It’s time for the second decider of the year in the Hearthstone Championship Tour, once again taking place in Blizzard’s Burbank studio: as per usual, sixteen card-slingers are congregating to determine the four lucky players who will make it to the World Championship. It’s a field that’s lacking most of the usual suspects but features a few veterans and many new faces plus a controversial arrival, setting up an exciting clash.

The players

It’s a testament to Europe’s strength as a region that the current crop of its players in the playoff aren’t considered as strong historically as some of the previous qualificants, despite featuring Sintolol, one of the quarter-finalists from last year’s World Championship. 2018 really has been his breakout year as part of the Team Genji roster, leading the continent’s HCT point chart. While his fellow European participants lack the sort of standout accomplishment his top 8 finish was, they are also not to be underestimated: RENMEN is a real ladder extraordinaire, producing excellent results on a month-to-month basis online without many tournament results to his name – this makes him a bit of an unknown quantity in a tournament format. You could make a similar call about Moyen who’s pretty well-established in the scene in a different matter despite a lack of notable wins: you likely know what you’re doing when you get to practice with Sintolol, Viper and Bunnyhoppor. Hatul is perhaps the most interesting participant in the entire field, simply because he is the first Tavern Hero to qualify to the playoffs. Hailing from Israel, his lineup features a unique Control Warrior build that is trying to not auto-lose against Quest Rogue, featuring Frothing Berserker and the completely off-the-radar Festeroot Hulk.

HCT 2018 Fall Championship

Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the playoffs is whether justsaiyan’s incredible hot streak continues into this tournament. The Tempo/Storm stalwart is the point leader of the Americas has the most DreamHack wins to date and recently went on a 32-round winning streak in competitive events. He’s picked up four top four tour stop finishes this year, culminating in his title win at DreamHack Montreal – in terms of recent performances, he’s the one to beat, but favorites have never really made it through the playoff and championship grinder so far in Hearthstone history. On the other side of the spectrum, Bloodyface is one of the veterans in the scene who has finally made the leap to become a full-time Hearthstone competitor, barely squeaking into the regional playoff top eight thanks to his tie-breakers. Lnguagehackr and Tincho round out the American field, the former a bastion of consistency and the latter quite the dark horse.

Moving on to Asia-Pacific, Tyler is a former EU stalwart whose recent move to Vietnam clearly hasn’t deterred him from pursuing Hearthstone in a erious manner, DacRyvius, the point leader and runner-up at HCT Bangkok, Bloodtrail who gets to redeem himself after all the misplays from his appearance at the last championship and Akumaker whose qualification was mired in controversy due to a contested re-game in the decider match against Sequinox.

China is always the odd one out from our perspective: most of the players are fairly unknown to a Western audience – three of the players participated in the recent EU vs CN competition and none of them made it out of the groups. That’s not a sign that they should be underestimated but that you should wait and see how they perform in the first round before lodging a bet on them.

The line-ups

Three classes dominate the playoff lineups: every single player brought some form of Druid – predictably, Malfurion the Pestilent and Flobbidinous Floop are two of the four most popular legendaries brought to the tournament, featured in every non-Taunt archetype – while fourteen participants gave a nod to Warlock and thirteen opted to use Rogue. While these classes are close to omnipresent in everyone’s arsenal, there’s no clear fourth preference: seven Hunters and Shamans made it to the playoffs with the other classes lagging far behind in representation. Perhaps surprisingly, only a single Warrior deck is featured here, and like we’ve previously discussed, even that is far from a regular build. Beyond Hatul’s truly odd Odd Warrior, his Big Druid is also worth paying attention to as it’s the only one bringing that particular archetype to the tournament. He’s also got a Control Priest, the only person other than China’s LionKing to do so. Looking at the classes, the odd one out (pun absolutely intended) is Paladin: despite having a viable aggro option, it’s been completely outclassed by the alternatives, meaning no one has decided to bring it to the HCT 2018 Fall Championship.

HCT 2018 Fall Championship

In terms of archetypes, Quest Rogue continues to warp the field around itself, forcing all control strategies to account for its presence by either banning it or trying to add oddball tools like Hatul’s Control Warrior does. In fact, many people chose to just bash them in the face, with Zoo and Even Warlock represented in an even number despite the latter’s overall superior numbers. Similarly, most Rogue decks are actually of the Odd variety, but make no mistake: dealing with that never-ending stream of 4/4 minions remains on the forefront of lineup-building decisions.

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