Saturday, November 26, 2016

Worlds Tournament Report

The first Epic Card Game World Championship was last weekend with $100,000 on the line. This was a rare opportunity for players to compete at this relatively new game with some of the highest stakes available in any TCG. With so much on the line, competitors put in a lot of preparation to bring their best strategies to the tournament in the hopes of becoming an Epic Card Game legend. I was fortunate enough to qualify and guarantee I would be walking away with at least $500 and a better understanding of the game. 

The day started with Cube Draft which I had never done before with a full table of eight players. My draft started off with some very strong evil cards including Angel of Death, Necromancer Lord, and Final Task. I elected to choose Lesson Learned with the idea of passing strong evil cards to my left in the hopes of receiving higher quality non-evil cards in pack two. 

As the picks continued I was surprised with the quality of cards that were getting passed including a late Psionic Assault, Heinous Feast, and 12th pick Time Bender. One of the aspects of drafting that is a testament to the designers and developers is that any card can be powerful in the right situation. Players at my table might have been taking more situational cards instead of these higher picks to fit what they had already drafted. However, seeing these strong picks late reflects to me the current state of the game. Everyone is still finding their bearings and figuring out the best strategies. Each player has their own preferences and preferred strategies going into the draft. Some value 0 cost cards over most everything else while others look for cohesive strategies and cards that will impact the board. The format is certainly not solved. Furthermore, it was difficult for most players to have a large enough play testing group to complete a full cube draft. For many players, including myself, this was the first opportunity to draft a full eight person cube. 

The best moment for me during the draft was when I picked a Citadel Raven to combine with two Go Wilds. I was literally unable to help myself from smiling. This was the first whole cube draft I had ever done and it was the most enjoyable part of the whole tournament for me. Despite this high during the draft I would later go on to regret a pick of Quell over Shadow Imp. Fortunately, enough for me I received a last pick Shadow Imp in the final pack that helped my deck come together. Here is what I built from the cube draft;

My approach in draft is to build as fundamentally sound and well-rounded deck as possible. This means I want to ensure I have enough card draw to maintain a healthy hand size throughout the game. I also want to have enough cards to play on my opponent’s turn as well as powerful Blitz champions to play on my turn to leverage opportunities where my opponent spends their gold first. A threshold of alignment to support my Loyalty 2 effects is also important to balance. Lastly, I try to incorporate a mix of direct damage, mass removal, and targeted removal.

I am slightly low on where I want to be with card advantage but I think this is compensated by my aggression and density of powerful blitz champions. I have two cards that can banish my opponent’s discard pile so I’m not vulnerable to them drawing their entire deck. Additionally, this deck has a good amount of reach with Flame Strike and Lightning Storm to help me to close out games. The main weakness of the deck is the lack of proactive 0 cost cards. I was disappointed in retrospect to have passed a second Shadow Imp which would have been strong in this heavy sage deck with two Go Wild. Another weakness is the lack of hard mass removal. I do have Inheritance of the Meek, Reset, and Stand Alone, all of which are situational mass removal cards. I cut Quell, Paros, Rebel Leader, Rally the People, Time Bender, Raxxa’s Enforcer, and Forked Lightning from the deck. 

My first match was against Benjamin Gartner a.k.a. benjotron, an insanely powerful Star Realms player presently ranked 4th in the lifetime leaderboard on the digital app. He put together a deck with a lot of strong evil cards and lots of card advantage. I was able to assemble the Citadel Raven and Go Wild combo to quickly bring game one within range of my lethal Flame Strike. The second game was very close and I was only able to edge out the win because of another timely Flame Strike.

My second match was against Andrew Wartooth who piloted a deck that put a lot of pressure on me early in the game in the form of Den Mother and Mythic Monster. He was able to stifle some of my defense with Entangling Vines and hit hard with Mighty Blow and Final Task. However, in game one to my delight I was again able to assemble Citadel Raven plus Go Wild for a massive 11 point swing and close out the game shortly thereafter. Game two started off with a turn one Psionic Assault from me followed by an onslaught from Andrew involving Draka, Dragon Tyrant and Smash and Burn that brought me down to 11 and perilously close to losing. However, I was able to deflect his aggression and shred through his hand with Psionic Assault.

Coming into World’s I was concerned this portion of the tournament could go south because I had prepared the least for this format. Starting off with a perfect record in cube draft was a great start and put me in a great position. On top of that, I had a blast doing so! 

Moving into Dark Draft I was matched against one of the most formidable limited opponents in the form of Tom Sorenson. Tom is known for his blog and remarkable understanding of the game captured therein. He has been a strong member of the Epic community since its inception and has contributed a significant amount to my understanding of the game.

Needless to say, I was feeling less confidant going into this round facing such a strong opponent. The draft started off nicely with me first picking Thought Plucker passing Apocalypse and Plentiful Dead. I assumed Tom would go Evil which influenced a pick later in the pack where I chose Rift Summoner over Go Wild. It turned out Tom was not picking up the evil cards, but I ended up with a few token generators so Rift Summoner was not an entirely wasted pick. This draft for me highlighted the strength of choosing 0 cost cards highly as exactly half of my deck was 0 cost cards. Below is my deck from the first Dark Draft;

This draft was the most aggressive I had been with taking 0 cost cards. I essentially took any 0 cost card with some form of card advantage or Blitz over most anything else. This deck can also setup a very powerful turn with Secret Legion plus 0 cost Human champions, particularly Paros and Courageous Soul. Additionally, Thought Plucker plus Psionic Assault gave me the option to attack my opponent’s hand size. This deck was lighter on direct damage than I typically like but was happy to pick up Fires and Flame Spike. Amnesia gave me one way to ensure my opponent would not win by drawing his deck.

Tom was playing a heavy Wild deck with Raging T-Rex and plenty of direct damage. Game one was very close but I was able to edge out a win at a perilous 8 health. Game two could have gone very differently and I think Tom would like to go back and replay that game. Regardless, I caught a lucky break and continued my undefeated streak in limited.

The last Dark Draft of the swiss found me on camera facing Jonah Acosta. Because my side of the draft was on camera I’m able to go back through the whole draft pick by pick and share my thoughts. I’ve included the images of my picks from each pack and you can follow along with the draft on Twitch. 

Pack 1 Pick 1


Psionic Assault worked out for me in the last game of the match, but I think it was wrong to first pick here. Even though Sage is where I want to be, it pushes me there right away while still passing two strong Sage picks to Jonah. It was hard for me to pass this card at the time, but now that I’ve learned more about this format, I think it was a clear mistake. Frost Giant would have been a nice inclusion as a powerful finisher. Alternatively, taking Knight of Shadows would prevent Jonah from getting both discard cards and set me up to counter the possible Psionic Assault with later picks. In hind sight this would have worked out nicely after immediately receiving the following pack;

Pack 1 Pick 2 & 3

Here I chose Soul Hunter and Necrovirus to help counter the Knight of Shadows I just passed. I do like Triceratops as a powerful turn 1 play and likely would have taken it over Soul Hunter had I not just passed Knight of Shadows.

Pack 2 Pick 1

Jonah is going to get two Wild cards out of this pack no matter what I pick. I took Flash Fire as the only 0 cost card that can also draw two, serve as off turn mass removal, direct damage, and does not commit me to Wild.

Pack 2 Pick 2 & 3

This pack is underwhelming. I can either take two non-committal but less powerful cards in Hunting Pack and Vital Mission or take Time Bender and White Dragon to push me towards Sage and Good. I’m fine playing White Dragon without being able to trigger the Tribute trigger, but it does push the value of 1 cost good cards up moving forward. Time Bender was once seen as an all-star first pick but has since fallen. I still tend to value it highly as a strong counter to 0 cost aggression and it can take over games if unanswered.

Pack 3 Pick 1

I really like having several direct damage cards in my deck to give me some reach in the end game. As was pointed out in the commentary, passing Markus when I am playing Psionic Assault may seem risky. However, it is only one card and I have not been passing strong Good cards. I’m also looking to pick up some 1 cost good cards to go with White Dragon so it’s likely Jonah will not pick Markus anyway. Plus, I first picked Psionic Assault so he doesn’t know I have it. Word of Summoning is certainly a strong pick here as well and I nearly took it.

Pack 3 Pick 2 & 3

Here I was ecstatic to pick up Flame Strike and essentially be set on direct damage for the draft. The choice left was between Master Zo and Stand Alone. At this point I was more committed to Sage and I value card advantage quite highly so I chose the Stand Alone.

The end of pack three brought us into the first review period. During each review period I’m thinking about a few things. First, I am sorting my cards by alignment to count how many of each I have. Next I am reviewing the general direction of my deck and what I want more of whether it’s 0 cost cards, targeted removal, mass removal, blitz champions, or more events and champions with ambush. The last thing I do is evaluate my card draw effects to calibrate my valuation of draw effects going into the next packs.

At this point I know I need more sage cards to support my Psionic Assault and Time Bender. I also want to grab some 1 cost Good cards if possible to support White Dragon. I am all set on direct damage and looking to be as aggressive as possible and attempt to race each game. This means I want 0 cost champions, preferably with ambush or blitz.

Pack 4 Pick 1

I value card advantage highly. Bitten fits the bill and gives me another way to trigger Necrovirus. Den Mother is a powerful card as is Medusa. I tend to avoid slow champions unless they have blitz or otherwise provide a powerful synergy with the cards already in my deck. At this point I didn’t want to commit to Medusa as I only had two other Evil cards and was already getting pulled towards Good and Sage.

Pack 4 Pick 2 & 3

I like Banishment here to start supporting my White Dragon, especially since I’m rarely going to banish a champion on my opponent’s turn. Second Wind is a powerful option when your strategy is a race which is what I’m trying to do with this deck.
Pack 5 Pick 1

Here I’m considering how much direct damage I am passing. I want to avoid giving Jonah a higher density of direct damage and passing two cards here is concerning. However, I already have two more powerful direct damage cards so the matchup is in my favor and I’ve already picked up a second wind. I generally do not value Avenging Angel very high as it is vulnerable to so many cards, especially in Wild which is what Jonah is certainly drafting at this point. I took it here as I ran out of time and was looking to pick up more good cards anyway. In retrospect, I feel I should have taken Savage Uprising as it works very well with the 0 cost cards I was looking to grab and eventually did pick up and keeps another direct damage card from Jonah. Citadel Scholar should also have been a consideration as another 0 cost champion that draws a card and is also sage.

Pack 5 Pick 2 & 3

I think this pack is awesome for me. Warrior Golem is exactly the kind of card I like to draft. It is a 0 champion with blitz and card draw that puts me in a great position to push for an aggressive strategy. Watchful gargoyle is the clear other pick to me as it provides an off turn 0 cost champion with card draw.

Pack 6 Pick 1

Juggernaut is one of the best punishes to gold baiting and I’m already going sage so I was very happy with this pick. I’m passing Frantic Digging and Flame Spike which are great cards, but I’m looking to be proactive and race. Juggernaut fits this strategy better and I already have a good number of 0 cost cards. As was pointed out by the commentators, Frantic Digging does work well with several of the cards already in my deck. It does not advance my overall strategy of racing and being aggressive. Juggernaut does and was therefore my pick.

Pack 6 Pick 2 & 3

This pick is straight forward.

Pack 7 Pick 1

This is the strongest pack I’ve seen so far in the draft. Three of the strongest cards in limited are in this pack meaning I’m passing two to Jonah. At this point I’m already happy with the level of direct damage in my deck and I’m not taking Angel of Death with only a few evil cards. Jonah may not be able to support Angel of Death as I have not been passing many powerful evil cards. Muse is probably the best 0 cost card in the game so I was elated to add it to my deck.

Pack 7 Pick 2 & 3

This is another unremarkable pick.

In the second review period I am pleased with the deck after grabbing a couple aggressive 0 cost cards as well as a Juggernaut and Muse. The overall power of my 1 cost cards is fairly low so I’m looking to pick up some power there. I like the distribution of my alliances and 0 cost cards, but am hoping to pick up some more mass removal and targeted removal.

Pack 8 Pick 1

Vanishing fits perfectly into the type of deck I’m trying to draft as well as offer another draw two option. It’s also another sage card to help me hit my Loyalty 2 triggers. I’m fine passing the rest of these cards as there are no notable wild cards and Lying in Wait is not an ideal answer to my champions.

Pack 8 Pick 2 & 3

I typically don’t value Mighty Blow highly. However, I feel like it would have been a fine pick here instead of Noble Martyr. I have a good number of 0 cost blitz champions and ended up lighter than I typical want to be on card advantage. The Noble Marty is another nice blitz option when successfully gold baiting my opponent.

Pack 9 Pick 1

Noble Unicorn is clearly the pick here. I have plenty of 1 cost good cards to enable consistent triggers. I did consider Little Devil to further my aggressive 0 cost cards, but the raw power of Unicorn is worth passing on the 0 cost blitzer.

Pack 9 Pick 2 & 3

This is the most interesting pack in my mind from this draft as it hits on a very important aspect of drafting. The point is that the value of a card is not static. In a vacuum, I think Lightning Strike and Lash are the more powerful cards. However, at this point, I have a lot of information that is going to adjust the actual power-level of these cards compared to Hasty Retreat and Justice Prevails. 

First, I’m building my deck with the idea in mind that I’m going to out tempo and race my opponent. Justice Prevails offers me a way to gain a massive advantage in a race. Not only does it work with Secret Legion and Noble Martyr, but all of the 0 cost champions I already have. Hasty retreat is a bit of a favorite card of mine, particularly in this kind of deck. Even giving your opponent an additional card is not as big a deal when you’re looking to finish out the game quickly. Plus, I already have a Muse and Watchful Gargoyle which can get in the way to stop a large blitzer if I find myself spending my gold first on my opponent’s turn. Looking at the cards I’ve passed, there aren’t a lot of champions I want to use Lightning Strike on. Lash was possibly better there than Hasty Retreat as all of my aggressive 0 cost champion have at least 2 defense. However, I again tend to value draw two effects highly and will generally pick them over 0s that won’t offer that option.

Pack 10 Pick 1

Honestly, I had not considered taking Raxxa here which CJ pointed out during the draft as a nice option. I was possibly too bullish on my strategy to pick 0 cost blitzers. I considered the Village Protector with the mounting human token synergy and combo with Faithful Pegasus. I’m not confidant that Shadow Imp was the correct pick here, but it does fit in with my overall direction.

Pack 10 Pick 2 & 3

This last pack really gave my deck some nice power with the additional 1 cost blitzers that compliment my 0 cost aggressive pressure. Reusable Knowledge was a consideration given the quality of my direct damage cards. I ended up taking the two more proactive and immediately impactful cards.

You can view the games from this draft on White Wizard Game’s YouTube channel. I feel the games were pretty straight forward with no truly remarkable plays. However, they did highlight the strength of Soul Hunter as a counter to Raging T-Rex. Jonah had trouble answering the Soul Hunter and this match certainly planted a flag in my mind to value answers to Soul Hunter more highly when playing Raging T-Rex.

Having been only one of two undefeated players emerging from the limited portion of Worlds I was very pleased with my standing. I had not expected the cube and dark drafts to go so well. In this position, I could win one of the next two rounds and draw into the Top 8. Unfortunately, my success quickly turned as the constructed matches began and my deck choice got the better of me. I decided to stick with a comfortable deck for me with only a few modifications from Uprisings. Here is the deck I registered;

This deck is very similar to the one I used at Origins to qualify for this tournament. I added Rift Summoner and Soul Hunter to give me some more aggression and strength against discard. I had not played many games with the deck before the tournament and that lack of preparation prevented me from seeing that this was a bad choice for the tournament.

My first match was against Spoils World Champion Hampus Erikson playing a relentless direct damage deck. I was unable to mulligan or draw into a Drain Essence or Inner peace either game and lost each within the first few turns. The last play of game two involved me failing to scrap together enough health with Heinous Feast and Unquenchable Thirst to survive one more turn for my tokens to attack for the win. 

The second round once again found me on camera as the backup match, but this time against Justin Cohen. Justin was playing the Wild Sage deck built by the Magic Pro team. I was never able to get ahead in game one and did not deal a single point of damage. The tail end of this game was on camera and showed me struggling to stay in the game. Game two was more interactive, but I was almost always behind and eventually lost. At this point I was not feeling good about my deck and my mind was not in the right place. 

Match three of constructed was against Nicolas Cuenca who was playing the same list as the now World Champion John Tatian. This was not an ideal matchup for my deck. I have few threats outside of my token generators to affect my opponent’s health total. Additionally, because my mind was not in the right place I misplayed in game one when I had Drinker of Blood and wither with 5 zombies in play and elected to attack with the final zombie rather than combo for the win. This gave Nicolas the opportunity to Second Wind and go to 15 which was enough for him to come back into the game and eventually win with Kark. Game two saw Nicolas never go below 30 at any point during the game.

I started off as one of the only two undefeated players through the limited portion of the event only to find myself unable to win a single constructed match. This was due in part to my preparation. I stuck with what I knew how to play rather than adapt and try a new deck better suited for the new environment. I had put in less practice for Constructed than most of my other competitors and that showed. I was very impressed by many of the decks competitors brought to Worlds and am excited to build and try them out for myself.

Fortunately, on Monday was a constructed qualifier for World’s 2017. What better place to get in some practice than against the best players and try to qualify for next year’s tournament. I hadn’t planned on playing in this qualifier but woke up Monday morning with the drive to play. I knew I wanted to play something different and expected to see more than a few Kark decks since the Top 8 lists were now public. In testing I had thought human tokens would be a nice way to combat Kark. The big card to play around is Ceasefire so I added Deadly Raid and Siren’s Song to try and muscle through it. The idea with Siren’s Song is you attack in a group but leave enough back to provoke a Ceasefire. Then when they ambush in one of their 0 cost champions, you take control of it with Siren’s Song. It is also an answer to Muse as there are otherwise no ways to remove it from play. Here is the deck I played to a 2-2 record in Monday’s qualifier;

I threw this together in an hour or so before the tournament began, so it is by no means a refined build. Village Protector is an interesting card, but slow and I feel the three slots are better suited to Quell or something else. Regardless of the quality of this build, I think the deck in principle is a good counter to Kark. 

Worlds was an amazing event and I am extremely fortunate to have been able to participate. It was wonderful to see everyone there and play one of my favorite games at the highest level. The staff was incredibly helpful and everything seemed to run without incident. The highlight of the tournament for me was the announcement about Epic Digital coming to Kickstarter in the next few months. I was able to try it out and it looks incredible! I can’t wait to get my hands on the Beta and play a ton of games.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, always glad to see walkthroughs of dark drafts, especially where I don't agree with all of the picks so I can see other perspectives. Rescue Griffin has been really impressing me for one.