It was only at the start of April that we could begin speculating how the game of Hearthstone might look following the release of the Rise of Shadows set.
For the pro players competing in the Hearthstone World Championships this week in Taipei, however, there was even more pressure to get a good understanding of the best decks as soon as possible.
Just a fortnight after the new set was made available, they would be competing for a $1million prize pool using those very same cards.
It may seem unorthodox, but what that’s created is one of the most exciting and unpredictable grand finales we've seen in the Hearthstone esports season. Since the Rise of Shadows cards were first revealed - and then eventually made their way into the game - these sixteen competitors have been doing all they can to construct the best decks from a fresh card pool.
So, what have we observed as the first two groups squared off today at the tournament?Most notably, we’ve seen the respect that has been given to the Rogue and Warrior decks that are currently sitting in the top tier of competitively play.
In the majority of cases, these classes have been banned, preventing players from running the likes of Control Warrior and Tempo Rogue in their matches. The success they’ve had when they are left unchecked, however, makes it pretty clear why many don’t want to face them.
It was immediately apparent in the first match of the day between Wu "BloodTrail" Zong-Chang and Raphael "BunnyHoppor" Peltzer in Group A. During game four, Bunnyhoppor seemed utterly hopeless in the face of all the removal, survivability and late game power of Warrior. Every play was swiftly batted aside as little more than a minor inconvenience.
But that didn’t stop the German player’s unique Khadgar Mage deck from hanging on against the Zoo Warlock and securing his first match win.
Elsewhere in Group A, Guan "SNJing" Zhendong would get off to a perfect start against Wu "XiaoT" Juwei with a 3-0 sweep.
Yet, in the battle for the top spot against Bunnyhoppor, he would find the task a lot tougher. Going to Game 5, the series proved to be a back-and-forth affair that saw Bomb Warrior actually lose a match-up(!)
Even though that put Bunnyhoppor on the ropes, he was able to swing back and seal a 3-2 victory with back-to-back wins using Zoo Warlock and Tempo Rogue. A place in the quarter-finals was confirmed.
Over in Group B, all eyes were on David "killinallday" Acosta who was the only player in the tournament to bring a Priest deck - specifically, Nomi Priest. Pro players have suggested that this deck has slipped under the radar so far and could prove to be a major meta shifter as it becomes more and more refined.
It certainly showed signs of that potential in its first appearance against Mihai "languagehacker" Dragalin, as killinallday was able to draw through so much of his deck in a matter of turns and dominate the game with those extra resources.
Unfortunately, the deck could not repeat that performance when killinallday faced off against Xu "LFYueying" Kai for a guaranteed quarter-final spot. Although the player from the US had a 2-1 advantage, he struggled to keep up with the perfect double Mountain Giant draw against Hand Mage and then failed to find any of his cycle cards during the decider. It would be LFYueying who would nab the second available quarter-final spot on the day.
And that where we would leave Day 1. Two players can relax until Saturday knowing they are safe for now, but the nerves must be building for those in Group C and D as they wait to get their campaign started tomorrow.