Another chair at the Hearthstone World Championships filled this weekend, with Thijs "Thijs" Molendijk besting the field of eight to taking the Europe Spring Championship and taking down ANOX's INER 4-3 in Sunday's final.
A BlizzCon appearance is nothing new for Thijs, one of Hearthstone's most recognizable pros and arguably the most successful performer in tournament Hearthstone today. Thijs fell just one game short of making last year's championship final and becomes only the second player to make a second BlizzCon (South Korea's Hakjun 'Kranich' Baek from Team Dignitas was the first).
Thijs was also the 2015 European champion and also the winner of Team Archon's Curse Trials and part of the team that won the Archon Team League Championships. In GosuGamers Hearthstone rankings, Thijs now ranks, by Elo, third in the world behind Germany's Jon "SuperJJ" Janssen and Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert.
Did Thijs play an absolutely flawless final? Arguably not. One play comes to mind in Game 2 of his semifinal series against Loyan, in which he lost out on two armor due to the way he killed off his Armorsmith at the start of the turn. But it's easy to to see a mistake when you're comfortably sitting at home with time to deliberate, not sweating it out on a stage for a share of an $80,000 prize pool.
Critics will rightly say that Thijs received beneficial RNG on a few occasions this weekend and while that's accurate, it's not something unusual in any kind of competition in which there are significant random elements. Even in traditional sports, the team that wins the World Series or Super Bowl usually benefits from quite a bit of good fortune on the way.
What's important is that Thijs capitalized on his good fortune, playing lines in which he would most benefit if the fates happened to smile on his deck. Over a large number of games, any edge that wins you 60% of games instead of 58% of games is quite significant.
The best example of this is in Game 5 of his set against Loyan. With 22 health remaining as Hunter, with Loyan showing 15 damage on the board, and a hand full of spells and only a 1/2 Savannah Highmane in play, Thijs, instead of playing to survive, rightly played to maximize his chances of the win. He used two Kill Commands on the face rather than attempting to deal with the board, giving him the maximum number of outs if he survived Loyan's turn. Loyan's play of a tempo N'Zoth rather than Stampeding Kodo/Silver Hand Recruit and bringing Thijs down to 15 after removing the beast from the board only increased the number of Thijs's outs (Houndmaster added to Eaglehorn Bow and Quick Shot), one of which Thijs drew for the victory.
As exceL eSports's Nick "HelloLeeroy" Waugh predicted entering the final Sunday, the last game came down to the Miracle Rogue mirror coinflip, won quickly by Thijs, INER conceding on turn six after being unable to draw the cards necessary to deal with Thijs's 10/6 Edwin VanCleef.
Back when ESPN talked with Keaton "Chakki" Gill about his victory at DreamHack Austin, Chakki predicted that it would be a month until Hunter trickled back into the tournament meta.
Now a month later, Hunter has re-emerged as tournament deck, rather than the meme-friendly Face Hunter, a midrange build that uses some new cards (Call of the Wild, Fiery Bat) and some nearly forgotten classic cards (Deadly Shot, Stranglethorn Tiger). Six of the eight finalists brought a Hunter deck, all a midrange variant.
Uther and Anduin's Nadir
If you're a huge fan of one of the many flavors of Control Priest, you didn't have much to cheer about in this regard this weekend as not a single player brought any kind of Priest deck. Whether a traditional Control or a Dragon or N'Zoth Priest, Anduin didn't make a single appearance this weekend. This bodes poorly for Priest as a tournament class. As a reactive class that thrives better in a stable meta as it needs to make very specific tech choices, the Priest class should be receiving a benefit from more stability. Instead, the meta has stabilized around some of Priest's worst matchups and short of a drastic change in the deck archetypes played, it's hard to see Priest coming back in tournament play without a no-questions-asked powerful two and/or three-drop, something that the class would need another adventure/expansion to get.
Paladins were in attendance, but given the record at the seasonal championship, they might as well not have been. Paladin decks went 0-7, not even lucking into a single mirror matchup to rack up a pity win. Immediately after The Old Gods was released, N'Zoth Paladin was a popular choice as players tried out the heavy control decks, many featuring one of the Old Gods. Paladin thrived in that environment and was a popular choice in the early Spring preliminaries, but without a lot of those types of C'Thun/N'Zoth decks -- Esteban 'AKAWonder' Serrano was the only one who brought these outside the Paladins -- there just weren't a lot of victories in store for Uther.
BlizzCon adds another contestant next week with the Asia-Pacific Spring Championship on June 17-18.