New Player Guide: Counting Cards And Making Reads

Hey guys, Kre’a here and today I’d like to present you with my ‘Play the Player, Not the Game’ series. This series aims to better educate you on the small nuances of Hearthstone that will give you the upper hand in besting your opponent. This includes things such as counting cards, making ‘reads’ on your opponent, constructing educated predictions as to how future turns will play out and finally, recognizing how to utilize all of this information and translate it into better gameplay.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Identify your Opponent

The first step to increasing your chances to win against any opponent is being able to identify the opponent. Before you can make educated reads on the enemy, you must first be able to identify what deck your opponent is running.

For example, you’re in the mulligan stage and see that the enemy is a Warrior. You’re playing Miracle Rogue and know that you are favored against Control Warrior but are heavily not against Pirate Warrior. How do you mulligan?

In this case, it’s much better to play to your weaknesses by mulliganing as though your enemy is a Pirate Warrior. This is because you can easily recover if it turns out to be Control Warrior, but if you were to mulligan against Pirate Warrior as though you were facing the other variant (being a bit greedier, keeping Gadgetzan Auctioneer in hand, etc) you would almost certainly put yourself in a losing position before the game has even begun.

Identifying your enemy not only increases your chances of having a successful mulligan, but it also allows you to correctly count cards that they might be running.

For example, let’s say your opponent is a Mage. It’s important to use the first three turns to help you to identify what type of Mage you are facing. A Turn Two Arcanologist is a very common play for Mages currently, but what’s more important is how they play their Turn Three. Did they just play the secret that they drew, Acolyte of Pain or made any other slow play? Then the chances are that you face a slower build, like Control Mage. Did they play Kirin Tor Mage + a secret on Turn Three? If so, you are now certain that you are playing against a Secret Mage.

This distinction is important to note because the suite of secrets ran by these two alternate decks differ very much. Secret Mage is less likely to run Ice Barrier or even play Ice Block alone on Turn 3, important cards to keep into consideration when approaching lethal range. Alternatively, Control Mage doesn’t run cards such as Explosive Runes or Counterspell, which could heavily influence how you play out your turns and will dictate if you should be testing for certain secrets.

Counting Cards

Counting cards is one of the most simplistic and basic ways to increase your chances of winning. We know that the opponent can at most have two copies of any given card in their deck, bar legendaries, and we can use this information to our advantage when making a play. Here’s an example of this in action.

My opponent didn’t play The Caverns Below on Turn One, allowing me to identify my opponent as a Miracle Rogue. During this replay, it’s important to note that at the time of this game, the most popular Miracle Rogue list ran Arcane Giant as the win condition. Using this knowledge, I can predict that I will have to have an answer to heavily discounted Giants and Gadgetzan Auctioneer.

Turn Eight is a huge swing turn for my opponent. A swing turn is a pivotal moment in the game where tempo shifts from one player to the other player. This gives the player with tempo initiative while causing the other player to be reactive in their lines of play. With the help of their Auctioneer, they propel themselves deeper into their deck while also heavily discounting the cost of their Arcane Giants, allowing them to go wide on the board and establish board control.

On top of this, I notice my opponent play one copy of Eviscerate and one Arcane Giant. This means two things to me. First, my opponent likely only has one more copy of Eviscerate. I make this assumption because I’ve seen two out of three cards that were randomly generated from Swashburglar and both copies of Hallucination. With this knowledge in mind, I know that my opponent only has one more card that can be used for reach from hand to maintain board control.

The second thing that I now know is that I only must deal with one more Arcane Giant before my opponent is exhausted of threats and at half health. Taking Leeroy Jenkins into account I recognize that I only need to do another nine points of damage to win the game with my own Leeroy and hero power.

By counting cards, I’m able to recognize what my opponent’s remaining win conditions were as well as the tools left available to them to deal with my board. Using this information, I was able to make calculated plays on the following turns that win me the game.

Converting Information Into Tempo

The last segment I’d like to discuss in this installment is how to utilize all the information we’ve acquired. We’ve identified our opponent. It’s later in the game and we’ve kept track of the cards they’ve played as well as the cards that we’ve played, giving us information about what’s left in each of our decks. How do we use this information to win?

Let’s go back to the game that I referenced in the ‘counting cards’ section. Specifically, let’s see how I played out my Turn Nine.

By keeping track of my opponent’s line of play all game, I could successfully identify that I needed to save my Vilespine Slayers in my deck specifically for Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Arcane Giant. On top of this, I know that the most effective use for my Preparation is to use it to discount the Assassinate that I’ve been given instead of saving it for my Auctioneer. Finally, the most effective way to deal with Sherazin, Corpse Flower is by returning it to the enemy’s hand. This prevents it from constantly being revived when left dormant on the field, but more importantly, it locks my opponent out of four mana crystals if they wish to replay him, limiting the amount of mana they have remaining to deal with any threats I can get on the board.

Taking the line of play that I did created a swing turn for me. I manage to revive Sherazin and deal with all the high-value threats on my enemy’s board. I recognize that Sherazin will likely die to an empowered Backstab from Bloodmage Thalnos, but there’s nothing I can really do about that. Given my opponent’s board state, I know that the only way that they can come back into the game is by dropping another Giant and another Auctioneer and I have Vilespine Slayer as an answer to one of those. My opponent does drop the Auctioneer but it’s not enough because they’ve already taken too much damage, allowing me to claim victory.

It’s worth noting as well, that I could have left Auctioneer on the board and saved my Vilespine Slayer for his Giant instead. The reason this would have been a valid play is that my opponent had an Auctioneer on the board as well as five cards left in his deck. If I were to leave the Auctioneer up, it threatens to propel my opponent closer to fatigue, putting them closer to the range of lethal with Leeroy Jenkins. Keep plays like this in mind when you are playing to your outs. Always take everything into consideration.

Guide by Krea


A Hearthstone player and writer from Poland, Stonekeep has been in a love-hate relationship with Hearthstone since Closed Beta. Over that time, he has achieved many high Legend climbs and infinite Arena runs. He's the current admin of Hearthstone Top Decks.

Check out Stonekeep on Twitter!

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