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Introduction to Hearthstone

Last updated on Nov 14, 2016 at 16:06 by Vlad 6 comments

Table of Contents

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (henceforth referred to simply as Hearthstone) is a collectible card game (CCG) developed by Blizzard Entertainment, and set in the Warcraft universe. The game was released in March 2014.

The game is available on Windows and OS X operating system, and it can also be played on the iPad, Android tablets, as well as on iOS and Android smartphones.

On this page, we will not go into details about gameplay or mechanics, and instead we will only focus on several key facts about the game that may interest you, whether you have experience with card games or not. If you were looking for an introduction to the mechanics of the game, then you should read our article about the mechanics of Hearthstone.

1. Free-to-Play

Hearthstone is a free-to-play game. You are able to download, install, and play the game free of any sort of monetary cost. Furthermore, every card in the game (we will go into detail about this below) can be obtained entirely for free (although doing so can require extensive playing).

The option for micro-transactions (paying real money to obtain cards or other advantages) exists, but any gameplay-affecting elements that can obtained through micro-transactions can also be obtained for free (alternate hero portraits can only be obtained with money). Naturally, players who invest money into the game will have an advantage, in the sense that they will complete their card collection faster.

2. Objective of the Game

Hearthstone is played exclusively in a 1-vs-1 format, which is to say that there are no teams, and each match (henceforth referred to as game) is played by you against a single enemy, on a turn-by-turn basis.

When playing a game, each player is represented in-game by an avatar called a hero. At the beginning of the game, your hero and that of the opposing player have 30 health. Heroes can be damaged, and eventually destroyed (when they reach 0 health), by the cards played by both players.

In order to win a game of Hearthstone, you simply need to destroy your opponent's hero before they destroy yours. It is possible for both heroes to be destroyed at the same time (by a card dealing damage to both heroes, for example), in which case the game ends in a draw.

3. Heroes and Classes

Before you start a game, you need to choose a class to play as. There are 9 different classes, and each one is represented by a named hero (several classes have alternative heroes that you can purchase with real life currency). Each class gives you access to class-specific cards (in addition to cards that are available for everyone) and to a specific Hero Power, which is an ability you can use at every turn. The 9 heroes are listed in the table below.

Hero Class
Malfurion StormrageDruid
Rexxar (Alternative: Alleria Windrunner)Hunter
Jaina Proudmoore (Alternatives: Medivh, Khadgar)Mage
Uther Lightbringer (Alternative: Lady Liadrin)Paladin
Anduin Wrynn (Alternative: Tyrande Whisperwind)Priest
Valeera SanguinarRogue
Thrall (Alternative: Morgl the Oracle)Shaman
Gul'danWarlock
Garrosh Hellscream (Alternative: Magni Bronzebeard)Warrior

4. Cards

To start a game, you need to select 30 cards that will constitute your deck. During the game, random cards from this deck will be put into your hand, and you will then be able to play these cards on the board. The same, of course, applies to your opponent. The game is turn-based, which means you and your opponent each take turns to play your cards, and while it is the opponent's turn, there is nothing you can do except watch and wait.

Each card has a mana cost. Mana is a resource that you slowly gain, turn after turn. The most powerful cards have the highest mana cost, which means that as the game progresses, you will be able to play cards that are increasingly powerful.

There are two main types of cards in Hearthstone minion cards and spell cards. Additional, there also exist weapon cards, which have a lot in common with spell cards.

4.1. Minion Cards

Minion cards are essentially creatures that you are able to place on the board. Each minion has an attack value and a health value. For example, the Murloc Raider has 2 attack and 1 health. Once played, the minion will remain on the board until it is killed (so in the case of the Murloc Raid, until it takes 1 damage), or until certain abilities that can destroy the minion or place it back into your hand are used.

When you play a minion, they remain inactive until your next turn (unless they have a specific attribute called Charge), so you will only be able to use them if they survive your opponent's turn. When it is your time to play again, you can control your minions to attack your opponent's minions or their hero. When one minion attacks another minion, they each deal their attack values to one another. For example, if a Murloc Raider attacks another Murloc Raider, each one will do 2 damage to the other one, causing both of them to die. Alternatively, if a Murloc Raider attacks a Chillwind Yeti (which has 4 attack and 5 health), the Murloc Raider will die (taking 4 damage from the Yeti's attack), while the Yeti's health will be reduced to 3. In principle, each minion can only attack once per turn.

4.2. Spell Cards

Spell cards do not place any creatures on the board (as a rule, but there are exceptions), instead causing certain effects on minions or heroes. For example, a Fireball spell deals 6 damage to a minion or hero.

4.3. Card Rarity

Cards are also divided into 5 quality (or rarity) categories. Basic cards are cards that you are guaranteed to receive, either for finishing the tutorial, or for leveling up classes. Common cards are very numerous, and generally easy to obtain. Rare cards are, predictably enough, rare, and as a rule also quite powerful (though notable exceptions exist). Epic cards are very rare, and generally very powerful as well. Finally, Legendary cards are extremely rare, and also extremely powerful (although, again, exceptions do exist).

5. How A Game Is Played

At the beginning of a game of Hearthstone, you or your opponent are randomly chosen to be the first to play. That player receive 3 cards, while the other player receives 4 cards and The Coin (a free card that grants +1 mana for one turn). Both players also start with 1 mana.

Whenever your turn comes, your mana bar is refilled and its size is increased by 1 (so, you gain 1 mana container, which is called a mana crystal). You also draw a random card from your deck. Then, you can use your minions that are on the board and play cards that you have in your hand. You can play as many cards as you want, provided you have the mana to do so. For example, with 6 mana, you can play 2 cards with a cost of 3 mana (and as many 0-mana cards as you want), provided that you have such cards in your deck and hand. You can also use your Hero Power, which costs 2 Mana by default.

There are also a few restrictions that apply:

  • your mana bar caps at 10 mana crystals and there are cards (such as Felguard or Wild Growth) that add or remove mana crystals;
  • the maximum amount of minions each player can have on the board is 7 (when at the limit, you are not allowed to place new minions);
  • the maximum amount of cards you can have in your hand is 10 (when at the limit, any new card you draw will be discarded and its effect, if any, will not take place).

The game ends when one of the players manages to destroy the other player's hero (by damaging it until its health reaches 0), or when a player concedes the game (causing their opponent to win).

6. Game Modes

There are three different game modes in Hearthstone.

  • Play mode (or constructed) allows you to build a deck of your choice out of the cards you possess, and use that deck to play against other human opponents of equal strength.
  • Solo Adventures allows you to play against the AI. You can play simple practice games against the AI with a deck of your choice, which is useful for familiarising yourself with the game. When you start Hearthstone for the first time, you need to unlock all the heroes by beating them in Practice mode. After unlocking all heroes, a new difficulty (stronger AI) appears for Practice mode. Under Solo Adventures you also have access to various "adventures" (which you must purchase with gold or real money), during which you play against considerably stronger AI opponents, and where you sometimes need to use a pre-established deck.
  • Arena mode gives you a choice out of three different classes, after which you must build a 30-card deck from the scratch, choosing each card out of 3 random cards selected for you. Arena mode does not use your card collection, so all players are effectively equal when playing Arena. Your Arena deck remains active until you win 12 matches or until you lose 3 matches, at which point you receive rewards based on your performance: a pack of cards, individual cards, gold, and Arcane Dust (see next section for more information on gold and Arcane Dust). You are then free to enter the Arena again, choose a different class, and build a different deck. Note that entering the Arena costs real money (1.99 USD, 1.49 GBP, or 1.79 EUR), but your first participation is free. You can also pay the entry fee with 150 in-game gold.
  • Tavern Brawl is a special game mode that provides players with a different, lighthearted challenge each week. It opens on Wednesday and ends on Monday of the next week, and the first win on any given week rewards the player with a Card Pack.

7. Card Collection

Your account has a collection of cards, essentially an inventory. You can use these cards to build your deck for playing Play mode (with the limitations inherent to class-specific cards, as well as other limitations such as only being able to use 2 of the same card in a deck).

Some Basic cards are given to you by default when you start playing the game, other Basic class-specific cards can be obtained by playing enough games with each hero, and the rest of the cards can be bought, crafted, or earned as a reward in the Arena. Firelands Portal is an exception, in that it is free of cost but it is obtained differently, by defeating the first encounter of the One Night in Karazhan adventure.

7.1. Real Money

You can buy packs of 5 cards using your local currency. Currently, such a pack costs 1.99 USD or 1.79 EUR. There is a discount if you buy more than one pack.

7.2. Gold

Gold is rewarded when you win games in Play mode, when you complete some objectives (like, unlocking all heroes or beating all heroes in expert difficulty in Practice mode), when you complete a daily quest (like killing 40 enemy minions), or when you finish an Arena session.

Gold can be used for purchasing packs of cards (1 pack of 5 cards for 100 gold), for paying the entry fee for the Arena (150 gold), or for buying access to adventures.

7.3. Arcane Dust

You cannot know what cards a pack will contain before buying the pack and opening it. So, it can happen that you will have multiple copies of certain cards in your collection. Since you can only have a maximum of 2 copies of each card in your decks, you have the option of destroying (disenchanting) cards. You can also destroy cards that you do not intend to use. This gives you Arcane Dust (the amount varies depending on the rarity of the card) and you can use this Arcane Dust to craft cards you do not have.

Note that Basic cards cannot be disenchanted, and that Golden cards cost more dust to craft than their normal versions, and also reward more dust when disenchanted.

8. Conclusion

Overall, Hearthstone is a game that is fairly easy to learn and understand. Since it is free to try the game out (or indeed to play it), and since it does not require you to play for copious amounts of time in order to get to a point where you can enjoy yourself, you can certainly give it a try if you are curious or if you have some time to kill.

You can find many guides about Hearthstone on our website, which will help you understand the less obvious facets of the game.

9. ChangeLog

  • 14 Nov. 2016: Made a number of updates to the guide to account for the various changes that Hearthstone has undergone over time.
  • 24 Oct. 2015: Made various updates to account for changes to the game since its release.
  • 19 Mar. 2014: Updated for the game's live release.
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