Well met! If you've been eyeballing Hearthstone, but you're not quite sure where to start, we've put together a beginner's guide that should get you settled into the game. It can be daunting at first, but don't worry - we're only going to be covering basic strategies here.
What is Hearthstone?
Hearthstone is a free-to-play card game for PC, Android and iOS based on the Warcraft fantasy universe. You pick a hero from one of nine classes and are pitted against another player online to defeat with spells and minions. You win when you reduce your opponent's health to zero.
Every turn, players draw a card and earn a mana crystal. Those mana crystals are expended to cast spells or summon minions from a player's hand; the more powerful the card, the more mana needed to play the card. At the beginning of a new turn, mana reserves are replenished to be able to play more cards, and an additional mana crystal is added (up to a maximum of 10). Spells can target opponents directly, their minions on the board, or the player's own minions. Minions have attack and health scores which indicate how much damage they do when battling enemies, as well as how much punishment they can take in return.
Players build 30-card decks with cards they earn through gameplay or in-app purchases. Some cards are specific to classes, while others are available to all classes. Each deck can have up to two of the same card (or one, if it's a powerful Legendary card). If your collection has more than two of a card (or more than one of a given Legendary) you can disenchant the duplicates into Arcane Dust, which can in turn be used to craft other cards.
Every couple of months a new Hearthstone expansion is released, which introduces new game mechanics and cards for every class to collect.
That covers the broad strokes. One of the first things you'll be doing after installing the game will be the tutorial which runs through the specifics of playing cards and attacking with minions. You'll want to get through that before reading on here.
Take care of minions first
Most of the time you'll want to prioritize having more minions in play than your opponent. This is referred to as board control. While zapping your opponent in the face with a lightning bolt may be tempting (taking them out is the point, after all), removing one of their minions from play is often the smarter move for a few reasons.
Spells will do their damage once and be done, but minions can attack turn after turn if left unopposed. Cumulatively, that minion will do more damage than a single spell.
Secondly, using spells to remove enemy minions means your own minions don't take damage from them in combat. That means they can last longer on the board and do more damage turn-over-turn. Your own healing effects and spells can also help ensure your minions get good mileage before they're destroyed, so don't be shy about healing them instead of yourself.
You won't always be able to take care of opponent's minions with spells. Inevitably, you're going to have to decide which of your opponent's minions to attack. When you attack a minion with one of your own, both sides are dealing and receiving damage at the same time. Ideally, you want to be taking out bigger creatures with smaller creatures. For example, if you have a 2/1 creature as above, and your opponent has a 5/2, you're in a good spot to trade. The damage potential of your opponent's minion is higher than yours (5 attack versus your 2) as is its survivability (2 health versus 1). Even though you both lose your respective minions when you attack it, your opponent is losing a more valuable minion. Victories are built on successive efficient trades like these.
Conversely, if you're the one with the 5/2 minion, trading into your opponent's 2/1 is highly inefficient. You only need 1 damage to kill their minion, so the extra damage from your minion's attack would be going to waste. If you're unable to remove the smaller minions via spells, other small minions, or a combination of the two, it may make sense to simply attack your opponent directly to take advantage of the full attack before your opponent trades on their turn.
Use your mana
Every mana crystal ultimately represents a unit of power you can apply to the board. At the end of your turn, you get nothing for unused mana, so make sure to use as much of it as possible every turn. For example, if you have six mana crystals to play with, you're likely better off playing two three-cost cards rather than a single five-cost card and leave a one mana crystal unspent.
The one tradeoff here is to consider keeping cards in your hand for future turns. If you have enough mana to use every card in your hand, it leaves you little to follow up with on your next turn. Worse still, if you're primarily playing minions, having a full board gives your opponent big value out of spells like Flamestrike, which deal damage to all of your minions.
Play unranked, play standard
There are multiple game modes to enjoy, but they can get competitive pretty quickly. To keep your sanity intact, try playing Casual Standard matches. Casual matches are less competitive, and you'll bump into players who are simply experimenting, or bots that play predictable decks. Standard mode means you'll only encounter cards that have been released in the last two years. Playing Wild would expose you to challenges that a limited collection will have a hard time dealing with. Meanwhile you're more likely to close the gap with only two years of cards to be considering.
If you ever feel the fatigue settling in, play some Solo Adventures. They have unique cards not available in multiplayer matches, producing some high-power, high-fun outcomes. You'll also get a chance to play around with some Standard cards that might not be in your permanent collection.
Complete Quests and Tavern Brawls
You need gold in order to buy packs and expand your card collection. While you get 10 gold for every three wins, you'll get much more from completing quests. You can only have three quests active at once. A new one is given every day, so make sure you've always got room for it by at least completing one quest every day. This consistent flow of gold will help you grow your collection. It may feel awkward at first playing classes you're not familiar with to complete your quests, but it's worth expanding your comfort zone, if only to get familiar with the cards opponents will play against you.
Tavern Brawl is a weekly event that puts a fun spin on the rules and awards a free Classic pack after you win a match. As a beginning player, these Classic cards are very valuable and will form the core of your collection. They don't phase out year-over-year like expansions do.
Arena is a particularly challenging game mode. It can be fun, especially as a beginner, since you're drafting a deck from a random assortment of cards which may or may not already be in your permanent collection. However, entering the Arena takes gold, and unless you can count on getting a certain number of wins before hitting three losses, you're likely better off investing your gold directly in card packs.
Seasonal events can be great opportunities to win promotional quests with bigger rewards, so keep an eye out!
Get all of your heroes to level 10
The quickest path to getting a strong collection of cards is levelling up every class to 10. Every time you play a game, the class you play gets experience points, which eventually leads to a level up. Up until level 10, you get a new Basic card every time you level up. These are like Classic cards in that they don't rotate out of Standard play like expansions do. These Basic cards are absolutely vital to unlock when first starting Hearthstone. If you're completing your daily quests and playing the full breadth of classes, it shouldn't take too long to get your heroes up to level 10.
As mentioned earlier, you're going to eventually start collecting Arcane Dust. This is gathered by disenchanting cards beyond the two copies you have in your collection. When you have cards to disenchant, you'll see a little blue vial shaking beside the Crafting button in the bottom-right of the My Collection screen. The highest-value cards will cost 1600 Arcane Dust. While it may be tempting to craft cheaper cards to flesh out your collection, there's one card that's absolutely worth saving up for as a new player.
When you go to build a new deck, Hearthstone offers three deck recipes to get you started. One of the recipes stays constant year-round and uses Classic/Basic cards, while the other two shift with the expansions available. When you pick a recipe, it will automatically fill your deck list with all of the cards in your collection that are in the recipe, while giving you the opportunity to substitute any cards you don't have.
This is where Whizbang the Wonderful upends the entire process. When you put Whizbang into your deck, the deck is finished - no other cards. That's because when you play a Whizbang deck, you're randomly assigned one of the 18 expansion recipes currently available across all classes. On the one hand, you lose the ability to pick and choose which class to play, but on the other, you're getting the opportunity to play with cards that aren't in your collection (including rare and exciting Legendary cards). Additionally, these decks are well-balanced, minimizing your need to research and test your own custom decks.
At the end of the day, with Whizbang the Wonderful, you get to enjoy cards not in your collection, try out a variety of classes you might not otherwise play, and rest assured that the deck is constructed responsibly.
Hopefully that provides everything you need to know about getting ahead with Hearthstone. Sing out in the comments if you have anything else to add, or if you're having trouble with something specific.