presence, I just concede rather than wasting my time—their cards are way better than mine by that point, and any value I get from my diminutive win % is far, far outdone by the value of just starting the next game sooner.
Can a very good player actually sustain a high win percentage with these aggressive decks? Yes, and when you get your REALLY good deck, you blaze your way to 12-2 in no time. My favorite was a Rogue deck—here’s a close estimation since I wasn’t clever enough to screenshot it:
4x Southsea Deckhand
2x Deadly Poison
4x Defias Ringleader
2x Arcane Golem
9x Other Cards That Didn’t Really Matter
That one actually went 12-1 instead of 12-2, but I digress—my opponents died on turn 5 pretty regularly. In value per hour, it was clearly my greatest Hearthstone achievement. Five 8-3s to two 12-2s is the equations breaking point, but you can exceed it pretty easily.
So now the important part: how do you select a successful aggressive Arena deck?
It’s not easy, and not every class can do it. In fact, I’d really only advocate it for 5.5 of the 9 classes: Warlock, Hunter, Rogue, Mage, Druid, and Priest. Of those classes, here’s how I’d rank their likelihood of success:
Why do these classes work, but not the others? The best example is Priest. Priest has a couple of AWESOME cards for this strategy: Mind Blast, Holy Fire, Holy Smite, Shadow Madness, Shadowform. These spells are easily on par for this strategy when compared to any other class. Why is Priest usually not good for aggressive Arena decks, then? Hero power. Priest is great if you can get 2 Shadowforms, because it gives you an aggressive hero power to help you kill them. Otherwise, you’re relying on your minions and spells to kill them. Hunter gets minions, spells, and Steady Shot. Mage gets Fire Blast. Those consistent, small sources of damage are what make the strategy work.
So that’s why Hunter, Rogue, Mage, and Druid work. Warlock is a bit different. Aggressive decks tend to have lots of cheap cards, and so they often run out of cards to play. Warlock solves this. My best aggressive Warlock decks have 8 or more 1-cost minions. My all-time favorite Warlock deck had 3 Blood Imps (post-patch), 2 Young Priestesses, 3 Voidwalkers, and 2 Goldshire Footmen. It was a bloodbath–those cards are insane in multiples. With synergy, cards we normally see as bad can turn out to be very potent.
How do you actually draft these aggressive arena decks? I’ll be back in the coming weeks to do an in-depth guide for each class, showcasing a successful aggressive version of each, but in the meantime, what’s important is to collect all three pieces.
The first piece of the puzzle is good, cheap, aggressive minions. Don’t go crazy and take a million 1-cost minions, but value them higher than you might normally. Pretend you’re building a normal deck, but drop your average cost by 1 or 2. My preferred setup for Hunter is something like:
2-6 / 1 mana minions (quality over quantity)
8-10 / 2 mana minions
6 / 3 mana minions
4 / 4 mana minions
0-4 / 5+ mana minions
Similarly to not going crazy for 1-cost minions, don’t not take awesome aggressive cards just because they’re expensive. Stormwind Champion is pretty bleh, but Argent Commander is still great. Gladiator’s Longbow is one of the best Hunter cards still. Reckless Rocketeer is better than you think.
Those three cards lead into piece two of the puzzle: “reach”. Reach is an old TCG concept. Imagine your opponent has perfect board control–your minions have no chance of surviving their turn. Can you still kill them? If you have enough reach, you can.
Some examples of reach include:
And so on. If it lets you get in and hit them when they think they’re safe, it’s reach. If you draw it on turn 10 when they’re at 2, and you’re happy, it’s reach.
The last piece of the puzzle is another old TCG concept: “tempo”. Tempo is, essentially, utilizing your mana better than your opponent. If you spend 100 mana during a game and they spend 80, you probably won. Similarly, if you spend 2 mana to spend their 6 mana, that’s a good trade. That’s what makes people dislike Reckless Rocketeer. If I have a Bloodfen Raptor, and you play your Reckless Rocketeer and attack me, I get to go trade with it. I spent 2 mana for 6 mana, you got to deal me 5. Is that a good trade? Traditionally no, it’s not that great for the Rocketeer player. Unless you do a lot of it and actually kill them. But that’s our plan. The first time we do that with a Rocketeer and put you from 17 to 12, it was an okay trade. The second time it happens, you’re pretty much dead to Steady Shot.
Sap lets you make the Rocketeer exchange from the other end–at the cost of a card. Sap is generally disliked because it costs you a card–but we don’t care. Getting a free turn to hit them after Sapping their Lord of the Arena back to their hand is sweet! Who’s Lord of the Arena now?
Tempo can come in other forms, as well. Cone of Cold and Frost Nova are two good examples–they provide you time by delaying your opponents utilization of their mana and card investments. Shadow Bolt can provide tempo if it gets their 4-drop. Being tempo-neutral and killing their 3-drop is also fine–one of the goals of an aggressive deck is to start the game ahead, so neutral plays like this are fine with us.
Three pieces: some durdles to hit them with, some tempo to let your durdles have more time hitting them, some reach to finish them off if your durdles don’t have enough time.
I’ll be back in future articles with detailed breakdowns of each class and recordings of successful playthroughs with each.
(Mature Language Warning!)
To close us out, here’s Day with some advice on going aggro in Hearthstone. (Mature Language Warning!)
Thanks for reading!