By dantey 3 Comments
On Tuesday, September 30 I stumbled upon a post on liquidhearth.com about a Fireside Gathering being organized here, in Latvia. I was surprised to learn about it, since I given up hope to attend one. For those of you who don't know, Fireside Gatherings are community organized LAN events, where, by playing Hearthstone, you could get an exclusive card back. In other words, it is just an excuse to hang out with other Hearthstone players. This event, as many of it's kind, was also a tournament.
The tournament would take place in Riga, our countries capital, on 4th of October and the attendance fee would be just 3 EUR. While all of that sounded great, during the summer I started to fell of Hearthstone and by early August I have stopped playing it completely. In order to compete at any decent level I had to get back immediately, since I had only 4 days.
On Tuesday I didn't get to play much, because of the late hour, but it was clear that I was rusty. Wednesday and Thursday brought another revelation: my favorite mage deck was no longer viable. Curse of Naxxramas and the recent patch changed the meta. The classes and decks I felt most comfortable against dropped in popularity and were replaced by a new wave of control warriors and midrange priests. These priests would prove to be a pain in the ass and a once OK matchup became something I could rarely win. During these days another thing became clear: I needed to finish Naxxaramas in order to get some new cards.
Midday on Friday I purchased the remaining three levels of Naxx, got all of the new cards (except for the paladin one) and continued my practicing. All of the remaining day was spent on building new decks and testing them out. Now, before I continue, let me state that I don't have that many of the top tier cards. Of all the legendary cards in the game I have the ones they give for finishing levels in Naxx, Alexstarza, Archmage Antonidas, Bloodmage Thalnos, Captain Greenskin and Malygos. No Cairne, no Rag, no Sylvanas. None of the good and popular legendary cards one would encounter the most on the ladder. But I had to make due with what I had.
The first deck I made was a token druid that kind of worked. Then I tested my old midrange shaman deck and found it to be still good. I played couple of matches with a warlock zoo deck and, well...zoo was still zoo. All I did to it is I added couple of new minions. I tried to build my own priest deck, but I was lacking a lot of the key cards to make it work, so I had to scrap that idea. After exhausting what I could do on my own, I started searching the internet for new deck ideas.
Druid, warlock, paladin and warrior control decks were out of my reach for lack of needed legendaries and epics. Somehow the idea of trying the new miracle rogue decks did not cross my mind, so that left me with mage, shaman and hunter. As I said, my shaman deck was fine, leaving me to focus on two classes. The first one I tried was a hyper aggro mage deck made popular by the player TheFishou after he used it in a tournament. I won my first 3 games with it and lost the 4 next ones. Maybe I got lucky in the beginning and was just bad with it or maybe I needed more games with it to find out how good it is. All I knew I did not have that much time and aggro can be a coin flip, while I fancy myself control type decks.
After that I tried two midrange hunter decks. The first one was Naiman's hunter deck and with it I won 2 games and lost 5 (I guess it is because I lacked snake traps). The second deck was Spark's midrange hunter and it yielded much better results. I also felt more comfortable with it, so I decided to use it during the tournament (I would not need it). The last deck for the day would a secrets mage and it proved to be quite a nice deck. In my last match of the day, I won against a priest and that made me feel good. In total, I devoted about 12 hours to Hearthstone that day.
I woke up on Saturday at 9:30 AM, did my morning routine, played two matches of Hearthstone, lost both of them with my shaman deck, said to myself "That is enough warm-up" and left the apartment. I went and voted in parliamentary elections before hoping on a train to Riga. At about 11:40 I was at the tournament held in place called Dreamforge. Now, Dreamforge is a store I did not think could exist in Latvia. On sale there were WarHammer 40K sets and Pathfinder sets, they host different events like this one or an upcoming Netrunner regional. I think they also sell anime and help people with cosplay.
But they just hosted the Hearthstone tournament, because the main organizer was a NGO with the name of Pentaclick eSports that, among other things, runs League of Legends tournaments. Learning about them, Dreamforge and all the people that took part in this tournament showed me that there is a nerd culture in this country. Our small, post USSR state country of 2 million people. That revelation was awesome.
At the tournament I met two guys I knew from the university, Junk and Bocmanis, so I hang out most of the time with them. They were watching the League of Legends world championship. All of the players were dived in 8 groups with 3,4 people in them. I was in group D, while Junk and Bocmanis were in groups B and C respectively. The group games were best-of-one games and only one player would advance form the group. Before all game sets, both players can ban against the other player one hero class from the nine in the game. Junk won his group 3-0 and so did Bocmanis. At about 2 PM my turn to play came.
As I sat down in the small room with a big table (that took most of the space) and 6 computers, nervousness kicked it. My shaking hands made a challenge out typing the answer to a Battlenet security question. Thankfully, once my first match started, all of it toned down I could play with little trouble. I banned priest for my first opponent and she banned paladin. My opponent was a paladin that tried to be a control deck but ended up being midrange, since I noticed cards that were usually used by players with small card collections. I won that game using my shaman deck with little trouble. One thing though, as I was executing my winning move, my shakiness came back.
The second game was against practically the same paladin deck. I banned priest once more and the guy banned warlock, but I was not going to use my zoo deck. I once again used my shaman and won that also. This match was streamed to the main waiting room for everyone to see (so would be all of my remaining matches), so my game finishing nervousness found a new buddy in performance anxiety. As I was waiting for my third group stage match, I learned that the fourth player in group D was moved into a different group. That meant that I was getting out of my group and into the quarter-finals.
The tournament bracket was set up that A group winner would be facing group C winner. So group victor from group B would be playing against me. If you recall, Junk won group B. Out of Bocmanis and Junk, I would call Junk the better player. He is very calm, is not super emotional and likes control style decks. His best deck is his paladin control, so before our best-of-three I banned his paladin. He knew about my success with shaman and I was forbidden to use it. The next best thing was my secrets mage.
First game, my mage against his control druid. I was doing a pretty good job of denying him board presence. Loatheb and Counterspell helped me against any spells he might use against me. Then he put down Ancient of War in taunt mode. That would have been quite a challenge to overcome, but I top decked Polymorph. The rest of the game was short and I was leading 1-0. Next match, I stay with my mage, he changes to control warrior. For the first part of the match, everything went the same as against the druid deck. Then he puts down a Sludge Belcher. I could use my minions on the field to kill it, but that would leave me with an empty board. I thought of using Fireball, but decided against it and used Polymorph instead. Two turns later he puts down another Sludge Belcher and forces me to use the Fireball. Later in the game I put down a secret, Duplicate. He tries to play around it by thinking its either Mirror Entity or Counterspell. He realizes that's neither but fails to guess that is it Duplicate. He kills my Sunwalker and as a result gives me two new ones. That won me the second game and a spot in the semi-finals.
My opponent for the next set was Bocmanis, who won his quarter-finals with a 2-0 also. I don't remember much from those games. The things I do remember is that he banned my shaman, I banned his priest. He used a paladin deck and a hunter deck against my mage deck, but I won both of those. I do remember that my secrets were a problem for his hunter. The last move of the game was him trying to draw a card with flair, but that got Counterspelled and his hand was left with no cards to play. I took the headphones off and heard Junk say form the other room: "Cancer Mage!" I laughed.
Winning the two only people I know in this tournament kind of sucked, but that meant I was in the finals, something I did not expect to accomplish. As I was waiting for the finals, I watched the second semi-finals in the waiting room. It was a hand-lock against an aggro mage deck, similar to the one I tried on Friday. The mage got the most insane top decks I have seen, bursting down his opponent with Mana Wyrms, Frostbolts and Icelances. That was the second game the mage won and he was my opponent for the final set of games. Before that though, a best-of-three took place for the third place, which Bocmanis unfortunately lost. Here I must say that Bocmanis had less cards than I did and the highest rank he ever got on the ladder was 13. I was happy to see him make it that far.
I was waiting for the finals, I was talking to Junk about what to ban and he said: "You can ban whatever you want, he seems the kind of player that is good with everything." That wasn't something I wanted to hear, since I could not say that about myself and relied on two deck to carry me. But then I remembered an ex StarCraft player, Day, and he said about facing though opponents: "It is not about who they are, but hat they play." I reminded myself that and went into the final game of the day (if you have 2 hours to spear, I recommend you watching this video of Day talking about his life of StarCraft).
By this point it was about 7 PM. We both picked hunter as our ban, though it turned out my opponent, Harijs, did not like hunter decks and did not use them. Harijs was taking his sweet ass time to get started. He was thinking what to ban, changing some of the cards in his deck (we did not need to submit decks before the tournament and could switch at any point) and just thinking a lot before the game. At 7:10 PM we started our first game in a best-of-five. My mage lost that one to his shaman and it was not even close by the end of that match. In the last few turns I was left in a very defensive position hoping for a miracle that never came.
Game 2. He made some changes to his shaman and used it again. I chose my shaman. I won that game by having a better board presence then he did. Game 3, he switches to a priest deck and I stick to shaman. I win that game also by having a better control over the board than he had. Game 4. Changes again from his side, the same matchup and everything goes the same way, except in reverse. I get a bad hand in the beginning and never get the chance to come back. He wins it and it is 2-2.
Last game of the day, he makes changes again (as I look back I start to doubt that those were real changes and not a way to psych me out), sticks to his priest and faces my mage deck. By this point I felt confident in myself. I knew that, if I can have better board control than he has, I can win this, so I was relieved to play against his priest for the third time in a row. My secrets keep him guessing and Sylvanas proves to be little of trouble for me to handle. It is my turn 10, I have three minions on the board and I draw a Fireball. I hit his face with my guys and all I had to do is to use my Fireball and Frostbolt to finish him off. As I was doing it, the shakes were as strong as ever. But after casting my last spell of the game and winning the first ever tournament I attended to, I let out a growling shout as a way of energy release.
Man, that some way to spend a Saturday. My body has not pumped so much adrenalin in a long time. During the midday, my friend texted me to find out what I planning to do in the evening. I had to call him back since I could not write a sms even if my life depended upon it. I will note, that despite all of it, I played some of the best Hearthstone matches I ever had played. As we delved deeper into the day, I got deeper into the zone. Long story short: if you have the chance, take part in a video game tournament. It is a ton of fun.
P.S. You can watch the final here.