On Mastery of Arena (Draft – Advanced)
Advanced Hearthstone Arena Drafting.
This article will discuss a handful of advanced drafting considerations that will (hopefully) elevate your game to the next level. It is highly recommended that you read the first part of this series “On Mastery of Arena (Draft – Fundamentals)” before reading this article, as many of the fundamental concepts detailed in the first article will be repeated here without explanation. Even advanced players could use a refresher, and I may approach certain traditional CCG concepts from a different perspective.
While the first article in the series focused on how the value rankings determined value and the three basic types of value found in Hearthstone cards, this article will go beyond objective card “value” altogether and focus on deck construction, and making those picks where you can say “Card X is almost always better than Card Y, but not here.” Going down in objective value, especially when dropping more than a couple of tiers, is one of the worst feelings in Hearthstone, as you have the weight of experts and professionals like Ant1gravity and Trump judging your choices. But, going “anti-value” is often the correct pick. Ultimately, the value rankings should be interpreted as a baseline of the card’s value, but how each card fits into your deck is always much, much more important.
At the end of the day, you would always rather have a coherent deck with good plays each turn and a variety of plays to make, rather than a couple of higher value cards.
That being said, always pick the Chillwind Yeti. Always. I’m serious. Don’t even look at anything else. He fits in everywhere, and is extra fuzzy.
What is the point of every deck we build in Arena? To win the game! Sadly, this part of deck construction is lost in most Arena drafts due to the focus on the value of each particular card. If you draft purely on value in the Arena, even if you make all of the correct picks, your deck will only be as good as the value you were offered. Isn’t that the definition of RNG? In order to take our draft out of the realm of RNG, and to create more value from our draft, our decks should be made with an endgame in mind.
The most important element in a synergistic Arena deck is the balance between big removal and small removal, and the balance between these removals and the minions you draft. Because most removals have incredibly high value, you will generally take removals to the extent they are offered. You do not control the type or composition of removals in your Arena deck. Instead, you must draft assuming that your removals will be the RNG factor, and draft your minions around them. Note that I will include charge minions here in the removal category, because you can adjust their role as you see fit since they can either be minions with reach or substitute removals (or in the case Argent Commander, Druid of the Claw, Stormwind Knight, Tundra Rhino and Doomguard, minions plus removal or plus reach). Because of their dual roles, and their general lower value than removals, these are good flexible options in the draft you can use to supplement your removal numbers and/or types. Drafting to synergize with your removals helps you fully utilize your initiatives on the board and from your hand, in order to control the game.
Lots of Large Removal; No Small Removal. Let’s consider what happens to a deck that has a lot of large removal spells, and not enough small removal spells. Let’s say, a Shaman with 3+ Hexes and only 1 Lightning Bolt (and no other small removal). In this case, our Shaman needs to be able to consistently make another play while he uses Hex. He needs an overabundance of small minions to play on the same turn he uses Hex on a large minion. If we remove the large minions with Hex, we get great tempo value, and we can snowball this tempo value into board control and face damage to win the game. On the other hand, if we have primarily large removal and large minions, we will never get enough tempo on the board to take the initiative, and will lose the game if the opponent draws just a couple of large removals or tempo cards to deal with our large minions.
Lots of Small Removal; No Large Removal. On the other hand, if we have a lot of small removals, say 5+ Wrath/Claw, but no large removal, then we need the opposite type of minion. Not having large minions on the board would mean that we would ultimately trade inefficiently on card advantage, so our goal is to have enough large minions and/or taunt minions to take care of or stall the large minions. Our few small minions can continuously deal damage while we remove their small minions with cheap removal spells or trade up with a spell for a tempo advantage but card disadvantage. This way, we can hold the board in the beginning of the game, and keep a small, but consistent tempo advantage to ultimately deal lethal before our card dis-advantage becomes an issue. On the other hand, if we have only small removals and small minions, we become incredibly vulnerable to both mass removal and running out of steam very early.
Lots of Removal, Period. Sometimes, you will have the blessed opportunity to draft 9+ removals of all stripes. While this may seem like a gift from the heavens, remember that in Hearthstone, you have zero ability to keep your own minions alive. This means that all the removals in the world are not going to do you much good if your opponent can remove your minions until you run out. This is why a mid-range deck with a ton of removals will often result in empty turns and a loss. Decks with a lot of removals must do one of two things. 1) They can run a lot of card draw, to get bodies in your hand and on the board and to make those bodies count. This is your typical control deck. The only minions that truly stick on the board are high health minions and Silver Hand Knight, so this deck should favor those minions. This deck has more synergy if several of your removals are multi removals. 2) They can bank on their opponent not having sufficient removal to remove their earlier small minions (which they can guarantee to draw with a low curve, and mulliganing away all their removal), and play all-in aggro-control, with the removals doubling as reach. Because these decks will lose eventually and will lose if they ever run out of minions on the board, win-more cards are especially useful because the alternative situation (where they have nothing on the board) means this deck has already lost. This deck has better synergy if many of your removals also have reach value.
No Removal. Finally, your drafts will oftentimes offer no, or very few, removals. This determination should be made after the 20th pick. At this point, you need to realize that your entire game will rely on your position on the board. Because you have no cards that offer initiative inherent in the card itself, you will be hard-pressed to win any games where you do not have initiative from the board. This is the situation where any card that has an immediate impact on the board or changes the initiative calculus becomes incredibly valuable, even cards like Raid Leader, Hand of Protection or Frostwolf Grunt (if better options are not available). A deck with no innate initiative relies on “win-more” cards, situational cards and tempo cards to keep the board and absolutely cannot afford to waste too much tempo on card draw, so only have a couple at most. You can only eventually win by building up sufficient board tempo, whether this is done directly or through late game card advantage.
Removals aren’t the only high value card type in town that defines your deck. Card draws and cards that cycle are also generally very high value, so you will often end up building around these cards (or lack thereof) as well. Removals give you the initiative but does not give you minions on the board, and so synergy with removal is built by figuring out how to most effectively use that innate initiative and supplement your deck with the right minions. Card draw gives you cards but does not give you tempo, and so synergy with card draw is built by figuring out how to use your cards most effectively while not losing the game early due to the lack of tempo.
High Card Draw. Having a lot of cards is always good, right? Wrong! All card draw cards are anti-tempo. If you had a hand full of card draw cards, you will lose the game, even if you they were all Azure Drake-level value. The trick to playing a deck with a lot of card draw is the same as if you drafted a lot of removal, you have to play to one of the polar extremes of control or aggro. To play control, you supplement the card draw with a variety of cards that are situational to different situations, including at least one heal. Because you will likely not have the board most of the game, you want to draft cards with innate initiative and tempo cards that can be effective without a board. Your goal is to stall the game until your opponent runs out of cards to use his mana on fully each turn. At that point, you take back the tempo through your card advantage, and win the game. The other path is to play aggro, where your mana curve is so low that you can play all your cards out after you draw them. Note that this is generally still bad for tempo. Consider using 2 mana to use the Warlock’s hero power to draw a Bloodfen Raptor. You have just spent 4 mana for a 3/2. In order for aggro with card draw to work, you need to have so much tempo in the early game that slowing down in the mid-game is okay so long as you do not stop (which card draw allows you to avoid). The goal of the card draw here is to buy a couple more turns to deal lethal, and no more.
No Card Draw. While having a lot of cards is not always good, having no cards is usually bad. This determination should be made after the 20th pick. Without card draw, you need to gain card advantage from the board, which means priority must be given to cards that trade 2 for 1 by design, like Forked Lightning, and cards that are highly likely to trade as such, like Chillwind Yeti. In addition, because you absolutely cannot afford to lose cards, it’s not a great idea to take more than a couple of tempo cards at most. While not having removal forces you to draft all sorts of low-value cards that affect the initiative calculus, not having card draw means you need to do the opposite. Your entire hand needs to be playable on a tight curve.
Note that for the most part, synergy picks don’t materialize until the very end of the draft (very rarely will you be offered 4 Holy Smites in the first 10 picks). So, ultimately, they tend to skew a deck in one direction or the other by only a handful of cards. Unless you’re treating the Mage’s hero power as a small removal or the Warlock’s hero power as the card draw engine, it is unwise to enter a draft hunting for synergy. But, by the end of the draft, unless you have a good balance of things, it becomes unwise to ignore overall deck synergy for tier-list card values, because your existing deck has already changed the value of your next pick.
In addition to overall deck synergy, sometimes cards have significant extra value in the late draft because of the context of your deck, or significant extra value in the early draft because of your expected choices. Let’s start with a very simple example: Diversity.
An Arena deck is mostly made of minions. So, let’s start with basic minion diversity. The most important part of minion diversity is the minion’s attack and defense stats. For example, the Stranglethorn Tiger is a 5/5, while the Spiteful Smith is a 4/6 and the Fen Creeper is a 3/6. From our 5-mana drop, we can deal 3 different types of damage on the board. Having minions with different stats is important because when we have two of them in our hand, this gives us the option to play the better one on the board, whether it’s because we do not have the initiative and need a minion to stick or trade (health diversity), or we do have the initiative and to set up a board where we can make efficient trades the next turn (attack diversity). Note that minion diversity is not limited to minions of the same mana cost. We can also drop a 2-drop and a 3-drop, or just drop a 4-drop and waste a mana for the value play. So, by a certain point in the draft, you need to start thinking about whether your minions have diversity, and if not, to draft slightly anti-value to get the diversity. This is especially applicable to large minions, as you are more likely to have that particular card (drafted for diversity) in your hand as an option by the time when it can be played.
An Arena deck also has some removals. Removal diversity can be in terms of single-target or multi-target, or in terms of small removal and large removal. Similar to our considerations with minion attack and defense stats, diversity in removal gives you deck synergy by giving you options. Multi-target removals are usually the most heralded type of removal spells because they almost guarantee card advantage. However, having a lot of multi-target removals means you’ll probably run out of targets to use them on, so multi-target has decreasing value each time one is picked. This is less of a concern with 2-target removals, but a major concern with mass removals. In Arena, you will rarely have the option to draft too many mass removals, but there is good reason not to draft your third Flamestrike over a Polymorph, or your fourth Flamestrike over pretty much any other card. This also applies to Consecration and Holy Nova to a lesser extent. Keep in mind that diversity is in the type of card, and not the card itself. So, because a Shadow Madness serves a very similar function as Holy Nova, just as Forked Lightning serves a very similar function as Lightning Storm, they are all considered to be in the same bucket. Mass removals are like tempo cards in the draft, having a couple is a huge bonus, but having more than that becomes a liability. Your expected future picks should be taken into consideration as well, so if your first pick was a Flamestrike, a Polymorph over Flamestrike is probably the correct pick for your second pick. You protect against the downside of your next Flamestrike offering being paired with two much worse cards than Polymorph (a high likelihood).
Some cards have higher value than the typical base value of the card, because they have strong synergy with other particular cards already drafted in your deck. This is combo value. While these are generally overvalued by bad players because they are more flashy and fun, they do serve some purpose even in a serious deck, giving you that extra value to hit 12-wins. The following considerations should be made before drafting on combo value.
For combos which you will only draft at higher than base value if you already have the first piece of the combo, the thought process is simple. All you have to do is evaluate how much the card is worth to you now, knowing the combo pieces you have already drafted. For example, the value of an Amani Berserker goes up for each Shattered Sun Cleric you draft. We won’t go over all combos here for obvious reasons, but you should have a rough idea of what the 2-card combos in this game are. Sometimes, cards “combo” with your hero power, such as the Rogue with Southsea Deckhand or the Mage with Tauren Warrior. These guaranteed “combos” are really just cards that have much higher base value than they do in other decks. Most guaranteed combos are undervalued by the value rankings. Always be aware of what cards have combo potential that you’ve already drafted so that you know the true value of your next card selection. That Voodoo Doctor may just have more value than a Worgen Infiltrator for your triple Northshire Cleric deck.
Yet another category of combo value is so valuable that cards with this type of combo value are worth drafting pre-emptively, meaning that they should be drafted early on in the draft in expectation of the other combo pieces being taken later in the draft. A combo card has pre-emptive combo value to the degree in which the following factors are weighed: # of cards it combos with (“combo triggers”), the base value of the combo trigger without being used in a combo, the # of combo triggers each combo trigger has, the base value of each combo trigger of a combo trigger without being used in a combo. . . and so on, until your brain/computer explodes.
So, it’s safe to say we’re not actually going to do the math on this one. The basic idea is that combo cards should not be taken preemptively if they only combo well with one or two cards, or only with cards that would otherwise have low value if you don’t draw your combo. For example, very little consideration should be given to an Earthen Ring Farseer + Injured Blademaster combo. While they are great cards by themselves, they only have one combo trigger, and one of the combo piece is a rare. Savage Roar with Force of Nature? Don’t even think about it. Similarly, a Kobold Geomancer should not be given much consideration in a Paladin deck. Although Consecration is a common card at top value, it is still only one card. Similarly, although Demonfire can trigger off of a number of Warlock cards, it’s value is low even when triggered, and those Warlock demons generally don’t have good base value (except for 2 common ones).
On the other hand, with enough value and consistency behind the combo triggers, certain combo cards can actually be taken with preemptive combo value. For example, some consideration should be given to Kobold Geomancer in a Druid deck, because it can combo nicely with three high-base-value cards (Swipe, Wrath for 1 damage, Starfall). Even more consideration should be given to Spiteful Smith in a Warrior deck, because it combos nicely with 3 (4 after Naxx) high-base-value common cards, a rare card, and an epic card *and* has good base value itself. While it’s a rare Paladin draft where you pick Kobold then pick 2+ Consecrations, then draw them without needing to use your Consecration earlier, you’ll often pull off at least one Kobold synergy with Druid every couple of matches, and you’re almost guaranteed to get value out of the Spiteful Smith in a Warrior deck. Combo values are particularly high when you are lucky enough to draft and use them in Arena because they are completely unexpected. People do not play around 95% of the combos in Arena. Although many cards in Hearthstone have some type of combo value, very few have pre-emptive combo value.
The best way to determine whether a card has pre-emptive combo value is through observation. Every time a combo wrecks you, consider whether that combo was reasonably drafted, and what the odds are of drawing the combo, and how the combo pieces would be valued were they not drawn together. You will quickly get a sense of what combos are valuable, and should be expected (and drafted yourself), and which should only be drafted after already having drafted sufficient combo triggers separately.
An extreme version of combo value is when a web of cards all combo off each other. When your combo card has many combo triggers, and the combo triggers of the combo triggers are the same type of cards as your original combo card, you get beastly value. Hunters are notorious for having beast cards and synergies with beast cards, and then additional synergy with Unleash the Hounds (a beast card) that synergizes with certain beast cards (Scavenging Hyena, Starving Buzzard) and certain other cards that uses beast cards (Houndmaster, Kill Command). Beast cards. When you draft as Hunter, it is not only a pretty good bet that you’ll end up having plenty of beast options, but you’ll also most likely be able to get good value out of those beasts. While these synergies seem like they provide obvious value, they are actually a trap for the unwary. By incentivizing you to take more cards based on combo value, your deck falls harder when those combos do not come to fruition, either in the draft, or in game. A bunch of beasts is not going to do all that much for you if your only trigger ultimately is one Houndmaster and two Kill Commands. Yes, you get +1 tempo value from each of those cards compared to a vanilla card of the same mana cost, but how much value did you lose on the 12 beast cards you drafted over other, potentially better options? While one Kobold Geomancer that doesn’t pan out won’t sink your deck, a deck full of slight value losses during the draft for pre-emptive combos will. Because 75%+ of Hunter class cards have significant combo value, this makes the entire class very risky to draft. You will either lose value if you don’t preemptively draft for combo value, or you will lose value by preemptively drafting and then failing to find the other combo pieces. Trying to balance combo value with the other advanced drafting considerations is a nightmare. There’s good reason Hunter is one of the worst Arena classes. Note: This example was written before Naxx’s full release. Naxx adds an additional high value 2-drop neutral beast, and a class card 1-drop beast, which provides two beasts. This will go a long way to bringing consistency to the Arena Hunter.
One more thing to note about combos is that card draw does make combos more consistent in the late game. So, if you’ve drafted a lot of cycling cards, it’s time to up the value of combo values. And, if your entire deck is full random combo values, maybe that Arcane Intellect is going to beat out a Faerie Dragon.
Now, let’s get a bit fancier. Even beginners know the value of having five 2-drops in your deck, so what’s so fancy about considering your mana curve? Well, let’s say it’s the second pick, and Thrall is picking among Archmage, Frost Elemental, and Darkscale Healer. What does he pick? The answer should be obvious, but many good players get this one wrong. The correct answer is Darkscale Healer, hands down. Hell, we can replace Darkscale Healer with Elven Archer or even a Kobold Geomancer and the answer is the same. What I’m trying to get at is that you should not pick a 6-drop early as the Shaman. 6-drops hit a very special mana breakpoint, where you absolutely do not want to have too many of these cards, and so average 6-drops should get very low priority in the beginning of drafts. Let’s take a look at how the mana curve works.
At 2,3, and 4 mana drops, you can take as many as you want (although, 3 drops are generally low value), because even in the end game, you can play two 4-drops and still use your hero power. At 5 mana, a minion eats into your hero power. The value cost of not being able to play your hero power on a particular turn is approximately 1 mana, so in the late game, your 5 mana creatures will oftentimes actually cost you 6 mana in value. Now that’s not ideal, but it’s hardly going to lose you the game by itself. But, Druid aside, you can *never* play two 6 mana minions on the same turn. This seems obvious, but the impact of the 10-mana cap has incredible ramifications. If you draw 2 6-drops or higher by turn 6 (which is statistically likely if you have four 6+ plus drops in your deck), you will not be able to play both cards until turn 7, and if you play them, you will generally not be able to use a removal on the same time. If you draw 3 6-drops or higher (still a significant chance), you will be even more delayed. Because removal is the primary way in which tempo is gained, and because a few classes aside, mid game is the first time in which you can gain large tempo swings, you want to always be the one in the position of making these tempo swings. A 6-drop not only prevents you from having the mana to do anything else, it provides a very big and juicy target for your opponent to swing tempo back away from you. That is very, very bad. But, if you hold your 6-drops, they are semi-dead cards in your hand until halfway through the game and because you can never play 2 6-drops on one turn, you can never play your hand if you draw enough 6-drops from your deck! Ironically, you want to be top-decking to use your 6-drops efficiently, but in order to get to a top-deck situation, you need a lower curve.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any 6-drops. Having a few big guys is a great way to play around mass removal and diversify your threats. But, you never want too many. Much like tempo or card advantage, having a little bit more than your opponent is great, but having a lot more is counterproductive.
Let’s go back to Thrall’s example. Shamans and Priests are especially susceptible to drafting too many 6-drops for their own good, because one of their top common class cards is a 6-drop (and common class cards are offered more than twice as often in Arena drafts as non-class cards). On top of this, Priests have Mind Control and Shamans overload. This means that early in the draft, you should avoid the lesser 6-drops like the plague, because they’re actually potentially worse than Wisps. Having too many 6-drops isn’t just bad value, it’s a dead card in your hand. By the end of the draft, if you haven’t seen enough Boulderfist Ogres and Argent Commanders and Fire Elementals / Temple Enforcers to your liking, average 6-drops once again become valuable, but they have very low value at the beginning of the draft for these classes in particular, and generally lower value than the value rankings would indicate. This is also true to a lesser extent with Druids and 5-drops.
Ultimately, besides not being too top-heavy, there is no correct number of cards you need to fit into each mana slot. Each deck will have a different preferred mana curve, based on where you are getting value from your cards. A Priest may not need much 2 drops, if he has two Shadow Madness and a good amount of taunts because he can make up the tempo loss later with heals and cards like Shadow Word: Death. In general, the lower the curve you draft, the less card advantage you will have and the less tempo you will have in the late game. Your smaller minions will eventually be eaten up by bigger creatures who will trade neutrally on tempo and get ahead by card advantage. So, for low mana-curve decks, card draw and having a couple of large “anchor” minions is crucial (Frostwolf Warlord, Venture Co. Mercenary and Stormwind Champion are especially good for this because they can generally punch above their weight when you are ahead in tempo.) On the other hand, having a higher mana curve generally means you will suffer from tempo early on, and you will need heals, taunts and/or multi-target removals to catch up until your card advantage value can win you the game. So, keep this in mind as you don’t necessarily need to go that far out of your way to lose value just to fill a mana curve spot in the end. I think most players go a little too far with the mana curve concept. Deck composition and having good synergized roles for each card is much more important.
That being said, as a starting point, you want at least five 2-drops you can play on turn 2 (or 1 drops), four 3-drops (or extra 1/2-drops) you can play on turn 3, four 4-drops you can play on turn 4 (or a lot of extra 2-drops), three 5-drops (or extra 4-drops), and three 6+ drops (or extra 5-drops). I would not shift value rankings more than a tier based on mana curve considerations alone, unless I was desperately short of early plays. However, deck synergy considerations in the first part of this article would cause a much larger shift in value, because they relate to our path to victory.
Life and Death.
Finally, although most new players do not fully appreciate this, seasoned Hearthstone veterans know that your hero’s health is one of the very few ways Hearthstone allows you to use resources besides mana and cards to boost your tempo and card advantage. Being able to use life as a resource is so important to good play in Hearthstone, that it should usually be your top priority to take cards allow you to do this, and thus, these cards generally have *very* high values. But, hurting yourself is one good thing you can have too much of, because you will eventually lose effective initiative on the board if your health gets too low, regardless of your tempo and card advantage. Let’s take a look at some cards that allow you to use your life as an additional resource and the value adjustment considerations we must make to these cards.
The most straightforward example are weapons. A weapon damages the hero each time it is used, and this is reflected in its mana cost by being usually half of what the damage output of the weapon should cost. Weapons are a great tempo move, and are one of the best ways to use your life as resource, but we need to watch out for our life total! Both the Rogue and the Warrior are extremely susceptible to “over-weaponing”, because their weapons and weapons-related cards have such high value. For the Warrior, while your first couple of weapons are high value, at a certain point, your Arcanite Reaper is really 5 mana + 10 mana of tapping your hero power = 15 mana for 10 total damage. No longer so impressive is it? For the Rogue, you just die. In both cases, the possibility of “over-weaponing” should be taken seriously from your very first pick. The Warrior has such high weapon values, but, with exception of Fiery War Axe (which has such amazing tempo relative to when you can play it that it overpowers all other considerations), I do not think this value is justified in the early picks, and certainly not in the late picks if you already have a couple of weapons. A hero can usually only afford to use two to three weapons before needing to heal/armor up, and thus lowering the value of the weapon. In the average draft, a Warrior will be offered at least five weapons. With Naxx adding another common weapon to the Warrior’s arsenal, this will be a even bigger issue. Cards such as Arcanite Reaper and Arathi Weaponsmith should have lower value in the beginning of drafts. As for the Rogue, while she will be offered less weapons than the Warrior, she gradually makes her hero power less and less threatening as she hurts herself. She also already has a way to use her life as a resource in the hero power itself, so weapons in general are less valuable to the Rogue. Do not overcommit on Deadly Poisons, which is usually just a 3-mana Fiery War Axe anyway. This is less of a concern for the Shaman, but each of the Shaman’s Stormforged Axe counts as 150% the typical 2-use weapon when it comes to life lost, so taking more than two Stormforged Axe is generally a bad idea. The Paladin does not have as large of a problem, because Truesilver Champion heals the Paladin before the attack, and so only counts as half of a weapon. Because the Paladin even has a non-awful healing option in Guardian of Kings, you very much want to use your life as much as possible, which gives Light’s Justice (and Sword of Justice) extra value.
The Warlock faces an even more problematic consideration for his life. In the late game, each 2 of the Warlock’s life is essentially worth a card! That is such ridiculous value in the Arena that the Warlock should be protecting his life at all costs. Of course, the only way to protect your life is to have the initiative on the board, which generally comes through tempo, and the Warlock frustratingly only has tempo cards that discards a card (Soulfire) or deals damage to the Warlock (Flame Imp). Can a Flame Imp save you more than 3 life and recoup it’s 1 mana cost? That’s hard to say. If you have enough tempo to have the initiative anyway or good taunt minions, the Flame Imp usually will not accomplish this task. Thus, the identity of your deck will heavily drive how much Flame Imp is actually worth. While the value rankings ranks this card as a top card, it really only has top value in very aggressive decks, where Flame Imp’s value is in the face damage it deals, or decks with otherwise questionable tempo, where its +1 tempo value becomes significant. Soulfire, on the other hand, is one of those cards with such miscalculated value that it remains good value even in the worst use-case scenario where it is a 2 mana card that deals 2 damage to you (incorporates Hero Power use), so the same considerations do not apply.
One more way to use life as a resource is quite simply to do nothing. While Mages do not have weapons, they can set up the Flamestrike play with their life by playing stealth-ed minions and/or cards that do not affect the board the turn before the Flamestrike is played, like Arcane Intellect or most of the Mage’s secrets. When you do not give your opponent any choices to trade minions, they must attack your hero, and you have in effect traded health for the benefit of either tempo or card advantage. This makes non-board effecting cards, and stealth minions in particular (such as Stranglethorn Tiger or Jungle Panther) have immense value for Mage decks that focuses on the late game. Note that even without a follow-up Flamestrike, stealthed minions on an empty board do their job of forcing your opponent to attack your face instead of removing your minion for any class. Thus, they are particularly valuable for classes that otherwise have no ability to use their hero’s health, such as Priest, Mage, and Hunter in most cases.
On the flip side of all this, cards that heal or gain armor have incredibly high value in decks that consistently use life as a resource. So, for the two classes that can innately do this with their hero power (Rogue and Warlock), Earthen Ring Farseer is a top card. For other classes, if the draft is shifting toward heavier use of your life as a resource, life gain becomes again a highly valued commodity. Because a Warrior can only use 3 weapons, but would probably want the consistency in draw of having more than that, the easiest way to allow yourself to draft more weapons (that don’t end up being pure reach cards) is to also draft healing cards. Shield Block is almost twice as mana-efficient as the Warrior’s Hero Power. Other classes do not even have a hero power to fall back on. Note that by the late draft, this means that cards like Priestess of Elune, or Drain Life may turn out to be quite valuable cards, even though they are pretty bad value otherwise.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in drafts are players mismanaging their life totals in drafts and in play. This is why a very flexible class, the Warrior, is one of the least popular and least successful classes. I have consistently averaged 8+ wins per run with this class, and one of the keys to my success is properly valuing weapons and armor/healing in my drafts as it is needed.
Whew. We’re done! Congratulations. I hope you enjoyed this series and that my ramblings helped clarify some concepts you were already starting to incorporate into your Arena draft. While no guide can teach you which picks to take for your specific deck and your preferred playstyle, I hope these strategies give you a good basis for analyzing your own picks to determine for yourself whether you made the correct pick for your particular deck.
About the Author
ADWCTA enjoys long runs in the Arena, yelling Lok’tar Ogar! in public places, and thinking deep thoughts about Hearthstone’s game design. He started playing Hearthstone in open beta and has been an infinite-level Arena player since launch. He is also a Legend-level Ranked player, but thinks that’s way less awesome than his Arena record.
ADWCTA live streams “the Arena Coop” with friend and fellow infinite-level Arena player Merps, providing in-depth commentary on every pick and play to give the stream a nice coaching vibe. He thinks watching the Arena Coop is the very best way to improve your game. He may be wrong, but why you take that risk? You can watch all of the Arena Coop’s archived runs on: youtube.com/adwcta, and follow live at: twitch.tv/adwcta.
As of October 27, 2014, the Arena Coop is averaging 9.1 wins per run (78%+ win rate), with 30%+ runs ending in 12-wins; ADWCTA personally averages 7.8 wins per run (74%+ win rate) with his top six classes post-Naxx. In the interest of full transparency, the Arena Coop’s full and current record can be found here, and ADWCTA’s full and current record can be found here.