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May 22, 2015

Table of Contents

FTP Journeyman Guide: First Waypoint

Note: This is the second part of the Free to Play Journeyman Guide Series. Be sure to check out Part 1 first!

Into the Wilderness


Never stop.

No matter how hard your heart is pounding.  No matter the danger you sense.  No matter the darkness of the engulfing tendrils.


You can win this game.

He has control of the board.  He’s playing at least 90% of a high rank deck.  Some odd cards; predominantly mainstream.  You had control.  His card power wrested it from you.  You have no cards in hand.

You CAN win this game.

And breathe…

Greetings again, everyone.  thundyr here with an update from the wacky and wonderful world of the Free-to-Play (FTP) Journeyman.  You’ve done the basic quests and are therefore no longer an Apprentice, but now what?

To recap what I’m doing:

  • Monetary budget: Start a new Hearthstone account and build a collection 100% free
  • Time budget: I have a job and family, so I will play for 6 wins a day only
  • Collection Goal: I want to have fun and effective decks across all 9 heroes
  • Deck building guide: Organic development from all-basic decks through to competitive decks week-by-week.
  • Deck building restrictions: I’m not going to use any awesome powers of Arena play or raw luck in opening Legendary minions to my advantage – I will keep it simple so you can follow along, regardless of your ability or the strength of your collection.

The Metagame

The scenario described in the foreword above is not unusual when your deck comprises common and basic cards and you’re going toe-to-toe with the currently popular decks such as Patron Warrior, Mech Mage, and Combo Druid.  Perhaps not every opponent has the perfect list, but they’re packing the deck core; the multitude of Mechs and Goblin Blastmage, the pingers and Patrons, the Ancients and Force of Nature.

But not us.  We don’t roll like that!  Too cool for school, we’re all about playing Chillwind Yeti, Sen'jin Shieldmasta, and Shattered Sun Cleric in each and every deck, yo!  Every win with these cards is etched into memory: “He played Archmage Antonidas but I won anyway!”  A win against the odds is the sweetest nectar, the adrenaline kick that keeps idle minds from the streets; a moment of personal glory.

But you have to pick your poison.  Even with limited cards there are some we should not omit the moment we get a seemingly better card.  Anyone can remove a Bloodfen Raptor for a Faerie Dragon.  Even a six-year-old will tell you, “Uncle, that card has more words on it; you should use it instead!” or even “It’s a Dragon – it must be the best card ever!”  But other cards cannot be judged purely on being part of the Basic Set.

Card Spotlight: Acidic Swamp Ooze

The high level metagame (which filters down to those of us in the bowels of the ladder) consists of several important decks that utilize weapons and/or attacks with the hero.  Even though it looks like one of those blind dates your dad told you about, the Ooze is a perfect fit for the current metagame.  For instance, it can dissolve Death's Bite before the Warrior player has set up his Warsong Commander, Grim Patron and Frothing Berserker combo; an important play.  Because a passable Patron Warrior deck is about as hard to collect as sand on a beach for anyone who has paid for Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain, the accursed thing is everywhere.  The players at rank 18 don’t know how it works, but that won’t stop it doing amazing things every now and again; usually against you when you think you’ve won.  Worse yet, as an involuntary response everyone else has been struck with a wretched bout of the Handlocks just when we thought we had a stable vaccine.

In terms of weapons, Mid-range Hunter decks are common as well and they rely mainly on Eaglehorn Bow, while Face Hunters run Glaivezooka in addition.  And then there is the endless stream of Poisoned and Oiled Wicked Knives in the hands of the average Rogue.  With the Mighty Ooze at your side, the best laid schemes of these mice gang aft agley.  If you’ve managed to score a Harrison Jones so much the better!

When to remove Acidic Swamp Ooze?  Never.  

Or at least not now, anyway.

Easier Laddering

Games are getting a little easier now, and we should be looking to move up the ladder even if our decks haven’t improved.  At the start of each season every single player devolves to rank 15 at best; business and party together in Hearthstone’s revival of the mullet.  But now the field is gradually spreading out.  The players with the stronger decks and collections are tending towards legend, giving us more time to compete against others with similar strength collections.  Why, only the other day I lost a ranked game against someone who was playing the stock-standard Basic deck for his hero.  

In the words of Hagrid: “I should not have said that”.

I’ve seen a significant drop in the numbers of Sludge Belchers and Mountain Giants at rank 14-18, but no fewer Grim Patrons or Emperor Thaurissans.  What this means is that the players playing decks generally requiring greater skill have moved upwards out of reach, while those with more money than skill remain.  Even though my decks weigh in at a fraction of the dust cost of those of my opponents I feel I have an excellent chance of a win most of the time because my opponents generally lack experience with their decks or their chosen hero, and therefore will make mistakes that devalue their board.  But it’s not all roses – their better cards are better with reason! It’s simply worth remembering that the best time to climb the ladder is later in the season when you can get the win streaks that drive you rapidly upward, and provide a more accurate reflection of your level.


So how have the three decks I presented last time progressed?

I opened the following useful cards from quests this week:  Wrath, 2 Loot Hoarder (same pack), Mountain Giant, Worgen InfiltratorBite, 2 Explosive Shot and one of my perennial favourites, Coldlight Oracle.  I also opened a Hungry Crab which puts me 100 dust closer to crafting that first Legendary.  My Druid deck snapped up the Wrath and Bite – significantly better than the dreadful Mark of the Wild.  I don’t particularly rate Bite, but it does a job and my Druid deck needs some help.  My Priest and Mage decks both had a good look at the pair of Loot Hoarders, but for now have stuck with their initial build and plan thanks to a pair of the slightly stronger Acolyte of Pain.  The Mage deck is 7-3 in ranked play this week, while Priest went 2-0, both decks played on the cusp of ranks 17 and 16.  After wrecking everything in sight with two of the new decks below, my Priest returned to the fray at level 15, and promptly went 5-1 (the loss being a dreadful game where I drew 1 minion prior to turn 9).  Build-a-monster might be better than I thought; even zetalot is playing it now.  I tried the Druid at rank 14, and oh dear!  Back to the drawing board with that one!  Hopefully I’ll have a better deck next week.

Rarity Drop Rates

And then just when you tell everyone you’re not going to use any Legendary minions…

Yeah, that’s what I said as well.  I always hover the mouse over each card back to see the glow that tells me the rarity of the card.  I do this so I can flip over the lower rarity cards first, increasing the excitement like a kid saving the bigger presents for last.  Obviously when I saw the second golden glow I didn’t think “Oh!  Wow!”  I thought “Is there a third?”  We humans are such greedy animals.

That pack means that in the 5 weeks since I started this US account I have opened as many Legendary minions as I have on my EU account in the 7-8 months that I’ve been an active player.  It’s not just the fact that I have 5 Legendaries either; their quality is staggering.  Both class Legendaries and Ragnaros the Firelord are first rate, while Hogger is a solid card in decks lacking greater power – in fact, just about the perfect card for an FTPer.  While I don’t rate my 5th Legendary overmuch, Onyxia is still a Dragon and therefore Brian Kibler is surely losing sleep about being unable to find a suitable home for it.  This is the same count as the number of Epic cards I have opened, and there is only one dud among those as well.  So what are the chances of you having similar luck?

Not great, I’m afraid….  

One should get a Legendary card on average every 20th pack opened.  Epics are 1 in 5 packs, while packs with more than one rare come up 1 in 4.  Naturally there is a chance that the higher rarity card(s) in the pack replace the normal rare slot, but I’ve only had that happen once [balanced by opening 1 pack with 3 rares in it].  A quick count reveals I have opened 26 packs.  Although my rate of Epics is right, 5 Legendary as well somewhat defies belief.  My buddy tells me I should start this article series again with a new account on the Asian server; “this collection is totally unfair”.


This week’s decks revolve primarily around a deck-building concept called “Tempo”, so I feel it appropriate to discuss that first.  Tempo also happens to form the cornerstone of good Arena decks, so understanding this type of deck will stand you in good stead when you start to play Arena more frequently.  The primary purpose of Tempo is to gain the initiative and maintain it long enough to win; keep tying the bully’s shoelaces together and eventually he’ll fall on his face.  Having the initiative means that you are the player making the choices while your opponent is the player reacting to the situation on the board.  The Tempo player will aim to use all his mana crystals effectively each turn, creating plays for the opponent that force him to lose efficiency or actual cards in order to maintain the status quo.  This strategy is not to be confused with Aggro decks which largely ignore the board and try to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero without regard for resources, with the understanding that if they ever fall behind they cannot win outside sheer good fortune.

Sap is the Tempo poster-child.  For 2 mana the Rogue removes from the board a card generally more expensive to cast, in order to retain an advantage in time and development.  The low cost allows the Rogue to also play another threat (or remove a second minion, especially with the Combo mechanic) if needed.  The opposing player is generally obliged to replay his threat the following turn, wasting yet more time and therefore remaining behind.  Even though the Rogue player didn’t directly kill whatever was bounced, for a mere 2 mana he gained an entire turn.

To play Tempo the deck must necessarily be built along a solid “curve” of casting costs.  The closer this curve resembles the Bell Curve we all know and love from school examinations, the better; the peak should be at 4 mana.  This is so one may play strong minions during each of the opening turns, placing the opponent under immediate pressure.  Once the opponent is in a state of only reacting to the board, you press the advantage of being able to decide how to make trades in combat, generally “trading up” (using smaller and/or cheaper minions to kill more expensive ones) or otherwise disrupting the opponent’s next turn (for example, forcing him to use his hero power when he doesn’t want to, costing him 2 mana and forcing him to play a cheaper spell than the ideal as a result).  Keep on curve, keep him off curve.  Do it often enough and for long enough, and the opponent will run out of health despite a handful of cards that he’s simply been unable to play in time.

The standard mulligan strategy for the Tempo player is to discard the entire hand if it does not contain a “2-drop” (a minion costing 2 that can be played on the second turn – Shielded Minibot is a 2-drop, but Argent Protector technically is not as its ability is wasted while one has no minions in play).  The perfect opening hand contains minions costing 2, 3, and 4 mana, and one draws into some form of threat removal immediately.

Naturally the Tempo deck has to use these generally cheaper minions as a way of creating time and occasionally card advantage – throwing together some imps and hoping they lay off the booze in the absence of a supervisor isn’t going to cut it.  Minions with only 1 health or a lower attack than health generally won’t fit the bill, as they will either die too easily or will not trade up effectively.  So in fact the 2-drops can’t just cost 2 and have no “entry requirements” – they also have to actually be good.  In the suite of 2-drops with 3/2 bodies one quickly runs out of options outside Acidic Swamp Ooze that aren’t “vanilla” or rare (or better).  Mad Bomber is perhaps the most infuriating of the bunch.  It looks a completely decent card until you realize he fails to toss his barrels across the halfway line as often as stoners have the munchies.  Sometimes you wish he’d throw a barrel at everyone and then just DIE; but Blizzard made Arcane Explosion for that.

The Second Three Decks


FTP Warrior
Class Cards (14)200
Whirlwind 1
Execute 2
Battle Rage 2
Cleave 2
Heroic Strike 2
Fiery War Axe 3
Warsong Commander 3
Kor’kron Elite 4
Neutral Cards (16)
Acidic Swamp Ooze 2
Amani Berserker 2
Bloodsail Raider 2
Harvest Golem 3
Shattered Sun Cleric 3
Chillwind Yeti 4
Gnomish Inventor 4
Sen’jin Shieldmasta 4
Nightblade 5

Core: Fiery Win Axe is the heart and soul of every warrior deck.  The Whirlwind and Execute combo has been used by Warriors to remove otherwise uncounterable threats since the dawn of time Hearthstone.  But the little engine that could is undoubtedly Warsong Commander – even moreso with Grim Patron.  The Commander has the capability to turn the game completely on its head if left unchecked, but obviously it needs to be in a deck that runs a great many minions with 3 or less attack when they come into play to be truly effective.  Perfectly playable is Gurubashi Berserker for instance, as he will gain Charge for starting out with 2 attack and won’t lose it when Whirlwind gets him all riled up.

Strategy: Tempo.  Although the deck’s curve as seen in the deck visual doesn’t seem to fit a Bell Curve, that’s simply because it contains many spells that cost 2.  When you analyse the minions however it becomes more apparent: 4-6-8-2.  Add in the high likelihood of the Win Axe as a turn 2 play, and you can fairly easily see that this deck is going to have something to do every turn – this isn’t a pass/hero_power/hero_power+Shield Slam kind of Warrior, no sir!  This is a pro-active one that has taken me through rank 16 and up to 15.  While the 2-drops are slightly situational, the weakness here is more a lack of quantities than intent; the card to be cut is more likely to be Shattered Sun Cleric than any other.  And don’t underestimate Nightblade as evidenced by the first image in this post.

Newbie Tip: Let’s talk about that screenshot for a moment.  The previous turn my opponent had been on 7 when I drew the Win Axe, so why did I go Face with it?  As can be seen from the board I was no longer in any position to control his minions, even though I could kill two of them over 2 turns with the weapon, because my opponent is a Mage and therefore I’m dead the moment I reach 7 health (Fireball plus the hero power, or 8 in this case due to the Soot Spewer).  However, I know that if my opponent is at 3 or 4 health vs my 1 durability Win Axe there are many cards I can rip off the top to win – the Nightblade I drew, the second Win Axe to win over 2 turns, Kor'kron Elite, and Heroic Strike.  Warsong Commander could win it if I followed up with any minion in the deck that wasn’t Chillwind Yeti (keep the former in hand and play both to win with the weapon dealing the remaining damage).  Gnomish Inventor could give me an extra shot at drawing these as well.  The lesson is that it’s vitally important to understand how your deck can win even when you don’t have the cards in hand, so that when you draw something appropriate you’re already set up to win immediately.

Progression: My first draft of this deck was terrible.  I tried for an aggro feel, given the relative success of Wolfrider and Arcane Golem in other decks.  Adding in Kor'kron Elite and Nightblade meant I had a lot of face damage.  But the deck ran out of steam dramatically as card draw mechanisms are one of Warrior’s weaknesses.  I crowbarred in Acolyte of Pain but the deck wouldn’t work, and Warsong Commander cut a rather lonely figure being able to only activate other Warsong Commanders.  The minions generally had low health as well, so Battle Rage often only gave me one card.  The deck was as miserable as a Goth without make-up.  I went 1-7 with the deck; it was so bad I had retreated to the casual room with my tail between my legs, only to keep losing!  But now it’s fairly humming: 7-2 all in ranked play.  At 200 dust to craft, what’s not to like?  Ah, Tempo.

Cards to look for:  I’m missing two primary common cards that appear in most Warrior decks: Inner Rage, and especially Cruel Taskmaster.  These allow your minions with Charge to hit harder, but can also act as control mechanisms by removing low health defenders.  They combine well with minions with Enrage, such as Amani Berserker, the aforementioned Gurubashi, and especially Raging Worgen.  Otherwise, for deck improvements we’re left looking at rarer cards like Armorsmith, Frothing Berserker, Commanding Shout, and Shieldmaiden.

Suggested Rank: 15 – the deck has been very strong with the Tempo strategy, and now that I’m facing fewer “netdecks” I feel much more confident it can hold this level.


FTP Paladin
Class Cards (13)620
Blessing of Might 1
Argent Protector 2
Truesilver Champion 4
Blessing of Kings 4
Consecration 4
Hammer of Wrath 4
Guardian of Kings 7
Neutral Cards (17)
Abusive Sergeant 1
Leper Gnome 1
Acidic Swamp Ooze 2
Loot Hoarder 2
Ironbeak Owl 3
Acolyte of Pain 3
Harvest Golem 3
Chillwind Yeti 4
Sen’jin Shieldmasta 4
Argent Commander 6

Core:  Paladin decks appear to be built on a shaky platform of cheap, disposable minions and buff spells.  The result is often a deck that trades cards for speed; Aggro.  However 30 health is a lot to work through when the hero power doesn’t really contribute towards such a strategy, forcing the Paladin to rely on the rarer cards to provide the necessary kick: Equality, Knife Juggler, Muster for Battle, Quartermaster, Avenging Wrath and especially Divine Favor.  We’re not going to be building that deck any time soon, folks, so hold onto your hats.  You could try control, but then you need to add Lay on Hands and Tirion Fordring on top of the above list.  Sha, right!

Strategy: So instead of all that twaddle, we’re just going to make do with Truesilver Champion, Consecration, and Guardian of Kings in a deck based on attrition; make as many one-for-one trades as possible, but outdraw (Hammer of Wrath, Acolyte of Pain, Loot Hoarder) or outlast the opponent.

Progression: Whisper it quietly, but this might be my most effective deck.  At 5-1 at ranks 16-18 it’s been something of a beast – my only loss came against a 100% Patron Warrior who drew all 4 weapons, both Warsongs, both Patrons, both Frothing Berserkers, and both Whirlwinds in the first 16 cards of his deck.  And barely won at that.  Any time a deck with one rare can come away with honour from a battle with the “best deck” is a time when one feels the deck has promise.  It’s really surprised me how effective its been against “my” metagame of mainly Mages, Hunters, and Warriors.  I couldn’t really explain the strategy, though the minion curve is similar to Tempo substituting 1/1 Recruits as 2-drops [eg on turn 3 playing Abusive Sergeant to pump your 2-drop, and then make a Recruit]; the deck almost plays itself.  Put minions in play, draw cards, trade up, wipe the opponent’s board, save the Truesilver Champions for 4 health threats like Flamewaker or full health Patrons.  Don’t forget to pretend that you have Quartermaster by making 1/1 Recruits when you can.

Cards to look for:  Equality, Equality, Equality.  The list of cards above under “Core” pretty much sums it up, but mainly Equality is needed.

Suggested Rank: 15 – It just feels so solid against anything right now.


FTP Hunter
Class Cards (13)1320
Hunter’s Mark 1
Explosive Trap 2
Scavenging Hyena 2
Animal Companion 3
Kill Command 3
Houndmaster 4
Explosive Shot 5
Gladiator’s Longbow 7
Neutral Cards (17)
Abusive Sergeant 1
Leper Gnome 1
Worgen Infiltrator 1
Acidic Swamp Ooze 2
Bloodfen Raptor 2
Ironbeak Owl 3
Arcane Golem 3
Coldlight Oracle 3
Harvest Golem 3
Ironfur Grizzly 3
Stranglethorn Tiger 5
Argent Commander 6

Core: Although not a card, the core of any good Hunter deck is the hero power.  Nothing says “aggro” quite like an ability that can only target the opposing player, so I find it amazing that people think Hunter cards should aim to control the board rather than put further pressure on the player.  In truth, Hunters are as subtle as a restraining order, so don’t be afraid to go face every turn; your opponent plays this game because he or she loves the challenge, remember?  You can’t leave Animal Companion or Kill Command in your card file – you want these Golden as soon as possible.  Apart from that just about anything goes, especially if it happens to be a beast.  Blizzard have nerfed so many Hunter cards I’ve lost count, and the deck still won’t die because removing Aggro from the environment would not only kill the game it would kill FTP.  Last time I checked they weren’t keen on doing either of those things.

Strategy:  Unfortunately the real stars of serious Hunter decks are non-basic: Explosive Trap and Freezing Trap can change the feel of the deck between aggressive or control, while Eaglehorn Bow is as vital as checking your email.  The more Knife Jugglers and Unleash the Hounds you play on the same turn the better!  But without those tools we’re largely struck with the usual suspects: Bloodfen Raptor, Shattered Sun Cleric, Chillwind Yeti etc.  In the early phases of development we have to follow the Tempo route with Hunter, but we get a helping hand from the hero power which you should use as often as you can; every point of damage counts.

Progression: Given that I have an Arcane Golem I tried to force the aggro “Face Hunter” route too early.  This was as big a mistake as I made with my Warrior deck above before I dumped the bad 1 cost minions in favour of a better curve.  In the end I settled for something with a solid mid-game and a full frontal assault finish.  Comfortably my most expensive deck in terms of dust cost, this one finally began to show off the strength of the hero power, going 4-2 on the cusp of ranks 16 and 17.  I must admit to being somewhat disappointed with it; I know I can build a better deck than this barely adequate effort.

Next Installment

I’ll have a look at the impact of the adventure sets, how to prepare for them and what cards specifically to target, consider upgrading quests, touch on the new cards I’ve opened in packs, where they went and why, and discuss the final three classes.

Hope you enjoyed this guide, and I’ll see you next time!

— thundyr

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Leave a Reply

  1. yarp says:

    You started your articles off really positive. And then your articles spiked down to pessimism.

    You are not the only FTP out there. Your “badge’ of FTP win might offend some players who have been building decks for awhile, even though no money was expended.

    You have a forum to bolster new players. But I think your ideology and technique is counterproductive to the FTP group. I also think you are underselling FTP players who just want to have a good time, yet still want to make best with what they have in hand.

    • thundyr says:

      All games, after a certain point, become a grind. My “pessimism” comes during a period when all my gold was being poured into unlocking the adventure sets – a month and a half where, but for the Watch and Learn quest and weekly Tavern Brawl, I didn’t add any “depth” to my collection. Yes, I picked up a handful of very strong cards from these sets, but a deck is 30 cards not half a dozen. I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but playing essentially the same decks for 6 weeks and hitting one’s head against the same obstacles each game becomes rather trying. So I apologise that my state of mind offended you, but it comes with the territory.

      I’d like to hear your thoughts on how my “ideology and technique [are] counterproductive to the FTP group”. It’s easy to criticise, but much harder to offer suggestions that do not fall into much the same trap. This series is my journey, outlying the pleasure and the pain of these choices and what adjustments I make as a result. For instance, if you think I’m wrong to spend 3500g on the first 4 wings of Naxxramas and the opening wing of Blackrock Mountain then by all means justify it with evidence of decks without these cards at their core that outperform those with them. If you cannot then you must expect at some point to need these cards, in which case the time needed and frustration experienced while grinding for them becomes a reality. Maybe you can dedicate 10 hours a day to this game, and therefore you consider this step a breeze, but in that way you too would have an “ideology and technique” that cannot be taken as part of the FTP canon.

      You are right that not everyone has ambition in this game, and for them it may well be that it’s okay to have neither answers to nor their own Sludge Belchers. It may be that they’re happy to sit at rank 20 all season and play only in the casual room. That is fine and it is their decision, but I don’t think you can criticise me for taking a different route; that too is my decision alone.

      As for my “badge”, I actually have a great deal of respect for people who beat me with clearly inadequate decks. If my opponent hit me with “pwned by FTP!” I’d probably click “add friend”. You’re right that many people in the world are far too easily offended, and I know that Blizzard will never implement my request as a result (assuming their dev team even knew about it). Mainly I like to think that my “badge” is a part of what demonstrates my passion about being an FTPer, that shows I really care about beating people with better collections and/or greater experience. I don’t honestly see how this sells short anyone else in this same FTP boat. A lot of people are only here to have fun; but unsurprisingly winning makes it more fun. I’m hoping that my decks, suggestions and the tale of my journey may help.

  2. Aaron says:

    really loving these articles thanks a bunch Thundyr, your doing all of Hearthstone a favor by taking the time to write guides like this. Im really enjoying the Core deck and your personal suggestions for which cards to look for. In your future articles i’d love to see more suggestions for which cards too look for and maybe card combos to look out for/plan for!

    • thundyr says:

      Thanks for the comment, @Aaron. I’m going to take the classes individually going forward, so that we can see subtle interactions between class and neutral cards etc. This will help make better deck building choices when we only have limited resources.

  3. dadezander says:

    Hi Thundyr

    I read and enjoyed your first installment, however, much like season 2 of the best TV series, I felt your article got tighter and had a whole team of writers on board this week. Great work, very easy to read and nicely structured. Will follow with interest.