The Hearthstone World Championship is in the books and a new champion has been crowned. It's Chen "tom60229" Wei Lin, who survived a brutal five-game series with Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang and came back from 0-2 down to win the championship.
After watching four days of Hearthstone at its absolute top level, Shacknews has a few takeaways from the past weekend's action that can apply to players of all skill levels and spectators of all stripes. Let's take a look at some of the event's biggest winners and losers.
WINNER: Fr0zen and Sintolol's Control Mage
While the Hearthstone Summer Championship was filled with Priests, Druids, Rogues, and Warlocks, only two players thought to bring along a Mage. They were Fr0zen and Thomas "Sintolol" Zimmer, both bringing a variation of the Control Mage. While Fr0zen brought along the 2-cost Medivh's Valet, Sintolol thought a little bigger and packed in Medivh, the Guardian and Dragoncaller Alanna.
Both Mages paid huge dividends for both players, managing to keep pace with the Tempo Rogue, wipe out aggro opponents, and outlast the Highlander Priest. Frost Lich Jaina proved invaluable, allowing both players to bring out new Water Elementals and keep their life totals refreshed. The wild card was Skulking Geist, which stopped Jade Druids in their tracks and allowed the Mage to win the long game.
With Mages proving to be so strong, it was no surprise that Fr0zen and Sintolol put on the single best game of the weekend. But let's touch on that in more detail a little later.
LOSER: Kolento and Neirea's Tempo Rogue
Tempo Rogue actually had a pretty good weekend, overall. Prince Keleseth was good for buffing up minions, while Elven Minstrel proved invaluable for keeping hands replenished. Rogue was never short on tools and would often ride to victory. Well, it did for most players.
Unfortunately, Alexandr "Kolento" Malsh and Eugene "Neirea" Shumilin's Tempo Rogues mostly came up on the losing end of bad matchups with Aggro Druids and Highlander Priests. This was mostly the result of some bad luck and some bad draws. While Neirea was on the wrong end of a reverse sweep with Tempo Rogue, some of those matchups could have easily gone the other way.
But while their Tempo Rogue makeup is pretty standard, this loss may get both players back in the lab and potentially tinkering with their decks. Kolento, specifically, saw first-hand what a tweaked Tempo Rogue is capable of, as JasonZhou skillfully used Sonya Shadowdancer to trade in multiple Saronite Chain Gang minions, allowing him to reinforce his board with multiple 1/1 Taunts.
INCOMPLETE: Ant's Spiteful Summoner Priest
Recall that Anthony "Ant" Trevino's Spiteful Summoner Priest was on our list of decks to watch for at the Hearthstone World Championship. It was one of the only Priests at the event that deviated from the Highlander Priest deck type and, in fact, the only Priest that utilized the aggro Priest style that's currently all over the Ranked ladder. Seeing it on a competitive stage was going to be quite the treat.
Unfortunately, Ant's opponents saw this Priest for the threat that it was. Both Aleksey "ShtanUdachi" Barsukov and Ryan "Purple" Murphy-Root made sure to ban Ant's Priest and since Ant went two and out, it meant the Spiteful Summoner Priest never made it to the stage. This won't be the last anyone sees of this deck type, though. In fact, there's a good chance it'll get its day sooner than later after the next Standard rotation. Speaking of which…
WINNER (for now): Highlander Priest
Highlander Priest was all over the HCT Summer Championship and has been an utter terror in competitive circles for its potential to do heavy damage and execute one-turn kills in full Exodia-like fashion. That was on display once again at the Hearthstone World Championship, with a majority of the 16 players bringing the Highlander Priest to the competition. Look at how SamuelTsao was able to send Kolento home in a single turn, despite Kolento managing to armor up to over 13.
Only the Control Mage matchup truly proved problematic for the Highlander Priest, mainly because Frost Lich Jaina was constantly able to refresh the Mage's life total with Lifesteal Elementals and keep the Priest at bay with Arcane Artificer and Ice Block. But the Control Mages present at the event were few and far between. At most, the deck was faced with minor setbacks, but it proved to be a consistent source of power throughout the weekend. Even when it didn't look like there was a one-turn kill on the board, the Priest would often come through, as shown here when Kim "Surrender" Jungsoo stopped to do some on-the-spot math.
But while Highlander Priest proved dominant in Amsterdam, this will likely be the last major HCT tournament in which it will rule. When the 2018 HCT season kicks off, a new Standard will take over and both Raza the Chained and Kazakus are set to vanish into Wild. Unless replacements are on the horizon, the Priest game will change significantly in the next couple of months.
LOSER: Murloc Paladin
There weren't a lot of Murlocadins at the Hearthstone World Championship, but the ones that were present often swung and missed. The strategy was solid enough. Rely on board presence and go for the face as often as possible, utilizing Murloc synergies for maximum attack power. Then the idea becomes to use cards like Call to Arms to fill the board, while using minions like Knife Juggler and Corridor Creeper to take advantage of the high numbers.
The problem was that the deck quickly ran out of steam. Ant had a full board at one point, staring down ShtanUdachi. But Spreading Plague constantly proved to be the perfect counter to zoo decks, giving Murlocadin opponents ample time to clear the board. Whereas Aggro Druids can deal with setbacks by playing cards like Living Mana, the Murloc Paladin often had no such Plan B and would face defeat as soon as they lost the numbers game. The Murloc Paladin looked especially lost on the first day, as Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen futilly tried to score at least one win with it in his elimination matchup with Jon "Orange" Westberg. It came up completely empty and Hoej went three and out.
Only OmegaZero found success with the Murloc Paladin, looking particularly sharp on the third day with the Murlocadin's numbers outperforming Fr0zen's Control Mage. But following his eventual win in that series, Fr0zen noted in the subsequent press conference that while he had originally planned to bring a Murloc Paladin himself, he ultimately found that it couldn't withstand tempo matchups.
WINNER: Spreading Plague
Remember when Spreading Plague used to cost 5 mana? Despite getting hit with the nerf bat, Spreading Plague not only saw a lot of play at the Hearthstone World Championship, there were several instances where it single-handedly swung games. Just ask Ant, whose Paladin had ShtanUdachi's Druid dead to rights during the Friday group stages. Then this happened.
For Jade Druid players, the spell proved effective against its aggro counterparts. The biggest example came on Saturday when eventual Hearthstone World Champion tom60229 dropped a Spreading Plague as a direct counter to SamuelTsao's Living Mana. The wall was insurmountable and stopped the Aggro Druid in its tracks.
Even with the more expensive cost, Spreading Plague has remained an invaluable defensive spell and was played all the way up through the final series. It's a spell that will definitely remain a regular piece of the Druid's arsenal both in the next competitive season and across the Ranked ladder.
LOSER: Stolen Death Knights
There were a couple of instances where the tables seemingly turned, with Priest and Rogue card effects resulting in stolen Death Knight cards. This could have led to a couple of epic comebacks, but unfortunately, the power of a Death Knight by itself isn't always enough to win a game. It often needs other class cards to support it.
Surrender's Tempo Rogue pulled a Malfurion the Pestilent off of a Swashburglar during his semifinal match with tom60229. He played it as a Hail Mary, but the Druid Death Knight ultimately served to work against the South Korean player. Facing down a row of massive Jade Golem bodies, Surrender drew a Southsea Deckhand that could have been helpful, but because the Druid Death Knight's Hero Power doesn't count as a weapon, the Pirate didn't have its Charge ability. Surrender wound up conceding the game on that same turn, en route to a four-game semifinal loss.
Meanwhile, let's revisit that Fr0zen/Sintolol matchup, where Fr0zen's Control Mage faced Sintolol's Combo Priest. Sintolol's Priest pulled a Frost Lich Jaina off of a Drakonid Operative. With Fr0zen's Skulking Geist eliminating the Inner Fire/Divine Spirit combo, Sintolol played the Mage Death Knight on the next turn and turned the deciding fifth game completely on its head. While this matchup was much closer, without the Mage's burst spells to complement the Death Knight, Sintolol ultimately fell after both he and Fr0zen had drawn all their cards. It was a memorable last stand for Germany's own, concluding one of the most exciting series of the weekend.
What were some of your favorite moments of the Hearthstone World Championship? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments.