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Hunterace finds three of the most important cards in his deck off a Shadow Visions. Which one should he take?
It's game 3 of the quarterfinals at HCT Toronto, and Hunterace finds himself up two games to nothing against Silentstorm. On Combo Dragon Priest, Hunterace casts an early Shadow Visions and finds three of the most important cards in his deck - Inner Fire, Power Word: Shield, and Divine Spirit. Which one should he take?
Shadow Visions is one of my favorite cards in the game. Having puzzled over many shadowy decisions myself, I was hoping that I might unlock some secret in this episode as to which card you should take off it in a generic game of Hearthstone. The fallacy with that logic is that there are no generic games. Every matchup demands a different strategy, and the strategy that Hunterace choose to employ against Silentstorm's Cubelock is as fascinating as it was effective. I think he took the best card off Shadow Visions for the strategy he was going for, but that there is no way to definitively state that his choice was the "correct" one. Other strategies might have worked in this matchup as well, and with a slightly different hand or board it may have been correct to go for one those.
What card would you guys have taken in this spot? Personally, I would have leaned towards taking the Divine Spirit with the hope of setting up an OTK in the turn 8-10 range.
These four mistakes come up way too often, and they can be easily avoided.
These four mistakes Hearthstone mistakes come up all time on the ladder, but they can be easily avoided by adopting new some heuristics.
Decision trees in Hearthstone grow very tall. Most of these decision trees grow far too tall for us to ever traverse them completely before our turn timer expires, especially if we find ourselves in a situation we've never been in before. For me, that happens just about every game. Practice can help reduce the number of situations we've never been in before, but at some point we'll need to adopt a few heuristics along the way to help us make decisions in a timely manner.
In this guide, I'll walk through a number of very common mistakes I see on the competitive ladder, which to me are obvious examples of poor heuristics at work. My hope is that we can learn some newer, smarter heuristics by asking ourselves why these misplays are so common, and that we can use these new heuristics to avoid similar mistakes in the future. With that said, please keep in mind that it is sometimes correct to make these mistakes, because there are exceptions to every rule in Hearthstone. The goal of this article is to outline examples of bad Hearthstone heuristics so we can replace them with better ones, not to claim that the so-called mistakes I outline below are the wrong thing to do 100% of the time.
With that out of the way, let's begin!
Mistake #1 - Missing Hero Powers
It's my Aggro Secret Mage opponent's turn 8. I have control of the board and the only hope for my opponent is to burn me out. They cast a Firelands Portal to my face, play The Coin, and Frostbolt my face. On their turn nine they play an Arcanologist, the secret from it, and ping my face with Hero Power, stranding 2 Mana and 1 damage forever.
Why It's A Misplay
The reason to Fireblast over Frostbolt on turn 8 is obvious - you're never going to get that Fireblast back. The Frostbolt will always be there for you on a future turn (with certain exceptions, such as Counterspell), but a Hero Power unused is a Hero Power lost. If you're reasonably sure that the Mana will be there for Frostbolt on a future turn, then playing Frostbolt instead of using your Hero Power is permanently stranding one point damage in a game where every point counts.
This mistake can also come up whenever a player passes on their Hero Power for a 2 or 3 Mana spell which doesn't effect the board, such as a Secret or card draw spell, so long as they would have had the Mana to cast that spell next turn anyways. The Frostbolt over Fireblast play just happens to be the most common of these mistakes, as Aggro Mage is a relatively popular deck in the current ladder environment.
Why do players make this mistake?
My best guess is that it comes down to a misunderstanding of the Hero Power as resource. Just like Mana, cards, and your life total, your Hero Power is a finite resource. The number of times your Hero Power can be used in a given game (excepting cards like Auctionmaster Beardo) is equal to the number of turns you get in that game (minus turn one, I suppose). Each turn your Hero Power goes unused is a tick of that resource you'll never get back.
This view of the Hero Power as a finite resource will do you about as much good as a screen door on a submarine if you're getting beaten down by an aggro deck, where the only thing that matters is playing for board. However, there are a number of decks and matchups where this heuristic is a useful one. A Fatigue Warrior stalling things out in the late game or a top-decking Face Hunter in need of those last few points of damage could be in a position where they need to use their Hero Power every single turn in order to win. Though you probably won't miss out on more than one or two Hero Powers per game due to mistakes like the one I outlined above, those one or two Hero Powers can often prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Mistake #2 - Playing 1 Drops To Die
I'm on Cubelock and I'm going first. I play Kobold Librarian on turn one and pass. My Warlock opponent plays Mistress of Mixtures and passes back.
Why It's A Misplay
Assuming both me and my opponent will Life Tap on turn 2 (which we did), I will end up one card and 4 life ahead of my opponent on this exchange. The Deathrattle trigger on the Mistress of Mixtures will heal me for 4 (2 damage from the Kobold Librarian and the 2 damage from Life Tap) while my opponent is still at 30 life. Meanwhile, the Kobold Librarian drew me a card with its Battlecry. Now we start a new game of Hearthstone on turn 3 where I'm at 30 life, my opponent is at 28, and we have an even number of cards in our hands despite the fact that I went first. Advantage? Me!
Playing the Mistress into the Librarian on a future turn won't yield us better results. For example, if you play the Mistress on turn three you would just end up healing back the 4 points of damage you took from the Librarian's 2 extra attacks, and you'd still be down that card. Playing it later than that would result in an even greater net loss of damage. The move here is to pass the turn.
Another misplay cut from the same cloth as this one would be to play a Grimscale Chum into a Northshire Cleric, a Mage/Rogue/Druid Hero Power, or a Vilefin Inquisitor. In all of these scenarios, what you are signing up for is a situation where an on-board play from your opponent will put you in an unfavorable position. Wouldn't it be better to hold on to the Grimscale Chum until it can be played alongside a Gentle Megasaur, Coldlight Seer, or Rockpool Hunter? It will probably generate more damage over the course of the game if played in combination with those cards.
To be fair, there are a number of games where playing Mistress of Mixtures into Kobold Librarian is the correct move. For example, you might be playing against a Zoolock and be in the unfortunate position of having nothing in your opening hand which can interact with the board until turn 5. In the Cubelock vs. Zoolock matchup, card advantage is far less important than extra damage from the Librarian. We should be able to find a way to win the game eventually so long as we can survive to the part of the game where we play a million Voidlords, so we should make plays that preserve our life total as much as possible. On the ladder you often won't know if your opponent is on Zoolock or Control Warlock if all they've done is play a Kobold Librarian, but the numbers will tell you that its safer to assume Cube or Control than Zoo.
Why do players make this mistake?
Your role in the matchup is key to understanding whether or not you should play to the board (and sometimes into less-than-favorable trades), or to hold onto your minions and play for card advantage. In the Cubelock vs. Cubelock matchup, the game is way more likely to come down to card advantage than chip damage. The Mistress of Mixtures might not seem like an important resource, but it has value as a 2 health minion for Defile clears and is an extra card in hand to cheapen the cost of Mountain Giant. This is to say nothing of how rewarded you get for holding on to that Mistress if you topdeck a Mortal Coil for the Librarian in the next few turns. That said, I don't think the reason I see this misplay so often is because my opponent's don't understand their roles in matchups. I think they happen because players go on auto pilot use bad early game heuristics. Having made this mistake on numerous occasions, I know from firsthand experience how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking "it's good to play to the board early" or "I should be using all of my Mana", and plop down a 1 drop on turn one without hesitation.
A better way to think about the early game would be to weigh every option available to you. In early game situations such as this one, we are dealing with a very limited number of alternative decisions to playing that Mistress of Mixtures. If we took the time to ask ourselves "what alternatives do I have to playing this minion right now, and are any of them better?", I think we'd find that the only alternative we have is to not play the Mistress of Mixtures, and that it is in fact the smarter play.
Mistake #3 - Not Respecting Combos
I'm playing Combo Dragon Priest, and my empty-handed Dude Paladin opponent draws a Vinecleaver for turn. He has 2 Silver Hand Recruits and a Righteous Protector on board right now, and he can make 3 more Silver Hand Recruits this turn between the Vinecleaver attack and his Hero Power. He has lethal set up next turn if he can draw something like Sunkeeper Tarim, but I have a 4/6 Twilight Drake in play. He attacks my face with everything (the Vinecleaver, Righteous Protector, and 2 Silver Hand Recruits), puts me down to 10, and passes the turn. I proceed to draw a Potion of Madness, play it on the Righteous Protector, heal the Twilight Drake up to 8 health, and cast double Divine Spirit into Inner Fire for the 32 damage OTK.
Why It's A Misplay
If I was the player in the Murloc Paladin's seat, that Potion of Madness topdeck would make think about throwing my laptop out the window. In reality, this was a situation where my opponent was able to play around all but the most ridiculous of combos by attacking the Twilight Drake instead of my face. My 6 health minion was able to become a 32/32 with my Hero Power, two Divine Spirits, and in Inner Fire, but it would have taken me a lot more effort than that to pull off an OTK if my Drake was at 2 health after a Vinecleaver attack. Assuming my opponent was at 30 life, I would have needed to find 4 more points of health for my Twilight Drake through some combination of Power Word: Shields and Kabal Talonpriests to be able to OTK with a 2 health minion.
I'll let you in on a little secret, Combo Priests always have the combo. Well, not always. But in a number of situations (especially when you're ahead) its a good idea to play as though your opponent's hand and draws are the perfect combination of cards to kill you. If you have a significant lead on board, you're ahead in life, and the only way for your opponent to kill you is with their combo, see if there isn't a way to take away the combo from them if it doesn't change your clock significantly. Many aggro players do a good job of combining their cards in a way which maximizes damage output, but they don't know when to pivot their role in the matchup and become the "control" player, or how to play things safe with a lead.
In the situation I described above, the opportunity cost for my opponent to attack my Twilight Drake was practically nothing. If my opponent attacks my Drake down to 2 health and topdecks a Sunkeeper Tarim, a Level Up, or a Lightfused Stegodon into +3 attack, I'm just as dead from 10 life as I am from 14. The attack to the face doesn't set up any kills with Dire Wolf Alpha or Dark Conviction, so there's practically no downside to attacking my Twilight Drake with Vinecleaver to substantially limit the number of OTKs I have. There's also an argument for sending a couple of minion attacks at the Twilight Drake to finish it off, as this line would do a much better job of playing around Duskbreaker.
Why do players make this mistake?
Combo Priest OTKs have both won and lost me many, many ladder games. From my experience on the Combo Priest side of the table, I often find myself thinking: "Please don't attack my minion, I have the kill next turn if that minion keeps all of his health!". When I play against Combo Priests, my inner monologue goes a little more like this: "If he has the combo I should clear board and not attack face. Does he have the combo? Nah, I'll attack face. He had it?! What a luck-sack!". Sound familiar to you?
One of the most useful heuristics for navigating combo decks from both sides of the table is the concept of playing to outs. I discuss this concept at length in my Legend in the Making series, but I'll do my best to summarize it here.
In the example game described above, the cards my opponent failed to account for in their decision-making process were the combo pieces I need to kill him (Potion of Madness, 2 Divine Spirit, and an Inner Fire) and the cards he needed to kill me (Sunkeeper Tarim, Level Up, and Lightfused Stegodon). The cards I can kill my opponent with are my outs, and the cards my opponent can kill me with are my opponent's outs.
When it comes down to scenarios where the game is likely to end in the next few turns, try to identify which cards can win the game for you outright if drawn off the top of your deck (your outs), and which cards would win the game for your opponent between their hand and draws (your opponent's outs). Try to construct a sequence of events out of your opponent which leads to you losing the game, then see what can be done to prevent that happening. Next, try to construct a winning sequence for yourself and see what can be done to maximize the chances it occurs (this is generally much easier and less time consuming than seeing things from your opponent's perspective).
In this particular example, there were a couple of plays my opponent could have made which would have both prevented lethal and set up lethal of their own. These plays are ideal, but there won't always be a perfect intersection between winning and not losing. When considering outs for both you and your opponent, you'll often need to make a judgement call as to whether you should attempt to maximize your own chances of setting up lethal, minimize your opponent's chances of setting up lethal, or go for something in the middle of both to play around a specific card.
Mistake #4 - Setting Up Board Clears
It's turn 4 and I'm on Murloc Paladin against an unknown Warlock. I have a Vilefin Inquisitor and a Hydrologist in play, both with full health, and my hand is looking juicy. I have a Grimscale Chum, a Murloc Warleader, and a Gentle Megasaur. I play Chum into Warleader to set up the huge Megasaur turn, attack everything to face, and pass.
Why It's A Misplay
Playing the Grimscale Chum gave my opponent the 1 Health minion they needed to set up the full clear with Defile. They would have needed Hellfire to clear my board if I hadn't played the Chum, which means that giving them 1 Health minion effectively doubled their chances of being able to clear my board.
Defile is one of the trickiest cards to use in Hearthstone - we shouldn't make it any easier on our opponents than it needs to be. Sure, sometimes they won't have the Defile or the Hellfire and you'll just win with Gentle Megasaur on turn 4, but in this particular scenario, why not hedge your bets and wait on the Chum? They'll still get blown out by Megasaur next turn if they don't have a Hellfire, and if you play into Defile you give your opponent a clean 4 for 1.
Why do players make this mistake?
I tend to make mistakes like this one when I get tunnel-visioned on making value plays and lose sight of the big picture. It just doesn't "feel" right to play our Murloc Warleader before our Grimscale Chum, it leaves value on the table. However, that doesn't mean it's the wrong move. We're very likely to win this game if we don't get our board cleared, and the reward of the Grimscale Chum's Battlecry is far outweighed by the risk of playing it.
I think most players have a natural bias towards big, flashy plays that set up kills as quickly as possible if everything goes right, but that they don't slow down to think about what happens if things go wrong. A heuristic which can help remind us to slow down and consider our options in these scenarios might sound something like this:
The strongest play is not always the best one.
The "best" play for any given situation probably starts and ends by considering the unknown variables - the cards left in your deck, the cards your opponent is likely to play, etc. It's tempting to see the explosive potential in a play that's right in front of you and just go for it, to say "let's see what happens" and accept the consequences if things don't work out. I'd by lying if I said I never played straight into board wipes just to see if I could set up a turn 4 kill, but in a few of this situations it was actually the right move!
There are a number of times where, as an aggro player, the correct move is to just go for it and accept the consequences if your opponent has the board wipe. However, there's a big difference between those situations and the one I outlined above. You won't always be presented with a choice between "going for the win" and "GOING FOR THE WIN!". Whenever you have to opportunity to assemble a board that is capable of winning the game, what do you really stand to gain by putting even more minions on it? Do you get to win more? Last I checked, "big wins" didn't count for extra stars on the ladder.
The Hero Power is a finite resource. Use it or lose it forever. Its almost always better to Hero Power than it is to play a 2 or 3 Mana spell if you could just play that spell next turn (or the turn after). The first few turns of the game are really important - don't auto pilot them and throw away cards for free. There are very few options available to you in the early game, so take your time to carefully consider all of them. Playing your minions is not always the best option available to you. When you have a lead as an aggressive deck, it's often a better idea to protect that lead and to become the "control" player than it is to push damage to face. Try to think about late-game situations in terms of specific outs from both you and your opponent, and use those outs to guide where your damage should go. Winning is good enough! Committing more resources to the board than you need to win can set yourself up to get blown out by board wipes.
Dean Ayala is here with a brand new Hearthside Chat, explaining the new odd and even mechanic introduced in The Witchwood and how it can work in actual decks. Four new Witchwood cards were also revealed.
With the announcement of The Witchwood, people were intrigued with the new Start of the Game legendaries Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater, which require a specific kind of deck built with only even and odd cards respectively. The first impression of the community was that these legendaries were weak, but it looks like odd & even decks are getting more support in The Witchwood.
Dean Ayala explained how the mechanic can fit into both current and older decks, like Control Quest Warrior and Aggro Hunter.
Four new cards were also revealed and they are all about the odd and even shennanigans!
Mike Donais clarified on Reddit that there are only few even/odd support cards and not for every class. The team aimed at less expected combinations so that players could experiment with new decks. For example, Mage has some signature even cards like Frostbolt, Fireball and Meteor but Black Cat is a pretty powerful card, if the condition is met. It also makes sense that all six odd/even cards won't be offered in Arena (source).
Do you think these cards make odd and even decks more enticing to play now? The Witchwood is after all introducing more new mechanics, like the keywords Rush and and Echo, so hopefully we will have more deck diversity and deck builders can rejoice!