You’re a Hearthstone Veteran. So What?
It always gives me a kick when I see old cards resurface in 2018. Witnessing Raid Leader and Stormwind Champion in Baku Paladin gave me déjà vu so powerful I nearly threw a Goldshire Footman into my Zoolock. Those of us who are lucky enough (or crazy enough, depending on how many games of Ranked you played when Face Hunter was a thing) to have played Hearthstone since its release, as I have, view the game a little differently to others. How does having years of experience affect your approach to playing Hearthstone?
My own example proves that the longer you’ve played, you’re not necessarily better at the game. Newer players – take Amnesiac of Tempo Storm for example, who won the Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) Americas Winter Championship at age fifteen – are able to reach a level of skill that many players who’ve been going since Beta could never dream of. I remember when every deck ran Argent Commander, as a rule, and I struggle to reach Rank 10. (Please don’t stop reading because you now know I’m a noob) That is a good sign for Hearthstone. The game is based on the ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ mantra. If players don’t feel they can rise through the ladder without hardcore grinding, the game wouldn’t be as accessible. For a casual mobile game like Hearthstone, accessibility equates to commercial success.
So what’s the value in having an encyclopedic knowledge of every Hearthstone card released since everyone was freaking out about Ebola? Wild mode is a lot easier, that’s for sure. Standard mode exists in part to reduce this burden of knowledge on the majority of players, who have likely never heard of Undertaker or Mysterious Challenger, let alone experienced the horror they inflicted on us. But in both modes, very experienced players are better placed to predict opponents’ plays.
We can use our intuition to craft decks that respond to changes in the metagame faster and more effectively than those who haven’t played through as many metas as we have. We have an instinctive sense of what cards have potential, and which cards will be dead in the water, on release. Most of all, we reserve the right to get these judgments very, very wrong on occasion (looking at you, TrumpSC “Rogue Quest is a 1-Star Card”)!
Perhaps most importantly, veteran players have perspective on the game as a whole. This can either make you more pessimistic about the game or more reasonable. It’s tempting to look back on how the game was years ago and complain about how it’s all gone down the drain since Mean Streets/Un’Goro/Kobolds and Catacombs/that one Paladin topdecked Consecration at rank 6. Having played for more than four years, I can safely say that the game has improved exponentially since release (and even more since Beta). Quality of life changes, such as a ban on the appearance in new packs of legendary cards already in your collection, have seriously smoothed out the overall Hearthstone experience. Many other card games struggle to streamline the basic process of collecting your digital cards and getting into game with them.
There are certain advantages to having a strong grip on the game as a holistic whole. Perspective means anticipating your opponent’s plays before they play them, and understanding that RNG is part and parcel of every decision you will take in game. That can be the difference between Rank 10 and Legend, or the decision to rage-quit when your opponent gets Pyroblast from Babbling Book on turn 20. With so many games under your belt, each occasion on which things don’t go your way is more manageable. If you understand Hearthstone, you acknowledge that to master randomness, i.e. playing around it, is to master the game. It’s simply easier to do that when you’ve been playing for a long time.
That said, Hearthstone’s regular content cycle means that we are all in the same boat whenever a new expansion comes out. With three injections of 135 new cards directly into the metagame’s bloodstream every year, the predictions of an HCT winner are often as accurate as any new gamer who’s played enough to know what HCT stands for. Instinctive sense of how the meta will pan out rarely stands up to the wonderful chaos of the first week of a new release. Blizzard throws us enough screwballs that veteran and newbie alike must scramble to find out what’s good and what’s Murloc Priest. The vets will just get there faster.
As I’ve argued earlier, it’s true that Hearthstone’s enduring strength is its accessibility. So if you’re in a position where you feel that you’ve learned the game, the process of mastering it is your next step. Over four years in, it’s clear that this second stage is pretty much endless. Maybe that’s why we love the game so much after all this time.