The dust has finally settled on the shattered hero portraits, and we now know the complete line-up of Hearthstone players who will battle it out at BlizzCon for a share of the $250,000 prize pool. This weekend saw the best 16 players on the North America servers whittled down to four at the Hammerstein ballroom in New York, and the quality of play (and outrageous top decking) was mostly excellent. So congratulations to Firebat, Tarei, StrifeCro and DTwo. May RNGesus be with you, always.
In this round-up, I want to pick out a few of the standout moments, and look more generally at where Hearthstone is as a competitive game right now. Wherever possible I've tried to embed the VODs so they start as close as possible to the relevant moment. Let’s start with the most outrageous slice of luck in the tournament…
Luckiest top deck: Chakki
On day one, the first game in the series between aggro fiend Chakki and eventual qualifier Tarei saw some Warlock on Warlock action, with Chakki playing Zoo (obviously) and Tarei as Handlock. Both players are down to two health, but Chakki only has Power Overwhelming in hand and an empty board, while his opponent has lethal on board with a Molten Giant in play. Doomguard and second Soulfire are viable outs for Chakki, but of course he can’t afford to Life Tap. Neither of those cards arrive, but what does get drawn is Mr Icky himself. Chakki casts Power Overwhelming on the Leper Gnome for the two damage deathrattle and that’s GG. Cue the crowd going wild and a blizzard of emotes between the players.
Most interesting tech card: Captain Greenskin
Beyond the obligatory Black Knights and Big Game Hunters, there was actually very little in the way of genuinely surprising tech card choices. Props then for DTwo, who opted to run the terminally unfashionable Captain Greenskin (and a golden one, no less) in his Hunter deck. I’ve tried to make Greenskin work in a weapons-themed Warrior build, and in a Paladin deck that ran double Sword Of Justice, but he’s always been pretty underwhelming. The potential synergy here with an Eaglehorn Bow being fed by traps is obvious, but it’s hard to say whether the card really does have much potential because the only time DTwo was able to play it he was dead to Chakki’s double Power Overwhelming on the following turn.
So, the goblin pirate’s actual viability remains in doubt, but amongst a lot of otherwise predictable lists, he was fun to see. DTwo plays for team Don’t Kick My Robot (DKMR), who’ve built a reputation as innovative, collaborative deck-builders. Hopefully BlizzCon will see a little more in the way of genuine originality. Maybe, as Frodan noted, DTwo was just sick of getting Captain’s Parrot off his Webspinners.
Best mirror match & Best Series: TidesOfTime vs Tarei
Matches between players using the same class, and almost identical decks, tend to be either tedious fatigue-fests or nail biting tactical back and forths. With its enormo minions and devastating board clears, Handlock vs Handlock tends towards the latter, and the game between team Tempo Storm’s TidesOfTime and Tarei was an instant classic. Despite seeming to be ahead for most of the match, it looks like Tides might have dropped his Jaraxxus a turn too early when he proceeded to top deck a now unusable Molten Giant. The game goes right to the wire, and eventually spins on the arrival of a Faceless Manipulator. Super tense stuff.
From there Tarei quickly tied things up with his aggressive Hunter, which is heavily favoured against the Handlock, after which Tides went for the hard counter with Priest for what felt likely to be a commanding lead. However, with his final deck being Miracle Rogue, Tarei was able to put together back-to-back wins and steal the series. There’s probably a debate to be had over whether the ban format (each player can prevent the other from picking one class) really suits the ‘best of…’ structure, or whether it encourages a somewhat stifling rock-paper-scissors approach to deckbuilding. Either way, this was a great series between excellent players—and perhaps, given what followed, the start of a bitter rivalry.
Best trash talk: Tarei
Given that the Hearthstone pro scene is largely populated by reasonably earnest young men, there hasn’t been much in the way of beef beyond Ek0p’s somewhat baffling aggression towards the none-more-nice Trump. Now it seems some of the scene’s young knives are a bit bored by all the politeness, and want to kick the IRL BM up a notch. First came Firebat calling out Kolento, who’s widely regarded as the best European player, saying: “I really, really want to beat Kolento. I had a little bit of history with Kolento and… I want to smash him. Straight up.”
Next was Tarei, who after his marathon series with Tides was asked to reflect on winning against such a highly-fancied opponent. No big deal, apparently. According to Tarei he and his teamate: “always crush Tides on ladder, so it felt pretty normal.” Ouch, and he wasn’t done there. “Most people on the ladder are… pretty bad.” So, uh, that’s shots fired at everyone?