Understanding Deck Roles and Format Warpers

zack hineIt's easy to identify deck archetypes and ascribe roles to them.

Rush tries to kill the opponent as fast as it can. Midrange curves out and attempts to outlast rush, but kill before the late game. Tempo usually overlaps with midrange, but may be more open-ended as to its kill turn. Control tries to hang around as long as it can until winning with fatties is inevitable.

We all implicitly understand the gameplans of decks that fall within this paradigm. Decks that don't fall within this paradigm are probably lacking in focus; in Kaijudo, it's essential to know your deck's role and eschew cards that don't directly contribute to that end.

What players oftentimes overlook, however, is the overriding impact certain specific cards have on a given format. We all want to simplify the interactions between different decks because it makes it easier to cope when we lose. Some players tend to treat specific powerful cards as outliers in their loss, rather than something integral to the other deck's sheer existence. For example, ever heard someone whine over [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd]?

"I would've won, but he played Andromeda on turn 9 and then another Andromeda on turn 10! So lucky! What a broken card!"

This sentiment, of course, is complete nonsense.

Know Your Role

Let's delve deeper into the scenario above. Are you the control player? If you answered "no," then why did the game go to turn 9/10? Did you draw especially poorly? Did you opponent have four relevant shield blasts in shields? Did you forgo attacking with your 3 drop until turn 5 because of a blocker you couldn't deal with?

Sometimes control decks will simply "do what they do," and your aggressive strategy will just run out of gas. That being said, you need to be able to correctly identify why it happened, and whether any fault lies in your deckbuilding. Andromeda has a powerful effect, yes, but it costs nine mana. In a game as creature-focused as Kaijudo, if a 9+ cost creature doesn't come down and immediately affect the gamestate, then there's never any reason to play it competitively.

Even with only 4 sets at our disposal, we have a wide range of viable aggressive creatures; assuming your deck's creature cost ratios are properly tuned, it's impossible not to win before turn 9 every single time (if you are goldfishing, of course). Now, an actual control opponent will throw plenty of roadblocks in your way, but will they consistently be able to buy themselves 4 or 5 extra turns?

Conversely, let's say you are the control player, and you're playing a mirror match. Being that control decks in Kaijudo still have to attack at some point to win, why weren't you able to match your opponent's fatties with your own? Did your opponent decimate your hand with [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] and force you to discard / mana your one copy of [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]? How do you expect to win the mirror match if you don't have enough triple breakers to attack through opposing Andromedas? Do you have other ways to win the game, like [ccProd]King Neptas[/ccProd] / [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] backed by blockers / [ccProd]Gregorias Fortress[/ccProd]? Again, your opponent may have simply drawn better than you, but you need to be able to identify whether you made an error in deckbuilding, or an in-game error because you didn't know your role.

A prime example of a deckbuilding mistake was the one I made at the KMC in Oakmont. I didn't give enough credence to blue tempo cards like [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd], in favor of a less consistent Fire section. I also opted to play Andromeda without any bigger threats to go alongside it. I found myself racing control decks unsuccessfully in consecutive rounds, and when the game got to turn 9, sure, I was able to buy myself a few extra turns, but the truth is that I had already lost at that point. While to an onlooker it may have appeared as though I was attacking into shield blasts recklessly, the actual fault laid in my pre-tournament preparation and evaluation.

The known paradigm of decktypes tells us what our role should be in each matchup, but in the mirror match you need to be able to constantly assess when to start attacking. If you're behind on the board, don't just draw your cards and play your hand as it comes to you. Have some forethought as to how exactly you intend to win the game.

Knowing the "format warpers" in your opponent's deck means you should know when you're on a clock. Don't be afraid to try to go for game, even if your opponent may be able to win right then and there with the right shield blasts -- if you sit around durdling in the late game, your opponent will eventually put you into the abyss by snowballing huge threats anyway.

Bottom line: knowing which broad archetype your deck supposedly falls into is not enough. If your deck doesn't have enough reach to outlast a "format warper" like [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd], then you better make sure it can consistently win before the late game. If it does have reach to go toe-to-toe in the late game, know when to be the aggressor and when to sit back and wait.

Archetypes give us a general idea as to how the match should play out, but in-game evaluation of (a) the board state; (b) what turn it is; and (c) which "format warpers" remain is paramount in seeing consistent results.

Format Warpers

I've mentioned the concept of a "format warper" a few times so far in this article. What exactly am I talking about?

[ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] is a format warper. [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] is a format warper. [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd], [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd], [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], [insert Drakon here] -- the list goes on. The reasons why should be self-explanatory.

A format warper is not inherently bad for the game or overpowered. It's a card (or group of related cards) that at one time or another has affected deckbuilding choices, simply by virtue of its existence. The card in question may not even see consistent play, but since there are no sideboards, if your deck loses to it outright, it's something to strongly consider changing.

You can't just settle on a broad type of deck to play. "I like blue cards so I'll always play control," or "I'm an aggressive player so I'll never stoop so low as to summon that dirty Andromeda!" are both bad angles to approach deckbuilding from. You can start with a vague idea of the archetype you want to play, but then you immediately need to consider all the format warpers and make concise choices with those cards in mind.

Again, I'll touch on Greed Dragons for the hundredth time. That deck is an exercise in building around the format. We didn't think rush was a real threat, we wanted to go over top of the control decks that capped out with Andromeda with a Fire section, and we knew that [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] was an absolutely degenerate format warper if we were the only ones playing it. Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Archetype matchups inform your play on a high level, but planning around format warpers is what should ultimately guide your deck brews:

  • Do I lose outright to Red Rush? If so, scrap this deck.
  • Am I hardcasting too many non-removal spells? I could get overrun by [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd].
  • Is my deck combo-oriented to the point where a turn 3 [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] against me is backbreaking?
  • Do I have enough triple breakers to go long? Can I answer my opponent's [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] with my own?
  • What if I get nailed with [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]? Do I have enough live topdecks?
  • Do I have too many lategame topdecks? Is my deck too fat? Is that putting my opening hand at risk against Red Rush?

And now we've come full circle.


Stop talking in generalities, and start innovating. Stop blaming specific cards for your losses, and start blaming your lack of preparation for dealing with said cards.

There's always unknowns, and there's always room for tech, but at this point, all of the format warping cards are known quantities. If you lose to these cards because your deck wasn't prepared to either (a) play around them or (b) beat them at their own game, then the lion's share of blame falls on you, even if your opponent happened to draw well. Keep this in mind going forward, and don't just include cards in your deck because of blind "personal preference" or other vagaries.

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!