General Arena Drafting for the Layperson

In the last arena help post, I talk about general arena gameplay. While I believe gameplay has a larger bearing on arena success than the draft, the draft is also a very important component of it. Here are some basic arena drafting tips.

Hearthstone Screenshot 12-05-15 11.34.59
Not a healthy mana curve.
  1. Arena is not constructed – Good constructed decks usually work together as a collective synergy. 30 tight cards working together for the win. Arena decks are more like a ragtag bunch of misfits. In that sense, good constructed cards are not necessarily good arena cards. Chillwind Yeti, a card you probably used before you opened some booster packs, is a solid arena card. Paladin secrets that are not Avenge or Noble Sac work great with constructed Riddler Paladins. You probably don’t want to pick Repentance for no reason in the Arena.
  2. Mana curve – The term mana curve is thrown around a lot, and it isn’t exactly clear what a “good” mana curve is. It depends on an individual’s playstyle. Aggro players will have a big wall of 2-drops, a good amount of 1’s and 3’s and little after that. Midrangy-slower types would have something resembling a normal bell curve. Some players preach 4-drop consistency, and that does fit the midrange type of deck. It all comes down to making sure your deck has balance, and does not get too clunky.
  3. Value vs speed – Small drops typically have less value than bigger ones. This is typically because small minions die easier, and are less useful in the late game. There has to be a balance between value and speed in a draft. You can go all speed and low value, but you have to commit to going face the whole way. You can go all value and low speed, but you will likely be overrun by an opponent. The value-speed balance is typically reflected in the mana curve, where you can tell when the curve looks funny.
  4. Too much of a good thing is bad – Flamestrike is a high value card, and it is always a card you want to draft. But how many are too much? A deck with 7 Flamestrikes is probably going to get clogged up and wind up being bad. When picking high-value, high-cost cards, don’t take too many. But take a few.
  5. Good spells are premium – Your arena deck is going to have more minions than spells. Some decks are 0-spell beatdown machines. When you do see a good spell though, it is important to draft them. Ideally, you’ll want large removals, AOE, and small removals in your deck. Point 4 applies here as well. If you’ve drafted 2 Flamestrikes and are offered one again with Fireball or Frostbolt, you take the smaller-cost spell.
  6. 2-drops – I talked about how important controlling the board is in the arena. Typically, the first minions to get summoned in a game are 2-drops. It is important to have a good few 2-drops in any deck, so you can ensure presence in your opening hand. Nothing sucks more than getting minions that cost 4 or more in your opening.  Fast decks have a ton of 2-drops, but it is good to have at least 6 in any.
  7. Twofers – A sign of a good card in the arena is one that trades 2-for-1. Chillwind Yeti’s typically can trade in with 2 3-drops. Bomb Lobber can kill something with the bomb, and clean up something after. Harvest Golems are great.
  8. Establish a win condition – Try to figure out a way to win with your deck. This could come in the form of a legendary minion, some inspire cards like Mukla’s Champion, a powerful spell like Savage Roar, etc. Having a win condition would not only help you win, but also will let you know if you are still in a game.
  9. Card cycling is useful – I struggle with card advantage often, so this is an important point. Topdecking against an opponent who has cards is almost a guaranteed loss. Have a few cards that either help your draw, or ones that can gain cards. The new Discover mechanic is good for card cycling.
  10. Synergies are good – An arena deck could have no synergy at all, or several variegated synergies. They come in handy in a pinch. Clockwork Knight for example, is a solid 5/5 that will give +1/+1 to a mech. This could allow your Spider Tank to survive Flamestrike (I know I mention this card a lot), which is crucial.
  11. The safe pick vs the sexy pick – The Arena gives people the chance to play cards they don’t have in their collection. The fun factor of the game does give a little leeway in swaying a fun pick. Before you make a decision, think if the difference between the cards you are choosing is worth it. If there isn’t too much risk, go for the sexy pick. If you feel the safe pick shores up a big void, then go safe. Typically, you want to go with the safe pick if you want to win. But for all other purposes, go with the flashy one.
  12. Draft cards you are comfortable with – Fel Reaver is a pretty good arena threat, but has a tremendous downside. It is probably a bad idea to draft a Fel Reaver just because it is considered good, but you are completely against the pick. Play cards you are comfortable with. This has some ties to the safe vs sexy pick, or what makes arena cards good.
bad hand comic
Basically getting a bad opening hand in the arena

General Arena Tips for the Layperson

With a Hearthstone Arena average somewhere slightly below 5 now (4.97 I think), I am considered a pseudo-infinite arena player. With the award from arena runs, plus completing dailies, I am able to sustain arena runs with gold. The Hearthstone Arena world is very different from the constructed, in that you are prepared to expect the unexpected. And to best prepare for the unexpected, it is best to follow some general gameplay tips that will help out in the arena.

  1. Control the board – Unless you draft a complete face deck, and are determined to go down that route, you’ll typically need to control the board to win the game. Controlling the board involves some complex combination of trading, playing things for tempo, using your hero, etc.
  2. Play for tempo – The early bird gets the worm. Such is true as well in Hearthstone, as the player who plays faster will have an upper hand in controlling the board, and thus the game. Sacrifices have to made to control the board, such as playing a minion without it’s effect activating, for the sake of having something on the board, or contesting the board. This is moot if you are playing super-control, if you drafted 3 Flamestrikes in your deck, but the chances of that happening is not what it used to be.
  3. Trading – It is hard to explain trading with brevity, as each situation is specific to the situation. But typically, try to make efficient trades, with as little loss of minions as possible, and using your hero to help out (if possible). Also trading depends on what cards you have in your hand/deck.
  4. Reads – The beauty of Hearthstone Arena lies in class cards. You know what class you are playing against, and they know what class you are. There is no hiding that. But you can try to make reads of cards in hand. Does your opponent have a Flamestrike in their hand? What about Polymorph? I don’t have the attention to count cards, so I use Hearthstone Deck Tracker, which helps count what turn each card in your opponent’s hand was picked up. Reads also apply to Secrets, in which you will try to test out the Secrets to your advantage.
  5. Baiting – Once you establish a read, you will try to bait. Baiting involves forcing your opponent to do something, like use their Flamestrike or Polymorph. Typically, you can put out your 2nd best minion in your hand to force the hard removal, so you can play your better card right after. Or to bait the AOE removal like Flamestrike, make sure you have enough minions in your hand to contend the board again, or make sure your minions can survive the Flamestrike. Baiting can also happen on Turn 1. You put out a 1-drop, to force your opponent to use their coin to remove the 1-drop.
  6. Positioning – Certain limited AOE spells hit minions next to each other. To this point, positioning of minions on the board becomes useful. Playing against a Mage? They might have Cone of Cold. Rogues? They might have a Betrayal. Hunters? Maybe a Powershot. Typically, you want to put your strongest minions on the edges, with weak minions in the middle. If you have a stealth minion or untargetable minion, you can use them as the fulcrum, to prevent an extra minion from getting targeted. And don’t forget special effects. A Betrayal on a poison minion will automatically kill.
  7. Adapt to the situation – Using Assassinate on an Acolyte of Pain when your opponent has no cards in their hand is a move that will win games. Sure you are spending 5 mana to kill a 3-drop, but the situation required it. Be ready to adapt to anything in the Arena to ensure a win.
  8. Know card rarity – In the arena, a player is going to have more commons than rares than epics than legendaries. Typically you’ll try to play against commons and rares, but adapt to the epics and legendaries, when they come. Similarly, class cards come up more often than neutrals, so know your opponent’s class cards.
  9. Use spells wisely – Unlike constructed, you don’t get to load your deck with spells. Spells are typically infrequent in the arena, so make sure you use them at critical junctures. This also involves reads on the opponent, to determine what minions your opponent has.
  10. Heart of the Cards – So what if you didn’t draft a good deck or were offered crappy cards? The randomness of card distribution in the Arena makes it so everyone is on the same playing field. Take some time after drafting to know what your deck does. Know the cards, the synergies, the win conditions, etc. I believe that arena is more gameplay-dependent than deck quality, and that could be the key to making things work.
You too can get 12 wins!