FTP Journeyman Guide: Introductions
What’s this all about, then?
My nick is thundyr, and I play primarily on the European server. I played the Hearthstone beta, but quit halfway through season 2 due to always losing to the power of legendary minions, of which I had opened exactly zero despite playing since day 1. Deathwing in particular contributed to premature balding, a card that seemed to lurk in every deck ready to spank me whenever I was naughty enough to reach rank 15 on the ladder. In Jan 2015 I finally relented after six months of nagging from a friend to start playing again (yes, I hated Deathwing *that* much). Following his recommendations I disenchanted large parts of my collection for a shiny new one with cards that actually had purpose, finally managed to open a few Legendary minions of my own, and last season (April 2015) I finally reached rank 5 on the ladder despite
a wife and two young kids no class legendaries. The only money I have spent on the game was purchasing Naxx and BRM; the hard work was daily play to craft up a set of “core” rare and epic cards so that I could do well enough with most heroes despite gaping holes in my collection.
Now I have started playing on the US server, committed to “proper” Free-To-Play (FTP); invest not a cent, refuse to give into weakness and hide behind my Sludge Belchers and Solemn Vigils. I have searched for guidance for starting FTPers, but could not find true love. There are many guides for the starting player, listing the most efficient manner to collect gold in the beginning due to the huge number of quests and achievements in the early game etc. But apparently having completed these early steps we’re expected to magically have collections with duplicates of Preparation and all the Giants, as well as every class and decent neutral legendary. As if! They call Face Hunter “cancer”; we call it “All we’ve got”.
The “next” step “FTP decks” one should be looking to build comprise mainly common or basic set cards, with specific rare cards to act as fuel or glue (mainly Knife Juggler, the poor player’s eternal companion) and without which the deck falls flat. However, crafting these decks without paying hard cash for them is difficult, because even if they cost only 1000 dust to craft the FTP beginner would have to destroy his or her entire collection to do so – it doesn’t matter how many times you look at Savagery it’s still just 20 dust (and I’ve opened 7 of them).
So I feel there is a need for a “gaming strategy” article series that takes the beginning FTPer through the awkward and arduous phase between completing the opening quests, and completing the first competitive deck that does not contain Bloodfen Raptor by necessity. After all, you have to compete with human players to complete daily quests and the gold earned from them is your lifeblood. If all you can do is bring a knife to every gunfight you will spend significant time either failing to reach rank 20 or writing yet another email to Blizzard begging them to allow you to please lose more stars. I believe the best approach is to “watch” someone do this from afar, and I shall be your guinea pig. I’ll show you where I start, how I progress, and where I succeed or fail. Let’s all have fun together winning the FTP way.
Soon they will come to fear your basic cards…
Obviously my fledgling collection is markedly different from that of any other player at the same stage. We’ve all only opened a small subset of the available cards, so my choices are not going to be ones other players can necessarily make. The best I can do is to demonstrate how my decks mutate over time, what important cards I’ve added to my collection from packs, why I made the choices I did, and at what rank I believe the decks should compete. I will present 3 of my decks each time, give insights into what I am trying to achieve with each deck, and give suggestions of what cards will benefit the strategy as it’s likely other players have opened the cards I lack while are missing those I have.
I’m not going to make a “Legendary FTP deck”; that’s just an invented name for a deck that one of the top players spent time and effort on with total disregard for the rest of the collection and the other 8 heroes. I will not be doing this, and I do not suggest you follow that path until you are equally established as a player.
I’m not a person with infinite time to dedicate to any game. I can get in a few hours a day, but that’s generally only sufficient for completing the daily quests on each of the European and American servers. As such my goal is to play in 6 wins in ranked or casual play each day in order to earn 20g from the 3 wins for 10g “quest”. This is generally enough to complete whatever quest I had for the day, and will therefore earn 60-120g depending on the type of daily quest (average of around 68g per day). Opening 2 packs every 3 days is a perfectly fine progression for a regular person with a full-time job and a family, like myself. If you have more time, then by all means use that to your advantage; just be aware that the 10g for 3 wins quest can only be awarded 10 times each day, but isn’t awarded for Arena wins.
I will spend no money on the account. Since time is money and I’m investing none of the latter and only a little of the former I can’t expect to be seen streaming my games at rank 1 Legendary any time soon. That does not imply I have abandoned hope of achieving that one day, nor will it get in the way of my enjoyment of the game. I’m simply being realistic, and so should you.
Finally, I will not use Legendary minions in my decks, whether to improve the power level of the deck or as the basis for a strategy. The primary reason for this is that my luck may exceed that of the reader, and therefore even in this limited format I’d build decks others may only aspire towards. That is entirely contrary to the purpose of this guide. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play Dr. Boom in every deck like all other players do if you have it. I will lift this restriction in time as there is no sense crafting Legendary cards with no intention of using them.
So let’s get started then!
As a FTPer one’s resources are limited to whatever can be earned in-game. This means that the manner in which these rewards are spent is crucial to one’s success. There are a few primary decisions that will affect the player’s approach.
- Saving gold for the “Adventure sets” (Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain) vs buying Classic packs. Each wing of these sets costs 700g. The money pile image above the cost in the Shop doesn’t accurately convey how much of an investment this is for the FTPer; they should put the picture from Backstab there instead. The cards obtained are excellent, but are better at rounding out largely complete decks than creating good ones out of nothing. So don’t embarrass Kel'Thuzad by pairing him with River Crocolisk – get some cards, get some experience at building decks and playing them, and then reconsider the options later.
- Saving gold for the Arena vs buying Classic packs. Competing in the Arena is a bit like stepping up to a poker table with money hanging from your pockets and “ghoti” stamped on your forehead. Without experience it is difficult to reach the minimum number of 3 wins where the 150g invested in the Arena ticket roughly balances the rewards. Also, the pack(s) in the reward comes from the Goblins vs Gnomes set rather than the Classic set, which I do not feel is ideal for the beginning player even if Blizzard lowered the game’s skill entry requirement with Mechwarper and Goblin Blastmage. My suggestion is rather to focus on getting a solid foundation in skill, understanding of the game, and in the Classic card collection rather than being distracted by the promise of great rewards from long win streaks in the Arena. Very few players have a better Arena run average than 7 wins where one can “go infinite”, yet everyone thinks they’re good enough to do so because there was that one time at band camp… For reference, my Arena run record is 11 wins but I average only 4.5; a significant difference.
- Disenchanting and Crafting cards. The hard rule for crafting is: “Craft only Legendary cards because you have no idea what you are doing and will waste your dust”. The truth behind this rule is that eventually you will open entire packs of cards you already have enough copies of, so if you initially spent dust in crafting these cards then that dust has been wasted. But this implies that the FTPer is largely at the mercy of the Random Number Generator when it comes to card quality. At the start my suggestion is to stick by the rule and not disenchant (aka “dust”) any card that is not excess (eg you already have two copies or a duplicate Legendary). Once you have 1600 dust we’ll talk again. Golden cards are to be dusted over normal ones for the FTPer as they create significantly more dust; as soon as you have an excess copy of a card, dust the Golden one first and keep a box of tissues nearby for when someone casts a Golden Coin.
- When to review these decisions. Once you’re a more experienced player and you have a feel for the game and your level as a player (as opposed to the level of your collection), then these decisions should be reviewed if one has different goals in mind (eg the desire to reach a single digit rank with 1 deck rather than slumming it at rank 16 with everything).
- When to pen a letter to Blizzard imploring them to add the taunt “Pwned by FTP!” complete with rosy butt cheeks, available only on accounts that have not paid cash for anything. You should do this immediately.
I have completed what I call the “Apprentice Phase” of Hearthstone on the US server. That is to say my collection sucks a bit less than it did during the tutorial. I have levelled all 9 heroes up to level 10 in order to unlock all the basic cards, have defeated all the Expert AI heroes at least once each, and have completed a total of 100 wins in any mode. This was done primarily by playing against the Expert AI (60 of my first 100 wins were not against human players). Had the AI two more IQ points it would reach the level of a tree and blessedly the games do not take long. By contrast human opponents use more of their cards, brain, and allotted time each turn to play. They get in the way of progress and mental well-being, especially those who say “Well played” each time you do anything even if it’s only to taunt them.
I used the gold from the quests to open Classic packs. I completed the free Arena run (6 wins with Mage) so I have 5 GvG cards only. Thus far I have not dusted a single card I did not already have two copies of. I got 95 dust as a reward for dusting my first excess card, and used the 100 dust to craft a Shadow Madness as I felt my Priest cards were strongest. I did this because I thought there might be a reward for my first craft – I was wrong, thus proving that the Rule is correct in that I have no idea what I am doing and should save my dust for Legendaries.
As such my one month-old collection contains the following notables:
Hogger, Onyxia, Ragnaros the Firelord None to be used
Common: 2 Explosive Trap, 2 Sorcerer's Apprentice, 2 Circle of Healing, Inner Fire, Velen's Chosen, 2 Earth Shock, 2 Lightning Bolt, Stormforged Axe, 2 Battle Rage, Floating Watcher, 2 Acolyte of Pain, 2 Harvest Golem, Amani Berserker, Raging Worgen, Leper Gnome, Abusive Sergeant, 2 Ironbeak Owl
I have quite a number of other non-basic cards, but those will become dust later. Those listed above form the card pool I will draw from in deckbuilding.
Unless one is trying specifically to reach the legend rank (and one has the collection for it), one’s decks will peak at a certain rank where they win as often as they lose. If one takes a step back and assesses this point one realizes that it really doesn’t matter if one is rank 20 or rank 1; one sucks either more or less, but one still sucks. The goal is for all my decks to suck equally much in order that class-specific daily quests are not arduous for one or two classes while being a breeze for others. Obviously I don’t want all my decks to be awful, but the first goal is to get everything comfortable at rank 15, even though I’m far from convinced it can be achieved in the first month of starting the account without good fortune.
The First Three Decks
Core: There are 4 cards that appear as duplicates in basically every single Druid deck regardless of strategy or rank: Innervate, Wild Growth, Swipe and the common, Wrath. Don’t leave home without them. If like me you don’t have any copies of Wrath substitute them with Mark of the Wild.
Strategy: Big monsters with Taunt. Druid decks are largely blunt instruments that win by forcing the opponent to exhaust more than one card in order to kill each monster. Most heroes have a card that allows a one-for-one trade with any minion (eg Hex, Polymorph, Assassinate etc), but we will play more monsters than they have cards of this nature. The big monsters obviously cost more than normal monsters played by the opponent, but Wild Growth and Innervate are going to enable us to get them into play early. Never forget that the hero power lets you kill enemy minions while providing a point of armour – using the hero power well is essential to strong Druid play.
Mulligan: You want “ramp” cards in the opening hand and hopefully something that can deal with an opening turn opposing minion with up to 3 health (especially Northshire Cleric, Knife Juggler and Mechwarper). So if you lack any of Wild Growth, Innervate, Claw, Wrath then dump the whole hand. Always discard anything costing more than 5.
The Coin: My suggested play when beginning the game with The Coin is to use it to play Wild Growth on your first turn as often as you can, unless you can use Wrath to kill a dangerous early minion like those mentioned above instead. In essence, this play creates the equivalent situation that you began the game AND had the advantage of the extra card when deciding on your mulligan; a significant boost in tempo. In effect your minions all come out one turn earlier for the rest of the game (another way of thinking of it is: The Coin + Wild Growth = The Coin every turn).
Suggested rank: 18 – The deck lacks sufficient power to tangle effectively with the “net decks” that are common above rank 18, especially early in the season. It will benefit significantly from better cards, especially Druid of the Claw and Wrath.
Core: Priest at its core is a “combo” class. There are several groups of cards that have synergy with one another but this synergy does not generally extend to the entire deck. Instead one picks a few of these combo sets and learns to work with them together. Priest is therefore fairly versatile in terms of strategy, but takes a fair bit of skill to play well. Priest comes with its own card-draw engine in the form of Northshire Cleric, which is always paired with Power Word: Shield. No Priest plays less than 1 Mind Control – there is always some ridiculous card that your opponent will play in the late game that you would prefer to have on your side of the board.
Strategy: The 2 combos that the priest gets from the basic card set involve drawing extra cards through Northshire Cleric and what I call “Build a Monster”. The latter is achieved by playing creatures with high health and then artificially boosting that health with buffs such as Divine Spirit. I’ve been fortunate to open several commons that suit these combos, so the deck will consist primarily of these (Acolyte of Pain and Northshire Cleric work very well together, for instance). Boosting only the health of one’s minions is not going to destroy the opponent’s life total, so I’ve added Inner Fire and Crazed Alchemist to transfer that bonus to the minion’s attack. This deck can win seemingly out of nowhere as a result: Mogu'shan Warden with Divine Spirit twice and then Inner Fire will hit for 28 damage. Lightspawn and Gurubashi Berserker have these effects naturally, to an extent. Note also the combo between Auchenai Soulpriest and Circle of Healing for some Advanced Priest 101 – that’s 4 damage to every creature on the board for 4 mana, and the Soulpriest will live to tell the tale unless one of your creatures also had Velen's Chosen enchanting it.
Mulligan: Discard anything with a cost of 5 or more and aim to keep Northshire Cleric and a buff spell. You want to draw as many cards as you can with the Cleric before it is inevitably killed.
Cards to look for: Thoughtsteal, Annoy-o-Tron (GvG), Shrinkmeister (GvG – to allow you to steal or kill 4 attack minions with Shadow Madness or Shadow Word: Pain), Injured Blademaster (but only in concert with Circle of Healing), Shadowboxer, Wild Pyromancer, Light of the Naaru, Cabal Shadow Priest, Lightbomb
Suggested rank: 17 – The deck contains strong combos, with Auchenai/Circle foremost, but the base minions at my disposal are too weak to make build-a-monster a reliable strategy against players with much stronger collections. It should also be noted that the Build-a-Monster strategy has a low ceiling because several of the cards do not directly win or even influence the game. So don’t get too attached to it because ultimately we’re going to throw it out once our collection has some meat to it.
Alternative Strategy: None without significant numbers of rares
Core: The Mage class has some of the strongest basic set cards in the game, so it’s a natural class for newer players to gravitate towards, both in constructed and Arena. Frostbolt, Polymorph, Water Elemental, Arcane Intellect, Fireball, and Flamestrike form a solid basis for practically any Mage deck. The class is also diverse so see the “Alternative Strategy” section below for an idea of how one’s collection shapes the first Mage deck you will play.
Strategy: The Mage hero power provides ‘ping’ (one damage) attacks at any target. This means the Mage player can draw a card off Acolyte of Pain or boost the power of Gurubashi Berserker by 3 at will. Also, many of the spells deal damage, so minions that boost spell damage can provide an extra edge. Save your Polymorphs for threats that will win the game for your opponent, especially Legendary minions with continuous or Deathrattle effects.
Mulligan: Look to keep Frostbolt and some cheaper minions to ensure you have an early game board presence.
Suggested rank: 17 – Even though it contains only 6 non-basic cards the deck has enough power to cause most decks some trouble, and if the opposing player is inexperienced with his deck or class you can often win despite his better cards.
Alternative Strategy A: Freeze Mage – look for Cone of Cold, Snowchugger (GvG), Blizzard, Frost Elemental, Water Elemental and Frost Nova to prevent the opponent’s minions from attacking, giving you time to establish the board in your favour.
Alternative Strategy B: Secrets Mage – look for Ice Barrier, Mirror Entity, Ice Block, Counterspell, Ethereal Arcanist and Illuminator to build a large monster of your own, copy those of your opponent, and stay high on health. Don’t forget to add Kezan Mystic to steal opposing secrets from Hunters, Paladins and other Mages. Although I actually have one each of Ice Block and Ethereal Arcanist (the perfect pair) I don’t have any support for them just yet, but perhaps Secrets Mage is where the deck will gravitate in time.
I’ll have a look at the current metagame around rank 17 on the US server so you know what you’re getting yourself in for, discuss the new cards I’ve opened in packs, where they went and why, have a look at your chances of opening the cards you need, and discuss three more classes.
Hope you enjoyed this guide, and I’ll see you next time!