Tournament Recap: Dreamhack Winter

Compared to the last Dreamhack, this one really upped the ante, and the playing field is arguably even more competitive than the Blizzcon World Championships.

As the professed last big tournament before the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, this tournament had a lot of expectations to live up to.

The last Dreamhack won by Thijs came in at a strange time just before Blizzcon and as a result had lower audience attention. This one really upped the ante, and the playing field is arguably even more competitive than the Blizzcon World Championships.

Let’s see what went down!

Dreamhack Winter

Location: Elmia, Jönköping, Sweden

Prize Pool: $25,000

Competitors: 32

Winner: Kolento

Hot Players: Strifecro, ThijsNL, Lifecoach

Casters: Frodan, Gnimsh, ThatsAdmirable

Dreamhack Winter made some notable changes from the last tournament held in Bucharest. Crucially, the playing field was increased from 16 to 32 and a lot more overseas players traveled to compete.

Despite there being a whole host of invited players, there were also 8 spots for qualifiers and some big names came out of there including Neirea, Dog and Faramir.

Here are the main talking points.

Talking Points

  • Kolento vs Strifecro – Series of the Tournament. Blockbuster game 4.
  • Strifecro’s Mage performs exceptionally.
  • ThijsNL comes within two games of defending his Dreamhack crown.
  • Triple Druid mirror in the final. Druid has the highest win rate of any class at the tournament.
  • Breakout/Standout tournaments for Cipher and Lifecoach.
  • Huge variety in playstyles – aggro, mid-range, anti-aggro.
  • Thijs’ Ragnaros shutting down Lifecoach.
  • Firebat sweeping through the groups, beating Strifecro along the way.
  • Good casting/commentary team, Viagame platform still not perfect.
  • Lots of group stage games not streamed and cannot be viewed.

Tournament Format/Discussion

Dreamhack Winter used the Best of 5, one class ban system that has become the standard for competitive Hearthstone.

They switched to a Best of 7 in the later rounds.

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.

Dreamhack decided to innovate though by allowing players to play the same class twice in the finals.

My tangent for this article is on consistency in the tournament scene with Dreamhack champion Kolento.

How does Kolento win so many tournaments?

This is the big question for most people in the competitive scene. How can a player get consistent results in tournament play?

Hearthstone is a game that has a lot of RNG elements that can skew games by sheer luck. Even in this tournament, we saw Thijs win a 50/50 Ragnaros dooming Lifecoach to eventual defeat.

So how does a player like Kolento win so many tournaments and get Rank 1 Legend on multiple servers so consistently?

Firstly, he’s a phenomenal game player. By that I mean he makes consistently good choices in a game situation.

Players often lament the fact that certain decks counter each other and this is true to an extent, but in even a 40/60 matchup, a player with more skill and more knowledge of the matchup can easily skew that back in their favor and get a winning record.

Kolento is definitely one of the players who exhibits this skill, and his ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations like Game 4 against Strifecro puts him in the elite of top Hearthstone pro gamers.

He’s also really good at playing the metagame.

Countering the Metagame

After his victory at Dreamhack, Kolento was interviewed by Frodan, Gnimsh and ThatsAdmirable on how he chose his decks.

His English isn’t very good unfortunately, but you can catch glimpses here and there of why he’s understanding the game better than everyone else out there.

I can’t find the VOD unfortunately for the post-match interview, but in short, here were the points he made on how he chose his lineup:

  • He wanted to have consistent decks with good all-around matchups.
  • He chose two mid-range decks to beat the controls and two controls to beat the aggros.
  • He did not want to lose to the anti-aggro decks and instead sought to beat them
  • He knew that since Firebat’s victory at Blizzcon that more people would be playing Zoo and Hunter so he teched against it as well.

Now, it’s not exactly rocket science to know that there would be more aggro decks brought to the tournament. All the players participating were aware and as a result brought their own anti-aggro decks.

Kolento went one step further, he knew that there would be those types of decks and instead sought to counter the counter. That’s metagaming at its finest.

Let’s take a look at where the meta ended up after Dreamhack.

Meta Analysis

Decklists from Dreamhack

Dreamhack was one of the most competitive and extensive tournaments ever held in Hearthstone.

It’s also likely to be the last one before the release of Goblins vs Gnomes so will probably be our final farewell to this metagame.

So what’s the craic?

  • Undertaker Hunter and Zoo are the gold standard in aggro decks.
  • Warlock still the overwhelming most popular class. 31 out of 32 players brought it,
  • Combo Druid has risen in popularity over Ramp and had the highest win rate of any deck in the tournament.
  • Loatheb still extremely popular to shut down game ending combos.
  • Control Warrior played by both finalists as a Hunter counter.
  • Still some innovation and new/interesting decks brought to the table.
  • Very few Paladins and Mages

Notable decks include:

  • Lifecoach’s Miracle Druid
  • Reynad’s Windspeaker Shaman
  • Strifecro’s Mage

The metagame right now is actually pretty darn good. There’s diversity in deck selection, and there’s innovation within those decks.

I like that mid-range/control is still the go-to for most players and that’s Hearthstone at its best in my opinion. Not that I don’t like aggro, but it makes games less interactive and makes for fewer choices for players thereby diluting the good from the best.

We’ll see though how the best adapt to the new cards though. The first few tournaments will really separate the players who truly understand Hearthstone mechanics from the ones who are merely good game players.

Notable Deck

This tournament’s deck highlight is Strifecro’s Mage.

Midrange secrets Mage has been experimented with in the past, but has rarely seen tournament success. Strifecro revived Mage in a big way with his interpretation.

The big winners in this deck are duplicate and ice-barrier. This deck is at its core a very defensive, reactive one.

It has early game in zombie-chows and unstable-ghouls which are both excellent against Hunter.

It also boasts the fearsome trio of 6 drops and two flamestrikes for superb board control.

The strategy of the deck is to survive the early game, duplicate super efficient mid-game minions and levy for control of the board winning in the late game.

The deck did brilliantly for Strifecro at the tournament before his ultimate defeat at the hands of Kolento in two truly astonishingly good games. This brings me to:

Match of the Tournament

Game 4 of the Dreamhack semi-finals – Strifecro (Mage) vs Kolento (Warrior).

This was unquestionably the best game of the tournament in my eyes. Perhaps the brilliance of this game was because it was contested between two decks that rarely meet in combat, but there was definitely more to it.

There were genuine mind games at work here. Both players played thinking 5 or 6 turns ahead to the inevitable fatigue and how they might be able to get that last bit of damage in to win.

It didn’t look winnable for a long time as Kolento, but with a will there’s a way.

Sit back and enjoy one of my all-time favorite tournament Hearthstone games in recent memory.

Biggest Takeaway

For me, Dreamhack Winter was all about saying our last goodbyes to this post-naxx metagame.

Goblins vs Gnomes is going to be released next week, and Hearthstone as we know it will not be the same. There are balance changes, a ton of new cards, and the metagame is going to develop in ways we couldn’t even imagine.

As far as tournaments go, this was up there as one of the most high-quality ones overall. Outstanding skill demonstrated from the players, superb production and casting, and overall just a really great tournament to enjoy as a viewer.

I hope tournament Hearthstone continues to be this exciting, and I’m absolutely frothing to check out the next big tournament and what decks these players will bring!



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