The sixth - and final - Masters Tour online 'stop' of the year (held within the Forsaken signature location of Undercity) will be coming to a close later today. Marking not only the end of yet another weekend of competitive Hearthstone, but also of larger worldwide tournaments hosted for hundreds of players in 2021 - as the upcoming World Championship is going to feature merely a handful of Grandmasters.
This was always going to be a very strange one. Slotted in between the busy card reveal season for the approaching Alterac Valley expansion, with the recent Mini-Set arriving greatly delayed on account of the hotly anticipated release of the newest Mercenaries game mode. Then having to ban two new, very interesting build-around cards due to the most awkward timing (Drek'Thar and Vanndar Stormpike ultimately weren't allowed as per this announcement).
And finally, there were of course these special Qualifiers leading towards the big tournament; however greatly desynced from the event itself (thus upholding the infamous theme where nothing was lining up well that Hearthstone Esports had going on over the course of the year). While we are only holding an 'official' goodbye for them now - in line with this last Masters Tour of 2021 they'd been so closely attached to - in reality the whole business wrapped up a good month ago; actually right before the previous Masters Tour Stormwind, to make things even more confusing (but the ladder qualifications still lasted throughout the entirety of October). The most peculiar schedule, continued.
Even when these things become difficult to keep track of, it doesn't take anything away from the players themselves. There is always a lot of time, effort, and luck that goes into making the Masters Tour cut - and Undercity Qualifiers were no different in that regard. Just like before, below we'll be taking a closer look at some of the interesting stories which took place along the way.
Should anyone be in the mood for a proper stroll down memory lane and recalling how this year of competitive Hearthstone was unfolding with its particular metagames or strange schedules, here are all our previous entries in the series:
- Masters Tour Ironforge Qualifiers
- Masters Tour Orgrimmar Qualifiers
- Masters Tour Dalaran Qualifiers
- Masters Tour Silvermoon Qualifiers
- Masters Tour Stormwind Qualifiers
Readjusted Rules in Place
Already mentioned that last time while going through everything related to Qualifiers from the Masters Tour Stormwind era, but for the sake of clarity: following a different set of rules here where maintaining a high winrate throughout replaced getting the 4 x top 8 finishes as a means of promotion (taking the 1st place still resulted in receiving instant direct invites). Remains to be seen whether this system extends into the coming year:
For the final two Qualifiers seasons of the year, we are adjusting how players earn invites. Winning a Masters Tour Qualifier will still earn you an automatic invite, but to reward consistency players will now earn Masters Tour invites based on overall match win rates throughout a Qualifiers season instead of the current top 8 placements system. Beginning with the Qualifiers for Masters Tour Stormwind, the top 50 highest win percentage players that competed in at least 20 Qualifiers without placing first will receive a corresponding Masters Tour invite. This is up from an average of 30 invites for four-time top 8 finishers.
For many people this indeed meant having to hit fewer top spots than before on average, but not everyone was completely happy with this change. It certainly punished streaks of bad luck that can happen with single elimination formats.
There was also a "small controversy" where Hearthstone Esports overlords decided to change the starting times for Masters Tour Undercity based on "player and viewer feedback". As you can imagine, no APAC or China player had a reason to feel good about it. While undeniably better for Europe and Americas competitors (or the online broadcasts with casters and production teams coming from these regions, aside from Jia), this didn't exactly come across as fair.
As always, everyone who eventually made it was being listed here.
From Stormwind to Undercity in One Swift Leap
We've had plenty of Qualifiers that spanned very different metagames (from one expansion to another, with Mini-Sets, through various balance patches), many of which were no longer relevant by the time their respective Masters Tours rolled along. In this particular case we've probably had one of the most consistent (or most boring, one could argue) streaks of the entire year: there was only one major balance patch between September 10 and October 17. No real breaks either, only Grandmasters concluding and Mercenaries releasing meanwhile.
Since the Deadmines Mini-Set took its sweet time to arrive, it was all just the same old United in Stormwind we all knew (and probably didn't all love). As a result, there weren't as many opportunities for the creative players to "break the meta" or come up with something wildly inventive that would then be picked up on elsewhere. The narrative of Undercity Qualifiers via the Battlefy platform was thus largely a very familiar one.
The first two weeks (or the initial 36 Qualifiers) still enjoyed Mindrender Illucia in her most scary form, "BRUTE ME DOOOOOOD" was still a thing courtesy of Irebound Brute, and Quest Shaman seemed fairly potent while The Demon Seed Warlocks were asking for another nerf.
Afterwards, the lowered power level and a few choice buffs allowed decks such as Pirate Warrior to remind everyone of their existence. Everything else felt largely uneventful - luckily there were fewer game breaking bugs in place, even as the Questline metagame continued seemingly undisrupted forever.
Really, there isn't much else to tell about that short period of time. Far from the usual chaotic whirlwind that Qualifiers could be, this was mainly a story of Garrote Rogue (largely still with Kazakus, Golem Shaper), Aggro Druid, Face Hunter and Questlines = be it Demon Hunter, Warlock, or Mage. There were some Warriors, Shamans, and Paladins in the mix as well, but nothing else featuring as prominently. It wasn't a graceful period for truly creative lineups. As is often the case, the players themselves were far more interesting.
Making it through the Qualifiers and into the Masters Tour is always quite a feat - regardless whether somebody 'highrolled' or heavily grinded to get there. We have had the usual diverse bunch of competitors. Some known due to being featured on the broadcast before, guest starring in Grandmasters, creating content, or otherwise being an integral part of the Hearthstone community. And then just as many waiting to make a name for themselves.
Do note that since all Undercity Qualifiers wrapped up even before the previous Masters Tour Stormwind happened, almost nobody could know ahead of time what to expect. So even though someone might've eventually done well for themselves in the penultimate Masters Tour, they were still forced to grind open cups before that (just in case), or otherwise had to pin their final hopes on the October ladder. Read: yet another opportunity to complain about the weirdest HS Esports schedule for 2021.
HSesports Twitter once again pretty much almost (there was a whole one late mention) entirely neglected the Qualifiers and any hardworking players taking part, instead keeping too busy with 'spamming' about seemingly every single ongoing Grandmasters match. So with that out of the way, let's head towards a brief summary.
Wet Goose took down one of the earliest open cups, with the pre-nerf Mindrender Illucia still doing the work. Blitzdormu Master Faeli followed in the second week without even having to rely on that Shadow Priest power. Hypnos maintained the ongoing good streak with a rare Warrior feature for a change.
Then we saw Tincho enjoying yet another good performance, and in a way predicting that Rase would repeat this feat soon after. Two former Americas Grandmasters still not giving up on their returning chances. On the former Grandmaster note (but this time from APAC), Hi3 has not yet had enough.
This time around Paradox didn't have to worry about maintaining a very high winrate throughout, as he took down a cup even before the halfway marker. But for Tredsred it actually wasn't enough to just win a Qualifier later on, as he just had to finish the entire season as the best competitor winrate-wise (with an impressive 74.32%).
D0nkey returned to high form by appropriately 'highrolling a cup', while Hijodaikan continued the extensive break from the problems of Wild (ahem, Questlines) by not only conquesting the Standard ladder, but also doing well enough in the Qualifiers.
Last but definitely not least, Maverick fashionably waited for the very last open cup of the year to continue that enviable Masters Tour attendance.
Many more players got their foot in the door by qualifying through the aforementioned winrates: S8ris coming in 2nd at 73.68%, Norwis making top 5 with 72.6%, or the ever famous Briarthorn fighting for that Grandmaster return and staying above 70%. We also saw plenty other familiar names on that list, to only mention the likes of Odemian and Turna. Dozens of deserving players as usual, and it's all saved for posterity here.
Unfortunately it also means that not everyone could get their happy ending. Among such poor souls, BabyBear and AyRoK both came up a little short of what was needed. The variance within the system sometimes doesn't feel 'fair', regardless of previous accomplishments.
That question mark is very relevant, perhaps "interesting" is a misnomer this time around. This just wasn't a very inventive metagame. The consistent decks remained consistent throughout (usually just one viable choice for the classes that mattered, rarely two). The rest tried to make their mark, more often than not with questionable results. But for what it's worth, here are a few arguably worthwhile mentions.
While Libram Paladin was the pick for many, winning with a different take? Fairly unusual considering the field during that time.
There were whole two (!) non-Shadow Priests who managed to secure a win. Somehow the faithful Anduin supporters still find a way even when it feels like a very poor choice.
Big and Control Warriors enjoyed a bit of resurgence halfway through the Stormwind meta, and this lean take on the archetype counted as one of the few succesful takes.
The familiar, yet not quite... Somebody must have decided to replace Far Watch Post with its distant cousin. Which seemed to do the trick in a heavy spell combo meta.
The usual reliable sources (and individuals behind them) helped us stay informed throughout the year, sharing valuable tidbits of information and allowing everyone to keep tabs on all relevant developments within the competitive Hearthstone scene:
- NPH Pasca serving us a one-man army coverage
- NoProsHere is where Pasca & Co. offered valuable insights into some of the Qualifiers under the Undercity signature
- Paradox going over various Qualifiers trends and then some across separate reports
- Off Curve website, showcasing lineups, winrates, bans and everything else across neatly arranged tables
- d0nkey.top, for all kinds of sortable data - winners and participants for each Qualifier cup, winrates placement over the entire Qualifiers season, or lineups and associated deckcodes from everyone involved
Hopefully the coming year will mean even better things in store for everyone involved.
The Year-Long Journey
This marks the end of the sprawling storylines from Qualifiers (and Masters Tours) for the competitive Hearthstone in 2021, as seen unfolding over 6 separate acts. Whether any kind of such detailed coverage for 2022 is going to make sense will heavily depend on what plans the HSesports crew has in store for us. Especially when it comes to engaging casual players or viewers with something other than just free packs, or maintaining any sort of reasonable schedule. There are still many worthwhile players in the community who stay under the radar.
I would love to say that such final report arriving rather fashionably late is just a meta commentary on how poorly this passing competitive season came across. It wasn't easy to care about everything even as a fan, all in all - what with the respective Qualifiers and their Masters Tours being so out of sync and difficult to follow through shifting metagames without much rhyme or reason, Grandmasters remaining more or less the same, and there not being any more opportunities for aspiring competitors or any sort of a grand plan being put in motion. And yes, it's true that the stark reality out there might have made things even more difficult for everyone involved - at least when it came to not being able to organize any live events. Then again, for many players the accessible online format might've actually been a blessing in disguise.
For now, we get to look forward towards potentially improved systems in place for 2022.
P.S. Try not to blink and miss the final Masters Tour Undercity results between all the upcoming card reveals!
If you've got any insights to share - be it with regards to the Qualifiers and Masters Tours, the competitive system in 2021 as a whole, or your own experiences as a player and viewer - don't hesitate to let us know.