The HCT Fall Championship is set to conclude later today, with the Top 8 playing for a $250,000 prize pool at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA. While only one player will walk away with the top prize, the top four players will receive an invite to play at the 2018 Hearthstone World Championship early next year. For the players in attendance this weekend, that's the bigger prize.
One of the players still alive and looking for his opportunity on the Worlds stage is David "JustSaiyan" Shan. JustSaiyan has been a part of the competitive Hearthstone scene dating back to the game's earliest days. After years in the scene, JustSaiyan is playing the best Hearthstone of his competitive career, coming away with victories at DreamHack Montreal, finishing runner-up at HCT Oslo, and finishing third at this year's PAX West GEICO Hearthstone Showdown. This year's HCT Fall Championship is one of the biggest tournaments of JustSaiyan's career, but he still found some time to sit down with Shacknews for a quick chat.
Among the topics JustSaiyan touches upon are the current Hearthstone meta, the process of deciding on decks for a big tournament like this one, the U.S. team's disappointing finish in this year's Hearthstone Global Games, and BlizzCon.
Shacknews: You've found a lot of success in 2018 compared to previous seasons. What do you feel has been the difference for you this year?
David "JustSaiyan" Shan: The team standings meant Tempo Storm came up with a more competitive roster. We picked up Muzzy [Muzahidul Islam] and Amnesiac [William Barton] this year. So at the start of the year, I felt like I was definitely the odd one out, a little less accolades than those two titans. There wasn't really a "try" anymore, I just had to either perform or not. So I was forced into that situation to take it as seriously as possible and, luckily, I had teammates that were able to pull me up with them.
Shacknews: On that note, when did you first start practicing with Muzzy and Amnesiac?
JustSaiyan: Amnesiac and I have known each other since 2014, which is kind of weird, because he was like 14 back then. (laughs) We've prepped for the 2015-16 winter preliminaries together. I was one game off and he made it through. We've been playing together for a long time.
Muzzy and I have been playing together a lot more this year. We've had exposure to each other plenty of times before, but practicing together really only began once the team was formed.
Shacknews: How have they helped you grow as a player?
JustSaiyan: It's more or less like I feel like I've become more well-rounded. I think before this, I really only liked to play this style of deck and I wouldn't play decks that would be considered too powerful if the style didn't fit me. Over the course of this year, I just grew more to play everything and try everything out.
Shacknews: In particular, you've been winning big at DreamHack events this year. I wanted to ask, what's the difference between playing at a DreamHack event and playing for an HCT tournament such as this one? Does your approach change?
JustSaiyan: The big difference is format. DreamHack is Last Hero Standing and Last Hero Standing, there's a little bit more of an edge, because players are less exposed to it, so they have less experience in figuring out what's optimal for them. Myself, I've done pretty well in LHS format throughout the years, so it's always a little bit easier to get back running on that track.
Shacknews: You're spending the first two days here playing online, one-on-one, but once the weekend hits, you're playing in front of an audience. As a pro player, what's the big difference between playing a more intimate, one-on-one online setting versus playing in front of people?
JustSaiyan: One thing Amnesiac likes to say is, "Square up!" It's kind of his go-to phrase. What it means for us is, just zoning in and forgetting about anything else except for the game. I think I've been able to do that in high-pressure situations and, hopefully, I'll be able to continue doing that after seeing a full audience live.
Shacknews: How did you decide on your decks? And what made you decide on the Quest Rogue over the Odd Rogue?
JustSaiyan: I know my opponents are able to scout my pretty easily. They've seen me bring Odd Rogue to three tournaments. The one time I did not bring, I also didn't bring Quest Rogue, I used an anti-control lineup and I decided to opt out of bringing Quest Rogue. To them, I think they're thinking, "It's pretty unlikely that this guy is going to bring Quest Rogue to the tournament, so we're going to prepare for Odd Rogue." I think they assume, at least, Quest Rogue is out of my range and that just kind of incentivized the brain. Because if that's not what they're expecting, then there's a chance that they have to ban it.
Shacknews: I don't remember if it was Frodan [Dan Chou] or [Brian] Kibler who pointed out that you hadn't brought Quest Rogue to these tournaments. Do you feel that your Quest Rogue stands up to the competition?
JustSaiyan: When I submitted the decks, no. I was not very confident. But then we had time in Singapore and Oslo to play with Hunterace [Casper Notto], Feno [Chris Tsako], and Muzzy a little bit. So I think I've gotten enough of an idea of all the matchups, so it's been a pretty helpful three or four days with some of the best Quest Rogue players, so I feel pretty confident.
Shacknews: Are there any matchups that you struggle with? Are there any decks that still give you trouble?
JustSaiyan: Some of the longer interactions, like Togwaggle Druid, Azalina in Warrior, mirrors, things like that, a lot of those games play out very differently, even though their primary win condition doesn't really change. So there's definitely some scenarios in there that you really haven't seen, right, because that matchup occurs so little in ladder or testing. There's definitely something in there that you just have to figure out, in terms of play, if you happen upon that matchup on the fly.
Shacknews: What are you feelings on the meta, compared to past expansions?
JustSaiyan: The current meta with Boomsday… the biggest issue has been that Quest Rogue has been somewhat dominant, even through past metas. Yeah, we have really good anti-aggro decks, but they still fall to the wayside against Quest Rogue in tournament play. So what you're seeing in tournaments is that they bring anti-control or aggro and if you bring any sort of middle ground, you're getting destroyed by both sides. For me, it eliminates an option in tournament, but on ladder, I don't think it's too much of a problem.
Shacknews: Looking back at HGG, it wasn't quite meant to be for the United States this year. What were some of the biggest challenges of that team format?
JustSaiyan: In HGG, just having four players on comms is a lot to deal with. I see teams doing a lot better when they have all four players together, just because they can point at things and figure things out. But for us, I think Fr0zen [Frank Zhang], Muzzy, myself, and Terrence ["TerrenceM" Miller], we've never really been in the same location. Most of the time, we weren't even in the same time zone. Some players were tired, some players were just waking up, and I don't think we were ever really at an optimal level. Throughout the last few weeks, looking back on it, there were a few small things we could have improved on. But it's just unfortunate, because it's so hard to be ready for HGG and everything else, so I think we had to sacrifice a little bit.
Shacknews: Who's your pick to win at BlizzCon?
JustSaiyan: I think Norway will do pretty well, just because Hunterace doesn't have Champs to focus on right now, so I'm pretty sure he'll put a lot of effort into HGG and it should pay off.<?p>
Shacknews: What are your hopes for BlizzCon, as far as what'll be announced for Hearthstone?
JustSaiyan: Hmm… [Blizzard] already said they were going to nerf a few cards. And do you know when the next expansion cycle?
Shacknews: Normally, around December. I'm just speculating, based on past years.
JustSaiyan: Hmm… so really, in terms of the nerfs, I hope there's some kind of a core change to Rogue. Something Kibler talked about a little bit was changing Preparation to read "Spells that cost (3) or less become (0)" so that you can't Prep the Quest, you can't Prep the Vanish, and it changes the way Quest Rogue plays without nerfing Quest Rogue, basically giving Rogue a different tool kit. Because Play Dead costs (1) mana, but Necrium Vial costs (5)? That's mainly because Rogue can Prep the Necrium Vial, right? So you have to limit its options a little bit. But if you change the way Prep works, Rogue's shell becomes a little bit different. It might be time to rework that. I'm hoping they announce something with Rogue and maybe something with Druid, as well.
The HCT Fall Championship is set to conclude later today and can be seen on the Hearthstone Twitch channel. Stay tuned to Shacknews, as we'll report on the results of the tournament as they come in.