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February 2, 2017

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Mana Matters: Understanding 1 Drop Minions

Hearthstone is a very simple game in concept, and it’s very easy to pick up and play. However, there’s an absolutely immense amount of strategy that can go into it at the high levels.

In this series of articles, I will be looking at each individual level of mana in detail and explaining from a deck-building perspective what is important at that stage of the game, considerations that have to be made, and the types of cards available to you.

I’ll categorize cards into brackets that make it easier to understand them and their functions. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a much stronger understanding of how the cards work and how best to include them in your decks.

Starting on the Right Foot


1-drops are some of the most complicated cards in the game to understand. They are budgeted differently from any other cards in the game, understanding their impact works a little differently, and unlike a lot of other cards, it’s important to actually question whether or not the minions are worth the card slot in the first place.

Also unlike any other slot, more the half of the decks in hearthstone may not need any 1-drops at all. When you make a deck, it’s important to understand the function of 1-drops and what purpose they would serve in your deck. Do you need any, or would the slots be better left to something else?

It goes without saying that if you’re running a particularly aggressive deck, you should of course include early-game minions in your deck. But if you’re running midrange or control, what are the advantages or disadvantages of including 1-drop minions in your deck?

The first turn of a Hearthstone match is an opportunity. As the game develops and goes on, the two players will fight for tempo.

Typically the person who puts down a creature first tends to have the board advantage for the beginning of the game. This is simply because unless the second player ignores the creature, they will have to use their turn to react to it, and then even if they do succeed in clearing the board, the first player once again has the opportunity to play a creature onto an open board and regain tempo.

This means that there is a big advantage to be gained by playing a creature first – it puts you on the offensive and forces your opponent onto the back heel. A lot of decks pass the first turn of the match because they don’t include early minions – if you take advantage of that first turn, you can get an early lead.

If taking advantage of the first turn is so good, why don’t all decks do it? It turns out that there are some sacrifices that you make when you include 1-drops into your deck. In the first place, you are including some level of risk and inconsistency in your deck. If you don’t happen to get your 1-drops on the first turn, the value they give you in the early game is wasted. If you do fail to get a 1-drop in the first turn, you also encounter the other weakness of most 1-mana cards: they just don’t have very much impact.

In almost every case, even though you tend to get more value-per-mana than at any other stage of the game, 1-drops don’t do very much for you as the game goes on. For instance, you would almost always prefer to get anything other than a 1-drop in the late game if you’re reduced to a top deck war.

So, how can we maximize the effectiveness of the 1-drop slots in our deck while also lowering the risk of irrelevancy and wasted value in the late game?

One of the best things to look for in a 1-drop is universal applicability. That is, a card that is useful at most points in the game. An excellent example of this is the hunter’s new card, the Webspinner. You can drop the Webspinner on turn 1, and it will provide some early board presence, but it will also be effective in the late game because it allows you to cycle your cards in combination with the Starving Buzzard, and it gives you a fresh beast card to play when it dies. Later in the game, it’s these factors, rather than its stats, that make it a useful card for 1 mana.

Another thing to look for in a 1-drop is stat distribution. The different stat distributions give the card different strengths and weaknesses.For instance, the Leper Gnome is useful as an aggressive card because of its 2/1 stat distribution. What makes this interesting is that it can trade up and destroy a 2-mana minion or even higher with 2 health, maximizing its value. The weakness of a 1 health minion, however, is that it dies to hero powers from the rogue, druid, and mage, and also dies to any and all forms of Area of Effect (AoE) damage. An alternate stat distribution is 1/2. This is useful because it resists early removal, and can clear out 2 different 1/1 creatures by itself. Although previously, this wasn’t a very useful trait, the curse of Naxxramas expansion made this more valuable by including more low-damage creatures. This means that being able to survive 1 damage actually helps significantly to develop your board against enemy creatures like the Haunted Creeper and its tokens.

There are other stat distributions at the 1-drop level, but they’re rarer. 1/1 is uncommon and under-budgeted, but can make up for this with value in another way. For instance, the Argent Squire is a very effective 1/1 creature because it is very resistant to board clears. It’s very conducive to being buffed and in general maintaining board presence.

There is now a singular 2/3 minion at the 1-mana level, the Zombie Chow, but its downside is significant for that. We’ll talk about that in more detail later.

Finally, there are other 1-off distributions like 0/4 and 3/2, but we’ll get to all of them when we talk specifically about each of the cards.

In general, the distribution you pick should reflect the deck you’re putting it in. Do you want board control/presence? You probably want higher health and less attack, since you want your creature to survive and potentially go 2-for-1 with their early creatures.

Is your deck quite aggressive? If so, you want high attack creatures that can not only get early damage in if they go unanswered, but also can trade up into more important creatures as well.

Is your deck a heavy control deck? If so, including 1-drops is more questionable, because you will be taking up card slots that could be more effectively used for other purposes, but if you do choose to include them, you need to make sure that they maintain relevance into the late game.

There’s a final criterion for 1-drop cards that we should take into account before we get to the cards themselves: perceived threat.

Hearthstone is all about efficiency and using your removal effectively. That means that one of the best things you can do is to trick your opponents into wasting their removal too early or inefficiently.Dangerous-looking 1-drops are an excellent tool for achieving this purpose.

Consider the Undertaker. This card is absolutely a big threat on the board, even if you don’t immediately follow it up with anything. As a 1/2 with the potential to rapidly grow, several more control-oriented players will be willing to use a spell like Wrath or Holy Smite on it on turn 2. This does two great things for you: it effectively wastes their early-game removal on one of your smaller threats, and it also effectively wastes their second turn! In control matchups, this is a huge advantage, but even in non-control matchups, it can put you at an early advantage. The psychological power of 1-drops is not to be overlooked.

So, all of this in mind, let’s have a look at our options, and talk about each one!

The Cards


Every week in the series, I’m going to look at every creature, both neutral and class, that exists for the mana level. I’ll separate them into categories: Cards we can immediately dismiss (the bad), cards that are worth discussing and can legitimately be included in some decks (the interesting) and cards that in general are very high value and excellent in almost any circumstance (the excellent). So, without further ado, let’s get started!

The Bad


Angry Chicken

The Angry Chicken barely requires a description as to why it’s a bad card, but for the sake of completeness, I’ve included it here. It is a 1/1 with an enrage mechanic. The enrage mechanic is amazing, yes, but in order for it to properly work, it requires at least another card, be it Blessing of Kings, Mark of the Wild or Houndmaster.

We just talked about how you want 1-drops that are as universally applicable as possible to prevent value loss in the late game; a 1-drop that is only conditionally effective and relies on another card to be relevant at all is very clearly a bad deal.

Bloodsail Corsair

The Bloodsail Corsair is not as bad as it looks at first glance. As a 1/2, it has the ability to live through trades with some early-game minions. The battlecry isn’t as awful as it seems; most weapons only have 1 charge on them by the time you get to dealing with them with Acidic Swamp Ooze or Harrison Jones, so it actually is just as effective as these cards in most instances.

However, the Acidic Swamp Ooze is a better deal in terms of stats anyhow, so it’s a bit of a moot point. On the whole, there are just more effective cards out there than a conditional 1/2.

Hungry Crab

The Hungry Crab suffers from the same sort of issue that the Bloodsail Corsair does. It’s a 1/2, which is good for early board presence, but its battlecry will very rarely get you any value. If there happens to be a murloc on the enemy’s side of the board, the Hungry Crab is a phenomenal card; it’s a massive tempo shift in your favor.

However, even the old standard of murloc warlock decks is rare these days, and holding onto one of these cards for the occasional Coldlight Oracle that you see on the ladder is simply not worth it. You have better options.

Goldshire Footman

The much maligned Goldshire Footman isn’t all that bad in reality – especially after the Curse of Naxxramas and seeing the deathrattle of the Sludge Belcher in action, it should be clear that if nothing else, having to deal with a 1/2 taunt is usually pretty annoying. It absorbs another attack that would otherwise hit one of your other minions or your own health.

However, it’s pretty clear that small annoyance simply isn’t worth the card slot on its own. If the delay appeals to you, the Sludge Belcher is the way to go; the Goldshire Footman, if for no other special reason, just doesn’t do enough to merit the card slot.

Lightwarden

The Lightwarden is a threat. It is certainly a card that merits early removal, and for that reason, it’s interesting to talk about in certain decks (particularly priest decks).

However, unlike the Undertaker, another 1-drop that gains permanent buffs under a particular condition, the Lightwarden depends on a particular board state in order to be effective. If you don’t have damaged creatures, you can’t give it that buff, and by the time you can, it will likely already be dead.

More importantly, unlike the Undertaker, giving the Lightwarden a buff fails to develop your board in any significant way. As a result, you’re sacrificing board presence to conditionally buff a small creature with very little staying power; that simply isn’t worth it.

Secretkeeper

What did I just say about sacrificing tempo in order to buff a small impermanent creature? With one important exception, 1-drop creatures really aren’t worth buffing that much, particularly when it involves sacrificing your early game tempo.

Although it is possible that the Secretkeeper does manage to maintain relevance later in the game (for instance, turn 4 Secretkeeper into Ice Barrier), it once again just isn’t worth the slot for how conditional of a card it is.

Voodoo Doctor

This is the first 2/1 card that’s made it into the bad card section, which should tell you something – generally, 1/2s are indeed worse than 2/1s for their inability to trade up. The Voodoo Doctor is here because its battlecry just isn’t good enough when compared to another creature like a Leper Gnome for most decks.

Restoring 2 health is rarely a useful battlecry, not because it’s conditional, but because it’s rarely relevant. For priests, it’s redundant, and for other classes, they typically have more effective neutral choices for healing (like the Earthen Ring Farseer).

The Voodoo Doctor isn’t necessarily a bad card, especially when compared to some of the others on this list, but it just doesn’t make the cut for our very limited 1-drop slots.

Worgen Infiltrator

The Worgen Infiltrator is a good card for arena when early board presence is key. When every single opponent you face is a mage (last time I checked out arena…) it’s important to have a strong 1-drop that can survive to kill their early tempo.

In constructed, though, when you have other means of stopping early tempo, having 1 turn of protection isn’t usually something that you need. If you’re going to include a 2/1 in your deck, it just makes more sense to have something like the Leper Gnome.

This card is much like the Voodoo Doctor or even the Goldshire Footman. It doesn’t maintain any relevance in the late game at all, and you just have better options. It simply isn’t worth the card slot to include this guy.

Young Dragonhawk

The Young Dragonhawk is, much like the angry chicken, potentially useful in theory if the right conditions are met, but in reality simply not worth the combo potential.

Yes, if you combine this card with a Blessing of Kings, it would be excellent. But it’s a two-card requirement that doesn’t hold up in the late game. And, really, ANY card combined with Blessing of Kings is going to be good. The windfury, while interesting, doesn’t do much to make this minion interesting.

The Interesting


Elven Archer

The Elven Archer is interesting. She’s a 1/1, which is normally lackluster, but she’s also one of the only 1-drop minions out there that has the capability to impact the board immediately when she comes out. This is an interesting idea, especially because she will be the least useful on turn 1, which is when you’d want to play most other 1-drops. She serves as a 1/1 body attached to the mage’s hero power for 1 mana less, and if you think about it that way, it’s a pretty good deal.

The only downside, of course, is that it takes up a card slot for that privilege. The Elven Archer is interesting, and can legitimately be included in some decks (particularly those with enrage mechanics or on-damage effects like the Acolyte of Pain). However, she is not a typical 1-drop, because you don’t ever want to put her on the board for 1 damage at the start of the game.

Grimscale Oracle, Murloc Raider, Murloc Tidecaller

I’m going to discuss all three of these guys at the same time, because the conclusion I’m going to reach is both obvious and fairly short. In isolation, all three cards are really, really bad.

The exception is the Murloc Raider, which is just a vanilla 2/1 and not inherently bad, but if you were going to include it in some other deck, why not a 2/1 with an active effect?

However, if you’re building a murloc synergy deck, you’re going to include all three of these cards, and they will very obviously be quite effective. They’re combo cards in every way, and work only in a deck dedicated specifically to them. That’s why I put them in the middle section – useless if you aren’t running a murloc deck, but integral if you are.

Shieldbearer

The Shieldbearer used to be thought of as an awful card. It can’t trade at all, even if it does have 4 health. It’s a delay card that loses relevance in the late game, and for that, it isn’t great.That is, until the zoo came around and Reynad popularized this particular card as a part of that.

In that deck, it’s a powerful addition that protects your rapid board development. In a lot of others, though, it just isn’t worth it. The Shieldbearer can have unique relevance when placed into an aggressive, fast deck that specializes in buffing its creatures. If you aren’t running that sort of deck, though, it doesn’t make any sense.

Southsea Deckhand

The Southsea deckhand is a very high-value card if used correctly. If you think of the Bluegill Warrior, you realize that getting the same deal conditionally for 1 mana less is actually excellent.

Of course, it will only ever work for a few classes and deck styles, but warriors and rogues particularly who take the aggressive route can certainly consider this as a strong early-game option. That said, you never want to play this card on the first turn, much like the elven archer, because if you don’t have a weapon equipped, it’s just a murloc raider.

I’m not a huge fan of it because it’s conditional, and much like its older cousin the Bluegill Warrior, it loses some relevance in the late game; however, it is certainly a legitimate aggro card for those building that style of deck.

Stonetusk Boar

This card is, in essence, an extended hunter class card, and should almost exclusively be treated as such. A 1/1 with charge offers the ability to do exactly what the elven archer does, but much worse, because it won’t leave the 1/1 body behind. As a result, for any deck that isn’t focused on beast synergy, this would go in my first category.

For beast-focused hunters, however, it’s theoretically viable, so I put it in this middle category. However, because of the Haunted Creeper and Webspinner, this guy may well be out of a job soon.

Young Priestess

The Young Priestess isn’t a bad card. It’s a 2/1 that also immediately impacts the board, provided that you already have pre-existing board presence. It’s slightly conditional, but assumedly, any deck that would run the Young Priestess would be very aggressive about pursuing board control. The early zoo ran this card for its damage potential in addition to the same bonus the Blood Imp gave.

However, with the influx of Naxxramas cards, it has fallen by the wayside. It’s still a viable card for highly aggressive decks, but like some of the other intermediate picks, it’s debateable whether this card should earn a slot over a more valuable card.

Zombie Chow

Zombie Chow is a fantastic card, and in the right decks, it’s excellent. However, in other decks, it doesn’t make the cut. Why? Late-game relevance. If you’re playing the priest, Zombie Chow is amazing, because you can use it to clear out your opponent’s early tempo prior to them taking any damage, and so the deathrattle is effectively wasted.

Moreover, if you have them in hand later in the game, you can drop them as a part of your Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing combo to deal damage to the enemy. It keeps its effectiveness throughout the game. However, if you’re playing virtually any other deck, including the zoo, it’s a difficult inclusion because of how awful it is to top-deck in the late game. If you get it on turn 10 when both players are at 5-10 health, its deathrattle can make the difference for your opponent.

As with most of the lower-tier 1-drop cards, even though it’s great early on, it’s a conditional greatness, and if it doesn’t come at the very beginning of the game, it’s often more of a liability than a benefit.

The Excellent


Abusive Sergeant

The Abusive Sergeant is a top-notch card in the 1-drop slot for the sole purpose that it maintains an immediate and effective relevance throughout the game. Being able to add 2 damage to anything temporarily is very, very powerful – ask any zoo player.

You can buff up weak minions to trade with big ones (and 2 damage added to any minion is a very big swing), and it leaves a 2/1 body on the board, which is usually the more useful stat distribution at the 1-drop level. This card can not only allow your Leper Gnome to trade with your opponent’s Azure Drake or Gadgetzan Auctioneer, but it also allows your Big Game Hunter to kill your opponent’s Savannah Highmane for free.

The only condition on this card is that you need to have board presence to use it, but assuming that condition is met, it’s a much more immediate and effective buff than, say, the one from the Young Priestess.

Argent Squire

This card is great because of its divine shield. A 1/1 body isn’t great – I have already given poor reviews to the Angry Chicken and the Young Dragonhawk for having a 1/1 body.

The useful thing about the Argent Squire, though, is that for one turn, it’s like it has a 1/infinity body. It will always require 2 actions to get it completely off the table (with the sole exception of an Earth Shock). Either it hits something twice, or it gets hit with two different spells.

It’s remarkably effective at allowing you to maintain at least something on the board through powerful board wipes like Lightning Storm or Flamestrike, and that’s an ability that no other 1-drop has. For that, it’s great, and what’s even better is that it maintains this resilience even if it’s buffed!

Leper Gnome

Whenever I spoke about a 2/1 body up above, I always referenced this particular 2/1 body as being better. Why? Just like the Abusive Sergeant, it throws 2 damage at the enemy hero unconditionally, which is useful at any point in the game.

It isn’t something that should be used in control or even midrange decks, really, but if you’re building an aggro deck, just like the Abusive Sergeant, this card is almost as good as a 4/1 for 1 from a damage perspective, and that’s a very good deal. Moreover, it has a deathrattle, which makes it even more powerful than before when combined with our next card.

Undertaker

The final neutral one-drop is also one of the best. The Undertaker looks, at first glance, like the Secretkeeper. Play the 1-drop, and then play other cards to give it a permanent +1/1+ buff. What’s great about the Undertaker, though, is that unlike the Secretkeeper, you don’t have to lose tempo to buff it; instead, you gain tempo by playing more creatures that you would probably play anyhow.

This isn’t a card to play on its own; it isn’t universally useful. However, cards like the Leper Gnome, Loot Hoarder, Harvest Golem, and now the Haunted Creeper are so common in so many decks that this card is a natural fit for a lot of people who want an early card on the table.

What I like so much about the undertaker is that you don’t really have to change your play at all; you want to efficiently play creatures to take board control as you normally would. But this card gives you a side benefit with absolutely no down-side.

Moreover, in my experience, it’s great at drawing early game removal, and with even 1 other creature played, it is annoyingly difficult to clear in the first few turns. In my view, this is one of the more valuable creatures that we got with Naxxramas, and it’s an excellent choice of 1-drop for a lot of decks.

Class Specific


I want to keep a focus on neutral cards as much as possible with this series, but it is worth talking very briefly about the class cards that exist at the 1-mana level.

The Hunter’s cards, the Timber Wolf and the Webspinner, are effective for different things. The Timberwolf is a combo card that is slowly losing relevance, simply because of how effective midrange hunter decks can be without it; the Webspinner, on the other hand, is a great card. It provides beast synergy, gives you a free beast card upon death, and gives hunters something easy to feed the Starving Buzzard with in the late game.

The Mage’s Mana Wyrm should be in almost all mage decks; just like with the Undertaker, it’s a card that gets passively buffed whenever you do something you would likely be doing anyhow, which is great in my books.

The Priest’s Northshire Cleric is one of the best card drawing engines in the game, and would be very difficult to exclude from any list.

The Shaman’s Dust Devil is really bad, because despite it’s amazing potential damage (6 damage on turn 2!) it destroys your second turn with overload and easily dies to hero powers and early spells.

Although the warlock’s Blood Imp isn’t the greatest (simply because it works like a less-effective Young Priestess most of the time), the Flame Imp and Voidwalker should be automatically included into every aggressive warlock deck because of how powerful their stats are – a 3/2 for 1 mana, although not as effective at trading as a 2/3, is very good for early pressure.

Closing


So there you have it. We’ve reached the end of a very long and in-depth look at the 1-mana slot in hearthstone. Hopefully, you’ve come away with a solid understanding of not only which cards are effective and which aren’t (and why!) but you’ve also learned why the 1-mana slot is important, and what you gain and lose by including them into your deck. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to post them here or to my twitter (@DreadmakerHS), and I hope you’ll join me next week for our discussion of the 2-mana slot!

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3 Comments

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  1. wesolyfoton says:

    I can’t wait to read about 2 drop minions :)

  2. Zeul says:

    Nice summary… It should be mentioned that the Light Warden’s ability can be activated by healing any character, not just a minion.

    • Dreadmaker says:

      It’s true, I didn’t explicitly draw attention to the Light Warden’s inclusion of the heroes as well in her ability. That said, it changes nothing about my rating for her – heals are generally still tempo losses, and it’s still only a buff to attack, which is inferior in basically every way to the +1/+1 that the Undertaker and even the Secretkeeper get. But, good of you to point it out nonetheless :)