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Besting Battlegrounds: A Battlegrounds Strategy Guide

by - 7 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: June 21, 2020–Patch 17.4.1:

After updating all the general tips portions, we’re continuing to add to the hero-specific strategies for the latest patch.

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.
  • 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, 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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

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 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 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. This is less an issue now that there isn’t as much poison in the metagame, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

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 no longer back. With the removal of Holy Mackerel, there’s no longer a good standalone Murloc for your comp to rest on, and Demons and Mechs are just in a bad spot overall. Meanwhile, Pirates and Mechs tend to build with more in-Tribe synergies than strong standalone cards. Brann overall is weaker than he was before, especially if Murlocs aren’t live in your game. All in all, it’s not the best time to be building a Menagerie.

If I get offered a really early Brann, I take a look at what my Warband looks like and if it’s something I can abuse with Brann, or fairly easily swap to something that can abuse Brann, but if it’s not, I’ll pass on my old buddy instead of forcing it–that used to never be the case.

Lightfang is pretty much the same analysis, but I literally just won a game off an early one as I write this, so I’m a little higher on him at the present moment. 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.

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, Spawn of N’Zoths, and/or Goldrinn, the Great Wolfs, 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.

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 Deathrattles being more powerful, and therefore more popular, recently, it’s been even harder to amass all the pieces you need for it. 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 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.

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 quest is, as it has almost always been, whether you can survive to get to that point.

Murlocs are pretty good at early game, since so many of their strong cards come early, and they are very 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 (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.

Demons

Demons, like Mechs, aren’t in a great spot right now. That said, between the two, I’d much rather find myself in a Demon composition–and I’m writing that before we even see how good the Jaraxxus buff actually is.

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 (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, which has finally been given the Tirion treatment–the jury’s still out on if that’s enough to bring Demons back from obscurity, but it was enough for Tirion to turn a pile of mediocre minions into all-stars, so I actually do have hopes for that one.

Beasts

Beasts, as a whole, are pretty hot right now in Battlegrounds. We’re just coming off a meta wherein two of their brood (Saurilisk and Macaw) were so good that they needed nerfs. Then, the nerfs that were made, buffed the more traditional, full-beast comps, by moving Scavenging Hyena down to Tier 1. Beasts are also one of the most notable Tribes to be benched at the start of a game, so keep an eye out for that.

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. Still, with the greater ease of getting Mama Bear, or even multiple mamas, beasts are a solid comp again.

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.

George the Fallen and Lich King have noticeable Beast synergy in protecting your Mama Bears, but, really, it’s Deathwing who loves the beasties more than anyone else. Deathwing’s effect makes Rat Packs into base 4/2s, and then, it turns all the Rats that pop out of it into 3/1s! Deathwing with Rat Pack is probably the best early-to-mid combo in the entire game mode, so whenever you’re in a game with Deathwing you’ll see Rat Pack’s stock shoot way up, for everyone in the game (both to deprive Deathwing of them and, since the effect is reciprocal, to give him a taste of his own medicine when your match comes along).

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 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.

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.

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; 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. 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 little weaker in recent patches, comparatively, but she’s still a solid choice.

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. 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 not nothing. 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 middle-tier hero that you mostly just pick if you feel like playing with the new hero/tribe, or if your other options are really bad.

Arch-Villain Rafaam is our first of the higher-tier heroes (he’s been in the Top 3 for pretty much the entire time he’s been in the game). 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 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, but he’s not the weakest hero, either, 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. 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.

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 and cleave missing).

Deathwing took over the meta shortly after he was introduced into the game (second only to Tirion, who was promptly removed). 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 best heroes in the game, and it took all the way until this latest patch to indisputably knock him off that top spot.

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. Either way, though, it’s definitely something to be aware of.

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.

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.

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 comp., 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.

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.

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.

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 middling hero. Still, middle-of-the-pack is better than a lot of options, and the hero power is cool, so you’re not too sad if you have to pick Malygos. 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.

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 this latest patch. 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 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.

Reno Jackson is another of the newer batch of heroes and is one of the harder ones to get right. To help him out, Team 5 gave him a little buff after a couple weeks showed he was one of the worst heroes in the game. He got a buff, and just now got another buff, 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.

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.

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 lower half of Tier 3.

One strategy that developed pretty early with her (pro player Purple being the first source I saw pushing it) 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. You can do worse than Ysera.

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.
  • 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.

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.