Is Hearthstone Pay to Win?

Posted by Catherine Rector 4 November 2018 in Hearthstone

Written by: Babybear

“It’s impossible for Free to Play gamers to reach Legend.”

That’s what I always hear. And I get it, reaching Legend is hard. Getting the cards you want via F2P is time consuming. But is it impossible? I tried it out for myself, and I’m here to bring all that research to you, including tips, stats, and the deck list I used for the experiment.

I started playing Hearthstone in September 2016, after the release of the Whispers of the Old Gods set. It started casually, but the more I played, the more desperately I wanted to reach Legend. EU was my only server at the time, so like many people, I decided to put some money into buying packs. I wanted better decks that would get me to higher ranks, maybe even Legend, and I wanted to get there fast. I thought that having the cards was all I needed. Unfortunately, even though I was paying for good decks, for the first few months I kept getting stuck around rank 15. It dawned on me that it was one thing to have a good deck, but having the experience to use it well was another!

A Little Experiment

It took me 10 months of hard work to reach Legend for the first time. Since then, I’ve hit Legend consistently every month, but I was still hearing the same complaints about Hearthstone. “It’s Pay to Win.” “You can’t get anywhere without spending a lot of money.” The idea frustrated me so much that I decided to do find out for myself if it was true. All I would need is a fresh account and some determination.

I started by creating an account on the NA (North America) server. I had no cards, no expansions, and no gold or dust. My timing was lucky; on day two of the experiment, every account that logged in received a free pack of golden cards. This helped me a little bit, since I could just dust the 5 golden cards I received for free. Then the quest to find the best deck for F2P laddering began!

Finding the ultimate F2P deck

I was only going to be using one deck for the experiment, so it needed to be a good one. My research on budget decks lead me to decided on Hunter. I believe it is the best class for my project, since there are many cheap but useful Hunter class cards, and it fits well in the current meta. You can still build a pretty strong midrange/hybrid Hunter even without access to a lot of dust.

I didn’t have the dust I needed to craft all the cards right away, but this is the final version of the deck I hit Legend with:

Hearthstone Hunter

I Hunt Alone

Class: Hunter
Format: Standard
Year of the Raven

2x (1) Dire Mole
2x (1) Tracking
2x (2) Crackling Razormaw
2x (2) Explosive Trap
1x (2) Freezing Trap
1x (2) Venomstrike Trap
2x (2) Wandering Monster
2x (3) Animal Companion
2x (3) Bearshark
1x (3) Deadly Shot
2x (3) Eaglehorn Bow
2x (3) Kill Command
2x (3) Unleash the Hounds
2x (4) Flanking Strike
2x (4) Houndmaster
2x (5) Lesser Emerald Spellstone
1x (6) Deathstalker Rexxar

(To use this deck, copy the code to your clipboard and create a new deck in Hearthstone.)

As you can see, there are a lot common and rare cards, no epics and only one Legendary; Deathstalker Rexxar. When I started, my Hunter wasn’t level 10 yet, so I had to replace Kill Command with other budget cards. I used one Hunter's Mark and one Candleshot instead. As I played more and gained more gold, I could buy some packs and slightly modify my decks while I was climbing.

Highlighted Cards

Highlighted cards

Secrets: I chose to play one Freezing Trap, one Venomstrike Trap, two [Explosive Traps], and two [Wandering Monsters]. The secrets are flexible. If you face less aggro, it’s possible to remove one Explosive Trap and replace with a second Freezing Trap, for example.

Lesser Emerald Spellstone: Possibly the most powerful card in the deck. I would keep it almost every time in my opening hand. After playing one secret, the Spellstone upgrades to summon 3 wolves, and if you play another secret, it upgrades to summon 4 wolves. Playing this card on turn five can create a huge tempo swing in your favor.

Deathstalker Rexxar: This is a very flexible card. The battlecry can work as an AoE attack against aggro decks and the hero power can create a lot of value against slower decks. You can run the deck without him, but he’s a strong addition if you can spare the dust to craft him. Some replacements for Rexxar can be Candleshot, another secret for more early game impact, or Savannah Highmane if you want to add late game minions.

Let’s climb that ladder!

Rank 25 – 10

Starting at rank 25 was a special experience. I didn’t really know what to expect. Would they be beginners? Which decks would they play? What was their level? I have to say I already faced a lot of top-tier decks at the lowest ranks. People were playing expensive decks, but not climbing past rank 20. This was probably due to a lack of experience with the deck they chose to play. They invested time and/or money in acquiring a tier 1 deck, but didn’t know how to pilot it, resulting in relatively easy wins for me from rank 25 all the way to rank 10. During this time, I was still improvising my deck, trying to get the dust to craft the last cards I needed.

Winrate Na

When I hit rank 10, I decided to create a poll in the Hearthstone Belgium group I’m active in. I asked when people thought I would hit Legend with my F2P Hunter deck. 55 people voted; 44 voted that I would never hit Legend. This made me even more determined to go for it!

Rank 10 – 5

When I reached rank 10, I took a break from laddering to see which cards in my deck I could replace to make it better. I had reached Hunter level 10 by now, so I could add the Kill Commands. I also crafted Deathstalker Rexxar to complete my deck.

The next day I played from rank 10 to rank 5, still maintaining a solid 70%+ winrate. At these ranks, nearly every deck I faced was a tier 1 or tier 2 deck. I started noticing the level of players got better, but there were still a lot of mistakes I could benefit from, such as not playing around my secrets correctly, or making the wrong trades.

Rank 5 – Legend

I started at rank 5 and had a super winstreak with almost no losses until rank 2. The match ups I faced were always good (miracle rogue, recruit hunter, taunt druid), and was almost sure to hit Legend the same day. I took a small break to eat and relax. A couple of hours later, I started playing again and lost all my ranks in less than 2 hours. I faced a lot of bad match ups and got really frustrated because I couldn’t switch to another deck. During the following days, I pushed myself to play for hours each day. Eventually I hit Legend, less than 10 days after creating the account, and completely F2P!

I have to admit, I did struggle between rank 5 and Legend. It was very hard to play only one deck while faced with such a diverse meta, especially against some very polarized match ups. From rank 5 to Legend, I maintained a 56% winrate throughout roughly 200 games, which is a significant drop. I was simply facing more experienced players and more diverse decks.

Tips and tricks

I know it’s incredibly hard to start an account from zero, and it can feel frustrating to be unable to play the decks you really want. If you really don’t want to spend any money on Hearthstone, it will take more time/patience to build multiple tier 1 decks, but the point is that it’s not impossible. Here are some things I would recommend:

Focus on building only one deck: When you first start playing and you want to quickly earn gold/dust and play multiple decks, I think it’s easier to start with building one deck and play it on ladder. Do your daily quests and save up gold. Once you have enough gold to start buying packs, you can choose a second deck to craft, and so on. Don’t focus on crafting individual cards without knowing how to put them in a deck. Instead choose a deck and try to create it, even though you might have to replace some cards at first. This is much more efficient.

Play Arena:

This is the most efficient way to convert gold into dust. The better you get at arena, the higher your rewards will be and the faster you can start creating more decks.


I understand trying to create your own decks can be more fun, but if you want to climb the ladder and gain gold with more ease, there’s nothing wrong with trying to find good budget decks online! The research has already been done. Use the information you find to build a deck. Netdecking is a resource, not a crime 🙂

Be patient:

Eventually, the goal is to get your collection to a point where you don’t have a need for dust, gold, or actual money. Once you’ve got enough competitive/ladder decks to switch between to keep you from getting bored, you can relax. Until that time, you may have to be patient while trying to complete daily quests and earn gold through winning ladder games.

My little experiment was successful and within one week after creating a F2P account on NA, I reached Legend. You absolutely don’t need to pay money in order to get results! What you do need are some insights into the game, some experience, and some patience. The more you play, the faster you can build a collection, and before you know it, you’ll be playing better, and with more decks. Good luck on your F2P journey through ladder!

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