Arena, loosely based on the booster draft format found in many TCG/CCGs, is a game mode that is entirely separate from constructed deck game modes and focuses on deck construction from random drafts. Arena is the only game mode currently that has a cost of entry, requiring either $1.99 or 150 gold from the player per run. A player may have only one arena run active at a time, but there is no time limit in which to finish that particular run. In an Arena run, a player must first select one of three randomly selected heroes and then build an entirely new deck for the selected hero from a series of randomly selected cards. Players are shown three random cards at a time and must choose one of the three to be put in their deck. This selection process is done until a full deck (30/30) has been created. Though the cards are selected randomly, there is a uniformity of card rarity—that is to say, if one of the card choices in a group is legendary, all of the card choices will be legendary, and so on. Because of the random nature of Arena, basic deck limitation rules found in constructed are bypassed; therefore, a player can potentially have more than two of any particular card in their deck, and, though highly improbable, could also have more than one of the same legendary.
Once the hero has been selected and the deck constructed, the player then can queue up for Arena matches against other players who have built decks in exactly the same fashion. An Arena run ends when either the player has lost a total of three games with that particular deck, or if the player has won a total of 12 times (without losing three) with that particular deck. When an Arena run is finished, the player will receive a random series of rewards that vary based upon how many wins were acquired on that particular run. The rewards can include arcane dust, gold, single cards, as well as packs of expert Hearthstone cards; and the amounts of gold and arcane dust found in each reward will increase based upon win-rate. However, the rewards will always include at least one pack of expert Hearthstone cards regardless of win-rate.
Beginning the Arena
In order to unlock the Arena game mode, a new player must first defeat all 9 of the AI opponents on normal difficulty in Practice Mode. Once it has been unlocked, a player then must either pay $1.99 or 150 gold per Arena run in order to play. After the cost of entry has been met, a player will then be shown three randomly selected heroes and must choose one before deck construction can begin.
Building a Deck
The deck construction process is inspired loosely by the concepts of booster drafting, a popular variant of play that is found in many other TCG/CCGs. During the building process, the player is shown a group of three randomly selected cards and must choose one that will go into the deck. After a card has been selected, the process is repeated and the player must choose a card out of a new group of three randomly selected cards. This process continues until a full 30 card deck has been built. Because of the random nature of Arena, basic rules found in Constructed play do not apply: there is no single-card limit (a player could run a Mage deck with four Frostbolt cards or three Pyroblast cards if given the option, for instance) within a deck, and, though highly improbable, a player could theoretically run a deck with more than one of the same legendary. For more advanced strategies regarding Arena deck building, please see Deck Building Strategies. Once a deck has been constructed, the player can begin playing Arena matches.
Beginning the Run
Once a hero has been selected and a deck constructed, the player can begin searching for matches in the Arena. A single run of Arena ends due to one of two possible scenarios: a player loses three times with that deck, or a player wins 12 times with that deck. Until either of the scenarios has occurred, the run will still be considered active; therefore, a player does not have to finish an Arena one in a single sitting. All players participating in the Arena have built decks in exactly the same fashion, so due to the random nature of construction play style strategies can differ greatly from standard constructed play.
Deck Building Strategies
Creating a Successful Arena Deck
Because of the random nature of the deck building process in Arena, the strategies for building a successful deck are much different from constructed decks. Though players' strategies will vary, there are a few basic concepts and strategies that will almost certainly increase a player's win rate. The first thing that a player must understand is that themed and combo decks, types that are extremely strong in constructed, are almost never successful in Arenas due to the random building process. The reason these types are not often successful is not because they are inherently weak against arena match ups, but rather because it is almost impossible to build a coherent and strong themed deck or combo deck due to the random card selection process. Oftentimes when a player attempts these styles they will be left with a deck that is only partially synergetic at best, and has a large amount of cards that are essentially dead weight with regards to the intended theme or combo. Therefore, most successful players evaluate cards and their strength in Arena based only upon their merits and potential value alone, disregarding potential synergies that are unlikely to be possible. This isn't to say that a player shouldn't choose cards that synergize well with cards that have already been chosen, but merely that one shouldn't choose cards that require another particular card that has yet to be seen in order to be effective. For more on this, see the Retroactive Synergy v. Predictive Synergy article below. An excellent example of a card that has a high value without themed or combo synergy is the Chillwind Yeti, whose high health, high damage, and relatively low mana cost means this minion will trade efficiently on the board as well as will be a relatively strong threat at almost any stage of the game. For further information regarding card values in Arena, Trump's Arena Ratings Guide is an excellent resource.
Retroactive Synergy v. Predictive Synergy
There are two types of approaches to drafting synergy in an Arena deck: predictive synergy and retroactive synergy. Predictive synergy is a drafting strategy in which you take a card with the hopes that you will be given the option for the other necessary card(s) in order to fully realize that synergy or combo. Retroactive synergy occurs when you make synergy selections based upon the cards that you have already selected up to that point in the drafting process. As a general rule, the most successful arena decks are crafted with a combination of retroactive synergy as well as picking cards based on their stand-alone value, sans synergy entirely. Retroactive synergy becomes more viable and powerful the further a deck is in its completion, because the player has a greater knowledge regarding the efficacy of the potential synergy. While predictive synergy can pay off occasionally in the Arena, it is so reliant upon luck that it more often than not leads to weak decks that contain dead weight cards or decks that have a few partial synergies awkwardly and ineffectively spliced together. To give a few examples:
- Predictive synergy might cause a player who is playing a Mage deck to choose an early Mana Wyrm, with the expectation that they will have the opportunity to gain an extensive spell arsenal during the drafting process. If they are not able to secure at least an acceptable amount of spells, the Mana Wyrm now has become dead weight, and therefore one of the other choices would have likely been more beneficial. Furthermore, if the player selects a Mana Wyrm before they have enough spells, they might force themselves into choosing spells over other cards that would be more valuable for the deck itself. As one can see, predictive synergy strategies can greatly limit future card selections.
- Considering the same scenario above, a player utilizing retroactive synergy would likely forgo from the Mana Wyrm early in the drafting process because they had no other cards (viz. spells) that would synergize with it, unless that Mana Wyrm had the best stand-alone value compared to the other options. However, if the Mana Wyrm choice appeared half-way through the drafting process instead of at the beginning, the player would be able make a much safer, more informed choice regarding the viability of the Mana Wyrm. Even if the player has an acceptable amount of spells, they might choose to forgo the Mana Wyrm for a more useful low-cost drop to fill a weakness gap in their current deck; or, alternatively, they might decide that the rest of the deck construction needs to focus on areas other than spells in order to be strong. Retroactive synergy strategies offer a great amount of flexibility and cater well to the Arena style of random drafting.
Importance of the Mana Curve
When building an Arena deck, it's often easy to get distracted by the random selection process and focus fully on what might be considered 'power cards' while neglecting the mana curve of a deck. Just because a player is given the option of having four Consecration cards in a Paladin deck doesn't mean that it is always a good decision to choose them, and likewise just because a player is given the option to choose four high cost legendary cards doesn't mean that it is a strong decision. An ideal mana curve is the one that doesn't swing too far in a singular direction, and one that gives a player multiple play options for both the early, mid, and late game (unless the deck is attempting to follow a particular theme). It is always important to be cognizant of the mana curve during the entire card selection process to ensure that a player isn't forced into situations where they might have multiple turns in a game without a play. A common strategy when building the decks is to spend the first 10-15 cards choosing the cards they might want (grabbing powerful, expensive cards when available), and then spend the last 15 cards balancing out the mana curve as much as possible. A common mistake by many players, and one that occurs in both constructed and arena, is underestimating the importance of low cost 1-2 drop cards when building their decks. Having a good amount of these cards (2 cost 3/2 cards are generally considered to be the best early game value cards in Arena) ensures that the player will have early game options and responses, giving them the opportunity to establish early game board control. Establishing board control early on will often determine the tempo of the mid-game and late game and can greatly swing favor towards the player that does this. Understanding the importance of having early game presence and responses is critical to success in both Arena and Constructed. A player that constructs decks with logical, balanced mana curves will see a dramatic improvement in the Arena results.
When crafting your deck, do not neglect card draws. Draw cards are sometimes hero abilities, such as the Mage's Arcane Intellect, or can be effects on minions (both battle cries and death rattles), such as Gnomish Inventor, Loot Hoarder, or Azure Drake. These are necessary in order to maintain or gain card advantage against your opponent. Draw cards are especially important if your deck relies heavily upon cheap cost cards. Ensure that you have at least a few abilities that include card draw in your deck, regardless of its theme. Minion cards with draw are especially powerful because they create threat upon the battlefield while simultaneously replacing themselves in your hand.
Basic Match Strategies
It is difficult to predict the opponent's strategies and play styles due to the random nature of Arena. In Constructed, predictive play is not only viable, but also often very rewarding. Assuming that a particular class has a particularly strong ability or minion in their deck (Priests running Mind Control, for instance) allows the player to play in a cautious and intelligent manner that can counter the assumed threat. Also, the Constructed rule that only allows two instances of a single card in any deck means that a player can rest easy after they have seen a particular minion or ability played twice. Things are not quite so predictable in Arena. One can never be certain as to how many instances of a card their opponent has, and one can also not safely assume that a deck is or isn’t running a particular card. A Priest opponent may have no Mind Control cards, or they might have three. Therefore, conservative plays are generally more safe and successful in Arena. Although every move is more of a gamble/risk in Arena than in Constructed, there are still safe ways in which to govern one’s play style in order to avoid potential misplays.
The following are a few basic guidelines of conservative play that can greatly enhance the success of an Arena player. Many of these guidelines can also be applied to Constructed play. (A quick caveat: Theses are merely suggestions that have a high percentage of success in a broad range of scenarios, there are clearly situations where these will not always be the most optimal strategies.)
- Learn each class in-depth. This perhaps goes without saying, but it is incredibly vital that you know the entirety of your opponent’s potential arsenal so that you are not caught off guard. Memorize the specific details about high threat cards from each class, don’t just be satisfied with general knowledge. General knowledge of a Mage’s Flamestrike allows you to understand that it is a form of AOE board removal kills lots of things. Specific knowledge allows you to know that it is a seven cost spell that deals four damage to every one of your minions. The specific knowledge allows you to intelligently prepare for flamestrike—i.e., you don’t saturate the board with low health minions prior to the Mage’s turn 7; you don’t play multiple low-health minions in a single turn during the late game phase; &c. Specific knowledge about each class and their abilities will win you games.
- When you have board advantage, don’t immediately over-saturate the board with minions. Depending on the match-up, assume the threat of AOE board removal. This can be Brawl from a Warrior, Flamestrike or Blizzard from a Mage, Holy Nova from a Priest, Swipe from a Druid, Fan of Knives from a Rogue, or Consecration from a Paladin. Memorize the damage and cost of these spells, then only saturate the board with minions that can survive them (or on a turn when the ability in question can't yet be cast). Some minions capitalize on saturated boards, such as the Mind Control Tech. Keep minions in your hand to replace those on the board that might be lost to the various forms of AOE and hard removal. Don’t over-extend unless you are securing lethal damage on the following turn.
- When playing powerful, high cost creatures against a Priest in the late game, be absolutely certain you have a means by which to remove it from the game. Whether this is through minion trades on the board or hard removal abilities, be prepared for the possibility of Mind Control.
- Learn to understand the importance of the early game. Many games are decided in the early game, even if they are played out to mid or late game. Understand the importance of establishing early board control and maintaining it. Trade efficiently. Learn intelligent uses of The Coin, and use it when possible to gain early board control. Some control decks do not require early board advantage in order to succeed, but there are few decks that do not greatly benefit from it.
- Recognize the value of trading minions (as opposed to directly attacking the hero) in order to gain board advantage. Learning when to directly attack the hero versus clearing trading minions can take some time, but know that it is often best (unless your deck adheres to an aggro theme or playstyle) to clear most minions before dealing with the hero. As always, consider your match-ups. Your Paladin opponent’s 1/1 hero ability minion might be ignored because it is not deemed a considerable threat, only to have it turn into a 5/5 after being buffed by the Paladin’s ability Blessing of Might the next turn. Minion trading and board clearing become crucial when going against Heroes that have a multitude of buff abilities at their disposal.
Learning your match ups, following these guidelines, and playing conservatively should greatly improve your Arena run results. For more detailed strategic resources and card analysis, please see Miscellaneous Resources.
When an Arena run concludes, the player is given a set of up to five boxes, each of which contain a random assortment of rewards. Currently, the possible rewards from arena are the following: single cards, arcane dust, gold, as well as Expert packs of cards. It is important to note that a player will always have a pack of Expert cards in their reward pool, regardless of their win-loss ratio. The amount of Arcane Dust and Gold from each box increases the higher the win count is for a particular run. Because the one pack of Expert cards is guaranteed, many players will always choose to spend gold on Arena runs rather than on Expert packs, with the hopes that they can offset the extra 50 gold (or even turn a profit). If a player is seeking to replace the gold lost at the entry fee for Arena, they must average 5 or more wins per run in order to offset the cost. Players who are especially skilled at Arena and average 7 or more wins per Arena will be able to generate a gold profit from each run, enabling them to indefinitely chain Arena runs.
Hearthead's Arena Practice Tool
An excellent resource, this tool allows you to practice drafting a deck for an Arena run. Hearthhead's Arena Practice Tool can be found here.
Trump's Arena Ratings Guide
Trump is a popular and extremely skilled Hearthstone player, who specializes in Arena gameplay. In this guide, Trump rates all common and basic cards based on their Arena value. This is an excellent starting point for any new player to learn the differences between card values in Arena versus Constructed. Trump's Arena Card Rankings can be found here.
High Level Player Streams
One of the best ways to increase one's skill in arena is to watch high level players compete. Below is a list of popular, high-level Arena players' streams. Many of these players also have YouTube channels that contain videos of past matches.
The show Value Town on ChanmanV's channel is an excellent resource for aspiring Arena players.