Barnes, Maelstrom Portal and Arcane Giant: Innovation at the Insomnia Truesilver Championship

by Keith Capstick Aug 29 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard / theScore esports

This past weekend at the third Insomnia Truesilver Championship we finally got see the One Night in Karazhan’s coming out party in competitive Hearthstone.

Jan “Ekop” Palys ended up coming out on top over Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert — who seemingly can’t miss the elimination rounds of a tournament — in what was a star-studded Top 16 including both Hearthstone world champions and both of the previous two Truesilver champions.

Though Ekop played more or less standard decks in his sucessful run at the tournament, over the course of the last two weeks at the HCT Preliminaries around the world we saw players dip into the Karazhan card pool and add new cards to some existing decks. This weekend — despite only the first two wings being available for deck building — the world’s best players showed us their prowess making big alterations to some of the game’s best classes.

Ekop did end up bringing a fairly stock class lineup in Zoo, Aggro Shaman, Yogg Druid and C’Thun Warrior however. While his finals opponent Xixo brought a little more spice with Zoo, Rogue, Anyfin Paladin and Yogg Druid.

Yogg Druid Reigns King

Of all of the non-aggro archetypes that saw a good amount of play at the event Yogg Druid of all shapes and sizes was by far the most dominant. Players vary in the way they build this deck, with some opting for more controlling versions while others like Sebastian “Ostaka” Engwall opted for more top-end minions like Y’Shaarj, Rage Unbound. Xixo even played a Gadgetzan Auctioneer variant with Malygos and Moonfire at the top of the curve for a combo-esque finish.

All these variations aside, they all featured the conventional Druid ramp package of Wild Growth and Innervate with Arcane Giants and Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End as the few unified finishers among all the different versions. What was interesting was the ways these players played their unique versions. The deck operates in a way where it presents impressive threat after impressive threat looking to just run the opponent out of resources.

The all-in ramp version looks to be paired against the non-aggressive classes and dominate the mirror, while the conventional version with more removal looks to play as consistent as possible, while the Malygos version has the potential for late-game explosiveness even after your opponent casts their Yogg.

Week in and week out players will now be pressed with the decision of what Druid mash-up they should play. With its success this weekend and the relative uncertainty of the list, we could see Druid become banned much more than we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Maelstrom Portal is an Auto-Include

As if Aggro Shaman needed more.

Seemingly every player was featuring two copies of this new card in their Shaman lists as a way to counteract one of their worst matchups in Zoo while also being just a strong card in general. Turns out it’s not actually that difficult to find value in an extra one damage to your opponent's board in matchups where Forbidden Rituals aren’t flying around but the key here is the Zoo of course.

It’s hard to overstate how much this one new card alters the way players pick their decks in sequence and decide their bans going into tournaments. For a long time players could play Zoo as their Warlock class in order to avoid the Aggro Shaman sweep in Last Hero Standing, which then allowed them to ban Warrior. What we saw this weekend was more and more players leaving Warrior open and banning Shaman in fear of not being able to pick up a win against the aggressive menace.

This change showed its true impact in the Grand Final where Xixo picked his Aggro Shaman right into Ekop’s Zoo. Feeling favoured enough in the matchup overall and looking to pick up a huge win that redefined the matchups for the rest of the series.

Building with Barnes

Likely the most popular neutral card from Karazhan across all classes was Barnes. The new legendary was a staple of Hunter, Druid and Paladin decks all weekend but was generally underwhelming. The floor on Barnes is very high, in that 4/5 worth of stats for four mana is just generally good, with the upside of it sometimes being insane when you hit a Ragnaros.

What Barnes decks showed this weekend was that the card is likely good enough to go even deeper into your deckbuilding arsenal for. Keaton “Chakki” Gill brought a Hunter list with what looked like almost zero “misses” for Barnes. This was also a feature of Ostaka’s Ramp Druid which was designed to make Barnes just about as broken as possible. Both decks looked to be good examples of pushing the envelope to enhance the power level of Barnes and get yourself some “free wins.” It’s likely we see these kinds of builds, in particular Chakki’s Hunter, going forward as players keep looking to push Karazhan cards to their limits.

Keith Capstick is a Toronto journalist and card game elitist. He's also interested in harsh music, root beer and casting the magic card Dark Confidant. You can follow him on Twitter for a below 50 per cent hit-rate when attempting to utilize "wit."