Now that Hearthstone (Free) is finally Universal, there’s an influx of new players who have varying degrees of knowledge when it comes to Collectible Card Games (CCGs) like Hearthstone. That’s why we’ve put together a Beginner’s Guide to all things Hearthstone to help you along the way. This, in a way, is Guide Number Two that will discuss the general principles of deck-building so you can build better decks and, almost as important, understand the decks you’ll be facing in Hearthstone.
I hope that by now, you’ve got many cool-looking cards. Fantastic! And now what do you do? How do you go from having a bunch of cards from all kinds of classes and many neutral ones to putting them together in decks that make sense and can actually win you games? Even if you are willing to splurge and get all kinds of fancy Legendaries, if you don’t know how to use them in the correct deck, you’ll simply have expensive, but losing, decks.The main take from this guide is a relatively simple one: to use Ken Nagle’s, a Magic the Gathering designer, axiom, “Play good decks, not good cards." When you are putting cards together, you should be thinking about the deck as one unit consisting of smaller parts rather than a collection of cards put together just because individually the cards look strong. Deck-building is about deciding on a strategy and making a deck that adheres to that. Don’t be afraid to leave out a new, fancy card you just got if you can’t find a good reason to fit it in the deck.
What I’ll try and do in this guide is break down the thinking behind the most popular kinds of decks in Hearthstone at the moment and explain how to go about thinking what card to add to what kind of deck. Many of the terms most experienced players use to talk about deck-building (like Meta, Aggro, and Control) come from older CCGs and have been around for quite a bit, so those who’ve been playing CCGs for a long time are very familiar with them. However, for new players, words like Meta and Aggro sound very foreign and, therefore, mystify the process of deck-building. So, I’ll try to simplify the process by explaining some of the terms and the thinking behind them. This guide does not purport to be the only guide you’ll ever need or even a comprehensive one. All I’ll try to do is explain how you should start thinking about deck-building and, hopefully, offer you the foundation that will help you understand the gazillion articles on Hearthstone deck-building all over the internet.
Many might wonder why have a deck-building guide when there are so many decks online. Why not just look online and copy decks made by other, better players (this is called “net-decking," by the way). While this is definitely a good way to build a deck, it won’t really teach you much about how to build your own deck with the cards you own. For example, you’ll have a hard time finding decks online that only use cards you already own. Also, you won’t really know how that deck you just copied off the internet is supposed to play, so you’ll be unable to translate an online deck into one you can successfully use in Hearthstone. And, finally, you won’t be able to improve that deck once your collection grows. You won’t know which card can be replaced by which one because you won’t know what role each card plays in the overall deck. Understanding the fundamentals of deck-building, then, will help you get much more out of net-decking and Hearthstone in general.
So, the first important aspect of deck-building is the notion of the “mana curve." What is that you might ask? Well, if you go to your Collection, tap on a Hero, and then tap again on the Hero icon on your top right, you’ll see a graph with your Cards/Mana Cost, in other words how many cards you have in each mana position. This graph pretty much defines how a deck will play, and most of the times there’s not much you can do as a player to make the deck play significantly differently.The different type of mana curves are often split in what CCGs players call “archetypes," a fancy Greek word that pretty much means “fundamental types." There are four most common archetypes in Hearthstone, Aggro (aggressive), Control, Combo, and Midrange, all defined by the way the mana curve is shaped and the types of cards they contain. Below I include two graphs of the various mana curves (borrowed from Ken Nagle) that illustrate the different mana curves of each archetype.
Aggro (Aggressive) Decks have most of their cards in the first half of the mana curve to try and finish the game as quickly as possible by playing and attacking with many small minions. Because they depend on small minions, they have many early minions to play but can’t keep their pace throughout the game and will often wither in later turns. They aim to kill off the opponent quickly precisely to avoid the later part of the game. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “face Hunter" in Hearthstone discussions, it describes precisely an Aggro deck using the Hunter class that has as its main goal to keep hitting the opponent hero’s “face" (meaning the Hero directly) rather than dealing with the enemy’s minions.
When you are building an Aggro Deck, pick a Hero that’s appropriate for aggressiveness, like Mage or Hunter, load up with mostly 1,2,3 mana minions, and don’t waste space for many removal spells, especially removal for larger minions. Why not carry removal for larger minions? If you are at the point in the game where your opponent can play large, expensive minions, your aggro tactics have probably already failed, and you are out of minions yourself or have very weak ones left that won’t be able to counter your opponent’s strong minions. In general, Aggro decks are among the easiest decks to play as a beginner Hearthstone player because, in principle, they are quite straightforward to put together and play.
Check this video for an example of an Aggro Mage deck. The decklist is in the video description.
Control Decks have most of their cards at the second half of the mana curve and plan to do almost the opposite of Aggro Decks; control players want to outlast their opponents by killing off their early threats (like the small minions Aggro players use) until the control players have enough mana to bring out on the board their big guys and go for the kill. Sometimes these decks can be rather slow because they take time to get going and get threats on the board to dictate play. In many ways, control players seek to react to what the opponent is doing rather than set the tempo of the play themselves. When you play a control deck, more often than not you’ll be defending for most of the match (by using removal spells and Area of Effect removal spells) and setting up the big minions in the later turns. In plain terms, you’ll be trying to irritate your opponent by continuously removing his or her threats, freezing other minions, silencing, taunting, etc.
When you are building a control deck, don’t simply fill it with very expensive, strong minions; you’ll need removal spells throughout the match if you plan on surviving until the later turns when it’s time for you to attack. You’ll also need some “utility" cards, such as cards that help you draw from your deck, give you armor, or make the other player’s cards more expensive to play. Plan to have around 5-7 big minions for the end to make sure you’ll draw enough of them to finish off the game when you can. One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that Control decks are usually tricky to play. They are mostly built and played by experienced players who know what to expect from each class they face and plan their removal and their general tactics accordingly.
Check this video for an example of a Control Warrior Deck. The decklist is in the video description.
Combo (Combination) Decks, as their name indicates, rely on different combinations (interactions) between multiple cards (either spells, minions, or both) to produce powerful effects that can heavily damage or even finish their opponent in one or two turns. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t the most consistent because you have to draw the cards you want at the right time if the combo is going to work at all. Still, these decks give you the most satisfaction when you actually manage to execute the combos at the correct time. The way this deck works is you play specific cards in sequence, one card interacts with one another, and then it’s fireworks time.
When you are building a Combo deck, you’ll first of all need some good removal because most (valuable) combos happen later in the game. So, if you want to stay alive that long, you have to do what Control decks do and carry some removal and healing. You’ll also need a lot of cards that allow you to draw from your deck to increase the possibility of drawing the combo you need before it’s too late. Keep in mind that these decks are the most difficult to play, especially in the current meta (by meta we usually refer to the current state of play and the general balance of archetypes and Heroes), because of good removal and the prevalence of Aggro decks.
Check this video for an example of a Shaman Combo Deck. The decklist, again, is in the video description.
Midrange Decks are, in a way, hybrid decks, using minions like aggro decks but peaking somewhere in the middle of the match, so they are slower than aggro decks and faster than control decks. They try to maintain good board presence through good use of minions and spell support and try to gradually gain an advantage over their opponent. Midrange decks often have to adjust according to their opponent and might have to go more Aggro or more Control in order to win a specific matchup.
When you are building a Midrange Deck, make it around 1/3 spells and 2/3 minions.You’ll need spells for ramping (increasing the number of available mana crystals on that turn with cards like Innervate) and buffing (pumping the health and attack of other minions with cards like Dark Iron Dwarf).
Check this video for an example of a Midrange Druid Deck.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the overall strategies that most Hearthstone players use when building their decks. By understanding these terms and the philosophy behind them, you’re now able to get much more out of the many decklists and strategies you can find online. What you want be doing when you first read a decklist is to try and figure out which basic archetype is behind the choice of cards and then analyze each card to see why the person building the deck decided to include that specific card. Each card has a role to play in a deck, so try to figure out its role.
Also, keep in mind that a deck is always a work in progress; you’ll build it, try it out, see if it works or not, and change it accordingly. What you should be looking for is, for example, whether the deck is too slow or too fast for the purpose you built it (is your aggro deck too slow or your control deck too weak). If so, adjust your mana curve accordingly so the actual decklist matches your deck strategy. Also, check whether there are any cards in the deck that you always end up not playing in your matches either because they are too expensive or too situational (meaning they are only useful in very specific situations). If a card doesn’t work, change it with another one that you feel will fulfill the role initially intended for the card you originally had.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful and a good springboard for future decks. See you all in-game.