Professional Magic and Hearthstone: An interview with one of Magic's greatest

Posted by Paolo "Brightroar" Bago at 16 August 2014 19:15

As Hearthstone draws elite gamers from other titles, we sit down and talk to a professional player from one of gaming's oldest and most successful trading card games about Hearthstone, the future of competitive tournaments and bridging the gap between genres. Enter: Magic Hall of Famer, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

With Hearthstone's popularity steadily rising in the wake of its first expansion — Naxxramas — and the myriad of weekly events leading up to the game's largest tournament — the Hearthstone World Tournament at BlizzCon 2014 — many professional gamers from other gaming genres and titles have steadily made their way into the Innkeeper's abode.

Among them are some of the best players from arguably the world's most popular trading card game—Wizards of the Coast's Magic: the Gathering. Today, we are joined by one of Magic's greatest minds and avid Hearthstone fan, Brazilian Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa  (or PVDDR as he is known in-game), on the differences between Hearthstone and Magic, the future of the competitive scene, and more.

The young hall of famer became the first ever South American to be enshrined in Magic's Hall of Fame in 2012 after racking up an astounding thirteen Grand Prix Top 8 appearances and one win, and nine Pro Tour Top 8 appearances, including one Pro Tour win, in his twelve-year career.  A popular columnist with a lifetime winnings of $279,660, the player affectionately known as "PV" bridged the gap between Magic and Hearthstone when he wrote an article describing Hearthstone for Magic Players.


As a Magic pro, what drew you into Hearthstone? Can you describe to us your experience from the first time you fired up the game?

What drew me into Hearthstone was actually not Magic, but League of Legends. Most of the LoL pros I follow play Hearthstone and talk about it all the time. Many of the casters are the same, and the same teams sponsor both games.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the e-sports competitive scene, but I was never good enough at any of them; Hearthstone seemed to be something I could be good enough to be a part of. My experience was overall pretty good; I played some Arena to get familiarized with the cards, and then started playing Constructed with the goal of making Legendary. The game is simple, but I think it’s a lot more complex than people give it credit for, and I liked that — I felt that, each time I lost, I was learning something and getting better.

I reached Legendary three or so weeks after I learned the game, and then again the following month, peaking at 15th.

What's your current rank now and favored deck to play for ranked matches?

Right now I’m rank 1, playing on the North American server. Before Naxxramas, my favorite deck was aggro rogue — it’s fast, so you can play many matches, and it’s very good. Naxxramas didn’t help it much, though, and it helped almost everyone else, so I’ve been trying new things. So far, unfortunately, I haven’t found any new decks I really like.

A day later, PV messaged me to say that he has managed to reach legendary again at 190, using Aggro Rogue.

Are you more of an Arena junkie or a Ranked match grinder?

Ranked for sure. I like Arena, but I like to be ranked; if there was an arena ranking, I’d play that more.

How often do you play Hearthstone nowadays?

It depends on the day; some days I play for many hours, and some days I don’t play at all. This month I couldn’t play much because I was practicing for the Magic Pro Tour, but I’ll play more now.

In your article, you described that there are some concepts you picked up on Magic that translate well into Hearthstone. What are these concepts?

Concepts like tempo, life and card advantage translate well into Hearthstone; both games use similar resources and a big part of both is being able to decide which is the most important for a specific game. Luckily, that has always been one of my strong points in Magic, so I think I can be good at that in Hearthstone as well.

Knowing what matters, when you have to be aggressive, when you have to be defensive, when you need to flood the board, when you can afford to play around a certain card, and so on are very important.

Were there concepts that you learned in Magic that you had to essentially un-learn while you were playing Hearthstone?

There is no concept that I had to “unlearn”, but some concepts are a little different and require adaptation. The first is combat; combat is very different because damage is permanent and you can attack anything directly. This makes toughness a more important resource in Hearthstone than in Magic and it takes some time to get used to.

Hearthstone has a little more math involved as well, since they can’t stop you from doing your thing a lot of the time, so it’s all on you to make sure you get enough damage.

Another difference is that Hearthstone limits you in three ways that Magic doesn’t—30 card decks, 10 card hands, and 7 creatures in play. Magic does limit you regarding hand and deck size, but in Magic it doesn’t really matter, whereas with Hearthstone it very much does.

In Hearthstone, it’s hard to get absolute control. This leads to people playing multiple cards that are just kill conditions in their decks, which we almost never see in Magic; something like Leeroy Jenkins plus Power Overwhelming in Handlock, for example, really has no equivalent in MTG. With a deck like Blue/White control, killing them is “academic”—it will happen. In Hearthstone, you have to go out of your way to do that with certain decks, and it’s not uncommon that you establish control and then just get decked, which also requires a different perspective.

As a very competitive person, do you see yourself dipping your toes into competitive Hearthstone? Do you follow the Hearthstone tournament scene at all?

I can definitely see myself playing Hearthstone competitively; I’d argue that I’m already trying. I don’t follow tournaments too closely, though I know most of the famous players and streamers.

Speaking of competitive: How does Hearthstone compare to Magic, at least through the eyes of competitive Magic pro? Do you see Hearthstone matching the competitions that Magic puts out?

It’s very different. Magic already has an established competitive scene, and, right now, tournaments are the way to go for most of the competitive players (or at least for me).

In Hearthstone, tournaments aren’t good yet—with the exception of the world championship, they don’t have great prizes and the qualifying system is very weird (basically most of the famous streamers are invited to the tournaments, which creates a snowball situation where they become even more famous, and then get invited again, and so on). I’d say that, in Hearthstone, the way to go right now is streaming and building a fan-base. Two very different approaches.

Many observers note that the heavy randomness associated with Hearthstone's mechanics might be a blow to its legitimacy as a competitive outlet. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe there is a lot of randomness in every card game; it is just more evident in Hearthstone. Sure, you have cards like Knife Juggler or Brawl, but you also don’t lose games because you didn’t draw lands—the equivalent to a mana stone in Hearthstone. I do think that Hearthstone is very complex and there is a lot of room to outplay someone who is worse than you in most games.

More than the randomness, I think the biggest problem is how lopsided some matchups are. Sure, some matches are great and complex, but a percentage of them are just not winnable; it doesn’t matter how good a player you are, you will not beat Control Warrior with Freeze Mage more than one game out of ten—there is nothing in Magic that is remotely similar. The multiple decks system with bans is a great step in reducing this problem, though, so I have good hopes for the Hearthstone competitive scene.

With the release of the Naxxramas expansion, do you have any thoughts on the future of the Hearthstone metagame as new cards are being released? Has there been any card that you feel has been good or bad for the game?

I honestly haven’t played enough with the set to be able to have any firm thoughts, but right now the thing I noticed the most is a decrease in Miracle Rogue and an increase in Hunter and Priest. I think at first the metagame is going to warp itself in a way that the new cards get over-represented—people want to try the new cards and the new decks. After the dust settles, I expect the metagame to converge a little bit to what it was before.

Are there any cards being played right now that you feel are overrated or underrated? Why do you think this is so?

I think Thoughtsteal is overrated; I already don’t like spending three mana to draw one extra card in most decks, and Thoughtsteal is generally going to be worse than that, since you don’t get the synergies from drawing from your own deck. That’s not even to mention the fact that some cards are just dead draws—stuff like Deadly Poison and Shield Slam or Nerubian Egg when you have no ways to pump it, and so on. It does have some benefits—you don’t get decked and they will usually not play around the cards—but I think it’s currently way overused and I don’t like it in new Priest decks.

I think Knife Juggler is underrated. People play him in Zoo, but he is good in many other aggressive decks; I play two in my aggro Rogue deck, for example, and they’re very good.

You are well known in the Magic community as a producer of strategy and theory articles. Can you see yourself writing more strategy and theory content for Hearthstone down the line? There seems to be a lack of it in the community. Most strategic content focuses mainly on decklists.

I can definitely see myself doing that, yes. I have a couple of articles I want to write already, I just need to figure out where to write them for.

Have you played with the Naxxramas expansion single player campaign? What are your thoughts on the experience and the challenges? Did you agree with Blizzard's decision to release the new cards through the single player experience?

I liked it. I am not the target for that—I just want the cards to play constructed (Ranked match) —and I still thought it was enjoyable, so I imagine it was a huge success for the people it was targeted at. I just wish there were some cool bonuses for beating the Epic bosses!

Finally, how different is Hearthstone from Magic? What would it take for a Magic player to make the transition or succeed in Hearthstone?

Well, it’s different in many ways. I wrote an article with the goal of explaining Hearthstone in Magic terms. In a nutshell, it is possible to have a “simpler” game like Hearthstone still be a completely new and challenging game. While there are many concepts in Hearthstone that may be familiar to a Magic player, there are some intricacies in the mechanics and the way combat happens that are refreshing and might catch Magic players off guard. Part of the challenge is in adapting and figuring out what matters!

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