Saturday, 30 July 2011

2011 Spectral Safaris - Stoke-on-Trent/Nottingham

With the release of the 2011 Class Starters comes a pack of tigers, released into the wild [Hobby Stores] around the UK for an entirely new batch of Spectral Safaris. I was lucky enough to be within easy reach of two on the weekend of 23/24 July 2011, hoping to take home some form of ride-on animal for my troubles following an intensive [not intensive] training program involving getting familiar with as many of the decks as I could find lists for.

23rd July 2011: Guys that Game, Stoke-on-Trent

A meagre 14 players attended GTG and given that I've taken home more of their prizes than I really should be entitled to, I was feeling pretty good. The Random Bag O'Decks gave me Horde Warlock, something I wasn't particularly familiar with, being unable to find a decklist on the net.

Two separate people tell me it's the "best deck".

Best deck



Horrid flashbacks to last year's Safaris, where I picked up Horde Priest ("The Best Deck"), and thanks to the random selection of allies I ended up with a deck that closely resembled a steaming turd with some nice Priest cards sticking out of it. I didn't do very well.

On first impressions the Warlock was pretty nice - everything looked a little fragile but there's no denying Dread Infernal is excellent in a format like this, and giving him +2ATK with Malistra the Demonmistress is even better.

My long-suffering deck test buddy Steve joined us in Stoke and was my first opponent. He'd pulled Alliance Hunter (also considered to be very good) but I came out victorious after dropping enough fat guys that his Blackcrow couldn't deal with. Loque came a turn too late - I had enough on board for fatal so ignored the cat and went for the face. [1-0]

Game 2 was against Shrewsbury Guy, playing Horde Death Knight. This one was a heartbreaker - I did everything right, flipping my hero to make him discard his one card in hand - a Gargoyle, and having a healthly life lead at that point due to how ridiculously aggro the Warlock can be.

Guy was topdecking while I was trying to press the advantage. The turning point came when he picked up a couple of bits of armour, stopping the clock my diseases put him on; the next card was a Citadel Enforcer's Claymore, and after a couple of swings we were in a situation where I had enough on board to kill Guy, and providing he doesn't draw any burn, he can't kill me.

Off the top: Death Coil. [1-1]

Following this I shuffled up opposite my testing partner, Dan Goodman, who had pulled in my opinion the actual 'best deck', the Priest. More on that later though. He didn't really get anything on the board that I couldn't deal with, I got big guys out early and it was over pretty quickly. Dan later lamented that he'd had to play both Warlocks back to back, and lost to both. [2-1]

Joe Sadowski, also making the trip from Shrewsbury, was up next, also packing the Priest, in what we dubbed "the REAL top table". He walloped me, and it quickly became obvious that the Warlock cannot win this match with burn spells alone - a Nethermaven Donna Chastain backed up with any of the instant heal spells will pretty much win games by itself. Unfortunately I found this out the hard way, finding myself in the awkward situation of facing down a Nethermaven with two burn spells in hand to kill it with. My options were attempt to kill it and maybe fail, or don't attempt to kill it and get killed anyway.

Circle of Healing spoiled my plans and that was all she wrote. Of all the games I played on Saturday, this was the only one where I felt the game was completely out of my control. [2-2]

Asher was my final opponent, no doubt looking for revenge for my Ultimate Peon victory. He was packing the Rogue and with a couple of clever Perdition's Blade tricks took me and my awful mulligan down in no time at all. [2-3]

Guy didn't drop a single game all day and took home an El Pollo Grande for his troubles; Joe won the Tiger from the random draw. My consolation prize was a whole pack; I forget what was in it, but it wasn't very good. No matter - onwards to the following day's Safari where I felt a little more confident of my chances now I'd seen most of the decks that the lists proved elusive for.

Sunday 24th July 2011: Chimera Nottingham

Today the Box Of Decks was not kind to me. Horde Shaman. Universally regarded as bad, a quick flick through at least revealed a pleasant surprise, in that the Masterwork Stormhammer at least functioned as a usable weapon.

Round 1 saw me against a new player, Neil Cherry - I think he might play Magic. He was playing Alliance Druid, but thankfully I managed to drop an Infusion of Earth on my Masterwork Stormhammer and finished up wondering if the deck really was that bad after all. [1-0]

Alan Jiang is a new face on the Nottingham WoWTCG scene, though not one I've met before. He shuffled up a Mage opposite me and after a decent game of board control, he dropped Gabble; smacked me in the face twice with it and as I tried to swing the Stormhammer for fatal he played the Mage thing that stops people from attacking, and smacked me a third time to take the game. [1-1]

Next up: Mark Scott! I think he got a shit mulligan. I can't remember much about this. [2-1]

Axl Bell was next with his Priest, and seemed a little confused about how he'd ended up doing so well. He was the best type of new player - calm and thoughtful, planning his every move. He did make one massive play error that I was able to punish - with a Nethermaven and a 2/4 on board vs my Vanda Skydaughter, he went straight for my hero enabling me to eat his 2/4 with Vanda, flip, then kill the big guy in one fell swoop. Unfortunately it did me no good as the Shaman's cracks started to show, with the majority of its allies boasting very little health they died to random bits of burn and smaller allies, despite the above situation. [2-2]
Better without the text

Axl's friend was watching the end of our game, before lamenting how bad his deck was. His deck? The Horde Warlock.

"Oh, no no no. Give this to me, let me show you."

The next 20 minutes were a rather cathartic lesson in How To Play Horde Warlock, with the unfortunate recipient none other than Axl. He put up a really good fight but my failures against Joe on Saturday had taught me well and I knew exactly what I needed at every point.

After lunch, another new player! Wen Jie Lee is more accustomed to MTG and I think I only won this due to some rule mixups between games. He dropped a T3 Master of the Hunt to my T3 Stormhammer, a T4 Tesla, hitting me for 7; I took another 5 after attaching an Infusion of Earth to the mallet and killing the serpent. A turn or two later he completed the Essence of Enmity revealing another Tesla, then... didn't play it.

I ground out the win in the end, and asked about the Tesla following the game. He had forgotten that I would take combat damage when attacking the pet, so figured that the seven damage wouldn't be worth it until later in the game when it could be used as a finisher. [3-2]

More limitations of the Shaman deck beginning to show. A fun one is the inclusion of Zerzu - a 2/4 for 3, who upon entering play, heals all damage from all Nature allies you control. Nature allies who, for the most part, have two health. Maybe this will help me kill two Cerwyns with my Boki Earthgaze...

An old hand showed up for the penultimate round, playing Mage - Den Holland was pretty upbeat about the deck after Tom's 1-4 performance in Stoke suggested it wasn't all that. Den had the answers for everything - I played a guy, there was a Fire Blast or a Scorch waiting. Eventually I ran out of cards after keeping a potentially average hand, and he ran rampant. [3-3]

The game was over so quickly we had time for a friendly. The tables turned completely this time, I was even able to Frost Shock a Cerwyn and simply ran riot over his board for three or four turns before Stormhammering him to death. Get it right and the deck's not so bad; get it wrong and you're fucked.

Finally, James Goode-Hamy. Another Rogue. Some more Perdition's Blade tricks. A board full of guys that deal extra damage to exhausted characters, a Gouge, and 16 damage in one turn. I eventually stabilised, killing all but one ally, and dropping a protector. James was out of steam and topdecking, but I was well within killing distance with perilous little health remaining. He topdecked something to give his ally Assault 2 and Stealth, and I was done.

My next card, Chain Lightning - something I could have done with a few turns prior... [3-4]

Maybe next year I'll get it right. One day.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Twilight of the Dragons - previews have started!

Over at the Cryptozoic Blog, the official previews have finally started for the game's fifteenth set, Twilight of the Dragons. I'm going to skim over them quickly as there's twelve new cards - thirteen if you count Deathwing, who has been known of for a short while [big chin, not to be played with Dr. Boom, costs 60], and nobody wants to read my tripe about that many cards.

So. Starting off with the new ability pairs. Each class will have a pair of cards like these - one that destroys something and one that does something for you when it is destroyed.

It's a nice idea in principle - everyone loves synergy. I'm not sure these were the greatest example to show off the new cycle though. Favor of Undeath is a nice all-round card - it'll let your small guys trade up and will potentially let you kill two opposing allies with one of yours. Twisted Death Pact is less impressive - if one of your cards is attracting removal from your opponent, you lose that card. Paying 2 for a 3/3 is not too bad in that situation but it does require you to have two resources available, but more importantly, you're spending a card and not getting an amazing result out of it even after that.

Gardos Gravefang is the fabled 'Blue Anti-Broderick' that was mooted a while back by Cryptozoic. Granted he's not quite as impressive in a vacuum as everyone's favourite Undead, but he does exactly what it says on the tin - if your Gardos trades with your opponent's Broderick, Gardos will put that very same Broderick on the bottom of their deck, changing him from the greatest 1-drop ever to something strictly worse than Waz'luk.

Zor'dul Deathbinder is about the only thing I can envisage destroying with Twisted Death Pact, and even then - you've spent two cards, drawn one, and gained a blank 3/3 for a net cost of three resources.

You can save yourself a lot of hassle by just playing Kor Cindervein instead.

I think Zor'dul will be good in limited for those times that you go first but I really don't see it setting the world alight just yet.

Next up are a few of the rares. Taking this block's 'slightly underwhelming 7-drop slot' (previous holders: Darkness, Devastation) is Lyrana of Eldre'Thalas. She will at least leave a mark when she joins your party but without significant work building your deck may be largely underwhelming that late in the game.

Probably proving why I am no good at this game is Flamebringer Gaxix - an ally which interests me much more than Lyrana, simply down to how much easier it is to make his power useful. A potential 8/7 for 6 is simply good value and while his five health leaves a little to be desired, the potential bonuses make him highly playable in limited and worth pissing around with in constructed at the very least.

I don't know what to say about Blade of the Burning Sun. It can be used on turn 4, doesn't require any additional resources and merely requires you to put a load of fire cards in your deck. You can even reveal Alexstrasza and give your allies Assault 25 if you're lucky.

Is it too good to be true, or will it end up being one of those cards that is just not quite good enough, like Worldbreaker's Aspect of the Wild? As the UK's resident 'Pinprik Guy' I am looking forward to going back to flinging fire around for a living even if my little impish friend can't be with me.

As for Caelestrasz, he's a more expensive, less-restricting Spectral Kitten that gets bigger with the aid of his brothers. I'm sure there are plenty of ways to abuse this, though the example I keep trotting out (which will probably never, ever happen) is untapping with Korialstrasz in play, then playing this guy to create a board of an 11/11, a 12/13 and five 8/8s. Worth noting that his power affects himself, so he will always be a 5/5 barring external influences.

So far I've ignored Terrastra, largely due to the fact he looks a bit like Skeletor. His first power is decent - giving your hero static ATK is never to be sniffed at, but the second one is more interesting. 

Cards like Magni and Cairne from Worldbreaker took a little while to catch on, but now it's hard to deny that getting a 1/1 for free is great value for money. So, getting a 2/1 should be better, right?

Having to pay 6 for Terrastra does take the shine off that a little, and while you can now stash that second Adam Eternum for a little extra firepower, I don't think he's likely to make too many waves on the tournament scene. Maybe we'll see a new version of the Paladin Lava Dredger deck that also spawns 2/1s?

The Obsidian and Twilight dragonflights make their debut in this set too - bringing with them some much-needed utility with their ability to destroy things when they themselves hit the bin. The Obsidian Drakonid pops abilities, and the participation card for the Twilight release celebrations pops allies when it dies.

The Twilight flight, on the other hand, appear to feed off the destruction caused by the Black flight...

Finally, though, someone who is so eager to fight by your side that when the elements align they will do so for free. He is billed as "Azeroth's Greatest Champion" and I find it very difficult to argue:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Spiders and Starters [2011 EUCC and Spectral Safari]

This past weekend, the 2011 European Continental Championships happened. And on that weekend, a Scotsman named Marko walked away with thousands of pounds of Apple equipment having beaten Europe's finest by allying himself with some spiders and throwing lots of stuff in the bin.

Doesn't sound too good on paper, does it? Well, seeing as I lent practically all of my cards out for EUCC I've got no decks of my own to talk about, so I'd like to discuss Marko's instead.

The deck can be described quite succinctly as "aggro". The key cards are Azjol-Anak Champion, All Things in Good Time, and the cards that benefit from entering or being in your graveyard - Uruka, Incendiary Totem, Stormstrike Mace and Broderick.

I had chance to play a couple of games with a very similar version of this deck before handing it over to Matt Light (who Top 64d with it - well done mate). Despite looking a bit like a horrible pile on paper, the deck is surprisingly explosive in pretty much every way. 

It draws tons of cards - Elemental Vision will quite often draw you a card and net you another positive effect from the cards that hit the bin, Conversing with the Depths has drawn me five cards for three resources more than once, and if all else fails, All Things in Good Time will draw three for eight resources. Grazzle Grubhook sifts through your deck for you, and has a funny name to boot. Grazzle Grazzle Grazzle.

It does stuff 'for free' - Grazzle Grubhook is a miracle worker in this deck, and quite often you can streamline your hand and gain benefits from the cards you discard. Activating Grazzle and discarding a Uruka in response to your opponent's draw is a surefire way to lose friends - and best of all you got a card out of it.

It shits out damage like you wouldn't believe. Let's say it's turn four. On turn three I played an Azjol-Anak Champion. It is a 3/3. On turn four I attack with it, and after it enters combat, I complete All Things in Good Time, discarding a Uruka, an Incendiary Totem and a Stormstrike Mace, readying the champion and also turning it into a 6/6. Combat concludes, you take 6 from the spider, 3 from the Totem and however many from Uruka - and the spider can attack again.

Then I drop a resource and play Edge of Oblivion or Feral Spirit. Does that sound good?

Of course that's something of an unrealistic expectation to have happen every game, but the deck shines in its resilience - even when you don't deal twenty damage on the third turn you will still be able to put your opponent on the back foot for very little effort on your part.

This deck was a breakout hit at the North American Continentals, though Marko has made a subtle change to the decklist that did so well back then. See those two Wavestorm Totems? They were Wind Shears in the original decklist - and given the furore over the Bunny Deck which I spoke about briefly a week or two ago, it was largely expected that the deck Marko played would pack extra Wind Shear to deal with it, as it was suspected the deck would be ubiquitous at EUCC.

Instead, it had a mere eight pilots, only two of which finished with a positive win/loss record.

Wavestorm Totem is a great card for the mirror match, and a lot of other matches to go alongside that. Not only does it prevent your opponent from doing too many shenanigans readying their allies several times during a turn, it also lets you make extra use of the Stormstrike Mace - readying your opponent's allies to bounce them back to their hand!

A pretty inspired choice all in all. Congratulations go to Marko once again for taking the tournament down - if you want to know more, maybe read some of the feature matches that are linked to here.


The Spectral Safaris are coming up soon - there are ten locations in the UK hosting one and I will be lucky enough to attend one on both days of the Safari weekend. Like last year, the Safaris will be played with Class Starter Decks and a Spectral Tiger will be given out as a door prize to one player who completes the entire event.

I, along with many others, wasn't especially impressed with last year's Class Starter decks. They were a nice idea and were probably great for new players, but as a player of about two years at that point, they basically boiled down to one thing - stall to turn 7 and play the big powerful guy whilst having something in hand to kill your opponent's big powerful guy. Add to that the randomisation aspect of the decks, where you were given a set pack of abilities for your class but a random selection of allies, and the relatively low power level of the decks, and they made for something of an awkward experience.

This year they've got things right in a lot of the places that matter. Steve and I have four decks between us - Horde Warrior, Horde Death Knight, Alliance Paladin and Alliance Priest. Each deck is a fixed sixty cards so you always know what you're going to get, and the contents have been themed somewhat.

The Horde Death Knight hero is an undead, and his ally friends are all Death Knights, Undeads, or both. The Paladin deck features a large number of Humans and Paladins, and so on. As a result the decks feel thematically cute and also make it more reasonable to prepare for what your opponent might be playing when they sit down with a particular deck.

Last night we swapped the decks around a bit and had a few games. Before we started the Death Knight was the clear favourite - Gargoyle is very good indeed and Unholy Ground will just run rampant if left unchecked. However, on the night it did not perform as expected, losing every game that it played. The Priest deck is very heavy on healing (including the excellent Holy Talent, Circle of Healing) and can make games go very long; the Warrior is not so reliant on armour to win now and can quite easily rush you with the aid of Battle Shout, and bizarrely, the Paladin deck was my personal favourite - full of cantrip* effects, this one is swimming in card advantage, as well as some quality rare cards - Holy Shock is excellent whichever way you look at it, Wrath of Turalyon has its uses and Seal of Wrath is... well, it's ok I guess.

What makes Seal of Wrath playable is the inclusion of weapon cost reducer effects - Edgemaster's Handguards lets you swing weapons for 1 less, as does Andiss Butcherson. Have both in play and that Angry Dread you control is swinging for free, dealing 2 and then a further 2 from Seal of Wrath. Add in cantripped heals, Hammer of Justice and a solid (if expensive) flip, the Paladin deck is a surprise package that I would not be at all unhappy to unwrap come Tiger Day.

If I had one complaint, it would be about one of the cards in the Horde Death Knight deck - Dark Cleric Jocasta. Remember how I said that all the allies were either Undead or Death Knights? Well, Jocasta was printed as a way of recurring your allies from the graveyard, and she works great. Unfortunately, when Whitney Gravecaller exists, Jocasta seems like an awkward choice to include...

Anyway. Go win some tigers. If you're a new player then this is the absolute perfect event for you - find out where your nearest Safari is, turn up and wreck some face. It will be worth it.

*A cantrip effect is basically a card that gives you an effect, and then draws you a card - Hammer of Justice for instance.