Power Rankings 2015
The best Hearthstone players in the world are those who can read the meta better than their rivals and snatch wins from unfavoured match-ups. Some are master deck builders, others take existing ideas and refine them to perfection. All of them are serial winners who consistently outperform the field, even in a game with RNG in its DNA.
The professional Hearthstone scene has grown explosively in 2015, with a new crop of challengers emerging to fight for the top honours. This year more than $1.5 million has been handed out in prize money as players forged their reps.
Today we list the ten best Hearthstone pros in the world, as judged by a jury of experts. We polled some of Hearthstone’s most prominent casters, analysts and writers to create a longlist which was then whittled down in a second round of voting to determine the final 10.
Before diving in, an honorable mention to those who narrowly missed out. Wang “TiddlerCelestial” Xieyu placed 11th on our list, thanks to finishing runner up at DreamHack Summer 2015 and last year’s World Championship. He was tied with two-times World Championship finalist Hak-Jun “Kranich” Baek. Other notable absentees include G2’s Dima “Rdu” Radu and Liquid’s Yevgeniy “Neirea” Shumilin, both of whom are formidable players and came close to making the cut.
The jury (alphabetically): Alex “Raven” Baguley, Brian Kibler, Dan “Frodan” Chou, Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen, Kacem “Noxious” Khilaji, Keaton “Chakki” Gill, Marcin “Gnimsh” Filipowicz, Nick “Aquablad” Secker, Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev, Robert Wing, Simon “Sottle” Welch, Tim Clark, TJ “Azumoqt” Sanders.
Thanks to everyone who contributed. Let us know which players you would have voted for in the comments.
10. Cong “StrifeCro” Shu & Jung-Soo “Surrender” Kim
United States | Cloud9 | Lifetime winnings: $40,950
South Korea | All Killers | Lifetime winnings: $32,500
We begin with a tie between two very different players. StrifeCro (pictured) is one of the most prominent North American players, and has built a following since the first days of Hearthstone. Surrender will be less familiar to fans in the West, but exploded onto the Korean scene in 2015 and is now its brightest new star.
Although not as active in tournaments this year, StrifeCro remains a pillar of competitive Hearthstone. The influence of this former StarCraft 2 player can be found in many staple tournament decks, including Midrange Druid (you can thank him for all those angry trees hurtling at your face) as well as popularizing stable builds of Mech Mage and Midrange Paladin. In the chaotic early days of Hearthstone, he was the deckbuilder who made sense of the game and taught new players the basic principles, something he still does now on stream, and via his increasingly prolific video output.
Surrender might lack the pedigree and familiarity of StrifeCro, but he absolutely deserves a spot in our top ten. His talent first began to emerge in the fall of 2014, but has fully developed this year with back-to-back grand finals of the OGN Korea Masters, South Korea’s premier Hearthstone competition. His tournament success was matched by ultra consistent ladder performances that saw him amass over 500 World Championship points over two seasons—more than double the amount of any other player.
9. Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert
Germany | Natus Vincere | Lifetime winnings: $28,000
The spiky young German initially made his name for being the first player to hit Legend rank each month, often in less than 24 hours. Apparently that wasn’t enough of a feat for Xixo, because at the end of 2014 he also became the first player to simultaneously hold the #1 Legend spot on the Europe, Americas and Asia servers, making a strong claim for him being the best ladder player in the world.
In 2015 Xixo has applied the mastery and knowledge of those hours spent climbing—and his love of Zoo Warlock—to competitive play. Between July and October he emerged champion from five consecutive invitational tournaments, proving wrong the doubters who had labelled him just a ladder grinder. Little wonder he was one of the first players picked up by Na’Vi for the organisation’s entry into competitive Hearthstone.
8. Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh
Ukraine | Cloud9 | Lifetime winnings: $97,150
There was a time when Kolento would have topped this list comfortably, but even if that’s not quite the case now, his overall record remains imperious and it’s impossible to talk about the best Hearthstone players in the world without including him. Voted player of the year in the 2014 GosuAwards by both experts and readers, the Ukrainian powerhouse remains one of the game’s most iconic players.
Kolento is one of the original Hearthstone innovators, and can be credited with helping perfect Miracle Rogue, co-create Midrange Hunter, and being one of the few players to consistently win with Priest at tournaments during an era in which it was considered the weakest class. You got the sense he did it just to show he could.
To this day, Kolento has won more tournament titles than any other pro. He’s proven his ability in major LAN tournaments like DreamHack Winter and team events like the $250,000 Archon Team League Championship, and remains one of the players other pros would least want to be drawn against.
7. Frederik “Hoej” Nielsen
Denmark | Natus Vincere | Lifetime winnings: $27,000
Hoej is one of the most talented newcomers in Hearthstone, and currently enjoying a breakout period in his career. Having initially been dismissed as something of a one-hit wonder, the young Dane is building a name for himself as one of the fiercest aggro players around. He’s particularly adept with Hunter and Druid, but it’s his Secret Paladin play that’s truly brutal. At DreamHack Winter last month he went on a 22-2 tear with the deck during the Swiss format phase of the tournament.
Of course, there’s more to Hoej than just going relentlessly for the face instead of making trades. The Na’Vi player has also mastered the ability to mindgame his opponents, constructing his deck line-up in such a way that the other player gets baited into unfavorable match-ups. Whereas most Hearthstone pros tend to think a few turns ahead, Hoej maps out entire series before they even start. Listen to him explain his line of thinking after beating Orange at DreamHack Winter here for evidence. With so little separating the very best players, Hoej's kind of mental game is likely to be an increasingly important skill for LAN warriors to hone.
6. Stanislav ‘StanCifka’ Cifka
Czech Republic | Teamless | Lifetime winnings: $22,373
It hasn’t taken long for this former Magic: The Gathering champion and chess grandmaster to become a fearsome Hearthstone competitor. Often found eating his signature bananas and studiously taking notes during matches, StanCifka is undisputedly one of the surprise packages of 2015.
The Czech’s rich gaming background has no doubt helped develop his biggest strength as a Hearthstone player: the ability to think multiple turns ahead, mapping out the whole match during the first few rounds. A strong exponent of the control style, and boasting a consistent competitive record throughout the year, StanCifka is currently the hottest free agent out there and shows no signs of slowing down.
5. Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy
Germany | G2 Esports | Lifetime winnings: $104,500
There’s a strong case for saying Lifecoach is Hearthstone’s most fascinating player. He’s a deep thinker, creative deck builder, and supportive teammate. He’s also an incredibly emotional player, whether on stream or in tournaments. Watching his face as he plays is box office enough, but he’s also a beast when it comes to performing consistently at the top level.
Having been dormant for most of 2014, Lifecoach became the undisputed best player in the world during the first quarter of 2015 with a ridiculous 86.5 percent win rate between January and March. Over the course of his career he’s competed in eight grand finals, five of which were wins, including triumph at the Archon Team League as part of the Nihilum trio.
His background as a successful pro poker player means the G2 ace is an expert number cruncher. Much like StanCifka, Lifecoach looks to play out entire matches in his head during the early turns, which often leads to his signature “roping”. Perhaps his most underappreciated quality, though, is the ability to make subtle tech changes to an otherwise repetitive line-up of decks, ensuring he remains a dangerous and unpredictable opponent.
4. Ryan “Purple” Murphy-Root
Canada | Gamers Origin | Lifetime winnings: $28,250
Placing just outside the top three in this year’s Americas champion. Purple is easily one of Hearthstone’s most brilliant minds, and was responsible for coaching his former Archon teammate James “Firebat” Kostesich on his way to the 2014 World Championship. Widely respected among his peers, the Canadian has the uncanny ability to predict metagames and react accordingly, tinkering with existing deck archetypes or creating new ones altogether.
Stepping out from the shadows of his coaching position this August and into the competitive limelight, Purple was one of the hot favorites to become the new world champion at BlizzCon and thus continue the storyline he began with Firebat. Though he missed out on that prize, he did end the year on a high by conquering DreamHack Winter. His 80 percent win rate at that tournament was particularly impressive given that the field was so stacked with quality.
3. James “Firebat” Kostesich
United States | Team Archon | Lifetime winnings: $154,495
At time of writing, nobody has won more money playing Hearthstone than former world champion Firebat. Team Archon’s marquee player achieved instant superstardom when he swept the World Championship final in 2014, and has been putting up consistent results ever since. In 2015, he became the only player to successfully defend a LAN title with back-to-back Gfinity Championships, and has appeared in a total of nine grand finals to date.
Although he can be an inventive deckbuilder, Firebat is better known as a versatile pilot who’s capable of playing virtually every class and style perfectly. He’s exceptionally proficient with control and combo decks like Freeze Mage and Oil Rogue, but will often go for aggressive line-ups featuring Face Hunter or Aggro Paladin to catch opponents off guard. Particularly interesting is his use of spreadsheets to track the Hearthstone metagame, suggesting an attention to detail not always found elsewhere.
2. Thijs “ThijsNL” Molendijk
Netherlands | G2 Esports | Lifetime winnings: $48,150
Consistent results are the hallmark of the best Hearthstone players, and few have logged better ones than Europe’s champion. ThijsNL is the embodiment of the Hearthstone pro dream: he started his career grinding in the grueling community cups and ended up winning five ZOTAC titles in one month. That feat earned him an invitation to the now discontinued King of the Hill series, where he broke another record with nine wins in a row.
The rest is Hearthstone history. As a member of the 2014 Meet Your Makers squad, Thijs made it to consecutive DreamHack grand finals and won his first major. Strong performances throughout 2015 were highlighted with Nihilum’s win in the Archon Team League finals and the Dutchman becoming the first ever European champion. His career stats show over 360 competitive matches played—more than any other player tracked—with a superb 64 percent win rate. Fans and rivals recognise him as almost certainly the strongest Druid player in the world, and thanks to his meticulous technical play he can probably also claim to be the best Freeze Mage. (Though Forsen probably begs to differ.)
1. Sebastian “Ostkaka” Engwall
Sweden | Natus Vincere | Lifetime winnings: $107,900
Fresh off his World Championship triumph, it perhaps feels predictable that Ostkaka tops our list. But it will also come as no surprise to anyone who watches competitive Hearthstone closely. The Na’Vi star shares elements of his story with the other two players in the top three: He began his career in community cups like Thijs, and it wasn’t until his World Championship title that he received global recognition.
Within competitive circles, however, Ostkaka was the object of praise and respect long before BlizzCon. As a player, he’s an amalgam of all the qualities required to forge a true champion. He has the leftfield thinking of Purple, the technical ability of Firebat and Thijs, and the data-crunching and planning skills of StanCifka and Lifecoach.
While he might not have the track record of other players on the list (yet), Ostkaka’s place at the top table is well-deserved and, if anything, long overdue. Watching him cooly navigate tricky matches, you get the sense he’s probably only just getting started.