Hearthstone: The Strategy Of Mindgames

Hearthstone has one of the better tutorials in the business. It teaches you how to play the game (which, in fairness, isn't that difficult), introduces you to basic Warcraft in-jokes and lore, and even hints at some of the more important skills necessary to dominate against other actual players. It doesn't teach you everything, though.

Playing a collectible card game is more than just picking the right cards. It's about guaranteeing victory before you set foot on the field; your mindset is just as important as the deck you choose. Thus, there are a few concepts and skills you need to learn to truly master the basics of Hearthstone.

Keep Cards In Reserve

One of the hardest lessons for any budding strategist is learning to keep troops in reserve. After all, why not go all in and slug it out from the get go?

The answer is simple: without reserves, you can't exploit enemy weaknesses and you can't shore up your own. If a division is being destroyed, and you have no reserve troops to reinforce and hold the line, then the battle will surely be lost. If a hole opens in the enemy defenses and you don't have reserve troops to punch through, you make the overall fight much harder on yourself.

The principle extends to Hearthstone just as easily. While playing incredibly aggressively and spending all your cards as soon as humanly possible seems like a good idea, don't. You need to keep a hand of reserve cards for two obvious reasons:

  1. Keeping a spell or minion in your hand until you can use it to a greater advantage is often the difference between victory and defeat.
  2. Cards in your hand can psyche out your opponent, as they have no way of telling what you might have and may play too cautiously.

You should always try to be on the offensive, but don't be reckless. Keep a hand so that you can exploit weaknesses and strengths where you might not be able to otherwise.

Teamwork (Between Cards)

While one big card may be suitably impressive and awesome, there are plenty of situations where it can fall quickly to a combination of seemingly weaker cards.

This is the principle of teamwork. While Hearthstone doesn't have player team match-ups (yet), your cards can certainly work together as a team to project far more damage and control over the board than a single card. While that one creature with huge damage and health may look impressive, it can quickly fall to a smaller, cheaper creature buffed through spells and fellow minions.

Only The Killing Blow Matters

You may have 30 health, but only the fatal blow counts.

This principle, expressed through the old idiom, "Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atom bombs," is one of the most important. Unlike many games - specifically ones with a limited, known pool of resources - Hearthstone can quickly turn around with a lucky draw or a smart combo. If you're at five health, don't panic; keep a cool head and play well, and you can easily win. If you're at 30 health, don't get cocky; you can be knocked down to almost dead in a single turn, if the enemy plays the right cards and does the right moves.

Don't surrender. Fight to the very end, because you just may pull out a victory.

The Mana Curve

Mana is your second most important resource (behind cards), and requires some tricks to manage.

The most obvious complication with mana management is something known as the "mana curve." While infinitely more complicated in other CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone simplifies the acquiring of mana greatly; you receive one mana each turn for ten turns, capping out at ten mana total. However, during those turns on your way to ten mana, you have a limited (but growing) mana pool.

In order to avoid being "mana screwed" (can't play any cards because they are so expensive), you need to have an smooth spread of cheap, average, and expensive cards. Generally, you should have a lot of cheap cards (1-3 mana), a middling amount of average cards (4-6 mana), and very few expensive cards (7+ mana). Following this curve allows you to gain an early game advantage, which you can then exploit in later game with expensive, powerful cards.

To go along with this, you need to properly spend your mana. In general, more cards are always better. Use mana to put multiple spells or creatures on the field, and then accentuate existing cards with expensive ones. This can also lead to strategic victories, such as an enemy blowing spells on cheap creatures while you prep a big nasty for the next turn.

Game Of Wits

All of these important strategies, however, boil down to one essential truth: Hearthstone isn't truly about the cards. It's a battle of wits between you and another player. You must find every avenue to victory, every tiny bit of crawling space you can use to your advantage. Relying on your opponent to be bad is never a smart strategy; rather, rely on yourself to be more strategic and more focused on victory.

Do this, and you will have truly mastered the basics of Hearthstone.

Prolific game journalist and big gay robot. Editor-in-chief and general curmudgeon. Fight me.