The 2018 VS Gaming League Hearthstone Championships at Comic Con Africa — Tournament Report — eN.Pand3m0nia
Some of those reading this may know who I am, but for those who don’t I am Dale “Pand3m0nia” Pon, a South African Hearthstone player. I’ve been playing Hearthstone since the Open Beta in 2014 and come from a background of competitive Chess and Magic: The Gathering.
I’ve been playing in the VS Gaming League Premier division since early 2015. However, this last leg before the Championships I was relegated after a really poor performance, and my morale was rather low. Despite this, my main practice partner Dylan “Dib” Brown (who I co-host our local Podcast Magma Ragers with) kept encouraging me and trying to convince me to play more and grind harder.
In the leadup to any significant tournament we have a preparation methodology (although it is mainly Dib’s that he shares with me). It involves numerous matchup spreadsheets with data from sites like www.vicioussyndicate.com/ and HSReplay.net, as well as making predictions on what the meta of the tournament will look like. Subsequently we brainstorm a variety of different lineup strategies, considering what these lineups are good vs, bad vs, and potential bans.
Since the match screenshots on the VS Gaming website are public, a policy I’m not sure I fully support, I was able to go through each player’s match history and build up a spreadsheet showing their deck and class trends (for those players who actually followed the rules and uploaded their screenshots). This information, combined with our knowledge of the local meta and recent meta trends lead us to expect a significant amount of Aggro. As a result we built my lineup to be a relatively hard counter to Aggro decks such as Odd Paladin, Odd Rogue, and Zoo Warlock. The general ban strategy was to ban any anti-Control decks such as Taunt Druid, Quest Rogue, and Shudderwock Shaman, with the prediction being that not many people would bring a lineup with both of those decks. Below is my lineup:
Token Druid is one of the best anti-Aggro decks, being able to effectively fight for and control the board relatively early on. One of the benefits of Token Druid over other anti-Aggro decks is that it isn’t a traditional Control deck, and thus isn’t susceptible to the anti-Control strategy which beats the traditional anti-Aggro Control lineup. We decided on the Strongshell Scavenger/Saronite Chain Gang/Flobbidinous Floop package. Strongshell Scavenger has good synergy with cards such as Giggling Inventor and Spreading Plague. Flobbidinous Floop has good synergy with Arcane Tyrant, Giggling Inventor, and Strongshell Scavenger. Saronite Chain Gang has synergy with most of the aforementioned cards, and provides a proactive play to make against slower decks.
Secret Hunter is a newer deck in the current meta with a relatively strong matchup spread. It’s a deck that performs reasonably well against aggressive decks because it has a lot of proactive ways to contest the board early on, while still being able to outvalue Control decks thanks to Deathstalker Rexxar. Before deciding on playing it I played the deck a substantial amount on ladder to get a feel for its playstyle and matchups. Like Token Druid, Secret Hunter fits our lineup strategy while not being easily countered by the anti-Control strategy.
Odd Warrior was probably the closest to a comfort pick due to my history with Control Warrior of days gone by, I like to Tank Up! It is also the most effective anti-Aggro deck currently available. The major concern was the possibility of players trying to target it specifically, due to its very polarised matchups. Ultimately we decided it was worth the risk since we were convinced more players would bring Aggro than anti-Control decks. Cards such as Azalina Soulthief, Faceless Manipulator, and Zola the Gorgon allow the deck to get extra value in the later stage of the game as well as hedging against anti-Control decks.
Control Warlock was possibly the most off-meta deck in the lineup. It hasn’t seen much ladder play due to its weakness to several popular ladder decks. Demonic Project and Gnomeferatu are both cards that improve the matchups against Combo decks such as Maylgos/Togwaggle Druid and Shudderwock Shaman.
Other decks we considered included: Maylgos/Togwaggle Druid, Odd Paladin, Control Priest, Midrange Shaman, and Even Warlock. Quest Rogue was also considered due to its innate power level, but that would’ve changed our entire lineup strategy.
A player’s ability to pilot a deck comfortably is a key factor in the lineup building process. If you aren’t comfortable with a deck you won’t be able to achieve the ‘expected’ win rate in favourable matchups, and more importantly won’t be able to gain the edge in the unfavourable matchups. Additionally we didn’t believe that many players would bring an anti-Control lineup due to the aforementioned research.
This tournament was an open decklist format in which decklists were submitted and published prior to the event. This meant that we knew every ‘tech’ card or off-meta inclusion, and could also plan bans beforehand. Some players pick bans based on personal preferences while our strategy was to try and ban the statistically best deck against our lineup.
After analysis of the submitted decklists we realised our predictions were mostly on point. However, due to the seeding I ended up in the same group as Simplez, the only player to bring the dreaded ‘anti-Control’ strategy.
In the group stage I managed to top my group, beating both MiND_GAmE and Simplez. In the double elimination portion of the tournament I managed to beat lineups similar to those predicted until losing to Simplez in the Winners’ Bracket Final. I managed make it to the Grand Final where I needed to beat Simplez in two Best-of-5 series, due to Winners’ Bracket advantage. I was very unfavoured in the Grand Final, so we needed to come up with a game plan to make lemonade out of lemons.
Dib and myself spent the night before the Final watching the VODs of my previous games, trying to spot errors or misplays. In fact we even found that I missed lethal in one of my previous games. Going over your previous games is always valuable, even more so in tournaments when the games are cast.
In the previous series Simplez had chosen to ban my Control Warlock, a strategy which we didn’t believe to be correct. Token Druid was the expected ban before the tournament but because of Simplez’ aforementioned strategy, and thus we now had to prepare matchups which we were not previously anticipating (e.g. Token Druid vs Quest Rogue). It was then time to discuss game plans and win conditions in all the expected matchups. There are nuances to some of the matchups, for example the importance of Carnivorous Cube in the Odd Warrior vs Deathrattle Hunter matchup and the edge that using Faceless Manipulator on the Carnivorous Cube could give. Another example is in the Token Druid vs Quest Rogue matchup where it is important to play for tempo. This often means cards are used outside of their intended combos, for example playing Flobbidinous Floop or Wispering Woods on Turn 4.
It was always going to take a bit of luck alongside all this preparation to overcome such a lineup disadvantage. After winning the first Grand Final Best-of-5 3–0, I realised the dream was alive and winning became a more realistic possibility.
With the final series of the Grand Final at 2–2 my Energy Esports brethren from other games came to give their support. It was great to have this support from an organisation which I’ve been part of since 2016.