The game has no such thing as cheated AI. It's more that we remember our bad luck (when AI "cheat") than we remember our good fortune (when we get cascades and such).
As Zippity said, just skip Maugrim Woods for this week (every monday the event changes, you will be able to return there).
Troops which create gems are a bit fuzzy those days (they tend to create new gems, far from gems of the same color, this giving 4+ to the AI instead of you). But Banshee is NOT such a spawner, it is a Converted, so you know EXACTLY which gems will turn to red, and you will learn to choose the right time to cast the spell. If you have a red-using troop in your team and you can time your banshee when that troop has no mana... it's very effective
Game Hints are ... quite random. Most of the time they correctly detect the 4+, and 5+ (however for 5+ they blink as a 3 match). Very very very rarely they will miss a 4+.
However, those hints are "bad" because they don't pick the color you need to fill.
And when I did start the game they were confusing me, my eyes couldn't find anything else than what the hint proposed.
=> Disable the hints from the Settings when you are in a game.
You will reenable them later when you are more used to the game.
Also, you can enable detailed help settings from within a game. It will show exactly how much mana each spell cost and how much you are earned so far. It helps a lot.
Overall you seem to have troubles with your fights. It shouldn't be that way. Quests are supposed to be easy (except maybe the final bosses and the class-related quests).
Ideally you could try other troops, but you need souls for that so it's not that easy to change.
Your hero is a very good tank (1st slot) at early levels.
Make sure your hero weapon does not use the same color has your other important troops.
Ranger, Elemental Golem, Druid, Knight Koronet are very good troops for early game. I also like Blade Master, Cyclop, griffin Knight, as well as EVERY troop that apply a burn like fire lizard or globlin rocket I think. Poison is also very good early game. Stun, freeze, disease, web are not that good for starters.
Assign a class to your hero. And choose one of the three options for that class, usually it gives you 8 life or armor or 4 attack, that counts a lot !
Ideally, try and keep a soul generating troop in your team, always, like Banshee, she is very good. Or valkyrie or warg.
And try to have your hero max leveled, as well as your main damaging troop. At least level 15.
Ah, and get into a guild ! "Mana surges" changes ("doubling" the mana you collect) depends on "mastery", which comes from your level (very small amount) and from your guild (you can easy get a +25% chance just by being in a guild !)
And keep your gems until you get 500 to buy an dragon armor (greatly increase gold and souls earned).
If you want you can PrivateMessage me with your troops or ask advices. Alternatively you can do it as reply here a lot of people can answer. The community is very nice.
You don't NEED to pay to play the game. At level 100 or so, I put 5$ into the game to encourage the developpers for their work. Sure if you put 50$ in the game you get lot of extra gems and cards. But the game is very viable at low cash invest. (I'm level 600)
Hope you finally find enjoyment in the game.