Last night I beat Trump in a game of Hearthstone, and my hands are still shaking.
For me, the Arena is Hearthstone's best mode. The "constructed" portion of Blizzard's wonderful card game has gone a little stale. You see the same decks over and over again, the same cadence to play, the same meta-game. In the Arena, decks are somewhat random. There is a skill to their construction, because you have to pick one from three random cards until you have 30. You don't know if the Mage you're fighting will use Flamestrike on turn seven, because the Mage may not even have Flamestrike in their deck.
Last night I started a new Arena run and drafted a Paladin deck, mainly because I have a quest to win a few games with the Paladin, but also because the Paladin is strong in the Arena. Usually I'm never happy with my Arena drafts. I try my best to pick cards that combo with other cards, to maintain a mana curve and make sure I have plenty of late game big hitters. Usually I end up with a deck neither terrible or great. Not last night. Last night, I ended up with a deck that was wonderful.
It included one Truesilver Champion, what many consider to be the best weapon in the game, three Consecrations, what some consider to be the best area of effect spell in the game, Avenging Wrath, which spits out eight points of damage to random targets, two Guardian of Kings, which heal the hero for six health points, and one Tirion Fordring, the Paladin legendary card. That last one there, that's a big deal.
And so, confident of a few wins, I started playing, and soon enough I had three without loss. My best record in the Arena is 12-1 - the maximum number of games you can win in a single run is 12 - and I thought I had a decent chance of getting close to that.
Then, on match four, I came up against another Paladin, and his name was Trump.
Jeffrey "Trump" Shih is the world's most famous Hearthstone player. He became the first professional Hearthstone player when gamer gear maker Razer sponsored him. His daily Hearthstone streams regularly attract audiences of over 20,000 people. He's liked and respected. People watch his stream to learn how to get better at the game, and often donate money to the cause. Trump won the "most educational" category in the Blizzard 2013 Stream Awards with a whopping 43 per cent of the vote.
I've watched Trump stream Hearthstone for months now, mainly because I like his style, the way he thinks out loud, and because he's a superb player. I've learnt a lot from him. My wife - who is just starting to play Hearthstone herself now the iPad version is out - loves to watch him with me, either sat on the sofa in front of the telly, or in bed with the iPad. She thinks he's cute. He's my Hearthstone hero.
And so, when I saw the word Trump in the top left hand corner of the screen my jaw dropped. I was playing Trump! And, wait, what time is it? He's probably streaming this right now!
"I'm playing Trump!" I screamed to my wife. She immediately grabbed the iPad and loaded up his Twitch channel. A few turns in she returned. I glanced at the screen and yes, there was my Battletag in the top left hand corner of the screen. Yes, I was indeed playing Trump. And yes, over 20,000 people were watching. This was real. It was happening. It was the video game equivalent of trying to tackle my footballing hero, Gianfranco Zola, in front of a packed Matthew Harding Stand.
"Take it away!" I screamed. Win or lose, I wanted to do it properly. I didn't want to hear Trump think out loud or see his cards or anything that the stream might have thrown up that might give me an advantage. I expected to lose - this was Trump after all - but if, and it was a big if, I won, I wanted to do it the right way, the honest way. So the iPad was banished to the bedroom.
My sister and her boyfriend were also in my living room, watching. They're not Hearthstone players, so didn't understand the way the game worked, but when I explained I was playing against a famous player, and it was being live streamed, and watched by thousands, they instantly got that this was an important thing for me, that it meant something, that it was worth watching, that it was exciting, and cool.
After some initial low level trading things began to hot up on turn eight when I played Tirion Fordring, in desperation, really. To be fair to Trump, my deck was pretty ridiculous for the Arena. He dealt with the legendary card but at great cost to his board control. Thing was, I was low on health. Even with the 5/3 Ashbringer weapon equipped after Tirion's demise, I couldn't use it against any minion with a high attack power. I was at 10 health, and things were looking bleak.
Then the healing began.
One Guardian of Kings gave me six health back. Next turn I played the Earthen Ring Farseer, healing my hero for three points, returned it to my hand using the Ancient Brewmaster, then played the Farseer again to heal my hero for another three points. I was just trying to keep my hero alive long enough to outlast Trump, and it looked like it was working.
Then, the next turn, I played the other Guardian of Kings for yet another six points of healing. I imagined it was pretty annoying for Trump, but, you know, needs must.
There was a point - and it's a bit blurry now - when I realised I was going to win, and my hands began to shake. I won with a hit of the Truesilver Champion weapon to Trump's face - another two points of healing, just because. My hand slipped as I directed the arrow to Trump's hero portrait, which for some reason sticks in my mind. His Paladin exploded. I clicked on the "Well Played" emote. GG. I had beaten Trump at his own game.
My sister jumped out of her seat, screamed and hugged me. My wife jumped up and hugged us both. My sister's boyfriend remained in his seat - he's not one for hugs - but he did smile and say, "that's awesome". My wife ran to get the iPad. The stream was on a delay of a couple of minutes, so we sat there and watched the match play out from Trump's perspective. I still won. We all hugged again.
It was the greatest gaming moment of my life, beating the time I won a Street Fighter 2 tournament at secondary school and the time my World of Warcraft raiding guild downed Deathwing for the first time. I was playing a video game against one of its masters, in front of more people than watch Fulham play each week. This was my moment, and I grabbed it. It was thrilling.
And here's the best thing about it: the match brought my family, even those who don't play video games, together. They were cheering me on. They were delighted for me. Isn't it wonderful that playing a video game online against another human being half the world away can have such an effect? I think it's more than wonderful. I think it's incredible.
Last night, as I lay in bed struggling to sleep, I replayed the match over and over in my head. I scrolled up to read the Twitch chat that went on during it, which was interesting. Someone said I - or "that guy" - had played well. Most said my deck was amazing and Trump was doomed from the start. They were probably right. Had I really won? I started to feel sad that I had, like I'd just beaten my dad at chess or something. How silly! How ridiculous! Get over yourself!
When I woke the first thing I did was tweet about playing Trump at Hearthstone and winning. When I got to work I told all my colleagues on the Eurogamer editorial team about it. I'm four and zero in this Arena run, and I still haven't returned to it. I'm kind of afraid to. Where it is now is a crystallised moment in time. If I play another match the memory will fade ever so slightly, and the record will move on, altered. Of course I will get over myself eventually (and I know this article is a gross act of over indulgence), but for now I'm happy staring at the Arena menu, basking in the afterglow of its meaning.