Quick Kaiju: Playing With Power

zack hineWelcome to Quick Kaiju, the article series wherein I cover all sorts of disparate topics that matter to me this week. These otherwise rambling, undefined thoughts have been wrestled into a semblance of coherency and painstakingly categorized for your reading pleasure. This is where I just let my fingers (and sometimes my mind) loose and proceed to type away. Join me, won't you?

Six Feet Under

I attended the KMC at Six Feet Under Games this past Saturday, which was very professionally run and barely an hour away from my house. 37 players showed up, which was a bit disappointing (I would've preferred 50-60); Wizards of the Coast saw fit to schedule 3 significant east coast events on the same weekend, which ensured the Tri-State area and the Virginia area players wouldn't be combining forces. Still, I had a fun time, despite my disappointing finish.

More on that later. No one wants to read an in-depth tournament report about a 3-3 finish. What about the players who have actually accomplished something in this game (cue rimshot)?

Varied Allegiances

A lot of familiar faces were in attendance, including KMC champions Rob Wolinsky and Vu Nguyen. There wasn't a consensus "best deck," but the dividing lines were pretty clear:

  • Ryan Valentino, Matt Robinson, and Mike Zeits all piloted virtually identical LWDN Haven ("Haven Hate") lists to respectable finishes, with Zeits snagging a spot in the top 8 but ultimately falling short. These lists were inspired by Rob Wolinsky's win in Rhode Island, and don't show any sign of slowing down.
  • LWD Tempo was championed by yours truly, as well as a handful of others such as Mark Maltais and Alex Sark, but no team in attendance rallied behind it one hundred percent. LWD Tempo was popularized by the Cyber Lord Games team, and certainly has a lot of game against "traditional" Haven decks. Its success in this season of KMCs is undeniable, but it does appear that its surprise factor being largely gone is cause for pause.
  • When in doubt, play Dragons! 3 color, 4 color, it doesn't matter. Just make sure you're doing unfair things against the control decks, make sure you're sticking your Fire Birds against the aggro and tempo strategies, and make sure you make the safe play in the mirror. Yousuf Fallah, Bryan Starner, and Tom Rogers all top 8'd the event with varied Dragon lists, but the deck's overall conceit remains the same.

Kudos to Tom Rogers, who started out the day with a bye, then proceeded not to drop a match the rest of the day. After losing a heartbreaking mirror match in top 4 against Brian Durkin at the KMC in Torrington, Tom added a few more cards to his list (why not?), survived a wild duel with Bryan Starner in top 4, and defeated Mark Woodin in the finals to secure his free trip.

All Hail the Queen?

Speaking of Mark Woodin, I'd like to be the first to welcome him to the ARG Kaijudo writer family! Mark (Raijinku on YouTube) will be bringing you content every Monday from here on out!

Mark gave me a thorough trouncing with a mono-Darkness Kalima control deck in round 4 of the event, starting me on a downward spiral. I'm sure he'll be going into more detail in the coming weeks, but I can provide some insight as to how it felt to be on the receiving end of this beast.

Here's the list I ran for the event:

[ccDeck]3 Cyber Scamp:2 Aqua Strider:1 Rain-Cloud Kraken:3 Lost Patrol:2 Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow:3 Keeper of Laws:2 Screeching Scaradorable:2 Rusalka, Aqua Chaser:1 King Neptas:3 Lyra, the Blazing Sun:3 General Finbarr:1 Andromeda of the Citadel:2 Squillace Scourge:3 Terror Pit:3 Bone Blades:3 Bottle of Wishes:3 Piercing Judgment[/ccDeck]


I felt that that this was a finely-tuned variant of the popular deck, and I was drawing hot fire with it in testing. My brother Tyler helped me tweak some of the ratios, and we agreed that we had to keep the pop of Andromeda in there because....well, it's Andromeda. In all seriousness, it can be an important card in the mirror match, but 9 times out of 10 it's just a really shiny [ccProd]Plains[/ccProd]. I was OK with that. Drizzy is always there when I need him. In fact, I ripped him off the top in my win-and-in against Yousuf Fallah in round 6, allowing me to take game 2.

Anyway, let's get back to Mark's deck. Is [ccProd]Queen Kalima[/ccProd] legit?

Well, yes and no. Yes, yes, yes, 1000 times YES was it a solid metagame call for this event. Mark knew that a lot of the DrawForTurn guys were going to follow Rob's lead and try to qualify with a deck spotlighting [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd]. Kalima is the obvious hard trump.

He also knew that LWD Tempo was a popular deck likely to be represented, and your dorky blockers get a whole lot of value in this matchup if you can land a [ccProd]Serpens, the Spirit Shifter[/ccProd]. I feel like I broke 20 shields over the course of our games, but it didn't matter! Even when I curved out perfectly, a [ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd] and/or [ccProd]Ripper Reaper[/ccProd] along the way made me stumble long enough for Mark to stabilize with Serpens.

In game 2, I thought about a crucial turn for what must have been 5 minutes, but there was no way out. Mark had no shields left, and his battle zone consisted of [ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd], [ccProd]Skeeter Swarmer[/ccProd], [ccProd]Ripper Reaper[/ccProd], and a fresh [ccProd]Serpens the Spirit Shifter[/ccProd]. I controlled a [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd]. I had my trusty [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] in hand, ready to be deployed. In any other circumstance, you simply bounce a blocker and go in for game. Sadly for me, Serpens put a hard stop to that one. Do I bounce the [ccProd]Skeeter Swarmer[/ccProd]? I would have to go in, get blocked by the [ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd], and lose the new draw from Finbarr. Mark would get a free shield, and I'd have no way to kill him that turn. After much deliberation, I resigned myself to the fact that my only hope was to bounce Serpens and force trades. Mark simply re-summoned the Serpens alongside another blocker on the next turn. Serpens gained 3 more shields over the course of that game thanks to a combination of a new [ccProd]Ripper Reaper[/ccProd] and Mark ramming his own guys in for shields. A fluke victory with [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] wasn't even possible after a while. [ccProd]Queen Kalima[/ccProd] mopped everything up shortly thereafter, and was even summoned off of the effect of [ccProd]Mark of Kalima[/ccProd] for full style points. Ouch.

The deck isn't foolproof by any stretch of imagination, though. You get some variable draws with your 2nd and 3rd colors, so you need to play smart. Sure, you can cream some sap like me playing a "fair deck," but what about the always-present Dragon opponent?

On paper, the Kalima deck looks especially weak against Dragons. Yes, I know you don't have to summon all your blockers if you want to play around [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], but virtually all of this deck's early curve gets run over by a simple Herald/Lyra progression. You're not going to hit [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Spire Puppet[/ccProd] very consistently with a 52 card deck. The green splash is also very slight, and you don't really want those cards in this matchup, so any time you draw one you pretty much have to play off-curve. I'm sure Mark will delve into his matchup with Tom Rogers in his articles. I'd like to know how this deck can evolve to be a little less fragile against Dragons.

I Hate Multicivilization Cards

Multicivilization cards are great, right? You get a little flavor from each color, or maybe even a huge creature like [ccProd]Lost Patrol[/ccProd] or a game-ender like [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]! They also unlock two civs for the price of one card when you row them!

OR....you get a big dumb tapped "land."

Vu Nguyen has been a big proponent of cutting back on the number of splits in a 40 card deck that hopes to curve out, and I think he's dead on. I thought I was being conservative here, but I got mana screwed thanks to multiciv cards more than a few times over the course of the tournament. The singleton [ccProd]Rain-Cloud Kraken[/ccProd] and the two copies of Scourge instead of 3 are a concession to this way of thinking, but I still missed critical drops more often that I would have liked.

needed to curve out in every single matchup, or I wasn't doing my job. It's bad enough to brick on your curve with a 40 card list, but when you miss creature drops because the other two cards in your hand are runner-runner splits? That's the worst feeling ever.

Speaking of needing to curve out...

I Hate "Fair Decks"

This is an egregious statement, but that's how I felt when the tournament concluded. Let me explain.

The term "fair deck" (versus, of course, "unfair deck") comes from Magic: the Gathering's Legacy format, which is a never-ending struggle between "kill your opponent with value creatures" decks and "kill your opponent with obscene combos" decks. Playing LWD Tempo last weekend felt a lot like playing a "fair deck" in an unfair world.

When you have the inevitability of a superior late game curve, there's so many different ways you can survive until the late game. Hit a few timely shield blasts, sit on a few sturdy blockers, ramp with [ccProd]Wildstrider Ramnoth[/ccProd] once or twice -- BAM! They missed their kill turn and now they can't interact with your enormous creatures in any meaningful way.

These fat control decks will always run the risk of being punished by aggressive strategies, but a huge part of that is being unprepared to battle on a certain axis. For example, early Haven builds ran the risk of falling flat on their faces when staring down [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd]. Yeah, sure, go ahead and cast that [ccProd]Sprout[/ccProd]. Play all sorts of spells that don't immediately affect the board state (or my hand), and see how well you fare.

Well, guess what? 4 color control decks will always be able to adapt because the pool of cards they're drawing from is so large. Don't want to risk missing blockers in the early game because of mana screw? Swap out [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] for [ccProd]Jade Monitor[/ccProd]. Find room for some [ccProd]Toxic Fog[/ccProd]s to blow away an army of Scamps and help your [ccProd]Spire Puppet[/ccProd] trade with a [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd]. You always have tech options at your disposal as the control player, but the aggressive/tempo player needs to operate on that straight line "drop a dude every turn" plan.

Moral of the Story

Play powerful cards.

Seriously. Identify the best cards in the format and make sure you're playing as many of them as possible. You want your deck to be capable of the most backbreaking plays you can conceive of.

[ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] is an unstoppable force that ends the game one way or another. Play the best removal available. Search it out with [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd]. Ramp hard. Even your tiny blockers are "powerful" cards against rush. Be single-minded in your pursuit of power.

No one will argue that DragonStrike Infernus has the most insane cards to date in it, and the Dragon deck takes full advantage. Your Fire Birds quickly pay for themselves, provide additional benefits the longer they stay in play, AND can threaten shields. [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] is unrivaled in terms of swing factor. [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] is at home in this deck, with virtually every card in the deck being a great hit. [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] is the best level 6 creature in the game, and you get to constantly play it before 6. [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] is the most backbreaking level 9 creature in the game. You get to play 3, and potentially cheat it into play!

Now look at LWD Tempo or Drakon Rush or Kalima Control by comparison. These decks all have great synergy and can go off without a hitch, but are they powerful? There's plenty of instances where [ccProd]Cyber Scamp[/ccProd] downright sucks. [ccProd]Lost Patrol[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Screeching Scaradorable[/ccProd] lose potency with each passing turn. All the blockers in the Kalima deck are outclassed by other blockers in the format, but you have to play them because of their color. [ccProd]Dracothane of the Abyss[/ccProd], in a vacuum, pales in comparison to the other popular 9 drops. And so on and so forth.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but it's clearer to me now more than ever. TCGs are a constantly evolving battle between the forces of synergy and raw power. Rush decks, tempo decks, and Kalima decks can all achieve unbeatable setups with the right combination of cards. They can all be fantastic metagame calls. Will these decks ever reign supreme as the "best deck," though? No. There are simply more powerful things you could be doing more frequently. There's a time and a place for these decks. If you're springing an as-of-yet unseen contraption on the world like Mark did, go for the glory. If that Kalima deck had debuted at the start of the format, though, it would have been figured out by now.

As the end of a KMC season approaches, your best bet is to play with power. Remember KISS - Keep it simple, stupid! Be sure to check out the Circuit in Worcester, MA on November 16-17!


Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!