Getting back into Hearthstone in 2020: What you need to know

Hearthstone Logo
Hearthstone Logo (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Hearthstone Sidequest

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Hearthstone is a continually evolving game, regularly releasing new content while phasing out old cards to keep the game fresh and competitive. If you haven't played in years, or at all, it might seem intimidating to jump in now. But the start of a new competitive season in April and an event going on through July means that now is a great time to give the digital collectible card game a try.

Blizzard makes it easy for new or returning players to join in, providing tutorials, notes in your interface about what's new, and starter cards so you can quickly build a competitive deck without investing any money. The game is free and playable on your phone, tablet, or computer, making it easy to get into. This guide should help make the process even more stress-free and let you just focus on having fun.

What is Hearthstone?

Hearthstone is a digital collectible card game set in the same universe as the Warcraft series. If you've played Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or the Pokémon Trading Card Game, you'll be familiar with the basic mechanics. Players build decks of cards, including spells, minions, and weapons, which each have their own abilities. Then they tactically manage their resources and decide what cards to play when in order to defeat the opposing player.

Blizzard Entertainment first launched the free-to-play game in 2014 and has supported it with regular expansions, which contain between 100-200 new cards, and adventures, which introduce about 30 new cards that are unlocked by playing through the game's story mode. The latest expansion, Ashes of Outland, was released in April.

It took Wizards of the Coast four years to catch up with what Blizzard Entertainment by launching Magic: The Gathering Arena, but Hearthstone still has a host of advantages because it was designed to be digital rather than converting an existing game into an electronic format. Magic is more interactive, requiring players to wait on their opponents to see if they want to respond to spells being cast. Hearthstone instead uses secret spells that trigger automatically when certain conditions are met. This makes the game faster paced while still requiring players to consider the cards their opponents have or haven't played to try to anticipate their moves.

How can I play Hearthstone?

Hearthstone Innkeepers Challenge

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While Hearthstone was initially released only for Windows and macOS, the game has since become available on all iOS and Android devices. You'll have to use a Blizzard account when you play, but that means your collection will be shared across all platforms. You'll also be able to chat with your BattleTag and Real ID friends.

New cards and classes

Unlike most CCGs, players in Hearthstone don't just design a deck but pick a class. Classes are represented by signature characters from the Warcraft games, each with their own special abilities. Your class will also determine what cards can be in your deck. Inspired by aspects of the Burning Crusade and Legion World of Warcraft expansions, Ashes of Outland introduces the game's first new class, the Demon Hunter.

You'll receive 20 cards to use in your Demon Hunter deck if you complete a three-part prologue adventure featuring the signature Demon Hunter Illidan Stormrage. The deck you use for the prologue is built for you, and the fights aren't that hard, making it a perfect way to remind yourself of the rules.

The Ashes of Outland expansion contains 135 cards. More of the Common and Rare cards are devoted to Demon Hunters than any other class to help them build the options that will let them be competitive.

Competitive play

Hearthstone Standard

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Like in Magic, competitive play is typically limited to cards from the most recent sets. In the case of Hearthstone, you can only use cards from the Basic and Classic sets and ones from the last two years. Standard rotations are referred to in zodiac-styled years, and the latest one, the Year of the Phoenix, also began in April.

If you haven't logged in since the Standard rotation changed, you'll be notified of the cards that can't be used in Standard and have the opportunity to automatically convert your decks to ones that only use Standard cards. Some of your Basic and Classic cards may have also been phased out to help game balance. If that happened, you'll be given a dust refund. Dust can be spent to craft new cards for your collection. Old cards are still valid in the Wild format, which can be used in Adventure mode and Hearthstone's more casual Tavern Brawl mode.

New mechanics

Hearthstone Cards

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ashes of Outland introduces two new types of cards: imprisoned demons and primes. Primes are minions that are unique to each class, with the exception of Demon Hunter. When removed from the board for any reason, they cause you to shuffle a much more powerful Prime version of the card back into your deck. Imprisoned demons are powerful minions that come into play dormant, which means they can't attack, defend, or be targeted by any effects. Once they become active, they're a force to be reckoned with.

You can find out what any card ability in Hearthstone does by hovering your mouse over it, so it shouldn't be too hard to pick things up. However, if you want to gain confidence, you might want to try some Casual games first. You'll still be able to earn gold and experience and complete quests while doing this without having to stress about affecting your player rank.

Pay to win?

Hearthstone Pack

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

You can play Hearthstone entirely for free, and you won't be at a significant disadvantage if you're willing to spend the time grinding for gold, the game's free currency, by completing quests and playing games. However, if you want to accelerate your progress, you have plenty of options.

A $10 Tavern Pass ( will get you four tickets to use in the Arena, where players draft decks and compete for substantial rewards. Competing there usually costs $2 or 150 gold. Tavern Pass holders also get some extra perks in Battlegrounds, an eight-player competitive mode that launched in November. If you want those benefits but don't want to pay real money, you can also buy a Tavern Pass for 1,250 gold.

Packs of cards cost 100 gold, but you can also pay for them in real money, starting at $3 for two packs. As of this expansion, once you have the maximum playable number of a given card, you'll never get an additional copy. This helps remove frustration and let you grow your collection faster. As an added incentive, Blizzard is giving a free deck from a class of their choice to players who haven't played the game in the past four months as soon as they make their way out of the New Player competitive league.

What's next?

Hearthstone is currently running a Felfire Festival event that will be releasing new content weekly through July 7. Upcoming additions include a new adventure and hero releasing on June 17, a challenge mode where you'll fight powerful World of Warcraft bosses starting June 24, and new versions of Tavern Brawl on June 24 and July 1. With plenty of new content to explore, it's a perfect time to get back into the game.

Samantha Nelson