Content of the article: "Mindset for Achieving Top 100 and Beyond"
Hi, everyone. My tag is BZRK, and I've qualified for a couple Masters Tours by finishing top 16 on ladder. My most recent accomplishment is a 7-2 record at MT Madrid (one win away from becoming GM FeelsBadMan). I wrote this article in April/May but never posted it anywhere, so I changed some of the examples to better reflect the current meta. If you consider yourself a ladder grinder or you aim for double/single digit ranks, this is for you.
If you’ve been playing Hearthstone for a while, you’ve probably heard people say “Don’t focus on your rank; focus on making the right play.”
To many, the advice seems obvious and maybe even circular. But really understanding it is essential to approaching ladder with a sound mindset. I would like to advance three points:
1. People underestimate how difficult it is to make the best play every turn.
2. People underestimate the impact of a single loss on ladder.
3. Results-oriented thinking prevents people from recognizing when they did not make the best play.
Making the Best Play Every Turn
Most turns are a matter of applied situation recognition – understanding your situation and recognizing the correct line (e.g. knowing which cards to keep in the mull, which 1-drop to play first, when to use The Coin, when to go face, when to not play minions, when to dump cards, etc.).
But how hard is it to make the best play every turn?
However, consider the case of Coin + Manafeeder Panthara on turn 1 in the Soul DH mirror. Is there a simple flowchart you can follow for making or not making this play? I don’t think so. As you can imagine, it depends on your hand and your opponent's hand, and the number of possible scenarios is quite large.
Of course, there is a narrow range of obvious cases where Coin + Panthara is the right play, and I’m sure you can think of a few. But will it always be obvious that it’s the right play? Usually not, and if you make the wrong play, it can cost you the game.
This is the tip of the iceberg. There are countless such decision points, and they vary in difficulty. The easiest decisions to navigate are the ones that arise most frequently – the more frequently you are confronted with a particular decision, the more quickly you are able to recognize and react to that situation. The harder decisions appear less frequently.
While I'm not sure which metrics we might use to distinguish between "harder" and "not as hard" decisions, but I think we can all agree that there are some decisions which are particularly difficult and they often decide games. Let's call these "skill-testing turns". They may arise because you didn't draw a curve, or because you and your opponent both drew the nuts in a mirror match, or maybe your opponent discovered something crazy and you have to find a new winning line. In some of the hardest cases, these skill-testing turns are so specific that it isn't especially feasible or productive to try anticipating them. (Think about the number of possible board states that can result from card generation decks like Mage or Priest.)
How Much Does One Loss Matter?
Many people don't understand the cascading impact of a single loss on ladder. Let’s imagine every 1 in 25 games (4% of games) involves the hardest skill-testing turns. Let’s also imagine, for convenience, that misplaying a skill-testing turn always results in an L, while making the right play results in a W. The difference in win-rate between someone who misplays all 4 skill-testing turns and someone who plays those turns correctly is 4% across the typical 100-game sample size. In other words, making the right play can be the difference between, say, a 55% and 59% win-rate.
Here's an easy way to put that in context: if your win-rate is 55% and you have a 10 star bonus, hitting Legend will take you ~153 games on average. If your win-rate is 59% and you have a 10 star bonus, hitting Legend will take you ~110 games on average. (source: https://www.primedope.com/number-of-games-to-reach-legend-in-hearthstone/) By making the right play in just four skill-testing turns, you can reduce the length of your climb by 40 games on average. Calculating similar statistics for the MMR-based Legend ladder is beyond my capabilities, but I think the pre-Legend example illustrates the point pretty well.
Now think about the turns where you misplay. Are they so rare that they only appear in 4% of your games? The answer is probably no. Even if the answer is yes, we've just seen the extent to which any small improvement can significantly impact your long-term results on ladder. But how can you learn to make the right play more consistently? This is the most important question, and answering it can provide a direct path to improving as a player in general and beyond mere ladder rank.
How is it possible that the best players consistently make the right plays on these skill-testing turns? Aren’t the hardest scenarios usually too specific to anticipate? The answer lies largely in those players’ abilities to generalize situations and frame them in terms of abstract concepts like tempo and pressure. This is an extremely important skill deserving of its own essay, but it's outside the scope of this post. If people are interested, I could try writing something on the topic.
Results-Oriented Thinking When You Win
There has always been a consensus that results-oriented thinking is not optimal. After all, you can make the right play every turn and still lose. You can misplay several times and still win. How often, though, do you win a game and stop to think about whether you misplayed?
Maybe you made the second-best play, and maybe it was good enough to get you the W. But if you never realize that your play was sub-optimal, it is extremely likely you will make the same play next time a similar scenario arises. Who knows? Perhaps the second-best play will work next time, too. But, on the other hand, perhaps your opponent’s hand will be slightly different, or your draw will be slightly different, and you lose the game because you made the second-best play and not the optimal play.
Because the second-best play was adequate the first time, but it was inadequate when the circumstances were slightly different, many people will attribute the poor outcome to the variables that changed. They won't stop to consider that there may have been a play that wins despite the variables that changed.
Given everything we've discussed so far, how can you change your mindset for the better? I'm not going to tell you what to do, since everyone learns differently, but I'd like to share my own methods. In particular, the way I learn new decks has changed dramatically. Egg Warrior is a great example, since it is a unique deck in its own right, and I was primarily a Control/Combo player when I picked it up.
When I first started playing the deck in early April, I tanked my rank horribly. I went from ~100 to ~1500. I was losing, and it was mostly my fault, but I was framing every loss as an opportunity to learn. I recognized that I simply didn’t know how to play the deck. When faced with a decision that I felt was difficult, I would make whichever play felt intuitive and then think about what happened. If it went poorly, why? What could I have done differently? If it went well, why? What could have gone wrong?
My intuition with the deck sucked at first, but it developed as I reflected. It's not just about understanding that Play X sucks. It's about understanding why Play X sucks and what punishes it. If you can frame why a play is bad in terms of tempo, pressure, card advantage, bluffs, etc., you can identify when other plays are weak for similar reasons.
After many, many games, I went on to climb out of what I consider “the dumpster” and finish the April season in top 50 with Egg Warrior. Now, I'm not saying you should go misplay a bunch and tank your rank. I'm saying that you need to have a mindset that is conducive to learning.
If your ambition is to hit high Legend (whatever that may mean to you), you need to accept that your success or failure depends on at least the following 2 things: you need to play enough games, and you need to make the right play often enough.
If you've made it this far, thanks for bearing with my ramblings. I hope you found this meaningful or interesting. Sometimes I'm not sure whether these brain dumps are actually productive…
- Competitive ladder climbing (getting legend with an unfair advantage)
- How I went from the Tutorial to Top 10 Legend in 12 hours.
- Hearthstone is way too expensive
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