Tournament Recap: WCA Hearthstone Tournament

Let's analyze the recent WCA Hearthstone tournament in China (the biggest tournament in history with a prize pool so far!) - the meta, decks and trends!

Hey all,

This is the first edition of a tournament recap  series I’ll be writing. Today, I’m taking a look at the WCA Hearthstone Tournament in China.

WCA Hearthstone Tournament

Location: China

Prize Pool: $195,000

Competitors: 33

Winner: LiBo

Casters: Kripparian and guests

WCA is to date the biggest Hearthstone tournament in terms of prize pool. The competition was also incredibly deep with some of the biggest Hearthstone pros taking part. Team Tempo Storm representatives TidesofTime, Hyped and Gaara all made appearances and GosuGamer’s top ranking player RDU competed and finished 4th.

The major talking point from the tournament was how the Chinese players matched up with the notable Western players from America and Europe. This was one of the biggest premier offline tournaments to date that featured players from all regions, and it was really interesting to look at what decks were brought from the competitors. Here are the major talking points from the tournament.

Talking Points

  • Aggro Warlock (Zoo) decks both made the final (LiBO and Tiddler Celestial)
  • Allegations of cheating/cards being called out
  • LiBo’s Shaman deck going 8-0 in the knockout rounds
  • Chaotic organization resulted in long breaks in play and only a few games being streamed in English via Kripp’s channel on Twitch.
  • Tournament format changing between rounds

Tournament Format

The WCA tournament employed a unique rules system which changed between rounds. Here’s how it worked.

Best of 3 blind pick in group stage, no bans

This was a controversial call for the tournament. Making the format a Best of 3 Blind Pick means that games in the group stage will go by much more quickly, but puts a lot of pressure on the players to get their first class choice correct. Without bans as well, it means that players will need to be really good at anticipating opponents’ deck choice and can lead to some one-sided contests before a card has even been played.

As an example, if Reynad picked Handlock into Kungen’s Hunter, that matchup is heavily favored for Kungen and going one game behind in a best of 3 in this format is a big disadvantage. You may be able to pull one back by counter picking, but the player who wins the first game is likely to come out on top in the final game because of a counter pick to a counter pick.

I don’t think this is a good format at all for Hearthstone to be played because of the nature of decks to counter each other. I think it was a mistake to host the group stage games this way, but was understandable in the interest of time.

Best of 5 in RO16/Quarterfinals, one class ban

This is more akin to the format we’re used to in North America. The class ban allows players to tailor their choices more to beat certain kinds of decks. Best of 5 gives more chances for a comeback, and this is as the standard ruleset for competitive Hearthstone.

This is not to say that it’s the best one however. There has been much discussion recently on whether class bans should be removed and if it’s widely agreed that all 9 classes are fairly equally balanced, perhaps removing class bans would lead to more diverse deck building where players are forced to make more well rounded decks.

It would also mean that players like Amaz who specialize in Priest will not have their best class banned consistently in tournaments.

Best of 7 in Semis/Finals, one class ban

Same as B05 but now Bo7.  I’m all in favor of longer series where players can really showcase their breadth of knowledge of the classes. It’s interesting though that Bo7s usually become about getting momentum with one deck and sweeping though. Personally, I think Bo5 is a sweet spot in terms of playing enough games to discern better deck builders and competitors without impinging on long match times.

Notable Deck

LiBo’s Shaman deck that swept the knockout rounds. The deck itself is a mid-range Shaman with lots of hard removal a lot like most standard Shaman builds.

Notable inclusions are two copies of unbound-elemental and sylvanas-windrunner.

The double azure-drake also was notable to enable the deck’s card draw and additional spell damage.

LiBo chooses to forgo mana-tide-totem in favor of more active minions like Unbound Elemental.

doomhammer and alakir-the-windlord represent the finishers of the deck.

Match of the Tournament

There were many really great games at the tournament. But in terms of high level play and excitement, Reynad’s Handlock against Hunter Ming’s Secret Mage deck was a standout. Reynad played brilliantly around secrets in an unfavored matchup to win the game with Leeroy Jenkins off a YOLO Tap.

Biggest Takeaway

This tournament went a long way to dispel the myth that the Chinese players and metagame is inferior. LiBo and Tiddler Celestial both played exceptionally to make it to the final defeating two of the West’s best in Gaara and RDU.

It also proved that aggro decks like Zoo are still really competitive even at a tournament level and this was recognized by its prominence at the Blizzcon NA Qualifiers – next up in my tournament recap sights!