Beginner’s Guide to Deckbuilding in Hearthstone
1. Why build a deck?
The fact of the matter is that Hearthstone is truly a breeding ground for creativity and a great opportunity to test your Deckbuilding skills. Just in the last season, we’ve seen the rise of new creative strategies in response to the Metagame, such as Kun the Forgotten King and Aviana Combo Druid to beat Priest. We’ve seen enormous variation within archetypes like Reno Priest from value oriented builds to combo heavy ones. There’s an entire world out there for players to explore, whether you are competitive, casual, or love creating new things.
We often see top competitive Wild Players refining, testing, and experimenting with new Archetypes. The often changing metagame as well as new addition of cards means that there are always new opportunities for new decks to emerge, even late into an expansion cycle. The Knights of the Frozen Throne Expansion released 135 new Hearthstone Cards into the Wild Format of 1189 Cards. That’s 160,515 new card interactions waiting to be explored and yet the vast majority of players are playing the same lists. And that’s just two card combinations. If you look at the number of 30 card decks in the Wild Format there are around 1.22x1061 permutations, about the number of atoms in our galaxy! Some of those permutations of decks look like the deck you see to the right. Wildly unplayable. By the end of this article, you will have gained many tools to become a better deckbuilder so that you can start enjoying one of the most fundamental and exciting parts of Hearthstone.
1.1 Gain a Deeper Fundamental Understanding of the Game
Ask a lot of players unfamiliar with Wild what the best card in the format is and you’ll often get the same, contrived response: Dr. Boom. If you’ve played Wild, than by now you’ve probably figured out that Dr. Boom is not nearly as prevalent as he was in his Standard days. On the surface level, you would think that Dr. Boom would edge out cards like Bonemare by sheer power level, yet this is not the case. Its because players have learned from testing and deckbuilding a more nuanced understanding of what they want from their 7 drop.
From deckbuilding you will have a much larger holistic understanding of card interactions which is what you need to become a better player. It also allows you to make wise tech options and deck choices that will give you an edge on Ladder.
1.2 Building Decks is Satisfying
The process of building and winning games with your own deck is an awesome feeling. It breaks the monotony of playing the same tired decks over and over again, and you can have a deck that is uniquely yours and tailored to your Playstyle. It’s a mixture of creative and analytical processes and pulls at the heart of what many players love about gaming and card games: the ability to play the way you want and have unique experiences.
With that, let’s finally get into looking at one of the fundamental building blocks of deckbuilding: Archetypes.
2. Deck Archetypes in Hearthstone
Understanding these archetypes will give you a basic foundation and starting point for building your deck.
- Aggro – An aggressive deck looking to deal as much damage to the opponent as quick as possible, usually through the use of effective minions, weapons, and direct damage spells. Example: Pirate Warrior, Aggro Shaman, Aggro Druid
- Midrange – A deck somewhere between an Aggro Deck and Control deck in pace, seeking to attain victory during the midgame. Midrange decks often have a more flexible game plan, but overall have a power spike during the mid game and seek to gain control of the board. These decks often focus on cards that provide good value, efficient trading, and card advantage. Example: Midrange Hunter, Recruit Paladin, Dragon Priest
- Control – A deck that attempts to win in the late game or until they can reach their finisher. These decks usually include a lot of Removal, AoE, Taunts, Healing, and Card Draw in order to survive the early game and get ahead in the late game. Example: Reno Razakus Priest, Control Shaman, Fatigue Warrior, Reno Mage, Renolock.
2.2. Sub Archetypes
- Combo – Decks that revolve around finding a combination of cards that will either win the game on the spot, or provide overwhelming card advantage and board position. These deck often feature plentiful card draw in order to find its pieces, or a lot of stall in order to survive until they can assemble their combo. Examples: Quest Mage, Giant Hunter, Resurrect Priest, Miracle Rogue.
- Tempo – Decks that focuses on having outpacing their opponents through powerful on curve plays and efficient removal. They tend to have effective ways of utilizing mana more effectively then their opponents and are able to continue applying pressure. An example of this is Mad Scientist pulling out a Counterspell and nullifying an opponent’s turn when they try to cast a spell. Another example of this is Rogue playing Sap on a large taunt to continue developing board and pushing damage. Examples: Oil Rogue, Secret Mage.
2.3. The importance of Archetypes
The reason these roles are important in deckbuilding is that beginner deckbuilders often make the mistake of not focusing on their deck’s strength and game plan. If you are an aggro deck trying to win by turn 4-5, it doesn’t make sense to include a card like Dr. Boom or Ragnaros the Firelord, even if they are powerful cards. Similarly, cards like Doomguard and Soulfire are great cards as well, but may not fit into a Control Warlock shell. (Though there are of course exceptions to this rule). Take a look at some of the most popular decks, their archetypes, and common cards among them and you’ll see similar patterns that you can mimic when building your own deck. For example, the vast majority of control decks in wild are running Doomsayer in order to stall the game.
These roles can also give you a very elementary understanding of your matchups as well. In Hearthstone, it’s often stated that aggro beats midrange, midrange beats control, and control beats aggro. (This goes opposite to what Magic players may be used to). In reality, it’s much more complex then rock-paper-scissors. Whats more important is that you understand the fundamental game plan of your deck and where its strengths and weaknesses lie, and build around that. We will get more into how to do so further on in this guide, but its something to always keep at the top of your mind when making card choices.
2.4. Having a Game Plan
The takeaway of this is that your deck needs a fundamental game plan that you should be building towards. Whether that game plan is to win on turn 20 by fatigue, to rush down the opponent with Pirates, or create a never ending chain of Jade Golems, every card in your deck should be suited towards achieving the fundamental game plan that underlies your deck.
Understanding your game plan will help you decide which cards are best suited to your deck as well. For example, in an Aggro Tempo Mage deck, Fireball is a powerful card as it can help clear minions or push damage. In a more controlling mage looking to win by outvaluing the opponent, the ability of Polymorph to deal with any minion may make it a better choice.
Another example is if you’re trying to pick between two cards: Ragnaros the Firelord or The Lich King. Both are extremely powerful 8-drops, but they lean towards different game plans. If you are trying to close the game quickly by turn 8 and want a late game finisher, Ragnaros is a strong choice. If you are looking to extend the game, generate card advantage, or are looking for a more defensive option with taunt, The Lich King may be the better choice.
3. Card Selection
At the heart of deckbuilding is Card Selection. For many players this is the most enjoyable part of deckbuilding, but it can be a challenging process picking from the enormous card pool Hearthstone has to offer. Things like Mana Curve and Tradeoff between cards are important things to keep at the top of mind when picking cards for your deck.
The curve of a deck is the distribution of mana costs among cards in your deck. Having a good curve is important in Deckbuilding so that your deck has powerful plays at all points in the game. As the game begins players have less mana, less cards have been drawn, and players need early plays. Thus, you will need more low cost cards in your deck if you want to consistently make early plays. In later turns, there is more mana, the player wants cards with a higher cost, but has now drawn several times from the deck and so there is no need to have so many of them. That’s why in general, the majority of curves start high and have fewer and fewer higher cost cards. What your curve looks like will differ depending on the archetype and game plan.
An example is for an aggressive deck looking to end the game by turn 4 or 5, the deck should be built to have multiple plays available at all stages of the game from turns 1 through 5.
It’s impossible to give exact specifications of what your curve should look like as it’s highly dependent on your deck, but here are some things to keep in mind:
- Take into account your Hero Power and how often you plan on using it. Life Tap for example is incredibly powerful to fill in spots of your curve as you can make up for lost card advantage early.
- Lower curve decks can make multiple plays in the Midgame, making it unnecessary to play high cost cards.
- Mana warping effects like Wild Growth and Preparation.
Here are some examples curves of a tuned aggro, midrange, and control deck to give a better idea of this concept. Take a look at the curves of the following decks:
Masinc’s Rank 1 Legend Aggro Shaman, Alb87’s Wild Open Final Recruit Paladin, MekNuggetZ Wild Open Final Control Mage
3.2. Understanding Opportunity Cost and Tradeoffs
For each card, you put in your deck, you are losing the potential gain that an alternative card could have in its place. This is why you need to make sure every card in your deck truly deserves its spot.
The best way to illustrate Opportunity Cost is with an example:
If you are playing Control Warrior, it makes no sense to tech in a card like Eater of Secrets to improve that matchup from 80% to 85%. If Freeze Mage is 2% of the Metagame, that Eater of Secrets in your deck is going to win you one more game in every 1000 games you play (and lose you a lot more). The opportunity cost in this scenario is very high as you are gaining very little by adding Secret Eater in your deck, and losing a lot (a valuable slot another card could take). If you already have a fantastic control matchup, then cards that could swing an Aggro matchup in your favor rise up in value.
The opportunity cost of including a card in an Aggro deck is often even larger, as tech options often can deviate from your game plan of reducing your opponent to 0 health. One example of a tech card that sometimes makes the cut is Spellbreaker in Pirate Warrior. There are enough taunts in most metagames that Spellbreaker aligns with Pirate Warrior’s game plan of pushing damage, and thus can sometimes warrant a spot.
In general, the more narrow in application a card is, the higher the opportunity cost. Putting a card with an inherently high power level like Dr. Boom in your deck has a low opportunity cost as it’s going to be a decent card on turn 7 in most scenarios, while putting a card like Skulking Geist in your deck is a big opportunity cost, as it’s pretty awful in the games its not active in. However, if Skulking Geist can drastically swing an unfavorable matchup enough, it may be worth the slot.
Remember, every card you put in your deck is taking up the slot of another potential card.
3.3. Don’t build to beat everything
As a side note on Opportunity cost, a common pitfall that many players end up in when Deckbuilding is trying to beat everything, and ending up good against nothing. If your deck just has good matchups all across the board, then congrats! You’ve broken the format. More likely, you will have to make sacrifices in some matchups to improve others. Don’t worry too much about the small numbers, what you’re looking for is the combined win rate of your matchups across the board to be positive. (This will be through a combination of finding what matchups are worth improving and building for, as well as how your strategy falls in the metagame.)
3.4. One or Two Copies
Because Hearthstone decks are only 30 cards, and the starting hand has 3 cards already, by the 10th turn of the game we’ve already seen almost half the deck. If a card is essential to your strategy, is one of the most powerful cards in the deck, or you want to see multiple copies of it, including 2 of that card is often the right choice. Here are some reasons that including only one copy of a card might be the right choice:
- The card is only good in certain situations or is a tech card – Drawing 2 of a situational card or tech card can be pretty bad in the wrong matchup. Having a singleton means that drawing or mulliganing towards it in the right matchup could swing the matchup in your favor, but lessens the sting of possibly drawing multiples. Example: Spellbreaker, Antique Healbot
- The card has a really high cost – For curve considerations you don’t necessarily want to have too many high cost cards in your deck. Example: Pyroblast
- You want your deck to have versatile answers – A split of cards may be the right choice so that you have outs to different situations. Example: Hellfire Shadowflame split.
- Unique effects like The Curator – Cards like The Curator has the potential to draw three cards if you include a Beast, a Murloc, and a Dragon in your deck. You may only want one copy of the Beast, Murloc, and Dragon to enable The Curator as a draw engine. Another example is Skulking Geist. Once you’ve played the first Skulking Geist, you don’t need the effect a second time.
3.5. Sidenote on Copying Successful Decks
There’s nothing wrong with looking up successful decks or netdecking to see what has worked and hasn’t worked for other people. Some tried and true combos like Wild Pyromancer + Equality are staples of decks, and may fit into the deck you are looking to create. You can also copy successful decks, and adjust it after seeing what was successful and what did not work out.
You’ll learn a lot about why the deck works, and thus be more comfortable building your own decks.
4. Building Around Synergy and Combos
Now that we understand the various deck archetypes, card selection, curve, and more, it’s time to start thinking about what cards and synergies you would like to build your deck around.
This is where things start to get funky. If everyone build decks based on just individual power level of cards, then we would all be playing the same deck full of just the most powerful cards available. Synergies, the unique interaction and increased power level that you get from combining cards, is essential to building decks. Let’s take a look into how to build around synergy.
4.1. The Obvious Synergies and Combos
Some mechanics are extremely linear and thus tend to have card packages that go together. An example of this is the Jade Mechanic, where you’re going to see Aya Blackpaw, Jade Idol, and Jade Behemoth in nearly every Jade Druid Deck. Another example of this is the Mech Archetype, where Mechwarper, Piloted Shredder, and Cogmaster in nearly every deck. Because these mechanics have such linearly focused gameplans, it’s usually best to complement the deck’s game plan with your card choices. For example, Mech Mage is an extremely aggressive deck, so it’s common to include aggressive mage cards in its flex slots such as Fireball and Frostbolt.
Be cognizant of cards that synergize with the archetype that might not be immediately obvious. An example is that Mech Mage’s often end up with a lot of cheap spare parts as a result of cards like Tinkertown Technician, and thus Archmage Antonidas sometimes can be powerful in the archetype in the right Metagame.
4.2. Build Around Cards
Many cards and synergies are so powerful that you can build entire decks around them. When building these cards, you will often form a core set of cards that you can build your deck around.
An example of this is Mysterious Challenger. In order to make Mysterious Challenger a powerful card, players are incentivized to play a large amount of secrets in their deck. Thus, Secret Paladins often have a core package of Mysterious Challenger and the most powerful secrets available: Avenge, Noble Sacrifice, and Redemption.
4.3. Combos as a Win Condition
Decks that use a Combo as their primary win condition usually are built quite different then your average deck. Because they need to draw their combo in order to win the game while not dying, these decks tend to have plenty of card draw and stall. Take this into account if you are building a Combo Deck.
If you have a deck designed to win by turn 12 on average, but most decks in the format win on turn 7, you’re going to need to either:
- Speed up your combo through card draw.
- Interact with other decks through removal, taunts, or AoE
4.4 Smaller Synergies
Some cards just have some smaller synergies when put together that when making the decision between two cards, this can be the deciding factor. A practical example of this let’s say your paladin deck needs more two drops to fill out the curve. Haunted Creeper may make the cut if you already include cards like Knife Juggler or Steward of Darkshire as Haunted Creeper is already a solid 2 drop, but has great synergy with those cards.
5. Start Building
5.1. Form a Core Set of Cards for your deck
You’ve made it this far, time to put your knowledge to the test! Use what what we’ve learned up to this point about Deck Archetypes, Game plan, Card Selection, and Synergy in order to create what will be the core cards of your deck. These are the cards that are essential to make your deck and strategy work. This doesn’t have to be perfect yet, we will go over tuning and refining the deck later on.
5.2. Add the Rest of the Cards
From there, fill out the rest of your deck with cards that you think will benefit it the most. Consider:
- Cards that will shore up weaknesses in your strategy. Example: Antique Healbot in a deck that needs healing.
- The most powerful Class Cards that often make the cut just on power alone. Example: Backstab, Frostbolt, Muster for Battle.
- Cards that specifically contribute and synergize with your Deck. Example: Jeeves in Aggro Druid, Bloodlust in token Shaman.
- Cards that you are unsure about that you want to test.
- Take into consideration the curve of your deck and your game plan. If choosing between two cards, curve consideration may swing you towards one of the cards.
6. Testing and Tuning
At the end of the day, you need to play some games to discover more about your deck. We as humans are notoriously bad at card evaluation. It’s why you always see respected pro players make completely wrong card evaluations during the release of a new set. It’s not because these players are bad, its just that its really hard to know how good a card is until you start playing it. Cards like Mysterious Challenger, Dr. Boom, and The Caverns Below were rated as terrible cards upon their reveals. Likewise, Troggzor the Earthinator and Varian Wrynn were expected to be powerful staples of the format, but ended up falling short. Some cards like Resurrect were initially touted as great, then fell short, and then finally with more support lead to an archetype of its own in Wild.
The moral of that longwinded story is that the best way to understand and tune your deck is through playing actual games of Hearthstone.
Playtesting is about making small, incremental changes to your decks as you identify cards and synergies that are over performing and underperforming.
Playtesting requires a large sample size. I see a lot of players make a fatal mistake when tuning and refining their decks: They lose a game, go to the Deckbuilder, take out bad cards in that matchup and replace them with tech cards. Repeat this process enough times and you’ll end up with a diluted deck that has bad matchups all across the board. To illustrate this, imagine you are playing Jade Druid and you just happen to run into Quest mage three times on ladder. At the end of your testing, you may be discouraged and tempted to just toss the deck away. I urge you not to do this.
Instead, play a couple games against varied decks and take notes:
- Which cards are constantly underperforming?
- Which cards are consistently performing well?
- Am I making powerful plays each turn? Or am I losing the game with a gripful of cards? (Adjust your Curve)
- Am I losing to Aggressive, Midrange, Control, or Combo decks? Can you fix this without sacrificing too much equity?
- How is my deck positioned in the Metagame?
- Is what my deck doing at a high enough power level to compete with other decks?
From this information, make the most obvious replacements that could shore up any of your decks weaknesses, and go through the process of playtesting again.
Lastly, a small tip if you are concerned about ranking or new to deckbuilding: Playtest at ranks 15, 10, and 5 where you can’t lose stars.
6.2. Get Feedback from Others
Lastly, get feedback from friends, the community, or feel free to comment below on a deck you’ve made! This is something that’s so often overlooked in Deckbuilding. There are so many intricacies and unique interactions in Hearthstone that it is impossible to account for everything. You’ll likely get feedback and things to take into considerations from others that you may have missed completely.
I hope that this guide provided many of the fundamentals needed to start building your own decks. Hearthstone is an incredibly complex game with thousands of unique interactions waiting to be explored. At the end of the day, the single best way to learn more about Deckbuilding is to go out there and start experimenting! Rules are meant to be broken and these are just a guideline for building decks. You’ll find out that some rules shatter your expectations. Astral Communion Druid has one of the most absurd curves in the game but can be insanely powerful. Decks like Mill Rogue have a completely alternate game plan then anything i’ve outlined here.
Hopefully I’ve stirred some excitement in you all to start building your own decks. What are you waiting for? Stop reading this way-too-long article and start going out and building decks. Don’t forget to share what you’ve created in the comments below, as I would love to see what you guys come up with.
We have a lot of great content coming up soon here at WildHS as we bring in more Wild Experts and Content Creators. We have to soon have a Wild Deck Doctoring Series to show you the live process of tuning and refining a deck, so if you have a decklist you would like to submit, comment below! I hope you stay tuned and thanks again so much for reading.