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Hearthstone is almost perfectly balanced, no matter who goes first

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica has done some pretty heavy analysis to try to figure out if Hearthstone players have a statistical advantage in going first, or second. The results are interesting, and seem to suggest that — while on a per-class basis the advantage may swing one way or the other — overall the game seems to be close to perfectly balanced.

"In the end, our analysis of these 219 pro-level Hearthstone matches found a razor-thin, almost nonexistent advantage for the player going first, who won 110 times (50.23 percent) versus 109 times (49.77 percent) for the second player," Orland wrote. "That's an extremely statistically insignificant edge, even though there is a significant margin of error (+/- 6.6 percent at a 95 percent confidence level) that means the actual results might be a little less balanced."

In Hearthstone the player that goes second gets a coin that allows them to boost their mana pool by one to make up for the first player's advantage. That coin can allow some interesting moves in the early game, and one comment on Orland's piece zeroed in on one particularly interesting aspect of the coin's use.

"The other thing not mentioned is 'The Coin' is considered a spell card," they wrote, and then listed a variety of ways the coin can enhance your play by buffing other cards:

  • Mana Wyrm - Whenever you cast a spell, gain +1 Attack.
  • Antonidas - Whenever you cast a spell, add a 'Fireball' spell to your hand.
  • Cho - Whenever a player casts a spell, put a copy into the other player’s hand.
  • Auctioneer - Whenever you cast a spell, draw a card.
  • Mana Addict - Whenever you cast a spell, gain +2 Attack this turn.
  • Violet Teacher - Whenever you cast a spell, summon a 1/1 Violet Apprentice.
  • Wild Pyromancer - After you cast a spell, deal 1 damage to ALL minions.

The use of the coin as both a manna buff and a spell card is controversial in some circles. Any heavy Hearthstone player likely has stories about the coin's use that cause them to grind their teeth, and there are some interesting plays that require the coin to be used properly.

Orland's data also suggests that some classes may benefit from the coin more than others.

"Rogues in our sample, for instance, won only 40 percent of the time when going first but 62.5 percent of the time when going second, which makes some sense when you consider how important The Coin is to activating some early-turn 'combo' abilities in the popular Miracle Rogue decks," he explained.

The entire story breaks down the numbers in great detail, and there are some interesting graphs. It should provide grist for more than a few arguments about strategy and use of the coin. The numbers aren't perfect, but the fact that Blizzard has nailed the balance so well, so early in the game's life, is a major feat.

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