Last week’s Archon Team League Championship schedule was a bit disrupted by the big Grand Tournament announcement mid-week, but that ended up working out perfectly for me. I was actually already committed to leaving on Wednesday to start my testing for the upcoming Magic Pro Tour, so under the original schedule I would have had to find someone to sub and play my games in my place. I wasn’t a fan of the idea of leaving my team’s success and my personal record in the hands of someone else, so I was thrilled when our games were instead rescheduled to the Tuesday before I left.
We knew our match against Nihilum was a very important one. The European powerhouse team had already proven themselves to be one of the top contenders in the league with their 3-0 start, and after faltering somewhat against Forsen Boys in week two, we needed a win in order to pull ourselves back up to the top, as well as to bring Nihilum back down to the pack with us. All three of Lifecoach, RDU, and Thijs are very strong players, and we knew it would be a tough match.
We spent some time analyzing the previous lineups that Nihilum had brought to try to identify patterns and predict what they might play against us. Theirs was actually one of the most consistent lineups from week to week. They generally played Handlock, Patron, Druid, Hunter, and Rogue, with a swing class of either Mage or Paladin. They’d played both aggro and midrange Paladin, but other than that their composition seemed relatively predictable.
One thing that we also noted was that their lineups had a particularly low number of Big Game Hunters, as well as a low number of BGH targets, at least outside their Handlock deck. That would prove to be quite amusing in retrospect.
Trump felt like Control Warrior lined up better against their expected comp than Patron, thanks to having a better chance against Handlock, Hunter, and Rogue. We also weren’t big fans of Freeze Mage against that lineup, since it was an underdog against most of the non-Rogue decks they tended to bring. We decided to make the swap from Freeze to MechMage, and I suggested that based on our observation about their BGH count that we consider including double Fel Reaver in that deck. It was actually the original five drop I played in MechMage back at the release of GvG, but one that I eventually moved away from due to BGH’s popularity. It felt like a perfect time to bring it back.
It turns out that our timing could not have been worse, because Nihilum took a drastic turn with their strategy, though it didn’t become apparent until midway through the match.
I stuck with my guns from what I’d largely been playing in previous weeks. While there’s something to be said for being unpredictable, there’s also something to be said for sticking with what works, and MechShaman and Hybrid Hunter had been doing really well for me so far.
First Dog lost to Thijs’s Rogue deck when he draw too many of his secrets and not enough minions. I actually thought there was an interesting opportunity for Dog to bluff that he was still playing Freeze Mage by playing a turn three Mirror Entity rather than the Spider Tank he drew, since Thijs may have unwittingly played a big minion like Violet Teacher into it because he expected Dog to be playing Freeze again. Alas, it was not so, and we were down a game.
Nihilum’s lead didn’t last long, as I managed to take down Lifecoach’s Handlock with Mech Shaman in a really interesting game. I had a solid but unamazing start that Lifecoach was able to largely clear with a Hellfire on turn four, leaving me with just an unshieled Annoy-o-Tron. I had the opportunity to use The Coin to play Fel Reaver, but felt like I would lose a ton of tempo if he had Big Game Hunter for it, and knew that he’d kept two cards in his opening hand. Instead, I just used Flametongue Totem and my hero power, hitting him for two. Lifecoach killed my Flametongue Totem and played a Molten Giant, but was unable to taunt it up, and – thanks to the coin still in my hand – I had enough mana to play Rockbiter Weapon, Lava Burst, and Crackle for lethal damage.
I felt particularly clever when the stream caught up with my game and it turned out that he did, in fact, have Big Game Hunter for my Fel Reaver, and my line of play won me the game. FeelsGoodMan.
Next Dog managed to take out Thijs’s Druid with his MechMage, which is typically a very strong matchup (and a big reason we brought MechMage in the first place). We did note that their Druid list was running double Big Game Hunter, which made us quite happy that we’d won with all of our Fel Reavers already.
Our good run continued, with Trump winning with his Control Warrior in an epic game against Lifecoach’s Handlock. It was a long, drawn out, and messy affair, with Trump drawing Grommash the turn before he would have died. It’s a good thing Grom could wait no longer, because neither could Trump.
That’s when things started to get messy. We sent in Trump’s Handlock,which we felt could struggle against all of the Big Game Hunters out there. We were happy to hear he was paired against Hunter, since Nihilum’s Hunter had typically been Face-oriented, usually a good matchup for Handlock. But not only was RDU playing Midrange this time, he was playing with double Hunter’s Mark, which lined up perfectly against Trump’s pair of taunted giants to end the game.
At this point, it was quite clear that Nihilum’s strategy was to target Handlock, which was one deck we had brought every week. To make matters worse, Trump had been hoping to get his matches out of the way early in the series, since he was supposed to be at a rehearsal for the Blizzard event that afternoon. In fact, his driver showed up while he was still playing, which is why he actually left his computer multiple times during his games on stream. Thankfully, we were able to arrange alternate transportation for him, and he was able to play on.
We sent Trump in again, this time against Lifecoach’s Patron Warrior, which seemed like one of its best chances to get a win. Unfortunately, it did not, and suddenly the match was tied, and Trump was benched.
I went up next with Hunter, and ended up against RDU’s Shaman. I beat him pretty handily, which is really to be expected, since that matchup typically favors Hunter pretty strongly. The casters were making some comments about my pattern of play changing from clearing totems early to then going face later in the game, and questioned the logic of changing plans, but my play set me up for lethal on the next turn, and also the totem wasn’t a threat to any of my damage sources on board thanks to the frog he gave me from Hex. While there’s something to be said for sticking to a plan, plans should change as the context of the game dictates.
I guess that’s a nicer way of saying: Scoreboard. 8-0.
RDU was able to dispatch Trump’s Handlock in the next match, though, and it seemed like Nihilum’s strategy just might work out. Thankfully, Trump was able to pull out a win against Thijs’s Druid deck in the next game when BGH’s were nowhere to be seen, completing his wins for the day and letting him get on the road to rehearsal.
That left Dog needing to win one of two games – the Druid mirror or Druid vs Handlock. The mirror match went to Thijs, but Dog was able to come up big against Lifecoach with the win in the final game, giving Value Town the win and bringing us into a tie for first place in the league.
This was my favorite ATLC match yet, since it showcased the kind of strategy in deck selection that’s possible when you pay attention to a team’s patterns. Thankfully for us, our Handlock deck was able to find a win despite the gauntlet of Big Game Hunters – and so were our Fel Reavers! – but it was interesting to see such a large scale attempt to attack a particular deck even across a six deck lineup.
It’s pretty awesome that I am not only the last undefeated player in the league, but that I have continued to extend my lead. Thankfully, next week’s ATLC games are also being rescheduled due to conflicting live Hearthstone tournaments, because I’m currently still traveling for Magic and wouldn’t be able to play the normally scheduled games that week either. I’m not only running hot in the league itself, but also in the schedule adjusting to when I can play. I’m away for Magic until early August, but I’m looking forward to the ATLC action when I’m back.
While it’s great to be in the lead right now, there are still three weeks left to play. We still have three tough matches ahead of us against Archon, Liquid, and TempoStorm, and we may very well have to deal with the wrench of the new expansion being thrown into the mix. I’m certainly looking forward to the challenge, since deckbuilding for major events is my favorite part of competitive TCGs, but I’m certainly not going to be counting any Angry Chickens before they hatch.