The Happy Hearthstone 87 – How to Build a Deck

Today we’ve got a highly requested topic from the Happy Hearthstone community: the intricacies of creating your own deck! Tony joins us today to walk us through the basics and help us each feel more confident about tinkering around and finding our own flavor to try out. We’ve also got a ton of news to cover about the next set rotation and some upcoming card nerfs!

Audio Version:

News from the week

  • Nerfs incoming!
    • Small Time Buccaneer is now a 1 mana 1/1 with the same effect (+2 attack while a weapon is equipped)
    • Spirit Claws is now a 2 mana weapon with the same stats and effect (1 attack, 3 durability, has +2 attack when you have spell damage on board)
    • Rank floors – When you hit ranks 15, 10, 5, you won’t be able to lose stars past that point for the rest of the month.
    • These will go through with the next patch later this month
  • UN’GORO (Hearthstone Expansion LEAKED: Lost Secrets of Un’Goro)
  • YEAR OF THE MAMMOTH
    • Cycle of releasing content will be the same time frame (April, July, December)
    • Instead of expansion, adventure, expansion, there will be THREE expansions with adventure-like quests and missions included in each of them!
    • What does this mean?? More cards, more content, more GREATNESS
    • Each expansion will still be “buy packs” centered, but there will also be optional single player missions that explore the narratives of the style
      • (They cite an example of how they could have had missions where you played as the Grimy Goons going through the line of lackeys for the Jade Lotus)
      • Just like the Prelude mission to Karazhan, these single player missions will be totally free
    • Maeiv Shadowsong will be available as an alternate Rogue portrait after the next expansion releases. Just win 10 games in standard ranked or casual then!
    • Tons of other details, so be sure to check out the news article if you haven’t yet

For full details, check out the full blog post: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/blog/20475356

How to Build a Deck!

Great decks in all CCGs have similar elements, whether they are aggro, control, combo or midrange decks.  Here are some of those elements that you need to consider when building a deck or modifying a net deck.

Mana Curve

In a game like HS with its strictly limited mana, curve is the single most important element of deck building.  Using mana efficiently turn after turn, more than anything else, produces a winning deck.  So it is important to build a deck with cards distributed across the mana cost slots.  Ideally, the distribution of cards will resemble a bell curve with a few things in the 0, 1, and 2 mana cost slots and a few things in the 8, 9, and 10 mana cost slots.  You are guaranteed a first and second turn in HS, so you should have some cards to play then (unless your deck specifically avoids them like Molten Giant Handlock pre-nerf).  Decks also need one or two bombs (see Reach/Burst below), so you should include those in the deck.  But the meat of most games is turns 3-7.  You should have the most number of cards in these mana cost slots.  While it is possible to run a deck with lots of cheap spells, because they are weaker, you have to either win quickly or you will die.  Conversely, you cannot win with cards too expensive to cast.  Even slow control decks like the previously mentioned Handlock, had some cheap cards.  

It is important to note not just the mana available at any one turn, but the mana available to you throughout the game.  On turn one you have one mana available and one total mana available throughout the game thus far.  On turn two, you have two mana available, but three total mana available throughout the game thus far.  This continues—turn three is three and six, four is four and ten.  Over time I have kept track and I have noticed that the player that comes the closest to spending 100% of their total mana available wins the game more often than not.  Other than life totals (which directly determines who wins), percentage of total available mana spent is the next closest indicator to who won than game (that is, it is the strongest correlative factor in winning).

Spend all of your mana every turn and you will do well, provided of course you make good gameplay decisions and you have a good deck.  Luck, yeah, that too.

Value and Resource Conversion Rates

One thing that is important to figure out is the value of a particular card.  Some cards have contextual value, some have partially contextual value, and others have static value.  Jade cards, like Jade Lightning have contextual value—playing this card in different game states determines its value in an almost complete way.  Other cards, like Blackwing Technician have a partially contextual value—there is a lower and upper limit on the value of the card.  Then there are cards with static value, something like Chillwind Yeti or Lighting Bolt.  Their value is largely independent of the game state.  Figuring out the value of contextual and partially contextual cards requires an understanding the maximum and minimum value along with the probabilities of achieving those values.  Obviously figuring out the value of contextual and partially contextual cards is extremely difficult.  That is why it was hard to evaluate the Jade cards in theory, without playing the deck.  But in order to figure out of the value of a card you have to understand the value of the underlying resources.

There are five basic resources in HS: life/armor, mana, cards in hand, cards in deck and attack (or damage)/health.  Cards in deck is a very abundant resource, as is life.  They are the least valuable.  Mana and cards in hand are the scarcest resource.  They are the most valuable.  There are cards and abilities that show us what these resources are worth compared to each other.  Generally the conversion rates between the resources are the same across classes, but some classes have better conversion rates than others.  For example, Druid does better at converting resources (other than health) into mana, while Warlock does a very good job converting mana and life into cards.  Let’s look at some of the easy conversions:

River Crocolisk and Chillwind Yeti set the minimum for mana to stats.  You get 5 stats for 2 mana with the Croc and 9 stats for the Yeti.  But these are the base rates.  Good cards regularly exceed these values.  Other rates are more fixed.

Druid shows us the upper limit of converting cards into mana.  The best you get here is one card in hand being equal to 2 mana (Innervate).  Mage shows us the best rate for converting mana into direct damage with Fireball and Frostbolt, 2 mana and a card for 3 damage or 4 mana and a card for 6 damage (note the ratios are the same, but Frostbolt gives you a toss-in ability).  Warrior shows us the value of armor with Shield Block 3 mana for 5 armor (note the card draw equals out the card spent).  These conversions are key to identifying good cards to build around.  Powerful cards will either break or be equal to the best resource conversion rates in the game.

When you combine the resource conversion definition of value with the idea of context value, you see why people misjudged something like Dr. Boom.  They were not counting the average value of the Boom Bots correctly.  So here is what they SHOULD have realized.  You get 18 stats for 7 mana, guaranteed.  That is already quite good.  But then you get an average of 5 damage from the Boom Bots.  But this damage is random so use Arcane Missile as the conversion for random damage, making the Boom Bots worth a little less than two Arcane Missiles, so an additional two mana worth of value.  You actually get something like 18 stats for 5 mana (subtracting the Boom Bots’ nearly 2 completely free Arcane Missiles from the total cost).  Using the resource conversion theory of value you quickly see why Dr. Boom is one of the two or three most broken, non-nerfed cards in the history of Hearthstone.

When building a deck it is extremely important to understand resource conversion rates, not just the Chillwind Yeti numbers but the values for direct and random damage, armor, heal, card draw, cards in deck, cards in hand, etc.  Between the hero powers and core cards in each class you can figure out the value of just about any card.  Some cards are extremely hard to calculate because of their high RNG (Yogg) and some are very contextually valued (Jade cards), but absent the extremes, knowing basic resource conversion rates can help you identify broken and powerful cards and these in turn help you build a deck.  Finally, it is important to note that hero powers, generally speaking, come out very poor in these resource conversions.  Warlock’s is the best, but many classes have pretty bad hero powers, absent synergy cards in the deck.  Priest and Shaman, for example, have very weak hero powers with Priest having the only context-dependent hero power (I guess Paladin’s is also context dependent–you have to have less than seven minions in play) and Shaman having the only hero power with RNG.  

Synergy

Synergy is crucial to building a good deck because you take advantage of contextual and partially contextual value cards and create situations that break them the most and break them more often.  If a Blackwing Technician is consistently a 3/5 for 3, it is a very good (though not insane) card.  Similarly, if Tunnel Trogg is always a 3/3 by turn 3, it is an insane card.  Synergy allows you to push the odds for high rolling contextual and partially contextual value cards to their limit.  This is what often breaks a deck.  In the pre-Warsong Commander nerf meta, Patron Warrior was as synergistic as any deck in Hearthstone history.  Nearly every card helped every other card be broken often and to a huge degree.  The result was probably the best deck in HS history (that or the pre-nerf Undertaker Hunter deck, another deck with bonkers amounts of synergy).  Only Patron Warrior’s high skill cap kept it from exceeding its 55% win rate against the field.    

Reach/Burst

Because HS places a great deal of value on the board, as opposed to, say Vintage in Magic, stalemates or logjams often occur.  Good decks of any sort must have a way of getting through these stalemates.  Aggro decks like Pirate Warrior, for example, usually has one or two big finishers, like Leeroy or Arcanite Reaper.  Midrange decks have their one to two big bombs like Call of the Wild or Ragnaros.  Control decks usually have their put away card, the card that all but ends the game for the opponent like Reno.  And Combo decks have their combo pieces (Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Edwin Van Cleef for example).  When building a deck it is important to incorporate some form of burst, a way to close out games.  Generally burst cards are cheaper in Aggro decks and more expensive in Control decks.

Versatility v.  Consistency

In building a deck it is important to figure out what the deck needs.  Does it is need a lot of the same type of card or does it need a broad range of cards?  Compare, for example, Pirate Warrior (MSG) with Reno Mage (MSG).  In Pirate Warrior you see very similar builds with a ton of 1 mana creatures, a ton of weapons, and a ton of weapon enhancements.  It is a deck of 30 cards, but really there are only 3 types of cards—cheap dudes, choppas/direct damage, and choppa enhancements.  This is a very consistent deck, but it has no hope of winning if the opponent can neutralize its main strategy.  

Reno Mage, on the other hand, by its very nature, has a broad range of cards.  But even in a Reno-style deck it is not 30 completely different cards.  Reno Mages all run burn, minion removal, stall, life gain, board control, and weapon removal.  There are 30 different cards, but they really only do those six things.  You can have a similarly versatile deck in non-Reno decks.  Midrange Hunter (LOE) was a very versatile deck with a wide range of different types of cards.

Consistent decks are easier to play.  You only do a few things.  And you do them over and over again.  Versatile decks, on the other hand, have a much high skill cap.  But the reward is that in the hands of truly great players they tend to perform better than the simple, consistent decks.  This, of course, assumes a well-balanced metagame.  In the Mean Streets meta, for example, Aggro Shaman is a very consistent deck—dudes, burn, weapons—but it is significantly more powerful than any of the versatile decks in the metagame.  

Tutors are ALWAYS broken

In Magic there is a card called Demonic Tutor.  It says: pay two mana and put a card from your deck into your hand.  This effect is exceedingly powerful.  All CCGs, including HS, have, at their core, randomness.  You cannot predict which cards you will draw until very late in the game.  So any effect that allows you to skirt this dilemma is very powerful.  Always be on the lookout for any Tutor effect or effects that lessen the randomness of your draw (like Tracking).  The Yogg Hunter deck was only possible because of King’s Elekk and its very weak Tutor effect.  Tutors are so powerful that even bad ones are very good and highly exploitable.

Conclusion

If you combine all of these principles—curve, synergy, burst, consistency or versatility, and tutors you get a very good deck.  One of the easiest decks in the history of the game to with was the Secret Paladin (LOE).  It had a great curve, it was highly synergistic, it was consistent (and easy to play), and it had a multi-card tutor.  It was probably not as broken as peak Patron Warrior or Undertaker Hunter, but it was the easiest deck in HS history to win with because it combined all of the features of a good deck into a simple to play deck.

Hope this helps building your next winning deck. Don’t be afraid to take a net deck, tear it apart, and figure out what works.  It is important to know that playing a deck well produces better results in Hearthstone than piloting the perfect list.  Good play and a good list produce the best results, but because there are so few absolutely terrible cards in Hearthstone good play can overcome a few quirky choices.  Pros regularly hit legend with weird decks that never make meta game reports.

Question

I think I should start to save the gold for the next expansion now. Do we know when it should come ?

-Raccoon Dad

iTunes Review

None

Card of the Week

Azure Drake (R.I.P. :'( )

Closing:

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