As we close the book on 2016, theScore esports has decided to look back at the greatest triumphs and most staggering defeats of the past 365 days of competitive Hearthstone. Not only did this tumultuous year introduce the Standard format and the dreaded Old God Yogg-Saron, but it also saw many new players reach the highest levels of HCT tournaments while old pros reached new heights of meme-ery. Without further ado, prepare for tonight's tale of glorious redemption and true terror.
Here are the best HS moments of 2016:
The Year of Yogg-Saron
Praised and feared in equal measure, no one really expected how oppressive the reign of Yogg-Saron, Hope's End would be when he was introduced with the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion. However, canny players quickly figured out that more often than not, Yogg's barrage of random spells would work in their favor.
The card soon became the bane of the pro community as whole tournaments and matches degenerated into glorified coin flips. While Blizzard was unwilling to ban Yogg from HCT tournaments, they did slightly re-design the Old God's Battlecry so that if one of the spells it cast silenced it or removed it from the board it would stop casting spells. Yogg may still be capable of ruining your win streak on ladder, but it's not quite the blight it once was as the chances of it backfiring are now much greater.
Korean pro Kim “che0nsu” Cheonsu discovered this at BlizzCon, when his last-ditch invocation of the End of Hope resulted in his Yogg silencing itself on its first cast with the only card more meme'd upon than itself: Purify.
Pavel reverse-sweeps Amnesiac, wins BlizzCon
Pavel "Pavel" Beltiukov missed his chance to go to BlizzCon in 2015 after a fatal misplay against Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy that left his opponent absolutely gobsmacked. However, the 18-year-old Russian was able to make it to the big stage for 2016 with an 11th hour win at the European Last Call Championship.
After making it through groups, it looked as though Pavel's BlizzCon journey would end in the quarterfinals as he fell 0-3 against 16-year-old wunderkind, William "Amnesiac" Barton. With Amnesiac on his Malygos Druid, Pavel's chances of coming back were slim. However, Hearthstone is nothing if not a game of random chance, and Yogg smiled on young Pavel as he took down Amnesiac four games in a row. No one can deny Pavel's skill, but the play that ultimately came to define the match — and birth a new Reddit meme — were back-to-back Babbling Books spawning him the perfect spells to neutralize Amnesiac's Malygos and Thaurissan for two turns in a row.
After that nail-biting match, there was little surprise to see Pavel rise to the Grand Final and defeat Artem "DrHippi" Kravets 4-2 to become 2016's Hearthstone World Champion.
Thijs goes 0-2 in BlizzCon
Save for perhaps Amnesiac, no player was more talked about going into the Hearthstone World Championship than Thijs "ThijsNL" Molendijk. Not only did he reach the HWC semifinals last year, but he became the second person to ever qualify for back-to-back BlizzCons with his victory at the European Spring Championship.
However, Thijs fans, many of whom staked their hopes on him for the Choose Your Champion promotion, were shocked to see him get eliminated in the group stage after losing consecutive seven-game series. First, Thijs gave up a two-game lead to Jason "Jasonzhou" Zhou of China and ended up losing the seventh game after mis-sequencing his Hunter's traps in the worst possible manner. Thijs fought admirably against two-time APAC champ Ilmook "Handsomeguy" Kang in the elimination match, but he ultimately lost 4-3 after getting charged by an enraged Grommash Hellscream.
Ostkaka kisses Reynad’s forehead at Seat Story Cup V
The Seat Story Cup tournament series has always been known for its lighthearted, house party-esq atmosphere, but the fifth edition took things to a whole new level when 2015 Hearthstone World Champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall gave Tempo Storm founder and CEO Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk a tender kiss upon the forehead live on stream.
"I know you're drunk Ostkaka, but I want you to think a day in advance," Reynad warned the Swede. "Think about the 2k upvotes, never living this down."
As Hearthstones most popular personalities looked on, Ostkaka leaned forward, grasped Reynad's temples with his fingers and pressed his lips against Reynad's forehead.
The incident resulted in a time of somber reflection for Hearthstone esports and generated a number of think-pieces.
Batstone strikes back against stale meta
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and HWC 2014 champion James "Firebat" Kostesich proved the old saying true when he decided to host a tournament with community-voted card bans.
Batstone charmed the Hearthstone community with a lineup of great players who had the freedom to play non-meta decks and not have to deal with losing a game to Yogg. for instance, the tournament's winner, Jan "SuperJJ" Janßen, had an Aggro Paladin in his lineup before MSG made that a remotely viable archetype.
Firebat recently held a second edition of the tournament, however, only one card was outright banned from the competition: Patches the Pirate.
Na`Vi, Dignitas and Team Archon leave Hearthstone
This year proved to be a poor year for the Hearthstone's esports ecosystem as several organizations either closed their Hearthstone division or shut their doors entirely.
Minor teams like ManaLight and Hearthlytics closed down early in the year, the body blows came in September when Natus Vincere and Dignitas both dissolved their Hearthstone divisions while Jason "Amaz" Chan shut down Team Archon after joining NRG. In the span of two weeks, pros like Amnesiac, Ostkaka, Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert and Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen found themselves without sponsors.
However, with a suite of huge changes to the Hearthstone Championship Tour promised for next year and displaced players signing with orgs like NRG and Alliance, 2017 is well-poised to be the year where competitive Hearthstone invalidates the doomsayers.
Thijs and Lifecoach go bungee jumping
G2 Esports teammates Thijs and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy took a break from climbing the ladder to jump off a tower after Thijs agreed to go bungee-jumping after losing a Race-to-Legend bet with Lifecoach.
While only Thijs was honor-bound to take the plunge, Lifecoach refused to leave his teammate hanging and donned the bungee harness himself.
It goes without saying this was one event where both players were more than glad to miss lethal.
Heroic Tavern Brawl
In November, high-level Hearthstone fans got to enjoy a very special Tavern Brawl...one that had a steep 1,000 gold barrier to entry. The Heroic Tavern Brawl was essentially a high-stakes version of Arena where players with the gold (or who were willing to put down cold, hard cash) had three chances to reach 12 wins with a constructed deck and win dozens of packs, thousands in gold and dust, and three golden legendaries.
Twitch streamers had a field day with the format, attempting to go through the gauntlet with the funniest, weirdest, most unorthodox decks they could make remotely competitive.
Year of the Kraken introduces Standard
For better or for worse, 2016 was the year Hearthstone reached maturity as a trading card game. With the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, the Standard and Wild formats were introduced and all the cards from Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes were taken out of competitive play.
While the community was sad to see old "favorites" like Piloted Shredder and Dr. Boom get dispatched to the pits of Wild, the new format allowed new archetypes to develop and to continue to develop every single Standard year.
Besides, as annoying as Pirate Shaman and Midrange Shaman are, at least they aren't Secret Paladin or Combo Druid.
Sasha Erfanian hopes you like his invention. Follow him on Twitter.