So you’ve picked up Blizzard’s latest new addiction, Hearthstone. Maybe you’re a World of Warcraft survivor, sucked back into the maw of the beast; maybe your friends told you about this nifty card game in between long pauses as they planned whether or not they should use the Coin to seize initiative with a two drop; heck, maybe you just hit random buttons on your iPad and suddenly the icon was sitting in your apps page. However you came to Hearthstone, odds are good you’re now finding yourself thinking about it quite a bit.

Odds are also good that you could use a little help with deck construction to try and make it out of the 20-16 rank area before your face settles into a permanent rictus of anger. I’m not judging, I’ve been there. It’s a horrible place.

Luckily, today we’re going to go over three different decks you can play that will help restore balance to your universe (and hopefully make an opponent or two rage quit in frustration – it’s okay if it’s not happening to you). Two of the decks are fairly inexpensive in terms of cards required to build them (yes, Hearthstone is much like Magic in that at a certain point, you’ll need some specific legendaries if you want to compete consistently and don’t have twenty hours a day to spend playing to grind out the odds), and then we’ll take a look at what money gets you (a lot more fun, that’s for damn sure).

To the decks!

Deck One – Priest Control (The Thief)

2x Circle of Healing
2x Inner Fire
2x Power Word: Shield
2x Northshire Cleric
1x Mind Blast
2x Shadow Word: Pain
1x Lightwell
1x Shadow Word: Death
2x Thoughtsteal
2x Injured Blademaster
2x Auchenai Soulpriest
1x Lightspawn
2x Mogu’shan Warden
2x Twilight Drake
2x Holy Nova
2x Holy Fire
1x Prophet Velen
1x Ysera
1x Mind Control

This is the deck I’ve played the most (130 ranked wins), and while it’s not the greatest deck in the world, it’s still pretty fun to play, though mine stalled out around rank 14. It’s got a couple legendaries – Prophet Velen and Ysera (and if you can fit Ragnaros in there too that’s always good) – but it’s not super pricey to craft with dust. This is a deck where if you happen to own one or two of those legendaries, you can build around them and stand a reasonable chance of success.

For a control deck, you’re looking to extend the game to the later rounds until you can get out a finisher threat and run your opponent out of options to deal with it. Like a lot of control decks, this one struggles against any sort of aggro/rush deck if you don’t draw an answer early (Holy Nova or Auchenai Soulpriest + Circle of Healing), but you match up reasonably well against other control decks once you get to late game.

Why do I like playing this deck? Well, there’s nothing more satisfying than Thoughtstealing an Unleash The Hounds + Timber Wolf combo from a Hunter, or a Gorehowl from a Warrior, or heck, just about any legendary your opponent has, really. Priest control is based around playing with the other person’s toys, and while you may not always succeed, it’s really fun when you do.

First off, your opening hand. If you’re facing a Warlock, Hunter, or Paladin deck, try and mulligan so you have either a Holy Nova in hand or one piece to the Soulpriest + CoH combo – if you don’t get board clear by round 4-5, it generally doesn’t end well. Ninety percent of the decks you’ll face from those classes are going to be aggro in some form or another, and you have to have a plan for dealing with the onslaught of minions. Otherwise, you’re looking for a Lightwell, Northshire Cleric, or Blademaster in your starting hand to give you early board presence.

Early game, rounds one through four, you want to try and threaten with Lightwell + Inner Fire if you draw them, or use your Injured Blademasters to trade favorably – try not to drop a Blademaster unless you can heal it with your Hero power that turn or you have a Circle of Healing to pop him back to full, but if you’re in danger of getting overrun, it’s better to drop him then rather than sit on it. The goal here is survival – you want to make your opponent waste a couple cards dealing with your stuff so they’re not beating your face in.

Mid game, rounds five through seven, if you’ve board cleared against a rush deck then you want to sustain and keep them from reestablishing any sort of board presence – the hard part’s pretty much over. Don’t be afraid to Holy Fire a minion or two to get your life back up, either – that’s what they’re there for. Against other decks, keep trying to force favorable trades with your mid size creatures.

Late game, rounds eight through ten, is hopefully where you shine. This is where you can start dropping some fun toys and establishing board control. If you think your opponent is out of removal, dropping Ysera round nine will seal the game for you most times. If your opponent drops Ragnaros, a fun combo is Faceless Manipulator + Shadow Word: Death – it’s the same cost as their Ragnaros only now you have one and they don’t. I like to save Prophet Velen as a finisher; if you wait until you have nine crystals, you can drop him and Mind Blast your opponent for an instant ten damage. You can also drop him and just heal yourself for four if your life is getting dangerously low, but you run the risk of losing your Mind Blast burst. Obviously, Mind Control is a great way to deal with an opponent’s finisher as well. That’s my toy!

Problems this deck will face are, like I said, any sort of aggro deck (which you’ll see a lot of in the current meta). If you don’t draw a board clear, you’re pretty much done by turn five. Druids running Savage Roar + Force of Nature can also ruin your day pretty quickly from out of nowhere (the combo costs nine and bursts for a minimum of fourteen damage), so try and keep your health high going into late game against them.

Deck 2 – Paladin Aggro (FACESMASHRAWRRRRR)

2x Blessing of Wisdom
2x Argent Squire
2x Leper Gnome
2x Young Priestess
2x Equality
1x Acidic Swamp Ooze
2x Argent Protector
2x Dire Wolf Alpha
2x Knife Juggler
1x Wild Pyromancer
2x Divine Favor
1x Aldor Peacekeeper
2x Scarlet Crusader
2x Truesilver Champion
2x Consecration
2x Defender of Argus
1x Avenging Wrath

This is a deck I started playing recently, and it’s pretty competitive up to around rank 8-7 (I think I could take it higher but it would be a grind). The goal here is to hit your opponent in the face as often as possible with everything you have, and force them to play defensively by killing your creatures to keep the pressure down. You want to do as much damage as quickly as possible, and then try to finish them with an Equality + Avenging Wrath or Truesilver Champion to the face. I usually save the Acidic Swamp Ooze if I’m facing a Warrior or Paladin deck, otherwise play him for early aggro (fun fact, Acidic Swamp Ooze also kills Jaraxxus’ weapon, which amuses me to no end).

This deck would vastly improve with the addition of Tirion as a lategame threat/protection, but sadly I don’t own one yet so I couldn’t put him in. If you do have one, he should definitely be part of your deck. Also, THE ASHBRINGER.

Other notable substitutions include a Blood Knight or two to take advantage of all your Divine Shield minions, and Ragnaros just because.

Early game you want to bring out creatures. Lots of creatures. More creatures than your opponent knows what to do with. If you can get a Knife Juggler going early and they don’t remove it, it’ll spiral out of control pretty quickly combined with your hero power and other minions. Basically, you want to try to empty your hand as quickly as possible so you can use a Divine Favor to get a big card advantage over your opponent.

Mid game you should have a clear board advantage with your creatures. If you’re facing a rush/aggro deck, Consecration usually does the trick of thinning them out, or if you’re desperate, Wild Pyromancer + Equality will kill everything that isn’t Divine Shielded, but that’s a last ditch play – you want to save your Equality to use with Consecration or Avenging Wrath if you can.

Late game you should have your opponent pretty close to dead, now it’s just a matter of finishing them. Avenging Wrath and Truesilver Champions are going to be your main way to beat face if you’ve run out of minions; use an Equality to clear out any blockers and good game. You don’t really want the game to go much later than rounds 7-8, otherwise you run the risk of your opponent getting out too many big threats you can’t deal with. If you have Tirion, though, he’ll help a lot with that (assuming he doesn’t get silenced/polymorphed/mind controlled).

This deck tends to do well against other aggro decks if you pull a Consecration or Equality early, but can struggle against control decks if you’re unable to seal the deal by round seven. Also, never attack a minion unless it’s a very clear advantage for you – you want to be hitting the other player every chance you get, and forcing them to react to you. This deck isn’t super complicated; just put pressure on early and often.

Deck 3 – Warlock Big Creature (aka Handlock aka The One Percent aka You’re Dropping WHAT on Turn 4?!)

2x Soulfire
2x Mortal Coil
1x Power Overwhelming
2x Ancient Watcher
1x Ironbeak Owl
2x Sunfury Protector
2x Earthen Ring Farseer
2x Hellfire
1x Shadowflame
2x Defender of Argus
2x Twilight Drake
2x Faceless Manipulator
2x Siphon Soul
1x Ragnaros the Firelord
1x Lord Jaraxxus
1x Ysera
2x Mountain Giant
2x Molten Giant

This deck is for jerks. Big, rich, jerks, with lots of pricey cards, who just want to throw out Molten Giants and watch the world burn. If you play this deck, you’re a horrible human being. I’m currently at rank 5 with it, and looking to go legendary. It’s so much fun.

Basically, this deck revolves around doing a whole lot of nothing for the first couple turns other than using your hero power to draw cards and take damage. Turn 4 is where the fun begins, when you drop an 8/8 Mountain Giant for four crystals and watch your opponent start weeping in rage, and then it escalates from there with Molten Giants, Ragnaros, Ysera, and Jaraxxus joining the fun.

(Feel free to throw in Alexstraza, Deathwing, Bloodmage Thalnos – pretty much whatever you want that has a gold gem. I don’t have them so I have Faceless Manipulators instead.)

All this power comes at a price, though. You’re going to be riding the knife edge of your life total, and rush decks will get you in trouble if you don’t pull a Hellfire by turn 4, but against most other decks, they simply won’t have enough counters to deal with the barrage of giant things hitting the battlefield.

Turn 1. Do nothing. Turn 2. Use your hero power. Turn 3. Use your hero power. Turn 4. Drop Giant, win gaem.

In actuality, it’s a bit tougher than that, especially as you get into the higher ranks, but the essence is very much the same. You’ll want to mulligan for either a Twilight Drake or Mountain Giant against pretty much everyone (unless you think it’s a rush deck, then go for a Hellfire), and then get them out as soon as possible. After that, just keep things taunted up and try to stay alive until late game – you’ll probably be anywhere from 15-19 hit points depending on who you’re facing. If you get to 10 life, you can drop Molten Giants for free, which makes for some pretty entertaining blocking when you put down a Defender of Argus with them.

Another trick you can do early game is put out an Ancient Watcher turn 2 if you have an Owl in your hand, and then silence the Watcher for a turn three attack. Most people won’t be expecting it, and it’ll allow you to get a bit of breathing room. Sunfury Protectors with Watchers are also a good choice.

Late game, Ragnaros, Ysera, the Giants, and Jaraxxus are your win conditions. Once you’ve established board control, there’s not much your opponent can do, and you can burst a lot of damage in a single turn, so the life gap closes quickly.

Congratulations! You’ve bought your way to victory! Try not to hate yourself too much, and welcome to Hearthstone!

Comments on any of the decks? Share them below!

Chris "Warcraft" Kluwe is a former NFL punter, author of Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, and co-author of the upcoming science fiction epic Genesis: Prime.