Shark-Squids in Seattle: Part 2

zack hineWelcome back! If you haven't already done so, please check out part one of this article here. In it, I talk about my experience at the first ever Kaijudo Championship LCQs.

To get insight into Day 2 and beyond, however, I sat down to chat with my brother, KMC Poughkeepsie champion Tyler Hine.

Zach Hine: Thanks for your time, Ty. Any general thoughts about the event before we get into specifics?

Tyler Hine: Sure. I mean, it was pretty cool that it was in Seattle. I had never been to the west coast before, so the free trip was fun. It was like a mini vacation for me, and I got to meet up with you and some of the other guys from our team, whom I rarely get to playtest with in person. Also, I was only able to attend the one KMC, so it was nice to meet so many players from the community, and to reconnect with some of the guys I had already met in New York.

ZH: Definitely. Everyone seems to be in agreement that the playerbase was a large reason the event was so successful. So, I already covered my LCQ experience from top to bottom, but I need you to help the readers out with specifics from Day 2 and beyond. What were your expectations going into R&D Day?

TH: I was definitely pumped for it. I mean, I'm not the most outspoken guy in the room when it comes to card design or anything, but I still had some ideas that I wanted to float out there. And it was just awesome to know that Wizards was listening, you know? That said, I had no idea it started at 9 AM and ended at 9 PM (laughs).

But yeah, it was definitely cool to hear the perspective of the Wizards staff members. They did a panel where they talked about the origins and evolution of the game, and then went into a Q&A session where players got to ask questions. I think the times could have been swapped around, though; they pretty much had to cut the Q&A short for a lunch break, and then we had like 5 hours allotted for card creation, which was a little tiresome by the end (laughs). There was a disproportionate amount of time between actual player questions getting answered and the Wizards employees giving their own spiel. Which, honestly, was to be expected, especially considering this was the first event of its kind. But in the future, if I'm lucky enough to go to more of these, an expanded Q&A session would be better.

Overall it was a really cool experience, though. I don't know of any other games that do anything like this. Also, they previewed Queen Kalima for us!

ZH: They were also live tweeting the morning session, which was appreciated for people like me who sadly weren't able to be there. But one thing that stood out to me was the amount of confidence Wizards seems to have in Kaijudo internally.

TH: That stood out to me too, and it was great to hear. They said that when they got a new CEO a while back, he pretty much trimmed the fat and discontinued a lot of games. They went with the "core pillars" of their brand, which were Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, and Duel Masters. I actually had no idea Duel Masters was still big in Japan. But it kind of incentivized them to take another look at the game and rebrand it for the US market.

Another takeaway for me was how much consideration they put into the TV show and online play and things like that. For example, in the Q&A they said that one reason they weren't looking to design too many cards that interact with your mana zone was because it clutters up the screen in the online game, so cards in mana are just displayed with a count next to the unlocked civilization. You can see what's in there with an extra click, but they want most of the action to be clearly visible in the battle zone.

ZH: That's interesting. So, moving on, tell me a bit about the card creation process.

TH: No one really knew if we were going to get to design a card from scratch, or what the deal was there. I had some ideas going in, but then they showed giant card art of 5 different creatures from the show -- one for each civilization. So we were going to be doing top-down design, where the ability needed to fit the mold of the characters we picked. The 5 creatures were Ra-Vu, Rusalka, Black Feather, Gilaflame, and Mighty Shouter. We voted, and the top two were the ones that were going to be designed by players. I was on team Black Feather. Black Feather and Rusalka were the highest vote-getters, and then from there they split us into two groups.

The amount of time it took to get to a consensus about anything was a little annoying. I mean there were, what, 22 people in each group? It was a little bit more chaotic than I think Wizards bargained for. When cards are created by the design and development, they're influenced by like 5 or 6 people, and even then they have disagreements. So take 20+ players with wildly different opinions (some of which didn't even fit the color of the card), and then make it a free-for-all. It's not surprising it took so long. It was just hard to get ideas to stick.

Creating the cards was hectic, but it was guided by the R&D members, which is to be expected. I mean they had to keep us on track and overrule anything that was too out there. Yeah, they were giving us the reins, but they weren't going to let us just design [ccProd]Dark Hole[/ccProd] and be done with it (laughs). It drug on a bit, but once we got it down to 3 or 4 candidates, we agreed on a clear winner.

(Zach: Here's the current card, if you haven't seen it.)

Black Feather, Soul Devourer
Creature, Level 6, Darkness, Specter
3000 Power
Dark Tactics -- When this creature enters the battle zone, reveal the top three cards from your deck. Choose a creature from among them. All creatures lose power equal to the chosen creature's power until the end of the turn. Put the revealed cards into your discard pile. (A creature that has power 0 or less is banished.) 

After we settled on this version, we were able to instantly sleeve up a proxy and test it, which was awesome. 

It was a great experience because at the end of the day I think we ended up creating a pretty cool card. I hope that if Wizards does this for future championships, though, that they condense the groups a little bit. A lot of us were talking and we agreed -- it's probably better to split everyone up into five teams, design all five cards, and then reveal them all and let everyone vote. Yeah, a lot of players will just vote for their own team, but at the same time, I think enough people will be mature enough to vote for another team if they have a genuinely more interesting idea. Ideally, everyone gets to have their voice heard this way, even if their card doesn't win. I mean, yeah, my team created the Black Feather card, but only a handful of people can say that they had a direct role in the current version. That's just the way it goes with large groups.

ZH: Good ideas. I'm really excited about that Black Feather, in any event. Hopefully it doesn't get changed too much in testing. Anyway, after card creation wrapped and you guys had dinner, it was free sealed play, right? How'd that work?

TH: That was obviously really cool. They had a whole bunch of packs there, and people could just sign up for on-demand sealed or draft flights. R&D members were walking around and playing too. It was nice how laid back it was after all the hemming and hawing about the player-created cards. You just found four or five people, grabbed some packs, and tore into them.

It was fun getting to draft with different people. Like, I got to draft with EarthP0w3r (Carl Miciotto), which was pretty cool. A lot of funny games ensued. Carl drafted, like, 6 [ccProd]Memory Keeper[/ccProd]s. [Brian] Durkin first picked two consecutive [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd]s (laughs), and so he had a legitimately threatening Megabug deck. [Steve] Silverman had, like, a Quartz beatdown deck (laughs), which destroyed me. You know, I don't get to draft that much, so doing it in a relaxed environment was a really good idea on Wizards' part.

ZH: So Saturday's winding down, and you're getting ready for the Championship.You weren't sure on what you wanted to play at this point, right?

TH: Pretty much. Everyone was itching to do some last minute testing.

As you know, the deck that was on my mind was "Sharknado" (laughs), because it was our pet deck. I came up with it and we had been refining it a bit. I really liked its chances if the metagame was heavy on control, and I was able to hit my early drops. But the big flaw of our gauntlet is that we spent more time testing against WDLN, Megabugs, and Red Rush than we did Greed Dragons. I think we kind of neglected them, just because existing builds hadn't topped the last couple KMCs at the end of the season.

Going into testing, though, Brian Durkin and I really wanted to play an original deck, so we were psyching ourselves into it. We got some late night games in with Ryan Valentino, Steve Silverman, and Paul Clarke, who were using test lists of WDLN and Megabugs. Then we threw together a Greed list similar to the one Robert Hebert won the first LCQ with, and put Sharknado through its paces. We made some last minute tweaks that helped, but at the end of the day, it wasn't consistently beating all the other decks in our gauntlet. It wasn't at all like Greed Dragons when we first created it, which just smashed everything. We knew there wasn't going to be a single dominant deck, though, so we stuck with it. I was pretty confident that I had a 50/50 shot at worst in each matchup. I also had the element of surprise on my side, and I had the ability to punish some overly-conservative control players that allowed me to get to [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. And, I'll be honest, I really wanted to be able to take claim for the deck if one of us did well (laughs). It was between a 9-Bird Dragon list and an original deck, so I went with the original deck, crossed my fingers, and went for the glory.

 (Zach: Here's the list that Tyler Hine and Brian Durkin registered:)

3 [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Razorhide[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Rusulka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Bronze-Arm Tribe[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]King Neptas[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd]1 [ccProd]Gregorias Fortress[/ccProd]1 [ccProd]Waterspout Gargoyle[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Grip of Despair[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd]

ZH: Walk me through Sunday morning.

TH: We walked in and saw the prizes all laid out -- the custom iPads, and the high quality trophies. Every player also got a promo [ccProd]Bronze-Arm Sabertooth[/ccProd], and a Kaijudo hoodie with the name of the store we qualified at on it. They also mentioned they were going to raffle off the giant cards, and gave us free Ultra Pro sleeves and deckboxes.

When we talked the night before, we guessed that we'd see around 18 WDLNs, 15-16 Greed Dragons, a handful of Megabugs and some rogue decks, and then maybe 4 Red Rush decks in the field. I felt pretty confident with that assumption, but it was wrong. And while Sharknado has a winnable Red Rush matchup, you definitely want to avoid that deck if you can. 

One huge miss on our part was not knowing about the Light Rush list that the Virginia guys were using. Even when factoring in that deck, though, I think there were still only 6 true rush decks in the field.

Sadly, I was "that guy" that had to play rush in the first few rounds.

ZH: Your round one opponent was Zachary Mirman, who ended up top 8'ing the event, correct?

TH: Yeah. He opened up his deckbox, I saw [ccProd]Tornado Flame[/ccProd], and I was like "are you kidding me?" And I was playing right next to CVH and saw his list at this point, so I was pretty taken aback. I mean, we all know what Drakons do. He hit his perfect curve and I just couldn't deal with it. I had some shield blasts, but it wasn't enough. I got to 8 mana, had Squillace ready for the next turn, but he was able to top the piece of removal for my blocker. In game 2, he drew his curve again and I drew garbage and he just smashed my face (laughs).

So obviously, I was expecting big things, and it sucked starting off with a loss. Plenty of other people were playing lists that might have trouble with rush, but they were lucky enough to dodge the pairing and I wasn't. It happens.

What shouldn't happen, though, is playing another rush deck in round 2 (laughs)! 

ZH: Pretty brutal.

TH: Yeah. I played Nathan Bond in the second round, who was the guy who introduced the concept of Light rush to CVH and Carl. It was the same exact story. Like, I barely even played my cards (laughs). Too many double breakers. Game two was a repeat. Now I was sitting there 0-2, and I wasn't even sure if my deck was working as intended (laughs)! Typical.

ZH: Not very fun to scrub out before the lunch break even happened, huh?

TH: Oh no, it was a blast. I love scrubbing out. Thanks for that (laughs).

ZH: I'm just kidding (laughs). At least you were there, right?

TH: Yeah, I mean, what can you do? Unlucky pairings and a bad metagame call meant a bad outcome. I wasn't going to just sulk for the rest of the day. I had to keep playing to see if I could win out the rest of my rounds for some much-needed pride points (laughs). Valentino and Durkin were 2-0 at this point, though, so our team still had a chance, and the deck itself still had a chance.

I played Greed Dragons in round 3. Not necessarily a bad matchup, but certain things can happen that make you lose outright. Like, when I say "bad metagame call," I'm not saying that having bad games against rush meant it was a poor choice. There were plenty of people that dodged the matchup, and I just got unlucky. The bad metagame call, though, was that there were more Greed / 9-Bird decks there than WDLN, and we thought that percentage would be flipped. This deck really has trouble with [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] if it isn't able to draw its blue cards. It can obviously beat the deck if you tempo them out, and we added in [ccProd]Grip of Despair[/ccProd] as another immediate answer, but it was still a coin flip. I was actually able to pull out this match, 2-1. I lost to the obligatory Herald, but I drew aggressive hands in the other two games, and [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] put in work. I don't even think I summoned [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. Unfortunately, Durkin ran into the same Red Rush opponent that I did in round 1, and he hit an ideal curve again, so Brian took his first match loss of the day. Some of these red decks were just running hot. That's what you have to do to win an event like this. Luck was a factor.

ZH: That may be true of Drakons sometimes, but I feel like the Light Enforcer list has a little more to it.

TH: Yeah, I agree. It was strictly better than red if they played each other. It beats the mirror handily. It also creates more complex board states that other decks need to deal with in the same amount of time. Like, it's hard to kill a [ccProd]Magris the Magnetizer[/ccProd] early on because they can just play a 2-drop that can also double as a blocker. It still loses to blockers stalling it out, Bottles popping into big guys, and stuff like that. But yeah, it can win on, like, turn 7, whereas red is usually done by that point.

Moving on to round 4, I played against the [ccProd]Starseed Squadron[/ccProd] deck. He beat me one game because I didn't hit my early game and he just basically accomplished what I was trying to do before I was able to. The other games, though, the deck just did what it was supposed to do. It's usually in good shape against any other midrange deck. It was actually created in part as an answer to Megabugs, while still having some reach against control. You basically play the same cards as the other viable midrange decks, but you cap it off with a much better creature. Both my wins were just exercises in ramping into [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] and then breaking all his remaining shields as soon as I could. Sadly, Brian Durkin's day was ended in this round. He lost to Damon Carron, who topped with a WDF Dragon list. I came over and saw three [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd] out, so I knew he was done for. Brian was just hanging around for an egregious amount of time before he was finally smacked down by a million creatures (laughs).

Next round I played WDLN, and I was playing Donlee W., who won the second LCQ. Durkin beat him with Sharknado back in round 2, so when he saw it was the same deck, he was prepared for it the second time around. He was playing a lot of discard, and he knew not to row any of those cards this time, so he just picked apart my hand. I lost that match 2-1. He actually decked me out in both those losses (laughs)!

ZH: Ouch.

TH: I don't even wanna get into it (laughs). That really shouldn't be a real thing, especially when all my Bottles are accounted for and you know I have one [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] left. Not to sound salty or anything; he definitely deserved the win. But I just wanted to get there one time by drawing Squillace from my 8 card deck before he drew another Andromeda out of his 30 card deck (laughs). Sadly, it didn't happen. Par for the course.

So now the deck's chance of topping was dead, and I couldn't go 4-2. I also won the giant Black Feather in the raffle this round, so that made my decision to drop easy (laughs).

At this point, all my teammates had two losses. Silverman had a feature match against Spencer Swan from Team P.E.A.C.H., and we realized he actually had a chance to top, since CVH was playing out his round in an attempt to get Spencer in. Sadly, Silverman ended up losing to a [ccProd]Shadeblaze the Corruptor[/ccProd], which was hilarious because he had been dumping on that card all day (laughs).

ZH: I experienced that one firsthand in the LCQ! Always have to be on the lookout for Shadeblaze.

TH: Seriously (laughs). That guy always ends up being better in practice than it seems he ever should be. 

So yeah, none of us topped, and we were a little down on ourselves, but I still had a good time. We joked that we should change our team name to "Strictly Butt Kaijudo" (laughs).

ZH: (Laughing). Same initials. I say why not?

TH: Yeah, we might as well, right?

But in all seriousness, I can't be too mad that I went with Sharknado. The people that weren't playing rush that lost to Brian and I all told us that they thought the deck was cool, which felt good. It was a bad metagame call at the end of the day, though. If the tournament had more Megabugs running around, it would have had a better chance to perform well. It was a real hodgepodge of decks in that room. Should've just sleeved up Greed and tried to run hot. I don't regret trying an original deck, though, even though the end result was disappointing.

Hopefully I'm able to attend the next Championship with a better-prepared deck.

ZH: Good stuff. Anything else you want to say before we wrap up?

TH: Yeah, definitely. Another awesome thing that happened was that Carl Reddish (thundersultan on YouTube) was in charge of coverage, and put together some professional-quality team feature videos. Team SBK was lucky enough to be chosen since we had 4 (almost 5) qualified members. I think he did Team P.E.A.C.H. too, and maybe another team. But it was a point of pride for us, and really nice to be recognized. Shout out to Carl Reddish for giving us the opportunity. He was killing it all tournament. He asked a lot of good questions, really got to know the community, and even gave us props for being the first ones to win a KMC with Greed Dragons. 

Also, one more thing. It's getting to the point where each civilization has enough solid low drops to where you can create a lot of different two or three color midrange decks that are only a few cards away. As more sets come out, the game is inevitably going to get faster, because each color's options at a given early drop are going to be expanded. Thinking along this line, you need to know when to be aggressive.

Overall, the room was comprised of a lot of good and great players, so I'm not trying to single anyone out here. But one thing I saw constantly throughout the day was people that were too afraid to attack shields. I just saw some definite misplays from time to time, and it's even more apparent when you're playing a deck like I was, because the deck is built around one very narrow win condition. People are too afraid of attacking until they can alpha strike with like 20 shield breaks (laughs), but in effect they're giving their opponent, like, five free turns. I'm not saying to attack recklessly, but at the same time, you need to put pressure on the opponent when you see an opening. You can't just sit there and let them do whatever they want because you can't win in one turn yet. Take your value breaks when you can. Have regard for what role your deck plays in a given matchup.

There are points in this game where you clearly break the opponent's back, and it's very difficult for them to come back. As soon as that happens, you need to step on their throat. Even if there's a slim chance that a certain sequence of shield blasts can get them back into it, you usually can't afford to just sit around in this game. The high cost creatures are too good. 

Play to win! Don't play to "not lose." That's my public service announcement (laughs).

ZH: Thanks for your time, bro!

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!