The Hearthstone Championship Tour European Playoffs concluded today with Pavel ‘Pavel’ Beltukov defeating Amyks 3-1. This is Pavel’s fifth Hearthstone Premier Event win. Pavel brought Evolve Shaman, Demon Handlock, Highlander Priest and Jade Druid. Pavel’s success with that lineup is a testament to his skill, Highlander Priest and Demon Handlock can be very difficult to pilot. The HCT Europe Playoffs were the second professional event to take place after Knights of the Frozen Throne came out and the Meta here was peculiar.
Day 1, Don’t Get Cute
The major trend of Day 1 was everyone’s ban strategy. It was clear that Jade Druid was a requirement for each player to bring. At one point during day one the collective record of players that didn’t bring Druid was 12-22. Granted Druid was also banned in the vast majority of games played, only a handful of day 1’s 13 hour coverage featured a Jade Druid. Each time the player using Jade Druid wrecked his opponent but Jade Druid did lose a game or two. Those defeats were at the hands of other Jade Druids.
Given that each player was essentially handcuffed by Jade Druid it became much more important to balance their other three decks. Highlander Priest was one of the most successful decks of day one. Highlander Priest has the ability to deal with aggro decks with its plentiful removal. At the same time Highlander can also deal with control and midrange decks with a combination of Raza the Chained and Shadowreaper Anduin to burst down any opponent.
Hunter was the least represented class with only three players out of the 64 person field chose to bring a Hunter Deck. Rogue and Warlock were the next least represented Classes. Despite that representation I believe Warlock should see an uptick at HCT Asia-Pacific & HCT Americas after Pavel’s performance using Demon Handlock. The only thing keeping Demon Handlock back is the high skill floor to use the deck effectively. The remaining four classes were all well represented and three of those four actually had some diversity in the decks players brought to the event. Evolve Shaman was the only variant of Shaman at this event and Evolve Shaman generally underperformed for most players. It was interesting to see Taunt Quest Warrior was brought by so many players, especially considering how that deck is underperforming on the ranked ladder. Pirate Warrior was also very popular, almost half the field brought that deck. Mage and Paladin rounded out most player’s deck choices and generally performed well.
Going into day one everyone in the field knew that this event would be dominated by aggressive decks (and druid) and built their lineups as a result. I don’t think Taunt Quest Warrior will make any kind of resurgence on the ranked ladder but that deck surprised a lot of people this weekend. I had honestly forgotten how easily DIE, INSECT! (the hero power that Sulfuras gives after finishing the quest) can finish off games. The amount of pressure that constant eight damage per turn can do is impressive. It’s probably better that Ragnaros stay in Wild and in hindsight I agree with that decision from Blizzard. As the day wore on only eight players remained and their lineups were not all that different.
Day 2, No Druid’s Allowed
Jade Druid and Highlander Priest were brought by everyone in the top eight. Jade Druid was banned in every single series in the playoffs. It was unfortunate that these playoffs had to be played in the shadow of Jade Druid, that deck ruined every player’s ban strategy in the playoffs. Without being able to target ban opponents these playoffs became about who could utilize the rest of their line up to the greatest effect.
Watching professional Hearthstone players use Highlander priest is endlessly entertaining. Seriously though, Highlander Priest has a higher skill floor than most decks and since it’s a singleton deck Highlander is quite open to different tech cards being viable. It was also interesting to see how each player adapted when their Shadowreaper Anduin card was buried in their deck.
Six other decks comprised the lineups in the playoffs. Pavel was the only player who brought Evolve Shaman and made the top eight. His decision-making was on point but there’s always inherent RNG when using Evolve and Thrall, Deathseer. Taunt Quest Warrior was brought by half of the top eight. I am still surprised how well this deck performed; and how often the Warrior Quest was purposefully shuffled on turn one. In those instances it was more important for the player to simply outlast his opponent. Warrior is the best class for combating a deck that can only deal limited amounts of damage. Mage had an uneven showing in the top eight. Consensus opinion on Frost Lich Jaina was that while her effect can be great; in practice the best players know how to work around her power. Without being able to transition into the late game both Burn Mage and Freeze Mage found themselves struggling. Freeze and Burn Mage both seemed to disappoint during the playoffs. I don’t think either mage deck has a good chance playing Highlander. Most players also have far too much experience combating Freeze Mage; there’s no way to surprise your opponent with a Freeze Mage deck. Amyks was the only player to make top eight who brought Paladin. Paladin can be a surprisingly versatile deck and I believe the secrets from Hydrologist can give Control Paladin a special edge against a lot of different decks.
Boys of Summer
Pavel, Amyks, Oldboy and Orange have all qualified for the HCT Summer Championship. While it’s concerning that Druid had such an influence on the European Championship a few hours after Pavel claimed victory Ben Brode tweeted the following;
Thanks for the feedback regarding Druid. We’ve been considering options and should have more to share this week.
– Ben Brode @bdbrode
I have no idea what that means exactly. In the few games Druid had at this event I can’t point to just one card that’s the problem. Ultimate Infestation is fantastic but it usually requires Innervate or another form of Ramp to play. It’s possible Blizzard is considering nerfing Spreading Plague in order to give Druid a noticeable weakness to Aggro decks. With any luck Blizzard will enlighten everyone in time for the HCT Asia-Pacific Summer Playoffs on September 8th-9th.