What is Tempo in Hearthstone?

Last updated on Aug 26, 2015 at 23:54 by Sottle 11 comments

Table of Contents

Tempo can be a confusing concept to new, and even some intermediate Hearthstone players. It is a word that is used in a variety of different contexts and they are all slightly different, yet interconnected meanings. Therefore, the goal of this article will be to explain its usage in all of the common scenarios.


Understanding Tempo

We will be looking at what Tempo is in general terms, as well as covering some advanced concepts, and explaining why Tempo is good for your gameplan. We will also look specifically at Tempo decks, and what they have to do to earn that title.


General Definition

Tempo, unlike other concepts like Value, or Card Advantage, is not readily apparent at a glance at the situation. It is easy to see if a card has got good value if it has traded for 2 cards from your opponent, and it is simple to see who has Card Advantage at any time. Tempo is a much more complex proposition.

The best way to understand Tempo is to look at it in relation to your Mana. Tempo is basically a measurement of the speed of your progression through the game, and the main limiting factor to your speed is your Mana restrictions on each turn.

Imagine when you have played a Core Hound onto the board, you have invested 7 units of Tempo (its Mana cost) in order to play it. If you are playing against a Mage, they can Fireball your Core Hound for 4 units of Tempo, and they have gained 3 units of Tempo overall that they can use to develop another card onto the board, putting them ahead. This is one of the big reasons why sticky, hard to remove minions with high health or Deathrattles are preferred, even in Tempo decks, since easy to remove minions are bad for Tempo.


In-Depth Concepts

If you commonly watch Hearthstone streams, you have probably heard a streamer say something like "How do I get the Tempo here?", or "should I go for value or Tempo?". This is using Tempo as a measurement of who is ahead in a game, and has a lot to do with culminations of the interactions explained in the General Tempo section, but can also come down to specific deck types and strategies. Many decks aim to be behind on Tempo deliberately in a lot of matchups.

Essentially, the player that has Tempo is the player that is asking the questions, and the player that is behind on Tempo is the one that needs to have the answers. So if you are the player dropping minions, asking the question "do you have removal spells?" to your opponent, you have Tempo.

This is where Tempo and Value start to separate heavily. For example, cards like Flamestrike or Consecration are excellent cards for value, since they will often kill 3 or more of your opponent's minions. However, they are usually very poor cards for Tempo, since casting them will usually take up most of your turn, allowing your opponent to simply refill their board with minions the following turn, asking a new set of questions, and maintaining Tempo.

One of the classic dilemmas of Tempo vs Value is your opponent playing a 2/1 minion on turn 1. Imagine you are a Mage, you have 2 Mana, and you have a Snowchugger in your hand. The value play is to simply use your Hero Power to ping off your opponent's 2/1; you have now killed a card for free, gaining card advantage. However, your opponent then gets to play the first minion again, asking you another question. If you simply play the 2/3 Snowchugger, you instead ask a question of your opponent, as they need to find an answer to your superior minion, or let you gain an advantage. This is attempting to seize the Tempo.

Certain cards are fantastic at doing this, and are generally known as Tempo cards, or simply Fast cards. Generally, these are cards that do something immediately when they come into play. For example, lets evaluate the card SI:7 Agent, using the Mana as Tempo units system explained earlier. On turn 2, your opponent has played a Knife Juggler, you respond by using The Coin to play SI:7 Agent, killing their Knife Juggler, they then play a 3 Mana minion with 3 Health and your SI:7 Agent trades for it on the board. Most players can easily identify that this is a good situation because your card has picked up a 2-for-1 on their's. However, perhaps more importantly, your 3 Mana SI:7 Agent has traded for 5 Mana of their cards, reversing the position of the game from them playing the first minion to you being the one with first play on an empty board. This is the power of Tempo.


Tempo Decks

The third and least significant usage of the word Tempo is simply using it to describe a type of deck. For example, you will find guides on our site for decks such as Tempo Mage. Tempo Mage is a deck that uses the two above explanations of Tempo to its advantage, by using cards like Sorcerer's Apprentice to reduce the cost of Spells, gaining Tempo. Flamewaker increases the Tempo of many Spells by having them have an effect on the board, while minions like Piloted Shredder are great for Tempo since they usually trade for more than 4 Mana worth of cards from your opponent. In essence a Tempo deck is a deck that is trying to be proactive, plays more minions than removal, and is concerned with the board state first and foremost.

These decks differ from Aggro decks, since Aggro decks are simply concerned with damage, and not particularly interested with Tempo for more than the first few turns. Typically, an Aggro deck will have Tempo for the first few turns, but towards the end of the game, the opposing deck will have Tempo and the Aggro deck will simply need to find the direct damage to finish them before they can capitalise on their advantage.


Using Tempo to Your Advantage

So now you are armed with this knowledge, how do you use it to your advantage? The most important thing to take from this article is the distinction between playing for Value, and playing for Tempo, and how one is often right, and one is often wrong. Identifying which is which in every situation you encounter, however, is far more tricky. If your opponent seems to be playing for Tempo, then seizing that Tempo back from them is usually what you want to be doing. However, if you specifically have a low-Tempo deck that aims to play from behind for large portions of the game, like Control Warrior, or Freeze Mage, then you can almost ignore Tempo entirely for many turns. This distinction is a high level concept, and perfecting it will come with time, but understanding exactly what Tempo is and why it is good is an important first step.

The most common mistake that new players make that costs them games, is consistently using removal against more aggressive decks than theirs, and never taking the opportunity to develop their board. At some point in time, you need to try and take the board with a superior minion, to gain the Tempo and force your opponent onto the back foot. Without doing this, your opponent simply has a sense of inevitability where they can keep developing their own board freely, and you will never put them under any pressure in order to win the game yourself. The exception to this rule, is the type of deck that purely plays for survival, and has unstoppable late-game win conditions, which as mentioned earlier can almost entirely igonore the concept of Tempo.