My new year in Hearthstone has been pretty great. I started on the morning of January 1st to get as much of a head start as possible. I guess this is also when a lot of the hardcore players also try to start climbing the ladder, which makes sense. In fact, I remember that this is precisely the reason I used to avoid playing ranked so early in the month. When you’re first starting Hearthstone, going against all the folks who were high ranked with their tier 1 decks full of legendary cards was incredibly disheartening. Now that I’m trying to play the game on a much more competitive level, this is not really a downside. In fact, early ladder play has resulted in a surprising bonus: I have played against two professional players so far this year.
My first run-in with players I have no business playing against was the one and only Pavel. As in Pavel, the 2016 Hearthstone World Champion. I caught him at Rank 15 on the 1st of January during that fateful climb. It was the most intense game of Hearthstone I have ever played, especially considering it was a mirror match. There’s nothing quite like going toe-to-toe with someone who is piloting the same type of deck as you, but at a world-class level. The match was very insightful and once I got over being star-struck (haha, just kidding, I’m still not over that), I began meticulously analyzing my plays and outs. I mean, I had to. The way Pavel played was extraordinary. He completely changed the typical strategy of the deck (Pirate Warrior) on the fly to accommodate for a stronger mirror match. I completely understand why he is top ranked in the world. Fortunately, I recorded the replay via Hearthstone Deck Tracker and now I have a little piece of history I get to treasure and analyze for the rest of my days. It was truly an awe-inspiring experience. I only ended up winning when we were both in top-deck mode. He would have had me dead to rights on the next turn if I hadn’t drawn well. It was sheer, dumb luck.
My second run-in with a pro player was against Forsen at Rank 11. Admittedly, this game was less harrowing than the one against Pavel, because this was after I crafted Patches for an Aggro Shaman deck. The game lasted 4 turns because I ended up getting a perfect curve (I would also like to think I played the deck well). However, we did end up playing again a few games later and he utterly trounced me. We emoted back and forth all game. It was a good time, and I mean that sincerely. Playing against professionals of such high quality was an eye-opener that made me think about the way I play in a much deeper way than I have in the past. It also made me think about math.
In the long run, Hearthstone is truly about percentages. I think that a lot people forget this fact. A very good deck is one that can win more than 60% of the time. Technically, a player that wins 51% of the time will eventually make it to the Legend rank. It will take hundreds upon hundreds of games, but it will happen. Hearthstone is a zero-sum game, which means that for every winner, there is a loser. If you can create a situation where your odds are better than a coin flip, you’re doing great. I personally have yet to break into the Legend bracket (my highest achieved rank is 3), but here I was with these incredible opportunities playing against some of the best players in the world and actually doing alright. That’s because sometimes I will win and sometimes I will lose. Even the best players lose sometimes, that’s the luck of the draw. I know this makes it seem like “what’s the point” or “everything is random so why bother,” but that’s not what I’m getting at.
Poker is another game that people complain about randomness without thinking about the long term. In fact, people have have argued about this for years before Hearthstone even came out. Lots of states still are unsure if poker is a game of skill or luck. Heck, people used to think that pinball was gambling because it didn’t have enough skill involved. The point is that even in the face of what looks like random odds, there are people we see consistently rising to the top of professional play in poker and Hearthstone. These are people who have found a way to put the odds in their favor time and time again. Games with cards or dice will always have an element of randomness to them, but that does not make them lesser games. How cool is it that there are people who can bend chance and luck to their will? That’s skill. That’s the ability I want to attain eventually. And after playing against these giants of the Hearthstone world it dawned on me: I may have be lucky, I may have been good, but regardless, they were definitely playing on a different level than me. They were making plays that I had not seen before that point. They were seeing things I wasn’t accounting for. I think that’s my resolution this year: to make these types of strong plays and calls consistently to make it to the next level of skill.
If you play Hearthstone, go out there and do you best this year. Find a good deck, make it your own, and perfect it. If you are winning more than you are losing, you are doing good! It might be better to be lucky than good, but in the end, luck always evens out. So try to become good instead, which shouldn’t be too hard. Besides, as Blizzard says: