Despite my extensive collection of cards and the hundreds of pleasant hours spent wearing through the glass screens of my tablet and phone, I’m not a very strong competitive Hearthstone player.
And that’s OK.
Through regular casual play I have unlocked the basic cards belonging to all nine classes, leveled my Mage and Paladin heroes to the current limit, and floated languidly around the teen ranks of the ladder with an array of thumping victories, crushing defeats and epic comebacks. My conclusion from all of this is that Hearthstone really is one of those rare games that demands little of the player while amply rewarding whatever time they have available to commit.
Back in those wondrous initial months of Hearthstone discovery I did go to the effort of visiting community-based sites like Hearthpwn to source deck templates and learn why it was that certain strategies were trending or why particular cards would always form powerful combos. Since then though I have made absolutely no effort to keep track of the metagame, which may horrify those that utter the word in deep, hushed tones of reverence. As is the case with competitive games of any genre, the relative prevalence of certain strategies in the current player community (i.e. the ‘metagame’) heavily impacts on your in-game decision making. Much of Hearthstone’s attraction lies in the psychological battle of predicting both your opponent’s next move and the likelihood that they have the cards they need to make it, so the more background knowledge you have of the orthogame (basic game content and mechanics) and metagame the more successful you should be.
Competitive Success = Orthogame Mastery + Metagame Mastery + A Little Luck
My knowledge of Hearthstone’s orthogame is passable thanks to being on board since the basic game made its way to the iPad. It is the ongoing mastery of Hearthstone’s metagame that would require a good deal of work should I wish to hit the elite ranks any time in the future. Fortunately you get a feel for which classes and strategies are in vogue simply through regular play, so your own deck and card selections will always be influenced to some degree by the metagame regardless of how much or little additional research is done.
Given my general lack of free time, this last year and half has for the most part been about developing a series of unorthodox decks that shift the emphasis from ladder success to creative satisfaction. Generally inspired by an unassuming new card or mechanic, constructing these original decks provides a CCG equivalent to the Creative Questing concept previously illustrated in the context of Destiny (Part 2) and introduced here. Of course they retain the goal of being useable in ladder play, but I’m not fussed if they never carry me past my current Rank 13 ceiling.
For those that play Hearthstone, here is a rundown of one of my favourite alternative deck building experiments so far. You can see from the cover pic (originally uploaded for this article over a year ago) that this deck has held its place in my collection for a long time now, and I expect that it will remain there in some form or another for a long time to come.
Deck Name: SpectralPaladin
Key Strategic Cards:
- 2 x Spectral Knight (can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers)
- 1 x Arcane Nullifier X-21 (as above, plus Taunt)
- 2 x Dragonling Mechanic (summons a 2/4 and a 2/1 minion)
- 2 x Sword of Justice (grant +1/+1 to next 5 minions summoned, or hero attacks for 1 damage up to 5 times)
- 2 x Mukla’s Champion (grant +1/+1 to other friendly minions on the board when you use your Hero Power)
- 1 x Avenge (Secret that grants +3/+2 to a random remaining friendly minion after another is killed)
Full Card List: Here
Deck Inspiration: Way back when only Hearthstone’s base game existed in the wild, there were just two cards with the handy “Can’t be targeted by spells or Hero Powers” ability. Sadly one was out-classed by many similarly low cost minions and the other could not be summoned directly but had to randomly spawn from a rare legendary Dragon. It wasn’t long however until the Curse of Naxxramus and Goblins vs Gnomes expansions introduced the following cards that shared the intriguing gift of being magically untouchable:
Upon encountering the Spectral Knight for the first time I conceived of something that could potentially thwart the devious plans of Rogues and Mages everywhere! Rogues had been the bane of my late-game Paladin’s life for a while thanks to their multitude of ways to remove your precious minions from the board for very little cost. The Freeze Mage archetype had similarly destructive strategies utilising cheap removal spells, and in response this SpectralPaladin deck was born. [I may not strive to be one with the metagame, but you can’t just ignore it completely]
With 5 base health points (6 HP after a Sword of Justice or Mukla’s Champion buff), both of these cards sit outside the one-hit-KO range of common untargeted spells such as the Mage’s Blizzard or Flamestrike, and therefore tend to require strong physical attackers to remove them from play. With his serviceable attack stat and magical immunity the Spectral Knight is one of my favourite cards in Hearthstone, even after hundreds of matches with this SpectralPaladin deck. As I’ve only faced a couple of opponents using it in that time I guess it is either a far less valuable card than I think it is, or just universally underappreciated.
Deck Strengths: With a decent opening hand of Leper Gnomes and Knife Jugglers this deck has the potential to keep pace with many Hunter and Warlock early-game sprints and force responsive play from your opponent by keeping your side of the board threateningly populated. Provided you stay alive long enough to start buffing minions it is possible to keep your opponent on the back foot for the entire match and avoid taking significant damage in the process. The Dragonling Mechanics (initially incorporated out of novelty when my Mage unlocked a shiny golden pair) combine beautifully with Sword of Justice and Avenge. They also sit perfectly with the classic Paladin mentality of ‘board control above all else’, especially when the opponent is playing a slower tempo game.
The real goal of this deck is of course to summon and buff the hard-to-remove Spectral Knights. If they can be safely positioned behind a buffed Taunt user such as Arcane Nullifier or Tirion Fordring then all the better. The perfect storm scenario would also include having Avenge poised to activate as soon as the Taunt wall goes down.
This Knight-centric strategy admittedly doesn’t translate directly into wins thanks to those pesky Battlecry nerfers, but boy is it satisfying when it all comes together.
Deck Weaknesses: The Spectral Knight, Arcane Nullifier and Dragonling Mechanics are noticeably less effective when deployed without the support cards listed above. Poor card draw resulting in a lack of enhancement combos or dearth of cheap minions can therefore make you vulnerable to almost any opponent that puts on early- or mid-game pressure. Priests are the only class that outlast this deck with any consistency, so if you’ve kept the other classes of opponent locked in a responsive position or survived to turn 6 or 7 with little loss of health then things are looking good for a late-game triumph.