Hearthstone as a game is a pretty easy concept to follow: each player draws cards with an aim to deal more damage to the opposing hero than they receive themselves.
It’s all about the strategy, building decks to give you an advantage where possible, defending and attacking as and when you can. But as with all sorts of deep strategy games, there’s so much more to it.
As a result Hearthstone can be difficult for a newcomer to come into; with so many important cards, potential plays and even types of decks to play – well, it can be intimidating.
So with Blizzard’s Summer Championship coming up this weekend, we thought it the perfect opportunity to give a little insight into the potential decks that these pros might be using.
Archetype Hearthstone Decks
These are what you might call ‘core’ decks, and rely on a more general purpose rule of thumb. While decks are built around these in mind and can often be played by any class, it might be better to think of them as playstyles instead.
Zoo Decks – sometimes also referred to as Tempo Decks – are fairly simple concepts, relying on gaining an overwhelming presence on the board. This is achieved with a larger number of lower cost cards, typically between 1-4 Mana, that can be played in quick succession.
Though these cards deal less damage and, individually, aren’t too much of a threat, it’s obviously built around the idea of creating threat from a strength in numbers. Often supplementary cards that bolster active minions – add taunt, increase damage or health etc. – will be used to strengthen these weaker cards.
Area of effect spells and abilities are usually the best counter to such decks, so Deathrattle cards that spawn replacement minions upon death are very common in a Zoo Deck.
Though the focus is on early game for Zoo Decks, the idea is to gain a sort of snowball effect. The opponent must deal with each minion or suffer taking damage, and that makes it a deck about forcing your opponent to counter rather than deal their own strategy.
Survive into the late-game, however, and there is often rarely anything a Zoo Deck can do win since many of their cards are weaker threats.
Most classes can build a Zoo Deck since it only really requires low-cost cards – neutral or otherwise – however the most common is the Zoolock, since the Warlock’s ability to draw additional cards gives them more cheap cards to utilise.
In the complete opposite direction to Zoo Decks, Control Decks are a little more considered about the way it handles board control. It’s more of a countering deck, responding to whatever minions are played by the opposition.
Many of these decks, therefore, are built around the use of spells and abilities rather than directly filling the board with minions to combat a situation. Taunt is a particular favourite of these decks, using this to force the opposing player to spend minions removing the card.
This slows the progress of the opposite player and minimises the damage they deal, allowing to Control Deck player to survive into the late game – where they will be able to make use of high-cost, strong minions to deal a great amount of damage.
It’s in the late game where Control Decks really shine, with many combos and plays built around the hopes of surviving that long.
How a Control Deck is built differs from player to player. Some will favour direct damage – in particular Mage decks are good for this – while others will focus on strong minions to do their work. Warriors, meanwhile, might rely on their ability to add armour to mitigate early damage.
Alexstrasza, in particular, is popular for such decks due to its ability to drop the opponent’s health and make up for the lack of damage dealt in earlier rounds. Any number of popular, high-cost cards will fit into a typical Control Deck, however.
As you might expect from the name, Midrange Decks aim to win the game by the midpoint before the opposing player can utilise any later, more threatening cards.
In many ways it is akin to the Control Deck since it relies on stalling the early game by mitigating damage or clearing any board control the opposition might have until it can reliably start dealing damage with its midrange minions and cards.
Primarily Midrange Decks are about maximising the value of each card in the deck, either by building a deck filled with good value cards or by building a good synergy across the spectrum of cards chosen.
‘Sticky’ minions, or cards who summon another (or more) minions once they die, are particularly useful for Midrange Decks since they provide greater value than just the initial cost of the minion.
Midrange Decks rarely feature high-cost cards since they hope to win before the game reaches at that point. Instead they bolster their cards with more 3-7 Mana cost cards, with the focus on efficient costing cards.
If Control Decks are late game builds and Midrange Decks aim to win by the midpoint, then Aggro Decks are the final build to fill out the trio. These decks hope to push for an early game victory by playing a lot of low-cost cards early on.
Though they are similar to Zoo Decks they differ in that the reliance is on dealing player damage rather than gaining board control. Cards with Charge or damage enhancing abilities are particularly useful for this.
Since this playstyle can easily be countered by large area effect spells – such as Flamestrike, Brawl or Lightning Storm – there’s a necessity from Aggro Decks to play as quickly as they can. Card draw is particularly important in these decks.
If an Aggro Deck hasn’t won by the mid-game, then there’s a likelihood that they won’t manage to win the game.
Any class can play an Aggro Deck, but it’s especially notorious in the Hunter and the Warlock classes who can make use of class-specific cards to summon minions – beasts and demons respectively.
The former class, in particular, is well known to rely on it, famously designed around the Unleash The Hounds card that had once plagued the metagame for so long. These classes are especially good for Aggro Decks due to the synergy their class cards play with type-based cards – the Hunter’s Beast-boosted cards, for example.
This build often has traits of Control Decks and Midrange Decks but relies on a specific set of cards to utilise as a combo with the goal to either destroy the opposing, player in one turn (One Turn Kill, or OTK), deal a significant amount of damage or gain complete board control so as to become impossible to defeat.
The build of such decks can differ from player to player. Some may favour relying on a single combo – one strong enough to gain a huge advantage – while others may look for cards that synergise well with a range of cards, thus making them more viable with the game’s randomisation.
Some Combo Decks are built around a single card that has many synergies, others are built around a very specific set of cards. In the latter case it can be a difficult deck to play since it relies on those cards appearing in your hand.
To resolve this many Combo Decks utilise card draw to bolster their available cards, but it’s important to also build a deck that allows the player to survive for as long as those cards take to appear.
It’s here that the Control Deck comparison comes from, since Combo Decks often rely on stalling the game until they’re able to decimate their enemy.
Since these decks can rarely be countered in any real way – beyond playing aggressively early on – that can be frustrating to play against, and once devastating combos are discovered they’re often viral in the way they spread, becoming popular before Blizzard inevitably nerf the particular combo.
Specific Deck Builds
While the above are essentially the core builds of Hearthstone, the ones below are a little more specific. These decks can be classes as any one of the five above archetypes, but utilise a specific feature of the game to build their decks around.
These are decks that rely on a certain type of card, looking to synergise with that type by filling the deck with the same sorts and bolstering them in some way. These could be Pirate, Murloc or Dragon (among others), and usually use the similar typing to enhance the deck. A recent addition to the game was Menagerie Decks, too, which enable a wider variety of type cards into a deck.
Going ‘Face’ in Hearthstone is to focus almost single-mindedly on dealing direct hero damage instead of building a more defensive strategy. It’s common in Hunter and Shaman decks due to the former’s hero ability and the latter’s access to Windfury cards. In particular, ‘going face’ often means overlooking enemy minions in favour of direct damage.
Mage decks are well suited to stalling games – i.e. Control Decks – due to the access to abilities that freeze one or more minion – and even the opposing player – for a turn, allowing the player to wait until they can more ably deal damage. Such decks don’t deal much damage until late game.
This is a Combo Deck built around a very specific and often unwieldy card, Gadgetzan Auctioneer. This allows the Rogue to draw damage dealing class spells, as well as build into specific combos that can deal a great amount of damage. It isn’t quite as popular as it once was, but still viable thanks to the addition of recent cards.
This deck relies on the Paladins selection of Secret class cards to build its threat, with the strong early game coming from many of its shielded or healing low-cost minions – in particular Secretkeeper, whose strength grows with each Secret used. The idea is to utilise Mysterious Challenger – applying one of each Secret in your deck to the battlefield – to become a considerable problem.
Grim Patron is the focus here, relying on the Warrior to deal damage to their own minions with abilities such as Inner Rage, Cruel Taskmaster and – in particular – Whirlwind. This utilises the Grim Patron’s ability to summon copies of itself to greatly fill the board and gain almost insurmountable control.
While Resurrect was always a feature of the Priest class, it was only with the recent addition of Onyx Priest – that added the ability into a minion, and therefore increased its value – that made it a bit more viable, allowing Control Deck Priests to add this to allow for more value from high-cost minions that have been destroyed.