On Darkstation, we don’t cover Hearthstone that often. The fledging esport has had a healthy number of mentions on the site, namely in our top five lists in 2014 and 2015 from Brian and Jonathan, but after that it’s been left to simmer. We’re about to change that as, since it’s Hearthstone’s fourth birthday is in 2018, and the game currently has over one thousand cards to collect and choose from, making a viable thirty-card deck just to play the game can be pretty daunting. We should know, we were quite late to the Hearthstone party ourselves.
In this article, we’ve put together this handy guide for players old and new, to bring you up to scratch with Hearthstone as it is now, so you can step in and play while knowing mostly what you’re doing.
What is Hearthstone?
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a free-to-play online collectible card game produced by Blizzard Entertainment, released on March 11th, 2014 (on computers) and then made available on iOS and Android (tablets and phones) after the initial launch. The game is based on World of Warcraft and features a variety of characters, locations, equipment and effects from the game’s lore.
The game takes place in turns. Players flip a coin to decide who goes first, then turns begin. At the start of each turn that player gains a mana crystal and all mana crystals that player already has are re-energised, so on turn one a player will have one available mana crystal, on turn two they will have two available and so on. These crystals are your resource and are depleted but not destroyed, when you play cards. Any number of cards can be played up to your mana crystal cap of that turn, and the number of mana crystals does not increase past ten.
In the game, you play as one of nine class heroes, each can be considered one of the most influential World of Warcraft characters, and you battle it out against another player with a deck of cards; the first hero to drop from thirty to zero life loses, and this is done by attacking your opponent’s hero with minions and spells.
Each character you play affects the cards that you can choose and your playstyle as a result. For example, Janna, who is the default Mage hero operates around spell cards while Garrosh, the default Warrior hero operates more around weapon cards.
What is the Meta?
You’ll hear the term "meta" a lot, but no one will ever explain it. ‘Meta’ is what is accepted, common and effective at the current point in time on Hearthstone, based on available cards not in Wild (=still available to play in Standard mode). For example, decks in the meta are the standard decks played by the majority of players, as they offer a decent win-rate, whereas off-meta decks can be imbalanced and are thus reserved for Wild game formats. Although the meta is important, players shouldn’t obsess over it - at least not at first, as it's constantly changing and mainly applies to higher-level games.
Hearthstone, via Twitter
Common meta-picks are separated into jargon to make describing them easier. For example, a "rush" or "aggro" deck is a meta deck with an overall strategy of defeating your opponent as soon as possible, so to not give them time to fully enact their own strategies.
Decks are separated into tiers of effectiveness by external sites based on the current meta, but the most common decks encountered are aggro decks; control decks, which operate by controlling the board and slowly chipping away at your opponent’s health; midrange or tempo decks, which can be considered jack-of-all-trade decks; zoo decks, which flood the board quickly with weaker creatures that still work well when there's a lot of them; and combo decks, which revolve around executing one or more specific card combinations to create game-winning effects.
What are the Cards?
Cards are separated into multiple rarities, loosely based on how powerful they are. Each card also has a "dust" value, which is essentially a currency used for selling and buying cards. All cards you don’t want, except for Basic cards (which everyone has from the start or acquires as they level up), can be "disenchanted" (destroyed) to generate dust which you can then use to craft (buy) other specific cards for their tier’s dust value.
Each card’s rarity is represented by a colour gem in the centre of the card. The tiers are basic; Common (white gem), worth 40 dust; Rare (blue gem) worth 100 dust; Epic (purple gem), worth 400 dust, and Legendary (orange gem), worth 1600 dust.
To obtain more cards, you have to purchase packs of cards from the shop for 100 gold or with real currency. Gold is the in-game currency can be obtained through winning games and completing quests, which are once a day in-game objectives which will generally net you around 40-50 gold on average. There are also some hidden achievements which you can complete for some extra early gold.
Hearthstone, via Facebook
Cards are further separated into types depending on what effect they have on the game. Minion cards summon creatures which attack your enemy and their minions and can also defend your hero. Spells are one-time effect cards that do a variety of things from dealing damage to cloning or resurrecting monster cards. Weapon cards are weapons you equip to your hero, allowing them to attack, and Secrets are trap cards that cause an effect, but only when triggered by a condition outlined on the card.
What are Effects?
Minion cards are important as they can have further effects on top of their damage (the yellow number) and hitpoints (the red number). Minion effects are simplified into emboldened catch-all phrases like "battlecry" (the minion does something as soon as you summon it) or "deathrattle" (an effect happens when the minion dies) which can be read on the minion text. For example, "Battlecry: draw a card" would mean "when the minion is summoned, draw a card". Most of these effects are self-explanatory and if you hover over the minion for a few seconds, small pop-ups will appear explaining the phrases on the card.
One last point to make is that regarding RNG (Random Number Generation), or random effects. Cards like Shrieking Shroom or Arcane Missiles (which summons a random minion or damages a random enemy target respectively) are quite common in Hearthstone. And unlike in other heavily RNG-based games, such as online slots, where there are options to take advantage of offers and bonuses to optimise the results, Hearthstone truly can be a random game. This can lead to incredible victories when Rod of Roasting pulls you out of the metaphorical dungeon gutter, but it can also lead to painful defeats. Don’t worry if RNG effects don’t go in your favour, the best and the worst happens to everyone, and its part of the fun of Hearthstone!
Building a Deck
A deck consists of 30 cards all put together under one hero. You can make a new deck in the "my collection: tab. Minions are your bread and butter, as such you should have the most of them in most decks. Otherwise keep in mind that you’re going to be drawing from your deck randomly, so you should have a good mana curve.
The curve refers to how many cards of low to high cost you have. You need to have a good balance of all cards for a deck to be successful. If you include too many low-cost cards and you’ll play them all too quickly and run out of cards, but if you have too many high-cost cards you won’t be able to play anything for the first few turns, which will put you at a significant disadvantage.
To add cards to the game Blizzard releases expansions. These are usually themed and bring roughly 100 to 150 new cards to the game, split among all the classes. Every card’s expansion can be identified by the small picture in the background of its effect text. The most recent one, Knights of the Frozen Throne, introduced new mechanics, such as Hero cards, which can change the meta significantly.
Hearthstone, via Facebook
Knights of the Frozen Throne
This is the expansion previous to the latest one, "Kobolds and Catacombs". Knights of the Frozen Throne featured 135 new cards, a new Lifesteal mechanic, popular "Death Knight" Hero cards (which replace your hero with a new and slightly improved one mid-game) and a single player campaign which gives players one of these Death Knight Legendary cards for free. The expansion also saw a significant slowing down of the meta, as more late-game orientated strategies became commonplace. Expansions stay usable in Standard for two years since their release, which means you don't need to stress over older expansions you've missed.
Hearthstone, via Facebook
Kobolds and Catacombs
Kobolds and Catacombs is the latest expansion and has brought another 135 cards to the game. It’s also brought a new "Recruit" mechanic, powerful class weapon cards and a single player "dungeon run" game mode where you build a deck as you fight against bosses, with them getting stronger and stronger each run.
Hearthstone is a big and complex game, but if you run through the in-game tutorial and rely on the advice and links above you’ll be slugging along with everyone else in no time at all. The learning curve is quite optimised here. Simply run through the tutorial, pick up a few early packs with quests and the hidden objectives, make a deck and start playing! You’ll pick it up in no time.