You want to start playing Hearthstone, but your empty collection demotivates you? Don't worry, you don't need to spend a vast amount of money - free to play(F2P) experience is totally viable!
Hearthstone can be quite daunting for anyone who wants to start playing the game in 2020. It's an eight-year-old game with dozens of expansions and a countless number of cards.
To a beginner, it might look like he will simply never be able to even remotely collect enough cards to be competitive unless he pours money into it. While simply buying card packs can indeed be a shortcut to getting a sizable collection, this doesn't need to be the only solution!
With a smart and efficient strategy, you can build a respectable collection of cards with several viable meta decks without the need for time-consuming grind and money dumping.
This guide is designed to help you understand how Hearthstone free to play economy works, how can you obtain everything that is free, and what you should prioritize in order to maximise the amount of gold and cards you will get.
By following these steps and understanding what and how you should do, you will be able to see significant growth in your collection within a few months of playing, without putting money into the game.
Keep in mind that this guide is oriented towards the game economy and efficiency of card collecting, and it will not discuss the gameplay itself.
1. Things you should know before you start playing Hearthstone
First things first, you should know a couple of things that will give you an advantage from the very start.
- Recruit A Friend - Ideally, you should find someone to use a Recruit a Friend promotion and "recruit" you into the game, which will grant them some free in-game stuff and it will give you 1 free Classic pack. Later, you can use this yourself, if you recruit four other players to the game, you will get 4 Classic packs and Morgl the Oracle Shaman skin.
- Card rarity - Cards can be common, rare, epic and legendary. From common to legendary, they are progressively harder to get from packs and cost more dust to craft.
- Gold, dust, and packs - These three things are core resources on which the Hearthstone economy is based.
- Pack - a set of 5 random cards which you buy with real money or in-game currency. You are guaranteed to get at least 1 Rare or better card in each pack. There are different packs for different card sets, and you only get cards from that set in them. A pack always cost 100 gold.
- Gold - an in-game currency you use to buy packs or Adventure/Missions content. You obtain gold by finishing Quests, winning games in Play mode, Battlegrounds, or Tavern Brawls, or by playing the Arena. More on this later.
- Dust - crafting resource used to make specific cards you want. You obtain dust by disenchanting cards, finishing special quests or in Arena mode. More on this later.
- Hearthstone set/expansion - Hearthstone content is based around card sets, which are released in a form of expansions. The current release tempo is 3 expansions per year, each containing around ~130 cards.
- "Core set" - Basic cards, which you unlock by levelling a class, and cards from the Classic set, are a part of the so-called "Core set".
- Standard and Wild formats - Hearthstone adopted the rotation system from Magic The Gathering. Most players and competitions use the Standard format. In Standard format, "Core set" + expansions from the current and previous year are used. There are several reasons for this, including balance issues, keeping the game fresh, keeping new card sets relevant, and most importantly for new players - making the game significantly more accessible. In standard format, you need only cards from the "core set" and from a few of the latest expansions, while the Wild format is using all cards and expansions that were ever released.
2. Things to do when you start playing Hearthstone
In this section, we will focus on the first steps you should do when you start playing the game for the first time, in order to maximize the amount of gold, dust and packs you will get. If you are already familiar with this section, you may skip it, but we strongly advise you to read it, since there can always be things you missed or didn't know.
We should note here that most people use the terms "Hero" and "Class" interchangeably. But in terms of gameplay, "Class" is the only important thing, while "Hero" is only a character portrait representing that class. All classes are represented by two or more different Heroes, but that's just a cosmetic, in terms of gameplay mechanics, they are the same thing. When we say "Hero" further in the article, that means the same as "Class".
- Tutorial - First thing you will encounter when you start the game. It is mandatory, but quite easy and should explain to you a few very basic things.
- Unlock 9 Classes - The first class you will have unlocked by default is Mage (Jaina Proudmoore hero). After that, you will need to unlock the other 8 classes. Go into Solo Adventures, then Practice, and then Normal. There, you will need to play and beat AI playing other Classes. When you win aginst AI Druid, you will unlock that class, win against AI Warrior will unlock Warrior class, etc. Our recommendation is to unlock all heroes by playing with Mage since you will be levelling that class and unlock more powerful Basic cards to add them to your deck. From doing all this, you will be rewarded with 2 Classic packs and 100 gold.
- Beat the Expert AI - After you win at least once against every Normal AI Hero, Expert AI will be unlocked. They have some better cards and play somewhat better, but are still generally easy to win against. By beating them, you will complete "Crushed them All!" Quest, and you will be granted 100 Gold.
- Level up all your Classes to Level 10 - There are two reasons for this. The most important one is that you will unlock all the basic cards for each Class by doing this. Basic cards are a cornerstone of Hearthstone and a first step towards building your collection. The second reason is that you will start learning gameplay mechanics, cards, and a gameplay style of each Class, which will help you to understand the game and improve your starting game knowledge. Levelling up all classes to 10 will take you some time, so don't worry.
- Daily Quest - Make sure to always complete them on a regular basis. You can stack up to three, but then you will need to complete at least one, since there will be no more space, and you will lose your next Daily Quest. They are your primary source of gold. Always "reroll" 50 gold quest, for a chance to get 60+ gold Quest.
- Apprentice League - New players to Hearthstone start in the Apprentice League. This league has 40 ranks, from Apprentice 40 to Apprentice 1. These ranks are exclusive to new players only, and players cannot lose stars in these ranks, so don't worry, just go there and play. It will help you gather experience, level up your heroes, and get rewards! You will earn 3 Classic card packs upon reaching rank milestones at Apprentice 35, 25, 15, and 5. Upon advancing out of Apprentice 1 and the entire Apprentice League, you will earn 2 Classic packs and 2 packs each for the most recent four Hearthstone expansions. Most importantly, you will get 1 free full deck from the Year of the Dragon (expansions from 2019), for a class of your choice!
3. After you've finished Apprentice League
When you complete the Apprentice League, you will then be promoted to Bronze 10, gaining access to the normal player ranks and the ability to play with Wild cards.
By this time you should have a quite good understanding of Hearthstone basics: You will know almost all the core rules, you will understand even some advanced mechanics, you will start to grasp some strategies and have a better understanding of how things work in general. Most importantly, you will be familiar with the vast majority of Classic and Basic cards.
So, what's next?
- Unlock Demon Hunter - Demon Hunter is the first new class added to Hearthstone. To unlock Demon Hunter, you need to complete a free Ashes of Outland Prologue, which can be found in Solo Adventures. Although relatively easy to complete, it contains some advanced mechanics, so you might play a game a bit more before trying to unlock Demon Hunter. Upon completing the Prologue, you will get access to Demon Hunter Initiate set, a special card set that serves as a "core" set for Demon Hunter, with 20 cards.
- Gain access to Tavern Brawl - Tavern Brawl is a special weekly Hearthstone mode where you play with a unique set of rules each week. This mode is important because it grants you 1 free Classic Pack each week upon achieving the first victory in the new Brawl. Make sure to do this each week. To be able to play it, you will need to have at least one class at level 20.
- Use your Free Arena Ticket - Arena is a "draft" mode of Hearthstone, where you draft a deck from randomly offered cards and then you play with it until you lose 3 games or achieve 12 wins. The more wins you get, the bigger the rewards, but you are always guaranteed at least 1 pack of the latest expansion. Normally it cost 150 gold per entrance, but the first one is free, so be free to use it and enjoy your rewards.
- Finish all promotional quests - There are several "hidden" promo quests in Hearthstone, that will grant you a Classic card pack. If you can, you should play just one game of Hearthstone (from your account) on iPad, Android Tablet, iPhone, and Android Phone. Each of these will grant you 1 Classic pack, 4 in total. If you know someone who owns Samsung Galaxy S6, ask them if you can log in to Hearthstone from their device, you will get 3 Classic card packs!
- Start playing Ranked - Don't be afraid of playing ranked mode, just enjoy the game. Try out different things and decks from cards you have, experiment with the different classes and simply continue to learn the game. Playing ranked will offer you a great number of cards and packs as rewards, which will significantly help you to build up your collection.
4. How to spend your Hearthstone gold?
After a week or two, you've accumulated a nice amount of gold and you have some fancy new cards from your packs. You've finished Apprentice League and been playing Ranked for a while.
You are ready to spend your gold on packs! There are some general "behind the scene" rules you should know in order to maximise your gains.
- Duplicate Protection - In 2020, Blizzard introduced complete duplicate protection for Hearthstone packs. This means that you will not open more than two of the same Common, Rare, and Epic card, or a duplicate Legendary. Duplicate protection works only within the set and within rarity. For example, if you collect all common cards from the Classic set, only then you will start getting third copies of common cards from Classic packs. This also works for the cards you craft. If you craft two copies of one Epic card, you won't get them in packs until you don't have all Epic cards from that set in two copies.
- 10 Packs Rule - You are guaranteed a Legendary card within the first 10 packs of a set. This means that you should try and by 10 packs from each Standard set. Start with one set and by packs one by one until you get a legendary, then start buying from the next set. You should generally start with the latest set, and then go back to each other set from the Standard format.
- Pity Timer - Another system to protect players is Pity Timer. After you've opened your guaranteed Legendary from the set (within first 10 packs), on average you'll get 1 Legendary per 20 packs. But that's not always the case, and Pity Timer means that you are guaranteed to get at least 1 Legendary per 40 packs within a set. After you open a Legendary from a specific set, you should focus on card packs from another set.
- Single-player Missions - Hearthstone adventures are no more available in the Standard format, but there are still single-player missions that offer card packs and new cards, and they can be bought for gold or real money. Currently(2020), there are 3 available "Missions" in Standard format. These missions are generally ok to purchase, especially if you like single-player content, but they are not essential and are slightly less cost-effective than just buying regular card packs.
- The Dalaran Heist - Offers single-player missions (5 chapters), 18 Rise of Shadows card packs, Golden Zayle, Shadow Cloak card, and Golden Classic card pack. The first chapter is free, while the other 4 are 700 gold per chapter (2800 in total).
- Tombs of Terror - Offers single-player missions (4 chapters), 12 Saviors of Uldum card packs, and Golden Classic card pack. The first chapter is free, while the other 3 are 700 gold per chapter (2100 in total).
- Galakrond's Awakening - Offers single-player missions (2 campaigns with 4 chapters each) and 35 new collectable cards. Each chapter is 700 gold (2800 in total).
- Hearthstone Arena - Arena is probably one of the most efficient ways of generating big amounts of gold and "free" packs, but it is also hard to do that, and you will need to be really good at it. To enter Arena, you need to pay 150 gold, while a card pack costs 100 gold. To break even, you need at least 3 wins, and to play arena for essentially free (full investment return) you will need to average 7 wins per Arena run, those are so-called "infinite" Arena players. We advise you to try and play the Arena from time to time, it is a fun and interesting mode of playing, and you will learn eventually how to draft and play Arena. But just don't commit to much, or you will end up spending more than you get if you are not good. You should use HearthArena, which is a great tool to help you in the arena. And you should watch Grinning Goat, a great Hearthstone Arena duo with great knowledge of this mode.
5. Crafting & Disenchanting Hearthstone cards
Disenchanting is a process of "destroying" cards to get dust from them, which you can later use to craft new cards. There is a big disproportion between crafting and disenchanting a card. For example, a common card gives 5 dust when you disenchant it, but if you want to craft a common card, it cost you 40 dust (8 times more!).
At this point, we generally advise you not do disenchant any cards you have, especially since Duplicate Protection will protect you from getting those same cards again. For the first two or three months of playing, you should disenchant only golden cards, and only if you don't need those golden cards. Golden cards are animated versions of the regular cards and only have cosmetic value, otherwise are the same as "non-golden" version, but cost more.
When it comes to crafting cards, you will eventually start doing that, but crafting cards is a big commitment, and you should only do it when you know that you want those specific cards for that specific meta deck you want to play. Follow meta report websites, like HSReplay and Tempo Storm, find out which decks are good, and if you want to play them, and then start crafting cards for them.
Crafting cards for decks you want to play is a big part of free to play experience, but you should be smart about it, and do it slowly and only when you are sure about it. Dust is a rare and precious resource in Hearthstone, you should be careful with it.
6. Wild Bonus
Although we told you that you should generally avoid the Wild format since it is not suited for new players, there is one thing you should do in order to get some extra value for your Standard collection.
You should play Knights of the Frozen Throne - Icecrown missions. They are completely free and you will get a random Knights of the Frozen Throne hero card, and 3 Knights of the Frozen Throne card packs. Knights of the Frozen Throne is an old expansion set from a few years ago, and it is no longer in Standard format.
You can then safely disenchant all the cards you got, since they only work in Wild format, and use that dust to craft something you need for Standard format.
And that's it! Congratulations, you've come to an end! Follow these steps and watch your Hearthstone collection grows without spending a dime on it! Of course, the most important thing is that you should enjoy while playing the game, and everything else will come naturally. Good luck and have fun!