Blizzard's Hearthstone has quietly — or perhaps not so quietly — taken the gaming world by storm. The free-to-play title combines everything great about skill-based card games with gameplay as addicting as the company's MMOs, and it's been a blast to get acquainted with.
Like many of Blizzard's other titles, to excel at Hearthstone you need good gear (in this case, cards), smart strategy, and some time on your hands to put it all together. Here are some of my favorite tips, tricks, and strategic suggestions to get you on track to battling like a pro.
1. Trust in the Mage
The Mage is the default starter class in Hearthstone for a reason: The deck's core cards are pretty well-rounded and the class's play mechanics are easy to get the hang of. If you've played a Blizzard game previously, you may be tempted to switch away from the mage as soon as you unlock your desired class, but wait. It'll be easier to go through the first set of Normal practice challenges if you focus on one class and one deck throughout.
On that note, it's easier when you're first starting out to do your practice challenges in order, from top to bottom — you can theoretically unlock a Paladin, Rogue, or Warlock immediately after unlocking the Mage, but it'll be a very tough match for you, and without the Mage's full card deck you'll be likely to fall.
2. Build towards a deck and class you want
After the Mage has served its purpose and helped you unlock your hero classes, it's time to decide what class(es) you'd like to play from here on out.
Hearthstone lets you play multiple heroes and multiple decks, so you can in theory have any number of hero classes at your beck and call; unfortunately, that kind of power requires gold. Lots of gold. Or lots of real money.
Instead, I recommend choosing a single class to begin building toward, and looking online for ideas on class decks — lots of Hearthstone members are willing to share info on Battle.net and elsewhere. Stay away from decks with too many legendary cards in them — as you might have guessed from the name, legendary cards are extremely hard to find, get, or manufacture, and as such, trying to intentionally build a deck with a legendary card in it isn't the best of ideas. Focus on finding a good mid-level deck for the class you'd like to play; worry about getting or crafting legendaries down the line. If you're not quite sure what cards you want to play for your class, you can also experiment by building multiple decks for just that hero, varying which cards you put into it.
If you're at a blank on which class to play, I recommend either sticking with the Mage or playing a Hunter, which offers one of the best hero powers in the game along with lots of fun beasts under its command.
When you're starting off, it's best to stay away from the Priest: the class has a bunch of excellent cards, but they're all fairly rare and difficult to manufacture or find; you may have a bit of trouble off the bat consistently winning matches if you insist on a playing priest.
3. Hearthstone is free to play (but buying things will help you)
I have yet to buy a pack or Arena run with real money — I prefer to grind for in-game gold the long way around — but I have several Hearthstone-addicted friends who've paid $20 or $50 upfront to purchase a bunch of card packs to aid them in the building of their deck.
"I'd spend $50 on an Xbox game," one of my friends explained, "so it felt like a good investment to do the same for Hearthstone." They have yet to pay for anything else in game, but used those initial extra cards to help create a Legendary-card-stuffed deck that took them to 500 wins and an elusive Golden character.
Whether you prefer free-to-play or the occasional in-app-purchase card buy, when getting card packs you should consider picking from Hearthstone's "Goblins vs Gnomes" expansion pack rather than the Classic deck. At the Legendary tier, the Goblins cards and the Classic cards are about on par, but the Goblins deck has a much deeper and more fun roster of lower-rarity cards; as a newer player, this can be a huge boon to you.
4. Use crafting to beef up your deck
Can't seem to find that perfect card for your deck, no matter how many packs you open? You can use Hearthstone's crafting center to get rid of (or "dust") cards you don't want in favor of those you do. You'll even have the chance to craft legendary cards for your character inside Crafting Mode.
To make new cards, visit the My Collection section of the game, then tap Crafting Mode. Your normal card book expands to show all the cards for each character, greyed out if you don't have them. If you tap on a card, it displays how much dust you'd get if you owned it and disenchanted in green, as well as how much dust you'd need to create the card (in red).
If you're starting out and building a deck for a specific character, you can get good cards for that character much faster by disenchanting anything that's specific to another character (Druid or Hunter cards if you're building a Mage, for instance.)
If you want to play those characters in the future, you may be putting yourself at a slight disadvantage by doing this — cards cost more dust to craft than you'll get from disenchanting them — but it's generally worth doing for the deck at hand.
5. Spend your gold at the arena over buying packs
Once you've unlocked every hero character by defeating them, you'll have access to the Arena, Hearthstone's central strategy playground. The Arena costs 150GP (or $2 in real money) to enter; once you enter, you're guaranteed to walk away with a pack of cards and generally a bit more. As such, it makes a lot more sense to spend your gold to play the Arena to earn cards and dust over buying 100GP flat packs from the Shop.
On top of that, the Arena is just plain fun: You get to draft one of three random characters, then attempt to build a deck with randomly offered cards from the entire Hearthstone cardbase. If your actual deck doesn't have the greatest cards, that doesn't matter here: strategy and effective deck-building is the name of the game.
You get to play until you've won 12 times or lost three times, which potentially means lots of enjoyable matches from other players. You get a pack of cards whatever the outcome of your arena matchups, but once you win more than 3 times, you get extras, including gold, dust, and random prizes.
If you're struggling to get enough gold to enter the arena, you can earns some a few different ways: by completing quests, winning three games in casual or ranked play, or hitting certain achievements in-game. There are new quests available to you every day, so make sure you're working toward those for some easy gold.
If you're not earning gold fast enough, you can contribute some real money to playing the Arena, but that's up to you.
6. Play Casual over Ranked mode when you're starting out
When you're building your deck, playing casual mode deliberately matches you up with people around your skill level; the more you win or lose, the better Hearthstone knows who to match you up with in games.
Ranked mode, in contrast, matches you up with people of your rank — and just because a player has a low rank, it doesn't necessarily mean they have bad cards or don't know how to play. As such, players just starting out with weaker cards may not win a lot of ranked games, and losing won't help you earn gold to improve your deck.
Instead, play casual mode, rack up some wins, improve your deck and strategies, and once you're feeling comfortable with the game, try a ranked match or two.
7. Build a deck that scales well
There are few things worse in Hearthstone than starting up a game only to realize that you can't play any cards in your hand until your fourth or fifth turn.
Avoid this and build a deck that scales properly along the mana curve: Have several good low-cost cards in your deck ratio so that you're not caught without anything to play.
8. Get your creatures out
If your deck can hit your opponent with some early damage, you can often stay on top of the match until their defeat. To do this most effectively, you'll want to get creatures out that give you the most value for their play.
I suggest prioritizing creatures that have Taunt, a special effect (if this creature is on the board, it randomly Freezes someone, for instance), or a bonus when you play another creature.
A great example of this tactic is a deck built around Deathrattle and a card called The Undertaker. The card itself only costs one mana to play and has a tiny 1-damage, 2-health ratio, but every time you add another creature with the keyword Deathrattle, the Undertaker gets +1 to both its stats. Pretty soon, your 1/2 creature can end up with a 4/5 buff, making it harder to kill and scarier to have on the board.
9. Don't end your turn until all your effects have finished
Lots of cards have effects that let you draw extra cards, or play cards for free — don't accidentally end your turn before you've made sure there's nothing else you can do!
My personal biggest mistake starting out was forgetting about my hero power — I'd end turns with one or two mana left, forgetting that I could use my Mage hero power to zap my opponent or an opponent's card for a little extra damage.
10. Watch Twitch.tv streams and read the Hearthstone Subreddit — and don't get frustrated!
When in doubt, there are lots of resources if you want to get better or need some advice. Twitch.tv broadcasts are a great way to pick up tips and tricks from some of the better Hearthstone players out there, while the Hearthstone Subreddit has deck guides, Q&A areas, suggestions for the Arena, and more.
It can be frustrating if you're not winning a lot to start off with, but don't give up: hopefully these tips and tricks (and suggested sites) can help you enjoy many a day of Hearthstone going forward.
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Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.