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Arena Starter Guide

Last updated on May 16, 2015 at 15:57 by Sottle 16 comments

Table of Contents

Playing in Arena can be very frustrating if you are not familiar with several rather advanced concepts (some of which are not shared with constructed Hearthstone gameplay). This guide constitutes the first part of our Arena coverage, and it is meant to help you gain a better understanding of what you need to do to succeed in Arena.

While luck quite naturally plays a part in all Arena deck-building and gameplay, it is the purpose of this guide to show you that you can make informed decisions, and that these decisions have a meaningful and reliable effect on your results. We do not expect that your performance in Arena will improve immediately, but our hope is that you will start on the right path.

1. About the Author

This guide is presented to you by Sottle, a professional Hearthstone player who plays for compLexity Gaming. Sottle regularly streams Arenas on Twitch and explains all of his moves. He has a recorded winrate of over 73%, making him one of the top Arena players.

2. Introduction

2.1. Getting Started

The Arena gives you the opportunity to construct a deck from random cards and test your skill, luck and your knowledge of the game and its mechanics against other players. Your first Arena entry is free, however each other will cost you 150 in game gold, $1.99 or 1.79€. The cards you pick during the arena will not be added to your collection, but the cards you pick are also not influenced by your existing collection, meaning that all participants are on an equal playing field.

2.2. Picking a Hero

Once you have entered the Arena, you will be presented with 3 random hero classes to choose from. Your choice defines the pool of cards from which you will be able to pick the cards and it will include random neutral cards and random class cards appropriate to your hero choice.

2.3. Picking Cards for Your Deck

After choosing your hero, you will be presented with 30 random sets of 3 cards each. The 3 cards presented to you at one time will have the same rarity, and you will have to pick one (or in other words, draft a card) for your deck. The process repeats 30 times and it will leave you with 30 individual card choices that make up your deck. The 1st, 10th, 20th, and 30th choices will always be made up of at least Rare cards, while all other choices have an additional chance of being Rare or higher rarity as well.

2.4. Playing the Arena

As soon as you have constructed your deck, you can start playing against other players. Hitting the Play button will match you against an equal opponent (based on your matchmaking rating and your current win - loss ratio). Arena is concluded once you have either won 12 games, lost 3, or decided to retire from the Arena.

2.5. Arena Rewards

Each game you win will upgrade your key, which will unlock your rewards once the Arena has been concluded. The rewards you receive are divided among 2-5 slots. One of the slots will always be a card pack, which almost covers the Arena admission fee, while others will more or less randomly reward you with gold, Arcane Dust, an additional card pack, or single cards (which are sometimes golden). The more wins you have, the better the rewards will be. We will give you an idea of what rewards to expect (in addition to the guaranteed card pack), but keep in mind that this is not fixed.

  • Finishing with 0 wins will usually reward you with about 20-25 combined gold and Arcane Dust.
  • Finishing with between 1 and 3 wins will generally ensure that the combined gold and Arcane Dust you gain makes up for the 50 gold difference between the cost of a card pack and an Arena entry.
  • Finishing with between 4-6 wins will generally ensure that you gain about 100 combined gold and dust, which already means you have earned a profit.
  • Finishing with between 7-9 wins will generally ensure that you gain enough gold to purchase another entry into the Arena, and it will often also include a second card pack and/or an additional (and possibly golden) card.
  • Finishing with between 10-12 wins will ensure that you receive a massive amount of gold (up to 500), while dust is not very common a reward for this tier. You will also often receive additional card packs.

3. When to Get Started in the Arena?

While the outcome of your Arena will always be influenced by luck (as is the case with everything in Hearthstone), your drafting strategies, knowledge of game mechanics, and experience play a much greater role. Since the Arena costs gold or real money, you should have a solid understanding of the game mechanics (covered at length here) before going into it. This, as well as good knowledge about each class, is required to form a competitive deck.

4. Hero Choice

Every hero class has the potential to win as long as you understand the mechanics of the class and have good knowledge of the class specific cards. You should keep in mind that regardless of which hero you pick, your goal will be the same - getting the best value out of your cards, creating card advantage, and keeping or establishing board control. By choosing your hero, you also decide roughly which drafting strategy you will follow, but again, this requires good knowledge of that class.

5. Card Choice

In principle, you should always pick the card that gives you the most value for its cost. That said, you cannot focus exclusively on the 3 cards presented to you, and you must also take your mana curve into account. Briefly put, you should try to maintain a balanced mana curve for your deck, which means that there should not be any mana-cost for which you have very few or no minions or spells.

Minions and spells that cost 2-4 mana should generally be quite numerous, since it is during this part of the game that you need to be able to establish board control (and repel enemy moves that can have repercussions on the entire game), while higher-costing cards (6 or higher) can be fewer in number.

5.1. Minion Choice

When choosing a minion, you should consider what impact it will have on the board once it is played. A good rule of thumb is that each minion should cost half (or less) of the sum of their attack and health. For example, the Chillwind Yeti costs 4 mana, and his total stats are 9, making him quite efficient. In addition to this rule of thumb, you have to consider other factors. Minions who have other effects in addition to their stats will generally have lower stats or a higher cost. While their effect sometimes makes up for it (as in the case of the Defender of Argus), it does not do so other times (as in the case of the Ironforge Rifleman).

You will need experience in order to form an accurate opinion of the value of each minion, since only by playing it and having it against you repeatedly will you realize its strengths of weaknesses. We will give you a few other examples below to show you what sort of aspects you should take into account.

Priority should be given to Health over Attack power in Arena, as high Health makes your minions difficult for your opponents to remove. Minions with high Attack power may seem appealing as they are able to deal a lot of damage, but without the high Health to back it up, they are much less likely to actually survive for a turn to be able to attack, meaning they have less impact on average. For example, a Magma Rager may look attractive, as it offers 5 power for 3 Mana, but its low health means it will die to any removal spell, any minion, even 1-drop minions, and many classes Hero Powers. Booty Bay Bodyguard is another example, it may seem like a powerful minion on the surface, but its 4 health means that it will trade down with many 4-drops, and even 3 Mana removal spells like Shadow Bolt.

The exception to this rule is that when minions fall below 3 power. Although allowances can be made for early game cards, starting at 3 Mana, you ideally want all of your minions to have at least 3 attack. The reason for this is that low attack minions, even if they have huge health pools, are easily traded into by multiple minions on your opponent's side, leaving them all alive. Conversely, although these minions often have enough health to survive to your turn, they do not have enough power to make any impactful trades, or to create any pressure.

The reason the Chillwind Yeti is strong is because his 4/5 stats mean he will not only be able to take out 3-cost minions, but he will also be able to survive them. This almost ensures that he will end being a "2-for-1" (killing 2 enemy minions himself) or better.

It is for this reason (lack of survivability) that 1-cost minions are not desirable in general. There is no reason to pick a 1-cost minion unless they come with a very beneficial additional effect. For example, the Murloc Raider is a complete waste of a card. The Abusive Sergeant, however, can be quite valuable since he will buff a minion, allowing it to make a very favourable trade (for instance, he can help your 2-cost minion kill a 5-cost minion). Another example of a rather valuable 1-cost card is the Worgen Infiltrator. This minion has Stealth, meaning that it can lie in wait for a turn or two, impervious to damaging Hero Powers, until a 2 or 3-cost minion with 2 health is played, which he can then assassinate in a favourable trade. The Elven Archer is also a decent choice, since its Battlecry can be very useful early in the game to finish off an enemy minion, although it is not a card we would advise taking unless the other 2 options were quite poor.

The Bluegill Warrior is quite weak given what we have said (it has only 1 health), but the fact that it has Charge means you can use it aggressively to remove an enemy minion early in the game. You could consider it a 2-damage nuke for 2 mana.

When considering cards with Taunt, you need to realise that their main purpose is to protect and delay the game. For this reason, minions like the Goldshire Footman or the Frostwolf Grunt are not as good as they may seem (their cost / stat budget ratio is quite good) because their low health means they will not fulfill their primary purpose. They will almost always die to a single attack.

The Silverback Patriarch has good health, but its attack is so low that it provides almost no threat to your opponent whatsoever. The Tauren Warrior may appear good thanks to his Enrage, but this is not the case. He costs 3 mana, but he will not be able to kill most other 3-mana minions (unless you manage to enrage him first, which is not easy for most classes), and will generally die to the first attack (especially if he is enraged).

On the other hand, the Sen'jin Shieldmasta is an outstanding Taunt minion, since its very high health (for a cost of 4 mana) will most likely to require more than just one card to deal with.

Other minions that may appear strong, but which are not, are the Windfury Harpy, the Dalaran Mage, and the Thrallmar Farseer.

Class-specific minions follow the same rules. Some of them are outstanding for their abilities (like the Water Elemental), while others might not present you with the value you seek for their casting cost.

5.2. Class-Specific Cards Choice

Each Arena deck, regardless of the class you choose, should have a good portion of spells to help you establish or maintain board control. Unless you have the option of picking a very strong minion (given what we outlined earlier), it is preferable to choose a spell that will grant you card advantage, or that will allow you do delay your opponent considerably.

Regardless of your class, you should pick several spells that control early-mid game (spells that cost 1-4 mana) as they will either help you maintain pressure (assuming you have a minion on the board and you do not need to trade it once you remove your opponent's threat), or they will simply help you establish early board control (such as removing your opponent's minion, removing their pressure and establishing your own), even if such cards are only a 1-for-1 trade.

Extremely powerful class-specific cards, such as certain Paladin or Warrior weapons, or various AoE spells such as Flamestrike, Holy Nova, Swipe will often be 2-for-1 or better trades. Getting high-value class-specific cards that trade themselves for more than 1 card is essential to card advantage, and to establishing and maintaining mid-late game board control.

5.3. Synergies

In general, having synergy between most cards in your deck is a good idea, since this increases their individual value, and it sometimes allows for devastating combinations. That said, in Arena, you should always avoid picking cards that are only worth taking if they have a synergy with a card that you do not already have. This is because you have no guarantee that the needed card will ever come up in your draft (and if it does, it might be mutually exclusive with a much better card). A good approach regarding synergies in Arena is that you should pick cards based on their individual value, and should you get a card that will form a good synergy with a card you have already have, then you can pick it as well and safely form the synergy.

Some cards, such as the Shattered Sun Cleric and the Dark Iron Dwarf offer synergy with many cards, and they are always a valuable pick since they will work well together with any other minion you have in the deck.

Other cards that will limit you or force you to pick specific cards, which is generally a bad idea for a drafting strategy. For example, Murlocs will always be a bad idea to pick as all the Common ones have bad value for their cost, and you would need to rely on the Rare Murlocs in order to form a synergy between multiple cards. Even if you start by getting an outstanding Rare Murloc, it would be wiser to pick another Rare with better value than the Murloc, as it can happen that there will not be many (or any) Common Murlocs available to form the synergy with the Rare one you drafted in the early stages.

Since the release of various expansions to Hearthstone, the issue of synergy has become even more important in Arena. Since each of the expansions so far have had a strong focus on a particular type of card (Deathrattle minions, Mechs, and Dragons respectively), many more synergy focused cards have been introduced into the game. As a general rule, the Naxxramas Deathrattle cards are very strong picks, since they are still individually very strong minions. The same can be said for many of the Mechs introduced in Goblins vs Gnomes, Mech minions are usually high enough value to justify picking on their own (Mechwarper, and Spider Tank for example), meaning you can happily pick up a few Mech cards throughout your draft and treat any synergy that does form as a nice bonus. The Dragon cards introduced in Blackrock Mountain are a somewhat different matter though. Many of the cards introduced in this expansion, such as Blackwing Technician and Blackwing Corruptor, rely on having Dragon synergy in your deck to make them powerful. Since you are unlikely to have numerous Dragons in your finished deck, you should avoid taking these cards if at all possible.

6. Conclusion

Arena can be a powerful tool for new players to gain experience in the game while simultaneously building a card collection for use in Constructed play. Once you are ready to take the leap into learning Arena more seriously, you can consult our other, more in-depth guides on the subject. As with everything in Hearthstone, you will need experience and familiarity with the mechanics and the cards in order to succeed, so do not be discouraged if your first Arena experiences are not very successful.

If you enjoy playing Arena and if you wish to improve, spending your gold on Arena is always a better investment than simply buying card packs.

7. ChangeLog

  • 16 May 2015: Update of various sections of the guide to reflect changes in Arena caused by the Hearthstone expansions.
  • 18 Dec. 2013: Made further updates to Arena rewards, based on our post-patch experience.
  • 11 Dec. 2013: Updated some Arena references since the Arena rewards were changed in the latest patch.
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