What Separates a ‘Pro’ from an ‘Above Average’ Player

What Separates a ‘Pro’ from an ‘Above Average’ Player
An Analysis of the differences in the knowledge and thought processes of these 2 levels of players.

Greetings! I am LookItzJoe and you may have seen me around on Twitch/Twitter or you may be one of the 3 people who have seen my website, www.theinnkeepersconclave.com. I am a lifelong Blizzard fan and have been active with following the Hearthstone scene. Hearthstone seems to be a truly unique ‘experience’ because it is a game that you can enjoy watching just as much, if not more than playing. That is where I have found myself as someone who loves to play free games that pay real money, though it’s partly due to having to spread my time between so many different projects and games.

I usually play at least every other day, for 1-2 hours. This is not a lot of time; especially compared to the 5+ hr/day average I spend watching Hearthstone. I usually play ladder for 3-10 games to clean up my quest log. Each season I try to at least get to Rank 10 or higher, which seems like a respectable rank for the amount of time I play. This season, I actually managed to get Legend for the first time, with some help of course which is what sparked the idea to write this article.

Hearthstone Screenshot 06-26-15 22.21.52The ‘Above Average’ Player

I consider myself an ‘Above Average’ player which I would define as a player who has a well-rounded understanding of the game. More specifically I would assign an ‘Above Average’ player with the following:

  • A general understanding of most of the TCG concepts.
  • Knowledge of most of the popular decks.
  • Knowledge of all of the cards and their effects.
  • Knowledge of most of the card interactions (Deathrattles for example).
  • Basic understanding of how to mulligan.
  • Ability to identify opponent’s deck.
  • Basic understanding of how to predict and play around opponent’s deck.

tqhSLLlThe ‘Pro’ Player

With these attributes assigned to an ‘Above Average’ player, how does a ‘Pro’ player compare? Obviously, there are different levels of ‘Pro’ players. Some pros may have a stronger understanding of one concept than another, but for the sake of argument we will just disregard the differences as averaging out to similar overall skill levels. A ‘Pro’ player would have complete understanding of all of the above attributes of an ‘Above Average’ player and also have the following:

  • Extensive understanding of mulligans.
    • Knowledge of how to mulligan differently for every matchup.
    • Recognizing players and their deck/play-style preferences.
    • Understanding opponent mulligans and how to play accordingly.
  • Understanding of how turns will play out 2-3 turns in advance.
  • Calculating the best play among all alternatives.
  • Identifying and planning lethal turns. (How to close out games.)
  • Understanding minion placement.

There are definitely more attributes that could be assigned, but we will stick with this list.

Tying It All Together

The combination of all of these attributes is what separates players. You can also think of it in terms of a classroom grading scale. An ‘A’ student would be a ‘Pro’ and a ‘B’ student would be ‘Above Average’. The ‘A’ student understands all of the material and makes very few errors. The ‘B’ student understands most of the material, but misses a key concept here and there, and is prone to making more mistakes.

Wanting to improve and finally get that Legend card back, I reached out to @vS_LBYS who agreed to help coach me.

The Mulligan

hunter mulligan

Immediately, I realized that we were clearly on different levels. It definitely was not just about LBYS playing the game more than me. He clearly had a much deeper understanding of the game than I did. Right out of the gate, I realized there was much more to the mulligan than I had ever considered. When I mulligan, I just look for the cards that I can play, doing the same thing for every matchup. LBYS, on the other hand, considers much more. He is looking for specific cards based on what cards the opponent is going to play. He watches the mulligan. I always thought the mulligan wasn’t that important, because what information are you really getting? You can’t see the cards, and the hand size is always the same, right? Nope, wrong. This concept ties in with knowing your opponent’s deck and knowing the matchup.

Keeping cards tells you they have the cards they want. Throwing back cards means they are looking for the cards they want. In the latter, they may or may not have the cards they want, in which you play the odds. In the first instance though, you know they have what they want. Here is where knowing the matchups comes into play. Let’s take Warrior as an example. Our opponent keeps 1-3 card(s) against us (Hunter). Fiery War Axe? Cruel Taskmaster? Armorsmith? Probably. Knowing that he kept these cards allows us to play in a way that we know which cards he will play; therefore we play to be punished as little as possible. Knowing our opponent has Fiery War Axe means we’d like to play Haunted Creeper so he can’t clear efficiently. Knowing he has Cruel Taskmaster means we don’t play a 1 health minion where he could kill it for free and contest our next 2 health creature.

The Game

When I decide on playing cards I try to play on curve, and I try to think about obvious weaknesses my plays may have. Is my board weak to AOE? Are my attacks/plays playing into my opponent getting favorable trades? To win consistently at a higher level, you have to do more. LBYS thinks about these things in addition to what are the opponent’s full options, and how will we counter in the next turn(s). Is it possible for us to set-up lethal, and is there a way to lockout our opponent, no matter what they do? Can the opponent lethal us? How do we play to set-up lethal while also protecting ourselves from being lethaled?

Another concept which I think most people are aware of but often get caught up in is the idea of playing to not lose versus playing to win. Playing to not lose is where you make plays to live another turn, but they are plays that will never allow you to win. Playing to win on the other hand is taking risks where you have a chance to lose, but you also have a chance to win. In a scenario where you are dead to a specific topdeck and you have no way of playing around it, you need to play to kill your opponent as fast as you can, giving them the least amount of chances to draw said topdeck, while also giving you the highest chance of winning. These are the situations I often overlook when playing solo, but LBYS would identify these situations and play accordingly.

Knowing when to trade is another situation that separates top tier players from the rest of us. This ties back into knowing your opponent’s deck and understanding the matchup. Here’s another scenario.

Me: Loatheb

Mage: Counter Loatheb

Me: Savannah Highmane

So do we trade or go face with Loatheb? 5 damage is significant, and our opponent is getting low. My instinct was to go face and let the Mage figure it out since he would have to clear 2 5 health minions and the Deathrattle from Highmane. LBYS suggests trading because he is thinking of the way our opponent can win. We are ahead on board, so how do we prevent our opponent from gaining a strong swing turn? A likely play from a Mage might be trade Loatheb into Highmane, Flamestrike, and ping Loatheb thereby clearing our board. Whereas, if we trade that play would leave the 2 2/2s on the board and our opponent is unable to turn the tides as easily.

The Close

So what’s the point? Well, by being exposed to LBYS’ thought process and knowledge base I realized the many differences that I had never considered. I could never really improve my game if I never realized what there was to improve on. Now, I know what I need to learn/do in order to become a better player. With this new knowledge I can apply it to my games and work on getting Legend within the time I have to play on my own accord. Hopefully, you have also learned something by reading this article and can apply it to your own gameplay. By being exposed to something other than your own thought process, ideally you will learn something and build onto your working knowledge of the game. Thanks for reading and good luck on your Hearthstone adventures!