How do you think ahead in Hearthstone?
Hello there, BrianOBryan, here back with another article! Last time I wrote about five common mistakes with Reno Mage in the Year of the Dragon, but this time I’d like to shift off of specific deck strategy and talk about fundamental concepts in card games. In this write-up, I’ll be covering one of these concepts, thinking ahead, and its applications in Hearthstone with help from Deck Tracker. My hope for this article is to be a primer for newer or inexperienced players to start applying this concept in their games.
Using Deck Tracker
This article will be referencing features provided by the HSReplay.net Hearthstone Deck Tracker (HDT) and more specifically the hand tracking portion of the app. If you do not have HDT, I highly recommend installing it if you can. I know some mobile players can’t do this, but hope some of the information provided in this article will still help. Even doing manual tracking (i.e. memorizing which cards have been played and what card your opponent has been holding onto, manual tracking with pencil and paper) will improve your gameplay.
For those new to the app, here’s a quick guide on how the hand tracking feature works: When using HDT, you’ll see a number next to every card in your opponent’s hand.
The number indicates how long they had a card in their hand. For example, a 0 with no M next to it indicates the player kept the card during the mulligan phase. The M would indicate that the player originally mulled away a card and replaced it with that. If a player draws a card during turn X, HDT will show number X next to the card for the rest of the game until it’s played. Cards generated during turn X will also have number X next to it. Please make sure that you understand how the hand tracking feature works as knowing how to keep track of your opponent’s cards is a crucial part of thinking ahead.
Why should you think ahead?
To simply put, the concept of thinking ahead in HS is basically being able to play around your opponent’s cards and knowing how to do so at the right time.
A common problem I find with players is that they make plays without considering what their opponent can do as a response. This line of thinking tends to put players in a rough position (e.g. relying on a topdeck) they would be better off in if they’d considered playing around a specific line. There are situations which you can’t play around something, but generally it’s beneficial to plan ahead and prepare for your opponent’s plays. The benefit of using HDT is that it allows you to keep track of your opponent’s hand which therefore helps you make decisions based on their range of cards.
Knowing the cards kept in the mulligan and how to apply that knowledge is the *MOST* useful information to get out of hand tracker. If there’s anything to takeaway from reading this article, it’s understanding the importance of paying attention to your opponent’s mulligan.
Let’s take the Rogue matchup as DH for example. If they kept at least 1 card in their mulligan that was not a Pharaoh Cat played on turn 1, it’s likely for the Rogue to have early game removal (i.e. Backstab, Seal Fate). If you have a choice between playing a Battlemage or a Battlefiend turn 1, you may play one over the other to bait out removal from the Rogue. Another scenario would be if you had a Battlefiend along with Beaming Sidekick. In this case, the optimal play might be to hero power on turn 1 and then follow up with Battlefiend + Sidekick to protect the fiend from Backstab. Thus allowing Battlefiend to snowball its damage.
In slower matchups (e.g. Reno Mage vs. Gala Priest), the cards kept would be different. I’m inexperienced with the Priest end of this matchup, but on the Mage’s end I sometimes keep the late game drops such as Dragon Queen Alex especially if I play Zephrys into Wild Growth or have Mana Saber. I tend to keep the Saber stealthed until I can ramp to an 8 or 9 drop play as getting those late game drops a turn early can be too much pressure for Priest to deal with if you continually put threat after threat.
Opponent Holding Cards in Hand
My opponent is holding cards in hand, what does that mean? Does it mean anything?
Generally when someone is holding cards in hand, it means they’re saving it to achieve whatever goal their deck is meant to do to win the matchup. A control deck would likely be holding onto removal cards, an aggro deck would be holding onto finishers, a combo deck would be holding onto their combo pieces. This is all about having an understanding of your opponent’s hand range (i.e. knowing which cards your opponent would keep for the matchup, possible plays they can make given the cards available).
One example I can highlight is deciding when to play a taunt vs. Highlander Hunter. If your opponent has been holding onto a card since the mulligan (or holding it for a long time) and going into their turn 7, it’s likely that card is Dinotamer Brann. To utilize this knowledge of that possibility and making that read, we decide that now is the time to play a taunt to make the Brann turn weaker even though it may not be as mana efficient. By utilizing HDT’s information of the HL Hunter keeping a card and not playing it yet going into their turn 7, we can plan accordingly and play around one of their strongest turns.
Another key component for thinking ahead is understanding the current meta and the matchups associated with the deck you’re playing. By doing so we know how you and your opponent wins with their deck. Without this, it’s too difficult to plan ahead and make the most optimal plays against your opponent’s deck if you have no idea what to expect. My suggestion for those just picking up on a deck is to have a guide open on the side (or just ALT + TAB to if you only have one monitor) to refer to while playing your games. Regardless if there’s a guide or not, you’ll eventually learn what to mulligan based on experience over time. Therefore, we gain a better understanding of what cards to keep in the mulligan, combo pieces needed to save (if the deck has a combo), and how to generally lay out your game plan to win.
As the game progresses these win/lose conditions will change depending on the state of the game. Players need to be able to recognize how the win/lose conditions change and how these changes will affect their line of play and their opponents line of play. When you get to that point it makes it easier to decide which card to play since you have an idea of what to expect from the opponent’s side of the board. It’s not that straightforward though since you’re usually trying to play around more than one line, so you usually want to play around the most likely one unless you think you never beat the most likely line then you need to start being greedy, or vice versa where your try to minimize opponents percentage to win by taking safe plays.
Thanks for reading my 2nd ever write-up for Hearthstone! I’m still nervous about writing these, but hope I provided some useful insight on the concept of thinking ahead and the benefits from using the hand tracking feature in HDT. If you’d like a real-time example of someone using the concepts I described, you can check out my streams on Twitch. I do my best to openly explain my thought process during streams which includes the points I’ve described earlier. Special thanks to Apxvoid for providing feedback along with input for the “Understanding Matchups” section and RayC for providing suggested edits. Both of their contributions immensely helped with completing this article.