Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Metagame - Choose Your Weapons Wisely

Not all games are created equal.

Some - chess, for example, start both players off on an even keel and the only real advantage to be gained that is not down to pure player skill is winning the toss to go first. The fist-fight of games.

Others, like, say, Monopoly (a game I personally hate) does just the same, only introduces several random elements such as dice rolls and Community Chest cards to effectively throw a spanner in the works at any point during the game. The Russian Roulette of games.

And then there's the trading card game. A style of game where you have literally millions of different configurations of cards to choose from, and you configure them to your tastes. The duel to the death of games. Choose your weapon wisely.


In a trading card game, there is no such thing as a 'best deck'. If such a thing existed then there would be little reason to play anything else, and the game would become remarkably stale very quickly, as every time you go to play the game you will always play the same deck, against the same deck.

As it stands, every deck has its foil. Let's say you go to a tournament, and 50% of the tournament are playing a particular type of deck. Let's call this "Rock". You go to the next tournament, and more people have picked up that Rock is really good, and so now 80% of the field are playing it.

Now you have a brainwave. Rock is very vulnerable to certain cards, so you throw them into a deck and give it a name - how about "Paper"? The next tournament comes along and 88% of the field are playing Rock, and now you are playing your super secret deck that walks all over Rock. You are at a natural advantage in this position.

The next tournament comes around, and 75% of the field are playing Paper, but someone has come along with a new concoction that beats your all-conquering Paper deck - and they called it "Scissors".

You get the idea. This is a basic implementation of a metagame - choosing your weapon based on what you expect everyone else to choose. Bringing a gun to a knife fight.

In reality, the metagame is not so simple. One day someone will show up with "Geyser" - a deck that turns Paper all mushy, rusts Scissors shut and will slowly weather Rock down, and then the cycle begins all over again, and the metagame diversifies, and the need for more elaborate metaphors increases which is why I'm going to stop them here...
The leaning tower of Geysir. Beats Death Wish apparently

I'm writing this now due to what turned out to be a poor metagame call on my part for the latest tournament I attended. A few months back I attended the Zapped Giants Open, and having had a lack of inspiration for what to play, simply took the fastest deck I could get my hands on - and it turned out to perform amazingly, netting me my first Top 8 finish in a large tournament. In the Top 8 I was roundly beaten, largely by one card that effectively shut large parts of my deck off. [Extract of Necromantic Power]

A couple of months later I took the same deck to the UK Realm Championships, having made a few tweaks to the deck to combat the very situation I found myself in at that previous tournament. [added 2 Talisman of the Horde] This is an example of metagaming, also commonly referred to as 'Teching' - making concessions in your deck to help with a specific matchup as you expect it to be present at the tournament you are visiting.

Even then, at this point if I face my 'bogey deck' I am at an instant disadvantage, but cannot make too many concessions to it as this will make my deck worse against the other decks in the field which I am traditionally strong against. [My only real option was to replace one or two of Broderick, Onnekra, Rosalyne and Bloodsoul with otherwise worse cards like Scout Omerrta and Gartok Skullsplitter (who isn't completely terrible to be fair)]

Just yesterday I took the same deck to Manchester for a tournament, hoping that by now, everyone would be bored of the deck that beats me and I would be able to steamroller the field once again. Unfortunately the deck I hate was out in force, I faced three of them and lost to two of them and finished in a rather rotten 22nd place as a result.

At this point I am playing Paper in a field full of Scissors and Geyser (yeah, I know) and no amount of player skill is going to change the fact that I'm going to have a tough time - and that's exactly why the metagame is so important. Choosing your weapon wisely can give you an instant advantage before you even play a card.


Where things get complicated is when you get involved with smaller and larger metagames. If you play in a playgroup, you will have a regular set of people to play against - and they make up the fabric of your local metagame. At our local playgroup, everyone loves Death Knights, but very few of them play the card I struggle with. This is part of the reason I was so soundly beaten by it the first time I encountered it!

A small metagame works in a similar manner to a larger metagame, but the tweaks you make to do your deck do not necessarily do so - if you have a group of 8 and you build your deck to beat everyone else's deck in your local metagame, you may not find that your deck is strong against a different group of people. This is an easy trap to fall into when deckbuilding - it's easy to find an answer card for a specific situation but if your deck is full of answer cards for specific situations that you don't come up against due to playing against different people then you will struggle somewhat.

Knowing how to wield your weapon is tough. Choosing the right weapon is just as difficult.


A perfect example of the requirement to pay attention to the metagame has happened recently at the 2011 North American Continental Championships (NACC) - Tim Batow and some friends have come up with a fantastic concoction of a combo deck which they've simply dubbed "Bunny Deck". For this reason alone I am interested (my wife and I keep two rabbits and so anything bunny-related is automatically awesome).

Insert obvious Walrus joke here
The deck has made quite a splash with one pilot in the NACC top 8 and two more in 9th and 11th overall, only losing out on tiebreakers. To sum the deck up, the deck contains 40 quests, most of which cycle through the deck looking for particular things, and most of which cost 1. The deck also contains ten mounts - so most of those one-cost quests can be completed for free. The engine is provided by Unending Breath, which lets you play with the top card of your deck revealed, and quests can be completed off the top of the deck; the kill comes from Krazal the Eggregator, who every time he is revealed from the deck, creates a 1/1 Bunny Ally Token. Once enough have been amassed on the field, Turane Soulpact (the deck's hero) flips, hurls them all at the opposing hero, and they die in a literal hail of bunny. This usually happens on Turn 4.

This deck is very likely to be popular at the upcoming European Continental Championships (EUCC) - so the questions you have to ask yourself are:

- How much of the field will be playing Bunny Deck?
- Can my deck beat Bunny Deck?
- If my deck can't beat Bunny Deck, how much do I want to change for the sole purpose of enabling me to beat Bunny Deck, at the expense of potentially making my deck worse against other, 'normal' decks?
- Should I play something else entirely due to the presence of Bunny Deck?

Welcome to the metagame.


Also, I hate Monopoly.

Thanks to Tyma and co from the ZG Podcast for the Rock/Paper/Scissors analogy - first time I'd heard it described like that and it makes perfect sense.

Zapped Giants Open 2 Part II or something [18/06/2011]

I am very tired. It still strikes me as odd that a day of sitting on your arse throwing cardboard around is so mentally draining.

After the success in the Ultimate Peon event two weeks ago, things went a bit awry. I started testing Zaritha using the Leggings of the Tireless Sentry with mixed results - most notably I was running out of cards far too often. I picked up a separate list without the leggings which fared a little better, sleeved it up and arranged to borrow the remaining cards I needed from my playgroup on the Wednesday before the event while at our Battlegrounds.

Tuesday night we find out the store is not opening on Wednesday. I have no more time to test and a deck missing some of the most important cards with no real way of getting hold of them, so I sleeve up ol' faithful [Witch Doctor Koo'zar] instead and cross my fingers that everyone will be bored of Death Knight after the humping it's been giving me recently.
I don't have these :(

To cut a long story short, we had a turnout of 33, played seven rounds, and three of those were Death Knights.

Round 1: vs Damio playing Erondra Frostmoon

Luckily for me Damio led off with no Extract, so I went fast and dropped angry guys. If you don't know what the deck does by now, have a read of the previous Zapped Giants Open entry, or the Realm Champs one. [1-0]

Round 2: vs Duncan Tang playing Paladin Lava Dredger

I've not really tested Koo'zar against Paladin simply due to the difficulty in finding anyone playing one to test against! I was initially unsure as to what his deck did but as soon as he played a T1 Pirate Bob Machine I twigged, and simply vomited my opening hand onto the table including a wonderful turn 4 Flameblade -> Flip -> Enforcer -> Babagahnoosh which all but sealed the deal. 

The deck revolves around Repurposed Lava Dredger and about a billion stash cards - it's a cheeky way of accelerating yourself into an early Ysera and then hopefully a way of actually winning the game, which judging by the friendly we had afterwards, is easier said than done! [2-0]

Round 3: vs Will Booker playing Zaritha

This is my favourite matchup! Honest. It's one of those unfortunate matches where I can have the Best Hand, but if the Zaritha player has the Best Hand too then theirs beats mine and I get salty.

I opened with a Cairne Token and a one-drop, Will opened with A Question of Gluttony; I dropped a Shadowfiend, clattered in and left the resource open to play the Shadow Word: Anguish I had in hand, and Will followed with another Question; after drawing a stack of cards, he followed with a third Question (if I recall correctly), then I went ahead with my third turn, planning to leave a resource open as always for the Mikael that was surely going to join the board shortly, but either I screwed up and played stuff in the wrong order or something but I got caught out with no ready resources, my board Mikael'd to death and then a Voice of Reason entered play and that was basically it. [2-1]

Round 4: vs Chris playing Erondra

Another Death Knight! Erondra is probably the worst of the lot - Grumdur is a nightmare, her flip is a nightmare and the Extract is a nightmare. I think I did about eight damage in the face of double Grumdur and extract. [2-2]

Round 5: vs Stevie playing Death Wish

This was probably my favourite game of the day simply due to all the faces Stevie pulled during the course of the match. I had a great hand and got to work, winning the dice roll - his T1 was a quest, his T2 was a facedown resource, and then instead of doing anything proactive he completed A Rare Bean. "If I don't hit with this I've lost" he told me, calling Rare and hitting Tanks for Everything, Dalaran along with a set of Greaves. At this point he tells me he has eight cards in hand, so discards a Hailstorm, killing my Cairne Token, Broderick and Ruby Flameblade.

I have the turn three to end all turn threes - another Flameblade, flip, Ruby Enforcer, Babagahnoosh discarding Uruka for five points of damage, and the game is over shortly after.

If Marko hadn't hit with A Rare Bean I'd have had him on 38 damage by the end of turn 3. [3-2]

Round 6: vs Josh Lowe playing Baeltor

"The thing I like about this hero is that nobody knows for sure what spec you're playing", Josh told me after our game. While technically he's right, I'm still not convinced that there is a good enough Blood or Frost deck that's worth bluffing for at present.

Either way he merked me with double Extract and I failed to find a Talisman in either my opening hand nor my mulligan. [3-3]

Round 7: vs Joe Sadowski playing Vorix

Vorix is another deck I've not had chance to test against, though I am aware that Rogues are in general a pain in the arse for me, along with everyone else. When he played Raze removing one card to kill three of my guys on his second turn, then Annihilate to kill my Babagahnoosh, then a second Raze for nothing, to kill my second Babagahnoosh, I was out of options.

I even topdecked like a champ - after playing Babagahoonsh for the first time I then drew a second, then the next turn offered me a Sava'gin - so I dropped both of them only for Sava'gin to eat a Deathblow and Baba the aforementioned Raze, followed by a last-ditch Shadowfiend which hit a second Deathblow. [3-4]

Not my finest hour overall then, finishing in 22nd place - and not helped by the fact that after every game, I offered a friendly due to the amount of spare time we had - digging out my Hunter BM Control deck that I was considering playing. Out of all the opponents I played against, it fared very well indeed, and if I recall correctly it only lost to Death Wish and Vorix (after Vorix stole a gun and a pair of trousers using Steal Steel and shot me to death with them, the bastard). 

We had a quick tournament afterwards too, and I finished 3-1 with the Hunter, winning the final game with an Avatar of the Wild off the top for 11, followed by a resource then Planned Assault for another 11/11 tiger. Fun times.

Despite the poor result, it does give me the perfect opportunity to tackle a subject that I've been itching to write something about for a while - Metagaming, what it is and what it does. I'll come to that in a separate post shortly as I want a cup of tea and a sandwich. I'll do all the mouseovers later. [edit] done!


Big ups to Ross Silcock for running a tight event, and to everyone that came down from the far reaches of Scotland, Middlesbrough, and any other playgroups I may have not realised were in attendance; further big ups to Lammy for turning up on time and taking the top spot. This is what happens when you turn up on time Lammy! You win shit.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Ultimate Peon 2011 - Stoke-on-Trent [04/06/2011]

It's been quiet on here for a couple of weeks. Post-Realms I've been preparing for the event that happened today - the Ultimate Peon Championship, a win-a-box tournament in the Lazy Peon format.

For those who haven't heard of it before, Lazy Peon is a format that restricts your card pool to Commons and Uncommons only. This particular event was Core peon, best of one.

This was looking to be a pretty well-attended tournament and with a decent prize on the line and a completely blank slate of a metagame, I threw myself into deckbuilding and testing mode. The first obstacle with testing your new creation is how relevant the tests are - I took one of my first decks online and while it performed well, facing down King Genn Greymane and three Death Wish is not helpful when you're trying to figure out what really works for your deck. See also: Hesriana, Utopia, Dethvir...

I eventually whittled my card pool down to two decks. Lost by the wayside were a Warlock hand disruption deck, Rogue hand disruption, Mage interrupts/Everlasting Cold [all too inconsistent], Druid Dragonkin aggro [again inconsistent, but can shit out 12 damage from nowhere], Witch Doctor Koo'zar [everything dies too easily], and a comedy version of the Fel Trade/Phylactery deck that did the rounds a while ago. Let's just say that Fel Trading into Zophos or Madrea Bluntbrew is amusing but not quite as effective as King Varian Wrynn.

Anyway. Up until about three days ago, here's what I was playing.

General Lightsbane

3 Eye of the Storm
3 Call to Arms: Arathi Basin
4 Dark Horizon
3 A Rare Bean

8 Banshee Soulclaimer
4 Koeus
4 Mikael the Blunt
2 Pappy Ironbane

3 Bonefist Gauntlets
3 Greathelm of the Scourge Champion
4 Reaper of Dark Souls
2 Runed Soulblade

4 Plague Strike
4 Withering Decay
4 Blood Strike
3 Entomb
3 Tuskarr Kite
3 Death Strike

Yes; that is 64 cards. It was originally less, and went through a few variations - a version containing Grumdur to help against early rush (and turning on my flip), a version running Ymirheim Chosen Warrior, more diseases, no diseases... The biggest problem was that everything in the deck served a valid and important purpose so cutting was proving a nightmare.

Around this time I'd been doing some last-minute testing with Matt Cooper, who sadly couldn't make it in the end. He'd been saying all along he wasn't too fond of this deck, and I was beginning to agree - the more I played it, the less consistent the deck became, having originally contained largely even-costed cards so that Concerted Efforts would have a very high hit rate, and against decks that packed a lot of removal - like Matt's, which contained four Cromarius, four Munkin, and four Suspended Curse - it really struggled, as everything had a target.

It still destroyed the deck it was designed to beat (basically any deck with Aberration guys in it) but other than that, it wasn't performing as expected.

My other deck was more of a backup for a long time. It was the first one I really threw together that I was truly happy with, but again it needed cards cutting and was a bit rough around the edges, despite having enormous draw power.

Lord Benjamin Tremendouson

3 Eye of the Storm
2 Whirlwind Weapon
3 Call to Arms: Arathi Basin
4 A Rare Bean

4 Boots of the Resilient
4 Bonefist Gauntlets
3 Golem Skull Helm
3 Slayer's Waistguard
3 Draconian Deflector
4 Reaper of Dark Souls
3 Colossal Skull-Clad Cleaver

4 Bloody Ritual
4 Absolute Poise
3 Heroic Throw
3 Payment of Blood
3 Chaotic Rush
3 Reinforced Steel

4 Mikael the Blunt
2 Pappy Ironbane

I'd fallen out with this deck a little - the initial draft was the best for a very long time, which was pretty similar to the above only containing three Ornate Adamantium Breastplates over the Absolute Poise. Then I broke it a bit - trying to make my worst matchups better by adding Taunt and Annihilator - then deciding the other deck was better. Eventually the Taunt and Annhiliator came out, the armour numbers were tweaked a little bit, removing the Breastplate entirely and upping the Boots and Gauntlets to four-ofs, and adding in the Absolute Poise (Matt's suggestion - "Interrupt their Bloody Ritual, then win!") to give me some game against abilities before turn 7.

The deck isn't very subtle really. I spend the first turn doing nothing, the next four or five adding bits of armour to the table, then doing something to clear the opposing board, dropping a big weapon, and ending the game in two or three turns. Also I draw cards. Lots and lots of cards. Especially off A Rare Bean, with the deck's ~50 Uncommon cards.

Unfortunately the event wasn't as well-attended as hoped. Despite the prize pool (24 packs for the winner, 12 for second, and the rest declining based on attendance) only eight people turned up. I don't know how much of this is down to the Zapped Giants Open being scheduled for the 18th of June, but all the people who were travelling from far away for this are now going to that instead. It's a shame, but that's how it goes I guess!

Round 1: vs Asher playing DK DoTs

This was pretty textbook - that plan I mentioned earlier about tanking up, clearing the board and ending the game? That's just about what happened here - I had no play until the third turn, but after a few turns where I had less armour than there were DoTs on my hero, I resolved a Bloody Ritual, drew into several new pieces, dropped a Pappy and he ran riot for the rest of the game.

At one point I had all three Reinforced Steel out on the table. "This armour prevents five, this one six, this one... nine." [1-0]

Round 2: vs Ryan Taylor playing the Druid deck I mentioned earlier on

Ryan prodded me on Facebook the night before, mentioning that he was unlikely to come as he'd been unable to sort himself out a deck. Five minutes on MWS and five minutes in the cards box later, that was rectified with some recyclings of the decks that didn't quite make it.

The deck is pretty simple really - untap with Azure Skyrazor and win. It also has other Dragonkin and the Skinned Whelp Shoulders to pile on the early damage.

I mulliganed from an armour-less hand to something slightly better - Bonefist and Boots. This didn't faze Ryan much though as he proceeded to god-draw me - turn 1 Emerald Captain, turn 2 Ruby Flameblade, turn 3 Skinned Whelp Shoulders, turn 4 Azure Skyrazor, turn 5 Natural Repossession to destroy the Boots and hit me for a disgusting amount.

I flipped on my fourth turn to drop the first two dragons so that the shoulders wouldn't be quite so useful, and the only benefit of not having any cards to play early in the game is that I still held six in hand. Amongst them, a Reaper, a Cleaver, another Bonefist to join the one still on the table and a Heroic Throw, along with some other armour and a Reinforced Steel. On the opposite side, Shoulders and the Azure Skyrazor. I have five resources - I need to kill the Skyrazor or I'm buggered.

After a good four or five minutes' thinking, I opted to Heroic Throw the Skyrazor, discarding the Cleaver; I made a Reaper with 1ATK and finished off the dragon, preventing the damage with the gauntlets, and then played my new set of Gauntlets over the top. Sat on 24 damage and knowing how the deck can just do a ton of damage out of nowhere, I may have effectively used four cards and tapped out just to kill one ally, but desperate times.

It was the right choice. A dragon surfaced but the Shoulders weren't able to get through the wall of steel, and a few quest completions later I was sat with Pappy on board, seven cards in hand, fully suited and still holding that same Reaper - only now it was hitting for significantly more thanks to the Reinforced Steels on the table.

Still on 24 damage. [2-0]

Round 3: vs Dan Goodman also playing DK DoTs

This wasn't really a match I was looking forward to. We'd played pretty much this exact matchup over MWS a few days back and it hadn't ended so well for me. Luckily the deck threw me a bone - a couple of quests in the opening hand and a lovely curve of armour. I believe it went something like this:

T1 N/A, T2 Bonefist, T3 Boots, T4 Draconian Deflector, T5 Bloody Ritual, T6 Waistguard and Helm, T7 Pappy

By this point I was preventing each and every damage dealt to me by the DoTs Dan had laid over the course of the game, and when Pappy came down, popping one of Dan's diseases, he had to Obliterate and Blood Boil just to kill the Dwarven dickhead - leaving him with no cards in hand. He topdecked two diseases in a row but I'd killed him with a fat Reaper way before the damage became relevant. [3-0]

Round 4: vs Jack Fejer, playing Worgen, Warlocks, and a Worgen Warlock

Oh look - Jack in the final round! This has only happened at two individual Realm Championships, a Stoke RCQ and, randomly, the Scourgewar Release Celebration at Ripley all that time ago. On all but one of those occasions, Jack has been the victor, and the Realm Qualifier was an extremely similar situation - I'm 3-0, he's 2-1, and he knobbed me on tiebreakers to take home first place.

Not this time sonny Jim. He nicked my Bloody Ritual with a turn 3 Horatio Plaguetouch/Lesson (I did have to stare at Horatio for a couple of minutes as I've not seen him played since the aforementioned Scourgewar release) but after I flipped on an Alister and a Garet, then tanked up enough to prevent any hope of further damage being done, Jack declared a mis-row (perhaps another Bloody Ritual, I forget) and scooped up his cards in the face of impending sword/face action. [4-0]

So yeah - I won a thing! My prize was a box of War of the Elements, a pack of Archives, an Icecrown Citadel Treasure Pack, and a t-shirt that I'm not ever wearing because it's, umm, too big and for no other reason honest:

Anyone want to trade for a t-shirt?

With the benefits of hindsight, I wouldn't want to change a great deal of the deck; however, an extra Pappy would go a long way, and the Colossal Skull-Clad Cleavers really should have been Annihilators so as not to cause hand-count issues with the Draconian Deflectors, but I kinda don't own any which may be an issue.


A footnote regarding the two-pack we played earlier. Two-pack is a format where you open two packs of product, shuffle them face-down, pick a hero from the two that you opened, and start playing. This much is pretty much set in stone these days.

What differs from place to place is what you do when you play more than one round of two-pack. Some places open more packs, others use the same decks, but in Stoke, they have a unique twist on it. At the end of the game, you swap decks with your opponent. I'm not sure how I feel about this format, though there is some satisfaction to be derived from beating people with the deck they just told you was shit. Unfortunately I ended up with a genuine pile during the fourth game and faced off against my original two packs, which contained a Soridormi - which is not far off being a bomb in limited! Needless to say she joined the field and only left when my face was smashed into a bloody pulp.

Either way, I'm not sure how I felt about this format, and I'm old and don't like change, so I'm christening it 'Tard Pack'.

Dan Knight, thinking up new formats to play in Stoke