I managed to successfully defend my Gen Con limited title on Saturday, August 19th, 2017 for a spot at Epic Worlds 2017. (I was one of two people who qualified in limited events at Gen Con 2016.) This is also the first time I remembered to take pictures of both my opponents’ and my dark draft pools in top 4. So, this 2-part article contains an analysis of key things I remember during my top 4 Dark Drafts. This article will be specific to these matches, but I have a detailed, slightly outdated article that goes over my general Dark Draft philosophy as well. (I do also have my Random 60 pictures for a later article, and I will of course write an article about my Wolf deck that got me into top 8 in constructed.)
My semi-finals match was against Brad Minnigh who knocked me out in the limited semi-finals at Origins 2017. These were our decks:
My Interesting Picks
While I do not remember all of my picks, a few stand out as major decision points.
Kong over Amnesia
I am one of the most vocal people about the need to pick the first mass-discard pile banish card you come across. Doing so allows you to draft with the knowledge that your opponent can’t win by decking out (essentially). In addition, this allows you to draft as many powerful defense-only cards (like Ceasefire) as you want, since you don’t need to worry about an opponent drawing out to win if you can’t apply enough pressure to kill them first. There are very few situations where I break this rule.
The main reason I broke my rule in this match was my knowledge of my opponent. He has never had a game decided by decking out, ever. (I have had many, in Limited formats). Therefore, I know my opponent’s playstyle favors aggressive play.
Kong is incredibly powerful in an aggressive limited deck because it allows that player to remove an opposing threat while presenting their own big threat. Further, it is resistant to some of the best off-turn removal cards in the game: Erase (letting them play it a second time is painful) and Drain Essence/Hurricane/Chomp!. Due to this, the opponent frequently has to either use weak off-turn removal (Inner Demon/Banishment), a highly valuable off-turn board clear (Zombie Apocalypse/Martial Law), or wait until their turn to remove it (Palace Guard/Divine Judgement). In all of these situations, the aggressive player was able to remove a champion and either maintain a small advantage, force out a valuable card, or force the opponent to use their gold first on the next turn. Even further, if Kong isn’t removed it can be Raged/Lashed which can allow for that one big hit to get through enabling a burn-out kill.
Finally, unlike in Core-Only, full dark-draft through Uprising means there are 3 other mass-discard pile banish cards I could draft, and at this point (pack 2 or 3), I still had some chance to get one of those 3.
Aggressive Focus (Not Picking Ceasefire)
Due to not picking Amnesia early in the draft, I was forced to shift my picks more aggressive than I usually prefer. I know for certain that I passed on Ceasefire (possibly as a pick 2/3) because I couldn’t afford a card that can never be used aggressively (although it can let you overextend with an all-out attack and leave you a safety net). Similarly, I believe I passed on a few board clears for “lower tier” cards.
Winged Death over a Strong 0-Cost Card
This was a very tough pick for me. I do not remember exactly what I passed to take this, but I remember it was a powerful 0-cost card (Siren’s Song?). The reason I drafted this over a 0 was I wanted to protect my Kong and Mythic Monster. I was worried that I could lose 2 of my hard to remove champions and just get blown out of a game. In addition, I’m a big fan of this card generally.
Grave Demon over Word of Summoning
This was my last pack. By this point, I knew I had an aggressive enough deck that I probably didn’t need to worry about my opponent decking out for the win. Therefore, I wanted to take Word of Summoning because it is a strong 0 that lets you apply pressure off-turn without spending your gold. However, I chose Grave Demon out of personal preference.
Knowing my personal playstyle, I knew that I would be much more comfortable playing a deck with a mass-discard pile banish card than a deck without one. Having Grave Demon means I can always take the slow/defensive play. Without Grave Demon, I constantly need to worry about whether I am playing aggressive enough to win. This can drive me into riskier plays such as: spending my gold first on a turn possibly on a blitz champion with no relevant Tribute/Loyalty ability (instead of passing with gold up), playing another champion when I’m already ahead on the board and my opponent’s gold is down (instead of drawing cards), or using “or draw 2” cards for their effect (instead of drawing) when I’m low on cards in hand.
For all of these reasons, and the fact that it is a decent sized ambush champion, I picked Grave Demon. At this point in the draft, Word of Summoning might have been the “correct” choice for many, but not for me.
Other First Picks
Hunting Pack was my Pack 1 Pick 1. I am also fairly confident that I first picked Raxxa’s Curse and Angel of the Gate. I do not remember my 4 other first picks, but they were very possibly: Little Devil, Consume, Flash Fire, and Hasty Retreat. In other words, 0-cost cards.
My Thoughts/Concerns Post-Draft
My greatest concern post-draft was the fact that I only had 13 reliable draw/recycle cards instead of my desired 15+ (not counting Quell or Cave Troll). Due to this, I made a mental note to prioritize using “or draw 2s” (like Bitten) to draw cards. Other than that, I felt like the deck was strong.
Match Interesting Moments
These were very intense games where we both spent a lot of time analyzing our moves, since the top 8 matches (in this case top 4) are untimed.
Running out of Draw (Bitten)
As expected, in one of the games I hit an early string of non-card-draw cards and my handsize dwindled to 3 cards. My opponent was also low on cards, but I was up 1 champion in play. On my turn I drew into Bitten.
My first instinct was that I could use Bitten as cover for my champion. In other words, I could attack, and if my opponent played an ambush champion to block, I could Bitten it, get a zombie, and probably get my attack through. However, knowing that I didn’t have a ton of card draw in my deck, I decided to pass holding my gold. There were a few reasons for this:
- Using Bitten as removal instead of card draw was not an option
- Assuming my opponent spends their gold on their turn, I would want to spend my gold as well, so I don’t fall behind. This would reduce me to 2 cards in hand.
- If I don’t draw card-draw on my turn, I have to survive my turn’s gold usage and my opponent’s turn gold usage with just those 3 cards. Most likely this brings me to 1 card in hand at the end of my opponent’s turn. Then, if I don’t draw card-draw that turn, I basically lose the game by being forced down to 0 cards in hand.
- Since I can’t use Bitten as removal, attacking with my champion is dangerous
- If my opponent plays an ambush champion that can block and break my champion in combat, they get to establish a champion and remove my champion for free.
- I personally do not like taking these risks when I don’t have to, so attacking with my gold up was not an option.
- If I use Bitten to draw 2 now, I give my opponent a free-gold to recover
- They could ambush in a champion that I can’t remove that turn, allowing them to attack me on their turn.
- They could also freely draw 2 to refill their handsize.
- Therefore, since I don’t want to play my other cards, passing is my best play
- If they spend their gold, I draw 2.
- If they don’t spend their gold on my turn, I have Bitten which I can use, if they spend their gold on their turn.
- If they don’t spend their gold on either turn, I get to return to last turn’s advantageous board state with both players at +1 cards in hand.
- Since my deck is lacking in card draw, this is ideal for me because I maintain my board advantage while negating my disadvantage (lack of card draw) without exposing myself to an opponent’s gold usage.
- Further, I have Grave Demon so I can afford to let as many turns pass with no plays made as I need.
In the end, I believe my opponent passed on my turn and spent their gold on their turn, allowing me to spend mine to draw 2. My next 2 cards were non-card draw cards, so I would have almost certainly lost the game if I had used Bitten for removal.
Running my Opponent out of Draw
In a different situation, I was ahead on board, my opponent was low on cards in hand, and I had at least 5 cards in hand. Instead of holding back to build my card advantage further, I pushed my opponent to prevent him from being able to draw, keeping him vulnerable.
In game 2, this was the board state: I had a Winged Death and Grave Demon in play. My opponent had Brachiosaurus and Ogre Mercenary in play. I had 5+ cards in hand. My opponent had about 3 with no discard pile. I attacked with Winged Death, no blocks were declared. Before damage, I Consumed the Ogre Mercenary.
This forced my opponent into a situation where he would lose his Brachiosaurus, if he did nothing, which would open a path for Grave Demon to attack too. In order to keep his gold available to answer a potential gold-punisher (he knew he passed me Rampaging Wurm in the draft), he opted to play Wolf’s Bite without recycling so he could break his wolf to Winged Death‘s trigger, leaving his Brachiosaurus able to block my Grave Demon.
Once he passed initiative back to me, I used Hunting Pack to break his wolf token. Why?
- Because my opponent was low on cards, it was possible he had no strong play in response to this. Also, since this was after blockers were declared, I didn’t need to worry about an ambush, airborne champion blocking my Winged Death. Best case scenario, he couldn’t even spend his gold.
- If he had no way to further disrupt my Winged Death, which I got the impression he did not based on previous turns and body language, Winged Death breaking Brachiosaurus would be backbreaking and essentially win me the game right there.
- Even if he played an off-turn board clear, this would reduce him to 1 card in hand, which would be hard to come back from. I also had an ambush champion to reestablish on his turn, if needed.
He ended up playing Wave of Transformation giving him 1 wolf to my 5. (On a side note, Hurricane would have blown me out there. I do not remember if he had already played it at that point in the game.)
Stand Out Cards
Winged Death, Little Devil, and Fire Shaman were particularly effective in this match. Grave Demon was useful, but there was no point where I needed a mass discard pile banish to prevent my opponent from decking out.
Of the cards my opponent played, Turn seemed to be the least impactful.
My knowledge of my opponent’s playstyle and my own allowed me to draft a specifically powerful deck. Then, my understanding of the primary weakness of that deck allowed me to play in such a way to mitigate that weakness. Finally, small edge plays were able to gain me just enough additional advantage to push my wins through. In my next article I’ll go over my finals match against Nathan Overbay.