Monday, February 25, 2019

Gloomhaven Campaign Notes, Vol. 1 (Start up, and Scenarios 1 through 3)

Looking back on 2018, it was a year where we really ramped up to a new style of game within the Fitzgerald household.  We've taken to campaign/legacy games and complex co-op games.  New house, new games I suppose!

While our original favorite series of games (Railways of the World) was sufficiently complex, it was never the "hotness" of the hobby tabletop board game community.  However, in 2018 we ramped into a lot of the Board Game Geek top 20 list and have found a lot of love in Terraforming Mars, then Viticulture, then Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (see shadowbox below, minor spoilers, made as an awesome gaming room decoration by Kelley following our completion of the campaign), then Spirit Island, and finally Gloomhaven.  As you can see, a move towards legacy games and also towards co-op games.

Yes, I took the plunge on Gloomhaven at the end of 2018 when I could get it on a deal.  And then proceeded to soak in a lot of YouTube videos, reddit threads, and the like on both organizing the behemoth of a game, and then preparing for our first plays.  Indeed, I think organizing the game was almost as much fun as preparing for the first play, but that's just me.  For reference, I went with the YASS solution using Plano boxes and a separate file folder for the map tiles, to make setup as quick and easy as possible.  Better cost-wise than investing in one of the Broken Token organizers, as I don't want to commit to doubling the cost of such an expensive game until I know it's a household classic for us.  We will also be playing with the Gloomhaven Helper app, as it cuts out over 50% of the fiddly component overhead and smooths the gameplay experience significantly, in my opinion.

Kelley initially expressed intimidation by the sheer bulk of the game components, etc. but I think it's about the same or perhaps less complex than Spirit Island, which we've both taken to really well (it doesn't help that the theme, while very Game of Thrones, does not appear to be really her thing).  So we will see how it goes.  If nothing else, I think I will play the game solo even if Kelley doesn't like it for the long term, as the puzzle-solving nature of the scenarios is a lot of fun for me.  As hobby gamers, it would be silly for us to not try the consensus number 1 game of the past 3-4 years, so we'll try it and see if it hits as well as the other complex and/or campaign games we've been enjoying.

So to the campaign.  Since this is a narrative story, I'm going to keep records of how we did to look back at later and enjoy, assuming (again) that we end up loving this game over the long haul.  Our party starts with a Cragheart named Hamilton (me) and an as-of-yet unnamed Spellweaver (Kelley).  We grab some initial items from Gloomhaven town and head out on our first mission.

Black Barrow, Scenario 1

On the road we had a chance to shoot at some birds to try and make a meal, but we opted not to waste our arrows.  Having no negative effect, we climbed down the stairs into the Barrow and faced our multiple rooms of opponents, mostly some guards and archers.  I didn't do a full on rules explanation to Kelley beforehand, so we just played with all Level 1 cards and learned as we went.  I also set the difficulty on easy (0) because this is apparently the hardest the game gets when your initial characters don't have much perks/items and you don't know what you're doing yet.  Only major rules mistake from Scenario 1 that I know of is we forgot to draw Battle Goal cards, so we didn't end up with a chance to earn some checkmarks towards perks on the character sheet.

Regardless, we handled the three rooms of the Black Barrow without too much hassle.  The Spellweaver ended up within a turn or two of running out of cards exhaustion, but it feels like that's going to be normal given the small beginning hand size of 8, even with the one card that allows her to reclaim all from the lost pile.  We made it to the end to find that our quarry was in another castle, so to speak.  We did manage to loot the treasure chest in the final room, opening up a new scenario off in the mountains that looks a bit intimidating for our starting party.

Although we kept the personal goal cards secret during the first scenario/play, after more research online it seemed that our duo would work better if we knew about each other's personal goals and quests.  Not so much to be able to predict or control character retirement, but just to help explain the motivations of the characters and give them more depth.  So we did that, Kelley is on the quest for augmenting ability cards which we obviously haven't unlocked yet.  My quest is element hunting, which requires completing a scenario in 6 different world regions on the map, so that will take Hamilton the Cragheart a while as well.

Barrow Lair, Scenario 2

For our second play, we started up by just going to the linked second scenario rather than heading back to town, as we didn't earn enough gold or XP to make any big changes yet.  We did up the difficulty to normal (level 1) based on how successful we were when on easy in the first scenario.  In this scenario, you work through an initial small room and then go into a central room with 4 other new doors leading off of it, which is also where you have your first encounter with a boss character.  His special abilities are (1) raise the dead and (2) jump around the room opening those other 4 doors, which of course have rooms with more bad guys behind them. He also had 2-3 times more health than a normal minion we've encountered so far, so this will be a grind of a fight.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

BuckeyeFitzy's Top Tabletop Games of 2016

Having become somewhat of a regular guest on The Geek All Stars podcast in 2016, I was asked to contribute a Top 11 list for board games in 2016. Like most of the contributors, I've played many games but not all the games of course. But when you have a number of different lists combined, I'm sure the end result (released around the end of January) will be pretty accurate.  For example, last year Codenames won, and I would have been fully in agreement.

For reference, the time frame used for "2016" includes all games released between Essen (largest game convention, in Germany in October each year) in 2015 and the day before Essen in 2016.  This time scale provides a fair chance to play things before the end of the year, as many Essen releases take a while to get full release in the U.S. anyway.

You won't find the Scythe type games on this list. Sorry, I just don't have the game groups to support really heavy games, no matter how hyped they are. It also explains why you will see a lot of 2 player games and games appropriate for adults and kids, as that's where the Fitzgerald household is in the year 2016.

Here's my personal list and reasoning for the Top 11 tabletop games of 2016.

Honorable Mentions: 

  • Gobbit (specifically a kid's favorite)
  • Karuba
  • Animals on Board
  • Quadropolis
  • Terraforming Mars
  • Tesla vs. Edison, Powering Up expansion
  • Pokemon Go (it's not a tabletop game, but man did it capture us in 2016)

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11. Imhotep

One of the three Spiel "game of the year" nominees in this past summer, Imhotep released in the summer conventions to a lot of hype. While it did not beat Codenames for the award, with good reason, this game has an interesting and balanced scoring system where there are multiple paths to victory. Each game plays a little differently, and the double-sided player boards give some longevity for replays. Other than a high level of "screw you" factor with anybody being able to move boats loaded with cubes to ports whether they have a cube on it or not, there's not much downside (but I understand that criticism of this one).

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Did you enjoy air hockey and knock-hockey growing up? Well I did, and this is a smaller board game version that has a lot more strategy and learning curve to it. You control your paddle with a magnetic piece under the board, and you have to try to put the ball in the opposing goal while avoiding picking up 2 of the 3 little white magnets in the center of the board. Those magnets (if one becomes attached) significantly alter your control. This game is played by kids and adults equally and will be a cherished toy/game for years to come, even if it doesn't fit the normal tabletop types of game.

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9. Junk Art

Stacking stuff games have been a big hit in our household, whether it is Animal Upon Animal, Rhino Hero, or the like. Thus, Junk Art became an easy hit as a further extension of this type of casual game. For those who want a similar experience as Rhino Hero but with more interesting pieces and a few different rule sets/games to try, this is worth the high cost associated with production of so many distinctive wooden pieces. High quality components are vital to a game like this, and Pretzel Games delivers on that promise. If only they could make a cost-effective one with pieces as big as their demo sets for conventions...!

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8. Save The Cupcake

Here's a hidden gem, unlike the previous games on the list. A limited independent game release at GenCon, this card game sold so well that it may be re-released again in 2017. I hope it is, so I can buy copies for friends and family. This two player game has a pyramid of cards leading to a set of 6-7 plates, one of which has a cupcake (hidden on the bottom side of the card), while the other player rolls 5 boulders one-by-one down the pyramid of cards to try and crush the cupcake. It's ridiculously fun for a theme, and the strategy is decent while straightforward enough for my 8 year old to understand. This is not just a kid's game, however, as it makes a good 2-player filler game for adults as well.

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7. Dr. Eureka

This is easily the best kid's game for 2016, explaining why it ranks so highly on my 2016 list. Dr. Eureka could become a bit of a classic in this genre if it hits the mass market like other games of the type over the past decade. Adults can also have fun with this game, which requires that you pour marbles from one test tube to another to match a pattern on a card flipped over each round.  The game obviously has quick rounds, but it teaches good critical thinking skills, or refines them in the case of adults. The price point is also great (about $20) for this industry where bloated prices abound.

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6. Quartz

This is probably the most controversial game in my list, but it gets this high because it has become one of the most played games for us following the 2016 summer game conventions. However, it would not be that way if I had not designed some house rules you can read about in previous posts. This is a classic press-your-luck pulling stuff out of bags game (in this case, "mining" gemstones out of a bag), with plenty of screw your neighbor cards to mix in over a few rounds of play. With fixed rules, this is a good play, but with the normal rules (most importantly, busting out on a round after only 2 bad gemstones are pulled) this is just a luck fest. At $20 or $25, this is a great bargain considering the components, but beware those normal rules in the rulebook!

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5. The Contender

Another somewhat hidden gem off Kickstarter, The Contender is right up there with Quartz for number of plays we have gotten out of a game in 2016 (AKA, a lot). This was a perfect election year release, allowing for witty presidential debate style game play based on real quotes from U.S. presidential candidates. Add in some 2016 primary cards and some politically incorrect expansion cards, and this holds its own with Cards Against Humanity. While actually having historical quotes on the bottom of the card you could learn from while having fun. Kudos to politics and podcasting nerd Justin Robert Young on a great success in his first-ever game release.

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4. Potion Explosion

One thing I love in tabletop games is innovative concepts, as things like the cube tower in Shogun/Wallenstein and deck building games (starting with Dominion) have captured my attention a lot in previous years. The next two games on this list add similar interesting components which may be used uniquely and well in one game, or maybe adopted in future game designs as well. For Potion Explosion, you are pulling potion ingredients in the form of marbles from a box with a number of angled tracks that roll the marbles down. When you pull a marble out, if the two marbles that roll into one another are the same color, you collect them as well. It feels like a real life tactile version of match-3 games like Candy Crush, and it's incredibly satisfying. Great unique idea for this game.

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3. Mystic Vale

Deck building finally found something as unique in feel as the original concept of Dominion, and that's card crafting from this AEG release. As you can see in the picture, your deck begins with empty slots in the "cards," and you can buy upgrades to slot into those sleeves and make the cards better over the course of the game. It adds a lot of depth and re-playability regardless of the numerous expansions which have already begun, as you might expect. This is a solid innovation that could be used in other games, and it will be fun to see where designers build from this framework.

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2. 7 Wonders Duel

Technically there is a two-player variant set of rules in regular 7 wonders, but it was good to see another classic of modern board game design get a true two-player rules treatment. It has worked well for other games like Bang recently, and it's even better in 7 Wonders. The empire building continues to feel the same way with three phases here, although there is some added strategy in the pyramid of cards you draft from instead of passing hands like in the original game. This is the best 2-player game of the year, and it's ironically a familiar design to many of us. I actually think this will be easier to get to the table than the original, which is really hard to pick up for first time players but more basic than most groups want to play repetitively. That won't be problem with the depth of strategy in this version.

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1. Star Trek Ascendancy

The BuckeyeFitzy game of the year, and it's not even close. That won't be a surprise to anybody who knows my passions, as two of the leading ones are Star Trek and tabletop gaming. This is the holy grail game for Star Trek fans, as Gale Force 9 once again captured the essence of an IP in a game design. This is a long play because it is a 4X game, but the magic of space exploration and building the map and empires over time works perfectly in the Trek universe. Currently only a 3 player game, although it is somewhat playable with two. Expansions with further factions are on the way, and I can't wait to play a 4 player game. In the meantime, we will thoroughly enjoy this more than the nearly 10 Trek-themed titles in my collection (most of which are just OK).

For a detailed discussion, check out The Geek All Stars podcast episode 136 from December 2016. We dive deep into this one. I bought this for too damn much money at GenCon, but the components are amazing quality and are well worth the $60 or so you can now pay for this on Amazon.

It was a solid year of new shinies for the Fitzgerald household in 2016. Plus I never have to look for a holy grail Star Trek game again, which is a huge plus. What are your top games of 2016? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The September Shot at Legend, as the Karazhan meta settles

It's been a little while since we did an article series on Hearthstone, and this month I have decided to take on a new challenge. Instead of an Arena challenge (which ironically went well below expectations, right before the Whispers of the Old Gods arena metagame hit, which turned out to be a boon for my play style with a number of 10-12 win arena runs), this time we will focus on the ladder. After all, one of the few card backs I'd like to have but don't is the legend card back.

While I used to regularly finish seasons at Ranks 4-6, when the climb was admittedly far easier, now I usually clock in somewhere between Ranks 7 and 10. However, I have not taken a serious climb towards legend since Standard format dropped with the WOTOG expansion. Hence the lower results.

Part of this decision was not wanting to grind against a format full of different flavors of Warrior decks. According to the Vicious Syndicate meta reports, Warrior reached amazing levels of 25-30% plus on the ladder during the WOTOG meta, so it seemed like you were always playing against the class.  But now, with the Karazhan expansion having been released in August/September, there are a bunch of new cards people are brewing with and a few new archetypes of decks running wild on the ladder. I may share my thoughts on some of these as we go, but for now, let's keep focused on the climb to legend.

That development of new decks has also led to the de-throning of Warrior as the dominant constructed play class, at least for now. Hunter has taken over, followed by Shaman and Druid and Mage. Hell, even variants of Priest and Rogue are seeing some play with the new Karazhan cards. This makes for an exciting time to play on ladder, as is always the case following an adventure.  Particularly if you are playing a deck like Aggro Shaman (which was really only weak to Warrior) and Zoo Warlock, both of which thrive against the new top tier of classes, the ladder is ripe for climbing.

Add to that the fact that this season does not count for HCT world championship points, and the door should be open to making the climb to legend a bit easier in September. All that being said as the reasoning for making September a challenge month, this series of articles will focus on recapping my deck decisions as I go and how the results are actually playing out. 

Tracking results and making adjustments accordingly has been the most consistent advice I have seen from others like Dils (of the angry Chicken podcast) who have made the climb.  Plus just playing a sufficient number of games, with the target being around 10-15 a day. So let's dive into the first week plus of results:

The primary classes played were an aggressive/midrange (hybrid) Shaman and a Zoo Warlock with the discard package from Karazhan (Darkshire Librarian, Melchazar's Imp, Silverware Golem, etc.).  As you can see, the initial climb from about rank 16-17 went well at first with Shaman but then leveled off around rank 14.  At this point, I audibled to Zoo, and won the first 12 or 13 games in a row as shown on September 7-8.

That was good enough to rocket right up to about rank 8 or rank 7, at which point it's been a slow and arduous back-and-forth grind again. I have gone on some 4-5 game winning streaks with these decks (the Shaman has transformed into more midrange), Yogg Token Druid, and Dragon Warrior. Unfortunately I got lazy and stopped tracking results after the 9th, so I will have to pick it back up for the final climb from rank 5 to legend, to see if that can be done in the final 2 weeks of the month.  While I feel confident with all 4 of these decks, it's a matter of feeling what the opponents are playing and then eventually going with the right counter deck.

For now, I'm back on Midrange Shaman, and the deck has rocketed me back over the weekend from a poor streak (down to Rank 6 with 1 star) back up into Rank 5 with 3-4 stars. We will pick up from here next time and see how it goes.

Am I confident I will hit legend? Not really, but I'm certainly playing the right decks to get there it seems, based on all my competition on the ladder.

Also, there's a new TACO tournament next weekend, so it's probably not a bad thing that I'm getting really good with 4 decks. The only question will be whether to swap one or two of these ladder staples out for more tournament-oriented decks. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

GenCon 2016 - Playing the New Shinies, and thoughts on House Rules

It's been a short while since I wrote to the gaming blog, but we are going to take a short break from Hearthstone (don't worry, I have plenty of new decks and thoughts to share soon thanks to Disco Karazhan). and talk about board games, one of my other passions! It's long overdue for some attention on this blog. We are coming off the high of the summer board game conventions in the Midwest, with Origins Game Fair in Columbus a couple months ago and GenCon in Indianapolis in early August.

I attend both of these shows for business purposes, as I represent some of the companies for trademark and contract-type work. I also give presentations for new and indie game designers on IP law with one of my co-workers who also may be found at the local board game bar from time to time. Not to mention the tons of networking with podcasters and other folks.  That being said, obviously we have some fun attending these shows because that's what it's all about!

However, GenCon marks the major release for most board game products in the U.S., and I become a consumer at that show most years as well. Let's take a look at this year's haul, which is much larger than normal:

That's 20 games or expansions total. Wow! Even comparing that to Origins (picture below, only missing Karuba which I had shipped to me post-show), it's a lot:

To say we have some "new shinies" and "SEALWRAP!" to enjoy in the Fitzgerald household and with our gaming groups is an understatement. However, it's been fun diving into all of these new (or new to us) titles.

Many of these games are intended for play with the three daughters, but our oldest is turning 8 this week and she is honestly able to pick up and play even many of the games we bought intending for adults to play. That being said, the various HABA games you see have been a big hit, particularly simple stuff like Unicorn Glitterluck for the two younger daughters (5.5 and 2.5), who are way into princesses and pink and unicorns and My Little Pony and on and on.

For lighter gamers, we have had an absolute blast with all of the Spiel award nominees for 2016 (most prestigious game of the year award in the industry): Imhotep, Karuba, and Codenames. The new Codenames Pictures adds a very interesting element to the game when comparing it to the normal version with words, but both are fun. Hell, with that innovative design, you could play with Cards Against Humanity cards and still have a good time. There is a black box adult version of Codenames available now from Czech Games as well, FWIW.

I've more than doubled my Star Trek theme game collection thanks to the GenCon acquisitions, with many new titles being released on or around the 50th anniversary in 2016. The best of these for capturing the essence of Star Trek is definitely Ascendancy, but I should save my detailed thoughts on that for a future entry. It's been an absolute blast playing Star Trek Risk and other co-op games with Paige, our oldest. She is just as much into Star Trek as I am, and risk is a game you just have to pass down from generation to generation, even though it's not the best game design. For more of my thoughts on Star Trek games, check out my Character Insight segments from August which played on the This Week in Trek podcast:


The other topic I want to briefly discuss today is the importance of using House Rules. Certainly game designers try their best to make games as good as possible, but there are times when the rules just are not ideal, or not ideal for certain player counts. I've run into this issue a few times while playing the new games from the summer conventions.

For example, simplifying games for use with kids can make for a game that hits the table far more frequently than it would otherwise. The missing rules can be added back in as the children grow more comfortable with the game and more adept as gamers.

Star Trek Risk has a basic rule set without the event cards and quests and crew member abilities which basically turns it into generic Risk. The difference between that and the full game with all of those features was a jump too high for Paige. Thus, I have experimented with adding one or two of these advanced rules at a time, and the result has been a fun and varied experience. We are getting different experiences from a single game, AKA more bang for the buck as we go. Legacy Games aren't the only games that can provide this!

Another game in this line is Potion Explosion, which has a very simple but fun tactile mechanic of pulling marbles from a box containing multiple rows of marbles to complete recipes for potions. Depending on the type of potion, they all give a special one-time use effect after you complete them. By simply removing this rule as an introductory version via House Rules for kids or teaching the game, the game is playable by even our middle child. It's still very fun as well!  I encourage those with kids to experiment with House Rules or removing rules to bring complexity levels down so you can play some of your favorite tabletop games for many more years as your kids grow up and hopefully become game enthusiasts themselves. I can't think of many better ways to spend quality time with the littles.

The final example I will give for today is Quartz (I have House Rules for Star Trek Ascendancy working as well but again, that's a discussion for its own post), which is identified as a press-your-luck type of game with "take that" player interactions with cards you can play against your other players. The basic game play is pulling gem stones out of a bag, which is again a fun tactile experience, and hoping to collect valuable colors of gems rather than black gems called Obsidian. In the rules as written in the rule book, you play 5 rounds of this and you "bust out" and get no points if you ever pull or get given (via the cards) a second Obsidian.

In my view, this leads to games which tend to be a bit too long for the type of experience being offered, and it also leads to player elimination feeling really bad when your first two gems are Obsidian and then you get to watch everyone else play, sometimes for a long time before you get back in during the next round. The game tries to temper this problem by giving you a token when you bust out for one-time use on a future day where you can remove an Obsidian instantly, such as when you would get a second, to save you that round. That does not seem like enough to solve this problem.

Thus, I developed House Rules for Quartz where you play 4 rounds instead of 5, and you bust out only when you get a third Obsidian. At least for 2 and 3 player games (2 player is not anticipated by the game but we've found it to work with another optional rule allowing the last player in the mine for the day to mine up to 4 more crystals), this has been brilliant because it actually captures the feel of other press-your-luck type games while slightly diminishing the mean aspects of the game where the "take that" cards can repeatedly bust someone out quickly in consecutive rounds. While this may not work as well for 4 and 5 players due to a limited number of Obsidian being in the gem bag (I'd still recommend 4 rounds as that's enough to have a full game experience), the change has totally revamped Quartz into a game that will see the table a lot in our family.

UPDATE: Have played with 4 with these house rules, and the only change I would recommend is to remove the tokens you get for busting out.  Those tend to be too powerful and make rounds go too long when you are not busting out at 2 Obsidian.  This may also be correct in the 2 or 3 player version of the house rule game as well.

Put simply, don't be afraid to experiment with House Rules. Sure, you have to sometimes be creative like a game designer, but it can make your game collection far more versatile and enjoyable. Until next time, happy gaming.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Beauty of Legacy: my report from Grand Prix Columbus 2016

It's been a good long forever since I reported on Magic: the Gathering, and there's good reason for it. Even back when I summarized my second-ever Legacy format Grand Prix in 2012 and a couple other events, there were still two or three events a year which I would attend. Not so anymore!

Thanks to a streak of bad timing for local tournaments and being busy with the kids and the job (plus finding my competitive outlet in Hearthstone over the same time period), I actually went my longest break between tournaments before this past weekend. It did not help that the last couple Legacy Grand Prix tournaments were too far away in New Jersey and Seattle/Tacoma. I had not played a sanctioned game of Magic since late 2014! Who would have thought I would go an entire calendar year without even a single weekend of "official" Magic?*

* To be fair, there were a couple weekends of Commander/EDH with the guys mixed in during this gap, but no sanctioned Magic.

Needless to say, I was a bit rusty even in my beloved Legacy format.

But with a Grand Prix coming to old Columbus town, I had to jump back in. Just like my last report, I'm still on Elves, albeit a much more refined version four years later. This is a relatively similar list to the one I took to Day 2 of Grand Prix Washington DC in late 2013, the most recent Grand Prix I played in:

As a reminder, despite not being able to make any Day 2 of a Grand Prix back when I and my group of friends played regularly and competitively, my record in Grand Prix in Legacy is pretty solid. Would I be able to match this success and cash again like GP Columbus 2010?

  • 2010 GP Columbus - Played Belcher, finished 12-4 (35th)
  • 2012 GP Indianapolis - Played Elves, finished 4-4 (660th)
  • 2013 GP Washington DC - Played Elves, finished 9-6 after 9-2 start (185th)
  • 2016 GP Columbus - ???
I made some choices to prepare for what I believed to be the better decks in Legacy like U/W Miracles and attrition decks like Delver and Shardless Sultai. Although I did not choose to run Choke in the SB (seriously thought about it), the main deck Sylvan Library was in there to improve my matchup against these blue style decks. Plus even without my usual Karakas in the SB, I still ran Crop Rotation to help dig out Cavern of Souls if needed. 

Without spoiling the next few paragraphs, the wide variance you can see in tournaments with 2000 players would make those decisions totally irrelevant. But let's look in detail at the games, and a conclusion I came to on the day overall, which makes me love Legacy even more than before. 

Round 1 vs. Bryan (Elves)
So many players in a Grand Prix, and you bring a somewhat under-the-radar deck...and hello mirror match in the opening match. Go figure. Although Sylvan Library was not in the deck for the mirror, it definitely won Game 1 because after Bryan races out to a good start with Deathrite Shaman etc., I am able to take two extra cards on the turn before he is going to likely win and combo out myself for victory via Craterhoof. Game two, Bryan again has a much better start with DRS while I do not, and he runs me over easily. 

Game three, I again struggle without a DRS but I have enough to force a double Glimpse of Nature combo turn right before he will likely kill me. However, my draws were super awkward during the combo, not finding Nettle Sentinels or the other key cards to keep the combo going. I end up needing to stop about 50% through the deck with two Cabal Therapy casts to try and rip apart Bryan's five card hand. Obviously I name Natural Order first, but that comes up blank. His hand is two lands with one Gaea's Cradle, a Craterhoof, a Heritage Druid, and a Green Sun's Zenith. He had four creature already on board, so there was no stopping the mana to cast Hoof or GSZ, and I went into the tank to think it over for quite some time. I finally decided to make him spend one more mana for GSZ, although I appeared to still be dead on board because of the trample damage coming. Predictably, Bryan casts GSZ for 8 and goes through his deck...and then he goes through again with a confused look on his face...could it be? Indeed, he had sided out his second Craterhoof and had to put a Xantid Swarm in play instead. Best nine mana GSZ ever, right? So my opponent mis-sideboards and that allows me to luck into the correct Cabal Therapy play to win. Mistakes are punished in Legacy. 
(1-0) (2-1 games)

Round 2 vs. Anson (Eldrazi)
My opponent wins the die roll and goes Ancient Tomb, Chalice of the Void for 1. Considering I had 5 1-mana cards in my hand, that's pretty much all she wrote in that game. Anson did not have the same luck in game 2, and I won with a Natural Order Craterhoof turn a few turns into the game. Game 3 Anson is going first again and he of course has the Chalice for 1 on turn 1, followed by a creature and an Umezawa's Jitte on turn 2. Elves just can't beat that, going second (not drawing any Abrupt Decay was painful, but one would not have been enough). Although I was pretty unprepared for Eldrazi as a new contender in Legacy, this is similar to the type of auto-losses you could sometimes take to the MUD deck also. Moving on. 
(1-1) (3-3 games)

Round 3 vs. Greg (Belcher)
Greg goes on the double mulligan game 1, which probably puts him on combo. My suspicion was correct as he still comes out of the gate on the draw with a turn 1 combo out for 14 goblin tokens. That gives me until Turn 3 to win, and I'm able to do just that with a good Glimpse draw leading to a Natural Order finish. Game 2 he went off quickly and my disruption package did not show up. For Game 3, I decided to try for consistency and took out the Cabal Therapy package. Despite being an expert with both these decks, I still made this questionable decision. That was punished when I overextended one extra creature into his slow play of Burning Wish for Pyroclasm, and I did not have the backup of discard spells to decimate the rest of his hand. About 3 or 4 turns later, I was Belcher'd out on the turn before I was going to win with Natural Order. But had I held back one of the creatures which died to the Pyroclasm or kept the discard in, I probably win this game easily. I certainly should win any game where Elves goes first and Belcher can't go off until about turn 8. Once again, mistakes are punished in Legacy.
(1-2) (4-5 games)

Round 4 vs. Joshua (Burn)
At this point when I see a Blue-red fetch land on turn 1 of game 1, I figure this is finally when I get to play against a blue-base deck (which seems to make up 70%+ of the format, maybe even more, thanks to the power of Brainstorm and Force of Will). Nope. He searched out a basic mountain and brought out the Goblin Guide. I won the game at 16 life, so it clearly went well and quickly. In game 2, he was able to combine a Sulfuric Vortex and an Eidolon of the Great Revel to stack enough damage for me to come back from. However, game 3 was your typical tight affair where Elves goes first and has just enough to win the game at single digit life just before losing to the likes of Vortex and burn spells. This guy was very salty about how the final game went down, but he also was recovering from throat surgery and so it was a strange muted type of salty response. It was interesting to say the least, but back on the winning side is a good thing. 
(2-2) (6-6 games)

Round 5 vs. Vincent (Burn)
Apparently islands just aren't a thing in this format anymore, as I find yet another opponent not on the Brainstorm plan. That's just fine with me, as this pleasant fellow from Cincinnati would share the same fate as the previous burn opponent, albeit in a different way. Game 1 was just as easy as the previous round, with me winning on 11 life thanks to the usual combo powered by Natural Order. Game 2 was a great one, probably the best game since Round 1 as far as entertainment value. He comes in with a couple of burn spells, an Eidolon, a Sulfuric Vortex, and then a Pyrostatic Pillar as well. Overkill much?

When he played the Pillar, I had five creatures, most of which were tapped from attacking: Dryad Arbor, a Quirion Ranger, two other 1/1 creatures, and a Nettle Sentinel, and I sat on 5 life. He was at 6 life with the 2/2 Eidolon left untapped to play defense. Dropping to 3 life on the upkeep thanks to Vortex, I could not play any of my green creatures to untap the Nettle Sentinel because of Pillar/Eidolon, and I did not have a GSZ or Natural Order to get around the damage to finish the job. Thus, I am forced to swing in with the four 1/1 creatures, one of which gets blocked. Opponent drops to 3. I then use the Quirion Ranger to return Dryad arbor to the hand and replay it as a potential blocker. Vincent drops to 1 on his upkeep, he can't attack through my blocker, and his own Pillar and Eidolon stop him from casting the Lightning Bolt that could have won him the game. Essentially, he could have won if he had not played the Pillar (total of 4 saved damage, 2 from Pillar when Bolt is cast and 2 from Eidolon when Pillar was cast). The theme rings true, mistakes (even small ones) are punished heavily in Legacy. It was nice to not play game 3 as well for the first time all day.
(3-2) (8-6 games)

Round 6 vs. Neeraj (R/G Lands)
You'd think playing Legacy you'd run into a deck with Islands, and especially a deck chock full of all kinds of lands, but not so. Game 1 was relatively short as I combo'd him in quick fashion without a Glacial Chasm there to stop me. Likewise, Game 2 was a quick affair thanks to his combo finish, which is Thespian's Stage copying Dark Depths for an immediate 20/20 flying Merit Lage. I had sided in Scavenging Ooze to combat a slow grindy Loam game, but seeing this plus Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in game 2 made me sideboard it out for something else in Game 3, trying to add consistency and speed to the deck when going first. That is a massive mistake, as Neeraj relied on Glacial Chasm game 3 to hold my lethal damage at bay while he abused Life from the Loam to eventually assemble the 20/20 Merit Lage on the turn before he would have to sacrifice Chasm. I did resolve a green Sun's Zenith in the middle of this process for 2, and instead of getting the Ooze which would have dealt with Life from the Loam, or at a minimum, gained sufficient life to survive one attack from Merit Lage (which was all I needed to do to win with Chasm off the board), I had to go get another creature with the Ooze in the sideboard. Yet another example of how small misplays even in sideboarding get punished in Legacy. This also was a nice capstone to mirror my benefit from another Elves player mis-sideboarding in Round 1.
(3-3) (9-8 games)

The primary lesson, if it was not clear, is that playing clean in Legacy is vital to doing well in tournaments like this. I still firmly believe that a good pilot of nearly any deck can do very well so long as they understand the match ups and play flawlessly. It is so easy to make mistakes, especially with cards like Brainstorm, and you can take advantage of the high amount of mistakes other people make with their own decks.

I could've continued playing and may have made Day 2 at 6-3, but I had no interest in continuing with my mediocre level of play based on what was obviously the lesson of the day. Plus, how often can you tell a story in Legacy where you played SIX ROUNDS and you literally see ZERO islands, Brainstorm, or Force of Will? Unbelievable.

Maybe I should've been on Belcher like the GP in Columbus 6 years ago. I did loan that same deck to a friend Mike and he finished up 2-3 with it, ironically losing to Belcher in round 3 at the same time that I did. The People's Cannon is dangerous, but still worthwhile to play as a good time. Plus we got to grab dinner at a local German pub and played a couple of games of 1-on-1 Commander, which was a good time. That, plus going home to sleep in your own bed, was more than worth whatever satisfaction I would have gotten from trying to grind to 6-3 and/or play Day 2.

My only other major takeaway from the weekend was that Elves had a poor weekend overall, placing exactly zero copies in the Top 32 of both GP Prague and GP Columbus. Miracles is all over the place, followed by Delver and Shardless Sultai variants, and a little Death and Taxes, Storm, etc. thrown in. Interestingly, even though Infect won the Columbus GP, it looks like it only placed 2 or 3 total copies in the Top 32's of both Grand Prix combined. I think Elves is on a similar level as Infect, and probably should have seen similar results.

Bottom Line - I remain faithful that a properly tech-ed Elves (such as with Sylvan Library in the main deck and Choke perhaps in the sideboard) can do well in this Legacy format. That being said, if I wanted to burn $1,500...collecting the rest of Miracles (cost would be mostly dual lands and Jaces) and/or the rest of R/G Lands (cost would be Tabernacle, mostly) would also be a fun time. But that's not happening anytime soon with how infrequently I go to tournaments, so GO GO ELVEN TRIBE.

Also, I wonder if Divining Top eventually gets banned. If Miracles continues to be a clear best deck in the format, the slow play caused by that card may end up getting it on the radar for the ban team. For now I suspect it is safe, but when you see 50% of a Top 8 and Top 32 be one deck in a format as wide and diverse as Legacy (evidence - see my list of unexpected matchups over 6 rounds), that could signal a problem moving forward.

Monday, May 16, 2016

TACO Spring 2016 Results

TACO Spring is now finished, and it was a good time. Congratulations go out to the winner Brewdon, who took down the title on Sunday evening in The Angry Chicken's live stream.

How did Three Gods and a Miracle finish, you ask? About as predicted.

Overall, the finish was 1-1 without any byes. There were about 100 players, so quite a few byes were out there. But my first round opponent was in above his head a little bit, so it made no difference in the end. Let's take a look at the specific results.

Round 1 vs. Deefoz (Shaman, Paladin, Mage, Priest)
  • He banned Hunter (wow), I banned Shaman
  • Game 1: my Miracle Rogue def. his Tempo Mage
  • Game 2: my N'Zoth Priest def. his Control Paladin
  • Game 3: my Reno/C'Thun Warlock def. his Tempo Mage
There were some significant misplays, especially in the Priest/Paladin game where those little errors add up over the long game. His Mage came out like a champ against Miracle Rogue but it just did not matter, which is testament to the strength of that Miracle deck. The other two games were always way in my control, as evidenced by the following screenshots.

You know what's fun? Getting to play both Ragnaros Lightlord and Uther in Priest. True story.

For style points, I decided to let C'Thun finish the job against Mage in game three, since I was not able to play Yogg or N'Zoth in the other games.

Round 2 vs. KEnODvT (Priest, Shaman, Paladin, Hunter)
  • He banned Rogue, I banned Shaman
  • Game 1: his Midrange Hunter def. my N'Zoth Priest
  • Game 2: his Control Priest def. my Reno/C'Thun Warlock
  • Game 3: my Yogg & Load Hunter def. his N'Zoth Paladin
  • Game 4: his N'Zoth Paladin def. my N'Zoth Priest
I should've taken some screenshots (opponent had mostly gold decks too), but these matches were so close and so long that I was too focused in the moment to provide those. All four games were competitive, but the last three were truly epic. Worth recapping as I have below:

Game 1 came down to him having Call of the Wild on Turn 8 and 10, which exhausted my resources just before I had turned the game around and put it under control. That's how Hunter vs. Priest goes sometimes.

Game 2 he played an early Justicar Trueheart, which was going to make it difficult for me to play the long game against him. So even though I was still in the mid-20's after drawing a few extra cards with the Hero Power, I went ahead and played Turn 9 Jaraxxus since I had two big taunt minions on board. One of these was a 4/6 Brann Bronzebeard, and I'd never seen Jaraxxus go off twice before (it was very weird).

On the next turn, my taunts were gone and I had to clear a Wild Pyromancer with my attack power, putting me at 12. Although the opponent had quite a few cards in hand, I was set to win with C'Thun the next turn...and despite having 16-17 cards left in his deck, he played Auchenai Soulpriest, double Flash Heal, Hero Power for 14 damage to my face. Cute, an unintentional combo Priest. That was frustrating as all hell, but I forced him to have a very specific set of cards as his only out and he had it.

Game 3 I though about holding Hunter back, but then decided, I'm here for fun and I'd hate to never get a chance to play the deck after it was banned Round 1. YOLO Yogg was in effect! I was able to apply some pressure to the N'Zoth Paladin and played through one fairly good Lock and Load turn as well. Eventually he built up a board that was going to be lethal soon, so I had to go all in on Yogg with about 12-14 spells played. It turned out beautifully, as I ended up with a 10/4 divine shield Yogg and a 4/2 divine shield Savannah Highmane (long story) with him on 14 life. He responded with a N'Zoth which pulled Sylvanas and Uther. I didn't have any burn left in hand, so I played tracking and had to rely on the fates of RNG with Deadly Shot. It cleared Uther (because of course it would) and I stomped to victory. Maybe not well-earned, but the opponent and I were laughing all the same.

Game 4 was your standard N'Zoth Priest vs. N'Zoth Paladin long grind fest. I pulled terribly on my Shades (Humility and Aldor Peacekeeper...ugh) and eventually had to go in on N'Zoth despite knowing he still likely had one board clear left. Golden Monkey followed that to try and win with legendaries over his board presence (double minion hero power nearly all game thanks to another early Justicar), but my pulls were less than ideal. I was not able to draw well with Shades, and my big removal spells did not come at the right times (most were buried deep in the deck).  He was able to Forbidden Healing out of range and I lost to fatigue damage and his continual board presence.

And, that's that. The opponent went on to lose the next round, breaking the streak of me losing to a Top 4 finisher in every TACO tournament. Oh well.

So another relatively early exit. But it was a lot of fun, and each of the decks got to win a game thanks to the YOLO Yogg game in the second round working out for me. That's satisfying, and I know but for a bit of bad luck these decks were way more solid than I initially gave them credit for.

They will be fun to continue to play on ladder as well, so I've posted screenshots below for those who want to join the fun.

Finally, let's check in on my predictions. Thanks to Battlefy, lots of statistics were available to us to see how my bigger-scale predictions panned out:
  • I will ban Shaman in every round - CORRECT (2 of 2 rounds) (Shaman was the most banned class in the tournament too)
  • Warlock will be the class banned most often by my opponents - WRONG (0 of 2 rounds)
  • Hunter will be least played, Shaman will be most played - CORRECT (Druid and Hunter were least played, Shaman was most followed by Warlock)
  • The tournament winner will have N'Zoth Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and Shaman as three of their decks - WRONG (Brewdon had Warlock, Priest, Shaman, Druid)
  • I will go 1-1, and a bad Yogg-Saron turn will be my undoing - MOSTLY CORRECT (My YOLO Yogg actually worked, but I still ended up 1-1)
Not too bad on the predictions front. On to the next one!  Enjoy the Whispers meta everyone.

Decklist Screenshots:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Preparing for TACO Spring 2016: Developing a Fun Themed Deck Line-up

It's been a ridiculously fun 2+ weeks in Arena and Constructed following the release of Whispers of the Old Gods in Hearthstone, as everyone explores crazy combinations of cards and new types of decks. That makes it a perfect time for the latest in the seasonal (quarterly) open tournaments hosted by The Angry Chicken podcast (also known as TACO).

Despite playing a lot of Hearthstone, these are the only tournaments I have played in thus far. They tend to be highly enjoyable because the community of podcast listeners fills up most of the slots in a 128-person single elimination bracket, and this particular community tends to be very nice to each other. While there's certainly competitive play, it's all done in the spirit of fun (and the stakes of a couple gift cards and a custom engraved pint glass are not causing people to go all serious mode).

I've had the pleasure of playing in three of these tournaments so far, and I've tried to be competitive in all of these. The results have been mixed:
  • TACO Spring 2015 (0-1) (Control Warrior, Combo Druid, Handlock) - lost to a semifinal player
  • TACO Fall 2015 (1-1) (Patron Warrior, Dragon Priest, Mech Mage) - lost to the eventual champion
  • TACO Winter 2016 (4-1) (Freeze Mage, Aggro Shaman, and my brew Dragon Hunter) - lost to a semifinal player
Despite being knocked out early in two out of three, I have always been taken out by one of the Top 4 players in the tournament. Plus, playing in the Conquest format has provided the opportunity to play a lot of different decks as competitive, which is a fun challenge when you don't do it frequently.

So with the new expansion comes new rules for TACO: the Standard format will be used (of course), and now a ban is included each round so you must bring FOUR classes to the Conquest format. Just like with Heroes of the Storm, I believe bans make for more interesting strategy and variety in a tournament like this.

However, figuring out what Standard format decks to bring, let alone four of them, has proven to be an exceedingly difficult challenge. Hell, there's only been one or two "meta reports" on the major websites and the format is far from settled. Things like C'Thun Druid is all the rage one week, and then mostly done the next week. Competitive tournaments have seen a wide mix of decks and classes as well, as evidenced by Dreamhack Austin last week and the European Spring Preliminaries this week. Here's a table put together by GosuGamers for the spread of decks in the ESP:

Following my enjoyment of Arena and the 12-win Paladin run which came off the heels of my failed April Arena challenge (see previous posts), I buckled down this week to figure out which of the nine classes would become my four decks. I again figured let's play competitively because an experienced CCG player like me should be able to have a huge edge on a field full of players still brewing up decks rather than playing established "meta decks."

However, as the week wore on, I could not seem to identify decks which hit the sweet spot of (a) being fun to play, and (b) having a high winrate. I started the week set on a line-up of C'Thun Druid, Tempo Yogg Mage, Aggro or Midrange Shaman, and Zoo Warlock. But my luck with Mage and especially Druid quickly soured, and then the Dreamhack results and deck lists came out. All of a sudden, I'm experimenting with new decks like Tempo Warrior, N'Zoth Control Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and the like, all of which are being played a ton on ladder to go with Zoo and Shaman decks.

Having decided that I could not make a decision, I tried listing my best deck in each class in order and running a random number generator to pick 4 classes. I let the line-up it selected settle in my head for a day or so before coming to the realization I just was not going to be happy with it. Or really, with trying to be competitive in this unsettled format. Trying hard and failing would be exceptionally was I to do?

Then the light bulb went on.

Have fun.

Not just any fun, but epic fun.

Play a theme roster of decks which are fun to play and at least somewhat competitive, and see what happens. That was my attitude with my pet deck Dragon Hunter last time (albeit with much more time and refinement put in to that deck to be competitive in a well-established Wild Format), and it worked out fine. Worst case scenario, I go 0-1 and have fun playing these decks doing it. Seems like a great plan.

After some more thinking and brewing, I came up with a roster and then started refining it. The roster was formulated by wanting to play each of the three Old Gods which I have opened and brewed with (C'thun, Yogg-Saron, and N'Zoth) and one of the classes which I have not played in a TACO yet (Paladin or Rogue).

The latter decision was easy because N'Zoth Paladin, while very strong, is the only viable deck in Paladin right now and too predictable. I'll save that for trying hard on the ladder. Which left me with Rogue, a class I had single digit wins with in ranked until this week.

But then the theme for the "have fun" deck line-up became obvious thanks to the Rogue deck I've had the most luck with:

Three Gods and a Miracle
  • C'Thun Reno Warlock
  • Yogg & Load Hunter
  • N'Zoth Control Priest
  • Miracle Rogue
Picking fun decks a little off the well-beaten path, we have three decks centered on Old Gods and a fourth on "Miracles."  None of which I've played in a tournament before (that seems to be a trend, as I keep brining totally new decks every season as shown by the list above).

Playing off an old movie title, we have quite a little religious fun theme this time. Plus, many of these decks are not the type of things opponents will be very prepared for, considering the rise of Warrior decks, Shaman decks, Zoo Warlock, and N'Zoth Paladin. Who knows, maybe this fun combination will go farther than one or two rounds this weekend.

I'll share results and deck lists in my next post, as well as results of some fun predictions below, but a little over a day of testing and refining the four decks has lifted my ladder rank a couple rungs and has revealed some strengths and weaknesses. Of the most popular classes, I feel most confident against Warriors of all varieties and least confident against Shaman (followed closely by Zoo Warlock), AKA, the decks which build and maintain strong board presence better than all others right now.

Based on that, here's my predictions for the tournament, with a focus on both bans and results since I have not participated in a four deck Conquest format tournament with bans ever before.
  • I will ban Shaman every round that I play in TACO Spring 2016, because my line-up is super weak to that class and I expect almost everyone will bring it.
  • Warlock will be the class primarily banned by my opponents in the Three Gods and a Miracle line-up, as they will suspect Zoo (for similar reasons, if I play more than 2 rounds I'd expect a ban to be thrown at Rogue once or twice as well).
  • Hunter will be the least played class of TACO Spring 2016, while Shaman will be the most played class.
  • The tournament winner will have N'Zoth Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and Shaman as three of their decks.
  • I will go 1-1, and a bad Yogg-Saron turn will be my undoing (Pyroblast to the face, anyone?).
The prep is over.

Let's go have some epic fun! TACO hype!