The second Masters Tour online competition of the year - themed after the Horde capital of Orgrimmar - is nearly here. As usual, most participants had to brave certain challenges to be able to arrive at its gates: from earning top ladder finishes to battling it through merciless Qualifiers. Only the chosen few (Grandmasters and top performers from preceding tournaments within the Masters Tour circuit) could count on receiving highly coveted direct invitations.
It's understandable that not many people follow the stories taking place in between various Masters Tour events - the qualifications happening over at Battlefy platform don't exactly make for highly publicized clashes, numerous as they might be. And in the more recent weeks, we've had the Grandmasters competition begin anew, casting its own shadow on the "lesser" proceedings. Still, all these players who try to earn their invites this way - from relative unknowns to a handful of recognizable names - tend to make their impact on the competitive Hearthstone scene as a whole. And sometimes help inform in-game metas we've all been experiencing, for better or for worse.
It Has Been a Strange Time
Back when we looked at the results leading up to the first Masters Tour stop of the year - Ironforge - things seemed very straightforward. We were firmly past the midpoint of Madness at the Darkmoon Faire expansion along with its revolutionary Mini-Set, with most decks that were being played throughout Qualifiers having some sort of relevance to what was still considered hot even weeks later. The only drastic change during that period was to High Abbess Alura (remember that 'Cheese' Paladin menace?). It was all rather simple to follow and keep track of.
Now, what took place on the twisted road leading to Masters Tour Orgrimmar has been anything but simple. It's been quite a whirlwind, in fact. First, we had 2 weeks of relative stability with tried and tested Darkmoon Faire decks as Year of the Phoenix was coming to a close (Ogremancer tech was saying hello). Then, the madness ensued. The Great Unnerfing, as it was proudly dubbed, saw a chaotic weekend where 3 mana Conjurer's Calling was a thing again, Charge became scary once more, and Galakrond, the Tempest tried to triumph one last time. It was also a very messy weekend due to a couple of weird bugs, such as Sparkjoy Cheat casting more than one secret when used and Grave Rune giving you copies even when used on enemy minions. Finally, Forged in the Barrens and the new rotation arrived for the final 2 weeks of try-hard qualifications, and we all know how that went - ruled by Deck of Lunacy at 2 mana, Sword of the Fallen with 3 durability, Pen Flinger going face and Far Watch Post with 4 health. Not a fun period.
In a way, it feels like all that happened a very long time ago. One thing that we know for certain: Masters Tour Orgrimmar will be nothing like its predecessor Ironforge, with the Qualifiers period so vastly different from what we're going to experience soon.
One small detour to Pandaria, please.
It's Orgrimmar on the Horizon
As you can see from the map above, no other city on Azeroth gets its name misspelled as commonly - even on the official graphs. Lore-wise, it's also a small stroke of genius that's where the Masters Tour action is heading next: titled after the capital of the Horde just as we find ourselves in the Barrens, the famous neighboring region. Makes one wonder if it was all masterfully planned. But, back to the business at hand.
Within Hearthstone, we find ourselves in the post-patch reality now and we already know there might be another version to come sometime after this very event. Although to make things even weirder and harder to follow for any casual observer, we can always count on Hearthstone Esports and their peculiar scheduling: there isn't much consistency within these established dates pictured above, as the qualifications for Dalaran, the third Masters Tour event of the year, have already started the other weekend - well before we get the chance to see the Orgrimmar competition all wrapped up. It's going to be a somewhat confusing trend going forward.
Speaking of that, at least this time we saw an official acknowledgement of what took place within relevant Qualifiers:
Larger appreciation and shout-outs are not something we often see on that level. Let's hope that continues in more detail. And there have also been various other interesting stories to follow.
Orange, likely the most prominent competitive player who is still trying to get back into Grandmasters rather than just settle for a streamer's life, was all about to give up on making it to Masters Tour Orgrimmar. The grind can be very soul-crushing even for the most dedicated out there, but, it turned out that mystical Hearthstone screenwriters had a different outcome in mind. Naturally, he wasn't the only person to accumulate 4x Top 8 finishes to qualify through - some other prominent names included the ever consistent BabyBear and Nayara Sylvestre (whom you might also recognize from the recent Crossroads Inn-vitational), TheTeacher & Reliquary; along with the likes of s8ris ("bad news" indeed), ChaboDennis, and Hearthstone Championship Tour stalwart Hoej.
Some of the winners of respective Qualifiers might also sound familiar. There we had individuals like wiRer, DrBoom, old school throwback with Kranich (who appeared in the aforementioned Crossroads Inn-vitational as well), another former Grandmaster Empanizado trying to get back in, the other brother in the form of NikolajHoej, and ThunderUP. Solary continued with its strong representation, including Odemian, Dizdemon, and Pilou (yet another Crossroads Inn-vitational attendee).
Two other players who emerged victorious deserve a special separate mention: Maverick and Tincho. Why would one of the top performers from Masters Tour Ironforge and a freshly minted Grandmaster even have to bother with qualifying? Well, this is where peculiar scheduling by the Hearthstone Esports team and one random unexpected event become a part of the larger picture. Once again referring to the map posted above: Orgrimmar Qualifiers started on March 4, one week *before* the Masters Tour Ironforge event took place between March 12-14. That's when Maverick secured his spot, prior to his subsequent performance providing him with a direct invite anyway. Tincho, on the other hand, managed to qualify on March 27... only for Justsaiyan to announce his retirement a few days later and thus passing on that Grandmaster vacancy.
In both cases, the real unfortunate losers were any people who got knocked off by these competitors meanwhile, over any relevant Qualifiers. Some of them might have stood a chance for more top finishes otherwise. As far as we are aware, nothing is being granted retroactively here - if somebody missed out due to these circumstances, that's it (instead, spots such as Maverick's get passed down the list to other viable Masters Tour participants; that is, somebody who've finished as nr 39 might still get their next direct invite whereas they wouldn't have otherwise). The current system doesn't fully account for such potential developments - both expected or not - what with its overlapping schedules between different Qualifiers, Masters Tour events, and even Grandmasters.
Last but not least, sadly not everyone who participated in Masters Tour circuit before was due their happy ending this time around. Paradox faced the unfortunate curse of multiple Top 16 (where you get so close, yet so far), while Eggowaffle found out firsthand how time-consuming Open Cups don't align too well with a busy life. There were likely more cases of deserving players who came up short, but we often don't hear about them as much as we do about success stories.
Guess the Decklists
While it doesn't make much sense to try to cover the past metas in any great detail or describe best performing lineups in the same ways as the last time - we've had too many shifting factors since, as touched upon above - that doesn't mean there isn't anything noteworthy to bring up.
We'll just let Highlander boss Zephrys the Great, Whirlkick Rogue, and the likes stay in the past where they belong now. Same as with the initial two weeks of Forged in the Barrens - it goes without saying that most results read as "[Insert Name] qualified with Spell Mage, Libram/Secret Paladin, plus Rogue with Watch Posts and/or Pen Flingers". It's almost shocking there were players who actually made it with different strategies (even if it just involved adding in Horde Operative where possible). Some were truly off-the-wall, some vaguely familiar. Yet nothing that might have warranted any nerfs... at least for the time being.
The Odd Ones
Some competitors decide to go against the grain. Occasionally, it even pays off. Not that it means we could easily replicate the results, especially so on ladder. But as a novelty of sorts, these always capture attention.
Everyone knows and "loves" their Control Warlocks, but Tickatus' evil nature is even more fitting for this style:
I'm still not sure how this deck ever manages to win anything by burning so many of its own cards. If you dodge destroying the truly crucial ones... Have not dared to try this one yet or craft Neeru Fireblade - and judging from ladder experiences, not many people have either.
Part of this lineup also managed to marry C'Thun, the Shattered and Yogg-Saron, Master of Fate in Control Priest.
Token Druids were a familiar sight, which is nothing new. This was a lot more unexpected:
Celestial Alignment was a true darling of Forged in the Barrens previews and theorycrafting streams. But it has not fared nearly as well competitively since. Still, once in a while miracles can happen.
As seen here alongside the usual strong choices.
Warriors weren't exactly faring well before the recent patch, so this took everyone by surprise:
Curiously no Rattlegore with Faceless Manipulator that was said to be the future of Control Warrior. Makes one wonder if there is more to uncover with this archetype.
On top of that, the deck was accompanied by yet another Celestial Alignment Druid.
The More Familiar
Other choices weren't perhaps as rare, but still sought to avoid playing only the most popular classes. And they did rise in popularity since the patch.
Lifesteal Demon Hunter does refuse to give up:
I guess it will always have it fans. Taelan Fordring to tutor Il'gynoth was a nice touch. More recently there has been experimentation with "Green Rag" - that is, Felsoul Inquisitor, but it remains to be seen whether that proves more consistent.
There were several such lineups, in this case also marking the beginnings of Tenwu of the Red Smoke plus Alexstrasza the Life-Binder combos.
One deck variation that was waiting to break into Tier 1 belongs to Priest. But even then people were having a lot of decent results with it in the Qualifiers, often replacing either Paladin, Mage, or Rogue:
Nothing terribly surprising there, over time we've started seeing other versions with Lightshower Elementalwith Kazakus, Golem Shaper considerably more.
In the end, the class did reward a lot of people who put their faith in the light.
And of course, there had to be the inevitable: going face. No wonder we started seeing more Hunter after the nerfs, yet even before it was clever enough to find a way:
Worth noting that some of the cards have been deemed redundant since, as people tried to make room for Mankrik along with Barak Kodobane more recently.
That's also when we were seeing Weapon Rogue as its faithful companion for aggressive lineups.
If you have any lasting interest in this sort of thing, there are valuable sources that help keep an eye on all related developments:
- Twitter, where people like NPH Pasca offer tons of updates, and Paradox covers Masters Tour Qualifiers Metas
- Off Curve website, showcasing winners, Top 8s, bans and everything else across neat tables
- d0nkey.top, as advertised by many for deck codes and relevant data; and even by HSEsports as shown above
It's a wealth of options for anyone wishing to dig through.
Enjoy Your Visit to Orgrimmar
Hopefully, the upcoming event will prove just a tad more straightforward than the associated Qualifiers. We will check back in a few days to see who will have managed to climb all the way this time. Perhaps there will be some new discoveries to talk about, it's a larger creative bunch competing for the honors.
Have you tried your own luck with any of the Qualifiers, or intend to? Know somebody who might have? Does this kind of level of competition pique your interest? Looking forward to seeing if any of the participants or decks make for a story worth telling? Tell us your thoughts!