Edging out the competition: A look at G2's dominant run in Standard Hearthstone

by Keith Capstick Aug 12 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Kim Ventura / DreamHack Flickr

G2 Esports is on top of the competitive Hearthstone world.

In recent months we’ve seen Dima “Rdu” Radu take down DreamHack Summer and the Truesilver Invitational, Thijs “Thijs” Molendijk win EU Spring Champs and Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy win SeatStory V, with the other two joining him in the Top 8. It’s clear that since Blizzard introduced Standard as Hearthstone’s competitive format of choice G2, and particularly these three top players, have been among the most dominant in the game. There’s simply no team that boasts this kind of Standard prowess.

So what gives G2 that competitive edge? We’ve certainly gotten used to seeing some ingenious tech in the hands of these players at premier events. Thijs attributes their success to their team just taking these big events just that much more seriously than the rest of the field.

“I think we take the competitive side of Hearthstone more serious than other teams. A lot of players use ladder as their most important practice for tournaments,” Thijs said. “[But] practicing against each other gives more benefit because you know you play against a good player, you can discuss plays and improve more with finding out new strategies.”

Thijs also says that the team applies this to every event, ensuring that they prepare together and don’t simply use ladder-play for preparation.

“We have conversations with each other to decide what strategy we can use to create the best edge against what we expect players will bring,” Thijs said. “Afterwards we play some games, and sometimes it also turns out the strategy doesn’t work after one-two days of playing.”

He also said that when practicing and applying these new ideas and strategies they aren’t trying to win against each other but find the best ways to amplify their ideas.

“Winning is not important. For example I sometimes mulligan my best cards away to see how the matchup is without them,” Thijs said. “What we want is to realize what the problems are for different matchups, how we can fix them or learn how to handle these situations to look for our best percentage outs [in specific situations].”

Here you can see where a team like this can find its edges, so that when they’re deep into an event and very niche interactions come up they can ensure that they’ve prepared for even the rare styles of play. Thijs even said that in these testing games they will mulligan away cards like Fiery War Axe or Innervate to properly test games when their decks are operating at their weakest.

One of the specific areas G2 has seemed to excel compared to the rest of the field is in their ability to prepare and tweak existing archetypes for a specific field of competitors. At Seat Story V, Thijs and Lifecoach brought a Rogue build that featured both a Dark Iron Skulker and a loan Argent Squire to help compete for the board against aggressive strategies. Anyone who saw the event knows these small changes made a world of difference for G2 and as Thijs said, the changes were simply a concession to needing to improve their win percentage in practice.

“Right before SeatStory there was a huge increase of Token Druid, and Zoo has always been a top-tier pick in Last Hero Standing. We were planning on banning Shaman, so these were the main two decks to target,” Thijs said. “Skulker is just really great to deal directly with the forbidden ritual of zoo but also just kills almost all the minions that are on board. We had an issue getting a good win percent against Druid, one-damage AoE spells were often not good enough because tokens often gain 2 health once being played, so Skulker made a lot of sense to get a step ahead.”

The Squire ended up as a general improvement to Rogue after the team found that the conventional “pass then Dagger” Rogue start wouldn’t be good enough for the event.

When deciding on the archetypes themselves, G2 first looks to the tournament’s format for guidance. In Last Hero Standing G2 first looks at the deck it’s looking to ban, Thijs says that the team looks to either ban the best deck or find a deck that counters it effectively. “In conquest the [decks] are more important than the ban, often you want to target two popular classes for a best-of-five and you ban the deck [that hurts you the most.]”

Putting aside the sheer density of scope G2’s preparation for events, one thing remains constant — a strict practice regimen and as Thijs puts it, “a want to win.”

This is what the EU Champ said makes his team ahead of every other competitive Hearthstone team out there.

“We are really critical of ourselves and always want to improve. When I won the European Championship I was proud at myself and really satisfied how I played and performed,” Thijs said. “But I also knew I had a few turns that were arguable. I had still room to improve. It’s a process that keeps going, you need a lot of motivation and you are never done with improving yourself.

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."