Friday, 3 February 2012

2012 Realm Qualifier Season: Core [January 2012]

After a short amount of time away from serious business, the new year rolled round, and with it my favourite time of the WoWTCG year - qualifier season. Coincidentally, also my wife's least favourite.

First and foremost, if you're in the UK and are intending to qualify for the 2012 Realm Championship, all the info you need is here. The final tournament itself is planned to be held on the weekend of the 28th and 29th of April, and the location will be announced in the near future (apparently).

It's January, and as a result we're in the middle of the Core season, which runs until the end of February. March and April's qualifiers are all limited format - likely to be Sealed, though the odd Draft may crop up here and there. I've travelled to four qualifiers so far, and like a big boring idiot, have played the same deck at each.

While I was taking time off serious play, I reclaimed all the amazing cards I lent out to other people, and sleeved up the Team Ooga Booga version of Grand Crusader to see what all the fuss was about. Observe:

Straight from the Worlds Top 16 decklists page and no mistake - a completely dirty netdeck. I had just spent the best part of fifty quid (at today's prices, a complete bargain) on completing my playset of Mazu'kons as well as the money I invested pre-Worlds on Grand Crusader and a ton of cards to go with it, so I was going to make sure I at least got some use out of them!

I'd tested a Grand Crusader deck for Worlds that was not entirely dissimilar to this deck - it did, however, run Shalug'doom and Seal of Wrath, which could be completely backbreaking if you managed to get the combo off and largely useless if you didn't. It was more aggressive than this build - despite Grand Crusader being ostensibly an aggressive card, this deck is filled with protectors, control and card draw, and it took a game or two to get the hang of its play style. I liked it though - it was consistent, powerful and Mazu'kon is a beating as a 6/6, never mind when his 8/8 token comes into play with the aid of the deck's namesake.

However, it had problems. Big problems, or more appropriately, one big problem - in the shape of Master Sniper Simon McKey. It's an incredibly aggressive Hunter deck, doing one thing and doing it well - making progressively larger allies each turn, most of them packing Ferocity too. This deck was blowing me up on regular occasions - but with a little luck the matchup was a breeze, I just needed a Bronze Warden or two to help stem the bleeding.
After going undefeated at a few events with the exception of against Simon decks, I went into the lab. Second place at Worlds wasn't good enough - I can make this deck better.

First to go was Blessing of the Kindred. Don't get me wrong, I like the card - its inclusion in this deck is great in Horde matchups, where you can make your Mazu'kon bigger than theirs by naming Shaman, or make your early game just that little bit bigger by naming Warrior. Unfortunately, it was never, ever in my hand when I needed it. Personally I think it's a card you should play four of, or none of - no half measures. I dropped them.

I also needed to remove a second card, and this proved tougher. I eventually settled on Kazbaz - an Elusive Protector is definitely a powerful concept but his inclusion as a two-of really felt like it was just filling space and fitting the Warrior theme. 

This left me with four slots and I knew exactly what I wanted in them.

+1 Censure - this card is something I'm rarely sad to draw multiples of, and also something your opponents rarely expect multiples of. Great against large allies, great against tokens and can turn the tide against ramp and curve decks for just one resource.

+3 Alecia Hall - A card that was tested in the UK Worlds Grand Crusader build, and one I was rarely unhappy to see. Unfortunately not a protector, but she can come back with the aid of a bottle and will always unconditionally heal you for three - something which Bronze Warden cannot guarantee.

Cards that didn't make the cut were Sinestra (I would take control of the game, then drop Sinestra and win; or, I would take control of the game, and win anyway) and extra Challenge to the Black Flight (as I found that I would rarely want to complete more than one over the course of a game).

Due to me being quite disorganised at times, I only got round to finalising the deck on the night before my first Realm Qualifier, held at Chimera Ripley on the 11th of January, so had little time to test this final configuration. I was feeling pretty confident though, and whilst I got dicked by Hunter Murlocs in the fourth round, I did get to test out my changes and theory against the same Simon deck that had been exposing me week on week.

It was incredible. The matchup had practically been turned on its head - what was once a desperate struggle to survive was now an exercise in simple board control and waiting for the Hunter to run out of cards. Having seven heal cards in the deck over four was a revelation. This was round three - I finished the Swiss portion of our ten-man event at 4-1, undefeated other than by the Murlocs. My Top 4 opponent? None other than Julian with his Simon deck again.

This time he went for a change of pace, pulling faces at his opening hand before surprisingly keeping. I soon found out why as I took fourteen to the face from three Concussive Barrages early in the game, but I was lucky enough to have some heal available to me and ground out the win. In the final, I met Rich Stoppard... the Murlocs player.

To cut a long story short, we split the packs and played for the Deathwing. Rich failed to find an Unleash and I eventually ran him over, though it was not the most convincing of wins. I'm not sure how much game the deck has against Murlocs - obviously you can cast Righteous Cleanse in response to their Unleash, but if you don't find it in your hand or mulligan (or they cast two, or they just Unleash multiple times, or...) you're in trouble. 

My changes were, so far, a success - and while the Realm Qualifier kit hadn't arrived yet, I was soon to be the proud owner of an EA Alternate Art Deathwing, a foil Sava'gin the Reckless, a deckbox and a foil Rosalyne von Erantor, and seven packs of Throne of the Tides. A good start - and I'd qualified for Realms at the first time of asking. But I wasn't about to stop there.

To my wife's chagrin, the following weekend was packed with Qualifier action - Sheffield on the Saturday and Chesterfield on the Sunday. Continuing the borefest I stuck with Grand Crusader, and at Sheffield (turnout: 18) I came up against a very familiar deck in the first round - Liz Edington playing the literal same sixty cards as Rich had been doing in Ripley. 

I lost. Liz Unleashed on three separate occasions. It was't even close.

Two rounds later and I'm facing Manchester local Paul Graham with his Warlock aggro deck, much akin to the fire rush/Searing Pain deck that made some waves in last year's Block format. Boosted by tools like Bottled Void, I found myself with a ton of cards in hand facing an empty board, whilst close to death; I was unable to take advantage of this nor heal, and Paul topdecked a Life Tap, cast it, then drew an Onnekra and a Searing Pain, casting both to deal the final six damage to my hero. It never gets any easier.

I'm 1-2 at the end of round three and am just grateful that the knockout is going to be a Top 8... I need to win out to reach it, but at least I will not be in the bracket of the guy who has turned up with a Grand Crusader deck containing a clutch of Edwin VanCleefs... He finished 6-0 in Swiss and eventually went on to win the tournament [OMG spoilers].

Round four and I'm hoping for an 'easy' match, but instead I face DMF Paris finalist Alex Crow, who is having a similarly miserable day, and is also playing Grand Crusader. My luck takes a turn for the better however, as he fails to find a Girdle or a Grand Crusader and I slowly poke him to death with Telor Sunsurge.

Mike Brawn is next, and thoughts turn to revenge; he beat me in the final Core round at the 2011 Nationals to put me into the third draft pod and essentially out of contention for the Top 8, and I see he is representing the Monsters with Rawrbrgle, the Murloc Warrior. I get the feeling Grand Crusader is a bad matchup for his deck as he kills my Rosalyne with a Furious Strike, then creates a bunch of 2/2 Murlocs, makes them 3/3s with Chumly and then watches as they get eaten by my one-drops. Another lack of Girdle maybe.

So it's the final round, and I need to win to make Top 8 due to my hideous tiebreakers (I think Liz eventually finished 2-4). Sat opposite me is Rob Hooley, once the UK's Organised Play manager for the WoWTCG. He is playing Jaral of Gilneas, the Worgen Hunter - a deck similar to Julian's Simon aggro. I am pleased, and proceed to kill his five-drop pets with my one-drop protectors for most of the game, before apologising for dumping him out of the Top 8.

It turns out he made the cut anyway, but had to face the chap with the VanCleefs, and from what I told you earlier, we know how that worked out. I managed to defeat my Top 8 opponent, only to face Paul Graham again in the semis, who once again ran out of cards, I failed to take advantage, but this time had about three turns to do so before he eventually smacked me around the face for a ton with some sort of perverse strikeout.

Third in a strong field isn't too disappointing though. The following day held another qualifier at Comics and Collectibles in Chesterfield - and with it, a good turnout of thirteen. One of those was my mate Steve - you can read about his experiences on the lovely new Caution: Small Parts blog.

This event for me was both a success and a disaster. I played the Murlocs for the third time in the first round, but this time I managed to prevail with some clever use of Righteous Cleanse, and a healthy dollop of good luck. In the second round I am paired down to play Tony, who has cooked up a Warlock of some sort - and I keep a hand featuring neither Righteous Cleanse nor a Girdle, without considering the fact that Warlocks don't always play Jhuunash. I'm punished horribly for it as he drops an uncontested Everlasting Affliction on me, which quickly becomes four of the buggers. Aided by a Tattered Dreadmist Mantle, I am dealing him very little damage, so drop a bunch of guys on the table only to be COMPLETELY blown up by Invoke the Nether, a card which I had forgotten had been reprinted.

There's an important lesson for you - know what bonkers cards are legal, else you're going to get fucked by them! Luckily for me I was holding two Mazu'kons and after a bit of thinking time managed to heal just enough damage to survive for one extra turn, at which point I could kill him, assuming he didn't draw a bottle - he didn't, and I somehow cheated death.

Round three was the biggest disaster of all though - against Rob Hooley again, with the same Hunter deck, still a good matchup for me. Unfortunately both my opening hand and mulligan were complete dross, and to top it all off I acted like a big fat cheat by (completely absent-mindedly) drawing two cards off Challenge to the Black Flight when I was only entitled to one. Rob re-read the quest, pointed out the error and I conceded from a game I was probably never going to win anyway. What an idiot.

I win my fourth game and in the final round I come up against Alex Crow, who is the one remaining 4-0 player. He utterly obliterates me with his Shaman Ramp deck - the first time I'd seen one running Shadowfang Keep as well as Devout Aurastone Hammer - but offers to concede the game to me so that I'll make Top 4, shortly after making a Blazing Elemental Totem AND an Erunak. On turn 6. The top 4 pairings are called and I'm playing Rob again, who pulls a face like he's just eaten an entire bag of lemons.

I successfully avoid cheating for the entire match and take the win, only to meet Alex in the final. This time I draw an opening hand which contains a Girdle and an Obsidian Drudge, and five other less relevant cards. I win the roll, Alex makes the hammer on turn two, I make a Drudge on turn three having made a Girdle on two and destroy his hammer. We're both at several cards in hand and with empty boards but I have the Girdle, and I put the shields up enough to avoid dying - and after clearing Alex's board twice with the aid of a Mazu'kon each time, I am able to build enough of a board that eventually he has no way around it.

Crowds had gathered (and dispersed due to us "taking too long") but it was probably my favourite game of WoWTCG I've played in ages - knowing that the deck can potentially chuck out 20 points of damage from nowhere if it has two cards in hand means that deciding when to put the pressure on is critical.

By this point I have qualified for Realms two and a half times over...

Finally, Beeston. I finished 4-2 in the Swiss, my two losses coming to an Aspect of the Wild Hunter deck which I simply got overwhelmed by, and Gary Stevenson - with his interesting Warrior deck - make armour, a Winter Veil Disguise Kit and an Alarm-o-Bot or two, then make Sinestra when you least expect it and blow up YOUR FACE!

Or alternatively, win on time by having another Sinestra in your hand and healing 13 a turn off the back of Faenis the Tranquil. This also works.

4-2 was good enough for the top 8, but I ended up facing Gary again in the first round of the knockout portion. This time I had the cards in my opening hand to take apart a couple of pieces of his equipment and hopefully put enough threats on the board to make his deck too slow, but instead he did lots of counting, dropped a Sinestra on six, blew up his entire board, hit me for a ton, made a Shalug'doom and hit me for another ton (!), taking me to 28. I had a respectable board and a Mazu'kon in hand, but that would only get him to 28... and as a result he Tiny Dragonned me to death the very next turn. My only failure to win a Sava'gin so far!

There's one more Core qualifier to go for me this weekend in Coventry, then I get a month off these events in preparation for the release of Crown of the Heavens, and four-five Sealed events in the area starting in March. The quest for the fourth Sava'gin continues apace!

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