In Defense of Playing by Feel

Hearthstone is a game of probabilities. The best play is determined from looking at your possibly plays, your opponents best answers to them and crunching the numbers to find the line of plays that will win the most often. Even all the randomness of Knife Juggler can be accounted for with the right math. Hence, the best players should be those that get the closest to that ideal right?

Well, no. I know because I have tried to be that person and it’s exhausting to thoroughly think through every possibility every time, usually to come to the same conclusion. And to be honest my win rate did not go up, it just made it so I got fatigued faster and had to take a break sooner.

Hearthstone is an insanely complicated game. Even situations with only one hidden piece of information can be hard to fully map out. Just look at the board below, that secret opens tons of tons of possibilities. Oh, and remember you only have 75 seconds to think it through.

Screenshot (16)

Intuition is a valuable skill that needs to be trained and honed. It is not a necessary evil, only useful because of our limited capacity. You can minutely analyze plays, but if you are planning on grinding the ladder or playing a tournament your performance is much more dependent of having a well formed intuition than analysis.

Feeling the Play

Wait, are you actually suggesting I should think less when I’m playing? Well, yes and no. When you have played many games of a given match up you start to pick up patterns that you understand before explicitly thinking through why it is. Should I trade here or not? How much do I value 5 face damage? Should I play around Consecration against a Secret Paladin?

Take the situation below.

Juggler vs Creeper

Here I really want to coin out the Knife Juggler to contest a possible Darnassus Aspirant. Until about a month ago I would have insisted that this play is without a doubt correct and out of the scope of intuition. However, recently Druids have started to cut Darnassus Aspirant. Running out the gnome is just asking for a Turn 2 Keeper of the Grove to come trotting out and wrecking my game. The math itself is fairly complex to work out, as you need an estimate of how many Druid are running 2, 1 and no Darnassus Aspirants, but it is possible. Is it worth it? That’s for you to decide.

Given the state of the current meta I’ll go with the Haunted Creeper. If I start seeing more Darnassus Aspirants at some point my gut will tell me to lean in the other direction. It is not an exact science.

Training Intuition

Now that we are all on board with the idea of intuition as a way to improve at the game, how do we use it?

Let’s dispense with the obvious quickly. The bedrock intuition is built on is practice. To get good at pattern recognition you will need to look at many patterns. By the 4th turn at the latest you should know about 28 cards in your opponent’s deck and formulated a gameplan to win the game. Intuition calibrated on a small sample is just a disaster.

Play different decks: This is the first and easiest step. Many players think Zoo is an aggressive deck, but once you put enough hours into it to be competent with the deck, they realize trading is almost always correct. Tempo Mage is more complex than meets the eye, sometimes playing like an aggro deck, sometimes like a control deck and most of the time as a tempo deck.

Try different playstyles with the same deck: The same deck can be played in a surprising number of ways. We have already covered how many Druid players think they are playing a midrange-control deck when really it’s closer to midrange Hunter here, but it applies to many decks. The inclusion of Kor'kron Elite in Patron is a small adjustment to the deck that makes it significantly more aggressive. Forcing a playstyle onto a deck will cost you a few games in the short term but will make you a better player in the long run.

Actively assess your blind spots: Mind Control Tech always catches me by surprise. Every time it is played it is like I have seen the card for the first time. Now, every time I play against a Renolock or a Druid I keep the possibility in the back of my mind. Will I overcompensate for the threat of a relatively rare card? For a while sure, but eventually it will fall into place.

Get the Balance Right

There is clearly a balance to be had here. Playing totally by feel will clearly be a failure, but for many players listening to a well honed intuition is a valuable resource that we shouldn’t look down upon.

5 thoughts on “In Defense of Playing by Feel

  1. Nice article. I appreciate you drawing attention to the more “right-brained” side of play. I frequently make intuitive plays and while sometimes it can cost me a game, I find that when it pays off, it pays off big time.
    I would like to note that in terms of player progression and skill improvement I would reserve intuitive playing for more seasoned, experienced players and not for beginners. Any estimates or how long or how many ranked wins someone should have accumulated before they include “intuition” as a regular tool in their toolbox? Again, nice work.

    1. You need a ton of games. You have to be in the same situation a few times and be very familiar with deck. Know how you win or lose, which cards are important in the matchups and which turns are the critical ones.

  2. I disagree with creeper over Knifejuggler in a vaccum (where we don’t know how many cards they kept). I think Knifejuggler should be coined:

    – Innervate Keeper is a very low chance and if we play creeper, Keeper is gonna silence that instead and probably still lose us the game. We are only slightly less behind in this line as Keeper still outtrades every early game minion – thus this should not be played around.
    – Wrath should be considered but in that line we end up ahead because Wild Growth is not played. If Wrath we play Creeper into AC while their most likely plays are Shade and Heropower.
    -Aspirant, while currently uncommon, still could be there and we lose to it due to its high impact.

    Also if we delay Knifejuggler by one turn we play into Wild Growth – Keeper, which has the same chance of being in their hand compared to Innervate Keeper. I guess we could play creeper again on turn 2 but then our Knife Juggler doesn’t get played until after turn 4 which could be ok but is very low pressure.

    1. Knife juggler is really easily answerable. It can get wrathed, living rooted or inn + keeper. While inn + keeper is somewhat unlikely, the total probability that it dies is high.

      Early pressure is crucial in this matchup and you can’t afford to have your 2 drop just die. The only real play that punishes creeper is aspirant. If they wild growth in response to your juggler, it will usually get in 4 damage then die on their turn 3 while a creeper will get in similar amounts of damage over the game.

      1. To make sure we’re talking about the same thing; In your hand specifically, I agree with you now that you would play Creeper into Creeper in the current meta but would you argue that Creeper over Knifejuggler is correct without another 2 drop in hand? (eg. if the second Creeper was a Highmane in your screen).

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