14th Place ARG KMC: Esper Haven and Lessons Learned

cvhWell, my KMC season is officially over! After three very solid performances in PA, NC, and VA (1st, 1st, 4th), I traveled with Carl Miciotto, Gordon Hunt, and Steve Boram to Akron, Ohio to participate in the KMC held by Alter Reality Games. The venue was much farther from us than any other KMC of the season, but Jim graciously helped us out with the hotel and Gorby still needed his invite to the Summer Championship. Since he had the weekend off of work, it seemed only right to make the trip.

I definitely wanted to do very well despite having my invite and trip to the Summer Champs already just to keep the string of top 8s going, but I was back and forth on which deck I should play; there were quite a few options and I wasn't quite sure what other decks would be present in large numbers. Vu Nguyen anticipated a heavy amount of aggro and tempo, so he shipped me a LWD Haven list that he figured would have a good matchup to those decks. I only got a minimal amount of testing with the deck, but I decided to stick with it because I liked the theory behind it even though I hadn't altered it much. Here's the final list along with a deck tech:

[ccDeck="LWD Haven Control"]3 Chasm Entangler:3 Aqua Strider:3 Lost Patrol:3 Mesmerize:3 Keeper of Laws: 3 Psychic Predator Rusalka:3 Spire Puppet:3 Bone Blades:3 Piercing Judgment:2 Blinder Beetle Prime:3 General Finbarr:2 Lyra, the Blazing Sun:3 Terror Pit:1 Mark of Eternal Haven:3 Andromeda of the Citadel:3 Eternal Haven:1 Cassiopeia Starborn[/ccDeck]

The deck sits at a pretty hefty 45 cards, which to be fair, was probably my first mistake of the weekend. Key cards like [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], [ccProd]Spire Puppet[/ccProd], [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], and the early Enforcer blockers needed to be drawn as consistently as possible in the right matchups, and I wasn't doing myself any favors by running extra cards. However, I also hadn't played with the deck 250px-Eternal_Haven_(9SHA)-2enough to know what exactly to re-work, and I'd rather go into an event knowing I'm running a sub-optimal list than re-work it without the proper testing and risk making it even worse. Besides, I felt the deck would be good for the day, and it was fun to play. If I was still trying to get my invite at this point I definitely would have run something with more testing behind it, but I don't really regret what I ran at all.

As for the other members of the car, they all ran pretty similar lists that I helped construct. Actually, the deck I ran was the one I had the least part in building. My LWN Megabug list featuring two Primes was doing very well and got Alex Len his 1st place finish in South Carolina the past weekend, so Gorby and Steve were on that exact 40. Carl had taken a more Enforcer-based approach with [ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd] subbing in for [ccProd]Mana Tick[/ccProd] for card replenishment, and the ever-potent [ccProd]Blinder Beetle Prime[/ccProd] maxed out all the way to three copies.

The deck choices were all set and seemed good, but the tournament itself was when things started to go wrong; you can't have "Lessons Learned" without mistakes, and I definitely had some in addition to the slightly pudgy deck.

We were in a poor spot in regard to sleep due to some uncontrollable circumstances. The tournament itself began at ten in the morning with registration at nine. It's roughly an eight and a half hour drive with good traffic from Virginia Beach to Akron, and Gorby didn't get off work until 5 PM, so 2 AM with a stop for food was the big hope. Unfortunately, traffic was miserable for the first half of the trip and it was about 4 AM before we arrived. I was up by 7:45 to shower first, and don't think I got more than three hours sleep total after possibly nabbing one in the car.

I'm not one of those people who functions well on little sleep. I don't necessarily get a full night's sleep all the time, but I always shoot for 7+ hours. Even then, I'm not a morning person. I felt alright after a hot shower, but my mind definitely wasn't where it needed to be and I'm fairly certain it led to me making a suboptimal play more than once during the day.

In round one I was paired up against Carl, which is pretty abysmal luck in a 50-man event. I suppose playing against Gorby would be worse since I'd have to concede my first round away rather than hoping to play him later, but the benefit of that would have possibly been a power nap.

Carl, as I mentioned, was on the LWN Enforcer Tempo. Having built the deck with him, I knew every card in it, as he knew mine. I felt like I had the upper hand in the matchup since [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] was a potential problem card for my deck that I didn't have to worry about here. It's also possible to prevent [ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd] creating a snowball effect but not possible to prevent [ccProd]Mana Tick[/ccProd] without [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd]. Carl got Laws and Scamp on board in game one, but my theory was reinforced when I was able to pull it out despite my Mesmerizes effectively turning into [ccProd]Swamp[/ccProd]s against his creatures. I was able to stabilize, and then follow up with a [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] to clear his creature and begin breaking shields.

Game two also appeared to be going very much in my favor for a while. I used [ccProd]Blinder Beetle Prime[/ccProd] to clear most of his board, then was planning on stabilizing since he had few options left when a topdecked second Humonculon allowed his [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] to kill my Prime. After that, a couple more solid draws put him right back in the game and before long, the game was out of reach - or, at least, that was my perspective of it during the match.

As it turns out, while the topdecked Humonculon was devastating, things took a turn for the worse back before I even summoned the Prime, when I still thought things were going well. Carl had left a tapped [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] on the board in the face of my [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] after he had used Humonculon on Laws to kill something. I had summoned a second Strider to add to my battle zone on my next turn, and didn't attack the Keeper. My untapped Strider was just sitting there, and all of its glorious 4000 power was put to waste in one of the most cringe-worthy misplays of my time in Kaijudo. Of course, I cleared the rest of his board with Prime on the following turn (and was feeling quite good about it), but met my demise to the second Humonculon off the top, which would have been a lot worse if Carl wasn't able to kill my Prime outright. Having Laws on board for the rest of the game also didn't help my situation, and it was just a miserable moment when Carl told me about that play after the match.

Game three was much less exciting, though not in the way I would have hoped. Carl had an obnoxiously good curve this game and dropped a bunch of creatures that gave my deck a lot of problems, and I didn't have the cards I needed to answer them. Though there was nothing I could really do that game, I'd much rather take a loss like that than be put on tilt knowing I 250px-Mesmerize_(7CLA)basically handed him a match that could have easily been a 2-0 sweep in my favor. It's hard to look for the bright side in a situation like this, but at least my loss was to a teammate so one of us could start out 1-0.

I was in a pretty bad mood going into my next round, but my mood lightened somewhat when I saw that my opponent (whose name I unfortunately forget) was running a pretty giant deck and I had [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Spire Puppet[/ccProd] in my opening hand. He put down a [ccProd]Shadeblaze the Corruptor[/ccProd] in mana on the first turn, which had me taken aback for a moment. It turns out he was running the "Dragon Pile," a 60ish-card ramp/control deck mixed with the explosive power of just about any dragon you can think of. Needless to say, I Mesmerized him on the draw, leaving him with some pretty unexciting cards, and was feeling very good about my follow-up play of Spire Puppet until he topdecked his own Mesmerize on turn four to take it away. I believe he followed with a turn six [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd], another huge play. I knew I was close to dying to [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd], so I summoned a [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] with no effect just to get something on board. Reverberate gave him a full grip of cards and I summoned another raw Finbarr in a desperate aggressive gambit. That plan didn't work out (not that I had much hope for it), but I was somehow not quite dead. After stopping his assault with Shield Blasts, I managed to assemble two back to back [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd]s in the later part of the game, albeit with no shields remaining. There was a point when I thought I could still have won, but a [ccProd]Blaze Helix[/ccProd] came off the top of his deck, blowing up my blockers and allowing him to attack for game.

Games two and three fortunately went better for me. I think I was able to tempo out pretty nicely with cards like [ccProd]Lost Patrol[/ccProd] and Finbarr in game two, and while I remember the match coming down to the wire, I was also able to take game three. Nonetheless, losing game one was pretty scary and I was thankful to be 1-1.

My second huge mistake of the day came in round three, against Peter Hoffman, Jr.'s LD Kalima Control deck. I felt alright with the matchup since I had basically the same amount of early discard that he did in the form of Mesmerize and Spire Puppet, but I would have liked it a lot more if I was running an even forty cards. Drawing Mesmerize at the right time can just be insane in this matchup. Game one was mostly in my favor for a long time and I had a pretty dominating board presence,250px-Queen_Kalima_(9SHA) but I made a mistake that probably cost me the game when I went at his shields a turn or two too early. I gave him the cards he needed to get rid of my board, and before long, I was staring down [ccProd]Queen Kalima[/ccProd]s that I couldn't overcome.

I won game two after a pretty boring start to the game, where my Mesmerize was the only card played until turn six or seven if I remember correctly. In game three, the usual back-and-forth war between the two control decks took place, but a timely Kalima came down and cleared my board. I had a [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd] to dispose of it, but in a few turns he was able to draw into another one, blow up my board again, and then retrieve the first from the discard pile, which was just too much to handle. Again, I felt that if I had thought through everything in game one I would have had a much better shot at winning the match, and I knew the lack of sleep was catching up to me. Being almost certainly dead for the top eight, I decided to just keep playing to hopefully go 4-2 and have some shot at redemption, as well as prove that my deck was more or less a good call for the day despite my throwing matches away.

Round four saw me paired against a pretty standard Water/Fire Cyber Lord aggro deck. The Fire portion contained the usual aggro cards like [ccProd]Blaze Belcher[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd]. Game one, my early blockers game through and I able to stall without much trouble to double Andromeda, at which point the game was basically over for him. In game two, I was on the draw and saw no answers to the turn three [ccProd]Emperor Neuron[/ccProd] he slammed against me, and [ccProd]Emperor Dendrite[/ccProd] eventually killed me before I was able to get Mark into Haven online. I was able to live the dream in game three by responding to his Blaze Belcher with a blocker with him not having any way to get rid of it. I was pretty far ahead all game and, with enough answers to his cards, was able to stall to my late game yet again.

In round five I played against another pile deck, though I remember almost nothing about the match itself or who I played against. I was able to take it 2-0, and at least one of the games went smoothly with a nice tempo progression if I remember correctly. I do remember attacking over [ccProd]Cyber Walker Kaylee[/ccProd] by accident since I had never actually played against the card before, and then doing it again later in the game because sleep deprivation caused me to forget what the card did, but I was thankfully able to keep myself ahead that game regardless. A match I do remember a lot about, however, was round six.

In round six I had to play against one of the craziest decks there, a 44-ish card LWN ramp deck featuring three copies each of Andromeda, [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd], [ccProd]Almighty Colossus[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Kurragar of the Hordes[/ccProd]. I knew seeing my discard would be of the utmost importance this match.

Fortunately, that was able to happen in game one with a timely Mesmerize taking away the threat my opponent was planning on ramping to. That gave me the time I needed to win the game before he was able to get his big creatures out. He had a ton of ramp cards in game two that lead to me being in a pretty horrible position in the late game. I was staring down two copies of [ccProd]Almighty Colossus[/ccProd], an Andromeda, about three small blockers, and two [ccProd]Oktuska the Infused[/ccProd]. He had seven shields left and I had a decent board including an [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd], a Finbarr, and a [ccProd]Psychic Predator Rusalka[/ccProd]. I knew I needed to draw into [ccProd]Cassiopeia Starborn[/ccProd] and made a few tentative attacks when I could protect my Rusalka to draw more cards, but never found Cassiopeia. When he went in to break my shields, I was able to both prevent losing the game and tap his two remaining small blockers with a pair of Shield Blasts (the third one had been tapped by my Andromeda's "Awe Strike" ability). On my turn, I had to simply hope he didn't have any Shield Blasts to get in the away of the exact game I had on board. That seemed likely since he wasn't running Darkness and probably cut down on the defensive blasts to focus more on ramp and big creatures, and sure enough, I was able to take a very intense game to win the match 2-0! As Spencer Swan would say, "Merlon be praised!"

So, at 4-2, I knew I had close to little chance making it into the top eight, though I did enjoy at least taking victories in every opposing Haven match I played. Sure enough, no x-2s made it in thanks to the right amount of x-1s taking intentional draws. These were the post-swiss standings:

arg standings

14th place wasn't what I was hoping for out of the day, but after making pretty bad plays in two matches, it's the place I had to accept. As you can see from the standings, Gorby also failed to top eight; after being x-2 by round four, he was able to win out, but it wasn't enough. Carl went on to top four, and Justin Finnigan and Garrett Gurnsey got first and second.

The event for me wasn't spectacular, but I wanted to write about it anyway because it reinforced a lot of things about competitive Kaijudo (and all card games) that I already knew. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to adhere to them this weekend due to the way scheduling worked out. The most important to me by far is the following: DO NOT underestimate the power of a good night's sleep. It'd be nice if hours of playtesting and theorycrafting coupled with knowing your deck's plays inside and out were always enough, but when you're playing in a TCG tournament, you have to make very important decisions in the moment every single turn. You can't afford to reduce your ability to think clearly by something as simple as getting half the amount of sleep you probably should have. If you do, you'll miss a kay obvious piece of information like an untapped Aqua Strider that can attack, or you'll weigh the risk vs. reward of attacking wrong at a crucial moment. It's been said before, and I'll say it again - if you want to do well at an event, not only do you have to be prepared in regards to your deck and theory, but you have to be physically prepared as well. Get some sleep, eat a healthy breakfast whenever possible, stay hydrated, and come ready to play your best!

Hopefully this article helped some of you out, and I hope you enjoyed the journey as well. If you're looking for another great Kaijudo event to play in run by ARG, be sure to check out the ARG Circuit Series coming to Richmond, VA this weekend! The Kaijudo event, featuring over $1k in prizes, will be on Sunday. All the information can be found on this site and Facebook. I hope to see you all there, and until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!