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Mechanics Guide

Last updated on May 24, 2015 at 19:42 by Vlad 17 comments

Table of Contents

1. Foreword

This guide assumes that you have already played Hearthstone, at least long enough to complete the tutorial. It assumes you are at least mildly familiar with how the game functions (cards from your deck being put into your hand, cards being playable on your turn, and so on), and thus in this article we will explain several mechanics that are very important, but which may not be immediately clear.

We advise you to check out our Hearthstone glossary in order to understand all the terms that we use in this guide.

If you have not yet played Hearthstone, and you are looking for some basic information in order to determine if the game is for you, then we advise you to read our introduction to Hearthstone.

2. Minion Effects

By default, minions only have an attack value and a health value. For example, the Murloc Raider has 2 attack and 1 health, and there is nothing else to this minion. However, as we will see in the sections that follow, minions can possess many different additional effects.

2.1. Battlecry

A Battlecry is a special ability that a minion performs when it is played from your hand. The wording here is very important, as the effect only occurs when the minion is literally played from your hand. This means that if the minion ends up on the board through any other means (it is swapped in by an Alarm-o-Bot, it is copied by Mirror Entity, and so on), the Battlecry does not occur.

There are lot of different Battlecries in the game, and listing them here would be pointless. Most of the time, Battlecries are beneficial effects that increase the value of the minion (they draw you a card, they allow you to deal some damage to an enemy minion, etc.). Sometimes, Battlecries can be detrimental to you, which happens when the respective minion is particularly cheap for its stats (attack and health), in which case the detrimental Battlecry balances the minion out.

2.2. Deathrattle

Deathrattles are similar to Battlecries, the only difference being that they occur on the death of the minion, rather than when it is played from your hand. The wording is important here as well, as having a minion removed from the board, but not killed (such as through Sap or Vanish) does not trigger the Deathrattle.

Much like the Battlecries, the Deathrattles are mostly beneficial, and they increase the value of the minion, but in rare cases they can also be detrimental.

In very rare cases, it is possible to use spells in order to grant minions Deathrattles that they did not originally possess (such as the Soul of the Forest Druid spell).

It is important to note that minions that die simultaneously do not affect one another with their Deathrattle(s). We will give you an example to this effect.

If Sylvanas Windrunner and another (enemy) minion are the only two minions on the board, and they attack each other and both of them die in the attack, Sylvanas' Deathrattle will have no effect (that is to say, she will not take control of the other minion before it dies).

2.3. Charge

Normally, minions cannot be used to attack during the turn when they are played. However, certain minions have Charge, which allows them to attack during the turn when they are played.

Charge increases the value of minions, because it allows you to deal damage with the minion before your opponent has a chance to react (and kill or weaken the minion). Generally, the benefit of Charge is balanced out by the minion having reduced stats (especially health).

It is interesting to note that despite appearing similar, Charge and Battlecry are different mechanically, meaning that a minion with Charge that ends up on the board through a means other than being directly played from your hand will retain the Charge ability, and thus be usable on the same turn.

2.4. Taunt

Taunt is a special property that a minion can have. When a minion has a Taunt (which is indicated by a shield around the minion's icon on the board), the opponent is not allowed to attack any other character. Two mentions are in order.

  • If more than 1 minion has Taunt, your opponent can choose to attack which ever minion with Taunt that they wish.
  • Taunt only applies to attacks, as opposed to spells. This means that only the direct attacks of minions or the hero are restricted by Taunt.

Some minions, like the Sen'jin Shieldmasta, have Taunt innately, but it can also be granted by spells, such as Mark of the Wild, and Battlecries, such as that of the Defender of Argus.

2.5. Divine Shield

Divine Shield is a special ability that a minion may possess. This effect causes the minion to ignore the damage of the first attack made against it, which also removes the Divine Shield. Divine Shield protects the minion against damage from both attacks and spells, but the minion remains vulnerable to effects that instantly kill it (such as Assassinate), as well as to effects that incapacitate it (such as Silence, Hex, or Freeze effects).

It is very important to realize that a minion with Divine Shield will not be killed by an attack from a minion such as the Emperor Cobra or the Patient Assassin. All such an attack will do is break the Divine Shield.

Some minions, like the Argent Squire, have Divine Shield innately, but it can also be granted by spells, such as Hand of Protection, and Battlecries, such as that of the Argent Protector.

2.6. Stealth

While minions are normally visible and attackable (unless a Taunt minion prevents it), it is possible for a minion to have Stealth. A minion with Stealth is still visible on the board (although it is greyed out to signify that it is in Stealth), and this minion cannot be targeted by any attacks or spells. Minions that are in Stealth can still be damaged by AoE attacks (such as Consecration), as well as by passive abilities that select a random target (such as the passive ability of the Knife Juggler). The owner of a stealthed minion can target it.

A minion remains in Stealth until they attack, and taking damage does not bring a minion out of Stealth. Provided that they take enough damage, a minion can be killed while in Stealth.

Some minions, like the Blood Imp, have Stealth innately, but it can also be granted by spells, such as Conceal (note that this only lasts for 1 turn), and Battlecries, such as that of the Master of Disguise.

Flare, a Hunter spell, removes Stealth from all minions.

We would like to clarify an issue that many new players often find confusing. When a minion with Taunt is in Stealth, the Taunt buff (and icon) remains active, but the buff is suppressed as long as the minion is in Stealth. So, while the Taunt will once again limit your attacks as soon as the minion leaves Stealth, as long as it is in Stealth, it is as though it did not have Taunt (and you can safely attack other targets).

2.7. Enrage

Certain minions posses an Enrage effect. The benefit of Enrage (usually an increase in damage) is active while the minion is not at full health. The Enrage effect is updated dynamically, meaning that if a minion is healed to full health, they will lose their Enrage.

2.8. Windfury

Certain minions have Windfury. This effect allows them to attack twice per turn, instead of only once.

Some minions, like the Thrallmar Farseer, have Windfury innately, but it can also be granted by spells, such as Windfury, and Battlecries, such as that of the Windspeaker.

Note that Windfury works "retroactively", in the sense that if a minion without Windfury has performed its attack for the respective turn, and you then cast Windfury on it, it will immediately be able to perform its second attack (that is to say, you do not need to wait for the next turn).

2.9. Immune

Minions and heroes can receive immunity effects. This causes them to be invulnerable to all sources of damage for the duration of the immunity (which generally lasts one turn). For example, the Hunter Bestial Wrath spell grants a Beast +2 attack and makes them Immune for one turn. Immune minions can still be killed by Vaporize.

2.10. Freeze

Characters can be frozen. The majority of Freeze effects originate from Mage cards (such as Blizzard and Ice Lance), but Shamans also have 1 Freeze effect, and a neutral minion, the Frost Elemental, has a Battlecry that freezes a character.

Freeze effects last for 1 turn, and a frozen character is unable to attack. A frozen minion still retains its Deathrattle (if it dies frozen) and any passive abilities it may have (such as the passive ability of the Knife Juggler), and frozen heroes can still play their cards and use their Hero Powers (but they cannot attack with their weapon).

2.11. Silence

Silence effects cause the targeted minion to essentially lose any extra benefits it may have aside from its stats. Silence effects remove Taunts, Deathrattles, Enrages, buffs (such as Divine Shield or increases in health from Power Word: Shield or from Battlecries), and debuffs (such as Freeze effects). Essentially, and as the in-game text says, Silence "removes all card text and enchantments".

It is important to note a few things regarding Silence. First of all, Stealth cannot normally be silenced, since stealthed units cannot be targeted, but Mass Dispel removes Stealth effects.

Second of all, Silence is permanent. It cannot be removed from a minion in any way (you cannot Silence a Silence, for example). If a minion is returned to the hand, it will lose its Silence, however.

Third of all, Silence is only applied to the minion once, when it is cast. This means that a silenced unit can receive new buffs after it is silenced, and these will work perfectly.

As a consequence of this, effects that are being granted continuously to the minion (such as a +1 attack increase from a Timber Wolf or a +1/+1 from a Stormwind Champion) are not affected by Silence.

Finally, it is interesting to note how Silence works with certain minions. Buffs granted by a minion's Battlecry, such as the health increase gained by Twilight Drake are removed by Silence. Similarly, a silenced Lightspawn will be brought to 0/5.

Silence effects come from spells (such as Silence) and Battlecries, such as that of the Ironbeak Owl.

2.12. Spell Damage

Minions can be granted an increase in Spell Damage. Spell Damage affects the damage done by the spells cast by your character. This does not include the damage of Hero Powers, or the damage done by minions in any way.

Some minions, like the Ogre Magi, have Spell Power innately, but it can also be granted by Battlecries, such as that of the Ancient Mage.

2.13. Passive Abilities

Many minions, especially those of Rare quality or better, have passive abilities. These abilities are in effect for as long as the minion is alive and not silenced. They vary widely in what they do, so we will only give you a few examples.

  • The Knife Juggler deals 1 damage to a random enemy each time you summon a minion.
  • The Master Swordsmith grants another random friendly minion +1 attack at the end of your turn.
  • Gruul gains +1/+1 at the end of each turn.

As we mentioned before, minion passive abilities continue to work while the minion is frozen.

2.14. Minion Ownership and Loss of Control

In Hearthstone, there is no distinction between a minion's Owner and its Controller (as it the case in other similar games). In practice, this means that whenever you lose control of a minion, that minion ceases to belong to you entirely.

For example, if your Priest opponent uses Mind Control on a Chillwind Yeti, he becomes the Owner of that minion. If you then use Sap on that minion (causing the minion to return to its owners' hand), the minion will return it to the Priest, and not you.

While mind control effects are generally permanent, there are a few exceptions to this, when the minion only changes ownership for one turn. This happens, for example, when a Priest plays the Shadow Madness card. They will have control of their opponent's minion until the end of the turn, but this does not change the fact that for that turn, the Priest is considered the Owner of the minion (as we said, there is no distinction made between Owner and Controller). This means that if the Priest uses a Youthful Brewmaster on the temporarily-controlled minion, the minion will go back into their hand, and from then on it is essentially their card. Likewise, if the temporarily-controlled minion dies during this time, the current owner (the Priest) will benefit from its death (in case it has a beneficial Deathrattle, for example, or if they have a Cult Master on the board).

It probably goes without saying, but all loss of control effects end at the end of the game, and they do not affect players' card collections in any way.

2.15. Returning Minions to Hand

Several cards and effects in the game cause a minion to be returned to its owners hand, as we have briefly touched upon above.

Examples of such cards are Sap, Vanish, Freezing Trap, as well as the Battlecry of minions such as the Youthful Brewmaster. When a minion returns to its owner's hand, it leaves the board instantly and without any additional effects. That is to say that it will not trigger its Deathrattle (should it have one), nor count as a death to abilities that are triggered by the death of minions (such as the abilities of the Flesheating Ghoul or the Cult Master). There is one notable exception to this, however. When a player's hand is full (10 cards, as we will explain in a subsequent section), any minions that are returned to the hand are actually destroyed (since the hand is full and cannot accommodate them). When this happens, the minion will actually die, triggering its Deathrattle as well as counting as a death for other minions on the board.

When a minion returns to the hand, it reverts to its original form, losing any buffs or debuffs it may have gained while on the board, including from its own Battlecry. There are exceptions to this, however. Minions that come from spell cards (such as Animal Companion) will not turn back into a spell card, instead being returned to the hand as the minion that they became. So, if a Hunter uses Animal Companion and Huffer spawns, returning Huffer to the hand will not place an Animal Companion card in the Hunter's hand, instead simply placing a Huffer.

Likewise, when a Druid plays a minion with a Choose One effect (also explained in a subsequent section), such as the Druid of the Claw, that minion will return to the hand as the form that was chosen for it when it was first played. That means that if a Druid of the Claw is played with Bear Form (+2 health and Taunt), it will go back to the hand as a Bear Form minion, and it can only be replayed as such.

2.16. Transformations

Several spells and Battlecries in the game allow a minion to be transformed into another minion. For example, Polymorph transforms a minion into a 1/1 Sheep. Likewise, the Faceless Manipulator becomes a copy of a targeted minion. In all cases, transformations are permanent, and they cannot be reverted even if the minion is Silenced.

2.17. Temporary Versus Permanent Effects

As a rule, all effects are permanent, meaning that they will persist on the target until they are forcefully removed, such as through a Silence. For example, the +2/+2 stat increase and Taunt that the Houndmaster grants a Beast will remain active on that Beast for as long as it is alive, even if the Houndmaster himself is killed. This applies not only to Battlecries, but also to Taunt, Stealth, Windfury, or Divine Shield effects.

On the other hand, some effects are not permanent. This is generally the case when the effect is listed in the text area of the card (without being a Battlecry). For example, the Stormwind Champion's effect is only active while the Stormwind Champion is alive (and not Silenced).

In some cases, the wording of the cards will make things clear. For example, the Battlecry of the Master of Disguise is permanent, while the effect of Conceal is temporary, as the text of the latter card clearly indicates. Whenever a "this turn" or "until next turn" (or similar) wording is not present, you can assume that the effect is permanent.

3. Card Effects

Certain cards (both minions and spells) have peculiar properties.

3.1. Choose One (Druid-only)

Some Druid cards have a Choose One effect. When played, these cards will prompt you to choose between one of two different effects. For example, when playing Power of the Wild, you have to choose between either buffing all existing minions with +1/+1, or summoning a 3/2 Panther.

3.2. Combo (Rogue-only)

Some Rogue cards have a Combo effect. In order for a Combo effect to occur, you must have played at least one other card during the turn on which you play the Combo card. For example, Cold Blood grants a minion +2 attack, but if it is not the first card you play during that turn, its Combo effect replaces its baseline effect, granting a minion +4 attack instead.

In the case of minions with a Combo effect, this effect does not replace the baseline effect of the card (which would be the summoning of the minion), but they are simply added to it. For example, when the Defias Ringleader is not the first card played during its turn, it summons an additional 2/1 minion.

3.3. Overload (Shaman-only)

Some Shaman cards have an Overload effect. For example, the text of Lightning Bolt reads "Deal 3 damage. Overload (1)". This means that on the next turn after playing this card, one of your Mana Crystals will be overloaded and unusable, for one turn. In each case, the number of overloaded crystals is indicated in the text of the overload card.

The number of overloaded Mana Crystals stacks, so if you use multiple overload cards in the same turn, the number of overloaded crystals will add up. For example, using two Forked Lightnings in the same turn will cause you to have 4 overloaded Mana Crystals the following turn. If you overload more crystals than you currently have in total (for example, you use the 2 Forked Lightnings on Turn 2), your new mana crystals will be overloaded as soon as they become available to you (so, on Turn 3, in this case).

Generally speaking, the Overload effect is made up for by the fact that the overload spell cards are cheaper than they should be, and the overload minions are stronger than their cost would imply.

3.4. Race Effects

Some minions have a race, in which case, the race is mentioned at the bottom of the card. There are 7 races in the game: Beasts, Demons (Warlock-only), Dragons, Mech, Murlocs, Pirates, and Totems (Shaman-only).

Many cards have effects that apply to a specific race and some decks are built around using minions of a specific race (especially Mech and Murlocs).

For example:

4. Hero Powers

Each of the 9 heroes has a specific Hero Power. This is basically a spell that costs 2 Mana Crystals, which is usable once per turn for the entire game. We will very briefly go over each of the 9 Hero Powers, explaining things that may not be obvious.

Hero Powers are not considered spells, nor are they considered cards, so they do not trigger any of the effects associated with either of these two categories.

4.1. Druid

The Druid Hero Power is called Shapeshift. It grants the Druid +1 attack for that turn, and +1 armor. As the wording implies, the 1 attack disappears at the end of the turn, whether the Druid attacked or not, while the armor persists (and stacks) until it is broken by damage.

The Druid can attack either a minion or the enemy hero, but the attack is restricted by any Taunt minions the enemy may have on the board.

4.2. Hunter

The Hunter Hero Power is called Steady Shot. It deals 2 damage to the enemy hero. Steady Shot is not restricted by Taunt minions.

4.3. Mage

The Mage Hero Power is called Fireblast. It deals 1 damage to a character (minion or hero). It is not restricted by Taunt minions.

While Fireblast may appear underpowered compared to the aforementioned Hunter Hero Power (it deals 1 less damage for the same cost), this is not true. The difference in damage is made up for by the versatility of Fireblast, which allows you to damage minions.

4.4. Paladin

The Paladin Hero Power is called Reinforce. It summons a Silver Hand Recruit, which is a 1/1 minion. The minions summoned in this way count towards spell effects that trigger from summoned units, such as the Knife Juggler's effect.

4.5. Priest

The Priest Hero Power is called Lesser Heal. It heals a targeted minion or hero for 2 health. If you have a Auchenai Soulpriest on the board, your Hero Power deals damage instead of healing.

4.6. Rogue

The Rogue Hero Power is called Dagger Mastery. It creates a 1/2 (1 attack, 2 durability) weapon for the Rogue (see weapons below). This can be used to attack enemy minions or the enemy hero, and it is restricted by Taunt minions.

4.7. Shaman

The Shaman Hero Power is called Totemic Call. It summons a random totem, out of a possible 4 totems. The totem is a minion, and totems summoned in this way count towards spell effects that trigger from summoned units, such as the Knife Juggler's effect.

The 4 possible totems are:

It is interesting to note that you generally cannot have more than 1 of each type of totem on the board at the same time. If you have 1 of each type, the Hero Power becomes unusable (and if you have 3 of the 4 totems on the board, the Hero Power will spawn the only totem that is not present). It is still possible to have more than 1 type of totem, though, but this requires that a totem was put into your hand by a different effect (such as a Youthful Brewmaster's Battlecry).

4.8. Warlock

The Warlock Hero Power is called Life Tap. It deals 2 damage to the Warlock, and draws a card. If the Warlock is at 2 or 1 health, using Life Tap will kill them.

4.9. Warrior

The Warrior Hero Power is called Armor Up!. It grants the Warrior 2 armor. This effect stacks indefinitely.

5. Weapons

5 of the 9 classes in Hearthstone (Hunters, Paladins, Rogues, Shamans, and Warriors) can equip and use weapons. The other classes can also exceptionally equip and use weapons if they gain them through various means (such as using a Faceless Manipulator to copy Tirion Fordring), but this is a rare occurrence. A hero can attack with their weapon once per turn, and they can damage enemy minions or the enemy hero. Weapon attacks are restricted by Taunt minions.

Each weapon has an attack value and a Durability value. The attack value dictates how much damage the weapon will do, while the Durability dictates how many times the weapon can be used before it is destroyed. The attack and durability of a weapon are presented in a "x/y" format (for instance, a weapon with 1 attack and 2 durability would be 1/2). Each attack made with the weapon removes 1 point of Durability from it.

There exist many sources for weapons. Each weapon-wielding class has several weapons as class-specific cards. In addition to this, some minions grant the hero a weapon either as a Battlecry (such as the Arathi Weaponsmith) or as a Deathrattle (such as Tirion Fordring).

Some weapons have special effects. For example, the Truesilver Champion heals the hero for 2 health each time they attack with it. The Sword of Justice grants any minions that are summoned while it is active +1/+1 health, at the expense of 1 point of Durability for each minion.

If a hero attacks a minion with an attack value higher than 0, the hero will take damage from that minion, exactly as if a minion were attacking another minion. However, if a minion attacks a hero that has a weapon equipped, they will not take damage from the weapon.

As far as removing your opponent's weapon goes, you have three options.

  • The Battlecry of the Acidic Swamp Ooze destroys the opponent's weapon.
  • The Battlecry of Harrison Jones destroys the opponent's weapon, and draws you cards equal to the weapon's Durability.
  • The Battlecry of the Bloodsail Corsair removes 1 point of Durability from the opponent's weapon.

In addition to this, several minions and cards interact with weapons, but we will not list them here.

6. Secrets

Hunters, Mages, and Paladins have a special mechanic called Secrets. Secrets are essentially spells that the Hero can activate, which remain active until they are triggered by one of the actions of the opponent.

While the opponent can see when you play a secret, they cannot see what secret you have played, and each class has several different secrets, so it is not really possible to tell what secret was used.

Multiple secrets can be active at the same time, but only one instance of each secret can be active at the same time.

Secrets are generally triggered during the opponent's turn (since it is usually the opponent's action that sets them off), making this the only time in Hearthstone when a player's activity can be disrupted during their turn.

7. Placement of Minions on Board

This may not be immediately apparent, but in most cases you can select where on the board your minion(s) are positioned, relative to one another. You decide this by dragging each minion to the exact location on the board where you want them to be summoned.

This is a very important aspect, because the placement of minions interacts with several important cards.

For example, there are many minions that grant buffs to adjacent minions, such as the Dire Wolf Alpha or the Sunfury Protector. Another example is the Rogue ability Betrayal, which causes a minion to deal its damage to the adjacent minions. This means that if you are playing against a Rogue, you should position your minions in such a way as to minimise the potential damage of Betrayal.

8. Limitations

Hearthstone has several "caps" that are not immediately apparent.

8.1. Deck Limitations

When building a deck, there are two constraints you must meet.

First of all, a deck can only have 30 cards. You cannot add more than 30 cards to a deck, and you cannot enter a game with a deck of less than 30 cards.

Second of all, the rule is that you can have a maximum of 2 of each card in your deck. This applies to Basic, Common, Rare, and Epic cards. Legendary cards are an exception; for them, the limit is a maximum of 1 per deck. This second rule does not apply to Arena decks.

8.2. Maximum Minions on Board

The maximum number of minions that a player can have on the board is 7. This means that once you have 7 minions alive on your side of the board, it is impossible to summon additional minions, through any means. There is no way to dismiss your own minions, so if you are in such a situation, the only way to make room is to wait until your opponent kills one of your minions, or to kill it yourself (either through an ability that allows you to damage your own minions, or by attacking enemy minions).

8.3. Maximum Cards in Hand

The maximum number of cards that a player can have in their hand is 10. Once you have 10 cards in your hand, any additional cards you receive will be destroyed. You will be offered a quick glance at the cards that were destroyed. It is important to note that you are not offered any kind of choice to discard a card from your hand when this happens, so you must make sure you never reach this position, or otherwise be prepared to lose cards.

8.4. Fatigue (Running Out of Cards in Your Deck)

When you run out of cards in your deck, each time you attempt to draw a card, your hero will take damage from Fatigue. Fatigue deals 1 damage the first time it occurs, and each subsequent instance of it will deal 1 additional point of damage.

It is interesting to note that if you have several card-drawing abilities in play at the same time (such as two Mana Tide Totems), you will only take one instance of Fatigue damage.

9. Targeting Seemingly Unintended Targets

A very important aspect of the game, and one which is certainly not readily apparent, is that in most cases, you are not limited to casting buffs on friendly units, or debuffs on enemies. Indeed, the game is quite flexible in this regard, and many abilities that appear to have a clear intended purposes can be used in other ways. Understanding and mastering this aspect of the game will go a long way towards making you a better player, so we will give a few examples to illustrate this.

  • Fireblast can be used to damage your own minions. This is very useful if you wish to trigger effects such as Enrages.
  • Lesser Heal can be used to heal enemy minions (or the enemy hero). This is very useful for suppressing Enrage effects.
  • The "buff" granted by the Cruel Taskmaster can be cast on enemy minions, allowing you to kill minions that are at 1 health. Alternatively, it can be used to boost a minion's attack to 7 so that it can be killed by the Big Game Hunter's Battlecry.

10. The Coin

A unique card in Hearthstone is The Coin. This card is automatically put in the hand of the player who starts second at the beginning of the game, and it is meant as a way to compensate for the fact that this player is always a step behind their opponent in reaching a new mana level.

The Coin costs 0 mana, and it grants the player who uses it one additional mana only during that turn. This works both if the player is at maximum mana for that turn (for example, having 4/4 mana available and using The Coin will result in 5/4 mana), or if they have already used some mana (being at 2/4 mana will result in 3/4 mana).

Despite its uniqueness, The Coin acts as a normal card in every other way. It can be stolen by a Priest's Mind Vision, it counts as a card in the player's hand as far as the 10-card limitation is concerned, and it counts as a spell (meaning that it triggers Mages' Counterspell Secret and Gadgetzan Auctioneer's effect, among others).

11. ChangeLog

  • 24 May 2015: Updated the Race Effects section to account for new race interactions brought about by expansions.
  • 28 Sep. 2014: Made several further improvements to the guide, and fixed a few small inconsistencies. Added a section on The Coin.
  • 29 Dec. 2013: Made several updates to the guide. Added a section about returning minions to their owner's hand.
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