I was fortunate enough this year to be able to attend the Origins Game Fair in Columbus and once again compete for a seat at the Epic Card Game World Championship. Unlike last year's four spots up for grabs, this year offered half that number with only a single limited qualifier and a single constructed qualifier. I knew these events would be highly competitive and wanted to be well prepared for both formats.
The limited qualifier was sealed and my first opportunity to play the random sixty format in a tournament. To prepare for the event I created a method for generating pools of sixty random cards similar to how they would be produced at the event. I started working on a method for building a deck by writing down my thoughts and considerations as I went through different pools. Being comfortable with the process was important to me as this would be my first experience in the format, but not for most of my competitors. Once I was satisfied with the method I developed I then started building decks under the same time restriction that would be in place for the tournament. This gave me a feeling for how much time I'd have to build and register the deck.
This preparation gave me important insights into my impressions of the format and what I was likely to feel when I sat down and looked at my pool for the tournament. The most important of which was a necessary adjustment I had to make to my expectations. From all the practice pools I had worked on, I felt they were of below average quality more often than not. Now, this is clearly a fallacy as most of the decks can't be below average. If I had only worked on a few decks it might have been possible that I only saw a sample containing mostly below average pools when compared to all possible pools. However, I had done enough testing to be confidant that my feelings about what was an average quality pool had to be adjusted. Had I not done this preparation and come to this realization I may have fallen victim to unfounded feelings the day of the tournament and blamed my failings on bad luck rather than the decisions I made.
Below is the pool I received at the tournament;
During my preparation I determined there would only be a few situations where I would mulligan a pool. I spent some time thinking about it for this pool, but decided against it and went on to build the deck. The biggest weakness of this pool is its low selection of mass removal. The options are Hurricane, Savage Uprising, Reset, and Reap or Sow. Reap or Sow is not the best option in Evil for mass removal and the others are conditionally good, but sometimes won't be what I need. I knew building this deck that it would have a difficult time controlling any opponent from over extending on the board. I don't recall the exact list I registered, but it included most of the Good and Sage cards with a few Evil and Wild cards. I ended the day losing a win and in at the final round of Swiss to my eventual constructed finals opponent the following day. Having failed to qualify in limited, I changed my focus to constructed for the next day.
Coming out of Worlds with a 0-3 record in constructed I knew I had to change the way I would prepare for future events. I started by playing with all the successful deck lists from Worlds and trying to understand them as best I could. After I felt comfortable with what others had brought to the tournament I took a step back and reflected on what I thought people would play at Origins.
I expected people to play Kark as it had won Worlds and the first qualifier for 2017. It had performed well for me in my testing as well and seemed like the deck to beat. I set out working on an Evil Sage deck that attacked Kark by going wide with tokens and applying constant pressure. I tried different lists and made various modifications all intended to specifically target Kark and produce consistent results. After a lot of attempts I was ultimately unsatisfied with the results and decided to change course.
I expected others preparing for the event to have similar results against Kark. It was difficult to build a deck specifically designed to beat Kark with the cards available. Rather than try to beat Kark, I decided to play Kark and tweak it to have a better chance in the mirror.
There are a few things to keep in mind in the Kark mirror, but it essentially boils down to whoever finds Kark first wins. For this reason, I knew I wanted to play a full three copies of Chamberlain Kark and include ways to find them faster. In addition, whoever gets to sixty first is likely to win. I included a full set of the gain ten health cards as well as Drain Essence to ensure my best chance to reach this breaking point first. In addition, I wanted the best 0 cost ways to gain health to edge out a win when it would otherwise be out of reach. I started with the following cards:
Ceasefire and Blind Faith are central to how this deck wants to play. Simply the possibility of playing these two cards puts opponents in a bad spot on every one of their turns. There was no version of this deck for me without a full set of both of these cards. Bodyguard provides an efficient chump blocker and combats opposing discard effects as well. I also knew I wanted some way to put pressure on an opposing Kark deck outside of combat. Soul Hunter provides an efficient means to do this as it can be discarded to maximum hand size or opposing discard effects.
With Soul Hunter in the deck I needed ways to get it into my discard pile and ways to break it once it came into play. Drain Essence already provided a means for the later and, in rare cases, two consumes would do the trick as well. Frantic Digging is a natural inclusion as it not only gets Soul Hunter to my discard pile efficiently, but also helps dig through cards quickly to find Kark. Aside from Frantic Digging, drawing a lot of cards is a natural way to get Soul hunter into your discard pile by ending your turn with more than the maximum hand size.
The Ancient Chant and Lesson Learned combination is key in the Kark match up as it enables massive card draw very quickly. Ancient Chant is also going to serve another important role against discard effects and combos with Frantic Digging as well. Lesson Learned provides more opportunities to play your important event cards and extends your possible plays to events in your discard pile. I added a single copy of Reset as well to help with drawing cards while offering another off turn defensive option. It also works well to eliminate tokens created by Zombie Apocalypse or Martial Law. Aside from returning all champions back to their owners' hands, Reset can also enable a lot of health gain with Brand. Noble Unicorn serves as another efficient means to draw cards while also impacting the board. Noble Unicorn also has the potential to put pressure on an opposing Kark deck. However, it's likely this pressure will be deflected or thwarted with several cards.
While breaking Soul Hunter with Drain Essence is good against Kark, I wanted more ways to break Soul Hunter. Break all effects are anther natural inclusion.
Zombie Apocalypse is a safe off turn mass removal event and Plague serves as another draw two (or draw three with AC in your discard pile) that also breaks some important champions like Necromancer Lord, Thought Plucker, and Forcemage Apprentice. It can also break the humans you've put into play with Martial Law. While adding these Evil break all effects is important with Soul Hunter, it is necessary to ensure there are enough Good cards to support the Good alignment dependent cards in the deck.
Divine Judgment and Martial Law are the remaining Good cards in the deck and offer additional mass removal. I added a single Urgent Messengers to fill the last one cost Good card slot as I felt it was the best option to both provide card draw and impact the board.
There were a few more considerations made when filling out the final slots in the deck. I already had three Consume which is great to gain health and break some important champions including, Muse, Thought Plucker, Necromancer Lord, and Fire Shaman. Wither is essentially a fourth Consume in terms of being able to break these champions with the side effect of not gaining health, but added benefit of dealing with the tokens left from Zombie Apocalypse or Martial Law.
If you're expecting to play Kark mirrors, I think Arcane Research is better than a third Frantic Digging since the whole matchup is basically whoever gets Kark first wins. Frantic Digging does a great job of getting Soul Hunter into your discard pile to start putting pressure on your opponent. However, you're generally going to see more than two cards with Arcane Research and drawing more cards than your opponent is very important in the Kark mirror.
Finally, I wanted to add some form of mass discard banish with the last few cards. I like Amnesia over Heinous Feast as the extra card is almost always more relevant than the health (although it turned out to be exactly what I needed in game two of the finals). Erratic Research was also included as I wanted a third card but could not cut back on any other zero cost cards.
After a few small tweaks to make the numbers work, I settled on the list below;
The meta-game turned out to be dominated by Wild based aggressive decks. The key to beating Kark with the Wild deck is to apply constant pressure while maintaining a healthy hand size to fuel that constant pressure. The most effective way to do this is to play threats that also draw cards. Raging T-Rex, Triceratops, and Draka's Enforcer are all very good against Kark. Brachiosaurus is also very effective as it has breakthrough, doesn't break to Drain Essence, and essentially makes your deck function like it has an additional three zero cost cards.
My plan against these Wilds decks was to survive until they either run out of good plays or simply run out of cards. If they are playing Triceratops it becomes more difficult as they can more consistently maintain their hand size while applying pressure. Triceratops also adds another champion that does not break to Drain Essence. Despite the strong showing from the Wild decks and the clear target they had on the Kark decks, the finals came down to the only two Kark decks in the tournament.
Game one was somewhat of an outlier as I had three Nobel Unicorns in play at one point with initiative and a gold available. What I should have done instead of attacking and opening the window to a massive Blind Faith blow out was to play a draw two Good card and draw five cards. This would have put me in a better spot to draw into Kark and the zero cost health cards I would have needed to win. As it turned out, my opponent Colin had Kark before me and easily closed out the game.
Game two was very tense and came down to the wire. On the last turn of the game I knew I had to win. Colin had played Kark on the previous turn and revealed a second Kark putting him to forty nine and enough health gain left in hand to win the game on his next turn. I was at forty nine myself and had an Angel of Light in my discard pile as the only champion. I played Heinous Feast on my own discard pile to gain one health going to fifty. I then played Brand, Rebel Fighter revealing Inner Peace and Chamberlain Kark going to fifty five. I played Consume going to fifty eight, then Kark revealing Inner Peace as the last card in my hand going to exactly sixty and the win. This was a heart breaker for Colin who thought he had the win and qualifier in hand.
Game three gave me a very fortunate draw and was a straight forward path to victory. I essentially played three Inner Peace then Kark while Colin was eight health points and a Kark short of the win. I have a great amount of respect for Colin and believe he'll find his way back to a seat at Worlds this year.
You can find the complete article on the Constructed Bans here http://www.epiccardgame.com/full-constructed-ban-list-announced/. This recent ban on Constructed directly impacts this list which has a full set of both Blind Faith and Ceasefire. However, I feel these changes are good for the current state of the games and expect the Kark decks to essentially disappear. Kark based control decks create long games and can be frustrating for both players when not much happens for most of the game. I also don't expect to see control decks in general as the loss of these cards eliminates the best defensive options in the game. That being said, I look forward to seeing how these changes play out at Gen Con and being surprised by what players bring to the table!