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Adapting to the Meta-Game in Hearthstone

Last updated on Oct 24, 2015 at 14:38 by Vlad 1 comment

Table of Contents

Here on Icy Veins, we provide several viable Constructed decks for each class in Hearthstone. In theory, these decks (or at least the highest-budget, Legend ones) should allow you to climb to the top of the ladder, all the way to Legend rank.

In practice, however, things are not so simple. Copying a deck from a website or from a successful player, no matter how good that deck may be, is not a guarantee for success. The reason for this is that the value of each deck depends greatly on the environment in which it is played: the meta-game.

In this article, we will give you some ideas and tips about how to best adapt your decks to the meta-game you are playing in.

1. Why Is Adapting Important?

Nothing in Hearthstone happens in a vacuum. The value of cards is constantly shifting based on the cards that are actually being played at a given moment. In other words, the value of cards depends on the state of the meta-game (which cards/decks are popular, and which are not).

Every powerful or successful deck is really only truly powerful when facing the decks that it was designed to face. This means that if you take a certain successful deck, perhaps a deck that was played by the winner of a Hearthstone tournament, you might find that the deck does very poorly in your environment. This is because the meta-game will almost certainly have changed enough for many of the cards in the deck (or for the theme of the deck itself) to no longer be very good.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to be constantly trying to tweak and alter your deck to improve your chances of defeating the decks and cards that your opponents are using most often. In the sections that follow, we will try to give you a good idea of how to do this efficiently.

2. Identifying the Meta-Game

The first step is to determine what kind of meta-game you are playing in. No amount of research (reading articles, watching streams or videos, etc.) will do this for you. There are two reasons for this.

  • The meta-game in Hearthstone changes very quickly. You might be facing nothing but slow control decks one evening, and by the time you wake up in the morning you will be facing nothing but rush decks.
  • The meta-game is different at different Constructed ranks. While rush decks might be prevalent around, for example, rank 15, they might not be at rank 5. Therefore, it is very difficult for such information to be centralised, especially considering how quickly it can change.

This means that it is up to you to evaluate the meta-game in which you are playing. Simply put, you should keep track of what the last 10-20 opponents you have faced were. Based on this sample size, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of what decks you are most likely to come up against in the near future.

Then, you need to find some common elements in the decks you are meeting, elements to which you can then respond. Try to look for certain problematic, game-changing cards that often come up, or for certain ways in which your own cards are being countered. You should even see if a particular strategy that you are encountering is rendering some of your cards completely useless (for example, board-clearing cards are useless against decks that play very few minions).

3. Your Deck Structure

Before we can talk about how to change your deck to work best in the current meta-game, we need to talk a bit about the structure of a deck.

Whenever you build a deck, there will be two categories of cards in it. Some cards form the core of your deck, and it is with these cards that you intend to win games. Other cards are situational (also called tech cards), and they constitute answers to moves your opponent makes.

In general, when you play a deck, your core cards are fixed, and your situational cards will often change depending on what your opponents are most likely to present to you.

As an exception, some combo-heavy decks (like Murloc rush or Mech decks) are formed almost entirely of core cards with few or no situational cards.

3.1. Core Cards

Core cards are usually cards that you can play on your own terms. For example, minions such as the Chillwind Yeti or Ysera do not really require any action from your opponent to warrant playing them. These are cards you want to put on the board as soon as you can, and they will usually win you the game if they are not removed.

Many direct damage spells are also core cards. For example, a Mage's Pyroblast usually constitutes their win condition (the method through which they intend to win the game), and this is a card that they will play regardless of their opponents' actions.

The core cards in your deck will not often change depending on the meta-game, since these cards are generally required for you to win games. Sometimes, you might remove your least important core cards in order to make room for more tech cards called for by the state of the meta-game, but if you are changing too many core cards, then you are essentially simply switching to a different deck altogether.

3.2. Situational/Tech Cards

Tech cards are cards that you include in your deck to allow you to create a favourable environment for your core cards, or to prevent you from dying.

Removals (Assassinate, Hex, etc.), Silences, board-clears, and so on are tech cards. These cards will often sit in your hand until a situation on the board makes their use optimal.

When you are adapting your deck for the current meta-game, this will mostly be done by changing around your answers to best suit your environment.

4. Adapting Your Deck

So far, we have hopefully impressed upon you the importance of constantly tweaking your deck to best counter the opponents you are most frequently encountering. In the sub-sections that follow, we will give you some practical advice for how to adapt to some of the more common types of decks that come to prevalence in the meta-game.

Generally speaking, when you adapt your deck, you will do so by doing various permutations of answer cards in your deck, to more adequately respond to what your opponents are playing. Sometimes, however, you may change your core cards, or even your deck altogether.

4.1. Adapting to Rush Decks

Typically, rush decks come to popularity whenever the meta-game has relaxed enough to allow them to succeed, or when some new combination of cards has been discovered (or introduced into the game) that makes them particularly potent.

If you are coming up against a large number of rush decks (be they Hunter decks, Warlock decks, or even decks belonging to some typically less aggressive classes), you have two options open to you.

  1. Switch to a rush deck yourself, in an attempt to out-rush these opponents, while still defeating unprepared control decks.
  2. Tweak your current (control) deck to be better at stopping early-game rushes, or to allow you to endure the early-game pressure of these rushes.

4.1.1. Rushing to Counter Rushes

In general, when two very fast decks go up against one another, especially in the case of a mirror match, the luck of the draw has a huge impact on the outcome of the game. This means that these matches are more heavily impacted by RNG than usual.

Keep in mind, therefore, that if you are switching to a rush deck to counter the large number of similar rush decks that you are meeting, you are leaving a lot up to chance. To give yourself better odds, you should try to slightly tweak this rush deck to fare better in mirror matches.

For example, if you are running into a lot of Murloc rush decks, you could add a Hungry Crab to your own rush deck. This card is normally terrible, but in this case it could well give you the edge you need to consistently defeat other Murloc rush decks.

Finally, keep in mind that as the number of players who are countering the most prevalent rush deck begins to increase, you will find it increasingly difficult to play this rush deck successfully. This means that while the current meta-game might be temporarily caught off-guard by a swarm of rush decks for which the control decks are not prepared, this will not last long. Therefore, if you plan to switch to a rush deck yourself, you should do so early on, before you start meeting more decks that counter your deck than you would like.

It is a somewhat universally agreed-upon rule that if you want to get to the top of the ladder, you need to meta-game your way there. This means that if you really want to get to the top without too much grinding, and with a high win ratio, you should always consider switching to deck that is most efficient in the current meta-game.

Keep in mind also, however, that your success with a certain deck is affected in great part by your ability to play that deck, and your familiarity with it. So, if you are switching to a deck you have never played, belonging to a class you do not often play, it might be more trouble for you than it is worth.

4.1.2. Protecting Yourself Against Rushes

The other alternative open to you is to tweak your deck in such a way as to be less vulnerable to whatever the current popular rush deck is. How you do this depends on what class you are playing, but we will give you a few examples.

First of all, a few Neutral cards are very good at warding off rush decks.

  • Sludge Belcher is an excellent rush-stopper since it provides two taunts in one, with the Belcher itself usually having enough attack and health to required 2 or more minions to trade into it. Unless your opponent can Silence the Belcher, this card will usually turn around an unfavourable board state against a rush deck.
  • Wild Pyromancer is also an excellent card for stopping rushes. Playing this card on the same turn as one or more spells targeted at the opponent's minions will result in a good amount of board-wide damage that will either wipe the board or, at least, set your opponent back greatly.
  • Zombie Chow is a card that is effective against rushes because it is extremely cheap (meaning that it can be played on turn 1) and it offers a strong body to counter the typically weak minions that rush decks play. The fact that it heals the opponent is of no importance, since you will not be rushing to kill them, but rather you will try to survive long enough to run them out of steam.

Second of all, each class generally has one or more answers that are designed to stop rushes. If you are fighting a lot of rush decks, you must make sure to include some of these cards in your deck. We will give you a few examples.

4.2. Adapting to Control Decks

With a few exceptions (periods when the entire meta-game is shifted towards very aggressive play), control decks manage to thrive in one form or another at all levels of the ladder. In this context, control decks have two peculiarities that you should be concerned with. The first is that they have a great deal of answers in their deck to ensure their early and mid-game survival, and the second is that their late-game consists of a large number of very powerful minions.

If you are playing a control deck, and you are meeting a lot of other control decks, there are a few cards that you can add to your deck to help you fare better against these decks.

In order to handle their strong, late-game minions, you can use some of the following Neutral cards.

  • Big Game Hunter is an excellent minion whenever you are running up against many decks that contain Ragnaros the Firelord, Dr. Boom, or Molten Giants and/or Mountain Giants. Naturally, this works well against any other high-attack minions that you might be regularly encountering.
  • Faceless Manipulator allows you to copy one of your opponent's strong minions, preferably just before you take it out with the Big Game Hunter.
  • The Black Knight is a great answer to decks that run powerful taunt cards. If you suspect that your opponent has such a card in their deck (such as Ancient of War, Tirion Fordring, or even Sunwalker), it is a good idea to save The Black Knight until you can destroy such a minion with its Battlecry.
  • Kezan Mystic is a good answer to slow Mage decks that run few but important Secrets such as Ice Block.

In addition to these Neutral cards, you should consider including some strong late-game minions of your own, since otherwise your opponent's big minions will simply overpower you. Good examples are Ragnaros the Firelord, Ysera, as well as most class-specific Legendary cards. Failing to use Legendary cards, minions such as the Stormwind Champion, War Golem, or the Mountain or Molten Giants can do a pretty good job as well.

If you are playing a rush deck, you are already theoretically adapted to defeating control decks, since this is what rush decks do best. That said, if you are running into a lot of control decks that have added rush-stopping capabilities, you may need to reconsider playing a rush deck. This is because rush decks are all about speed, and if you begin adding various answers to your deck to help you overcome the hurdles of specialised control decks, you will actually be sabotaging your own strategy. The one notable exception is the possibility of adding Ironbeak Owls to your rush deck, since these minions are a very efficient way to get through a problematic taunt minion.

4.3. Adapting to Direct Damage Decks

The most notable example of such decks belongs to the Mage class, since Mages have powerful means to deal a lot of direct damage to your hero through spells like Pyroblast, Fireball, and even Frostbolt. Conceivably, however, such decks might also originate from other classes, such as Hunter or even Shaman.

When facing such a deck, your most useful solution is to use healing spells. Direct damage decks generally have little or no board presence, and they focus almost exclusively on staying alive long enough to finish you with only their spells. But, if you are using a lot of cards that heal you, then their damage will simply fall short.

This is easier said than done, of course, since not all classes have means to heal themselves. Paladins have Holy Light, Guardian of Kings, and Lay on Hands. Druids have Healing Touch and Ancient of Lore. Priests have their Hero Power, Holy Nova, and Holy Fire. But all the other classes will need to look to neutral minions such as the Earthen Ring Farseer or Antique Healbot to get the little bit of extra healing they need.

Druids and Warriors have Armor, a mechanic that works very similarly to healing mechanics. Essentially, armor acts exactly like extra health, so abilities that grant armor (such as Claw or Bite for Druids, and Shield Block, Bash, and Shieldmaiden's Battlecry for Warriors) will protect very well against direct damage spells. It is also important to note that Armor is not reduced by Alexstrasza's Battlecry (a common option in direct damage decks), so a Warrior with 30 health and 10 Armor will be left with 15 health and 10 Armor after Alexstrasza's Battlecry.

5. A Delicate Balancing Act

One of the reasons why Constructed play presents such interesting challenges, and has so much room for creativity and originality, is the fact that you are never tweaking your deck to face one single type of deck. At any given time, you will need to make your deck as powerful as possible against at least 3 (and as many as 10) viable decks.

This means that you will be constantly executing a very difficult balancing act, where you will always have to re-evaluate the meta-game. Your goal is to be as efficient as possible against the most popular deck, while ensuring that you are not any weaker to the other popular decks than you need to be.

It is in this context that your own inherent understanding of the game mechanics and of the cards will play a great part. By the time you can read on a forum what deck is "best", the environment will have changed. So, it is up to you to come up with innovative ideas. Doing so well will actually allow you to take the meta-game by surprise. This is also a time when consulting with other friends who are also playing in the same meta-game can prove to be very advantageous, as well as very fun and engaging. You can bounce ideas off of one another, test decks against each other in duels, and so on.

6. Conclusion

To sum up, our point is that you should never have a deck that is too static, if you are looking to edge out your competition in Constructed mode. No matter how well a deck might work at a certain moment in time, even small shifts in the meta-game will cause it to lose some of its efficiency.

7. ChangeLog

  • 24 Oct. 2015: Updated certain areas of the guide to account for changes in the meta-game and for some of the new cards that were added in solo adventures and expansions.
  • 13 Mar. 2014: Removed some mentions of Tinkmaster Overspark, follow the card's nerf.
  • 19 Feb. 2014: Added a few mentions of Druid and Warrior Armor, in the section dealing with direct damage decks.
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