Friday, June 24, 2016

Four Color Control



For those of you who were not aware, Origins was last week and White Wizard Games held four qualifiers for their Epic World Championship at the convention consisting of two limited events and two constructed events. Prior to this event, two qualifiers were held this year, both of which were limited tournaments. The tournaments at Origins included the first ever constructed qualifiers for Epic. In today's article I will go over the deck I used to win Friday's constructed qualifier, as well as an updated list that attempts to correct some of the problems with the deck. Below is the deck list I registered for the tournament. 


For starters, I’m not recommending this exact deck list to anyone looking to play it in a future Qualifier for a couple reasons. First, a large part of why this deck was successful in this particular tournament is that most players were not prepared to play against it. Now that the deck has won a tournament and the list is public knowledge most players will be familiar with how the deck works and be prepared going forward. Second, this is a slow deck. This is probably apparent from just a brief look at the deck list. This deck includes a lot of answers and ways to not die, but few proactive cards that can actually win the game. Most games are going to be a grind to edge out an advantage over the course of a long game. The implication of a slow deck in a tournament is that many of the matches will go to time. 

Each round has a fifty-minute time limit. If a game goes to time, the current player finishes their turn and then the other player gets a final turn. If there is not a winner after the final turn, the game is considered a draw. This structure in conjunction with the fact that this deck will go to time most matches means it is crucial to win the first game. If you win one game and draw another, you still win the match. You do not have to win two games; You just have to win more than your opponent. All of my matches in the Swiss portion of this event went to time, with the exception of an intentional draw in the last round. Here is the game breakdown from the Swiss by round;

Round 1: 1-0-0 against Good/Sage Control
Round 2: 1-0-0 against Sage/Evil Time Walker
Round 3: 0-0-1 against another four color control deck
Round 4: 1-1-1 against Sage/Wild Monsters
Round 5: 1-1-1 (Intentional Draw)

Going into the tournament, I knew I likely would not win any round where I lost a single game. This deck simply cannot easily win multiple games per round due to time limitation and speed of the deck. That being said, I only lost one actual game during the entire tournament. The deck struggles to win quickly but is fairly good at not losing. This ties into an important psychological advantage you can gain over your opponent if they become frustrated or lose focus over the course of a long match. They may start making mistakes and that can snowball if a player is not mentally prepared. If you are well prepared, are consistently making good plays, and have an unconventional game plan going into each match that your opponent is not prepared for, it can put you in an advantageous position.

This deck worked better in the Top 8 where there was no time restriction and it had room to breathe and grind out the long game winning each round after just two games. However, each match went on for about an hour, so it’s not too far from the edge of being viable with a few tweaks to consistently finish matches during the Swiss.

Design and Construction

This deck was designed to have answers to anything and was stacked against what I anticipated to be the most popular decks and cards. Going into the event I expected to see human tokens, a lot of direct damage, and discard decks, and powerful champions such as Sea Titan, Raging T-Rex and Strafing Dragon. These strategies and cards were the most powerful in testing for the tournament, but I also anticipated I’d play against a variety of other decks.

This deck has a lot of synergistic card combinations and, because games typically have more turns compared to most other decks, these combinations will come up more often. Drinker of Blood acts as a finisher with Flash Fire or Wither after a Zombie Apocalypse which can make a lot of zombies from discard piles full of champions. Raxxa serves as a one sided mass removal after a Zombie Apocalypse or Wave on your opponent’s turn that leaves you with a large board advantage. Corpse taker can return a Sea Titan to your hand from your discard pile which can then be played to return the Corpse taker back to hand. This forces your opponent to banish Sea Titan in order to prevent it from coming back again and again. In the finals I was able to draw four cards with a single gold against a discard deck by playing an Ancient Chant from my discard pile with Lesson Learned (see Epic Combos and Rules for a detailed explanation of this interaction). This same effect can be done with Keeper of Secrets by playing and then Recycling away Ancient Chant. In theory you can draw five or even six cards from a single gold with multiple Keeper of Secrets and enough cards in your discard pile.

In addition to the synergistic combinations, many cards serve multiple functions that give the deck a lot of flexibility going into an unknown field. Blind Faith allows you to interact in ways that would otherwise be impossible. You can break unbreakable champions, block unblockable champions, target untargetable champions, take no damage from champions with breakthrough and use champions without airborne to block airborne champions to name a few interactions. This card outperformed my expectations in the tournament which is saying a lot because I already thought this was one of the best cards in my deck. The main reason I played six of the nine good cards was to enable a full set of Blind Faith. I broke a Sea Titan and blocked a Strafing Dragon with a single Medusa. I removed breakthrough from a sixteen fourteen Raging T-Rex after blocking with a zombie. I didn’t play against any token decks but Blind Faith answers Insurgency by allowing you to Flash Fire, Plague or Wither an assault of Unbreakable human tokens. It also removes blitz from the tokens so anything that hasn't attacked yet can't.

Inner Peace serves a dual purpose, the main of which is to survive against early direct damage. Several games during the tournament were within range for my opponent to win with direct damage but a timely Inner Peace kept me alive to come back later in the game. The other purpose is to serve as a card to pitch to discard effects with the potential to recall without loss of card advantage. This is less reliable as there are only six one cost gold cards in the deck, but it did come up in the finals to help me win the tournament.

Vital Mission was included with the intention of being an additional targeted removal card that could also serve as additional health gain and card advantage if needed. In practice the card was not very good. Quell was added mainly to answer tokens which I didn’t play against in the tournament. Even against tokens it servers as more of a stall than a hard answer because you typically can’t clear the entire board. I would change out these two cards for a pair of Urgent Messenger. The human tokens from Urgent Messengers serve as chump blockers which get better with Blind Faith and add additional champions to the board for Drinker of Blood or even Reaper to turn into Demons all while drawing two cards.

Zombie Apocalypse, Wave of Transformation, Inheritance of the Meek, and Plague serve as the suite of fast mass removal cards. Plague also works well as a draw two option (or draw three if an Ancient Chant is recycled) and the one damage to both your opponent and their champions can be relevant. Zombie and Wave work with Flash Fire and Wither to clear the board. There two cards can also setup a combo with Drinker of Blood on your turn in conjunction with either of the zero cost sweepers. Inheritance of the Meek also works well with the tokens in the deck to leave you a board presence after the mass removal card.

The absence of Erase in the deck is worth a discussion. In testing I did play with a set of Erase and found the tempo and card advantage beneficial almost across the board. However, the deck is carefully balanced to have exactly twenty zero cost cards which means there is not enough room for both Erase and Sea Titan without somewhat significant changes to the deck. Excluding Erase may have been a mistake and the deck may be better with it. There are many good reasons to play Erase and it may be right to have one or two if not the full set. However, Sea Titan is very important in this deck as a threat that can win the game that also serves a similar purpose to impact the board. Furthermore, the deck does not lack for card advantage so Erase was cut.

Below is an updated list that includes more threats and proactive ways to make an impact on the board at a cost of some of the more controlling cards. It is not a large deviation from the original list but has some notable changes. Soul Hunter was added as an alternative win condition working well against decks with few or no banish effects or ways to interact with the discard pile. In practice, this card generally does not do much and was therefore limited to a single copy as a late game win condition. That being said, it does work very well with Reaper enabling you to break it immediately and leave a demon token in its place. Medusa and Reaper were increased to a full set to add more champions and ways to break single targets. Reaper in particular gets better with the inclusion of Urgent Messengers and Plentiful Dead allowing you to “upgrade” your tokens into demons. 

Arcane Research helps you get to a specific card when absolutely needed, but can be tricky to play with so many interactions going on in the discard pile. You don’t want to banish one cost event cards you may need later with Lesson Learned or champions you may need for zombie tokens or to bring back with Corpse Taker. You’re generally going to be banishing your non-evil zero cost cards first to leave enough evil cards in your discard pile for Unquenchable Thirst. However, these considerations all vary in importance based on the game state and match up. Arcane Research is probably the most difficult card to use correctly in this deck and you can easily lose a game by banishing the wrong cards if you’re not careful.

The addition of Plentiful Dead warrants some explanation as well. This card is meant as an answer specifically for the control mirror where both plays have more answers than threats. Plentiful Dead serves as a way to put a champion on the board at no loss of card advantage. Your opponent is going to have to answer the zombie in some way or take two damage each turn until they run out of health. This card is intended to act as a way to break a stalemate in the mirror. The best way to play this card is to never pass initiative with it in your discard pile to eliminate the possibility for your opponent to banish it.

 

The deck is slow, difficult to play, can be unpleasant for both players, and has a hard time winning rounds under time restrictions. For these reasons, I'm not recommending that you take this deck to the next constructed qualifier. You could certainly build the deck more proactively at a cost of some of the reactive cards to address its issues. I feel I had a lot of luck getting this deck into the Top 8 and then winning the first constructed qualifier. I’ll be continuing to practice and prepare on route to Worlds where my limited skills will be tested and Cube will factor into the limited mix. 

                                                                      Conclusion

I’d like to thank everyone for their congratulations and support. My success would not have been possible without the community and I just want to say thanks to everyone! I also want to give a shout out to my co-worker for helping me test and constantly coming up with new ideas.
                                                            
The next few articles will cover various topics including a closer look at some of the successful constructed decks from Origins, an examination of some common mistakes and a few rules demonstrations to help everyone better understand the game. I also plan to get into the limited mix and write about Dark Draft and Cube. I’m on the Board Game Geek forums and Facebook for discussion and you can of course leave comments and questions here on Epic Insights.

 

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting read, man. This deck should be called "I'm here not win, but to irritate you".

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  2. What is your opinion of Spawning Demon for this deck and constructed in general?

    I am personally a big fan of Spawning Demon in general as it adds a lot of pressure as just a 0-cost card that you can play before any 1-cost Evil card you were going to play anyway. This is especially nice on your opponent's turn. It is less defensive than your other 0-cost cards, but the offensive power is significant. It does also force a response.

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  3. Several iterations of the deck did have Spawning Demon along with Infernal Gatekeeper and Raxxa's Displeasure. The ideas was to generate a lot of evil ally triggers to get ahead on the board and make a lot of demon tokens that are harder to get rid of with typical answers to tokens like Wither or Flash Fire. The card can get out of hand if left unanswered. However, the card seemed to rarely do anything substantially impactful in testing and was cut for what I thought were more impactful cards. The card certainly looks good on paper, but actually playing a bunch with it and seeing how it impacted the games yielded underwhelming results. I don't think this card fits well into the current constructed landscape.

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