i like to talk

Hearthstone: An actual free-to-play game (plus my Paladin Deck Build)

by Jeremy Osborne, 2014.02.10 12:27:23


Summary

Hearthstone, from Blizzard Entertainment is a digital, collectible card game that is currently in open beta (as in anyone reading this article can play). Being promoted as a free-to-play game, I wanted to see whether that was a euphamism for "first hit is free" or whether Hearthstone might genuinely be free-to-play-and-enjoy while not costing anything other than the player's time.

After a few days of playing it, in my opinion this game can be enjoyed at the free level, even with some obvious caveats. I enjoy the game and will keep playing as I have spare time here and there. Perhaps we'll run into each other in the game? (My nick is borrisb... old and stupid story behind where that nick comes from.)

Details

Something about Hearthstone clicked for me in a way that Magic the Gathering never did. It looked a bit like poker for those of us who like dragons and dwarves instead of kings and aces. Simple to get into, I questioned whether this was a game that couldn't be ruined by people dumping money in a pay-to-win strategy. Despite my not-so-favorable past with so-called free-to-play games, last week I gave Hearthstone a try. I lost a lot while learning to play, but I still enjoyed the game, even when the opposing decks felt like they were constructed by someone paying to win.

Tired of losing while using decks prescribed by other people, I tried my hand at creating my own deck. After a handful of awful to okay decks, I created one that seems to work (stats later), and it's a very, very cheap deck (costs later).

I call the deck Paladin Overwhelm v1.0.0, mainly because it's a Paladin deck designed to overwhelm the other player. This deck was born from (1) the cards I had available, (2) desire to smack around the other cookie cutter decks with a deck that was at least somewhat my own doing, (3) a desire to experiment and see if Hearthstone truly was free to play. I feel that I've fulfilled these desires with this deck.

Deck composition of Paladin Overwhelm v1.0.0

The deck can be seen at HearthPwn Deckbuilder, text version below.

  • Blessing of Might
  • Blessing of Wisdom (Common)
  • Hand of Protection
  • Leper Gnome x2 (Common)
  • Acidic Swamp Ooze
  • Argent Protector x2 (Common)
  • Knife Juggler (Rare)
  • Murloc Tidehunter x2
  • Raid Leader x2
  • Razorfen Hunter x2
  • Shattered Sun Cleric
  • Truesilver Champion x2
  • Blessing of Kings x2
  • Consecration
  • Hammer of Wrath x2
  • Dark Iron Dwarf (Common)
  • Dragonling Mechanic
  • Frostwolf Warlord x2
  • Silver Hand Knight (Common)
  • Guardian of Kings
  • Stormwind Champion

Cards not marked as (Common) or (Rare) are free. You either get them immediately upon creating an account or from "leveling up" the Paladin to level 10.

Cost of the deck

Breakdown of costs for non-free cards in my deck:

  • Blessing of Wisdom (40 dust)
  • Leper Gnome x2 (40 dust x2 = 80 dust)
  • Argent Protector x2 (40 dust x2 = 80 dust)
  • Knife Juggler (100 dust)
  • Dark Iron Dwarf (40 dust)
  • Silver Hand Knight (40 dust)

Total Cost: 380 dust

Say you wanted to build this deck and you wanted to spend zero real life dollars. Taking the most basic quests that the game offers, and providing the least valuable return on the cards obtained, you could get the following number of cards:

7 card packs = 28 common cards + 7 rare cards

and convert them to the following amount of dust:

140 (from common cards)
+ 140 (from rare cards)
+ 95 (from Crafting Time quest, which can't be completed until you disenchant a card)
= 375 dust

5 away from making the deck in what could be considered learning-the-ropes play time.

A few previous versions of the deck worked well enough without the Silver Hand Knight (-40 dust) and the Blessing of Wisdom (-40 dust). I only included them because they appeared in booster packs and fit with the deck theme. Without those cards, the cost of the deck falls to 300 dust, which leaves 75 dust leftover, enough to craft 1.875 common cards of your choice (think of it as your choice of the two common cards I substracted earlier in the paragraph, and 1 free card you can substitute into the deck until you get 5 more dust).

General Strategy of the deck

Offense and more offense. Play at a moderate to aggressive tempo, concentrating as much burst damage on the opposing player as possible and avoid opposing minions when you can. This deck has no taunt: know when to throw your minions into the opposing minions for defense. Scare the opponent into attacking your own minions, and always try to have more than one scary minion on the board.

Watch out for super aggressive decks. Someone prepared to cycle their deck for a specific, killer combo can beat this deck to the knockout punch.

Some of my losses came top decking. Upside: this deck is a response to my lack of card draw, and it top-decks quite well overall (since that's how I tried to design it in the face of lacking card draw).

Aim for a win between turn 8 and 11, inclusive. The win will likely not occur before turn 8, and after turn 12 or 13 hope the opponent doesn't have a late game plan or good late game deck.

Deck combos

I tried for a higher quantity of combos vs. one big gimick. Here are a few tactics that I've used and like:

  • Blessing of Wisdom: I got this in a booster pack, and originally thought it was a dumb card. After researching the mana cost exchange rate for card draws in general, 1 mana for an almost guaranteed and immediate 1 card draw is pretty sweet. Apply this card at the beginning of a turn before attacking, never at the end of a turn. It seems that the minion you apply this card to becomes a "bullet magnet" which can double as a diversion tactic.
  • Turn 2 Coin + Leper Gnome + Argent Protector: This can turn into 6 damage, and is a nice comeback from not getting to start first.
  • Argent Protector + any other minion: Divine shield in general works great. Divine shield + a 2-2 minion on the board gives random damage two targets to deal with vs. one, and also means the opponent needs to worry about if and when that 2-2 might become a 6-6 with a Blessing of Kings.
  • Early game Blessing of Kings: Blessing of Kings is a great resource drain, the earlier employed the better. The opponent might spend one or two turns + resources dealing with your 5-5 Recruit (or 6-5 divine shielded Leper Gnome they ignored). Don't be afraid to use this card early and often on anything, including an ignored Recruit.
  • Frostwolf Warlord: It's not too difficult to turn this card into a 6-6. Great bait for one turn kill cards, keeping them away from another minion that can receive a Blessing of Kings on the following turn. Against a priest, a 4-4 card can also fill an empty board (it happens) and be protected from the Power Word *s that the priest has.
  • Knife Juggler + a 2 drop card + other minion: Favorite version of this combo that has happened more than once: Knife Juggler + Argent Protector (Divine Shield on Knife Juggler) + Merloc Tidehunter. Three knives is usually enough to annoy an opponent into expending too many resources on the shielded Knife Juggler.
  • Truesilver Champion or Hammer of Wrath aimed at the Opponent: Don't artificially hold onto these. If the opponent has no minions on the table, let these fly. This deck is survivable into the late game, but late game builds will likely pummel this deck into submission so the earlier we're done, the better.
  • Lots of minions + Stormwind Champion: Has meant a victory for me a couple of times. Stormwind Champion becomes a "bullet magnet" and I sneak more damage through, or I have the extra damage for a mid-game kill from surviving early game minions.
  • Guardian of Kings: An earlier deck employed two of these cards which was a mistake. One card gets a lot of play when the game extends into the late game (and when I often get good card draw from a lucky Blessing of Wisdom). That 6 health healing has made a difference a couple of times.

Current Stats

I stopped playing casual games and started playing ranked games to see if this deck could hold its own. I also started keeping stats of the ranked games, and here's where I'm at:

  • 25 ranked games
  • 16/25 wins in ranked games (64% win rate)
  • Moved from rank 19 to rank 14

Conclusion

I've played a few games that I felt were deserving of the free-to-play, but those are few and far between. Hearthstone the game is indeed free-to-play by my standards, with an emphasis on play. Hearthstone the Gotta Catch Them All (the Cards that is) does not seem free in my lifetime. I'll continue to make frugal card decks and see how they play out, and enjoy the occasional trip to the Arena as I earn them.