What this guide is: Help to those that find themselves capping out at 3 or sub 3 wins often by drafting and playing consistently and avoiding common Arena mistakes.
While you can succeed and do well with any class, certain classes are more suited to the tempo style of play than others. In general, any class whose hero power can affect the state of the board has a small advantage over the class that doesn’t.
Top Tempo Classes
Mage – Mage has incredibly powerful class cards and arguably the best hero power for Arena as it will often allow their minions to trade up very efficiently. Arguably the best overall Arena class.
Paladin – Very strong class cards and a consistently good hero power that can be spammed for board presence. In Arena Paladins are very straightforward and fairly easy to play making them an ideal class for newer players.
Rogue – Rogue has the best single target early game removal spells which often allows them to grab control of the board early and never let go. However, they have a somewhat inconsistent/non-spammable hero power and the class overall can have a more complicated decision making process during play, making them not always the best class for a newer player in Arena.
Good Tempo Classes
Druid – Druid is a good “middle-of-the-road” class. Strong class cards, fairly straightforward much like Paladin.
Shaman – Shaman is a bit like Rogue. Good early removal, but you have to learn to play around/with the Overload mechanic. The Shaman hero power is fairly inconsistent as well.
Not Bad, Just Different
Hunter – While not a particularly amazing Tempo class, when a Hunter gets ahead early they will often win the game solely due to the grinding strength of their hero power in the late game. Going to the face and forcing your opponent to clear the board is pretty common for Hunters. Hunter is a class that requires some finesse in decision making as they’ll often be trying to set up for lethal a few turns in advance and isn’t necessarily the best class for beginners.
Warlock – The Warlock hero power is great for card advantage, which can translate into board control in the late game if they remain competitive in the early game. The Warlock class cards are a mixed bag in Arena, some are strong while others have very severe drawbacks.
Priest – The Priest class actually has some great class cards for Arena, but they are down here for a reason. Some of their key removal spells are conditional and have a blind-spot to minions with 4 attack(spoiler alert: many desirable minions have 4 attack), and effective use of their hero power requires board control.
Warrior – The Warrior class is one of the more draft-dependent classes when it comes to building a tempo-style deck. You need weapons as they will oftentimes be your only reliable form of removal. Warrior Arena decks that don’t draw their weapons early or curve out their opener are in for a very rough game as their hero power will be no help whatsoever as they fall further and further behind.
Drafting for Tempo and Consistency
When drafting a deck we’re primarily concerned with Value and Tempo. The goal of a tempo deck is to get solid minions out on every turn, achieving victory by maintaining control of the board and eventually having minions stick to the board for more than a turn or two allowing them to get extra value by going to the face.
- 1 mana minions in most cases are bad, but there will be times when they are the best thing offered. Zombie Chow however is great(particularly when played on turn 1) and Worgen Infiltrator is decent. Some 1 mana class minions are also very good.
- 2 mana minions are your early game bread and butter. You want somewhere between ~6-10 possible turn 1-2 plays, depending on class. Not having the ability to put a minion down on turn 2 can be disastrous for any class. The more 2 drops you have, the greater likelihood you have of gaining board control early by having them in your starting hand and snowballing that advantage to victory.
- The 3/2 vs. the 2/3: What set of base stats is superior? – There’s no perfect answer to this. In the early game the 3/2 has more upside with its potential to trade up whilst the 2/3 can be a safer choice against certain classes. If you absolutely have to pick Bloodfen vs. River Croc in a vacuum, mind that 3 damage is generally more valuable later in the game than 3 health. In most drafts you’ll usually end up with a mix of both without much choice in the matter.
- 3 mana minions aren’t quite as important due to the fall-off in minion quality. The most desirable 2-drops will trade with most 3-drops. Neutrals Spider Tank, Ogre Brute, Harvest Golem, Scarlet Crusader and a bunch of class 3s are the exceptions, but even they won’t be able to trade up with most 4-drops(unlike the 3/2 2-drop’s ability to trade with a lot of 3-drops). I’d take Faerie Dragon or maybe even Bloodfen Raptor over the “average” 3/3 3-drops most of the time. The important thing to remember is this: you can play a 2 mana minion on turn 3 and it will almost be as effective as most 3 drops, but you can’t play a 3 mana minion on turn 2. The 4/5 Yeti doesn’t see any difference between an Ironfur Grizzly and a Bloodfen Raptor.
- 4 mana minions are your mid-game power spike. There is a massive jump in the quality of minions when moving from 3 to 4 mana and being able to get one out on turn 4 or coining into one on turn 3 is a big deal in Arena. Having around 6 4-drops is great and ensures that you should be able to get one out on turn 4.
- 5 mana minions are in a bit of an odd spot much like 3 mana minions. Expansions have given the 5-spot some strength, but with the increasing size of the card pool you won’t be seeing Pit Fighter in every draft. Many 4-drops have the ability to trade evenly with 5-drops. Like 3-drops, pick them up when they’re the best thing offered… but don’t reach far for them thinking “I don’t have enough 5-drops” unless you’re very light on late game 6+ drops.
- 6+ mana minions are the big finishers. You ideally want around 2-4 big bodies if you can get them, which can be difficult as they make up a very small % of the neutral common card pool. Having the ability to drop something big on curve is great and can win the game outright if your opponent can’t deal with immediately. A 4 drop on turn 5 is fine as most 4s are only slightly worse than most 5s, but something like Boulderfist/Stormwind Champ/Captured Jormungar/anything big and fat on turns 6-7 is really good. If you have ~3, you shouldget one by turn 8 or so as you’ll have drawn more than a third of your deck by that time. But you don’t want too many, or you’ll have too great a chance to mulligan into a bunch of unplayable cards.
When drafting always take the best value picks for the first half of the draft while the second half should be used to make sure you are solid on 2s, 4s, and big stuff. 2s > 4s > 5-6+. However, do not sacrifice too much in the way of value for your mana curve. If you’re lacking 4 drops that doesn’t mean you should take Oasis Snapjaw over Boulderfist Ogre, or Kobold Geomancer over a Yeti if you’re lacking 2s.
General Drafting Tips
For the 2nd half of the draft when your deck is really starting to firm up the inherent value of certain cards will change. Say it’s pick 23 and you’re offered a choice between Dark Iron, Yeti, and Sen’jin. If your early game is really solid(lots of 2 drop 3/2s for example) Dark Iron’s value skyrockets because it will allow your 2 drops to trade up with your opponents 4 drop. If your early game is really weak at this point, Sen’jin is the probably the best choice to give you a shot at stabilizing the board and preventing a lot of face damage. If you’re feeling ambivalent you can never go wrong with the value Yeti. This kind of thinking also applies to AoE board clears: If you have a solid early-mid game, AoE board clears become MUCH less effective as you’ll be controlling the board with your minions in most games. Single target spells/strong minions can trump Flamestrike/Consecration in these scenarios(but having one big AoE is never a bad idea).
Also when drafting mind that you can have too much of a good thing. Removal is great. Spells and weapons are great. But just like with alcohol, you want them in moderation. 5 backstabs may seem like a great idea, but really you don’t want to have more than 3. Although this doesn’t apply to certain cards, like Fireball/Swipe. Get a bunch of them if you can. But remember in the vast majority of drafts minions will win you the game. Most Arena games are a battle for board control that you start to win when you can get a minion to “stick” to the board for more than a turn or two.
Card draw is good, card draw is great, but it comes at a steep price in cost/tempo. You’re not playing Miracle Rogue, you don’t want to cycle your entire deck over two turns. If you have 2-3 minions/spells that will draw for you, that’s pretty solid for a tempo deck. Azure Drake is amazing, Loot Hoarder and Gnomish Inventor are decent. Cult Master can be good, whereas Acolyte of Pain(for most classes) is oftentimes a 3 mana Shiv that your opponent gets to target for you.
Another thing to mind: Bad spells are worse than bad minions. Paladin has a lot of very bad spells and secrets for example. Many buff spells are also not really that great. Take Druid’s Mark of the Wild for instance: it looks good on paper, but a 3/2 2 drop is better most of the time. Generally, spells that only go face(Sinister Strike, etc) are very low value in Arena and while they may win you the occasional game you’re generally better off with something else.
Cards that require other cards in order to achieve value are sub-standard in Arena. Even if you draft cards that have great synergy there’s no guarantee you’ll draw them at the same time. Ancient Watcher has huge stats for 2-mana and maybe you’ve already got a silence and a taunt-giver… but cards that give consistent value and can stand on their own two feet are generally always higher value for Arena decks.
You will have less-than-ideal drafts. You will probably have them more frequently than you’d like. Some drafts you just won’t be offered 2 drops. Some drafts will force you to pick between Grimscale Oracle – Magma Rager – Mogu’shan Warden far too often. You gotta roll with the punches as bad luck tends to average out. Do the best you can with what you’re offered. Don’t think of a bad draft as a death sentence, think of it as a challenge.
Playing for Tempo and Consistency
Mulligan and the Early Game
The Mulligan phase is very, very important for tempo play. If you’re going first, you need a 1 or a 2 mana minion in your hand. I will mulligan everything 3 or more mana for a 2 drop if I’m going first. Never keep anything over 2 mana if you’re going first unless you know you have very few 2 drops aand want to hang on to that Spider Tank to give you a shot at stabilizing on turn 3. 2 2-mana minions or a 2-drop and a 3-drop is what you’re aiming for. This is known as “curving out” your hand for the early game as your goal is to drop your minions on curve. If you’re going second, you have a little more leeway in the mulligan. You might keep a strong 3 drop like Spider Tank or Harvest Golem, or even a 4 drop like Yeti/Dark Iron if you’ve already got a couple of 2s in hand.
On that note: Plan Ahead. Particularly with the Coin. Coining out a 2 drop on turn 1 can be a terrible play if you’ve got a boatload of 4 drops in hand and lack a follow up play on turns 2-3. It can be better to pass turn 1 and temporarily cede turn 2 tempo and come back with strong plays on turns 3(Coin) and 4. Playing 2nd in Hearthstone is the equivalent to playing Black in Chess, and the Coin will often be your means to swing the tempo in your favor.
General Arena Strategy
When playing, play for Tempo. Keep your enemy’s board clear. Save your removal unless you’ve got more in hand. In most drafts you’re going to have a lot more minions than removal spells, so your minions are your removal in those situations. Your trades should be determined by whats in your hand. If you’ve got 1 fireball and a bunch of minions, clear board by trading what you have on the board and put more minions down. Let’s say you’ve got a Bloodfen Raptor and a Wrath in your starting hand as Druid. You pass turn 1, your opponent coins out a River Croc. On your turn, 95% of the time the correct play is to put your Raptor on the board, even if it just dies to the Croc. Save the Wrath, unless you know you drafted too many spells(and have 4 more Wraths in your deck) and not enough minions(but this is very unlikely). Trump once vocalized it far better than I can: After not using Swipe and Wrath to clear his opponent’s board(used his minions to trade and then put a couple more down) his twitch chat exploded “Y U NO USE SWIPE?!11”. Trump calmly explained:
“If I used Swipe, then I wouldn’t have it in my hand anymore.”
Should I just go face? There are situations where going face is better than clearing. But it will always be a risk if you’re leaving his minions on the board. If you drop a 3/2 on turn 2 on an empty board and your opponent responds with a 2/3, it’s generally best to smack the face and force him to trade the 2/3 for your minion on turn 3(unless the 2/3 is Amani). If he goes face with the 2/3… well, you’re gonna win that race. However this can backfire really badly for you if he drops a Shattered Sun Cleric buffing his 2/3 to 3/4, but it’s generally an acceptable risk. If going face isn’t setting yourself up for lethal next turn, just remember this:
- By clearing the board YOU get to choose the trades and get the best value possible out of your trades, and it allows you play around any possible AoE(maybe by sacrificing X minion to keep Y minion at more than 2 HP vs. Paladin, etc.) that may be coming out. By going face and letting your opponent clear, you’re giving that ability to him.
Certain ‘card draw’ cards are great to be played on curve. Loot Hoarder for instance is a really annoying 2 drop if your opponent can’t hero power it away or eat it with a 2/3(even if it gets pinged it’s still a tempo loss for them and card neutral for yourself). Gnomish Inventor on turn 4 is not great… you’re much better off playing a fat 4-drop like Yeti or Sen’jin if you’ve got it. More general guidelines: Playing a minion is far better than playing Arcane Intellect on pre-turn 7 as Mage, same for Druid’s Nourish. Those turns are far too important for establishing board control to be worrying about the size of your hand so save the “dedicated” draw cards for late game if possible when you need to refresh your hand. Playing Northshire Cleric on an empty board turn 1 can also be a really bad idea. Instead, wait to play Northshire on a turn where you have a damaged minion on the field to heal.
Sometimes you have to make inefficient plays when you’re behind on board and in a bad spot. That could mean dropping a Shattered Sun Cleric/Dark Iron Dwarf on an empty board, or using Pyroblast on a minion. Doingsomething is almost always better than doing nothingwhen you’re behind.
Play around certain spells and cards. Don’t drop 2 3/2s on the board turn 4 against a Paladin. Don’t flood the board on turn 7 against Mage with stuff that has less than 4 HP. But don’t be TOO cautious. Don’t bother playing around cards that are rare/epic. Your opponent probably doesn’t have them. But if you’re ahead, there’s no reason to overextend on the board toomuch. If you’ve got a Sen’jin, a Spectral Knight, and a Sunwalker on the board do youreally need to use your Paladin hero power to bump yourself into MC Tech range, which could be the only way your opponent could turn the game around?
Minion placement is another thing to mind when playing against Hunters and Rogues in particular and it’s an easy thing to overlook. Never place a your “strong” minion between two smaller minions against those classes, unless it’s a Spectral Knight or Faerie Dragon. Explosive Shot is a top rare for Hunters, and Betrayal(while not a ‘top’ card) is pretty common for Rogues to have.
Know your deck. Screenshot it and keep the image up while you’re playing. If you start an Arena run and then leave it for a few days spend a few minutes re-familiarizing yourself with the deck when you come back. Ask yourself questions and figure out your deck’s identity. How hard are you going to mulligan for 2s? If you fall behind early do you have cards that can potentially flip the board later in the game? All this knowledge can assist you in your decision making process during the mulligan and during your turn.
When your turn rolls around think about all possible plays for at least 10-20 seconds. Slow down. Do math. Are you sure you have enough mana for that play? Ask yourself: “Do I have lethal?” “By making this play am I screwing myself if I my opponent has X(basic/common) card?” “Can I clear the board?” “Can I set myself up for lethal next turn?” “What’s the most efficient way to clear?” Take your time and squelch your opponent.
Always try to consider your next turn during your current turn. If you’re sitting on turn 9 and you’ve got Chillwind Yeti-Amani Berserker-Spiteful Smith in hand you may be tempted to drop the Yeti and the Smith… but then what are you going to do on turn 10 if you draw a bad card? It could be better to hang onto one of them and play one along with the Berserker and then get some value out of your hero power.
Keep Calm and use the Left Side of your Brain
Don’t get discouraged when you lose. You can draft an amazing deck and play well and still get donkey punched by RNG. Maybe you won’t see a card below 4 mana until turn 5, maybe your opponent top decks the perfect answer every turn, maybe that Priest Thoughtsteals his only out from your deck. Godly decks can go 2-3 or worse to simple bad luck, and average decks can go the distance with a little good luck and great play. If you get angry after a particularly bad loss I would recommend taking a break for a while until you calm down and can think about the game you just lost without getting angry. When you play angry, you tend to play fast. When you play fast, you make mistakes. Going 3-0, losing one bad one and then self-destructing into 3-3 is no fun for anyone.
Tips Against Specific Classes
Playing a tempo-oriented deck is fairly straightforward and how you play shouldn’t change too much depending on the class you’re facing. Your goal is to put down minions on curve through the early-mid game, make good trades and use your removal if necessary to retain board control. But there are a few things to keep in mind and watch out for against certain classes.
Mage – Flamestrike is a 7 mana spell that does 4 damage to all your minions and is arguably the most powerful card in Arena which luckily for every non-Mage isn’t as common as it used to be. But you still need to play around it. Also, mind that while Mage’s hero power can give great value it’s very anti-tempo to use it before turns 5-6. Don’t be afraid to play minions like Loot Hoarder, Scarlet Crusader, Argent Horserider as they can be irresistible pinging targets allowing you to drop your minions on curve while preventing the Mage from doing so. If that Mage pings on turn 3 he’s got 1 mana left and probably isn’t putting anything on the board. Also, use this.
Paladin – Keep the board clear. I don’t care if it’s just a 1/1, keep the board clear. With TGT Paladin is arguably the strongest Arena class as they are the most difficult class to control if they manage to get the tempo advantage early. Be aware that Paladin is one of the classes that can potentially punish the 3/2 2-drop(Noble Sacrifice, Shielded Minibot) making the 2/3 2-drop superior if you have both in hand. Also, this again.
Rogue – Rogue is another class where the 2/3 is superior to the 3/2 due to cards like Backstab, Coin+SI:7 and Goblin Auto-Barber. Play around Betrayal with minion placement. There’s no easy answer against Rogue… if they draw the right cards early you have no chance of winning tempo early on, you just have to try to turn it around in the mid/late game with smart play. Leaving minions on Rogue’s board if they’re holding 3+ cards in the late game can be very dangerous as they are very capable of bursting you down(Cold Blood, Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil) if your HP is 1/2 or lower.
Druid – Druid is generally a straightforward match-up unless they pull out some crazy Innervate shenanigans in the early game. Play around Swipe if possible when trading in the mid game. Try to hold on to an answer for Ironbark Protector in the late game.
Shaman – Another relatively straightforward match-up. Keeping minions on the the board against Shaman can be difficult as they have strong early removal. You may also be tempted to ignore totems in the mid-late game but be wary of the surprise Bloodlust. Shaman’s AoE board clears are rare/epic, so don’t worry about them too much.
Hunter – Tempo, tempo, tempo. Vomit your cards all over the board to keep him from smacking you in the face with his minions. Hunter can be somewhat all-or-nothing, if you keep control of the board by hitting your drops on curve you have a good shot if your HP is in good shape after the mid-game. If you can’t clear everything on the Hunter’s board try to at least clear out the Beasts, and mind your minion placement. And keep this handy once again.
Priest – Straightforward matchup. Prevent them from utilizing their hero power effectively by keeping the tempo advantage and keeping their board clear because once they get on the board it can be very difficult to get them off. Be very aware of the priest’s hand throughout the game, has he been holding on to one card all game? If he has, it’s likely Mind Control and you should try to avoid playing a large minion(Ironbark, a giant, Force Tank) that could potentially swing the game in your opponent’s favor if he grabs it from you.
Warlock – Try to out tempo them early and hit them in the face if possible to prevent them from tapping in the late game. Your own HP is not as important as the Warlock’s HP, consider that every time the Warlock loses 2 HP it’s potentially 1 less card he can draw in the late game. If you can establish solid board control in the mid-game it doesn’t matter how many cards Warlock has in hand later. If Warlock reaches late game with their HP in good shape with a competitive board state they will have a good shot at grinding out a win via card advantage.
Warrior – Warrior is a pure tempo class, so if you out-tempo them you probably win. If Warrior misses a drop on curve he has the most difficult time of any class coming back from a lost board particularly if he doesn’t get his weapons. Be wary of high-win Warrior decks as they will likely be an absolute tempo monster(singular as there’s probably just the one out there at any given time).
“I read this and watched some Arena streamers but I still went 1-3. What am I doing wrong?”
- You will always learn the most from making mistakes and losing games and figuring out why you lost. You have to play to improve. If you can, record your gameplay and watch your games. Many Arena games are lost due to an accumulation of small mistakes(inefficient trades, not accounting for X, etc.) instead of one huge misplay.
“How is XXX, the most recent Hearthstone card expansion going to change the Arena meta?”
- Card expansions dilute the card pool, making it much harder to build one of the “Godly” decks of old. For every card they add that’s good for Arena they’ll probably add four that are average or just bad. This can potentially slow the game down as people won’t have multiple copies of huge game-swinging cards like Flamestrike/Truesilver/etc in their decks anymore. Decks that would once be considered “Average” will become “Good”. I believe it’s currently unknown if Blizzard will ever take older expansion sets out of the Arena card pool to limit this effect somewhat, I guess we’ll see.
“I usually only get 3 wins in Arena, should I stop playing Arena and just buy packs with gold instead?”
- You only need to average 3.5 wins for Arena to be “gold neutral” for you, meaning you put in 150 and you’re getting back 1 pack + ~50 gold per run. Keep playing, watch the occasional stream or two and you’ll probably get better. If you enjoy playing Arena, keep at it and it’ll pay off.