Understanding Hearthstone: Board Initiative

This is a continuation on my ‘Understanding Hearthstone’ series and this article will aim to tackle the topic of board initiatives. Check out part one on understanding board control

There is a problem that has been plaguing games ever since it’s existence, even Hearthstone. It’s inevitable presence disturbs the very balance games work so hard to maintain. Although attempts have been made to mitigate this effect, no game can truly escape it - the first player advantage. In Hearthstone, the second player is given two advantages: a coin and an extra card, but what do these two objects mean against the first player advantage?

Knife JugglerMuster for BattleSen'jin Shieldmasta

Let’s say that you’re going second in this typical match. Both your opponent and you have nothing to play on this first turn, so you both decide to pass. As your opponent gains their second mana crystal, they slam down a knife juggler. You decide to brave the waters and play your own Knife Juggler on your turn. Your opponent, being a scummy paladin that they are, plays a Muster for Battle. The combination of the attached weapon and the knives from the Knife Juggler easily clear your creature. You also have a Muster for Battle, but without your Knife Juggler, you cannot quite kill the opponent’s creature. Despite having the same cards, you cannot achieve the same result because they went first. This is an example of how your opponent has gained board initiative.

The concept of board initiative is very similar to that of board control. When you can dictate favorable trades and force your opponent into subpar ones, you have board initiative. A very clear sign of losing board initiative is when you have no choice but to get rather average trades, so that you will prevent terrible ones. When your board no longer matches up your opponent’s, that’s when you know that you’re losing your grasp on the opponent’s board control.

Let’s take ourselves back into the earlier scenario and break space-time continuum by giving you the coin and an extra card. You draw your card and pops come out a Sen’Jin Shieldmasta. If you recall, you’re currently at three mana crystals and with the coin you’re able to throw down your taunt minion. Now the board initiative is back to a rather even stage. Of course your opponent can trade everything and develop a new minion, but you’ve just pushed the board initiative back with the help of the coin.


Beside minions with taunt, other cards exist to help tackle board initiative. These includes board clears (either spells or minions) or weapons. Let’s take ourselves back in time again and let’s say that you drew a Consecration instead of the Sen’Jin. Playing it wipes out all the opponent’s minion and the board initiative now points to no one. Other cards that achieve this effect are Brawl or Flamestrike. Although I really want to talk about weapons, I feel that they deserve a whole article altogether. 

Now that we know how the first player naturally gains board initiative and how the coin helps combat this, are we now destined to win all our games? Sadly, having board initiative alone cannot win you the game. Back again in our example where we had just used Consecration, what if the opponent just fills the board back up with minions? This is where another dynamic of Hearthstone comes in - card advantage. At the start of each turn, you draw one card, but you won't always end up playing just one. Eventually you’ll run out of cards to play. The second player receives one extra card at the start of the game, but what exactly is its significance? Find out in two weeks more about what is. Come back in two weeks and find out more about card advantage and we'll see how the second player's compensation matches up to the first player advantage.


About me:

Hello my name is Tanat and I'm from Bangkok, Thailand. I'm a Game Design and Development student at Rochester Institute of Technology and I like to explore the depth of game mechanics and game designs and how they bring the game together as a whole.