Four months of high-level Hearthstone later, eight of the top players qualified from the HCT Fall Champion group stages to the Quarterfinals. With one match standing between each player and their chance to compete at the World Championship, it’s likely these will be the most definitive matches of their lives until January. In this article, we break down the winning move that showed TopDeck why these players deserved the win that day.
Bloodyface vs. Caimiao, 0-2
Odd Rogue vs. Zoolock
Of the two reverse sweeps Brian “Bloodyface” Eason would make that day, the match against Caimiao was the critical one, and his Odd Rogue needed to find the win against a wide Zoolock board to kick things off. With six mana, Bloodyface had the opportunity to combo a recently drawn SI:7 Agent with Tar Creeper to remove a buffed Lightwarden and prepare a defensible position. With 10 health, this was the line we expected. Instead, Bloodyface would combo his agent with Vicious Fledgling. He was able to take apart most of the board, and remove Caimiao’s Fungal Enchanter with his Hench-Clan Thug, leaving it as a 5/2 against only a librarian on the other side of the board.
What made this play so strong was Bloodyface acknowledging the inevitability of the Warlock hero power, and choosing to take a line that had a chance to end the game rather than prolong it. This decision was made easier by a Myra’s Unstable Element in hand and a weaker Zoo board, as well as seeing one copy of Saronite Chain Gang discarded by a Soularium from an earlier turn. Nevertheless, this play represented a classic case of prioritizing winning the game over surviving the next turn. The following turn, he removed Caimiao’s Tar Creeper with his Poisoned Dagger and SI:7 Agent to pile on the damage with his Vicious Fledgling, ending the game two turns later.
BloodTrail vs. Tyler, 0-0
Shudderwock Shaman vs. Deathrattle Hunter
The first game of the series had reached the late game phase; Wu “BloodTrail” Zong-Chang’s turn began with a Hagatha online and a Grumble ready to receive the Zola treatment, with Tyler ‘Tylerootd‘ Hoang Nguyen standing by, poised with a King Krush and Carniverous Cube full of Devilsaur Eggs. At a precarious 13 health, BloodTrail was equipped with the tools to swing the board back in his favor; an Earth Shock for the one-health Cube, and Hex for the 8/8 King Krush. With Keleseth-buffed Lifedrinker, Grumble, Glacial Shard, and room for Zola, BloodTrail even had the option to begin making serious dents in Tyler’s life total, with the possibility of ending the game before Shudderwock became relevant.
Instead, BloodTrail traded his 8-attack Grumble into the King Krush, holding on to Hex for a crucial turn. He recognized that there was the potential for another wave of big threats Tyler could use to deal the remaining 13 damage. BloodTrail was able to respond to Tyler’s top-decked Kathrena Winterwisp with a Hex and a Bloodlust from Hagatha to regain board control. This put Tyler in an even more precarious position than taking eight damage the previous turn, forcing him to either draw Deathstalker Rexxar to close the game against an opponent who had board control. Against a developed board state like BloodTrail’s at this stage of the game, Deathstalker Rexxar was seeing diminishing returns as the only remaining win condition. In the final turn, all Tyler had were a Hunter’s Mark and a Carniverous Cube in hand, with five cards remaining in his deck against BloodTrail’s Grumble-occupied board and a hand full of Hagatha spells.
The conservative line was rewarded with a replay on the stream between games, with Admirable highlighting how holding on to that Hex for the next turn’s Kathrena Winterwisp was what earned BloodTrail this decisive victory, setting him on the path to a 3-0 win and a well-deserved qualification to the HCT World Championship.
Justsaiyan vs. Sintolol, 0-1
Malygos Druid vs. Odd Rogue
David “Justsaiyan” Shan’s opening hand of two Wild Growths and Nourish propelled him to a 9-mana turn against Thomas “Sintolol” Zimmer’s Dire Mole, 5/5 Hench-Clan Thug, and a recently played Giggling Inventor. In response, Justsaiyan had the opportunity to coin out the Ultimate Infestation to remove the greatest threat on the board, while developing a threat of his own. At 16 health, this would also have gained him a comfortable amount of armor to invest mana into cycling for greater removal options. A greater amount of armor could have been gained with playing Malfurion the Pestilent, which presented favorable late-game options.
Instead, he opted to play Spreading Plague, buffing two of the Scarab Beetles with a banana each (courtesy of an earlier King Mukla by Sintolol). What this accomplished was Sintolol removing Scarabs while whittling down his own board, to a point where Swipe would have represented a huge swing to Justsaiyan’s favor. It’s likely that Justsaiyan anticipated the buffed 6/6 Hench-Clan Thug swinging into the 2/6 Scarab, presenting the best Swipe target while further reducing Sintolol’s board integrity. By holding on to the coin, Justsaiyan was able to pair the Swipe with his Death Knight, opting to summon two Frost Widows (poisonous spiders) to further threaten any chance Sintolol had to develop a substantial enough board to end the game. The spiders also gave Justsaiyan more freedom to cast Ultimate Infestation the following turn, safely closing out the game with his health and board superiority.
These factors, along with the fatigue damage after casting Myra’s Unstable Element and a lack of Leeroy Jenkins, forced a concede from Sintolol, thus tying up the series. Losing this game would have otherwise meant Justsaiyan facing against Shudderwock Shaman up to three times, which despite being favorable Justsaiyan, would have prolonged Sintolol’s opportunities to win the series.
Ultimate Infestation has enough impact to force big swings on its own, but Justsaiyan resisted this temptation and set up a line of play that more effectively shut out Sintolol from the game. The ability to consider a wide range of options and identify the most strategically advantageous play is one of the qualities Hearthstone audiences will expect to see more of from World-class contenders.
Languagehacker vs. RENMEN, 2-1
Shudderwock Shaman vs. Malygos Togwaggle Druid
Mihai “Languagehacker” Dragalin had five cards remaining. Among them were the critical Grumble and the second Saronite Chain Gang draws that would have made his Shudderwock combo more likely to go off. Zola the Gorgon and a Saronite from earlier in the game were the only means of keeping his combo alive. Though he sat at a comfortable thirty health, RENMEN had both a Ghoul Infestor from an Ultimate Infestation and an Arcane Tyrant, as well as one durability remaining on his Twig of the World Tree. Languagehacker faced the possibility of either getting bursted down for an incredible amount of damage with Malygos and RENMEN’s board state, or lose the most relevant combo piece in his deck the following turn.
With 11 cards remaining in RENMEN’s deck, Languagehacker took a game-winning risk and played his Shudderwock. What made the move rewarding were the two Glacial Shards that were also played from earlier in the game, freezing both the face and the Ghoul. This denied the Twig of the World Tree from activating that turn, which may have otherwise allowed RENMEN to steal Languagehacker’s Grumble and very likely bring the game to a 2-2. Had this been the case, Languagehacker would have been forced to play Shudderwock Shaman against RENMEN’s more favored Deathrattle Hunter.
The ability to recognize what plays had to be made in a given game state was one that Languagehacker demonstrated a mastery over with this critical, calculated risk.
There were some big developments following this weekend’s tournament. The HCT Fall Championship crowned Justsaiyan as the second ever 2-Star Master, and the first representing the Americas region. BloodTrail will only need four points to achieve 2-Star Master to do the same for the Asia region. With the October Balance patch launching on the 18th, we can expect to see a shake up of the competitive meta leading up to next weekend’s HCT Oakland. Regardless how pro players adjust to the new meta, we can look forward to seeing Bloodyface, BloodTrail, Justsaiyan and Languagehacker competing on Hearthstone’s biggest stage as the most recent four players to have qualified for the HCT World Championship.