The Secrets of Arena Deck Building
When I first started playing Hearthstone, like many others I was immediately drawn to the arena.
What’s not to like? Every match has a sense of real consequence to it, and the potential payoff is irresistible. Every time I reach that magical seventh win, I sigh in relief, knowing I have at least made enough gold to pay for another foray into the arena.
But sometimes its hard to get that seventh win. Due to the random nature of arena deck building, luck will always be a factor. Sometimes your opponent has stronger cards than you, no matter what you do. This luck, while unpredictable, is at least consistent and it affects each player equally. With two free losses to work with and complete control of the cards you choose, seven wins per arena can become a realistic goal for any player.
Every seven wins pays for another arena, and another arena means the chance to get lucky and draft a particular strong deck capable of 12 wins. The matching making in arena mode attempts to pair players with similar win / loss standings, so if you want to stand a chance against your final 11 win arena boss, you better hope your deck is as good!
Thankfully, you can do more than just hope. These 4 tips of the most important lessons to building a powerful arena deck. If you find yourself losing in arena more often than winning, this is the first place you must improve.
1. Ensure a stable mana curve
The biggest difference between constructed decks and arena decks is card quality. A constructed deck has access to every card in the game, and as a result, can build a strategy around the expectation of drawing specific powerful cards and setting into place specific powerful synergies. Most importantly however, a constructed deck can always rely on having a consistent mana curve.
A consistent mana curve allows a deck to use their mana in the most efficient ways possible, ideally using 1/1 mana on turn one, 2/2 mana on turn 2, 3/3 mana on turn 3, and so on. By doing this, you manage to get the most out of your minions and spells, as they are usually the most impactful the turn you get the mana to use them.
Arena decks particularly rely on efficient mana use, as the limited card pool and lack of removal spells result in minion heavy decks that fight for board control. The deck that manages to consistently play on curve minions each turn will have an easier time maintaining board control and win more often.
As a result, strong arena players know when to sacrifice individual card power to stabilize their curve during deck building. While some cards are powerful enough to always be chosen (Swipe, Fireball and Feral Spirit come to mind), cards that are only marginally better than a weaker card on the curve should be avoided.
Choosing Spiteful Smith as a druid feels bad, but if it fits the curve and you need a five drop, it more often than not makes the deck. If you seem to consistently lose out on board control during your arena matches, you are probably not giving enough respect to your decks mana curve. A weak card on curve is almost always better than nothing at all.
2. Build a deck, not a pile of strong cards
Arena decks need a gameplan- a strategy of attack established within the first 15 or so picks that help decide where the deck is going.
For example: say the clear first ten picks were low mana cost minions. You couldn’t control that, but it has already impacted the nature of your draft significantly. Eventually you will come across a polarizing set of cards that force you to make a decision, two cards like Argent Squire and Acolyte of Pain. Do you commit to your already strong aggro deck or transition into something more midrange?
In these cases, indecision only lessens your decks effectiveness, whereas making a conscious decision strengthens it. The above choice of Argent Squire VS Acolyte of Pain is ultimately up to player preference but, after the pick has been made, stick with it! Your future picks should lean towards the aggressive if you chose Argent Squire and more mid-range if you chose Acolyte of Pain. Getting pulled back and forth into different deck archetypes because of the best card keeps switching between a two drop and a seven drop is a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully, during the draft portion you have unlimited time to select which card you can choose. Use this time to get a big picture look at the deck you are building and avoid tunnel vision when it comes to evaluating what cards to select.
3. Great arena decks have synergy without relying on it
It may sound cryptic, but this is a very important part of consistently building a powerful arena deck.
Take a card like Violet Teacher. Clearly, this card encourages you to play a lot of spells and it may be tempting to choose it within the first 10 in hopes of finding spells later on. It seems like a good strategy, as now each spell increases in value going forward.
But what if you aren’t given any spells choose from? By choosing Violet Teacher so early, you have created a situation in which you need spells to justify the pick, but can not guarantee them. If by the end of the draft you only have one or two spells, you might be wishing you had picked one of the other two rares besides Violet Teacher.
A sloppy drafter can create many situations like this. Nerubian Egg, Ancient Watcher, Gurubashi Berserker, minions that benefit from secrets and spell damage minions are all prime culprits that should be avoided when presented early in the draft. On the other hand, cards that don’t need synergy to be good, will always be good, no matter how the rest of your draft turns out. When you have the choice, choose them first.
In the best case scenario, as you naturally progress through the draft, picking powerful cards that are on curve, you sometimes get lucky and spot a risk free way to include potent synergy. A player who has already drafted eight to nine spells has no problem picking a late Violet Teacher almost any other rare, as the value of the card is secured with no possible risk.
And if you aren’t given a late Violent Teacher, it doesn’t matter because the spells are powerful on their own. For clarification, if your first pick of the draft is between Violet Teacher, Alarm-o-bot and Crazed Alchemist, just pick Violet Teacher. Sometimes the pick is easy.
4. Some cards get worse in multiples
Even the best cards a class has to offer can become detrimental to your deck when chosen for the third or fourth time. This is a hard distinction to make, as cards like SI:7 Agent or Frostbolt are so good that I would happily draft eight or nine of them.
However, a card like Flamestrike is a different case. Arguably more powerful than either card mentioned before, Flamestrike is a notorious Hearthstone card responsible for more blowouts and Threat emotes than any other card in arena. When drafting as a Mage, everyone feels a sigh of relief when they see the first Flamestrike. Then they feel sincere joy when the second one arrives. When the third rolls around, things get complicated. As odd as it may sound, the third Flamestrike is much less valuable than the second one. To understand why, it is important to think on practical terms.
In a typical match, the first Flamestrike will always accrue value. It either relieves pressure from your opponent by causing conservative board development and eventually killing two to three of their cards, or they over extend and you kill four to five cards. The second Flamestrike will kill the minions your opponent was trying to protect from the first Flamestrike, and usually act as the killing blow that puts you enough ahead on board to win the game.
But what does the third Flamestrike do? By the time you are able to play three spells that cost seven mana each, it is late enough in the game that you and your opponent are probably only playing one minion a turn, and suddenly seven mana for four damage is very weak. Suddenly, you wish that third Flamestrike was just another minion that you could kill your opponent with, and it could've been if you had drafted wiser.
While there are specific situations where the third Flamestrike is game winning, however the goal in arena drafting is building consistent decks with cards you can get max value from. Getting max value out of the third Flamestrike cast is simply too difficult, and the upside of having a higher chance to draw Flamestrike isn’t worth the risk of having too many clogged in your hand.
This same logically applies to many other powerful cards, but as a general rule, removal spells that can double as direct damage to your opponent (Fireball, Eviscerate, Holy Fire, Kill Command, etc) get better in multiples. Equipment will also generally get worse in multiples, as a hero can only attack once per turn, leaving a lot of dead cards in your hand.
These tips only scratch the surface of arena deck building strategy, but they will drastically increase your win percentage if taken to heart. Three swift losses can be a disheartening experience, but with enough perseverance, you can become the Lord of the Arena! .
If all else fails, just draft three Pyroblasts and 27 Frost Nova!