Player Experience: Hearthstone
Hello, my name is Dylan “Edge” Edgar, and I was the victor of the Saskatchewan Hearthstone Championship this season, going 7-2 in the regular season and winning the finals in four sets! Brief overview of myself before I get into details about the tourney: I’m an avid gamer who has played League of Legends competitively (currently on Rocky Mountain Classics as their sub, maining jungle), as well as having a Magic: The Gathering background (which is what got me into card games initially).
SO, what you’re here for: the tournament. I started playing Hearthstone again in October after a pretty long hiatus from the game. I actually started playing the game back in July 2014 and played throughout one of the worst times in Hearthstone history: Undertaker summer. I logged in every once and awhile to get card backs and what not, but I never really played the game heavily, as to me it seemed too easy and I much preferred playing Magic. Fast forward to October, and the timing of my return couldn’t be more perfect. I had recently been getting frustrated with League as a game, and wanted to go back to my card game roots as I hadn’t been able to play MTG in over a year, and I had always told myself that I could hit legend if I really wanted to, so I decided to try starting October 3rd (also happened to have a new patch hit this day, so brand new meta!).
Twenty days later, I was hooked and managed to hit legend.
It was right around that time that I started looking for tournaments, as I wanted to continue to see just how good I was at this game, or if it was just a fluke. Going into these tournaments also meant I had to learn other decks, as my climb to legend was almost exclusively ZooLock and Midrange Shaman, with a little bit of Tempo Mage here and there (my favourite deck ever as it reminds me of Delver decks from Magic). So I signed up for PrairieLAN and managed to get second in a GRUELING tournament that had me playing my final at 4:30 am against a friend of mine, only to lose out to Frigid Snobold off of Ironforge Portal into Shield Slam to have just enough damage to kill my Ragnaros. To say that loss stung a bit was an understatement, but sometimes RNG gods crush you.
Right after PrarieLAN (beginning of November) was when I heard about the SK Championships. I decided to sign up and see competition in this great province of ours, and began testing. I began watching streams, recording opponents’ tech choices to see what was popular/good vs what was bad, and I even started testing lineups in open cups to see what I liked best. Eventually, when the season started I had settled on banning Shaman, and running MidShaman, Tempo Mage, Zoolock and Secret Hunter. But as time went on, I realized that although I loved Rexxar on ladder, I had teched my Hunter list to be good against Shaman (as it was almost 25% of what I was playing on ladder) and I didn’t know how to build/test my Hunter deck in a format where Shaman was permabanned, so I decided to scrap it for MalygosDruid. I used this lineup for the first tbree weeks of the tourney and went 3-0.
Then Mean Streets of Gadgetzan emerged, and immediately I saw Pirate Warrior, Jade Druid and Mid-Jade Shaman as decks to watch for. Reasoning for Pirate Warrior was obvious for everyone, as it was a Tier two deck before the expansion and all this expansion did was inject steroids into its cutlass holding arm. Jade Druid seemed almost impossible for control decks to beat (I still remember Day one posting a photo of me having 7 14/14+ Jades vs RenoMage). I decided going in to try and change as little of my strategy as possible, as it seemed to be working for me beforehand and I didn’t like the play style of Reno decks (on top of accidentally disenchanting Reno and Brann to feed my Midrange Shaman legend climb. Whoops), so I focused Midrange Shaman, Pirate Warrior (my aggro replacement for Zoo), Jade Druid (which seemed to me a better MalyDruid), and I ended up deciding Miracle Rogue would be my third deck, as I had been slowly learning how to play it as its engines reminded me of Storm and I heavily enjoyed playing something that wasn’t midrange/aggro. I used this lineup for four more weeks going 3-1, with my loss being an eye opener.
After starting the season 6-0 and having hit legend back to back to back, I decided to slack a little bit with the Christmas holidays. I had hit legend in eight days in December (Dragon Warrior crushed the initial meta) and I went to Cuba for eight days, so the amount of Hearthstone I played was pretty minimal going into my match with LordSloth. When I got back and starting testing my decks for my match, Shaman/Warrior/Rogue were doing fantastic for me, as per usual, but Jade Druid was starting to get worse and worse. I was beating it consistently on ladder, and I didn’t feel as confident in the deck as I used to, but I didn’t have the card Reno Jackson to play Reno decks and I was NOT willing to play Dragon Priest mirrors (having almost zero practice on Priest as a class), so I decided to just play Jade Druid again. And after starting 2-0 vs LordSloth, JadeDruid got reverse swept. I was crushed. It was after this round that I decided that if I was going to actually want to compete in open cups and try for the blizzard circuit after holding a top 200 position I couldn’t let card availability affect me. So I bought sixty packs, had enough for RenoMage and RenoLock, and started spamming the decks until I became proficient with them, which proved successful as my only loss after that was to Tbatz in an unlucky round where he had to top deck back to back answers in my Rogue vs RenoPriest loss, and kill me the turn before I had lethal as Renolock vs his combo druid. Once I beat Monsterosity I was locked for live finals and the real testing began.
Now, going into the finals I knew I had to change my strategy. For almost twelve weeks, I played some combination of Shaman/Aggro/Combo/Control, thinking that I would be able to beat any decks people would bring just purely out playing some of my opponents. In the top four, with all the players either people that almost beat me (Magi) or players that DID beat me (LordSloth, Tbatz) I knew this strategy wouldn’t work. On top of that, I figured I would be able to roughly predict what each player would play (spoiler alert: I was wrong) and as such tech my decks/lineup in a way that I was not able to before.
So to start off my testing, I decided to make sixteen decks that I thought I liked and starting narrowing class by class what I thought each “best deck” for each class was, and what lineup it favoured. So in my naming of the decks, I named the deck what archetype it was and what ban it wanted and started crafting lineups together and teching lists that had similar ban wishes. I wanted to have two lineups completed before the European playoffs to see how accurate I was in the meta prediction and to see if I had the right idea of what was powerful versus what was not. Surprisingly, I was very similar in my deck choices with the second place player (Greensheep) and a couple of the Top 8 players (Sjow and Neirea) as I had the following predictions in my testing:
- RenoMage would be super popular. As such, if I was playing Rogue, I wanted at least one Beneath the Grounds in my list, cutting down on Fan of Knives and banning Shaman.
- Because of this, instead of running Aggro Shaman, I was beginning to favor Mid-Jade shaman more and more, as it was a similar playstyle to Dragon Warrior (one of my favourite decks) and let me play less mirror matchups on ladder instead of Aggro Shaman.
- Pirate Warrior needed to have at least one Mortal Strike in an open deck list format, as it made people play around things you may or may not have (mortal strike makes good players try to keep you as close to thirteen life as possible before killing you, similar to pre-nerf Molten Giants made you want to keep your opponent above fifteen health before bursting them and current control warrior with revenge).
- RenoMage was better than Renolock due to being able to play greedy to beat the other Renodecks, while also having anti-aggro tech fit in to beat the aggro decks. However, Jade Druid required cheesy burn strats to win, and as such Inkmaster/Pyroblast was best if you were wanting to beat Druid (or just not play it and concede the fact that you were going to lose to Druid).
- In a meta where everyone is playing Reno decks to beat other aggro decks, Tempo Mage had an ability to sneak out wins due to having an interesting win condition vs Renolock: burn. TempoMage in my testing was crushing Renolock with ease and as I was expecting players to play Renolock, I began refining lists of Tempo mage based off of APXVoid and Amnesiac’s lists.
I realized something soon after this tournament however. I figured that although the players in the top four may not watch the European championship, they WOULD be watching the North American championship. This would mean all these players would be using the same things I learned to change their lists and change the meta the day before lists were due. Which meant I ALMOST had to start from scratch the week before lists were due. This was also right around the time that Aggro Rogue was starting to get more refined, and I was finding I was having pretty good success against Pirate Warrior with it. While testing against Monstrosity a couple games, I was confirming my suspicion that this was a Rogue deck that could actually beat Pirate Warrior consistently (which was a deck I was expecting everyone to play. Spoiler alert: only one other player did). I narrowed this down as my Rogue deck of choice, as the previous day in an open cup using a lineup of Shaman/Miracle Rogue/Pirate Warrior/RenoMage, in the round of thirty-two I swept a players Rogue list, and in the top sixteen I had my miracle rogue list swept. Not wanting a repeat of my match vs LordSloth, I eliminated Miracle Rogue from contention. Having already narrowed my Shaman list to Mid-Jade Shaman earlier (and tweaking it based off what i saw from Greensheep), I just had to narrow down my Warrior deck, and my flex slot in my lineup.
What made me decide on my flex slot was actually a wrong prediction on my part that ended up paying off anyway. After my match with Tbatz, I assumed he would be playing Druid in the finals. And as his brother (Magi) was also playing, I assumed he would be as well, and I didn’t want to play a control deck that was weak to Druid. Seeing the success of Greensheep and RDU with TempoMage, and it being a deck I had previous success with in the tournament, I decided I would run a “full” aggro lineup with MidShaman/Aggro Rogue/Pirate Warrior/Tempo Mage. I played four open cups with the lineup and tested it/refined the lists to my liking (the aggro rogue list went through the most changes and was the one the casters asked me about a lot, since they hadn’t seen Deadly Poison in aggro lists at that point) and after seeing quite a few NA Championship players playing the aggro lineup as well, I decided to lock it in and submit the lists. And to my surprise, when the lists were revealed there was not a single Druid…
Approaching the tournament I tested with a player that I had met on legend ladder (HemiPowered) and figured in my first round matchup I had a pretty good shot based almost exclusively on my matchup vs his Reno-Lock. Because it was super greedy, I knew the following for my decks going into the matchup:
- If he didn’t draw Reno against Pirate Warrior I would win.
- If he did draw Reno but I was on the coin, I would win (because he could not coin it out turn 5)
- If I had a decent draw with tempo mage I would win (this felt like the easiest matchup for my 3 decks vs his 3 decks)
- Aggro Rogue could beat every deck in his lineup if he stumbled at all
After testing the matchup with typical Shaman bans I was 5-0 in series, reverse sweeping Renolock 3 times. So we decided to try him banning my Pirate Warrior instead of my Shaman. All of a sudden I was losing every matchup. Surprisingly (or not if you think about it) his lineup was VERY good vs Mid-Shaman. Dragon Warrior had stronger threats come out faster, Renolock was super greedy and AoE based so it gave him time to set up, and Dragon Priest had large efficient threats and a lot of AoE. And since I had teched my list against Aggro, I was a little worried that he may be able to sneak out a win with this strategy. So I hoped he would follow the hivemind and just ban my Shaman, and if he did I knew I could 3-0 his Renolock.
The other two players I didn’t test much of their lineups for a couple reasons. LordSloth’s lineup was a carbon copy of NRG Amnesiac’s, and since I had played against it in open cups I knew to never play Tempo Mage until my last deck, as it’s unfavoured in the Aggro Rogue and Pirate Warrior matchups. As long as I won the Tempo Mage mirror, I felt comfortable in that matchup so my next few open cups (even if it was a bad decision) I queued Tempo Mage as much as I could to understand the deck a bit better and to try to play against as many Tempo Mage mirrors as possible. As for Tbatz’s lineup…well aggro > greedy control decks. I knew WHY he went the way he did for his lineup as he was trying to target Reno decks (which his lineup does quite well) as both Sloth and I had played Reno decks in the tournament. The problem with that is because I lost so much to Druid against him, his brother and his friend, I was expecting them to bring Druid. And while at one point I considered bringing a double Reno anti-aggro lineup, I had to remember I wasn’t playing against ladder/HCT opponents. I was playing against SKL opponents, who have a different opinion on the meta. So instead of expecting aggro and teching against it, I decided to go full SMOrc and hope for the best.
So finally tournament day arrived. I went up early to visit a couple of my friends and was happy to see so many of them at the Mana Bar (shout out to them for hosting the tournament by the way) ready to cheer me on. I sat down for my first matchup (which thankfully he decided to ban Shaman) and, of course right off the bat, I drew Patches. Off to a great start…and two games later I was down 0-2. A lot of people thought I was done for after being down 0-2 so quickly but thankfully, I had done the testing and knew that the Renolock was where I would get all my wins (as long as he didn’t draw Reno which, thankfully, he didn’t) and came back in the series 3-2.
Round two ended up with myself vs LordSloth (which I was expecting) and, again, I went down 0-2 after losing the Pirate Warrior mirror and Aggro Rogue mirror. Not so fun fact, I actually clicked on the wrong matchup initially. I wanted to start Aggro Rogue, because in my opinion (and after testing against Monsterosity) the matchup of Pirate Warrior vs Rogue is favoured for the Rogue list AND its favoured vs Tempo Mage, leaving only a 50/50 matchup in the mirror. I ended up queuing Warrior into Warrior and losing the 50/50, and then queued Rogue as at worst I play the mirror (which I did) but sadly ended up losing it again after a big Edwin VanCleef turn.
This left me versus his Tempo Mage with my three decks, having to 3-0 it again in order to move on to the winner’s final. Thankfully, I had some pretty great hands with my warrior and rogue decks so all that was left was the Tempo Mage mirror. Turn three was an interesting one as I was given the choice of either Mirror Image Ping or Flamewaker. I wanted to protect my Mana Wyrm while also preserving Flamewaker to use with a spell, as very rarely is it every correct to play a Flamewaker blind. In the Tempo Mage mirror you need to be able to use every possible resource you can, while also saving as many of your minions for face damage as possible. It ended up costing almost costing me, and after seeing a Summoner’s Stone off of Fireland’s Portal, I felt like I was done for. Thankfully, he had only minions in his hand and the fireball he used ended up only getting him an Eerie Statue (you saw me freak out on camera because I saw 7/7 statline pop up off of a four mana spell and assumed it was Flamewreathed Faceless. Thankfully, it was not.) I then managed to get three one mana spells with an Antonidas, and in my desperation to catch up I almost misplayed. I used Arcane Missiles first because I was expecting to trade my mana wyrm to try and stay alive and control the board. But when the first or second missile hit face, I actually looked at his health total and realized if I went face with the Wyrm this turn, I could set up lethal next turn. I did the math two or three times in my head to see what he could have to kill me, and it was only Fireball/Frostbolt. Having assumed he would have used it with the Stone, I decided to go face and pray. He didn’t have it, and I snuck out a win.
For the finals I was actually expecting LordSloth to win but Magi managed to sneak out a win after actually winning withis RenoLock (spoiler alert: he drew Reno). So I had two chances at the title against Magi, the person’s whose lineup I tested the most against. Our first best of five he actually ended up winning 3-1 after drawing super well with his Dragon Priest/Warrior, and unfortunately drawing Reno with his Lock this time. Our second matchup (winner takes all while the production was being taken down around me) I managed to beat his Dragon Priest with my Pirate Warrior by turn six, get out a large Edwin vs his Dragon Warrior with my Aggro Rogue meaning my Tempo Mage just had to beat one of his decks (it ended up losing to Priest and Warrior but beat the Renolock again which is what I was expecting) and just like that I was Saskatchewan’s Champion!
Overall the tournament was a great experience and I will definitely do it again. I’m hoping this article shows people that it is a fun format with a lot of thought process behind it, and I would love to see it be a bigger tournament next time around (with hopefully some prizing this time). If Hearthstone articles are something people want to see more of let me know and I’ll be glad to write some up if SKL wants them.