What is Free-to-Play in Hearthstone?
Simply put, a Free-to-Play (F2P) player is someone who does not spend real world money on a game. For some games, this means missing out on premium content or items that the developers keep behind a pay wall. But Hearthstone is not one of those games. Lesson one of the F2P lifestyle: Hearthstone is not pay-to-win! We will discuss what this means in detail shortly. There are many reasons why players choose the free-to-play route: Some players like the challenge, some players only play games that are free, and some just like the satisfaction of building up their collection the old-fashioned way. Even professional Hearthstone players and streamers will do occasional F2P runs on secondary accounts as an exercise or a new player guide. But enough background, let’s get down to business.
Note: Much of this guide is constructed to be accessible to players who are brand new to the game. If you are a veteran player looking to enrich your Free-to-Play experience, I recommend reading the Foreword and then jumping to Chapter 2.
Foreword: Time is Money, Friend!
The second lesson of the F2P Hearthstone experience is this: TIME = MONEY. What does that mean for players? Essentially, we can experience the entire game with or without spending real money, but what we trade for money saved is time spent. Want to play all the adventures? We can. Want to build a Tier 1 deck with Legendary cards? We can do that, too. Want to have a collection of completely gold cards? A massive goal, but technically achievable. But whatever we decide to do as F2P players, it is going to take time. Gold, the in-game currency, can be acquired through daily questing, games in play mode, and arena runs. With real world money, we could buy packs/adventures/arena runs and get instant gratification. But it is important to remember that what can be acquired with money can be acquired by a F2P player. Remember lesson one? Hearthstone is not pay-to-win. We can hit legend with no out-of-pocket expense. We just have to play the game (which we want to do anyway, right?). This guide is all about finding the most efficient use of our time to produce the most gold and, best of all, crack open the most packs.
Some people worry that not having the best cards means they are worse at the game, but I want to eliminate this line of thinking right away. There is only one way to get better at Hearthstone, and that is by playing games of Hearthstone. I cannot overstate how crucial it is to internalize this fact. There are some who estimate that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a skill for someone to master that skill. As a F2P player, we have to put in the time to build up our collection, but that time is not just meaningless grinding. We are improving our play patterns, our card evaluation skills, our ingenuity, and numerous other subtle factors that go into playing Hearthstone. There are plenty of excellent players out there, but I firmly believe that a F2P approach is the crucible that produces some of the best Hearthstone players. Why do so many skilled players frequently take on F2P restrictions in their side projects? Because it helps them improve.
Chapter 1: Basic Training
Okay, we’ve played the tutorial and the training wheels are off. What now? The first thing to do is unlock the basic cards for each class. This requires us to reach level 10 with each of the classes by playing in Play mode or Practice against the Innkeeper in Solo Adventure. I advocate going straight to Play mode because it will help us to complete our first Quest. I’ll go into more detail about quests in a bit. For now, go into the collection and build a deck for each class. Hearthstone has implemented a system called Deck Recipes to help new players craft decks along a theme. Selecting the Classic recipe for each class is the place to start. It will suggest cards to craft with Dust, but that’s a discussion for later. For now, substitute the suggested cards for other basic cards already in the collection for the time being.
Unique Quests to Complete
You’ll be given a few of these Quests initially, but some are hidden. The Quests listed below are unique and can only be completed once.
|Win 5 Practice Games||Win 5 games in Practice mode.|
|First Blood||Complete a game in Play mode.|
|The Duelist||Play 3 games in Play mode.|
|Ready to Go!||Unlock every Hero.|
|Enter the Arena||Enter Arena Mode.||1 Arena Run|
|Crafting Time||Disenchant a card.|
|Level Up||Get any class to level 10.|
|Crushed Them All!||Defeat every Expert AI Hero.|
|Got the Basics!||Collect every card in the Basic Set.|
I also suggest that we jump right into Ranked play instead of Casual. This might seem intimidating, but hear me out. In Casual, we can be paired with anyone regardless of skill level. Sure, there are other new players out there, but there are also high-level players who might be testing different ideas or decks against a random field. By playing in ranked, we are more likely to be paired with players of similar skill. Ranks 25-20 are almost exclusively new players, because losing does not cause you to fall down in rank until you reach rank 20, at which point you can fluctuate based on your wins and losses. There are similar caps at 15, 10, 5, and Legend where players will no longer fall back to lower ranks after they have reached a certain point. The point here is that we are most likely to play against players who are also new to the game, and this increases our chances of winning. Winning games is important because we get 10 gold for every 3 wins in Play mode, and we want to optimize our time as much as possible. We also get more experience for playing against real players, win or lose, so leveling each class to 10 will take less time, and remember Lesson 2: TIME = MONEY. We will unlock cards periodically as we level, so remember to go back to the collection and update the deck when a new card is unlocked. We will finish our first quest in no time, netting us some gold and opening up the daily quest log.
Chapter 2: Give Me a Quest!
There are three slots in our quest log, and we receive one random quest each day. On top of this, once per day we can exchange one of our quests for a new random one. Quests require a series of conditions to complete, some more difficult than others, and the value of gold a quest is worth varies based on the difficulty of its conditions. Hearthstone has recently increased the variety of quests that are available. In the past, quests tended to revolve around winning games with a particular class or classes. Those still exist, but there is also a large pool of quests that are completed by meeting other conditions, such as playing Warlock class cards or cards with Battlecry. These tend to be worth marginally less than the ones that revolve around a large number of wins, but are much easier to complete because you can progress on your quest even if you do not win the match.
For this reason, until we build our collection and can construct more competitive decks, we want to prioritize quests that do not require winning as a condition. This is one of the primary reasons to unlock the Basic cards for each class, because the quest to play X number of class cards is very likely to come up and is easy to complete in a minimal number of matches. The formula looks like this: Create a deck best suited to complete the quest condition. Need to play 30 demons? Play warlock and jam as many demons as you can. Need to play Rogue cards? Start with as many Rogue cards as you have, then fill in the rest with whatever you feel like. In Play mode, focus on playing the maximum number of cards per turn that complete the quest.
You will likely lose these games because you are not making optimal plays, but we are engineering our available quests so that winning is not important. We want to complete our quests as quickly as possible, get our gold, and move on. Once we have access to better cards, our paradigm can change, but the initial goal is to complete quests quickly to build up gold. I will explain why in Step 3. It is fine to play these games in Casual rather than Ranked since we are not worried about winning. Between completing our quests and winning games in Play mode, we can amass a decent amount of gold in a relatively short amount of time. Once we have about 300 gold, we can move on to the meat of the F2P experience.
An Important Caveat to Questing: Hearthstone has recently changed the rules on quests. Previously, they could only be completed in Play mode, but now they can also be completed by playing games against friends. In this case, quests with winning the game as a condition are okay to keep. Now we can consider the amount of gold earned by completing the quest, and recycle quests that are not worth a lot gold for the chance of a higher payout. In order to win games against friends, we must win by dealing lethal damage. If our friend concedes, Hearthstone will not award the win because it cannot tell if enough of the game has been played, even if they are one turn away from lethal damage. It is an easy mistake to make, so no hard feelings, and it rarely happens more than once.
Chapter 3: The Gates are Open!
We have played some games, completed some quests, and have built up a decent purse of gold. Now it is time to do battle in the Arena. Arena is a draft format, and plays much differently than Play mode. Instead of constructing a deck from your collection, you will be given a choice of 3 cards. The one you choose will be added to your deck, and the rest will go away. Wash, rinse, repeat until you have a complete 30 card deck. These cards are not added to your collection after playing, but that is okay. Arena allows us to choose from a massive card pool and play with cards we otherwise would not have access to. This serves to level the playing field a bit. The options available to us will be similar to those available to others, and our opponent’s deck will be just as randomized as ours. Choosing cards can be difficult, so I will not go into all those details, but there are plenty of tools and guides that help with optimal Arena drafting, such as HearthArena Companion.
As a new player, the first Arena run is free, so jump right in. After that, each run costs 150 gold. This is why I recommended having 300 gold before starting. Some people recommend having around 600 gold before starting a run at arena, but for our first attempt 300 gold is decent enough. This gives you 3 Arena runs guaranteed, with the possibility of going much farther. This is the most important facet of Arena: Wins in Arena earn you prizes. We are guaranteed a card Pack at the end of each Arena run, and we increase our reward with each win. These rewards can come in the form of Gold, Dust, individual cards, and more Packs. If we can win 7 times with our Arena deck before accruing 3 losses (at which point our run ends), we are guaranteed to earn our entry fee back in gold (along with our other rewards). This means we can chain Arena runs together to generate more and more rewards at no additional cost. This is the bread and butter of the F2P diet, and the most efficient way to use our gold.
Think of it this way: One Pack costs 100 gold. One Arena run costs 150 gold. We are guaranteed a Pack with every Arena run, so that adjusts the virtual cost of Arena to 50 gold when compared to what we would get with a Pack purchase. Even if we are not able to accrue 7 wins, the rewards for a few wins can produce a reward relatively equivalent to 50 gold, meaning we break even for our investment more often than not. The rewards are not necessarily in gold, however, but more often Dust or other cards for our collection. Still, as a F2P player, every bit counts.
Chapter 4: Hey Everyone, Get in Here!
Grinding out daily quests? Check. Completing Arena runs to get the most value of our gold? Check. There’s one last piece to the F2P puzzle, and that is the Tavern Brawl. In order to participate, we must have raised at least one class to Level 20. While this piece is much smaller than Quests or Arena, it is no less important to the F2P player because it is the shortest route to free Packs.
That’s right, I said it: Free. Packs.
Tavern Brawl is a weekly event that imposes strange conditions on the traditional constructed gameplay. Sometimes we will play with a pre-built deck. Sometimes we choose one card and then play with a deck full of that one card. Regardless, Tavern Brawl usually does not require us to have much in our collection, so we can participate each week without fear, and we only have to win once to receive a Pack. We can only win one Pack per week, but there is no cost of entry and it usually only takes 1-3 rounds to get a win, so the ratio of reward to time invested lines up perfectly with Lesson 2 (say it with me now). It’s not much, but every little bit counts. And hey, did I mention free Packs!
The tools I have presented here are just the groundwork of a Hearthstone career. There is always more to learn, and my goal is to give new players the best start possible. The nuances of Arena drafting and optimal Crafting are guides by themselves (feel free to check out our Hearthstone Crafting Guide). A note on Crafting: I would hold off on disenchanting any cards unless they are excess (the Mass Disenchant button is our friend). When I first started playing, I misunderstood the crafting system and disenchanted a bunch of cards to craft a net deck. This made it harder to complete quests outside of the particular class, as well as putting me behind on filling out my card collection. Disenchanting commons is rarely worth it, and the value of rares/mythics/legendaries might not be obvious at first glance. Hearthstone is making a big change with the next expansion that will eliminate the possibility of opening duplicate Legendary cards. This makes dusting underplayed Legendary cards less appealing because it enables the possibility of opening that Legendary again. We will accrue Dust from our Arena rewards, as well as the excess cards from our reward Packs, with which to craft.
In summary, here are the basic tenants of this Free-to-Play guide:
- Hearthstone is Not Pay-to-Win: Spending money does not give in-game advantage.
- Time = Money: Everything is free, efficiency is key.
- Quest Smart: More gold is not always worth the time it takes to complete.
- Play Arena for Fabulous Prizes: Get the most for the gold with Arena rewards.
- There Will be Brawl: Every Pack counts, and these are free.
If you have comments or suggestions on how I can improve the guide, or if this guide was particularly helpful to you, please feel free to leave a comment below.