Consistency in Hearthstone: The Why and How
Hey y’all! I’m modded, a dedicated Hearthstone player and deckbuilder. Today I’d like to talk about the concept of consistency, how it applies to you, how to attain it, and how to know if you have “enough” (and what “enough” is).
Setting Realistic Expectations
In Hearthstone, there are many constants. A player will always draw a card (or take Fatigue damage) at the start of their turn, all mana crystals will be refilled at the start of their owner’s turn, a player cannot have more than 10 full mana crystals at once, etc. However, there are many instances where RNG will change how a game is played out.
For example, there is no guarantee that a particular card is not the bottom card in you deck. Most Miracle Rogue players would instantly concede if they somehow knew that the bottom four cards in their deck were two Gadgetzan Auctioneers, Leeroy Jenkins and Edwin VanCleef. Those cards are what Miracle Rogues need to win a game (Edwin VanCleef is the backup win condition some times).
Aside from the randomness of drawing, there are cards that have effects that rely on RNG. Avenging Wrath can save your butt and clear your opponent’s board, or it can leave them all at 1 hp while they procede to end you the next turn. Mad Bomber can kill off a Scarlet Crusader + a stealthed Worgen Infiltrator, or it can be a two mana Flame Imp. Such is the nature of RNG, it can make cards have ludicrous value, and it can make cards have even negative value (where you would have been better off not playing the card).
Therefore, it is not possible to create a 100% consistent deck. Outside of Control Warrior vs. Freeze Mage, any quality deck has a chance to beat another quality deck.
However, it is one’s best interest to build a deck that is consistent enough that you can regularly win against quality decks being used by quality players. Note that decks that are decently consistent aren’t inherently bad, but you have a higher chance of falling flat on your face. This does not mean that you shouldn’t play all less-consistent decks, as many of them have unique strengths, but you should work to make it as consistent as possible within that particular archetype.
The Different Types of Hearthstone Cards
In the previous section I listed cards that are inconsistent due to their effects including RNG. However, there are many cards which have varying amounts of power depending on what other cards you draw, and are less consistent then other cards even without a direct RNG-based effect. I like to separate Hearthstone cards into three main categories that correlate their risk/reward:
- Always good (most consistent).
- Always decent, often amazing (fairly consistent).
- Can be useless, can be insanely valuable (least consistent).
Examples of the first group include cards such as Chillwind Yeti, Druid of the Claw, Fire Elemental and Argent Commander. These cards are almost never dead, and many will instantly generate some sort of value. None of these cards are inherently spectacular, but they’ll always pull their own weight.
The second group is made up of cards like Violet Teacher, Doomhammer, Ragnaros the Firelord and Big Game Hunter. These cards are all slightly below the curve, or have an RNG element that make them less reliable. However, the many times that they give more value than the more consistant alternatives give us plenty of reasons to use them. The subpar 3/5 stats of the Violet Teacher are obviously worse than the Chillwind Yeti, but if one plays her on turn four and then Innervates out a Power of the Wild, she’s then a massive 4/6 + two 2/2s.
The final group consists of cards of the same ilk as Ancient Watcher, Windfury, Power Overwhelming and Faceless Manipulator. These cards by themselves do either nothing or have a pitiful effect compared to their mana cost. However, these cards can generate enough tempo or have a big enough potential upside to warrant their limited use. Windfury can be a pitiful one damage spell for two mana, or it can be a massive twelve or more damage spell for two mana. Faceless Manipulator on an empty board is a terrible 3/3 for five mana. On the other hand, it could be a second Ragnaros the Firelord, for five mana no less!
In most decks, you would ideally want most of your deck to be cards that fall inside the first category, with a couple cards that fall in the second, and few to none that fall under the third. This allows you to make solid plays, and maintain tempo and/or card advantage with above-the-curve plays.
Deck vs. Card Consistency
For a deck to be consistent, it cannot be over-saturated with inconsistent cards. Too many of those cards and the deck becomes gimmicky.
A perfect example of the proper use of inconsistent cards is HandLock’s use of the Ancient Watcher. Whist it is useless without some form of activator, it’s consistent enough as HandLocks run between six and eight cards that can make use of it. Sunfury Protector and Defender of Argus make it a cheap taunter, Shadowflame makes it a six mana Flamestrike and Ironbeak Owl makes it a stealthed Chillwind Yeti.
An example of the improper use is the Divine Spirit + Inner Fire Priest. This deck requires one to fill their deck with highly situational (ie bad) cards such as Mogu'shan Warden, Lightwell, and Lightspawn, just to pull off the combo. While it is a valid win condition, it assumes that a bunch of things don’t go wrong in the process. If the opponent uses hard removal, he or she just burnt at least three cards for very low price of one card. It *can* work, but it’s very unreliable.
Combo Decks: The Exceptions to the Rule (Or Not?)
There are three viable combo decks that exist in Hearthstone at the time of this writing. Miracle Rogue, Freeze Mage, and Midrange-Combo Shaman (I will not be talking about the Deathrattle Combo Shaman, as at the time of this writing its viability has yet to be determined).
Even then, only Miracle Rogue is a “true” combo deck. Now at first glance these decks look like exceptions, as they have cards that are considered bad in any other deck or have lots of situational cards, yet they are used by pros and still have large amounts of success. However, they are not exceptions due to the fact that they make up for their inherent weakness of relying on certain draws in other ways.
Dissecting Miracle Rogue
Miracle Rogue (I am talking about the Leeroy variant as all the other ones aren’t represented in the current meta) wins with a Leeroy Jenkins + two Shadowsteps + Cold Blood combo for a whopping twenty-two damage for only nine mana. This deck relies on Gadgetzan Auctioneer to aid with cycling through the deck in order to draw into the combo.
This deck makes use of many situational cards like Conceal, Cold Blood and Sap, yet the deck overall is fairly consistent. This is due to the fact that many of the cards used by Miracle Rogue cycle themselves. Cards like Shiv and Fan of Knives are played even on an empty board in order to get one step closer to their combo.
Combined with the fact that two thirds of the deck will cantrip when played with Gadgetzan Auctioneer on the board, Miracle makes sure that it has a good chance even in hell of drawing what it needs.
Even with all that, Miracle – the purest combo deck in Hearthstone – cannot survive without some consistent cards. Miracle still packs SI:7 Agent for early board presence/removal along with Earthen Ring Farseer to have a little more time to draw and play its combos. The other two decks (Freeze Mage and Midrange-Combo Shaman) are actually control/combo and midrange/combo hybrids respectively.
Dissecting Freeze Mage
Freeze Mage’s combo cannot start until turn 9 due to mana constraints, so Freeze relies on stalling with lots of board removal such as Flamestrike and Frost Nova + Doomsayer, in addition to stalling its opponent’s lethal with Ice Barrier and Ice Block. Additionally, Freeze Mage packs a lot of card draw in the form of Arcane Intellect, Novice Engineer, and Acolyte of Pain + hero power.
The actual combo is dropping Alexstrasza to lower its opponent to fifteen health, and then finishing them off over the next turn or two by throwing damage spells at the face (some variants include giants for the same purpose as a backup win condition).
Dissecting Midrange-Combo Shaman
Midrange-Combo Shaman takes a different approach. Since the Shaman class lacks good card draw, Combo Shaman can’t rely on cycling through the deck to get to its win condition (the combo). What Combo Shaman does is fill the deck with midrange minions, and rely on the efficiency of its class cards to allow it to sit on its combo pieces as they are drawn. The scarcity of card cycling cards additionally require the addition of multiple combo pieces for multiple combos (Leeroy Jenkins + Windfury/Doomhammer + Rockbiter Weapon) to create consistency.
Rules for Combo Decks
What makes the above combo decks viable? One of two things:
- They either have a massive draw engine that lets them cycle through almost their entire deck (severely reducing the chances of not drawing the combo),
- or they include very solid filler cards that let them survive as they eventually draw into their combo.
So if you want to try your own combo deck or a variation of the above, make sure you ask yourself these questions:
- Does this combo require sub-par cards? If so, how high is the payoff? How bad are they by themselves?
- Can I reliably draw into the combo pieces before I die? If not, how to I prolong my life/cycle through the deck faster?
- How can my opponent counter my combo? Can I make it hard for him to do so? If so, how?
- Do I have a way to win if I am forced to use parts of the combo too soon or they are otherwise removed? If not, how do I change that?
Consistency and Non-Combo Decks
So now you know why certain combo decks work and others don’t, but now you probably want to know about other deck types. I will talk about Aggro, Midrange and Control separately, as they require different aspects for consistency. Here are some general rules before I get into all the details:
- Aggro burns through cards quickly and has inferior late game plays. Card draw and mid to late-game answers determine consistency.
- Midrange is mostly reliant on tempo and often times some sort of bursty win condition. Consistency is determined by how resilient the early game board is and how well it maintains pressure into the start of the late-game.
- Control is reliant on actually making it to the late game and then overwhelming your opponent. Answers to early threats and the ability to hold on to the board are required for consistency.
Aggro can be somewhat tricky. It has an insatiable thirst for cards, and you start limping past the midgame. The biggest example of this is Shockadin. Shockadin is viciously fast and has the ability to punch through even the toughest taunt walls.
On the flip side, card draw is mostly reliant on getting good value from Divine Favor. If you don’t draw it (or can’t get cards off of it) You’ll be limping as soon as you dump your hand. AggroLock and Face Hunter don’t have all the same strengths that Shockadin does, but they are more consistent.
The Warlock hero power allows an AggroLock to draw and play 2 cards per turn in the late game, which allows it to keep up a decent tempo even from an initially empty hand.
Face Hunter’s consistency comes from the fact that it’s hero power allows it to keep dealing damage with the excess mana, and it has the only deck filtering in the game via the use of Tracking.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re playing or building an Aggro deck:
- How am I going to get more cards into my hand?
- What am I going to do if I encounter a large taunter?
- How will I keep dealing damage when I lose board control?
- How likely am I to have a starting hand clogged with expensive minions (relatively)?
Midrange is slower than than Aggro, so while it wins slower it can sustain its pressure longer.
An example of a consistent Midrange deck would be Fast/Charge Druid. It’s versatile, as you can use Druid of the Claw as a taunter and Ancient of Lore as a healer against aggro, and use the same as a charger and deck cycler respectively against control. It has good card draw (some variants use one Nourish for even more draw), and has great burst damage as it runs two copies of both Force of Nature and Savage Roar for Druid’s beloved Wombo Combo.
Here’s some things to check for when running Midrange decks:
- How’s my mana curve?
- Do I have enough card draw?
- Do I have early removal spells or taunts to deal with Aggro decks?
- Is there a need for an answer for large minions in my deck? If so, what is the proper answer?
- Do I have a bursty win condition? If so, does that affect how I build and and play the deck? If so, how?
Control tends to be a pretty consistent archetype, since it relies more on the value of its cards. However it depends on how you build the deck. If the deck is pretty reactive with lots of removal and only big minions (like control warrior), then you are liable to have dead hands in the mid game when you lack the mana to play minions and there is either no minions to remove or minions that you can’t remove with what you have.
Decks like Pyromaniac Secrets Hunter are also somewhat inconsistent, due to the fact that it has very limited card draw and is heavily reliant on secrets, which trigger on your opponent’s turn and therefore cannot be targeted.
The next time you find yourself playing a Control deck, go through these questions:
- Can you survive to the late game? If not, do you need taunts, removal, or healing (if applicable)?
- Can you efficiently deal with large single targets?
- Do you have any way to recover from a massive set back?
Consistency is at the core of a solid deck, without it, your deck will lose more than it will win. So as you climb the ladder, take a moment to look at your decks, and make sure that they’re as consistent as can be, so that in a match, you’re not caught with your pants down.
Remember that successful ladder climbing is reliant on you continuously having a positive win rate, and consistency is what helps to keep that high in the long run.
Hope you guys enjoyed this article – I’d appreciate any feedback so please leave comments/feed back in the comments below!