There are a thousand guides on how to climb the ladder in Hearthstone. They all include important advice, but most of them focus around your own state of mind and the deck that you chose to use. One thing that is greatly understated is the importance of learning all of the other decks that are common in the current meta.
Why is this important?
Making the optimal plays in Hearthstone is not as simple as looking at your mana curve and playing whatever fits it best. If it were that simple, most games would simply be left up to luck of the draw, and there would be very little skill involved. Instead, you need to play around the cards that your opponent could potentially be holding. For example, if you are against a Mage, you don’t want to play a lot of minions on turn six, because they could very easily have a Flamestrike on turn seven, wiping your board. Learning every class card is important so that you know the capabilities of every class, telling you how far you can extend safely.
However, it goes far beyond knowing what each class’s capabilities are. You must learn what the standard decklists encompass, in order to know what you should expect from your opponent. For example, Control Warrior typically runs Brawl, but very few of them run two copies of it. So once one has been played, you can often extend far more. Mages have Polymorph, a strong removal spell. However, neither Freeze Mage nor Tempo Mage run Polymorph, meaning that if you are against one of them you have no need to play around it. Knowing these small differences in deck archetypes can easily make the difference between winning and losing a match, and it is what separates the professional players from the rest.
You also need to know how many threats each deck has so that you know how to conserve your removal. For example, if you are against a Shaman, be aware that he can play a 7/7 on turn four, and try to have removal ready for it. You should also be aware of the early drops that each deck runs, as it helps your mulligans considerably.
A prime example of this is when Chakki faced Jasm at the Dreamhack tournament last weekend. Chakki managed to get Jasm down to seven health and had Grommash in hand, but Jasm was able to create two taunts, stopping the charge. Here is the scenario that Chakki found himself in:
At this point, the announcers assumed that he would make use of Bash and Shield Slam to clear the way for Grommash next turn. I admit that I thought the same, I didn’t see a clear outcome in which Chakki could guarantee lethal. Chakki, however, knew his opponent’s deck. Knowing that his opponent didn’t have any healing in his deck, he used both Shield Slams and played Grommash, attacking Jasm’s face and putting him to three. This set him up for a lethal Bash to Jasm’s face the next turn, which was guaranteed to work because Chakki knew the deck. If Chakki had been unsure about his opponent having some form of healing and had made this play recklessly, he could have easily been punished and lost because of it. But because he knew his opponent’s deck he was able to make the game winning play without fear.
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So you understand the importance of knowing your opponent’s deck, but are unsure where to start? I’ll take this time to go over the common removal and healing that each deck runs, as notable threats. If you want to do further research, looking at tier lists is a great place to start, such as the one over at Tempo Storm.
Healing – None.
Removal – The deck runs lots of damage spells, but no hard removal.
Notable threats – Flamewreathed Faceless is a four mana 7/7 that you may need to deal with, so be ready. They also have strong snowball potential, so be ready to deal with Tunnel Troggs early on.
Healing – Potentially one copy of Healing Wave, but usually none.
Removal – Two copies of Hex, as well as at least one Lightning Storm, and a few direct damage cards.
Notable threats – Flamewreathed Faceless once again. Also be wary of letting them get a large board with the new Evolve shenanigans.
Healing – Two Forbidden Healings, one Ragnaros the Lightlord.
Removal – Two Equalities, two Wild Pyromancers, two Consecrations, several stat changing abilities.
Notable threats – Tirion, Sylvanas, Cairne, and N’Zoth.
Healing – None.
Removal – No direct removal, lots of minion buffs though.
Notable threats – Sea Giants, Leeroy/Doomguards, Power Overwhelming and other buffs.
Healing – Earthen Ring Farseers.
Removal – No direct removal apart from Sap. Lots of small damage spells including Backstab, Eviscerate, Fan of Knives, and Sinister Strike.
Notable threats – the ability to draw their entire deck and combo 20+ damage from hand after turn seven.
Healing – Hero power, Armorsmith plus many Whirlwind effects.
Removal – Two executes, lots of Whirlwind effects.
Notable threats – Grommash, Patrons, and Frothing Berserker.
Healing – Hero power, Holy Nova, Flash Heal, many other possibilities.
Removal – Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Word: Death, Cabal Shadow Priest, Holy Nova, Excavated Evil, and Entomb.
Notable Threats – The ability to use your deck against you.
Healing – Hero power.
Removal – Swipe, Wrath.
Notable Threats – Depending on the variant, C’Thun could be present, or Savage Roar might present a large threat. Keep the board clear against token decks and be aware of C’Thun in that matchup.
Healing – None.
Removal – Lots of damage including Frostbolt, Fireball, Flamewaker, Arcane Blast, and often Flamestrike.
Notable threats – Flamewaker presents a large threat, as well as Archmage Antonidas potentially creating problematic Fireballs. Be aware of their potential face damage through Fireballs and Frostbolts.