A long chat with Kaldi: "I am looking to spend more time on casting then playing in the future"

Hearthstone Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev

So I want to start the interview with you before Hearthstone. You used to play chess and StarCraft 2. What did you take away from these games in terms of skills?

I’d say the biggest thing I learned from chess was keeping your composure, and always staying calm. So when it came to high-pressure situations I had had a lot or practice already when I started in Hearthstone.

I’d say the second thing would be preparation and scouting which is really relevant in chess today.

Going into more specifics, I learned to look for the weak points in my play and work on improving every week instead of playing the scenarios I was comfortable with over and over.

When it came to StarCraft it was mostly getting used to travel and realizing how important it is to arrive early to events, get good sleep and take care of your condition and that has been helpful in Hearthstone.

Speaking of StarCraft, what did you enjoy and what didn’t you enjoy in the game? When did you come to the decision to move over to Hearthstone as a primary esport?

StarCraft was everything I’d been looking for in a game. It had the skill ceiling I was looking for, the action, the training and the competitive scene I had been searching for.

The downside though is that you would be pretty pinned for a long time, if you were tired you didn’t get good practice done, if your setup wasn’t ideal you couldn’t get good practice done, and the game also required a pretty excessive amount of practice which left less time for other fun aspects of esports.

In terms of a primary esport, I decided to take a step back from esports in late 2013. I continued with University and played Hearthstone casually for a long time. It wasn't until I started winning tournaments and joined Fnatic that I started looking at this as a viable option.

"StarCraft was everything I'd been looking for in a game."

Do you still follow the SC scene? Do you like where it is now and should HS take notes about how the competition is set up?

I am currently living with friends from my StarCraft days in a gaming house so it’s pretty hard for me not to follow the SC scene nowadays. It is a bit sad to see the state of it now compared to the glory days of 2011-12 but the scene is more structured and professional now, which I love.

I think the two games are so different that they need their own set ups. If I had to pick one thing though to transfer to Hearthstone it would be the WCS system and the ladder system which are both vastly superior then their counterparts in Hearthstone.

On to actual Hearthstone. Since you weren’t a big streamer, you started your career in the pool of open tournaments, like MLG Managrind, ZOTAC, etc. How do you remember those days?

I remember them with fondness, late beta was the peak of my competitive form where I took down a tournament every week. I especially remember the MLG opens fondly, they were really well run and had a Bo7 final with sideboarding which was so much fun.

A few months earlier I was asked to set up a Hearthstone team for Reason Gaming and I am really happy with the choices I made. The highlight being recruiting Ostkaka in early beta and being close to picking up Kolento for the team.

Ah, but he chose to stay with Managrind? It couldn’t have been around the time of the C9 deal.

Yes, I was unable to convince the management of Reason that Kolento was worth more then the cost of signing several players so he ended up going to Managrind.

Photo: DreamHack

Hearthstone was, how to put it, very “raw” back then. People were trying to reinvent the wheel all the time. Looking back, do you like it better compared to the more refined HS of today?

Raw yes, but also more unbalanced. We had to suffer through months of [card]Nat Pagle[/card] and [card]Tinkmaster Overspark[/card], a year of 5-mana [card]Gadgetzan Auctioneer[/card] and let’s not even mention the [card]Undertaker[/card].

I prefer the state of Hearthstone right now but it was of course a lot of fun to try out different ideas and builds.

When I look back at your career, I single out KPL as a tournament where you really came to the forefront during the group stage. This was the first time such a format was tried out in HS. Did you have to make changes of playstyle/research/preparation?

Oh, yes. It was the first tournament where scouting really came into effect as in general you could anticipate decks but if you wanted to win you had to go through a lot of rounds so you had to bring decks which are good all around.

For the KPL format that wasn’t the case at all so I really enjoyed the mind games and the sudden twists the format had to offer.

This is where the research practices and habits acquired from chess helped out, I imagine?

Yes slightly, chess is a bit more obvious and there isn't really an option to bluff, which was interesting in KPL. So while I did use things I learned from chess it had to be heavily supplemented.

You proved to be one of the best players of the format, regularly crushing opponents 3-0, and for a long time. Just barely missing the playoffs must’ve been crushing, having in mind the streak of successes in the regular season.

Yes, I felt I was going into scenarios where I was at least 55-65% favored each time based on the decklists. But even though being slightly favored it only takes you so far. I ended up having two very close series not go my way vs. Amaz and Trump. Then drawing dead versus Lifecoach and getting really outplayed by Kolento, who really impressed me during that tournament. So all in all I was very happy with the league and look forward to season two.

You just recently left Fnatic officially, and I remember when the division was growing in power. People had high hopes for it but it seemed like it was only you carrying the flag into battle. Did you feel like a spiritual leader of Twixsen and Frezzar?

I wouldn't say so, both of them were pretty quiet and reserved so when it came to setting things up it was usually me, but I wouldn't say that there was one person in charge.

Photo: Fnatic

Now you’re with Tempo Storm, one of Hearthstone’s biggest and most accomplished teams! Is there a new era of Kaldi coming?

Oh yes, I just hope to bring things up one notch, get my content out to a wider audience, stream more and cast more.

How long has the deal been in the works, and how did it come to be in the first place?

I’ve been working for Tempo Storm since the start of week two of the Archon league, so I have done three line-ups for them. In terms of the deal I can't say too much. At a point where only me and Adam Davis, our manager at Fnatic, were left there were attempts at reviving the roster of the team but those plans didn't end up working out.

But at the time when you started being a line-up builder for them, you weren’t talking/considering joining T/S as a permanent member, correct?

I already was a permanent member at that time.

After what was a quiet period in terms of signing, T/S is now growing with a fast pace. Do you also see the team’s strength rising to its former glory and rivaling the perceived leaders of the current scene?

Oh yes, I think there is no question about that. It will take some time to get everything streamlined, but I am very optimistic about our line-up and I think we will do really well in the coming months.

We are currently 2-1 in the Archon league since we started. We were estimated to finish 5th-8th with little chance of making the playoffs but I mean to prove that estimation wrong.

"It will take some time to get everything streamlined but I am very optimistic about Tempo Storm's line-up."

T/S is probably the team with the most diverse deckbuilders. Is this something you look forward to be experiencing? What can you teach the likes of Reynad, Gaara and Hyped in terms of HS innovation? And, vice versa: What do you want to learn from them?

I think the most important thing that I bring to the table is an unbiased opinion. We have a lot of teams in the Archon league, and there are factors like pride, fatigue, stress that come into play when selecting decks or deciding who plays next.

So a player that just lost a series may want to take a break even though he may be the right choice for the next game, so I think having a person who isn’t playing calling the shots is very helpful and it’s been working out for us so far.

I am always very interested in learning more about the game, I look at myself as a player with a varied playstyle (I played eight of the nine classes in the KPL for example) so I am very interested in the small details of the decks that the guys are experts at playing. So far I’ve been very interested in Gaara's Paladin play and Hyped's Rogue play to name a few examples.

Your official title at T/S is an analyst. Now, that position is common in other esports but hasn’t really taken over in HS just yet. Outside the ATLC duties you mentioned, what will your day involve? Stats crunching? Deck analysis?

Reynad announced me as an Analyst/Player/Caster and I think that is more accurate as I will be doing a variety of things for Tempo Storm. I'll be looking at improving my casting and continuing to cast tournaments regularly, I will be playing in the HPL and KPL along with some other tournaments coming up.

I am also looking at starting to stream on a regular schedule every weekday, so exciting and busy times ahead.

Will you be the one doing the meta snapshots from now on?

I am unsure about that currently, but I am sure I'll be involved in one way or another. My perspective is more tournament based instead of focused on the ladder.

Describe each of your team-mates in no more than two words.

Hyped: Smooth Play.

Gaara: Best Shaman.

Ratsmah: Arena God.

Justsaiyan: Rising Star.

Eloise: Always Happy.

Reynad: Tempo Storm.

Frodan: Best Caster.

Photo: DreamHack

You’ve been sitting on the analyst decks a lot, and at big tournaments like Gfinity at that. Obviously, you still play a lot. How do you compare the two, which do you enjoy more and which one do you feel like doing more in the future?

It’s really different, I enjoy both greatly but I am looking to spend more time on casting then playing in the future. I feel the two can work together well though as being a player helps a lot with analysis. So I am looking at taking a similar path as Tod did in SC2, an 80/20 split between casting/playing.

Do you follow non-Western HS to improve your game-knowledge? The CN scene especially is very different from the ones we know.

I’ve watched several Chinese tournaments for the difference in decklists and I find their use of the [card]Foe Reaper 4000[/card] especially interesting. I watched the Korean league in Naxx and started playing [card]Reincarnate[/card] Shaman soon after with some success. But I am not looking at studying the Chinese/Korean scene at the moment, perhaps when things slow down a bit.

"The Inspire mechanic looks like it's going to be slow and value based, which I think isn't the strongest option in the current meta."

Towards the end of this talk, I obviously want to bring up TGT. As an heavily analytical and very experienced player, how do you evaluate the Inspire mechanic? Is it something cool or something potentially stiff?

Most classes seem to use the hero power for filler and value (except Hunter) reasons and neither of those things are the factors that win games in Hearthstone at the moment. So the Inspire mechanic looks like it’s going to be slow and value based which I think in the current meta isn't the strongest option.

There are however a lot of cards to be released and its hard to estimate a set off of the first few cards so we will have to see how things develop.

If the cards currently revealed were the entire set, would there be a meta-breaking/defining card among them?

I don’t think there would be a meta defining one except perhaps [card]Lock and Load[/card].

That’s funny. We had a discussion yesterday within the crew and the opinion was expressed that Lock and Load is just too volatile to be the focus of a deck. Why do you have such faith in that card?

It feels a bit like the old [card]Starving Buzzard[/card], which scares me.

But you draw random cards, any Hunter cards, and a lot of them are bad...

That’s what people said about [card]Webspinner[/card].

Fair point. OK, to close it off - design an Inspire card!

4 mana, Dragon, 3/5. Inspire: Gain +1/+1.