Hearthstone Red Bull Team Brawl intros new way to play

Courtesy of Red Bull Esports/Dan Szymborski

The inaugural Hearthstone Red Bull Team Brawl event was held this Saturday, and at first glance you wouldn't think that this was an earth-shaking event. The prize was modest at $3,000, only 12 players were invited, and it didn't earn anyone a single championship point. But what made this tournament a big deal is that it not only introduced a new play format, but presented another opportunity to nudge competitive Hearthstone towards team-based, rather than purely individual, play.

The Team Brawl took on the form of what is known as a "sealed deck" tournament. Instead of drawing on a player's existing card pool as in most tournaments, this format used a specially designed pack-generating tool, giving each team 48 simulated packs to open. The packs were spread out among Hearthstone's expansions, with specially created ones for the basic set and the game's three adventures, which weren't originally released in a pack format.

If you thought that part of the inspiration for this new type of Hearthstone mode was Magic: The Gathering's sealed-deck format, one of its sanctioned competitive modes, you would be correct. Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk, the founder-owner behind Tempo Storm, spoke to ESPN this weekend about the Team Brawl's genesis.

"The Team Brawl is the brainchild of Dan "Frodan" Chou. He had the idea to port the team-sealed format from Magic: the Gathering about 8 months ago. He approached Red Bull about doing a tournament, and they wanted to do something unique so it was a great fit. I definitely believe that the tournament was successful. There was a lot of discussion about it from the community, the numbers were good, and everyone had a great time playing."

From the pool of 240 cards opened from packs, each team had 30 minutes to build three decks, using no opened card more than once -- so, no using your opened Mad Scientist or Dr. Boom over multiple decks. With 743 cards collectible in Hearthstone, the highly refined deck archetypes seen in tournaments weren't going to be an option.

The sealed-deck generator is available if you want to try it on your own. Building three viable decks in a half-hour is a lot harder than it sounds.

For this tournament, host team Tempo Storm brought in three of Hearthstone's top competitive teams in Cloud9, Team Archon, and Team Liquid. The 12 players involved were some of Hearthstone's most popular names, from the saltmeister Reynad himself, to deck alchemist Cong "Strifecro" Shu, to perennial fan favorite Jeffrey "Trump" Shih, to Rumay "Hafu" Wang, who while not being seen often in constructed, is one of the world's premier Arena players. Even James "Firebat" Kostesich, the 2014 world champion and formerly on Team Archon, was able to participate, playing on Tempo Storm's team.

Most notably, no team in the preliminaries (or finals) built a Warrior deck. Competitive Warrior's two most viable archetypes, the legendary-heavy Control Warrior and the combo-reliant Patron Warrior, were impossible to cobble together in a sealed deck format, reflecting Warrior's weakness in Hearthstone's drafted Arena format. Warrior has made a comeback to an extent in Hearthstone's Arena these days, but some of that is fueled by the additional odds Blizzard gives for being able to draft a card from the most recent Adventure, The League of Explorers, and without Obsidian Destroyer and Fierce Monkey drops, no team could justify crafting a Warrior deck.

During the preliminary stage, the Rogue deck of David "Dog" Caero proved to be the MVP, going 6-0 for Team Liquid and playing a large role in powering the team to win their two preliminary matches, sending them right to the finals. One of Dog's six wins, and one that proved absolutely crucial given Liquid's 5-4 edge in their showdown with Tempo Storm, required a bit of unexpected aid from Tempo Storm themselves."

Down 4-2 with Firebat's Hunter facing Dog's Rogue, Dog at 28 health wasn't safe from Firebat, who was down to 5 health. With Drakonid Crusher and a fully-pumped Dr. Boom on board boosted by Leokk, Firebat had lethal. At least that's what Reynad thought, counting up 29 damage on board. As it turned out, the damage only added up to 27, leaving Dog at 1 health and all his minions on board, just enough for him to finish the game the next turn. The final two games of the match were won by Reynad and Haiyun "Eloise" Tang, meaning that after a 5-4 loss, Tempo Storm had to face off against Team Archon in a rubber match rather than head straight to the finals.

"The miscounting mistake was definitely frustrating, because it meant the difference between winning and losing the first match against Liquid 4-5," said Reynad, who was in good spirits post-tournament. "We knew that we would have won otherwise after discussing with Dog after the fact, so we were still confident in the way we built our decks. We just did our best to rally and avoid any misplays for the rest of the tournament."

After defeating Archon 6-3, Tempo Storm squared off against Liquid in the finals in a rematch of the first showdown of the day. With new drafts for the finals, Tempo Storm built three strong decks. The first two were a Paladin and a Priest with very strong early games, a necessity for both of these classes without being able to select the comeback area-of-effect cards as in constructed. The third was a Mage deck that had a lot of the strongest cards in the Mech Mage archetype that was heavily used in early 2015 after the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion set, which focused on Mech tribal cards. Tempo Storm went 5-1 against Liquid in the first two heats of the final match, clinching the tournament and ending a very fun event to watch.

With Hearthstone esports still developing, it was great to see new experimental formats. If you like seeing something new, February will be a good month for you: the upcoming Curse Trials presented by Team Archon from Feb. 17-19 will provide a sneak peek at the upcoming Standard format. But last weekend, it was Tempo Storm that stole the show, with the team overcoming a tough error to take the Red Bull Team Brawl in commanding fashion.