Hey everyone, my name is KGo (formerly Madhatted) and today I want to talk about the recent Tespa Summer Series Qualifiers that I was able to win and more importantly about the interesting new format they used. The event was open to all college and university students in both Canada and the United States. The top 2 finalists from the 4 individual qualifiers would be invited to play in the Red Bull Team Brawl along with invited pros. Surprisingly, out of the 8 students to qualify, 3 of them (including myself) were from Simon Frasier University (SFU) and the other two (TheJordude and Fwan) are both excellent players I know from playing real life events with.
This format was unlike anything I had seen before in Hearthstone.
For anyone unfamiliar with Magic: the Gathering, this format is similar to the sideboarding system in Magic where you have a main deck of 60 cards, followed by 15 sideboard cards that you can switch with cards in your deck after the first game. For Hearthstone, they don’t have an interface that lets you have a “side deck” that you can swap cards. Instead, they have you pre-create your sidedeck configuration. The format has a both interesting and attractive aspects.
It only requires 1 deck worth of cards with up to 12 additional cards for sidedecks. This is much easier for new players and budget players who may not have legendaries for different class decks.
It rewards people who are masters of a single class and possess an understanding of how to solve problematic matchups by changing the deck.
Conquest and Last Hero standing have issues where one class can carry or one class causes you to lose. I’m not sure if only playing one class solves that problem, but at least it’s different.
My approach to the format
Seeing this format, I was excited for what could be done with it as I have a background in Magic and love trying to break new formats in general.
The most basic strategy when looking at this format is to take any reasonable deck and then choose 2 different matchups that they are unfavorable and dedicate one of the extra decks to beat that matchup. This was the strategy that my friend TheJordude used to win the first qualifier with Token Shaman.
The main deck is a standard Evolve shaman list which many have considered one of the best decks. TheJordude decided to have a list teched to beat Mage with Eater of Secrets and more Jades, while the other list was meant to beat Taunt Warrior with Black Night, N’zoth and Spirit Echo.
After seeing him win the first qualifier which I was unable to play I decided to copy his list for the second event as I was short on time to think of any other strategies and I had wanted to play Shaman. I ended up finishing 4-3 in the swiss portion but had lost the last round that if I had won would have actually gotten me into top 8.
I learned much about how people were playing this format from this event.
First, I noticed that the classes that were popular were classes that not only had a top tier deck but also were flexible in cards that could be included. Classes that could play more aggressive or controlling within the 6 card limit. Lots of Shaman, Mage, and Paladin were played because they could play aggressive early minions, could heal, and could play big minions if they wanted to side into and choose their role in a matchup as the aggressor or defender.
As the meta evolves in a format, people will start to ignore normally bad matchups if they don’t expect them to show up
One of my losses were to another token Shaman who sided in Lightning Storms, Feral Spirits, and Jade Spirit that aimed to beat other Shamans and aggressive decks like Aggro Druid. This highlights why simply using your extra decks to cover your bad matchups doesn’t always work out. As the meta evolves in a format, people will start to ignore normally bad matchups if they don’t expect them to show up often and tech for mirror matchups and other popular classes.
In my last round, I was paired against a Mage which is a bad matchup for me game 1 but I was hopeful the version I teched for Mage would let me win the other games. Turned out that even in game 2 when I drew Eater of Secrets, I still got run over by the standard burn/value Mage. After talking with Jordan and others, it seemed like it was not uncommon for many players especially Shaman to side in Eater of Secrets to try and help the traditionally bad mage matchup. It turned out that shaman still wasn’t favored even with double Eater of Secrets or even when Jinyu Waterspeaker was added to avoid losing to Alexstrasza and burn.
This showed me that even when people have 6 cards to dedicate to beating 1 matchup it still wasn’t always possible to beat it consistently. If you are expecting to lose game 1 you need to be confident in your game 2/3 deck to be able to win as even if you are favored you can always still get unlucky in a game and lose a favorable matchup.
After the first 2 qualifiers that took place the same weekend, there was a month before the second 2 would take place and I was determined to come up with a stronger strategy for the format going forward.
The only thing that really changed in the month between the qualifiers was that Quest Rouge was nerfed out of the format and Jade Spirit had become an elemental. This did make Jade Druid a bit better of a deck as Quest Rouge had been a very bad matchup for it and made Shaman even more flexible as a class being able to play jade/elemental hybrids.
Basically, I didn’t like playing a deck where there were neutral hate cards that anyone could add if they decided they wanted to ruin your day.
What I ended up looking at was Jade Druid because I felt that it was a strong counter to Mage naturally. In addition, it performed well against Shaman with little tech and could beat Paladin with some Hungry Crabs of my own. This solidified my belief that Jade Druid was naturally powerful and didn’t have any direct hate cards people could add (as there are no kill-a-Jade Crabs… yet).
These were the lists I ended up with as the main deck being a non-standard list and teched towards Shaman and other aggro decks like Pirate Warrior or Aggro Druid. Those were matchups I felt I needed an above average chance at winning the first game in order to win the series. The second deck was a greedier version for Mage, mirrors, and other control decks in general while the third deck was for Paladin.
I think it can often be correct in this format to have three lists teched to beat matchups instead of having a main list which isn’t teched and only two decks trying to beat a matchup.
My two losses in swiss were to decks I was not preparing for and I don’t think I should have been. Sometimes, you will have bad matchups to niche decks and you simply have to accept that you will lose to them but you won’t play them that often. Every other round was against a deck that I expected and my lists did their job. What’s interesting to note is that all the matches that were won 2-1 involved matchups where my choice of an anti-aggro list for game 1s was not good but my sideboard lists were able to make up for it.
What worried me most about my top 8 and top 4 match was that they were both mirror matches where my game 1 lists were really bad for. Even with a better list for subsequent games, being down a game in the mirror feels awful and I could not have been a favourite to win both those sets. I believe that you can’t win an event without a bit of luck and I think my deck and list choice got me through swiss and a little luck got it done in the elimination rounds.
Even though I have had success in other cards games, I was really excited to win this event as this was my first big “win” in Hearthstone. Now I get to join the 2 other SFU students who had won last month, and together we fly down to Santa Monica to play in the Red Bull Team Brawl in August. I’d also like to give a shout out to seohyun628 who is also an SFU student who made it to the top 4 of a qualifier but lost his final match. We were 1 game away from having half of the qualified students from Canada and US being from a single school which is insane.
As for final thoughts on the format, I really liked playing it for these few events and would love to see more of it. It may not be the best HCT format because it doesn’t show off different classes as much but would love to see it for a few big events each year such as a major or invitationals. There is absolutely more room for strategizing how to build decks that have not yet been explored and would be interesting to see how the format develops and varies with different sets.
Follow KGo on Twitter