Hearthstone: Sorting Through the Achievement System
Heathstone is the electronic collectible trading card game which redefined the whole genre of electronic trading card games, released in 2014. As such, it’s had to go through some changes over the years, as the core assumptions of the initial game are re-thought one by one. One of the most radical changes has been its recent change to the progress and reward system.
Previously, you had quests and milestones, which awarded you in-game gold, and in addition, winning a game gave you a flat fee of 5 in-game gold capped at 100 gold per day. You use this virtual gold to buy card packs, or other in-game perks like a wing of an adventure challenge campaign.
The game still uses gold, but has now largely given the progress system over to experience points. This brings with it a grand and sprawling achievement system. As is always the case with every major change (even the minor ones too), gamers grumbled about it. But actually the system is an improvement. For instance:
You don’t have to win games to get experience points. You can do nothing but lose all day and still make progress.
There’s no cap on the amount of experience points you can earn in one day.
It’s a “play at your own rate” system, except for the daily and weekly quests.
You actually accumulate gold a little faster from the rewards track.
The achievement system runs along the side, and some achievements reward experience or other prizes as well. A large proportion of these achievements are inevitably won just by showing up and playing as normal.
It’s this whole achievement system we’ll be exploring here, because it seems to be difficult for players to understand. To be fair, it is a complex monstrosity of a system that is very poorly documented.
Understanding the Hearthstone Rewards System
First of all, you have the rewards track:
This track is broken up into many screens with level subdivisions. Note the experience point (XP) meter at the top. Fill up that meter, and you level up and get to the next spot on the rewards track. So far, so basic. You get experience points from three sources:
Playing games – any game, in any format, win or lose, even adventures
Passing quests – mostly the same daily and weekly quest system that Hearthstone has always used
Passing some achievements
Now, the Hearthstone achievements section is this entirely separate thing:
Aside from all the other activity going on, we have this huge achievement system which is broken up into five sections.
Note that little number next to the icon at the top right. That is just your achievement points (AP)! It has nothing to do with XP. You get no reward or special boost from that number. It’s just there to track your progress through achievement land. This is the part that confuses players, and then it gets more confusing. Because sometimes achievements award XP or other prizes as well.
Hover over the achievement and it will tell you what you get for passing it. Now, don’t get your hopes up; most achievements award some piddly sum of AP, big yawn. It could be speculated that this is a stub which Blizzard Entertainment can use to expand rewards later? Anyway, we’re going to break down all the achievement categories and see what’s worth worrying about, and what can be ignored.
Maximizing Hearthstone Achievements
Here we’ll look at each of the achievement categories and assess their relative strengths towards most important progress.
Most of these grant AP only, but there’s a few minor perks to look out for.
Complete quests (AP only) – you’re doing this already anyway
Reach level 50 on X (AP only) – ditto
Win X games in Ranked / Arena / Duels – “Great Victory” 4 through 7 (win 500, 1000, 2500, 5000) grant golden copies of core neutrals, not really helpful unless you care about cosmetics
Reach level X – AP only except the first one (level 10 in all classes) unlocks arena
Individual class victory milestones – all of these tracks are identical and also start rewarding gold cards and special hero portraits at the “win 50 games” milestone, cosmetic only
Individual class level milestones (AP only) – nothing but points here
Only the goals associated with the current set count for XP. This is going to be an evergreen pattern in Hearthstone, so when the next set releases, XP will only be granted for the newest set’s achievements. Fulfilling the XP achievements requires you to stay current, leaning hard into the new set’s mechanics and cards.
As of this writing, only the Forged in the Barrens set achievements grant XP. Darkmoon Faire + core, classic, and general gameplay award AP only. These achievements can grant from 100-500 XP, which can stack up nicely combined with regular XP match grinding.
The gameplay achievements that award XP are wildly uneven. Some are almost impossible, some are inevitable as you play normally. Some examples from Forged in the Barrens set:
Summon 50 Deathrattle minions without playing them, as Demon Hunter (200 XP) – They’re talking about minions that summon another minion. This includes cards like Razorboar, but also cards that summon random minions can help too.
Destroy 50 Frozen minions (200 XP, Mage) – Mages do this all the time anyway.
Trigger 5 Paladin Secrets in one turn (200 XP) – Obviously impossible unless you’re playing secret Paladin, and then still requires some luck to pull off.
Play 6 cards in a single turn as Rogue (100 XP) – Easy question: Do you play miracle Rogue?
Start 10 turns with a Caravan (100 XP, neutral) – Easier done on the Coin, since they’re all 2-drops and your opponent is unlikely to be able to remove them from turn one / two.
Summon 50 Hogs with Hog Rancher (200 XP, neutral) – Obviously, stuff Hog Rancher in your decks and play it.
These wonky, quirky goals are very arbitrary and it’s doubtful anybody can accomplish all of them, especially during one season. You’ll have to pick and choose which ones sound viable. Seasons after this will see their own convoluted achievements come along with the new set. To be honest, 500 XP seems too little payoff to be worth the difficulty on some of them.
Most of these are AP-only awards, absolutely skippable unless you’re out to play wild format. All of them take the form of “collect X cards from set Y” with separate goals for each class. Since you use Xp to proceed alogn the prize track to win card packs and gold (buying more card packs), it wouldn’t make sense to award you more XP for it.
A few notable prizes:
Novelty Coin cards for recent sets – Collecting a certain threshold of cards from that set gets you a special novelty Coin card themed for that set. This isn’t in your collection; it just means whenever you’re on the Coin during normal game play, the Coin will look like this instead of that. Purely cosmetic.
Collecting all legendary cards from the most recent set – awards a diamond copy of a legendary. Will change from one set to another, but always the most recent set only.
Classic set awards – You get Old Murk Eye for popping enough murlocs in Classic. You get a set of Captain’s Parrots for doing the same with Classic pirates.
Nothing too exciting here. But opening card packs is something you do as much as you can anyway, kind of integral to a card game, isn’t it? You can pretty much go on opening packs as normal and let the achievements here mind their own.
Here’s where it gets spicy. There are currently eight adventures to complete in the Book of Heroes, and all of them award a card pack. Not just any card pack, but a pack of class-specific cards for the relevant class. Every class but Demon Hunter is represented here.
Being adventures, you play them against the AI, so no worries about competition. You’re provided with decks for everything, so even a green newbie can play through. The adventures are mostly dead-easy anyway with a couple that are randomly, unfairly tough. However, you get unlimited tries to pass a round, so don’t give up! The few tough ones are just a matter of learning the trick or gimmick to that particular challenge and adapting your strategy.
Outside of that, other adventures are tied to current sets in Standard. Contrary to Blizzard’s earlier adventures policy, they award almost nothing. You can still access classic adventures like League of Explorers and Blackrock Mountain (ah, the nostalgia!) but you pay cash up front and you can craft the cards you would win there for plain old dust in Wild format anyway.
The only modes that matter here is Standard and Wild Ranked. Both formats reward card packs, cards, and occasional cosmetic enhancements for reaching set milestones in increments of five. This is just the continuation of traditional Ranked advancement Hearthstone has always had.
Outside the achievements and experience system, you also get steady Apprentice mode rewards as you claw your way out of the junior leagues.
So who cares about AP?
Not very many! The chatter in the Hearthstone community speculates that Achievement Points will eventually be good for something, maybe even a cosmetic bonus. As always, Blizzard Entertainment’s decision process is inscrutable at best and random at worst.
But for the select achievements that do earn XP and other rewards, those are more worthwhile. Of course, none of the achievements award as much XP as any random daily quest does. But they are gravy on top of the quest XP and match XP you were already making.
I don’t have hard stats to back it up, but take my word for it: It is easier for a F2P player to climb ranks than it was before. I’ve been mainly a freebie player since HS came out, only spending money after I’ve already gotten established. The grind is much easier now, but this is only if you count the increased number of quests, and the dribble of rewards given to new players on their way up. I mean, graduating from Apprentice ranks grants you a free complete, competitive deck for the class of your choice. That never happened on the old system.
New Players’ Guide To Experience
The experience formula for playing games in Hearthstone is not officially published anywhere, however, players have been rigorously reverse-engineering it. This Stack Overflow thread compiles the most definitive answers. Briefly:
You get XP in any game mode (except Practice)
The majority of XP seems to come from actual cards played during a match, and actual actions taken (attacks, trading cards with opponents, etc.)
Some additional XP is gained through playing against an opponent (as opposed to the AI in adventure mode) and winning a match
Troll tactics such as joining a game and doing nothing, roping every turn, etc., award no XP
Thus, it seems the best strategy for making XP per match is to play as many cards as possible, extending matches as far as you can. However, you also get a bonus for winning a match no matter how many cards you played. Fast aggro decks can also play their ideal strategy for fewer XP points per match, but winning matches quickly and making it up in volume.
But what if you’re a newer player and can’t have your cherry-pick of top netdecks? Play control! Run something like priest, druid, or mage, with a tempo-control deck…
cards that generate more cards
lots of draw
Keep your hand stuffed with options and prolong the game as long as possible. Prioritize board control over going to the face. You don’t have to win; you just have to prolong the game doing as many things as possible, and the XP will rack up. Kind of explains some of the ranked meta lately, doesn’t it?