Recap: Blizzcon World Championships – Opening Weekend

The biggest Hearthstone tournament to date in terms of Prize Pool kicked off just this past weekend, and there were some amazing moments, some great laughter and high level plays!

Hey all,

Today, I’m looking back on the Blizzcon World Championships Opening Weekend.

The biggest Hearthstone tournament to date in terms of Prize Pool kicked off just this past weekend, and there were some amazing moments, some great laughter (Thanks Ben Brode!) and some incredible high level competitive Hearthstone.

Let’s dig in and see what went down!

Blizzcon World Championships – Group Stage

Location: Burbank, California

Prize Pool: $250,000

Competitors: 16

Winner: TBD

Hot Players: Strifecro, Kaor, TiddlerCelestial, Kranich

Casters: Frodan, Artosis, Ben Brode and Guest Casters

This first stage of the tournament was held in Burbank, California and showcased the group stages of Blizzcon.

Last year, Blizzcon for Hearthstone was purely an invitational meant to draw audiences’ attention to the game by inviting popular streamers and personalities.

This year, Blizzcon is all about the competition and the 16 players who qualified went through a number of tough challenges to even make it this far.

Here are the main talking points from the opening weekend.

Talking Points

  • Warlock dominance continues with 14 out of 16 players choosing to bring it.
  • Zoo and Handlock equally represented among Warlock builds.
  • Hunter showing great form and winning a lot of key games.
  • Tarei is the only player to bring Mage to the tournament.
  • Strifecro’s Zoo deck wins him 4 games and puts him in the top 8.
  • Amazing series between Kolento and Strifecro in Group D.
  • Dramatic end to Firebat vs Kranich including a missed lethal.
  • Breakout performances from Kaor and Kranich.
  • Ben Brode does LORD JARAXXUS!!!

Tournament Format

The Blizzcon World Championships used the default Best of 5, one class ban system that has become the standard for competitive Hearthstone.

Unlike other tournaments though, this system is enforced for the group stage matches as well.

Best of 5, one class ban

This is the default go-to for competitive HS.  Best of 5, 3 decks, 1 ban. It’s pretty standard and is used for tournaments all over.

Today, I want to talk about tournament atmosphere and offline vs online tournaments.


Tournament atmosphere is something that is rarely discussed when it comes to competitive Hearthstone.

A lot of the discussion inevitably goes to the decks that people play, the metagame and the personalities of the players, but the little things make a difference too.

One of these, is how the tournament itself is held. Is it offline, online? Do the players see each other?

There was some interesting analyses between games by Frodan about how Strifecro would look at Kolento sitting across from him before he made any of his plays try and gauge his reaction.

It was some next level stuff and although there was no discernible advantage that I could make out from that, maybe Strifecro knew something more just by watching his teammate play.

The offline human interaction element is really interesting to me, and it’s what makes Hearthstone more akin to poker than say a game like Starcraft that’s much more mechanical.

I really liked how Blizzard incorporated the Fireside Gathering atmosphere to the tournament with the two players playing on tablets sitting opposite each other with a fire crackling in the background. It sets the right feel and makes each player have another element to work with – the reaction of your opponent.

Online vs Offline

Hearthstone is a digital game, and Blizzard have no plans to port it to a physical set. Even so, offline tournaments have really risen in popularity lately vs the traditional online ones.

There are pros and cons to each. Online tournaments tend to be faster played, more quickly assembled and easier to organize.

Offline tournaments meanwhile have the benefit of having all the participating players in one area so run smoother, disputes are handled better because both sides are present and policed, and it adds that extra human element to the competition.

I haven’t had the fortune yet to play a competitive Hearthstone game in an offline setting, but I imagine that they are incredibly fun and having the human interaction makes for some more intricate mindgames.

Alright let’s get back into the Hearthstone part of it and the meta!

Meta Analysis

All the players here seem pretty intent on bringing decks that they feel counters the tournament meta rather than simply bringing their own innovative ideas.

This meta seems to revolve primarily around Hunter and Warlock. Every player has tailored their decks to either counter Hunter or plans to straight up ban it.

Warlock meanwhile was a pretty important threat that needed to be eliminated in most series. Often, the Warlock player be it Zoo or Handlock was able to take a few games if it ran into favorable matchups.

There were some interesting choices within the preexisting archetypes though. The most obvious variance is in Miracle Rogue builds.

Firebat ran a southsea-deckhand + faceless-manipulator variant while Nicolas chose to run a malygos version that’s popular in Asia.

Hunter decks seemed to add a little more meat than usual by including sludge-belchers and snake-traps rather than the more aggressive explosive-trap and unleash-the-hounds variant.

Druid decks seemed to be more trending towards the faster double combo versions rather than slower ramp variants, and Priests were almost exclusively slow, controlling types.

Overall, decks seem to trend towards mid-range types with solid win percentages overall rather than trying to setup with matchup dependent decks like Freeze Mage (Tarei aside).

Here are the overall numbers for each class:

Warlock – 14

Shaman – 10

Hunter – 9

Priest – 9

Rogue – 7

Warrior – 7

Druid – 5

Paladin – 2

Mage – 1

Notable Deck

Strifecro turned heads this weekend by upsetting Kolento and strolling through his first game by 3-0ing with Zoo.

This deck featured some unusual cards but was otherwise a pretty standard Undertaker zoo deck.

It has a ton of deathrattle minions like leper-gnome, haunted-creeper and nerubian-egg.

It also runs a bunch of card buff minions like abusive-sergeant and has doomguard as a finisher.

The interesting tech cards here are ironbeak-owl and arcane-golem.

Strifecro made this Zoo deck a bit more aggressive this way while having Owl as a silence to get through taunts.

Lastly, loatheb has been included in this Zoo which seems to be a tournament meta choice. It acts as lockdown and prevents opponents from clearing the board as well as setting up for lethal.

Match of the Tournament

The standout game for me so far in the tournament was the final game between RunandGun and Frozen Ice.

In a Priest vs Handlock game, RunandGun had all the momentum going into the late game, but for some reason decided not to attack into the Handlock, afraid of molten-giants.

The result was a game that was extremely drawn out and won in the end by a clutch Harrison Jones play and some good fortune.

It was incredibly tense and a fitting way to cap off the opening weekend.

Biggest Takeaway

Who am I kidding? It has to be Ben Brode’s laugh! All jokes aside, this tournament was really fun to watch, expertly cast, and promises more excitement.

The big thing for me in this tournament, is the sheer fun of it. With the interviews, the commentary from Artosis and Frodan, the enthusiasm of Ben Brode, it makes for some really enjoyable viewing.

Competitive Hearthstone is at its best when it’s more informal and more about the players going out and having fun. I truly believe that even as a competitive player myself.