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From Zero to Hero in Hearthstone Battlegrounds

I’ve been playing a ton of Hearthstone Battlegrounds, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s not hard to get into, though it is hard to master, which is a hallmark of most worthwhile endeavors. You also don’t need to know anything about classic Hearthstone to pick up the game (though it doesn’t hurt). Today I’m going to outline how to play, a tier list of the heroes, and some common strategies that have proven to be very effective. Let’s jump in!

Hearthstone Battlegrounds Game Rules

Hearthstone Battlegrounds is an auto-battler/drafting game, where you try to assemble the best team possible, then take turns battling against seven other players in 1v1 fights. The “auto” part comes from the battle phase being completely out of your hands, as minions (creatures) attack randomly, though how you position them has a big impact on the fight. The game has two distinct phases, one where you buy new minions and one where they crash into other teams of minions. I’ll go over the rules below, but this page has a comprehensive rundown.

The Clock and APM

The clock is an important aspect of the game, and one that may take some adjustment when going from Magic to Battlegrounds. You have 30-60 seconds per turn, and sometimes you really do run up against the clock when deciding what to do. Some turns are simple and you wait around for a while, but some are tense and you end up spamming, misclicking, and not getting quite everything done. I find it adds to the fun of the game, as some pressure and excitement is good, though it can sometimes be frustrating. Gotta get that APM up, or think fast, or both!

Tavern Phase

In the Tavern Phase, you have a bunch of options to improve your team:

  1. Buy minions. All of them cost three gold (from the worst to the best, across all levels), which also happens to be what you start with. Your gold increases by one per turn, up to a cap of ten gold.
  2. Refresh the Tavern. You can pay one gold to replace all the minions for sale with a new crop, and you can do this as many times as you’d like.
  3.  Upgrade your Tavern. By upgrading, you start to see not only higher-level minions (tiers start at one and go up to six), but more minions as well. Upgrading reduces in price each turn you don’t upgrade, and each successive tier has a higher base cost to upgrade. Upgrading is expensive, but critical, as higher-tier minions scale up in power level quickly.
  4. Freeze the Tavern. If you find minions you want to buy but are out of money, you can freeze the board so it stays the same next turn. It’s free to do this, though the opportunity cost is that you won’t see a new crop next turn if you freeze.
  5. Placing, Moving, and Selling Minions. You can sell any minion for one gold, simply by dragging it back to the bartender (and narrator), Bob. You can move minions on your board as you please, and with the minion cap of seven, just figuring out how and where to deploy your forces can take some time.
  6. Hitting Triples. When you have two of the same minion, buying a third transforms them into a Gold version. All versions of the minion go back to your hand, and the stats plus abilities combine (including any bonuses). You also get a Triple Reward, which is a card that lets you Discover (see three options and choose one) a minion of a Tavern level one higher than your current one. Tripling up is very powerful, as it not only saves board space by combining, but also lets you get more powerful minions ahead of schedule.

Combat Phase

Minions attack left to right, and attacks alternate between players. If one player has more minions than the other at the start of the fight, they attack first. Attacks are random, though Taunt minions must be attacked first (and in the case of multiple Taunts, it’s random within them). Once one player is out of minions, the other player deals damage to them equal to their Tavern level plus the levels of all surviving minions. If it’s a draw, nobody takes damage. At the end of combat, all minions refresh to their original state before heading back to the Tavern.

Hero Powers

At the start of the game, you pick between two Heroes (or three if you preordered the next Hearthstone expansion—it’s not huge but it is meaningful to have more options, though I’ve been playing with just two selections and it hasn’t felt bad). Each Hero has special powers, which you can read about here: Gamepedia.

Hero Ter List

Hearthstone Battlegrounds Hero tier list.
Click to enlarge.

This tier list is the latest from @TidesofTime, one of the best Battlegrounds players of the moment. I largely agree, though I’ve found Brann to be SS as well, and Tides is a bit higher on George and The Great Akazamzarak than I am. Note that Dancin’ Darryl is extremely hard to play, so I’d move him a category or two down until you get the hang of him.

Starting Strategy

Starting strategy for almost all Heroes is the same, though I’ll call out some exceptions later.

Turn One: If you see Alleycat or Murloc Tidehunter, buy them. They each make a token, which you can later sell for a gold, which makes your turn three much better.

Turn Two: Level up your Tavern. Don’t freeze the board unless you see multiple token makers, which is rare.

Turn Three: Sell your 1/1 token (if you have one), and buy the two best minions. If you didn’t pick up a token maker, you still likely sell whatever you bought on turn one so you can buy two better minions.

After turn three, the possibilities widen dramatically. Because synergy is so important in Battlegrounds, it’s hard to just provide a pick order list (much like drafting in Magic), which is why it’s so fun to play. What you have influences what you want, but there is one minion that ties it all together.

Best Early Minion

Nightmare Amalgam from Hearthstone Battlegrounds

No discussion of best minions would make sense without Nightmare Amalgam, as this is the number one minion to pick up in the early game (or midgame, and often late game). This card is nuts because of the heavy tribal components of Battlegrounds, as it counts as all types. It picks up tons and tons of buffs, and by the end of the game is often one of your best minions, which is insane considering it’s only a tier 2 minion. This is an auto-buy, and the card you most want to see, as it opens the door to take advantage of so many different good cards.

Tribe Tier List

  1. Menagerie

This isn’t a tribe proper, but is aiming to get one of multiple tribes out to take advantage of cards like Lightfang Enforcer (which is my pick for best overall minion in the game). By having an Amalgam (or two, if you’re the Curator), and a selection of powerful minions from each tribe, you get access to some powerful bonuses. This composition is also flexible, as you are open to whatever you see, so you can make switches easily. The endgame here is often something like this:

    1. Cave Hydra
    2. Foe Reaper 4000
    3. Cobalt Guardian
    4. Lightfang Enforcer
    5. Amalgam with Divine Shield, Taunt, and Poisonous
    6. Maexxna
    7. High level or buffed minion of whatever type you are missing—you want one of each to max out value

2. Murlocs

Funnily enough, Murlocs are great early and insane late, but fall off in the midgame. You often start Murlocs thanks to Tidehunter, Coldlight Seer, and Murloc Warleader, then cash out midgame when Cobalt Guardians start showing up. The ultimate late-game plan is Gentle Megasaur at Tier 6, which can give you Divine Shield, Poisonous, and Windfury. Early game compositions are just all the Murlocs you can find, as all of them are solid (though Murloc Tidecaller is the worst), and late game it’s just whatever you have leveled up and adapted with Megasaur, as their individual abilities don’t matter a ton. Note that though Bronn Bronzebeard is just one of the best cards in the game to begin with, he’s especially good in Murlocs, and with Megasaur in particular.

3. Mechs

Mechs are built around the synergy between Cobalt Guardian, Replicating Menace, and Security Rover, with an early Iron Sensei acting like a poor mechanic’s Lightfang Enforcer. You want to spam as much Magnetic (Replicating Menace and Annoy-o-Module) and Battlecry (Metaltooth Leaper and Screwjank Clunker) as possible, as buffs are multiplicative in Mechs—your Cobalt Guardians hit multiple times and your Security Rover gets way more value if it survives hits. Here’s what a good comp looks like:

  1. Foe Reaper 4000
  2. Cobalt Guardian
  3. Mech you’ve buffed with Replicating Menace and Annoy-o-Module (this is usually some mech you leveled up and has been out for a while)
  4. Iron Sensei
  5. High-level minion (Maexxna, Brann, etc)
  6. Amalgam with all the fixin’s
  7. Security Rover

I’ve started to move away from Junkbot, as it got bumped from Tier 4 to Tier 5, and would rather lean on buffed Security Rovers or a second Amalgam instead. The plan here is to buff Cobalt Guardian a ton, then trigger its Divine Shield as many times as possible.

4. Beasts

Beasts have the advantage that they can keep a Tier 2 unit until the end (Rat Pack), but overall they lack Divine Shield and Poisonous, so unless you get Mama Bear going you end up short on stats to take things down. Any tribe can get there with the right cards, but I’ve found Beasts to be the weakest in the late game. Ideal Beast comp:

  1. Goldrinn, the Great Wolf
  2. Cave Hydra
  3. Amalgam, Smothered, Covered, Diced, and Chunked
  4. Maexxna
  5. Rat Pack or Savannah Highmane
  6. Rat Pack or Savannah Highmane or Mama Bear
  7. Mama Bear

The idea here is to pump the squad with the Wolf dying, then swipe everyone with Hydra, then trade off a few minions before making tokens that get buffed with Mama Bear.

To get an idea of how important Amalgam is, note that it’s part of every late-game comp I mentioned. While you can win games without it, those games are much tougher, and almost everyone has one of these by the end.

Midgame play is really tricky, especially when you need to pivot to a new tribe, so I will have to save that for a future article. Let’s hit some tips and tricks before we go.

Tips and Tricks

  • With A.F. Kay, play your Tier 4 Tavern spell first, as it gives you more direction than the Tier 3.
  • With Sindragosa, freeze the board for the first two turns so you can buy those minions on three. You also want to usually buy the weakest option on turn one, as the other two that remain in the Tavern are the ones getting buffed.
  • With Yogg’Saron, you can Refresh on turn one if the board is bad, as your Hero power lets you grab a minion for 2.
  • With Dancin’ Darryl, learn to do complicated math very quickly (seriously though, the most common trick is to buy the weaker minions first, then sell a bunch of stuff after isolating the good minions and ensuring they get the buffs).
  • Later in the game, try to keep one slot on the board reserved for Battlecry minions. Ideally you cycle (buy, play, then sell) through 2-3 a turn later, and only in the very last couple fights do you want a big fixed minion. Note that Lightfang Enforcer and Iron Sensei compete for this slot, so things can get tricky.
  • Buffing Cave Hydra, Foe Reaper, and Cobalt Enforcer is a huge priority, as all of these essentially get a force multiplier on their attacks. Concentrate on them, though try NOT to give them taunt, as you don’t want them getting attacked by opponents.
  • Put the above minions on the left side so they attack first, and put growing minions like Mama Bear, Junkbot or Scavenging Hyena on the right, so they have time to grow before battling. Deathrattle minions that spawn minions can fail if the board is full, so you want those around the middle or right side of the board. Also, don’t put minions like Junkbot next to Taunt minions or a Foe Reaper might snipe them.
  • When facing Nefarion, move Cobalt Enforcer after a deathrattle minion, as it will lose Divine Shield at the start of the fight.
  • When in search of triples, don’t always play two of the same minion out. It can be stronger to keep the 2nd copy in your hand so it doesn’t take up space, as you may have to sell excess minions to make room for new ones, and triples look at your hand and board when combining.
  • It’s often worth waiting a turn before assembling a triple so you can level up your Tavern Tier. Getting a higher level minion off the bonus card can be huge.
  • Don’t go too deep chasing triples. One of the most common mistakes is to endlessly refresh and keep bad minions in play because you are hoping to triple them up. Often you need to just move on and present the best lineup you can.
  • Later in the game, you have a lot more info about your opponents. Adjust your lineups and positions accordingly.

Upgrading Your Personal Tavern Tier

The best way to get good at Battlegrounds is the same as any game—practice, practice, practice. I’ve found this game really easy to get into, even if the strategy is deep and the game can be fast-paced. Hopefully this guide helps, and I’ve even streamed the game a few times (and plan on doing more in the future). My TeamCFB teammate Sjow has also been streaming it (I’m literally watching him while writing this), and there are plenty of other good streamers to watch. Let me know what you thought about this, as I know it’s a departure from my usual fare. I’ve got plenty of Magic content coming too, though this foray into the Battlegrounds has been quite enjoyable, and I plan to continue it.

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