Crazy comebacks, Rag RNG, and huge misplays at the Hearthstone World Championship finals

Pavel lifts the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship trophy. Kibler seems especially pleased.

Pavel lifts the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship trophy. Kibler seems especially pleased.

After a gripping all-EU final, we have a new Hearthstone world champion. Pavel Neltukov, the supremely talented 18-year-old Russian, emerged victorious from a tough bracket that saw him face crowd favourite Amnesiac in the first round of the top eight. The win earned Pavel $250,000 in prize money and will transform his future in the competitive Hearthstone scene.

This year’s tournament delivered thrills, spills and a surprising number of chills. There were crazy comebacks, the inevitable ridiculous RNG, and some disastrous misplays as the pressure mounted on the players. And of course, there was Yogg, unbowed by Blizzard’s recent nerf, and still capable of stealing games. Here are the big talking points from the weekend’s action.

Big blunders on the big stage

Nerves can give rise to uncharacteristic errors, and BlizzCon provided plenty of examples. We saw some absolutely appalling misplays in the top eight—the kind of clangers that these players would never make in a more casual environment. The lights, the cameras, and the 300,000 strong Twitch viewership clearly had an unsettling effect on some, causing them to overthink simple plays and overlook obvious details. This video from the game between JasonZhou and Pavel shows the most egregious example.

These errors aren’t really representative of the players’ skill. It’s not as if Jason didn’t know he was supposed to play Backstab first in order to buff Edwin VanCleef. It’s simply a matter of him getting twitchy and making a mechanical error. We saw a similar thing happen to DrHippi, who missed lethal versus Pavel. The look on his face confirmed that he'd realized immediately that he’d ordered his attacks wrong. But it’s also true that some players deal with pressure better than others, and Pavel’s composure was a big factor in his victory. Perhaps the fact that he previously missed out on BlizzCon due to his own high-profile mess up has made him a stronger player.

Rag RNG continues to decide games

DrHippi musing on the ultimate randomness of all things (but particularly Rag shots).

DrHippi musing on the ultimate randomness of all things (but particularly Rag shots).

With all the (justified!) hysteria over Yogg-Saron’s RNG-fueled antics, it's easy to forget just how game deciding our friend Señor del Fuego can be. Ragnaros is probably the most iconic Legendary card from vanilla Hearthstone, and is enjoying a resurgence in the current competitive meta. At BlizzCon he played a key role in several series, and I found it striking how lucky Rag rolls made those results feel pretty arbitrary. Everyone knows that the edges pro players can leverage in a game like Hearthstone are pretty small, but Ragnaros just turns some matches into straight-up 50-50s. Watch this video of the Rag-on-Rag action in game five of Che0nsu vs DrHippi, which was about as clownish as Hearthstone gets.

But it’s exciting, right? You only have to listen to the crowd. People get hyped from seeing the player they’re rooting for win a game on the back of a clutch Rag shot, even if it cheapens the victory a little bit. This weekend RNG flips invariably generated the biggest oohs and ahhs. Perhaps the amount of randomness that’s acceptable purely comes down to personal taste. Either way, in a largely midrange meta, the Rag renaissance is very much real.

Deja vu as comeback kid Pavel strikes again

In a manner eerily similar to his comeback win against OmegaZero, Pavel once again did the impossible and recovered from a 0-3 deficit to win 4-3, this time vs none other than the Young Savage (Amnesiac, but who calls him that nowadays). If anything, Pavel’s powers of RNG manipulation were even more pronounced second time around. Amnesiac doesn’t think Babbling Book deserves to make the cut in Tempo Mage, but that’s probably because he can’t control the cards he gets from it. Pavel definitely can. As you can see from the video above.

I’ve got a friend who specialises in running the numbers on the exact probabilities of these things happening, but let’s just agree that topdecking Babbling Book into Polymorph, followed by topdecking a second Babbling Book into Firelands Portal is, uh… quite unlikely! Not to mention that Pavel wins the next game in the series off the back of pulling Malygos from Barnes, a feat he also performed in his series vs OmegaZero. 

Let’s not take any credit away from the Russian, though. He played fantastically well throughout this hard fought series, and had tremendous presence of mind to stay focused when he was 3-0 down versus the crowd favourite. Still though, those Babbling Books…

The Blood Warriors dream was not to be

You have no idea how much I wanted that Blood Warriors deck to be good. My deep desire was for HotMEOWTH to roll up with a crazy combo deck and lay waste to all in his path. This very much did not happen. Instead, the intricate nouveau Patron got unceremoniously dumpstered four times in a row by DrHippi’s aggressive midrange lineup. Watch the massacre here.

This makes me sad. When the one off-meta choice in all of the decks submitted for BlizzCon bombs this catastrophically, it says a lot about innovation in the current competitive Hearthstone meta. Namely that there isn’t much of it, and so for the most part people are playing largely the same decks against one another because failure to do so would put them at a disadvantage. Oh well, maybe the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan will shake things up a bit.

Edwin provides a dramatic finish

Everyone loves a big Edwin VanCleef. Well, I certainly do, and it was particularly satisfying to see one decide the World Championship final. Here Pavel makes a great read, noting that DrHippi does not run Mulch in his Druid deck, and as such was unlikely to be able to answer one massive minion. So he abandons the usual Rogue gameplan of cycling like crazy with Auctioneer and setting up a Malygos finish, in favour of just throwing all his damage spells at face and making a 10/10. 

With a Sap in Pavel’s hand to see off the threat of DrHippi’s Arcane Giant, Edwin did devastating work and sealed Pavel’s place as the 2016 world champion. Boom. For my money, it was far better to see the last game decided by such a cool legendary going off, rather than another Rag coinflip.