As a digital card-game, Hearthstone is bound by its game rules absolutely. Unlike paper card games, it’s very difficult to do anything with your cards other than play Hearthstone according to the basic ruleset. With a paper card game like Magic: the Gathering, play groups are free to make up rules as they choose. In fact, entirely new play formats have arisen due to the freedom that paper card games allow. This kind of improvisation is impossible in a digital game. Players are bound by the code. Tavern Brawl is Blizzard’s answer to the limitation of their digital medium. Each week, Hearthstone features a short-lived game mode in their Tavern Brawl. This game mode bends the rules of traditional hearthstone, sometimes to the point of breaking. It offers players a chance to experience new ways to enjoy the cards of Hearthstone.
This week’s brawl, Decks Assemble!, is no exception. The changes are transformative. Each player chooses a class per usual. When the match begins, each player draws five cards. These cards will be some mixture of Coins, 1/1 chickens, and the health and attack spare parts. At the beginning of each turn, the active player is presented a choice of three cards. They choose one of these cards and it is immediately added to that player’s hand. Every time a player plays a card, a copy of it is shuffled into their deck. At the end of their turn, all cards remaining in their hand are also shuffled back in. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Basically, you grow your deck by one card each turn, and you draw a new hand each turn.
Anyone familiar with tabletop gaming might recognize what is actually happening here. Decks Assemble! is a cleverly implemented deck builder. Deck builder card games are a tabletop genre unto themselves. The most well recognized of the genre is Dominion, but there are many others. Cryptozoic has released several deck builders themed after various IPs: DC Comics, Street Fighter, etc. The biggest strength of the deck builder genre is its dynamism. Each player must react to the cards in play; you can’t just build any deck you want. Like a Hearthstone arena run, you are bound by the cards you see. However what makes this game mode different is that you can adapt to your opponent’s strategy in the middle of the game.
Arena players are going to feel very comfortable playing this tavern brawl. The format rewards smart card drafting. Each pick must be chosen considering three things. First, you must pay attention to your previous picks. Keep your deck’s synergies in mind and try to draft cards that support them. Secondly, pay attention to what your opponent is doing. Did they draft a high-impact threat that you have no way to deal with? Prioritize removal. Third, draft to your curve. Don’t draft an 8-drop for your first pick, unless the other two cards are truly unplayable. Try to draft a card you can play immediately. Consider what you would play otherwise by looking at your hand. Following these three guidelines should keep your decks consistently good.
The format isn’t perfectly balanced, but that’s the conceit of playing Tavern Brawl. Knowing this, there are a couple of key cards to look out for that excel in Decks Assemble! First- or second-pick Knife Juggler can win a game on its own. The card synergizes perfectly with the chickens you’ll be playing in the first several turns and it picks off your opponent’s chickens, too! Similarly, early cards that care about playing spells net a lot of value from the coins and spare parts you’ll be playing. The Mage’s Flamewaker card is absolutely devastating in this respect. Also do note that refilling your hand at the end of each turn does not count as drawing cards, so don’t expect to game the system that way. The way you can and should game the system is to find ways to put good cards in your deck aside from drafting them. The discover mechanic and other cards that put extra cards into your hand or in play are great ways to bolster your deck.
Mark Rosewater of Wizards of the Coast is known to say Magic: the Gathering is not one game, rather many games that use the same card set. It’s a little harder to find the flexibility to allow players to enjoy the same freedom in Hearthstone, but Tavern Brawls are one solution. Decks Assemble! is a fantastic way to enjoy Hearthstone without having to struggle on the ranked ladder or spend gold on arena runs. The games are dynamic and memorable. If you haven’t dipped your toes into a Tavern Brawl in some time, do yourself a favor. This brawl will surely enjoy a reprise (brawls are known to rotate back in when demand is high for them), but you can’t miss playing it at least once before it rotates out. What are you waiting for?