The Casual Competitor #6

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Habits for Casual Competitors

by Bryan “Kraska” Castro

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

Introduction

Recently, I’ve been trying to develop some new habits to improve my life. Admittedly, many of these things are fairly mundane such as flossing daily or 10 minutes of reading something educational or motivational daily. The interesting thing, though, is that over time, these habits have an extraordinary effect on us. Similarly, the difference between good Hearthstone players and average Hearthstone players comes down to small things done consistently. For example, missing lethal every once in awhile may not make a big dent in your ranking. However, over hundreds of games in a season, this can mean the difference between someone who can’t get past rank 5 and someone who consistently hits Legend rank. With this in mind, this edition of the Casual Competitor will discuss some habits you can develop to both improve your game and your enjoyment of Hearthstone. Some of these habits are similar to the thought process and mindset discussion in Legend of the Innkeeper Episode 53: The Legendary Mindset.

Habit #1: Take Your Time

When I watch professional players like Trump or Lifecoach, I’m always impressed by how much time they take to plan out their moves, often finishing their turn seconds before the rope expires. Some people criticize this, particularly in the early turns of the game. However, these players aren’t just sitting there trying to play psychological games with their opponents, they are planning out their future moves and considering several potential lines of play. 70 seconds (the current amount of time for each turn) really isn’t a lot of time, and the time you take early in the game can help you further down the road on more complex turns.

Take your time and use it plan ahead!

Habit #2: Always Check for Lethal

How many times have you played your turn and your friend chimes in: “Dude, you missed lethal”? After thinking to myself, “Dude, you should have told me 30 seconds ago,” I then realize if I had looked to see if I had lethal, I may have caught it. The fact is that sometimes we get so caught up in what we think we’re supposed to do, we forget that this game ends when someone’s life total gets to 0! I remember when I once played someone in a friendly game of chess and my opponent was bragging about all of the various strategic plans he had in mind and finally played a subtle, strategically rich, quiet move while I smiled as he missed the simple checkmate that was available.

So each turn, look at your opponent’s health and then count the damage you have on board as well as any direct damage (e.g. Fireball) or attack buffs (e.g. Defender of Argus or Abusive Sergeant). Also, don’t forget about that Ironbeak Owl you may have in your hand that may change the equation! Doing puzzles like the one at the end of this article is a good way to sharpen your “lethal” eye.

Always check for lethal, you might have it!

Habit #3: Remember It’s a Two Player Game

I think it’s very easy in Hearthstone to get immersed in what we are going to do on our turn that we forget that our opponent gets to play next! Considering what your opponent may do in response to our turn is very important as we consider what to play.

In her book, The Sweetest Thing: A Boxing Memoir, Mischa Merz talks about a lesson she learned from women’s boxing legend Lucia Rijker. Rijker – one of the most dominating female boxers ever – discusses 3 levels of engagement with her opponent. In the first, the boxer considers her own plans only. In the second, the boxer only considers her opponent’s threats without pursuing her own goals. In the third and highest level, the boxer works to both promote her plans and deal with her opponent’s threats. In Hearthstone, as in boxing, we want to play at the third level!

This can be daunting if you’ve never done this before, but here are three areas to consider about your opponent’s potential responses and threats:

  • Potential board clears: Know your opponent’s potential board clear spells and mana casts. for example, Holy Nova and Flamestrike.
  • Board state and potential trades: It may not be a good idea to play that Piloted Shredder onto a board where you can’t clear your opponent’s Bloodfen Raptor. Consider the potential results from trades on the board you are playing into.
  • Combos: Know your opponent’s potential combos, their mana cost and their damage. For examples, Druids have Force of Nature and Savage Roar at 9 mana for 14 damage and Mages have double Fireball and Frostbolt at 10 mana for 15 damage. Play (and tap for you Warlocks) accordingly.

Play at Level 3, and win more consistently against players who aren’t.

Habit #4: Be Familiar with the Meta

Good players know what decks are popular and strong currently. This involves a few things:

  • Knowing in general what cards are played in these decks. This is particularly important the higher you rise up the ranks, but with sites like Hearthpwn.com and Tempostorm.com, it is important (and easy) to see what’s in the hot decks. This complements Habit #2 as you will have more of a sense whether Druids are running two copies of their combo and whether or not Flamestrike is currently being run in Tempo Mage around your rank.
  • Understanding the match-up between your deck and the most frequent decks you are facing. For example, although Handlock is perhaps my favorite deck to play, if I’m seeing Face Hunter 25% of the time, I might not want to play it at the moment. Similarly, if I’m playing a Paladin deck and start running into a lot of Warriors, it might be time to switch back to Handlock.
  • Adjusting your deck to tech against specific meta match-ups. When you see a lot of Warriors and Paladins on the ladder, you may want to include a copy of Harrison Jones or Acidic Swamp Ooze. Or if you see a lot of Tempo or Freeze Mages, Kezan Mystic becomes a great option to consider. Great players make small adjustments in their list to counter the meta they are experiencing.

As mentioned above, being familiar with the meta is fairly easy. Look up Tempo Storm’s excellent Meta Snapshot and familiarize yourself with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks (and the other ones as well if you have time). Also, tracking your games with a program like Hearthstone Deck Tracker will help you see which decks you are facing most often and your success against them. Set your tracker to see your last 24 hours of games and adjust for the most frequent match-ups. Some players use a spreadsheet or pad of paper to do the same thing. Whatever tool you use, tracking your games and your opponent’s decks is a great to get in tune with the meta.

The meta flows like a river, make sure you are flowing downstream with it, not against it!

Habit #5: Accept Your Losses, but Learn from Them

Playing on the Ranked ladder is more like a marathon and less like a sprint. And if you’re average player, you’re going to lose along the way. With this habit, we learn to accept our losses as part of the process. Even the hottest decks played by the best players is going to lose three or four times out of ten.

If you watch professional Hearthstone players when they stream, you will notice that after a loss, they usually don’t show much of a reaction – unless they lose to an incredible stroke of bad RNG (or you are watching Reynad). The reason for this is that they know that losses are inevitable when you are climbing the ladder. Besides playing against other good players, you will sometimes have bad beats when your opponent’s Ragnaros will miss all six of your minions to hit you in the face, or you won’t draw that Antique Healbot despite the fact there are only two cards left in the deck!

You don’t have to accept these losses passively though. See if there is any way you could have avoided what happened or what you might have played differently that would have led to a more favorable line of play. When listening to Hearthcoach – an excellent instructional podcast – coach FRID will often comment about turns they could have played differently. Good players try to learn from their mistakes.

You will lose at Hearthstone, but each loss can be a lesson.

Habit #6: Learn From Others

This habit and the next have to do with reaching out and exploring the Hearthstone community. There are a multitude of resources to improve your Hearthstone skills and knowledge. I’ve mentioned a few in this article already, and if you are reading this you are probably familiar with my favorite podcast (although I may be a little biased). Take advantage of the information that is there and learn from others.

Recently, I was looking up some videos of Patron Warrior games as I was learning the deck (both to play it and to play against it). I found an interesting series where Trump invited another professional player to coach him in playing Patron Warrior. After watching this series, Trump became quite skilled with this deck, much more skilled than he would have been had he learned it on his own – although admittedly, he probably would have gotten quite goon in any case.

Learning from others accelerates the learning process because you can skip much of the trial and error that they went through to learn specific things. For example, when I decided to learn Patron Warrior, I watched videos like Trump’s, but I also had one of my friends who plays the deck regularly to spectate my games and coach me. Not surprisingly, my win rate with warrior increased noticeably.

Fortunately, there are many ways to learn from others. Besides Hearthstone streamers, you have videos on Youtube as well as many websites like this one. Also, as you make friends (which I encourage you to do), you will find they will be able to help you whether you are playtesting specific decks or to help coach you as I mentioned above. Finally, I can’t fail to repeat that podcasts like Legend of the Innkeeper are there to provide helpful information so that you can improve your game.

Man is not an island, seek the knowledge of those who have walked the paths you wish to walk.

Conclusion

Getting good at Hearthstone is easy if you look at it through the lens of developing better habits. When you play, you may do many good things a majority of the time. Getting better involves doing those things and perhaps a few others just a little more often! Until next time, good luck and have fun!

Your Turn

Suggestions

  1. Don’t try to implement every single habit overnight. I tried to list them in a logical order, but you can really pick any one and focus on incorporating it into your thought process for a few days or a week before trying another one.
  2. Some of these habits may seem REALLY obvious to you: “Really, Kraska? Learn from others?” The truth is that none of these habits should be earth shatteringly profound – but how consistent are you with practicing these habits?
  3. Some of these habits take a little more work than others. Reading Tempo Storm’s Meta Report can be daunting, particularly if you are a casual player. So break it up! Just study the Tier 1 decks as those will be the most popular and the ones you are likely to see most frequently.
  4. This list was not meant to be exhaustive. If you have other habits that serve to better you, use them! Also, share them in the comments below.

Solution to Hearthstone Puzzle #5

Hearthstone Puzzle #5

In this particular puzzle, the solution is not all that difficult. The idea is that many times if you are not always checking for lethal, you might end up trading down your board in this particular position.

  1. All minions attack face.
  2. Attack the opposing hero with your weapon.
  3. Attack the opposing hero with your hero power.
  4. Cast Kill Command.
  5. Cast Unleash the Hounds, which will summon one hound for the victory!

Sometimes, the only tricky part is realizing you have lethal!

Hearthstone Puzzle #6

Find the Lethal Solution! Check back next week to see if you got the correct solution.

HS Puzzle #7

 

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About Author

Kraska is a businessman and family man who loves strategy games. When he's not working or playing Hearthstone, he enjoys martial arts and spending time with his family.

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