The latest Hearthstone expansion, Whispers of the Old God, came out in April, attracting all sorts of new players to the game. You might’ve jumped into standard, played a few matches with a C’Thun deck, and then maybe tried a few more with something more original. Then maybe you netdecked something popular and went to town. All this is fun enough, sure, but if you’re anything like me, then standard will only get you so far. The real draw of the game for me is Arena. It’s the main reason I keep coming back to Hearthstone. Do those dailies, get that gold, and then do an arena run (or multiple runs if you get lucky). And then rinse and repeat.
For the completely uninitiated, Arena is the mode of Hearthstone where you draft a deck of random cards, choosing one of three at a time, and then play until you win twelve games or lose three times, whichever comes first. Then you gain rewards based on your success. A full twelve win run is quite lucrative, whereas going 0-3 isn’t at all. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the terminology in this guide, I compiled a nifty glossary.
If you’ve stepped into the arena and gone 0-3, don’t despair. With as random as Arena can be, even the pros go 0-3 from time to time. They either draft poor decks, or go up against some ridiculous ones. But if you find yourself going 0-3 more often than not, then yeah, there might be some small room for improvement.
First off it’s best to temper your expectations. Blizzard has said that the average player in arena averages out at about 3 wins. So if you find yourself consistently doing 4 or 5 wins, you’re already in a fairly good spot, and most of what’s in this guide will seem painfully obvious. But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere.
WHICH CLASS SHOULD I CHOOSE?
Arena comes down to two primary components: the draft and actual play, but before you can start picking which cards you want, you have to choose which class you’re going to play, and they’re not all created equally. Some classes are straight-up better for arena than others. The best ones shift around slightly between expansions and adventures, but for the most part Rogue, Mage, and Paladin have stood the test of the time the best. If you start a draft and can choose any of these three classes, then it’s not a bad idea to do so.
After that, it mostly comes down to preference and the overall draft. Any class with a great deck can go twelve wins, but generally speaking, you usually want to avoid Hunter and Warlock, with Priest coming in close behind. See a trend? The best classes are the ones with a hero power that can be used to kill off minions. The worst ones have hero powers that don’t impact the board at all.
As for Shaman, Warrior, and Druid? They’re all toss ups that can perform really well under the right circumstances. Druid used to be in a much better place, but the last couple expansions haven’t been too kind to them. Shaman and Warrior used to be bad arena classes, but Blizzard has made a concerted effort to give both classes cards that can really pull their weight in arena, and Warrior decks that are rich in weapons generally do really well.
One of the most important aspects of arena to keep in mind throughout the draft as well as during each match is board control. In arena, generally speaking, board control is king. You want to do everything in your power to take board control and to keep it. You want to be the one deciding which minions trade into which. That’s why minions that empower other minions are so valuable. Abusive Sergeant, Dark Iron Dwarf, Dire Wolf Alpha, all of these cards and more are great arena picks. You want to be able to buff your smaller minions to be able to take out bigger ones. Board control really is the most important aspect to arena. The traditional decks all revolve around it.
As for the draft itself, there are two main concerns: card quality and curve. Early on in the draft, you tend to want to pick the most valuable cards. There are plenty of arena tier lists out there that rank the cards, and you can reference one of those if you’re super worried about which ones to pick, but generally speaking, the cards with the best stats and the best deathrattle / battlecries are the ones you want to pick. Flame juggler? Great card. Mana wraith? Not so much. Cards that have a lot of stats for their mana costs are generally really awesome arena pick, too. We’re talking Fel Reaver, Venture Co. Mercenary, Ogre Brute, and Flamewreathed Faceless. You get the gist.
A lot of new players tend to overvalue taunts. Cards with taunt are great situationally, but you definitely don’t want to overflow an arena deck with them, and you definitely don’t want the bad ones. Try to avoid cards like Silverback Patriarch and Mogu’shan Warden, whose attack values are far too low at 1. Taunt in general is a pretty costly effect to have on a card. That’s why ones with divine shield (like Sunwalker) or ones with great deathrattles (Sludge Belcher) are so great. These extra effects make up for the weaker stats. Don’t be too worried about protecting your face with taunts unless you’re near death (and then you’re probably screwed anyway). Taunts are best used to protect other cards, but because of their weaker stats, your opponent can normally kill them for free.
So yes, don’t waste taunts, but don’t be afraid to play them on curve (or any other card) if you have to. Playing a Sen’jin Shieldmasta on turn 4 instead of using your hero power and passing is always a good choice, even if you have no other minions on board to protect. But if you have an empty board, and two cards of equal cost, and one of them has taunt and the other doesn’t. Under most circumstances it’s best to play the non-taunt card. So it’s turn five and you have a Pit Fighter and Sludge Belcher? Slam that Pit Fighter down. The only exception is if you’re trying to bait out card removal like Fireball or Hex. Then it might be worth it to sacrifice one card to clear the way for another.
Heals are generally cards you want to avoid regardless of how appealing they may seem. About the only exception is Lay on Hands thanks to its card draw. If you’re a Priest, though, and have drafted an Auchenai Soulpriest or two, then Flash Heal and Light of the Naaru aren’t horrible picks because they combo well. Just know that combo cards will normally sit dead in your hand until you have both parts.
Healing Touch, though? And Holy light? Those are bad picks, unless they’re the only option. If you wind up with heals in your deck – and it happens – it might be better to heal a minion to keep it from dying than to heal your hero. Most of the time heals don’t impact the current board state enough to make them really worthwhile. Minions with a heal effect, though, like Earthen Ring Farseer and Antique Healbot aren’t horrible picks, especially if you’re playing a class like Rogue or Warrior that end up killing off a lot of minions with weapons, thus taking damage in the process, or if used to heal other minions.
There are some other concerns to keep in mind while drafting. A few cards with card draw are usually a good idea, and you tend to want the minions over spells. As for spells themselves? Cards like Fireball, which can be used to finish off an opponent, are great, but you really don’t want too many of them, or you’ll never have the minions to maintain board control, and you’ll use all those spells clearing off minions without having the opportunity to play any of your own. There’s a balance to strike, and most of the time, minions should outweigh spells in your deck. You can be a little greedier with aforementioned spells like Fireballs. Four of those will do more good than harm. Four Arcane Intellects, though? No thanks.
Other than card quality, the main concern while drafting is curve, or the relative mana cost of your deck. Strictly speaking, you want more early game cards (2 to 4 mana cost) than you do late game cards (6 or higher), but you have to watch that balance. Too many early game cards and not enough late-game ones and you’ll run out of steam. Too many late game cards and you’ll draw them too early, and they’ll sit dead in your hand while board control slips further and further away from you.
It’s being a bit simplistic, but your curve generally wants to be a downward slope – lots of 2s, a fair amount of 3s and 4s, a few 5s, and a handful of cards with a cost of 6 or higher. Don’t be too worried about your curve early in your draft. For the first ten or so picks, just choose whichever card is the best, but after pick fifteen, start to be mindful of your curve. Don’t be afraid to forgo that really good 2 drop for a so-so 6 drop if you already have an abundance of early game cards. The converse is also true. If you already have two Sunwalkers, don’t be afraid to skip the 3rd for a River Crocolisk if you’re low on 2 drops.
Really good arena drafts are rare, but if you’re mindful of your curve and card quality, you can usually end up making a halfway decent traditional deck most of the time. There are also the unusual ones. Most arena games, as previous mentioned, focus primarily on value and board control (that’s why Flamestrike is so maligned in arena), but if you’re drafting a deck, and it ends up starting to look like an aggressive deck, you may want to lean all the way in. Combo decks are exceedingly rare in arena, but they do happen. Whatever type of deck you end up drafting, you have to be fairly conscious of it as your draft progresses and especially once you get to playing.
THE MULLIGAN AND THE BASICS OF BOARD CONTROL
Once you start searching for your first opponent, the first thing you have to do is choose your starting hand and what to mulligan. Most of the time if it costs 3-mana or more, toss it. If you’re aware of your deck, and are going second, thus having the coin, you can choose to hold onto a really good 4-drop like Piloted Shredder, but only do this if you have plenty of 2s and are confident that you won’t have a dead turn. But since Hearthstone is so luck driven, even some decks with lots of twos can end up not drawing them when they’re needed. But hey, Piloted Shredder is one of the best 4-drops in the game, so nobody will fault you for holding onto it.
Going first in arena is always preferred, but it’s entirely out of your control as well. So if you do end up going second, save the coin. Don’t coin out that 2-drop on turn 1 if you don’t have another minion to play when turn 2 actually arrives. Save that coin for padding out your curve, e.g. playing a 3 drop on turn 2 and then following it up with another 3 drop on turn 3. Or use it to yank board control away from your opponent. Play a 2 drop on turn 3, then coin out a spell and kill off your opponent’s only minion.
As was said earlier, board control is king in arena. You want to have board control, and you want to do everything in your power to keep it. If you’re the one choosing which cards to trade, then you’re at a significant advantage. It should go without saying, but most of the time, don’t go face. Unless of course you drafted that ridiculous aggro deck and are planning to end the game by turn 7.
There are a few times in arena you do want to go face, though. Nothing is black and white. You’ll want to go face if a trade is inefficient, or if you’re worried your opponent might be able to kill off a low health minion with a hero power or a weapon, causing you to give up that precious board control. You also want to go face if you’re planning to win in a couple turns. That’s also something you should be aware of in general when playing. “What’s the soonest I can win?”
If you know you’re low on big drops, then you should try to win the game before your opponent can start throwing down theirs, or if you have that ridiculous mage deck with seven fireballs, and your opponent is near death. You can be aggressive if you know that there’s a good chance you’ll top deck a fireball or another damaging spell to seal the deal. But of course this can backfire, too. There’s always the off chance that those seven fireballs will be the last seven cards in you deck. But without risk, there’s no reward. It comes down to personal preference how risky you want to play.
Another big mistake is missing lethal. It might seem obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in board control that we don’t realize we have everything we need – right here and now – to win. It’s simple really. If the amount of damage on the board and in your hand exceeds that of your opponent’s health, then sic him. Also don’t concede too early. If it’s absolutely hopeless, sure, but I’ve won a few games where the opponent didn’t kill me when he or she had clear lethal on the board.
A lot of arena players are expecting you to concede once you know you’re dead, but if you play like they can’t kill you, maybe they won’t realize they can. Faking them out with secrets can help with this, too. Maybe you really can cause your opponent into missing lethal by tricking them into thinking that Effigy is actually an Ice Block or Ice Barrier.
DON’T PLAY INTO THEIR HANDS
You generally want to play around high-impact cards, which are primarily board clears. Mages will undoubtedly draft Flamestrike, so don’t flood the board with minions that have 4 or less health on turn 6, and always be mindful of Flamestrike after turn 7. The same goes for cards like Consecrate and Holy Nova. Don’t give up board control that easily, especially if your opponent has any board presence at all. Being conscious of board clears should also influence how you trade. If you have 3 minions on board, 2 small ones and a big one, now might be a good time to trade in those smaller cards and preserve the health of the bigger card so that it survives a Flamestrike or a Holy Nova, or you might lose all three the next turn.
It might seem silly playing around a card that your opponent might not even have, but ignoring the danger can cost you a win, and playing around them can help you not to lose, and if you get to 5 wins or higher, you can rest assured that those mages most likely have at least one Flamestrike somewhere in their deck.
Keep concerns like that in mind regardless of whomever you’re up against. As they say: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Try to think of the many ways in which your opponent can screw you over, and try not to let them do it that easily. If you get greedy versus a Paladin and leave that miniscule little minion alive, then there’s a good chance that minion will receive Blessing of Kings or Seal of Champions and you’ll kick yourself. Buff cards in general are exceedingly powerful, and can be used to wrest back board control. Keep them in mind when you’re which minions to kill off. Normally it’s all of them, but if you’re vastly ahead, you can play more confidently and riskily, but again, be aware of cards like Flamestrike that can cause you to lose the game if you’re not careful.
The Rogue card Betrayal is another good one to play around that not all players do, and minion position in general is important. If you have two minions on board, and are about to play a third, leave the weakest one in the center. That way if the Rogue betrays you, they might not actually be able to kill anything. Minions with stealth or spell immunity are also a great way to block cards like Betrayal and even Cone of Cold. And keep positioning in mind with cards like Dire Wolf Alpha and Flametongue Totem, especially if you have 2 or 3 small minions that can be used in conjunction with either card to kill off bigger minions.
It’s also a good idea not to waste your spells, especially if you have another card you can instead play. It’s better to put another minion on the board instead of saving one. The only exception is if you’re giving your opponent a free trade. You generally don’t want to let them kill any of your minions without losing one of their own in the process. If your opponent can potentially kill off two (or more) of your minions with one of their own, then that’s really bad; one-for-one trades are what you want to aim for.
THAT’S ABOUT IT, FOLKS
Also: think. You don’t have to rope every single turn, but you have that amount of time for a reason. Frequently, the best possible play isn’t the first one you notice. Take time to weigh all the options, and try to choose the best one, keeping in mind all of the above. Hearthstone is renowned (and sometimes hated) for the randomness it entails, but it’s also a strategy game, so think about it strategically.
There’s definitely a lot to keep in mind in both drafting and playing arena, and stuff will happen that is completely out of control. As said: board control is king. Do whatever you can to take it, and to keep it, and try not to play directly into devastating board clears like Flamestrike, Consecrate, Holy Nova, Lightning Storm, etc.
If you keep your head about you, you might find yourself slowly going from 1-3 arena runs to 4-3, to 7-3, and eventually you might have the occasional 12-0 run. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even for the pros, 12-0 arena runs are uncommon. But hey, getting beat down (and occasionally doing the beating) is part of the fun, isn’t it? Just don’t break too many keyboards in the process.