For months and months, people I know in the gaming scene pestered me to get into Hearthstone. They talked about the depth of strategies, and of the numerous cards to collect, both points that they knew full well appealed to me. For months and months, though, I resisted. My main concern was the same as most other “free-to-play” games - I doubted that I would be able to progress very far in the game without pumping money into it, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. Still, though, I watched their streams, secretly wanting to be a part of the community.


About a year ago, I was clued in to the fact that a new expansion for the game was being released. I watched preview videos for it, and found myself more interested in the game than ever. What’s more, they were running a special release offer to get 50 packs of cards for the new expansion for $50. This was still a steep price, but it seemed... probably reasonable? My desire to save money clashed fiercely with my desire to be part of another group, to be part of the experience, and the latter won.

The “title” image for the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion.

The expansion released, and I eagerly opened my packs. The thrill was one that card game players are very much attuned to - even in the virtual world, the sensation of ripping open a pack of cards, followed by the reveal of the individual cards within, provides a thrill that’s hard to find elsewhere. It was like a miniature birthday that I got to experience 50 times! It was also addicting. Fortunately, being a new player, I had a ton of things to do in the game. Most of them earned me in-game gold, which I was able to use to purchase more packs and so further feed my thrill.


In the weeks after the expansion’s release, I worked on forming decks of cards and playing. I was pretty bad for a while - the nuances of creating a deck were unfamiliar to me, as I hadn’t played a collectible card game seriously since the earliest days of the Pokemon TCG, and so it took quite a bit of time for some of the basic concepts and tactics to make sense to me. Eventually, though, I got hold of what I should be doing, and I started putting together decks that I found enjoyable. For quite a long time, I played with the cards I had available. I won some, and I lost some, and I bought packs when I could. It was a pretty simple process.

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One thing that I benefited from was the inclusion of the single-player adventures. These were specific challenges that unlocked new cards, and I quickly found that some of the most commonly played cards in decks were locked behind these adventures. They could be unlocked either by buying them outright with money, or piece by piece with the in-game gold. All of a sudden, my impulses of buying packs with gold ceased to exist, and I started saving everything I could to purchase the adventures. It took months, but I finally unlocked all of them and received all of the cards that they offered. Their inclusion helped my decks out quite a bit, and I started to win more games than I lost.


Towards the end of the year, though, rumblings began about another expansion. I went through the same process that I had with Whispers - I watched preview videos, looked at professional discussions about some of the new cards, and imagined all the ways I could use those cards to bolster my decks. The expansion was offering the same deal that Whispers had - $50 for 50 card packs. The temptation loomed large, but this time there was more resistance. I’d already spent $50 on the game, and I could justify that with the thought “If I spend $50 on a game I really enjoy, it’s no different than buying a newish game”. But doubling my investment would, I knew, put that much more pressure on me to continue to enjoy the game, lest my increased spending feel “wasted”.

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I struggled with the decision of what to do, until I hit upon what I thought was a good idea. Amazon offers the purchase of “coins”, which work like in-app currency. I could get $50 worth of coins for $40 of real money. So I downloaded Hearthstone through the Amazon app on my smartphone, and used their in-game store to pre-purchase the expansion with the coins. It felt like the perfect answer - I had my packs, and I hadn’t spent quite as much money on it. $90 is the same as the deluxe edition of a good game, I told myself, so this is still okay.

Near the end of last year, Gadgetzan was released. The night of the release, I perched eagerly on the edge of my computer chair, and one by one, I opened the various packs of cards. After I was done, I sat back, and reflected on the experience. I felt... ... unfulfilled. Part of it stemmed from what I’d actually received from the packs of cards - when I’d opened the Whispers packs, I found quite a few “Legendary” cards (the rarest ones). In Gadgetzan, I only found one or two. Additionally, the cards I’d found were for a variety of the classes - I didn’t have a good picture in mind of how I could form an amazing deck with what I’d opened. Still, though, I had new cards, and I worked to incorporate them into my decks.


It was around this time that I began venturing into the ranked portion of Hearthstone. My experiences up to this point had been all casual play, but I love competition, and I wanted to see how I could do on the ranked side of things. I found, fairly quickly, that my decks were plenty strong enough to move past the lower portion of the ladder, but as I approached the mid-to-upper ranks, I struggled. This went on for a while before I sat down to watch streams, look at deck lists, and try to figure out the problem. Fortunately, I succeeded; unfortunately, I succeeded. I found that I was missing a critical element in my decks - namely, a win condition. All of my decks at that point won by slowly wearing down the opponent over time with whatever resources I had available. All of my decks lacked a specific combination of cards that would be able to regularly clinch me games.

There were, and are, two specific ways to get new cards in Hearthstone. The first is to open packs of cards and hope for whatever you specifically need to be there. The second is to use another in-game currency called dust to craft the card. Dust can only be earned in a handful of ways - by “disenchanting” (destroying) unnecessary cards (typically duplicates of a card beyond 2 copies), or as a reward for doing well in a game mode called Arena (where you have to form a deck, one card at a time, from a random selection of cards). I had -some- dust, but not an excessive amount - crafting a Legendary card (which tend to be an essential part of many win conditions) costs 1600 dust and I had about 500-600. I found myself at an impasse, with only one clear method to try to proceed - buy more packs.


Frustrated with my options, I took some time off from the game, and decided to instead just watch and enjoy the professionals play. Then, one night, I tuned in to the Twitch stream for one of my friends, a Hearthstone player with the tag DrJikininki. His stream title indicated he was preparing for an upcoming tournament, and I wanted to see his process. That process turned out to be “spend $60+ dollars on packs of cards and open them”. This crushed me. It was a sudden realization that, in order to be really good and compete at the highest levels of Hearthstone, you have to put (likely a lot of) money into the game. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t invest hundreds of dollars into card packs, hoping to get a handful of cards that I wanted/needed. In a single night, my hope to play Hearthstone competitively died.

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Months later, after watching DrJikininki win the North America Winter Championship, my Twitter feed began talking about a new expansion for Hearthstone. I smiled sadly at it and dismissed it. As much as I enjoy the game, I simply can’t invest the amount of money into it that seems necessary in order to play at the higher levels, and if I can’t play it and fully enjoy it without that requirement, I can’t justify sinking any more time into it.

It was a lot of fun while it lasted, Hearthstone. Thanks for all the good memories.