How Chakki became the new king of Hearthstone control

Chakki was furiously taking notes during most of the tournament. Images from DreamHack Flickr.

Chakki was furiously taking notes during most of the tournament. Images from DreamHack Flickr.

Of the four decks which Chakki took to DreamHack Austin, (one of which would be banned by his opponent in each match), the standout performer was his N’Zoth Paladin. It works similarly to the old “Healadin” control archetype, in that it relies on giant board clears using Equality in combination with Consecration or Wild Pyromancer. The deck also runs a ton of life gain, with the Forbidden Healing spell able to restore 20 points of health in a single turn, plus Ragnaros The Lightlord, the new Whispers of the Old God legendary who will heal something on your side of the board for 8 every turn. The deck’s win condition, other than your opponent falling asleep, is playing N’Zoth—one of the set’s titular old gods, which brings back your creatures with Deathrattle that died earlier. Hello free Sylvanas, Tirion and Cairne. 

PCG: What do you do between series. Is it relentlessly studying VODs or do you try to relax?

Chakki: That’s what’s awesome about public decklists. You don’t have to run about between rounds and figure out what people are playing, so there's equal information advantage. It’s something Blizzard is doing now with the Hearthstone Championship Tour, and I think it’s a great step in the right direction, because it’s too much of an ask to have to play your rounds and also go scouting decks. People would have friends and teammates at other locations watching people play, working out the cards in their decks. It became this huge information war. 

Now that that’s gone, all I would do after my top 16 rounds is sit down with my laptop and make a spreadsheet of how the matchups panned out. Since it’s Last Hero Standing, that’s really relevant to decide what to ban and first-pick. I would try to memorize their lists as much as possible. I have tricks to memorizing decks based on the number of spells, minions, and weapons, to make it easier. Even then, sometimes I would forget one-ofs, like Shiv or Shadow Strike in Rogue. 

Basically, relax and prepare myself mentally. For the most part I had enough break time between matches, but going from the semifinals into the finals I had a five-minute break to decide what I wanted to ban and what I wanted to pick against Terrence. It was pretty hectic going into the finals.

PCG: I like to imagine Nathan “ThatsAdmirable” Zamora as your grizzled coach, a bit like Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball. How’s working with him?

Chakki: Admirable, yeah—a lot of people kind of lost their idea of him as a player, since he basically took a year off to do casting. But now he’s re-entered playing. He got top 16 at the first Championship Tour. He’s going to be playing in the next one and he played at DreamHack [Austin]. He definitely brings a different perspective to a lot of players. He’s a lot of fun to work with, but he can also get really serious about the game. He gives me good practice, a different look at things. I also have ladder players on the back end—I talk to Muzzy; I talk to Nostam, guys who are grinding top 10 a lot. So I get a lot of different perspectives on what could be good, and that lets me test everything out. 

We went with different strategies for DreamHack, me and Admirable. He went with an aggressive lineup, trying to catch people off guard, and it didn’t work out. I did a lot of my pick and ban preparation with him on site at DreamHack, and he was willing to help me out to win the tournament. He was probably the happiest guy there that I won. It’s great to have a friend like that alongside you.

TerrenceM had an amazing run at DreamHack Austin, before losing to Chakki in the finals.

TerrenceM had an amazing run at DreamHack Austin, before losing to Chakki in the finals.

PCG: I’m sure you’re aware of the racist behavior from Twitch chat towards your fellow finalist Terrence “TerrenceM” Miller throughout the weekend. Do you think there’s an issue with Twitch chat in general that needs to be addressed?

It’s at the point where as a community we’re starting to realize we need to be looking for answers.

Chakki: Yeah, I talked about this in some other interviews. I think Twitch chat can be a great thing. It’s this hive mind of hilarious crude jokes, but it can cross some lines. One thing I saw talked about, which a lot of people felt was unacceptable, was the fact that Terrence’s family members might be watching, or that there are people outside of the video gaming community that might be looking in and seeing all this nasty stuff. In that regard, I think a great solution would be to have chat disabled if you don’t have a Twitch account, so if you’re not logged into Twitch, you don’t see chat, unless you specifically say, "Yeah, let me see chat". That way we’d feel a little better about our parents and family members not seeing that kind of stuff, and the people who want to see it can see it. Ultimately, I don’t think Twitch is ever going to remove chat entirely. I don’t think that’s the solution anyone would want.

PCG: A lot people take this attitude that “It’s the internet, what do you expect?” But if we don’t talk about it, nothing will change.

Chakki: Yeah, it’s a tough subject. There’s no great answer. It’s at the point where as a community we’re starting to realize we need to be looking for answers.

[Ed's note: Since this interview Blizzard has said more will be done to combat the problem at Future tournaments. Read the statement here.]

PCG: Going back to the wizard cards then, it seems like before every expansion people predict that the meta will slow down. Has it really slowed down this time? People still open Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, into coin Tuskarr Totemic—it feels like a pretty fast game.

Chakki: We’re so used to 2-drops that blow open the game like Shielded Minibot and Mad Scientist, to the point where I was talking to some people about Undercity Huckster, which I think is a great 2-drop, and people were like, “Nah, I don’t think it’s that good”. I think it’s going to take a while for people to come down to the new power level of the game, where you don’t automatically get super value on everything you play. There’s no Muster for Battle to blow your opponent out of the game. I think that’s ultimately a good thing as the format moves on. Blizzard now has a lot of different places to go with the format.

The reason Shaman is so different is that they kept their 2-drop, Totem Golem, which in comparison to other 2-drops is even more insane now. So Shaman definitely feels like the one deck where you’re still like, “Oh god, I need answers or I’m going to die.” But every other deck slowed down. Even Shaman slowed down a bit. You can’t really run Knife Juggler or Leper Gnome anymore. So it lost a little bit of power, just not nearly as much as other aggro decks.

On the next page: N'Zoth, tournament formats, and winning BlizzCon...

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.