The Pile Prevails

zack hineI had the pleasure of attending the Invasion Earth 1K Super Tournament at Kirwan's Game Store in Catskill, NY this past weekend. Accompanying me on this sojourn was none other than my younger brother, Tyler Hine. You may remember Tyler as the winner of the Poughkeepsie, NY KMC back in season one. Although, it's more likely that you don't remember that or know who he is at all; Tyler had only attended 3 competitive tournaments prior to this past weekend, with one of them being Summer Champs.

Tyler and I met up with fellow ARG writer Corey Gaudreau at the event, and it wasn't long before we all discovered we were running very similar decks, even though we had no prior contact on the matter (to quote Corey, great minds think alike). All three of us were able to top 8 the tournament with our 5-color control variants, loving dubbed "The Pile" by many in the community. When the dust settled, it was Tyler who reigned supreme over well-known top player Tom Rogers in the finals! Joshua Kruse, Rob Mannion, and the entire crew at Kirwan's Game Store did a fantastic job of streaming coverage all day. You can check out Tyler's epic run here.

Here's the list we piloted:

[ccDeck]3 Eternal Haven:1 Cassiopeia Starborn:3 Andromeda of the Citadel:1 Squillace Scourge:1 Heretic Prince Var-rakka:2 General Skycrusher:2 Lyra, the Blazing Sun:1 Wildstrider Ramnoth:3 Major Ao:3 Fullmetal Lemon:3 Aqua Strider:2 Cyber Walker Kaylee:3 Mesmerize:2 Skull Shatter:2 Mana Storm:1 Reverberate:3 Sprout:3 Tendril Grasp:3 Terror Pit:3 Bone Blades:3 Crystal Memory:3 Drill Storm:2 Stormspark Blast[/ccDeck]

When we finally arrived home after driving in snowy conditions Saturday night, Tyler and I recounted the exciting events of the day.

Zach Hine: So you decided to come out of hiding and actually enter a tournament, eh?

Tyler Hine: (Laughs) Hey man, I make every one I can.

ZH: What'd you think of the Kirwan's 1K? Pretty sweet, right?

TH: I mean, obviously it worked out pretty well for me (laughs). But yeah, it was great. It's probably one of the best stores I've ever been in as far as the amount of product and the amount of space they have. I also really like the cool stuff they do like the Kirwan's Points and the coverage. Not surprising that they recently had a 300 person PTQ for Magic.

ZH: Agreed. Hopefully they land a KMC in the near future.

TH: Yeah, I mean, when you're giving away $1000 in cash prizes and not even breaking even just to stir up interest, I don't know how Wizards of the Coast can skip over you.

ZH: Let's set the stage here. It's the offseason. We're dying for The 5 Mystics spoilers and haven't had a huge tournament in months. For me, that definitely added a lot of intrigue to this event.

TH: This wasn't by any means a large turnout, so I'm sure people will take it with a grain of salt, but I think there was a good amount of recognizable competitive players there. Of the 20 people there, probably half had KMC tops or wins, and there were a decent number of people who had attended either Seattle or Texas Champs, so I definitely had a few challenging matches.

The metagame was really interesting, too. I played a different deck in every round of Swiss. I think it just solidified the fact that DonLee Wilson's deck from Texas was the best deck in attendance. Corey said so too during the stream, I'm just now noticing. DonLee's only loss all day was to runner-runner Squillace. It definitely wasn't a fluke.

ZH: Nice segue. So, anyone who read my article last week will now understand that it was, in part, a personal exercise in psyching myself up to play a giant control deck, which I've been averse to for awhile now. You had been pushing for me to run this deck the whole week prior. What was the origin of your decision to double back and give DonLee's monstrosity another look?

TH: Yeah, y'know, we had been throwing decks against DonLee's for a while, and nothing beat it as consistently as we wanted. It just really jumped out at me from the first time I saw it. I was intrigued by [ccProd]Major Ao[/ccProd], and the overall strategy just appealed to me. I'm one of the biggest fans of [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] there is. Anyone who played Rob [Wolinsky]'s Greed 53 back in the day knows how brutal that sequence can be. So the ability to hold off early game aggression with Ao while still being able to ramp to Shatter against slower decks seemed like the safe bet. It's just really hard to lose when you cast a Shatter. It hasn't really been viable recently because in any given tournament you're gonna see a decent amount of tempo decks and those decks don't care. [ccProd]Major Ao[/ccProd] just lets you blowout aggressive decks, though. Sure, you can summon Strider and Lemon and try to get there, but I don't want to rely on passive split cards. Especially when I'm playing such a big deck. Even trying to play, like, Spire Puppet is pretty weak in my opinion because your guys are so insignificant and you just get run over. And yeah, [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] is pretty large and they can choose not to attack with, like, their [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] so Ao can't eat him, but that's still playing into my hands. The deck plays enough blasts. I feel like it takes -- for example -- Bant tempo seriously, so you just need to hit something and you have a chance. Also, [ccProd]Major Ao[/ccProd] being the cap to your blocker lineup always gives you a plan. It allows you to feel comfortable, because against those decks you don't need [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd].

ZH: Let's tell it like it is, though -- the list just looks like a stack of good cards.

TH: I think a lot of thought went into DonLee Wilson's original build, actually. Certainly, some cards in his list I felt were weak, but there were also choices that made me do a double take when I might have otherwise overlooked them. Like, for example, [ccProd]Drill Storm[/ccProd]. Is that really the optimal red card here? It made me sleeve it up and give it a go. Y'know, I tried to play more creatures, or I tried playing [ccProd]Tornado Flame[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Barrage[/ccProd] or whatever, but the testing showed that [ccProd]Drill Storm[/ccProd] was actually a surprisingly good card. Also, the results of the last Kirwan's tournament played into the decision to build it this way. Like, I think the whole top 8 was Bant tempo last time. So if we're expecting a 15-30 person turnout and a lot of those guys are locals, why wouldn't they just run it back with the same deck? If nothing else, I knew that we either needed to play Bant tempo, or play a deck that could handle it. That was really the deciding factor behind the shield blasts, which plays into the "stack of good cards" mentality, but it worked. OK, well, it's 5-color good stuff right? I've got [ccProd]Drill Storm[/ccProd], I've got [ccProd]Tendril Grasp[/ccProd], I've got [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] (which DonLee wasn't playing) -- now I have redundancy against these kinds of decks. I don't care if I draw clunky hands as long as I have some way to interact with small creatures and buy myself time. The name of the game is survival. I don't have to tell you how many decks instantly fold to an Andromeda if they haven't already broken all of your shields. That right there just gave it enough high impact shield blasts for me to feel comfortable with it. And I know people are going to question [ccProd]Cyber Walker Kaylee[/ccProd] being in there, but who cares what they think (laughs)?

No, seriously though, it was a reasonable card all day. We just needed the color fixing. If you look at the red/blue split cards, they're pretty weak. Yeah, OK, it could have been a [ccProd]Scalding Surge[/ccProd] I guess, but that card sucks too. Kaylee definitely makes Memory on 4 and Ao on 5 more consistent, which is the main thing you want. But I also liked how it was basically a removal spell without being a spell against Bant or rush decks. Once I felt comfortable in that matchup, I was committed to playing the deck, and it wasn't hard to rope you into it (laughs). I honestly didn't expect too much control.

ZH: I played a lot of different decks at this thing. It definitely wasn't all Bant decks this time around. Walk me through your matchups.

TH: I played Dragons, I played a Corrupted deck that featured both [ccProd]Luminar Unleashed[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Vicious Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] --

ZH: I took a loss to that card! It wasn't fun.

TH: (Laughs) Yeah, he's a nightmare. What else? Then I played a Blurple deck with a bunch of Slayers run by Mike Espinoza, who is a good guy. [ccProd]Emperor Neuron[/ccProd] is also a problem for this deck, but I made it out alive. Then I played the mirror match against Corey, which I wasn't expecting. He definitely wasn't expecting it either, though, so I was thankfully able to pull out a tough one. Then I played a Squillace ramp deck that was basically a worse version of my beloved Sharknado/Sharkeisha. That was actually the only deck that I dropped a game to (laughs). Squillace is just that real. DonLee Wilson will tell you that too (laughs). Then in top 8 I played Jonah Acosta's Bant deck with [ccProd]Shaman of the Vigil[/ccProd], which came dangerously close to beating me. Played Corey again in the top 4 and got a major [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] off on him post his [ccProd]Reverberate[/ccProd]. He didn't expect me to be running two copies. Finally, Tom Rogers playing Dragons in the finals. I know the footage is archived out there on Kirwan's site, so if people want to sift through that to get an idea of how the deck plays, they can. It cleaned up a lot of the time, but there were some tight matches for sure.

I think that the tech choices I made ended up being the difference. Like, just as an example: Corey didn't play any [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd], and neither did DonLee. And that is justifiable. You don't find yourself hardcasting that card too frequently. But like, when I'm in black and I'm playing a control deck, I want to commit. Corey was basically just splashing black, but I think the [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] and the extra [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd]s were huge. It's no fun to roll over to like a Neuron, or Sabertooth, or some dumb William who's just going to destroy me while I'm sitting there with a bunch of 10 drops in hand like an idiot. When I watched Corey play against Mike Espinoza's Blurple deck, he was close to death every game and needed to [ccProd]Tendril Grasp[/ccProd] to get out into the clear. I just didn't want to face down those kinds of close calls every game if I could help it. For me, though, triple [ccProd]Drill Storm[/ccProd] picked off all his Evo bait, and [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] came up in shields once when I really needed it.

ZH: Your results speak for themselves. I topped with the deck too, and I felt like it was sufficiently powerful. But, like I said, with a 20 person turnout, I don't care what I'm playing -- I expect to top. So do you think this is a legitimate contender going into this upcoming KMC season? Or were you just running hot on the day?

TH: Um, a little of both I guess. I mean, listen, I'm not trying to sit here and tell people that this deck is tier 0 because I won a 1K. Am I proud of how I played? Yeah, of course. But I don't wanna get carried away. I heard that people were bemoaning it during the stream, but they're obviously exaggerating how good it is. I can make a strong case that it's the best deck right now, but obviously if you wanted to build a deck that doesn't lose to it, you could. Like I said before, I just like how it covered all of my bases. I felt like I could win any matchup if the draws were there.

If Dragon players are conscious of it, maybe they start realizing they need to attack with the Fire Birds early and try to go under it with [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] or something. They can also go back to playing [ccProd]Crimson Wyvern[/ccProd] like we did in Torrington. That deck definitely has a chance.

At the end of the day, if the 5-color version of control isn't in your testing gauntlet, I think you're making a mistake. Before the March 8th KMC in PA, it's going to be pretty hard for me to pick something other than this. It's pretty easy to tech out against the expected metagame. Maybe you and I will stumble upon something sweet, but I don't think me winning the 1K is going to make everyone suddenly pick this deck up. So it'll probably be a safe choice yet again.

ZH: I personally had a lot of fun with it, but it was a little hard for me to accept it. It's just not very aesthetically pleasing on paper. I kept drawing well with it and wondering why I was drawing so well (laughs).

TH: I don't really care about that stuff. If it wins, I'll play it. Like, we jokingly call it "The Pile" because it looks like it's a stack of cards with no thought put into it, but our ratios were thought out. Corey's version was more of a true "pile." And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just mean that it had a lot of variance because of all the pops, but [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] tied it together. But whereas he might be depending on Memory to execute his plan at any point in the game, the hope for our build was to just survive off draws and then always Memory for bombs. I didn't want to get too crazy with it and expect for [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] to carry the whole weight of the deck on its back. I was more content to just have a few central strategies that I could audible between on the fly, and Memory would ideally help me accomplish that. I'm either ramping to Shatter you, or in a slower game, I can use Memory to grab the one-of [ccProd]Wildstider Ramnoth[/ccProd] and try to stick him against Dragons or control. Having our ratios down was really big, and that kind of takes it away from "pile" territory in my mind. Yeah, we're playing 5 colors, but I didn't really get mana screwed all day. It's gonna happen every now and then, but our build tried to minimize it. That's why a random card like [ccProd]Cyber Walker Kaylee[/ccProd] can find its way into a list like this. I'm not trying to hear [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] or any 2-drop really.

ZH: What do we call this thing? Obviously it's "5 Color Good Stuff," but I've also heard "Kitchen Sink," "United Nations..."

TH: United Nations is pretty good (laughs). I hadn't heard that one. I like it. I just don't like the negative connotation that "The Pile" brings. Yeah, I call it that jokingly, and I'm not offended by someone else calling it that. I just don't think it should stick if this thing keeps seeing play. Or you can call it the Stream Creamer if you want.

ZH: (Laughs) All day on camera. I'm sure that was fun (read: excruciating) for the 15 people watching it at home.

TH: Hey man, I didn't pick the seating arrangement.

ZH: Final verdict: would you ever play a control deck in this current meta without the Fire section?

TH: No.

ZH: Care to elaborate?

TH: I've seen people on the Dojo say the Fire isn't necessary. You can do whatever you want. If you're expecting a lot of control mirrors, sure, knock yourself out and go without it. But I really don't believe you can win a decent-sized event right now without Fire. You're not going to consistently beat tempo decks without Ao, and you're going to play them at least half the time. If you wanna just sit back and play blockers and try to [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] out of the early turns, you're not going to be able to do it 3 rounds out of 6. I'm talking legitimate 70+ person KMCs in the northeast. You don't need the Fire for the mirror (although [ccProd]Crimson Wyvern[/ccProd] can be great), but you're gonna want it in pretty much any matchup where the other guy is trying to attack you first.

ZH: What do you say to people who might condemn this deck for "durdling" too much?

TH: I say beat me before the late game then. I know it's not always possible, which can make this deck a chore to play against, but hey, I'm just trying to win. As long as [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] is around, there's going to be decks that roll over to it. But because you obviously haven't been breaking their shields yet, it's going to take you a couple turns of stringing them along. I mean, that's a "feel bad" for them, but it is what it is. Just please, please, if you play this deck: know when you've won. You'll look like an idiot if you attack too early and give them a chance to come back, but you'll look like an even bigger idiot if there's literally no way they can kill you in a turn no matter how many cards you give them, and you still don't swing for fear of God knows what.

ZH: Can your newfound legion of fans hope to see you at any upcoming KMCs this season?

TH: Yeah, I'll sign their [ccProd]Drill Storm[/ccProd]s for them. Please (laughs). Look, I'm a working adult, as are you. I'll try to make it to as many as I can. I'm fairly certain I'll make it to the New Holland, PA one, and I'll try to defend my title in Poughkeepsie. Maybe the Saddlebrook, NJ one as well if everything works out. Hopefully I only have to go to one again!

ZH: Congratulations on your win, and we'll talk to you later, Ty.

TH: Thanks.

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!
The Circuit Series makes its next stop in Charlotte, NC on February 8-9th!