Introduction

What is this guide about and why is it needed? The internet is full of Hearthstone guides, that are mostly deck guides nowadays. Although some people dislike net decking (especially in lower ranks), I think they are really great and helpful to improve your game and the rank you could get to. Some do also explain how to play a deck and the very good ones also explain why it is better to play like that.
These guides are most of the time very specific (one deck, or max: one deck type). However, In my 200+ Hearthstone coachings with players between rank 18 beginners and players that already played legend #1 there showed up many concepts that are essential if you want to become better in the game. As I wasn't able to find a good guide about it, I decided to write one for my community.
Many of the concepts and ideas written down in this guide are kinda obvious and self explaining. Nevertheless while playing, most people will forget about them and don't recognize the underlying structures. That is the point where the most mistakes in playing Hearthstone are made.
About the writer

My name is Daniel 'C4mlann' Märkisch and I do play Hearthstone on a professional level. My biggest achievements were the 3rd place in the open EU WCA qualifier (1500dollar) and the participation at the WCA finals in Yin Chuan (CN). I won some other online tournaments that gave WCS points as well.
Normally I do grind the ladder to legend (43 times legend divided on EU/NA/Asia). I got to #1 Legend EU a couple of times and also reached #1 Legend NA. I did some top50 and top100 season finishes.
In real life I am a 31 years old lecturer at different universities (teaching subjects: group dynamics, team development, Human resources, self reflection), a consultant and a process oriented coach. I also worked as a social worker and a researcher. My master thesis was about (video) games and organization in virtual realities (e.g. clans and guilds). My hometown is Kassel (Germany).

You can find me here:

https://www.twitch.tv/c4mlann
https://www.twitter.com/c4mlann
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH1hR5lfw0VnXu3_pCPBbhw

As my (written) English is mediocre or worse, please leave me a comment if you don't understand something. Then I will try to fix it.

Decision-making

The whole game can be seen as an addition of single decisions, made by the players. A good player will make good choices/decisions, a bad player won't. That's why a good player will win more games (over time). Getting better at the game means getting better at making decisions. But how can you make better decisions in Hearthstone? Therefore it is useful to understand some underlying concepts ...

Resources

There are different resources in the game, which are either displayed via the interface or indirectly shown.

  • Life: Hitpoints (HPs) is the most obvious resource as it is shown by the game, turning red when you've lost some HPs.
  • Hand cards: You have to count your own cards, if you hover over your enemy's hand, the game will display how many cards he has.
  • Deck cards: Cards that are in your deck and will become handcards once you draw them can also be displayed by hovering over the pile.
  • Mana (Tempo): Once every turn you ll get one additionally mana crystal until a max to 10. This resource is needed to transfer handcards to board cards (or cast spells). How effective your game is most likely also depends on how much mana you won't use (and therefor loose) per match.
  • Board: The cards on the board (minions) are very important for most of the decks you ll find in Hearthstone. As almost all creatures suffer from not having charge, the player that can decide which trades he will make and which not is in advantage in many games. This is called 'having board control'.
    Every decision you will make as a player will concern at least one of these resources. Most of the time you will trade one resource for the other (Lifetap: changing mana and life for a hand card; Fireball opponents face: trading one handcard and 4 mana for 6 dmg (HPs)).

Managing your resources in an optimal way will produce something that most players will call value. Value is an abstract idea of being ahead in some kind of resource compared to your enemy.

How to become a good hearthstone player 1.)
Keep an eye on all your resources and make good choices trading one for another, destroying enemy resources with less your own resources. Getting an advantage on key resources and therefore win the game.

Deck Archetypes

But what are the key resources? When should I draw cards, burst down my enemy or build up a strong board? This depends on what kind of deck you are playing. Decks can be divided into different archetypes, which share a game winning plan.

  • Aggro (e.g. Facehunter, Aggro Shaman, Eboladin)

These kind of decks try to kill their opponent as fast as possible, therefor playing very aggressive cards. The goal is it to maximize your damage (to the face) per mana and per card. Good aggro players will also protect their damage resources (minions) to maximize their damage.

  • Midrange (e.g. Combo Druid, Secret Pala)

Midrange decks are winning the game by producing so much value, that your opponent can't handle all the cards (questions) you are playing. Therefor most midrange decks play a powercreep (card that is compared to it's mana cost overpowered and better than cards with the same cost) on curve. In many cases your cards will trade 2 for 1 and you will get card advantage, etc. All you have to do is to make sure, that you spend your mana optimal over your upcoming turns and play the biggest card you can while not wasting many.

  • Control (e.g. Control Warrior, Control priest, freeze Mage)

Control decks are playing many answer cards. They try to destroy every thread the enemy plays (denying board), healing (armoring) up and staying alive (HPs) until the other player doesn't have any threads left and you can drop your bombs (cards that are so powerful that they will win the game on their own - therefor being very expensive and most of the time legendary).

  • Combo (e.g. pre nerf Grim Patron, Miracle Rogue)

These Decks try to win via a very powerful combination and synergy of different card effects. Many of these decks also tried to kill their opponent in only one turn while not having board (OTK). While being hard to play and very powerful, they are a large problem to the game, as it based on player interaction. This player interaction will most of the time be fighting for board. Piloting a combo deck like patron warrior very well is one of the most satisfying things you could do in the game, but playing against it always felt as entertaining like playing against a wall of bricks that will fall on your head around turn7-9 and you can't prevent it from doing so. This is (only) one reason, why key cards of combo decks got nerfed in the past (leeroy jenkins, goblin auctioneer, warsong commander).

  • Tempo (e.g. Tempo Mage, Hybrid Hunter)

Tempo Decks are Hybrid between Aggro and Midrange Decks. Therefor you can chose what game plan you will take (going for value or face damage) depending on what cards you got and what deck you are playing against. The upside is that you are more flexible, the downside, that your deck isn't as effective in a single strategy than a pure aggro or midrange deck. Sometimes you won't produce enough damage to kill the other player and not enough value to win the game at the same time. Knowing when to play for board (value, midrange) and when to go for face (aggro) is the key decision for this archtype.

  • Fatigue (e.g. Mill Rogue)

Pretty uncommon decks, cause playing towards the resource cards in the decks isn't too effective (at the moment) in Hearthstone as there are only limited possibilities/cards that will take advantage from this strategy. The idea is to let your opponent draw his whole deck (also abusing the 10cards max in hand rule) while he/she isn't able to kill you and dies of the accumulated fatigue damage

  • Supercontrol (e.g. Handlock)

I am not too sure about this archtype, as I don't know if it makes sense and it is also close to 'normal' control decks. Basically these are control decks that play certain combination of cards that are able to produce a high amount of value. These decks are even able to out value midrange decks.

How to become a good hearthstone player 2.)
Know your deck! And that doesn't only mean to know all cards in it, but how you plan to win the game. Know the opponent's deck and prevent him/her from following his/her goals.

Strategies

Every deck (and archtype) in Hearthstone follows a certain plan in order to win the game. Being a good player means knowing the plan and making decisions according to it.

How to become a good Hearthstone player: 3.)
Think big! First think about the game plan of your deck and your opponents deck. Then think about your next turns and your opponent's next turns. Afterwards find a turn that fits the greater game plan.

Aggro decks e.g. do have the game winning plan to aim for the resource opponent's life. Therefor maximizing your damage (per card/over time/per mana) is your kind of play style. Every single decision can be compared to other decisions to find the best play. Calculating which play will - most likely, depending on possible answers - do more damage than other plays will not only find you the best play, but you will also know why it is the best play. Knowing why one play/decision is better than another will grant you the ability to know good/bad plays. Therefor you will be able to learn faster and get better.

How to become a good Hearthstone player: 4.)
Compare plays/outcomes and know upsides/downsides of every play + calculate the best play, therefor not only finding the best play, but also be able to tell why this play is better than others.

The Ladder

The ladder in Hearthstone is designed to match players at the same skill level and to display progress in the game. In order to move to better ranks you need certain skills. There are certain skill levels in every game. The ranks normally don't fit the description 1 on 1, but it is only a very imprecise write down in order to get an idea about the concept. Also, the abilities of players will become better over time in generally. On the other hand, in the beginning of the season, legend players are also playing on rank10+ etc.

  • Rank 25-20 super casual players. Just playing a funny card game once a month :)
  • Rank 20-15 Having a bad deck/net decking a deck, but changing some cards in it to 'make it better' because ideas of game plan are not known. Only playing visible things, therefor not playing around any enemy cards
  • Rank 15+ Getting better at playing the own deck. Most of the players have a greater card pool, do enjoy the game, play more frequently and do beat their rl friends with - most of the time - control decks. Most of them do play every deck they find but don't advance cause they don't learn to play a deck.
  • Rank 10+ Having a good idea how to play the own deck and an idea, what cards you should play around. Sometimes playing around cards that you just shouldn't play around in a certain situation, cause they have fear to get punished in situations, where the effect isn't good enough
  • Rank 5+- Playing the own deck and the opponent's deck. Being able to play different decks on a very solid level. Knowing all decks that are currently played
  • Rank 2+- Same knowledge than rank 5 (sometimes a little bit more off course), but even more insights in the game. More enduring players, as you don't get extra stars from win streaks after rank 5 any more. Therefor it is necessary to have a higher win rate and spend more time to proceed (you can get to rank5 with a win rate below 50% if you just play the game long enough). Most people stop playing around rank 5 due to that issue, because the game becomes to time consuming and frustrating for many players.
  • Legend+- The difference between a rank 1 player and a player that reaches legend is - most of the time - not the knowledge about the game, but the mind set. Being able to take actions against getting tilted and not tilting that much in general etc. will most likely make the little difference. Some people that could easily get to legend will stop at rank 1-3 cause the can't play the game too often/long. A common phenomena is ladder anxiety (all over the ladder). Playing on your own limit (which wouldn't be your limit if you weren't afraid of it) makes you play “safer” and slower and therefor you will often make decisions that aren't correct, but feel safer. In a short term: Playing not to loose instead of playing to win will make you lose games.
    Most legend players also have an idea about the concept of the meta and are able to pick (and play) decks according to it. The result is a higher win rate and more stars per hour.

How to become a good Hearthstone player: 5.)
Know your skill level and know what skills you are missing (yet) to get to the next better one.

The Meta

Meta is probably the most common term when you look at deck guides. But what is it exactly? Or better: What is the idea behind it? In some games, there is no meta, like in many offline games. There is one best practice/solution to solve the abstract problem the game is about. Or: there is only one way and your in game opponents will always act like the same (e.g. bots). In games where people play against each other (the more the better), there will also be a way to play the game that is stronger and more powerful than others. That is the moment when more and more people will start playing the deck until most people do use this one deck. But then something 'next level' will happen. Some people will find a way to build a deck that is not the strongest one, but very strong against the best practice deck. As there are so many best practice decks around, you only need to have a good match up against this one deck. An example: Secret paladin is very strong (T1). It is also kinda easy to play and not too expensive, why many people start playing it with great success. As there will be like 60% of your match ups against secret paladin now, it is better to play another deck that is strong versus secret paladin and okish versus all other decks you'll face. Let's say midrange hunter with double flare (as meta not only works for decks, but for cards as well). Midrange hunter and the card flare itself are poor choices to play normally, but great now in the current meta.
Normally the meta will work - according to the archetypes - like stone, paper, scissor. If there are many midrange decks, people will start playing decks that are good against them: Aggro. If there are way more aggro than midrange decks, people will start playing what is strong against fast decks: Control. After this switch people will play midrange decks as they are strong against control and the whole process will start over again.
If you play Hearthstone, you always want to find a deck that is good in the current meta (has good match ups against the decks you're queued into). But how to do this? It is probably one of the hardest things, because there is nothing like one meta (although the article until now might have suggested something like that). You will face other decks now than another player, and 'the meta' will also change over ranks, time and realm pools. It seems that there are often some control heavy decks around rank 10-15 and around rank 4-5. The better your rank, the faster the meta will switch, because other people will try to find a good meta deck and stop playing decks that are bad in the meta.
On stream, one of the questions I got asked the most is: 'I am rank xy, what deck should I play to get (easy) Legend/rank yz?' This question is like asking which one is better, stone, paper or scissor. Theoretically they are equal in power, but in practice it just depends on what the other players will choose.
How to use this knowledge? Normally I try to figure out what other players are playing by looking at my last matches and sometimes i spectate friends at the same rank to see what they are facing. Make a list and find a deck that is good against the most common decks, not too bad against uncommon decks and very weak against rare decks.
Example: last 20 games: 6xRenolock, 4xControlwarrior, 4xControlPriest, 2xOilRogue, 2xAggroShaman, 1xComboDruid, 1xSecret Paladin. This meta is similar to the ones you'll meet at around rank 12 mid/end of the seasons. A very control heavy meta. Assuming that the meta is kinda consistent over time, you try to pick what is strong against the most common decks and weak against the decks that are missing (WL zoo, Tempo Mage, Aggro druid e.g.). Combo Druid would be a great choice in this example (midrange answers control).

How to become a good Hearthstone player: 6.)
Understand the concept of the meta. Therefor: don't ask what deck is best to get to legend from rank 12, because: It will be more than one deck/archetype and: No one knows what kind of decks you are facing at the specific time/rank/region :)

The perfect game

In some games it is possible to play a perfect game. A perfect game is the best possible solution to the problem the game is based on. In bowling e.g. this would be the highest possible score: 300. This is an easy example for a perfect game, cause the goal is to get the most possible amount of points. In other games it is more difficult. In checkers (getting one step closer towards Hearthstone) there is also something like a perfect game, although it is much harder to find. It took some decades to find a solution to the game. In this case 'solution' means that there is a computer program that is unbeatable because it found the perfect combination of turns. By contrast, there is nothing like a perfect game in chess (yet???).
Is there a perfect game in Hearthstone? In my opinion there often is, because most of the time your best option is so much better in many terms than the 2nd best. You don't need to be legend to play a midrange deck hitting the perfect curve ;) In other, more complicated games and situations it is nearly impossible to say what play is better, because there are factors that you simply don't really know. BUT: being better at Hearthstone is being able to play the closest to perfect as possible. What factors do you have to think about in order to get closer to a perfect play/game?

How to become a good Hearthstone player: 7.)
consider following aspects: Game plan: Every single decision is part of a turn and only as good as the turn is. Every turn is part of a game and only as good as the game is. Think about the game, the turn and your move/decision. In this order.
Strategy: Does your move fit to your strategy? Does it prevent your opponent from following his strategy? Does the strategy fit to the situation?
Your next (possible) turns: What will be your next like 3 turns? How do you not only have a good turn now, but also a great followup?
Your enemies next (possible) turns: Weakening your opponent's turn will make your play stronger. You can't find a perfect (or good) play/game without thinking about your opponent.
Optimizing all resources: Which play is the most effective? How effective is every play in terms of all your resources?
The game is not endless: using the resources in a optimal way over the duration of the game (e.g. spending every mana, every card drawn when you kill your opponent in an aggressive deck)

The End

Hopefully you liked this guide and perhaps I was able to give you some new insights about the game and some underlying structures. I know that many people – especially in the higher ranks – know these concepts, but I found, that a guide like this is a good way to remember them :)
Please leave me a comment with your opinion/critic!
Also, feel free to follow/like/etc :)