How to Make the Finals of your First Hearthstone Tournament with Decks You’ve Never Played

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After I finished streaming some Hearthstone late Friday night, I went and hung out and watched a little of AJ Sacher and Chris Mascioli streaming as well. One of them – I forget who – mentioned that they were getting ready for a tournament the next morning. I asked what they were talking about, and got a link to the Sunshine Open tournament page. I didn’t have any real plans for the next day, and the idea of playing in my first Hearthstone tournament sounded pretty cool, so I decided to sign up.

There was just one problem – the format for the tournament was best 3-out-of-5, where the winner of each game sticks with the same deck and the loser has to play a new deck from a different class. I’d only really played one deck in my entire climb to Legendary this seasonand only one other before that – so I’d have to scramble to put together two new decks by morning, and it was already late.

I had been messing around a little bit with a Priest deck on stream on Friday, pretty much based on what I’d seen some other people playing on their streams, but I didn’t really like it. It was a pretty typical midrange/control type deck, and it felt like it could just fall behind too far in the early game.

I wanted to play something more proactive, both because that’s the general way I like to play and because it feels like that’s a better direction to take Priest in general. The Priest hero power is at its best when you can use it to heal minions that are giving you control over the board, and generally goes to waste in the early turns if you don’t have anything in play. I also expected Hunter to be the most popular deck in the tournament, and my experience with Druid was that the best way to beat them was to establish a solid board presence of 2-3 reasonably sized minions, because you can keep their Unleash turns from being too powerful and still keep them under a reasonable clock to prevent them from just naturally going off with Buzzard when they get to a ton of mana.

That lead me to looking in the direction of Undertaker. I’d mentioned on my stream that I wanted to explore Undertaker Priest, and someone said that it was bad and I shouldn’t waste my time. That’s the kind of attitude that I find crazy in collectible games. How in the world could someone have definitively concluded that a card that came out a week ago isn’t worth exploring? People in Hearthstone seem to be even more closeminded about such things than in Magic.

I never would have made it to where I am if I just dismissed cards other people told me are bad. As the flavor text on Armadillo Cloak says – “Don’t laugh. It works.”

Here’s the deck that was the biggest factor in taking me to the finals of the Sunshine Open, hosted by Chanman and HearthstoneOpen.com

SunShinePriest

This is slightly modified from the version I played on day one of the tournament. I only played Priest in most of my day one matches, because I went 3-0 against all but three of my opponents starting with this deck.

In the event, I played one copy of Auchenai Soulpriest and a Kelthuzad where here I have a Defender of Argus and a Ragnaros. I was pretty unimpressed by Soulpriest almost every time I drew it over the course of the tournament, and frequently just didn’t want to play it because it was at odds with my primary game plan, which was keeping control of the board using minions and healing. The Defender of Argus could be something else like a Spellbreaker, since Silence effects seem really powerful right now, but Defender seems especially good with cheap durable minions like Dark Cultist and Undertaker.

Kel’thuzad seemed like he would be awesome with all the death rattle and the like, but the reality was that he was generally much more of a “win more” card. He’s at his best when you already have a significant board presence and your opponent does as well, and you can make some reasonable trades when you attack on your turn. He isn’t good at all when you’re behind, and he isn’t very good on an empty board. I found that most of the time I drew Kel’Thuzad it just wasn’t very high impact, and I think Ragnaros is a better option to try to get back into games where you’re behind or help seal victories in games where you’re ahead.

Unfortunately, both of my opponents in the Top 4 banned my Priest deck, so I didn’t get to play it at all on Sunday. I’m not a big fan of the banning system for tournaments. I understand that it’s a failsafe for egregious balance issues that make one class unbeatable, but it seems like overall it’s a big negative for both players and viewers. As a player, you can’t be rewarded nearly as much for developing a strong deck for a particular metagame, because your opponent can always just choose to ban it once they know about it. As a viewer, it can mean that you don’t get to see decks you’re excited about (like everyone who saw my prelim rounds yesterday and wanted to see me play my priest deck today), or potentially see players using the decks they’re best at or well known for.

The class-switching format made a lot of sense for the original Blizzcon show matches, where the idea was to highlight variety, but it makes a lot less sense for other tournaments. I’d love to see events where players have to just choose a single deck, like in Magic or other TCG events. As someone who enjoys deck building and tuning more than pretty much anything else in collectible games, I might be slightly biased, but I think it would make for a better tournament as a player. Or at least do away with bans as the standard for events, so players can at least be rewarded more for strong deckbuilding.

Anyway, speaking of deckbuilding, here’s the other deck that I actually built that I played in the event:

SunShineDruid

As I mentioned in my last post on Druid, I think the best way to build and play the deck to beat a lot of the metagame (especially Miracle, Hunter, Priest, and Warrior) is aggressively. I was looking jealously at Dark Cultist because I wanted another good early threat that I could Innervate out on turn one when I came across Shade of Naxxramas.

Shade is pretty much everything you want from a card in this deck. It offers early board presence that can dodge removal until you’re ready to go on the offensive. You can just have it sit in Stealth and grow until it’s big enough to survive Eviscerate or Fiery War Axe or whatever your opponent might throw at it. Sometimes, you can even let it sit there and grow until you’re ready for a Savage Roar turn to hit your opponent for a massive amount of damage. In the semifinals, I managed to play a turn one Shade off of Innervate three out of the four games, which played a huge part in my ability to sweep the series.

I played one copy each of Sunfury Protector and Acidic Swamp Ooze because I wanted more cheap creatures that also had utility later in the game. I had previously played Haunted Creeper, but I didn’t like how weak of a threat it was against decks that I was trying to put on a clock, like Hunter and Miracle, and it didn’t feel like the 1/1 bodies were as good insurance against board clear with Unstable Ghoul and Death’s Bite in all of the warrior decks.

My third deck for the first day was Hunter. I had previously played Shaman to Legend last season, but hadn’t really touched it since Hunter became so popular since I was sick of getting punished by Unleash for using my Hero power, so I decided to try to learn Hunter on the fly. To say I was inexperienced playing it would be an incredible understatement.  I literally had to level up to 10 and do the Hunter class challenge 30 minutes before the event started on Saturday morning in order to be able to register a Hunter deck. My first game playing it was in something like round six, and then my second time was in the last game of the top 8. Winning that game did get me to level 12 as a Hunter, though!

SunShineHunter

Once I made the Top 4, though, I had to have a total of five decks for the best of seven series. Since I had literally no experience with anything else, I found a version of Shaman that Amaz played in the recent Coolermaster tournament and copied it pretty much card for card. Since I was already on that page of Hearthstone Top Decks, I decided that I’d use his Warlock deck as my final fallback, since it seemed relatively straightforward and I actually had all of the cards for it, as opposed to something like Control Warrior or Paladin.

SunshineShaman

SunShineWarlock

In the semis, I banned SpArk’s Priest deck because it felt like the worst matchup for Druid, and I expected him to ban my Priest. I managed to 4-0 him with Druid, which mean that I didn’t have to go to any of my backup decks. Against Impact in the finals, he also banned my Priest, and a great draw on his part (and some Knife Juggler sharpshooting) knocked my Druid out in the first game. That unfortunately left me with my three backup decks – Shaman, Hunter, and Warlock – which I didn’t know nearly as well. After a few more good draws from Impact and some questionable decisions on my part, I fell in the finals 4-1.

Not bad for my first Hearthstone tournament ever, but it certainly would have been sweet to win. I had thought that the invitation to the Blizzcon Qualifier dropped down to me because Impact was already qualified, but sadly it did not, so if I’m going to be the Hearthstone World Champion this year, I’m going to have to find some other way to get there.

And I’m probably going to have to learn to play a few more decks.

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