With the Hearthstone Summer Championships just around the corner (June 28-July 1), we thought it might be a good time to chat with recently qualified Streamer and Competitive player David "Dog" Caero. Dog has been playing Hearthstone for 4 years and had narrowly missed earning a seasonal Championship Tour spot in the past. This time, however, he was able to clutch a top 2 finish at HCT Summer Playoffs in May to secure his trip to the Summer Championship. He shared about his joy of qualifying for this tournament, his enjoyment of control decks, and preparing for Summer Champs.
It had almost become a meme that Dog missed qualifying for a seasonal Championship until a few weeks ago. He was one of the strongest and most well-known players in the game to not do so. So what changed after years of close-calls and near misses in the elimination rounds? Dog explains that his general preparation for the event was similar, but a combination of solid testing partners and a favorable metagame led to his victory: "I didn't really change too much, although we had the addition of Fr0zen [to the team] so I ran my lineup by him."
Most importantly, Dog was able to accurately predict and prepare for the meta. Prior to the recent nerfs and balance changes, aggressive Paladin decks were running rampant throughout Ladder and tournaments. Dog mentions that he "generally favors control because it lets the games go longer and grant more decisions."
Hearthstone, Dog explains, is a game of mistakes, and he thinks that control decks will let him make less over time than his opponents. As a result, he tends to favor the decks that prolong gameplay and afford him more time to make meaningful decisions. And luckily, the aggressive metagame at the time let him take advantage of that perfectly by showing up with a lineup of decks designed to control aggressive opponents.
Chatting with Dog about control decks is always a pleasure, and he was able to provide a succinct and general guideline for how to play these decks versus the other major archetypes. He says that "playing control is knowing how many resources you can use at certain time and managing that. So against a pure aggro deck they have no value and just spend all the resources you have staying alive. However, against a midrange deck, you have to count all the threats and have answers for them all. For example, you can't execute this 4 attack card because you need to save an execute for their 8 attack card, and so on. And control matchups is trying to make opponents waste resources generally."
As simple as this may sound, however, there is a lot of nuance to knowing what cards and resources matter, and he says that time investment and experience are the best way to improve at playing the archetype. "Ladder helps a lot. It normalizes you. Aside from playing against specific lists and testing partners, ladder gives you a great general idea of what is happening in the game."
Despite his preference for control decks, however, Dog explains that he will still bring the best deck for any particular tournament. If he cannot find a way to beat the aggro decks he will join them, although he has been quite successful in the past at adapting decks towards beating the meta. I asked how he has time to balance streaming and competitive play, and he explained that "streaming always comes first, and that can interfere with competitive play and travelling to tournaments. I will try to attend higher profile tournaments, but otherwise I will have to miss a week of streaming. And streaming is a competition in-and-of-itself."
Still, Dog explains that streaming can be an important tool for competitive play and that playing competitive and streaming aren't mutually exclusive. He explains that he often uses his stream time to test versus popular decks in the metagame. Getting these reps in with other decks, he says, will help you know the intricacies of the matchup and when each player is in a favorable or unfavorable position. As Dog puts it, "that way I know how to put them in bad situations."
As for preparing for the Summer Championships, his plan is to "just play a bunch." He combines playing Ladder with testing Best of 5 matchups with his teammates and friends. Dog says he will "play some b05s to just test specific matchups with specific cards" leading up to the tournament. Additionally, he says it is important to go over spreadsheet data of matchups percentages and tweak and tune lists accordingly.
Additionally, he will take into account what other players in the tournament favor playing, especially if the field is smaller. He says that, unlike some other esports, Hearthstone players will generally practice only a few hours per day. He says that "7 days of 8 hour practice matches is kind of unheard of. I know lifecoach did that with jj a while back, and it only lasted a month...I think they went crazy." And while he may continue to log a massive amount of streaming hours and testing playing the game, he likes to take the day before a tournament off to "avoid getting in my own head."
Be sure to choose Dog as your champion and tune in to the HCT Championship starting on June 28!