Fifteen-year-old William “Amnesiac” Barton of Team Archon took the Hearthstone Americas Winter Championship this past weekend on the strength of some expert Oil Rogue play and an unusual Anyfin Paladin build that made every ban phase a little more interesting.
Amnesiac brought some of Hearthstone’s most powerful archetypes with him to the event, with Druid Midrange, Control Warrior and Oil Rogue all at his disposal, in addition to his creative Anyfin build.
Although we didn’t see Anyfin much on the final day of competition, it’s important to note the warping effect it had on the ban phase. Opponents chose to ban Anyfin rather than face an uncertain matchup — which cleared the room for Amnesiac’s deadly Oil Rogue. Over the course of the tournament he showed he was a world class pilot of the popular aggro deck, riding it to numerous impressive victories even in unfavoured matchups like Control Warrior.
That was really the theme of Amnesiac’s tournament run: using tight play and impressive decision-making to overcome some of the most difficult and skill-testing matchups, including the RenoLock versus Control Warrior matchup in Game 4 of the Grand Finals versus Nostam.
Rogue vs. Control Warrior
Game 2 of the Grand Finals was decided before it even started, while players were deciding mulligans.
This was where Amnesiac’s Rogue proficiency really shone through. It was clear he knew the matchup so well that to give himself a chance to win, he needed to see Preparation or Sprint in his opening hand.
Amnesiac was able to keep a hand with Preparation and then draw a Sprint off the top on Turn 5, giving him the late game card advantage necessary to keep up with the two-for-one capability of the Warrior deck.
To fight against cards like Brawl that can undo multiple turns of board development, he played a careful game contingent on these cards, presenting staggered threats without overextending into a sweeper.
Thanks to the trademark Rogue combo, he was able to overcome a very slow start with late game card draw. His first minion of the game didn’t even come until Turn 6, when he dropped a Sludge Belcher. He managed to use his threats to make Nostam’s removal spells as ineffective as possible, presenting Piloted Shredder and Belcher as ways to trade profitably with removal while drawing cards. Amnesiac spent the majority of the match holding a Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, and was able to make these profitable trades and wear away at Nostam’s hand to eventually combo-off late game. The final turn ended with a flurry of Eviscerates burning through his opponent’s feeble 2 armor.
A big factor in Amnesiac’s win was Nostam’s lack of weapon control over the board. Generally, the matchup is so poor for Rogue because of the way its dagger-poking Hero Power is completely outclassed by the Warrior’s armor. But Amnesiac was able to capitalize on a weapon-light draw and knew exactly how to play it to come out on top.
The game was a highlight because it illustrated how Amnesiac used his expertise to buoy himself above the playing field throughout the event. Rogue is a deck that uses high skill-cap mechanics like combo to reward players for playing well, and in this game Amnesiac was able to turn conventional lines of play into exceptional ones.
Even the casters were worried when his first play of the game was a late Belcher — but his threat-by-threat maneuvering of the mid-game got him to the burn finish he needed.
The Anyfin Effect
Amnesiac used his Anyfin Paladin deck early on in the event to pick up some free wins off of unwary opponents. But it also worked out well for him in Day 3, when every one of his opponents banned it out. The insta-ban he was able to draw out was a huge factor in his eventual victory, because it left him free to play some of his strongest decks.
Players banned him off the deck likely because they weren’t familiar with it. It’s much more difficult for opponents to find an edge against an unfamiliar archetype than it is for the deck’s pilot to use it to take down existing decks with conventional lines of play.
The Anyfin deck in particular has some very polarized matchups. Aggressive strategies would have been able to get under it quickly, but the top players’ decks were so saturated with Control and Mid-range strategies that they had no real answer other than to ban it out. With opponents worrying about his ace in the hole, Amnesiac was free to take down the tournament with his best-tested archetypes, like his Rogue and Druid.
The deck itself relies heavily on inevitability in long, grindy matchups. For those who didn’t catch it when Amnesiac used it early in the event, the deck runs Old Murk-Eye, two Murloc Warleaders and two Bluegill Warriors, with the goal of getting them all out (and killed) early on. If you’ve drawn all of your murlocs and your graveyard is stocked, your first Anyfin can provide up to 22 burst damage from two 6/3 chargers and a 10/4 Murk-Eye. The one-shot-kill potential that gives against Warlock and Warrior opponents is almost impossible to interact with. Even if the opponent survives, the second Anyfin will fill up the board with chargers that have roughly double the attack bonus from twice as many Warleaders.
The deck functions very similar to other control decks, trading minions and removal spells early while looking to set up game-ending spells later on. But unlike other spell decks, Anyfin’s titular 10-drop is likely the best late game card you can play in those matchups. Of course the downside is that you have to clog up your control deck with all of these dorky murlocs, but in a slow metagame like Day 3 of the Americas Winter Championship, that’s a sacrifice worth making.
Anyfin Paladin likely will not be a staple in the coming Winter Championships in EU and APAC, as its weakness to aggro makes it a very volatile metagame choice. But don’t be surprised to see it going forward if the format grinds to a halt, like it’s been known to do in the past.
Keith Capstick is a Toronto journalist with an affinity for esports, baseball and casting the Magic card Chandra, Flamecaller. You can follow him on Twitter for endless live-tweets of university parties.