Congratulations once again to Phonetap for winning ESL's second season of the Legendary Series! He used Shaman, Druid, and Hunter as his lineup to achieve victory. What was even more impressive was that, being a clear underdog and unfavored by most, he still managed to pull off first place! But what was exceptionally interesting was the meta-gaming that was happening during the tournament.
The Tournament Metagame
Most top tier players will agree that the best decks currently are Patron Warrior and Hybrid Hunter. However, out of the 16 players, only 7 of them brought Patron Warrior, while 9 brought Hunter. 10 players brought Warlock, of which 8 of those were Handlock. 4 other players brought control warrior. Control decks were strongly represented in this tournament, with 12 players bringing control decks within their lineups. In fact the most prominent class was Druid, a class that many people say is weak in this meta, with only 2 players not bringing Druid. The question that now arises is why did players bring lineups like that?
The main reason why there was an outpouring of control decks at ESL was that everyone else assumed that everyone would be bringing Hunter and Patron Warrior since those decks are the current top tier meta decks. Control warrior and Handlock are the best counters to these decks. Handlock and Control Warrior have few minions that can be used by Patron Warrior to multiply their patrons, and the large amount of taunts and life gain in both decks can be used to stymie aggressive hunter decks and win easily.
Players not only expected players to bring patron warrior, but they also expected Control Warrior to have a large presence among player lineups to counter Patron Warrior. Harrison Jones was in 19 lists, while Acidic Swamp Ooze was in 3 of them. Phonetap, notoriously, had both Ooze and Harrison within his Druid deck. Players were teching heavily versus weapon classes during this tournament.
The natural counters to Druid in this meta are decks such as Tempo Mage, Zoo, Priest, Mech Shaman, and Mech Mage. However, these decks were fairly scarce at the finals. There were only 3 Mage lists, 1 Priest list, and 2 Shaman lists brought to the tournament. However, Druid performs exceedingly well versus Control Warrior, and the threat of Savage Roar/Force of Nature combo causes Handlock players to perform subpar moves and weak turns in order to dodge potential lethal moves by the druid.
I believe that the players of this tournament meta-gamed to two degrees of prediction, with some people even going so far as to three degrees. To explain, imagine the meta as a game of rock paper scissors. Patron and Hunter are rock, Handlock and Control Warrior are paper, and Paladin and Druid are Scissors. Players are afraid of going with the obvious rock play, so they choose to go as paper, this is one degree of prediction Other players make the guess that people will be going with the counter to rock, so they bring the counter to paper, which is scissors, this is two degrees of prediction. Th3Rat was one of the few players who brought zoo, I assume those who brought zoo and zoo-like decks were planning to use their decks to punish people who brought druid, which brings us to three degrees of prediction. Some players (like Reynad) chose not to metagame and go with what they believed to be the strongest decks in the meta, which ended up being very successful as Reynad managed to secure second place in a very close match versus Phonetap.
Analysis of Phonetap's decks
Phonetap's three decks were Mech Shaman, Midrange Hunter, and Double Combo Druid. Phonetap's Mech Shaman was considered to be the weakest of his decks, not because the deck itself is weak, but rather, the deck is inconsistent. Sometimes you get games with unanswered Whirling Zap-o-matics, and you end up winning turn 3 or 4. However, in most matches, it seemed that Mech Shaman was a liability to Phonetap, as his opening draws would be poor, or his opponents would take advantage of his Fel Reavers via taunts or freezes, or he was unable to draw earth shocks or late game minions.
Running a slower Midrange Hunter instead of Hybrid or Face hunter, Phonetap decided to sacrifice some of the deck's strengths versus aggressive decks in order to have better matchups versus slower decks. This is especially shown through his inclusion of a Harrison Jones as his tech card in his hunter list. While Midrange Hunter fares a bit better versus Patron Warrior than its more aggressive cousins, it still has a difficult time, although the inclusion of a Harrison improves its matchup versus warrior decks by denying efficient uses of Death's Bite deathrattles for the Warrior players. The Harrison is also good versus other hunters as the only weapon they run is Eaglehorn Bow and a Harrison on that could be an insane tempo move that nullifies a lot of damage.
And lastly, I really want to linger on Phonetap's druid. He was so fearful of weapons that he included both an Ooze and a Harrison. Ordinarily, Patron Warrior has a favorable matchup versus Druid, but with the inclusion of two weapon destruction effects, it becomes exceptionally difficult for Patron Warriors to prepare their Death's Bites for whirlwind effects. Also, there are very few sub-three attack minions within the deck, so it is very difficult for the Patron Warrior to combo off to a full board. Combo Druid naturally performs well versus control warrior due to the exponential synergy that the combo has with board presence, and control decks cannot remove all of your minions all of the time. Also with two silences built into the deck, and the threat of combo, Combo Druid does well versus handlock also.
What happened in this tournament was that all the players thought that everyone else would bring Patron Warrior, so they all brought counter decks to Patron Warrior. Only a few players actually brought Patron Warrior, and many players favored the consistency of Druid above other classes. Even though Handlock was prolific throughout the lineups of this tournament, only one person brought Freeze Mage. Phonetap brought decks that he was comfortable with, although they weren't objectively the best decks, Phonetap was able to pilot his lineup to achieve first place.
As that wraps up season 2 of the ESL Hearthstone Legendary Series be sure to watch every match of the season over again including any you may have missed over on Youtube.
Stay tuned both here and on ESLPlay for upcoming announcements and sign up for our tournaments.
By Blitzcrank BotV2