Friday, May 13, 2016

Preparing for TACO Spring 2016: Developing a Fun Themed Deck Line-up

It's been a ridiculously fun 2+ weeks in Arena and Constructed following the release of Whispers of the Old Gods in Hearthstone, as everyone explores crazy combinations of cards and new types of decks. That makes it a perfect time for the latest in the seasonal (quarterly) open tournaments hosted by The Angry Chicken podcast (also known as TACO).

Despite playing a lot of Hearthstone, these are the only tournaments I have played in thus far. They tend to be highly enjoyable because the community of podcast listeners fills up most of the slots in a 128-person single elimination bracket, and this particular community tends to be very nice to each other. While there's certainly competitive play, it's all done in the spirit of fun (and the stakes of a couple gift cards and a custom engraved pint glass are not causing people to go all serious mode).

I've had the pleasure of playing in three of these tournaments so far, and I've tried to be competitive in all of these. The results have been mixed:
  • TACO Spring 2015 (0-1) (Control Warrior, Combo Druid, Handlock) - lost to a semifinal player
  • TACO Fall 2015 (1-1) (Patron Warrior, Dragon Priest, Mech Mage) - lost to the eventual champion
  • TACO Winter 2016 (4-1) (Freeze Mage, Aggro Shaman, and my brew Dragon Hunter) - lost to a semifinal player
Despite being knocked out early in two out of three, I have always been taken out by one of the Top 4 players in the tournament. Plus, playing in the Conquest format has provided the opportunity to play a lot of different decks as competitive, which is a fun challenge when you don't do it frequently.

So with the new expansion comes new rules for TACO: the Standard format will be used (of course), and now a ban is included each round so you must bring FOUR classes to the Conquest format. Just like with Heroes of the Storm, I believe bans make for more interesting strategy and variety in a tournament like this.

However, figuring out what Standard format decks to bring, let alone four of them, has proven to be an exceedingly difficult challenge. Hell, there's only been one or two "meta reports" on the major websites and the format is far from settled. Things like C'Thun Druid is all the rage one week, and then mostly done the next week. Competitive tournaments have seen a wide mix of decks and classes as well, as evidenced by Dreamhack Austin last week and the European Spring Preliminaries this week. Here's a table put together by GosuGamers for the spread of decks in the ESP:

Following my enjoyment of Arena and the 12-win Paladin run which came off the heels of my failed April Arena challenge (see previous posts), I buckled down this week to figure out which of the nine classes would become my four decks. I again figured let's play competitively because an experienced CCG player like me should be able to have a huge edge on a field full of players still brewing up decks rather than playing established "meta decks."

However, as the week wore on, I could not seem to identify decks which hit the sweet spot of (a) being fun to play, and (b) having a high winrate. I started the week set on a line-up of C'Thun Druid, Tempo Yogg Mage, Aggro or Midrange Shaman, and Zoo Warlock. But my luck with Mage and especially Druid quickly soured, and then the Dreamhack results and deck lists came out. All of a sudden, I'm experimenting with new decks like Tempo Warrior, N'Zoth Control Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and the like, all of which are being played a ton on ladder to go with Zoo and Shaman decks.

Having decided that I could not make a decision, I tried listing my best deck in each class in order and running a random number generator to pick 4 classes. I let the line-up it selected settle in my head for a day or so before coming to the realization I just was not going to be happy with it. Or really, with trying to be competitive in this unsettled format. Trying hard and failing would be exceptionally was I to do?

Then the light bulb went on.

Have fun.

Not just any fun, but epic fun.

Play a theme roster of decks which are fun to play and at least somewhat competitive, and see what happens. That was my attitude with my pet deck Dragon Hunter last time (albeit with much more time and refinement put in to that deck to be competitive in a well-established Wild Format), and it worked out fine. Worst case scenario, I go 0-1 and have fun playing these decks doing it. Seems like a great plan.

After some more thinking and brewing, I came up with a roster and then started refining it. The roster was formulated by wanting to play each of the three Old Gods which I have opened and brewed with (C'thun, Yogg-Saron, and N'Zoth) and one of the classes which I have not played in a TACO yet (Paladin or Rogue).

The latter decision was easy because N'Zoth Paladin, while very strong, is the only viable deck in Paladin right now and too predictable. I'll save that for trying hard on the ladder. Which left me with Rogue, a class I had single digit wins with in ranked until this week.

But then the theme for the "have fun" deck line-up became obvious thanks to the Rogue deck I've had the most luck with:

Three Gods and a Miracle
  • C'Thun Reno Warlock
  • Yogg & Load Hunter
  • N'Zoth Control Priest
  • Miracle Rogue
Picking fun decks a little off the well-beaten path, we have three decks centered on Old Gods and a fourth on "Miracles."  None of which I've played in a tournament before (that seems to be a trend, as I keep brining totally new decks every season as shown by the list above).

Playing off an old movie title, we have quite a little religious fun theme this time. Plus, many of these decks are not the type of things opponents will be very prepared for, considering the rise of Warrior decks, Shaman decks, Zoo Warlock, and N'Zoth Paladin. Who knows, maybe this fun combination will go farther than one or two rounds this weekend.

I'll share results and deck lists in my next post, as well as results of some fun predictions below, but a little over a day of testing and refining the four decks has lifted my ladder rank a couple rungs and has revealed some strengths and weaknesses. Of the most popular classes, I feel most confident against Warriors of all varieties and least confident against Shaman (followed closely by Zoo Warlock), AKA, the decks which build and maintain strong board presence better than all others right now.

Based on that, here's my predictions for the tournament, with a focus on both bans and results since I have not participated in a four deck Conquest format tournament with bans ever before.
  • I will ban Shaman every round that I play in TACO Spring 2016, because my line-up is super weak to that class and I expect almost everyone will bring it.
  • Warlock will be the class primarily banned by my opponents in the Three Gods and a Miracle line-up, as they will suspect Zoo (for similar reasons, if I play more than 2 rounds I'd expect a ban to be thrown at Rogue once or twice as well).
  • Hunter will be the least played class of TACO Spring 2016, while Shaman will be the most played class.
  • The tournament winner will have N'Zoth Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and Shaman as three of their decks.
  • I will go 1-1, and a bad Yogg-Saron turn will be my undoing (Pyroblast to the face, anyone?).
The prep is over.

Let's go have some epic fun! TACO hype!

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