A Case for Single Deck Tournament Formats

Today I will be talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: the single deck tournament format. The current HS format leaves a lot to be desired.

Greetings, friends! Today I will be talking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: the single deck tournament format.  As I’m sure is true of many other writers for Hearthstone Players, prior to my getting into Hearthstone, I played various other CCGs, and so as I became aware of the competitive scene of Hearthstone, I found it odd that most tournaments were played in what was called the “Last Hero Standing” format. I found this format to be very odd, because I was used to seeing tournaments where players were required to pick a single deck and stick with it throughout the tournament, but I became used to it even if it wasn’t my favorite way of running tournaments. Then recently, there has been more and more talk about reviving a single-deck format for Hearthstone, mostly due to Brian Kibler’s arguments for the single-deck format and announcement of the Kibler Open, and so I was inspired to present my own perspective on the situation and craft an argument that the a single-deck with sideboard format would be best for the Hearthstone tournament scene. So, without further ado, let us begin!

Preliminary note:The structure of this article in general compares the single deck format  to the Last Hero Standing format. I recognize that there are other fringe formats that act as a midpoint between the two formats, but it is beyond the scope of this article to deal with all of them, and I believe that many of the arguments still carry over for these fringe formats.

Why a Single Deck Format is Best for Amateur Players

Momentarily, we will discuss why the single deck format is better in a competitive sense, but right now I want to focus on your standard run of the mill player: the guy at rank 12, let’s call him Jim, who is just getting into the tournament scene and finding what deck or style he’s really good with and enjoys, but who is very interested in the game, especially the competitive side and would love to play in tournaments….. except that given the current prevailing formats, this is almost impossible for him.

He barely was able to craft the legendaries for his control priest deck, and the idea of crafting a warrior deck is extremely daunting, and besides that, he loves his priest deck. He enjoys setting up the various combos and being able to steal people’s minions and wishes that he could just play this deck at a tournament and not have to worry about building a huge variety of decks that he frankly has no interest in playing just to be “competitive.”  It is with this person in mind that I present the following arguments.

1.The Single Deck Format is More Accessible for New Players

Like Jim above, I think it’s important to look at the fact that most players do not have access to every single viable legendary/epic in the game. And I’m not even referring to the player who just started and refuses to shell out a single dollar for the game, but still wants to be at the top levels of competition, but the type of person who has spent a fair deal of time grinding for gold and has even shelled out a good 30-50 dollars or something. Such a person is still going to struggle to build multiple competitive decks. Now by this point, this person could easily have a single good competitive deck (even possibly control warrior with a bit of luck), and such a player probably very much enjoys and is even probably decent with said deck; however, this player needs 2-4 more viable decks to be able to play in most tournament formats.

I understand that Blizzard needs their moneyz, and that there should be some level of advantage that people have from playing a lot, but tournament entry shouldn’t be decided by money and/or grinding time. Under the Last Hero Standing format, however, very few players can afford or have the time to reach the collection-level necessary to make it more than a round or two into such a tournament. A single deck format allows players to enter with a more modest collection and thus opens up the tournament scene to more players and allows skilled, but poor players to get a chance to shine, which is ultimately what tournaments should be about.

2. The Single Deck Format Allows Players to Establish an Identity Within the Game

Bobby started playing Hearthstone a month ago and he loves playing enrage warrior with raging-worgen and amani-berserker, and he finished tweaking this deck and was excited to find a tournament to enter so that he could try out his creation at a competitive level, but then he read the rules of the tournament he found and discovered that he had to have at least three decks to play. Luckily for Bobby, he had a good collection of cards and  was able to build good Druid and Hunter decks for the tournament, but then after playing a few rounds he was quite simply bored with the tournament. He truly looked forward to trying his creation at the tournament and found no satisfaction in winning with the Druid deck, much less the Hunter deck, which he felt was completely “mindless.” And so, Bobby slowly drifted away from competitive Hearthstone and began only playing here and there and eventually quit the game.

Like Bobby, many gamers play a game in order to express a part of their identity within the game. For example, consider the game League of Legends: within the game, there are different “roles” that players can take on within the game, and almost every person who plays league has a role that they “main” and they enjoy what that says about them and gain pride from having a certain specialized skillset that sets them apart from others. Likewise, in Hearthstone, players can identify with the deck they play: Rogue players are calculated and cunning; Warriors are confident, bold, and tactical; and Hunters are douchebags 😛 (just kidding, I’ve played a ton of hunter in my life as well). But players like to play a deck that in some way they can identify with, whether it’s the playstyle, the animations, the character’s personalities, and so on and so forth. Forcing players to play with multiple decks takes away this part from tournaments, and therefore reduces the level of interest in them that might otherwise be achieved. Though some may say that this “weeds out the casuals,” I question why  this is good thing. Can’t we have fun with everyone, or at least be happy for the free win? Especially at an amateur level, tournaments should be inclusive and fun for everyone, not just the hyper-competitive. And again, we will talk about the competitive side of things here in the near future.

3. The Single Deck Format is Better for Viewers

Similar to the idea of a single deck format  establishing an identity for the average player, many competitive players have an “identity” as well, and many viewers enjoy seeing a player play an interesting deck that they’re known for. For example, people get excited when Amaz plays his Blingtron Priest (or just priest in general), and in the Last Hero Standing format, this is honestly a very rare occurrence.

Though pros will of course play what they’ll win with, there will still be professional players who specialize in a certain deck, decks, or deckstyle, and when players are allowed to freely play these decks, viewers are likely to become very excited, which will increase viewership. Heck, if Blizzard is looking for another way to make some money (which I know you are Blizzard; don’t try to hide it), they could make merchandise based on these players that has cards or heroes that they like to use on it, and people would gobble it up. This is partially because of the “identity” concept that was discussed above. People root for those that they identify with in some way shape or form. This is why people obsess over specific sports teams. Imagine if the Baltimore Ravens had to use five different birds as their mascot per tournament? Do you think people would identify with this team as much then? Though decks are entirely different than mascots, the point remains that allowing players to focus their playstyles will cause fans to attach to them more, making for a more enjoyable experience for viewers.

Now some may argue directly against this view, saying that seeing two players play the same deck in a best-of-3 or best-of-5 would become extremely boring and my response is this: there are enough nuances of the game of Hearthstone that this is not that much of an issue. Especially in a best-of-3 format, the games will be different enough that it will still remain an exciting experience for the viewers. Also, many Hearthstone tournament matches boil down to a series of counter picks (more on this later), and this is less interesting than seeing two decks that are required to be balanced and well-tuned for all kinds of matchups battle it out in a relatively even matchup. I also recognize that some will disagree with this and say that it is interesting to experience the mind games of picking and counterpicking that pros engage in, and I can understand this, but I believe that the majority of players would enjoy and even prefer seeing a single deck battle, where decks are not direct counterpicks, but are well-rounded and safe to play against a huge variety of different decks.

Why the Single Deck Format is Better for Competitive Play

Now I think that it is important to remember the less experienced players when preparing tournaments, but ultimately tournaments are about competition, not corny fun stuff like building an identity or spending less money. I do, however, think that the single deck format is better for competitive play. Now I do want to qualify this by saying that I do not believe that a single deck format is more directly competitive than the multi-deck formats. What I mean by this is that I believe both styles to be equally skill-based. My argument here will be that the single deck format is a better test of skill in the areas that a CCG should focus on. Let’s get started.

1.The Single Deck Format Better Fits the focus of CCGs

I believe that the Last Hero Standing format is a very skill-based format, but I do not believe that it fits the primary skillset that CCGs are supposed to test. CCGs, whether they be older, traditional CCGs, or Hearthstone itself, are supposed to generate winners based on two factors: deckbuilding skill, and board tactics (my generalized term for any gameplay strategy done in-game, as opposed to pregame). A single deck format is a better test of these two elements. As mentioned above, a lot of Last Hero Standing tournies have a focus on counterpicks, to the extent that sometimes, tournament decks have little to no relation to, or viability on, the ladder. Games then are often decided by who can outcounter their opponent, not who has been absolutely perfectly meticulous and completely flawless in their in-game play. Even when players do play perfectly, their perfect play is not truly rewarded, because of the emphasis on pick/counterpick as opposed to outsmarting an opponent who’s deck is similarly matched with yours. Now I recognize that players can still outplay their way out of a bad matchup, but with the Last Hero Standing format, the FOCUS is shifted to a glorified game of Rock-Paper-Scissors instead of focusing on the game of Hearthstone itself.

Likewise, with deckbuilding, players often focus on countering a specific deck as opposed to an entire slew of decks. For example, ladder Handlocks often have an emphasis on healing with antique-healbot and protecting their early game with zombie-chow, and in certain metagames, where aggro decks, especially hunter, are prevalent, the tournament  lists often struggle. In a single deck format, players will have to craft decks that can adapt to all situations. This may even include strange innovations such as an anti-taunt hunter with multiple hunters-mark, ironbeak-owl and even the-black-knight. The deckbuilding at tournaments would become much more interesting, and we may even see some major meta-innovations, which leads me to my next point.

2. The Single Deck Format Rewards and Celebrates Metagame Innovation

You know what happens when you develop a super strong deck that is new and could catch the competition by surprise and win you a tournament? You get to play it in one game. Done. Heck, it might even get banned repeatedly and you won’t get to play it at all. This is how the current tournament structure works. This leads to a stale meta of Druid, Warrior, Handlock, etc. dominating the entire tournament scene (it helps that these decks are also direct counters to certain decks of course). Players are not encouraged to come up with interesting secret decks for tournaments that come out of nowhere and beat everyone. Let me tell a story: My own card game background is a bit different than others in that my big TCG growing up was the Pokemon TCG, as opposed to Magic: the Gathering. In Pokemon one year, a small team developed a deck based on shutting down common metagame decks, and spreading damage across the board to set up for one big sweep. The deck completely swept nationals and was the talk of the entire community for quite a while afterward.

In Hearthstone, such occurrences are quite rare, and this is likely due to the lack of motivation to innovate in a tournament setting. In this area, I am quite convinced that a single deck format is entirely preferable; it encourages creativity, innovation, and the element of surprise far better than Last Hero Standing does.

3. What About Ability to Play Multiple Types of Decks?

This and the following point are more answers to common objections to the competitiveness of the single deck format than they are explicit reasons that the format should be adopted. The best argument, I believe, for multi-deck formats is that the format forces players to be familiar with a variety of decks and deck-types. And to some extent I agree. However, I think that the issue is far less important than people make it out to be. As the metagame involves, people will be unable to repeatedly succeed with the same deck. One day, Handlock might be god-tier, and then the next, too much big-game-hunter will be seeing play, and suddenly the bandwagon Handlock players who can’t play anything else are in trouble (but as mentioned above, could still be having fun playing a deck they enjoy and are familiar with). This will force people to be flexible and adapt just as the Last Hero Standing format does.

4. The Single Deck Format is Still Capable of Weeding out Excessive Aggro

One concern that I see popping up among players with regard to the single deck format is that it could turn into a direct mirror of the ladder….. which means a LOT of aggro; however, I don’t think that this would become an issue. Why do people play aggro decks? There are a number of reasons. Here are a few common ones:  1. Generally good matchups 2. Fast Games 3. Easy to play 4. Cheap to build. Of these reasons, only  1 and 4 are relevant in a tournament setting. If a player is playing an easy deck merely for the fact that it’s easy, he or she isn’t going to make it very far into a tournament anyway, and game length is irrelevant. Aggro decks also have the added issue of being both the bearers and recipients of RNG issues.

Of course you can win pretty much any game with an epic undertaker start, but in a tournament setting, where a 60% win rate isn’t the goal, but rather a 100% win rate is, these decks are likely to be ironed out more than people are giving the format credit for since they are less consistent and require a sufficiently explosive start to get going.

5.Can We Trust Hearthstone?

Can we trust Hearthstone? What do I mean by this question? What I mean is that we (I at least assume, since you are on this website) believe that Hearthstone is a game with depth, strategy, and uniqueness. If a single deck format cannot be competitive, then what does this say about Hearthstone? It means that there is too much RNG and too little skill for two equally matched decks to be played against each other, with the better player (at least for that series of games) emerging victorious. Now I don’t believe this is the case. Do you?  Let’s put our trust in the competitiveness of Hearthstone and try out some single deck fun 😀

To Sideboard or Not to Sideboard

With regard to the single deck discussion, there is the sub-argument of whether or not a single deck  format should include a sideboard. I don’t have a very strong opinion on this issue, but here is a list of pros and cons of including a sideboard.


-Prevents shut-outs.

-Retains of the pick/counterpick Rock-Paper-Scissors style play of the Last Hero Standing format.

-Further prevents the outbreak of excessive aggro, since the sideboard can include many anti-aggro techs.


Could Encourage Laziness in deckbuilding.

-Certain matchups could become unwinnable if a deck techs properly.*

-Certain decks could morph into entirely different decks (Handlock and midrange Warlock could become interchangeable).

*(What could a Handlock do against a hunter with 2xhunters-mark; 2xIronbeak-owl; Loatheb and the-black-knight)


Thank you all for listening to my rant. At the end of the day, let us remember that regardless of what format tournaments take place under, Hearthstone is still a super-fun game, and high-level competition can exist in all kinds of different forms, whether on the ladder, a Last Hero Standing tournament, a single deck tournament, or even casual games with friends. As always, add me on Battle.net chinchillord#1811 and email me at [email protected]. Thanks everyone!