If you’ve been following the iOS gaming scene the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard of a F2P game called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Free), a card game released for PC, Mac, and iPad in 2014. Blizzard’s Team 5, the developers of the game, wanted to take collectible card game (CCG) principles, where players collect cards, build decks, and fight against other players’ decks, and turn what’s often seen as a hardcore gaming genre into a more accessible game that would appeal to a much wider audience. Since this is a Blizzard game, the developers decided to use the heroes and flavor of their megahit World of Warcraft (WOW) to build the Hearthstone mythos, linking in this way their new endeavor to their largest success and using WOW characters as a way to attract more players to Hearthstone. Team 5’s plan worked perfectly because the game’s accessibility combined with Blizzard’s marketing and WOW mythos have allowed Hearthstone to explode in popularity.
With Hearthstone becoming more popular by the day and with the game “rumored" to be coming to the iPhone soon, you might be one of the many iOS gamers who are thinking of trying the game out for the first time but aren’t sure how to go about playing a CCG. I understand that digital card games can look confusing to someone who hasn’t played Magic the Gathering or anything similar in the past, so I’ve decided to write a Beginner’s Guide to Hearthstone to ease new players into the game and take them from the very early moments of the game up to winning in the Arena and enjoying the spoils. In Hearthstone, the more success you have, the more in-game gold you’ll earn. The more gold you have, the better cards you’ll own, and the better cards you own, the more success you’ll have and so on. I’ll first talk about everything related to how the game works, what it offers to players and how it plays. I’ll then include general tips about how to play the game and then more specific tips about how to play the Arena mode. So, feel free to jump to any part of the guide you feel suits your needs and knowledge of the game. Without further ado, let’s get into it, shall we?
Hearthstone at its core is a very simple game where the player has one mission: equip your Hero with 30 cards and try to kill the Opponent’s Hero by reducing his or her health from 30 to 0. When you start the game’s Tutorial, you’ll be given your first Hero, the Mage Jaina Proudmoore, and a few basic cards to help you start building your deck of 30 cards. The game is played in turns, and on each turn you get to play a number of cards from your hand. Your opponent responds on his turn by playing his own cards, and the game continues in this way until one player dies. Let’s first talk about Hearthstone‘s cards, which are, of course, the most important part of a Collectible Card Game.
Hearthstone Cards & Rewards
Hearthstone‘s Cards are primarily split in three main categories: Minions, Weapons, and Spells. Each card features a Mana Cost in its top-left corner (typically between 1-10), which indicates how much Mana you must pay to play the card (I will explain how Hearthstone‘s Mana system works after discussing the cards). Each card also features a portrait, and most often some text below it. For Minion and Weapon cards, the text describes the abilities or special effects it possesses, while for Spells the text describes the effects that will occur when the card is played. There are Keywords on many Cards (such as Charge, Battlecry, etc), that describe a special ability that the card possesses. You can tell Spells apart from Minions and Weapons because they only have a Mana value number on them.
Minion cards feature two numbers in addition to their Mana cost, an Attack value on the bottom-left corner of the card and a Health value on the bottom-right corner (often, you’ll see that Minion cards are often referred to by their Attack Value and Health Value, so a 1 Attack 2 Health Minion will be referred to as a 1/2 Minion). Minion Cards are called such because when you play one in a match, one or more minions will appear (be summoned) on your side of the board. Keep in mind that most minions won’t be able to attack on the first turn you play them (you’ll know this because of the little zzzs coming from the minion once its on the board). After that first turn, you’ll be able to use the minion(s) to either attack the opponent’s minions or the Hero directly (which is often called “hitting face"). You attack by dragging the minion to its intended target.
It’s important to know what the various Keywords on the cards mean, especially for minions, as they can really change the way you would play a minion card. For example, the Charge keyword means that the minion you’ll summon can attack on the same turn it’s played, while the Taunt keyword forces the opponent to attack that card first before being able to attack either non-Taunt creatures or the Hero. The Battlecry Keyword means that the effect described will occur only once and only when you play the card. Here’s a full list of Keywords.
Weapon Cards are called such because when you play one in a match, your Hero is equipped with a weapon (which will appear to the left of your Hero). Weapon cards feature an Attack value, just like a minion card, and a Durability value on the bottom-right corner. You can attack either a creature or the enemy Hero and deal damage equal to the Weapon’s Attack value. Each attack reduces the Weapon’s Durability (the little shield number) by 1. When Durability is reduced to zero, the weapon is destroyed. You can only have 1 Weapon equipped, and if you equip another one, the previous Weapon is destroyed. Not all Heroes have weapons available to them.
Spell Cards when played trigger a one-time effect or ability as described in the card’s text. Unlike a minion or a weapon card, a Spell card expires immediately after use. To play a Spell, either drag the card to a specific target, or if it’s a card that just attacks all minions (called an Area of Effect (AOE) spell) like Fireball, you just drag it out on the board. Be careful where you aim your Spells because most spells can damage your own minions if you accidentally target them.
In addition to the Minion, Weapon, and Spell, Hearthstone Cards are categorized primarily by Rarity and Class. The rarer the card, the more powerful it usually is but also the more difficult to find either in card packs or other rewards. There are five Rarities, all expressed by the presence and color of a gem on the front of the card. The Rarities are Basic, Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. The cards are also divided according to which Class can use them. There are Nine Classes (Heroes) in Hearthstone (Druid, Hunter, Mage, Paladin, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, Warrior), so cards are divided accordingly into 9 Classes along with Neutral Cards that can be used by any Class.
You’ll be able to collect cards and improve your collection (and your decks) by either leveling your Heroes (which means simply winning matches with them), by crafting them (using the Dust you’ll earn to make specific cards you want), by buying Card Packs either with real money or in-game gold, by getting packs from in-game rewards, or by defeating Bosses in the Single-Player Adventures (Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain). One of the best ways to get gold is to complete the Daily Quests that will pop up when you start the game or by clicking on the exclamation mark in the Starting Screen. Keep in mind that you can abandon 1 quest a day (if for example you don’t like the Classes it’s asking you to play with) by clicking the X on the corner of the Quest’s plaque in the Quest Log. You will also get 10 gold for every 3 games you win in Play mode (up to 100 a day), and You’ll also get gold from playing in the Arena mode.
Hearthstone Heroes (Classes)
In addition to the cards, the other important element of Hearthstone is its 9 Heroes (which is also what primarily distinguishes Hearthstone from other CCGs in terms of gameplay). In order to play a Hearthstone match, you first need to pick a Deck, which is the same as picking a Hero because currently you only have one deck for each Hero. The game starts you off with the Mage, and you can unlock the other Heroes by defeating them in Play mode or Practice mode. Each hero starts the game with 30 Health and each has its own Hero Power, a special ability that costs two mana and, to a great degree, defines how you should play that Hero. The Hero Powers are as follows:
- the Mage has Fireblast, which deals one damage to the chosen target
- the Paladin has Reinforce, which summons a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit minion on the board.
- the Druid has Shapeshift, which gives your Hero +1 Attack this turn and +1 Armor
- the Hunter has Steady Shot, which deals 2 damage to the enemy hero
- the Priest has Lesser Heal, which restores 2 Health either to a Hero or a minion
- the Rogue has Dagger Mastery, which equips a 1/2 Dagger (Hero weapon)
- the Shaman has Totemic Call, which summons a random Totem out of a selection of four Totems
- the Warlock has Life Tap, which allows the player to draw a card but causes 2 damage to the Hero
- the Warrior has Armor Up!, which gives 2 Armor to the Hero
If your Hero Power gives your Hero an Attack value (shown on the bottom left corner of the Hero Icon), you drag the icon to attack just like you do with cards. Your Hero choice matters a lot when it comes to building a deck because, as I said earlier, a number of cards can only be used by a specific class. The class-specific cards are often more powerful than the Neutral cards and are designed in such a way as to work well with other cards of the same class.
When you pick your Hero (Deck), the match will start and you’ll be looking at the Board. The Board is split in two, with your Hero and your cards (called your Hand) at the bottom of the screen and the opponent’s at the top. To the bottom right, there are small blue crystals that represent your Mana and two numbers next to the crystals that tell you how many crystals you have available that turn and how many you’ve used so far. Each turn you earn one Mana crystal for a maximum of ten. There are Cards, such as Innervate, that allow you to earn extra crystals but keep in mind that those crystals are available only for that specific turn. For example, if you play Innervate in Turn 2, you get 4 Mana crystals for that turn only. Next turn, you’ll only have 3 Mana crystals to play with. Mana crystals are important because they dictate which cards you can play in that specific turn. If you want to play a River Crocolisk (which costs 2 Mana), you have to have 2 Mana Crystals available. If you want to play three cards of 3 Mana cost each, you have to have at least 9 Mana, and so on (one common way that more advanced Hearthstone players describe Hearthstone cards is by saying that the River Crocolisk is a 2-drop, meaning it requires 2 Mana to play it).
At the start of each battle, a coin is tossed to decide which player will go first. Each player is then shown 3 random cards from their own deck (the player going second is shown 4 cards to make the match more even). You can pick which cards to discard (or Mulligan, in CCG terms) and which to keep for your first turn. The ones you discard are reshuffled into your deck, so you’ll be seeing them later in the match. A basic strategy is to keep cards with low Mana cost so you have more options during the early turns of the game. The player going second also receives a special card, called “The Coin," that can be used once in the match and gives the player who uses it one extra Mana crystal until the end of that turn.
At the start of each turn, you’ll get one extra Mana crystal and one card from your deck added to your hand. You can have a maximum of 10 Mana crystals and a maximum of 10 cards in your hand. If you have 10 cards at the beginning of the turn and you draw another one, that card is immediately destroyed. In other words, make sure you don’t have 10 cards in your hand because you don’t want to lose cards for no reason. If the game goes on for a long time, you might end up drawing all your deck cards. If that happens, you suffer damage from Fatigue. Fatigue initially deals 1 damage to the player who’s out of cards, but this amount increases by 1 each turn.
During your turn you can play any of your cards as long as you have enough Mana crystals. You can also drag your minions or Hero to attack the opponent’s minions or Hero. In order to use your Hero Power, tap on the little circle to the right of your Hero Icon. When you are done, tap the End Turn button to the right of the screen. If you want to see what happened in the previous turn or any turn before that, you can tap and hold the little square icons to the left of the screen and the game will show you all the cards that have been played and which card attacked which one. Each turn has a time limit, so don’t spend too much time thinking about your actions. The match ends when one of the Heroes reaches 0 health or when one of the two players concedes. If you want to say anything to the other player, tap on your Hero Icon and pick an emote. If the other player is bugging you by spamming emotes at you, you can tap the enemy Hero and tap on Squelch to silence him.
Hearthstone Game Modes
Hearthstone offers you a number of ways to enjoy the game. There’s the Practice mode, where you can battle Normal and Expert AI players to learn the basics of the game, test different decks, and unlock the various Heroes and their decks by beating them. The Play mode is where you’ll probably spend most of your time in the game because that’s where you can play against other human players of similar skill in random matches. In the Play mode you can do Casual games (where there’s no penalty for losing), or Ranked play, where you start from Rank 25 and aim for Legend. This mode is, of course, much more demanding than the Casual mode, but it also offers special rewards. You can change from Ranked to Casual using the tabs to the right of the screen over your Hero’s icon. The Play mode is also called “Constructed" because you get to use a deck you constructed in advance.
The Arena mode offers a very different challenge than the Play mode because in this mode you get to forge a deck not from your Collection but, rather, from a random selection of cards that the game will offer you. You’ll get to pick one Hero out of three offered, and then the game will be offering you 3 cards to pick one each time until you have a full deck of 30. Once you build a deck of 30 cards, you get to battle other Arena players until you lose 3 times. You have to pay to enter this mode (150 Gold or $1.99), but it offers great rewards in return (not to mention the fun of building a deck out of cards you don’t own).
Adventure mode is the latest addition to Hearthstone, and it’s a single-player mode where the player battles against various Bosses which have unique powers and many special cards. The first Adventure was Curse of Naxxramas, and the second one, Blackrock Mountain, is being released in separate Wings throughout this month. For the most part, these Adventures cost money to play, but in return they are an easy way to gain some great cards including some otherwise-expensive Legendaries. We’ve put together some great Guides for the Adventures to help you beat the Bosses and get those fancy cards.
Finally, there’s the Spectator mode where you can watch your friends play Hearthstone. This is a great way to see better players than you play the game and learn from them. In order to spectate, you tap the button at the bottom-left corner of the Starting Screen, and if a friend is currently playing, an “eye" icon will appear that when tapped will let you spectate. If you don’t have any Hearthstone friends or simply want to increase their number, go to our Forums and exchange BattleTags.
General Strategy and Tips When First Starting Out
Now that you know everything there is to know about Hearthstone‘s rules and features, I want to tell you a few tips and tricks I wish I’d known when I started playing and also ways to get the most out of the game. Because I’m trying to address the great variety of beginner skill levels, some tips might appear too basic or too complicated. My advice is keep returning to this guide because the more you play Hearthstone, the more some of the tips and strategies here will make sense and the more they’ll help you raise your game.
- First of all, DON’T SPEND ANY GOLD OR YOUR FREE ARENA TICKET (given to all new players) until you read the rest of these tips. Also, don’t disenchant or craft any cards, not until you know much more about what you are doing. You’ll thank me later.
- When you start playing Hearthstone, you should first complete the unique Quests that you are offered (like Level Up, First Blood, etc) to gather as much gold as possible as early as possible.
- Open any decks you get from these Quests and use the cards to improve your decks (you can find your decks in the My Collection tab in the Starting Screen)
- The game starts you off with the Mage class, and I suggest you continue playing with the Mage until you reach at least level 10 because up until that level, you get Mage-class cards every time you level. By focusing on one class and getting all the cards, you’ll be able to build quite a decent deck that will allow you to win and, in turn, get more gold. Mage is one of the “easier" classes to play, but at the same time it can be quite a powerful class.
- Play with your Mage Deck in Practice mode to unlock all the Heroes and then play those Heroes until Level 10. This will give you many cards to build better decks, but, perhaps more importantly, will familiarize you with how each Hero’s deck plays and what kind of cards to expect. Knowing what you will face puts you one step ahead of most players who only focus on their decks while ignoring their opponent’s.
- Now, remember when I told you not to spend any gold, especially not for any card packs? That’s because playing in the Arena gives you better overall rewards than buying card packs. A card pack costs 100 gold and contains 5 cards, one of which is guaranteed to be a Rare or better. However, when you play in the Arena (which as I’ve said earlier, costs 150 Gold each time), you’ll get at least one card pack, some gold (around 20-25), and some dust that you can use later for crafting cards. So, for just 50 gold over what you have to pay for a card pack (or just 20 if you count the reward), you can get better rewards than what you would’ve gotten if you’d just bought one card pack. And this is if you do the absolute worse you could do in the Arena. If you actually get some wins, the rewards increase. Add to this the experience you get simply from playing your Arena games and the fact that it’s a more level playing field than Constructed (since you don’t have to deal with people who’ve spent hundreds of dollars on the game), and you can see why I told you to keep your gold for the Arena.
- For all the above reasons, don’t use your free Arena ticket until you’ve gained enough experience playing in the Play mode. That way, you’ll get the most out of that free Arena run and probably get more wins than if you’d just jumped in straight away. I know it’s tempting to jump in just to see how Arena plays, but, trust me, you’re better off waiting a bit.
A few “advanced" beginner tips:
- Your health, or Hit Points, is just another resource to be used in order to beat your opponent. This is not a Mario game, you don’t lose a life when your opponent hits you. Until you get to 0, the game is still on (some decks are actually put together in such a way as to take damage in the early turns and then win in the later turns). Don’t be afraid to take damage if that allows you to make a better play. For example, some times it’s better to use a Hero attack to kill a minion even if that means you’ll get some damage. Most new players will play very defensively to avoid taking damage and will be constantly removing enemy minions from the board to protect their Hero even if that means using many cards in one turn to do so, and you can take advantage of that. The other habit beginner players have is feeling that they must play a minion on the board just because they can. Sometimes it’s better to hold on to a minion instead of just throwing it on the board for the other player to remove before it even has a chance to attack.
- Time your card plays correctly by watching for any possible interactions. If playing one card before another one would give you an extra benefit (like for example allowing you to draw an extra card), do so.
- Instead of worrying about your Hero’s health, what you want to be doing is having “board control," having more and better minions than your opponent on the board at any time. Board control wins most games, so it’s important to be able to control the board by removing the other player’s minions and trying to keep yours alive. Try to have a good presence (minions) on the board (not necessarily by having the most minions but by having minions that can survive your opponent’s attacks and can deal more damage).
- Try to clear out the opponent’s minions by using as fewer cards as possible and getting “favorable trades." A favorable trade in broad terms is using your cheap, weaker minion to kill an expensive, stronger minion of your opponent, thus putting him or her at a mana disadvantage (they use more mana than you for an equal result).
- Be careful not to have too many low-health minions on the board (by low health I mean 2 or less) because there are many spells in the game that can kill many 2-health minions in one go.
- There are many cards that “buff," or strengthen, other cards, like Blessing of Kings that gives a minion +4 Attack and +4 Health. It’s a good tactic to apply buffs to a card the turn after you play them. Why? Because you might spend two cards of yours (the minion and the buff) to create a minion that your opponent can remove with one card before you even have a chance to attack with it. So, play the minion, wait for next turn, and then buff and attack on the same turn.
- Use your spells primarily to take out minions rather than the enemy Hero because that allows your minions to live longer, do more damage, and let’s you keep board control. If, however, you can see that your spells allow you to kill the enemy Hero on that turn, fire away.
- A good general rule is to prefer to have two weaker minions on the board rather than one strong one because two minions will often create more trouble for your opponent than one big guy. If you have two minions on the board and your opponent only has one, don’t attack with the weaker minion if that would mean your minion would die because that will leave you with one strong minion only and that is often very easy for your opponent to remove. Instead, it’s better to kill the minion off with your stronger minion so you have two threats for your opponent to deal with next turn rather than one (again, board control). This in general is a good advice to follow, but be careful not to get your stronger minion too weak (for example with only 1 or 2 health) because that will allow your opponent to remove it easily.
- Always try to pick the cheaper way (in terms of mana cost) to do things in Hearthstone. Cheaper ways are more efficient, and being more efficient than your opponent means you can do more than him with the same amount of Mana.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of minions or spells that allow you to draw cards, like Northshire Cleric. The more cards you have in your hand, the more options you have to deal with your opponent’s threats. Also, running out of cards in your hand and having to hope that the next card you draw will be the one you need is a sure way to die quickly in Hearthstone. Since Card Draw is so important, make sure you quickly remove any opponent cards that are letting him draw cards. He’ll hate you for it, and you’ll be much better off.
In general, try to have board control by making favorable trades with your minions, don’t worry if you are losing HP as long as you are keeping board control and getting favorable trades, watch for card interactions that allow you to use as less Mana as possible, and don’t underestimate the importance of Card Draw mechanics.
The Arena as a mode carries its own philosophies and strategies because of how you have to make a deck without being 100% certain about what cards you’ll be seeing while building the deck. Since, as I’ve said earlier, you’re better off playing in the Arena if you want good rewards, here are some tips to help you get better at it. These tips are also useful when building decks for use in Play Mode.
- The best classes for a beginner in Arena are Mage, Paladin, Hunter, and Priest. Avoid Warlock and Warrior as they can be quite tricky to play if you don’t get the cards you were hoping to get. Classes such as Warlock and Warrior depend a lot on card combinations to be effective, and those combinations are harder to pull off in the Arena than in Constructed Play.
- Why are these classes the best? The way Arena works, the 1st, 10th, 20th, and 30th are guaranteed to be rare or even better. The rest 26 will be basic or common. So, it makes sense to go with the classes that have the strongest basic and common cards because those will make up the biggest part of your deck.
- It’s crucial to have cards in your deck that allow you to remove your opponent’s minions from the board (these are called “removal cards") so they don’t easily have board control. Some great removal cards are Flamestrike, Swipe, Consecration, Backstab, Fireball, Hex, Assassin’s Blade etc. As you can see, removal cards are usually spells and weapons, so make sure you pick some of those. However, don’t go overboard and pick only removal cards because you’ll need to have some minions on the board too (board control, remember?).
- You’ll also need to have some efficient minions because, more often than not, minions will be what will win you matches by killing your opponent’s minions while also damaging your opponent’s health. Efficient minions are those minions that have strong stats for relatively low mana cost (like Fire Elemental) or good stats but great Battlecries or other abilities (like Druid of the Claw). Don’t just go for cards that have excellent stats but cost 8 Mana because then you’ll probably be dead by the time you have enough mana to play them. How do you know if you have too many expensive minions or not enough cheaper ones? Well, the way you’ll know is by studying your Mana Curve.
- What is a Mana Curve you might ask? Well, as you are building your Arena deck, you’ll see that to the right of your Hero there’s a board with Mana Crystals, and each time you pick a card, it will be displayed on that board. Looking at the Mana board will let you know how many cards you have for each mana cost. Since it looks like a curve and it’s about mana, well, it’s not a giant mental leap to call it a mana curve. When you start playing Hearthstone, it’s good to aim for a balanced Mana curve that has minions in every mana slot. Aim for around 8-10 non-minion cards (spells and weapons) and the rest should be minions. Try to have most of your cards in slots 2 and 4, have 2 or 3 cards of 0 and 1 mana for early plays, and finish with around 4 heavy hitters (minions with stats like 5 Attack, 6 Health for example).
- It gets much more complicated from here, and I don’t want to overload you with info. Just remember that you want to have options for every turn of the match, otherwise you might end up using all your cards early and getting beat up because you didn’t kill your opponent, or you won’t have any cards to play for the first 4 turns and the opponent will pretty much kill you by turn 6. If you keep your Mana curve balanced (with most cards in the middle Mana slots), your deck will be easier to play.
To sum up, pick one of the easier classes, build a balanced deck with good removal cards/spells and efficient minions, have a balanced mana curve that allows you to play cards on every turn, and don’t pick a card just because it looks nice if you don’t see how you would be able to play it in the current deck you are building.
Well, I think that’s all the advice you need to start playing and getting the most out of Hearthstone. As with other CCGs, the more you play Hearthstone, the more you’ll enjoy it. Keep returning to this guide because many of the tips I’ve written will make more sense as you play the game more. And who knows, maybe in the near future you’ll have more ways to experience Hearthstone than the ones you currently have, so this guide will come in handy…