A new year, a new article. I've been working on this one for almost a month, but with so much going on over the holidays I haven't been able to sit down and get it done. I hope everyone had a good break. I dug into my backlog of RPGs, played some of the 2v2 event, and I'm looking forward to starting the new ranked season. The timing is good though, because this article is focusing on one of the skills that will help you climb the ranked ladder.
Playing around cards is one of the strategies that is simple to understand, but difficult to master. For a new player it will hardly be a consideration, while for veterans it should be their major focus. Its complexity lies in the fact that it requires considering unknown, or sometimes deduced, information.
What does it mean exactly?
To play around cards is to adjust, or shape, your play decisions based on the cards you know, or might reasonable expect, your opponent to have. The goal is to execute your game plan while attempting to minimize the impact of your opponents cards. It is important to note, you will rarely be able to completely negate your opponents cards. If it is too easy to negate cards they rarely see play, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
When not to do it
If you still frequently make mistakes with known information, then you should put most of your focus on eliminating those errors first. Overall that will probably give you the most benefit. However, even new players can always pick a couple prevalent and powerful cards(i.e. Magmataur, Armageddon Angel) to watch out for.
Don't play around cards you can't beat. If you lose to them having a card, even if you limit the effectiveness of it, then there is no point adjusting your play for that card. If you can't beat your opponent gaining 4 life from Wonder Drugs you might as well put them below the 8 health threshold. Often if you can't beat particular cards, the best defense is a good offense, as it gives your opponent less time to find the problem card.
How to do it
You have to play as your opponent. Consider the impactful cards they may have. For each card, consider what plays you might make, that would make your opponent want to play that card. Don't make those plays.
This can do two things. First off, it takes away the best case scenario for your opponent. Secondly, sometimes, it lets you turn your opponents powerful cards into a liability, a dead card. People hate burning/discarding/filtering powerful cards so if you manage to keep them "not quite good enough" they'll often realized too late they aren't going to get the value they expect out of their card.
Look for lines that play around as many different cards as possible. Taking a series of small advantages can help tilt the game in your favour.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should
So, you've determined a card that you can play around, and how you'd do it. Should you? Not always. You can get pretty deep into the math of expected winrates here, but I often find that is not necessary. What you should always consider though is payoff vs punishment.
Tips, Tricks, and Examples
Opposite Lane Cards (Sapo the Devourer, Valykrie Enforcer, Meso Libre, Temptation, Traitorous Murmur):
Play your minions opposite their minions, this forces their minions to move, costing them their attack
Don't play your minions opposite empty enchantments, this helps their positioning (far too often I see people contest Bald Mountain directly opposite just to walk into a Meso Libre)
Don't play your minions close together! (I feel like this is the first card people learn to play around)
If you are forced to play minions close, try to position your minions so that their best position is occupied by one of their minions, this forces your opponent to make tough choices
Don't let me play them on curve for value
When using Journey of Souls, position minions you want returned first furthest left
Play out powerful minions that survive the effect, or actively punish it (Insurance Broker, Oak of Dodona. Black Cadejo)
Try and keep yourself "just" ahead of your opponent
Don't commit too many resources if you are way ahead
Have a counter in play (Hopeless Necromantic, Red Carnival(Misanthropia), Stairways(Heaven/Hades)
Don't play cards you can't beat (When playing Angel Loop I frequently will avoid playing Bragi/Sapo against Green decks until I have an answer to warded units)
Play your second best threat, or a temping card you have an immediate answer for in hand
Play a detained, and hold on to the deported (Bonus points if they just returned Murmur with Bald Mountain)
Play good targets in positions that are awkward when stolen
Prioritize playing minions that get their value from their Awaken effect
Set a trap
Rewind and Replay
The cards listed above are just some of the most common examples of cards you might find yourself playing around. However, as you get more familiar with the game, the archetypes, and the specific decks people are playing there are many more cards you might find yourself playing around.
The replay feature is an amazing tool for learning the ability to play around cards. A lot of times this skill involves losing to a card, examining how you could have played the turn differently, then doing better next time. Often times the replay will allow you to view your opponents plays in a new light. Was a play a couple turns previous a tell that they had a specific card? Did they bait me or lead me into a specific play? Or even, did they even have the card I was actively playing around. Often times you'll never see your opponent play a card you are avoiding so it can be rewarding to see that in their hand. The "I knew it!" moments always feel great. And sometimes they top-deck a card you never considered (and maybe you had no reason to) and you get totally blown out.
You can't win them all, but learning how to play around cards will let you win more than you did before!