Elements of Strategy – First Things First (Part 2 of 2)
by Bryan “Kraska” Castro
Elements of Strategy is a series of articles that will focus on teaching fundamental strategic concepts to casual players wishing to improve.
Greetings, Friends! In Part 1 of this article, we discussed Win Conditions and how they affect your card choices when you build your deck. In this installment, we will talk about how understanding your Win Conditions and that of your opponent will affect your decisions during gameplay.
Who’s the Aggressor?
Perhaps the most important consideration is who is the aggressor in the match-up. The Win Conditions for your deck take some time to realize. After the first few moves, you may be able to quickly tell what your opponent’s Win Conditions are. In general, if your Win Conditions are based on long term value – e.g. Control – or based on setting up combinations that take several cards, then you often may be playing the role of the defender. Likewise, if your Win Conditions are based on early game aggression, then you will often take the role of the aggressor. However, the distinctions can be blurred depending on the specific match-up, especially when decks with similar Win Conditions meet.
Consider the following position. What type of deck my opponent is playing? If you know that, what are his Win Conditions (or at least his general plan)? Finally, who has the role of the aggressor here, me or my opponent? With those answers, what is my general game plan? Try to ponder these momentarily before reading on.
We can see that my opponent is playing either a Handlock deck or the more recently popular (as of this writing in Season 15) Dragonlock. In this specific game, it is more likely that it is Handlock because he tapped on turns 2 and 3, while sometimes Dragonlock will play a Blackwing Technician on turn 3. Knowing this, we know his general Win Conditions based on experience against these types of decks: From turn 4 onward, drop big threats such as Mountain Giants and Molten Giants and then taunt up and heal, eventually overwhelming those who cannot deal with the threats or kill you before you heal.
In this game, I am playing the Combo Warrior aka Grim Patron Warrior. Although this is not a “fast” deck, I take the role of the aggressor, meaning that it is my job to move quickly and accomplish my goals before my opponent can stabilize the situation. Specifically in my case that means I have to take every opportunity to draw cards and obtain what I need to for my game winning combinations: In this case Warsong Commander, Grim Patron, and Frothing Berserker along with cards to activate them. In the meantime, I also have to do enough damage to his hero in order to get in range of lethal damage from my big “combo turn.”
In general, when you are the aggressor, you should more often attack your opponent’s hero and let him deal with trying to trade your minions. Similarly, when you are the defender, you should more often try to trade your opponent’s minions (efficiently when possible) to remove their attacking threats. Of course, do not follow these rules of thumb blindly. Always consider the specifics of your situation before following any line of play.
Going Against Your Instincts
Sometimes, by knowing your opponent’s intentions and general strategy through understanding his Win Conditions, we need to make decisions that seem to counter our own Win Conditions. Hearthstone is an interactive game, so we cannot just blindly follow our own plans. We must also consider our opponent’s when we make moves.
With that in mind, consider the following situation. Here I am playing an aggressive Paladin deck against what appears to be a midrange Druid, although during the game I could not determine what type I was facing. It is Turn 6, and I have a few strategic options at my disposal. My general Win Condition is to overwhelm my opponent with my small minions until I can get close enough for a final burst with an Argent Commander perhaps buffed by Blessing of Might or an Abusive Sergeant. My opponent wants to hold off my aggression and peck away at my life total until he can get within range to use his Force of Nature and Savage Roar combination.
What to do? Should I aggressively attack my opponent’s face with my minions and try to race him before he has enough mana to pull off his combo? Or should I try to control the board by clearing his minions and maintain strong board presence? If you play Druid or have experience playing against Druids, what other factors do you need to consider to make this decision?
The main thing I feared here after seeing the Azure Drake come down last turn was a board clearing Swipe. If I followed my own plans without considering my opponent’s options I would drop the Argent Commander to use up all 6 mana – playing it “on curve” – and then going face with all 3 minions for 8 damage. However, because of the +1 spell power that Azure drake gives, my opponent could simply pop the Divine Shields on my minions by running the Drake into my Shielded Mini-Bot and the Protector of the Grove into my Argent Commander and clear the board with a Swipe to the face. This would leave me with no minions on the board and him with a 4/2 Drake.
With this in mind, I ran my Argent Commander into the Azure Drake, killing it, and then ran the Mini-Bot with the Divine Shield into the Protector. This left me with two 2/2 mini-bots and a 4/2 Commander and my opponent with an empty board. Now, if he wanted to use Swipe, the best would be to kill the Argent Commander, which would only do 1 damage to my hero and leave two 2/1 mini-bots. Quite a difference of results.
So once you’ve figured out what your opponent is trying to do in general and on each turn, you can more accurately assess what you should do. Should you follow your own plan or try to disrupt your opponent’s plans? The best turns occur when you can do both at the same time. However, understanding your opponent’s Win Condition (and some experience and practice) can help you judge which path to take.
Identifying Key Cards
In each deck you play or play against, there are certain cards you need to be prepared to deal with. Identifying your opponent’s Win Conditions and understanding the key cards will help you to do that. Playing the key cards in your decks properly is equally important.
Consider this situation:
In this position, I had just played a Sorceror’s Apprentice with the purpose of triggering my opponent’s Mirror Entity secret. With 6 mana to use, I could have deployed the Azure Drake, but I knew that my opponent was playing a Tempo Mage deck that was similar to the one I was playing here. The point is that the deck’s Win Condition tries to gain tempo (or time) to stay a step or more ahead of its opponent. It does this by playing cards like Sorcerer’s Apprentice that allow you to cast spells more cheaply – accelerating your play. The set of secrets also align with the deck’s win condition because they either gain tempo – Mirror Entity – or takes tempo away from its opponent – Counterspell.
Knowing this, I knew that the secret was most likely either Mirror Entity or Counterspell (as opposed to Ice Barrier or Ice Block that is often run in Freeze Mage decks). Playing Azure Drake and giving my opponent one also wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would take two minions to remove it (including my important Apprentice) and would leave me with a lone Azure Drake as opposed to two Sorceror’s Apprentices and some damage to my opponent’s hero. Knowing my opponent’s key cards – in this case his secrets – based on understanding how his deck works allowed me to play more optimally, even if on the surface I did not play efficiently as I did not use up all of my mana.
Here are some examples of key cards in some popular decks. When you see these cards hit the board, pay attention and be prepared to deal with them quickly! When you are the player with these cards, try to play them in combination with cards that synergize with it on the same turn – plan head to make this happen.
- Warsong Commander in Combo Warrior decks. Unfortunately, if you see this card around turn 8 or later, you may already be trouble. However, should you survive that turn, you should eliminate it immediately.
- Mechwarper in Mech Mage and Mech Shaman decks. This card is incredible at accelerating the deployment of your mechs. If you leave it on the board for more than a turn, you may find yourself facing three of four mechs on turn 3 or 4.
- Knife Juggler in all Hunter decks, most Paladin decks, and Zoo Warlock decks. These classes have specific spells that help Knife Juggler get incredible value. Remove this minion as soon as possible.
As you can see from the examples above, understanding your and your opponent’s Win Conditions can help you make better decisions during your games. There are many more types of decisions that are affected by Win Conditions than I presented today. However, these examples should help open your mind to the possibilities as well as encourage you to think more about Win Conditions when you are playing. Your efforts to incorporate the concepts discussed here will pay dividends for both your win rate as well as your enjoyment of the game.
Here are some suggestions and questions to help you apply what we talked about.
- When you are faced with a decision to either trade minions or attack your opponent’s hero, consider who is has the role of the aggressor.
- Learn the key cards of the most common decks you play against. You can do this by reading deck guides on some of the popular Hearthstone site such as Hearthpwn.com or by watching pro streamers who play some of the meta’s most popular decks.
- When faced with a deck that you are not familiar with, try to figure based on what is played what his Win Condition could be and play accordingly.
- Do you consider your opponent’s possible responses to your play?
- Learn the most common board clearing spells for each class – e.g. Flamestrike for Mages or Consecration for Paladins. Learn their mana cost and always be careful the turn before the earliest turn these spells can be played.
Last Week’s Puzzle Solution
This was last week’s puzzle. Thank you for all of your responses on LegendoftheInnkeeper.com as well as on reddit.com. Find the lethal solution:
Our main obstacle here is our opponent’s Sludge Belcher. Also, the order of play is important as well. Here is the solution:
- Play the Ancient Watcher.
- Cast Shadowflame on the Ancient Watcher.
- Kill the Sludge Belcher with either the Ironbeak Owl or the Defender of Argus.
- Kill the resulting Ooze with the remaining Ironbeak Owl or Defender of Argus.
- Hit the opponent’s hero with the 8-attack Dr. Boom.
- Cast Hellfire for the win! Technically, you can cast Hellfire before you attack the hero with Dr. Boom, but I like to practice casting it after I’ve attacked with all of my minions.
Hearthstone Puzzle #2
Did you get the solution for Puzzle #1? Try out this week’s puzzle! In the following position, try to find the lethal solution that wins the game! I’ll give you the solution next week. Until then, good luck and have fun!