Review: Hearthstone Battlegrounds (Open Beta)

(c) Blizzard Entertainment

Hearthstone’s new game mode, Battlegrounds, started open beta this week. I’ve been playing since closed beta, a little over a week ago, and I have some thoughts! So, this is my not-so-quick rundown of what Hearthstone Battlegrounds is and my opinions on a few things. This is going to be a series of posts, starting with the basics and then deeper dives into each of the things I’m going to talk about here. I’ll add links to this one as new posts are written.

So, what is Hearthstone Battlegrounds anyway?

Hey, good to see you again! Step on up.
Hearthstone, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a new and improved version of the original World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, turned digital, and you can play against other players in several ways, competing for ranking in Standard (limited card selection) and Wild (mostly unlimited card selection) formats, just for fun in Casual format, a weekly Tavern Brawl that changes the rules of the game in interesting ways, a Magic the Gathering style Arena mode where you draft your deck from a selection of cards, and now, Battlegrounds mode.

Battlegrounds is an interesting twist on the game where you have eight total players who select from 24 heroes and then battle it out tournament style until someone emerges victorious. Instead of mana and decks, you have coins you can use to recruit minions each turn, and then duke it out until one side’s minions are all vanquished. If the other player has minions remaining, they buff the hero’s attack power based on their Tavern Tier ranking and the hero’s Tier Ranking. Then you go back to the tavern to recruit more minions, your amount of gold increasing turn by turn, which you can use to upgrade your tavern, fill the tavern with new minions, or freeze the existing minions on the board to buy later. The Hearthstone blog has a good rundown of everything you need to know about the gameplay itself. The best thing is it’s free! You don’t need to spend a dime to play this mode.

As of writing this, I’ve played probably forty or so games and have managed to get 1st place twice (including the tutorial, where you are basically guaranteed to win) and I’ve been in the Top 4 a total of 26 times. My total rating is 4334. I have frustratingly come in 5th place several times. I’ll have more stats once beta ends and I can actually get more info on my personal gameplay.

So, in my experience playing the game so far, I have some thoughts about the best strategies, heroes and hero powers, and the strongest mechanics I’ve seen in the game.

Basic Strategies:

Nightmare Amalgam
The strongest minions are ones who have a type: Beasts, Demons, Mechs, and Murlocs. You can build synergies with these that increase their attack and health as the game progresses. Nightmare Amalgam is always a good Tier 2 choice because it has all minion types and can receive all buffs from other cards. Cards with Deathrattle: Summon a X minion are extremely strong in this game because it gives you another minion to fight, especially in early game, and if you can pair with Tier 3 Khadgar, you can be really effective by summoning twice as many of the minions. Do keep in mind that the lower tier Deathrattle minions become less effective in later rounds, so you have to be careful not to hang on to cards like Mounted Raptor (Deathrattle: Summon a random 1-Cost minion) and Mecharoo (Deathrattle: Summon a 1/1 Jo-E Bot) too long, even if you manage to upgrade it, because there are better Deathrattle minions later game.

Regardless of the synergies you are able to pull off, some of the strongest mechanics in the game are Divine Shield, Poisonous, and Deathrattle (summon a minion). Taunt is useful in that you can protect some of your other minions who may not have as much health, or who get stronger as the game progresses. Unfortunately, if your opponent has a poisonous minion, your taunt minions aren’t going to be as strong, no matter how much health they have. Battlecry minions vary in power depending on your synergies, but the ones that summon other minions work really well early game and the extra minions can be sold for gold in later rounds when you no longer need them.

Cards that buff themselves based on your other cards, like Scavenging Hyena (Whenever a friendly Beast dies, gain +2/+1), Bolvar, Fireblood (Divine Shield, After a friendly minion loses Divine Shield, gain +2 attack), or Junkbot (Whenever a friendly Mech dies, gain +2/+2) are extremely strong if you can get the synergies going. And they are all upgradeable as well, doubling those numbers once the minion is tripled.

Hero Options:

Millificent Manastorm
As of writing this, I’ve seen several lists going around on Hearthstone Twitter discussing which heroes are at the top and which ones are weak, and I’ve seen their top choices obliterated and their bottom choices going on to win several Battleground tournaments, so honestly, I would pick the ones that make the most sense to you. Depending on the player, you will be able to choose from 2-3 heroes at the beginning of the game. Starting out, I recommend going for heroes that allow you to buff minions passively or for low cost, such as Dancin’ Deryl, King Mukla, Millificent Manastorm, The Rat King, and Yogg-Saron. They are much easier to build synergies with, because of the buffs.

The other type of heroes that I would recommend are the ones who can manipulate their mana in some way: A .F. Kay, Bartendotron, Infinite Toki, Lich Baz’hial, and Trade Prince Gallywix.  A. F. Kay can be extremely strong. Even though she skips her first two turns, she starts turn three with a Tier 3 and Tier 4 minion, which are much more powerful than anything anyone else will be able to get that early in the game. Bartendotron reduces the cost of your tavern upgrades by 1 gold, Infinite Toki allows you to refresh the tavern and include a minion of one tier higher than your current tier, and both Lich Baz’hial and Trade Prince Gallywix allow you to put gold into your hand to use later. Lich Baz’hial can be dangerous because you have to give up 3 health for the gold, but it can be powerful. The one time I got 1st place in Battlegrounds outside the tutorial was with Lich Baz’hial. Gallywix allows you to spend gold now and save it for later, a good way to save unspent gold at the end of a turn.

I have seen the other heroes do well, but I think that comes down to the build of their minion boards more than their hero powers.

Basic Synergies: (updated!)

Regardless of tier, there are four basic synergies in the game: Beasts, Demons, Mechs, and Murlocs. The cards are drawn from several sets, including those that would normally be Wild, with a number Battlegrounds-only cards that take these synergies to a whole new level. There are also some un-typed cards in the rotation that can be strong in certain situations, but if you can get any synergies going early on, the game will go better for you. Some heroes naturally push you toward certain synergies.

I’ll go into more detail on these in another post, with a tier-by-tier breakdown, but for now, a brief look.

Right now, I would argue that the strongest synergy overall is:
  1. Mechs
  2. Beasts
  3. Demons
  4. Murlocs


Sneed's Old Shredder
Mechs have some of the strongest Deathrattles in Battlegrounds; being able to summon more minions is always good, especially with cards like Piloted Shredder (Deathrattle: Summon a random 2-Cost minion), Replicating Menace (Magnetic, Deathrattle: Summon three 1/1 Microbots), Piloted Sky Golem (Deathrattle: Summon a random 4-cost minion), Mechano-Egg (Deathrattle: Summon an 8/8 Robosaur), Kangor’s Apprentice (Deathrattle: Summon the first 2 friendly Mechs that died this combat), and Sneed’s Old Shredder (Deathrattle: Summon a random Legendary minion). Also, with mechanics like Magnetic and several Divine Shield/Taunt minions, you can build a really strong board with them, if you get the right cards.  Also, if you can combo Pogo-Hopper (Battlecry: Gain +2/+2 for each other Pogo-Hopper you played this game) throughout a run, you can end up with a massive mech that most players won’t be able to combat.


Rat Pack
If I can't make a board of mechs, I try to go with beasts as much as possible. In late game, there is a Tier 6 card specifically introduced for Battlegrounds, Mama Bear, that buffs beasts +4/+4  as you summon them. Also, there is a Tier 5 card, Goldrinn, the Great Wolf with Deathrattle: Give your Beasts +4/+4, and a Tier 3 card, Pack Leader, that buffs your beasts +3 attack as you summon them. Those are some of the strongest buffs in the game, and pair really well with cards like Tier 2 Rat Pack, which has a Deathrattle that summons a number of 1/1 rats equal to its attack power (2/2 rats once it’s upgraded). With a Mama Bear and Pack Leader out, those 1/1 rats become 9/6 rats. It’s an amazing combo if you can pull it off.


Vulgar Homunculus
Demons can also be very strong, if you can get the right card combos in place. One of the best starting cards is Vulgar Homunculus (2/4 with Taunt and Battlecry: Deal 2 damage to your hero). Early damage doesn’t mean very much when you can keep from getting hit by your opponents, and as the highest health Tier 1 card, it’s the most likely to win early rounds. Tier 1 also has Wrath Weaver, a 1/1 that gains +2/+2 with every Demon you play, though it deals 1 damage to your hero in exchange. I’ve seen some massive versions of this card late game, with 30+ attack and health, that are really hard to kill if you don’t have equally large minions or poisonous. The strongest card in Demons though is Soul Juggler (Whenever a friendly Demon dies, deal 3 damage to a random enemy minion). If you can triple him, he deals 6 damage every time a friendly demon dies. Combo that with cards like Imp Gang Boss (Whenever this minion takes damage, summon a 1/1 Imp) and Void Lord (Taunt, Deathrattle: Summon three 1/3 Demons with Taunt), you can really deal some damage to your enemy minions.


Murloc Tidehunter
Murlocs are extremely strong early game, but taper off about midway through because most of the Murloc cards are very low tier and don’t deal as much damage, both as minions and as hero attack buffs when you win matches. There is potential for really strong Murloc boards using Nightmare Amalgams to accrue buffs from the various Battlecry cards, especially from Toxfin (Battlecry: Give a friendly Murloc Poisonous) and the cards that buff multiple types at once. As such, I’ve seen Murlocs more successful when combining Nightmare Amalgams with other synergies. Though if you can manage to get Tier 6 Gentle Megasaur (Battlecry: Adapt your Murlocs), you’ll do really well.


As much as I love the new mode, it isn’t perfect. One of the frustrating pitfalls of the game so far is the heavy dependence on RNG.

Sometimes, you can get a good synergy going with your cards, have your tavern upgraded to Tier 5 or 6, and somehow, you get a selection of Tier 1 and Tier 2 minions that don’t synergize with your existing minions at all, and no matter how many times you refresh the tavern, you can’t seem to get a minion that will strengthen your existing board. The most frustration part of this is when you are trying to get a triple of a minion. When you get a triple of a minion, that minion upgrades, doubling the stats and mechanics of that specific card, and you get to discover a minion of a tier higher than your current tavern. It’s a super powerful mechanic! But when you’re in the final rounds of the Battlegrounds and have two copies of a minion out and could really use that triple, so you refresh the tavern with every last bit of your mana, and yet nothing good pops up… that’s really really annoying. One the one hand, it makes sense because your minion pool in the tavern is reduced whenever you purchase a minion (it seems that there are only three copies of a minion in the pool until you sell or upgrade one), but on the other hand, it sucks to have to rely so much on RNG to amp up your existing board, especially in later rounds.

I’m not sure there is a good fix for this, except to maybe adjust the algorithms based on your current Tavern Tier to show less Tier 1 and Tier 2 minions the higher your current Tier, but I digress.

Menagerie MagicianAnother thing that feels like a missed opportunity is not having Dragons in the mix. Several of the buffing cards already in the mix target Murlocs, Beasts, and Dragons, and it feels like such a waste not having a Dragon on your board! Especially with Descent of Dragons being the next expansion.

Adding another type into the mix would reduce the likelihood of seeing any one specific card, but again, I think if they made adjustments to the algorithms so that the RNG was a little more favorable toward players based on their existing boards, it could happen.

Lastly, the hero selection feels very unbalanced. Some heroes are clearly stronger than others, and when the RNG gods decide to favor you with three meh heroes at the beginning of the game, it can feel really disheartening. I think balancing the heroes would help a lot with that and make the game more fun for everyone. Instead of needing to pick a certain hero because it’s the obviously stronger pick, you can pick heroes based on how you want to play. I’ll go more into balancing suggestions when I write up my Hero Ranking post, so you’ll have that to look forward to.


I love this new mode! It is such a different way to play the game while still feeling essentially Hearthstone. Getting into the Top 4 feels like an accomplishment, and the style of play makes me want to have another go and try to get a higher rank. It’s addictive, and I like how different it is from regular Standard play. And the best thing about it is that it’s free!

Next, I’ll be diving into ranking Heroes and their Hero Powers, with balance suggestions.

Until then, maybe I’ll see you at the tavern.

All images (c) Blizzard Entertainment