The StarLadder Kick-Off Season finals are here, featuring seasoned tournament veterans, and a rookie debutant on the warpath.
The surprises in the last few days of the StarLadder Hearthstone Kick-Off Season tournament lined us up for a pair of interesting finals featuring the familiar tournament faces of Cloud9‘s Kolento and Team Archon‘s Firebat, but also joined by Hellraisers‘ Lostov, showing well in his debut tournament.
We went through how the players got to this point, but today was all about the finals, seeing the players contest both the loser’s bracket final to see who would face Firebat, and the grand finals for the whole tournament.
In the loser’s bracket finals, the tournament’s surprise contestant was Hellraisers‘ Lostov in his tournament debut, and he would be facing off against Cloud9‘s Kolento for a place in the grand final. As far as predictions regarding the result may go, the heart may indeed have said Lostov, but the mind would have been screaming for Kolento. Lostov’s put in some amazing games in the tournament, easily more than enough to get him noticed, but Kolento is different, almost in his own league compared to many other players.
This was reflected by commentators for the finals, Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen and Sebastian “Forsen” Fors, both backing Kolento for the victory, but making sure to praise the Russian rising star on his performance. In terms of gameplay, however, there was huge praise for Kolento and the line up of decks that he had chosen for the tournament.
Forsen comments that Kolento may have the edge mentally too, coming off a recent victory, and also mentioning that he watched Kolento reaching #1 Legend on the NA server the day before with his own Oil Rogue.
He also makes the point that Lostov bringing Druid was indeed a dangerous choice for the Russian, and although it’s gotten him far, both Savjz and Forsen agree that Druid has likely never been in a worse place in the game. That being said, they also agree that it had a fairly good chance against Rogue, and in this tournament in particular was a decent pick that makes the overall matchup fairly even.
Loser’s Bracket Final – Lostov VS Kolento
Lostov bring a lineup of Midrange Druid, Midrange Hunter and Handlock into a series that would eventually end in his defeat, 3-2. Kolento brings with him Face Hunter, Oil Rogue and Patron Warrior, three of the most popular – and most hated – decks at the moment, in an extremely strong lineup.
The first game is Lostov’s Midrange Druid up against Kolento’s Face Hunter. With a fast start, Kolento opens with a Coined-out Mad Scientist, and a Glaivezooka next turn, starting to pump the damage in. Having drawn a number of weapons, Kolento is extremely aggressive to his opponent’s face for the first couple of turns, but Lostov is managing to keep the board under control with two Swipes in hand in the first few turns too. He’s also still managing to pump the damage in, and before long both players are low on health.
Things are more dire for the Russian player, however, but a lucky draw of a Taunt just when he needs it manages to keep him in the game. Missing lethal by 1 point, Kolento puts him on the ropes and, needing to draw into Druid of the Claw, Force of Nature, or a second Savage Roar to win, Lostov doesn’t get the card he needs, and Kolento takes the game, putting him 1-0 up.
Game two is Lostov’s Midrange Druid again versus Kolento and his Oil Rogue. Great draws by Kolento to start with put him in the early lead, managing great early tempo with Earthen Ring Farseer and Shredder, and an early Preparation + Sap puts him at a huge advantage at the cost of his card advantage. Lostov’s heavy hand starts coming into play on turn 5 with an Innervated Dr. Boom, and no current answer from Kolento.
Kolento manages to draw into another Preparation, and risks damage to Lostov’s face, finally being able to activate Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil instead of dealing with his big board. This gamble doesn’t pay off, however, and Lostov equalises, taking the series to 1-1, with Forsen mentioning how he really needed the win in that matchup with the Druid, and that being able to move on to his next decks will be great news for him.
Game three is Lostov’s Midrange Hunter this time up against Kolento’s Patron Warrior. Lostov gets a great early curve, and forces an extremely weak turn from Kolento, playing a very early Warsong Commander to deal with his board, quickly answered with a Quick Shot. Kolento swings for his opponent’s face with a Death’s Bite, giving away the second Whirlwind in his hand, and he is able to clear the board soon after.
However, Lostov starts suffering from the lack of sticky minions by turn 7, no Highmanes or Shredders, and no Loatheb to prevent any large plays from his opponent, leaving the board increasingly in Kolento’s favour.
A quick jab from the commentators – “Is this was he on ladder, I’d just concede right here” – and drawing into a Highmane a couple of turns late, and Kolento seals the deal with an activated Grommash Hellscream, bringing the series to 2-1.
Kolento tries out his Oil Rogue again in game 4, against Lostov’s Midrange Hunter. A very slow hand for Lostov leaves him relying on topdecks almost exclusively for a few turns, before drawing into a good Mad Scientist in conjunction with his Eaglehorn Bow. Even with Kolento seemingly having all the answers this game, with great timing with Backstabs and Fan of Knives, Lostov piling up on damaging spells and having finally secured the board gives him the win, yet again equalising 2-2.
The final game comes down to Lostov’s Handlock up against Kolento’s Oil Rogue. Normally a fairly decisive matchup for the Rogue, Kolento’s opening hand was far from ideal, full of weapon spells and not much more. However, some lucky topdecks succeed in giving him answer after answer to Lostov’s minions.
Kolento’s hand is still too slow by turn 6, with no minions in there at all, with Lostov having all the answers, and desperately needs a Sprint. He draws the Sprint, already multiple useful topdecks in a row, and proceeds to fill his hand with the rest of the burst damage he’d been missing. Lostov ends up focusing too much on board presence, and chooses to not deal with his health problems, and it costs him the series, Kolento taking his third victory. The burst of the Rogue far too much in a bad matchup for Lostov, and his hand of removal not being that useful in the end.
You really can’t take away from his accomplishments in the tournament, however, coming 3rd in his debut and taking home $1,200 with a brave lineup of decks. Perhaps even more impressive than the names that he defeated in his road to a podium position however, is how hard he ended up making the world-class Kolento work for that place in the grand final.
Grand Final – Firebat VS Kolento
Billed as the match that everyone wanted to see, viewers get to see it for the second time in the tournament, Kolento having fought his way back from a defeat by Firebat in the previous round.
The grand final would be a best-of-7 match instead of the best-of-5s seen so far in the tournament, and the players will get to use one of their decks twice before retiring it. In a game that went the full distance, after 7 full games Firebat won 4-3, becoming the StarLadder Hearthstone Kick-Off Season Champion, and taking home $4,000. Kolento comes second in an intense series, and wins $2,000 for his efforts.
“This is actually very, very hard. I said before the break that Firebat had a tough time versus Kolento, that was the case in the past, but he actually beat Kolento 3-0 yesterday. I think that Firebat is actually one of those players that are super, super good when it comes to planning for one of these matches, what to revise, and these guys know every card in their opponent’s decks by now, so it’s probably going to come down to who has the better matchup, and who revives which deck. These players are equal in skill, in my opinion, so it’s going to come down to the matchups, definitely.”
Both Savjz and Forsen were pleased with the choice of a best-of-7 format and the emphasis it puts on player skill rather than RNG, which can end up deciding best-of-5 matches by itself.
Firebat went into the matchup with Freeze Mage, Midrange Hunter and Zoo Warlock, and Kolento with the aforementioned Face Hunter, Patron Warrior and Oil Rogue. With Freeze Mage being a reasonable pick in all three of these matchups, it seemed a safe bet that Firebat would be the favourite to win.
In the first game of seven, Kolento got off to a good start with Patron Warrior, starting with a great hand full of card draw options in Loot Hoarders and Acolyte of Pains, managing to capitalise on Firebat’s bad mulligan and draws.. Eventually curving out nicely into an Emperor Thaurissan, but not being able to reduce anything helpful in cost, Firebat ends up just playing things to have board presence, stalling out as much time as he can.
Even with small misplays from Kolento, it’s not enough to save Firebat from poor draws, and with his board clears running out, the Warrior just keeps gaining and gaining armour. When Grommash Hellscream hits the board, Firebat honourably concedes the game with a fitting 8-mana Pyroblast to his own face. Kolento goes 1-0 up in the final, and secures his first victory with Patron Warrior.
Game 2 sees Firebat once again trying out his Freeze Mage, visibly annoyed with its performance in that last game. A matchup that could go either way, Kolento brings out his Face Hunter, and starts the game with a great curve. Playing defensively, and also with a great defensive hand, Firebat takes no chances in removing things from the board, burning a Frostbolt to rid his opponent of a Mad Scientist.
A very fast and smooth set of draws from Kolento leave him with a hand of Charge minions, but is easily dealt with by the Mage’s Hero Power, while Kolento remains hesitant in playing his Arcane Golem for any additional damage, not wanting to ramp his opponent. Running fast out of minions, Firebat makes a great preventative play and slams his Archmage Antonidas on the board, forcing Kolento to aggressively trade into it with his Arcane Golem, or risk facing waves of Fireballs. A timely Arcane Intellect leaves Firebat with a great card advantage.
Kolento has no answer for an Emperor Thaurissan with a frozen board, and Firebat’s Freeze Mage picks up an easy victory, having 16 damage on turn 10 in hand with the Emperor value – 8-mana Pyroblast and 2-mana Fireballs. Firebat equalises 1-1 easily with the Mage’s incredible board control potential.
For the third game in a row, Firebat plays his Freeze Mage, being able to bring it back in the best-of-7 format. Kolento opts for his Oil Rogue, in what should be a good matchup for the Mage. Kolento starts with a bad hand, full of minion-based damage spells, but is able to make board presence with an SI:7 Agent. Firebat stops any Rogue tempo in its tracks, with an early Doomsayer denying the board for a turn, but Kolento responds with an Azure Drake, fairly annoying to remove for the Mage, and sits there for a while.
Firebat risks a read on Kolento’s deck, removing the Azure Drake instead of freezing the board Kolento’s been able to build up, trusting that he doesn’t run Antique Healbot and that he really needs his board to tie up the game. A great Flamestrike follows, when Kolento gets a little too greedy for the board. Once again, Kolento draws into the Sprint when he needs up, picking up the second Azure Drake and a lot of burst damage.
Knowing that Kolento used his Southsea Deckhand early on, Firebat just needs to keep the board clear for the win, but he’s quickly running out of time to draw into any win condition, and he’ll eventually run out of stall. Kolento goes for lethal, pausing and perhaps giving away that he calculated incorrectly – he’d only be one or two points off lethal at this point – and Saps Firebat’s Mad Scientist for tempo. Kolento’s hand is full of damage spells, however, and time is running out.
Kolento’s board advantage gets to bad, and Firebat’s health so low, that at one point an innocent Murloc that pops out of a Piloted Shredder gets a Fireball to the face, so desperate Firebat is to keep the board clean. In the meantime, he just keeps cycling his deck to find the Alexstrasza he needs to win – both decks are getting low on cards, and at that point, with Alexstrasza, the Mage can only win.
Kolento eventually capitalises on Firebat’s bad luck, however, and goes up 2-1 against his opponent, but not before Firebat cycles the last of his deck, to find that the Alexstrasza that he needed was indeed the 29th card – one from the bottom.
Game 4 is over extremely quickly, with Firebat’s Zoo taking a turn 6 victory against Kolento’s Grim Patron Warrior. Starting out with two Flame Imps and following them up with an Imp Gang Boss proves to be too fast of a start to catch up with, and with 3 weapons in hand (and only small comfort from his 2 Dread Corsairs), Kolento is down to 15 health on turn 5.
Even with an Imp-losion whiffing and only hitting for 2 damage, Firebat is still miles ahead of Kolento in the game, who has no options to draw cards or gain health outside his Hero Power. An extremely quick game in which his starting Flame Imps end up doing 18 damage to the face, Firebat easily ties the series up again 2-2.
Game 5 is where the smart play begins, with Kolento once again using his Grim Patron Warrior against Firebat’s Midrange Hunter this time. Firebat’s off to a fairly high-tempo start with coining out a Haunted Creeper, immediately lessening the usefulness of any potential Fiery War Axes. Once again, Kolento is pushed to bring out an early Warsong Commander to try and control the board a little more, but it’s immediately answered with an Eaglehorn Bow.
Firebat manages to keep a superior board through Kolento’s responses and Taunts, but he does manage to pick up a useful Battle Rage and draw a few cards, at least keeping him in the game for a little longer.
Right on cue, at a pivotal moment where he’s just running out of steam, Firebat turns the game on its head by topdecking a Savannah Highmane on turn 6, putting himself firmly back in the lead, and managed to play around Kolento’s Unstable Ghoul with an Unleash the Hounds and Houndmaster combo, preserving his board, and managed to follow up an answer from Kolento by topdecking his Dr. Boom.
With no draw or armour engine, it’s a decisive victory for Firebat, going 3-2, who only has his Freeze Mage left to win with.
With Firebat’s Freeze Mage going up against Kolento’s Face Hunter in the next game, it could go to either of them depending on the draws that they get. Kolento once again coins out the Mad Scientist, but follows it up with a Leper Gnome, a smart opening by the Hunter – it’s not a class that needs to be efficient with its mana in this matchup, and it forces the Mage to play it smart with which it chooses to ping.
Firebat’s draws had been decent so far, with some good stall in Flamestrike and Blizzards, and healing through Ice Barriers. Kolento noticeably hesitant with the minions he plays, he’s not getting the damage through fast enough, but making sure he keeps a board that Firebat seems hesitant to waste removal on.
Forced into an awkward couple of turns, Firebat ends up having to use both Blizzard and Flamestrike to kill off only 1 minion each – definitely not what he would have had in mind.
Kolento, topdecking at this point, puts together a somewhat decent board while Firebat gets low on cards, and even lower still with his health. Once again, still looking for Alexstrasza to really kick off his damage, small misplays involving thinning out his deck’s secrets are little problems compared to his main one – he’s down to very low health, and relying on his secrets to keep him alive. Dumping Loot Hoarders onto the board in desperation, he just hopes to draw something to help soon.
Kolento makes a great play here and trades an entire board of 1/1 minions into Archmage Antonidas, denying Firebat the draws from his Loot Hoarders that he sorely needs right now, losing him board advantage, but ensuring that he doesn’t draw into any more health in the process. A smart play by Kolento secures the win against Freeze Mage yet again, and puts them even at 3-3.
The final game is a replay of the first, Kolento’s Grim Patron Warrior versus Firebat’s Freeze Mage, in a game definitely worthy of being a tournament’s final. Already proven to not be a great matchup for Firebat, he’s perhaps made a little more hopeful with the quality of his starting hand.
Kolento gets early board control with a Dread Corsair and Grim Patron, killing his Death’s Bite in the process. Waiting to throw down the Armorsmith and gain huge amounts of health, which he does, he makes Firebat overdraw in the process.
Burning an Archmage Antonidas, Emperor Thaurissan or Alexstrasza would have made winning the game effectively impossible for Firebat, but he gets lucky here, drawing Archmage Antonidas as his 10th card before burning a Frostbolt – a close call.
With Kolento at full health and 15 armour, it’s still anyone’s game, the Warrior starting to run out of cards after his fairly aggressive opening. Relying on the Acolyte of Pain into Whirlwind combo to draw, he picks up a Grim Patron, still not too useful, while Firebat still has a near-full hand of damage ready to go.
Kolento starts building up a board again with some good topdecks and a valuable Battle Rage, but a Thalnos-fuelled Blizzards puts an end to those plans and puts him back to square one – no board presence, and an almost empty hand.
For the third Freeze Mage game in a row, Firebat is left waiting for his Alexstrasza to really get rolling, but just isn’t drawing into it. Luckily, however, Kolento is still drawing into dead cards, and with Firebat on such low life, the game becomes a race between Firebat drawing into his Alexstrasza, and Kolento drawing his final Warsong Commander and being able to push any damage at all through.
RNGesus smiles on Firebat in this game, however, and finally with the Alexstrasza draw, he plays it defensively, putting himself back to 15 health under an Ice Block. Kolento rushes to Execute it, making a slight misplay in the process and missing out on a draw with his final Battle Rage.
Firebat throws down an Archmage Antonidas, and the game is effectively over at this point. Even at 48 health, Kolento has absolutely no answer, and can’t even damage it, let alone kill it. With a damage engine looming, that may indeed have been the play that closed out the series, and the tournament. Still playing careful though, Firebat still uses all the removal he can to keep Kolento’s board clear before letting loose with the Fireballs.
Digging for a way to get rid of the Archmage, Kolento risks drawing into his second Execute, but comes up short. Drawing into something useless yet again, Kolento concedes, giving Firebat the win from behind, closing out the series 4-3 and crowing Firebat the StarLadder Hearthstone Kick-Off Champion.
Team Archon‘s Firebat goes home as champion, and Cloud9‘s Kolento has to settle for second. In an absolute titan of a grand final, we saw some of the very best play of the tournament, and in the end the matchup that we were all hoping for sure didn’t disappoint. Evenly matched from the start to the end, sure, it may have come down to the matchups in the end, but that really doesn’t take away from any of the games, does it?
There have been some interesting thoughts about the players, too. Lifecoach, who I’d tipped to win the entire thing, retires about halfway through, perhaps not the best of form at the moment, and I don’t think anybody could have predicted the performance that Hellraisers’ Lostov put in, eventually finishing in 3rd – again to empasise, in his first tournament appearance.
The standard of play has been overall some of the highest I’ve seen in a tournament, and with the Hearthstone World Championships approaching, that’s exactly what we should be expecting. Only the most level-headed players are going to be able to finish well this year, and if this is the kind of quality of play that we can be expecting, then it’s going to be a very exciting time indeed.
I’m sure you’ll all join me in looking forward to that at the end of the year. But for now, it’s been a great tournament, and huge thanks to the organisers for everything. We’ve seen old dogs showing their hands, we’ve seen a rising star sow chaos among a whole team, and we’ve seen the very best play of this game we love.
If anybody wants to view the tournament VODs, if you missed them or if you just want to watch them over again, you can find the past broadcasts on Twitch in both English and Russian languages, on StarLadder Hearthstone’s official YouTube channel, and you can keep up-to-date with any news of future tournaments via their Facebook and Twitter pages.