You want to get into Hearthstone, but you’re scared. You hear the stories of intricate deck-building and elaborate mind games, and you wonder: Is there a 100-hour wall of learning, research, and abject failure standing between me and having a good time? Quite to the contrary, I would argue that the most fun part of Hearthstone is when you’re learning to play.
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Perhaps you’re already in the ignorant bliss of casual playerhood: it’s a place with few stakes, a place where it’s okay that you don’t know what “control” or “midrange” mean because you’re just there to make weird decks and have fun, not reach Legend. On the other side, there’s the Hardcore: a hellhole of tryhard geekery, endless cash spend, and that terrible urge to check the Hearthstone subreddit on a regular basis.
To exist on one side of the rift is to lose perspective on the other. Newbies can’t know the joy of grinding out a 25-minute control game and playing around traps that lesser players would walk right into. Conversely, long-time players can’t remember the wide-eyed optimism of Hearthstone ignorance, pulling out unlikely wins against superior decks because of reckless all-in plays, building shitty off-meta decks and even winning with them every once in awhile.
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The truth is, there’s fun to be had with each approach. The plurality of Hearthstone—the fact that it legitimizes both styles of play without picking favorites—is one of the main reasons for its popularity. “Deceptively simple, insanely fun,” as Blizzard sells it. But there’s no reason to stay casual forever, because Hearthstone is most fun when you decide to cross that divide.
There’s an extent to which this is true for every competitive game. In something like League of Legends, you set milestones for yourself—say, killing 10 minions per minute. When you achieve them, you feel accomplished. But Hearthstone takes the process a few steps further. In League of Legends, you can’t watch an informative 3-hour stream and come back to the game as a drastically better player; for the most part, you’ll have to actually practice your mechanics to pull off the strategies in your head. Hearthstone, on the other hand, requires almost zero mechanical skill, so whatever you see on a stream can be absorbed and applied directly to the game.
The nearly linear relationship between educational content and Hearthstone skill makes for a more vibrant community whose content is just as helpful as it is entertaining. You’ve got mad deck-building scientists like previous Hearthstone World Champion James “Firebat” Kostesich, whose brilliant “Deck Doctor” series gives offbeat homebrew decks a professional makeover. Then you’ve got educators like Jeffrey “Trump” Shih’s “Trump Teachings” videos and Tempo Storm’s “Deck Introductions” series, which help introduce basic concepts to new players. Finally, you’ve got masterclass streams like the ones Cong “Strifecro” Shu makes, where simplified explanations and meticulous turn planning can transform even a complete Hearthstone scrub into a formidable opponent in no time at all.
The crown jewel in the joyous Hearthstone learning experience is that it actually pays off in a tangible way. A player who knows the basic theory of how the game works and how different decks interact with one another will do significantly better than a player who uses a turn 2 Frostbolt on the enemy’s face. Once you start to learn the more granular aspects of the game, like how to pilot your favorite decks against different matchups, you can actually reach the game’s top Legend ranks with tens, not hundreds, of hours.
The problem with learning Hearthstone is that it can be tough to learn how to learn. Blizzard itself doesn’t do a great job of guiding players on the path across this chasm, so if you want to know the differences between aggro, midrange, and control archetypes, you have to do the Google-fu yourself.
To help get you started on the wonderful path to learning Hearthstone, here’s a 7-step curriculum that’ll help you optimize your educational experience for efficiency and capital-f Fun.
Think about whether or not this is something you really want to do. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, there’s really no turning back. Still here? Cool.
Learn the basic concepts and vocabulary of Hearthstone. When you grasp the concept that the enemy Warrior is an “aggro” deck trying to kill you as quickly as possible, you might decide to take out that turn-1 N’Zoth’s First Mate instead of getting greedy and waiting for turn 4 to Swipe it. To learn the conceptual basics, check out guides on places like the Hearthstone subreddit and Hearthhead.
Find a couple favorite streamers and watch them play. I like subscribing to multiple streamer channels on YouTube and watching their videos while I eat, since YouTube versions typically cut out the dead silence that comes between turns. The experience of mainlining four Hearthstone videos while eating peppered chicken breasts is not unlike that training montage in The Matrix where Neo learns jiu jitsu in like ten minutes.
When it comes to deck variety, decision-making, entertaining personalities, and quality explanations, I recommend subscribing to Strifecro, Firebat, Thijs, Trump, Hafu, Brian Kibler, and Ratsmah. Alternately, head over to Twitch’s Hearthstone page and click on whatever streamer looks most interesting to you.