Shark-Squids in Seattle: Part 1

zack hineFriendly faces, new challengers, enthusiastic Wizards staff members, and the unique opportunity for players to design brand new cards! If you missed out on the first ever Kaijudo Championship in Seattle this past weekend, you missed a really unique event. The weekend wasn't without its ups and downs on a personal note, but even after flying out to Seattle on my own dime and ultimately not walking away with the crown, I'd do it all over again.

The trip was a whirlwind, so this article is going to follow suit.

LCQ #1: Dodging the Landmines, or, "Please Don't Pair Me Against Red Rush"

The KMC season post-Clash seemed to indicate that WDL Control (with or without Nature) was the big man on campus, but I knew that Carl Micotto's Megabug win in Oakmont would send shockwaves through the scene. Not wanting to be forced into a coin flip, I opted to play Megabugs in the first LCQ. We made a few innovations (most notably [ccProd]Razorhide[/ccProd] over [ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd]), but still capped the curve at 6 and kept the spell count low. My brother Tyler attempted to scout out the room for me before I committed, but the diversity was overwhelming. Knowing that I would need some luck on my side regardless of what I played, and knowing that I wanted to include [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] and [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] in whatever I played, I figured Bugs were my best bet.

My round one opponent was Robert Hebert, an extremely friendly and active member of the community. Robert was noticeably anxious before our first round started, joking that he feared that I was piloting a brand new deck because of my SBK affiliation. Once the game started, though, he was all business. As it turns out, I was the one sticking with the tried and true, while Robert had a revamped version of Greed Dragons with [ccProd]Chain-Lash Tatsurion[/ccProd], [ccProd]Shadeblaze the Corruptor[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] at his disposal. Robert decided against the [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] splash in favor of multiciv removal that smoothed out his draw if seen early. The deck, dubbed "Birds of War," was a very popular choice for the first LCQ.

An opposing [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] is a force to be reckoned with when you're playing a midrange deck. You have [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] available to you to keep him off the board, but if you don't draw those cards in a timely fashion, or miss Rusalka and went second, or missed an early curve entirely, he puts you between a rock and a hard place very quickly. In game one I was able to hit my ideal curve of [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Razorhide[/ccProd], but unfortunately cracked a kill spell on the initial swing. Following that, I could only manage to summon a [ccProd]Mana Tick[/ccProd] and whiff, so Robert's [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] saw to it that I was fighting an uphill battle from that point on.

Game two was a swift comeback. Being on the play is crucial in this matchup, because if Greed misses Birds and isn't able to keep Herald on the board, a halfway decent Megabug curve can run over them. Rusalka on 4 before they are able to even play a Herald is still fine as long as it bounces a Fire Bird, and if you're able to ramp into Finbarr you can quickly put Greed on the back foot. I hit the ideal early progression a second time this game, and had Rusalka, Finbarr, and [ccProd]Humonculon the Blaster[/ccProd] laying in wait. Robert needed a blowout [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] or something in this one, but wasn't able to pull it out.

Game three was a barn burner. After some early aggression on my end (thank you, [ccProd]Manapod Beetle[/ccProd]!), I had Robert down to one shield with two attackers left. Any removal shield blast would allow Robert to take the initiative back, and much to my dismay, he got there with a timely [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd]. He had plenty of outs left in his deck, but it still hurt to be so close and not pull it out. We battled back and forth for a few turns, with me attempting to play through an [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] with Finbarr and Humonculon, but eventually, it was [ccProd]Shadeblaze the Corruptor[/ccProd] that came down and sealed my defeat -- a common theme throughout the weekend! [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] followed soon after, and Robert blew me out with a flurry of double and triple breaks.

That first loss really psyched me out. I looked around and saw a slew of Greed Dragon shells, and realized that the metagame was behaving in a cyclical pattern. I knew that Megabugs were terribly positioned against a field of Heralds, so I immediately shifted my attention to playing a different deck in the second LCQ.

Robert, however, went on the win the entire first LCQ! He had persevered through multiple unlucky breaks in previous KMC top cuts, so I was glad to witness his win. It couldn't have happened to a more well-deserving guy. Makes you wonder how different things would have been if that last shield wasn't a [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd], but it just wasn't meant to be.

Congratulations to Robert!

LCQ #2: Playing it Safe, or, LemonAid

I really wanted to play WLDN control in the second LCQ (but a better version than the one I piloted in Massachusetts). My brother agreed playing it safe was probably the way to go. You have a nice suite of blockers at your disposal against the aggressive decks as long as you don't open with all your fatties. If Megabugs aren't particularly popular, you usually have enough range to survive until you can summon Andromeda, and then stabilize with [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] will almost always allow you to last until the late game if you're not playing against rush. If you draw multiples of him, you're in the driver's seat in any midrange matchup; it's not uncommon to ramp yourself right into your nine drops, or just sit back and wait for the inevitable.

Bird-heavy Greed Dragon decks could still pose a threat, but [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] provide you with a lot of early game tools to dismantle their setup. If you're up on cards and don't want to wage small creature battles for fear of Herald, utilize your Nature cards like [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] to ramp into [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Gigahorn Charger[/ccProd] to find your Andromedas and Scourges. The deck is a little bloated and can certainly be outpaced, but against a wide open field like the first LCQ, I felt it adequately covered all my bases.

Here's the list I ran:

3 [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Cyber Lord Corile[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Gigahorn Charger[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd]2 [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]3 [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]1 [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd]

I was running on adrenaline for the entire second LCQ, but here's a rundown of my games:

  • My first opponent was Jonathan Stevenson, running mono Red Rush. Ugh. I felt a little better about the matchup this time around, but I certainly wasn't trying to get dispatched in the first round of both LCQs. Luckily, the deck drew well, and I was able to fortify my battle zone with all three copies of [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd] in game one. Jonathan was only able to see one of his [ccProd]Comet Missiles[/ccProd], so I rode the Scaradorables right into the late game and stabilized with a Lyra. Game two was much closer, with me hitting an [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] but no other blockers. Jonathan had me down to two shields with a [ccProd]Laser-Arm Drakon[/ccProd] in play, but a clutch [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] in shields allowed me to hold on long enough to get to Andromeda. Crisis averted.
  • My second opponent was Austin Baggs, piloting a similar WDL control deck with [ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd], seeminlgy as a way to hedge his bets against rush. I'm on the play in this one, and turn 3 [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] gets rid of his [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd], and a follow-up [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] eliminated his Andromeda. He's forced to get aggressive with [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], but he's never able to completely challenge my board state, and I'm free to search up cards with [ccProd]Gigahorn Charger[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Cyber Lord Corile[/ccProd] shored up my shields with a [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd], and I take the game by the throat when Austin isn't able to answer my [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] in a timely fashion (all my other creatures became too big). Game two plays out in a similar fashion -- Austin committed [ccProd]Grudge Weaver[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] to the board, whom I were more than happy to ignore on my way to the late game thanks to [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd]. Austin got me down to two shields in this one, but I rode [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] to a sure victory.
  • Christopher Claybern was my opponent this round -- another noticeable face from the Kaijudo Dojo group. Chris was extremely friendly and fun to play against, but he came at me as hard as he could with his aggressive 3-color deck running Dragons, [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] and Scaradorable are all-stars for me in the first game, and I seal the deal with a hardcasted [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. My 2-0 train comes to a screeching halt in game 2, however, when [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] puts a thrashing on my [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd]. A turn 2 blocker is too good against a deck coming in with Fire Birds, so I had to hope that I drew answers to any possible Herald nut draw before I got too far behind, but I couldn't pull it off. Game three sees me casting double [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] between turns 3 and 4 -- an extremely lucky feat for such a large deck. Chris wasn't done by a l0ngshot, though, and I was unable to deal with his [ccProd]Gilaflame the Assaulter[/ccProd], until a broken-shield [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] in followed by a drawn Lemon on turn 6 allowed me to persevere until [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] took command of the game. This was my favorite match of the second LCQ, by far.
  • My round 4 opponent was Jonathan Weigle, who smashed my face with Red Rush. Can't beat it every time, I guess. [ccProd]Comet Missile[/ccProd]s rained down from the heavens in this one, and I met a swift end. Nothing to see here. Moving on.
  • In round 5, I ran into a buzzsaw when I was paired up with Robert M., playing the greediest late game deck I had ever seen. 60+ cards, all five colors, every 9-drop Dragon, every Monarch, [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd] -- the deck was insane if it was able to survive into the late game. It was extremely susceptible to Red Rush, but it appeared that Robert had managed to dodge that deck up until this point. I knew I needed to show a little early aggression with Gloom Hollow and Corile if possible, but [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] called forth an [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] in game one and wrecked me. In game two, Robert's board got scary big once [ccProd]Kurragar of the Hordes[/ccProd] came down, but I had amassed a large board of my own with more than 5 shields at this point. I was able to hold on with a [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd], and then attempt to make a comeback after Robert went for game and set off a [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] in my shields. I was able to make favorable trades to banish most of his team, but I should have bounced his [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd]es with [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] and rammed my [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] into his frozen Steamtank rather than making solely favorable attacks. I left him open to rip a large fast attacker against my one blocker, and if it was an Infernus or a Lyra, I would have been sunk with my one shield left and one blocker. I hung on for one more turn thankfully, but didn't have enough on board to race him. Robert had plenty of live topdecks and would likely have outlasted me no matter what I did, but I knew leaving that Steamtank around for an extra turn was my first clear misplay of the day. If I won my last round, my tiebreakers would be good enough to get me in, so I got over it and prepared myself. 
  • My final opponent was Sarah W., running a WDL control deck with interesting tech like [ccProd]Black Feather of Shadow Abyss[/ccProd]. She gave me a taste of my own [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] medicine in game one, whereas mine were nowhere to be found. Sarah was playing [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd], and came in for shields on turn 6, which allowed her to juice her hand back up. I had [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd]s in play, however. That, coupled with a key turn 5 [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd], meant double [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] was sure to take over. In game two, Sarah's aggression paid off, and my shield zone was completely barren. Game three took forever -- we both made it to 16 or 17 mana, and tried to outlast each other with Tritonus plays while setting up for [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd]. I hit a lucky [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] off a hardcasted [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] in the late game, which negated all of her work up to that point. I summoned Squilliam first, and she was able to top into a [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] to get her back into the game. She sadly forgot her Constrict trigger on my Scourge, however, and I edged my way back into the lead with a devastating [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd]. Sarah tutored her own [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd], and I sent everyone at her shields. She summoned the Scourge, I drew and passed, and she conceded. 

I made it in to the top 8, and a wave of relief washed over me. I really wanted to win out so that I would have the privilege of attending Wizards R&D Day, but at the same time, it felt good to top the rough equivalent of a KMC after falling short in Southbridge and Oakmont. My top 8 opponent was Larry L., who came to the table with a 44 card "Birds of War" list. My loss to Robert Hebert gave me some insight into how to approach this matchup, but [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] spells trouble no matter what you do. Larry's build was incredibly aggressive, with 9 Birds and additional 5-drops like [ccProd]Assault Dragon[/ccProd]. He won the roll in game one and was able to summon both [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd]. Larry attacked freely with Birds, avoided shield blasts, and then curved into Herald and [ccProd]Chain-Lash Tatsurion[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] was soon to follow, and he wrapped things up very quickly. His deck was putting on a clinic; it was clear he optimized it to beat WDLN, at the expense of late game threats. But hey, when your 9-drop is frequently coming to the party on turn 5 or 6, who needs a late game?

Game two was very similar, with Larry hitting [ccProd]Umbra[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd]. I had a lone [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd], but it only delayed the inevitable. [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] ensured that his [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] came down as a Fast Attacker, and he broke some of the best shields possible -- double [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd]! I resolved the Bottle first, of course, but my only hope was [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd]. Bottle wasn't able to come through, and then the pits banished his Awakened and [ccProd]Assault Dragon[/ccProd]. With only two shields left and 4 opposing threats on board, though, the best I could do was summon a [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] and hope for the best shield blasts of all time. Needless to say, I extended the handshake shortly thereafter.

Congratulations to Donlee W. on winning the 2nd LCQ!

A Sharknado Brewing Off the Coast

It was disappointing to come so close, but it was refreshing to see the metagame behave in a cyclical pattern. WDL with Tritonus and [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] had an edge against late-game focused Greed Dragons of the 6DSI era. So people added Nature to go over the top of the other control decks, which led to midrange tempo decks like Megabugs finding success. Whenever players try to maximize their early game, however, [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] won't be too far behind. He was clearly the big dog of the LCQs, and I'm fiending to brew up some new lists with him at the forefront.

My brother Tyler was now torn over what to play in the main event on Sunday. We had been tweaking a 3-color [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] tempo list that was seeing fantastic results against WDLN, but with so much Greed running around, we started to have doubts about its positioning in the metagame. The list was really fun to play, though, and when it worked, it worked very well. Brian Durkin was convinced, but Steve Silverman, Ryan Valentino, and Paul Clarke had their doubts.

Once the deck name "Sharknado" started getting thrown around, though, the desire to play the deck intensified.

Come back next week for Part 2. I'll be chatting with Tyler Hine, and getting his insight into R&D Day, the Championship, and the origin of the Sharknado deck.

Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!