You tut angrily as your opponent emotes “Well Played” and punches face for lethal. He got lucky, you think. There’s nothing you could have done. You played perfectly. Meanwhile, your opponent played terribly and still won. Why is life so unfair?
If you’re anything like me, this internal thought process goes through your mind every few games of Hearthstone. We consider ourselves to be good, if not great players, held back by circumstance and bad luck. Unfortunately, we’re likely not as good as we think. It’s thought processes like this that hold us back and stop us from reaching our full potential.
We Shift Blame
The first step to improving your play is to recognise your areas of improvement. However, doing so is often uncomfortable; and not obvious. The infamous Dunning-Kruger effect means that our very lack of ability in certain areas makes it hard to understand what it is we need to get better at. Instead, we blame outside factors; usually RNG, “overpowered” cards or the opponent’s deck.
That’s not to say the outcome of Hearthstone isn’t sometimes out of your control. But even when it is, it doesn’t help to draw focus away from what you could have done better. Numerous pros have stated that the best way to improve your own play is to watch your own play in detail, and to review it dispassionately; both in our errors and our successes. By doing so, we can figure out how to do better next time. But while doing so, it’s important not to fall prey to the next bad habit.
We Focus on Outcomes, not Probabilities
This Hearthstone habit is well documented. Let’s say you’re playing Pirate Warrior against Taunt Warrior, a tough matchup. After wresting control of the board, you choose to go wide on turn 5, praying he doesn’t have Brawl. Unfortunately, he has it, and you lose the board and the game.
You might make a mental note to avoid making such a play in the future; but you’d be making a classic error. Instead of improving your play based on the probabilities of winning, you’d be adjusting based on a specific outcome. This is a huge roadblock to getting to a higher standard of play. By focusing only on the clear, easily identified outcomes, you ignore the subtler probabilities. On turn 5, the likelihood of the opponent having a specific card they wouldn’t keep in their mulligan is pretty low, even if it’s a two of. However, the odds of you failing to deal enough damage before they stabilise behind an impenetrable Taunt wall is rather high.
By playing the odds rather than being beholden to painful memories, you can make a strong improvement in your ability to adjust your play.
We Stay in our Comfort Zone
Hearthstone is a game with numerous distinct playstyles. Aggro, Control, Midrange and Combo decks of every flavour exist, all with their own unique quirks and tricks. However, many of us restrict ourselves to only a few decks. The reasons for this can be many, and for some players insurmountable. Cost is a big factor. But if we have the means, often we’ll end up sticking to the same decks out of pure familiarity, habit and not wanting to lose winrate.
While sticking with one deck can help you achieve better winrates in the short term, it doesn’t help you develop as a player as efficiently as trying out new decks. By seeing the game through the eyes of an alternate playstyle, you can develop new skills, better understand your adversaries and broaden your repertoire in case of any tournament or meta shifts. This allows you to improve your versatility, flexibility and skill.
We Value Flashiness Over Consistency
“Big”, flashy, explosive plays are often the focus of twitch highlights, YouTube compilations and overviews of competitive games. As such, there’s an easy perception to pick up that skill is dependent on the ability to make impressive, counter-intuitive plays. Stuff like pinging your own minions to draw, silencing frozen minions to attack or planning the perfect Wild Pyromancer turn. However, as well as these complex, micro-intensive decisions, there are also important decisions to make every single turn. Just a simple choice of whether to trade or go face can win or lose matches.
A consistent tendency to be overly defensive or overly aggressive is both hard to recognise and a hard habit to break. Let other players spectate your games, and seriously watch pro streamers, and figure out where you diverge. That way, you can map out a pathway to improvement.
We Play on Autopilot
Improvement relies on concerted effort. Thinking through our plays, making sure that we are playing optimally, and reflecting on every victory and defeat. Too often, Hearthstone is played as a background distraction, only commanding half of our attention while we browse the internet, watch streams or stream ourselves.
If you pay full attention, taking more time with your turn, and think over more options, you may just play better and learn more while doing it.
Title art by Sean O’Daniels. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com
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This article was partially inspired by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s “8 Biases That Are Making You Worse at Magic”