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Hackers Explain How to Win at Hearthstone

Hearthstone. Credit: Blizzard

(Image credit: Hearthstone. Credit: Blizzard)

LAS VEGAS — What is the best card in the popular video game Hearthstone? Your days of arguing about whether Edwin VanCleef is a good card or not are over: Two engineers have developed an algorithm for determining which cards in this popular free-to-play card-battling video game are most effective, and which are not. 

The two have also developed a Web=browser plugin that can predict which cards Hearthstone players will play next — without hacking the game or otherwise cheating.

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Google security researcher Elie Bursztein and PetSquare foudner Celine Bursztein showed their Hearthstone "hacks" off to a crowd of hackers and gamers at the DEF CON hacker convention here this past weekend.

In Hearthstone, each Minion card has several different statistics on it: Mana (what it costs the player to play the card), Attack (the card's damage-dealing ability) and Health (the card's ability to withstand other attacks). In the Bursztein's model, each statistic on a card is given a variable to represent it. So if a card has 4 Attack, that would be written as 4a, or 4 times the Attack variable.

Each card is also assigned an "intrinsic value," represented by the variable "i." Then the sum of a card's Attack, Health, intrinsic value and any special abilities is set to equal the card's Mana value. The card Boulderfist Ogre, which has 6 Mana, 6 Attack and 7 Health, would be written as 6=6a+7h+i.

By comparing the equations of different cards, you can solve for a card's Attack, Health, intrinsic value or special ability. Cards with higher values are considered "undervalued," or exceptionally good relative to their Mana cost. 

That's just a basic introduction to the algorithm. A full breakdown, complete with analysis of each Hearthstone card's worth, is available from Elie Bursztein's website.

The Burszteins are also working on a Hearthstone plugin that will help players keep track of which cards they and their opponents have already played. (Such plugins are common in online games such as World of Warcraft.) This plugin can also predict what cards your opponent is likely to play next, based on the cards and strategies he or she has played thus far.

The code for the browser plugin will be available on Github later this week, Elie Bursztein told the DEF CON crowd. However, he added that he has not yet adjusted the plugin for Hearthstone's recent expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, which adds 20 new cards to the game.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She previously worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation.