The Beauty of Tempo Decks in Arena
Introduction of Tempo
Tempo gain or loss of spells and hero abilities
Tempo of minions
How to draft and play tempo decks
Do you pick powerful cards in Arena that give you card advantage? Do you try to play Control decks like big streamers usually do? Try as you may, when drafting by these rules you have probably lost some games with unspent mana and cards in your hand.
You lost because your decks lack of mana efficiency or Tempo.
This article is going to look at how to alter your drafts around maximizing Tempo and straying away from straight value drafting: spells, mana, and "getting ahead" are all going to discussed.
A recurring concept is that we are looking to convert one mana into one damage. You can also gain Tempo by removing an enemy minion with a card of your own which cost less to cast.
The Most Basic Tempo Card: The Coin
Blizzard did an amazing job in balancing the game regarding playing first or second. Blizzard decided they needed to compensate for the Tempo advantage gained by going first and first access to additional Mana Crystals. That’s why they invented The Coin. The Coin not only makes up for being behind on Mana Crystals, it also smooth’s out the draw. The Coin also has an older brother in Innervate. Both of these cards are situational but allow you to power out early threats. This gives us the first pattern in Tempo decks: the more situational a card is, the more Tempo advantage you can expect from it.
Tempo gain or loss of spells and hero abilities
Removal spells are more situational than a regular minion; therefore, we should expect a Tempo advantage. If you need to remove an opponent’s threat -- a 3/2 minion for example -- you may gain or lose mana in the trade. If you Backstab -- 0 mana -- to kill a two mana Bloodfen Raptor, you essentially gained two mana in the exchange. If you want to build an efficient Tempo advantage deck, you need to pick cheap removal.
2-for-1 Removal and Board Clears
Hearthstone is generous with spells that allow to remove two or more enemy threats with one spell. The good news is that all these cards have a positive mana balance. The bad news, is that these spells shine against Tempo or Aggro decks. In an aggressive deck, these spells sit dead in your hand because your opponent never manages to get two suitable minions to the board: unless you have already lost board control.
Forked Lightning is probably the weakest one, three mana over two turns for four random damage is very high variance; furthermore, it is very hard to find a suitable turn for playing the spell. Playing it on turn two will leave you with a single mana left for turn three. A Warrior's Cleave is less complicated to play and is much more mana efficient. It is easy to be blinded by the value inherent in a 2-for-1 removal spell, but when drafting a Tempo deck you need to consider what you are giving up.
Weapons are the most useful tools for Tempo decks. Ok, other decks will pick them too because they also give card advantage, but a Tempo deck can more easily afford the life loss. Fiery War Axe is huge. It usually removes your opponent's two and three drops, so it is at least a three mana gain. Deadly Poison combined with Rogue's hero ability costs one more than a Fiery War Axe for the same effect, but is still good as a two point mana gain. In short, pick weapons over any other removal spells.
It is important in a Tempo deck to mulligan your starting set of cards so you don’t need to use your hero ability early on. Most hero abilities lose two mana, which is a devastating drawback on turns two and
three. The only good ability is the one of the Rogue. Over two turns, it trades evenly with most two-drops and, therefore, is the only ability that to break even regarding mana efficiency.
Anti Tempo Cards: Card draw
Card draw is bad for Tempo decks. Sure, we want to keep card disadvantage at a minimum by efficient trades, but we never want pure card draw spells. Arcane Intellect may fit Control decks, but for a Tempo deck on turn three, they only say "lose three mana for one card."
Card draw attached to other spells or minions is still bad for Tempo. Rogue is the traditional Tempo class, but be beware of Shiv as it is actually loses one mana in efficiency. A Warlock's Mortal Coil is borderline playable because it is mana neutral. Soulfire is a much better Tempo card by putting you up four mana.
Tempo of minions
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"
There are numerous Arena pick lists around already, and I don’t want to create another one here; similarly, we all know about trading up with our minions. Nevertheless, here are some of the most important minions and their abilities regarding tempo advantage or disadvantage.
Most effects on minions cost you Attack or Health points compared to the standard “vanilla” minion for the cost. In a Tempo deck, you should carefully consider if these extra abilities are worth the investment.
Chillwind Yeti is an early beefy minion that no other basic minion can trade up against and that survives all common mass removal. As your opponents will probably need some beefy four-drop of his own plus an additional source of damage to remove your Chillwind Yeti, I rate it as at least gaining one mana.
Flame Imp is another amazing card for its mana cost. He also fills the one-drop slot which is hard to fill with solid minions. As Warlock has no weapons, and no efficient removal besides Soulfire, Flame Imp is key to building a Tempo Warlock deck.
Divine Shield effects have the potential to double the value of a minion in play. Agent Protector on its own isn't efficient, but he can earn three to four extra points of mana efficiency if played on the correct minion. Divine Shield is probably more valuable in Tempo than in Control decks, as it protects you from board clears and most opponents won't have spare 1/1 minions around to pop shields.
Charge on its own does not necessarily give you any Tempo advantage in an aggressive deck. The reason is, if you have already cleared the opponent’s board, a minion with Charge only squeezes out a little bit of extra damage before it is forced to trade with something.
Most useful situations for Charge are, if your opponent has board control and you urgently need to remove a threat. Wolfrider is certainly playable being mana neutral, but from the commons, I would consider only Kor’Kron Elite a great card for your Tempo deck. Even if being mana neutral on paper, thanks to the Charge ability, you will more often find a favorable trade for the Elite.
Stat Buffing Battlecries
The value of several minions changes dramatically for both you and the opponent depending on board control. Let’s define board control as you having at least one minion on the board while your opponent has none.
Now let’s have a look at Shattered Sun Cleric and its Tempo value as effective Mana depending on the state of the board:
- If your opponent has board control and you have no minions, your Shattered Sun Cleric will die to any two-drop of your opponent result: you lose one mana.
- If the board is equal, you will at least get use of the Battlecry effect before your minion dies: this is effectively mana neutral (trades with a two drop and buffs attack).
- If your opponent has no minions, you might be able to trade the Shattered Sun Cleric efficiently against the next three-drop he plays: thus gaining two mana.
You can see how having board control greatly changes the value of a Shattered Sun Cleric. When still fighting for the initiative, there is the surprise factor that comes along with the effect attached to this minion, which may net you even more Tempo.
Abusive Sergeant and Dark Iron Dwarf are more situational than the Shattered Sun Cleric; but because of their huge effects, they gain at least one mana of Tempo advantage.
Utility Minions: Card draw
Acolyte of Pain does not fit in Tempo decks. His 1/3 stats put you behind by in mana on turn three. Cult Master, on the other hand, is a friend to Aggro and Tempo decks. I mention him because you must not make the mistake and get too greedy. While it is fine to recycle some one health minions before they die, you still need to trade as efficiently as possible. It is never a good idea suicide all your board to fill your hand but lose control.
How to draft and play tempo decks
Unspent Mana and Snowballing
An unspent crystal is a crystal lost. Everyone fears board clears and hero abilities so it is quite common for players to hold back one drops on their first turn. In a Tempo deck, you usually want one or two one-drops, so you have a decent chance to draw one of them for your first turn. Your Worgen Infiltrator is always gain one mana for example. If you trade with their 3/2 minion, or if you force them to use their hero ability is secondary to the Tempo gain.
This small Tempo gain can now snowball over the next few turns. Your two-drop will come uncontested onto the board and either trade with their three-drop again, or with the help of some buff from a Battlecry effect you will can remove your opponent's minion while yours stays on board. Even if both you and your opponent followed same the popular pick lists and drafted the same quality minions, you will gain more and more advantage, because you keep the initiative and you can make the more favorable trades.
Against control decks, you will inevitably run into board clears after some time which resets everything. Most likely, however, is that they will have to spend all their mana on the board clear spell; therefore, you will be the first one the play out new minions and reclaim the initiative.
Typical Draft Deck
When drafting a Tempo deck, my pick priorities are the following below. See the appendix for screenshots of some Tempo decks.
Weapons are the primary source of Tempo advantage, they are the key of your deck.
2. Overpowered minions
You have to pick that Argent Commander or that Ragnaros when it shows up.
3. Good removal spells
Soulfire or Backstab are ideal.
4. Battlycry and Divine Shield buffs
Your third best source of Tempo advantage.
5. Solid two-drops and three-drops
You need plenty of two and three-drops so you always get a fast start. For the two-drops, a mix of 3/2 and 2/3 bodies is desirable. If you draw both, you always have the perfect answer, depending on whether your opponent had a one-drop or not.
6. Endgame minions that can survive board clears (~5 Health)
Chillwind Yeti, Boulderfist Ogre, Venture Co. Mercenary, etc.
7. One-drops to a maximum of two
For an aggressive start if you don’t have The Coin.
8. Card draw
Sometimes even a Tempo deck can make use of a Sprint.
Trade or Race?
Since Battlecry buffs and board clears are so popular in Hearthstone, the golden rule of thumb is that you always want to trade your minions. If playing a Tempo deck, however, you might sometimes squeeze out a few extra points of damage by hitting your opponent instead, if you know your opponent will want trade the minions anyways.
These are situations where you should consider initiating a race instead of a trade:
- • There is no danger of board clears on the next turn;
• The life totals are favorable for you;
• Your minion is more valuable than his;
• Your minion will still trade equally after a +1/+1 buff to his minion.
Situations where you should not try to race but trade minions immediately;
- • You would leave two minions on the board that could both die to a 2-for-1 removal spell (Warrior, Shaman);
• Opponent could heal his minion (Priest) or heavily buff or shield it (Paladin);
• Your minion has only 1 health left (Mage, Druid).
If you play Tempo against an even more aggressive Aggro deck, try to stabilize at as high life totals as possible in case he has direct damage or Charge minions. There is no need to do significant damage on your own: your card quality should be higher than your opponent's. You should, therefore, win in the long run even if some unfortunate trades happened.
Vs Tempo - mirror match
If you play the Tempo mirror match, you must fight for board control at all cost. Board clears are not very likely, but life totals can be the deciding factor in order to be able to use weapons effectively in the lategame.
There are two crucial questions for the Tempo deck in the matchup:
- How long do you want to add minions to the board?
- When do you start to hold back, so a Flamestrike does not completely cripple you?
Most importantly, know the casting cost of the opponent's board clear spells by heart. If you do not have that much game experience yet, you might want to write down a short list. Always make a mental note whether the opponent has used The Coin yet. Next, do you already have enough damage on the board? If you only manage to swing for two or three damage per turn, it might be too slow if your opponent has some solid removal. Normally, you want at least 3 minions on the board: preferably one will be large enough to survive any board clears. If your opponent plays a Taunt or removal spell, two minions can continue to swing at the opponent. If he plays board clears, your largest minion survives and he only trades two cards for one. Another hint can be the round you are playing in. If it is the first round, then maybe it is not a control deck but just a crap deck with a lot of unplayable late game minions in his hand. Make sure to do significant damage before he can play out his over-valued legendaries. On the other hand, if it is an opponent with 7+ wins under his belt, his slow deck will have some nasty surprises: he would otherwise not have managed get so many wins. Give him two solid targets for the big board clears spells to lure him into using it, but carefully play around the 2-for-1 spells. The final deciding factor can be your desperation. If things are already going bad against a solid deck, you have to make risky plays and hope to get lucky: ignoring favorable trades but trying to race him. On the other hand, if you have solid board control against an average deck, it is worth playing it safe and holding back a few minions to trade proactively: you are not in a hurry to kill him.
Sample Deck Warrior
This is a sample of a Warrior Tempo deck with great weapons and solid minions. It has very few spells and hardly any card draw as I picked the weapons and minions over them. The minions with Charge and Gorehowl were often used as finisher when the opponent began to stabilize. This deck ended 10-3.
Sample Deck Rogue
This is a sample of a Rogue Tempo deck, which ran a little bit short of weapons. The Mana Curve was a little bit more on the lower end than desired. I did not intend to pick four one-drop minions and so many situational cards like Patient Assassin or Southsea Captain. I finally picked one Sprint to compensate for the otherwise slightly lower than average card quality. On the back of Molten Giant and a Spiteful Smith + Blade Flurry synergy, the deck still managed to squeeze out a 9-3.
I have been playing Magic the Gathering for 10+ years and was specialized in Limited format. I accumulated double digit Pro Tour points in my career.
In Hearthstone I have played 64 Arenas so far, with a combined win rate of 68%.