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Besting Battlegrounds: A Battlegrounds Strategy Guide

by - 12 months ago

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: July 26, 2020–Patch 17.6:

We’ve updated the general tips sections to account for the minion changes, hero updates, and meta shifts for this patch. We’ve updated some of the specific hero guides impacted by this patch and continue to add to the list of specific hero guides over time.

I. Battleground Basics

Bob believes in you.

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. There are a few specific minions and heroes that can break these rules.
  • 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).

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, 16 copies of each card; in Tavern Tier 2, there are 15 copies of each; in Tavern Tier 3, there are 13 copies of each; in Tavern Tier 4, there are 11 copies of each; Tavern Tier 5, there are 9 copies of each; and in Tavern Tier 6, there are 7 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 if you buy the battle pass, including emotes, stats, and, crucially, two additional heroes to choose from at the start of the match! This is a big difference in gameplay, so if you’re serious about the mode, you should consider it.
  • 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 or just keep your options open by holding a minion or two.

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. More and more, for instance, the team has been introducing heroes that more frequently diverge from this basic gameplan. 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. Generally, in these first turns you just want to pick the best minions each turn, without too much regard for your overall eventual gameplan (also, you shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself into a gameplan early); somewhere in the 7-9 gold turns is where you usually start to shape your composition towards a particular goal, and start planning for the endgame.

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 usually 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.

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, now that there’s a rotation of Tribes in each fight, make sure you at least peep what the Tribes are at the start of the game. It usually becomes apparent pretty early on (and you can check at any point by mousing over Bob’s deck), but it’s still good to know when developing early strategies–or even just picking which hero is best, since some tend to lean more towards certain Tribes than others. As will be discussed further below, sometimes the lack of one Tribe hurts for more subtle reasons than just full-blown compositions for that Tribe. For instance, if Beasts are gone, that: 1) makes Daryl worse, because there’s one less token-generating minion early; 2) changes the entire dynamic of a Deathwing lobby, since it’s no longer all about finding Pack Rats; and 3) means there’s only one cleave minion in the entire game, and it appears at tier 6, so you basically don’t have to worry about cleave effects for most of the match. If Murlocs are gone, that means that the “big dumb minion” endgame strategies for Demons and Dragons gain a big bonus, as they are no longer easily outclassed by Divine Shield + Poisonous.

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, or hurt your opponent’s) 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 summoned 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 can also put Taunts to the far right, so they only have one minion that gets hit by the cleave.
  • 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 Deflect-o-Bot, 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 Deflect-o-Bot 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 less common than in the past, but still pretty frequent. 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 opponents can 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.

A decent board, but not the best placement. Normally, you’d want your token generators to have room, and to make sure your buffing minions are to the right of what they are buffing. On top of that, Zapp is a good first attacker as it can snipe important minions while ignoring Taunts.

III. Key Minions and General Gameplans for the Main Strategies

Lightfang Menagerie and/or Brann Menagerie

Menagerie is… back? As we discussed in the last update, the loss of Holy Mackerel really hurt the build, but Patch 17.6 brought Amalgadon as a really solid card that is both a Menagerie building piece–since it can take the role of any tribes you’re missing–and a Menagerie payoff card, due to its effect. The Menagerie gameplan usually involves tripling into one of the key 5-star minions (Brann or Lightfang) and building around it there. Lightfang kind of requires you to have a few tribes, whereas Brann is still a little open (with the added bonus of it being particularly good for switching to Murlocs late). Just try to keep in mind what Tribes are actually in your game at the time that you pick it up, as it directly determines what your comp can do–for instance, if Beasts or Mechs are gone, there is only one cleaving minion in the game, so you probably want to make that minion your target for that particular Tribe.

It’s hard to say exactly how powerful Menagerie is right now where the meta is pretty warped around Murlocs. Aside from Murlocs, Menagerie tends to outscale most other compositions, and it has flexibility and power when it gets the right tools. We expect a nerf to Murlocs at some point, so keep an eye out for Menagerie once that happens.

Deathrattle

Well, the Saurilisk/Macaw meta came and went before we could even write it up, but even with the nerfs, there’s some good stuff for Deathrattles. By moving Saurilisk up to 2 and Macaw up to 3, it is less likely that you will just highroll into a really early Deathrattle start and just snowball through the rest of the game, but that also means that if you do end up going Deathrattles, fewer people will fight you for them.

There are now four different ways to build Deathrattle builds, and which one you go for tends to depend on which tools you get offered. 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 and Spawn of N’Zoths, then you look for Ghastcoilers at the top end. If you get an early Macaw, you can start sculpting a list where the only targets are Goldrinn(s), so you can guaranteed get multiple boosts off (and then capitalize that with some Cave Hydras). Whereas with the other Deathrattle builds, you might through some Taunts onto important Deathrattles that you want to go off early, if you are playing the Macaw build, you want to avoid that so that the Deathrattle source doesn’t die before all your Macaws trigger. Unfortunately, that particular strategy is much harder to get online (and, therefore, essentially dead) now that Goldrinn has been moved up to Tier 6

For all builds, I often like to save a triple for after I’m on Tavern Tier 4, to try to fish for a Baron (and/or Goldrinn). 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, if any.

The fourth way to build Deathrattles is the fabled “Exodia” build, which was popular a couple metas ago. However, with multiple nerfs, it’s now harder to pull this off than ever. Still, for the memes:

How it works is as follows: You need a Golden Unstable Ghoul on the far left, a Golden Baron Rivendare on the far right, and a Deathrattle token generator (like Rat Pack or Highmane), some Deathrattle minion buffers, and some other decent Deathrattle effects (like Kaboom Bots or Selfless Heroes). When Deathrattles all trigger at the same time, they activate from left to right. So, the plan is that the Unstable Ghoul dies first (either because it attacks first or because it has taunt), deal 6 damage to everything (the Golden Ghoul does 2 and the Golden Baron triples it), killing your whole board except for Baron. Your deathrattles then go off, summoning 6 minions, triple-buffing them a couple times over, maybe giving them divine shields and/or tossing a few Kaboom Bots along the way as well. It’s a fun strategy when you get it to work, but it is hard to pull off (even with Reno) and it’s not a 100% guaranteed win, like a true “Exodia.” Still, something to keep in mind as an option. See the Reno section for an example and more details.

Divine Shield

Divine Shields took a big hit since the removal of Holy Mackerel. So much so that it’s not even really a viable composition at this point. It’s still possible to build, and you take it if it’s being thrown at you, but it’s not something you actively pursue. Usually, you’ll either do it as part of a Dragon build or part of a Deathrattle build, but if you’re going Dragons, then all your Divine Shields will eventually be made moot by Nadina the Red, so mostly just focus on grabbing the Enforcers and making sure they’re not completely dead weight until you find her. If Dragons are benched in your game, then really don’t bother picking up Bolvar, since he is without almost any of the tools that make him work. A golden Selfless Hero is still pretty decent, but consider it a standalone card more than part of a dedicated Divine Shield strategy.

Mechs

With the latest patch, Millificent Manastorm is back to her pre-nerf form! The only question is whether that’s good enough to pull mechs out of obscurity. With mechs getting nerfed (moving Junkbot up a tier), indirectly nerfed (reducing their pool to make room for Dragons), and then ignored (no help in the Pirates patch), it’s no wonder that they’re not in a great spot right now. Deflect-o-Bot is a decent mid-game minion, but seems to un-impactful for late game. You have Junkbot for that role, still, but god forbid your opponent gets a Zapp, or just gets lucky with attacks/random shots. The best “mech” builds these days are really Deathrattle builds that just use Kangor’s Apprentice to get back Kaboom Bots and/or Mechano-Eggs. Since Kangor’s Apprentice pulls from the pool of your dead mechs, of course, that means that you can’t muddy that pool with the token-generating mechs or, really, anything that isn’t Kaboom Bots and/or Mechano-Eggs. At least a decent Mech build is usually pretty uncontested, so you should be able to get the key pieces without too much trouble, if you end up going for them. Some top players argue that Mechs are more consistent for Top 4 finishes right now than most other compositions.

Murlocs

“We’ll always have murlocs.” It feels like Murlocs have always been viable. That is, of course, a false memory, but at the very least they have always been nuts when they get to go off in the late game. The only question is, as it has almost always been, whether you can survive to get to that point. And right now, Murlocs are the meta-defining composition.

Murlocs are pretty good at early game, since so many of their strong cards come early, and they are nearly unbeatable 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 (Tiers 1-3) 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. Of final note: it is possible to do a late-game switch to Murlocs, usually involving Brann and/or Khadgar to triple up on some tokens to get multiple shots at tripling into Megasaurs, but that’s an advanced technique that is very situation-dependent, so it’s better learned from watching high-level players than through this more general guide.

Demons

Demons, like Mechs, aren’t in a great spot right now. That said, between the two, I’d usually prefer Demons.

Like many of the other builds, Demons also have two different–sometimes overlapping–compositions 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. For this reason, the Big Demons composition gets much better when Murlocs are the Tribe that has been removed for the game.

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 (or 4, now that watcher has been nerfed), 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 recently got a Tier 6 minion in Imp Mama, but she’s actually not very good, so you can probably still put off upgrading to Tavern Tier 6 with them, unlike other builds). 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 (the least important now, since Divine Shields are basically gone). However, since Demons aren’t great right now, you probably shouldn’t pick your hero with the goal of forcing them unless you’re picking Jaraxxus, whose recent buff made him a Top 10 hero, towards the middle of Tier 2.

Beasts

At our last update, Beasts were doing well in Battlegrounds. They were busted for a bit with Saurilisk and Macaw, but even after those were nerfed, Beasts were in a solid spot. However, with Patch 17.6, and its move of Goldrinn to Tier 6, Beasts are back in a bad spot. However, even the nerfed Saurilisk and Macaw are important minions, Rat Pack is the most important individual minion in games in which Deathwing is in the fight, and Alley Cat and Cave Hydra are both important cards for many compositions, so Beasts are one of the more important Tribes to note when they are not in the minion pool

Beasts still have a very powerful midgame (one of the strongest in the game, really), with cards like Rat Pack, Pack Leader, Cave Hydra, and Scavenging Hyena, 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. Just remember: 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.

George the Fallen and Lich King have noticeable Beast synergy in protecting your Mama Bears (or key Deathrattle cards, if you get the Deathrattle beast comp going), but, really, it’s Deathwing who loves the beasties more than anyone else.

Dragons

Dragons are very thematic: they’re all about heft. The way you make your beefy dragons depends on what you’re offered throughout the game. Waxrider Toggwaggle is great for the early game and can be tripled pretty easily into a decent mid-to-late-game minion; Hangry Dragon can get a nice snowball going if you get it early, but is generally not as good as the other options; Scalebane is a solid midrange buff whereas Razorgore and Kalecgos are the best late-game cards. You then cap out your Dragons build with at least one Nadina the Red, because she’s just nuts. Dragons are really solid in the first couple turns (Dragonspawn Lieutenant, Red Whelp, and Waxrider Toggwaggle), have a weaker middle game, and then can be dominate late in the game once they get going. Based on my experience so far, the Tier 2 dragons aren’t that great, Hangry Dragon is usually a trap, and the “Machine Gun” build where you just get a ton of Red Whelps is good for landing somewhere in the 4th-6th range, but not for getting a first. Ysera is a good hero if you want to force Dragons, and after her buff, she’s a mid-tier choice to sometimes do that; Alexstrasza might be better if you want to play Dragons, but would rather hedge on them than force them from turn 0. Because the best Dragons (Razorgore and Kalecgos) really want you to already have an established board of Dragons going into the late game, you can’t really just “splash” Dragons, but you can switch over if you get that powerful build-around card early enough.

It’s hard to counter a Dragon build that really got going because they have beefy minions that get Divine Shield after Nefarian’s effect has already missed. The best bet might be to go aggressive and kill them before the ball can really get going. Cleaves are good for clearing after-acquired Divine Shield. Lots of Divine Shield of your own is also good for nullifying their’s, but really the best bet is to just to kill the Dragon player before they get out of hand. If there is no Murloc player in the late-game, then Dragons tend to be the tribe most likely to scale out of control–often on the back of Kalecgos.

Pirates

Pirates are the newest Tribe to enter the Battlegrounds and they play totally differently from anyone else! Some Pirates are more into playing the economy game, especially to develop in the early- and mid-game, whereas others are about buffing their mateys. In the early game, Deck Swabbie and Freedealing Gambler are good for cheap, free, or even bonus value (for instance, in you have Patches as your hero, Freedealing Gambler is free due to her own effect and she gives you .25 of another Pirate from his hero power)! The other 1-drop, Scallywag, works amazingly with Arcane Cannon–one of the best tier 2 minions in the game. If you can get a really early Salty Looter or two, it can really help you snowball games out of control as well. In the mid-game, you can continue to go nuts on the value game with cards like Cap’n Hogger, but I tend to prefer going the “buff my Pirates” route with Bloodsail Cannoneer, Ripsnarl Captain, and Southsea Strongarm. Seabreaker Goliath, Dread Admiral Eliza, and the Tide Razor help top it all off. Since they have many powerful Tier 5 minions, and two different Tier 6 targets, I like to sit on Tier 5 for a while with my Pirates builds, looking for triples.

Pirates get a lot of their strength from within combat, so sometimes it feels like their value lives and dies based on attack order. Still, when they get rolling, they can get really strong! Just try to keep some space open to continue scaling, if you can, so you don’t get outdone late by the beefy Dragons and Murlocs who continue to grow each turn.

Tech Cards

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: Mama Bear, Baron Rivendare, Soul Juggler, and Khangor’s Apprentice. It also just disrupts your opponent’s positioning, 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. Unstable Ghoul seems to be one of very few ways to be able to actually beat a late Murloc board, and Herald of Flame is a good counter for token-generators like Rat Pack.

IV. Specific Hero Strategies

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; the newest heroes are jumping ahead of line to get added early, since they’re the most interesting.

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! The two token-generators (Alley Cat and Murloc Tidehunter) are the main thing you’re looking for 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; Deck Swabbie works the same way and gives you the best body of them all! If you happen to Procrastinate into two Khadgars, that also means the tokens will form a triple, which is a nice trick you can use for a few turns to get ahead.  Aside from freezing on turns 1 and 2, you’re just looking for strong, build-around, 3-star minions, like Deflect-o-Bot, Crowd Favorite, Salty Looter, Soul Juggler, Monstrous Macaw, or Pack Leader, to get you off to the races. Worst case scenario, you take a Shifter Zerus and hope that it re-rolls into an early Tier 5 or 6 minion. Almost regardless of what you pick, from that point on, you have a solid chance to win the next couple rounds (though, with so many aggressive early heroes now, it’s not longer a near-guarantee like it used to be). You then spend those next few turns building and increasing your Tavern Tier, and close out the game in the same way you normally would, based on what you get offered. A.F. Kay has gotten a lot weaker in recent patches, comparatively, so she’s no longer a great choice, but there are worse things you can pick.

Alexstrasza was the first of seven heroes added in Patch 16.4 and, unfortunately for the Queen of Dragons, she has not ruled the roost. Her hero power has some pretty high variance and, unsurprisingly, your success with her (or not) depends a decent amount on what she gives you. She kind of seems like a mid-late A.F. Kay, as opposed to an early-mid one, like the original (and Eudora). I think you play her mostly the same way you would normally play, but trying to level a little quicker than normal (since your power spike is at Tavern Tier 5, I usually level to 4 at my normal schedule and then level to 5 the very next turn) and trying to lean towards dragons if you can, but not hard-forcing them, since there are some decent dragons that work without Tribe synergy, and if you get one of the super busted ones, you can just swap to Dragons late, on that thing’s back. Or, if you don’t end up getting offered the dragons you need for a decent build, you basically just treat it as two free coins–nothing mind-blowing, but it’s something. Since you don’t have a hero power early, and you’re not guaranteed to get value from her hero power late, you should probably consider her to be a mid-low tier hero that you mostly just pick if your other options are bad.

Aranna Starseeker was just recently added to the Battlegrounds and then almost immediately buffed, since her initial version was very bad. Even after the buff, she’s still one of the weakest heroes in the game, but slightly less aggressively so.

Still, if you want to try her out, her hero power is all about giving you more options on what to buy which, when all goes well, helps you: 1) get triples as their own end (look for powerful early- and mid-game cards to triple up like Soul Juggler and Goldgrubber); 2) get triples as a means to racing to powerful tier 5 and tier 6 minions; and 3) cycle minions aggressively, since you will more often find the things you want to cycle (Battlecry and Murloc builds).

Initially, her hero power lined up with the first two turns, kind of daring you to skip your first two turns just to re-roll a bunch and open up her Demon Hunter Form right away, but now that she’s better, that proposition seems worse. The correct play is probably to buy and upgrade normally for the first few turns and just unlock her Demon Hunter form naturally somewhere in the mid-game. There is some argument for staying on Tavern Tier 2 to try to find Pogo Hoppers or abuse one of the early minions that scales (Saurilisk and/or Wrath Weaver), but with Dinotamer Brann’s return, he seems better for the Pogo plan, and the Saurilisk/Wrath Weaver plan seems a little weak in the current meta.

Arch-Villain Rafaam is our first of the higher-tier heroes (he’s been in the Top 5 for pretty much the entire time he’s been in the game, only just now falling to ~6th best at most ranks). His hero power is powerful because it: 1) helps you ramp in the early game; 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 to try to prevent you snowballing.

Notably, he is one of the minority of 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 almost 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.

Bartendotron is not the strongest hero, so you’ll probably just pick him if your other options are particularly bad. 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 be fine 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. Be 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. The current meta is less reliant on just being the first to grab one powerful Tier 6 minion than a few minions back, so Bartendotron is worse now than he was a few months back–sorry buddy, your time will come one day… maybe.

Captain Eudora was one of the heroes added in the Pirates patch and–after a nerf to her rival captain–is now in chaaaarge of the Battlegrounds. Her hero power is reminiscent of Reno’s (especially when it was costed at 4), but it’s markedly different in a few key ways: 1) splitting up the cost over several turns is sometimes a drawback, because you have to wait, but you usually weren’t using Reno’s power on super early drops anyway, so it’s often more of an upside, as it lets you weave the cost in with spare mana over time; 2) it hits a random target, instead of one of your choosing, which means you’ll need to be flexible with how you take your warband and you’ll sometimes wiff, but the upside is that you don’t need to find the minion first, which can be tough; and 3) probably most importantly, it adds the golden minion to your hand, instead of turning a minion on the board golden, which means that you get the minion of one tier higher when you play it.

There is a debate as to whether you buy a non-token minion on turn 1 or if you use her hero power instead, but it seems that the stats right now are in favor of hero power on 1. That puts you behind on the first few turns, but then gives you that big power spike after the fourth activation–similar to A.F. Kay, but with a card to help further make up the cost of those down turns and the ability to do it multiple times per game.

Aside from that, your build is going to probably be pretty dependent on what two minions you get from your hero power. Obviously, Goldgrubber has natural synergy with her. At a certain point, you have to make a call about whether you’d rather hero power or reroll for specific cards for your composition, but that’s usually not until you’ve gotten at least two goldens off her.

Captain Hooktusk was, for a short while, the most broken hero in the game. However, she recently got nerfed and is now substantially weaker–tumbling from the very top, down towards the middle of the bottom tier. Whereas before she was objectively better than Malygos, she now seems to be a bit weaker than the dragon. Her best use is probably still to buy a token generator on 1 and instantly convert the token into something better, but she’s no longer good at helping you find triples or specific synergy cards, so you probably want to avoid her at this point if you can.

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.

Generally speaking, the main gameplan is to try to play semi-normally (though token-generators are even better with Daryl than other heroes) until you find a good target to “dance” on, and then you go in on that minion by buying and selling to make it as big as you can. This is strongest in the early-to-mid game, late enough that you have gold and spare minions to buy and sell several buffs, but not so late that the buffs are outclassed by what your opponents can do. Do to this power curve, Daryl tends to be really good for getting Top 4s, but pretty tough to get first place with. Good early targets include Saurilisk, Rat Pack, and any of the Tier 1 or 2 taunts. A little later, you’re looking for minions like Cave Hydra, Annoy-o-Module, and Deflect-o-Bot. The hero power tends to drop off a lot in the late-game, where you’re more interested in finding specific synergies and triples than you are just raw stats, but I wouldn’t mind being able to dance with an Imp Mama or a Foe Reaper if I got the chance.

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 particularly good with menagerie builds, because you can just “dance” on the first good minion you find for each tribe, instead of needing to find specific synergies–it also naturally aligns with Battlecries, as you want to buy and sell a lot of those anyway. Keep an eye out on the minion Type that is excluded at the start of the game, as Daryl gets worse when there are no Murlocs (one less early token generator) and much worse when there are no Beasts (token generator and cleave missing).

 

Deathwing took over the meta shortly after he was introduced into the game (second only to Tirion, who was promptly removed from the game). After a couple weeks of dominance, Team 5 decided that he should be nerfed to his current state: a +2 Attack buff, instead of the original +3. The change has definitely been enough to bring his winrate down to Earth, but he’s still one of the top 5 best heroes in the game.

As is often the case in gaming, symmetrical effects aren’t really symmetrical since one player is building with them in mind (and/or, in other cases, gets to choose when they go off) whereas the other player is just along for the ride. Deathwing is great with anything that puts more bodies on the board, especially early game, where his buff is enough that just about everything dies to one attack anyway–so he works well with token generators, Deathrattle, Reborn, and Divine Shield. The best of the bunch is Rat Pack, which gets you 4(!) tokens when it pops, each of which are big enough to kill something on your opponent’s side of the board for the first few turns. Rat Pack is so good with Deathwing that a common strategy is to level on 2, immediately start searching for a Rat Pack, and as soon as you get one, start aggressively leveling to Tier 5 or 6 where you can get some really good late-game power. The mid- to late-game cards that are good with Deathwing include things that can get Divine Shield multiple times, things that cleave, and strong Deathrattles (including Mechano-Egg, which can now always attack). Beasts are naturally the best Deathwing composition because it includes cleaves and tokens, and Mechs are close behind because they have the same things (though, a little harder to come by). Herald of Flame, is also particularly good for (and against) Deathwing because: 1) the buff makes him much more likely to get his Overkill off; and 2) a common strategy against Deathwing is to play a bunch of token generators, so this counters that counter by cleaning them all up in one shot.

Meanwhile, because Deathwing is so powerful, and since the effect applies to both players when you go against Deathwing, ALL players (hehe) have started drafting Deathwing’s best cards so they have a better shot against him when they face up. Rat Pack is particularly popular for the non-Deathwing players because it’s a way to put up a decent defense against Deathwing while only committing one spot on the board to it. As the game goes later, the Deathwing advantage gets slimmer and slimmer, so your best bet against a Deathwing is to just survive the early game without taking too much damage and try to surpass them in the mid- and late-game, where the buff is less impactful.

Like Daryl, Deathwing games are very different if one particular Tribe (in this case, Beasts) is left out. You lose your best comp and easiest strategy, but you also lose the easiest counter-strategy of all your opponents just picking an early Rat Pack, so I’m not sure if it’s a net positive or negative for you (though, I think it’s a net negative). Either way, though, it’s definitely something to be aware of.

Dinotamer Brann was too powerful the first time he came to the Battlegrounds, so he had to leave for a while to get a rework. Now that he’s back, he’s in a safely mediocre spot, towards the bottom of Tier 3, so you’ll pick him every once in a while. His hero power has obvious Battlecry synergy, so you’re looking for compositions that can benefit from that, including: Pogo Hoppers (just stay at Tier 2 for a long time and keep digging for bunnies), Murlocs (lots of their cards are Battlecries), and Battlecry-Menagerie (on the back of a Crowd favorite early, and a Brann Bronzebeard later).

Edwin Van Cleef is another one of the stronger 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 a +x/+x buff every turn (where x is usually somewhere in the 2-4 range). As with Daryl, some of the best targets include Deflect-o-Bot, 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. You can also get buffs just by filling your hand, without disrupting your established board, which is sometimes a huge advantage. Edwin is a great hero for people of all skill levels.

Elise Starseeker is a decent 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. As mentioned in the composition guides, above, lots of compositions have specific minions that they rely on as their build-arounds, and many of those are at around the Tier 5 level. 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.

Fungalmancer Flurgl is a fairly straightforward hero, which is what makes it odd that he was originally so misunderstood. For a long time, he was thought to be garbage tier, then he was considered very good, and now he’s a just pretty good. As you’d expect from reading the hero power, he is good at cycling Murlocs–many of which have Battlecries–in order to get several buffs per turn and more easily find triples. Since Murlocs are still the strongest Tribe at the end of the game, Flurgl boards tend to get pretty crazy if you can get him going. And that’s the rub: Flurgl’s power level seems heavily impacted by whether you get offered Tidehunters early (ideally on turn 1), and how many other people are trying to take your murlocs. Since Murlocs are so good right now, that second problem comes into more games these days. However, if you can avoid those problems, it comes down to managing space in Bob’s tavern, gold, and your own board in order to maximize your buying and selling late. You can sometimes do a hybrid build with him (like with Goldgrubbers and/or Crowd Favorites), but you’re always going to want at least some murloc synergy in there in order to take advantage of his hero power. Since he’s a fairly hard lock into Murlocs, you’re weak to the same things Murlocs are generally, as well as just to the possibility that you don’t get offered the Murlocs/Megasaurs you need.

Galakrond is like the new and improved Toki, except that he’s, in most cases, he’s worse than Toki. It’s a real verschlimmbesserung. The reason why it is often worse than Toki, of course, is that Toki refreshes the entire tavern (something you often want to do anyway), whereas, with Galakrond, you have to pay separately to do that. And, by thinking of why Galakrond is worse, you can see when it is better: when you don’t want to re-roll the rest of the Tavern. That is, when you are Freezing the board. Now, in the normal course of the game, you don’t get to pick when you re-roll a tavern into one that has three different minions you want, so that’s not something you really plan around with Galakrond. The real play is to use his Hero Power, Freeze the board, and repeat the process next turn. That lets you get a minion at least two tiers higher than you, over the course of multiple turns, whereas Toki is always stuck to just one Tier up. Therefore, the best way to use Galakrond is to cheat from Tavern Tier 3 to Tavern Tier 5 or 6 over the course of a couple turns so that you can get to the powerful late-game minions before anyone else and find a carry up there. Other than that, you use the power sporadically, trying to hit the same minion over a couple turns when you can. Galakrond is also better at pinpoint searching for minions at lower tiers–though that is a more niche usage, and I’m not sure if the math even supports it over just a reroll. Keep in mind that, at the time of writing, Galakrond is literally the very worst hero in the game, so, uh… you probably want to avoid him if you can.

George the Fallen is my boy. I love his gameplay and, up until recently, probably picked him way more than I should have. Unfortunately, the stats don’t support my level of love for him.

The problem, as it always has been with him, is that the metagame is just too fast and, as a result, it just takes way too long for you to get going with George’s expensive hero power. But, that said, 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 warband, I usually only end up using George’s hero power  couple times in that game, hitting a Warleader or Tidecaller. A tip to keep in mind: 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.

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. The reason for that is that the cost is just so high that putting it on a minion you’ll eventually sell really hurts your overall efficiency. That said, the inclusion of twice as many midgame Divine Shield cards might have you using it a little earlier than before. As noted in section on the Divine Shield composition, though, if Dragons are excluded from your game, you might think about skipping George entirely.

Illidan Stormrage had about a week in the limelight before the nerfs to Saurilisk and, importantly, Macaw. Now, with the nerf of Goldrinn, he’s taken another hit and finds himself towards the bottom of the hero tier list yet again. However, the Pirates patch made attack order a significantly bigger part of the Battlegrounds gameplay and design space, so we may yet see him rise again.

For now, you probably want to avoid him, but things that work well with his hero power are “on attack” triggers (like Macaw and many of the Pirate cards), cleave effects, and Deathrattle effects that you want to go off earlier in battle. Look for those types of things when you’re playing with Illidan, and remember that your positioning is a little different with him than with the other heroes.

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, 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.

Kael’thas Sunstrider is one of the best heroes in the game right now. Although his power is subtle, it is proven and consistent. You just need to be careful about the order in which you buy stuff to make sure your buffs land on your primary targets (or cards you magnetize into them), instead of on your throwaway minions. Again, the gameplay is fairly similar to Edwin in that you look for key minions you want to buff, and try to aim your buff towards them. However, especially early on, the +2/+2 is great on almost anything, and you shouldn’t waste too much time and effort trying to hit the exact right target. One reason why Kael’thas is particularly good is that you have one of the strongest early games in the entire field, just by playing the normal cadence: Buy on turn one (3 gold); Upgrade your Tavern on turn 2 (4 gold); Buy, sell, and buy on turn 3 (5 gold). That last minion you buy gets the first +2/+2, which is often enough to win those early rounds–especially if you hit a taunt, a Divine Shield, or a Pack Rat. The targets you want to hit with your +2/+2 tend to be the same targets that Daryl and Edwin like to hit as well.

King Mukkla is another hero who was taken away to be reworked and brought back in the latest patch. Unfortunately for the King, he’s come back towards the bottom of the hero pool. It turns out that giving every single one of your opponents a free buff is not the best strategy. If you do end up picking Mukkla, though, I think you probably play him pretty similarly to Edwin VanCleef: you play a fairly normal game, and then you find a minion you want to buff and you start buffing it. Good targets include powerful taunts, cleave minions, minions with Divine Shield (especially Deflect-o, since he can get multiple shields), and minions that you want to give more health to so they can take more hits (like Imp Mama). You sure generally favor investing your bananas into minions you plan to keep around over those that you plan to sell soon. I would not be in a huge hurry to use his hero power every turn and think he would be better if you only use the hero power when you have a specific target to use the bananas on and/or extra mana at the end of the turn to weave it in. If you happen to get free bananas from someone else using a Mukkla, you should likewise try to maximize their benefit by using them on the same types of targets that the Mukkla player is trying to hit.

Lady Vashj is, unfortunately, one of the bottom five worst heroes in the game right now. She’s like a Toki that you can use less frequently and have less control over. If you try to control her power a little more, by delaying your upgrade until you have the perfect board for her to evolve, that’s probably even worse for you on balance. Therefore, she’s not even a particularly interesting hero to play with, since the correct play is probably to just play a normal game of Battlegrounds and hope that you highroll whatever you just so happen to hit with your evolves. Try to avoid her if you can.

Lich Baz’hial is another of the heroes who left the game, got some changes, and came back in a much better spot. For a while, she was decent, but then they bumped Floating Watcher up a tier, to hurt her main payoff card, and created Skycap’n Kragg to just outclass her in the hero power department. So you probably want to avoid picking her if you at all can.

Though, if I do find myself forced to pick her, I 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. For obvious reasons, if Demons are the excluded Tribe, she even worse and probably should just be considered unplayable at that point.

Lord Jaraxxus has had one of the biggest glow-ups in Battlegrounds history: after multiple buffs, he’s finally a competitive hero. Even though Demons aren’t the strongest Tribe right now, he’s in the Top 10 overall heroes, so you can expect that to go up if Demons get more good options going forward. The strategy is fairly simple: find some demons, give them buffs. Because you are giving buffs, this tends to work better with the “Big Demons” strategy than the “Juggler Demons” strategy, but especially early on, even just a few buffs can be enough to win those early- and mid-game fights. Expect his power level to be pretty closely tied to the power level of Demons overall. We saw what we should probably consider the ceiling of this type of effect to be with Tirion, so you should expect Team 5 to be careful about how many Demons they put into the game–and where–but it’s a pretty decent time to be a fan of the demonic hordes.

Maiev Shadowsong had a pretty significant glow-up as well, which is kind of surprising, considering how seemingly minor her buff was. Whereas Aranna and Tess highlight the low-end of the value of additional choices, Maiev’s buff highlight how much just one additional option can really change things. As things currently stand, Maiev’s a Top 5 hero, whole those other two are both Bottom 5. Crazy. Anyway, the way you play her is as a tempo tool–similar in gameplay cadence to Rafaam, except that you get to choose and you get a buff, at the cost of a bit of a delay. So, like Rafaam, you usually want to buy and Hero Power on 2 instead of upgrading your Tavern Tier. Aside from that cadence, you mostly just play a regular game–going with the best options that the game offers you, and using the early-game tempo investments to get ahead in the mid-game and leverage that value for earlier Tavern Upgrades. Her power also lets you “test the waters” at a lower cost, if you’re not sure if you want to try to go a different route, or maybe dig for a triple you’re not sure you’ll find or need. Finally, don’t be afraid to weave her power in on awkward turns, or just when you’re freezing for a minion you want the very next turn–at the very least it’s investing one gold on a later turn.

Malygos has a very interesting Hero Power because it can target any minion, whether its on your side of the board or in Bob’s Tavern. It’s particularly good early on, when you can play a token-generating minion and then transform one half of it into a Vulgar Humunculous or something. Later on, you can use it to help yourself hunt for triples, or to get additional value out of weak-bodied Battlecry minions. Unfortunately, as the game goes on, it usually becomes more and more about just rummaging around for triples. It’s free, so you might as well use it on every turn, or close to it, but that late-game value is not great, which ends up putting Malygos as a low-tier hero. Due to the nature of the hero power, there’s not really one specific plan you go for with it; you just play as you normally would, taking advantage of the free re-rolls when you can, and building off whatever you get. Just don’t forget to use the free power! At the very least, on most turns you can check a minion in Bob’s tavern to see if there’s a chance you want to Freeze the board.

Millhouse Manastorm is another hero that took a few iterations to get right. He started out absolutely garbage, then was completely broken, and now is a respectable mid-tier hero, all with some seemingly minor tweeks with how he works. Due to his hero power, he’s another hero who routinely diverges from the “standard” early game cadence. On turn 1, you buy a minion and, if it’s a token generator, you sell the token and buy another minion. Then you buy two more minions on turn 2 (4 gold). Then you upgrade and buy a minion on turn 3 (5 gold). Then, on turn 4 (6 gold), you can buy 3 minions and have a full board way before everyone else. Because re-rolling is expensive, you want to try to avoid it, and instead you’re buying and selling and upgrading tavern tiers a lot more than most players. Keep in mind that when you buy a minion that generates a token, that’s free. When you buy a Freedealing Gambler, that’s +1 gold! Less obviously, Deck Swabbie is also a “free” minion, since you pay 2, sell it for one, and get a one mana discount on the tavern tier up.

Because re-rolling is expensive, your composition is often just based on what the game offers to you, but insofar as you can guide your selections, you generally want something that benefits from your ability to buy and sell many minions per turn. The Battlecry synergy cards (Murlocs, Crowd Favorites, Brann) are good, and so are the “whenever you play a ____” cards, since you can more efficiently cycle the Demons, or Deathrattles, or whatever, than other classes can.

Millificent Manastorm is another of those heroes that was pretty over powered in the early life of this game mode and then nerfed to oblivion, and now un-nerfed, and settling into a decent Tier 2 position (now that the overall power level of other heroes has increased, and Mechs are worse overall). Her hero power is one of those straightforward ones, where there is not much to it: you want to buy and use Mechs, because that’s what your hero power needs. Magnetic mechs are nice because then whatever you magnetize to has essentially gotten +2/+2 (its own buff and then the one on the magnetic). It’s a small point, but keep in mind that this only buffs mechs in Bob’s Tavern, not mechs generated during combat, so don’t be surprised when your tokens are still smol. Not surprisingly, her power level should correspond to the power level of Mechs overall, whereas the difficulty you have in finding what you need for your build should have an inverse relationship to it (since when Mechs are worse, people are less likely to fight you for them). Mechs are decent right now because they are one of a few builds that don’t just automatically lose to Murlocs late in the game.

Nefarian is another hero who was considered great in the early days of the game, but no longer really sees any play. Divine Shields were much more prevalent then, when Mechs were great and everyone had Nighmare Amalgams wearing Annoy-o-Modules, and that was before Nefarian’s hero power was made redundant by the introduction of Unstable Ghoul as a minion in the game. Even now, when Divine Shield + Poisonous murlocs are everywhere, Nefarian is pretty close to the bottom of the list for heroes, so we expect we’d need to see some pretty big changes (be they direct changes to Nefarian, or indirect meta changes) if we were to see him rise back up in power. If you do pick him, don’t be afraid to use the power early to cheese some wins. Then, late-game, try to pay attention to what everyone’s compositions are, and plan to use the hero power when you come up against the appropriate match (mostly Murlocs, some mechs, and a George the Fallen, if for whatever reason one is in your game). Otherwise, you just play a normal game.

Nozdormu is one of the better of the heroes in the game. He was actually the very best, at least at high levels, up until the Pirates patch brought some heavy hitters with it, and some other changes shook stuff up. Still, he’s a Top 10 hero and the reason why should be pretty clear: in Battlegrounds, you Refresh the Tavern on many turns. Those Refreshes each cost one mana. So, throughout a game of just your normal play, you’re getting something like 5-7 mana worth of value from this hero power right off the bat, almost as a minimum (unless you die pretty much immediately). So, looking at the easiest direct comparison for the cost of that mana, in Lich Baz’hial, you’re up at least 10 health at a minimum, and more likely a good amount more. By the property of fuzzy math equivalencies, that means your baseline value is that of Patchwerk–a pretty mid-tier hero–and it only goes up from there. That value continues to grow as the game goes on and you re-roll more often, in search of late-game triples, and that’s just based on the normal gameplay cadence. What that doesn’t account for is the additional value of doing stuff like leveling your tavern on the 4-gold turn and then getting three looks at the Tier 2 minions before you buy one (you level and re-roll on the 4-gold turn, you let it naturally re-roll on the 5-gold turn, and you get a free re-roll on the 5-gold turn if you want it). On the 7 gold turn, you get to upgrade the Tavern, re-roll for the powerful Tavern Tier 3 minions (like Macaw, Deflect-o-Bot, Soul Juggler, or Pack Leader), and then buy something! All-in-all, the efficiency just adds a lot of value over the course of the game. Of course, you don’t play any particular compositions or anything like that, you just go with what is offered to you, but you have lots of chances to get the best offerings. Also, don’t forget to use your free re-roll on every single turn you don’t freeze! You might as well check what’s in the box, even if you’re pretty sure you won’t get anything in there, since it doesn’t cost anything to check.

Patches the Pirate is a fine, mid-tier hero that provides an interesting take on the Tribe-specific hero. The basic plan with Patches is just to buy as many Pirates as you can, so that you can get as many free and cheap Pirates as you can. In theory, all that Pirate economy should make you the strongest Pirate King on the seven seas, and that’s often true–though, sometimes the sea is a cruel mistress and your hero power gives you garbage. In the early game, I just buy every Pirate I get offered, since getting bodies on the board is generally more important than what they are, so my ideal start is Pirate on turn 1 (3 gold), Tavern up on turn 2 (4 gold), and buy a Pirate and hero power on turn 3 (5 gold). Hopefully you then either triple, hero power, or naturally roll a Salty Looter or two, and spend the mid-game buffing it up. Your late-game is for finding triples and further buffing your Pirates through the Battlecry Pirates. Keep in mind that you almost always want to pick up Freedealing Gambler, as that’s a free cost reduction on your hero power (and therefore a net +1 gold), and Deck Swabbie’s similarly a “free” Pirate if you’re on any of the turns where you’re still planning on upgrading the Tavern (since you get 1 cost towards the Tavern, 1 cost towards the hero power, and 1 gold back when you sell it); cycling in this way helps you get the most mileage out of your Looters and Strongarms. Just keep in mind that the hero power only pulls from Pirates at or below your Tavern Tier and saves your progress carrying over turns (even if you used it on that turn, so it appears “offline”). Finally, if I triple on 5 and get offered Tide Razor and Eliza, I tend to go for Eliza. I don’t know if that’s correct or not, but it feels right to me for your very dedicated Pirate builds, since the main thing you want from the boat is usually Eliza. Tide Razor is, of course, the stronger of the two in less Pirate-dedicated warbands.

Reno Jackson has gotten two buffs and he’s still not great, but I don’t care, I still love him.

The basic gameplay concept is simple: choose a good target to build around, make it “rich,” and go off! The problem is that sometimes it can be hard to know which minion to target, or when to target it, and it’s hard to get immediate value when you are, presumably, paying a minimum of 5 mana (a buy and a hero power) to even get the ball rolling. You often need to do it over a couple turns, and hope that you don’t fall too far behind from not having a hero power on any of the other turns and from taking those few turns to set up. Some of the best targets are Brann, Baron Rivendare, Khadgar, Soul Juggler, Monstrous Macaw, and Goldgrubber. Basically, you want any build-around card that scales well and which you either have the pieces for, or feel confident you can get the pieces for. Try to keep an eye on what other people are playing so that you have an idea of what’s still in the pool.

Khadgar’s a really interesting choice that I have heard about but not yet tried myself: golden Khadgar turns all your Alley Cats and Tidehunters into instant triples; pair it with a Brann and you get DOUBLE triples.

Goldgrubber, from the most recent patch, is a nice buff, as you can throw him into almost any composition and get immediate value. He procs off himself, so even on just that first turn it’s an 8/8, and it continues to grow and grow as the game goes on.

If my first turn is a Wrath Weaver and a demon or two, that’s usually enough to convince me to buy the Wrath Weaver on 1, Tavern up on 2, Hero Power the Weaver and buy a Demon on 3. I have had some pretty good success with that strategy, but it works best when Murlocs aren’t in the pool.

Finally, Reno’s the only hero that can even semi-regularly get the “Exodia” deathrattle build, discussed above, though even with him, it’s still pretty tough to put all the pieces together, so you’re better off not going for that–unless you’re specifically going for the memes.

Tess Greymane is the newest hero in Battlegrounds and she has proven to be… surprisingly bad. The fear was that she would become a “super Rafaam,” easily hitting triples and cherry-picking the best bits of everyone’s menageries over the mid- and late-game. But, while she certainly can do that at those later stages, she effectively has no hero power for the early parts of the game, and her power costs an additional gold to use, unlike Rafaam’s which is free if you sell the minion you steal and a 2 gold discount if you keep it. The end result is that she doesn’t have the tempo plays that Rafaam has, so she falls behind in the early game and then, by the time she gets to start the ball rolling with her hero power, it’s often too much for her to overcome. In short: she’s just too slow. It will be interesting to see if she gets a rework and how it would be done to make it fair and materially different from Rafaam’s. Perhaps they’ll make it a 2-3 mana: Discover a minion from your opponent’s last warband. We’ll see.

And finally, Ysera. One of the coolest Heroes in the game was, unfortunately, one of the worst. By some accounts, she was literally the worst hero in the game after 16.4. She also got a buff to help her out and, like Reno, still ended up settling in the lowest tier (but the top of it!).

One strategy that developed pretty early with her is the strategy of staying at Tavern Tier 1 for way longer than everyone else–perhaps even the entire game–and just using her power every turn to get you a Red Whelp (or, if you miss, Dragonspawn Lieutenant, which you pick up anyway to buff the Whelps). The end result is that you get a board of Whelps, each dealing 5-7 damage, to two different targets, at the very start of the round. There are very few mid-game compositions that can withstand such an onslaught, and it’s lots of fun, so a lot of people were trying it early on. The problem is that it takes a few turns to get going and then it stops working once people transition to bigger things in the late game (the Whelps aren’t great at fighting anything that survives the initial blasts), so you really only get a couple turns where you get to machine gun everything and win. Once those turns are over, you’re like 10 turns behind on leveling your Tavern, and your incremental growth is hampered because adding any non-dragons for long-term benefit hurts your immediate plan, so you can’t really catch up and… you eventually finish like 5-6th. I’ve tried it; it’s fun, but it’s not that good, and it’s pretty much never attempted any more.

With her buff, she’s much better at a semi-normal game, with an increased chance of triples. You kind of have to go Dragons with her, but easier access to triples is actually really good for Dragons, since they have key Tier 5 and Tier 6 minions that you want to find ASAP so you can start scaling. You can do worse than Ysera, but you can do a lot better, too, so don’t be in a huge hurry to pick her.

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 Defelct-o-Bot, you should set up your board to give Deflect-o-Bot 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 Deflect-o-Bot 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 Bot loses Divine Shield, then your Rover generates a minion and immediately gives it back, then your minions get to attack as they normally would. Both Nefarian and Mech builds are a lot rarer now, so this is not much of a concern, but you might as well keep it in mind.
  • 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.
  • Take a look at what the Finley player chose on their first turn. Too often do people forget to check and then misplay because they weren’t expecting to go against whatever the Finley actually got.

Nicholas Weiss

Is a lawyer by day and a cardslinger by night. He's decent at both. He's been playing Hearthstone since open beta and writing about it for a few years now.