Arena drafting is not a science. I would say it is closer to an art form. I've seen a lot of articles ranking cards in exact order based on value but during an arena draft these values fluctuate based on the class you are playing and the cards you have already selected. It's good to understand the base value of the cards as a starting point but in this article I will discuss how to adjust these values based on the less obvious factors at play during an arena draft.

If you learn nothing else from this article, learn this; nothing in arena drafting or play is necessarily right or wrong. I have drafted decks that seemed amazing on paper and have then gone 2-3 with them. I have also drafted decks that seemed like absolute garbage, considered retiring and then won 12. I can give you some guidelines and general rules but getting good at arena is also going to take experience and a willingness to adapt during your drafting and gameplay.

In this first article concerning arena strategy I will discuss how I approach drafting decks and some general concepts I have developed. I will get more in-depth and cover things like individual classes and cards in future articles but for now let’s keep it simple and start with the foundation of drafting good decks: A solid understanding of how to adjust your picks based on what your current deck and draft state looks like.
I generally break the draft into three parts. Picks 1-10, 11-20 and 21-30. During the first ten picks I focus on taking the best card of the three based almost exclusively on value. Look at the stats versus the mana cost of your three choices and pick accordingly. During this phase of the draft you do not have to worry about your curve or specific mechanics like card draw or silence. Draft for absolute value instead of possible value based on synergy with cards you don’t have and may not get a chance to draft. During this phase cards like Chillwind Yeti, Boulderfist Ogre and Harvest Golem are king. You are building the foundation of the deck here and as the draft moves forward you will fill in the gaps in between.

During the next ten picks you will start to value your curve and important mechanics that you are missing slightly more. At this point in the draft it is important to take stock of the amount of card draw mechanics, two-drops and removal you have. In arena you want at least 4-5 two-drops so you can reliably mulligan for them at the start. Since you cannot load your deck up with board wiping spells like you can in constructed you need to be able to play minions early to avoid getting snowballed and losing tempo. I also prefer 3/2s over 2/3s since often times you will need to trade with 3-drops. Cards like Loot Hoarder, Azure Drake and Gnomish Inventor are great here because they give you a body while also cycling your deck giving you all important card advantage while not losing tempo.

During this phase of the draft you will also start to get a sense of what kind of deck you are constructing and can make a conscious decision to continue down that path or to move in a different direction. If your deck is looking very fast you can continue to draft for an aggressive style of play and try to run opponents over or you can start picking late and mid game cards to round out your deck. There is no hard and fast rule on this. You must make this decision and it is during picks 11-20 that you still have time to pivot if you feel that it's necessary.

During the last ten picks you shift into all out "panic" mode. Any holes in your curve must be filled and if you do not have removal, taunts, card draw or silence then the missing mechanic moves to the top of the priority list. At this point in the draft you might pick an Acolyte of Pain over a Chillwind Yeti and it could be correct. The values of the cards shift completely at this point and this is where experience and feel become extremely important. You must also decide if you have too many of a certain card in your deck and avoid it, even if it seems to be the strongest of the three picks. A good basic rule for judging whether you have too many of a certain card is to imagine if you had two in your hand and asking yourself if that would be negative. Two Truesilver Champions is fine for example. Two Assassin's Blades is not fine because the four durability makes it hard to use quickly causing the second Assassin’s Blade to become a dead card.
In arena cards that can stand alone have extra value as you cannot rely on getting combo pieces together reliably. However, during this last phase of the draft you can select cards that synergize because you know what you already have. An example of this is a   Faceless Manipulator. If you don’t have any big creatures to copy in your own deck then the card is worth much less as you will be relying on your opponent to play something worthy of Facelessing.

Every class also has a certain number of “auto-pick” cards that are just better than most neutrals and you want a lot of. In my next article I will discuss these and some class specific strategies to help you have a better understanding of why some classes are good or bad in arena.

VoD of me drafting a Paladin deck that ended up 9-3

I'll leave you with this final thought. It's important to know the basic value of cards when drafting arena, but lots of people know the basic values. What separates a good arena player from a great one is the ability to adapt throughout the deck building process. Creating constructed decks is more of a science, but as I said earlier, drafting in arena is an art form.
Here I picked the Silver Hand Knight over the Argent Protector since you get 6/6 for 5 compared to 2/2 for 2. This is the 4th pick so we are only concerned with value.

Silver Hand Knight
My name is Willie "Dills" Gregory and I host several gaming and sports related podcasts. Among those are the #1 World of Warcraft and Hearthstone podcasts The Instance & The Angry Chicken. I also co-founded the Mediocre Golf Association and used to play in punk bands like The Hooks, The Flipsides and Youth Gone Wild. Now, I'm streaming Hearthstone on Twitch, sometime WoW or Heroes, and I'd love to share a beer...or two...or five.