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Why Am I losing In Hearthstone?

Last updated on Feb 02, 2018 at 20:58 by Aleco 101 comments

Table of Contents

There will come a time in nearly every player's Hearthstone career where they begin to question the true reasons as to why they are losing. Is it me? It it luck? Is it game balance? In this article, we hope to convince you that the answer to these questions is almost always "me!", despite the many frustrating experiences which can arise in a card game related to luck and game balance.

The contents of this article apply equally to Constructed and Arena games.

1. Luck

To put it bluntly, luck probably plays a much smaller role in Hearthstone than you think. Especially in the earlier ranks on the ladder, the vast majority of your defeats will be the result of imperfect decision making, whether that be in the construction of your deck or the actual plays you make in game. There is ample evidence to support this claim, but it is enough to observe that some players (such as Hearthstone streamers or professional players) have a win rate of over 70% over the course of thousands of games. Players of a certain skill level are able to reach Legend rank every single month without fail, which would be a nearly impossible feat if luck were the prevailing factor in their games. This holds true in Arena, where decks are constructed pseudo-randomly each time, and where it is obviously not the case that these players are abusing specific combination of overpowered cards.

If luck was the biggest factor that affects the outcome of Hearthstone games, we should expect top Hearthstone pros to have win rates much closer to 50%. However, there are numerous players who are able to sustain winrates well over 60% and 70% on the ladder. It is important to realize that a winrate this high is not only completely unsustainable in a world where luck was the dominant factor, but that even the top pros lose 40% to 30% of their games, often times due to inferior luck.

While it is true that luck ends up deciding the outcome of many games, many unlucky draw are merely putting an end to a game which had been won or lost many turns before.

For example, imagine that you are playing a Rogue deck and that you used your Assassinate on turn 5 against a minion which is not deeply threatening, such as a Chillwind Yeti. 4 turns later, your opponent plays The Lich King and you still have not drawn your second Assassinate. Two more turns go by where you don't draw your second Assassinate, then you lose the game to the Death Knight cards drawn from the The Lich King. Were you unlucky because you did not draw your second Assassinate? In a way, yes. But you did not lose this game because you were unlucky. As there was an alternate set of choices you could have made earlier in the game which would have changed the outcome of it, the deciding factor in this game was your decision making.

Given the immense depth of Hearthstone, it is actually far more likely that you make multiple mistakes in every game. It is also possible to make mistakes in deck building (even if you copied the deck from a successful player, there is a good chance it is not adapted for your ladder environment). If you are unaware of these mistakes, then it is perfectly natural to assume that the card you didn't draw at the end of the game was the deciding factor in your match. The card that wasn't drawn is easy to identify and stands out among a sea of data points. However, if you know what to look for, it is quite easy to see that alternate decisions could have won you these "unlucky" games with the same amount of luck.

Falling back on the excuse that you are unlucky might be comforting, but it will never help you improve as a player. The fastest way to improve at Hearthstone is to accept that you are playing less than perfectly, identify the mistakes you are making, and find ways to never repeat them again. The best way to identify your mistakes? Replays!

2. Replays and Deck Trackers

Though Hearthstone doesn't have an in-client replay feature, it is very easy (and extremely beneficial) to install a Hearthstone deck tracker to record your games. There are several deck trackers you can choose from, but I prefer HS Deck Tracker.

The majority of competitive Hearthstone players use a deck tracker whenever they play on the ladder. The obvious benefit of a deck tracker is that it allows you to see which cards remain in your deck, but the criminally underused feature of deck trackers which newer players should focus on is the replays they can provide you. Players who are looking to rapidly improve at Hearthstone should watch replays of every single one their ladder games, especially their losses. With the ability to look back on the decisions you made each, you may be surprised at how many mistakes you make each game. The ultimate goal when watching your replays is to identify the mistakes you make so that you can seek to avoid these same mistakes in future games.

If you'd like to learn more about how to effectively use replays as a tool to improve at Hearthstone, read part one of "Legend in the Making".

3. Mana Curve (Mitigating the Effect of Bad Draws)

There are few worse feelings in Hearthstone than being stuck with a hand of expensive, unplayable cards in the early game. This is a very common occurrence for new players, who may also attribute their poor draws with bad luck. It usually goes something like this:

  1. You build a deck that includes all the cards you think are good.
  2. You start a game and you have one "very good" card in your starting hand, so you keep it and replace the others.
  3. Then, for the first 5 turns of the game, all the cards in your hand have such high costs (5+ mana) that you are not able to play any of them.
  4. By the time turn 5 comes around and you can start playing your cards, your opponent has taken complete control of the board and there is nothing you do can turn the game around.

If this scenario (or some variation of it) feels familiar, then you're in luck! There is likely an easy solution to your problem, as there's a very good chance that you are aware of something called a "mana curve".

Is a Lord of the Arena better than a Worgen Infiltrator? Is a Core Hound better than an Amani Berserker? Well, the Lord of the Arena and the Core Hound are certainly much stronger than the other two cards are once they are on the board, but good Hearthstone players will almost always prefer to put Worgen Infiltrator and Amani Berserker in their decks. Why? Because they can be played early in the game, where they can impact the game and force your opponent into awkward situations.

The outcome of the first 4 turns of a Hearthstone game quite often has a massive impact on the outcome of the game itself. This means that your deck should be constructed in such a way that you will always have cards to play in the early game, as well as the late game. Of course, the cards you end up drawing (in your starting hand and afterwards) are random, and you usually have to include some high-costing cards in your deck as well (or else you have nothing to stand up to your opponent's late-game minions), but you must have enough low-costing cards in your deck to ensure that there is a good chance you will have survive to the late game.

There are no hard and fast rules about how many cards of a certain cost you should have (since this depends on a lot of factors, most importantly on the theme of your deck), but you generally want at least a third of your cards to be minions that are playable before or on turn 4. In practice, this means you will have close to 50% of your deck as cards that cost 4 or less, since not all such cards can or should be played early on in the game (for example, cards like Polymorph or Naturalize do not really count, since you will be saving them until your opponent plays a worthy threat, which will often be long after turn 4 has passed).

This distribution of cards in your deck by their mana cost is what a "mana curve" is, and it is something you must always keep in mind whenever you are building a deck. You will find that once you place enough low-costing minions (and offensive spells) in your deck, your draws will be much better, and the times when you are unable to play anything for several turns will come up very rarely.

It is important to note that having a mana curve skewed towards low-costing minions is more applicable in Arena than in Constructed. This is because in Constructed, you will sometimes be playing decks that rely on some very specific combo or strategy, which may do well even if they forsake the early game altogether, while in Arena it is practically impossible to build combo decks.

3.1. Your Opponent's Draws

Obviously, your own deck's mana curve has no effect on your opponent's draws. There is no way for you to control what cards your opponents draw, or to know exactly what cards they have in their deck or in their hand. However, with practice and attention, you can often deduce these cards to further minimize the effects of randomness on the game.

You should always be making use of inductive reasoning to consider the most likely (and the most devastating) plays that your opponent could make. Whenever you are deciding on which card to play for a given situation, you should concern yourself not only with what your opponent has on the board, but also with what they might have in their hand.

It is a good idea to always consider what the most dangerous spell your opponent could have in their hand is any moment. If you play your Ysera against a Shaman that had not used a single Hex up to that point (especially if you had played no worthy Hex targets this game), then do not be at all surprised if your Ysera is instantly Hexed. This is not at all a matter of you having been unlucky that your opponent had Hex - it was a completely predictable and avoidable scenario.

If you are aware of the fact that your opponent could have a Flamestrike on turn 7, then you might realize its a good idea to not play additional minions to the board which could be gobbled up by it. If you could see the spell coming several turns away but overextended into it all the same, then it is unfair to say you were unlucky that your opponent had the spell. You had the ability to play around it but did not, which makes overextending into Flamestrike an avoidable mistake.

For any given situation, you need to try to envision the strongest possible answer your opponent might have, and see if it is possible to play around this answer. Often your assumptions will be wrong, but that is fine, because the few times when your assumptions are right will more than make up for it. If you train yourself to think in this way for every decision you make, eventually the cards your opponent is holding will begin to matter less and less. Since you are playing around the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenarios will not be nearly as much of a threat.

4. The Metagame

Nothing happens in a vacuum in Constructed games of Hearthstone. A card like The Black Knight, for example, can be terrible or excellent depending on the likelihood that your opponents will play powerful Taunt minions.

Netdecking (the practice of using a deck that you found listed on the Internet) is very common (we have many decks for you to use here on Icy Veins, for example), but it does not often lead to success unless you really understand how the deck you are using fits into the current ladder environment.

For example, you might be playing an aggro deck, which attempts to swarm the opponent quickly with many cheap minions. In theory, such a deck will probably work and yield a good amount of wins. However, if there a many aggro decks running around on the ladder in the days or weeks leading up to your games, it is very likely that two things will have happened:

  • Players who are not playing aggro decks will have adjusted their decks to better handle them (such as including cards that allow them to clear the board).
  • Players who are playing aggro decks will have stopped playing them due to the fact that other players' decks are now much better at stopping them.

When this happens, your deck that should normally have a pretty good success rate will come up against many decks tailored specifically to stop it.

You have the choice of sticking it out with your current deck, but the chances of you sustaining a win rate higher than 50% will be smaller if you do so. Alternatively, you could change to a deck that you believe will best handle the decks you are most frequently encountering.

Metagaming (constantly molding your deck to do well against the current metagame, or even entirely switching altogether to a different successful deck) is practically required for less experienced players to climb the ladder.

If you lose one game to a very fast aggro deck, you can just shrug it off. But if 7 out of your last 10 games were against similar variations of the same deck, you may want to consider changing your deck.

5. Where to Start Improving

So, where do you start? The first place to start is to try to change your perspective of how strategy in Hearthstone works. You need to abandon the notion of it being a luck-based game, and accept that for the most part, your defeats are the result of your own decisions.

After you have done this, you can start to be much more critical when evaluating your decisions. Did you make the best play for a certain turn? And if so, was that also the best play for the game as a whole? This is a long process that might take you many months to master, but you'll emerge a much better with a greater appreciation for the game's amazing strategic depth.

6. ChangeLog

+ show all entries - show only 10 entries
  • 02 Feb. 2018: Updated by Aleco for 2018
  • 22 Nov. 2016: Updated a line talking about the likelihood of Druids playing Ironbark Protector, since this card is not commonly played in competitive decks anymore.
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