Innovating at KMC Oakmont: An Interview with Brian Durkin

zack hineThe final weekend of the KMC season weekend came and went, and the pressure of the high stakes was palpable. While many players opted to go with tried-and-true formulas, a select few came to the table with their own brews, and found great success with them. KMC Kentucky champion Brian Durkin is no stranger to going against the grain; many will instantly associate him with Greed Dragons, as he was one of the first to pilot the deck to a top finish. Brian played an innovative midrange deck at Mr. Nice Guy Games in Oakmont, PA, and he sat down with me to chat about his unique take on the metagame.

Zach Hine: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Brian! To start off, how did your KMC experience compare to that of the one in Kentucky?

Brian Durkin: It's honestly tough to compare. Both had ups and downs. Driving only 4-5 hours is definitely better than over 12, but in KY one of my friends who I rode with also didn't have to go to the hospital right after the event (ed. note -- she's fine now and it wasn't tournament-related).

KY was great because I won (laughs). Kinda hard to knock that. But PA was amazing because there were more people and a higher class of player present. Plus it was fun to break the format again. Once in KY when it was undeveloped and again in PA after the scene was established. I feel like I Bobby Fisher'ed it for a minute (laughs). Overall I would say I had a bit more fun at PA because of the people I met and hung out with, plus the pressure was a little off since I had my invite and free airfare already.

ZH: This event followed the script you would expect the final event to follow: plenty of solid players playing established decks in a well-defined metagame. Yet, a handful of players tried new things and had clear success. Would you say your grasp on the expected meta helped you throughout the day?

BD: Yes. I was a tad off on my metagame predictions, but honestly I've been very disconnected from the game of late. I started a new job and moved in the time between tournaments. I honestly hadn't played a game of Kaijudo from when I won KY until about 5 days before the Pittsburgh tournament.

Being away from the scene meant I had to rely on the teammates and what they thought the meta would be like. For the most part they were right and the decks I tested against were what I played during the day; however, I didn't anticipate as much Red Rush as there ended up being. Looking back I think it's reasonable to see a lot of that deck at the KMC level. It's budget friendly and has a very solitaire feel: you don't have to learn which cards are key for a matchup because you do the same thing every game.

There were a select few of us playing truly original decks, and it was awesome to check out their tech as well. Props go out to Gerry [Thompson] and Carl [Miciotto] for essentially doing what I did, just with different card combinations.

But all in all I knew that 4 or 5 civ control decks were what everyone was gravitating toward. I wanted to make sure I played a deck that exploited their weaknesses.

ZH: And exploit them you did:

Brian Durkin's Naya Dragon Beatdown *Top 8*

3 [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Tatsurion the Unchained[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Spellbane Dragon[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Reinforce[/ccProd]

Now, I've gotta tell you, and I think you'll agree -- this deck seems very unconventional on paper (laughs). Although I'm glad that I'm not the only one that really likes [ccProd]Reinforce[/ccProd] (laughs)!

BD: (Laughs) True, true. Well it's a drastic change from what I won at KY with. In Madisonville I played a long curve control deck that was over 40 cards and relied on playing tons of shield blasts. But a new set came out and things change. This is a tight 40 card midrange aggro deck. It's all about punishing decks that durdle (i.e. screw around).

I don't think it's unconventional to play 40 cards. People should be playing as close to this as possible. The card counts going on in Tritonus decks really inspired me to punish those players. 50+ cards is just bad and I refuse to hear otherwise. This game doesn't have a [ccProd]Battle of Wits[/ccProd] (laughs)! Honestly the most unconventional parts of the deck are the lack of spells/shield blasts and the nonexistence of blockers. This decision was easy to come to given the metagame and the goal of the deck:

1) Most decks in the current environment are not aggressive in the very early turns. They drop big guys later that will just crush the puny blockers.

2) [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] is ruling the world. He's very bad for decks that rely on spells; therefore, people are running fewer spells, which in turn means fewer shield blasts. You can attack with less fear than you could a month ago when Greed Dragon-type decks ran rampant (deck size increasing is also a factor here).

3) The deck wants to attack. And early. That's how it's winning. So this is why you just need someone like [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] over [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd]. You will die inevitably if you try to have him buy you time. It's just the nature of this type of deck structure.

There are a lot of decks out there doing what my Naya Dragon Beatdown is trying to do, but I honestly think this is the best version. Reason being is that it puts all decks in the worst catch-22 possible. It's just lose-lose when facing a [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] and a [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd]. You need to play guys to kill Keeper, and Herald will just punish you for doing so.

[ccProd]Reinforce[/ccProd] I discovered by accident almost. I was riffling through my box of playables and stumbled upon it. I always thought the card could find a home in mono green one day, but when I saw it and remembered the amount of dudes I was playing, I realized its potential right away. It shines on the play when you curve out. Hitting your two, three then four going first leaves you with one card. If it's something that will draw you three cards, then you're so far ahead.

ZH: It is really interesting to note just how much pressure you can put on your average control deck by having your curve start at turn 2. Any aggressive deck can, of course, be punished by certain unfortunately-timed shield blasts, but if you play [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] into 5500 William into [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], that's a lot to deal with.

BD: Right. If you go Sword, Keeper, Herald, you essentially can't lose. No deck in the format right now can deal with that if you're on the play -- with the exception being, of course, Red Rush. It's the deck's worst match up because it's essentially doing what that deck does but a bit slower for more late game stability and resilience. I must note though that this came from testing. At the event I played against two Drakon decks and beat each of them, but some of my game wins were quite lucky.

Starting at 2 is fine. There really aren't strong enough one drops in this game to start on turn one. Drakon does this simply because it's a suicide aggro deck, something that is such a "leave it to the fates" that I really don't enjoy. Also realize that my two drops are very aggressive. [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] essentially can eat other small guys and accelerates you into Herald and Lyra (assume the other Dragons you probably play for free). [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd] is nuts. You can attack so fearlessly with him. You're either breaking shields or getting a free [ccProd]Sprout[/ccProd] that costs your opponent an action or card. Either way it's a win-win situation for this deck's strategy.

ZH: It's also my understanding that you took a Megabug shell my brother had proposed, but then stripped it of all the high-risk/high-reward pieces, essentially turning it into an entirely different deck! Does that speak to your opinion on the viability of Megabugs, or was that more of a personal touch?

BD: I think Megabugs are quite viable, but that's just not the deck for me. I think it has glaring issues that hopefully can be overcome with a few more cards. I love [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd], but my next favorite cards in the deck aren't Megabugs (laughs). That's sort of how this deck arrived. I was talking to Tyler Hine about decks and he mentioned splashing Dragons with Megabugs. When I considered the Herald combo not as a way for control to accelerate but for aggro to come over the top, that's when I arrived at this deck. Also noticing how good Keeper paired with Herald is didn't hurt (laughs). It's very annoying for any opponent. Honestly though, I'm not convinced the best Megabug deck has surfaced yet. I really like Carl's list and it was probably the best incarnation on Saturday; however, I think the deck could possibly get stronger with some different available card choices down the road.

ZH: I'm right there with you. I played Megabugs at the event, but my list left something to be desired. I think Carl really showcased how effective Water creatures like Rusalka and Finbarr can be against decks that take the late game as a given.

BD: Very true. The bounce is annoying, but then again your deck is much slower as a result. I won several games solely because I have Fire cards like Gilaflame and Steamtank in my deck, which his version of Megabugs loses access to. I'm not sure how Bant Bugs can deal with Red Rush. My Fast Attackers were essential to winning those matches. But then again, I wasn't actually playing Megabugs.

One of the all-star Fire cards in testing was [ccProd]Tatsurion the Unchained[/ccProd]. There was some resistance from teammates on me including him (at the time the list opted to play him over Spellbane entirely), but I just knew he rocked the current metagame. He truly is Tatsurion Off The Chain at the moment (laughs). Everyone is playing blockers and small dudes. He's a kill spell that Keeper doesn't draw a card from and is essentially unblockable with his ready ability. Plus with Stormspark he's the closest thing to a board wipe. Unchained can also kill [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] on an otherwise empty board and they don't even draw a card. Plus you get a 6K Double Breaker who can swing twice! What's not to love (laughs)?

ZH: Yeah, great insight on that one. The fact that he can banish up to 4000 power while [ccProd]General Skycrusher[/ccProd] can only hit 3000 seems very relevant with [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd]s and various Keepers running around. Actually, were you ever able to banish a [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] with his ability during the tournament?

BD: It didn't happen a lot, but it can happen. It's sort of relevant.

ZH: Continuing with the late game choices, you still decided to include Andromeda in your build. Was he often a Herald drop, or did you find yourself hardcasting him on 9?

BD:  Andromeda was usually who you dropped with Herald, but not always. Depending on how aggressive the game was, dropping Tatsurion to kill a blocker or guy who would swing back was sometimes better. Also Spellbane adds some cool insurance against Shield Blasts if you're attacking in. But I did cast Andromeda a lot. Remember that both my 2-drops accelerate you if you want to play a Dragon. Not to mention that with control decks playing Green and Megabugs running around your opponent will help you out in this department by [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]ping one of your guys. This deck is so streamlined that it usually wasn't the end of the world when a particular guy died; you have so much redundancy in threats. Casting Andromeda also really puts you over the top against other midrange decks. This is how the deck beats Megabugs. It comes down after [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] and overall just slows them down enough to where you can become the aggressor if you fell behind.

ZH: Makes a lot of sense. So, give me a quick recap of your opponents. How many WDL/Keeper Control variants did you play? Did any of them take a game off you?

BD: My tournament experience was a tad short. I won my first four matches so I could double draw into top 8 along with CVH, Carl, and Brian Le. In the playoffs I was paired against my teammate Ryan Valentino who needed an invite still, so I gave him the win. Luckily he earned it so he will be joining Tyler, Steve, and myself in Seattle.

I faced in this order: Drakon Rush with Stormspark splash, Naya Megabugs, WDLN Tritonus Control, and Drakon Rush.

I crushed the first Drakon Rush in two games. The white slowed it down a bit. I also was very lucky to have 2 [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd]s in the row in game two, but again I did win in two games.

The Naya Megabugs matchup went to three games. My opponent was able to crawl back and beat my Andromeda. He had amazing flips with [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] and just outlasted me. In the end, though,  my low aggressive curve just got there. He didn't have the blasts he needed and [ccProd]Mana Tick[/ccProd] can't take down [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] and multiple [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd]s.

I obliterated the Esper Tritonus control deck in two games. It wasn't that my opponent made any mistakes. My deck did what it was supposed to do and just rocked him. I also just drew the extra nuts. He probably wanted to kill himself when he was already down a game and had to face double Keeper plus a Herald on my board (laughs).

The other Red Rush I beat because of my two drops and [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd]. Game one and two were jokes; he whiffed on turns two and three in game one, and I didn't play a card in game two (laughs). Game three I had an early [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] and a good curve that kept eating his guys on swing backs. He started attacking my dudes because he couldn't keep guys on the board and it was approaching my critical mass turns (five and six). He put me at zero shields with Gilaflame in his hand, but I got to untap with Steamtank in play. I dropped a fast attack Lyra and came in with [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] first. Then Lyra to finish off the last two shields. He tried to kill my last remaining attacker with [ccProd]Tornado Flame[/ccProd], but it was Herald so [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] saved him and me from dying.

ZH: Nice showing. Thanks for your time today, Brian! Anything else you'd like to say to the player base as we look toward the Kaijudo Championship?

The community is truly fantastic. The people are really nice and genuinely love the game. That's how games survive. I remember the petitions to have competitive play and it happened. Keep it up guys. This was a great season and I can't wait to play in another great one.

And on a personal note, I'm always available for feedback. I want to give back to the community so feel free to hit me up any time to write articles as a guest blogger on your site or to appear on your YouTube channel. Seriously (laughs). Case in point: this interview spilling my deck's gameplan. Don't be afraid to ask me anything.

ZH: Awesome. We'll talk to you soon. Good luck in Seattle!

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!