Another frequently asked question by players trying to improve at the game is “When should I trade and when should I go face?”

The implication often seems to be “When I’ve mastered this obvious thing, I’ll move onto working out the game properly”.

However, the question, particularly in Arena but also in the rest of the game, is similar to asking a soccer player “How do I score a goal?” The answer “Kick the ball into the back of the net” is accurate but not particularly helpful. However, like in that example, there is no easy answer. Even making generalisations is difficult.

Many articles on Trading assume you already know some of the more simple concepts. I thought I'd try to address those.

The intention of this article is to start with the absolute basics and enable you to work out for yourself when you should be trading and when you should be attacking your opponent.

Stronger players will find this article trivial and for that I apologise. I think it is essential to have these points covered though. Covering specific card or class strategies on the eve of a whole new expansion seems pointless, so I thought it would be a good time to cover some basics to allow newer players to catch up.

In the examples I’m going to use I’ll be assuming the trades in a vacuum for the time being. The enemy hero power, life total, hand size, turn number are all factors but I want to address things on a more basic level as this is a step that seems to often be taken for granted.

Winning at Hearthstone in Arena

Many of the points that apply to Arena also apply to constructed games.

The main difference between Arena and Constructed is that combinations of cards are fleeting rather than focused. This means we’re trying to win in a more generic fashion, which in turn means we’re almost always trying to win by having control of the board.

There are many ways to do this and you don’t have to be in control for the whole game. At some point however you’re almost always going to need to get an advantage on the board and use it to kill your opponent. This is because minions do damage every turn. Spells only do damage once.

This control is gained for the most part by effective trading.

Times you should usually trade

The following examples are presented in a vacuum. Unless stated otherwise I am ignoring hero powers and life totals to explain the points without the clutter of complexity.

The most basic of trades

This position comes up a lot early in a game and although trivial, it is a very important building block.

By hitting the 3/2 with the 2/1 we kill a minion that is 1/1 bigger than ours. Even better we have invested one mana into the card and our opponent has invested two mana. All other things being equal, after making this trade we will have gained a slight advantage.

There would be no reason to go face. Even if we wanted to race we’d be doing 2 damage a turn and the opponent would be doing 3 damage a turn.

Protecting a bigger minion

Now we have to think a turn ahead. Although you can see that trading a 2/2 for a 2/1 is a bad trade, by taking this trade we are protecting our bigger minion. We are effectively giving up a 2/2 to make sure that the 4/2 does not die.

If this is a top deck battle and you trade, you are giving up 2 damage this turn in favour of having 2 extra power on the board next turn. It pays for itself almost straight away and the 4/2 might be able to trade into a big minion that the 2/2 couldn't kill, or it might get an extra turn of damage if our opponent doesn't have an answer.

Playing around AoE

If your opponent is likely to have an AoE (Area of Effect/Mass Removal) spell next turn then you will often want to trade in a couple of lesser minions as there is a good chance they are going to die anyway

If you are playing against a Mage and next turn is their turn 7 then it is correct to kill the Yeti here with your two smaller minions. If your opponent has Flamestrike then you have got additional value from those minions. If your opponent does not have Flamestrike you have not given much away, although you have given his Yeti windfury, which I will discuss later.

Note: If you do not know all of the AoE spells then go to your collection page. Check "Include soulbound cards" and type the word "All" into the search box. Any card that damages all enemy minions should be learned as a crucial part of your Arena learning.

Ping effects

On turn one you coined out a Crocolisk and you now have to assess whether having a 2/1 (Your injured 2/3) and playing another minion is better than having a 2/3 and a card in hand. Even in a simple situation like this, we’re now playing Hearthstone. The long term plan for our deck matters, but in general you’ll want to make the trade and play another minion with your 2 mana. The reason for this is simply that you’ll have more power on the board that way to enable you to have more chance to kill whatever they play next turn.

In terms of pure card economy, using the hero power on the enemy 2/1 would look to be more efficient, and in some circumstances could be correct, but in general in Arena you can snowball extra board presence into a decisive victory often enough to get back more than the 2 damage saved on your 2/3

The same choice later in the game will often lead to you going face and pinging the 2/1, as you might have enough mana to kill the 2/1 with no loss of board presence.

Times you should usually go face

Lethal and near lethal

As stated earlier, the point of trading is to get into a position where you can win the game.

The opposite of that is going to the face, which for the large part is used for finishing off your opponent after you already have control of the board.

Obviously you go face when you have lethal damage but you should also often do so when you have lethal damage next turn, unless you can see situations where your opponent can realistically swing the entire game around.

If you can put your opponent to a very low life total and can see no realistic way that he can remove all of your threats to prevent you from winning next turn then you can proceed to hit him in the face with everything.

Out of resources

Sometimes you will have run out of cards while your opponent still has three or four left in their hand. If the board is level in this situation then there is often no point in trading. Your best play will be to hit face and hope to draw some way of doing extra damage to win the game. It is very likely that your opponent will trade off the board next turn anyway to secure their advantage.

There is an art to seeing this situation coming up. If you can see it before it happens you might get an extra round of attacks and much needed damage in.

Giving Windfury

Sometimes you want to kill a minion with multiple minions as you are concerned you will not be able to deal with it later.

The big downside with this is that it effectively gives that minion windfury – an effect they usually have to pay mana for.

In the example above, if one of your minions dies to a spell next turn, you might never be able to deal with the Mountain Giant. This is just something you have to live with though. You can push a lot of damage to face and the Mountain Giant, huge though it is, can only kill one of your minions a turn and will be getting injured in the process.

Take advantage of the fact that he’s slow to inflict a chunk of damage on your opponent.

Final example

You're seeing correctly. This is just a picture of a Worgen Infiltrator. Do you attack face if it is stealthed and your opponent has an empty board?

This seems a really easy decision but it is actually often a complicated one. You probably know that playing Arcane missiles on turn 1 to deal 3 damage to face is bad. This is a step up from that.

You can choose to deal 2 damage to face right now and probably get 2 damage next turn too, but you’re exposing a card that might be better off used to do 2 damage to kill a minion. You might be preventing your opponent from being able to play a 3/2 just by having the Worgen on the board.

Against ping classes (Rogue, Druid, Mage) you are also giving them the option to kill it for 2 mana.

You should weigh the options carefully and you'll want to play this differently based on many different factors such as your deck, your hero, your opponent's hero and so on.

I give this example as a reminder that decisions in the game are not easy.

When you ask "When should I trade minions" you are not asking a question that someone can answer quickly, you are asking a question that gets to the very heart of the game.

Neil "L0rinda" Bond

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