Quick Kaiju: Winter Champs Edition

zack hineWelcome to another installment of Quick Kaiju! The community is still buzzing over the wildly successful Winter Championship held in Irving, Texas. The weekend was packed with plenty of great matches and surprises, and it was capped off with an unprecedented second straight Championship victory, courtesy of ARG's own Bobby Brake!

Sadly, I was unable to attend the LCQs thanks to a bunch of lame work-related schedule conflicts-- but never fear! I was glued to Wizards' fantastic Twitch.tv stream all weekend long, settling in with the incomparable Carl Reddish and a slew of the game's most interesting personalities. Varying opinions and strategies abound, but I'm working feverishly (read: blurting out the first thoughts that come to mind) to make sense of the madness for you, my loyal readers.

Strap in!

All In On Booster Brawlin'

I had a feeling we'd see another supplementary product in the offseason before The 5 Mystics drops in March, but "Booster Brawl" far surpasses expectations. Last spring's Dragon Master Collection Kit was a nice value, but the promos were intentionally niche, so you were really only buying it for the 4 packs. I used the carrying case for a little while, but it wasn't meant to hold up amid constant banging around in a backpack. The product was aimed at the collector audience more than the tournament players.

Booster Brawl is essentially another value repack at its core, but the brand new format that accompanies this release is some of the most fun I've had playing this game yet. Seriously.

Here's how to Brawl:

  • Grab a buddy.
  • Crack open any 8 booster packs of your choosing, and remove the code cards. Shuffle all the cards together to form one giant 72 card pile (or 75 if you're including the 3 promos from the kit). I prefer to shuffle the cards together without looking; the surprise factor is half the fun.
  • Deal out 5 shields to each player from the top of this giant stack, and set the stack down in between both players.
  • Flip the top 5 cards off the top of the communal deck, and display them face-up for both players to see in an out-of-game area called "the Veil."
  • Determine who will go first.
  • That player drafts one of the 5 cards from the Veil and places it into his or her hand, then draws a card from the top of the communal deck and plays his or her turn out as normal.
  • The other player then does the same.
  • When the final card is drafted from the Veil, that player draws for turn off the top of the stack, then flips the next 5 cards face-up into the Veil for all to see.
  • Both players share a single discard pile.
  • Play as normal until a winner is declared!

It becomes second nature once you get a game or two under your belt. You get all the fun and randomness of sealed play mixed with the decision-making and subgames normally associated with draft play. Battle zones can balloon very quickly, since each player is in effect drawing 2 cards per turn. You also have to be conscious of colors being drafted, cutting each other off from certain strategies if possible, and making sure you work blockers into your combat math since shield blasts are less likely to be present than in constructed play. You also have to keep tabs on your opponent very carefully, since you know a card in their hand every single turn. There are a lot of crazy scenarios that can occur, but at the same time, I've found that Booster Brawl really hammers home the fundamentals of the game. I've brawled in numerous pods with my brother Tyler, and he's given me a thorough trouncing more times than I care to admit. Curse you, [ccProd]Blinder Beetle Prime[/ccProd]!

It just goes to show that while the core mechanics of our beloved game are simple, there's always more to learn.

I always feel dirty just cracking packs and plopping my fresh commons into an abandoned random stack, but that's usually what ends up happening. It's not very plausible to have 5 to 7 other people on hand to draft any time you want to bust into some boosters, and 1v1 sealed play isn't as alluring when the cards aren't brand new. Booster Brawl, though, is always fun, and incredibly simple to toss together. It's also a fantastic way to introduce new players to the game, since it lets them experience a wide variety of in-game scenarios without having to own a single card of their own! If a curious onlooker gets roped in and ends up pulling off a sweet combo to beat you, I can guarantee you they'll be fiending to purchase some packs for another go around.

Be sure to grab a copy (or 10) of the new Booster Brawl kit when it drops early next year!

Skimp On Scamp

The top 8 of the Championship had representatives from all of the top teams in the game, and all of the best decks. Matchups looked to play a huge role in how the playoffs were likely to work out on paper, but two of the best players in the game, Carl Miciotto and Bobby Brake, defied expectations. Bobby was able to take down Team PEACH's Dave Pendergrass and his Kalima control deck (spotlighting [ccProd]Megaria the Deceiver[/ccProd]), despite the matchup presenting a lot of problems for a high-curve Dragon deck like Bobby's with no [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] to regain momentum lost from discarded cards and troublesome spot removal. Carl also avenged his only loss in the Swiss rounds by defeating DrawForTurn's Tom Rogers and his heavy Dragon deck with a LWN tempo deck.

Carl kept opponents on their toes all day with some tricky card choices (and not always of the turnip variety). Thoughts likely running through his opponents' minds all day: Is he playing Megabugs? Where's [ccProd]Mana Tick[/ccProd]Is he trying to always hit the hexproof curve? Am I safe to attack? Yikes, here comes [ccProd]Blinder Beetle Prime[/ccProd] out of nowhere! Maybe I shouldn't have prioritized killing that stupid [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd]! What? I just got blown out by [ccProd]Oathsworn Call[/ccProd]And so on and so forth.

Without a doubt, the most glaring thing about Carl's list is the inclusion of a mere two copies of [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd]. What kind of mad scientist nonsense is this?

Ryan Miller and Carl Reddish got a kick out of it in the commentator booth, and Carl seemed pretty happy with his decision. While I'm not going to throw my support behind the notion that two Scamps is somehow "optimal," it was a calculated gambit that certainly paid off.

Let's break down the factors that likely allowed Carl to arrive at this decision.

It's been well-established that [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] is adept at punishing control decks that don't want to interact with you in the early game. The "Turbo Haven" decks we saw at the beginning of the format that just want to cast [ccProd]Sprout[/ccProd]s, [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd]s, and [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd]s en route to their end game can get overrun very quickly by the tiny 2-drop. Scamp is also a fine mono-blue card in a Bant shell that primarily relies on the Water section for the tempo that [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] provide; the deck doesn't want to be forced into rowing those cards to be able to cast an [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd]. In addition, sometimes simply dropping a guy on turn 2 that can get in for shields can ensure an opponent's awkward opening hand never gets off the runway. The potential benefits are legion.

That being said, there are numerous scenarios where you don't want to see a Scamp. Control decks have adapted, relying on more interaction in the early/mid game via discard options ([ccProd]Spire Puppet[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd]), spot removal ([ccProd]Toxic Fog[/ccProd], [ccProd]Snake Trap[/ccProd]), and in the case of Kalima decks, dork blockers that slow Scamp's roll ([ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd], [ccProd]Stingwing[/ccProd]). If a Kalima deck hits a blocker on 2, the pilot might not be afraid to [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] on 3 with a [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] on board, since he or she can just strip away any action you might be holding, thereby ensuring the blocker holds up against 2 Scamps.


The always-popular Dragon decks can also put the squeeze on the poor little Cyber Lord. Never mind the threat of the mighty [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] -- if you pick up Carl's deck, you're knowingly playing a deck that is susceptible to Herald beats, and you need to craft your gameplan around tempo'ing Herald out and playing around [ccProd]Jump Jets[/ccProd] whenever possible. Scamp is an additional liability, sure, but he's not the reason you lose this matchup. No, [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] is the real enemy here. Why does that guy randomly have 1500 power while simultaneously holding the title of best all-around Fire Bird? I'll never understand. If the opponent sticks a [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] on turn 2 (something that fat 4 color Dragon decks seem to do a ridiculous percentage of time, for God knows what reason), attacking with a [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] becomes a miserable proposition. The Dragon deck is creature-progression-focused, so Scamp isn't at its best in the matchup anyway. But even beyond that, there are numerous things the Dragon player can do to essentially blank your little blue dude.

It's hard out there for a Scamp. Guy's just tryna pop off some Dittos, but noooooooooo.

[ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd]'s ability seems to necessitate playing the full 3 copies. I mean, we've all drawn 2, or had one hiding in shields while playing 3. Why cut one and increase the chances of him becoming a lowly [ccProd]Cybergrid Bandit[/ccProd]? Well, clearly, Carl put more stock in the potential negatives that we outlined than he did the positives, and that assessment served him well.

If you're playing 3 copies of a card in a 40 card deck, you're saying you want to see at least one of that card every single game, and likely two. Consider how much utility a single copy of Scamp loses every turn after turn 2. Now consider how bad each additional copy beyond that is. Now consider how many matchups there are where you feel you can win without seeing a single copy. With the field being as wide open as it was, that's a lot of evidence to suggest that playing two was a case of Carl playing it safe rather than being reckless!

Carl, being the good player that he is, also took full advantage of the mindgames. If you ever have 2 Scamps out and the opponent is trying to reclaim the board, he or she will be very reluctant to cast an additional spell, even though Carl knew there was no 3rd Scamp to be found. If you ever control one Scamp, trigger the ability, and fail to find, the opponent will immediately assume you drew the other two copies, or the other two copies are in your shields! It may not have an impact on the game, but if the opponent gets a little reckless and runs headlong into a shield blasted [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Oathsworn Call[/ccProd] because he or she assumed you had stone nothing in your shields, that can turn the tide considerably. And even if these mindgames never translated into a tangible advantage, Carl proved that the LWN tempo deck never needs two Scamp triggers to go off in the same game in order to win. Cutting down on dead draws may have done just as much to win him a game along the way!

I don't know if I'll be playing a tempo list with two Scamps and zero [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]s any time soon, but Carl's list was expertly positioned for a very unique metagame, and he had the utmost conviction in his card evaluations, which is extremely important. If nothing else, his list proves DrawForTurn's Rob Wolinsky right when he proclaimed that Winter Champs was going to be "Sideboard: The Tournament."

Reverb Nation

So.....[ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd] sure is a card, eh?

I've been saying to anyone who will listen not to get too hung up on [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd]. There's plenty of scenarios where it ends up just being a 6 mana multiciv Logos Scan, and at that point you're basically dead. I also had a feeling, though, that any control deck playing blue and white worth its salt would welcome [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd]'s inclusion. Talk about a silver bullet for the control mirror! If [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] was meant to "break control mirrors wide open" by reminding people that they actually need to attack, then [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd] takes those broken mirror shards and stomps them into dust. You don't want to be caught with your pants down when your opponent decides to draw 5 cards on turn 6. It isn't pretty.

What I didn't expect, though, was for [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd] to find its way into Kalima control decks. Sure, Dave Pendergrass (and Corey Gaudreau) put forth a Kalima list that opted not to include the card, but CVH and Mark Woodin dialed back their devotion to Darkness just to make sure they weren't left in the wake of others doing the same. Mark unfortunately milled one of his few blue cards in a crucial situation on stream, but that's the risk you run if you opt not to go all-in on Darkness. While that can certainly be a problem, I think he was on the right track.

You might think "well, if you can draw 5 cards on turn 6, then you're already winning, so isn't this card just a win-more?" And in some cases you'd be correct, but not always. If you're in the aforementioned control mirror, it's pretty much a given that you have all shields intact on turn 6. Why not grab a fist full of cards to ensure that you're more threat-dense in the coming turns than your opponent is? If you're up against an aggressive or tempo deck and you managed to hang on to 4 or 5 shields by turn 6, great job! But that probably means that you expended blockers and 1-for-1s to get to this point, so you're probably light on cards. Why not gas up and put your opponent into the ground? It sounds overly-simplified, but what more is there to say? I've long used this column as a pulpit to preach the dangers of counting +1s and -1s as a sole determinant of who "deserves" to win, but don't get it twisted -- drawing 5 cards is (and always will be) bonkers.

[ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd] is the definition of a narrow card. Most times when people call a card narrow, they're using that phrasing as a justification for why that card isn't constructed-playable. In the case of [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd], it simply means you don't want it in every matchup. By no means should you ever play 3 of this card. But if this narrow card outright wins me the game once or twice a tournament, sign me up! Bobby Brake was on point by including a singleton in his Dragon list. I saw him [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] for it numerous times over the course of the day.

Jump Up Jump Up And Get Down

Speaking of the champion's deck.....can I get some [ccProd]Jump Jets[/ccProd] love, people?!

I know Gerry Thompson is largely credited with its surge in popularity, and rightfully so (since he was the first to top 8 with it). Still, just for fun, I took a stroll through the archives and found an old Portal Tech article of mine from August 21st here. I scrolled down to the final tech suggestion, and what should I find but [ccProd]Jump Jets[/ccProd]? I've been in love with this card since the Summer Champs, and I'm enthused to see one of my predictions pan out on the brightest stage! I think we can all agree that I'm simply ahead of my time.

(Don't look too closely at old articles, though. Wouldn't want anyone calling me out on my misfires...)

I advocated its usage in a 3-civ deck back then, but Bobby threw caution to the wind and jammed it in to his 4-civ list. I say bravo. We all need more Jetpack Wolf in our lives.

I outlined the many benefits of the card in the previous article, but suffice to say, it's only gotten better since then. Bobby was running hot fire with assembling the combo all day, always dropping heavy hitters like [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Cassiopeia Starborn[/ccProd] for maximum effect. With the surge in playability of tempo decks, and the necessity of an army of small blockers in control decks, your potential for popping off has never been greater. I don't think anyone will argue that Herald/Jets is the single most powerful thing you can do in the game right now. It's backbreaking.


The Winter KMC season, though condensed in length, was a lot of fun. I wish I could have made it out to more KMCs, but I still learned a lot through observation. There were a lot of week to week changes in the metagame, and I think that's awesome -- the top players who constantly innovate are able to shine right now. Oh yeah, and [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] was retired. No big deal.

The Winter Champs capped off the season with gusto, and I can't wait to see what's in store next. Be on the lookout for ARG Circuit Series events and local store-sponsored events in the Kaijudo offseason to keep everyone occupied. Also keep your ears to the ground for a big announcement in January from Ryan Miller! Could we see sealed KMCs next season? A "Standard/Type II" format? The possibilities are endless. All I know is that Wizards of the Coast seems excited with the future of the game, so I'm doing all I can to grow my local scene and get new players onboard! The ARG Circuit comes to St Louis, Missouri on December 14-15!

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!