PVDDR Archives: Managing your resources
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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, so I’m going to reintroduce myself for those who didn’t read any of my previous articles. My name is Paulo Vitor, and I’m a professional Magic: the Gathering player who started playing Hearthstone a little over half a year ago. I have a long background in writing Magic articles, particularly those on general strategy, and I’ve decided that there are a few things I’d like to say about Hearthstone as well, so here I am. I hope you enjoy it!
In a game of Hearthstone, there are three important resources – Cards, Time and Life – and their importance changes from game to game. Being able to identify which of those resources is more important in a given game is perhaps the most valuable skill you can have, because this decision will be the foundation for all the other decisions you make that match.
Imagine the following scenario: you’re playing Shaman and it’s your turn two. You have the option of playing Haunted Creeper or to use your Hero Power. What do you do?
The right answer to this question, as it often is, is “depends”. In some spots, you’re going to play the minion; in others, you should use the hero power. But what does it depend on? It depends on which resource you value the most. If you value cards, then you should use the hero power, because it gives you an extra totem in the long run. if you value time or life, you should play the minion, because it’s going to give you a better early presence that will let you fight more easily over those. In today’s article, I’ll go over the three resources and how they relate to each other.
Cards: Cards are the easiest resource to comprehend because they are what immediately comes to mind when we say “resource”. Cards are options. The more cards you have, the more different things you can do, the more choices you can make. A card doesn’t have to physically be a card – it could be, for example, a soldier from a Paladin hero power.
Time: Time is the resource that makes you able to use the other resource. When a player has five cards in their hand but can only play one before he dies, it is as if that player, effectively, only has one card; the other four, for all intents and purposes, do not exist. In Card games, the concept of time, action and reaction is usually defined by the word Tempo, which is the word I’ll use from now on. To “fall behind on tempo” means your opponent has the initiative, and is adding to his board while you are the one having to respond to it. In Hearthstone, being ahead on tempo will often translate to card advantage, so the two concepts will get blurry from time to time.
Life: I feel like life is the most misunderstood of the resources, because most people don’t even understand that it is a resource – but it is, and one that you can often trade for both tempo and cards. Having more cards and better tempo will gradually create an advantage that might spiral into a win, but having more life isn’t going to do that, so I like to think of it as a more spendable resource – its value is not in what it creates but in what I can trade it for. I like to equate life to the King in Chess – very minor, until there comes a point where it becomes the focal point of your game. Your first 29 points of life are basically meaningless, but the 30th means more than everything else combined.
The Interaction Between the Resources
Those resources interact in many ways, some of them quite obvious. Hero Powers, in particularly, are like Resource Markets, constantly providing the opportunity to trade one resource (usually tempo) for another. The Warlock hero power, for example, directly translates both life and tempo into cards, whereas the Warrior hero power directly translates tempo into life. Let’s see some more interactions:
Tempo and Cards
This goes back to the scenario I talked about before – the one where you’re playing Shaman and you have to decide your turn two play. In that scenario, you can choose a potential sequence of Haunted Creeper into Hero Power into Hero Power, or Hero Power into Hero Power into Hero Power + Haunted Creeper; option 2 gives you a better board in the end, gives you more cards, but it does so at the cost of a worse board presence in the beginning – tempo.
Every time you use your hero power when you could have done anything else, you’re giving up tempo. Most of the time you do so, it’ll be for cards. If you lead with a 2/1, I can play a 2/3 or I can use the Mage hero power on it; using the hero power doesn’t spend any cards, but it doesn’t add to my board either. Playing the 2/3 effectively uses two health from my creature the following turn, but culminates with me having a 2/1 in play when all is said and done.
A couple days ago, I was watching Kolento play a match of Priest versus Paladin. Kolento led with Wild Pyromancer, which was met with a 1/1 from the hero power. Then, on turn three, Kolento’s hand was Dark Cultist and Power Word:Shield, among others.
Most people would simply attack and play Dark Cultist. Kolento did not; he attacked the Soldier, and then used his hero power to heal back the Wild Pyromancer into a 3/2. Kolento did this because he didn’t want to expose his Pyromancer to a potential Muster for Battle. This comes at a great cost for him, because if his opponent does not have Muster for Battle (or does not wish to play it), then Kolento will have basically wasted his third turn. At the very least, he wasted three damage. Yet he still did it, because he recognized that the most important resource in the matchup in question was not life or tempo, but cards. He would rather do nothing on his turn three than potentially lose a card for free. If you don’t understand which resource matters more, you never make that play. The end result was that his opponent did play Muster for Battle (an arguable decision in itself, facing a Pyromacer, but that’s neither here nor there) and Kolento was able to clear the board with his Power Word: Shield, keeping his Pyromancer alive through all of it.
When you make the decision to spend a card rather than using a hero power, you’re doing the opposite. You do this because you believe that adding to the board is more important than having more cards at a later time.
Imagine I’m playing Mage and you lead with a 2/2. Now I have the option to Hero Power it twice, or to play my own 2/2, which spends a card but deals with the problem immediately. If I think that I’ll fall behind too much – that tempo is important in this match – then I will just play my 2/2 and trade, which will let me play something on turn three instead of having to Hero Power again.
Tempo and Life
The trade-off between Tempo and Life is the hardest to master because, if you get it wrong, it’s very punishing. It’s also very rewarding if you get it right, because you trade what is usually a less valuable resource for a more valuable one.
Weapons are great ways to turn your own life total into a different resource – both tempo and cards. When I use Fiery-War Axe to deal with your first minion, I am losing life points to kill two of your cards and to advance my position ahead of yours (because I can kill the next guy you play for free and then I’ll be ahead on tempo). Weapons work very well with the Warrior hero power, for example, because they give you an outlet for all this extra life that you get.
Another way to trade Life for Tempo is to simply wait to play a spell. If I have a Hellfire and all you have is two 2/3s, I might just take some hits from them without pulling the trigger. As long as I do not play Hellfire, you will be unwilling to commit more to the board next turn, which will essentially prolong the game. If I do not play Hellfire here, I am stating “I understand that I’m taking four damage this turn and I am perfectly ok with that, because advancing the game by a turn at the cost of four life is worth it to me”.
Tempo is not just about having more time, however; it’s also about having better timing and doing things at a time where they’re more convenient for you. Part of the life/tempo relationship is also about giving up life points so that you can time things in a way that leave you at the best possible position. I’ll explain:
Imagine you’re playing Paladin and your hand is Consecration, Equality and Tirion. You have six mana and 30 life, and your opponent has three 4/5 minions. In this spot, playing Consecration + Equality is clearly good – you are just going to die to those guys if you don’t do something about it. However, it will put you in a bad spot, because your opponent will follow it up with something and you will have no immediate response. They will basically get a free turn.
Now, imagine that you wait a turn. There are two advantages for that: first, your opponent might think you logically don’t have Consecration + Equality (or you would have played it) and commit more to the board. If he does that, you’ll have traded cards for life – you’ll take 12 more damage, but you’ll deal with another card from your opponent, which might just be more important. Second, it puts you in a better position for the follow-up; your opponent will have a turn to play something, but then you can immediately match it with a Tirion. In the end, you essentially removed a “free turn” from them at the cost of 12 life. Is that worth it? It might be.
Another example would be when your opponent leads with, say, a 1/1 Paladin token and you have a Mortal Coil. You can Mortal Coil it immediately, but then you can’t use your own Hero Power; it’s much better to use the Hero Power this turn, take a hit from the soldier, and then use Hero Power + Mortal Coil next turn. In this spot, you’re timing things so that they work out for you – so that you don’t have a mana left on turn three. You’re trading life for tempo, and that tempo will translate into cards (since you’re using it to activate your hero power).
You also see this happening a lot in Warrior decks that play Shield Block. A lot of the time, people will Shield Block when they have four mana, for the immediate 5 Armor gain. More than that – they will also get the chance to play whichever card they drew a turn sooner, and they won’t need to spend 3 mana on Shield Block ever again. If you care more about life than about tempo, however, then it’s correct to simply Hero Power on the turn where you have four spare mana, and then do Hero Power + Shield Block on a future turn; it is slower, but ends up giving you two extra life in the long run, at the cost of three mana which you will have to pay at any point you want to play Shield Block.
Cards and Life
The most usual ways to trade life for cards are Weapons and the Warlock hero power, but, much like with Tempo, you can also do this by waiting. Imagine, for example, they have a decent board that includes Harvest Golem. I have an Auchenai Soulpriest and Circle of Healing, and 5 mana. If I pull the trigger here, that means I care about my life total more than I care about cards; you’ll get a 2/1 Damaged Golem and likely kill my Auchenai. If I wait a turn, I’ll take an extra hit, but then I can kill the Golem with the Hero Power, which will lead to keeping the Auchenai in play; I get a card, in exchange for life.
Sometimes, however, life is more important than cards. If you play a 3/2 and I have the option of either using the Warlock hero power or playing Darkbomb, I might want to play Darkbomb; I’ll give up a card, but I’ll take less damage (and be even on tempo). Sometimes, you have the option of using the Warlock hero power, and instead you do nothing, because you don’t want to trade two life for a card to begin with.
In matches where life is particularly important, you also don’t want to use your weapons a lot of the time; if we both have 3/3s and I have a Fiery-War Axe, it’s feasible that I want to just trade minions instead of taking three damage. In this spot, I’m prioritizing life over all other resources.
Choosing a Resource to Prioritize
Now that we know how to trade resources, how do we decide which one is the most important?
The importance of each resource is going to vary from game to game based on what class you’re playing, what class they’re playing, your opening hand, the composition of each deck, and what has happened in the match so far. There’s no way to know for sure which resource should be prioritized, but a general guideline you can often use is the style of decks that are being played:
Slow Control versus Slow Control – the defining resource is Cards.
Slow control decks are the ones that are, well, slow – decks that have enough power in them to win the game through whatever the opponent is doing. They don’t need to snowball an advantage, because they’re going to play Legendaries from turns 6 to 10. Handlock, Control Warrior, Paladin and Control priest are examples of that.
Control decks are generally built in a way that enables them to at least try to survive good starts from the aggressive decks. If that is the case, then another control deck usually has no hope to win by early pressure, even if they manage to have a particularly aggressive draw. Simply put, there are more early answers than early threats in those decks, and everything you try to do early will be met with a swift response. You do not win those matches by being faster, you win by having more stuff going on. The game is a succession of powerful things being answered by more powerful things, and whoever has the last powerful thing standing usually wins.
In those matchups, tempo and life matter very little, and cards matter a lot. I would recommend that you go out of your way to gain an advantage in cards – such as, for example, using the Paladin hero power instead of playing a two mana minion. If you do this a couple times, you will force them to spend real cards on your “fake cards” and that’s a win for you.
Control versus Board decks – The defining resource is Tempo
Board decks are the decks that try to win by having a superior board and snowball that into an advantage; they can be very early-game oriented (Zoo) or not so much (Undertaker Priest, some Druid versions, most Mech decks). Those decks live or die by their ability to have a superior board presence; if I pass turn three against a Zoo deck and I have a minion when they have an empty board, I feel like I can never lose.
When you play with or against those decks, it’s often correct to make sacrifices in both cards and life so that you stay ahead on tempo. This means you should play your minion instead of using your Hero Power, and you should often attack their minions instead of attacking them. If you can survive to the late game without being buried by a superior board presence, then you should naturally win, because your cards are more powerful. When I’m playing Handlock against a more aggressive deck, for example, I’ll be very glad to play a turn three Earthen Ring Farseer just so I can fight their board a little bit, whereas if I’m playing against another control deck I might use the Hero Power instead.
Board decks versus Board decks – The defining resource is Tempo, and then Cards
Board versus Board is the most snowbally of all the Hearthstone matchups, because, once someone falls behind, it’s extremely hard to make up for it. In those matchups, you should really make sacrifices to not fall behind on tempo, because both decks operate with the assumption that they will be ahead in this resource.
The difference between this and the Control versus Board matchup is that there is no one that wins by default if there isn’t a tempo advantage. If both players match each other’s tempo and no one can gain a clear advantage (i.e. no one can pass the turn with a board that cannot be answered on your opponents turn), then the defining resource starts being cards; you will no longer win on speed, you will win by having the last threat standing. In a matchup like this, it’s very important to recognize when the resource shifts from tempo to cards – if you start feeling like a snowball is not going to be possible, you must adapt your way of thinking.
Control versus Face Aggro decks – The defining resource is Life.
“Face aggro” decks, for a lack of a better name, are the aggressive decks that try to win by dealing damage, rather than by controlling the board – examples would be Hunter, Aggro Rogue, or anything with “cancer” in the name. Those decks don’t particularly care about having a better board position and will frequently win games in which they appear to be very far behind.
When those decks are usually involved in a match, the resource to watch for is life. You will often find yourself at a spot where you have total control of the game, but you have to hope their last card isn’t Kill Command, or Eviscerate, or Fireball – and it usually is, because they’re the luckiest (and also because anything else they would have already played so their last card basically has to be that). You need to avoid getting in this spot, and that means making both tempo and card sacrifices in favor of life, including attacking with a minion rather than with a weapon, and simply not using the Warlock hero power despite having two open mana. When I’m playing Handlock versus Hunter, I’ll almost always play a turn two Sunfury Protector just so I can attack their minions and save some life early on, for example.
Face Aggro versus Face Aggro and Board Decks versus Face Aggro – The defining resource is Tempo, then Life.
Both of those matchups play similarly. In both of them, it’s possible to snowball an advantage so greatly that they can never threaten your life total, in which case you win by default no matter which side you are on. If this doesn’t happen, however, then life becomes the main resource, and it becomes a race to see who can kill the other person. At this point, it’s often correct to ignore the board altogether and to go for the face.
You will often see this change quite clearly in Hunter mirrors. In the early game, people will play Eaglehorn Bow and gladly attack an opposing minion. In the late game, however, it’s much more common that Eaglehorn Bow attacks the player – because you are trying to race and you want to deal three damage more than you want to get rid of their minion.
Changing the Important Resource
We saw before that it was possible for the important resource to change in the middle of a match. This is something that will happen naturally, but also something that you can – and should – force when the battle for the current resource is not going in your favor.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the TV show “Mad Men”, in which the main character says “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation”. In a game of Hearthstone, it’s similar – if you don’t like what’s happening, change the focus of the game. If you feel like you cannot win a battle for a particular resource, then try to sculpt the game in a way that this resource is no longer relevant.
You can see this a lot in Heathstone because you’re able to attack minions and you’re able to attack their life total directly. There are moments in which people suddenly stop attacking one and start attacking the other, and that’s usually the moment they realize “whoa, this is getting too hard here. But maybe I can just attack and kill him instead?”. It should always be on your mind that, if you’re losing a battle for a resource, you can try to make that particular battle not matter.
Being able to change which resource is important is a big part of the reason why some slower decks run “combo kills” – things like Gromosh, or Force of Nature + Savage Roar, or even the warrior one-turn-kill combination with Worgen and Battle Rage. Having those cards in your deck lets you change the game so that life becomes the key resource, and that’s a very powerful option to have. There have been many games in which I managed to get to an overwhelming board position against Warrior, only to be killed by Gromosh + Death’s Bite – I was ahead on cards, the resource that is usually the most important, but my opponent managed to change the focus of the game to life, a fight he could actually win.
This is also, incidentally, why I never liked the Leeroy kill in Handlock very much. You see, Handlock will always win on cards. Ok, always is a stretch, but it will almost always win on cards, since it has more card drawing and better cards to draw than anyone else. As such, it has very little reason to try to change the focus of the fight to anything else.
People who play against Handlock, on the other hand, should know that they are probably not winning a battle for cards. They should know from the beginning that their goal is to change the focus of the fight. If I’m playing Priest or Druid versus Handlock, for example, I know that, if I don’t apply at least some pressure, I will very likely lose – so I have to go for it, even if that’s not what my deck usually does best, because I certainly do it better than they can.
In the end, there isn’t an easy way to know what to do, no one-size-fits-all, since most of it comes from experience. I hope I was able to provide some guidelines, however, so that your own thought process becomes a little easier from now on.
That’s what I got for today! I hope you enjoyed it, and feel free to give me any feedback or any suggestions you have, on this article or on future articles. I can be reached on twitter at @pvddr or on my stream at twitch.tv/pvddr.
Thanks a lot for reading, see you next time!