This season, Cassity has moved into the role of coach for Team Rank 5. This raised questions. Why should just one team benefit from this Hearthstone savant’s collected wisdom? Why shouldn’t the entire League have a tap straight into one of THL’s greatest sources of game knowledge? Why doesn’t Cassity write a coaching column for the THL blog? In a true show of sportsmanship, Cassity shares some of this hard-won wisdom with THL.
Also! This article was written before Old Gods dropped, so some of examples are a bit wild.
We all know the rudimentary basics to Hearthstone: fight for board, make efficient use of mana, win the game. Most players who have put in the time to acquire strong collections and are able to build any meta-relevant deck know how to play their nut draws. They know, how to play Mysterious Challenger on six, Druid combo on turn nine, spawn four Grim Patrons on turn five, play Alexstraza into burn spells with freeze mage, etc. But there’s one area we can all improve in: resource management.
Hearthstone, like any TCG/CCG is a game based upon resources. Take control players. If you’ve ever heard a wallet warrior call face hunter a “no-skill deck,” chances are they assume cards are the only relevant resource in the game. That control player thinks, “Gee, if I can build card advantage over the course of the game, I’ll win no problem.” What that player often does not take into account, however, are the other resources with which we leverage advantages in Hearthstone.
For the purpose of this article, we will hone in on three key resources: Cards, Health, and Time (also often referred to as ‘Tempo’). Each of these resources exists in a balance with the other two, and the player who can best leverage their three resources is often the one who is put into an advantageous position more often than not. For each resource, I will attempt to illustrate a deck and/or scenario in Hearthstone to clearly highlight what I’m talking about.
Our first resource is the easiest to understand: Cards. In TCG’s, cards are what do things. Makes sense, right? If I want to play the game and make an impact on the game that hopefully allows me to beat my opponent, I need to play cards from my deck and hand to do so.
Hearthstone is unique in that we have hero powers to spend our mana on without using cards, but no hero power will ever win the game on its own. The term, “value,” with regard to Hearthstone, is derived from this resource. When analyzing a potential play from the perspective of card advantage, we want each and every card to be as individually strong as possible. In short, we want each card to do as much stuff as it possibly can, because when we run out of cards, we run out of things to do. When we run out of things to do, we often lose the game.
No deck places a higher premium on individual cards than Control Warrior. In a deck like control warrior, each and every card counts because each has a specific job. Death’s Bite takes out two medium sized minions, and thus two cards by itself. Execute’s job is to kill that huge, pesky minion that can’t be dealt with any other way. Fiery War Axe shuts down the opponent early by often killing an entire turn 1 and turn 2 on its own. Brawl clears all but one minion on the entire board! Without a doubt, cards are the most important resource in this deck and the individual power of each card needs to be leveraged to as close to its full potential as possible.
Before the days of Elise Starseeker, Control Warrior was a deck loaded with highly-costed legendary minions. The only reason the deck was able to get away with this was because its defensive cards had such a strong individual value, and thus, could create an advantage when it came to this particular resource.
The next resource that needs to be mentioned is Health, specifically your own health. “But Cassity, how is health a resource? All I need to know is that when it hits 0, I lose.” Well, young gamer, you’re sort of right. Especially in Hearthstone, health is absolutely a resource that needs to be leveraged in conjunction with the other two resources covered in this article. When the player is aware of their health relative to their opponent’s ability to win the game in X amount of turns, health becomes a valuable resource that can be used to further the player’s win condition. Hearthstone includes a couple very unique mechanics that are extremely relevant to this resource: weapons and armor. I’ll start with the former.
Weapons allow the hero to deal damage to a specific enemy using the ‘face’. Currently, six classes have active, easy access to this mechanic: Warrior, Rogue, Shaman, Paladin, Hunter, and Druid. Weapons are typically efficiently costed and are some of the most versatile tools in the game. They can push damage in an offensive manner, or be used defensively to stifle the opponent’s plan. However, the trade off for taking advantage of this is our health.
A great example of this are the Rogue and Druid classes. Although the other mentioned classes have access to the weapon mechanic, it generally also comes at the cost of a card. Both Druid and Rogue, because of their hero power, are able to deal one damage through the weapon mechanic to any enemy without spending any cards to do so. In fact, Rogue is able to attack twice over consecutive turns at the cost of only one hero power. Great Rogue players are always aware of their health relative to their opponent’s ability to kill them, and thus, often make plays that may make a newcomer cringe. It is not uncommon for a Rogue to spend 4+ health in conjunction with her hero power to kill an enemy minion rather than spend a card doing so. This is because the class often places a higher premium on an individual card than that amount of life. Classes such as Rogue and Druid very rarely ever win a game with all of their health remaining because they make such strong use of it as a resource.
The other Hearthstone mechanic relative to the health resource is armor. Currently, Warrior, Druid, and Mage make use of this mechanic, with it being vital to Warrior and Freeze Mage. Despite working together in conjunction regarding keeping the player alive, armor and health are separate values and entities in the game of Hearthstone. Health has a specific cap (usually 30), while armor does not, and can climb as high as the player is able to push it. It is important to realize the difference between the two and leverage our overall health to take advantage. One deck that does this extremely well is the notorious Freeze Mage. Freeze mage makes strong use of cards like Antique Healbot, Ice barrier, and Alexstrasza. Ice block is another card that works with this resource as well. Let me give an example:
Example #1: It is turn five, and a Freeze Mage player is comfortably sitting at 22 life against a faster breed of deck. He has the choice of playing Ice barrier in conjunction with his hero power or playing a Healbot. To spruce up our options, we’ll even say our opponent has a 1/1 minion on the board, but is playing a deck that can do some work with spells.
In the vast majority of cases, the Healbot is the better play simply because we want to take advantage of regaining as much health (and thus, time to live) as possible. We know our health can’t go above thirty, and we know Healbot will never heal for more, so we play it. The 3/3 body is just the icing on the cake. Now, if we were at 23 health, the armor becomes more valuable. Until Blizzard creates a card that ignores armor, this will always be the case.
Okay Cassity, you’ve gone on a couple rants here, but how are these things connected? To connect our examples, I’ll tie the leveraging of cards vs health into the Control Warrior example:
Example #2: Control Warrior is staring down a zoo board that includes a Knife Juggler, two Implosion tokens, and a pair of Dark Peddlers. The Warrior player has Brawl or a Sludge Belcher ready to go on turn 5, and a total of 34 health. Which card should he play?
The answer is Sludge Belcher. Should his opponent have the obvious answer in Ironbeak Owl, the Warrior is not sweating it. He’ll take his 9-10 damage and move on, probably playing Brawl the following turn after he’s convinced his opponent he is not holding it. Because the zoo player is nowhere near close to killing the Warrior, the Warrior should choose to value his individual card over his life, and create a more valuable scenario to play his card the following turn. If the Warrior was at a total of 17 health, however, brawl is the obvious choice. See how these resources play with one another?
The final resource this article will touch on is Time. Time is often referred to as ‘Tempo’, and the two terms will be interchangeable from this point onward. Time refers to the amount of time left before the game ends in a victory for either player. In reality, it is the word used to describe the constant tug-of-war between players as they wrestle between dealing with each other’s game plan while advancing their own. Tempo is often viewed as the polar opposite of Value in Hearthstone, which is generally true, but that is not to imply that one is always better than the other. Understanding the game from a standpoint of two players advancing exclusive win conditions better puts into light the idea behind Time.
I’ve tried to come up with a number of metaphors regarding tempo, but the best one I have is this:
Imagine two people each have a bucket of equal size. Each person also has access to their own hose. The rules are simple: the first player to fill up his/her bucket with water from a hose wins. Now, while this seems like a simple game, there are a variety of strategies available. One player may simply turn his hose on quickly, leave it on, and force his opponent to react. This is akin to someone playing an aggro deck in a TCG. Another strategy is for one player to invest a bit of time in sabotaging his opponent’s hose so that it doesn’t run water as effectively, and then turn on his own hose to fill up his bucket. This would look a lot like a midrange deck in Hearthstone. A final strategy is for one player to simply let the other nearly fill his bucket, take the bucket, and fill up his own with a little help from his own hose. That’s what Control Priest does.
In Hearthstone, the only rules are that you need to get your opponent to 0 health before you reach 0 health. Whoever reaches their win condition first, by definition, wins. If your opponent has 6 cards in hand while you have zero, and they have no health while you have 1, you have better leveraged your tempo resource to win the game. Let me illustrate an example:
Example #3: I am playing zoo. My opponent is playing Aggro Shaman. I have managed to be leading on board with a 1/1 Argent Squire (whose shield has been popped) going into my own turn 3. My opponent has not stuck a minion to the board at this point, and I have Brann Bronzebeard in my hand. My choice is to play Brann without being able to take advantage of his ability in the same turn, or I can prepare my board to deal with a strong turn on his end by playing two separate cards. My play? Brann Bronzebeard every single time.
If I can play Brann Bronzebeard onto an empty opponent’s board, it demands some form of immediate answer. Aggro Shaman immediately fears the likes of Defender of Argus, Abusive Sergeant, etc. coming down with added benefit on my following turn. As a result, he’s likely to spend some of his precious burn damage removing my Brann, and thus, lose a ton of Tempo. Do I care if my Brann gets crackled on my opponent’s turn 3? NO! Do I essentially win the game on the spot if my Brann eats a Lava Burst? YES.
Back to the bucket metaphor, by playing Brann, I didn’t put much water in my bucket. I didn’t develop as much board pressure as I could have, and I didn’t get any extra value toward my win condition. However, by playing Brann, I essentially kicked my opponent’s bucket over and made him lose a lot of water he had previously counted on helping him win the game. Because my opponent now needs even more Time to win the game, and I need even less after having attacked twice since Brann hit the board. By manipulating the tempo of my opponent’s plays, I have better leveraged my resources.
Time/Tempo is by far the most difficult resource to manage because it requires the right blend of simply furthering your win condition and dealing with your opponent’s, but the best players are the ones who can trick their opponent into doing inefficient, undesirable things. The fear inspired by leaving a Frothing Beserker alive, for example, is where the term “Tempo Frothing” was coined for playing the card directly on curve in old Grim Patron decks. It forced immediate removal and awkward plays. Sylvanas often does the same if the opponent does not have a silence waiting.
Cards, Health, and Time are often not mutually exclusive in any given situation. It is entirely on the player to appropriately leverage all three in conjunction with one another to make the best decisions for any given deck within any given situation. Doing so is what separates the players who hit the highest peaks of legend from those who hardly scrape to rank 5 when both players are using identical decks. I hope this article has left you a bit more knowledgeable and a whole lot more curious. Thanks for reading!
The THL blog is curated and edited by Donde. All THL members are welcomed and encouraged to pitch ideas for articles they would like to see on the site. If you have an idea, please reach out to us on Discord at Donde#4239 or via the THL Help email address: firstname.lastname@example.org