Disclaimer: There will be many parallels with established Magic: The Gathering (MTG) philosophy and concepts in this series, which is perfectly natural. hearthstone is very much alike MTG in a lot of ways, and as such it’s no surprise MTG’s 20 years of insights can be applied to this very new – and casual – digital CCG to a certain extent.
Still, hearthstone as a game is still vastly unique, due to design decisions made by the team at Blizzard. The ‘Hearthstone Fundamentals’ articles are not meant to draw comparison between the two games, instead to celebrate their shared wisdom.
“Time and time again, card drawing has proven to be a solid, almost risk-free path to victory, so much so that many players live by the statement ‘If you draw more cards than your opponent, you will just win.'”
Brian Weissman, “Taking Card Advantage”, MTG
Card advantage is a concept often talked about. If you were around during the early days of closed beta for Hearthstone, it was hands-down THE most talked about factor in deck-building, decision-making and general judgement of a card’s value. There has been a lot of changes in player mentality since then, with a lot of pioneers driving those changes. Even then, card advantage remains a fundamental of the game, and the most straight-forward one. If you’ve watched a stream of a popular player, or seen a tournament, you’ve probably heard of it, or its companion concept “value”. Ideally, after reading this article, you – as a player of any level – will be able to better apply (or start applying) this concept in a more practical sense.
In its essence, card advantage is the process where one player obtains effectively more cards than the opponent. Sounds simple right? It’s supposed to be. Arcane Intellect
It is important to look at a card from a macro point of view, and it will help you see its value a lot more accurately. As you don’t know what a card will be (omitted information) before you actually draw it, viewing it as a generic ‘card’, instead of a specific card, makes your game plan far more reliable.
An analogy that’s similar would be checker pieces vs. chess pieces. In checkers, all pieces are the same, and the only thing that matters is their positioning. If you think about it, the same situation applies to a 30 card deck with all the cards face-down. This contrasts with chess, where each piece has a different purpose and role, and is judged differently based on the context of the game. For the purpose of this analogy, you should treat the cards in your deck like a stack of checker pieces, while treating the board and your hand as a chess board. Eventually, there’s going to be a point in gameplay where the face-down cards of your deck are no longer completely unknown to you, and you work your board and your hand to that. That, however, is outside the scope of this article.
Virtual Card Advantage
So you’ve seen, and hopefully understood, card advantage. But have you heard of virtual card advantage?
The previously mentioned Arcane Intellect
It’s beneficial to view the interaction in this mathematical sense, instead of “my Big Game Hunter just killed your Core Hound
Let’s take a look at Harrison Jones
Of course, this situation doesn’t come around too often, and for good reasons as well. It’s part of the game’s balance, and the game has a pretty good sense of it. To sum up, virtual card advantage are effects that will situationally give you a card advantage. Their effects, therefore, are usually stronger than linear ones.
Delayed Card Advantage
In Hearthstone, there exists a card like Mana Tide Totem
A non-minion representation of this concept would be Blessing of Wisdom
It’s almost universally agreed upon that instant card draw is better than delayed card draw. While the net card advantage may be the same (purely mathematically speaking), being able to have more information at an earlier time will always be beneficial. It gives you options faster, from which you can plan accordingly. In a game of information and thinking ahead, this is important.
That said, delayed card advantage is still card advantage. After all, while a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, two birds in the bush is still better than none.
Subtler Card Advantage
It’s a pretty easy process to identify which effects obviously have to do with card advantage. However, this is only the fundamental step of improving as a Hearthst. Many opportunistic cards in the game give players the ability to generate (or lose, the concept goes both ways) card advantage, depending on how they are played. Regardless of what people may tell you, hearthstone isn’t Solitaire. Many times, your cards’ efficiency are determined on how well your opponent can respond to them.
Do these two cards scream out card advantage to you?
Ancestral Spirit and Counterspell are cards that don’t have a specific amount of card advantage that can be gained by reading their effects. In fact, looking at them briefly, they should be classic examples of 1-for-1. Ancestral Spirit basically gives you the minion back for the cost of a card, while Counterspell negates the effect of an opponent’s spell. Simple, right? Not so fast.
First, let us look at Ancestral Spirit
* Gaining card advantage: You play Argent Commander
In this situation, you’ve basically traded your Ancestral Spirit for the enemy’s Azure Drake and Dark Cultist, effectively a 1-for-2, while keeping your Argent Commander in perfect shape.
* Losing card advantage: You play Chillwind Yeti
Time to evaluate Counterspell
* Gaining card advantage: Opponent plays Nourish
* Losing card advantage: Opponent plays Sinister Strike
As you can see, card advantage – while a fundamental concept – has various amount of depths that is only unlocked with skills and understanding. These examples I’ve provided are practically the simplest I could produce, as this article is aimed at a general audience.
As you gain more experience with the game, you’ll find more ways of exploiting the board state, manipulating your draws, planning ahead multiple turns, to swing the card advantage in your favour.
It’s highly important to fully grasp the concept of card advantage and how to apply it to regular play and deck building. It is best to, at the same time, be reminded that card advantage is not the only source of advantage you can gain in Hearthstone, nor is it always the most significant. There are three parts to this hearthstone Fundamentals series for a reason.
If there’s a tease I can give for the next part, I’ll leave you with this: “It doesn’t matter how many digital pieces of cardboard you have if you’re dead.”
Naturally, comments and questions are welcome, and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my reasonable ability.
About the Author
Someone facing massive identity crisis.
I can be found trying to poorly translate poetry, or acting like the world is going to end on my blog.
I also have a Twitter account, or a Twitch channel where I stream absolutely anything.
I’m also going to suggest you a song every article. You can find it here.
“Taking Card Advantage” by Brian Weissman, 2009.