Aleco

Legend in the Making - An Advanced Guide to Competitive Hearthstone: Part 4

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The decisions we make outside of games are often just as impactful as the ones me make inside them. In the final installment of "Legend in the Making", we cover the meta-skills you'll need to conquer the most difficult stretch of the ladder.

Legend in the Making: Part 4

Ranks 5 to Legend - Tools for the Climb and the Art of the Read

I’d like to start off the fourth and final installment of “Legend in the Making” by letting you know that I most certainly have not saved the best for last. In fact, I’ve done quite the opposite. The concepts I’ll discuss in part four aren’t necessary for reaching Legend at all, I know this to be true from of all the comments and messages I've received from readers who were able to reach Legend for the first time after reading just the first three parts of this series. Part four doesn’t set out to reinvent anyone’s approach to the game of Hearthstone, if you’re capable of reaching rank five then I believe you already have the knowledge you need to reach Legend.

The first section of this article aims to help players who are struggling with the final push to Legend get the most out of their laddering sessions. Sometimes the biggest challenge isn’t knowing the right thing to do, but having the ability to keep your composure and put together the things you already know while maintaining a winning mindset.

We’ll wrap up this series by covering “reads”, or the art of analyzing the human element of Hearthstone. Once we have a thorough grasp on the fundamentals we can look beyond the X’s and O’s and begin analyze the subtle things our opponent’s do which reveal their true intentions.

Let's get started.

Section 1 - Tools for Optimizing Your Climb

It’s obvious that the decisions we make throughout the course each game are important, but have you ever thought about the impact of the decisions you make outside of them? In-game decisions affect the outcome of the game they’re made in, while the decisions we make outside of games have the ability to affect the outcome of an entire ladder session. Let’s take a look at the things we can do between games to avoid losing streaks and to prepare ourselves for tough decisions.

Avoiding Tilt

Quote

Tilt

A term usually applied to video games, tilt is an emotional state which can occur after a repeated process produces repeated negative results. Tilt is an emotional breakdown caused by hard work not resulting in success which is deeply craved. When you or someone you know is tilted, the best thing to do is take a break from that activity.

- Edited from Urban Dictionary

I’ll be honest you, I struggle with tilt.

I nearly always get a bit angry after losing a game which was completely out of my control. I can happily accept a loss which came as the result of a mistake I made, but I absolutely hate it when I lose a match where there was nothing I could do and there were no lessons to learned. Card games can be uniquely frustrating as they are one of the few competitive outlets where it is possible to do everything right and still lose.

The worst thing about tilt is that it is self-perpetuating. Tilting causes mistakes, mistakes cause losses, and losses cause more tilt. Playing on tilt can dramatically drop your win percentage and lead to a string of losses which put you even further away from your goal of reaching Legend. It could very well be that your win percentage while you maintain composure is more than enough to carry you to Legend, but that the losses you accumulate while on tilt are dragging your overall win percentage down low enough to keep you from the promised land.

So what can you do to prevent tilt? The solution is incredibly simple, and I’m almost embarrassed that it took me so long to do it myself:

Stop playing!

That’s really all there is to it. Whenever you find yourself on tilt, the best thing you can do is take a break, even if it’s just for a short time. What works best for me is to fully close the program and take a break until I’ve fully calmed down. If that’s simply not an option, the absolute minimum you should do is stand up to stretch your legs, get some water or going to the bathroom, take a few deep breaths, and consider changing decks before jumping back on the ladder. Slamming the “play” button as fast as you possibly can is a recipe for disaster.

For some, the trickiest part will be convincing yourself that it’s the right idea to stop playing. How could not playing Hearthstone be the best way to rank up? If you ever feel this way while on tilt, try to remind yourself that every loss puts you one step further away from your goal, and that stopping yourself before an impending stretch of losses is functionally identical to going on a win streak.

For others (and I include myself in this category), the tricky part isn’t stopping but recognizing when tilt is starting to become a problem. How can you know when to stop if you don’t even recognize that you’re angry? Self-awareness is the best tool you can have for avoiding to tilt, but it's also one of the most difficult meta-skills to cultivate in life, let alone in Hearthstone.

The trick I’ve taught myself for catching tilt before it becomes a problem is “three loss” rule. Every time I lose three consecutive games I ask myself if I am starting to go on tilt before hitting the play button again. I found it to be a bit excessive and self-patronizing to check myself after every single loss, and that I was almost always starting to go on tilt after losing three consecutive games. If you find a better trigger for yourself to check if you're going on tilt then I encourage you to use it, the three loss rule is just something which worked for me.

I’m far from an expert at dealing with tilt, so I would highly recommend that you seek alternative resources for dealing with tilt if it’s a problem you deeply struggle with. Tilt isn’t unique to Hearthstone, it’s a problem which is shared by nearly all competitive online games. There are thousands of articles and videos on the internet which are written by people far more qualified than myself to give advice on the topic, so if you need help (and you know who you are!) I encourage you to go out and find these resources before proceeding any further in your quest for Legend. Your biggest obstacle for reaching Legend may not be your ability, but your mindset.

Local Metagames

One of the very first things I discussed in part one of this series was the importance of deck selection, where I encouraged readers to ditch their homebrews and play popular decks for a variety of reasons. One of biggest reasons to play a popular deck is the vast amount of data which you’ll gain access to about your matchups. Thousands of matches between top tier decks are logged by deck trackers and uploaded to various Hearthstone sites for statistical analysis on a daily basis, providing us with a powerful tool we can use to avoid unfavored matchups. Now that we’ve reached the stretch of our climb to Legend where the tiniest margins make the biggest differences, we should be very interested in any tool which could potentially increase our win percentage by multiple points over the span of multiple matches.

One peculiar phenomena of the Hearthstone ladder is the “local metagame”. If we use the term “metagame” to refer to all of the decks which are popular at a given time, the term “local metagame” refers to a group of decks which are likely to be encountered at a specific rank. Especially between ranks 5 and Legend, I’ve found that it is quite common to play a stretch of games against the same two or three decks for the span of an entire rank. I won’t pretend to understand why this phenomenon occurs, but I’ve encountered it more than enough to be confident that it exists.

Let’s take a look at a recent screenshot from my deck tracker:

screen1.jpg

This nice run of wins began in the middle of rank 3, where almost every deck I encountered on ladder was either Jade Druid or Kazakus Priest. Playing as Pirate Warrior, a deck which is favored against both, I was able to go 7-1 and climb all the way up to the the top of rank two! Not bad, eh?

Let’s see what happens next:

screen2.jpg

Same deck, new local meta, and I’m right back where I started. Four of the five Druid games you see above were against Aggro Druid, a deck which is massively favored against Pirate Warrior but was nowhere to be found in rank 3. After losing to two Aggro Druids in three games, what I should have done was switch to a deck which wasn’t so unfavored against it. Switching decks at this point could have prevented two future losses, which is absolutely massive!

The best tool I’ve found for battling local metagames is the Data Reaper Live Report. To use the report, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and select “Top Archetype Matchups”. This will reveal a chart with matchup winrates for all of the most popular decks in the format, which should allow you to select the best deck from your collection for conquering whichever local metagame you are up against. I understand that most of you won’t have the cards you need to play every deck on that list (I certainly don’t), but you probably have the cards to play at least two or three of them. Even if you don’t have access to the best deck for your local meta, you can still use the report to select the best from the ones you have access to.

Are you facing 90% Jade Druids? Play one of the three aggressive decks which have favorable matchups against it. Are you seeing only Murloc Paladin and Aggro Druids? Token Shaman would be a solid choice for this local meta.

The same tool I use for preventing tilt, the “three loss” rule, is the very same tool I use for detecting local metas. Any time I lose three games in a row I check to see if my deck choice may be a part of that reason (in addition to checking if I’m starting to tilt). If I ever find that I lost the same unfavorable matchup more than once during a stretch of three games I’ll probably change decks to something more favored against the local meta.

I’m sure there are some experts out there who will vehemently disagree with my suggestion to regularly switch decks. The counterargument for why you should stick with one deck through thick and thin is that by frequently changing decks you will never master a deck well to the point where you can play it at a high level. This is a fair point, but I wholeheartedly disagree with it.

From a competitive perspective, I believe that you stand to improve more as a player by playing multiple decks. Having a thorough understanding of a deck certainly provides you with an advantage when you play with or against it, but this advantage is predicated entirely on the effectiveness of that specific deck being effective in the meta. If you only ever play Pirate Warrior, will your advanced deck knowledge be able to make up for the massive disadvantage you’ll have in each game against a local meta of Aggro Druids and Golakka Crawlers? I find it highly unlikely that you’ll be able to string together wins from your advanced deck knowledge alone if the metagame becomes toxic towards the deck you've planted your flag in.

The other reason I advocate for switching decks is that it’s more fun! After an hour or so with the same deck I frequently find myself wanting to play something else, local meta be damned. I enjoy winning as much as the next guy, but even I will get bored of winning if it means that I have to play the same matchup over and over. I enjoy Hearthstone the most when I’m able to play a wide variety of decks and strategies, something I’ll never be able to do if I only play one deck on my climb to Legend.

The Winning Formula

The number of variables which can factor into a single decision in Hearthstone is staggering. Even if you only take into account the tools I’ve discussed in series, you’ll still need to evaluate up to five highly nuanced and loosely related concepts to reach a single conclusion:

  1. “Who’s the beatdown?” and knowing your role.
  2. Data from the past, present, and future of the current game.
  3. Having a plan.
  4. Playing to outs.
  5. Line-up theory.

Collectively mastering each of these concepts should be more than enough to carry you to Legend, but it’s no easy feat to keep track of them in the middle of a game. Even if you understand each concept individually, finding the thinking time to thoroughly evaluate and weigh them against each other before each decision is no easy feat.

I discussed the topic of “making smaller circles” from The Art of Learning in part three, which is the process of internalizing complex topics on an instinctual level. Through this process it is possible to greatly reduce the amount of mental throughput it takes to evaluate each of the concepts I’ve discussed, but even this doesn’t account for the varying importance of each concept in different matchups.

Knowing your role might be the most important concept by far in one matchup but the least important another. Certain decisions might require you to weigh all five against each other at once, while other matchups might demand to be approached from another angle entirely. Attempting to factor each concept into our decision making process at all times is a fool’s errand, as it is neither the most effective use our limited thinking time nor the most efficient way to arrive at smart conclusions.

Instead of trying to balance the importance of everything we’ve learned at all times, we can frontload this entire process into something I like to call “the winning formula”. Within the context of a specific matchup but outside the context of a specific game, we have all the time in the world to weigh the factors and data against each other to determine what the keys to victory are. Let’s explore an example from my own past where I was able to overcome my instincts to determine the winning formula for a specific matchup.

When I first played Midrange Murloc Paladin my approach to the deck was the same as most other midrange decks. Against Control decks I played aggressively and flooded the board with early murlocs, and against Aggro decks I attempted to control the board early so I could stall out the game until my heavy hitters could take over. Unfortunately, the mirror matchup completely baffled me.

“Knowing your role” told me that Midrange mirrors tended to be won by outvaluing the opponent and trading two-for-one as often as possible, so I originally approached the matchup by keeping cards like Finja, the Flying Star and Stonehill Defender in my mulligans. These cards have “value” written all over them, and they fit perfectly into my initial plan of accruing card advantage over the course of a long game.

This sounded like a nice idea in theory, but in practice it got completely destroyed. It took me four or five losses in the mirror match before I realized that the matchup wasn’t about value at all, but tempo. I noticed that the player who got control of the board first was frequently able to snowball their early lead into a massive tempo advantage. The vast majority of Midrange Murloc Paladin decks simply lacked the tools to catch up from behind once they were already behind on board. Even Sunkeeper Tarim, an all-star against other aggressively slanted decks, was often too little too late.

When it comes to formulating a gameplan in the Midrange Murloc Paladin mirror, locking on to concepts like “who’s the beatdown?” was actually doing me more harm than good. Understanding “who’s the beatdown?” still helped me out on a decision by decision basis, but the big picture formula for victory was dictated by something else entirely. Regardless of the past, present, and future, mulliganing aggressively for one and two drops and playing to establish early control over the board is the plan. In this matchup, the “winning formula” is to grab control over the board early and never let go of it.

The goal with a winning formula is to be able to be able to enter each matchup with a solid understanding of the specific factors which contribute most towards victory and defeat. By front-loading this thinking before we ever enter into a game we free our minds to ignore unimportant concepts and allow ourselves to hone in on the most critical pieces of information. Here are some examples of what a winning formula might look  like for a variety of matchups:

  • As an aggressive deck, kill the opponent before they are able to play their board wipe. If this is not possible, don’t over-commit to the board and attempt play around the board wipe as much as possible while applying pressure.
    • Example: As Evolve Shaman against Kazakus Priest, Dragonfire Potion is the single card which is capable of causing you the most problems. Plan A (obviously) is to kill the Priest before they get the chance to play the card on turn 6, but this isn't always possible. Barring an early kill off Bloodlust, apply pressure while not over-commiting to the board until they use their Dragonfire Potion.
  • Avoid getting beat by a specific card. Conversely, set up a scenario where a specific card dominates the game.
    • Example: As Evolve Shaman against Aggro Druid, Devolve is the most important card in your entire deck. Devolving a board of Mana Treants is often game winning, while Devolving a board of cheap minions which are buffed up by Mark of the Lotus or Power of the Wild can buy you enough time to take over the late game with your superior cards. Understanding that you are the control deck in this matchup is important, but perhaps not quite as important as understanding the value of Devolve.
  • A singular concept from this article series, such as “who’s the beatdown?” or line up theory.
    • Example: In the Pirate Warrior vs Jade Druid matchup there are really no mysteries about the correct plan for either player is. Kill ‘em dead, and don’t get killed.
    • Example: As discussed in part 3, Shaman decks with double Hex and double Devolve can attempt approach threat-light decks such as Miracle Rogue from the perspective of line up theory.

Finding a winning formula takes equal parts out-of-game preparation and in-game experimentation. The winning formula might be immediately obvious from the first time you play a matchup, or it might some thought or trial and error to put together. Regardless, if we spend some time outside of the game thinking about the factors, concepts, and circumstances which contribute most to winning or losing a specific matchup, we are able to spend far less time in the middle each game worrying about concepts which might not even matter. The goal isn’t to be able to remember every single concept I’ve discussed in this series at all times, it’s to understand which factors supersede these concepts and which concepts don’t deserve to be considered at all.

Section 2 - The Read

By paying close attention to the behavioral quirks of our opponents we can occasionally catch a glimpse of their working mind. We have already trained ourselves to consider what our opponent is doing, but there is much to be learned from how our opponent goes about doing those things. By carefully watching the cards our opponents almost play and the moments they choose to pause, we can often use the information we already know about their deck to determine the exact cards in their hand.

In this section I will briefly cover a variety of situations where we can take advantage of the mistakes our opponent’s make in sequencing to gain information about the contents of their hand. This list of reads is not intended to be exhaustive. Reads are much more of an art than a skill, and this section is meant to make you aware of the kind of minutia you are free to shift your attention towards once you have hard coded the fundamentals into your play.

It bears repeating that being able to read your opponent is a completely unnecessary skill for reaching Legend. It provides you with a small advantage at best, and can even get you into trouble if it takes away focus from more important matters. With that said, once you’ve reached a point in the ladder where both players are able to maintain their focus and have a total understanding of the fundamentals, the information which can be gained from reads is a way to create separation between you and an otherwise evenly matched opponent.

Read #1 - The Awkward Pause

You should always try to formulate a complete plan before making attacks or playing cards, yet in practice this doesn’t always happen. The reason it’s important to make all of your decisions before taking any actions is because of the information you accidentally reveal when pausing in the middle of a turn.

If you start the turn with ten mana, spend six of it to play a minion, then spend the next thirty seconds paused at four mana before making your next play, this unintentionally reveals to your opponent that you had choices to make about how you will spend your final four mana. Pausing with four mana for this long implies that you had at least one cards in your hand which costs four or less. By paying close attention to the amount of mana your opponent pauses at, the cards which your opponent has already played, and what your opponent accomplished with the play they eventually ended up going with, it should often be possible to determine the exact card that your opponent was considering playing.

A particularly obvious giveaway is a long pause at 0 mana while the player has The Coin in hand. Especially if you can see your opponent hovering over the coin several times, this should be a pretty clear signal that they have a 1 drop in their hand which they are thinking about playing. The same can be said for Druids who take a long pause at 0 mana with a potential Innervate in their hand.

Players at the highest ranks aren’t stupid. If your opponent paused for a long time to eventually make what seems like a totally obvious play it probably isn’t because it took them a long time figure out something obvious. They were most likely considering multiple choices, implying there may have been another play in their hand which costs the same amount of mana and at least deserved some consideration.

Read #2 - The Unplayed Card

A card is only capable of being dragged out over the battlefield if it is able to be played. Any time a player drags a card out onto the battlefield but doesn’t play it, this guarantees that the card costs equal to or less than the amount of mana they have access to, and implies that the card was being considered as a potential play.

On turn 10 it might not reveal a lot of information to you if your opponent accidentally drags a card out onto the battlefield without playing it, but in the earlier turns and at lower amounts of mana it is often just as good as if they revealed the card to you. By taking a look at the situation and using process of elimination, it is frequently possible to deduce the exact card which your opponent elected not to play.

Even more damning than a minion or spell which goes unplayed is a targeted minion or spell which goes unplayed. An arrow appears on screen for any spell or minion which requires a target to play, and there are many circumstances where it’s trivially easy to narrow down which card the opponent was considering playing based on their deck.

Read #3 - The Hovered Card

I try not to read heavily into cards which are merely hovered over but not actually dragged out over the battlefield. It is often just as likely that they are considering playing this card on future turns as they are considering playing it now. They could have simply left their cursor over the card for no particular reason, or could be merely checking out the art. You can sometimes notice behavior which suggests that they are heavily considering a card which is being hovered over (such as when an opponent hovers back and forth between two cards), but I found that I got into trouble a little too often by reading into hovered cards and choose to ignore this read more often than I choose to consider it.

Read #4 - Cards in Hand

There is a lot information to be gained from paying close attention to how long your opponent holds onto cards in their hand, starting at the beginning of the game with the mulligan. It’s safe to assume that cards which were kept in your opponent’s opening hand but are not played in the first few turns are key cards in their deck or in the matchup. If your opponent kept a card but it still hasn’t been played by the end of the midgame, you should adjust your plans accordingly to expect a heavy hitter. You can also expect that cards which were not kept during the mulligan and remain in the opening hand for a long period of time are likely to have expensive mana costs.

The longer a card sits in a player’s hand the more information you can glean as to what it may be. There are a limited number of cards in each player’s deck which are worth holding onto for a long period of time, and as more and more situations arise where these cards could be potentially played you should be able to systematically eliminate cards from contention until you are positive as to which card they are holding.

Read #5 - The Card Off the Top

Players at rank 5 and above are likely to consider cards which they would be happy to draw the following turn, but sometimes they are a little too eager to play those cards when they are actually drawn. Cards which are drawn and immediately played are likely to be cards which your opponent was quite happy to see. By slamming down a board wipe off the top deck, your opponent signals that they likely don’t have another board wipe in hand, and that coast is clear to dump your hand into play the following turn.

Reversing the Reads

Using this knowledge to your advantage, it is sometimes possible to construct a scenario where you can send a false signal to your opponent about the content of your own hand. Though this might sound tempting, the advantages you gain by attempting to trick your opponent with intentionally misleading behavior are so small that they are rarely worth pursuing. The majority of opponent’s might not notice your misleading actions as at all, and the thinking power which is required to construct these false reads is likely better spent elsewhere.

I suggest that you use your knowledge of reads not to mislead your opponent's but to avoid giving away information. Try to always formulate your plans completely before taking any game actions so that you can avoid pauses mid-turn. This will hopefully also prevent you from dragging cards out onto the battlefield which you won’t actually play. Lastly, be aware that slamming cards down immediately after they are drawn is a signal to your opponent that you were happy to draw the card, so try to exercise some patience before playing lucky topdecks.

Conclusion

For those of you who have stuck with me through all four parts of “Legend in the Making”, it is my sincerest hope that I have imparted you everything you’ll need to reach Legend. The fundamental card gaming concepts which I discuss in this series are hardly rocket science - the true challenge of the climb to Legend is overcoming the frustrations and setbacks of the competitive Hearthstone ladder.

This too is far from an impossible obstacle to overcome, and the formula for battling adversity in a competitive environment is to embrace your mistakes and adopting the mindset of a constant learner, but you don't have to take my word for it. These are ideas from Josh Waitzkin's wonderful book The Art of Learning, which I've recommended throughout this series to anyone who is interested in the learning methodologies of a world champion competitor.

If you were able to reach Legend after reading this series, you have my sincerest congratulations. Reaching Legend is a tremendous accomplishment which you deserve to be proud of. Not many people can claim they’re in the top .25% in the world at something which millions of people of do on a daily basis, but you can!

Enjoy the climb,

Aleco

 

Part 1 - Ranks 25 to 15 - Knowing your Role and Embracing Mistakes

Part 2 - Ranks 15 to 10 - Having a Plan and Playing to Outs

Part 3 - Ranks 10 to 5 - Line Up Theory and Mulligans

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I read your guides but didn't reach Legend, so your guides must clearly be wrong!

 

Just kidding of course, thank you for the effort you put into thinking up and writing these guides, I am sure that at least some parts of it will be helpful to me (and others, ARGH!) in future games.

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Thank you for these great articles. Combined with The Art of Learning it has helped me reach new heights on the ladder. I have taken a slower approach to reach legend, setting goals for each season. 2 seasons ago it was rank 15, last season was 10. I finished last season as rank 9 and this season I'm already at 14 with a goal of 5. I am sure I will hit legend within a few months!

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Thanks for the great series of articles.

I initially went down the road of playing one deck only. I started playing a bit over a year ago; a few months before Karazhan. After watching Trump's FTP quest to legend with pirate-dragon warrior I picked that as my first attempt at Legend as it was cheap to craft. Eventually I ditched the dragons and played a more 'standard' pirate warrior (they were very rare in those pre-patches days, something like 1% of matchups - which meant your opponent never mulliganed for aggro). After a ridiculously long grind over the final weekend I scraped it to Legend on the last day. I played it pretty much exclusively until MSG, partly because I wanted to master the deck and partly because I felt I was playing it much better than anything else I played. I did start to tech the deck based on the meta I was in though. I remember playing the black knight quite a lot in a season that I was losing a lot to big Druid taunts (he wasn't bad against the popular midrange Shaman decks too). One season I almost gave up due to struggling against both secret hunter and tempo Mage that were popular; I found I was often narrowly losing out in race situations. I eventually made it after I tried sticking in two violet illusionists which helped conserve a bit of health and acted as soft taunts too (I didn't consider bash which might have been a good choice too).

I feel learning how to play one deck very well was beneficial, but I also think you benefit more in the long run from playing a variety of decks. It's much easier to find the right plays against a deck if you have previously played that deck. I think realistically for a low or moderate spending new player, you're likely stuck to one optimised high tier deck for a few seasons and I don't think that's a bad thing, but I do think you should be aiming to branch out as soon as you can after you feel like you're playing that deck very well.

Been playing midrange Murloc Paladin a bit recently btw. I absolutely hate the mirror matchup, agree with your comments about it but seems to me it's the most coin dominated matchup in the game (in that you really really don't want the coin).

Edited by Bozonik

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Thank you for the conclusion of a very fine serie of Guides. While the advice in the first three where easier to implement directly I find this last one just as full good of ideas as the others.

I normaly reach around rank 5 - 4. Basically doing what you described in your first 3 Guides. And I am battling finding time for 300 games a month.  To less time in the last part of the month frequently translates into loss streaks due to Tilt. I totally agree that the only thing that helps is a pause. But with limited time pausing awey good game time is frustrating.

And thanks for the advice of not wasting time on misleading. I do believe I once or twice have convinced a player to commit the wrong card by doing 30s hovering back and forth between 2 completely unplayable cards. But the energy used for something like that could be used better.   

.......

Now I am taking a Tilt pause after a 5 loss streak. I just checked Data Reaper. And guess what - My pirate warrior win stats have dropped considerable against more than 50% of the played decks. Murloc Paladin still looks good. I try that before anyone reads this.

best rgds

PanPan 

           

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On 9/4/2017 at 4:16 PM, PanPan said:

I normaly reach around rank 5 - 4. Basically doing what you described in your first 3 Guides. And I am battling finding time for 300 games a month.  To less time in the last part of the month frequently translates into loss streaks due to Tilt. I totally agree that the only thing that helps is a pause. But with limited time pausing awey good game time is frustrating.

I always find that, in the months where I don't have as much time to push, those loss streaks just feel so much worse. They lead to more losses, more misplays and it's just such a horrible, slippery slope. It's also so tempting to jump between decks and finding yourself losing because of the constant swapping and yeah. It's not good :p

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    • By Aleco



       
      Everything you'll need to dominate ranks 10 through 5 on the ladder.
      In part three we learn about "line up theory", the art or matching up threats and answers. We also explore the importance of mulligans and why it may not always be correct to ship away expensive cards.
      Legend in the Making: Part 3
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      The first two parts of this series taught a top-down approach for approaching decisions in Hearthstone. Mastering these broad and fundamental concepts of Hearthstone gave us the weapons to dominate any opponent attempting to fight us unarmed. Knowing your role at rank 20 is like bringing a knife to fist fight, and having a plan at rank 15 is like bringing a gun to knife fight.
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      Making Smaller Circles
      As we gain experience and internalize concepts on a deeper and deeper level, questions which were once complex and demanded a significant portion of our thinking power start to be answered instinctively. The macro becomes second nature and our minds become free to begin worrying about the micro, then the old micro becomes our new macro and the process repeats itself. This is a process called “making smaller circles” in The Art of Learning, a book which I’ve recommended ad nauseum in this series.
      To turn the macro into the micro we should endeavor to learn depth, not breadth. Our goal isn't to collect new heuristics, it's to completely master the lessons we are still learning. By seeking to understand the finest details of every concept we will eventually be able to internalize them on a subconscious level, and this is what will ultimately enable us to answer difficult questions instinctually and automatically.
      As it applies to Hearthstone, the biggest advantage which will come from making smaller circles is the amount of thinking time it will buy us. By gaining the ability to quickly evaluate something which would have once taken us a long time we free our minds to focus on something new. We get to think more, and thinking more is often thinking is smarter.
      The higher up we climb the ladder the smaller our margin for error becomes. A great way to minimize on these errors is create more time for ourselves by making smaller circles. But there is another, much more simple way to buy ourselves more thinking time.
      Slow Down!
      As the margins between defeat and victory tighten the costs of making mistakes are greatly magnified. There’s a huge difference between a mistake due to a lack of understanding a making a mistake due to a lack of focus. Mistakes made from a lack of understanding can only be corrected with time and practice, while mistakes made from a lack of focus are entirely preventable.
      A turn in Hearthstone times out after 75 seconds, and with 20 seconds left the rope will appear across the middle of the screen. There is no penalty for taking each turn to rope and there are no bonus points for playing quickly. However, there is a massive penalty for playing too fast and making mistakes as a result. The most your opponent can do to complain about how long you are taking is emote “Hello”, so what do you have to lose by taking more time?
      I can’t teach you how to be smarter or have better focus, but I certainly share with you a framework for making the most out your time each of turn. More time means more thinking, more thinking means smarter decisions, and helping you make smarter decisions is the entire goal of the “Legend in the Making” series. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you’re using time to your advantage:
      Decide what the plan is. If there is still time left in the turn before you must act (the rope hasn’t appeared yet), see if you come up with a different plan. If there is no other plan, use the rest of your time to plan out future turns and consider the outs for you and your opponent. If there is another plan, compare and contrast the advantages of both plans to decide which one is better. If there is still time left in the turn after you’ve compared the two plans, try to see if you can come up with another plan and repeat this process. There will probably be many turns where this process feels laborious and unnecessary. Your first instinct will often be the correct one and might feel as though you just wasted time and effort for no benefit. The beauty of this process is that it doesn’t truly matter if your decisions don’t change as a result of this extra time and focus, because to reflect and ask yourself questions is the fastest way to internalize the finer details of the game! This is how you make smaller circles.
      Think of the effort you’re spending now as effort you won’t need to spend again in the future if you encounter a similar situation. Taking the extra time to reflect on your decisions in the present not only decreases the likelihood that you make mistakes (which allows you to win more games), it encodes your patterns of thought into instincts which will free up additional thinking time in the future for you to do even more. This enables the cycle of learning and improvement to repeat itself. Self reflection is not only key to ensuring we don’t make mistakes, it the essence of progress and rapid improvement.
      Section 2 - Line Up Theory
      Hearthstone is a game of threats and answers, both of which can come in many forms. A threat might be a wide board of buffed-up Murlocs thanks to Murloc Warleader, and answer to this threat might be a single Dragonfire Potion. A 12/12 Edwin VanCleef is a threat which can be answered by 12 power worth of minions.
      A threat is anything a player can use to win the game if their opponent doesn't have an answer for it, and an answer is any way to remove a threat. The battle of aggro vs control is fundamentally a battle of threats against answers. It’s the aggro player’s job to present the threats their opponent is least likely to have an answer to, and it's the control player’s job to answer the threats presented by the aggro player in such a way that they will still have the ability to handle the next one.
      It is often the case that a specific answer lines up against a specific threat in such a way that one player comes out of the exchange at huge advantage. A classic example is the threat of Tirion Fordring and the answer of Polymorph. Casting Polymorph on Tirion cleanly answers his big body, his Divine Shield, and his Deathrattle trigger. Without a Polymorph, answering a Tirion might require a combination of your hero power, some spells, and minion attacks just to take down his 6/6 Taunt body, and when everything's said and done your opponent still gets a 5/3 weapon. Sounds like a disaster! Cards like Polymorph and Hex line up very well against Tirion while most other answers line up against him poorly. This is “line up theory”, a method for assigning specific answers to specific threats in an effort to create advantages and avoid disasters.
      Lining Up Decks
      We can use line up theory to help us understand the correct approach to most matchups. Through line up theory we can determine which matchups are “ask and answer”, or classic aggro vs control games where the lining up of threats and answers is determined most by the present, and we can also discover which matchups are dictated more by a deck vs deck approach to lining up threats and answers. Let’s see an example of a matchup where threats and answers are far more important than roles, and where the “plan” is to have the correct answers to line up against the correct threats.
      Giant Miracle Rogue is a deck with some very powerful threats and the ability to quickly cycle through its deck to consistently find them. It also runs a very limited number threats due to the density of its cheap spells. They typically look to set up a single turn where they clear their opponent’s board and play out a massive Edwin VanCleef and/or multiple Arcane Giants and overwhelm their opponent on tempo with the size of their creatures.
      Evolve Shaman is a deck which looks to control the board early with cost-effective creatures and board clear spells. By keeping their opponent’s board empty in the early game they seek to take over the mid to late game with a powerful Doppelgangster + Evolve play or to kill their opponent outright with Bloodlust and a wide board of minions and totems.
      It would be accurate to say that both of these decks are midrangey and have combo elements to the way they play. Depending on the way the cards line up on a game by game basis either deck could be the aggro deck or the control deck if you approach the matchup purely from the perspective of roles. However, due to the way that the threats from Miracle Rogue line up against the threats from Evolve Shaman, this matchup has the potential to be incredibly lopsided if the Evolve Shaman player understands line up theory.
      Let’s look at the threats that the Miracle Rogue is packing:
      Edwin VanCleef Sherazin, Corpse Flower Two Arcane Giants The rest of their minions in the deck aren’t there to end the game on their own but to facilitate the strategy of the deck. Though the deck could also manage to drudge up a threat with a Hallucination or Swashburglar, the likelihood that they find anything which threatens to end the game on its own from these cards is quite low.
      If we look at how the answers from Evolve Shaman up against these threats, we find that the Evolve Shaman is perfectly suited to answer these threats at a tremendous advantage. The Jade Lightnings line up well against the Gadgetzan Auctioneers, while the Lightning Storms, Maelstrom Portals, and Volcanos can easily clear up the other roleplayers. The two Hexes can handle Sherazin, Edwin, or an Arcane Giant at a mana advantage, the Devolve can handle the Edwin or Sherazin at a mana advantage, and a combination of minions and spells can add up to the 8 damage needed to finish off the final Arcane Giant.
      When you line up the two decks against each other the default strategy for the Evolve Shaman player should be clear. The Evolve Shaman just needs to be able to deploy each of their lined up answers against the Miracle Rogue’s lined up threats and they will eventually be able to run them out of gas. From the perspective of line up theory, any Shaman deck running two Hex and one Devolve should be favored against a Giant Miracle Rogue which is light on threats. Their answers are naturally advantaged against their opponent’s threats, and they will be heavily favored in any game where they can deploy these answers on time. Whenever you can identify a matchup where your threats line up favorably against your opponent’s answers or vice versa, your best bet is to approach the matchup from the perspective of line up theory and aim to win the game by abusing the natural advantages of your specific threats and answers against theirs.
      There will be the occasional game where one of the Shaman’s much needed answers is on the bottom of their deck or where the Miracle Rogue draws well and is able to play their threats too quickly, but the chances of losing a game to these circumstances are much lower than the chances of losing in a more traditional midrange vs midrange matchup. Generally speaking, decks which have more answers than their opponents have threats are favored in games which go long when playing with line up theory in mind. This implies that decks with fewer answers than their opponents have threats should try to find a way to end the game quickly before they get overwhelmed by their opponent’s threats.
      The Narrow Answer
      When lining up decks against one another you’ll often find that there are only one or two key cards in either deck which demand specific answers from their opponent. Polymorphs for a Tirion Fordring, or Volcanic Potions for a Living Mana, for example. It may not always make sense to mold your entire strategy from the perspective of line up theory, but the knowledge of how these threats and answers line up against each other still has an impact on the way you play out the game.
      When playing against an opponent who has a threat in their deck which demands a specific answer from your own, the goal is to hold onto your narrow answer for as long humanly possible. Patience is key, especially if your opponent also understands how line up theory works. Whoever bites first and plays their threat into a narrow answer or uses their narrow answer on the wrong threat will often lose as a result. Unless you’re under direct threat of dying, hold onto that narrow answer at all costs and find a different way to answer your opponent’s other threats.
      You might also find yourself in a situation where you have access to a threat which can completely take over the game if your opponent lacks the narrow answer. In an ideal world you would construct a situation where your opponent is forced to deploy their narrow answer on the wrong card, but you won’t always have this luxury. If time is not your side, it’s often correct to throw your threat out there and pray that they don’t have the answer in hand. If time is your ally, then it’s probably best to hold onto your threat until you’re sure the coast is clear.
      Section 3 - Mulligans
      Mulligans are among the most complex and important decisions in the entire game, yet they are often overlooked or taken for granted as deterministic.
      The majority of deck guides I’ve seen around the internet list cards which are considered “keeps”, but this completely fails to recognize the importance of matchups when it comes to mulligan decisions. More thorough deck guides will list the cards which are keeps in every matchup, and though this is certainly a step closer to the truth it still doesn’t tell the entire story.
      To be to fair to all the excellent deck guide writers out there, there are certain decks which will almost always want to keep certain cards. For example, I very rarely mulligan away Wild Growth while playing as Ramp Druid. It’s a card you can play early and is simultaneously critical for the deck’s gameplan, but is it always correct to keep two Wild Growths? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. There are certain matchups where double Wild Growth is the stone cold nut, but there are other matchups where it might be more important to dig for something that impacts the board.
      In this section I’ll attempt to teach you all of the different factors I’ve discovered for informing mulligan decisions. Factors can vary wildly in importance from matchup to matchup, hand to hand, and deck to deck, so the real talent to mulligans is knowing when each of these factors takes precedence over the others.
      Mana Cost
      The level zero, most basic mulligan tip that everyone learns first is to mulligan away your expensive cards so that you can find cheap ones that you can play early. It makes sense why you’d want to do this as it’s very advantageous to curve out (use all of your mana on cards which cost as much mana as you have available that turn), and you can’t exactly curve out in the first few turns if you are sitting on a hand full of expensive cards.
      You can think of all the other factors I discuss in this section as reasons not to mulligan away more expensive cards for cheaper ones. If you were to enter into a completely unknown matchup then the mana cost of your cards would almost certainly be the most important factor, but at these ranks we are never entering into an unknown matchup.
      Line Up Theory
      The time you have to mulligan is the all the time you have to determine if your current matchup is "ask and answer" or is dictated by line up theory. Before sending away a single card you should have a decent idea of whether or not line up theory is the axis by which you’ll be attacking this game, as this will completely dictate your mulligan decisions.
      It should be fairly straightforward to understand how line up theory impacts your mulligans. If you’re in the position of the player who has more answers than your opponent has threats then you can’t afford to ship a single answer from your opening hand. You have inevitability on your side if you can assemble all of your answers before they can assemble all of their threats, so you shouldn’t be too concerned if your hand appears to be slow.
      If you’re in the position of the player who has fewer threats than your opponent has answers you likely can’t afford to ship a single threat. The way you win is by playing one more threat than they have an answer for, so you’re also in the market for any cards which might force your opponent to spend one of their precious answers on the wrong target.
      The Matchup
      Some cards have the ability to completely take over a game on their own in certain matchups. If you know exactly which deck you’re up against then keeping these cards in your opening hand is always the correct decision, regardless of whether they cost 10 mana or 1. If nine of the last ten Druids you faced were playing Jade, then you stand to gain much more by holding on to Skulking Geist in your opening hand than you do by mulliganing it away. Let’s explore why.
      In this example nine of the last ten Druids we faced were Jades, which extrapolates to a 90% chance that the current Druid you are currently facing is also a Jade. If you assume that keeping the Skulking Geist drops your win percentage from 50% to 0% against all other Druids (which it doesn’t), you’re still only giving up 5% win percentage over the course of 10 games (50% or .5 divided by 10). This means that keeping the Skulking Geist would still be the smarter decision if getting to play the card increased your overall match win percentage against Jade Druid by more than 5.6% (50% or .5 divided by 9), which I’m almost certain that it does. Though it might seem greedy to keep an expensive or narrow card in your opening hand without being certain what you’re up against, the numbers show that it’s often correct to do so.
      Try to resist the urge to mulligan away an expensive card in your hand before considering the odds that it could tilt the matchup in your favor. Consider the prevalence of each deck in your opponent’s class, as well as the impact an individual card has on the overall win percentage in each matchup. It’s far too complex to calculate exact numbers, but with time and practice you can start to get a sense for when and why you should keep certain narrow or expensive cards in your opening hand.
      Conversely, there are cards which are typically strong in opening hands but must be mulliganed away based on your opponent’s class or the expected matchup. These cards might line up poorly against the enemy’s Hero Power or common class cards. For example, minions with one Health are typically miserable against Mage, and early Deathrattle cards like Kindly Grandmother with 2 power or less can get blown out by Potion of Madness. The ability to recognize when it is correct to mulligan away cards that are typically strong is just as important as the ability to recognize when it is correct keep cards that are typically weak.
      50% Theory
      It is often correct to hold onto a card which might not be ideal but is just above the cut. In what I call “50% Theory”, I always try to stop and ask myself if there is a greater than 50% chance that the card I’m thinking about mulliganing away will turn into a worse one. I often find that my first instinct is to mulligan away a less than perfect card to try and find something better, but that when I apply 50% theory I realize that my odds of improving my hand actually decrease by shipping the card away.
      Curving Out
      Another reason to keep potentially expensive cards is because your hand can naturally curve into them. For example, let’s say you’re playing a deck which typically always mulligans away 4 drops in the dark. If the other two cards in your hand are a 2 drop and a 3 drop, then it could potentially be worth keeping the 4 drop so long as it is a natural follow-up to the other two cards.
      Checking the curve of our hand can also help us catch when we might have too much of a good thing. Many cards which are typically excellent in opening hands might not pair well with the other cards in our hand, or even with a second copy of itself. N'Zoth's First Mate is typically the best card for Pirate Warrior on turn one, but the second copy should almost always be shipped away. The same can often (though not always) be said for Innervate, depending on what the final card or cards in your opener are. If you’re on Aggro Druid and your opening hand is double Innervate + Bittertide Hydra, then you have a potentially game winning play on turn one. If your hand is double Innervate + Living Mana, then you’ll want to ship both the Living Mana and one of the Innervates to try and find yourself a better curve.
      The Checklist
      To recap, here are a list of questions you should ask yourself about each hand while mulliganing:
      Based on my opponent’s class and the local metagame, which decks could my opponent be playing? Is this a line up theory matchup? Are there any narrow answers or threats in my hand? Do I have any cards which are very powerful against one of these decks? Am I increasing my overall win percentage by keeping these cards? Do I have any cards which are very weak against one of these decks? Am I decreasing my overall win percentage by keeping these cards? Does this hand curve out? Does it have a game plan? Do I have any expensive cards which I should mulligan away for something less expensive? If so, is there a greater than 50% chance that getting rid of one of these cards will yield a worse result? It’s important to note that the de facto “most important factor” of mulligans, the mana cost of the cards, is the second to last question when working down this checklist. This isn’t to say that the mana cost of the cards in your opening hand isn’t important, it's just that there are many other things you should be thinking about as well.
      Another thing of note is that I never stop to ask if I have cards in my hand which should be automatically kept. I believe that you can get yourself into trouble by thinking about cards as “automatic keeps”, and should instead start off by viewing each card through the lens of the specific matchups you’re anticipating. Granted, to this day I have still never mulliganed away the first copy of Flametongue Totem, but I’d like to think that’s because I have yet to encounter a matchup where it isn’t good in my opening hand and not because the card is an "automatic keep".
      Conclusion
      Line up theory can help us think about our boards, hands, and decks as distinct sets of limited tools. By lining up our tools against our opponent’s problems we can attempt to organize our game plan into the most effective and thorough plan possible. Some matchups are dictated entirely by line up theory, while in other matchups we can use the lessons we've learned from line up theory to gain small edges in efficiency.
      Mulligans are an often overlooked or misunderstood facet of the game, but they are sometimes the most important decision we make in the entire game. By taking the time to carefully consider all the reasons why we should or shouldn’t keep each card in our opener, we are adding one more edge to our game which will help propel us to the next stage of the ladder.
      For the fourth and final installment of Legend in the Making, I will discuss all of the subtle ways that game behavior can inform the exact content of player’s hands. By analyzing the ordering decisions and tiny mistakes our opponents make we can glean much more information about our their game plan than you might think. Please join me in part four as we make the final push towards our ultimate goal of reaching Legend.
      - Aleco
      Part 1 - Ranks 25 to 15 - Knowing your Role and Embracing Mistakes
      Part 2 - Ranks 15 to 10 - Having a Plan and Playing to Outs
      Part 4 - Ranks 5 to Legend - Tools for the Climb and the Art of the Read
    • By Aleco

      In episode two of "What's the Move?" Aleco discusses an open-ended situation which doesn't have a clear answer.
      In episode two of "What's the Move?" Aleco discusses an open-ended situation which doesn't have a clear answer.
      We kicked off this new series by analyzing a tricky situation which had only one optimal line of play. In episode two we'll take a look at a very different kind of situation, one where there might not be a perfect move at all.
      Please let us know in the comments what you would have done in this situation! One of the primary goals of this series is to foster improvement at Hearthstone by generating discussions. We would also love to hear your feedback on the video itself, as the series is still very new and has plenty room to improve on its format.
      - Aleco
    • By Stan

      In the latest Hearthstone update, Blizzard made adjustments to several cards. The patch is now live now on desktop and it should become available on mobile devices in the coming hours.
      Philosophy and reasons behind these changes can be found here.
      Blizzard (Source)
      Card Changes
      Innervate now reads: Gain 1 Mana Crystal this turn only. (Down from 2)
      Fiery War Axe now costs 3 mana.  (Up from 2)
      Hex now costs 4 mana. (Up from 3)
      Murloc Warleader now reads: Your other Murlocs have +2 Attack. (Down from +2 Attack, +1 Health)
      Spreading Plague now costs 6 mana. (Up from 5) 
    • By Zadina

      A new Brawl has landed in the Tavern.
      Just like with the previous expansions, it's time to try out the deck recipes of Knights of the Frozen Throne in this week's Tavern Brawl. The archetypes for each deck recipe are the following:
      Druid: I guess the best name for this deck is Midrange Druid. It has Ultimate Infestation and Spreading Plague, so... PROFIT?! Deathrattle Hunter Elemental Mage Divine Shield Paladin Control Priest (you've probably seen variations of it in ladder) Jade Deathrattle Rogue Freeze Shaman Zoolock Control Warrior with Enrage minions This is a good opportunity to try out cards that you don't own. Good luck and have fun!
    • By Zadina

      The balance patch is arriving in the beginning of the next week.
      The wait is over! The anticipated card balance changes will arrive on September 18th and hopefully freshen up the meta a little bit. As the case always is with balance patches, for the next two weeks if you disenchant Spreading Plague and/or Murloc Warleader, you will get their full value in Arcane Dust.
      Daxxarri
      In the recent Upcoming Balance Changes – Update 9.1 blog, we discussed the details and philosophy behind balance updates that are coming to several Hearthstone cards:
       
      Innervate - Now reads: Gain 1 Mana Crystal this turn only. (Down from 2) Fiery War Axe - Now costs 3 mana. (Up from 2) Hex - Now costs 4 mana. (Up from 3) Murloc Warleader - Now reads: Your other Murlocs have +2 Attack. (Down from +2 Attack, +1 Health) Spreading Plague - Now costs 6 mana. (Up from 5)
      This patch is currently targeted for September 18th PDT. Please note that updates for mobile devices may take a few additional hours to propagate.

      Once these card changes are live, players will be able to disenchant cards that are not Basic (Murloc Warleader and Spreading Plague) for their full Arcane Dust value for two weeks. Basic cards cannot be disenchanted and will not be available for an Arcane Dust refund. (source)