The Little Things in Hearthstone
by Jordan “TheJordude” Hong Tai
Hi, my name is Jordan Hong Tai, otherwise known as TheJordude, and in this article I wanted to talk about the little things in Hearthstone that makes a world of difference for top level play. These are the small details a player can read, or execute that are significant in differentiating between an average or above-average player, and a top tier player. This article will consist of 2 main subjects (in-game and real life) that branch into a couple of sub-subjects.
In – Game
Are you always wondering why you can’t seem to climb the ladder well, always playing into AoE’s or “the perfect answer”, etc? Well, it turns out there are more things you can do than Alt-tabbing out to watch a video or do online shopping while it’s your opponent’s turn. Paying attention and considering all of the little things your opponents do other than playing a card on the table can make a huge difference in the way you respond and play.
Bluffing is one of the main concepts I want to talk about in this article as almost all the in-game sub-topics can be considered a form of bluffing. Bluffing is defined as trying to deceive someone as to one’s abilities or intentions, or in simple terms, trying to say you have or will do something that you actually can’t or won't do. When you say bluffing, a lot of people will associate the term with poker, as poker players will constantly try to bluff their hand to get an advantage. However, bluffing is prevalent in all forms of card games. In Hearthstone for example, you may Hunter’s Mark your opponents minion and set a Freezing Trap, bluffing that you set an Explosive Trap making your opponent not want to attack your face. Here is a small clip of a well-played bluff to give you a better visual (skip to 3:24).
In Hearthstone, there are numerous ways you can try to bluff your opponent to get an advantage in the game. This is where I’d like to discuss these different techniques of bluffing. Note that each method may also backfire on you or your opponent if it is used incorrectly, which I will also explain.
Picking up cards, then not playing them
Some may not know that when you are thinking about your turn and you pick up cards and think about using them on something, your opponent can actually see it. An arrow will indicate if your opponent wants to target something, and where it is coming from in the hand or the board. For example, if a Shaman player is thinking about using Rockbiter Weapon, your opponent can see an arrow hovering over their face or minion if he picks up the card and hovers it over the board. If the Shaman player changes his mind and plays something else, you will have a good indication that he has a Rockbiter Weapon in his hand and you can try to play around it like playing Haunter Creeper over Knife Juggler. Unless you are planning to use the card, DO NOT pick anything up with your mouse to prevent information from getting to your opponent. In contrast, you can pick up cards and target them if you want to bluff and mind game your opponent. You may want to hover a Crackle over your face to make your opponent think you have a Rockbiter Weapon so that they play extremely safe for when you have a Doomhammer equipped for example.
Cards on the right, or off the top
There is a split between players that believe in using the cards they draw off the top, and the players that think it doesn’t matter. I am on the boat that believes that it does in fact matter. The reason is that you can trick your opponent into thinking that you didn`t have a good answer beforehand, when you actually did, but instead you got lucky and drew into it. This does 2 things to your opponent. First it can slightly tilt them, as they think they were unlucky. Second, your opponent may play into the same answer again as they will think you don`t have it. They will be surprised to see it come from the very first card in your hand. For example I am playing against a Druid player that just played Force of Nature from a top deck to clear my minions. Now I feel a bit more safe that 1 Force of Nature is gone, and I can ease a little around Force of Nature + Savage Roar combo, so I play a bit more aggressive. I then get punished as I die to the combo from Force of Nature that came from the 2nd card in his hand. Some will argue that it can also be better to keep your top decks more of a secret, using cards you kept in your mulligan first. However I personally like the card from the top as it seems to trigger a reaction more often from players. This choice is entirely up to you.
Change of playstyle and suboptimal plays
Another way to mind game your opponent is to change the way you are playing the match. For example, you may be a Druid, and have combo in your hand, so you start being more aggressive, going for face, charging your Druid of the Claw, etc. Of course, if your opponent is paying attention, they will see your aggressive line of play to be an obvious sign of a combo, and adjust their play to try to protect themselves. You can abuse this assumption if you want to bluff. What this will do for you is provide free damage while your opponent makes suboptimal defensive plays. If you are behind and your only way of winning is to bluff combo or setup top deck combo to make a comeback, this may be your best option.
If you can safely execute your turn, yet be impactful in the second best alternative, you can possibly bait your opponent into your best alternative and amplify your advantage. For example, there may be a good board that I can Equality Consecrate to clear, however I decide to deal with the board with the means of my weapon, Aldor Peacekeeper, and maybe a few trades. My opponent will think that since I didn`t combo clear, I must not have it, so he will commit more onto the board to try to push pressure. The following turn I Equality Consecrate for an even better board clear, snowballing my advantage.
In addition to bluffing techniques…
There are also a few small things I`d like to talk about that are not related to bluffing, but are useful to keep in mind.
This is mostly relevant to tournaments. Currently we are in a conquest format, which means you normally have a best of 5 match, and you have to win with all 3 decks that you bring. If you lose, you will have to play the deck again sometime in the series. What this means is that the next time you queue up the deck, the archetype/playstyle of the deck will already known by your opponent. For example they wouldn’t have to guess if you are playing a Zoolock or Handlock. This is very significant as your opponent will have an idea of what to mulligan for and know what cards you have in the deck. This is why, whenever possible, you should try to hide certain cards in your deck if you are sure you're about to lose a game. Certain cards are core and are expected, but you may want to keep your opponent from knowing you have a Kezan Mystic in your deck, especiallyf you know you have to face a Hunter or Mage later. This is why you should try to avoid playing 1 golden and 1 regular copy of a card in your deck. If your opponent sees 1 golden Big Game Hunter, and the next time they see a regular Big Game Hunter, they will know to try to play around Big Game Hunter swing turns as you are running 2 in the deck, when sometimes they are not sure if you have 1 or 2 copies. On the flipside, if you are in a deciding position over your opponent, you can try to scout out what they have in their deck to give you more information in future games. Say your opponent has played 2 freezing traps already and he has a Mad Scientist on the board. You are going to win regardless of any traps in his deck with something like a Fireball. What you can do is first kill the Mad Scientist with a minion to see if there are any more secrets in the deck that will be fished out, and if you can test what secret it is, even better. This will help you know more about their deck and how you can play around certain cards.
Keeping track of card positioning
This can seem like a lot of work but it is useful to keep track of the cards in your opponent’s hand. This includes the mulligan stage. You should be looking at your opponent’s mulligan to get an idea of what they might have so you can play around cards that punish you. For example, you are playing Hunter against a Druid that kept one card in his hand. He didn’t play Wild Growth on turn 2 so you may suspect it is a Wrath, so instead of playing your Knife Juggler you play Haunted Creeper. Keeping track of cards doesn’t only involve the mulligan stage, you should ideally be watching where cards are coming from in their hand and knowing how long they have been in there. If the Druid has been holding this one card in his hand for the entire game and hasn’t played it while floating mana, you can suspect it may be a combo piece card like Force of Nature or Savage Roar. Similarly, if you have a grindy battle with a Mech Mage that is just playing one minion from their top deck but not playing their other card, it’s probably a Fireball. This information is useful for adjusting your plays and decisions when deciding how much pressure you're under, predicting cards your opponents have, and what your best play in response are.
There is only one thing I can think of that you can read from your opponent in a real life setting like a LAN tournament. So far I have been to 3 LAN events, with more lined up and this is what I found in my experiences so far.
Just like in any card game such as Poker, Yugioh, Magic, etc, emotions and body language/expressions can tell your opponent a lot. Some practice and perfect their "poker face". To those that can’t hold a straight face, you can watch for any signs of emotion in a player to get a better sense of what they might be planning. They may give a small smirk when they draw a card which can indicate a good draw. This isn’t as important as you may have no control over what they do on their turn. What is more important to notice are any indications of distress resulting from your turn. If you play a big threat like Ragnaros and you see your opponent shuffle, become fidgety or roll their eyes, it's a possible indication that they don't have a good answer for it. If the player can’t hold a strong poker face, their subconscious expression will diminish the use of bluffs they try to employ. This information can allow you to take higher risk for higher reward plays like dropping another big threat. Although, they can be completely next level and fake emotions to bluff, but I rarely see that happen.
Next time, before you start daydreaming while you wait for your opponent to make their turn, consider what I have talked about in this article. Try to look out for these small details in your opponents play as often it is free information that can increase your percentage of wins. Also, remember to watch your own play and make sure you don’t give out free information to your opponent. Give bluffing a try when appropriate and see how it works out for you. When you are at a LAN event, stare down your opponent and make him know you mean business. Thanks for coming by and reading this article and expect more from me in the future!
About the Author
My name is Jordan “TheJordude” Hong Tai, and I am a professional Hearthstone player currently playing for compLexity Gaming. I am a multi legend player that has only missed legend for a couple of seasons. I have peaked at rank 3 legend in NA, but the highest ending season position I’ve finished at has been around 120. I enjoy refining and testing out new decks and playing a lot of ladder. I also enjoy making content through Hearthstone/Esporting websites such as deck guides, reviews, etc. You can find me through these social media outlets:
- Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/TheJordude
- Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/TheJordude
- Twitter: @coL_TheJordude