The World Championship was Hearthstone at its best and worst

(Spoilers)

Hearthstone’s World Championship is finally over, after a rollercoaster ride of high stakes, great plays and unbelievable topdecks. It served as testament to not only the contestants’ skill level, but also the craft of Hearthstone’s design team. Not all of this reflected well; both the players and the game had their fair share of mistakes highlighted. All in all, the tournament served to show Hearthstone ‘warts and all’ with all the crazy moments, skill-testing positions and unfortunate RNG design decisions we’ve come to love and hate.

Great plays

The tournament, a culmination of a year’s effort from hundreds of players over the world, was arguably a high-water-mark in skill. From Surrender’s counter-intuitive but ultimately successful “wasting” of Prophet Velen versus Shtanudachi’s Jade Druid to Fr0zen’s simple but decisive cycling of Holy Smite on a Northshire Cleric, Raza Priest offered many opportunities for flashy, hard-to spot plays. But skill was shown throughout even the most straightforward of decks. My favourite play of the entire tournament was a very straightforward two turn sequence by eventual champion Tom60229.

In the opening game of his semifinal match against Surrender, Tom played a nourish for mana on 5 after topdecking an Arcane Tyrant. The casters and audience all expected him to cash in on his good fortune, playing out the free 4/4. But Tom waited. Instead, he played it on the following turn along with Spreading Plague. Not only did this protect the 4/4 better, it allowed Tom to get an additional 1/5 scarab. By recognising he had the luxury of taking the game slower, he gained incremental advantages that ended up swinging the game in his favour (no doubt helped by Surrender’s Patches draw).

 

Tom60229’s choice to hold Arcane Tyrant was counter-intuitive but brilliant

Frustrating RNG

Drawing Patches may have cost Surrender a shot at the final

Of course, the tournament was filled with far more eventful, but less controllable events. Surrender couldn’t hide his despair as he drew Patches two games in a row. To make things even worse, it was immediately followed by Tom60229 starting out the game with Keleseth and Shadowstep. The final game of the tournament was also heartbreakingly one-sided, as Fr0zen tried desperately to dig for an Ultimate Infestation that came far, far too late.

However, the most frustrating early-game RNG came about on the previous game, where Tom60229’s turn one Swashburglar pulled Innervate, allowing him to follow up with a turn 2 10/10 Edwin. While a strong play, the single extra mana from the random Innervate gave his Edwin another +2/+2 and an extra turn to hit face, essentially resulting in 12 extra points of damage. That would be bad enough, were it not for the fact that he was able to have Leeroy on turn 5 for lethal.

Despite all this talk of Tom60229’s good fortune, it wasn’t totally out of his opponent’s control to counter. Fr0zen could have kept Ultimate Infestation in the mulligan, and hero powered out of Leeroy range, for instance. Regardless, the RNG made these two games far less enjoyable than the preceding few.

A turn 2 10/10 versus Druid, courtesy of Swashburglar RNG

Moments to remember

Despite how early-game RNG can make a tournament feel swingy, there were some great crowd-pleasing moments created by randomness. Sintolol and Fr0zen’s final face-off as Big Mage versus Combo Dragon Priest was such a fantastic match because of RNG. Sintolol pulling Frost Lich Jaina with Drakonid Operative created a fantastic and memorable game. It was filled with incredibly skill-testing and exciting situations that went all the way to fatigue. There were also the triumphant moments. It was hard not to cheer as Fr0zen’s hard-pressed Control Mage, struggling the entire game, managed to topdeck an Arcane Artificer to clear Tom60229’s last Jades with Flamestrike and heal out of range of Ultimate Infestation.

Brian Kibler’s words for the Sintolol versus Fr0zen match could apply to the entire tournament; “If you don’t like [this], you don’t like Hearthstone”.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via https://www.twitch.tv/playhearthstone

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