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.
What this guide is not: How to go 12-0 with a crazy Aggro Warlock or a Mage deck with 3 Antonidas and 10 Arcane Missiles. Amazing decks while very epic and frequent r/Hearthstone submission fodder occur rarely.
Drafting for Tempo and Consistency
Certain classes are more suited to the tempo style of play than others. You can’t go wrong with Mage, Rogue, Druid, Shaman and Paladin as their hero powers all have the ability to affect the state of the board and they all have very strong class cards for Arena. Hunter and Warlock lend themselves to more a aggressive style of play. Warlocks are oftentimes better off drafting for a very low curve to best abuse their hero power(just like Zoo in constructed). Hunters are excellent at putting their opponents on the clock due to their hero power(use it as much as possible post turn 4). Warrior and Priest can be very draft-dependent, and their hero powers are probably the weakest for Arena. Warrior needs weapons, and Priests absolutely need to have the ability to get control of the board in order to use their hero power effectively. You can certainly do well with Warrior/Priest, but in my experience they are less consistent than the others.
When drafting 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 class minions are also very good.
- Get playable 2 mana minions, preferably 3/2s. You want somewhere between ~6-10 possible turn 1-turn 2 plays, depending on class. Priest would be on the high end because they can’t just hero power on turn 2. Paladin/Shaman could be comfortable with the low end(key word in this sentence is “could” not “will”). 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.
- 3 mana minions aren’t really that great because the most desirable 2 drops will be able to trade evenly with them, with the exception of class specific minions and the neutrals Harvest Golem and Scarlet Crusader. Shattered Sun Cleric is great… so long as your 2 mana minions are solid because Shattered really, really needs to be played on curve with a minion on the board to get value out of her(Ideally use her on a 2/3 like Amani/River Croc, buffing a 2 drop to 4 HP is much better than buffing a minion to 3 HP due to the amount of removal spells that do 3 damage/prevalence of 3/2 2 drops). I’d take a Faerie Dragon or maybe even Bloodfen Raptor over Shattered Sun Cleric if it was later in the draft and I hadn’t gotten a lot of 2s yet. 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 mana spot is the next most important spot to be drafting for. 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. 6ish 4 drops are good. Yetis, Senjins, Dark Irons, Spellbreaker, Cult Master(particularly when you have a solid early game) and Gnomish Inventor are all really good. Stormwind Knight, Snapjaw, Ogre Magi not so much, but the only really bad 4 drop is Mogu’shan most of the time.
- Anything 5+ is a separate group. You want at least 6 playable 5+ mana big minions(2-3 6+, but more than 3 is questionable), but having more than 8 is questionable. Why 6-8? Probability. If you go first, you will draw at least 9 cards by turn 6. Having the ability to drop something big on turn 5-6. A 4 drop on turn 5 is fine as most 4s are roughly equal to most 5s, but something like Boulderfist/Archmage/Sunwalker/Argent Commander/something big and fat on turns 6-7 is really good. You don’t want too many, or you’ll have too great a chance to mulligan into a bunch of unplayable cards. If you have about 6, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get one of them by that time, and should not get too many.
When you’re drafting, take the best value pick for the first half of the draft, then the second half should be used to make sure you are solid on 2s, 4s, and big stuff. 2s > 4s > 5+. 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, mind that 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 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, or even 2. 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, your unsexy 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.
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 90% 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.
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 decent 2 drops. Some drafts will force you to pick between Grimscale Oracle – Magma Rager – Mogu’shan Warden far too often. Roll with it. 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. 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 3 mana if you’re going first unless you know you have very few 2 drops. 2 2-mana minions or a 2 and a 3 is what you’re aiming for. If you’re going second, you have a little more leeway in the mulligan. You might keep a strong 3 drop like a Harvest Golem or Scarlet Crusader, or even a 4 drop like Yeti/Dark Iron if you’ve already got a good curve in hand.
On that note: Plan Ahead. Particularly with 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.
When playing, play for Tempo. Clear the board. 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.”
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. Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing when you’re behind.
Play around certain spells. 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 too much. If you’ve got a Sen’jin, a Spectral Knight, and a Sunwalker on the board do you really 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. Never place a your “strong” minion between two smaller minions against those classes, unless it’s a Spectral Knight. Explosive Shot is a top rare for Hunters, and Betrayal(while not a ‘top’ card) is pretty common for Rogues. If you play a lot of constructed you may have forgotten that those cards exist.
When playing, take your time before making a move. Think about all possible plays for 10-15 seconds. Do themathhs. 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?” You gain nothing by rushing through your turn and making snap decisions and plays.
Finally, 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. It happens. Godly decks can go 2-3 to simple bad luck or a single misplay, 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 4-0, then losing one bad one, then self destructing into 4-3 is no fun for anyone.
Hey if you made it this far, thanks for reading. Hope it helps a few of you.