This past weekend was the last weekend of Kaijudo Master Challenges across the continent, and for those of us without our invite, it was crunch time. I had been planning to attend the KMC in Oakmont, PA, and still needed to acquire one. As you can see from the title of this article, I was finally able to manage to pick it up, and in this article I'll be going over the deck and overall tournament experience that lead to that result.
My lack of an invite was not due to a lack of attempts; prior to PA, I had attended KMCs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. For the first of those, WI, I had run an identical LWD control deck to my teammate Carl Miciotto, who wound up taking 2nd place overall after I suffered a depressing 9th place finish. At NC, I ran an updated LWD control deck created in conjunction with my teammate Spencer Swan, and we both went undefeated in swiss. I unfortunately lost in the mirror match in top 8, and Spencer lost in top 4. In SC, Spencer and I achieved similar undefeated results in swiss, him with LWD control yet again (splashing [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]s) and myself with Greed Dragons, and I unfortunately achieved the same negative result in top 8 while he won the entire event. That was followed up with MA, where I lost round three while sitting at a 1-1 record to the tournament's eventual champion, Vu Nguyen, who opened my eyes firsthand to triple [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]. At 1-2, I dropped after being thoroughly ravaged by that card choice, and had three weeks to ponder my choice of deck for my final attempt at PA.
After witnessing a pretty successful showing from LWDN control at MA, with Matt Robinson of Kaijudoscope making top 4 with the deck, I was intrigued by it. I think it was the first thing I started testing after PA, and I looked at other decks as possibilities but always came back to it. Here is the final version that I ran at the KMC:
3 [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Dark Return[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Kurragar of the Hordes[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]
Control variants with Light, Water, and Darkness at their core have asserted their dominance throughout the entire first KMC season. They've evolved and taken many forms, but I felt that it would still be the most consistent deck I could choose. The enhanced Nature section functions as an answer to the late game heavy decks, noticeably the mirror match. Using cards like [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd], this deck can get to its power cards, like [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd], much faster. This is game-breaking in the mirror match, and I expected LWD variants as well as Greed variants to be the majority of my matchups. The worst matchup turned out to be tempo, such as my teammate Carl Miciotto's winning Megabug list from the same event. We played the match out after we split prizes and I was completely overtaken, which didn't come as much of a surprise after watching that deck tear through similar control decks all day. I think I had only tested one match against that deck and it wasn't even in it's final form at the time; it wasn't as big of a blowout, so I felt alright with the loss in testing with the mindset that I wouldn't be facing much of that kind of deck at the event.
Now, I want to talk about [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd]. The only reason I was still slightly uncomfortable with my deck choice even during the drive to the event was this card. It was created as an answer to giant control decks such as the one I ran, and it fulfills that purpose beautifully in an aggressive deck, but it also makes the control mirror match an absolute headache - and just about every control deck out there is packing three copies right now. With over half of my deck being spells, as is typical for current control decks, the match is generally much easier when you can keep one in the battle zone for a few turns. You'll notice this deck runs no copies of [ccProd]Logos Scan[/ccProd]; while it can be a great top-deck, I felt that with three copies of [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] and other finishers, I didn't really need it. With [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] in both the anti-control and control decks themselves, Logos becomes terrible a large enough amount of time that I felt it was no longer warranted. Of course, on turn three in the mirror match, it can help you draw into your [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], but that was basically all I considered it for.[ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd] was included in this deck first as just a 1-of. In addition to following nicely after a turn four [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd], I looked to it as an answer to Laws. [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] is a great card and everything (again, primarily because it can deal with Laws before it starts drawing your opponent cards), but after Laws hits the board, I need something to preempt [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] and [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]. Not only that, but [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] is still losing me advantage at that point, and if my opponents didn't have the card I was looking to discard, I just helped them get closer to it. [ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd] solves those problems entirely and it was refreshing to actually get a +1 off of a discard effect while staring down even multiple copies of Laws. During the drive from Virginia Beach to PA, we took a quick two or three hour detour to Washington, D.C. to meet up with Spencer, who built a similar deck to this and tested a mirror match to me. After [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] made me feel even more insecure about the mirror match, I decided to take out the third copy of [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] I had been running to bring the Puppet count to two. This topped off a very impressive discard lineup that I hoped would give me the edge in the mirror match.
As I mentioned, I cut the third [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd], making the already-small Blocker lineup even smaller. This was partially because I was alright with having a better matchup against the non-rush decks at the expense of a little consistency against rush, since I didn't think I'd be facing as much of it, but my rush matchup was actually not bad in testing. Of course, it was still kind of a coin flip decided a lot on how well I could draw, but that was a risk I was willing to take. [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] can single-handedly win the match against rush if it's in the shield zone, as well as potentially getting me far ahead in other matchups as well. Unfortunately, while I didn't face any rush decks throughout the day, my teammate Dave Pendergrass took a very similar version of this deck to the KMC in Canada on the same day and lost two matches to mono-Fire, proving that it did sacrifice some consistency against the deck - definitely something to consider when analyzing which deck to play against a given metagame.
Now that I've basically described my thought processes going into the deck, let's see how it did in the actual event itself! 63 players showed up for the event, definitely not a bad showing at all to finish out this first season of KMCs. There was definitely a lot of skill present, and I had guessed that this might be one of the hardest events of the season. 63 players meant that we were one entrant short of a seven round event; great to make sure we didn't end at midnight since we started at 1 PM, but dangerous as well, since x-1-1 might not be a good enough record to make the cut to top eight. Anyway, on to the report! My apologies to my first three opponents for not remembering your names. The un-detailed nature of my notes has taken its toll!
Round 1: vs. Greed Dragons
Playing against Greed Dragons is always tricky, as things can get out of hand very quickly thanks to cards like [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd]. It was actually the deck I played for my first event of the post-Clash meta at KMC Hartsville, SC. If there was one other deck I was considering for this event it was Greed, but I decided against it for two reasons: first, I didn't like its rush matchup even more than I didn't like my LWDN control's rush matchup, and two, I simply couldn't bring myself to play the deck in a meta in which triple [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] was so popular. Tritonus is my deck's answer to Greed. As long as my opponent didn't have crazy [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd] plays and overwhelmed me, I could answer most of their threats and get far enough ahead with Tritonus to where the game was basically over. The solid amount of Shield Blasts I ran helped a ton.
This match basically went as I hoped my Greed matchup would. It was tough because of the sheer number of threats the deck runs, so games took a while and I had to really grind them out, but Tritonus came down both times and basically sealed the deal when it did. It just gave me too many new options and ways to lock down whatever battle zone presence remained for my opponent and he couldn't come back. I won this match 2-0, starting my day off on the right foot.
Game Record: 2-0
Match Record: 1-0
Round 2: vs. Greed Dragons?
Again, my lack of detailed notes is coming back to bite me. The question mark is actually in my notebook, reminding me that while the deck I faced played like Greed, I'm not 100% sure it was, in fact, Greed. I'm fairly sure it ran all five civilizations like Greed, though it could have been LWDF. Again, I'm sorry for the lack of information but my deck did what it does against the deck, which is grind it out to the late game without being completely overwhelmed, and then hopefully drop Tritonus and make it too hard for them to come back.
Game Record: 4-0
Match Record: 2-0
Round 3: vs. Dark Saber-Bolt
Now here was a deck I wasn't expecting! I felt a small pang of regret for not including [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd] in my list as soon as I realized the matchup I was in. I knew Gloom Hollow would have been good against common cards such as [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd], but I didn't expect to see [ccProd]Bronze-Arm Sabertooth[/ccProd] at all, and it really took me back. Dark Saber-Bolt was at its prime in the Evo Fury meta and still saw some play in the Dragonstrike Infernus meta. That being said, the sheer aggressiveness overcame my deck in game one and handed me my first game loss. It came down to a situation in which I had two shields left against his one creature on board; I summoned [ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd] because I feared [ccProd]Bolt-Tail Dragon[/ccProd] and wasn't delighted to find that he not only had the Bolt-Tail, but also a [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd]. I got rid of the Bolt-Tail because I didn't want to lose the game on his turn, but he drew into a second copy of Gilaflame and took the game.
Games two and three were much more in my favor. I was able to survive any early aggression he put in the battle zone, and saw my [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadels[/ccProd] much more when they were necessary. Game three actually contained one of my most brutal plays throughout the tournament. I had 14 mana and summoned [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] to attempt game in the next two turns. After breaking a couple shields and allowing him to take his turn without the ability to attack me for game, I top-decked a [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd]. This allowed me to search for and play my second [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd], locking him down for yet another turn on the off chance he was able to survive my second assault, winning me the match in the process.
Game Record: 6-1
Match Record: 3-0
I was feeling good, and after a timely lunch break during which I ate an amazing caesar salad, I was feeling even better. Winning the next match would give me an incredibly good shot at making the top eight.
Round 4: vs. Gerry Thompson - LWD Control
I've never played Magic: the Gathering, but I was still slightly excited to play one of the big names in that game. However, the main reason I was worried was that I had previously seen on twitter that he was actively looking for a way to gain the upper hand in the control mirror match. I suppose my bloated card count for extra finisher and mana-ramping capabilities attempted to do that as well, but after pile shuffling his deck and counting a mere 45 cards, it was clear that he'd taken a different approach.
His version of LWD control was more streamlined and didn't even splash [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]s, which had become more or less the norm. The real surprise came in the form of [ccProd]King Neptas[/ccProd], another card that I hadn't seen in action for a while. While [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] is a huge problem in the mirror like I mentioned, [ccProd]King Neptas[/ccProd] is almost as bad, and Gerry was taking advantage of both to create an almost unstoppable force in the mirror. As soon as Neptas hit the battle zone I knew it was time to start summoning [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd], even though I had no targets for its effect. Through summoning raw Lyras, I was able to maintain a board presence that could contend with his should he decide to break the majority of my shields, which was an option for him for a few turns. It also helped that when it came to a war of threats in the late game, I ran more threats as well as answers. [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] also came down for me, making his decisions tough, and [ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd] gave me the only really safe discard option either of us had in the match after Laws came out, an advantage I had on all the other control decks there. Thanks in part to those factors, as well as cards like Squillace, Andromeda, and Tritonus if I can remember correctly, I was able to take a very close match 2-0.
Game Record: 8-1
Match Record: 4-0
Rounds 5 and 6
At this point, three other people including Carl were 4-0 along with myself. We concluded that if the four of us intentionally drew in our next two matches, we'd have 14 points each with 4-0-2 records, getting us in the top eight over any 4-1-1 records. That's exactly what we did, and it forced any x-1s to play out their matches for a spot in the top eight. The only unfortunate part of it was that the four 5-1s would become the top four seeds after swiss while the four of us would be in fifth through eighth. The higher-ranked players post-swiss got to decide whether to be on the play or take second during the single elimination rounds, but we were ok with that fact if it meant a guaranteed top eight. Just like that, I had gotten my third top eight at a KMC, as well as my third undefeated (with draws) record in swiss at a KMC.
Game Record: 8-1
Match Record: 4-0-2
Top 8: vs. Steve Silverman - LWDN Control
The top eight was comprised of four LWDN control decks similar to mine, two LWD control decks (one splashing [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]s and Gerry's with the anti-mirror match hate), one LFN midrange with [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] as well as [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], and Carl's LWN Megabug deck. All 24 possible copies of [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] were accounted for.
The mirror match still does make me a little uncomfortable due to the importance of Laws, but I was able to draw well and my deck had some good progressions. I was able to see [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], Laws, and Tritonus more than Steve, and [ccProd]Razorkinder Puppet[/ccProd], does its job very well in this match-up. These factors all came together to allow me to take a 2-0 victory, putting my mind at ease after my short testing session with Spencer had ended so horrifically the day before. On to the top 4!
Game Record: 10-1
Match Record: 5-0-2
Top 4: vs. Ryan Valentino - LWDN Control
Yet another mirror match, and one that would decide whether or not I had my invite to the Seattle championship next month - exciting stuff. Game one went about as well as I could have hoped for it to go, even with going second. Ryan didn't have [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], but I did, taking out his [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] and leaving him with two Andromedas and a [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] if I remember correctly. After that, I had [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] to search for [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd], and was able to play a [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] on turn six after ramping. Ryan attempted to play two Bottles to potentially get something crazy into the battle zone, but missed both times; the first one hit a [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] that went to his hand (with no worry to me since I was ramping up to my own), and the second one hit a [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] with no available targets. After I Shattered him, I began building up board presence and going in when I had amassed quite the army, including three [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] and a [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd].
Game two was much more back and forth, and took about twenty minutes as opposed to game one's six. A [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] in my shields when he started breaking with [ccProd]Kurragar of the Hordes[/ccProd] and a couple other threats on board got me a Tritonus. I got down to zero shields, but Andromeda saved me from losing and I was able to start fending off his board presence. I played Tritonus more than once this game at different times and I was able to lock things down each turn. There was a fear of decking out, but I needed more security before I went in for game since he had gained a lot of shields with Andromeda, and that required me drawing into one of my copies of [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] which were both still in my deck. Eventually, I was able to draw one. With 16 mana, I played it to get back [ccProd]Dark Return[/ccProd], which I then used to retrieve and summon [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. That play secured the game and allowed me to finally get my invite!
Game Record: 12-1
Match Record: 6-0-2
Top 2: vs. Carl Miciotto - LWN Megabugs
At this point, we were both just incredibly excited. We traveled up with just the two of us and managed to take both first and second place. Of course, the airfare to the championship had just become a lot more affordable for both of us, but we still played it out just for the title. The match went about as smoothly as I expected... so, not smoothly at all. On top of the inherently bad matchup, I had hands that were definitely below average and a maximum of one Shield Blast per game. I was able to ramp up to Shatter both games, but it couldn't have been less effective in that matchup, as I was staring down cards like [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd], [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd], and of course [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], that just demolished me too quickly. [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] never even needed to be played.
Game Record: 12-3
Match Record: 6-1-2
After a rough beating in the finals following a good run leading up to that point, I was still very content. I had gotten my third KMC top eight, my third civilization prize, and most importantly, I had qualified for the championship! Congrats to Carl for winning the whole thing, and shout out to Spencer for providing some last-minute testing with me that definitely paid off. Also, shout out to Mr. Nice Guy Games for running a great event, as well as Ricky Gross, Ricky's crew, Matt and Alex of Kaijudscope, Gerry Thompson, the SBK guys, Mark Woodin (a.k.a Raijinku), Jeff Lang, that poor waitress at Denny's, and everyone else I got to hang out with or meet. I'm definitely looking forward to the championship and I hope you all enjoyed reading my road to the invite! Until next week, Play Hard or Go Home!