The initial group stage at the Hearthstone World Championship is now behind us, with every match from here on out being do or die.
American duo Justsaiyan (David Shan) and bloodyface (Brian Eason) booked their spots in Sunday’s quarter-finals, capping off a thrilling second day of action in Taiwan that saw all sorts of surprises and top-shelf play.
With the biggest day on the schedule taking place today, here are five quick takeaways from yesterday’s action.
One day’s sample size isn’t always enough to make a definitive call on a deck. After my critique of Midrange Hunter after its poor Day 1 showing, the deck recovered smartly with two wins from two appearances.
We’ve had two days to properly look over Summoner Mage, however, and there looks to be no slowing down this extremely flexible minion-heavy deck.
The record of 10-3 so far speaks for itself, with the sheer variety of other classes the deck has been able to subdue arguably even more impressive.
There’s no doubt been some luck involved, but the nasty combination of Khadgar and Conjurer’s Calling on a Mountain Giant is often impossible to overcome. As Germany’s Viper (Torben Wahl) discovered, even ‘wasting’ the effect on cheaper minions has match-turning implications after he high-rolled two Houndmaster Shaws off a dying Twilight Drake.
Only Control Warrior, Zoolock (against two losses) and another Summoner Mage have been able to claim Jaina’s scalp and, with only two people opting to ban the deck so far, it might be in competitors’ best interests to think about taking this deck away from their opponents.
Hometown hero Roger (Luo Shengyuan) had just about everyone scratching their heads on decklist day with his decisions to eschew Rogue altogether, bring an eclectic Control Paladin and choose Mech Hunter over Midrange Hunter.
While killinallday (David Acosta) got the early plaudits for his creative Miracle Priest, Roger’s extreme anti-Warrior strategy might be the one that pays off most handsomely.
Roger took Vietnam’s Tyler (Tyler Hoang Nguyen) to the cleaners in their clash, with his sticky, Mech-heavy decks proving impossible to deal with via conventional means.
While he did eventually drop his winner’s clash with bloodyface after falling behind 0-2, the performance of that Paladin and Hunter in the two matches against Control Warrior showed just how much of a threat he’ll be should he progress.
The most banned deck was instead made to suffer against Roger’s hard-hitting counters, with the constant reload through Deathrattles offered by Mech Hunter and a truly insane Da Undatakah-Immortal Prelate combo in Control Paladin allowing the local to score two very convincing wins.
Other matches did prove the decks are far from perfect but, when it comes to the immensely popular Control Warrior, they look as safe as rock against scissors.
We always knew the unstable metagame was going to create vastly more unpredictability than normal, but this lack of mastery over the current meta means we’ve also seen a few genuine misplays across the first two days.
We’re yet to see a catastrophic missed lethal or an undoubtedly result-altering blunder but, as long as the creases we’re don’t get ironed, such an event could be just around the corner.
Taiwan’s BloodTrail (Wu Zong-Chang) was the biggest culprit on Day 1, unnecessarily losing a Grim Rally as Zoolock after using the hero power and The Soularium simultaneously, before throwing away a cheap Sea Giant with the same deck after playing Arch-Villain Rafaam too early.
Day 2 saw some questionable plays too, with Norway’s Hunterace (Casper Notto), unfortunately, dropping two matches with Control Shaman in very avoidable circumstances. His decision to go double Far Sight instead of taking one of two opportunities to Coin out a Giggling Inventor made little sense to anyone watching, ultimately costing him his opening match against Ike’s (Mark Eichner) Tempo Rogue.
While he was able to recover for a 3-1 win in that series, his next Control Shaman error ending up costing him the series against Justsaiyan in the winner’s match.
A dream Far Sight into Walking Fountain – the crown jewel in an already strong hand – seemingly gave him all the tools he needed to see off the Zoolock threat.
But he got too cute.
With a perfect opportunity to clear most of the board upon what appeared to be Saiyan’s last reload, he opted to hold off – walking right into a cheap Sea Giant that allowed the American to get right back in control and win both the match and series then and there.
It’s not entirely fair to single out Hunterace, as the rest of his Control Shaman play was pure mastery and he wasn’t the only player to make mistakes. Roger’s final match as Bomb Warrior was sprinkled with strategical gaffes, while bloodyface and Viper played out an error-riddled Control Warrior-Zoolock clash in their deciding match.
Everyone on stage is a better player than I could ever hope to be, but there’s no denying a few of them had some turns they’d like back.
Usually it’s an off-meta pick or risky package of tech cards that gets talked about as being the wrong fit for a tournament.
But, after two days, questions have to be asked to whether the Zoolock build we’re seeing in Taiwan really is the ideal one.
Eleven players have brought the highly-aggressive archetype to the World Championship, with the only noticeable difference across lists being the inclusions or exclusions of Rafaam, Leeroy and Soulfire.
Everyone’s deck revolves around the use of Magic Carpet and Knife Juggler to make serious threats of the plethora of 1-drops being run – but it’s the small tempo losses generated by those support pieces that seems to be tripping up the deck too often.
To be clear, Zoolock is only 10-12 at this tournament so far – not nearly a catastrophe when you consider four of those losses are against the Midrange Hunter decks designed purely to punish them.
But it’s the manner in which Zoolock has been losing that has me concerned.
Warlock naturally has access to more reload than most other classes who want to play aggressively, but any aggro deck is typically susceptible to running out of steam after a good start.
Where Zoolock has been losing here, however, has been through poor early-game hands featuring the Carpet, Juggler, or other tempo-lacking pieces such as EVIL Genius or Scarab Egg completely hamstringing the player in charge.
Magic Carpet does help Zoo bust through Taunts if necessary but so does Silence, and it doesn’t do a lot about the archetype’s traditional weakness to AoE. For me, complicating your draw for a strategy that doesn’t actually mitigate the Hagatha’s Schemes or Brawls of the world isn’t a good move.
Having a strategy beyond just vomiting minions on the board is a necessity to succeed at this level, but this current batch of Zoolock broth might just be a bit too complex to make.
When I spoke to lead final designer Dean Ayala earlier this week, one change in design philosophy he said the team had made was a desire to bring back “the 30-card war”.
“There wasn’t as much late game minion-trading and that’s something we wanted to bring back a little bit,” he said at the time.
“[We wanted] fewer of these packages of cards which win games on their own and more of the 30-card war that’s happening over the course of the game and all these incremental advantages mattering a lot over the course of the game.”
The development team would’ve only needed to watch A83650’s (Kacper Kwieciński) epic Shaman mirror-match with Justsaiyan to see that goal realised.
Seriously, just watch their first game here.
It was a back and forth thriller that featured clutch draws and RNG moments for both players, excellent mana management around Shaman’s troublesome Overload, an insanely lucky Drustvar Horror for A83650, and equally insane Hecklebot from Justsaiyan as the match went almost literally down to the last card.
In the end, it was a copy of The Storm Bringer generated by an Ethereal Lackey that sealed the deal for A83650, as he narrowly won the most entertaining match of the tournament thus far.
If those are the kinds of matches the new standard year offers, players everywhere are in for an almighty treat.
Stirling Coates was flown to Taiwan for this event courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.