IGN: How did you enjoy season one of Grandmasters? What did you like, what didn’t you like? How do you feel about the program so far?
Orange: Season one of Grandmasters was great… I play this game because I want to compete against the best of the best, and now I get to do that weekly. It’s kind of surreal and perfect for me.
I had a ton of fun, I thought it was challenging and actually, quite stressful, because you played every weekend and you had to submit decks by Wednesday, then you play your matches Friday through Sunday, you had to prepare for those matches, then as soon as the match is done on a Sunday, you’ve got to prepare for the next week – what decks and you practice the match-ups for the next of the days. So my whole life just revolved around Grandmasters while it was on, but it was a ton of fun and I can’t wait for the next season.
People hated on Specialist and I don’t think Specialist was great for Grandmasters, but I actually think it’s amazing for these type of events [- Masters Tour Seoul], which might be an unpopular opinion but for large scale events I think Specialist is a pretty good format, but when preparing for the two opponents it was a little bit so-so. I’m also excited about the new format coming up.
Viper: I enjoyed Grandmasters season one a lot. I mean, it was just the weekly competition thing, so going into it, it was different compared to the Tour Stops where you have like one a month or maybe two a month, so the preparation time was a lot different…
[It was] more like a championship, because you faced people you know beforehand each week, so just even here [at Seoul] for example, there’s a huge group of people, and you never really know what you’re going to face, at the beginning especially, because it’s just like, so many people, so many different ideas. And there’s always going to be, I don’t know, some guy that thinks that this generally constant bad deck is a good deck so you cannot be super, super bad against these decks, but in Grandmasters you just don’t expect that. In Grandmasters right now you could probably think of the two to three classes that are the best and would face them, so it changed the preparation… It takes away some of the match-up energy.
Tyler: First of all it’s a huge honour to play in Grandmasters. Being at the pinnacle of Hearthstone, being at the highest level, obviously that is exciting on its own. There was some critique from people who are not in it, that it’s not a fair system. It’s hard to get in. I get that. Most of us Grandmasters actually agree with that and we think it should be like some like league below it where people can get into it. Obviously season one was not the best way to present it, I see it more like a test season because like, we couldn’t even get relegated.
So in season two, that should change a lot where out of 16 players, there’s two players that will get relegated, also because of that it was not, to me, it was not that much pressure in season one. It started off very exciting – it’s this new thing, Grandmasters, but gradually for me over the weeks, I was getting less motivated. It felt like there was less at stake, so I think season two will change that. Because there will be pressure. Relegating would be the worst thing ever, no one wants that. Literally like, you have a career in Hearthstone and if you get relegated you have nothing. So, you know, it’s going to be way more exciting.
IGN: What about the stakes of trying get to BlizzCon for the finals? Because you were close, right?
Tyler: I got close, I made it to play-offs, I made it to top six. It hurt a little bit because you know that only one person makes it, so when you’re playing at that stage, you know that you literally have to win three matches… If you don’t, you get nothing, so I was a little bit sad that the rewards were so top-heavy. Second place gets nothing, third place gets nothing. So in a way I think that’s a bit of a flaw that places two to fourteen basically end up in the same spot.
FroStee: I liked the amount of competition that there was. I liked the fact that it took place over seven weeks. I liked everything that was going on then. Didn’t really like the format as much, Specialist is not exactly my walk in the park. I feel like a lot of players also feel that way, but I know that some really didn’t.
justsaiyan: I like the higher level of competition. The Tour Stop system was kind of a longer way to get to the same kind of top eight, same kind of top 16… but sometimes you don’t make it and then GM, from day one to then, you need to be playing your best and it’s going to be against the best players. So the competition for us from the inside, I definitely feel is a step up compared to last year. So that’s something to be happy about.
Fenomeno: Season one of the competition was fun. You know, it’s the high level competition and I honestly didn’t hate Specialist that much. I thought it was okay because people still had no idea if it was good at the start. The format was kind of new, so no one knew how to take a good advantage out of it. And people just didn’t know what the best decks were. And it was more interesting at the beginning, to figure out what’s actually good. But once it gets to the later stages, when people actually realise what’s good, then it gets a bit worse. Also, I thought it was a better meta for Specialist. This meta, with Luna’s Pocket Galaxy, I don’t feel it’s that good. But yeah, I enjoyed it though.
IGN: What about the mind games of knowing who you’re coming up against and then guessing what they’re going to play.
Fenomeno: I actually really liked this part. I heard a lot of people-
Fr0zen: You played Mage, like, every single week.
Fenomeno: I know, because it was good. I like the fact that you know who your opponent is and you know what they’re going to play. Because, a lot of people were talking against that. They didn’t want to know their opponents or who they’re playing. But I think it makes it more interesting, because if you know your opponent, you probably know what he’s going to play, right? And you have an idea of how he thinks. For example, if I was playing against Boar[Control], my teammate, I know that he would play something to counter me and he would go out of his way to do it, you know? While if I was playing with someone like Kolento, for example, I knew that he wouldn’t care. So yeah, I like that part.
IGN: Fr0zen, how about you?
Fr0zen: Yeah, I like the mind games part as well, like predicting what people are playing. I think that’s something I did pretty well. I liked season one. I didn’t like the format, obviously. I think that best of three is bad. I think we should try to go towards best of five, in the future eventually.
I also don’t like the fact that all the matches were streamed. I think that they should stream less matches. Maybe like more of the higher scoring people who are doing well and then cut some of the other streams. Also drags on too long, and then for weekends we just sit there waiting for our match, for 8 to 10 hours. That part I didn’t like.
IGN: How do you feel about moving away from Specialist? And what are your impressions of the new format and what it’ll do well and what it might struggle with?
Orange: So this format was tested by the Grandmasters before it came out. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but it was actually a Grandmaster that suggested the first sketch of the format and we kind of worked with Blizzard together, to be like ‘Oh, this is what we want it to look like.’ They were like ‘Yes, sounds cool.’ And then, so in the practice tournaments we played, it seems at first glance it’s like a lot of ‘just bring the four best decks.’
And that’s a kind of solid strategy, but I think that’s just a thing now when no one is really that experienced with it. I tried some things in these practice tournaments, I do think there is a lot of depth in it and like, a bunch of things you can do. But I think that no one can really offer a super solid opinion on it because none of us has really played it that much.
But the main thing, being Grandmasters, I think I talk for us collectively when I say that we wanted a multi-deck format. Because for season one of Grandmasters, if you played one deck and your opponents played up to two different decks – if they brought difference decks that week – it’s… I won’t say pretty easy but it’s doable for people at the top level if they have a few days where we only need to grind one match up non-stop, you achieve pretty close to perfect play. Or at least so there’s not too much edge to gain.
But in a multi-deck format, when we both have four decks and any combination of these match-ups can be played, then that gets, well, straight up impossible, which means that your fundamental knowledge about Hearthstone and like, improvising and just figuring things out – something we all like – becomes way more of a thing. I think that’s what everyone wanted back of a multi-deck format so, I’m super excited.
Viper: A multi-class format always seems more interesting to me than Specialist. Because, for example, the current set is really bad for Specialist, you can’t really prepare for everything. You’re going to lose to some decks, you’re going to beat some other decks. And, I mean, the general concept of the more games you play, the better it would be, so looking at best of fives and such, but even for best of three, I don’t think a single class format is good and I’m looking forward to playing more classes too…
Tyler: I didn’t like Specialist. Playing just one deck, I think, players who are not as strong can easily just focus on practicing one deck and still do it well. With a multi-deck format weaker players will be flushed out easier. The better players will have more of an edge when they play the multi-deck format, so I’m very much looking forward to that.
Fenomeno: We haven’t tested it that much, but I think we all like multi-class. I mean, I personally, I like it a lot, because it makes you have to play other decks. So in the last meta, for example, I only played Mage and Rogue, right? Well, normally I would play all the decks, be at least decent at them. So when a tournament comes, you know what to do, right?
But with Specialist, you just needed to play like one or two decks. And that’s the part that I didn’t like about it. And I feel with this format, it makes it way better.
Fr0zen: The problem with this format is that when there’s a protect and a ban, it ends up being the best decks no matter what. Like, every single week, you just take the highest win rate decks and there’s no other strategy. The only strategy I heard was some Chinese players try to target two, because in China the recent tournaments are already using the new format. And the target two strategy doesn’t work, because in the past, target one strategy was already really hard to pull off. But now you have to target two decks and that’s the only way. You had to build an entire line-up for that and it’s just not worth it.
IGN: So you don’t like the shield concept?
Fr0zen: No, the shield concept makes it so that you don’t have to, well, the fact that you don’t have to play every single one of your decks, is pretty rough. And then, you’re able to avoid [an] entire matchup and then it ends up working out to be, you have to play the highest win-rate decks. And then, that’s the best way to play it.
IGN: saiyan, how about you?
justsaiyan: Well, with Specialist basically you could just have a hammer, right? And you just keep playing hammer every time. But at least with bringing more decks, you have to learn your tool kit.
Even if it’s not every week – you don’t end up playing it, some weeks you do. So you have to explore a wider range, just because there’s more decks. And on top of that, you have to look to find other counters within the meta as well, a little bit.
So it’s gonna take more of GMs. I think this should be kind of mandatory; learning the whole meta and being good all around. I mean, it makes sense as a GM status to be able to do that. So, I like that it’s at least raising expectations of us.
FroStee: One of the biggest things with the new format is, as we’ve all said here, that the multi-class format is a really big deal. Because, there’s only what, two, three classes seeing play in the current meta with Specialist and that’s huge, especially for other players to see that there are other classes, and to maybe explore some more niche decks, rather than sometimes just the best decks.
You may actually see with this format, people go out of their way to try new things and if the new things don’t work out then they can just shield it. So I’m interested to see where it goes. I do worry that as Fr0zen said, it will devolve into just people playing the best decks. But who knows what the GMs can come up with. Right?
IGN: How much more prep are you going to have to do with this format compared to Specialist?
Orange: Yeah, I mean, me and my teammate BoarControl we usually sit up for hours every day after deck lists came out and just practiced each other’s match-up against each other. And that was doable. I don’t know how we’ll do we practice this time around because now, since every match-up isn’t even played in a series. You know, you might just waste a lot of time, we’ll figure something out but you can’t practice in such a direct way. Like, [before] we could practice and be like ‘Oh, now I’m super happy with everything, like with my play in this match-up, we’re done.’ You can’t do that in this one. I’m not entirely sure how it will work, but I just like that figuring things out on the fly and things like that are going to be way more relevant again, because that stuff is really great.
Tyler: I think everyone will have to work harder. I think this is going to be a harder format, I think there’s going to be more preparation involved. And, yeah, like I said earlier, players can get exposed for being bad, so they’re going to have to practice more.
Viper: I think the same… if you mess up in multiple decks or if you mess up the general power level of whatever you play, I think that you’re going to get more punished. And figuring out the four best decks, like in order one-two-three-four is probably more difficult than figuring out, okay, is this one-two, or one or two, maybe, and I have these match-ups and my opponents probably play that so I’m going to bring this. And I think that was one of the biggest flaws of GM and Specialist as well, that in the end, you kind of just like rolled on ‘what are the decks my opponent is going to play?’ If they play Warrior, okay, I’m going to submit Book of Specters Mage, but then one of them is Warrior and one of was, I don’t know, Rogue, or Cyclone Mage and then you just go one-one. I feel like there were a lot of decks that just went one-one. But if you would have played for example, three matches a week, there were a lot of decks that would have been two-one. Like Holy Wrath Paladin or Book of Specters Mage. The more or less polarised decks. But they were always called to be good choices… I think the four-deck thing is going to defer that.
FroStee: Well, for the most part when it came to prep for Specialist, I certainly felt that it was more hands-off for me. I didn’t feel like I needed to put as much effort in… because I only had to specifically learn one deck and the ins and outs of that deck, for the most part for the week.
And coming into the new format, it means I’ve got the potential to learn four new decks, especially if I’m trying to add in a new deck into a line-up, there’s going to be the same deck seeing play possibly every single week. If we bring the best decks every week, you’re going to have to know how to play the best decks. But, I feel like as part of Hearthstone, it’s good to see different classes seeing play.
justsaiyan: I have another analogy – it’s all I can think of. But basically, at least with Specialist you could kind of cram for the test. You would see your opponent’s deck, you would see the deck that you brought and you just play that match-up, over and over again, between the time of deck list reveal and when you have to play.
But this [new format] is more or less learning the entire meta, like… you’re writing like a term paper. You’re writing the end of semester, 25 page [term paper] and it’s due, right? And you’re just kind of piecing it together, week by week, and learning the meta and making sure you know all the decks. It’s harder to cram after the deck lists are revealed. You kind of have to know what you’re doing beforehand as well.
Fenomeno: The thing I like is that it makes it more complicated, because I feel Specialist after a while it was super simple. The main deck is I don’t know, maybe you tech the main deck a bit, but other than that, like the side decks that you played were almost pretty standard every time.
And [what] I like about this, is that you get to actually have multiple decks to try to counter stuff. I don’t know if the countering thing is going to actually work, as Fr0zen said, because of the protect and the whole [idea that] you don’t have to play a deck, because this is like a self ban, right? It’s like kind of a self ban, that you don’t have to play a deck.
I think it’s just more complicated, and I think we kind of needed something more complicated. I thought Specialist was getting too simple after a while and I really didn’t feel like I needed to prep at all. I just didn’t feel the need to. But with this, I feel like you just have to do your research, you have to play, you know. Just test the format. It seems way more complicated.
FroStee: To put it in saiyan’s analogy, you’ve got to do your homework.
IGN: What does the shield phase mean for you as a player? Does it mean that you get to play the deck you want to play more often, is that the idea?
Orange: I actually have the most perfect example of why the shield phase is something that, I personally as a player want and I know that Blizzard also really wanted something that just prevented – the thing with a ban with a format was that it created a lot of depth, but people disliked that… they scrape together a line-up of like, four decks so that they can enter a tournament, they get to a tournament then their favourite deck just gets banned every time.
I had that exact thing happen to me in 2018, when Malygos Druid was [my deck]. And I faced so many people in Tour Stops that year that, I looked at their line-up and there’s no way they ban my Malygos Druid, and [yet] they just kept banning it because they were like ‘Oh, Orange, he’s pretty good at this deck’. And I’m like ‘God, I never get to play this deck in tournaments.’ Now, if we were back to that time, I’d get to show off with Malygos Druid and, I mean, it would be great, so I hope that I can find some decks pretty similar to that. And that I get to protect it… you’re not getting this from me. So I like the shield phase in that regard, that people get to play their favourite deck. The fear of it is if, like, one deck becomes ridiculously overpowered…
IGN: Thankfully we live in a world where Team 5 is really responsive, and making regular changes to keep things in line.
Orange: Exactly. This year, design-wise with the sets and everything, I think Hearthstone is just having its best year in that regard, and I’m very happy… last year there were a lot of times where it didn’t feel very fresh et cetera. And now it’s just, I never really have that downtime where I’m like ‘God, this is getting boring,’ maybe we had that for a few days before this expansion came out but like, that’s only natural.
IGN: And also, it’s not a couple of months. It’s a big difference, right?
Orange: Yes. The game is constantly fresh and fun to play, I love it. Team 5 is doing God’s work this year.
IGN: How much does having a shield phase influence building a line-up?
Tyler: We’re actually not sure yet, so me and my practice group, most of the other guys we’ve talked about it a bit. We’re actually not sure yet, but we’re just going to try and find like the four best decks, see what the best decks are and just go from there.
Viper: I think the whole shield phase thing and the change to the best of three, with still four decks available, it changes how Conquest used to work. Conquest used to work on – I think it was the best way, you could have approached Conquest – you targeted the third or fourth best deck of the opponent and then you… just ban out the worst match-up, which usually made those decks considered to be not that good. Meanwhile they had super high percentages against their third, fourth deck and that was just your game plan. Beat up the one or two things that the other guy’s weak point is.
With the new format, now you cannot always ban the deck you think you’re weak against. The other guy can recognise, “hey, my Warrior deck beats these four aggro decks.” So… you can still decide to commit and play the four aggro decks and take the loss against Warrior, but then you have to win the other two games, so it seems pretty difficult to wholly complete the line-up because of the shield phase, you have to be more the mid-way for everything, you have to just bring generally strong decks. And it’s going to be less about targeting them using weak decks.
IGN: Are there any other changes you would like to see in Grandmasters in season two and beyond?
Viper: One of the changes I would have loved to see in the first season… I would have liked to submit [deck lists] for two weeks last time… Because of the thing I just explained, where you know what somebody is going to play, so you cannot play whatever your favourite deck is, or the deck you’re known for. For example, someone like Fibonacci for Warrior, because it’s the OG example, you just play the Warrior counter against him. It could make people go one-one. I would have liked to submit for two weeks last season of Grandmasters to avoid this player targeting.
But with the new format, player targeting isn’t really a thing anymore, I feel like so far. So, I guess that’s one of the changes I would have liked to see and it kind of happened.
IGN: Any other comments on Grandmasters and season two?
justsaiyan: …there’s going to be a lot of mind games, and I don’t know if it’ll be too obvious to the viewers, but when you leave out one of the decks in your arsenal and you play the best of three, and one deck gets left out, there’s going to be a lot of mind games between, what the game two and game three queues are and things like that. So I think that at least is very interesting. I don’t know if that’s going to be a very big topic for the casters, but I hope so.
Cam Shea is Editor in Chief for IGN’s Australian content team. He’s on Twitter.