How Chakki became the new king of Hearthstone control


Chakki’s triumph at DreamHack Austin represents a substantial success for the Dignitas Hearthstone team. Last July his teammate James “Greensheep” Luo won DreamHack Valencia, the final for which was a Dignitas “team kill” against fellow Brit Lewis “Blackout” Spencer. Greensheep wound up in the same group as his Korean teammate Hakjun “Kranich” Baek at the 2015 BlizzCon World Championships. Kranich won that battle, but was knocked out by Thijs in the quarter-finals, who would eventually lose to Ostkaka in the finals. 

PCG: How good do you think the heal-heavy N’Zoth Paladin is? 49% of players at the EU prelims were running it, and I’m not sure I can watch that deck for the next two years!

Chakki: [laughs] When the DreamHack guys were scheduling matches, we were all kind of like, “I don’t think they realize how long we’re going to go.” I was playing against my friend, and we were both using the same lineup. He 3-0’d me with Priest, and it took two hours. Sooo, yeah it’s a really weird meta right now. People always say they want to see control, but then in the competitive scene, once it gets there, it can be a little tedious. The Paladin deck is really powerful. It might change as time goes along. There are already some card choices I’m eyeing that I might change. For the European Preliminaries, a lot of them didn’t have much time, so some of them just copied my list and changed a card or two.

PCG: DreamHack was played using the Last Hero Standing format, and used a Swiss round before the knockout phase. Why do so many pros seems to prefer that structure?

Chakki: Swiss is essentially the most consistent tournament structure you can get. When you go into an event for three days, you book your flight out on the Monday and you’re stuck there the whole time. If you get eliminated in a round or two, you don’t really have anything to do. With Swiss, it’s basically triple elimination, but also you can finish out the rounds, so you can prove your worth even if you lose. You can go 6-3, or 5-4 isn’t too bad. It looks a lot more respectable than 0-2 or 1-2, or these other records you can get at a double elimination tournament. If DreamHack were single elimination, I would have gone 2-1 and been eliminated. If it were double elimination, I would have gone 4-2 and been eliminated. The fact that it was Swiss let me have those extra rounds to prove that those games were flukes or I ran into bad matchups, and go 7-2 to make the cut and win from there. If it were a different format, everything would have changed. I really like Swiss. I really like triple elim over double.

As far as Last Hero Standing, when Conquest came in, a lot of people were opposed to it, and a lot of people still are. LHS definitely requires more preparation. Picks matter; bans are a lot different, how you mindgame the ban. Your lineup matters a lot more. In Conquest, you just want to bring the best decks, maybe targeting a certain deck. Conquest is a lot more accessible and you’re not going to get punished as much for having the wrong type of strategy. So LHS probably gives an extra 1-5% edge to better players that have prepared more. But ultimately I don’t really care for one format over the other. I’ve really come back around on Conquest. I don’t mind it as much. But definitely if Blizzard is looking to have big strategy discussions, like how they had the analyst desk at the last World Championship. If they want to have that kind of stuff be a big focal point, formats like LHS add a lot more talking room.

Possessed Villager is one of a handful of Old Gods cards that have found a home in Zoo Warlock.

Possessed Villager is one of a handful of Old Gods cards that have found a home in Zoo Warlock.

PCG: If felt appropriate that when the win came, you were using Zoo. Can you ever envisage a version of Hearthstone in which Zoo won’t be great?

Chakki: Uhhhhh [laughs] it would be weird to envision Hearthstone without Zoo. It’s been a staple for so long. It was nice to get the win done with it, because I’ve played it for so long. A lot of my finals appearances have been me playing a deck like Zoo in a matchup very much like the one that I played, but without as good of a draw. So it would be like, “Oh, they have the Reno or they have the board clear”, and it’s just this sinking feeling knowing, well, I’m probably going to lose. But it felt so good to actually have Flame Imp, Dark Peddler, Imp Gang Boss, just a great start. It got the job done, and it was quick and easy and great.

PCG: As you’ve said before, “Sometimes you Doomguard; sometimes you get Doomguarded.” Hearing you talk now, you seem very relaxed about the game. Do you feel some of the pressure is off now that you have a trophy under your belt? What’s next, becoming BlizzCon champion?

Chakki: Just qualifying for BlizzCon has always been a big goal of mine. I’ve gotten really close twice, and I feel like there’s very little respect for getting close, as opposed to actually getting there. Even getting there, if you ask people about some of the players that made top 8 or top 16 of BlizzCon, a lot of them have been forgotten by the wayside. I think that’s something that we as a community should try to change the general view on. You’re not bad for qualifying for the World Championship and not winning. 

It’s really hard to ignore the fact that you are a match or two away from winning the event...

I’d really love to qualify for BlizzCon sometime. I definitely wouldn’t mind casting it, if Blizzard wanted me there. I kind of came into DreamHack without the same fire for winning as I always have, so it’s a little ironic that I was finally able to get the job done.

PCG: Were you more calm this time?

Chakki: Once it got down to it, it’s really hard to ignore the fact that you are a match or two away from winning the event, but yeah I did really just take it game by game, match by match. I tried to focus on playing well, and whatever the result was, it was going to be what it was. Whether that helped or not, I don’t know. As I move on in tournaments and Hearthstone, I’m gaining a lot of experience as to how I should approach these things to get the best out of it, the best out of life in general. I might not have the same attitude about “I need to win every event I go to.” Obviously that didn’t work out anyway. 

So I’m happy moving forward with my Hearthstone career, and I’ll always be trying to win anything I participate in. I’ll also try to do my best casting, and hope to improve on that in whatever way I can. I’m in a pretty good place right now.

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.