The third Masters Tour online competition of the year - themed after the floating city of Dalaran - is almost upon us. That's arguably the coolest digital location to date, with close ties to both World of Warcraft and Hearthstone universes. In a way, that's a very nostalgic callback for many. We've seen it become a neutral shelter for all denizens of Azeroth, moving around during certain memorable expansions for the most prominent MMORPG out there. Just as it was a central part of the narrative during Year of the Dragon within our precious card game, with Rafaam and his cronies pulling off a daring heist and League of Explorers racing to stop them.
It is no wonder then that several competitors felt compelled to note how it's their favorite place within the vast lore, as soon as they managed to secure their entry rights. But the road to get there was far from easy - it pretty much never is. As usual, most participants had to reach specific goals: 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 those highly coveted direct invitations.
Good memories. (Source)
Unless you are a passionate fan of Hearthstone Esports or even an occasional tournament attendee, the world of such qualifications might seem somewhat alien. Especially as they become only further and further detached in time from their respective Masters Tour events, and with the Grandmasters competition getting the vast bulk of any publicity. 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 even help inspire the deck choices you see on ladder. So let's take a look back at what's been going on during the time period where 120 Dalaran Qualifiers took place over on the Battlefy platform.
Shifting, Yet Relatively Stable Metas
Unlike the complete chaos that were Orgrimmar Qualifiers, there weren't nearly as many upheavals to contend with during the road to Dalaran. The time period in question spanned the second half of April and almost the whole month of May (as can be seen below on the graph), with a small break for when Masters Tour Orgrimmar was taking place.
Everything might've concluded just before the Wailing Caverns update, but we still had several patches changing just how exactly some decks were allowed to operate from week to week. Crucial Barrens Nerfs ushered us in post Deck of Lunacy/Pen Flinger meta, with Sword of the Fallen plus Jandice Barov earning deserved corrections, and Far Watch Post and Mor'shan Watch Postseeing their short reign of terror come to a swift end. Then Quilboars added a little bit of flavor and a new tribal tag. But it wasn't until the refreshing Barrens Buffs came to life that we saw new N'Zoth, God of the Deep archetypes surfacing everywhere.
There's been some experimentation here and there on the sidelines, and we've seen less popular decks snatching occasional victories, but for the most part the classes and archetypes that were dominating the majority of Dalaran Qualifiers are very likely to still form the same strong representation in the upcoming Masters Tour event.
Still stuck in Northrend, eh?
A Dash of Dalaran Magic
As has been the case for the Qualifiers and most weeks of Grandmasters (except with the addition of some relevant techs from the Mini-Set for the conclusion of the latter), we can expect certain trends to live on: a lot of Control Priest (with various Old Gods or without) to still draw bans, Lifesteal DH being everyone's darling, Miracle Rogue showcasing fine versatility, Rush/Control Warrior taking a hard stand, or Spell Mage and Token Druid fighting for their recognition. One class we are less likely to see is Secret Paladin variations - very strong during the qualifying period, but less so now. Perhaps Shaman and Hunter can rise up to the challenge?
Meanwhile, Hearthstone Esports continued to try to be a little better at promoting associated Qualifiers and the Masters Tour circuit as a whole - even though some of that effort still got somewhat lost between too-numerous-to-count Grandmasters posts. In any case, a couple of qualified players did receive a special mention. Oh, and Silvermoon Qualifiers have already sneakily commenced at the start of the month - as noted above, it can be rather confusing to keep track of it all.
Sadly, we also didn't receive nearly as many precious tidbits or interesting stats as we might've hoped in order to properly mark the end of the qualifying period for Dalaran. Which brings us to all those varied competitors who tried their hardest to get there.
The Dalaran Crowd
Orange has decided to change things up and instead of collecting top 8s for a truly nail-biting finish just straight up qualified during the very first weekend (even before the Masters Tour Orgrimmar happened) while playing non-favorite decks, to put it mildly. But the very first Qualifier victory actually belonged to trahison, who did so well in MT Ironforge and remains a prime candidate to become APAC Grandmaster. Even earned a special shout-out in the process:
The same weird story as we had previously witnessed with Maverick and Tincho did happen all over again - except this time with Silvors and Komik. They both won their respective Dalaran Qualifiers early on, then proceeded to do very well in MT Orgrimmar (top 32). Of course, they couldn't have predicted any of that given this odd disparity of dates between Qualifiers and Masters Tour events. It does mean that any players who got eliminated by them while trying to qualify got the short end of the stick, regrettably, while somebody else participating in that Masters Tour might've instead benefited from a direct invite being passed down the line.
And speaking of Maverick - he managed to qualify very early as well; yet again. While jokingly throwing some well justified shade at HSesports. As a runner-up from the first Masters Tour event of the year he was only invited to the next competition in line (Orgrimmar, which as we mentioned he didn't even need in the end), but not the one afterwards (Dalaran). Things were different during the previous year, where top competitors would be granted entrance to 2 consequent Masters Tour events. This new rule for 2021 has already turned out very poorly, as it simply doesn't respect and recognize the effort it takes to do so well in a field of several hundred players, while Grandmasters still receive guaranteed invites for every single event. And it also creates all this cutthroat messy environment with top players having to constantly requalify more than should be necessary.
Aside from all that, we saw many other worthwhile players ensure their triumphant results. McBanterFace got there once more. Hoej remained consistent even while playing Pokemon on the side, and his brother Nikolaj Hoej eventually followed. Another APAC Grandmaster hopeful, okasinnsuke, joined in. Cagnetta99, whom you might recall from Masters Tour Montreal, made his way in while being a little arrogant about it. Dizdemon and ThunderUP kept up their respective streaks, while WiRer won in an absolutely unique style (Clockwork Giant!). Otsuna also made sure to enable his uncommon lines.
Naturally, straight up winning once (or 'highrolling a cup', as some might say) isn't the only way to qualify. Collecting 4x top 8 finishes also results in an invite, and that's a true feat of consistency that is never simple to pull off. A number of players have managed to achieve just that, with Faeli actually doing so during a single weekend! He even had some handy lineup notes to share. Pascoa rounded up his performance with a very nice winrate. Tredsred also got there in timely fashion. Dreivo did seemingly benefit from some Clockwork Giant inspiration. Former APAC Grandmaster Staz finally breathed a sigh of relief, as one of Americas hopefuls DimitriKazov (not his actual name, if you can believe that) earned his spot as well. And this time around, Paradox was able to enjoy a happy resolution instead of dashed hopes. Last but not least, the regulars Reliquary and TheTeacher did what they usually do best; in this latter case, somebody took notice:
Alas, not everyone had a reason to cheer up. s8ris just narrowly missed out this time around, with 3x top 8s. DrBoom took his lack of qualification pretty well, buckling up for the next event in line. Unfortunately for Nayara Sylvestre, the streak of qualifications didn't continue with Dalaran. She had several good takes to offer on the lack of general motivation and the current questionable prizing of Masters Tour events, all of which ring true. And still ended up on a positive note. Luckily, there was one happy ending in store for BabyBear - while the qualification route didn't exactly pan out as usual, securing that spot through a ladder finish did work out.
Now That Was a Cool Lineup
While the decks being played during Dalaran Qualifiers have less relevance in our current Wailing Caverns meta, it can still be interesting to take a small stroll down the memory lane and see how the early trends, unique takes, and off-the-wall choices panned out for the players who dared to use them. If their lines of thinking happen to appeal to you, those might be the ones worth keeping an eye on in the future. As already referenced above, WiRer proved to be most inventive:
Reliquary of Souls is also not a card we get to see often. Or at all.
Malygos the Spellweaver to draw loads of Soul Fragment was another tech we didn't find much at the time. Although there was at least another one during the Qualifiers.
This was also the time when people heavily experimented with different takes on the Demon Hunter decks. Mainly Lifesteal OTK combos, but not only (Deathrattle wasn't exactly a popular thing before the N'Zoth, God of the Deep buff and the following Mini-Set). Somehow they all seemed to work out for their users.
Definitely a rare sight. Back when Mankrik, Kazakus, Golem Shaper and Alexstrasza the Life-Binder would seemingly fit anywhere. It wasn't even the only one of its kind.
Quite a fun concept, marrying Deathrattle with Lifesteal. Back then people were far more likely to just add the so called "Green Rag" in the form of Illidari Inquisitor instead. As seen with Maverick.
Before further Paladin nerfs, Otsuna came up with a nifty little concept. The Mage deck that he used was also far from the expected.
Annoy-o-Tron and Sunwell Initiate anyone? Some Divine Shield package.
Aegwynn, the Guardian wasn't good enough for most, but did the job at least in this and one other case.
Some folks were cheering for MegaGliscor to win with this peculiar lineup, and... it happened again. Besides the Warlock craziness, we also saw a very early use of Southsea Scoundrel in Control Warrior.
Just let them cards burn.
Even before all the Shaman buffs, the faith of one brave soul hitting face was eventually rewarded.
I don't know about you, but cheering for Shaman is the way to go.
For anyone willing to explore further on their own, there are several valuable sources that help us keep an eye on all related developments for the competitive Hearthstone scene:
- Twitter, where people like tireless NPH Pasca offer tons of valuable updates, and Paradox covers Masters Tour Qualifiers Metas
- Off Curve website, showcasing winners, Top 8s, bans and everything else across neatly arranged tables
- d0nkey.top, as advertised by many for deck codes and relevant Masters Tour data; even often linked to by HSEsports
It's a wealth of options available for just about anyone with enough patience and interest to dig through.
Enjoy Your Stay in Dalaran
Let's hope the upcoming event will still have some surprises for us in store, even if the most popular classes are not likely to defy expectations. We will check back in a few days to see who will have managed to climb all the way this time and earn the top honors. It's also the final event to decide promotions for Season 2 of Grandmasters, and perhaps it will allow the developers to fully decide whether there is a good reason for another nerf (or buff?) patch to hit the live servers in the near future.
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 capture your interest? Do you plan to follow Masters Tour Dalaran live despite potentially inconvenient hours, or wait for the VODs and recaps? Let us know below!