Blizzard’s Hearthstone is a collectible card games, and like all such games it features cards of varying power. The only way to obtain better cards is through packs, but buying packs can become quite expensive. Kotaku dropped $50 on 40 packs – and only received one legendary!
Many players will find that unacceptable and choose to instead earn packs slowly by completing quests and defeating opponents. This is an uphill battle if you only have rudimentary cards, but there are some “free-to-play” decks that can compete with those containing far more impressive cards.
What’s A Free-To-Play Deck?
Let’s take a moment to define what a free-to-play deck is. New players might think that it’s a deck containing only basic and free cards, but that’s not true. Instead, it’s a deck that only contains cards that can be obtained with modest effort. You can craft your own cards by disenchanting ones you don’t want or need, so these decks do contain rares and an occasional epic. Legendries, however, are never included.
You won’t have all the parts of each deck right away. I’ve included a substitutions section at the end of this article that can help you find cards to replace what you don’t yet have.
This is the most recent deck from Twitch streamer Trump, who used it to go from rank 25 to Legendary in a single season. As part of his experiment he started a completely new account, but the deck in its final form was obtained by crafting cards.
Like most of Trump’s decks, this is a control deck, which means it is designed to outlast the enemy’s threats and eventually exhaust their ability to deal damage. The wide variety of spells, light Lightning Bolt, Rockbiter Weapon and Hex, can be used to kill or negate important enemy cards – most notably legendries. Other cards, like the Azure Drakes and Gadgetzan Autctioneer, are used to draw additional cards.
This deck is challenging to play. The Shaman’s overload mechanic, which provides strong spells at low mana but makes that mana unavailable next turn, requires foresight to use correctly. You’ll also have to use your Stormforged Axe cards to remove small enemy minions, which means taking damage yourself.
If you like this deck but would rather play Mage, try Trump’s F2P Mage. He also used that deck to go from rank 25 to Legendary on a new account, though it took about 15 more wins than with Shaman.
A “Zoo” deck is one that overwhelms the opponent quickly with efficient, inexpensive minions. This is enabled through constant use of the Warlock’s Life Tap hero power, which can draw an extra card each round but inflicts two damage to the Warlock.
As you can see when you examine the deck, many cards cost just one mana, and half the deck costs two mana or less. This means a life-tap will likely draw the Warlock a usable card after turn three. The opponent will have a very difficult time keeping up and will be overwhelmed.
This is not a particularly difficult deck to play. The main skill you’ll need to develop is a sense of when to attack and when to trade. You’ll generally be attacking the enemy hero, but there will be occasions when a threatening enemy minion has to be dealt with. Knowing when to switch your priorities is crucial, but is a skill that can only be developed with practice.
Multi-target damage is the bane of Zoo, and your matchups will often be dictated by its use. Classes that have strong multi-target damage available at low mana cost, like Shaman, Warrior and sometimes Rogue, can be hard to beat if they get the right card draw. You’ll also lose the late-game to any competent control deck. Your goal is to make sure the other guy is dead before late-game occurs.
Though perhaps not as well-known as Trump, Reckful created a Hunter deck with a similar objective; go from rank 25 to Legendary without paying a dime. By all accounts it was a crushing success, managing a record of 78-20. Though one of the important cards, Unleash The Hounds, received a nerf recently, this is still a very strong deck, and it includes only four rare cards!
The deck’s playstyle is best described as mid-range aggro. There are a lot of low-cost minions here, as well as some removal spells, but the balance is shifted towards cards that cost two or three mana. There are also some strong late-game cards, like Savannah Highmane, and some control cards that can be used to negate big threats, like Hunter’s Mark. These help you finish your opponent if the game drags on.
You’ll likely find this to be the easiest deck to play among these three. Though it relies heavily on minions, like Zoo, it isn’t as vulnerable to multi-target attacks because the minions are modestly sturdy and you rely on fewer of them at any one time. You also have options that can help you come from behind or close for the kill, like Kill Command and Unleash The Hounds. You will be in bad shape if the game drags too long though, because you have a limited number of answers to big, scary legendaries and epics.
While these decks are free-to-play, you can’t use them out of the gate, as they do include a few rares that you must craft. Here are some recommendations on what to substitute for a card of a particular mana cost until you craft what you need. These are all free cards that everyone begins Hearthstone with.
1 Mana: Elven Archer is often a good pick. Hunters may want to choose Stonetusk Boar because it is a beast.
2 Mana: Acidic Swamp Ooze is great because it can destroy an enemy’s weapon. Destroying an epic weapon with a two-mana card is always fun!
3 Mana: Shattered Sun Cleric can be used to buff another minion. Wolfrider, which has charge, is a good pick for more aggressive decks.
4 Mana: There are a lot of really good picks here. Chillwind Yeti is a popular pick that’s good in most situations. Decks with a lot of cards that improve other minions may want Dragonling Mechanic, however. Gnomish Inventor is good if you need card draw and Sen’jin Sheildmasta is great for taunt.
5 Mana: Frostwolf Warlord is good for minion-heavy decks that need a strong late-game card. Gurubashi Berserker is a solid pick if you can heal it or easily trigger its special ability.
6 Mana: Boulderfist Ogre is the card to pick here. It can kill many other six-mana cards, often without dying itself.
7 Mana: Stormwind Champion is a good finisher for minion-heavy decks. Otherwise, go with War Golem.
While there’s no doubt that some cards in Hearthstone are better than others, these three decks prove that top-tier play is possible without spending a dime. Deck synergy is just as important as the powers of individual cards and, once your skills improve, you’ll find yourself breezing through opponents with multiple legendaries!