Navigating Hearthstone Game Modes

I started to write about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft earlier in the week to offer my thoughts on what it is like as a new player attempting to jump into the game. While I have tried to absorb information from a variety of websites, podcasts, and professional streams, I imagine that other players experimenting with the game for the first time do not make these efforts. My next article will provide an overview of the resources I am using to improve my skill and have more fun with the game. However, the article below discusses the various game types that are available in Hearthstone, and how new players can best navigate them.

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Opening menu in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

At the moment, Hearthstone features five game modes when you log into the game – Casual, Ranked, The Arena, Tavern Brawl, and Solo Adventures. Casual and Ranked are always available and free-to-play under the Play button pictured above. At any moment day or night, Casual and Ranked are there for you to play against a random opponent for a single game. The Arena costs 150 gold to enter, while Tavern Brawl is available for a few days each week. The rules of the Tavern Brawl change each Wednesday, and the button is greyed out early in the week while Blizzard performs background work to get the next Tavern Brawl ready for action. The Solo Adventures, Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain, can be purchased with money or unlocked with gold.


In the beginning, this is where I spent most of my time playing the game. The term Casual seemed to imply that this is an area of Hearthstone where people are looking to have fun and it is not as “competitive.” Take note because nothing could be further from the truth! Casual simply means the games are not tied to the Ranked ladder system in the game, which I’ll detail more below. Casual can mean any number of things to players choosing to enter that mode. It can be a place to:

  • Try the game as a new player after just completing the Tutorials
  • Experiment with a new deck that may or may not work well
  • Play with a well-oiled machine of a deck to score quick wins to complete a Daily Quest

I am not knowledgeable about how matchmaking is done behind the scenes, but I’ve been matched up against people who clearly just started playing the game – and seemingly experienced players who are running top-tier, competitive decks in the current meta.

If I could offer Blizzard one piece of advice, it would be to create a mode that caters to new  players. For example, a Training Ground mode would only be available to players who have less than 50 wins. There, new players could go up against each other with Basic decks to get a feel for the mechanics. The only place to attempt to get experience against other new players is Casual, and there is currently no limit to who plays in Casual.

Casual feels like a free-for-all, and new players should not go into this mode with blinders on. It is likely the easiest place to play games with each Hero to unlock their Basic cards. Beyond that, it is not a nice little reprieve from high-powered, Legendary-full decks. New players can cut their teeth in Casual to get a feel for mechanics while seeing new cards they do not yet own. But do not expect a high win rate as you parade through a series of new players just ripe for a beating; experienced players are in Casual looking for quick wins off people like you!


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The reward card back for August 2015.

Now this is where I spend most of my time in Hearthstone because Arena scares me (more on that in a moment). As a new player, you start at Rank 25, and you can work your way up to Rank 1 and beyond that, Legend. The ranks reset after each season, with each season lasting a month. Blizzard recently made some changes to Ranked to make it more enticing to continue playing throughout the month. A snazzy Card Back is award to players who achieve Rank 20 in a season, and other rewards are given as you climb up the ladder. I was able to earn my first Rank 20 card back in June 2015; this felt like a big achievement at the time! My highest rank so far in any season is 11 though I’m mostly in the 15-19 range as I experiment with decks and alternate wins and losses.

Ranked is enjoyable because at least I know going into the match that the person on the other end is bringing a competitive deck to play and win. I have not kept track of my win rate in Ranked, but I try to learn something every game I play. One piece of advice to new players, is this – understand why you lost a match. Yes, many times it will be because your opponent simply has better cards, but accept the frustration and learn from each contest. I learned things like:

  • Don’t flood the board against a Mage right before Turn 7 (or Turn 6 if your opponent has The Coin) because your precious minions will be dead from the 7-mana removal spell, Flamestrike
  • Consider the type of Hero and type of deck you may be facing as you decide what to Mulligan.
  • Build a deck that has a gradual Mana curve so you can have viable cards to play each turn. For example, if you load up on minions and spells that cost 6 Mana or more, your options will be very limited early in the game
  • Ragnaros the Firelord, Sylvanas Windrunner, Piloted Shredder and Dr. Boom are ridiculously good, and I need to have those cards! (I don’t have any of them at the moment)

Even if you continuously face a deck type or card that beats you, it gives you information about what is a good card in the game. Not all Legendary cards are created equally, and there are Common and Rare cards that are more effective in many of the current decks that are competitive. Be mindful of the decisions you make each turn; it may even be helpful to talk out loud about your decision-making process:

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“I have a few options here. I could play Frostbolt to destroy the Knife Juggler. I could play Mad Scientist and allow Knife Juggler to live. Or I could Hero Power Knife Juggler for 1 damage and then trade my Mana Wyrm to kill it. I think Frostbolt makes the most sense here.”

This was a fast game against an aggressive Face Hunter deck; it’s called Face Hunter because the strategy is to avoid whatever is on the board and always attack the opposing player’s Hero, which is often called “face.” I was winning this game until I added incorrectly and went for a win a few turns later. My math was off by 1, so the Hunter had a single point of life left. My opponent then played several cards with Charge – meaning they can attack right after being played – and took me from 15 health to exactly 0 at the end of their turn.

Heartbreaking loss because I made several errors along the way. The most critical was miscalculating Lethal, which is the amount of damage it takes to kill your opponent. In this game I was off by one point of damage. I thought I could do 17 points of damage to end the game, but I only got to 16. My opponent capitalized on my error to kill me next turn. Had I calculated correctly, I would have killed my opponent’s minions instead of using that damage to their Hero, and would have survived for at least another turn or two. Ranked will likely provide many lessons about what you did wrong to lose a game, but those lessons add up over time and make you a better player.

The Arena

Truth be told, I’ve made exactly one Arena run – and I walked out with my tail between my legs holding onto 1 meager win. The Arena is a mode in Hearthstone that allows you – for 150 gold – to draft a deck of 30 cards and you compete against others who have also drafted a deck. The bad news is you do not get to keep the cards you drafted – you don’t own those cards. The good news is you get prizes based on how many Arena wins you earn before losing three matches. You can earn packs, cards, gold, and Dust. I should probably  play Arena more often, but the first experience left me battered as the strategy for building a competitive deck in Arena is different from how to build a quality deck for Ranked.

It seems The Arena is the best place to farm gold and other resources once you are talented enough to consistently get many wins each time you draft. This is a skill I do no possess yet, and something I’m interested in learning more about as time goes on. The highest number of wins you can get is 12, and that typically rewards you with a pack, a golden card, and approximately 250-300 gold. I see The Arena as a place you visit once you have learned other things about the game; it does not seem like a useful investment for new players who likely do not know the breadth of cards available, their possible interactions, and how to properly judge which cards are effective in the format.

Tavern Brawl

The newest mode in Hearthstone is Tavern Brawl, and this features a new game type each week. Some weeks feature pre-made decks while others force the player to create a deck specifically for Tavern Brawl mode. Players are rewarded with a single pack of cards for winning their first game in Tavern Brawl; after that, no other rewards are offered. Often the Tavern Brawl mode turns elements of gameplay upside down. Past Brawls have doubled the Mana increase per round or started off players with 10 Mana. Many of these gimmicks favor veteran players who understand the principles of the game, and how best to take advantage of the rule shifts.

At the very least, Tavern Brawl is another way for new players to earn a pack of cards without spending money each week. Check in on Tavern Brawl each week, get a win, get the reward pack, and stick around if you find the mechanics of that week’s Brawl engaging.

Solo Adventures

Two adventures are currently available, Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain. Adventure modes offer a unique experience as the player faces a computer opponent rather than another human player. The computer opponents are various characters from the World of Warcraft universe, and are probably best thought of as Boss Battles as each opponent has unique powers. Each match against a new opponent in the adventure requires the player to shift strategy – and in many cases – completely change the deck they are using.

Curse of Naxxramas features many cards that have the Deathrattle mechanic, which means an action is triggered when the card is removed from play. For example, a staple of many Mage and Hunter decks is the card, Mad Scientist. This card automatically plays a Secret (if the player has at least one in his or her deck) when it is killed. So not only do you get the value of the card’s body when played, but you also get to play a Secret “for free” when the Mad Scientist is killed. The Deathrattle mechanic gives players another wrinkle to think about because they have to decide when is the best time to trigger the effect.

Zombie Chow and Sludge Belcher are two other cards I see all the time in decks. Zombie Chow gives you a 2/3 minion for just 1 Mana with a Deathrattle that restores 5 Health to your opponent. It may seem counter-intuitive to play a card that gives health to your opponent, but Zombie Chow allows you to defeat weak early-game minions; the card helps you to build a board presence. Sludge Belcher is a 3/5 minion with Taunt, and has a Deathrattle of generating a new 1/2 minion with Taunt; it’s a card that slows down aggressive decks since Taunt helps protect your Hero from taking damage. In total, 30 cards can be unlocked if you complete all of the Boss Battles in the Curse of Naxxramas adventure.

Blackrock Mountain increased the amount of synergy available with Dragon cards,  has multiple cards with a fire theme, and also introduced Grim Patron. The Grim Patron card has fueled a great deal of heated debate in the Hearthstone community as it has been refined into one of the most dominant decks the young history of Hearthstone has seen, Patron Warrior. This deck features a combination of cards from the Basic and Classic sets along with cards unlocked from both Solo Adventures. The deck is unique in that it can reliably reach a set of circumstances to trigger a combination that can unleash over 70 points of damage to an opponent – with nothing else on the board. Grim Patron by itself is rather harmless; in the hands of a skilled pilot of a refined Patron Warrior deck – it’s downright unfair and borderline unstoppable against many deck types.

Flamewaker HearthstoneI personally purchased Blackrock Mountain so I could play with cards like Flamewaker; Flamewaker fires off two single points of damage at random enemies whenever you play a spell. Most of my early games were with a Mage, which is a class that has many low-cost spells. If you set it up properly, you can spam spells to create a machine-gun Flamewaker. It’s glorious fun when it works! A new deck that has become more popular is Dragon Priest, and those decks feature many of the Dragon cards that are only unlocked through the Blackrock Mountain adventure.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to purchase an adventure, look at the cards that are available through each adventure. Decide if any of them are MUST haves for your collection. For me, I watched a video of Trump playing a Tempo Mage with Flamewaker and I decided that I really wanted to replicate that experience. However, I mistakenly thought Flamewaker was available in Curse of Naxxramas and bought that first.



Be sure you know what you are buying as each adventure has a combination of cards ranging from absolutely essential for certain decks to things that will collect virtual dust in your collection because they are not useful. When I asked around about what adventure to get first, people consistently told me to start of with Curse of Naxxramas because it has many cards that can be used in a variety of decks. Cards such as Haunted Creeper, Mad Scientist, Zombie Chow, and Sludge Belcher have high utility in multiple decks. The adventures are a fun wrinkle in gameplay, but they will not hold your attention for a long period of time. I blasted through the adventure modes in a few hours; the main joys are beating some of the pesky Boss Battles and unlocking the cards.


  • New players should know going in that there is not a strict New Player mode in the game. This include Casual, which is very much a misnomer, because experienced players are often in there with powerful decks looking for quick wins.
  • Spend time learning the game in Ranked, and be willing to learn from losses. Keep note – either mentally or physically – of why you win and lose games.
  • Wait until you have more experience before spending gold to enter The Arena.
  • Play Tavern Brawl at least to the point of getting one win each week for the free reward pack.
  • If you enjoy the game, it may be worth it to purchase one of the Adventures to get access to some of the higher quality cards. My suggestion is to start with Curse of Naxxramas.

Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

5 thoughts on “Navigating Hearthstone Game Modes”

  1. Great stuff. Some quick thoughts, although you should take anything I say with a grain or three of salt, as I dwell in the teens much like yourself.
    – Don’t be afraid of Arena. It lets you play with cards you don’t often see. If you’re intimidated by building a deck there are plenty of free sites out there that guide you through the process while you’re drafting – you actually enter which three card you’re offered and it notes what you’ve already picked before offering advice. It’s also great for letting you know what cards you think might be great but really aren’t. It’s okay to get wiped out with only a win or two – it happens to everyone. I think my last bunch of runs in wins were: 9 (warlock – my best ever run with no Legendaries); 1 (warrior); 4 (priest); 1 (shaman); 4 (mage); 0 (shaman again); 3 (rogue); 4 (mage).
    – I would say Piloted Shredder is a must have, but I’m a huge fan of RNG for keeping things fun and unpredictable. I’ve had mixed results with Sylvanus – the good players are adept at countering it. Boom is gold. Saving up for a Ragnaros. Maybe.
    – I don’t get Zombie Chow either, because if they toss it out there round 1 you can just wait a turn or two before putting something out there to beat it and getting back the damage it inflicted. Plus it burned when I had one in Arena and drew it late game. Ugh.
    – Dragon Paladin is fun too. It’s hampered by their hero power but Sword of Justice helps there. I do regret crafting Chillmaw instead of Ysera, but it was nice to make a Patron Deck ragequit when I had 4 hits left and he had his side filled with Patrons and Warsongs.
    – I agree there should be a training ground of sorts. Even now I wince when I’m playing Casual and my opponent’s hero is outlined in gold, because I know I’m about to receive a thumping.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I have stockpiled over 300 gold and I’m going to use some of it for an Arena run. I may check out one or two of those “Arena helper” sites for assistance. My other thought is to purchase a bunch of TGT packs to hopefully get some Shredders (and maybe get a Dr. Boom if I’m lucky). I ran into a Dragon Warrior the other day and that seemed like an interesting deck. Certainly not top tier, but it was enough to beat me!

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