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Beginner’s Arena Guide: Choosing a Class and Drafting a Deck
Greetings, I’m Sheng, a Legend rank constructed and 7.5 win-average arena player. I run HearthstoneCoaching.com where our coaches have helped many students achieve the same.
Many of you on Reddit have asked me to find a more permanent location for my arena guide, and I’m happy to announce that starting now, I’ll be writing for HearthstonePlayers.com. My first arena guide will be a Beginner Arena series, where I’ll be going through these three topics:
- Choosing a Class
- Drafting a Deck
- Winning Games
This guide is primarily targeted towards less experienced players, and it is my hope that by the end of this series, readers will be able to average over 4 wins consistently. For those of you who are more advanced players, hold on tight! In the future, I’ll be writing arena guides on the more subtle and advanced techniques needed to consistently earn 150+ gold each run.
The Best Arena Classes
As of July 2015, I’d personally rate the arena classes from Best to Worst as follows:
Really Below Average
What Makes a Good Class?
While an extremely skilled Hearthstone player can still do well with any class, in general, it’s clear that some classes perform better in arena than others. But why?
The answer has do with the draft format. In the 30 cards that you choose for your deck, the 1st, 10th, 20th, and 30th are guaranteed to be rare or greater. The rest of your 26 cards are much more likely to be basic or common. Thus, it’s not surprising that the the top arena classes have the strongest basic and common cards.
These cards all fall under the categories of Board Clear, Efficient Removal, Unconditional Removal, or Efficient Minions.
- Spells and equipment that can remove minions more expensive than their cost to play, or remove a minion and draw a card.
- Example Spells: Backstab, Eviscerate, Fireball, Frostbolt, Lightning Bolt, Rockbiter Weapon, Wrath
- Example Weapons: Deadly Poison, Assassin's Blade, Truesilver Champion, Stormforged Axe
- Minions with incredible base stats, or good base stats, but with amazing battle cries or abilities.
- Examples: Water Elemental, Argent Protector, Fire Elemental, Flametongue Totem, Unbound Elemental, Druid of the Claw, Power of the Wild, Ironbark Protector
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Mage is the most popular arena class by far, with its basic cards from all four categories in Flamestrike, Fireball, Frostbolt, Polymorph, and Water Elemental.
So why do some classes fare so much worse statistically? Well, frankly, classes that rely more heavily on card synergy in constructed (Beasts, Control Warrior, Handlock, Zoo) or rares tend to fare worse in arena because it’s not guaranteed you’ll be able to get the combos you need to make your deck effective. This is due to the randomness of the cards offered.
Which Class Should I Choose?
I recommend newer players choose three main classes from the Excellent, Good, or Average categories. Focusing on a few statistically favored classes will help you develop a better win rate. If you happen to come across three classes that aren’t your mains in arena, don’t panic! Choose one that you’d find the most fun to play. The game is random after all. If you just want to win, you may find the arena class tier list helpful for making a decision.
My personal mains are Mage, Druid, and Rogue. I have some of the highest win rates with these classes, and I favor them over others when given the choice in arena. I’ve found that because I know these classes so well, when I play against them in arena, I can often predict what my opponents will do next, giving me an advantage.
Which Cards Do I Draft?
So you’ve paid for your Arena ticket, and you’ve chosen your hero. How do you know which cards to draft?
The first time I drafted arena, I went to Trump’s Arena Tier List and chose the best cards from his spreadsheet. I did this without regard to card synergy and mana curve. Knowing nothing, I was lucky and went 9-3. After this lucky run, I wasn’t able to replicate the same success, and a few unsuccessful runs later, I realized that I needed to do more than just auto-pilot my way through the draft.
Eventually, I developed my own drafting strategy, which I call…
The Diligent Draft
For your first ten picks, follow ADWCTA’s Arena Tier List. After doing so, take a good look at the cards you’ve chosen.
- Do you have any removal?
- Do you have any efficient minions?
- What does your mana curve look like?
Choose your next ten cards, but assign greater value to cards that synergize well with the theme you observed from your first 10 cards. If you have a low mana curve:
- Place a bit more value on cards that can draw more cards for you, as a deck with smaller minions tends to run out of cards faster.
- Examples: Arcane Intellect, Acolyte of Pain, Cult Master, Sprint, Nourish, and so forth.
If you have a balanced mana curve:
- Continue drafting for highest value using the tier list.
If you have a high mana curve:
- Start valuing lower cost minions a bit more. Having a bunch of Ironbark Protectors and big guys are meaningless if you’re dead by turn 8.
- Also value cards that can accelerate your mana curve (Innervate/Wild Growth) a bit more so you can get your expensive minions out earlier.
Finally, choose your last ten cards, but focus on filling in gaps in your mana curve. Note that you should always choose a very good card over a poor card, even if the poor card fits better in your curve.
What’s a Mana Curve?
If the term “mana curve” is foreign to you, here’s a very simple explanation:
- A mana curve is the number of cards you have at each mana slot. (1 mana, 2 mana, 3 mana, and so forth.)
- A balanced mana curve will allow you to play a minion or spell on each turn.
If you are interested in learning more, Massan, a professional Hearthstone player and streamer has written an excellent arena guide on the subject here: Massan’s Arena Guide to Midrange Arena.
An Example Draft
To solidify your understanding of this process, let’s go through an actual arena draft that I did recently.
My choices will be italicized with a supplementary explanation.
0. Choose an Arena Class
- I was given the choice between Rogue, Priest, and Warlock.
- Given that Rogue is one of my main classes, I chose Rogue.
- Mind Control Tech was the best card of the lot. 3 mana for a 3/3 and the potential to steal one of your opponent’s creatures is a bargain.
- Spellbreaker isn’t the strongest 4 drop, but the silence can be situationally useful. Picked this because the other two cards weren’t great.
- Fen Creeper because my other two choices were awful. Booty Bay Bodyguard is considered a bad card because of its 4 health at 5 mana.
- Again, pretty bad choices. I chose Argent Squire because the other two choices were strictly worse. Murloc Tidehunter doesn’t look too bad, but dies easily to hero powers from Rogue, Mage, and Druid. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence I favor these classes the most! They all have hero powers that can remove minions on their own.
- Violet Teacher is an amazing card if you have enough spells in your deck to generate tokens. Unfortunately, in arena you’re less likely to pickup that many spells. 4 mana for a 3/5 is still mana efficient, and every token you can generate on top of that is just icing on the cake.
- Finally, a great card! Perdition’s Blade is one of the best Rogue cards in arena. Being able to do up to four damage on the turn it comes out is just awesome.
- While dying easily to a hero power, Loot Hoarder cycles itself, and it’s better than Shiv or Stonetusk Boar. Forcing your opponent to use his hero power inefficiently (i.e. on turn 3 to kill the Loot Hoarder, wasting him 1 mana) is good as well for your own tempo.
- Loot Hoarder wins again. Core Hound is considered awful because of its 5 health at 7 mana, and Mogu’shan Warden is an expensive wall, that you really don’t want to play on turn 4 onto an empty board.
- This was a toss-up between the Worgen Infiltrator and the Defias Ringleader. Either would be solid picks. I went for the Worgen Infiltrator because it’s such a strong turn 1 play. The fact that it is stealthed prevents hero powers from killing it, and it prevents your opponent from keeping a 3/2 on turn 2.
- Knife Juggler is simply the best 2 mana neutral minion in arena. Auto-pick for me.
Break: At this point, I took a step back and analyzed the cards I chose. I noticed that my deck looked very early game-centric. I didn’t have any strong late game minions, but several efficient early game minions. With such a low mana curve, I decided that I would try to pick more expensive minions and card draw if they were available in my next 20 picks.
- This was a difficult choice. I would love to have all three of these cards in my deck. In the end, I chose the Deadly Poison over the Boulderfist Ogre because a 3/2 Wicked Blade is such efficient early game removal, and a Deadly Poisoned Assassin’s Blade can win games by itself.
- This was simply choosing Razorfen Hunter (an average card) over other terrible cards.
- Man, my mana curve is still so low! Given that Nightblade and Priestess of Elune aren’t mana efficient for their stats, I chose Abusive Sergeant. Abusive Sergeant also has a higher chance of being able to buff something as my deck has so many early game minions.
- Another auto-pick of Worgen over various garbage.
- The first Defias Ringleader you choose will always be great. Every subsequent Ringleader is slightly worse, as there’s a probability you’ll get both in your hand at the same time. (Using a Ringleader to combo another Ringleader kind of sucks.) This is our first one, so it’s a good choice.
- Ooze is just a great 2 drop that can potentially destroy a weapon.
- I chose Fan of Knives here because it cycles itself for another card. Useful when you have such a low mana curve.
- With two Worgens already, I went with the Ooze. Sap is good, but situational.
- Had to skip Ooze #3. Picked the Fen Creeper because I desperately need some semblance of a mid/late game.
- All pretty awful cards, though Ancient Mage is the best of the bunch. The dream is to have a 4 damage Backstab, or 3 damage Fan of Knives.
Break: At Pick 20, I took a break and looked through my deck again. Unfortunately, besides the Boulderfist Ogre, I haven’t seen any other good late game cards. I really need card draw and some finishers.
- All good Rogue cards. I chose Eviscerate because it’s the most flexible card of the lot, and 2 mana for a potential 4 damage is amazing. I wondered at this point whether I would be missing the Assassin’s Blade though.
- Also three cards I would love to have in my deck. Unfortunately I can only choose one. I desperately need Sprint, but I made a gamble that I would see another one (and you only really want to play a single Sprint due to its casting cost). Backstab is great for triggering combos too.
- Faerie Dragon ranks higher than Oasis Snapjaw, but I needed 4 drops desperately.
- Wow, these are all awful. I thought a while about choosing Wisp just to combo something, but then I realized I only had 3 cards I could combo with in my deck. With such low probability, I went with Conceal, which could potentially be useful.
- I chose Assassin’s Blade because it was the best card, and I didn’t have one already. Honestly I would have taken every one of these if I could. Might have been a mistake because Sprint is so crucial for such a low-curve deck.
- Took the best card available. Spellbreaker already provides silence.
- Oasis Snapjaw was the best of the worst.
- Phew, I let out a sigh of relief. Finally got the Sprint that I needed.
- Frost Elemental over the 2nd Sprint. Flesheating Ghoul is a bad turn 3 play onto an empty board.
- Took the 2nd Perdition’s Blade. Its low durability means that it’s less likely I’ll suffer if I have both in my hand at once.
Understanding Your Deck
Once you’ve finished your draft, you need to analyze your deck.
Keep close attention to your mana curve, late game minions, and removal cards. In very close games, the difference between winning and losing may be the knowledge that you have one more specific card (Flamestrike, Swipe, Polymorph, , etc.) in your deck that can turn things around. With this knowledge, you might choose to draw cards instead of playing more minions, drawing you the card you need to win. The more you understand your deck, the more likely you will pilot it to victory.
To make things more concrete, let’s use my Rogue draft as reference. The first thing I did after drafting my cards, was go on HearthHead.com. I created a new deck guide using their deck builder, and put in all the cards I drafted. After doing this, I found that I had 21 minions, 6 spells, and 3 weapons. With my deck list on hand, I asked myself a few questions:
1. What are the quality of the cards I have?
- Having drafted Rogue many times, I looked at the cards I had and knew that this was a pretty bad draft. The Innkeeper consistently offered me poor options, and I was forced into many of my picks.
2. Do I have an early game?
- Yes, and an extremely strong one. In fact most of my deck is consisted of 2 mana cards.
3. Do I have a mid-game?
- Unfortunately, not really. My 4-6 mana minions are of fairly poor quality, and I don’t have enough spells to be able to use Violet Teacher‘s ability to generate tokens effectively. I really wish I could have drafted cards like Chillwind Yeti, Dark Iron Dwarf, or Sen'jin Shieldmasta to bolster my mid-game.
4. Do I have a late game?
- Not at all. I only have one 6 mana minion, Frost Elemental, and he is quite weak.
5. What removal do I have, and how many of them?
- Spells: Backstab, Deadly Poison, Eviscerate, Fan of Knives
- Weapons: 2x Perdition's Blade, Assassin's Blade
- The quantity of my removal is quite low. I only have one copy of Backstab, Deadly Poison, and Eviscerate so I’ll have to rely on my weapons for board control.
6. How do I expect to win my games?
- Having analyzed my deck to this point, I realized that the only way I could win was to kill my opponents before I ran out of steam.
- If games dragged out long enough I would inevitably get destroyed by a board clear (Flamestrike, Consecration, etc), or by large minions my small minions and weak removal can’t deal with.
After analyzing my deck, I estimated that I would only win 4 or 5 games. Surprisingly, this deck went 7-3! All 3 losses were to Mages with multiple Flamestrikes (the greatest weakness of my deck). In my 7 other games, I was able to pressure my opponents and kill them before they could get out their late game threats. Because I had an understanding of my deck’s strengths and weaknesses, I could determine what plays were optimal at the right time in the game.
One might ask why I chose this arena as an example over others that were more successful. The answer is because this deck overachieved. Choosing the best cards out of a poor draft pool, and piloting a below-average deck to 7 wins is more impressive than winning 12 games with a completely overpowered deck. The key to becoming a great arena player is to do as well as you can with the choices you’re given.
Beginner’s Guide to Arena: Winning Games
Be sure to check out the second part of this series on winning games, where I’ll teach you how to pilot your deck properly to maximize its win-potential!
If you’re interested in reaching Legend rank, or earning unlimited gold from arena, my team at HearthstoneCoaching.com would love to help! We’ve provided over a thousand hours of excellent coaching to students around the world.
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