Over 2017, I’ve seen a lot of griping on Reddit and other media about how Hearthstone is getting too expensive and is a pay-to-win game. I’m not necessarily here to fight those claims, but I do want to use this post to share my story and how I’ve been a free-to-play (F2P) Hearthstone player for 1.5 years, and how I’ve really enjoyed the game. After that, I’ll share several tips for how I’ve gotten to where I am now without spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on my collection.
I started playing the game in April 2016, right around when Standard was first rolled out to everyone. Whispers of the Old Gods had just been released, and the largest nerf in Hearthstone history had just taken place (of course, I had no idea at the time) with 12 cards being changed in one announcement. It took me a couple of months to reach rank 20 for the first time, and I remember using Icy Veins as my main resource to build budget decks for ladder, as I didn’t want to spend any money on the game. After that, it was all a blur as I fell in love with the game and started hitting above rank 15 consistently in the next few months. In September 2016, I hit rank 7 with Shaman before Rockbiter Weapon and Tuskarr Totemic were nerfed. I remember using Kobold Geomancer as a replacement for Bloodmage Thalnos, since I didn’t have the dust to craft the legendary.
I went to my first local Fireside gathering around this time and won a casual tournament. At this point, I was really enjoying the game and started reaching rank 5 every month with Midrange Shaman. A couple months later in January 2017, I finally decided to put in the effort. After nearly 300 games, I hit legend with Aggro Shaman (with pre-nerf Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws). I got lucky and opened a Bloodmage Thalnos before this, but I don’t think it would have made a huge difference.
Fast forward 12 months to today, and although I haven’t hit legend again (my “excuse” is that it’s too much of a time commitment haha), I’ve continued to enjoy the game and play it pretty much every day. I’ve played in two seasons of a local league in Chicago where we use fun rulesets to build decks each week, and our team won the last season! I’ve won a couple more casual tournaments, but also had my eSports hopes dashed twice when I failed to qualify for Tavern Hero tournaments. It’s definitely a game I’ll stick with in the upcoming years and I’m very content that despite being F2P, I’ve been able to enjoy the game as much as I have.
As a point of reference on where I’ve gotten to in terms of my collection: about a month into the current expansion, I am able to play the following meta decks with full lists: Aggro Paladin, Spiteful Summoner Priest, Tempo Rogue, Zoo Warlock, Aggro Druid, and Aggro Hunter. At the end of the last expansion, I could play Tempo Rogue, Zoo Warlock, Aggro Druid, Secret Mage, and Razakus Priest.
I’ll be honest though; I’m not technically free-to-play since I’ve spent exactly $15 on the game. The $5 I spent on the Welcome Bundle is just too good of a value to pass up. If you plan to invest even just a moderate amount of time into this game, I highly recommend it! 10 Classic packs and 1 guaranteed class Legendary is worth way more than five bucks. Just think of it like buying a new videogame for $5! I also spent $10 on a Heroic Tavern Brawl last year where I got 3 wins. That got me about ~600 gold for $10; it wasn’t worth it and also wasn’t very impactful to my collection.
With that said, here are some of the most important strategies I’ve followed throughout my F2P career in Hearthstone that have helped me build a reasonably sized collection. Of course, this is not a new topic of discussion, so I won’t be spending time talking about the obvious things (complete your quests, do Tavern Brawl every week. etc), but instead hopefully more unique strategies that I’ve learned in my 20 months.
Start when Standard rotates
I had no idea how lucky I was when I started playing Hearthstone in April 2016. The addition of Standard made it much less difficult for me to build a collection of cards for ladder, since I no longer had to worry about the Wild sets. That said, I believe this is the best time for new players to enter the game every year. Imagine instead if you started playing right now: there are 7 card sets used in Standard as of January 2018: Classic, Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds and Catacombs. That’s 955 cards!
However, if you started playing in April 2017, when the Year of the Mammoth began and Journey to Un’Goro was released, you would have only had to deal with 685 cards used in Standard. I understand that it’s still a lot of cards, but that’s still 28% less work I had to do as a F2P player! That said though, you could start now and begin saving gold for the next rotation; just note that it’ll be harder to be competitive until then.
Dust golden/bad cards
This was huge for me. I think many players, when talking about how expensive of a game Hearthstone is, are focused having a full collection, or just having a lot of the cards in general. However, I quickly realized that this was unfeasible unless I wanted to be a whale and spend a ton of money, so I knew I had to pick my battles.
HearthPwn is a great site and I appreciate how they’ve helped me in this regard. Under every single card, there’s a statistic that says “Used in x.xx% of all decks” or “Used in x.xx% of [Class] decks” (see example in picture above) that represents the prevalence of the card in HearthPwn’s user-submitted decklists. In addition, because not all of HearthPwn’s decks are necessarily meta decks, this is actually a good gauge for how usable and fun particular cards are. Here is my method that you can feel free to change to your own liking: If a neutral card was in < 1% of all decks, or if a class card was in < 2% of class decks, then it’d be up for dusting. Also, I tend not to dust cards in the most current expansion even if they fall into the above category, since the cards may become viable in future expansions. Sure it’s tedious searching through every card (HearthPwn, if you’re reading, could you make page that lists all the cards by used %?), but I never said it would be easy to F2P Hearthstone!
Whenever I finally decided to craft epics or legendaries (see below) to make a meta deck, I would use the above method, filtering through my collection in the following dust order: Golden Legendary, Golden Epic (if you’re hitting rank 5 every month, you’ll have several of these), Legendary, Golden Rare, Epic, Golden Common, Rare, and Common.
Use crafting guides/stats for epics/legendaries
But how do you know which cards to spend your dust on? This is always going to be a tough question, and it should be! As a F2P player, you don’t have that many opportunities to drop 1600 dust on a legendary or 800 dust on two epics. So you have to pick wisely.
First, when a new expansion comes out, wait a few weeks for the meta to settle a bit before spending a lot of dust. This way, you’ll know which decks are the best and subsequently, which legendaries and epics are worth crafting. After that, you can see card usage stats on HSReplay to see which epics and legendaries are the most used in decks over the last couple of weeks. An example as of early January 2018 is in the picture above. Lastly, pay attention when crafting cards to see when they are going to rotate. For example, right now, it would be less than ideal to craft cards from Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan since these sets will rotate out of Standard in a couple of months. On the other hand, epics and legendaries from Classic are the best value since they will never rotate.
Use buddies to finish quests efficiently
In June 2017, a patch was released that made F2P Hearthstone much easier than before. Most quests can now be completed during Friendly Challenges with players on your Friends list. This is huge and makes even new players able to complete quests fairly easily.
This way, even if you don’t have time to play a bunch of Play mode games on a given day, you can still complete quests! Here’s an example of a game I just played with “Momo” in the above picture. We had the following quests:
- 60G: Play 50 Priest Class cards
- 50G: Play 20 taunt minions
- 60G: Win 5 games with Druid
- 100G: Play 75 Murlocs
- 80G: Play a friend!
This is what we did in this scenario to maximize efficiency:
- I needed to play 21 more Priest class cards, so I put about 17-18 Priest class cards in my deck. It’s important to include cards like Kabal Courier (tri-class but counts as Priest), Museum Curator, Shadow Visions, etc. since they allow me to discover more Priest cards so I can play at least 21 Priest cards even without all 21 in my deck to begin with.
- I had to play 17 more taunt minions, so I filled up the rest of the deck with taunt minions, including Stonehill Defender to discover more taunt minions/Stonehill Defenders.
- During the game, I paid special attention to discovering taunt or Priest cards whenever I could, and I even used an Ancient Brewmaster (Thoughtsteal from Momo) to return my Stonehill Defender back to my hand so I could play it again.
- Momo built a Druid deck that included only murlocs and “brewmasters” (to replay murlocs) to complete her quest. She needed to win, so I had her get me down to 15 health while I played through my entire deck, since when you’re under 15 health, you can concede in a friendly game and have it still count toward quests.
- Momo challenged me so we both got 80G for the friend quest.
If you’re just looking to help another player win, play Warlock and add some of those nasty demons to your deck. I think you get my gist, especially with the 15 health rule I mentioned above. 😉
And if you’re looking for friends to help you out, feel free to add me at peyo212#1237 on NA! Or just go to Reddit and I’m sure many people will help you complete your quests if you help them in return.
Start saving early
It might be a little counterintuitive, but you should not necessarily be buying a pack every time you get 100 gold as a F2P Hearthstone player. You want to play the game for the long haul, not just so you can do well in a single expansion set. In every expansion in the past year, I’ve stopped purchasing the current expansion’s packs with gold after about ~100 packs. It’s important to note that I always stop immediately after I open a legendary, since that’s when my pity timer is reset for this card set.
Then at this point, I would use any excess gold in two ways. In the first year of my Hearthstone career, I was lacking many epics and legendaries from the Classic set, so I spent most of my gold on catching up on those cards. Nowadays, I just hoard it all for the next expansion and occasionally play some Arena. For Kobolds and Catacombs, I saved up nearly 7000 gold and was able to buy over 50 packs on the first day of the expansion. This allowed me to put together some meta decks within a week or so of the expansion release. As of today, I’ve already pretty much stopped buying Kobolds and Catacombs packs (waiting for one more legendary), even though I haven’t been lucky at all in this expansion. I’ve opened 6 legendaries, and I am using exactly 0 of them in the 6 meta decks I listed in the beginning.
This is probably the most important tip I’ll share in this post. I completely resonate with the complaints that people have about how F2P players can’t play the most fun decks. For example, I would love to try out Cubelock right now, but I don’t have the 6400 dust to spare for the 3 legendaries and 4 epics I’d have to craft for the deck. However, I think it’s only fair that players who have spent more money on the game should have a more fun experience with the diversity of decks in a game like Hearthstone.
One the other hand, I’ve never fully believed that these same people are “paying to win” and necessarily have an advantage over me in terms of competitiveness. I understand that my own performance is a testament to that, and it helps that I have at least one other friend who is also F2P and performs just as well as I do. But enough about winning. I think it’s fully possible to enjoy Hearthstone without ranking high on ladder every month. First off, clearly the 50% of players who rank below 17 every month still play the game. Second, I definitely was a part of that crowd in my first 6 months or so and I still loved the game. I truly believe that thinking that the game is pay-to-win and that us free-to-play players don’t stand a chance is what’s actually preventing F2P players from having fun. This mindset is a self-fulfilling prophecy that we should turn around, because Hearthstone is a great game that we can all enjoy if we just choose to have fun!