Graphical representation of the AM Winter Playoffs meta (plus one super left-field line-up)
The Pirate Shaman meta is in its dying days. At the end of February, Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws will join the bench of nerfed cards, hopefully slowing down the lightning fast Hearthstone we’re playing today.
Before that happens, however, several more high-stakes tournament are on the line. This weekend marks the beginning of Americas’ journey to the world championship with the Winter Playoffs.
A total of 122 players will take part first in the Tavern Hero qualified and then in the Playoffs event. By Sunday, four will join the line-up for the Winter Championship. It’s a perfect opportunity to examine the shape of the metagame in a region that is continuously struggling for recognition.
The Americas region has established itself as possibly the most aggressive of the four, even beating the previous aggro kings of China in the recent years. In 2016, the Ameicas’ Preliminaries were ostensibly “faster” than the European counterparts. In the Spring Season, for example, if Europe stuck to the tried and true, the Americas did its best to make aggro decks work, even in a meta where going for the face wasn’t the optimal choice. AM experimented with Weapon Warrior and Aggro Paladin and even sped up their ZooLocks, adding Leeroy Jenkins in place of Sea Giant, as well as established the aggressive midrange—or hybrid—Shaman.
With the coming of the current Winter season, the region is not giving up on its aggro traditions, as obvious from the graph above. Almost 40% of all decks fall under the aggro tagline, but in all fairness this is a trend observable in Europe as well to more or less the same extent. Curious, however, is the rise of Aggro Rogue in the region, which represents a third of all Rogue decks in the playoffs. At 23, Aggro Rogue is just between the traditional Miracle Rogue and the new Beneath the Grounds Miracle, fine-tuned to combat Reno decks.
The way line-ups are built in the Americas region is also different from Europe. In a previous feature, we showed some of the most innovative line-ups from the old continent—the majority of which reached the elimination phase of the playoffs—and many of them shared the same principle: Ban the fastest aggro while not playing aggro yourself, then use midrange and Beneath the Grounds miracles to choke the highlander decks to death. The Preliminaries are played in Conquest, so it’s not about having a well-rounded and balanced line-up as a whole, more so than destroying one particular deck.
For all the aggressive trends, Americas has still found room for experimentation, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the downright boring archetype spread in Europe. This has been the case for some time now, as the Americas’ Preliminaries follow in time Europe’s. Therefore, it is Europe which defines the standard and it is the AM players who try to maneuver around that standard and by unpredictable.
So, if only 14 deck types were played in Europe, there are 20 different in the Americas and that’s not counting the subtypes such as Solia Reno/Standard Reno, Combo Reno / Standard Reno, Beneath Miracle / Questing Miracle, etc.
For starters, Token Druid has made a return. The deck dominated the Summer Preliminaries last year, empowered by Yogg-Saron but took a break when Karazhan and Gadgetzan redefined how the class is played, the former introducing the Malygos OTK with Arcane Giants and the latter being responsible for the Jade builds.
This still begs the question why Token Druid in favor of Jade? Both archetypes are susceptible to aggro and strong against control, but Token Druids are much more reliant on synergy than Jade and therefore it’s sometimes a challenge to develop a durable board that can withstand Shadowflame / Flamestrike board clears. Apart from the novelty factor—as much as Token Druids can be novel—there don’t seem to be apparent reasons to favor Tokens over Jade.
Another pleasant surprise innovation-wise are the Reno builds for Priest. Europe didn’t stray away from the standard Dragon builds, but Americas is feeling brave to play both Reno Dragons and Reno Control. Even Shaman, Warlock and Warrior—the holy trinity of Tier 1 classes—are seeing sparks of oddities as a handful of players are confident to make Witchdoctor Shaman, Zoo and Water Warrior, a.k.a. the love-child of Pirates and Murlocs, work in this metagame.
Now, although HotMEOWTH’s Djinni Priest / Blood Warriors line-up ended up a trollish diversion so we can’t really talk about it, we figured we give you at least one of the non-conventional line-ups for you to marvel at.
TubbytheFat will compete at the Tavern Hero qualifier on Friday and is looking to shock the competition. Remember the Token Druid and Reno Control Priest mentioned earlier? Those are two of Tubby’s decks, supplementing his Anyfin Paladin and Shaku/1x Questing Miracle, which are two of the unpopular “standard” decks. Tubby is also the only one of the 122 players to not bring Shaman.
As the meme goes:
In all seriousness, Tubby’s line-up deserves recognition. Miracle Rogue is a deck which is unlikely to lose all three games and is a safe bet to get you on the board. Token Druid can be very aggressive and punish Miracle Rogues and Midrange Shamans which can’t find Lightning Storm on time, as well as standard Midrange Druids (which the Jade builds are), which have historically struggled against faster, Swipe-proof boards.
Then, there are the greedy control / combo decks. Anyfin Paladin has proven fantastic against Reno and Jade decks and is favored even against the more persistent Jade builds like Druid, which never run out of threats.
Finally, there’s the question mark of Reno Priest, which actually has the potential to withstand aggro pressure. Although Priest lacks the potent board clears of Mage and Warlock, it makes up for cheap two-for-one removals like Potion of Madness and Shadow Madness, as well as the persistent healing effect of the hero power. Reno Priest is even equipped to deal with RenoMage by sniping or Entombing its threats.
That said, Reno Priest’s success will depend on what the other three decks can accomplish within any Best of 5. The build is susceptible—as every highlander is—to Jade Druids and with no Ice Block or draw-on-a-sick it’s even more vulnerable to Miracle Rogue. RenoLocks will also be problematic, as Jaraxxus has been Anduin’s arch-enemy since day one.
Whether Tubbythefat or any of the other intrepid experimenters make it through to the Tavern Hero, then the swiss and finally the elimination stage is questionable and indeed unrealistic, but they still make for a storyline worth following. And even if they flop, there still remains the main narrative of this tournament: Who will Americas send to redeem the region from a horrible 2016.
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