Best comeback: StrifeCro
The final match of the StrifeCro vs StUnNeR series was easily my game of the tournament. This was a half hour Priest on Priest epic in which StrifeCro inexplicably mulliganed his Injured Blademaster away from his opening hand, then proceeded to swiftly find himself down on board and with 10 health to his opponent’s 23. The position ought to be unwinnable, and would be with almost any class other than Priest, but after some Sylvanas shenanigans and a big call to use Mind Control on Cairne, StrifeCro was able climb back into the game.
The key swing moment came when StrifeCro benefitted from a lucky coin flip as StUnNeR’s own Sylvanas stole a Sludge slime instead of the buffed Baine Bloodhoof. While it might be tempting to scoff “RNGstone!” at that point, players like StrifeCro win so consistently because they see a line of play—and in this case the only one that would win him the game and the series—and then stick to it. It was a sensational comeback, gutted out from a position in which most of us would have been hovering over the Concede button. Spare a thought for StUnNeR, though, who'd flown all the way from Australia to play and overcome some serious stage fright. By the end he looks, well, stunned.
Biggest misplay: DTwo
There are few things Twitch chat loves more than missed lethal, or ‘missed legal’ to use the correct vernacular, and this was an absolute doozy from DTwo. Having played the Savage Roar-Force of Nature combo, he had the exact damage on board to take out Deerjason (who, incredibly, is just 15 years old). But with a golden ticket to BlizzCon on the line, he rushed the attack sequence and ended up using the wrong minion to break through the taunt, leaving him one shy of the amount required for the killing blow. It was as if a millions of maths teachers cried out in terror.
That mistake almost costs him the game. With Deerjason able to slap down Tirion, and sitting on Kel’Thuzad, the Paladin player sniffed a way back in. However, a top-decked second Savage Roar meant DTwo’s blushes were spared, and he was able to finish the job next turn. Perhaps rattled, he almost misses lethal again in the final game, before course correcting mid-turn. Far be it from me to criticise, though. The pressure of the big stage combined with the potential riches it now represents, must invite all sorts of muck ups. But hey, if in doubt, always count.
Biggest Disappointment: The Crowd
Not because they weren’t into the games, but because as the picture below illustrates—which was tweeted by e-sports man-about-town Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau—there were just so few of them. Much has been made of Hearthstone’s competitive explosion, which seems to have taken Blizzard by surprise as much as anyone, but it’s clear it still has a way to go before live events can draw a big numbers of bodies. The fact the tournament finished on a Monday surely didn’t help, either.
Perhaps another part of the problem is that Hearthstone is just so much better suited to watching online. The Twitch stream tipped past 100,000 concurrent viewers, suggesting a very healthy audience at home, and the slower pace at which individual plays are made (compared to, say, MOBAs) means there is always plenty of time for the casters to explain strategies. It’ll be interesting to see if the much talked about spectator mode does actually arrive in time for BlizzCon, because it feels like that could push professional Hearthstone over the top.
Best Deck: Cloud 9 Aggressive Druid
As with the best card tech pick, I struggled to find a deck that truly felt new and exciting. (Because I’m certainly not about to champion the resurgence of Zoo, which caught some players expecting an all-control metagame off guard.) The lack of surprises was, in itself, telling. It’s only a couple of months since the Naxx rollout began, and already it feels like the meta has settled back into something approaching a status quo. Which isn’t to say the current state of constructed play is unhealthy. Since the Leeroy and Buzzard nerfs, most classes have been reasonably represented on the ladder.
However, I don’t think we’re going to see any radically different deck archetypes until the next new batch of cards arrives. So my pick for best deck goes to StrifeCro’s Druid. He’s long been regarded as the grand master of the class, and the list he used is a version of the aggressive post-Naxx Druid he created, and which his Cloud 9 teammate Kolento piloted to #1 Legend. There were some interesting tweaks though, including double Wild Growth and double Sunfury Protector to make the Spectral Knights even trickier to deal with. Several other players at the tournament used variations on the deck to great success, but no one is as deadly with it as StrifeCro. As you can see below.
Those are my picks, then. I'd be interested to hear what your favourite moments where in the comments. We'll be reporting direct from the finals at BlizzCon next month, so look forward to that. (Even if I don't expect Greenskin to make another appearance.)