Hey, guys. It’s RaFive, and today I bring you a competitive manifesto. My aim is to convince you that hearthstone needs a restricted-format tournament scene with you playing in it!

I love the hearthstone tournament scene. There are plenty of times when Arena or ladder seem far, far less appealing to me than the finality of a tournament. Based on the number of requests to Blizzard about implementing a tournament mode in the game, it seems I’m not alone in this sentiment — I think most players would love to be able to compete in brackets just like the pros. With the player base set to grow explosively in the near future, it will only be easier over time to find enough people to get a good tournament going.

We players as a community need to come together now, sooner than later, to develop best practices for our rules and approach. We want to encourage the most common tournaments to be fair, easily-understood, sufficiently skill-based, and most importantly, accessible to a broad swath of the player base. I’m here today to make a few proposals and, more importantly, start the conversation on how to set ourselves up to reap these benefits as a community.


Hearthstone is already on iPad, it’s coming to Android tablets before the end of the year, and it’ll be on iPhone and Android phones probably by next spring at the latest. A lot more people play free games on their phones than do the same on computers, so this — together with the upcoming expansion, of course — will dramatically increase the player base. Since hearthstone will be on a mobile, portable device that you already carry with you everywhere, it’ll also make it much more convenient for people to congregate publicly for tournament-type events.

As a general rule, I think the more vibrant the tournament scene is, the more vibrant and popular the game will be as an e-sport. However, the most competitive decks in the current metagame require many of the rarest cards, and the tournament formats best suited to hearthstone encourage multiple decks across multiple classes. Collecting enough of these rare cards across multiple archetypes to be tournament-competitive takes a lot of time and/or a lot of money, which means only a small percentage of total hearthstone players will ever have enough rare cards to compete in tournaments in the current format. This leads to the current, elite (and elitist) tournament scene, where only a tiny percentage of players have a realistic opportunity to regularly compete, and an influx of new players won’t do much to change this bottleneck.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fine to have a selective league for those who can afford to exploit even the most expensive possible card combinations; those cards are, after all, in the game for a reason. But hearthstone also needs a good competitive option for those who can’t afford to be quite so invested in the game (and lord knows that option isn’t grinding to Legend every month!). I’m not exactly sure what to call it — maybe the hearthstone Minors? Whatever the name, what we need is a set of simple rules that make it easy to set up and build decks for a new, more accessible tournament meta, one where your success is defined almost exclusively by your skill with a commonly available card pool and as little as possible by how much time or money you’ve spent on Hearthstone.

Rule and Principles

The most important principle is egalitarianism. If you’ve played hearthstone regularly for a month, you ought to be able to jump into the minor league tournament scene. We want playability and a reasonably diverse card pool, but we want more than anything to maximize the ability of any hearthstone player to participate in the tournament scene. With that in mind, here’s a proposal for the basics of the format:

  • All soulbound cards are allowed, which includes Naxxramas, BUT the only craftable cards allowed are commons. This allows the use of newer cards and a few more diverse/exciting effects, while keeping the bar for entry low. More importantly, by banning rares it ensures that it’s impossible to straightforwardly port over an inexpensive archetype from the current ladder and tournament meta (like, say, Zoo Warlock). This should also make for a smooth transition into the expansion, if the currently previewed cards are an early indication.
  • Players submit four decks from four different classes before the tournament and are restricted to those cards (i.e., no sideboards). At the beginning of each lower round, there’s a coin toss (or equivalent mechanism). The player who wins the toss selects his opening class and bans one of his opponent’s classes. The opponent then picks his own deck and issues his own ban. When you lose, that deck is eliminated and you pick your next deck. When you win, you continue using your winning deck in the next match. There are no bans permitted at the final round — it’s just pick and counter-pick. This keeps the format simple and forces winning players to draft consistent decks while also maintaining the element of strategy in pick-ban-counterpick that exists in the current professional tournament scene.
  • Series are best of five for normal rounds and best of seven for final rounds (or any other special determining rounds decided on by the tournament organizers). Best of five is a balanced format ensuring a reasonable test of skill without dragging a series on for too long, and for those rounds where we want additional screening for skill, we use best of seven as a more precise check.
  • Minimum number of players for a tournament is 8, to permit an initial round, a semi-final, and a final round. Brackets scale up by base 8 (so, 8 / 16 / 32 / 64 / etc.). Tournaments are double-elimination for the top 16 players (or for all 8-16 if you have a smaller tournament), single-elimination for earlier rounds. This keeps things simple while providing an additional filter for skill at the higher levels.
  • Any prize money should be distributed at least between the top 3-4 players. Bigger prizes offer more flash and larger headline fonts, but it’s more important to emphasize the community nature of these events and reward participation from those who aren’t confident they can win outright.

What You Can Do

Hopefully I’ve laid out a decent argument for why hearthstone deserves a good amateur tournament scene, and hopefully the rules I propose mostly make sense as well. The problem, however, is that it’s not my call. It’s yours. hearthstone won’t get a minor league unless it grows up from the grassroots. I’m using my bully pulpit on this site to raise awareness, but it is you, the players, who have to make this work if it’s something that you’d like to see as a part of the game’s community and culture.

Again, the path is pretty straightforward. If you have the technical skills and/or resources to put together a tournament, then what are you waiting for? Start rustling up the folks to compete and administer. Reddit and Battle.net are both great places to advertise tournaments, and there are always people eager to compete. You can even use the contact form on this page to get in touch with me if you have questions or think I’d be able to help.

If you’re a player, it’s even more straightforward. Start looking for some open tournaments and start competing! Vote with your feet, so to speak, by playing in tournaments that encourage open and inclusive formats like the one proposed here. Even now there are a few tournaments like the GosuCup SEA Budget that limit the format for more accessibility, so you can start being an advocate for Hearthstone’s minor league scene right away.

No matter who you are, making some noise is definitely a good idea. Talk about tournaments! Talk about formats! Email regular tournament organizers and ask them if they’re interested in starting a minor league for wider participation. Get together in person with some friends who play hearthstone and do your own impromptu tournament. Once the hearthstone community starts this ball rolling, tournaments will quickly become a regular part of the experience for all interested players.

Just for Fun: Sample Decklist

You’ll notice there’s a decklist over there on the right! This is a competitive Hunter list following the drafting rules outlined above, just to give you an idea of what decks in the minor league meta might look like. I’ve started with a pretty standard Undertaker Hunter list and modified it to meet the new rules.

Since there’s no more synergy with Eaglehorn Bow

, I’ve decided to take traps out of the deck completely in favor of a minion-heavy Beast build that emphasizes early board control, good tempo, and favorable trades to maintain pressure. Unleash the Hounds
helps recover when behind (especially combined with Cult Master
) or push for extra face burst combined with Timber Wolf
, Ironbeak Owl
gets through Taunt, and Kill Command
provides extra burst damage. There’s even a potential OTK combo with Scavenging Hyena
+ Tundra Rhino
+ Unleash the Hounds

You can even try it out on ladder — it’s not a bad deck in unlimited formats even with all the restrictions on its build. It loses a lot of power vs. control with no Savannah Highmane

, but it still slaughters Handlocks hilariously and does all right vs. Zoo and even not too bad in the mirror matchup. You learn all kinds of interesting things when you’re forced to build creatively!


Hearthstone is a game on the rise. With a rapidly growing community comes a greater need for a robust amateur tournament scene. Today I’ve given you one proposal for what that scene could look like. If you like what you see when you imagine it, then let’s start building that scene. I’d love to hear your feedback on this and work with you to build a tournament scene that sees regular participation from players of all skill and experience levels. Thanks for reading.

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