His personal win condition? Error-free play. “I track my wins and losses based on whether or not I think I played the game perfectly. You might be able to actually win 60 percent of your games, but you don’t execute your gameplan.” Typical errors he looks for are sequencing mistakes, positioning problems, playing around cards, and the tension between accounting for removal and developing the board.

All in all, this is clearly an enormous occasion for the young Michigan man. “I’m really excited,” Barhorst says. “This is an unbelievable opportunity. I’m so thankful, because you never get this far without help and support. I have friends and family – everyone is behind me. It makes it all that much more meaningful.

“I’m super-pumped. I’m already nervous. It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime.”

Manny “dude7597” Eckert

Manny "dude7597" Eckert

Above: Manny “dude7597” Eckert

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Who are they? One of the other new players taking the stage Saturday is Manny Eckert. A University of Washington sophomore, Eckert has another focus besides Hearthstone that’s kept him busy
in the past — ultimate frisbee.

The decks

Eckert played these decks in the preliminaries:

“My other passion outside Hearthstone is ultimate Frisbee,” he says. “I’ve been playing Frisbee since fifth grade. I won a state championship with Nathan Hale high school in senior year.” His team also attended nationals in Raleigh, North Carolina, this past year.

Their Hearthstone history: Eckert was a big fan of card games as a kid, and played a variety of them growing up: Pokémon, Yu Gi Oh, and Magic: The Gathering, among others. He gave it up in high school, though, for a reason that will feel all-too familiar to some: “Cards cost a lot of money!”

As with Barhost, Eckert wasn’t a day-one Hearthstone adopter. His first exposure to the game actually came after its mobile launch in spring 2015, when a friend suggested he download Hearthstone on his phone. While he certainly enjoyed playing, he’s quick to add, “I never expected to play competitively.”

He didn’t play in the Winter preliminaries, but did compete in the Spring season, going 6-2 in the that preliminary.

Striking a balance between his schooling and two distinct competitive interests is difficult, Manny says. “It’s definitely hard for me to juggle everything between Hearthstone, ultimate [frisbee], and school.” When asked about Hearthstone specifically, he explains, “I’ll probably take a break from Hearthstone in the fall, since ladder doesn’t matter.” (HCT points didn’t begin accruing for 2016 until the December 2015 season.)

Standing out: Being good isn’t enough to compete at the Americas Summer Championship. On the subject of playing at this level, Eckert has his own strategies. “There are some basic rules that I play by,” he explains. “I don’t play around cards that I know I can’t beat anyway.” He has worked with well-known players like Laughing on difficult to play decks like Freeze Mage, and he argues that some of the most important skills to have are the capability to keep track of the cards left in your deck and analyzing what your opponent is likely to have.

He’s also a big believer in preparation. In the past, he’s made spreadsheets of what lineups he expects his opponents to bring and his own deck options, to zero in on the matchups he needed to practice most. Unfortunately, he says, “I had regionals for Frisbee this past weekend, so I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to practice.”

Eckert is a little more hooked into the competitive scene, and he also expressed gratitude to the ‘Digital Athletics’ Skype practice group he’s in (including other HCT players like Chessdude). He says he’s worked on his lineup prep with Muzzy, and often reaches out to Americas Winter Championship winner Amnesiac with questions.

His mic drop? “I’d like to see Yogg [Yogg-Saron, one of the most controversial cards] banned from competitive tournaments.”

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