HearthNotSoPro; or, navigating the Hearthstone tutorial on your way to deck domination

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In case you haven’t heard, Blizzard has a new shiny in the works. Of course you’ve heard. You’ve probably scoured the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and podcasts of all the Blizzard fan sites scraping away at a chance for a key if you weren’t one of the blessed few that were selected for the opt-in invites. Seriously, I even saw on LinkedIn people begging for a key – uh, yeah, good luck getting that job, dude.

Because of some design work I offered to the AMAZINGLY knowledgeable guys over at HearthPro, I was afforded an opportunity to get into the beta relatively early.

Check it:

HearthPro_title&logo

I’m really grateful to the HearthPro team for giving me this opportunity! The beta has been an amazing experience.

Last week we went through what we were told is the first and probably last (“probably” being the key word, because you just never know with Blizzard) account wipe. Essentially, people spent money or arena’ed their tooshies off to build awesome decks chockfull of overpowered legendary minions and Miley-twerking-level annoying rogue decks only to see them completely erased from memory (don’t worry, everyone was duly warned, made preparations and will be rightly compensated). Follow this link for the patch notes.

With that, I decided to write this sort-of Beginner’s guide to the tutorial if only for the “noobs” like me that REALLY enjoy this game, but can’t seem to shake the out-of-the-gate sprinters that have already amassed collections of hair-pullingly amazing cards that will wipe you clean off the face of Azeroth before you could even say “mana crystal.”

Let me be clear though, this is not a full on guide in the sense that it will answer your every question, mostly because there are already excellent resources out there that can do that. These are simply my observations that I hope other newbies like me can relate to and share some insight and personal experience with what is a really fun game.

What is this game, exactly? It’s a Computer Card Game (CCG) much in the way that other card games are played in physical card format like Magic the Gathering and even the World of Warcraft trading card game (TCG). This however is solely on the computer and only played online. Hearthstone’s heroes and cards are based in the Warcraft universe, and from the looks of it, will be the only way to get your card ya-yas on as the TCG will no longer be published, according to recent reports.

Allow me to start us off with those aforementioned resources aside from the main website that go into greater detail all the information about strategies and even offer card databases for easy reference:

HearthPro - @shamanrongar@RobertAWing and @overlord_bunny offer some of the most insightful critiques on Hearthstone news, deck builds and strategies.

Hearthstone.blizzpro.com -  the home website of HearthPro part of the Blizz Pro web family that offers more news, card lore history, and other news about Hearthstone

Hearthhead - the awesome people who give you wowhead give you a nifty database and deck builder

HearthPwn.com - From the Curse Network gurus that run the MMO Champion website which offers an extensive database and deck builder application.

HearthPower - the YouTube-based video service that offers online tutorials, strategy talk and news and information. Follow @HearthPower for updates.

I feel like it’s important to offer my observations in the starting experience before explaining about the cards because that’s how the game does it. Let’s get started shall we:

1_Start

Yay! Free cards already! Well, yeah – what else would you have played with? Uh…don’t answer that. -_-

Hearthstone_Jaina_FBC

You’ll notice that you do NOT get to pick your starting class. I feel like this is a detriment to the player because should be able to, point blank. Alas, the mage deck, and its progenitor Jaina Proudmoore, is your tutor throughout the entire starting game experience. She’s actually pretty sassy, so she and I get along famously – and I just so happen to choose mage preferentially, so this works out for me. For those wanting to play another class, you’ll just have to, for now, bear with Jaina.

2_Hogger

Your first of six beginner games is pretty light playing versus a rather iconic lore figure. I’d say you’d be exchanging wits but “wit” and “Hogger” don’t belong in the same sentence. But yes, Hogger is your first opponent. The light match up – in that Hogger only has 10 hit points – is simply tailored to get you used to the idea of using cards, mostly minions, to do your bidding. Nearly every step is explained to you on what you should play and why so you get a clear picture of cause and effect. Simply follow the instructions, play the minions as you get them, destroy Hogger’s in the process – boom, win.

Match Lesson: Minions do your bidding

Once the match is completed, you get a flash “Victory!” screen and…

4_Reward

More cards! “Movin’ on up…”

5_Milhouse

Game two’s opponent is yet another feisty iconic figure, the powerful, if dimwittingly so, mage Millhouse Manastorm.  He’s definitely the unintentionally sad comedic figure from World of Warcraft, but in taking our next babystep, we further explore cause and effect. In this game, buff cards are introduced. Cards like the Raid Leader that buff other minions show us that the game is more than just dropping low health attack minions, it’s about knowing in what order you need to drop them to get the most out of their attack points. You’ll also begin to learn what exactly it means to play “offensively” vice playing “defensively”. In a card game such as this, to be offensive means to attack your opponent’s hero directly, where defensive means to build up your minions and destroy or crowd-control theirs while holding back on attacking the hero directly. But this is just a baby step; you’ll get the real lesson on this in a later match. Lastly, and most importantly, you’ll learn about managing your mana. “Just you wait until I get more mana,” you’ll hear Millhouse exclaim. You even start off the game with The Coin card that shows you the benefits of not playing first in the coin toss. By the end of the match, the idea of knowing when to play a big-mana minion/spell vice several small ones should be well supplanted because it starts to pick up from there.

Finishing off Millhouse through his hilarious vituperations nets you – you guessed it! – more cards! Are you getting the theme here? As you level up your class after the starting experience, you’ll open up more cards until you reach level ten (all basic cards) and then get an occasional card about every ten or so levels after, if I remember correctly.

Match Lesson: Mana Crystals and management; playing the minions or the costly spells
Match Lesson: The Coin card and playing second perks

6_Lorewalker

Match three pits you against the honorable Lorewalker Cho. Facing Cho means learning to deal with healing cards as well as the concept of minions taking damage from each other. If you’ve made it to game three, then you already know that minions take damage from each other and, point of fact, can kill each other. The point of this round is to get you thinking about WHICH minions you choose to take on with yours and how each will survive, be sacrificed, or win. Some minions have high attack, but low health, and vice versa. Knowing which to take out and when will be key to getting through Cho, who, as it were, has some healing cards thrown into the mix.

Another interesting aspect of this match is the idea of the opponent being untouchable (the very next match expands on this). The take away is that a player can have a card that protects the hero, but you won’t know what that is until it’s played, or triggered by an action if it was already played and was laying in wait (“secret” ability cards). In this case, Cho is not targetable until you take out his minions. In my play, I noticed all his minions had low health, so the great thing you have as a mage is an area-of-effect card that hits all minions. Again, another lesson in which you learn to “board clear” as quickly as possible. My first play though I took them out one by one because I had earlier used my Arcane Explosion (hits all enemies with one attack). Be sure to save your AOE card for when Cho casts his protection, as it will save you some time taking out the minions.

Match lesson: Minion buff cards can enhance or heal other minions
Match lesson: Understanding minion interplay and knowing what minions do well against others; knowing when to sacrifice and careful selection of the mob to take out is key
Match lesson: Occassional board clears can help your hero do battle

7_Mukla

King Mukla is the fourth opponent. Two things are taught in this match. The first is the introduction of “taunt” cards. These are minions whose outliner is a shield when placed on the board and must FIRST be attacked and removed or neutralized before any other of your opponent’s minions can be attacked by yours including the hero. Taunts become important because Mukla has some serious minions (a big brother at the end, for example) where you’ll need well-timed taunt drops to protect you. You’ll also need to take out his taunt minions in order for yours to do any damage to the Mukla himself. What you’ll also note is that you get some spell damage cards that help in the process. Ability casts are awesome because they ignore minion activity and gun straight for the opponent’s hero to mostly unmitigated damage. The mage is likely the top class for spell abilities that can directly attack with powerful abilities (if you play one, become best friends with your Pyroblast cards when you get them), however keep in mind the lessons about mana management and knowing that great power comes at a cost and sometimes that cost is your own protection. Just like in the actual WoW game, the only melee ranged mage is a dead one. Mukla is about managing his minions and directly attacking him because at some point, he’ll invite a friend to the match in which you’ll need taunts on the board to protect you while you do damage to Mukla directly.

The second lesson involves the cost of early turn cards that seem to be powerful but have an effect that HELPS your opponent, vice actually hurting them. Like I said, power comes at a cost. You’ll notice that Mukla throws down minions whose on-play ability is to throw a Banana Card into your hand, which gives you the ability to buff one of your minions. Throughout the game you’ll see plenty of cards like that. A good example is Millhouse Manastorm who is a two-mana legendary that packs a decent punch for a two-mana cost, BUT, the drawback is that he now gives your opponent a free cast spell (and you never know what the other player has in their hand). But Mukla’s plays will come in handy when you need to buff your low attack taunt cards, so hey, thanks Muksy for the assist.

Match Lesson: Taunt minions protect you and your minions from your opponent’s. Conversely, the opponent’s taunts need to be neutralized.
Match Lesson: Powerful cards do come at a cost. Does it burn your mana preventing you from being able to drop a helpful minion? Or does it HELP your opponent? All things to consider.

8_Nesingwary

Match five is the one, the only, Hemet Nesingwary and it ups the ante a bit. Hero Powers are introduced that show you how annoying some of them can be for two-mana cost. Jaina’s ability is pretty decent, a single hit-point fireball that can hit ANY minion or the hero unmitigated (you’ll notice some abilities are directed to ONLY hit the hero). Hemet’s challenge lies in a game strategy known as “minion play.” The hunter deck excels especially – as rightfully it should – on playing a lot of minions. Jaina even warns at the start of the match to be mindful of all the mongrels and pooches Hemet is capable of summoning. The aforementioned lesson in playing offensively versus defensively comes into play. You’ll see both a myriad of low health minions and some big heavy hitters. Crowd control cards come into the mix, as you’ll be able to polymorph the bigger minions and take them out with your hero power (most, not all, classes have a quick neutralize card that is capable of bringing ANY minion – yes, even a legendary one – to one health and one attack, and yes, they’re cheapshots). One thing to note about neutralize-cards like Polymorph or a Shaman’s Hex is that the effects are permanent. Once cast on the opponent’s (or yours) minions, there’s no returning the card to its original state. Defeating Hemet means you’ve mastered controlling or neutralizing the minions and directly attacking Hemet when given the opportunity. This knowledge will be handy for the final battle…

Match Lesson: Some classes excel at filling the board with minions; managing them will be the key to your victory.
Match Lesson: Neutralizing and crowd control cards can assist you in managing your opponent’s tougher minions

9_Illidan

As we’re still currently in the beta, Blizzard designers show off their humorous side with a nice little warning about Illidan:

10_Illidan Warning

Though with two play-throughs of the tutorial and two one-shots of Illidan, I still am trying to figure out the challenge. But as it were, there are really no new lessons to learn here. Illidan is the match where you take everything you’ve learned and apply it. Board wipes, neutralizes, mana management, minion play and protection all coalesce into this epic of battles in the tutorial. Personally, I found it effective to clear minions with my AOE, drop my taunts when I had them and buff everything with my buff minions. Illidan likes to focus on your minions most of the time by sacrificing his to take yours out, which you can use to your advantage because you can focus on him on later turns with your big spell abilities. Yes, he will do some awesome damage to you, but keep calm and ensure you have your taunts and low-cost minions out to keep his distracted so you can attack him when you get your spell cards.

With Illidan defeated, so ends the tutorial. In order to open the class deck of your choice you’ll need to face an opponent of that class and defeat them with the mage deck. This can be done versus the AI in practice mode, or in play mode versus another player (ideally unranked play mode because a fresh-out-the-gate mage deck that doesn’t have all its basic cards is a faceroll for anyone else but you.

19_Starting

So once you’ve selected your class, should you decide to not be awesome like me and elect to not continue with the mage (so be it, we can’t all be amazing – not really), you’ll need to level the deck. Leveling is done by simply playing with your deck of choice and, win or lose, you’ll earn experience points and unlock the basic cards up to level 10. Other cards come later, such as the golden card you receive at level 20 and periodically thereafter.

You can also purchase cards right away which is what a lot of players choose to do, keeping in mind that it is entirely possible to earn your cards without opening your wallet (a sore spot of contention that has been debated every day since beta started and warrants an entire blog post on its own).

Since we’re playing in the beta post-account wipe, a few things to note about buying cards:

  1. A “pack” is five cards, with one card guaranteed to be of rare quality or better. Cards that are not rare quality or better are simply known as common expert cards denoted by the white crystal in the center of the card.
  2. Opening a pack is an entirely cathartic experience for most because RNG plays solely into what you unlock with each pack. Sometimes you get exactly what you want, and sometimes not. Note: cards received in a pack can be neutral cards for all classes to play, but also class-specific cards and not always your selected class (you didn’t think it would be that easy did you?).
  3. All purchases are REAL MONEY TRANSACTIONS. Keep that in mind if you have kids that don’t understand what it means to buy another pack considering how easy it is to buy them from the in-game store. All your financial info is stored on your Battle.net profile so if it isn’t stored, the purchase option will take you to the account management page where you can set it up. Just be mindful of how easy it is to buy packs if you’re, like me, easily persuaded to take the easy route if it means one less cup of Starbucks for the chance at a face-pwning legendary. The one option that doesn’t involve real money is the single-pack purchase for 100 gold earned in game by completing daily quests and winning play mode and arena matches.

16_Gold Card Special

There are several types of cards based on their rarity and powerful ability. When unlocking your cards, you can actually see what level of rarity you have before you even open it by looking at the glow, if any, as you hover over the card. Like so:

14_Epic Find 15_Legendary Find 13_Rare Find

While Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary are your basic categories, one additional type of card can pop up that aesthetically enhances a card you may be able to use, the Gold Card. Gold cards can be any level of rarity, and are just cool vanity card versions of the ones you already use. This means that a golden Frost Elemental is the same as a regular Frost Elemental and abides by the same card count restriction of all decks. The only difference is the on board effects you’ll see as the card is placed on the board which show some neat animations. When building your deck, build the deck first and get comfortable with it before you start to worry about upgrading to the fancier-looking cards (because that’s all Gold Cards are about, the looks).

The last feature worth mentioning, before starting on your journey to card domination, is the crafting feature that was revamped in the first beta patch. While building your deck should you find that RNG is being particularly moody with you (did you pay your monthly virginal blood sacrifice fee?), you can proactively flip the bird to Mother RNG by just making the card yourself.

17_Disenchanting

Disenchanting the cards you don’t need or have an excess of will give you the dust that will enable you to craft your card of choice (remember, you can only ever use two of any card except for legendaries which can only be used solo, so any more than that makes them prime candidates for disenchantment). Obviously, the more rare the card, the more dust it will require. You can also earn dust from winning arena matches as well.

18_Creating

My goal in writing this was to help the few of my friends interested in Hearthstone but who, like me, aren’t the most experienced at card play. Somewhere in the confines of storage are my first edition Magic the Gathering cards from 1993 that I haven’t touched since high school. If you’re one of us, you’re not alone. And thankfully, most of the community, especially those who podcast and blog about the game, are some of the most awesome people willing to help you understand how to build your deck and use it effectively.

3_Victory

If I leave you with one final lesson it’s this: sportsmanship. As with most online games, you’ll come across the trolls who love spamming the threat and mistake emotes of their characters meant to distract you. Couple that with the fact that at the start, you’ll feel like roadkill for the legendary-wielding trust-funders who have all the money in the world to sink in the game and you’ll see why its easy to feel frustrated – and sometimes even a little betrayed by the deck you likely worked hard to build. 100 percent of the time, it is all RNG-based, even when you’re playing an elitist jerk. RNG will help or hinder and has nothing to do with you or your opponent. So be a good sport, learn how to react to how cards pop up in your hand and how they play against other classes, and RNG won’t be as much of a hindrance. It’s not worth getting mad at the other player even when he or she is being a total douche.

Happy gaming!

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