Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got myself into this situation.
Jokes aside, I wouldn’t fault you if you had no idea who the author of this article is, even if you may have ran into some of my work before. I’m a long-standing grey eminence of the Hearthstone scene, playing since the open beta and writing about it fairly extensively since 2015. Ranging from meta and game design analysis to play-by-play experiments, my work has appeared on basically every notable website dedicated from the game, and I’ve cooperated with notable orgs like Tempo/Storm and Fade2Karma in the process.
While I never decided to pursue a competitive career in the game due to my personal dislike for the HCT format, I’ve worked with successful players and can cut it against the crème of the crop when the stars align. This series is meant to provide you, dear reader, with a comprehensive look at one of the more underappreciated element of Hearthstone and competitive gaming in general: you, the one behind the screen, the myriad thoughts running through your mind as you try to find the best plays. There are many guides and sites you can go to if you want to find the best deck and the most promising ladder strategy – however, your task becomes a lot harder if you’d like to find help when it comes to carving out your own path towards your personal improvement in the game, an extremely important but often underappreciated aspect of the journey towards success.
During the course of this series, we’ll be looking at many of the common misconceptions about Hearthstone and Hearthstone psychology, the importance of figuring out what kind of a player you are, what you’re better off not learning from the pros, understanding what it takes “to win” and many more topics – I’ve been meaning to create this kind of content for a very long time and I’m excited to finally be able to present it to you. We hope you’re going to profit from it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.
However, we need to have #thetalk before we can start any kind of real discussion. What are your goals in Hearthstone? It’s really important to have a concrete idea about the accomplishments – and the corresponding level of understanding – you would like to reach, or else you’ll likely be drifting sideways without any sort of meaningful progress. I’ll start if that’s OK with you.
Like I’ve previously mentioned, it was never my goal to become a professional player but I was nonetheless interested in hitting the highest gameplay marks available for the rest of us. I peaked at Legend 5 this season, which also happens to be my personal best for now. I fully intend to go all the way at some point. As a prolific writer, it is important that I’m fairly proficient with all popular decks in the metagame regardless of how much I personally enjoy playing them – in that sense, my approach has to be similar to a professional player’s, even though there are definitely decks that I despise. As such, I make the Legend climb almost every month with widely different archetypes to stay up to date and whenever it’s a metagame I enjoy, I push myself for a high legend position. I don’t camp the spots because I’m more interested in eventually hitting number one than a bunch of HCT points.
These are my goals – yours could be similar or very different. Perhaps you’re trying to reach Legend for the first time. Or “dad Legend” while focusing on your job and family. Maybe you would like a high legend finish or you really want to make it to your regional playoffs. Your goal could be to get out of the Rank 20 ELO hell with all the golden portrait-farmers. The only important part is to have a specific metric to strive towards if you’d like to improve at the game in some capacity. Depending on where you are currently in your Hearthstone journey, it might take a lot of time and effort to get where you want to be. I’m sure you can do it – simply because others have already done so. It’s possible to get to Rank 5 with a decent deck, it is possible to get to Legend with the archetype of your choice: the question is whether you’re willing to put in the time and effort required to get there with it yourself. It’s not a question of optimization.
While there may be subtle differences in whether you pick Zoo or Odd Rogue for your ladder climb, your proficiency will be what really matters. The popular netdecks have all survived a trial by fire, they’ve been tested against the entirety of the field. There is none of them that will let you fly through the ranks if you’re not playing well enough and none of the viable options will stop you from accomplishing your goals if you consistently put quality performances on the line. This is why the idea of self-improvement is so important in Hearthstone psychology: if you’re trying to find the sort of edges the pro players are looking for, you’re going to miss out. You might find the deck that has an extra 2% winrate over the field but it won’t do you any good if you are 25% worse with it than another option. This is something we’ll discuss in more detail in a future installment of this series.
So what kind of goals should you set for yourself? It’s important to understand that Hearthstone’s ladder system isn’t a good barometer at all in this regard. Your overall winrate doesn’t matter in the long run: whether you win 52 or 55 percent of your games is meaningless, you’ll hit Legend either way over a large-enough sample size. You will also face very different opponents early in the month than later on when most of the dedicated players have already made the climb. This being a card game, built-in variance will also play a factor. Ideally, you should have separate markers in mind for when you’re trying to learn something or when you’re trying to push your existing knowledge to the limit – again, more on that later – but the latter should involve concrete and measurable goals. While it is nice to “try and play a little better” or to “spend more time on my turns”, these are not the sort of things you can reliably track and it’s hard to tell whether you’ve actually managed what you set out to do. It’s a well-known fact that even the long-time losing poker players feel like they are playing well and making a profit – hard numbers are a blessing when you’re trying to figure out where you are and where you want to be.
Go for concrete goals. Try to reach your usual rank in fewer games or with a different deck, maybe push for one higher than you usually do. Focus on doing better in a specific matchup. You may very well fail some of them. That is OK. It will still give you a clear idea of how far you are from where you want to be and it will also make it easier to figure out what you need to improve on. Also, the more tangible you make these elements, the less likely it is that you will tilt off the face of the earth – for some of us, that can be a godsend by itself.
Next up, we’ll take a look at why you should treat yourself as the only real variable in the gameplay experience and what you should do to reach those goals you’ve set out to reach. Until then, may you always draw Prince Keleseth on turn two!