How to be Above Average in Arena
There is no shortage of arena guides out there or programs that assist players as they are drafting their decks by ranking various card choices and highlighting synergies. Having said that, arena, like constructed standard or wild games, is an evolving metagame. Although arena’s metagame is less volatile, it is prone to metagame patterns of its own. Even more so with the changes to standard sets making up the card pool and an increase in class card choices. Given these changes, this article is a quick revision of some basic principles of arena, some discussion of particular cards, and an overall methodology that will help new to average players draft and play their decks.
First off, I’m terrible at arena. Rather, I was terrible. Now I am decidedly a medium-to-good arena player, and I want to spend some time in this article talking about that change. This article isn’t for people who average 7+ wins, but for those of us who struggle to come out ahead on prize value. I am mostly interested in the game for constructed, particularly standard, but took some time recently to develop at least a passable skill in arena, and I want to talk about how I did that, moving from 2-3 wins on average to somewhere around 6-8 wins, with the occasional 12 win run.
The first change I made was to lower my curve. I know this seems obvious, and I used to think I was doing it right before, but a glut of 6 drops on turn ten will cause you to play underpowered minions or spells once per turn. In general, I’ve found that having double fives or fours plus Hero Power has helped a lot. It’s necessary to have late game bombs, but remember that many four and five drops can trade up in arena and tempo is a valuable tool.
As far as general pick orders go, I have found success by prioritizing safe picks. That is, cards that are reasonable on their own and whose fail state isn’t essentially an auto-loss. Netherspite Historian is a good example. In general, I’ve found that hoping to get lucky with Netherspite Historians, even as early picks, has been a trap. The elementals matter cards are much easier to enable in arena and you would probably prefer to play Tar Creeper over Midnight Drake in most cases anyway, as the former is a better top deck than the latter, easier on the mana early, and fine to run out anyway. The rarity levels, in general, make the elemental matters cards better than any of the dragon requirements.
Having said that, I’ve tried and successfully gotten some wildly powerful dragon decks in Arena, but have also gotten 1 sad and lonely Book Wurm with no payoff. The same can be said of other type of cards that require others to function. I have found that avoiding drafting high-variance cards has, unsurprisingly, lead to more consistent arena runs. Savage Roar and Bloodlust are exceptions as their power level is through the roof and their associated classes can enable them easily.
Instead, I have recently moved toward a “medium” approach to building my arena decks. I have prioritized solid early plays, removal, and a few powerful late game cards that work individually. I avoid going in, for example, on a bunch of Murlocs and hoping my deck works out. It feels great when it does, but as far as grinding out arena games, I have found that a consistent, midrange approach works best.
It is also important to note that certain classes are lower variance than others. The elemental cards are easier to enable in Mage, for example, where Flamegeyser is a phenomenal spell that enables Servant of Kalimos. Stonehill Defender is another card that can help determine your class choices in arena. Since the neutral taunts are generally weaker than class taunts, Stonehill is better in some classes than others. Warlock, for example, isn’t particularly great with Stonehill, whereas he's a king in Paladin. Stonehill Defender is an excellent card, and therefore helps shape the potential power level of the arena metagame, determining possible class choices and decisions throughout the picks.
Drafting a few key Silence cards, such as Spellbreaker and Ironbeak Owl, is also highly recommended. Cards like Dinosize can lead to some frustrating losses, and Spikeridge Stead might be Paladin’s best rare spell in Arena. Be patient and greedy with these Silence effects and work to never throw them away on an early vanilla taunt like Shieldmasta. If you can’t beat a 3/5 taunt in a few draw steps by some other means then something has gone terribly wrong. Be patient. You’ll be thankful you waited when they Spikeridge Stead a Silverhand Recruit a turn or two later.
This arena format isn’t as based on curving out as it was a few months ago, and changes to card availability have appeared to promote longer games that favour midrange approaches with solid card advantage and powerful top end. Having said that, it is important to not get run over. Play early minions and spells and thereby be in a good position to control the board in the mid- to late-game.
In any case, I admit that I am not the best arena player, and this isn’t exactly a guide for an easy 12-0. Instead, this is a general philosophy for having consistent and moderate success in the arena, while hopefully getting back more than the 150 gold you put in to play. While I mostly play constructed, this has worked for me and I hope it helps you during the rest of the Frost Festival.