Versus Arena? Have you ever played that game mode seriously? Arena is a mode that costs money per entry, dissuading people to try it at their early stages in the game. However, as you gain more confidence with your abilities in the game, you might get curious about this game mode.
As with everything in life, first times are usually the worst. You made a questionable draft, faced random dudes with amazing cards, and you ended your arena run with a disappointing 2-3 result. Now you ask yourself if your hard-earned coins are worthy of that ungrateful game mode. I was that person, but as I gradually got tired of the current meta, I started to enjoy the draft mode in many CCG, specially TESL.
The ideal goal is to end every Versus Arena run with a 7-x result. However, this implies you should have, at least, a win rate greater than 77%. This is a titanic task to be honest. Currently, I’m sitting at a ~73% win rate in this game mode, which means I usually end up in 6-7 wins per run. However, let’s consider something first.
The Value of Arena for Beginners
Versus Arena entry cost is the same as Solo Arena, but the rewards (and the difficulty) are higher. From this article, you have the following potential rewards:
- 0 Wins – 1 Pack & 20-30 Gold
- 1 Win – 1 Pack, 25-35 Gold, and 25-35 Soul Gems
- 2 Wins – 1 Pack, 25-35 Gold, 0-95 Soul Gems and/or 0-2 cards (rare or epic)
- 3 Wins – 1 Pack, 30-50 Gold, 0-120 Soul Gems and/or 0-2 cards (rare or epic)
- 4 Wins – 1-2 Packs, 35-60 Gold, 0-150 Soul Gems and/or 0-2 cards (rare or epic)
- 5 Wins – 1-2 Packs, 60-80 Gold, 0-175 Soul Gems and/or 0-2 cards (rare or epic)
- 6 Wins – 2-3 Packs, 100-130 Gold, 0-200 Soul Gems and/or 0-2 cards (rare or epic)
- 7 Wins – 3-4 Packs, 150-170 Gold, 150-250 Soul Gems and/or 1 card (epic or legendary)
The rewards are better than those in Solo Arena, and you should consider them before setting your goals. After analyzing some comments, I considered that, as a beginner point of view, it is unrealistic to talk about a ‘win-them-all’ goal. After each win, someone has to lose. What happens to those in the losing side?
Thus, we think that you should consider a more realistic goal of Return over Investment, or how much do you want to win to break even and gain value. For example, considering just coins, to make the arena ‘free’ you need a 7 win run. However, considering packs, gems, and cards as potential additional rewards, you win more than the initial 150 gold entry cost (measured in packs per run). Thus, from 4 wins your are gaining value.
As a conclusion, when you begin this mode, start by setting a more tangible goal based on your desired value instead of never lose. It will bring a lot more peace to your mind.
Some Technical Aspects of the Mode
The Isle of Madness adventure brought new changes to Arena. As a summary:
- All sets are included as options for Arena picks.
- Cards from Houses of Morrowind, FrostSpark, and Isle of Madness appear at a much higher frequency.
- A lot of low synergy cards were removed for the Arena pool.
I encourage you to check the linked article above to see which cards were removed. There is an issue where card generation cards can give you cards outside the legal Arena environment.
Regarding matchmaking, the arena ranks are just a fancy way to express how many 7-x arena runs you have made. The matches are made considering your approximate results: if you have a 2-1 record, you are probably paired with someone who has a 2-1, 2-2, ot 3-1 record, for example.
Another aspect to consider is that in each Arena run, there’s a three color house as an available class to select. Usually, the other two are two color classes.
The Meta Game
Like any other game or activity in life, information is power. In this case, we refer to the knowledge involving the meta game. Thus, we need to understand the main strengths of each color, and what they can aport to your draft.
This color possess aggressive tools, either items, creatures, or supports.
- Powerful tempo items,
- Creatures with aggressive stats,
- Charge mechanic,
- Bounce effects (tempo breakers),
- Decent removal cards,
- Rally keyword.
This color has some of the best tempo cards in the game, whilst it has access to the best defensive cards in the game:
- Strong tempo cards that include creatures, items, supports, and prophecy cards,
- Powerful removal tools (although quite low tempo),
- Decent guards,
- Attack reduction cards,
- Rally keyword.
This color offers a lot versatility tools, and the best keywords in the game:
- Good draw engines,
- Tempo cheats with Nix-Ox,
- Lethal and Drain keywords,
- Lane change.
This color is packed with powerful tempo actions, and different ways to deal damage:
- Powerful tempo actions,
- Cards that deal damage from hand,
- Shackle tools,
- Good prophecy cards,
- The best half of ward mechanics.
- Resilient, high tempo creatures,
- Silence mechanic,
- Some slay tools,
- Rally keyword.
The Not So Official Versus Arena Tier
Please, take this list as an approximate representation of the Arena meta game. I weighed win rates, popularity, and average drafts to place each class in a tier. However, this doesn’t mean a Tier 3 class is a wrong pick, it just needs a strong draft (a list close to a constructed one) to achieve a 7-x run.
|Tier 1||Hlaalu, Redoran|
|Tier 1.5||Dagoth, Tribunal, Crusader,|
|Tier 2||Telvanni, Sorcerer, Spellsword, Assassin|
|Tier 2.5||Mage, Warrior|
|Tier 3||Scout, Battlemage|
This is the first ability you should enhance. Sure, it sounds easy if you say it, but as everything else in life, practice leads to perfection. However, some tips are always welcome to make the path less painful. As a rule of thumb, I follow a set of rules that help me pick the best cards considering a set of factors:
- Priority picks, or those cards that are powerful no matter the situation nor composition of your deck. They have a powerful effect, keywords, are a huge tempo play, give card advantage, etc. For example, cards like Clockwork Scorpion, Clockwork Apostle, Gavel of the Ordinator, Redoran Battlespear, Nix-ox, etc., belong to this tier.
- Card advantage picks, this includes a moderate amount of extra draw and card generation. This is important because they extend your available resources, but sometimes they can be a double edged sword (tempo loss, mainly).
- Synergy picks, or cards that help your current draft. Here we include cards whose effects require specific cards to trigger their effect. For example, if you picked Shalk Fabricant before, you should consider picking a neutral card if given the chance, but consider priority picks before. The game allows certain synergies in the draft, so don’t worry if you think it is wrong to pick cards that require specific triggers.
- Prophecies, or your way to recover tempo. No explanation need, they help you. The game itself avoids giving a lot of them, but I recommend having at least 2.
- Utility picks, or cards that help balance a problem in your current draft (tempo, curve, prophecies, etc.). For example, consider you have five 2 cost cards, but four of them are items and actions. That’s an issue because you are left with a small batch of creatures to play in early game, so your next pick should aim to solve this problem by selecting another 2-cost creature.
- Curve picks, or cards that help you keep a healthy curve. As a rule of thumb, it’s safe to have a midrange curve in arena. You should aim to have a peak in 2 cost cards, and avoid peaks in late game cards (those whose cost is greater than 6) to help your curve.
How to Apply the Rules?
In the shown order. If you identify a card that matches the current rule, you should pick it. Otherwise, go the next rule and verify if it matches the criteria. Repeat until you run out of rules.
What happens if a card doesn’t fit any of the rules shown above? Well, it’s true that some picks will lead you to this scenario. In this cases, I’m forced to pick the ‘less worst’ among them. If it’s a creature, I weigh attack and defense.Considering an action, I weight the potential impact when casting it. If it’s a support, I weight the impact on board, cost, and synergy with other drafted cards.
Shank mentioned something really important that I briefly mentioned, but it’s worth the word investment. The hardest part when building a deck in Arena is to plan your strategy. In each game you fight against uncertainty, so you need to bet on what you actually know – your current deck, and evaluate your draft picks to cover some of its weakness.
Know Your Deck
When you finish the building step, there comes the planning time. Be aware of what your deck is capable to do. If an aggressive opening hand happens, are you able to push for lethal in 5-6 turns? Can you survive a long term game? Can you play the tempo game without running out of resources?
Ask yourself if your deck has the tools to:
- Recover if you fall behind
- Prophecies, reach, defensive creatures (guard, drain, lethal, etc.).
- Push enough damage in a certain amount of time
- This includes how much reach you have in your deck, bombs, tempo cards, etc.
- Outvalue your opponent
- This is a more defensive, long term approach that includes recovery tools, aiming for a game that’s usually decided by who ran out of cards first.
When you finish answering, you are ready to choose and stick to a strategy. There’s nothing wrong when going full face, but be sure that you can fuel the flames to achieve a quick victory.
Playing the Tempo Game
In musical terminology, tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece. However, I prefer the next definition:
“In chess and other chess-like games, a tempo is a ‘turn’ or single move. When a player achieves a desired result in one fewer move, the player is said to ‘gain a tempo’; conversely, when a player takes one more move than necessary, the player is said to ‘lose a tempo’. Similarly, when a player forces their opponent to make moves not according to their initial plan, one is said to ‘gain tempo’ because the opponent is wasting moves. A move that gains a tempo is often called ‘a move with tempo’”.
Why this matters?
Most of the times, the player who drops the first creature into the board is the one who will dictate the pace of the game, until the second player forces the tempo switch with defensive cards (prophecies), card advantage in hand, and/or huge tempo shifts with creatures like Nix-Ox. The last sentence introduces another critical ability in the game – to recover when you are left behind. In Arena this is particularly difficult, because you don’t get to build a deck with enough cards to accomplish this task.
As a result, you should manage your resources optimally. This implies detecting the best tempo play in each turn based on the current state of the board, your available cards, and possible future draws from both you and your opponent. It sounds easy in the void, but in practice it becomes a nightmare.
Playing the tempo game is not easy, but with enough practice you will be able to recognize those plays that extract every drop of tempo juice. That’s why I usually say that Arena helps you (as a player) getting better at detecting optimal plays, specially here, in scenarios with a lot of uncertainty.
For a more in-depth theory about about tempo, I recommend you to read this article.
A healthy curve is one key to a successful Arena run, and is closely tied to the tempo concept. Understanding what a curve says of your deck helps you draft better cards. While it is not my main intent to get deep into curve theory, I will show you a few examples of what some curves might look like based on the strategy of the deck:
The histogram is a powerful asset. It helps understand your deck’s card cost distribution, which explains a lot of your strategy. For example, an aggro curve has a lot of low cost minions in order to end the game quickly, so you clearly need to draw them in early game.
The idea behind the midrange curve suggestion is to maximize the tempo initiative of your deck with enough low cost creatures, so there’s a higher chance of them being in your initial hand and, in consequence, play them early in the game so you get to dictate the tempo of the game followed by a succession of curve, strong mid game moves.
Once you understand better the role of card distributions, you can start playing with them. You can sacrifice part of your early game with a more consistent mid game, or perhaps spend some slots for late game cards, based on your current early game. The are many options when building your deck.
The Mental Games
In constructed, you have an easier time trying to read your opponent next move. You can smell when an Ice Storm is coming, or when your opponent is ready to Tazkad you in the face. Unfortunately, this is way harder in Arena, so you are left with two options:
- The paranoid approach, or everything is possible. This school of thought preaches that you must expect the worst play affecting you, so you should play around it, if possible.
- The lucky me, or the chances are so low for this scenario to happen, give me a break. This implies that it’s reasonable to expect some risky scenarios, but you like risk. After all, what’s the chance of an Ice Storm in Versus Arena?
I prefer the paranoid approach. But I often forgot that some cards exist in the game. That’s when you realize Mecinar’s Will or Trial of Flame are a thing. Always be aware of the existence of some cards.
A Final Test
Consider the following image. What’s the best pick here? Please, ignore the language, let the images guide you. (As a side note, I ended this draft with a 7-0 run).
As a final advice, I remember CVH said once on stream (paraphrasing) “I had lost so many times that tilting is no longer an option”. What I want to say is “Manage your temperament”. Arena draft has randomness in its constitution, but drafting levers this issue. After all, there are some scenarios where you opponent has a godlike deck, and it’s better to just pass and continue.
I hope these set of tips serve you well. Keep practicing until you master each game ability. However, remember to keep having fun within the game! As a side note, I want to thank Shank and Lateralus for their insightful comments. The guide became better thanks to both of you!
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