Hearthstone’s Battlegrounds was announced at Blizzcon and released–in Beta form–just a few days later. Since that time, it has taken the Hearthstone community by storm, bringing old faces back into the game and taking over most streamers’ content. Many of us, myself included, are, frankly, obsessed. But a perhaps equally large number of players (again, myself included) don’t have prior experience with autobattlers, and may not know where to start when entering the Battlegrounds. This article should help with that.
Last updated: February 2, 2020–Patch 16.2:
The most recent update added two new heroes to the game–Tirion and Millhouse Manastorm–one of those two is a dominant force in the game and arguably the best hero right now. The other one is, um… well, is not. Seems like a good time to finally add those hero-specific strategies! We’ll be adding them over the next few days, since there are so many of them to add, so check back often to see who we add each update.
I. Battleground Basics
A. Tutorial “Cliffnotes”
The Battlegrounds tutorial does a good job of teaching players the basics of the game, so we’ll start with the assumption that you have at least played through that. If you haven’t, go ahead and do that first. As a reminder, here’s an outline of what the tutorial covers:
- Buy minions for 3 gold. Sell minions back to Bob for 1 gold.
- You can also pay to upgrade your Tavern Tier (cost goes down by 1 each turn) and to re-roll the minions offered to you (always costs 1 gold–unless your hero power says otherwise).
- You can hit the snowflake to freeze the board, so that it’s offered to you again on the next turn. You can hit the snowflake again to unfreeze if you change your mind.
- You don’t keep any unspent gold from the round.
- You can move minions after they’re placed on the board. Otherwise, normal board space and positioning rules apply.
- Minions attack from left to right and attack random targets, unless there is a Taunt on the board, in which case, they attack that first.
- Combat ends when one or both players have 0 minions left. If both players hit an empty board at the same time, it is a tie and no damage is done between the players. If one player has minions left over and the other does not, damage is equal to the winning heroes Tavern Tier + the Tavern Tier of each of the surviving minions (tokens have a Tavern Tier of 1, but cards that were generated from other cards keep their Tavern Tiers).
- Buy three of the same minion and they will combine into a more powerful version that goes into your hand (no matter where the original versions were).
- When you play the combined minion, you will get a Triple Reward, which is a free spell that allows you to discover a minion of one Tavern Tier higher than the Tavern Tier you are at when you play the upgraded minion (not the Tavern Tier you were at when you made the minion, a subtle but important distinction–Blizzpro note: we could have sworn it was the inverse before, but we got feedback and tested it ourselves and confirmed it works this way now; we’re not sure if this is a change or if we were mistaken before).
B. Other Basic Rules and Facts
Here are a couple other basic things to keep in mind that are not covered in the tutorial:
- The 10-card hand limit doesn’t usually come up, but does still exist.
- You can triple up on tokens generated by minions (at the Tavern, not during combat) as well, not just the minions you buy. However, if you buy a third copy of a token generator, it will triple up with the other two generators before you can play it and the golden version will make a golden token–which you can’t triple up. Therefore, if you want two triples from your token generators, you actually usually need four of them.
- All minions pull from the same pool of minions, which means that when you buy a minion, that makes it less likely to appear in subsequent offerings. Conversely, when you sell a minion, it is more likely to appear in subsequent offerings. When you triple minions, they count as being outside the pool. When you sell a golden a minion, all three copies return to the pool.
- When you are at a Tavern Tier, the minions that are offered to you are a straight-random selection from your Tavern Tier and all the Tiers below you (if any). There is no weighting to make it so that you are more likely to get higher tier minions as you get higher in Tavern Tiers, for instance.
- In Tavern Tier 1, there are 12 unique cards and 18 copies of each; in Tavern Tier 2, there are 15 cards, with 15 copies of each; in Tavern Tier 3, there are 19 cards, 13 copies of each; in Tavern Tier 4, there are 14 cards, 11 copies of each; Tavern Tier 5, 14 cards with 9 copies of each; and in Tavern Tier 6, there are 8 cards, with 6 copies of each. These numbers have changed slightly over time as various minions are moved from tier to tier, or straight removed from the game, but the numbers remain roughly the same. You can use that information to calculate some baseline odds of rolling a particular unit you want, as community member and Coin Concede cohost, Ridiculous Hat has done in an easily consumable form (also including a Dancing Daryl calculator).
- The number of minions offered during the buy phase goes up by one on even Tavern Tiers.
- You get additional features for having acquired packs from the most recent set (currently set at Descent of Dragons). At 10 packs, you get a stats page (at the time of writing, that is still unavailable, but the first phase of it is expected to go live on December 5th); at 20 packs, you get to choose from three heroes at the start of the game, instead of just two (this is a big difference, in terms of gameplay); and at 30 packs, you get special emotes. Once Descent of Dragons goes live on December 10th, you can get those packs via gold, but until that point, you can only unlock those features by buying the pre-order bundle.
- You can mouse over your opponent’s heroes on the left side in order to see some information about how they’re doing. The information you get from them on the left can help inform what their composition is looking like (in addition to information about their most common Tribe, you can also consider stuff like if they are still at Tavern Tier 3 and they have not had any triples, they almost certainly do not have a cleave, since the first cleave is at Tavern Tier 4). The player that is bumped out from the list is the one that you will be going up against next.
- When there are an odd number of players left, one player will get paired against Kel Thuzad, who will play as the player who most recently died. Keep an eye out for when people die, and what the last person to die had when they died. If you get paired against a person who died several turns ago, their board will be no match for yours and you can safely be greedy by spending all your gold to upgrade your Tavern Tier early, or by ending your turn with less than a full board so that you could buy that one last minion.
II. General Tips, Builds, and Strategies
Although Battlegrounds is constantly changing–be it via balance changes or natural meta shifts–but there are some general rules and trends that you should at least be aware of as you enter the Battlegrounds.
A. Basic Flow of the Game
The first thing you should know, is the basic cadence of the first few turns. Which tends to be as follows:
- Turn 1 (3 Gold): Buy a minion, preferably one of the two that has a Battlecry that summons a minion.
- Turn 2 (4 Gold): Upgrade your tavern to Tavern Tier 2.
- Turn 3 (5 Gold): Sell your token (if you got one) and buy two Tier 2 minions.
- Turn 4 (6 Gold): Buy two minions.
- Turn 5 (7 Gold): Buy a minion and upgrade to Tavern Tier 3.
- Turn 6 (8 Gold): Buy, sell, reroll, and/or use your Hero Power to buff up your team as much as you can.
- Turn 7 (9 Gold): Buy a minion and upgrade to Tavern Tier 4.
That’s the level one, most basic start to most games with most heroes. Certain heroes, card offerings, and metagames will make it sometimes better to deviate from that plan, but you should still keep that plan in mind as your basic outline. After the removal of Nightmare Amalgam and the nerf to Lightfang Enforcer, for instance, people far more frequently diverge from this basic gameplan, as it is no longer as important to race to those key minions that almost everyone is vying for. Still, as they say, you have to learn the rules to know when to break them and this is a good rule of thumb for maximizing your value for the first half of the game.
B. Basic Metagame and Strategies
Another important thing to note is what the general metagame looks like, as that will dictate both what minions you will want to look for and when you want to time your triples. It’s better not to fight what is being offered to you by forcing a particular composition, and instead to make the best of what you can with what you get, but this knowledge can help you maximize your plays within whatever you are building–and will help inform you on when it might be time to pivot to something else.
For instance, even after the recent changes, one of the best and most common strategies is to build a big board of a few different types of minions–a “Menagerie,” as it’s called–so you can take advantage of the highest amount of minion buffs. Usually, that entails a Nightmare Amalgam or two, a powerful Mech, a powerful Beast, a powerful Murloc, and a powerful Demon (with Amalgam(s) filling in for the tribes you’re missing), as well as Brann and/or Lightfang Enforcer to give the rest of your units several big buffs every turn. That means a few things for how you play, but the main major gameplay things it dictates are: It means you always take Nightmare Amalgam early, and often in the mid-game, too, as it will become an important part of your end composition; and, It means you aggressively look for pairs on your turns 4-7 while buying, and that you try to save triples for until you make it to Tavern Tier 4 (often even freezing a particular minion for a few turns to do so), so that you have the maximum number of chances to discover Brann and/or Lightfang Enforcer as early as possible; and, Key minions, like Nightmare Amalgam, Lightfang Enforcer, and Brann Bronzebeard, will appear less frequently than their counterparts, since everyone’s snatching them up and holding on to them through their final comps.
Patch 16.0.8 update: the “Menagerie” build no longer drives the pace of the game, as the composition got both harder to pull off and weaker with the removal of Nightmare Amalgam, but we’re keeping this section in here, crossed out, because if they bring Nightmare Amalgam back, we expect the meta to revert to this, at least initially, unless big changes are made to prep for Amalgam’s return.
You go through the same analysis no matter what composition you are going for: identify the key minions and what Tiers they are on so that you can maximize your chances of getting them as quickly as possible. I have a section below that gives you the basic rundown of how to do that for each major comp these days.
Next, you want to keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of your hero and comp, and try to move towards choices that synergize with your strengths and/or cover your weaknesses. For instance, George the Fallen has a hero power that permanently gives one of your minions Divine Shield. This power is more useful for something like Demons or Beasts, where you want to make sure a key minion survives and there aren’t great ways to make sure it does so, and it is less of a benefit to compositions like Mechs, where you already get Divine Shields naturally. In that sense, it opens up space for you that is a little weaker in most of the other classes. Similarly, if you are looking at your composition and find that it is weak to Divine Shields, you might want to pick up a cleaving minion; if your comp has no way to handle giant minions, you might want to look for poison effects.
Finally, keep in mind that we are currently in a pretty aggressive metagame, where people often spend more early turns building their board up with the best of whatever they are offered, instead of re-rolling a bunch for the perfect thing or leveling their Tavern Tier up aggressively. You often want to get to a full board as early as possible, as that increases the chances that you get to dictate attack order. Early on, quantity is generally better than quality, but once you get to the mid- to late-game, everyone has full boards and you need to focus on making sure you have quality minions.
C. Some General Tips on Placement
Placement is very important, as it can often determine the difference between a win and a loss with the same comp. Usually, after you’ve made all your moves for the turn, you want to spend a bit of time moving your units around and making sure they are in their best spots. Then, watch the combat phase–instead of tabbing away–to see how your placement did, and to make note of your opponents’ comps. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- You generally want to put minions that you want to die early (such as those with Deathrattles that buff your board in some way) towards the front of your comp, so as to maximize the chances that they die and get their effect off to maximum value. Occasional exception: when your next opponent is Rafaam, you might want to mess with your first minion placement if you can afford to do so, so as to prevent Rafaam from getting out of control early.
- Conversely, you generally want minions that need to stay alive for their effects (such as those with static buffs, like Murloc Warleader or buffs whenever one of you other minions is summon or dies, like Mama Bear and Junkbot, respectively) more towards the right, so they don’t hurl themselves to their death before you get their full benefit.
- Watch out for cleave effects. Even if you have something to the far right, it might still be in danger of dying early if it is right next to a Taunt. You can use less important minions as a security “buffer” between your Taunt(s) and your more important minions, as insurance against such cleaves.
- You generally want your token generators to have room to generate their tokens, or else you’re not getting their full value. For token generators that only generate a few tokens (like a Security Rover), that means they should probably go somewhere towards the middle. For token generators that generate many tokens (like a buffed Rat Pack), you want to make sure they are more to the right, so that more minions would have died by the time they do so. Be careful about giving token generators Taunt, as it may result in them dying first and not having room to get their tokens out! In the specific case of Cobalt Guardian, you generally want it directly to the left of whatever mech-producing minions you have, and to place both such that there will probably be room for the generator to make at least one token–you want to maximize the odds that your Cobalt Guardian gets at least two instances of Divine Shield, or else you’re leaving its value on the table.
- Big Taunts and/or Divine Shields, especially things Magnetized by Annoy-o-Module, are common. You should anticipate your opponent doing this, and set your first attacking minion up as your Divine Shield buster. Good choices for that are minions with weaker bodies (like Brann) that you don’t mind losing, and/or cleave minions (Cave Hydra or Foe Reaper) that can pop multiple Divine Shields and/or take something else out as they pop the shield. Your second attacker should then be someone who you think is up to the task of taking down the big taunt–or at least putting a meaningful dent in it–like a big guy of your own, or a Poisonous minion.
- Related tip: later in the game, it’s often a bad idea to have just one big taunt, even if it has Divine Shield, as it is very common for people to anticipate this and put a Poisonous minion second from their left, specifically to kill your big taunty Divine Shield minion. If you can, you should think about getting yourself a few Taunts–which has the added bonus of allowing you to take advantage of the very powerful Strongshell Scavenger buff–or find some other way to mitigate this strat.
III. Key Minions and General Gameplans for the Main Strategies
Lightfang Menagerie and/or Brann Menagerie
The Lightfang Menagerie and the Brann Menagerie builds were the best build for a long time, but after the removal of Nightmare Amalgam and a few nerfs, the build is no longer king. The key cards are good minions to soak up buffs, the namesake card(s), and then at least one rotating slot to buy and sell more buffs each turn. The makeup of the “few good minions to soak up buffs” depends a little on which route you are going, with Lightfang obviously caring more that you have a specific minion of each type to eat buffs, whereas Brann can lean more into just a couple tribes. Another major difference is that with Lightfang, you are often looking for triples of your specific minions, as you are more loathe to sell the big guys you’ve built up, whereas with Brann, you want to buy–and then immediately sell–just about any buff you can get. Menagerie Magician, Primalfin Lookout, and Strongshell Scavenger (if it has targets, though Defender of Argus can help with that) are all amazingly powerful once you have Brann out. Edward Van Cleef and Brann (when he is an available hero) are good from the Brann Battlecry build, since they both already like you buying and selling a lot. The Curator is good with either version of the Menagerie build, since he starts with a key target, ready to go! Rafaam can end up giving you stuff that helps either Menagerie build, depending on what you get, but tends to be a hodge-podge anyway, since you are stealing from everyone else’s builds, which sometimes lends itself to Menagerie builds.
However, both versions of this composition are substantially weaker now than they were before Nightmare Amalgam was removed from the minion pool. It’s simply much harder to get your menagerie buffs to land, and you are now much slower to get the ball rolling, so it’s no longer the best play at every stage of the game and may not be the best strategy at any phase. I would no longer recommend aiming for this type of composition unless you are playing as Wagtoggle, who was buffed with the latest patch. Still, regardless of your hero, if the cards are offered to you, you can definitely get a top 4, or even a 1st place, so don’t fight what the cards give you!
In a few ways, Deathrattle comps have taken a spot something like a that which the Menagerie builds held before Nightmare Amalgam was removed from the game. It is similar to the old Menagerie builds in the sense that it tends to follow the same game cadence: level on 4 gold, 7 gold, and 9 gold, and try to triple into my core Tier 5 minion (in this case, Baron Rivendare instead of Lightfang or Brann). You can do that, because the core minions (such as Kaboom Bot, Mechano-Egg, and Baron) tend to line up decently for it, and are some of the best minions for the earlier tiers anyway, so you don’t fall behind in the early game–as was also the case in the old Menagerie builds. But, it is also similar to Menagerie in that there are actually two different ways you can take this build: those that are primarily mech-based and those that are not. Usually, what you do is you try to find the best minions you can early and throughout the game–which, luckily, includes some of the key Deathrattle guys–make sure you get your Baron(s), of course, and see how you can go from there. If you end up with lots of Kaboom Bots and Mechano-Eggs, then you spend your endgame looking for Kangor’s Apprentices; whereas if you end up with more Selfless Heros, Spawn of N’Zoths, and/or Goldrinn, the Great Wolfs, then you look for Ghastcoilers at the top end. I don’t have a specific turn on which I tavern tier up from Tavern Tier 4, but you definitely get to Tavern Tier 5 at a regular pace, if you can, and then you can continue to look for your Baron(s) and triples for your Deathrattles, and try to triple into your Tier 6 top-end minions.
Once you have your golden Deathrattles and your (golden, if you’re lucky) Baron, you get something like 6 activations of each Deathrattle per death! I like to make sure some of my important Deathrattles have Taunt, both to protect your Baron and to make sure your Deathrattles go off in the right order. One last note that is important to remember: if you have a golden Baron and a regular Baron, you get a total of 4x your Deathrattles, so you can keep that in mind as well. This is one of the more powerful strategies in the game right now. In the early game, you are just picking the best minions you can, so you do fine early; then, in the middle of the game, you get your power spike if you hit that Baron early; and then in the late game, it is one of the strongest finishers you can get–though if the game goes too long, you can’t quite scale as well as some of the other strategies. Basically: if you can survive until you get Baron and a few good Deathrattles, you will usually get a Top 4 finish, and can definitely take home plenty of first place finishes, though you will sometimes get outclassed, and are always a little reliant on your minions attacking and being attacked in the right order–and if you have Ghastcoilers and/or Shredders, hoping you get good drops from them, too.
Early on in Battlegrounds, Mechs were the go-to and dominant strategy. However, since that time, Junkbot was moved up to Tavern Tier 5, and Millie Manastorm was removed from the game and then brought back again, with a nerfed hero power. As a result of the changes, Mechs are no longer king. However, there are definitely some strong mechs to look out for and most lobbies end up with at least one Mech comp in the top 4. Cobalt Guardian is still one of the best Tavern Tier 3 minions in the game, and it synergizes very well with Replicating Menace and Security Rover, both of which are solid cards in their own right. Even early cards like Harvest Golem and Kaboom Bot can serve you well into the mid- or even late-game. Metaltooth Leaper is only a Tavern Tier 2, so you can expect to see them early and often in most games. Generally, you don’t decide to go pure mechs unless/until you get a Junkbot, but they’re strong enough that you can commit to it earlier, if you get the right Tier 3-4 guys, and not be too punished. The biggest weakness of Mechs is that their only answer to big guys is their own big guys, usually in the form of Junkbot, and sometimes Cobalt Guardian doesn’t get his Divine Shield when you need it. The general game plan is to do the basic turns 1-7 outlined above and then sit on Tavern Tier 4 for a while to collect your key mechs and, hopefully, triple into a Junkbot. This strategy can have some overlap with the Mech-based Deathrattle strategy, so if you are lucky, you can push that decision off until you get that triple and decide based on which you get offered then. One important note, however: if you’re planning on using Khangor’s Apprentice, putting Replicating Menace on your giant, taunted Mech may become a liability, so if you are planning on straddling the line between the two builds and deciding on that nine-gold turn, keep that in mind.
Murlocs used to be considered one of the weakest Tribes in the game, but then there were balance changes–and another wave of balance changes–and a new minion added to them–to make them much better, helping them skyrocket up the tierlists! Probably a bit too high up the tierlists… So they were adjusted back down a little to make up for them getting all those buffs. After all those changes, Murlocs in a decent–but fair–spot, which, you know, was probably the whole point of all those balance tweaks.
Murlocs are good at early game, since so many of their strong cards come early, and they are good in the late game (if the game cooperates and gives you what you want), but their main weakness is towards the middle of the game and their reliance on a key Tavern Tier 6 minion late. The reason why Murlocs are so strong early is that you already usually want a lot of their cards early: Murloc Tidehunter is arguably the best Tier 1 minion for most builds, Rockpool Hunter is above-rate, and the other early murlocs are pretty solid as well. Like always, you probably don’t want to force Murlocs, because most strategies are worse when you are pigeonholing yourself early instead of going with what the game offers you, but if you see yourself getting lots of strong Murlocs in the first few Tavern Tiers, you might choose to lean into it. Usually when I play Murlocs, I just play pretty normally and happen to be offered lots of strong Murlocs that I, of course, take. Coldlight Oracle, Murloc Warleader, and/or Old Murk-Eye are pretty important for surviving during the mid-game, and then you can spend a few turns at Tavern Tier 4 trying to get triples (aiming for Brann, Primalfin lookout, and king Bagurgle), and then spend a few turns at Tavern Tier 5 doing the same (looking for Gentle Megasaur, your main payoff card). Finally, once you get to a good spot to do so, you Tavern Tier up to 6 and just look for Megasaurs and maybe some final triples or other good Battlecries. The end-goal is to make a board of beefy murlocs that have been hit by a couple Gentlesaur effects so that they all have Divine Shield and Poisonous, and then, if you’re lucky, Windfury and maybe even the Deathrattle. Since you are already looking for Poisonous, the attack buff is the lowest priority. For the same reason that Brann is good with Murlocs, Shudderwock is a particularly good hero if you are planning on forcing Murlocs.
Demons also got a buff in recent patches, in the form of Floating Watcher, which instantly became one of the strongest Tavern Tier 3 minions in the game if you have the support for it; the buff to Soul Juggler, which is really good once it gets golden now; and the addition of two solid minions in the early game. At present, Demons are arguably the strongest Tribe in the game.
Like many of the other builds, Demons also have two different–sometimes overlapping–compositions with kind of track with those two powerful 3-star minions: one in which they make a few beefy guys, and one in which they go for more of a token route, hoping to take advantage of Soul Juggler. Demons have some of the strongest mid-game plans in the game, as that is when their guys have the biggest relative size advantage, but have slightly weaker early games and sometimes don’t scale well into the late game. Their early game struggles from the fact that their cards take a little while to get rolling, and damage you in the meantime. Their late game struggles because they do not have any natural cleaves, Divine Shields, or Poisonous, which are basically the three most important mechanics late in the game. They rely on just being bigger than their opponent, which doesn’t work well if you opponent has infinite health (Divine Shield) and infinite attack (Poisonous), but the game has a lot less of both Divine Shield and Poisonous these days, so this weakness hurts less than it has in the past. Another weakness, at all points in the game, is that many of their synergy cards don’t themselves hold the Demon tag. Wrath Weaver is as weak as you can get on a turn 1 play, but it is better now that Floating Watcher is available, since they synergize so well with each other. Still, punting the first few turns isn’t that appealing, so you don’t usually hone in on Demons on turn 1 unless your other initial offerings were equally as bad or happen to all just line up very well. You really lock in to Demons around Tavern Tier 3, where some of their very best minions are. You spend a few turns getting what you need there, and especially picking up doubles, and then you upgrade to Tavern Tier 4 and immediately get a triple and aim for Mal’Ganis or Voidwalker (both are great on that turn for either build, but the Soul Juggler version prefers Voidwalker and the “beefy minions” version tends to prefer Mal’Ganis), Battlemaster is also not bad. If you don’t get either then, you need to either pivot or force Tavern Tier 5 quickly to go digging for him. Your various demons were hurting you throughout the game, so Mal’Ganis is key to letting you keep the demon train going–though, Mal’Ganis also shuts off Floating Watcher, so if you have a bit of a health cushion, you could afford to wait a bit longer for more Watcher value. Once you have him, though, you just stay on 5 for a long time and look for triples. Demons have no Tavern Tier 6 target, so you never have to Tavern Tier up for them. If you have the space for them, playing two Annihilan Battlemasters onto the field before you buy your third makes for a MASSIVE golden once you build it. Due to Demons’ inherent weaknesses, some of the better heroes for Demons are Patchwerk (more life cushion for you to damage yourself before you get to Mal’Ganis), George the Fallen (to cover the lack of Divine Shields), and Nefarian (to counter enemy Divine Shields; roughly equivalent to covering the lack of cleaves).
Beasts have had, perhaps, the biggest fall from grace in Battlegrounds. Beasts (read: Mama Bear) were hyped up at the Battlegrounds reveal and, so, everyone rushed to find her. Beasts were also popular early on because they are relatively easy to build (just buy all the “Beast” stuff) and to play (put your Goldrinn and/or Hydra on the far left, your beefy beasts in the middle, your token generating beasts towards the right, and your cards that buff your tokens or benefit from them dying on the far right). It’s a very linear strategy and, as a result, is great for people who are just learning the game. However, as strategies evolved and players got better, Beasts haven’t kept up. They still have a very powerful midgame (probably the strongest in the game, really), but they don’t scale late as well as the other Tribes do, and they, like Demons, suffer from the lack of Divine Shield or Poisonous. They do have a natural cleave effect over Demons, but that is offset, in my opinion, by the fact that they are much more susceptible to auto-losing due to a key minion–like your Mama Bear–getting sniped early. Nowadays, I play Beasts early and mid- if they are offered to me, but I really don’t like sticking to them late if it can be in any way avoided. The most powerful midgame cards are Rat Pack and Pack Leader, which combo well with each other. Scavenging Hyena is sometimes solid in the early-to-mid game as well. As you move up the Tiers, Cave Hydra is the only thing that really excites you until you get to Mama Bear (both Goldrinn and Highmane are fine, but not really hard targets). Then–and this is another problem with the build–you want to start looking for triples and duplicates of your cards so that you can replay them after you have Mama Bear on the board. One last tip: do not play Houndmaster on your Rat Pack–you want that card to die after most of your board is gone, so you get the max number of tokens. Similar to Demons, the problem with Beasts is that they tend to want to “fight fair,” winning by just throwing a good number of decently-sized minions at you. Similar to Demons, there are certain heroes that can help you do that a little better. Nefarian and George the Fallen can help you make up the Divine Shield deficit, and George is particularly good, since your primary concern in most Beast builds is keeping Mama Bear alive long enough to summon six 7/5s off your (usually golden) Rat Pack. The Lich King is decent with Beasts for the same reason.
As you watch your combat phases, especially later in the game, you should get a pretty good idea of what your opponents are building. Sometimes, you can pick up key tech cards to counter what your upcoming opponent is doing–that can be the difference between finishing first and finishing fourth! For instance, Zapp Slywick is good late because it counters several key, strategy anchoring cards, such as: Junkbot, Mama Bear, Baron Rivendare, Soul Juggler, and Khangor’s Apprentice. It also just disrupts your opponent’s position, which might make your cleaves more effective. However, Zapp is hard-countered by Maexxna, which is usually your lowest-attack minion and, therefore, kills Zapp on his first attack. Foe Reaper is just a generally solid minion, but it is also a good tech card against opponents with many Divine Shields–I have had Murloc-build mirrors where we both had Divine Shield and Poisonous on all our murlocs, and so that Cleave was the deciding factor in that game.
IV. Specific Hero Strategies
The time has finally come! There are lots of different heroes in Battlegrounds and most of them have some solid strategies that they can use to get some top-4 finishes, or even first places. Here are some tips, tricks, and basic strategies for all* the heroes currently in the game.
* heroes are being added over time, since there are so many of them.
Who better to get us started than A. F. Kay, the hero who skips the first two turns of the game? But, to be fair, she doesn’t really skip the first two turns at all. On those first two turns, you have no gold, but you can still Freeze the board! There are a few things you are looking for: The two token-generators (Alley Cat and Murloc Tidehunter) are good because the turn that A. F. Kay gets to start playing, she has 5 mana and it costs 3 mana for her to upgrade to Tavern Tier 2, which means that you can buy the token generator, sell your token, and Tavern Tier up–essentially giving you a “free” additional minion as compared to upgrading the tavern and just re-rolling twice. The other thing you are looking for is Wrath Weaver, a minion which has been on a big uptick recently. You look for the Weaver as A. F. Kay because if you highroll one or both of your Procrastination cards into a Floating Watcher, you start your plays off with one of the most powerful combinations in the game! If you freeze a Weaver and miss on the Watchers, you’re not really in a much worse spot than you were before, since you’ll just level up and miss out on a 1-drop. If you don’t get the demon start, you’re just looking for strong 3-star minions, like Cobalt Guardian, Crowd Favorite, and Pack Leader, to get you off to the races. From that point on, you should win the next few rounds without too much difficulty, and that should help you catch up from those first two turns off. You spend those next few turns building and increasing your Tavern Tier, and then you close out the game in the same way you normally would, based on what you get offered. A. F. Kay is a solid hero, towards the higher end of the spectrum, but she is particularly good for newer players, since her power spike is easier to use than some of the other top heroes.
Arch-Villain Rafaam is another of the higher-tier heroes. His hero power is powerful because it: 1) helps you ramp; 2) helps you get triples of the better minions that are more universally picked up and, therefore, harder to find in the shop; 3) sometimes highrolls you into something crazy when you happen to attack your opponent’s best minion first; and 4) often makes many of your opponents overall a little weaker because due to how they play against Rafaam. Notably, he is one of the few heroes that regularly diverges from the common early game pacing–you almost always want to Buy on turn 1 and then Buy and Hero Power on turn 2 (instead of increasing the Tavern Tier like everyone else)–the only real exception being if you are about to play against A. F. Kay on turn 2, since you know she won’t have any minion for you to copy. That puts you a turn behind on leveling, but you tend to catch up and more over the course of the game. Aside from that, you play the match pretty normally, trying to focus on whatever you get from your steals and what is offered to you. If you’re trying to choose between two similar minions, you might want to check what the other players are playing–and therefore, what you might be steal–to see which is more likely to get synergies and triples down the line.
Unlike our first two entries (we’re going in alphabetical order, if you hand’t noticed), Bartendotron is not generally considered a good Battlegrounds hero and, well, the stats appear to back that up. That said, Baretendotron isn’t the worst hero in the game, so you’ll pick it sometimes. Bartendotron is another hero that you play a little bit differently than the others–instead of leveling on the second turn, you get to re-roll (if needed) and buy another tier 1 minion then, because of your hero power, you can buy a minion and level up your tavern on the third turn (5 gold). That puts you one turn behind on buying tier 2 minions, but you’ll usually win that turn 2 fight with your extra turn 1 purchase. Then, because the hero power applies throughout the whole game, that’s the only turn you’re behind on your Tavern Tiers (by necessity). You then go on to play the game fairly normally, with a little bit of extra efficiency on the Tavern Tiers. Bre careful not to get too caught up on leveling up tavern tiers, though, lest you get yourself killed by aggression. Per usual, you just go with whatever build best meets what you’re offered.
Dancing Daryl is a favorite of high-level players and the bane of mobile players. He’s a little tricky to play pretty well, and very tricky to master. There are even some pretty big disagreements on what the best macro line is with him, so you might be making errors even with perfect execution. I think the best strategy is to mostly play the game normally until you hit Tavern Tier 4. At that tier, there are a few really good targets to pile buffs onto, the best being Cave Hydra, Annoy-o-Module, and Cobalt Guardian (actually Tavern Tier 3, but if you go to 4, you get access to all the others, too), with some other solid options as well. Then, once you’ve found a minion you want to buff up, you buy out the rest of the shop and then sell it all back to give that minion all the buffs it can hold! You can do that over a few turns, and/or with token generators, to get even more value. As noted above, my friend Ridiculous Hat has made and shared with us a Dancing Daryl calculator that should help you figure out how to do it–but you also tend to pick it up after playing him for a while. Daryl’s strongest in the mid-game, when you have the gold to really maximize his buffs, but his relative power level tends to degrade as the game goes longer since you’re looking for specific minions to triple instead of just buying and selling whatever you are offered. That’s why Daryl pretty frequently gets top 4 finishes, but has significantly fewer first place finishes than do other top tier heroes. He’s tough to master, but with practice, you can do it! And once you crack the code, let me know so that I can rewrite this section with your help.
Edwin Van Cleef is another one of the strongest heroes in the game and, in a lot of ways, he plays kind of similarly to Dancing Daryl: what you want to do is find a “carry” minion that you want to load your buffs onto, and then give it around +3/+3 every turn. As with Daryl, some of the best targets include Cobalt Guardian, Cave Hydra, and Security Rover. Edwin is a little easier to play than Daryl, because you can buff minions you already control instead of just those in the shop, which also results in you being able to have a bit more of a directed team than Daryl tends to result in. The same “buy 3-4 guys and sell them all” technique works well for Edwin as well, but it takes less of a dive late-game, because even if you are searching for a specific minion or two, you can often still get +1/+1 or +2/+2 on something you want late. Edwin is a great hero for people of all skill levels.
Elise Starseeker is a solid hero who works particularly well for compositions in which you’re looking for specific minions–especially at around tier 5, which you can get to at an early enough stage of the game that it matters, but for which there are few targets, so you have better odds of finding what you want–such as both Demons and Deathrattles, two of the strongest compositions in the game right now. You play Elise by just playing a normal game–leveling as you normally would and building whatever is offered to you, instead of chasing something in particular–except that you use the Recruitment Maps when you get to the end of your turn and have three mana left, but nothing to buy in the shop. Obviously, you use those maps to fill any gaps in your composition or, if you don’t get what you specifically need, you just get the best one offered, or something that might come in handy if you need to pivot late.
George the Fallen is my boy. He’s still in my top 5 heroes in terms of overall games and only recently fell out of my top 5 heroes by wins. I think he was underrated for a long time. But, unfortunately for George, he is no longer in a good spot in the meta. The metagame right now is pretty aggressive and, as a result, it just takes way too long for you to get going with George’s incredibly expensive hero power. It’s also worse now than it was before because there are so many Soul Jugglers in the metagame now that, even if you get late in the game, your bubbles are likely to get popped pretty quickly in any given round. So, you probably don’t want to pick George all that often these days. But, he’s not the absolute worst hero in the game, so you’ll still get stuck with him sometimes. When you do, you’ll probably not want to use his hero power unless/until you get to the later parts of the midgame, and only if you have some mana to spare on a given turn. He tends to work best, when you have to make him work, by giving targeting things like Soul Jugglers, Baron Rivendares, and Mama Bears, which have weak bodies but need to stay alive to get their value. It’s also a half-decent way to make up for Murloc’s weak midgame health, but that’s a pretty inefficient usage, since you’re hoping to give all your Murlocs Divine Shield through Megasaur anyway, so if I end up with a Murloc comp., I usually only end up using George’s hero power couple times in that game, hitting a Warleader or Tidecaller. Unlike most other heroes, when you’re playing with George, you’re often trying to use his hero power as little as possible unless/until you get to the very end of the game and are using it to give each of your individual minions Divine Shield. One last tip: when minions combine into a Golden, the Golden retains the effects of all its parts so, for efficiency, you probably want to hit various different types minions instead of 2 of the same type.
Infinite Toki was the very best hero at the start of the game, was nerfed, dropped way down the tier lists, was un-nerfed, and has now settled into a pretty middling hero who you’re never overly-excited to pick, but also not afraid to pick when you have to. She does best in metas and with builds in which you can sit on one particular level and use her hero power to dig for key minions. That worked particularly well early in the game because of just how important it was to get to Lightfang Enforcer before anybody else. Nowadays, it can still work, but less universally so–you need to pick your spots based on how you are building. For instance, for Demons, I like staying at 2 for a while and rerolling for Floating Watchers while I’m picking up Wrath Weavers and trying to triple my other Demons. If I’m playing Murlocs, I play pretty normally until I get to Tavern Tier 5 and then I re-roll and triple into those key Megasaurs. For Deathrattle builds, I like to re-roll at Tier 4 for a while, until I get at least one Baron (while buying more of my Deathrattle minions), and then, depending on how things are looking, either keep at it for my Baron triple or Tavern Tier up to 5 and use the hero power to start searching for those key 6-star Deathrattle minions. You go through that same analysis however your comp is shaping up: isolate your key minions and pick a spot where you can re-roll for those key minions while you can sit and pick up triples of your strong filler-minions.
Lich Baz’hial is another of the heroes who left the game, got some changes, and came back to be a mid-tier hero. The Lich kind of had the inverse character arch from that of Toki, though, as she was initially unplayable and got some buffs and meta shifts that upgraded her to the mid-tier. The buff is obvious to anyone who remembers her old hero power used to cost her 3 life. The meta shift is slightly more understated, and it involves the addition of Floating Watcher (which she gets to proc each turn for free) and the acceleration of the game as a whole (which means her “all in” strategy of sacrificing her life for better early game plays is more impactful over the course of the game as a whole. My general play pattern with her is as follows:
3 gold: Buy best minion (doesn’t need to be token generator), hero power
4 gold: Tavern Tier
5 gold: Buy 2 minions (using coin), hero power
6 gold: Buy 2 minions, hero power
7 gold: Tavern Tier, reroll 1-2 times for a good minion (best being Watcher), buy minion, maybe hero power
8 gold +: Look for Watchers if you can find them, but otherwise just play what the game gives you and do the best with what you are offered
I’ve also heard of an alternative play pattern where you hero power on each of the early turns and level on the 6 gold turn instead of the 7 gold turn, to get to the Floating Watcher tier earlier than everyone else, but I haven’t yet gotten that plan to work for me.
I generally like to keep one coin in my hand at the end of each turn, in case I need two the following turn, but not too many, or else I’m risking killing myself with a grip full of coins. I also like to look for Mal’Ganis late, if it makes any sense with my comp, as that means free coins! If I have Mal’Ganis, I always get the coin first so I don’t forget, but if I have Watcher, or might get Watcher, I tend to get the coin last, so I don’t accidentally miss a Watcher buff. When you don’t get the nuts with Watcher, it’s a delicate dance on when to use your hero power, based on what is being offered to you and your relative position in the game, but with practice, you can get it right.
V. Miscellaneous Niche Tips I Couldn’t Fit Anywhere Else
- If you are going against a Nefarian late in the game, and you have a Cobalt Guardian, you should set up your board to give Cobalt Guardian Divine Shield back before it attacks. One way to do that is to put a token generator before it. If your token generator is a Security Rover, though, then you can next level your opponent by selling down to 6 units and keeping your Cobalt to the left of your Rover–spending that extra gold to invest in the next turn. The whole point of Nefarian is to use his hero power every turn late in the game to clear Divine Shield, so your opponent will almost certainly use it. When the hero power goes off, your Cobalt loses Divine Shield, then your Rover generates a minion and immediately gives it back, then your minions get to attack as they normally would.
- If you are going against Rafaam, you may want to switch up your placement. No longer will it be a good idea to put your Lightfang or Brann first to pop a Divine Shield, unless you plan on that player dying in the next turn or two. Even cards that deliver buffs might be avoided if you have a better option. Don’t be the guy who feeds Rafaam.
- We now have more than 24 heroes in the game. That means that, even if all players had unlocked all the in-game bonuses, not all heroes will be offered in each game. You will no longer see all or most of the best heroes every game, which is nice for game diversity.