The new player experience seeks to help players who are new to the game to quickly learn the ropes, a key focus point for the developers of Hearthstone.
Various special accommodations exist to ease players into the game, such as:
- The tutorial
- Introductory quests
- Practice mode
- New Player Ranks
- New player pools in Casual mode and the Arena
- Free choice of a 30-card starter deck (decklists here, as of July 30, 2020)
- Deck Recipes
- Tips on the Finding Opponent and Starting Game loading screens prior to entering a game.
- Additional guidance and tooltips
In the beginning, new players are restricted from accessing certain Hearthstone features and game modes so that they are not overwhelmed. Initially, players can only play as the mage class, with other classes locked until the player has defeated them in a match. Similarly, adventures and the Arena are locked until players have unlocked all classes, Tavern Brawls are locked until players have reached higher levels, and Wild format is locked until players have graduated from the New Player Ranks and have crafted a card from a Wild format set. Certain quests are also not given to new players.
Upon opening a new account, all players must first complete the introductory tutorial before they are able to play the full game of Hearthstone. Once the tutorial is finished, the "vast majority" of players progress to playing basic difficulty practice mode matches, where they can unlock the other classes and earn Basic cards. Some new players choose to go into Casual Play mode, while a minority go directly to Ranked Play mode. In Casual Play mode and the Arena, new players are initially placed into special matchmaking pools to ease them into the game.
- Main article: Deck Recipe
Deck Recipes are pre-made card lists which players can use when creating a new deck. When creating a deck from a Deck Recipe, cards which the player does not possess can be substituted, with alternative suggestions provided. Deck Recipes are intended to give newer players an easy way to explore new deck types while simultaneously helping them to learn about card synergies and deck building.
While many new players will be familiar with similar games like Magic: The Gathering or the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, "a lot" of new players have never played a collectible card game (CCG) before. Because of this it is important that the new player experience teaches and eases players into the basic mechanics of card games in general, as well as the specific details of Hearthstone.
Over time the developers have made numerous changes to improve the new player experience. As of 2015 some of the main reasons for new players stopping playing early on were confusion over how Taunt works; and deck building and large card pools being "overwhelming". The developers sought to address these weaknesses chiefly through changes to the tutorial and hero emotes regarding Taunt and its function, the introduction of game formats (ensuring a moderately sized card pool for new players), and the introduction of Deck Recipes, prebuilt decks giving new and beginner-level players a stepping stone to exploring new deck types and learning about deck construction; the collection's card suggestion system was also improved in the same patch, helping players to fill in gaps in their decks and collections. Changes to the Casual Play mode matchmaking also improved the new player experience, allowing new players to have "a much higher winrate" in that mode compared to Ranked mode. The developers also considered locking Ranked the same way that Arena was initially locked for new players to avoid potentially bad experiences.
In February 2017, milestone ranks were implemented at Ranks 20, 15, 10, 5, and Legend, preventing players from falling below that rank during a season if they had reached it during the season. Ranks 25-21 were additionally limited to players who never reached Rank 15; this was intended to make sure new players were matched more appropriately.
As of 2017 Game Director Ben Brode admitted that the previous new player experience "needs more work", stating that certain elements of the experience still had "some pretty serious weaknesses", and that Ranked in particular "has poor matchmaking for new players" and was "becoming more difficult for new players over time". However, he explained that improvements to the experience had seen significant improvements in retention rate for new players since the game's launch in 2014.
In October 2018, a special set of 25 ranks for new players (Ranks 50-26) were implemented and were limited to new players only. These New Player Ranks were introduced into the Ranked system to allow new players to better ease into the game, with a substantial number of free packs along the way during their climb.
- If you’re new to the game—or you’ve been away for a spell—we’d like to help you get right to playing and having fun. Starting today, players new to the game who graduate from the New Player ranks will get a free competitive deck from a class of their choice [...] ! This also applies to players who haven't logged into the game in the past four months.
On April 1, 2020, the Ranked system received a large overhaul. New players were put into a new "Apprentice league" with 40 ranks.
- Patch 184.108.40.206613 (2020-07-30): Free decks for new and returning players updated on July 30. (Decklists here).
- Patch 220.127.116.11222 (2020-03-26): (Implemented on 2020-04-01): New Player Ranks redesigned into the Apprentice League containing 40 ranks from Apprentice 40 to Apprentice 1.
- Patch 18.104.22.168222 (2020-03-26): Free decks added for new and returning players. (Decklists here).
- Patch 22.214.171.124996 (2018-10-02): A special set of ranks called the New Player Ranks (Rank 50 - 26) is introduced for new players below the normal ranks of Rank 25 to Legend.
- Patch 126.96.36.19920 (2017-02-28): Improved matchmaking for new players.