Hearthstone, like practically every other video game played at a competitive level, is tied to its meta—the most current trends in strategies and tactics. For example, in League of Legends champions Gragas and Sejuani shot up in popularity after a new patch empowered tank junglers.
When you tune into the dozens of competitions that happen in the world’s favorite digital card game, you’re going to see the proven archetypes. Right now that means a lot of Druid, Face Hunter, Patron Warrior, and a dash of Freeze Mage. It’s not a problem—esports are built on maximized efficiency—and authentic competition is a good thing.
However, I’m probably not the only person who gets fatigued watching an endless cycle of the same matchups no matter how well played. And that’s exactly why Challengestone is so enthralling.
Challengestone is a new Hearthstone tournament run by TempoStorm. It’s hosted by Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan and Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski, and its first competition happened about a week ago. The players included your usual smattering of Hearthstone names, Brian Kibler, Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert, Jeffrey “Trump” Shih, Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy, and many others, and the format was your usual single-elimination best of five.
Sounds like every other Hearthstone tournament in the universe right? Here’s the thing: Each Challengestone tournament forces the competitors to build a deck that adheres to a certain requirement. We’re not talking about picks and bans—these are severe, counterintuitive mandates that fundamentally break the meta.
The first one was called Odds and Evens. The decks could only have minions with an odd number attack and spells with an even number cost. The players don’t know the requirement until about 20 minutes before competition, at which point they slap together whatever they can. It leads to some hilarious VODs, like here, where Kibler and Xixo get real twitchy parsing through cards.
The funniest moment was when Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen accidentally built his deck with minions that had odd mana cost instead of attack, which meant that a bunch of his minions were cycled out and replaced with some of the worst stuff imaginable as a penalty. Did you ever think you’d see Explosive Sheep run in Paladin? You can now!
The whole tournament is designed to break Hearthstone from its archetypical malaise and offer up some more unpredictable competition. It’s the most mind-bending thing going in the professional scene. King Mukla in Mage? That’ll be great with my Arcane Intellects! Oh wait I can’t run Arcane Intellect because it costs three mana. Equality Consecration works as a board clear. But if I can’t run Quartermaster or Muster for Battle is it really worth it? Oh god I can’t run Flamestrike either, this is a disaster!
Right now, Challengestone stands as a lighthearted alternative to the endless deluge of Grim Patrons and turn-six Hunter kills. But I think this sort of competition takes an equal amount of knowledge that’s necessary to understand an unrestricted tournament meta. Picking the right classes and counters to succeed in under 20 minutes is pretty incredible. There are also little things you don’t even consider, such as how under this requirement a card like Mad Scientist is unplayable, which makes all Hunter secrets significantly worse, or how the silences from Spellbreaker and Ironbeak Owl and the removal of Big Game Hunter disappear. To me, recognizing and exploiting those wrinkles is just as artful as comprehending standard matchups.
I’m really looking forward to where this goes. My dream is that someday we’ll have Challengestones with some absurdly ridiculous requirements—maybe “you can only kill your opponent with Ragnaros’ hero power” or “no minions with a mana cost below 7.” It’s exact sort of thing we need to make this scene a more colorful place.