Tournament Prep: First Steps & High Finishes

With the right approach to Hearthstone’s competitive scene you’ll win it all!


Hearthstone has a vibrant competitive scene, with numerous events open to professionals and amateurs alike! The dream for every aspirant is to secure an invite to the Hearthstone Championship Tour, where the stakes are highest. But where does that road begin? With the slow and patient accumulation of the qualification currency: HCT points. I’m writing from experience; in this article, I’m going to talk about how to enter and prepare yourself for your first Hearthstone tournament. For an example we’ll use my recent First Place finish in the Strivewire Open Cup on NA.  Here’s proof for those inclined to doubt! I’ll show the decks I used later on, so keep scrolling if you’re curious!

I still remember my first tournament – my friends didn’t take me seriously. In total I had only been playing for three months and had never reached Legend or anything close. My opponent was a pro player – and the champion of the prior tourney. I ended up beating him 3-0 in an intense set! That win gave me the confidence to keep improving. After that I knew that I actually had the ability to beat better players than me. I wasn’t afraid of my opponent. After that I just kept playing as if I were on the ladder!

I encourage everyone to try their luck and dip their toes into the Hearthstone tournament scene! Even if you think you don’t stand a chance against more experienced opponents, you can train critical game abilities.  This helps you learn how to focus on your game plan, not get flustered by your opponent – and even how to make optimal plays. Joining tournaments can actually be the next step to improving your game. You’ll gain competitive experience, improving your mentality and strategy. You may even get noticed by professional organizations!

Hearthstone Tournament Prep: First Steps & High Finishes - Gamer Sensei

How Does It All Work?

Those of you who are newer might not be familiar with the calendar that shapes the Hearthstone year! February, March, and April make up the Spring season. During this season you need to accumulate as many points as possible if you want to have a shot at making the Spring Preliminaries. The minimum points needed to qualify is 14, but this number also varies depending on the number of high-level players in your region. You can obtain a maximum of 5 points from Open Cups per month – which means that it’s possible to qualify for the Prelims through nothing but open events, if you finish well!

There are two websites I know of that host Open Cups and award HCT points, namely Strivewire and Battlefy. These events are readily accessible, organized daily, free to join, and range from 125 to 500+ entrants. The tournament uses a single elimination format, and is run as best-of-5 Conquest with one ban. To play through the whole thing could take up to six or more hours!

Hearthstone Tournament Prep: First Steps & High Finishes - Strong Play

Getting Started

So how do you actually prepare for a Hearthstone tournament? The first step is to prepare four solid decks, of course! It’s an excellent idea to test out your decks in the hourly Strivewire beginner tournament, which just requires eight players to start a bracket. This doesn’t take too much time and you can get a rough feel for how a real Hearthstone tournament is run. The next question is naturally, how do I pick those four decks? Do I follow Tempo Storm’s Meta Snapshot, or Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper Report? The answer isn’t quite that simple: if this was true, everyone would bring the same decks to every event!

The best approach is to pick decks that you are comfortable with, rather than those that you know are good but have little idea of how to play. In my opinion, bringing a deck you’re unfamiliar with is worse than submitting your casual Hunter list! You have to be realistic. You can’t expect to be carried to a high finish by a “good” deck without understanding it well. Why? Because when you play a lot of games with a deck, you begin to remember and recognize different situations you’ve faced before! Armed with this experience, you can make better decisions when presented with a specific board state, mulligan, win condition, or matchup. When you play a new deck, you lack this base of knowledge that helps you find the optimal play in different situations.

In my case, I ended up submitting the following lists for the tournament:

Hearthstone Tournament Prep: First Steps & High Finishes - Deck Lists

As you can see, the decks that I chose are Aggro Shaman, Pirate Warrior, Miracle Rogue, and (a midrange variant of) Jade Druid. I like playing aggressively, and the three ‘Patches’ classes had been the most dominant decks for me since the release of Mean Streets. Miracle Rogue and Jade Druid were chosen for a good matchup to complement these aggro decks, against slower Reno lists. I spent a lot of time playtesting with these decks on ladder, so I felt comfortable with them and was quite familiar with their common matchups.

But Really, What Do I Choose?

The next question would be: do you want to bring decks that are common (and well-understood) in the metagame, or try to counter those popular decks? For example, would you bring Pirate Warrior to apply pressure to slower decks, or pick Control Warrior to beat the people doing the same? Secondly: how would you build your lineup? Should you bring all aggro decks, four control lists, pure midrange, a mix, or what? To refer back to the previous section, there might be a theoretical “optimum” but for most of us it’s best to choose based on what you’re comfortable with! To take Warrior as an example, we have an archetype for any preference: Pirate (aggro), Dragon (tempo) or Control.

The most common tournament lineup at the time of the Strivewire Cup was Aggro Shaman, some version of Warrior, Rogue or Dragon Priest, and Reno Warlock or Reno Mage. Shaman and Warrior had been staples of every lineup, as prior to the end-of-season nerfs there was little counter to them. The decision between Rogue and Dragon Priest usually came down to player preference. Rogue players tend to stick to their favorite class, and if you ban Shaman, Rogue has good matchups against other meta decks. Reno Mage or Warlock lists are obviously solid to counter aggro decks so at least one is generally brought to do just that, while Renolock can also sometimes out-tempo a slower opponent.

Hearthstone Tournament Prep: First Steps & High Finishes - Play View

Personally, I’m more an aggro / midrange / tempo player. Therefore I chose to bring two aggro decks (Shaman and Warrior), one tempo (Rogue) and one midrange (my personal Druid variant). I decided beforehand to ban Shaman. I had teched my Druid list to be more anti-aggro and less greedy. As a result I had a higher chance of beating fast decks while retaining its strength against slower lists. In the actual event, my Druid won all its bad matchups against Rogue and Dragon Priest. It even took a game of Pirate Warrior. My plan did indeed work out for me, and I felt confident about my deck choices throughout the event. If you harbor doubts about the decks you’re bringing to a Hearthstone tournament, you’re never going to go far!

Final Thoughts on Hearthstone Tournament Play

Lastly, it’s extremely valuable to know the matchups of the most common meta decks against your lineup. This is essential so that you can choose the right class to ban in the Conquest format! Know which decks your lineup wants to ban beforehand. Then you can tweak your lineup: Make it greedier against other decks. Even remove a certain tech card that won’t be as effective given your ban. For example, I removed a second copy of Maelstrom Portal from my Aggro Shaman deck. I was planning to ban Shaman and the card is most effective in a Shaman mirror. One of the best ways to get objective information about matchups is by referring to the Vicious Syndicate Data Report. It incorporates most major deck archetypes in detail.

Thanks for taking the time to read my guide! I hope that it helps you prepare for your future Hearthstone tournaments! If you have any questions, you can contact me on Gamer Sensei.

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