Conquering Conquest: A Tournament Report

Conquest has been the format of choice for competitive Hearthstone for quite some time now, but it can still be daunting to get into for players with competitive aspirations. As an introduction to conquest I’m going to give an overview of the principles of doing well in the format and then include a walk through my Top 4 performance at 256 man tournament, Medieval Wednesday (bracket here), which earned me a HWC point last week to give a sense of how a tournament actually plays out in practice. Alright? Lets get into it.

Conquest is easy: you read the meta and pick decks to counter it, right? Since your opponent needs to win with every class, as long as they have brought the deck you are targeting you are golden. Yeah, well no. There are 2 big issues with this line of thought.

How effective is targeting? A 60% winrate is about average for favored matchups and it’s rare to see winrates stray much above or below that. Winrates of 80% are reserved for fantastically good matchups like Control Warrior vs Freeze mage. Building 60+% winrate lineup against a specific deck means really contorting your deck choices and likely grasping for awkward decks that are not good against the rest of the field. The worst is yet to come though. Imagine you picked a lineup that has an average winrate of 65% against Secret Paladin. The odds of Secret Paladin finding a win against your lineup of 3 decks is 72.5% (1-0.65^3).  Sacrificing your viability against the field to target a deck is clearly not worth it.

How easy is it to predict the meta? You need to remember that people’s deck choices are always erratic. Even good players will bring strange decks to a tournament. Sometimes players aren’t great at the top decks and bring their favorites instead, sometimes people think everyone else is bringing the top decks and they are trying to counter them and sometimes they think things like “Secret Paladin is a deck that takes no skill and hence I won’t play it” because they hate winning. I have played against Fatigue Mage with Coldlight Oracles in the semifinals of a $300 prize pool tournament. I have also been that guy, using a Faceless Manipulator Combolock to get second place at a Tuesday Night Hype. You just never know.

The Meta Myth

NOTE: This section is strictly about Conquest with no bans, as playing with bans lets you significantly alter the field at the tournament.

There are 2 big schools of thought when picking decks for conquest: pick the best decks of the format or pick the decks that do best against the best decks of the format.

The first approach has a lot going for it. The best decks tend to be the best because they execute powerful gameplans and are resilient to their opponent’s gameplans. If you make an anti-Druid lineup you will still lose to the occasional turn 4 Dr. Boom or turn 7 combo. Also, predicting the meta is a fool’s errand and will undoubtedly cause you grief. The epitome of this school of thought was the Combo Patron meta of always bring Patron Warrior, Handlock and Druid and try to just play better than your opponents.

Wait, didn’t we cover the folly of trying to target decks? Why are you bringing it up again? Well, if you really want to go ahead and try to target specific decks there are better ways to do it than the naive approach I laid out above. You could try to target a deck while still using tier 1 decks. That way even if you suck at getting matched up favourably you are still playing solid decks. Even better, you could bring a lineup that targets multiple decks, or even a whole archetype, like midrange decks. The key is not to play suspect decks and, this is really important guys, don’t play decks you are just decent at because they compliment your lineup. Seriously, it’s not worth it. If you don’t know the decks inside and out, just play your three best decks.

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please

Alright let’s put this into practice. Medieval Wednesday was Bo3 Conquest with no bans, but you still get to bring 3 decks. What did I bring to the tournament?

Dreadscale Secret Paladin Small Zoo

Didn’t you just caution us against bringing suspect, non-tier 1 decks to a tournament? You see, I actually think Midrange Hunter is tier 1. Leaving my delusions aside, my reasoning is as follows: All three of these decks are good against Sceret Paladins and Druids while being solid decks on their own right. The weakest link of the line up is the Zoo vs Paladin matchup because it is not as favored as I’d like. That would explain why I never actually played a match with it in the tournament.

Why would I bring Secret Paladin if I want to beat other Secret Paladins? Well, to put it simply I think I have a better shot against Secret Paladin with a Secret Paladin with Aldor Peacekeeper than with other decks. Yes, Secret Paladin is degenerate enough that one of more consistent ways to beat it is with a marginally better version of itself. Aldor Peacekeeper turns out to also be an all star in the other matchup I am interested in beating, Midrange Druid. If you want to read more about the Hunter deck and why it’s good against Secret Paladin and Midrange Druid check out this link.

The Field I Faced

5 Paladins 5 Warriors 3 Priests 2 Druids 2 Warlocks 1 Mage
3 Secret Paladins 1 Patron 3 Control Priests 2 Midrange Druids 2 Unknown 1 Freeze Mage
1 Murlocadin 1 Coldlight Fatigue
1 Unknown 3 Unknown

As you can see, my predictions of a field overrun with Druids and Paladins are already falling through.

Replays

Since we don’t have a built in replay feature, I can offer the next best thing: Hearthstone Deck Tracker replays. If you follow the link below you can download the replay files, put them in your replay folder and you will be able to see the sequence of plays from your tracker.
https://mega.nz/#F!9IwHgR5b!Rp4I4Sl_35sn8y-h7pQE2A

R1 vs Molegel

Lineup: Warrior Paladin Priest

G1 Hunter vs Murlocadin
I open with the good old T2 Huffer into T3 Huffer which promptly eat a Consecration. We both had good hands, with me [Hunter’s Mark]ing his Sludge Belcher and him Aldor Peacekeepering my Savannah Highmane in the midgame. He drags the game on with 2 Antique Healbots, 2 Doomsayers and a Lay on Hands until turn 13 where he goes off with Anyfin Can Happen.

G2 Hunter vs Control Priest
The details from this game are fuzzy but despite him Entombing my Savannah Highmane I manage to burn him out by turn 15 or so.

G3 Secret Paladin vs Control Priest
He misplays early on by assuming my secret is not Redemption and queues his Museum Curator’s attack before realizing my Knife Juggler will survive the Shadow Word: Pain just slightly worse for the wear. I answer his Deathlord with Blessing of Kings, curve out into Sludge Belcher and everyone’s favorite 6 drop. His Lightbomb can’t mop up the board and he loses soon after.

R2 vs Sleepless

Lineup: Paladin Warrior Druid

G1 Hunter vs Secret Paladin
He starts off strong with Secretkeeper with Noble Sacrifice protection, but my own sticky minions and weapons manage to keep the board under control. He responds to my Unleash the Hounds with Knife Juggler + Muster for Battle but I have the second Unleash the Hounds to regain the board. On turn 6 he forgets to Dr. 6 and Piloted Shredders instead. I follow up with Dr. 7 and take the game.

G2 Paladin vs Midrange Druid
My turn 1 Knife Juggler runs into his turn 2 Piloted Shredder and Lorewalker Cho falls out. He follows it up with T5 Ancient of Lore into T6 Emperor Thaurissan but Aldor Peacekeeper and Keeper of Uldaman keep me in the game. His Keeper of the Grove comes out on turn 7 and he can’t deal with my Tirion Fordring with Lorewalker Cho backup.

R3 vs PhilWasTaken

Lineup: Warrior Paladin Warlock
He uploads a screen shot with multiple Warrior and Warlock decks so I get a G1 free win. It doesn’t feel great to just take a win like that, but a win is a win.

G2 Hunter vs Fatigue Warrior
Everything looks normal until a turn 3 Brann Bronzebeard comes out. Two turns after Coldlight Oracle makes its appearance and things make a little more sense. Turns out giving a hunter extra cards is a bad idea.

R4 vs TimeToFight

Lineup: Paladin Druid Priest

G1 Hunter vs Control Priest
My strong first few turns are met by a single Shadow Word: Pain and a bunch of Priest turns. He turns it around with a T5 Cabal Shadow Priest into Sludge Belcher into Lightbomb which answers my Dr. Boom cleanly. Over the course of the next 4 turns I manage to land a Haunted Creeper and enough burn to barely close out the game.

G2 Secret Paladin vs Druid
My turn 1 Redemption into Shielded Minibot is met by his turn 1 Darnassus Aspirant. Inexplicably, on turn 2 he shapeshifts the divine shield away then kills my Shielded Minibot. Over the next few turns he Keeper of the Groves my Blessing of Kings and I Aldor Peacekeeper his T5 Ancient of War. Crucially, he Keeper of the Groves his Ancient of War after being told to stand down. A Tirion Fordring into a late Mysterious Challenger prove to be too much to deal with without a silence.

R5 vs Bellizin

Lineup: Paladin Warrior Warlock

G1 Hunter vs Secret Paladin
Through a combination of Eaglehorn Bow and my early minions I manage control the early board. I follow up his solitary Mysterious Challenger with my own busted 6 drop, Savannah Highmane. Even though he Coghammers his 9/8 I have enough damage to punch through it and win on turn 7.

G2 Secret Paladin Mirror
Our early game is evenly matched with him playing T2 Muster for Battle into T3 Haunted Creeper against my T2 Shielded Minibot into Muster for Battle. In the next few turns I pull ahead with Keeper of Uldaman and push enough face damage with Blessing of Kings to win on turn 7.

R6 vs vcT

Lineup: Priest Mage Warrior. This is the first Bo5

G1 Hunter vs Control Priest
He opens with Zombie Chow into T3 Deathlord. I fail to find Hunter's Mark and get to see that Deathlord live to be a 4/12 that I can’t kill.

G2 Hunter vs Patron
His Unstable Ghoul and Frothing Berserker contest my board early and on turn 5 he makes 4 Grim Patrons. I get him to 9 with some damage in my hand but he drops Armorsmith and locks the game up.

G3 Hunter vs Freeze Mage
I can’t manage to land much of a board early on. He drops Emperor Thaurissan on curve and Alexstrasza soon after. After popping 2 Ice Blocks he finds enough damage to burn me out.

Post Mortem

vcT’s lineup was aiming heavily to target Secret Paladin and it worked out well for him. It turns out his lineup was also favored against every other part of my lineup making the match an uphill battle for me. Is this a failure? Going by what I said above about lineups being unpredictable, no, this isn’t a failure. In 7 rounds of a tournament you will play in a match or a few that you are not the favorite to win and part of winning a tournament is being lucky and skillful enough to overcome it. Given how well my lineup did in the rest of the rounds, I’m happy I brought it.

If I had to go in again, I might try Tempo Mage instead of Zoo to be less soft to Freeze Mage. I would not try to pivot my lineup to target Warriors move heavily because I’m fairly certain that the amount of Warriors I faced is not representative of the meta.

As always, any feedback about the site, article or anything else is greatly appreciated.

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