The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) tournament event held in Katowice, Poland and presented by The eSports League (ESL) this past weekend was a major success. I followed most of the Starcraft II action and even some of the League of Legends games and the word of the weekend had to have been “epic.” There were so many sick plays, strategies, and trophies plus prizes, of course, that could all only be described as truly epic. Hearthstone, however, was not one to be left out of the mix either and, debuting for the first time at IEM, our favorite card game made its presence epically felt.
Separate qualifying rounds preceded the weekend’s streamed semifinals/finals in order to determine the representatives to join the two invited players, Artosis and Gnimsh. These familiar names were joined by Lothar, who won the Poland-specific Qualifier, and SineX, the European Qualifier winner. Both SineX and Lothar boast backgrounds in competitive card games previous to getting their starts in Hearthstone, so the decks were stacked for high-level play and the games did not disappoint.
The format was simple and brutal – a best of five, single elimination bracket, with the winning deck continuing on until defeated.
Semifinal #1 – Lothar vs. Artosis
- Both started off with their Control Warrior decks and whereas a mirror match may not be the most exciting thing in, say, Starcraft II (sOs and Hero certainly proved differently though in the Starcraft II final), Hearthstone’s mirrors still present some intriguing battles. Lothar unfortunately fell far behind on the board by drawing into all his high cost minions early, and wouldn’t equalize until a turn 8 Baron Geddon. An offensive Alexstrasza by Lothar later would bring Artosis’ life closer to his own, but Artosis showed no fear, comboing into a Grommash Hellscream/Cruel Taskmaster and then smashing Lothar in the face with Gorehowl next turn to seal the deal. Game One to Artosis.
- In Game 2, Lothar brought out a Handlock deck to counter out Artosis’ Control Warrior. An early Ancient Watcher into an Ironbeak Owl allowed Lothar to take the initiative from the get go, and it almost felt like a flip flop of positions between the players from the previous game. Turn 8 Brawl would help bring things back into Artosis’ favor, ridding himself of Lothar’s Defender of Argus-ed Mountain Giant in the process. Lothar would later literally summon Leeroy Jenkins by name and with a nice Shadowflame combo, cleared out Artosis’ newly gained control of the board. Trading big minions turn over turn, Lothar was eventually forced to summon Lord Jaraxxas, but, once again, the combination of Grom, Cruel Taskmaster, and Gorehowl would do plenty of work to bring Artosis the win. Game Two to Artosis.
- Game 3 saw Lothar’s Hunter deck unleashed. All of the early aggression came in the way of Lothar’s Animal Companions, but Artosis managed the early tide until a turn 7 Baron Geddon helped wipe out the current threats across the board. The triple threat of Freezing, Snake, and Explosive Traps stalled out the next couple of turns as Lothar sought out a way to deal with Geddon. An Ironbeak silence and a Freezing Trap activation would end up taking care of that, but, in the end, a defensive Alexstrasza to preserve Artosis’ life and then the explosive combo of Grom, Cruel Taskmaster, and Gorehowl would deal the lethal damage necessary to send Lothar home. Game Three and the series to Artosis.
Semifinal #2 – Gnimsh vs. SineX
- SineX decided to start things off with a Control Warrior, which ended up paired against Gnimsh’s Aggro “Zoo” Warlock deck. Per the nature of things, Gnimsh gathered plenty of board control from quite early on with many low cost minions contributing their tiny cuts against SineX’s health pool. Not even a Brawl on turn 5 could save SineX, as a Knife Juggler remained and the board was quickly replenished by Gnimsh. Turn 7 presented enough damage to take down SineX and quickly bring this one to a close. Game One to Gnimsh.
- Next up would be SineX’s Druid deck. Early on, as per usual, Gnimsh was able to get plenty of minions out and apply some pressure, but SineX kept up nicely and wrested full control on turn 6 with Swipe. From there, SineX did not relent as he managed to Innervate Ragnaros out on turn 7, and win the game on turn 8. Another quick one! Game Two to SineX.
- Gnimsh brought out his Mage deck as a counter. After seeing Trump’s secret deck at Seatstory Cup, perhaps Gnimsh garnered a few ideas for the Mage returning to relevance in Constructed? His offering certainly contained some strange cards, as even one of this past weekend’s featured cards, Elite Tauren Chieftain, made an appearance. The early and mid game proceeded as per usual with no major surprises and both competitors trading minions back and forth. SineX managed a Ragnaros on turn 8, which would begin to turn the tide, as his initiative would force Gnimsh to continue to find answers. Not even Elite Tauren Chieftain could save Gnimsh, though, as SineX eventually downed Jaina with a Savage Roar-enabled board. Game Three to SineX.
- With match point for SineX looming in the back of his mind, Gnimsh was down to his last deck – Control Warrior. Again, more standard play was the mark of the early turns, with Gnimsh even forcing a Swipe out of SineX to take care of one of his Frothing Berserkers. Interestingly enough, we saw Nat Pagle make his first showing in the tournament in Gnimsh’s deck, despite its recent nerf last patch. (Although,Gnimsh is known for his luck, so is it really a surprise that he keeps the RNG fest that is Nat Pagle around?) Gnimsh received plenty of value out of Nat, however, fishing up four cards out of four chances. All of that card draw would finally snowball things into Gnimsh’s favor, allowing him to procure the standard finisher of Grom, Cruel Taskmaster, and Gorehowl. Game Four to Gnimsh.
- The final game of the series! SineX’s last deck was revealed to be a Handlock. This time, Gnimsh led off with Nat Pagle through the help of The Coin, and the patch change showed its effect as Nat never got the chance to fish due to SineX silencing him the next turn with an Ironbeak Owl. Turn six saw a huge play from Gnimsh, with two Armorsmiths in play comboed with a Whirlwind pushing him up to 13 armor almost instantly – more than enough armor to Shield Slam away the opposing Mountain Giant. SineX would end up low on health and setting up his board with two Molten Giants taunted up by a Sunfury Protector…only to be all Brawled away by Gnimsh the next turn. What can’t this man do with RNG? Gnimsh would then quickly end the game with Grom and secure his spot in the Grand Finals!. Game Five and the series to Gnimsh.
The Grand Finals – Artosis vs. Gnimsh
- Seeing as we only saw Artosis’ Control Warrior in his semifinal, it was interesting to see him open with his Shaman deck. He had the opportunity to see all three of Gnimsh’s deck, so the advantage was his at least from a knowledge point of view. Gnimsh opened with his “Zoo” Warlock. As we saw previously, it’s very easy for Gnimsh to load up his board in the early turns, and he did precisely that, which was then countered by a Lightning Storm on Artosis’ side. Unfortunately, the RNG was not quite on Artosis’ side, leaving plenty of minions left for Gnimsh and overloading Artosis for the next turn. This would be the pivotal moment of the match, as Gnimsh was able to finish things off a couple of turns later with Leeroy Jenkins and Soulfire (not to mention plenty of other damage left on the board). Game One to Gnimsh.
- Artosis next moved on to his Druid deck, the last one we had yet to see from him. With an early Innervate of a Harvest Golem, the aggro tide was stemmed fairly efficiently by Artosis, keeping Gnimsh’s side of the board very bare. Without the initiative, the bite was taken out of Gnimsh’s deck and especially stymied by a Mark of the Wild-ed Ancient Watcher. By turn 9, Artosis had things wrapped up and the win in hand. Game Two to Artosis.
- Gnimsh turned to his puzzling – at least to all of us observers – Mage deck for game three. The early game went back and forth with Artosis having to react to Gnimsh’s plays. By the mid game, a great board state had been established by Gnimsh. Luckily, Artosis drew into a Keeper of the Grove that helped him fight off a menacingly Defender of Argus-ed Cairne Bloodhoof and stabilize things. The battle raged back and forth, with even Elite Tauren Chieftain having an opportunity to rock out. Gnimsh drew into a Flamestrike against an incredibly intimidating board and that would pretty much seal the deal for his win as Artosis never recovered. Game Three to Gnimsh.
- And then there was one. Artosis was down to his last deck, which we had seen plenty of previously – Control Warrior. Resembling Gnimsh’s “Zoo” Warlock, the opening stages of the game found a healthy slate of minions doing work for him against Artosis’ health pool. Turn five looked hopeful for Artosis as he established a decent set of minions, only to be replied with by a timely Blizzard. With a Pyroblast in Gnimsh’s hand, everyone watching was holding their breath wondering if Artosis would a. make it to turn 10 and b. make it to turn 10 with more than 10 health. After turn 9, Gnimsh got him down to 6, utilizing a Frostbolt to the face. Artosis responded in kind with a defensive Alexstrasza, but the writing was on the wall has a buffed Baine Bloodhoof would combo up with a Pyroblast to secure that Mage win and the entire tournament for Gnimsh! Game Four and tournament to Gnimsh!
.@GnimshTV winning on the back of E.T.C… What a stud. 🙂
— Ben Brode (@bdbrode) March 16, 2014
Gnimsh gets the best of Artosis for a second weekend and tournament in a row! The matches were great and fun to watch. For a small exhibition tournament, IEM Katowice did the best they could with the production assets available to them. I look forward to how Hearthstone will continue to grow as the game matures and new features that enable smoother e-Sports production are added.
1st Place – $2,000 – Gnimsh (Bragging Rights card)
2nd Place – $1,000 – Artosis (Silver Onion card)
3rd Place – $600 – SineX (Consolation Panda card)
4th Place – $400 – Lothar (Stingy Accountant card)
All of the prize cards can be viewed here.