For those of you who don’t know me, which, seeing as I’m still very new to Hearthstone is probably most of you, my name is Dr. Jeebus and I’m the angriest man in Magic. Unfortunately, the Magic Online client is…less than ideal, so I needed something to fill my competitive online gaming void. While I played League of Legends for a while, playing on a touchpad severely limited how competitively I could ever truly play so I needed something new. That’s when my podcasting partner Tangent suggested I come try out Hearthstone. I had tried Hearthstone very briefly when it first came out, but I had refused to spend money on it while playing Magic Online so heavily (not that I was spending any money there either cause I’m awesome) and grinding gold to play arenas was rather tiresome. He convinced me to give it another go however, and so here I am.
Before I go on further, people tend to like proof of Legend status because I guess the community is just full of fucking liars or something, so here’s my screenshot from when I first achieved it.
Yes that says 2:38 am. No, I don’t sleep. So here I am a: recent Hearthstone player coming over from Magic and hit legend in my second season after heartbreakingly maxing out at rank 1, 4 stars in my first season. In my defense, I had to spent much of that first season actually acquiring cards as well as traveling to and competing in Magic’s Eternal Weekend. But enough excuses, I want to talk about the transition from Magic to Hearthstone and what I’ve learned to help me become a better player.
Hearthstone is a Game of Zero Interaction
Hearthstone players seem to get really pissed off whenever I say this, but it’s true. There is zero interaction in Hearthstone. The game contains exactly three actions you may take: play a card, activate your hero power, or attack whatever enemy you want. That’s it. You can make proactive or reactive decisions to try to play around your opponent’s deck, but you cannot directly interact with your opponent or with any of their decisions. You can’t even talk to each other except through the use of six preset emotes that exist for the sole purpose of letting your opponent know what a fucking douchenozzle you are. As a heavy control player in Magic, this is really disorienting. I can’t block your minions. I can’t cast Frost Bolt in response to your Velen’s Chosen to get that sick value. In fact, there’s basically no purpose in even watching your opponent’s turn when you can just alt-tab and go look at porn, because with both cases you’re essentially playing with yourselves.
Now, don’t interpret this as me saying that Hearthstone is a bad game because of this. Interaction is my favorite part of competitive games, but even with your limited options available Hearthstone is still fun. It does, however, require playing very differently. I saw this quote attributed to someone who is probably famous, but I’m still new to the game so I can’t remember who it was. Regardless, this is the single most accurate description I have seen: “Hearthstone is a game of playing guys on curve and beating face.”
Yup, that’s pretty much the entire game right there. Even now I find myself being overly concerned with board control instead of just beating my opponent’s face in. Thirty life seems like a lot, especially compared to the 20 you start with in Magic, but attacking for 17 damage that your opponent can do nothing about on turn five or six is hardly a rare occurrence. That was the first big lesson I learned: spend your opponent’s turn counting your damage. I lost too many games by sending direct damage spells at enemy minions only to realize that “Holy shit, I could’ve done 18 face damage this turn? And now I’m dead.” You may be powerless to stop your opponent on their turn, but they are equally powerless to stop you. Never forget that.
Hearthstone Loves RNG
If it weren’t for this fact, this would honestly probably be a terrible game. With 30 card constructed decks and a standardized flow of mana that does not take card slots in your deck, it would be far too easy to build extremely consistent decks and every game would come down to the coin toss. To combat the lack of interaction, Blizzard has brilliantly worked the power level of cards such that many of the most powerful cards are RNG based cards.
Animal Companion randomly gives you one of three minions, all of which are ahead of the curve for three mana. It’s a fantastic deal, except when you don’t roll the companion that you wanted. Piloted Shredder is tremendous value that can drop a 4/4 or another 4/3 when it dies with no drawback, but it can also drop Darnassus Aspirant and set you a mana behind when it dies (which can be devastating), or it can drop Doomsayer and flat out lose you a game you otherwise would’ve won. In general it’s going to give you a 2/3 or 3/2 vanilla minion, but the chance of getting something so much better or worse adds for a lot of exciting moments.
In short, if you are coming from games like Magic where deckbuilding is focused on trying to produce as much consistency as possible, do not undervalue cards with random effects. Coin flip cards may be trash in Magic (no matter how much I may love them), but random effects are a big part of Hearthstone and you need to embrace them.
Initiative Is Everything
This is the big lesson that needs to be taken to heart, the one that makes all the difference. I had toyed with aggro and midrange paladin lists, but I couldn’t get higher than rank 4. Then Vicious Syndicate’s Cora hit top 5 Legend using this paladin list: Coradin. This changed everything for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to work with and be coached by several of vS’s players, despite being brand new to the game, thanks to Tangent being friends with them somehow. Tangent’s a pretty unlikeable guy so I’m not sure how that even happened, but as soon as Cora started tearing through ladder with this deck she gave me the list and I hit legend that night.
So why this list? The answer is simple: Secretkeeper. You may have seen the Secretkeepers and assumed it was a generic aggro secret paladin. Maybe you saw Tirion and assumed it was generic midrange secret paladin. Actually, it’s a midrange list with two cards swapped out for Secretkeeper. While technically more complicated than that, that’s really the crux of this deck. The midrange Secret Paladin archetypes run the power cards needed to close out games when Mysterious Challenger wasn’t enough to make your opponent slit their wrists, but they have absolutely no good first turn plays. A normal midrange secret list runs nothing but secrets for one drops, and unless you are on the coin every game and your opponent absolutely never has a turn one play then this is less than ideal.
Not only does Secretkeeper convert all those shitty secret draws into actual power for the deck, but it provides you with a way to take the initiative at the start of the game. I cannot stress enough the extent to which initiative is everything in most games. Remember, you can’t interact with your opponent, so if your opponent is always taking the initiative then you are forced to always play reactively, and that is not the place you want to be. There is no Day of Judgment into Baneslayer Angel to stifle your opponent’s aggression (though I suppose Swipe into Druid of the Claw is pretty close if played correctly). You can clear the board on turn four or five, but early minions tend to be extremely sticky, like Shielded Minibot and Haunted Creeper, and even if you do succeed in clearing the board, so what? Your opponent now has a free turn to lay out more threats, and you are again on the back foot. Maybe you are playing bigger guys than they are, but you’ve likely already taken damage and they can just aim for your face since you can’t block leaving you to ultimately die.
Initiative is so important that, unless you are playing a Warrior Deck, I don’t think I can ever recommend playing a deck that doesn’t have one mana plays. Discarding the option of early development is tantamount to forfeiting your dreams of getting past rank 15.
Where Do I Go From Here?
So I’ve shared with you some of the lessons I’ve learned about Hearthstone, particularly from the point of view of coming from Magic or other TCGs, what happens now? Obviously the answer is I continue to hit legend in every season until “The Living End”, starring James Bond, get a new computer so I can start streaming, get signed by a professional Hearthstone team, and become world champion. It’s really the only logical progression. Oh, and somewhere in there I’ll probably fuck your girlfriend too. Welcome to Hearthstone!
Make sure to stay in touch with the angriest man in Magic transitioning into
motherhoodHearthstone by following him on Twitter @Dr_Jeebus. Until next time!