5 Days to Legendary: A Hearthstone play diary
My first time in ranked play. (Spoiler: I don't make it)
After having opened 30 Hearthstone boosters - acquired through a mixture of in-game gold and a little real-world money - I decided it was probably time to stop shilly-shallying around in casual play and the Arena, and to head towards the big leagues of ranked play.
In ranked, you start at 25 and earn a star each time you win. Winning streaks yield bonus stars. Once you've accumulated enough, you go up a rank.
But there's a catch: at level 20, you see, you start dropping stars with each loss. As you progress further, the streaks you need for bonuses get longer, and the number of stars in each rank gets higher.
It's a long, hard road. But slavish Hearthstone addict that I've become, I wasn't afraid to tackle it. And these are the results of my first five days in ranked play.The cards
First, I needed a deck.
I looked through the rare and epic cards that I collected for something particularly good to try and build a deck around, and my eyes lit up at a pair of Questing Adventurers.
These start out as rubbish 2/2 minions but they get an extra +1/+1 buff every time you play a card, so can quickly turn into dire threats.
It obviously helps if you've got lots of cheap cards to play. And it so happened my accumulated hoard of cards included lots of 1-mana Warlock minions. In addition, I had one sold Warlock rare - Syphon Soul - and the epic Molten Giant (which works well in Warlock decks).
So, after following my own deck building advice, my first build was:
- 2 Soulfire
- 2 Leper Gnome
- 2 Voidwalker
- 2 Blood Imp
- 2 Flame Imp
- 2 Abusive Sergeant
- 2 Mortal Coil
- 2 Loot Hoarder
- 2 Kobold Geomancer
- 2 Shattered Sun Cleric
- 2 Ironfur Grizzy
- 2 Questing Adventurer
- 2 Harvest Golem
- 1 Molten Giant
- 1 Syphon Soul
You'll notice that I'm two cards short. That's because I used some dust to craft two more neutral rare cards that I didn't own but knew would work well in this deck. Those cards were Knife Juggler and Defender of Argus.
It's pretty simple to play. Get out low-cost minions early to whittle down the enemy, including some Taunters to hide behind.
Then, buff them up so they'd survive, and aggressively cycle through cards hoping to find a Questing Adventurer to pump up (or that Giant). Finally, use them to finish my opponent.Day 1
With trembling fingers, I selected my new deck, tapped over from casual to ranked and hit 'play'. As the spinner of doom rotated, I hoped, as always, it'd stop on "The Worst Player". Inevitably, however, I was paired against a Worthy Opponent.
When I saw it was a Mage, though, my spirits rose. No one plays Mages in constructed right now. Obviously, I'd had the fortune to get matched against some feeble newbie with an auto-generated deck, who'd probably stumbled into ranked by accident.
As my enemy slapped down powerful cards, it became clear he'd actually built a deck around the obscene class legendary Archmage Antonidas, who constantly feeds his owner with Fireball spells. Once he'd accumulated a couple of those, he literally blew me away.
Dispirited, I felt like tearing up my deck and starting again. But I couldn't: I was supposed to be writing a play diary. So, grim faced, I dove in again.
And then the most extraordinary thing happened: I won the next game. And the next. And the one after that. In fact, the deck I'd almost written off a moment before won ten games straight in a row.
With all the bonus stars, I suddenly found I was rank 18 and facing not only the ability to drop stars if I lost, but also needing three consecutive wins for a bonus.
It seemed a good time to retire for the night.Day 2
As you probably guessed from my reaction to the initial defeat, I swing easily from one extreme emotion to the other. After ten straight victories, I felt unstoppable and presumed I'd hit the top rank of Legendary before the week was out.
Naturally, I lost my next game.
It was a tough deck to play against: a Paladin. At first, he allowed me to build up my feeble minions until it looked like he was going to be overwhelmed. Then, though, he hit me with Consecration, an area of effect spell that does 2 damage to everything on the opposite side of the board.
Area of effect is a big weakness of my deck, and Consecration wiped me out. After that, he started bringing out big minions, protecting them with divine shield, and pummelling me into submission.
But it wasn't all bad. I'd win a couple, then lose one. It was pretty frustrating, because I just couldn't string together three wins for that all-important bonus star. But I was, at least, taking baby steps in the right direction. I'd started the day on rank 18 with no stars, and finished it on rank 18 with three, primed for promotion.Day 3
This was an eye-opener. Maybe I was just unlucky, but suddenly, even at just rank 18, it felt like I was playing in the big leagues. Matches were slower, more thoughtful affairs. And mistakes were rare.
Most tellingly, I kept seeing decks built around massive cards. The most striking was my first encounter with Nat Pagle, regarded as one of the most versatile legendary cards in the game.
He was pulled out on turn 1 by a priest player, and stayed on the board in spite of all my best efforts to get rid of him.
First, he just got healed. Then, he had his health doubled to 8. Then, he had his attack made equal to his health. I was in trouble. Then, the priest wiped all my minions out with Holy Nova, and I conceded.
There was also an unusual warrior deck that centred on building up armour. At one stage, he had the equivalent of over 40 health. That was a tough game, and it went right down to the wire. I was eventually able to finish him off, though, with a one-two punch from a massively pumped Questing Adventurer and my Molten Giant.
I finished the day having finally made it up to rank 17. But slow progress really isn't my style. I wanted to experience those big wins again.
So, I thought it was about time to have a tinker with my deck.Day 4
What it was missing was some big hitters. To get them, I could either add in cards or cycle my cards faster. So, I tried to do both.
Out came the Kobold Geomancers for a pair of Cult Masters, 4/2 cards that allow you a new card draw each time a minion dies. And with all my weak summons littering the board, minions tended to be dying an awful lot.
I also removed the Blood Imps for some tougher cards cards: a Succubus and a Doomguard that I had to craft. The Loot Hoarders got replaced by Dark Iron. And to keep the low-end mana curve, I swapped the Ironfur Grizzly cards for two Shield Bearers.
I was excited to run this new deck, but it didn't go well. The quality of the opposition at rank 17 was much higher. Worse, what's known as the "meta" - the overarching pattern of the types of decks people were playing - had changed.
Fast aggro decks like mine had become common, and players were responding by using Paladin and Priest builds with massive defence and area of effect damage, designed specifically to counter quick-damage decks.Day 5
It was the same pattern again: I kept coming up against slow control decks against which I just couldn't compete.
Whenever there was a gap in the parade of Priests and Paladins, I managed to get some wins in and maintain my position. Even then, mind, it was hard work.
I got a real shock playing against a Mage who seemed to have no interesting cards in his deck at all. He was taking a terrible beating until he slapped down the legendary Deathwing, a 12/12 minion that destroyed my large collection of summons and then beat me to death in short order.
It was no good. To have any hope of progressing further, I really needed to switch decks. And in doing so, it felt like the right time to bring my diary to a close.Conclusion
While my initial foray into ranked play was a minor disaster, I did at least learn some valuable lessons.
We mobile players are at a bit of a disadvantage. While Hearthstone veterans are at pains to point out it's a skill-based game and you can do well with cheap decks, building a 'cheap' deck still requires a significant collection of cards.
There are people in ranked who've been playing on PC since the beta release and have amassed huge collections. If you want to compete with them, you're either going to have to buy a lot of boosters or be very patient.
A dissection of my experience with some seasoned players indicated this was my main problem. My available cards simply weren't good enough, and I hadn't done too badly with a limited pool from which to choose.
I'd also discovered that you ignore the meta at your peril. I'd insisted on running a Warlock deck at a point in the meta where other players were building specifically to counter this deck type.
The moral? Blizzard is a business, and it's designed Hearthstone in such a way that you need to make investments if you want long-term success.
In my opinion, though, it remains worth every penny. It's looking like a good time to try my luck in The Arena again...