With one major tournament out of the way, we've also analysed where the Hearthstone meta sits at this early stage of the year and what players are doing to try to outfox their opponents at a competitive level. Now, it's time to look at the players themselves.
Many see a new year as an opportunity for a fresh start – a chance to begin again with the new season and assert themselves in the competitive scene. With a couple of January tournaments already done and dusted, names are starting to establish themselves amongst the regulars, with an eye on the Winter Championship Finals in the almost unnecessarily lavish Bahamas.
No, we're not jealous at all, but just who could be sunning it next month, and who'll continue to be worth following in Hearthstone throughout 2017?
Pavel ‘Pavel’ Beltukov
The reigning world champion has been relatively quiet in terms of tournament success since his big $250,000 win at last year's BlizzCon Finals. In fairness, after scooping that big jackpot you'd probably want some time away to relax and enjoy your winnings too. Pavel didn't stray too far from the game, though, and still competed in a number of events at the end of the year.
After a big 2016 for the 18-year-old, it'll be interesting to see what he can achieve in 2017. A lot of attention was placed on his fortuitous page-turning spree with Babbling Book in a clutch game against Amnesiac, which saw him discover exactly the right answers he needed to counter his opponent's aggression. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to suggest that luck was the only reason for Pavel's success at BlizzCon. Sure, you can't deny it helped, but Pavel is a thoughtful and analytical player who has an exciting year ahead.
Jon ‘Orange’ Westberg
We're barely at the end of January and Team Alliance's Orange has already asserted himself as one of, if not the strongest Hearthstone player in Europe. His tenure at Team Archon saw him claim a significant number of podium finishes at big tournaments, and since joining Alliance at the tail end of 2016 he's already claimed first place at SeatStory Cup VI and the runner-up spot at WESG 2016.
Orange is not only an all-round excellent player, but he's also willing to divert from obvious meta choices and find success. Take, for example, his inclusion of a Dragon Warrior deck at the WESG 2016 Finals when practically every other player was bringing the ubiquitous Pirate Warrior. On first look it would seem like a foolish decision when the likes of Patches and Small-time Buccaneer were guaranteeing free wins for anyone playing them.
Orange's Dragon Warrior deck, though? It went undefeated (9–0) and added that flash of unexpected variety to the Swedish player's deck list. It also shows the confidence he has in his deck-building skills and playing ability that should set him up for a strong 2017.
Euneil ‘Staz’ Javinas
Last seen claiming victory against Orange in the WESG 2016 Finals, Staz perhaps deserves far more success than the rough deal he's drawn over the course of his Hearthstone career. All the way back in 2014 he qualified for the Hearthstone World Championship, but was denied a US visa and forced to withdraw.
After a quiet 2015, visa trouble struck again in 2016. He was able to overturn the decision through appeal, but he crashed out of the APAC Winter Finals without a win. With a hope that the problems were in the past, they unfortunately repeated once again and Staz was prevented from competing in the APAC Spring Championships in the same year.
It's a shame he's been struck by such misfortune ahead of the biggest events, though things may be about to change. Undoubtedly, he's a formidable and dedicated player, and now he may be on his way to becoming the top player in the Asia region if his WESG performance is anything to go by. What should scare his opponents, and what makes him one to watch this year, is that he could already have even more.
Aleksandr ‘Kolento’ Malsh
So, you know all those dreaded Hearthstone games you've sat through seeing your opponent draw through the entirety of their deck as Miracle Rogue? That endless chain of spell after spell that completely turns the game in their favour, leaving you stunned and teary-eyed? You can blame Kolento.
Seen as the originator of game-defining decks such as the Miracle Rogue, it's no wonder the Kolento has seen success in the tournament circuit over the years. 2014 and 2015 brought with them a series of stellar wins for the Ukrainian, but we certainly saw less of him in 2016.
His presence has still been felt in the game, though, as he continues to devise and craft decks that find huge success on Hearthstone's Ranked ladder. In fact, Kolento finished as the Number 1 player in the Americas region for the December 2016 season, showing that he’s still capable of competing at the game's top end. He'll next compete in the Kinguin For Charity tournament at the end of the month, so could we see a resurgence in 2017?
William ‘Amnesiac’ Barton
Take a moment to feel Amnesiac's pain. We've all had those games where the win feels all but secured ,and then the opponent finds the perfect response to get back into the match. The effect is soul-crushing, but manageable. Now imagine it happening twice in row. Within a matter of seconds. Amnesiac was on the receiving end of Pavel's incredibly good fortune at the 2016 Hearthstone World Championships, and in those situations there's not much you can do but curse and move on.
Let's hope he does so in 2017, as until that tight match Amnesiac was looking like a strong contender to sweep the tournament. After claiming first place in the Americas region qualifiers, he then dominated the group stages of the finals, finishing with the best record out of all the finalists. What's important to remember as well is that at 16-years-old, Amnesiac is one of the youngest players at the top level of competitive Hearthstone. There's no doubt he's in for a bright future.
Thijs ‘Thijs’ Molendijk
As long as there's competitive Hearthstone, there'll be a reason to follow Thijs. He's an excellent player who's part of an excellent team, and so regularly finds himself ranking high in all manner of tournaments he competes in.
Just look at the record: two-time Hearthstone European Champion in 2015 and 2016, a third place finish in the 2015 World Championships, and countless other high placements across his competitive career.
It was a surprise, then, when Thijs fell out of the 2016 World Championship Finals at the group stages without securing a single win. Nevertheless, fighting hard and losing both matches 4–3 shows just how close he came to reaching the latter stages of the tournament. With the European Hearthstone Championship Tour starting up in February, you can be sure you'll find Thijs ready to compete once again and start 2017 in winning fashion.