Artosis’ Road To Blizzcon

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When Hearthstone was announced (at PAX East?) I was pretty excited. You see, before StarCraft, I was actually a Magic: The Gathering player. I started playing right around 5th Edition / Weatherlight, and really got into it very quickly. Right after Exodus came out, I played my first tournament, and found out that I sucked. That began an obsession with the game that didn’t stop or slow down (actually, it accelerated) until 2004. I had no one at all to ever play with, so I simply read every word on the internet about the game for years. I actually read every single article ever published on TheDojo.com, in the Sideboard, in Inquest and Scrye Magazines, and eventually on Mindripper and StarCity when they came out. I lived about 35 minutes from Boston (the “Korea” of Magic at the time), and started on the PTQ circuit eventually (mostly constructed, much less draft). With a limited budget, I started winning local tournaments and top 8’ing in a few PTQs with my own decks, with no practice partner other than my younger brother who played a little bit against me out of pity!

In 2004, I felt on the brink of being a professional in both Magic and StarCraft, and decided that I had to give myself fully to one or the other so as not to not miss the opportunity ahead of me. I chose StarCraft, and I am extremely happy that I did. StarCraft is the best thing ever!

Anyways, after a heavy background in M:TG, I was really excited to see that the company which I had made my name in for StarCraft (Blizzard), was releasing an online CCG. I immediately decided that if I liked it, I’d end up making a little show about it and playing it a whole bunch, some on stream.

Fast forward to when the Beta came out. I immediately sat down and played for 7 hours straight on stream before having to go to work. It was pretty awesome. I was already pretty hooked, so I played as much as possible. I had a lot of different events in Europe to travel to (I live in Seoul, South Korea) at the time, so maybe I didn’t get to play quite as much as I would have liked, but I still felt in very good shape pretty consistently.

Back during my StarCraft 1 years,  new RTS games came out fairly often. I’d always jump over and play that RTS a whole bunch, knowing that my pre-existing SC1 skills would bring me a long ways toward the top. In addition to that, I’d always do research on who the best players in the previous similar games were, and search them out to befriend and practice with. In Hearthstone, this proved to be a good strategy as well. I was really busy, so my good friend LS helped make the connections with ek0p (WoW TCG top player) and his crew, and introduced me.

Nyhx, Gnimsh and ek0p were all immensely beneficial, in both discussion and practice, for my growth as a Hearthstone player.

At some point, (I can’t remember quite when in relation to the rest of this story), I got invited to play at Blizzcon in the Hearthstone tournament. The moment I got the invitation, I decided to give it my all. When I saw the list of invitees, I thought that I would have a good chance. From what I could gather, I had the most CCG experience of the 15 other players.

I started to practice as much as possible, which proved to be quite difficult due to having a baby, and having to keep up with StarCraft for my casting job, all at the same time. I was playing a good 5-7 hours each day, using up all of my free time, and, perhaps, neglecting SC2 slightly (compared to what I normally do) :P. I played and talked heavily with Doa, Strifecro, Nyhx, Gnimsh, ek0p, and LS. Each person helped a lot, but most of my talking and playing time, by far, was with LS. Big props to him, being almost like a slave to my practice needs.

I worked by far the hardest on Priest followed by Mage, during this time. I wouldn’t think it would be an exaggeration to say I tried 15 styles of Priest, with tons of small alterations to each before finally settling down on the final version. It ended up being very close to something LS and I were working on before, and was extremely close to what ek0p seemed to think was the best version at the time).

Around the 20th of October what was a little less than 1 week before decks were due, I held a bootcamp at my house. LS and Doa both came over for about 4 days, and we grinded and talked about strategy for about 12 hours a day. After that I was pretty burned out, and the rest of my practice included some random laddering, a few games and chats with LS, and some customs with ek0p.

As the clock ticked down, and I had to submit my decks, I decided to play the 3 decks I felt most comfortable with and had played a ton on the ladder just to see how they felt in general to me. During this time, I talked a lot with LS about deck strategy for the tournament format and the players I would be against. He heavily suggested that I use my modified version of Doa’s “Slammin Shammin”, and at one point I actually agreed with him.

As I continued to grind with the decks on ladder, I changed my mind. The Paladin deck just felt right to me. It had so many answers, and took much more skill to play than the other decks. You actually had options, and weren’t just going for the face. I felt like I would have much more fun preparing for the event as well, since it fit my style so well. I submitted the Paladin as my 3rd deck.

Around this time, I also decided that I would almost 99% be opening with Paladin because of its flexibility, and choosing Warrior vs Tauntless decks and Mage decks, using Priest against anything else.

I was really busy for a few days after the decks were submitted, but finally had some time to practice after that. I decided to record all of my practice with the actual decks I was using with analysis to later stream after Blizzcon. I figured, win or lose, these were solid decks, and learning how to use them as best I could while talking about it, would be a worthwhile thing for people to see.

So, I started to ladder. A lot. I think in the week leading up to Blizzcon, despite having to get ready for a month away from home (I’m on vacation now :P), helping with the baby, playing some SC, and watching/taking notes on SC for Blizzcon casting prep, etc, I managed to record about ~35 hours or so of practice. Those practice videos are being streamed daily on ihearthu.com, and the VODs can be found on my twitch over at twitch.tv/artosis.

My predictions for what my opponents were going to play in the tournament were pretty OK overall. I thought from the other side of the bracket would be Kripp or Day9. I wasn’t sure what Day9 would use overall, but thought if Kripp made it, he would have Paladin, Priest, and Mage. I thought in round 2, I would face off against Trump. For Trump, I thought 100% for sure his most dangerous deck would be his Priest, and that he might play Mage, Paladin, possibly Rogue, and possibly Warlock. It really surprised me that he submitted a Druid deck (which I actually think was a smart move from him, maybe I’ll write an article on that later on) but in truth it didn’t worry me too much me, because I knew my Priest would free win it every time, almost regardless of draws.

Noxious, I had a harder time predicting. I knew less about him, as he’s a bit less of a public figure. I assumed everyone would use a Mage deck, so I decided he would as well. I also was thinking there was a good chance he would use a minion-heavy Priest deck. I wasn’t really sure what else. Maybe a Hunter OTK, maybe a decent Paladin, maybe something else. When I saw the deck classes and names posted by Blizzard, I was in for a shock. I had felt pretty confident up to that point, but when I saw the deck lists I became a bit nervous for round 1.

The first deck he submitted was a Mage deck called “Refrigerator”. This deck made me feel comfortable. He gave away that it was a tempo-based Mage deck due to lots of Freeze. I expected this or other variations of Mage from every player, so I was happy to see it. I was prepared for it.

His second deck was a Paladin called “Son of Athene”. I messaged LS upon seeing this, and he said it could possibly be a combo-ish Paladin deck, using lots of pump to deal huge burst damage as early as turn 4. That scared me a lot. Explosive decks like that are a lot less consistent, but can just win randomly. I also didn’t have a lot of experience against a deck like that. These worries turned out not to matter because it was a more normal Paladin, but still I was a bit nervous about that.

The third deck scared the hell out of me. A Shaman deck going by “Thrawlalawl”. Instantly I knew it had to be a Shaman Murloc deck. I had never even seen a Shaman Murloc deck. I started to imagine all of my practice against various Murloc decks, and then imagining Blood Lusts and Flaming Tongue Totems added into that. “How could I be so stupid?!?! How did I not practice vs. this?!?!” was all I could think. I was pretty scared of getting killed by a huge blood lusted board on turn 5, just unable to keep up. I had found during practice that aggro decks were most scary when you just started to play vs them, and after time, knowing what could possibly come, they became much easier wins. This deck I had no practice against, and no idea what it would feel like to play against. Its hilarious to write this all now, knowing that it was a much more normal Shaman deck played by Noxious, but going into it, he was my scariest opponent. I had predicted everything else pretty well, but he had messed up my plans!

So, after all that typing, I think that I summed up my Blizzcon preparation pretty well. I don’t think I need to go into the actual tournament itself, as there are VODs out, but there are just a few points I do want to go over which made a big difference for me in the tournament.

  • Gnimsh’s (and everyone else’s) support on Skype.

As I mentioned, I became really nervous about my match with Noxious. I came into the tournament with high hopes, and talked myself into doubt via misunderstanding his deck names. Everyone I chatted with gave me some words of encouragement, but Gnimsh’s helped most. Really kind words about how hard I practiced and that I was a good player, and to just concentrate on playing my best. He also sent a really good message right before the finals about concentrating on the task at hand. I repeated his message in my head several times before each match.

  • My Starcraft tournament experience.

If there is one f***ing thing that I’ve learned from the huge amount of tournaments I’ve played in StarCraft through the years, its to not second guess your strategies from before the tournament. I can’t tell you how many times I threw away a build I had done 2,000 times on a map right before I played in a tournament because of some stupid feeling I had at the time. I thought 30 times about changing from Paladin as my first deck against Trump and Kripp, but kept remembering all the tournaments I lost due to decisions like this in the past, and decided that “past me” knew way better than “present me”.

  • Nyhx’s suggestion on how to play the Warrior deck.

I was having a hard time overall with the Warrior deck while practicing for the tournament. I am naturally, from SC and M:TG, a controlling style of player. When I wasn’t crushing the ladder at first with the Warrior deck, I talked to Nyhx, and he told me a simple statement: “go for the face.” .In my practice videos that are being streamed this week, you can actually see the difference. I went from an “OK-ish” session of practice, to something like 14-1 with that mentality. It went against everything I normally do in CCGs or RTSs, but it was the right way to play the deck. His advice of going to the face I actually repeated out-loud in the beginnings of both games with it vs Trump and Kripp.

So that’s it! I think that sums up pretty well my preparation for this event. Hope you enjoyed reading it, and once again, a huge thanks to the gosus who helped me prepare, without them it wouldn’t have been possible: Nyhx, Gnimsh, ek0p, Strifecro, Doa, and LS.

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