You may have heard two schools of thought for how to do well in constructed mode. The first is to learn one deck in-depth to play it well against most other decks. Mastery of a deck often leads to a high win rate. However, the opposing school of thought focuses on maximizing your edge against the overall meta. That game plan requires you to switch decks often to stay competitive against a continually changing meta. To find the right fit for you, you need to understand the upsides and downsides of each of these strategies.
The advantages of One-tricking in Hearthstone, as with most other games, are clear.
If you only play one deck, you’ll often have a higher win rate because you learn a deck through and through. You’ll also learn how your deck functions against other meta decks. However, these simple advantages come at a cost that most players won’t consider.
Why Veteran players’ advice to stick to one deck isn’t always right.
Experienced Hearthstone players can often take any deck they choose to the Legend ranks with ease because of their deep understanding of Hearthstone. That understanding, however, creates some biases. One of the most common pieces of advice these players tend to give is to play just one deck because that often works for them.
However, in your situation as a beginner or less experienced player, that might not always work out in your favor. A great example of that concept is your “expected winrate” with the one-deck mastery strategy. If you learn a “meta” deck through and through, you might reach a winrate of around (example) 60% to your skill level. A veteran, on the other hand, might reach, lets say, 75-80% on their way to Legend due to their experience.
Now imagine the meta shifts. Meta shifts happen all the time, at different ranks, times of the day, you name it. Blizzard is willing to nerf top-tier decks more frequently than in the past, so the more overpowered your deck, the more likely it will not stay that way. The meta may also shift as you move to higher ranks. For example, playing Jade Druid could do great until you meet more players at legend who play control decks and tech in a Jade Druid killer – Skulking Geist. Suddenly, your “meta” deck is no longer among the best decks to play since more people play decks that do well against it.
When this happens, the deck that you learned so well drops 10% or so in overall winrate. For you, since you have to learn to play against more difficult opposing decks, and they are by nature more favorable against you that might even be more than how it affects the veterans. Despite the meta shift, the veteran can continue to climb, dropping only from 75-80% to 65-70% because of their experience. The veteran (often) still suggests sticking with it since they have no evidence of that strategy having flaws. Lets say your winrate drops a similar amount, can you even progress?
Why too much diversity is too much to master.
Not putting all your eggs in one deck is necessary for consistently doing well. If you’re more concerned with a legend finish or personal best, then it could be worth waiting for your dream deck to arise and playing it heavily during the month. If a nerf or meta change that destroys your dream, you just wait & practice until the next dream deck comes around.
On the other side of balance, you may rotate between decks for many reasons, such as completing daily/weekly quests and enjoying the variety. The veterans correctly emphasize if you switch too much, you don’t give yourself a chance to learn a deck in depth. Even if your depth is a fraction of the veterans’ depth, your new depth will make it easier for you to gain the same depth with other decks, making you a much stronger player in the long run. Without a certain level of depth, you may always have the perfect deck against your meta, but the favorable matchup may only grant you around a long run 55% win rate instead of 70%. Your edge will be so small you’ll have trouble knowing if you even have an edge.
So we’ve looked at the merits of sticking to one deck vs. switching. However, there’s one key factor that shows how to walk this balance in a way that maximizes your ladder finishes – learning vs. winning.
Learning vs. Winning
Learning refers to learning how to play a deck better. Winning refers to using a deck to get as high a win rate as possible. To achieve your goals for Hearthstone, both are important. Here is how to balance Learning & Winning:
To learn a deck, we need to play it. Learning a new deck means our win rate will be lower at first, but it will improve over time as we learn from experience how to mulligan, pace our play, adapt to other meta decks, and more. As mentioned earlier, we will reach our skill ceiling with the deck earlier than the veterans will. At this point, we stop learning how to play the deck better. Why do we keep playing it? Because we want to exploit our knowledge to have a high win rate. In this article, “winning” refers to playing a deck simply to cash in on its high win rate to climb the ladder. We want to learn decks to increase our win rate for future “winning.”
What happens if we juggle our time between multiple decks? We’re able to learn multiple decks but none in great depth. Our focus becomes finding the best deck for the meta at all times. We’re not playing to “learn” any deck well; we’re playing to “win” because we’re trying to maximize our current win rate by using whatever deck gets the job done. The advantage of this is that we’re never out of viable options and never have to take the time to learn an unfamiliar deck. We’re more resistant to any meta change.
So we want to spend the time learning decks to increase our depth, but we also want to keep winning from our best current decks to climb as quickly as possible. When should we focus on learning vs. winning? The answer – use the ladder system!
How you can use the post-April 2020 ranked system to become a better player.
As the ranked system changed in April 2020 when the pandemic started, it was an amazing time to play ranked Hearthstone and go for all-time highs. However, did you just notice that you were breezing through the lower ranks with your star bonus? Did you play as usual while noticing opponents around the same difficulty level from the new MMR system? There is a specific strategy that you can use not just to climb this month, but also to push for the all-time high’s when it counts. Here is how it works.
Determining your goals and timeline matters for your approach to climbing in Hearthstone.
The first thing to determine is the time frame for your desired goal. If you want to maintain your star bonus, then your answer is to do well each month. If you are shooting for a personal best, such as becoming a first-time legend, you should think about a greater time frame. For example, you could shoot for your first-time legend within an expansion cycle of four months before a new expansion changes the top decks. That turned out to be my own experience.
Understanding your goals and what is possible
We all have different star bonuses and goals, but we can break our ladder climb into sections. The first part of everyone’s climb is going through their star bonus. After that, your journey could include the climb from the end of your star bonus to rank diamond 5 with only win streaks to help you. Then, going from diamond 5 to legend is harder with no more win streaks. Finally, you can compete for rankings within legend rank if you can make it that far.
How the Star bonuses changed the game.
The following explains why you want to structure your climb towards learning during the beginning of the month / your time frame and push towards winning at the end.
A wonderful gift we’ve received from the April 2020 ladder changes is the beginning star bonus. The new system provides a unique opportunity to experiment with anything we like because we can learn and mess around while still climbing the ladder. The ability to practice different things throughout the month wasn’t possible in the earlier ranked ladder system. We all have different star bonuses, but the last star bonus is always 2x.
Higher star bonuses require even lower win rates, with 11x just requiring above a 9% win rate to climb. Unless you are in a month that you need to climb as fast as possible, the star bonus phase is the ideal time to learn because it is the only time you can play badly and mess around while continuing your climb.
After the star bonus, most of us will need to reach diamond 5 with no bonus except those from win streaks. You’ll want to change your focus from learning towards winning. How much? It depends on how easy the climb is. Breezing through this section means you can focus primarily on learning and vice versa.
When going for diamond 5 to legend, think about how successful this normally is for you. If it normally works out well, then you could still sneak in some learning. If reaching legend is a significant milestone, then watch out – you no longer have win streaks at diamond 5. Win streaks allow you to have periods of stagnation and decline because when you find what works and win frequently, the extra stars from your win streaks help you quickly reach your goal.
Without win streaks, you need to net 16 wins from diamond 5 to legend. If you focus on learning and lose perhaps five games that you could have won, you need to find ten extra net-wins on top of your required 16 to get you to where you would have been without messing around. So you want to focus on using your past learning’s to compete hard to win unless you’re strong enough to breeze through this section.
Finally, going for a high finish in legend rank, of course, dictates that you focus on winning more than any other part of the climb. All the other parts of the climb are binary – you make it, or you don’t. With legend, the ceiling is #1, and anyone who comes close to that ranking certainly knows how to focus on winning like crazy after previously learning their chosen deck at an ungodly high level.
Using the knowledge to achieve your goal
Let’s say you are shooting for a high finish across multiple months. If you already hit your monthly rank goal, you can use the rest of the season for learning. It’s better to do this at the highest rank you can because you will gain depth much more quickly when strong players punish your mistakes. You will then be in a better position to reach an all-time high finish. You can pick a specific month to go for it or just see when the stars align.
During your chosen month, you can exploit your previous learning’s and pick the best deck to rip through the ladder as fast as possible. Rather than following the guideline of using the star bonus to learn, ripping through the early rounds is important because you need exponentially more time to get through the tougher opponents at high ranks. All your learning’s should help you eke out a higher win rate to help you reach your goal.
Closing thoughts for what you need to know about climbing in Hearthstone
So, what are the key ideas you need in order to reach your goals? Here are the key takeaways:
- Learn decks as well as you can. Practicing just one deck helps you gain a deep understanding of that deck and Hearthstone overall. These skills transfer well to any Hearthstone deck you play in the future.
- Putting all your eggs in one basket also comes with many risks – learning multiple decks protects you against nerfs and meta changes.
- Recognize the tradeoff between learning a deck to increase your future win rate vs. winning to cash in on your strongest current win rate.
- Climbing through your star bonus is the ideal time to learn decks because you will climb through the bonus with a win rate greater than 33% for 2x and even lower for >2x. Gaining ranks while learning helps a lot with the mental side of Hearthstone, as you feel you are progressing at a fast rate.
- Focus on learning during the beginning of the month and transitioning to winning at the end of the month. Perform when it counts.
- If your top finish is a multi-month goal, focus on learning during the early months and winning during your key month, sacrificing your normal learning during the star bonus portion to rip through the ladder and give yourself time to reach your goal.
For more Hearthstone, take a look at Mewwy’s recent Battlegrounds guide covering Vol’jin. Or join the community & writers on our new Discord!