Basics Game Theory Hearthstone

Advanced Hearthstone Strategy: Over & under by Cowtipper

Cowtipper Meta Strategy

You may be familiar with the term over-under for those of you who have ever participated in sports betting. In this wager, a sportsbook will typically predict a number that is the combined score of the two opposing teams and the bettors’ wager if the actual number will be higher or lower than the sportsbook’s number. 

In an ideal scenario, bettors will place an equal number of bets below and above the over-under number. Placing an equal number of bets ensures that the sportsbook does not have to pay out to more “under’s” than the “overs.” In practice, sportsbooks will employ further statistical operations to ensure that the number of under bettors is never higher than the number of overs. This balance allows the sportsbook to generate a profit on the proposed bet.

While Hearthstone is certainly not a sports betting game, we still utilize the over-under terminology, albeit in a slightly different manner. Leading up to the Scholomance academy release, you may have read phrases such as “Secret Passage is going to allow aggressive Rogue decks to go under other decks.” Or “Glide could facilitate a hyper-aggressive DH strategy that can go under control decks combined with hand disruption.” 

On the other side of the Coin, a lot of the chatter surrounding Lightning Bloom and Guardian Animals was that these cards would enable a consistent ramp strategy that could go over slower midrange decks. When are we saying something goes over or under something else what does that mean?

Going Under

Strategies in Hearthstone, and in the larger ecosphere of trading card games in general, that seek to go under their opponent are those strategies that begin the game with a strong, aggressive start and slowly lose steam as the game progresses. These strategies seek to develop a board state that the opponent cannot resolve and then deal 30 damage as quickly as possible. We use the term going under because these decks are executing their game plan beneath the higher cost removal or obstructions (freeze effects, taunts, etc.) that the other opponent could present. Let’s translate this idea into actual decks that are seeing play following the release of Scholomance Academy. We’ll begin with J_Alexander_HS’s day 1 Rogue list.

Before we discuss any of the card choices and how they lend themselves to the going under strategy, note the overall mana cost distribution of the deck. Simply put, the average mana cost of cards in a deck is the most indicative characteristic of a deck’s tendency to go under or go over the opposing deck. This is a reality of the game design constraints that Hearthstone places on how we can play cards and spend mana. In this example, we see that we top our curve with Infiltrator Lillian, Steeldancer, and Dread Corsair. In reality, however, there are only three 4-drops in this list since the Dread Corsair get discounted as a result of the weapon synergies present in Deadly Poison, Self-Sharpening Sword, and Vulpera Toxinblade.

Moving on from the mana costs, how do the card choices in this list help us identify that it wants to go under other decks?


Decks with high-density low-cost cards with high-attack values.  

On turn one of every game, we want to be developing some type of threat to the board. Spymistress and Worgen Infiltrator both have the added benefit of Stealth, which allows them to evade removal from the opponent – in essence, they can go under removal until they deal damage to a minion or the opponent. On turn two, we can present another Stealth minion in the form of Sneaky Delinquent or develop a dagger. Notice now that we have two different threats of face damage: our minions and now the dagger. This leads us to the next hallmark of going under strategies.

Multiple sources of damage.

A poor strategy for any deck is to only present damage through one modality, such as only minions or only weapons or only spell damage. This is because glass cannon strategies are facile to counter and thus have a difficult time going under the multitude of strategies present in any metagame. This rogue list has ways to present damage in all three of the aforementioned ways, which facilitates its effectiveness at going under. For example, let’s say you begin the game and develop a few 1-mana minions. You deal a bit of face damage to your opponent, but your board gets cleared by Breath of the Infinite. 

Fortunately, you developed a dagger alongside your minions to drop a Vulpera Toxinblade and Deadly Poison on turn 4 to continue pressuring your opponent. Besides tech cards like Acidic Swamp Ooze or other weapon removal cards, your opponent faces a choice. Do I remove the weapon, but risk letting my opponent develop minions on board again, or do I keep the removal and continuously take damage from the weapon. 

Introducing this sort of tension in the early-game is exactly how these strategies go under their opponents. Almost like holes in a canoe, it is impossible to plug all the holes, and the canoe eventually sinks. So too, if you present enough threats to an opponent in the early game, no amount of removal will impede the onslaught of damage. If an opponent can deal with all the minions and weapons over two turns, you have face damage through Eviscerate to close out the game before the opponent can stabilize.

Cheap card drawing effects incentivize playing as many cards as possible.

Secret Passage and Greyheart Sage are both cards that reward us for developing cards on the board. If we play a Stealth minion on turn 2, we have the potential to not only present a 3/3 but also draw two cards, providing us with more resources to keep the pressure on our opponent. Similarly, Secret Passage allows us to dump our hand without the need to worry about being outpaced by an opponent since we can draw five cards for the low, low price of 1 mana.

We see that a successful going under strategy consists of a three-pronged approach whereby we see ways to present early pressure, options to diversify how we deal damage to the opponent, and card draw to maintain consistent pressure and demand responses. As an exercise for yourself, see if you can identify these three tenets in this flashy aggressive Druid list that has been making rounds on the Wild ladder. This decklist is courtesy of Dinosaur92 on the EU server.

Dinosaur92 Druid: AAEBAZICAoQXkbwCDvcD1AXmBeUHiA77D+gVzbsC+60D6bAD3MwD+cwDxtED8NQDAA==

Going Over

In contrast to going under strategies, going over strategies exchange early-game pressure for above the curve, late-game pressure. The most obvious hallmark of this strategy can be found in Druid. The first few turns of the game involve increasing the accessible mana crystals, so that cards with higher mana costs are available on earlier turns. 

These strategies can sometimes also present additional payoffs for obtaining more mana crystals, which are most evident in cards like Bogbeam and Ironbark. In this case, we use the term going over because these are decks are executing their game plan above lower-costed strategies, like the aggressive rogue deck we discussed prior. Let’s again translate this concept into a popular day 1 Druid list, popularized by NoHandsGamer.

To identify the hallmarks of the going over strategy in this decklist, we can simply look at the inverse of our previous statements. This implies that a going over strategy will feature cards with higher mana costs on average, with a high density of low-costed removal tools. In addition to a single or few high-impact damage sources, and more expensive card draw that incentivizes us to sacrifice early game pressure. Let’s delve into the decklist to identify these cards.

NoHandsGamer Druid: AAECAaa4AwT2rQOuugO60AOj0QMN/gHkCLmUA++iA9ulA+i6A+y6A+66A5LNA5vOA5PRA97RA/DUAwA=

High-density of low-costed removal spells in the “over” strategy.

The two obvious standouts in this decklist are Crystal Power and Bogbeam. Crystal Power has the added benefit of serving a different purpose later in the game should you or one of your minions be in need of health. Bogbeam becomes free once you reach seven mana crystals, which makes it an effective, low-cost removal spell if you can successfully ramp in the early game. Suppose we expand the definition of low-costed removal to include presenting a Taunt minion (and thus, we remove an opponent’s minion from the board through combat). In that case, we can include Ironbark as a pseudo-0-cost removal tool that synergizes with the ramp strategy.

High-impact damage sources

This Druid list features a number of these damage sources, again provided we take a small bit of liberty with the term damage sources. Survival of the Fittest is the most obvious of these sources, and despite its high mana cost, it impacts the game is immediate and typically game-winning. In combination with mana cheat effects like Kael’thas Sunstrider and Forest Warden Omu, there are also ways to play Survival of the Fittest before turn 10 for maximum effect.

Other damage sources are Guardian Animals in combination with the utility beast package. Guardian Animals isn’t necessarily an immediate face damage source. Instead, it is a way to deal with an opponent’s board and make up for lost value through immediate card draw or minion generation. Lastly, Ysera, Unleashed, provides a formidable late game threat that synergizes well with Ironbark.

Expensive, powerful card draw.

Overflow represents the lion’s share of card draw in this Druid package with Overgrowth serving as a means to potentially generate card draw should you draw too many ramp spells. Overgrowth, in particular, provides additional bonuses in conjunction with its heal and favorable interaction with Ysera, Unleashed. Its expensive mana cost, however, makes it prohibitively expensive to play in the early game.

How are you enjoying the release of Scholomance Academy? Are you a player that likes to utilize going under strategies or going over strategies? I would love to hear your answers in the comments below. Happy Hearthstone-ing!!

For more of Cowtipper’s advanced Hearthstone strategy content, be sure to read all about his recent metagame theory article.

Written by Cowtipper

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