Before Inven Global travels to Taiwan to cover the Hearthstone World Championship, we had the opportunity to chat with Hearthstone veteran competitor David "justsaiyan" Shan. He answered our questions in his usual style: cool and collected while simultaneously hinting at this incredible passion for competitive Hearthstone and the highest level of strategic play.
This is going to be the last tournament to feature the conquest format -- a format you have played excessively throughout your Hearthstone career. Will you miss the format at all, or are you happy to see it go after this major?
I think it's kind of a sad last goodbye. I hate that it is ending in worlds, but at the same time, Conquest and Last Hero Standing, for me in terms of skills, it has always been LHS as the highest skill format with Conquest being, very skill heavy especially when there is a fresh meta.
I think the Specialist format is going to be a lot more friendly for people viewing and people competing in terms of the time that it takes. But, I personally have enjoyed the more complicated formats a little bit, so I am sad to see it go at the moment.
As a veteran who has been playing competitive Hearthstone for a long time, are you worried that all of your skill, practice, and experience navigating competitive Hearthstone through the Conquest format will be less valuable, making it harder to adapt in the future?
I think Conquest definitely brought out more consistency in players. I think people who have gained a lot of people prepping for Conquest and LHS are going to do just fine in the Specialist format as well.
You and the rest of the pros have had a short amount of time to prepare for the new Rise of Shadows meta -- do you think there is any consensus amongst the pros competing on the best decks or the best cards? Do you predict that the audience watching will see this in peoples decks submissions?
Year, it is definitely no surprise that Rogue and Warrior are by far the top two decks in the meta. So when it comes to conquest, most of the opponents are either going to be choosing to ban Rogue or the Warrior. Vice versa, it is likely you will have to bring both of those decks, otherwise you kind of break this ban dynamic.
"A lot of the combinations of cards between Rogue and Warrior just seem like they do so much compared to what other archetypes are able to muster."
If you only bring Rogue and they were going to ban Warrior, now they are able to ban your Rogue and suddenly you are playing three decks that are not among the top two. So I definitely expect almost all of the players to be bringing Rogue and Warrior because the ban dynamic and those two classes being the strongest kind of dictate that.
You say it is obvious that Rogue and Warrior is the most powerful -- how do you go about figuring out this with such confidence? Is it just a matter of grinding the decks as much as possible or is it a matter of identifying the individual meta-defining cards?
For Warrior, it has to be Dr. Boom being able to generate value.
With all the Death Knights rotating beside him - I think it is just Hagatha and Zul'jin remaining -- Dr.Boom compared to the other two remaining death knights is such a blowout, right?
For Rogue, they got the burst potential. With Waggle Pick and Leeroy, if you just draw Raiding Party, that is 20 damage. If you draw Greenskin along with it, it is 26. So, there you go, throw in an Eviscerate and your opponent is dead on turn 8. A lot of the combinations of cards between Rogue and Warrior just seem like they do so much compared to what other archetypes are able to muster.
You mentioned some concerns about the Dr. Boom hero card, a concern reflected in a lot of the community discussion as well. What are your thoughts on Hero Card Balance? Is it obvious that Hero Cards are just always a little too powerful?
Well, when every class has a hero card, it is a little more balanced. It just happens to be at the moment Dr.Boom hasn't rotated and the others have since they came from the frozen throne expansion. Back then, it really wasn't that much of a problem because you couldn't value generate your way out of Bloodreaver Guldan board states and things like that.
But, it just happens to be the first expansion of the year, everything is a little bit weaker, and one of the stronger cards from the last year has stayed, right? For this iteration, it feels very powerful but as you build more expansions across throughout this year and the power level rises, Dr. Boom is going to be in the same space it was at the end of last year. Where the card is OK and it kind of helps grind out games, but you are going to see more cards that can out-value and out-tempo Dr.Boom as the year goes on.
One of the biggest thing that separates the pro player mindset form a casual player or even the casual esports observer is the accepted time in which each group says, with confidence, that the meta is "solved."
How likely do you think it is that there is a deck out or card combination out there that the pros have missed?
Well, you can always kind of make the stats say what you want it to, right?
If we are saying that Warrior is the best, yeah you can quote me and then say: "Big Mage beats Warrior" and things like that. But when it comes to finding four decks that target and beat Warrior, that is a different story. At least for Conquest and the meta we are playing, I can pretty confidently say that we have hit all the marks there.
"My least favorite card is probably Elysiana. That card probably has to go. That is not what you are asking, but I just feel very strongly about that card."
But when you are talking about ladder or 1 vs 1 matchups, nothing is that oppressive. You can counter Warrior, you can counter Rogue with weapon removal -- things like that. Maybe the hardest deck to beat, from the casual perspective is Rogue. Just because of Preparation, Discovers and Raiding Party being just so strong overall.
In past meta's there have been different skill checks from a competitive Hearthstone perspective. The most obvious example being something like the Grim Patron Decks of old and the specific skill set that called for.
Is there any specific Hearthstone skillset that has become more important since Rise of Shadows?
If you look at Rogue and the burst potential they have gained, you have to play a lot more defensively in this meta because of the potential Leeroy burst and things like that. So I would say figuring out how to manage your life total becomes a lot more important.
At the same time, there are cases where you can't play around Leeroy and you have to make your best play ignoring that scenario. So definitely playing with life totals become more important and involving that in your decisions making when it comes to different scenarios is probably the biggest skill check at the moment.
So understand your defensive outs and understanding what you have to do in order to be as safe as possible?
Yeah. If you are looking for like, a combo archetype, because you cited Grim Patron, the overload mechanics with different combo-y Shaman builds can be difficult at times. Just planning your turns out requires an understanding of the decks you are facing and things like that as well.
Outside of that, I think Killinallday brought a Chef Nomi cycle-your-deck kind of Priest thing, so there are some new combo decks out there.
A lot of the players competing in the World Championship have never been to Taiwan before -- have you been?
I believe I was in Taiwan for a tour-stop for a little bit. It was fun and I am excited about going back.
Is there anything, in particular, you are looking forward to when visiting Taiwan?
My mindset is all in the competition. I haven't thought of too many things, I'll definitely try local food and tour around a little bit.
So you are just super focused on the tournament -- this could be anywhere for you. The location is immaterial, isn't it?
Somewhat. I remember in WESG there were a lot of European Dota 2 players and, they made it so convenient. The venue was in a hotel, and the tournament was in the hotel. Some people just got off the bus, went to the hotel for a week, ate within all the restaurants in the hotel, and then got on a bus and left. They never even saw any part of the city,
Mmm, what am I trying to get at here...
Is that your ideal tournament?
No, I'm saying that is kinda sad!
At least, in the beginning, your mindset is all on preparation for sure. But after you maybe lose at one point, then you can think about what to do. I'm not saying travel is an afterthought, I just want to express how important the competition is.
What is your favorite Rise of Shadows card and why?
Ok, I have to go through my line-up and take a look here:
My favorite card is probably Magic Carpet. I think it brings a lot of really cool mechanics in terms of controlling the board for Zoo.
My least favorite card is probably Elysiana. That card probably has to go. That is not what you are asking, but I just feel very strongly about that card.
Can you elaborate on why you think Elysiana is such a problem?
Well, when we're doing deck building and deciding tech choices -- lets say if I was going to play a different strategy that involved around not banning Warrior, I would have to test against Elysiana and Baleful Banker, which means I'd have to spend like two hours just testing decks that could potentially beat Warrior and that would take so long to do. That just feels very limiting.
And the card itself makes the games way too long and the end-game ends up being all RNG.
It is a very polarizing card. And yet, you have old cards like Dead Man's Hand that most people, and especially the competitive community, seemed to respect the card for what it brought to the meta.
Yeah, with Dead Man's Hand you have to make your hand a certain X amount of cards that you want to shuffle back in. That you can utilize them to close out the game. Whereas with Elysiana, you just play your whole deck, then you play her and see what it generates. If you don't like it, you just brew it back!
Any last words you want to leave for your fans reading this?
Thanks for the support. I think, if anything, I am going to be happy you guys are cheering me on. As for as worlds go, I will be happy if I play my best and I intend to do that.
The HCT World Championship kicks off on Wednesday, April 24 with the Group Stage portion of the tournament. You can watch the broadcast on Hearthstone's official Twitch channel (twitch.tv/PlayHearthstone) starting at 7 p.m. PDT.
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