After his ridiculous tie-breaker with Sintolol (opens in new tab) at this year's Hearthstone World Championship, Fr0zen said that series was the toughest round of Hearthstone he'd ever played, and likely will ever play. A few days after the tournament ends with him losing to Tom60229 in the finals, I ask him if that still holds true. It does.
"The Sintolol series was much harder," he says, "just the way the archetypes match up. Versus Tom, the matchups are more generic. Versus Sintolol, it's very unfamiliar matchups. Statistically, I had like a 56 percent win rate against Tom. I was as high as 58 percent against some players. In theory, I should be like 30 percent against Sinto."
As Fr0zen shares and explains his tournament prep over Skype, I get the feeling he was just as surprised by his loss as most everyone else was, myself included. Tom is a great player, just as everyone competing in a World Championship is, but by all rights Fr0zen was favored. He was the only player besides Sinto who brought Mage, which turned out to be so much scarier than both Warlock and Priest, the tournament's alleged killer apps, that almost all Fr0zen's opponents banned it. Tom didn't though, and Fr0zen promptly piloted it to victory in their first game. But his Mage was only one of his lineup's strengths.
"I think people overlooked some of the classes," Fr0zen says, "and people expected people to overlook some of the classes. In this type of huge tournament, people don't want to take any risks. They'll just bring the four strongest decks. That's what I was focused on countering. Most people who brought those decks also knew everyone else would bring something like that, so they played anti-aggro versions and tech cards. That really played into my lineup.
"Looking back, I would probably bring some sort of Control Warrior—like what Fibonacci built, maybe the Recruit Warrior—as my fourth deck. I think it might be the next thing. On paper, it looks very good. It's probably better than bringing Jade Druid. Jade Druid was my fourth deck and by far my weakest."
Larger and larger men
The final series starts with a close win from Fr0zen with his mage. He follows it with a comfortable win with Priest. He's two up, but now he has to get a win with Jade Druid, his worst deck.
The third game starts and it's clear Tom's Highlander Priest isn't having any of it. Tom stops a would-be sweep by outvaluing Fr0zen, who can't draw into Ultimate Infestation to refuel.
That win gave Tom the chance to tie things up, and he pounced on it. Their fourth game ended within minutes thanks to a huge Edwin VanCleef from Tom, fueled by an Innervate off Swashburglar. There was absolutely nothing Fr0zen could do about a turn-three 10/10, although looking back he's less certain of Tom's line of play.
"I think the game where he went Innervate, Coin, Southsea Deckhand, Backstab, VanCleef… Backstabbing the Deckhand was incorrect," he says. "The Deckhand is going to push the same amount of damage. The stats are the same, and it will contest my Blossom. I think he's afraid of me hero powering it, or playing around some spellstone stuff, but in both those cases I just lose the game because it's too slow. The extra +2/+2 on the VanCleef didn't do that much."
Correct or not, Tom's ambitious VanCleef opener quickly brought the series and the tournament to a tie-breaker. More specifically, to a Jade Druid mirror. It's his worst deck, but again, Fr0zen is favored—by his math, his Violet Teacher variant beats Tom's standard Jade Druid roughly 54 percent of the time. It's also better against Tempo Rogue, which is a big part of why he brought it. The math was on Fr0zen's side, but Tom pulled out a win. It was a heartbreaking reverse sweep on the biggest stage in Hearthstone.
Fr0zen lost because, exactly like in the third game, he just couldn't draw Ultimate Infestation. By the time he did, Tom was several Jades ahead and the board was beyond hope. The irony is Tom snap-kept an Ultimate Infestation in the mulligan, while Fr0zen pitched both of his Ultimate Infestations only to struggle to find them again. Plenty of viewers said he threw the match with that mulligan, that the final game was over before it started. Fr0zen disagrees.
"Tom's strategy was pretty standard. It definitely over-performed," he says. "In my experience, the first person who plays Ultimate Infestation generally wins the matchup. Versus Sintolol, I played UI first, so I was able to get super strong turns afterward and just snowball. But in that game, we both drew an equal amount of ramp. So I think it's not just drawing Ultimate Infestation, and the chances of drawing it are already high enough. You draw Ultimate Infestation around 65 percent of the time. Getting ramp is most likely more important.
"I think UI shouldn't be a keep by itself. Of course, if you have Wild Growth, Nourish, UI, a hand like that is amazing. I don't mind keeping UI in your opening hand if you have ramp, even Wild Growth or Jade Blossom with UI is pretty reasonable. You draw UI more than you draw ramp by the turn you can play it. You only have two turns to draw your ramp, so I think drawing the ramp is more important."
Fr0zen's starting draw was two Ultimate Infestation and two Swipe. In other words, four bricks. Tom had Jade Idol, Oaken Summons and Ultimate Infestation. Fr0zen mulliganed everything and redrew Spreading Plague, Jade Blossom, Branching Paths and Jade Behemoth. Tom kept his Ultimate Infestation and pitched his other two cards, redrawing into Branching Paths and Wild Growth. Tom drew Jade Blossom on his first turn, while Fr0zen drew Nourish.
"If I didn't hit any ramp, I just hero power, pass, hero power, pass," he continues. "My opponent ramps, I'm on like six mana, and he plays UI? There's no way I can win. I agree UI is the card that wins the matchup, but the question is, if you're behind by three or four mana, can UI bring you back into the game if your opponent doesn't have it? Let's say they ramp into ramp and they don't have UI. Can UI bring you back? I would think not, because you basically give up two turns worth of mana. And if your opponent had the nut Jade curve, I don't know if you could last until turn 10. It's definitely debatable.
"I saw on Reddit where they tested the matchup like 30 times. That's definitely not a big enough sample to determine if UI is a keep in the mirror. Something like that, you need 400 or 500 games of data to figure out. It's so easy to low-roll or high-roll. He was definitely pretty fortunate to draw ramp into ramp into UI."
Fr0zen reckons he was right to prioritize ramp, and that Tom was reckless to bet it all on Ultimate Infestation. But in the end, luck favored Tom. Fr0zen mulliganed for ramp and low-rolled drawing into Ultimate Infestation, while Tom mulliganed for Ultimate Infestation and high-rolled drawing into ramp. That hindsight doesn't necessarily mean Fr0zen was wrong. It's just hindsight, and that's just Hearthstone.