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Why Am I losing In Hearthstone?

Last updated on Nov 22, 2016 at 17:04 by Vlad 101 comments

Table of Contents

If you have been playing Hearthstone for any length of time, you will inevitably have lost games. The purpose of this article is to help you understand why you are losing games, and what you can do to rectify the situation. We will also dispel the myth (common among inexperienced card game players) that luck is the most important factor that affects the outcome of Hearthstone games.

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

1. Luck

The first topic we chose to discuss is luck, and how it influences the outcome of your games. We chose to start with this topic not because it is the most important factor, but because it is often the most apparent factor, especially to new players. When we say "luck", we mean the occurrence of beneficial or detrimental events, which is out of your own control.

To put it bluntly, luck actually plays a much smaller role than you think. Most of your defeats will be the result of poor decisions, either when building your deck, or when playing it. There is ample evidence to support this claim, but it is enough to observe that some players (famous Hearthstone streamers, or other top players) have a win rate of over 70% over the course of hundreds or thousands of games. This holds true even in Arena, where decks are built randomly each time, so it is obviously not the case that these players are using some specific combination of overpowered cards.

If luck was the major factor that affects the outcome of Hearthstone games, we should expect players' win rates to stabilize around 50%, with no players managing to sustain a win rate of 75%.

While it is true that sometimes luck ends up deciding the outcome of a game, the truth is that most times a lucky or unlucky draw just puts an end to a game that had been won or lost many turns before.

For example, imagine that you are playing a Rogue and that you use your Assassinate on turn 5, against a minion that is not very threatening, but still quite strong (perhaps an Azure Drake). 5 turns later, your opponent plays Ragnaros the Firelord and you have not drawn your second Assassinate. Two more turns go by during which your second Assassinate is still not drawn, and then you lose. Were you unlucky because you did not draw your second Assassinate? Certainly, a lot of players would look at it this way. In fact, however, the reason you did not have an answer to Ragnaros is because you had used your first Assassinate sub-optimally. The fact that this poor decision had been made many turns earlier means that you will most likely have forgotten about it, and you will just focus on the appearance of being unlucky.

Now imagine that you did not just make one poor decision in your game. You probably made 5 or more in building your deck (even if you copied the deck from a successful player, there is a good chance it is not adapted for your environment), and another 5 minor mistakes throughout the course of the game. All this adds up and ends up costing you the game. If you know what to look for, it is easy to realise what your mistakes were. However, if you do not know what to look for, you may well believe you did nothing wrong at all, and that you just lost to the opponent's very good draw.

You have to be very analytical in looking at your own moves if you want to truly understand where you are losing your games. Falling back on the excuse that you are unlucky might be comforting, but it will never help you improve as a player.

In the previous example, if you had not drawn a single Assassinate before Ragnaros came on the board, then it is true that your draws that game would have been unfortunate. This, and many other situations where you are really, truly unlucky do exist, but these types of situations affect all players in equal measure, so there is nothing to be gained by worrying too much about them. The sooner you learn to take it in your stride and look for other areas of your gameplay that you could improve, the sooner you will become a better player.

Hopefully we have managed to make you think less about the effects of luck and "RNG" on your matches. Now we can start to look at what the actual causes for your defeats are.

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

You have probably gone through a great many games at the end of which you were teeming with frustration because "you had no cards to play". This is a very common occurrence for new players, who also often think that it is due to them being unlucky. 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 nothing you do can turn the game around.

If this scenario (or some variation of it) seems familiar, then you can rejoice, because there is an easy fix to your problem. Your mistake is that you are looking at the value of cards incorrectly.

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, but good Hearthstone players will almost always prefer to have the Worgen Infiltrator and the Amani Berserker in their decks. Why? Quite simply, because they can be played early on in the game, during the first few turns, and because these minions are very good for their cost.

You see, the outcome of the first 4 turns of a Hearthstone game usually has a massive impact of the outcome of the game itself. This means that your deck should be constructed in such a way that you will always have one or more good cards to play during the starting turns. Of course, the cards you end up drawing (in your starting hand and afterwards) are random, and you usually have to include at least some high-costing cards in your deck (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 some of them in your hand during the early 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 called "mana curve", 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 happen very rarely.

Do note that having a mana curve that is skewed towards low-costing minions is more generally 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.

2.1. Your Opponent's Draws

Obviously, your own deck's mana curve has no effect on the deck of your opponent. There is no way for you to control what cards they draw, or to know what cards they have in their deck or in their hand. But this does not mean that everything is random.

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.

For example, you should always play your minions under the assumption that your opponent has their most dangerous spells in their hand. If you play your Ragnaros the Firelord against a Shaman that had not used a single Hex spell in the entire game up to that point (especially if no worthy Hex targets had been previously presented), then do not be at all surprised if your Ragnaros 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.

You should not play more minions than you absolutely need to when your Mage opponent has the 7 mana needed to cast Flamestrike (alternatively, you could bait your opponent into using their board-clearing spell on minions that appear menacing, while the truly menacing minions are still in your hand). You should try to avoid having two important minions on the board against a Hunter when they have the 4 mana needed to cast Multi-Shot.

Another example would be not to use your Big Game Hunter on turn 7, against a Druid, without making use of its Battlecry (since they have an extremely strong minion in Ironbark Protector, which can be played on turn 8). If you are playing against decks with many Legendary cards (essentially any deck at higher ranks), this is even more true since you will probably have to face one or more very impactful, high-attack minions such as Ragnaros the Firelord. If you play your Big Game Hunter randomly (or prematurely, for a moderate threat), and are then surprised by a strong minion you cannot remove, it is not your opponent who was lucky.

For every given situation, you need to try to envision the strongest possible answer your opponent might have, and to play around this answer. Of course, you need to do so within reason, since there is nothing to be gained from always assuming your opponent might be able to play a very powerful Legendary card (unless you know that said Legendary card is a popular choice for that type of deck). Before you play a minion, you should ask yourself "what is the worst thing the opponent can do to this minion next turn?". If you are deciding not to play any minion on a clear board, ask yourself what minion your opponent might play, and see if it is possible for you to handle that minion without having a minion of your own already on the board, and so on.

Many times, 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 in every decision you make, eventually the cards your opponent is holding will cease to matter, since you are playing around the worst-case scenario, so the better-case scenarios will not really be a threat. Of course, we do not claim that you can always employ this type of strategy. Often, you will be forced to play a single card (even if you suspect or even know that your opponent will counter it), and in these cases there is nothing you can do, but this is the nature of Hearthstone, and you must simply accept it.

3. Poor Gameplay Decisions

Making poor gameplay decisions is almost certainly the leading cause for losing games for every player. Hearthstone, even though it appears to be a very simple game, actually has remarkable depth as far as strategy is concerned.

Even seemingly very easy situations (few or no minions on the board, and not many cards in your hand) often have several possible solutions, some of which are better than others. Often, the correct solution might be to actually do nothing, for instance. Naturally, this applies even more to complex board situations, where the maximum turn timer will often prove insufficient to consider all the alternatives.

Top Hearthstone players reliably and frequently make the best possible decision for each turn. Even these players sometimes make mistakes (in this context, that means a sub-optimal play), but this does not happen often. Conversely, less experienced players will sometimes make the best decision, but the difference in skill is accounted for by how often players make the best possible decisions. The more complex the situation is, the more likely an inexperienced player is to make a sub-optimal decision.

A common mistake that new players make, as soon as they have become somewhat familiar with the game, is to believe that they can quickly and easily identify the best play for every turn. This is a mistake for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, because in doing so you risk overlooking various obscure minion interactions, such as the potential to buff your opponent's minions.
  2. Secondly, because (especially in Constructed), the game is not so much about making the correct play for every specific turn, as it is about making the correct play for the game as a whole.

Regarding point 2, we would like to clarify further. Hearthstone games are often all about resource management, and they turn out to be battles of attrition. In Constructed, you will usually have a good idea of what minions your opponent has in their deck, and of what the best use of your cards is as far as those minions are concerned. This means that often, you will have to make a sub-optimal play for one or more turns, just so you can conserve some of your cards for a future situation where they will be truly needed.

For example, if you are a Paladin playing against a Druid, and you have one Equality left in your deck, you can be fairly certain that you will need it to handle an exceptionally big minion, such as an Ancient of War, an Ironbark Protector, or Ysera. This means that you will need to hold on to that Equality even if doing so means making sub-optimal plays on several turns, such as using your minions wastefully to kill a full-health Druid of the Claw that would otherwise easily have been dealt with by Equality.

Making such decisions is extremely difficult, as they require a lot of experience with the game, with your opponent's deck, as well as with your own deck. New players cannot be expected to make such decisions, but this does not mean that you should not try to keep the bigger picture in mind at all times.

Whenever a game ends, whether it be in success or in defeat, you should try to look back and analyse your decisions to see exactly what the essential moments of the game were.

4. The Meta-Game

In Constructed games of Hearthstone, nothing happens in a vacuum. A card like The Black Knight, for example, can be terrible or excellent depending on the likelihood that your opponent 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 environment.

For example, you might be using a rush deck, relying on swarming your opponent quickly with many cheap minions. In theory, such a deck will probably work and yield a good amount of wins. However, if many such decks had been played 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 rush decks will have adjusted their decks to better handle rush decks (such as including cards that allow them to clear the board).
  • Players who are playing rush decks will have stopped playing them due to the fact that other players' decks are now much better at stopping rush decks.

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 of 50% or higher will be small. Alternatively, you can change to a deck that you believe will best handle the decks you are most frequently encountering.

Meta-gaming (constantly moulding your deck to do well against the current meta-game, or even entirely switching altogether to a different successful or "overpowered" deck) is practically required if you want to climb up the Constructed ladder.

So, if you lose one game to a very fast rush deck, you can just shrug it off. But if 7 out of your last 10 games were against similar variations of the same rush deck, you may want to consider changing your deck (by including an Abomination, or a second copy of your mid-game board-clear, and so on).

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 poor decisions.

Once you do this, you can be much more critical in 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 get through, but not only will it make you a better player, it will also enhance the enjoyment you derive from the game, and increase your appreciation of its strategic depth.

6. ChangeLog

+ show all entries - show only 10 entries
  • 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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