Liquid`Neirea at WESG

February 04 2017

Neirea played in the WESG Grand Final last month as a representative of Team Liquid and Team Ukraine. This was a $250'000 tournament held in China which required him to qualify over national and continental competition. On his way to a top eight finish, we asked him to talk about the current Hearthstone climate and heard that pirates aren't actually that bad.

Talking about OP cards in Hearthstone is pretty popular. Whether it's a goblin doctor, a four mana seven-seven, or a free boar, something needs to be the best. Whether or not this best card inspires "healthy" play patterns is another topic but one where Blizzard has shown a willingness to act: see Warsong Commander.

As far as Patches and the current aggressive metagame is concerned, I think it's fine.

While yes, aggro decks can lend themselves to faster and occasionally lopsided games, they do also have benefits which are worth discussing. For example, I find the more aggressive meta to be rewarding of skill and better for the tournament scene.

One of the common criticisms leveled at aggro decks are that they are all RNG and you can lose a game because "I didn't draw my answer". This type of mentality is prevalent among people who will never improve. The real problem — if you can call it that — with aggro decks is that it reduces the choices you can make and therefore increases their significance. Mulligan decisions play a big part in this but the trick to improving is to play very carefully and make sure every move you make is the correct one. Remember also that you have thirty health and that's a resource you can use.

As far as the tournament scene is concerned, I prefer an aggressive meta to a midrange-y one because it presents more opportunity for lineup design and counter-play. Midrange decks are good when they lack polarizing matchups, but every deck is 50-50 against every other deck, it is hard to find an edge. When you have decks with bigger swing matchups, however, there is more you can do to get an edge before the games even begin.

When it came to designing my lineup for this event, there were three meta strategies I could choose. I could ban warrior and go for the slower approach of Rogue and Reno decks. I could ban Shaman and play a greedier Mage deck to beat Rogue/Warrior/Reno Mirrors. I could bring Midrange Shaman to improve against all but Warrior and Rogue. There was also the option of Midrange Shaman/Reno Mage/Control Warrior to stomp aggro but those decks don't play Patches so they can't win

In the end, I decided to go full pirate and play the lineup everyone was scared of. This was not a cute strategy but after reflecting on myself and my past events I realized that my best results always came from when I simply played the best decks. There is a time for trying to beat the meta but there are also times for being the bad guy.

Once I had decided my classes it was time to design my lists. Since I knew people would be targeting my lineup — and that I would therefore be in for some bad matchups — I built with consistency in mind. I also figured that I could outplay my opponents in close matchups so I didn't want to introduce any extra variance into my lists.

This gameplan resulted in me running SI:7 Agent over Questing Adventurer in Rogue (note: WESG allowed players to resubmit decks after the group stages and Neirea swapped to Questings for the Ro8). I also decided to go more board-centric with my Warrior.

One of my mistakes with this lineup, however, was playing Medivh over Antonidas. Medivh is a card which helps against aggro and midrange decks but but he also gives your opponents a target for their Oozes. Antonidas would have been a greedier but more consistent choice because he flattens your matchups and gives you a chance to cheese your bad ones: Priest matchups especially. Antonidas also gives you a big edge in the mirror and let's you save more of your removal.

In terms of Mage being my Reno deck of choice, I selected it over Reno Warlock because — you guessed it — Mage is more consistent against aggro. Reno Warlock has some better and swingier matchups but Mage has better targeted removal and safer AOE. Both can lose to the best Warrior draws of course, but Mage's matchup against extreme aggro has more wiggle room. Reno Priest is not a deck so that's wasn't even considered.

I do want to note here why I did not play Dragon Priest. While the deck is popular, I don't find it to be an appealing option because it loses to Rogue and its aggro matchups are overestimated. Sure, the games where it beats aggro are blowouts, but those games rely on the Priest curving very well with their Taunts.

So knowing that I would be facing my fair share of aggro mirrors, and knowing you probably are as well on the ladder, I studied the matchups and learned that they are generally "turn three" games. This is to say, whoever was winning on turn three would usually win the game.

There are a couple factors which help ensure that you're ahead when the third turn rolls around. Firstly, you need to be careful with when you play your one drops. It may be easy to dump them on turn one but it is sometimes beneficial to wait and get more Patches value later on. What's more, it is a good deal to concede the first two turns and then win the game.

Mulligan decisions are another big part of this and they are frankly pretty hard right now. Most decks these days are very synergy driven and knowing when to mull for a curve versus when to keep half a combo is tricky. I have not yet even figured this out myself but one thing I can share is to not be scared of Patches. Some players, if they already have a one-drop pirate, will barely mulligan in fear of drawing Patches. Personally I don't think this is worth it because the chance of drawing Patches is small and you can be under enough pressure early that a clunky hand can easily lose.

In closing, I want to talk about and Patches in the macro sense. Which is to say, I think the card is fine and doesn't require a nerf (unlike Small-Time Buccaneer). As I said above, something needs to be the best deck and Patches isn't especially egregious. That said I don't think Shaman is a healthy "best deck". There have been times when Druid or Warrior were the best but I think Shaman is worse than those two for the reason that the class' inherent RNG can be too swingy. I think the metagame is good, but that is my one complaint.

Writer: Yevhenii Shumilin
Editor: Ryan Prager
Photos: Mike Stillwell
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