This week marked the start of the Archon Team League Championship, a tournament with a $250,000 total prize pool featuring many of the top pro teams in the world, along with some more motley crews – among which I am fortunate to be a part.
I was asked if I was interested in competing a while back, with the only information at the time being that it would be on “Trump’s team”, to which I replied in the affirmative. I actually wasn’t entirely aware of the scale of the event until later, which made me all the more excited when I learned about it.
Team events are a ton of fun. While there are teams in both Magic and Hearthstone, collectible card games are traditionally played 1v1 in a competitive environment. Teams are generally more about shared practice and preparation, or even just about having a group of popular individuals with no real relationship or interaction under the same banner for the sake of sponsorships. In team events, though, the success of any individual rests with the team as a whole.
There used to be a yearly team Pro Tour in Magic, which was widely regarded as the most skill testing format in the game’s history. Kai Budde, the most successful player in the history of the game, won an incredible three team pro tours in a row under the Phoenix Foundation banner. While any individual game may have a significant element of luck involved, in a team tournament in Magic, any team needs to win two out of three matches, and it’s simply much easier to leverage superior skill over a larger sample size.
The format for team Conquest in the Archon Team League isn’t quite the same, but has the same elements that make any team event so exciting. You have teammates to root for and with whom to celebrate your victories, and the entire burden of your success doesn’t rest on your shoulders alone. Sure, you have to win with your classes once each, but you could even lose five games yourself and have your team still come out on top.
Team Hearthstone is still not a team competition like baseball, or football, or even League of Legends, since when you’re actually playing the game, it’s just you against your opponent with no one else to rely upon. In that way it’s more like wrestling – which, incidentally, was the sport in which I competed in high school. When you get in the game, or get on the mat, it’s just you and them – no one else – but your victory contributes to the team’s greater success. You can’t do it alone, but you don’t have to, either.
Thankfully, I ended up on a very solid team. Trump and Dog are two players who I respect quite a bit, and whose streams I tune into regularly. They’re both smart and analytical about the game, and open minded enough to consider unusual strategies.
We also all happen to specialize in different classes. I have gold heroes for every class but Warrior, Warlock, and Rogue – and have about thirty combined wins between those classes. Thankfully, Trump has probably pressed Lifetap more than anyone else in the world, and also plays a mean Garrosh – or even Magni! Dog plays so much Rogue that he was recently triple queueing with a different version of the deck on each server, which would probably just make my brain melt.
So we knew Trump would play Warrior and Warlock, Dog would play Rogue, and I’d play pretty much whatever else. I also have exactly zero games of Freeze Mage under my belt, despite having the gold portrait for the class, so that duty would also fall to Dog if it came to it. And, of course, it did, so I ended up playing Hunter and Mech Shaman.
What can I say? I like my honest attacking decks.
I don’t want to delve too much into the specifics of our decisions for which decks we ultimately chose to play or our strategy for selecting who should play next, since there are still quite a few more weeks of the league and a lot of money on the line. I’m generally pretty open with my personal strategies week to week in individual leagues, but I don’t want to give anything away that could hurt my team.
This week, we played against Cloud9, who had to have been considered one of if not the single favorite coming into the event, since their lineup includes both StrifeCro and Kolento, who are two of the most successful tournament players in the world.
Many people – including some of the commentators, I’m told – seemed to be counting us out. Much of the doubt seemed to be directed toward me, which is understandable, since I haven’t had a huge level of success in big Hearthstone events.
Then again, I haven’t played in very many of them either – at least not that I was really ever prepared for. I got a whole bunch of tournament invitations after my 2nd place finish in the Sunshine Open last year and ended up competing in stuff like VGVN #3 without really knowing what I was doing – before that event, for instance, I’d never having played against a Handlock deck in my life.
Especially due to the team tournament, I’m putting a lot more focus on preparing for events these days. I certainly don’t expect to catch up to the top players who’ve been doing that for years immediately, but I’m a fast learner – and I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long, long time.
To the surprise of seemingly everyone, I won both of my matches without dropping a game. I played two pretty interesting games, beating Kolento’s Patron Warrior with Mech Shaman to open the set after a pretty poor start that didn’t even have a two or even three drop minion. I did most of my damage in eight point chunks, including one hit from a Fel Reaver and then a Ragnaros fireball to the face, with a silenced Rag thanks to Earth Shock ending things with what I must imagine was a swing from Sulfuras.
My game against StrifeCro was similarly unusual. I kept Loatheb in my opening hand since I expected he was Freeze, and managed to get in quite a bit of damage before dropping Loatheb on turn seven with enough damage to easily break his Ice Block two turns in a row. StrifeCro was able to stay alive with an eight cost Frost Nova, followed up by Alextstraza when I broke his block, and that’s when things got interesting.
I felt like to only way to lose was if Alex actually got to hit me or he managed to chain Archmage Antonitas into a bunch of Fireballs. If he had another Ice Block, he could easily hit me with Alex, play Ice Block and Fireball, and then manage to kill me the next turn. I took the conservative route of trading and Kill Commanding his Alex, which left me at a very healthy life total and in little danger of dying, but Strife kept drawing heal effects every turn. After I had dealt some insane amount of damage, I finally finished him off to complete my 2-0 finish.
In the end, Trump went 2-1 and Dog went 2-2, winning the series 6-3. Perhaps most notable was the fact that Kolento got shut out entirely, losing all four matches he played with his Patron Warrior and Oil Rogue deck. Ekop managed to put up wins with his DemonZoo and Midrange Hunter decks, while StrifeCro won with Midrange Paladin, but not with Freeze Mage.
Here are the lists we played:
Like I said – no more hints about our strategy. I will say this, though – I’m excited to explore new things each week to keep the opposition on their toes. Time to take them all to Value Town.