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The HCT Buenos Aires Final: A tight, tense match

Spoilers ahead! HCT Buenos Aires came to its dramatic conclusion today. Both Jerome “Monsanto” Faucher and Jim “Lii” Liu fought hard to reach the final. Would the relatively unknown American score his first major tournament victory over the veteran Monsanto?

Bans and lists: Warrior the feared?

Each player brought lineups to both punish and win with Malygos Druid

Even before the first game started, the players made intense strategic decisions. Both Lii and Monsanto brought great lineups to counter the tournament meta. Most interestingly, both players brought Control Warrior; Monsanto with a classical version running Dead Man’s Hand and big threats, and Lii with the more mech-focused Odd variant. With Warrior doing well against most decks that aren’t Deathrattle Hunter, it proved to be an excellent choice for both players; either drawing bans, or punishing Odd Rogues and Malygos Druids.

Perhaps in light of this, Lii chose to ban Monsanto’s Warrior, whereas Monsanto feared Lii’s Deathrattle Hunter. That left the final lineup of Monsanto’s Miracle Rogue, Even Warlock and Malygos Druid versus Lii’s Control Warlock, Odd Control Warrior and his own Malygos Druid. With the decks locked in, it was hard to call; with such similar lineups, this would not be decided by matchup alone.

Game One: Monsanto’s Miracle Rogue vs Lii’s Control Warlock

Game One was a demonstration of Valeera’s ability to suddenly pull wins out of seemingly stable board states. A relatively stately start meant no development until turn 3, where Monsanto’s 3/4 Augmented Elekk faced off against Lii’s follow-up Shroom Brewer. While Monsanto continued to develop, Lii gambled on a Skull of Manari on a demon-less hand. With only 6 power on board, Lii felt safe dropping a Skulking Geist to try and snatch away those cold bloods.

You wouldn’t think Lii was in a bad spot here, but they call it Miracle Rogue for a reason

But this proved a fatal miscalculation. Smelling weakness, Monsanto pushed hard, sapping the Geist to drop a vicious 10/10 Edwin. With the only Siphon Soul hiding in the deck, not enough mana to Twisting, and Spellstones insufficiently upgraded, there was simply no answer. A follow up Leeroy dealt a swift end. 1-0 Monsanto.

Game Two: Monsanto’s Evenlock vs Lii’s Odd Warrior

Game Two promised to be less swift, though no less dramatic. Monsanto’s turn 4 Mountain Giant was deftly defeated by the Shield Slam Lii kept off the mulligan. From there, Monsanto struggled to make headway. With no immediate follow up, he was able to push very little tempo until a turn 7 Twilight Drake. But even then, Lii’s discovered Gemstudded Golem locked down the board while he stacked up the armour totals. When a buffed Hooked Reaver was blasted by Lii’s old-school Big Game Hunter tech, Monsanto was forced onto the back foot once again.

Regardless of his bad situation, Monsanto continued to push for board as aggressively as he could without risking his perilous life total. This was eventually rewarded, as a lack of Brawls forced Lii to Reckless Flurry away Monsanto’s board and 25 armor with it.

Not even sacrificing 25 armour could stop Lii’s Odd Warrior

Though he played an expert fatigue game, even Guldan’s hero power was unable to make up for Monsanto’s multi-card fatigue disadvantage. With Dr Boom giving huge mech value, Lii squeezed the life out of Monsanto’s remaining resources, leading to a convincing end-game victory. 1-1.

Game Three: The Malygos Mirror

Game Three demonstrated the raw power of the Twig of the World Tree. In this Druid mirror, there was a huge disparity in resources. While matching Lii for ramp and getting down an early Lich King, there was very little Monsanto could do but hope his opponent didn’t have the combo to go with his Legendary weapon.

After Monsanto developed a huge board of Taunts and Tyrants, Lii punished him with a Spell Damage +5 double Swipe and Moonfire, setting his opponent to 5 and taking control of the board. Amazingly, Monsanto was still in the game. With a Lich King’s Doom Pact to clear, Branching Paths to Armor up and Ultimate Infestation to find his own combo, there was still hope. But the Doom Pact’s dread implications were quickly made apparent. Doom Pact burnt both Malygos and Floop, leaving Monsanto no real choice but to concede.

An image to bring a tear to every Druid’s eye; two Malygos dying at once

Game Four: Monsanto’s Malygos Druid versus Lii’s Control Warlock

Game Four was painful to watch. An ill advised early Demonic Project failed to catch any combo pieces, while converting Lii’s own Rin. The turn after, Monsanto cashed in his Twig to develop a huge board the turn before Twisting Nether, hoping to finish this game the same way he did the first. But he hadn’t accounted for one thing. Rin transformed into Illidan Stormrage, and the Legendary was pulled down. This means that when Lii played Lord Godfrey, Illidan generated a 2/1 to bridge the gap and clear the board. Though it looked ill-advised, that demonic project kept Rin in the game.

Not even this clever Godfrey clear could make up for a lack of Gul’dan

The rest of the game was a nail-biting experience, as Lii tried desperately to survive against the steady onslaught of damage. He even Defiled his own board to gain armor from Plated Beetles. When Lii managed to Demonic Project his opponent’s Floop, it looked like it could go either way, until the very end. With no Gul’dan, Lii decided to throw away his Siphon Soul on a Scarab for healing. Once again sensing the perfect opportunity, Monsanto dropped Malygos to set up a precisely calculated two turn lethal. With no removal and insufficient healing, it was 2-2. Everything depended on the final game.

Game Five: Warlock Showdown

The final deciding game was between the two under-performing Warlock decks. From the start, it looked eerily similar to a repeat of game two. Without a strong follow up to an early Twilight Drake, Monsanto struggled to maintain pressure with midrange threats against his more controlling opponent. Lii looked in control for the entire game, especially when he was able to Sacrificial Pact his opponent’s Dread Infernal. Even a lucky Demonic Project catching Azari couldn’t turn things around. In the end, Lii had card advantage, fatigue advantage and an earlier Gul’dan. Realising all was lost, Monsanto gracefully conceded.

All in all, it was a mildly disappointing end to a great series. While Monsanto made some exceptional aggressive plays that won him several games, reading his opponent expertly, Lii’s solid control plays throttled the life out of his Evenlock. Meanwhile, the crucial Malygos mirror went Lii’s way due to smart tactics and a superior draw. It’s always annoying to watch Gul’dan timing decide games, but an excellent display of skill nonetheless. A well deserved victory for Lii: I think we all hope to see more of him in the future!

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

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