Love it or hate it; there’s no denying that Hearthstone is one of Blizzard’s most popular fresh IP’s to hit shelves in years. Both the competitive “ladder” system and the game’s own “arena” format have proven to be a runaway hit with gamers, but learning how to make the arena work for you is a task that’s easier said than done.
Luckily, How-To Game is here to help you learn all the ins and outs of Hearthstone’s unique play format, with a guide that ensures no matter who you go up against the next time that dice rolls, you’re sure to come out on top.
The Arena Format
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know how the arena works and are frustrated with constantly being beaten down before your deck even has a chance to get off the ground, but for the uninitiated, it goes a little something like this: when you first start an arena game (or “run”, as they’re more commonly referred), you’ll be tasked with choosing the type of hero you want to play out of a possible lineup of three, chosen at random. After you choose your hero, you’ll then be taken to a similar screen which presents the option of picking another three cards, again in the same lineup of three.
Once you pick one card to enter into your deck, this process repeats, with the first three being thrown aside, and a fresh three being thrown up for you to choose from. This goes on until you’ve successfully chosen 30 cards to make a full deck, and you’re ready to begin play.
In arena, there are different “tiers” you’ll progress through: at 1, 3, 5, 9, and 12 wins (with 12 being the max) respectively. You’ll have three “lives”, and the goal is to get to 12 wins without losing three matches.
The higher number of wins you achieve without losing, the faster you rank up in the tier. Tier one should be a cakewalk for anyone who reads this guide, while you should expect things to get a bit more difficult around the three-to-five range. Beyond this is where the true arena players lie, and often it’s a mix of lucky drafts mixed in with players who know the meta down to a T and play their turns out accordingly.
While the constructed style of play on the ladder generally contains three types of deck (aggro, tempo, and control), in general you should only plan on seeing two in arena; aggro and control. Aggro decks often play exactly as their name implies, opting to put out lots of high-damage, low-health minions out on the board as quickly as possible, and stacking up on damage spells that lead to a lot of burst at the end of a match.
Conversely, control decks are much slower, and focus primarily on wearing down your opponent through ‘controlling’ the board and keeping any minions they might throw down cleared and away from your face. Of the two archetypes, control takes quite a bit more knowledge of the game, the cards, and how the arena plays because you have to make vital decisions on when to go for damage, and when to worry about the board state instead.
Where it gets interesting is that unlike constructed play, how your deck eventually shapes up isn’t anything you can plan ahead for. It depends entirely on the hero you roll and the cards you are given to pick as the draft goes on (something we’ll get into momentarily). This uncertainty is what makes the game mode exciting for many players who prefer to shirk the constructed route, as you’re never 100 percent sure what kind of opponent you’re going up against until the game is already underway.
Picking a Hero
Once you’ve jumped into the arena, there’s the process of picking which hero you plan on playing through to the finish. As the meta currently stands post-LoE (the League of Explorers expansion), the top three classes in the arena meta are: Paladin, Mage, and Hunter.
If you get any three of these in your roll, pick them immediately, as their power is simply unmatched. Tier two at the moment is populated by Rogues, Druids, and Warlocks, while Priests, Shamans, and Warriors bring up the rear in tier 3. Without going too in-depth and taking up an entire other article devoted to the subject, generally this is how you want to try to build each deck in the meta as it is today:
Paladin: Control Mage: Aggro Hunter: Aggro Rogue: Control/Aggro (alternate depending on draft) Druid: Control Warlock: Aggro Priest: Control Shaman: Control Warrior: Aggro
While it’s impossible to write a hardline guide on exactly what picks you should make for every deck you play (given the random nature of the card rolls), in general these are some of the tips and tricks you’re going to want to follow to make sure you have the most success against the widest variety of opponents and playstyles.
First, minion counts. More often than not, you want a ratio of about 1/5th of your deck to be comprised of two-drop minions, or anywhere from 4-7 if you can manage it. The reason for this is that on the whole, most arena games are decided within the first few turns due to the strong reliance on tempo to overwhelm your opponent when they least expect it. Next, you’ll want minions that use the new “Inspire” mechanic as much as possible, as board control can quickly spiral out of control when you have a minion that can take advantage of your hero power.
Next, always be sure that you’re stocking up on at least one taunt minion, with the optimal number being around 3-4 at the higher end of the mana curve – a’la 4-cost and beyond. Also, speaking of curve, optimally you’ll want to shoot for something that resembles a bit of a pyramid shape, with a few one-cost cards, several more twos, peaking at four, and tapering off from there. This rule can change depending on your hero and the deck’s playstyle, but keep it in the back of your mind the next time you’re up for a draft.
When choosing spells, weapons, and secrets, you want to focus on cards that maintain your board state while giving you as much flexibility as possible in case your initial plan is foiled by a solid topdeck or an unexpected minion. In Hearthstone, the winning player is always the one who keeps his opponent on the backfoot, reacting to what you do instead of dictating your next play. Weapon counts should never be higher than two, and when selecting spells, any AoE picks will be king.
Pickups like Flamestrike, Consecrate, and Lightning Storm can often mean the difference between a trouncing win and utter defeat, so be sure that when it comes time to pick your next spell you always have at least one of these floating somewhere in your completed deck.
Last; always pick secrets if given the chance. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s going to be a solid pick even if it’s one of the weakest in your class, simply for the fact that having a secret on the board can be enough of a psychological nightmare for your opponent that it dictates how they play every turn from the time it’s thrown down. This gives you the control in the game (even if it’s only a mental advantage), and as we discussed earlier, any advantage you can get is going to be a good one.
Bonus Tip: Of course, you can never go wrong watching a few streams here and there. Personally I got better in the arena by watching top Hearthstone streamers on Twitch.tv like Trump, Hafu, and Kripparian, all of whom provide informative and in-depth commentary on their plays which can prove invaluable in the long run. Watching how the “pros” draft and make decisions in dicey situations can lead you by example to your next dominating win.
Wildly unpredictable and hopelessly addictive, the Hearthstone combines elements from some of its most influential predecessors including Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon, and tosses the entire concept into a blender that’s packed to the absolute brim with randomized card effects that keep every game feeling just as fresh as the last.
Although you may not get to that coveted 12-wins on your first go around, just like any other game out there – practice makes perfect, and knowing how to draft a solid arena deck is the first step to maintaining a consistent path to victory.