Brian Kibler's 8-0 streak: the (dragon-)master of duels
The dragonmaster himself, Brian Kibler
The first four weeks of the regular season of the Archon Team League Championships (ATLC) are played out. Three more are left, but there are already quite a number of interesting facts to pick up: Celestial struggling more than probably anyone expected. Hyped carrying Tempo Storm with a score of 7-3 (second best differential in the entire league). Or Ekop being the player with the best record on Cloud 9, leaving behind Kolento and StrifeCro. And then, of course, when you look up the "Master of Duels" section on Archon's website, there's this guy named Brian Kibler leading the pack with the insane record of 8-0.
To put this in perspective, the next best players in the league (Xixo, Ekop and Neirea) each have 8-5 records to their names. What this means is that next week against Archon, Kibler could tank the entire series - as long as he picks up his two wins, he will still be in the lead when the matchday is over. The funniest thing is, if ATLC would end today, Kibler would not earn the title of Master of Duels, because he does not fulfill the requirement of having ten games played. He's winning too much. Kibler is actually performing too good to be considered for a title which goes to the best performing player - man, what a tough life.
So, what's the reason for the dragonmaster's success? His prior tournament results weren't bad by any means, but not insanely good either. Is he extremely lucky with his match-ups and played Warrior vs. Freeze Mage half of the time? Is he skillfully drawing double [card]Innervate[/card] in all of his Druid games? Or did he just wake up one day and decided to be the best player out there from now on? To at least somewhat answer these questions, I'm going over all of Kibler's ATLC games in detail below. I've listed his respective opponents, the classes he played vs. the classes his opponents played and the general ratio of wins from Kibler's perspective in the headings as well as short analyses about each game below. The win-ratios are taken from Tempo Storm's most recent Meta Snapshot. On a sidenote though, Kibler plays a ton of Hybrid Hunter which is not included in the table. However, the deck being a hybrid (duh!) of Face and Midrange Hunter I just took the mean value of those two to give a hopefully more accurate win-ratio.
Week 1 vs. Kolento: Mech Shaman vs. Patron Warrior (65%)
Kolento started without having a [card]Fiery War Axe[/card] in hand, which is huge in this match-up. Unfortunately for Kibler, he didn't have the starting hand to capitalize on this. After dropping a [card]Cogmaster[/card] on turn one the Magic: the Gathering veteran didn't have any real follow-up for turns two and three except for putting out totems. His draws after that weren't necessarily bad, but somewhat clunky and/or situational. Overall, he still managed to put on enough pressure to make Kolento spend a lot of ressources on defending himself. I would like to point out one of Kibler's plays which looked rather unimpressive at first but turned out to be game-winning in the end: On turn seven, Kibler decided to destroy an [card]Unstable Ghoul[/card] directly with the battlecry of his [card]Fire Elemental[/card] instead of using [card]Earth Shock[/card] to make his 6/5 impossible to take out by [card]Execute[/card] without an additional activator. After he instantly slammed down Ragnaros on turn eight and got rewarded for his trust in the Firelord with a shot to Garrosh's face he then used said Earth Shock to silence his own Rag on turn nine and connect with his opponent's hero for lethal. Kibler probably would have won the match with having spent the Earth Shock earlier anyway as he still had quite some steam in his hand, but I wouldn't doubt that the "I could silence my Rag" play was considered by him prior to turn nine rather than being a spontaneous decision.
Week 1 vs. StrifeCro: Hybrid Hunter vs. Freeze Mage (60%)
This match started out with a really good read by Kibler, predicting StrifeCro to play Freeze Mage and thus keeping [card]Loatheb[/card] in his opening hand. He presumed to not play the card on curve even though he didn't have an amazing alternative play. Instead, Loatheb came down on turn seven to put StrifeCro on having exactly [card]Frost Nova[/card] or pretty much lose on the spot. At one point later in the game Kibler decided to kill his opponent's [card]Alexstrasza[/card] over getting more face damage in, a play for which he was highly praised by the casters as afterwards he was safe from almost anything. Apart from those things, the game was pretty straightforward from Kibler's perspective, being a match-up which is usually dictated by what the Mage player does after the first couple of turns are over.
Kibler plays at 1:43 and 1:55:42
Week 2 vs. Forsen (1): Hybrid Hunter vs. Freeze Mage (60%)
In the second week of the ATLC, Kibler correctly predicted his opponent to play Freeze Mage a second time and therefore also decided to keep Loatheb in his starting hand once again. Other than that, the match was rather straightforward once more. The dragonmaster played on curve during the entire match, dropped Loatheb on turn six alongside [card]Leper Gnome[/card] and went all-in on turn seven ignoring a [card]Doomsayer[/card] on board rather than going for a safer play. He therefore showed that he knows the capabilities and boundaries of Freeze Mage quite well even though he himself says he never even tried the deck.
Week 2 vs. Forsen (2): Anti-Aggro Midrange Druid vs. Freeze Mage (60%)
Before we're going into the actual match I'd like to point out that Kibler's decklist included two [card]Ancient of War[/card]s. Ramp Druid probably has a worse match-up against Freeze Mage compared to its faster brother, but the deck looked more like a Midrange Druid with two massive taunts teched in against aggro. However, Ragnaros was not included in the deck, a card which is often described to be crucial because it doesn't care about being frozen. I therefore scaled the ratio back from 65% to 60% and let you guys decide if this assumption is fairly accurate or not.
One of said Ancient of Wars came into play rather quickly as Kibler was able to double [card]Innervate[/card] it out on turn three. He then presumed to play stuff and hit Jaina full-on in the face, as is so often the case when playing against Freeze Mage. It has to be noted that Kibler spotted the opportunity to mill one of Forsen's cards basically for free on turn five and got to burn a [card]Blizzard[/card], but it didn't matter too much in the long run.
Kibler plays at 25:50 and 37:45
Week 3 vs. SilentStorm: Mech Shaman vs. Token Druid (80%)
Once again, I have to point something out regarding the match-up: SilentStorm played Token Druid rather than Midrange. Midrange Druid vs. Mech Shaman is said to be 80% favored for the Shaman player. It might be the case that Token Druid has a better or even worse match-up, but I feel that 80% is still a fairly correct assumption, so I left it at that.
As for the actual match, Kibler had an insane start with [card]Cogmaster[/card] into [card]Whirling Zap-o-matic[/card] into a second [card]Whirling Zap-o-matic[/card], Coin, [card]Flametongue Totem[/card] and managed to put the Celestial player down to eight health on turn four. The latter managed to stay alive until turn eight, but ultimately couldn't come back from the early pressure. To me, this is just how the match-up plays out every time, so nothing too special here.
Week 3 vs. FrozenIce: Hybrid Hunter vs. Face Hunter (35%)
I was really interested in what pro players think about this match-up's ratio, but it's not included in the most recent Meta Snapshot, so I went back to #19 to actually look it up.
In Hunter vs. Hunter games usually a lot depends on the starting hands. Kibler got the better one, but Face Hunter still does what Face Hunter does, so he recieved a ton of damage really fast. In the mid-game (read: early game for non-Hunter-players) there was quite some playing with and/or around [card]Explosive Trap[/card]s, but ultimately Kibler managed to stick a [card]Savannah Highmane[/card] to the board and additionally got a crucial Misha for defense from [card]Animal Companion[/card] to later inflict lethal damage.
Kibler plays at 37:36 and 55:29
Week 4 vs. Lifecoach: Mech Shaman vs. Handlock (70%)
Kibler had a good, though not an insane start going into the match. However, on turn four his opponent was at 16 health and he had the opportunity to Coin out a [card]Fel Reaver[/card], but with a sick read that Lifecoach was holding [card]Big Game Hunter[/card] he decided to ignore his 8/8 altogether and went for the seemingly much weaker, but ultimately game-winning Flametongue Totem into Hero Power play. It has to be said that Lifecoach probably played the game too greedy by not expecting Kibler to have that much burst damage, but that doesn't take anything away from the latter's game sense.
Week 4 vs. Rdu: Hybrid Hunter vs. Mech Shaman (75%)
Again, to know the exact numbers for this match-up I went back to Meta-Snapshot #19.
Even though he played Hunter, Kibler prioritized clearing the board over going face, proving that he knows how crucial board control is for the Shaman player and therefore once more showing that he has a good understanding of match-ups. He managed to get rid of Rdu's board relatively early and without losing a dangerous amount of health, a point from which he could steamroll onwards. A top-decked [card]Ironbeak Owl[/card] (received with a nod of approval) to silence a buffed [card]Piloted Shredder[/card] certainly didn't hurt either. At one point in the game, the casters criticized Kibler for not clearing out a totem (like he had done during the entire match) but instead going for face. Here, I have to heavily disagree with them as Kibler was setting up for lethal without being draw-dependent even if one of his minions got cleared by a burn spell - which is exactly what happened.
Kibler plays at 16:34 and 1:30:56
To start of, I probably have to confirm one of my previous assumptions: Kibler does indeed draw double Innervate in all of his Druid games. He played only one game with Druid, but hey, that's a statistical reason for success right there. On a more serious note though, I find it astonishing how little luck (as in: insane RNG) was involved during Kibler's streak. There weren't even [card]Knife Juggler[/card] shenanigans. It's also very noticeable that Kibler was favored (at least according to the Meta Snapshots) in seven out of his eight matches, sometimes heavily. This shows that not necessarily Kibler alone, but rather Value Town as a whole has a really good grasp on which opponents might bring which decks and how to respond to those - or how not to respond: sticking to Hybrid Hunter despite of its current unpopularity has proven to be a good decision for the team.
I think one of Kibler's biggest weaknesses in Hearthstone overall has at first been a lack of knowledge of meta and decks. He has always been a strong deckbuilder, as his invention of the successful Undertaker Priest as well as his victory at Challengestone #1 have proven, but on the other hand he played his first tournament without even having an idea what a Handlock is about. This is understandable given that he splits his attention between Hearthstone and Magic: the Gathering (and Shiro, of course). Now, however, with more tournaments under his belt (Kinguin Pro League, Vulcun Deckmasters being examples) and a team to talk about those things with, he pretty much eliminated this weakness. This showed during his first game against Forsen's Freeze Mage when he knew the appropriate time to go all-in and also against StrifeCro's Freeze Mage when he exactly knew that killing Alexstrasza would put him into a position from where it was very unlikely to lose.
What becomes more and more apparent, though, is his strong game sense - something you probably can expect from someone who has played card games for longer than a large part of the Hearthstone community lives on this planet. So far all of his reads in the league have been correct, whether it was about a) guessing the opponent's class over b) playing around Big Game Hunter where he didn't have to to c) setting up lethal two turns in advance by not playing a seemingly good Earth Shock.
In one of his recent blogs he said "I certainly don’t expect to catch up to the top players who’ve been [playing Hearthstone competitively] for years immediately, but I’m a fast learner – and I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long, long time." Now, after four weeks of ATLC, it sounds like a major threat. Maybe we should prepare for a dragonmaster of duels.
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