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Hearthstone Gameplay Guide – Arena, Ranked and Casual Modes

Hearthstone Gameplay Guide – Arena, Ranked and Casual Modes

Back in January I gave my favourable first impressions on Hearthstone’s closed beta phase. Now that open beta is in full effect and streams of new players are experiencing their first foray into Hearthstone I thought it was high time for some more content and some further insight into the game. For this article I will be focussing on the three types of gameplay found within Hearthstone; Ranked, Casual and Arena. I will briefly cover what you should expect to achieve in each game type along with some basic tactics, playstyles, deck lists and a video of my attempts at each area.


Casual mode is the first game type that any player should acquaint themselves with. Here is where you unlock the heroes for each class and where all of the basic cards can be collected by advancing each class to level 10. Casual mode itself consists of two game types; The first against scalable AI of your choosing and the second against a live opponent in unranked play.

Playing against the scalable AI is a great way to introduce yourself to all the heroes and get to grips with how their various unique cards and abilities work without unsettling yourself too much. Once you unlock a few heroes it’s a good idea to pick one or two that you feel more comfortable playing and stick with them until you’ve really got the basics of the game nailed down.

Once you’ve built up some knowledge of your class by playing the AI, and have reached at least level 10, you can begin to construct your first deck, which is always a hard thing to do. You’ll have a few cards that you know work well with your playstyle and a few that are random picks. The great thing is that you can experiment and change your deck around as you gain more experience and more of an idea of what you want to do with your cards on each turn. There are also various deck guides that explain what the best cards are and how to use them effectively.

Below I have posted a video of a Bloodlust/Windfury Shaman deck I created and tested out in unranked mode. The deck is not perfect by any means but the general idea is there and as I’m playing casual the win ratio is likely to be higher which is handy for completing those daily quests and earning a bit of extra gold.

The general idea of the above deck is to build up as many minions on the board as you can, remove your opponents taunts and then wait for the opportune moment to use Bloodlust and then Windfury on your highest damage minion. This tactic often results in one turn kills but is vulnerable to rush and taunt heavy decks. A link to the deck list can be found here.


Ranked gameplay is generally considered as Hardcore mode within Hearthstone as this is where the serious players go to show off decks they have honed to perfection after hours of trial and error and many changes to their cards. Make no mistake there will always be gimmick decks and players who play inefficiently with their cards, but these you will usually find languishing around the bottom of the leagues.

If you’re serious about wanting to advance through the ranks and become a better player you need to be flexible with your hero class, flexible with your play styles and above all, knowledgeable. I would suggest checking out a couple of the pro players YouTube channels or official websites as these are often crammed with useful tips and examples of gameplay techniques that can help you better understand the mechanics of the game. A prime examples of someone to watch is none other than Hearthstone’s first professional player Trump. His Twitch channel, on which he regularly streams can be found here and his arena tier list here.

Below I have included a video of my attempts at ranked gameplay with a control mage deck. While I succeed at three out of the four games, it’s fair to say that the victories are far from the walkover that you would expect from unranked gameplay.

The goal of the above deck is efficient trades, control and flexibility and can be quite aggressive especially if you manage a turn one mana worm followed by a few spells. It can work equally well as a control deck however, as the high health minions coupled with spells and the mage’s hero power make for some efficient trades. As you can see from watching the video above the games are a lot closer and it’s often the case that just one wrong move can cost you the win later on in the game.


Arena is where most of the fun is to be had (that is when you have a spare 150g to enter) and is also where you can potentially maximise the use of your gold. To explain that a little better, buying a pack of cards costs you 100g, whilst entry to the arena costs 150g. The rewards from arena if you win enough games can be around two packs of cards plus 200g and the minimum reward one pack of cards. So if you think your skills are up to the test, paying the initial extra 50g can make things a lot more worthwhile in the long run.

The idea of arena is that you play to either a maximum of twelve wins or three losses, which ever comes first. Depending on the amount of wins at the end of your run, your reward will differ. You use the same deck of 30 cards for your whole run and these are chosen at random just before you start your first game. Unlike ranked or casual gameplay, in arena all of the games cards have a random chance of being available for you to choose putting players on more even grounds in the respect that a new player would have just as much random chance at getting good cards as a veteran.

Below I have included a two part video of me creating and playing an arena deck. If you click through to YouTube on the first video I have included in the description, my reasoning behind choosing the cards that I did.

Arena runs can vary dramatically in how they are played out as sometimes you will get a class you don’t play very often, or just not have very good cards. Other times things can go in your favour. Either way it’s good to learn which general cards are efficient to play in arena and try to stick to these with class specific cards on top. It’s a bad idea to try and select cards that would work with a gimmick deck such as a murloc rush down deck as what you will often find is one or two murloc cards showing up and then none for the rest of the deck.

Hearthstone Closed Beta – First Impressions

Hearthstone Closed Beta – First Impressions

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is one of those games that a lot of people might not understand or gel with immediately. If you have no background with Blizzards Warcraft games then learning the ins and outs of classes, abilities and how best to play might take a little while longer, although a background in CCG’s (collectible card games) of any form will certainly help. As a person who played World of Warcraft for around five years, I knew from the instant I saw my first game that I wanted to play it for myself as it brought back memories of time spent on many of my characters, but still posed something of a new challenge as far as gameplay was concerned. But enough of my nostalgic babble, I suppose you want to know just exactly what Hearthstone is.

Hearthstone is a strategic digital CCG, based around Blizzards popular Warcraft games. The aim of the game is to lower your enemies health (from thirty) to zero using a pre-compiled deck of thirty cards with different stats and abilities. Each card has a mana cost and you start the game with one mana crystal, rising by one each turn to a maximum of ten. As is the case with most strategic card games (digital or otherwise) knowledge of your opponent and their abilities is key, but that mostly comes with practice and experience with different situations.

Knowing which cards to play when is vital for success.
Knowing which cards to play when is vital for success.

There are nine classes in the game, each with class specific and neutral cards that can be used to adapt your heroes deck theme. For example as a Mage you could construct a rush-down deck that consists of direct damage to the enemy hero and spellpower minions used to increase that damage to a maximum. You could alternatively construct a turtle deck (defensive) that allows you to restrict the use of your enemies cards against you, reducing the damage you take whilst slowly chipping their health away. For each class there are many themes of deck that can be constructed and with nine classes at hand there really is a wide variety of outcomes that could appear in every game.

There are also three game modes to be considered; Casual, Ranked and Arena. Casual gameplay consists of practice games against scalable AI of your choice and also includes a multiplayer portion, where most players gather to grind gold and test out new decks they have created. Ranked mode follows much the same structure as casual multiplayer except that each win and loss will move you up and down a ladder. The lower your ranking, the better a player you are generally considered to be. Ranked gameplay is generally considered as hardcore mode as most players participating in this ladder system will have honed their decks to perfection and will rarely make mistakes. If you enter into ranked mode unprepared, do not expect to go very far.

Arena mode lets you play to a maximum of twelve wins or three losses (whichever comes first) before claiming your prize.
Arena mode lets you play to a maximum of twelve wins or three losses (whichever comes first) before claiming your prize.

For me Arena mode is where the real fun is to be had, and is essentially a way to make maximum use of your gold (in game credit) whilst testing your skills to the max. Buying a deck in Hearthstone will cost you 100 gold and consists of five randomly chosen cards. Entry into Arena costs 150 gold, but gives you the chance to win more than one deck, along with bonus gold and dust (used to craft individual cards). The minimum you can walk away with at the end of a bad arena run is one deck of cards, so the choice is yours to spend the extra 50 gold and gamble with the chance to extend your collection or play it safe and just buy decks.

Part of the reason why I enjoy Hearthstone so much is that I have almost never played exactly the same game twice. With 439 cards to chose from there are so many different options for every class that the potential for gameplay is almost endless. There is an addictive side to the game, as you only start out with a basic card roster. It’s only once you have levelled up your characters and played a few arena games that you will be able to craft some proper decks and by that time your hooked to the flush gameplay, RNG of the card draw and the chance to prove your skills at all levels of the game. Blizzard are dedicated to balancing this game as well as they possibly can and have already implemented several patches based on feedback and statistics. I for one am very interested to see what the future of this game has to hold. Did I mention it will be free to play upon full release? What more could you possibly want?

No, Sir, Your Virtual World Is Nothing But A Virtual Soundstage

No, Sir, Your Virtual World Is Nothing But A Virtual Soundstage

That's Hello Kitty Online by the way

Games are doing my head in. Specifically MMOs.

When MMOs started to really hit it big, to crawl out of the shackles of “cult status” and start to rake in the big bucks, I was one of those kids that every market loves. I was young, middle class and with parents affluent enough to loan me the dosh to buy into anything that the marketing gurus persuaded me that I wanted. For MMOs, that was Anarchy Online, followed by Star Wars Galaxies and Planetside, then World of Warcraft. I’m now sick of these games, and I want to tell you why.

It’s nothing to do with the individual mechanics of each and every MMO, even the ones that are poor and translate into each successful game. No, my problem lies in the design philosophies of the games. The main tenet of their design is not playability but profit and, while this is true of most every game now, they do very little to hide this. The level grind, the uninspired quests, the ludicrously hard boss fights, it all comes together to make you shell out more money for less gratification. In fact, given that most endgames require large groups of players, your input becomes invisible amongst the unbridled throng of spells and people shouting about DPS.

You will often spy developers lauding their achievements in creating a living, breathing world. I don’t mean to be harsh, but these people are liars. They’ve not created a world, they’ve created a set, similar to those used for films except substantially larger. They may have stuffed it full of actors and props, but it’s no more alive than a strip of celluloid. There’s no life in an online world, it’s all heavily scripted and rigidly defined so that what variation the players experience is extremely limited.

If you were to map the average “life” of a Warcraft character you would most likely find that they are worryingly similar. Every player does the same quests at the same levels, kills the same creatures, collects the same useless ingredients. If they’re lucky, their race choice will allow them a slightly different set of quests from another player, but not always. A living world would let players build their own stories, have their own unique tales to tell.

This isn’t a problem in single player games because, by their very nature, they have pre-made stories ready for your consumption, designed to be told through a narrative structure that progresses along with you. Multiplayer games don’t have this safety net being, as they are, intent on creating an entire world around you, rather than situating you inside one that has already been built. Come into our world, the MMO will cry, be who you want to be or who you wish you were, unlock your potential in a risk-free environment.

It doesn’t annoy me so much that they don’t provide these worlds, as I am aware how monumentally difficult that might be, but that they lie about having already done so. There’s no emotional connection to an MMO world because, despite claims made by most developers, your character isn’t really part of it. The world itself is frozen in time, never progressing except for sudden and frustrating jumps forward when expansion packs are launched, and your avatar moved through the world so unnoticed that he may as well have never existed.

The MMO ideal appeals to the part of the mind that likes to make stories, your inner writer. You may be terrible at writing in the real world, but everyone’s life has a story behind it and the realisation of that is what makes MMOs so enticing: you can make a new life online, built from the various events and occurrences, and it will be like your real one but so much cooler. What actually happens, of course, is that you are slotted neatly into one of perhaps 20 different life stories replicated thousands of times. There is no individuality, no sense of self, everything has already been hard coded by the developers, and the only time you really get a choice is when they want you to have one.

You would think that people would know the world is not made up merely of sword fighting and auctions, that for it to be truly alive there must be more within it than mere violence and commerce. There’s science, art, love, solitude, togetherness, independence, and so much more. If you could guess the course of someone’s life from a single glance, knew how they got to that point without having to ask, what would be the point? You can’t stare at a girl in your Film class and go “I know everything about her, from her early life, where she lived, how well she did at school, right up until what brought her to this very place”, that’s not how life works.

Life is about secrets and unknowns and stories above all else.

I know that this is hard to put into a game, to replicate everything about life that makes it feel alive, and I’m not saying that developers should already be there. They should most definitely be trying to get there of course, but all I ask is that, until they manage it, they stop treating us like mindless sheep and lying to us about it. No, your MMO world isn’t a “living and breathing” universe yet, and until it is you will get nothing but bile from me if you declare it as such.

I want a narrative, a journey, almost unique to everyone else, that I am able to convey to people via conversation or trophies or word of my exploits in the press. I want the MMO to be the world I can’t have in reality, the one where you can be famous and have fun, yet without having to follow the same path as everyone else. I want freedom and individuality in a virtual world full of other people seeking the same thing, where half the fun comes from sitting around a virtual fire and asking other people how they came to be at this point themselves, hearing a new story each time.

I want the chance to be the person online that I can’t be in the real world.