Just What The Hell Are They Yelling About: An Introduction to Hearthstone

Earlier this week the Hearthstone World Championship officially started. Even though it was only the round of 16, viewer count peaked at over 100K, briefly becoming the most viewed game on Twitch. The Hearthstone competitive scene is big, and it’s a pretty cool place. I’ve enjoyed following competitive Hearthstone ever since its beta, and I have managed to put in three top 500 on the European ladder over the last year. By this point the Hearthstone scene has been clearly established, and it can be intimidating for a newcomer to figure out just what the hell is going on. This article, which is going to be the first in a multi-part series, is going to tell you the basics of Hearthstone. After reading this you should be able to tune into a Hearthstone stream and follow along without any issue. It won’t turn you into a pro, but it’ll let you watch other, better players play the game. This is without a doubt the best way to improve, and it’s also loads of fun. Even if you’ve never played the game before, after reading this you should be able to tune into the World Championship and have just as much fun as the rest of us.

Hearthstone is a free-to-play card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Players are given a set of starter cards and can either buy more using real cash, or simply play games and be awarded cards. Currently the game has 4 expansions out. Two of them, Goblins vs Gnomes and the Grand Tournament, add new booster packs to the game. The other two, The Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain, are mostly focused on PVE content and only contain a few cards each. Cards from any sets can be combined together to create a deck of thirty cards. The only restrictions placed on card choice are there can only be two copies of any specific card in a deck, except for cards with Legendary rarity which are restricted to one copy per deck.

Players can play as any of nine classes, which each have class-specific cards players may choose to use, as well as a “hero power”. A hero power is a class-specific effect that costs two mana to activate, and doesn’t require the use of a card. Each hero power is unique and they serve a variety of purposes, such as healing, dealing damage, or even creating minions on the battlefield.heroes

Cards can be played by paying their mana cost. Each player starts out with one mana to spend on turn one and gets an additional one every turn. Mana does not stack, meaning a player who does not spend all of the five mana they are given on turn five, will not get to spend more than six mana on turn six. There are cards that influence mana gain, but they are entirely restricted to the Druid class.

Cards can be divided into three categories: Spells, weapons, and minions. Spells are cards that have a direct effect on the game. Simply put they do something. Some spells deal damage, others heal, others prevent the opponent from attacking. Weapons allow heroes, the chosen avatars of the player themselves, to attack and deal damage. Weapons have two stats: Attack, which determines how much damage they deal, and durability, which determines how many times a player gets to use a weapon before it breaks. A hero is only allowed to attack with their weapon once every turn. Minions are creatures with an attack and health value that get put onto a board. At any point, there can be a maximum of seven minions in play for either player. During a player’s turn, minions can attack either opposing minions, or the enemy hero. If a hero’s health ever drops from its starting value of thirty to zero, they and the player controlling them lose the game.

Lastly let’s talk about Conquest. Conquest is the competitive format used in the Hearthstone World Championship. The rules are simple: Each player has pre-selected three classes. When they face their opponent, they are told which classes they have picked. They then both pick their first class without knowing what their opponent has chosen. Once the match is over, the winner retires their deck and has to play one of their two remaining classes. The loser may choose to either keep using their deck, or switch to one of their other two classes. Every time a deck wins, it is retired and cannot be picked again until the end of the set. A player wins by retiring all of their decks, meaning each deck needs to pick up exactly one win. This format prevents one deck or class from dominating, since each deck can only win once.

And that’s it! Really simple right? Well, not exactly. Next time, we’ll be talking about the meta of Hearthstone and what cards and strategies you are most likely to see when tuning into the World Championship. For now however, this should be more than enough to get you started. Like chess, Hearthstone is a game with simple rules but a deceptive amount of depth. The best way to learn all about that, is to just tune in and start watching. The World Championship is raging in full force right now and there has never been a better time to join the crowd. There’s always extra room in the tavern for both players and spectators, and I’m keeping a seat warm for you.

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