While Blizzard may well have recently announced some of the details for the next Hearthstone expansion pack, the pro players haven’t had time to get a look in at the details, they’ve been too busy battling it out for the top place in the Spring Championship - the first half of Hearthstone’s annual esports competition. The Shanghai-based tournament was host to 16 qualified players, each of them competing for a share of $250,000. Some recognisable names had qualified alongside a handful of relative unknowns, which made this a tournament with the potential for a lot of major upsets. It was Danish player Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen who ultimately took the top spot at this weekend’s grand finals after a string of extremely close games that really could have gone either way. Sure, this was in part due to Hearthstone's notorious RNG elements, but another major contributor to these knife-edge games was the variety in decks we saw at this tournament. Players from different regions often favour different deck archetypes and play-styles, and this was a big contributor to the diversity of the decks on display. Here's our round-up of the deck archetypes that made the biggest splash at this HCT Spring Championship (and secured Hoej that career-defining victory he's been pursuing for so long).
[caption id="attachment_72578" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Kolento's Quest Rogue, from http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com[/caption] Let’s get this one out of the way because, yes, unfortunately Quest Rogue continues to stay popular within the meta. But there's mercy to be found here: we know that Quest Rogue is about to find itself victim of a harsh nerf, making this one of the last chances for the frustrating deck to inspire rage in the Hearthstone tournament scene. But what was interesting was its success rate. It hasn't exactly been a deck utilised for a safe win for a while now, but here it was instead used as a necessary deck to counter certain situations. More often than not it was used to counter control decks. The class’s bevy of abilities to remove bodies on the board, as well as its tendency to come out on top in longer games, made it well-suited to this role. Runner-up Kolento has been a fairly recognised user of Quest Rogue, but even he didn’t use it during the grand finals. The deck had been met with so many failures throughout the group phase that those rare, easy wins just weren’t worth the risk. And yet Hoej still found some success with the deck. Though it was never a surefire win, Hoej had a far greater number of wins with the deck, rarely having to play more than once before it succeeded. What does all this mean? Well, Quest Rogue is going to fall out of fashion sharply after it's nerf takes effect, but is interesting is how, now anyway, it seems like it's struggling enough on it's own. Admittedly it's still a nuisance for those on the ladder, but this nerf should drastically reduce any use of Quest Rogue - and perhaps even Pirate Warrior along with it.
[caption id="attachment_72576" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Ant's Token Shaman, from http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com[/caption] Where we now have Token Shaman we once had Token Druid. And in a lot of ways there’s very little changed between the two. Surprisingly the build doesn’t rely on the ramping nature of Elementals, but instead utilising both the Evolve card and a run of Jade Golems. This makes the Token Shaman one of the strongest aggro decks in the game right now, especially when the likes of Jade Lightning combos removal and furthering the march of the Jade Golems. A Token Shaman on a roll in HCT Spring Championships was a spectacle to behold and seemingly impossible to stop. But it wasn’t a particularly popular deck, despite its successes. Some players will still favour the Token Druid equivalent, but whenever Token Shaman showed up it typically won that round. Rdu was particularly successful with his take on the deck, while Hoej even played it for the first time in the grand finals – and won. It was definitely one of the strongest decks on show over the weekend, and maybe with it now so visible we’ll see it fully replace Token Druid in the meta, as has already been predicted.
[caption id="attachment_72579" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Rdu's Pirate Warrior, from http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com[/caption] Despite the nerfing of Small Time Buccaneer, Pirate Warrior remains a regular pick for many and the same has been during the HCT Spring Championship finals. In the knockout stage it featured in all but one game, making it almost as recurring as the Mid-range Paladin. The reason for a lot of this is the fact that the Pirate Warrior deck still has a great deal of security. While it can be countered, it’s much harder to do so - and the almost complete absence of the Priest class helps show that there aren’t quite so many safe decks to play against this build, even now. It’s not that it’s a deck to play against a wide variety of opposing deck types, but instead that its tempo scales so well - from strong early cards building towards some unstoppable mid- and end-game cards - that if something isn’t done early enough it becomes an easy win for whoever is in control of the Pirate Warrior. The reason Pirate Warrior became so popular in the first place was due to the rise of the Quest Rogue (which might explain why the latter deck suffered so much in this weekend’s matches), but now it seems it’s a threat to all builds: aggro or control.
[caption id="attachment_72577" align="aligncenter" width="601"] Hoej's Midrange Paladin, from http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com[/caption] But where Pirate Warrior was a safe choice because of its ease with winning, Midrange Paladin achieves security in the fact that it can take on any potential match-up in the current meta. There’s a lot that this controlling deck can achieve, holding back against early threats like Quest Rogue while simultaneously able to disarm the Pirate Warrior. It was a staple addition to practically every match throughout the finals, from the group stage through to the grand finals. Hoej’s take on the deck, in particular, found success more often than not. You could tell it was a deck he was very comfortable with, using it to open the majority of his games (and when he did so, the deck won). The potential variety of a Midrange Paladin is what makes it so viable these days, whether that’s building through a string of Murlocs or utilising the new Adapt feature to enhance those weaker, early-game minions. It’s quite a variety deck, and makes it a surprisingly interesting choice. The fact that few could beat Hoej’s suggests that it’s his deck in particular that you should pay attention to. Even when Zolento faced Shaman against Shaman in the grand finals, nothing could be done to dispense Hoej’s eclectic deck. It’s definitely one to check out.