This weekend I participated in the 1600 Dust Standard Pauper tournament. I ended up finishing in third place, but the journey was at least half the battle. As it turns out, some of what follows was proven incorrect come tournament time, but I think it’s instructive for me and maybe my readers to look at the process as it came. If you see any errors in my prep that you think might help me in preparing for future events, I would love some pointers.
INITIAL FORMAT ASSESSMENT
I started by looking at the card pool, class by class. I quickly decided that Paladin, Priest, and Rogue appeared the weakest. Priest, as most players will remember, just has the weakest basic cards and hasn’t picked up enough at common to make up for that. Paladin and Rogue have some very powerful basic cards, but rely on combos that were unavailable to me (consecrate + equality; any of the powerful rogue spells + prep). So those three were immediately out of contention.
Shaman took a little bit longer, as it was almost there with a jade build, but ultimately joined the other three classes in the unplayable bracket.
That left me five viable classes that I needed to whittle down to three. I mentioned something about it on Twitter, and my friend/follower/fellow pauper tournament goer, Ellak Roach, offered to test with me. It was a small tournament, so I was a little hesitant about sharing my knowledge with someone who would likely be my competitor at some point, but the tournament was just for fun, so I took him up on his offer. We traded decklists and theorycrafted for a few days, then we spent one night trying out a few builds. With Ellak’s input, we decided there were more like nine decks we should be testing. Those were (I’m pretty proud of the decks we built, so I created and linked lists for each of them. Obviously, these were not our initial builds, but what we ended up with–save Mage, which I believe was my initial build. Egg Druid was also really close from initial to final, with just 2 cards changing.):
Zoolock (eventually brought this)
Discolock–sorry Spivey, but that’s just what it’s called
Demonlock (Ellak came up with an initial list we played a few times, but we quickly preferred zoo/discard so we didn’t pursue refining it)
Tempo Warrior (brought this and it was undefeated; MVP of the lineup, possible best deck in the format)
Tempo Mage (also brought this)
PICKING THE STRONGEST DECK IN EACH CLASS
We had to move quickly because our respective schedules only really gave us one night to properly test (prior to that, I had been taking my pauper decks to Casual play). As is generally the case in Hearthstone tournaments, the first step was to narrow it down to one deck per class (as players were required to bring three decks from three different classes). To that end, we started by testing within the classes. Ellak leaned more towards the slower decks (Control Warrior and Ramp Druid) whereas I preferred the faster builds (Tempo Warrior and Egg Druid). We pretty quickly agreed that Demonlock was out of the running and that Zoo was very strong (though I was not 100% sold on discard versus non-discard, I was convinced enough to move forward).
THE FINAL CUT
So, we had each narrowed it down to five decks–though a different five. In order to narrow that down to three, I went with my perceived power deck power levels and my comfort with that style of deck (and I think he did the same). This was a tough decision that took me several days to make. In the end, the best-of-three format also made me favor decks with solid matchups across the board and very consistent draws–as I could only afford to draw poorly in one game per match. To me, that meant Hunter and Egg Druid were out.
Hunter had some great synergies and very powerful cards, but it played similarly to Warlock Zoo, and it seemed to require more specific card combinations for its strength (in our admittedly limited testing, the deck seemed very dependent on drawing and correctly playing Unleash the Hounds and Houndmaster), and it didn’t have lifetap–making it more susceptible to bad draws.
Egg Druid felt even more boom-or-bust. When it worked right, it was actually good enough to compete on the normal ranked ladder (at least in the teens, where I was), but it did not have the late-game threats that full-budget Egg Druid has, so if they handled my early game, I ran out of steam very quickly and almost always lost. Plus, I’m not really much of an aggro player–my strengths are much more aligned with midrange play–so I was not as comfortable with the deck and felt more likely to misplay with it.
REFINING OUR DECKS
When refining our builds, we looked to counter the expected meta where we could. The standard pauper meta was, as far as we could tell, pretty undocumented and unrefined–so everyone would likely be figuring this out on their own. We figured most people would not put as much thought into this as we would, so the metagame would most likely be mostly the most obvious decks. Looking at the card pool, we figured those would be Mage, Ramp Druid, Zoo, and Midrange Hunter. I also expected a lot of decks to be on the slower end (and, specifically, taunt-heavy) because of obviously powerful stall cards like Tar Creeper, Nesting Roc, and Bog Creeper.
Because of the expected taunt fatties, I made sure all my decks had spot removal. Unfortunately, that was about as far into refining my Zoo and Mage decks as I went. The decks seemed to build themselves, and played pretty well in our limited testing, so we mostly accepted them as they were. Ellak thought Mage might want to take advantage of the powerful secret synergies in recent sets, but I did not think the underlying secrets made it worth it.
Tempo Warrior was another story. This was a deck based on one that I knew very well (I loved Dragon Warrior and took it to rank 5 two or three seasons in a row, until I got my golden Warrior), but had not played or seen played since rotation, and had not played without dragons (as it would be now) since long before that. I knew I wanted to play the following “core” 24 cards:
2 N’Zoth’s First Mate
2 Battle Rage
2 Fiery War Axe
2 Ravaging Ghoul
2 Violet Illusionist
2 Dread Corsair
2 Bloodhoof Brave
2 Grimy Gadgeteer
2 Kor’kron Elite
2 Fool’s Bane
As you can see from the core, there are a lot of strong individual cards in Warrior (Execute, Fiery War Axe, Ravaging Ghoul, Bloodhoof Brave, and Kor’kron Elite). There are also some solid synergies (like Dread Corsair’s reduced cost with weapons and Grimy Gadgeteer’s strong synergies with taunt and charge). I finished it up with the killer combo of Violet Ilusionist and Fool’s Bane, which gave the deck full-clear potential that only Mage could top. The Illusionist also, of course, worked with the other weapons in the deck and, in this format, was a solid 3-drop even naked.
For filling the last six slots, because this is a tempo deck, it was very important to have a very good curve and to be able to have strong plays on every turn. Ellak was the first to suggest I Know a Guy, which I had initially overlooked as too slow and not very impactful. I was swayed over because there were not a ton of 1-drops that worked well with Battle Rage or other deck synergies, because discover is strong in the pauper format, and because Gadgeteer loves both hiding behind and buffing up taunts.
Ellak also suggested Ironforge Portal. At first, I wanted something a little bit more aggressive (I had Arcanite Reaper) because I didn’t love the RNG of the forge, but I ultimately decided to go with it because it gave me something I always wanted to play on 5 and it gave me the ability to stay out of burn range against Mages, which I expected to be everywhere. It ended up fitting and playing amazingly.
The last six slots ended up being: 2 I Know a Guy, 1 Fairy Dragon (fills the curve, decent card on its own, great with Gadgeteer), 2 Ironforge Portal, and 1 Frost Elemental (very underrated card in the format). And, with that, it was time to play in the tournament.
THE TOURNAMENT ITSELF
We had to take screenshots of our victories, just in case there were any disputes. Of course, this was a casual tournament between friends so there were absolutely no disputes. Also of course, I only screen-grabbed my wins for this purpose, so I don’t have as much information about the games I dropped.
–Round 1: H8ersG0nn4h8 (2-0)–
He presented with Warrior, Mage, and Druid. I figured both my Warrior and my Mage were likely favored against Druid, but my Warrior was favored against Mage whereas I didn’t think the inverse was the case, so I started with Warrior.
Game 1: Druid v. Tempo Warrior (W )
His build had aspects of ramp and token, which did not jive very well in our game. My deck curved out well, topping out at a Violet Illusionist + Fool’s Bane combo to wipe his board and seal him away.
Game 2: Warrior v. Tempo Mage (W )
I figured Zoo had a bad matchup versus Mage and probably against Warrior, too, so I went with my Mage. I met some early guys with weapon play and drew both of my Water Elementals early. He Executed one, but the other was able to stick around and lock him out of the game. From that point, I used my spells to build the board while keeping his clear and eventually out-valued him until I got the win. Polymorph > giant taunt guy.
–Round 2: Blakarot (2-0)–
He brought an unexpected lineup with Mage, Shaman, and Rogue. Ellak played against him in the prior round and warned me that the Jade Shaman deck was powerful. I decided that Mage paired up best against Shaman and Rogue, and that I should have a decent shot if it happened to be a mirror match.
Game 1: Jade Shaman v. Tempo Mage (W )
I was a little concerned because even after mulliganing my entire hand I had a slow start. I was really on the edge of my seat when he Hex’d my first play (a Water Elemental) and he really seemed to have me on the ropes as he thereafter controlled the board with a Giant Wasp. Luckily, I was able to stall until Flamestrike to avoid Bloodlust and then fully commit to the board without fear of any of shaman’s more impactful AoE.
Game 2: Mage v. Tempo Warrior (W )
I still had to assume Rogue was pretty weak, so I figured the most likely follow-up was Mage. As described above, I tuned my Warrior to have a solid matchup against Mage, so I felt good going into this. Things went pretty much according to plan and he didn’t draw Flamestrike, so he had no chance.
–Round 3: Shadow Dragon (2-0)–
He brought Paladin, Hunter, and Mage. I didn’t know what to expect from Paladin, but knowing the types of cards available to Paladin, I decided that Tempo Warrior was probably favored against all of his classes and a safe start.
Game 1: Mage v. Tempo Warrior (W )
I started a little slow against his perfect curve, but Ravaging Ghoul helped me catch up. After a few more back-and-forths, the game was essentially sealed when my Ironforge Portal gave me a Grimy Gadgeteer.
Game 2: Aggro Paladin v. Tempo Mage (W )
I knew that Zoo lost to hunter, so I decided to play Mage again. His Aggro Paladin used buffs and Murloc synergies for sustain and (through the murlocs) to gain access to cards outside of the card pool. It was much stronger than I gave it credit for in my initial assessment, and he was able to get me to 11 before I could Flamestrike (IIRC it could have been even lower, but he decided to make a few trades). Even after the Flamestrike, he had enough gas that it was scary. I got lucky with another portal–this time generating a taunt–and was thereby able to ensure that I won the race to lethal.
–Round 4: LAHARS (1-2)–
He brought Warrior, Druid, and Hunter. Warrior was a bit of a mystery, but (as discussed above) I figured it was more likely some sort of taunt-based control warrior like what Ellak was bringing. So I yet again started with Tempo Warrior, which I knew to be favored against either 2/3 of or his entire lineup.
Game 1: Hunter v. Tempo Warrior (W )
He stood absolutely no chance. I don’t even have notes, just “it’s a highly favorable matchup, so I stomped him.” I think an early Ravaging Ghoul cleared his whole board and then my midgame taunts put it away.
Game 2: Hunter v. Zoo (L)
I thought his Warrior might have given my Mage problems but would most likely be OK for my Zoo deck, and every other one of my opponents switched decks after the first game, so I thought I’d get tricky and play Zoo into a field wherein Hunter was still available. In hindsight, that was super dumb and perhaps the biggest mistake I made during tournament play. Of course, he stuck with his Hunter. He got me with a devastating turn 3 Unleash the Hounds that cleared my entire board, but I was able to fight back and make it close. Eventually, I had board position and a Blastcrystal Potion and a Soulfire in my hand, but he dropped a 5-mana 8/2 Stealth that I honestly had not even realize was in the card pool. Womp womp.
Game 3: Pirate Warrior v. Zoo (L)
Despite mulliganing 2 of my 3 cards (keeping a turn 3 play–thinking he was probably a slower warrior against which I could do that), I did not get any turn 1 or 2 plays. Meanwhile, he coined into Fiery War Axe on turn 1 and then played Bloodsail Raider on 2. I somehow managed to claw back a bit, but he had me down to 10 on turn 5. IIRC, on the last turn he was on topdeck mode and about 1/3 of my deck was potential outs (I had something like 1 Glacial Shard, 2 Voidwalker, 1 Ravasaur, and 2 Ravenous Double-Adapter left). I actually got the Double-Adapter, but neither adaptation offered Taunt, so he was able to topdeck the Arcanite Reaper and take game 3.
–Round 5: the Cinder Ascendant (of Coin Concede) (1-2)–
Spoiler alert, Cinder ended up winning the whole thing, so he posted his lineup on Twitter. He used Druid, Hunter, Mage. Of course, I did not know what his lists were at the time, I just knew that my tried-and-true Tempo Warrior deck had a favorable matchup against all three of those classes. My notes are a little light on this entire match. I think that was because we were playing pretty quickly and because I was more focused on playing the game than taking notes. If you’re reading this, Cinder, please don’t take my brevity (or, though I hope not) inaccuracies for a lack of interest or an excess of salt.
Game 1: Hunter v. Tempo Warrior (W )
My tempo warrior did what it was supposed to do and curved out with minions that his deck was not designed to handle, and he could not compete. I kept control of the board and eventually took the game pretty comfortably.
Game 2: Egg Druid v. Tempo Mage (L)
I wasn’t about to make the same mistake two matches in a row, and my Zoo felt like a liability against his Mage anyway, so I risked the mirror match and queued my Mage into what I was hoping would be Ramp Druid. We had a little bit of back and forth in the early turns but I whiffed on 4 (with a hand full of 7 mana spells), which gave him a good Soul of the Forest that essentially ended the match.
Game 3: Hunter v. Tempo Mage (L)
I was almost certain he’d bring his Hunter back instead of slogging through the mirror, so I stuck with Mage. Unlike the full-budget versions of our decks, he did not have a ton of deathrattles to give me the most fits, so I felt ok going into it. The match started exactly how I wanted it to, and then exactly how I didn’t want it to. He went turn 1 Alley Cat so I went Turn 1 Wyrm, Coin, Missiles. Unfortunately, all 3 of my missiles missed (going face instead), and he was able to clear my Wyrm and keep the board advantage. It was all downhill from there as he was able to finish me off before I could cast Flamestrike on 7.
Looking at Cinder’s lists on Twitter, his Druid and Hunter look pretty similar to what I was testing, yet he clearly liked them better than I did. One notable difference is that he runs Tortollan Forager in his Druid, which is a great add that helps with the lack of finishers/running out of fuel that I didn’t like in the deck. His Mage runs the secret package where mine did not, but I never saw it played and I don’t know how well it worked for him.
I learned a few lessons from my “good-not-great” performance. Unfortunately, these were all lessons I should have learned a long time ago.
1. Don’t under-estimate your opponents: As I stated above, I figured that most of my opponents would not have spent as much time as I did testing for the meta and, as a result, my predictions about the meta turned out to be wrong. A lot of my opponents actually did spend less time prepping for this than I did, but even still, the meta was not as filled with “obvious” decks as I thought. It was stupid of me to expect that people would not bring fast decks just because the first cards they might have thought of off of the top of their heads were slower cards. There are filter and search functions in this game FFS!
To give myself a little credit, I was pretty spot-on for the early rounds, but the top competitors were not as easy as all that. Had I given my opponents more credit, I probably would have made a few different card selections, especially in my mage deck, which ended up a bit slower than it should have been.
2. Don’t take any decks for granted: We almost immediately decided that my Mage and Zoo builds were solid, so we did not spend very much time testing or tweaking them. In fact, I thought Zoo might have been the strongest deck in the format. Conversely, Tempo Warrior felt like uncharted territory, so I spent a lot of time testing and refining that deck. As a result, Tempo Warrior ended up going undefeated while Mage dropped a couple games it perhaps should not have and Zoo got curb-stomped (though, as noted, Zoo’s results are a little unfair because it got queued into a bad matchup and got some really unlucky draws).
Conversely, the tournament showed me that I may have been too quick to dismiss certain classes. I face both Shaman and Paladin and they were both much more competitive than I thought they would be (Blakarot’s Jade Shaman was apparently a bit of the talk of the town in the 1600 Dust discord). I know my good friend GreenRanger brought his baby Valeera and was somewhat happy with the results as well. This goes to show how rich the format truly is, and that I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss decks without testing, just as I should not have been so quick to accept them.
3. Learn some matchups, and plan around them: As noted above, I decided to just bring the “best decks.” That was a mistake; I shouldn’t have brought Zoo. I really liked the build on paper/ in a vacuum, but I knew I would see a lot of Mage and Hunter and I knew it would be bad against them (Mage for Flamestrike, Hunter for Unleash the Hounds and Houndmaster). Especially in the no-bad format, that left me with A LOT of games in which I did not feel safe queuing up Zoo (any time either a Hunter or Mage remained which, since this was double elimination and a lot of people brought one or both, was almost never). As a result, I only played Zoo twice–and one time was a matchup coinflip I ended up losing. I essentially pigeonholed myself into bringing two decks when everyone else got to bring three. This was a really big disadvantage that I easily could have avoided had I spent a bit more time thinking about the meta and particular matchups within it while creating my line-up.
4. Learn other playstyles: The only other time I did anything similar to a tournament (a Fireside Gathering casual bracket), I had a similar experience in which one deck (at that time, Dragon Warrior) went undefeated and my other decks ended up falling flat. As primarily a ladder player, I tend to find one deck I like and that is viable in the meta and then mastering it, without really learning any other decks more than is necessary to beat them.
In this tournament, Egg druid did very well for Cinder, who smashed me with it and went on to win the whole tournament. Had I been more comfortable with face-type archetypes, I might have felt comfortable enough to bring the deck and take advantage of that power as well. It was not at issue in this format, but I would have had similar issues feeling uncomfortable bringing decks like Freeze Mage or Miracle Rogue in other formats/metas. If I were to get serious about Hearthstone, I would be at a severe disadvantage if I didn’t branch out more.
All-in-all, I was a little disappointed I didn’t win the whole thing, but I had some great games and I’m pretty proud of that Tempo Warrior deck I built, which I’m pretty sure is the best deck in the format. Cinder definitely deserved the win, so I’m glad he took it since I couldn’t. It was lots of fun and I hope I can do it again soon. Big thanks to the 1600 Dust guys and to Fairestbiscuit for making it happen and to Ellak, again, for helping me theorycraft and test. Hopefully I’ll see you guys next time!