Julian “Jucchan” Kida is a computer science games major. He’s also the USC Varsity Hearthstone team captain and Vice President of the Smash Club. On the weekends, Jucchan wins Hearthstone tournaments.
With the flourish of a digital sleight of hand, he nabbed the online Hearthstone Masters Qualifier victory last weekend against this year’s Dreamhack Anaheim Hearthstone champion Jevon “FlamekillaHS” Wibisono.
There’s still a long road ahead for Jucchan in the coming months. The qualifier win puts him in the Asia-Pacific Masters Tour, a prestigious tournament where 300 players compete to win a piece of a $250,000 prize pool, as well as an opportunity to eclipse their mortal ways and enter the realm of Hearthstone Grandmaster, the game’s highest tier of competition.
Jucchan faced many tough opponents, and spent the first few rounds of the tournament figuring out how to navigate the Ashes of Outland expansion which dropped on April 7th.
“The meta is volatile at such early stages, so I was preparing my deck lineup until late the night before,” he said.
Hearthstone players have to throw away reliable strategies when an expansion drops to compensate for the added cards and tweaked abilities. The game then turns psychological; Jucchan needed to prepare against his opponents’ initial impressions of the newly adjusted game.
He chose Galakrond Warlock, Spell Druid and Tempo Demon Hunter as the heroes for his lineup, though also assumed them to be popular among his competitors.
“I tweaked my decklists to be stronger against Spell Druid and Tempo Demon Hunter, while planning to ban Warlock. This strategy paid off: my final record against these two decks was 9-1,” said Jucchan.
And paid off it did.
Flamekilla sent Jucchan to the edge of elimination, only one health point away from another Masters tour run. But somehow, Jucchan scrounged his way out and turned the match around to finish Flamekilla off in a 2-1 victory.
He was happy with his performance, and said “my opponents in the top 8 were all Masters Tour veterans, so it was a massive confidence boost that I was able to come out on top.”
But the coming tournament won’t be easy. Jucchan will be facing an even stronger array of hardened Hearthstone Masters veterans when he enters the ring on July 16.
“I’m not going to set my expectations very high, but who knows. With a bit of luck on my side, maybe I’ll be able to pull a few more upsets.”
Correction: The article originally stated that the Asia-Pacific Masters Tournament was regional. It’s not, Asia-Pacific is simply the name of the tournament, and people from all regions can enter.