Early lessons from the Hearthstone World Championships

The biggest tournament in Hearthstone's history got underway last weekend, where 16 of the best players on the planet battled it out to see who would go to the main event at BlizzCon

Image via Blizzard

The biggest tournament in Hearthstone’history got underway last weekend, where 16 of the best players on the planet battled it out to see who would go to the main event at BlizzCon. In hours of matches that saw four players depart the field, we got a peek into how the game has changed heading into the tournament. Here’s what you need to know.

The cards

Commentators were surprised to see the number of Ironbeak Owls in play at the event, with some decks running multiple copies of the card. At a cost of two mana, the 2/1 stats aren’t particularly impressive. But the card’s ability to silence has led to it playing a pivotal role in some games.

It has also helped to justify the inclusion of Mortal Coil in some Warlock decks, as the prevalence of Ironbeaks provides a reliable target for the one-damage spell to activate its card draw ability.

Then there’s Loatheb, the legendary card that was introduced during the Curse of Naxxramas expansion. The undead monster offers a big body on the board, but also delivers a masive extra cost—five mana—to opponents whenever they cast a spell. That combo has made Loatheb an attractive option since its release. 

The Curse of Naxxramas expansion also brought us the powerful Sludge Belcher. While the card is played at a higher mana cost than the Sen’jin Shieldmastar, it brings an added benefit: Upon its death, it spawns a 1/2 slime with taunt. That means you have two sequential taunting minions with taunt, making the card an easy choice for competitive decks.

One of the more unique cards in the Hearthstone, Lord Jaraxxus, played a critical role in some matches. The nine mana Warlock class card takes over for the player’s hero when it’s played, making for a big change during any game. Hearthstone designer Ben Brode seemed to particularly enjoy his presence, delivering a solid impression of the character whenever he appeared on the broadcast.

The decks

The death of the Miracle Rogue has been greatly exaggerated. After Blizzard nerfed the Leeroy Jenkins card by increasing its cost, Miracle Rogue players simply started using Malygos again. The legendary dragon provides a bonus of five to spell power, allowing for deadly combinations when played properly. Still, while Rogues proved to still have a presence, they certainly weren’t as common as they once would have been.

Two of the most common decks during the tournament’s opening weekend were Zoo and Handlock, a pair of variants on the Warlock class. The former is all about constant card draw and aggression, while the latter is about using the Warlock’s card draw hero power to build up a strong hand of cards and play big minions that capitalize on it.

The Priest, long considered one of the weakest classes in Hearthstone, has seen a resurgence lately, and that showed in the tournament. A shifting metagame and additions like that of the powerful Dark Cultist class card have made Priests a legitimate threat.

While Priests might have made a comeback, only two Paladin decks showed up. This was still better the Mage class, which only appeared in the hands of Jeffrey “Tarei” Liu. But while Liu is the only person representing the class, he’s managing to make it work, coming up victorious with his Freeze Mage deck.

And while there have been plenty of Hunters as was widely expected, their successes haven’t been as numerous as some prognosticators had predicted prior to last weekend. This could just be a representation of the small sample size effect. Each game of Hearthstone played on this stage seems huge, when really it takes many games for meaningful trends to emerge and be confirmed.

Still, those individual games seem huge because they truly are. With a $250,000 prize pool on the line, every draw of a card could mean the difference between an early exit and a big check. So when it comes time for the final, you can be sure that both participants will be sweating it out.