By Brandon “Paradox” Vance
Usually, people write tournament reports when they do well. I can’t say that was the case for me this weekend, with a rather unfortunate 1-2 record in the MSM. Despite this, my deck has still performed quite well up to this point, as I’m currently sitting at 34th on ladder while writing this. As such, I’m going to cover a lot of ground in this article: a deck tech (including the creation process), a brief guide, and the mistakes I made going into the tournament.
Deck Tech: Rakano Maulers
4 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
4 Inspire (Set1 #129)
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Glory (Set1 #314)
4 Kaleb’s Favor (Set0 #3)
3 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
2 Copperhall Bailiff (Set1001 #5)
1 Privilege of Rank (Set1 #157)
2 Sword of Icaria (Set1 #315)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
2 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
2 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
4 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
2 Throne Warden (Set1 #514)
2 Jekk, the Bounty Hunter (Set1001 #11)
4 Stonescar Maul (Set1 #52)
9 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)
4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)
That is the deck list I took into the tournament as well as the one I’ve been playing almost exclusively on ladder. It is a midrange deck that attempts to win the game by going “over the top” with high-value cards such as Jekk, Stonescar Maul, and the eight large burn spells.
In terms of general strategy, the deck is fairly simple: survive the first few turns, establish the board, then start wailing on them with mauls and giant flameblasts. Your early units—Champion of Glory, Valkyrie Enforcer, and Copperhall Bailiff—serve two roles, getting in chip damage when they can or trading for enemy units if the enemy’s deck is more aggressive. At your expense is a plethora of removal to maintain control of the board, almost all of which also has the ability to go for the face.
One important thing to keep in mind with this deck is line up theory: having an appropriate answer for every unit your opponent plays. For example, against Burn Queen: The Torches and Swords of Icaria are there to kill Oni Ronin’s, Argenport Instigators (with Champion of Glory often being happily trading with Instigators as well), Auric Runehammers are for Champions of Chaos and Cabal Countesses, Vanquishes to take out Impending Dooms, and Harsh Rules, Obliterates, and Mauls to clean up the rest while also pushing the game to a close. While most of these cards can answer almost everything in Burn Queen (particularly Torch), playing them on curve and on the appropriate targets leaves your life total preserved quite nicely and ensures you aren’t facing down Impending Dooms with Auric Runehammers in hand.
One question I always get asked is “why are there no Rise to the Challenge?” (Or, more appropriately, “why do you never play Rise to the Challenge, Paradox?”) While I recognize that I’m in the minority, I just do not think that spending four on a slow speed tutor is what you want to be doing in a deck like this (or just in general in this format). The card also takes up valuable deck slots of what could just be more copies of the card you actually want to play! What is attractive to me is the +2 strength, but I’d rather obtain that in other ways. I was more concerned about maintaining tempo then trying to eek out every inch of value.
Creating The Deck
There are two decks to beat in the current tournament Metagame: Big Combrei (and its variants) and Burn Queen. There are many other strong decks right now, but your deck will likely get nowhere unless you have at least a strong plan against these top two powerhouses. It’s not too difficult to have your deck be capable of defeating one of them. The real challenge lies in having a good match against both of them.
I had been tinkering around with Rakano Midrange decks (such as the one I used in the S3 Invitational) but hadn’t yet found the sweet spot. To beat Burn reliably, you have to be able to stop their early aggression, stabilize the board with units of your own, and end the game quickly before they just burn you out. Beating Combrei is a little less straightforward: the most immediate approaches are either to go “under” them with a hyper-aggro deck and beat them before they setup, or go “over” them with huge burn spells and high value units. Eventually, I opted for the latter, but only after a week of trying to do the former.
I worked with Calimdir, a fellow teammate who is also an excellent deck builder. After being disappointed with various aggro decks not named Burn Queen, I shifted to slower rolling midrange decks. Originally, Calimidir and I looked at a “big burn” Stonescar list he concocted, chocked full of Soulfire Drakes, Impending Dooms, Statuary Maidens, and more. The implication here is that Combrei can’t silence everything, and eventually, a threat will stick and deal enough to put them in burn range.
However, I was hesitant about the burn queen match-up at the time. I wanted to have a deck that could deal with Combrei and burn (without being a mirror match), and I was very attracted to the possibilities in Rakano: Auric Runehammer, Throne Warden, Vanquish, and more. Having already had success with my previous Rakano Midrange deck, I decided to see what would happen if I took that list, cut out the low end aggro cards like Crownwatch Paladin and loaded up on more top end. My initial testing went very well: cards like Throne Wardens did double duty of being great vs. burn and also set up Stonescar Mauls to have 7 (or more) armor—a combo that has won many games on the spot. The flexibility of the burn spells allowed me to always have answers to targets or give me the ability to close the game. Testing put my deck a little above even vs. Combrei in the MB with a good match up vs. Burn Queen. Well… Sort of. That leads to my next section.
What Went Wrong & The Lessons Learned
Just a few hours before submitting the deck list but after I had done my major testing, I was feeling a little concerned that my mainboard was not strong enough against Combrei. I had all of these anti-burn cards that weren’t pulling enough weight in both match-ups, such more copies of Auric Runehammer. I was determined to be “the Chicken Slayer” and end AngryChicken’s winstreak*, and given that he was in my bracket, I knew there was a good chance I’d go up against him should I beat my first round opponent, Kampf.
This passion got the better of me. Only an hour before submitting, I changed a few cards around that weakened my burn match-up in order to gain an edge vs. Big Combrei. I simply assumed my match up vs. Burn would be fine (especially since I brought in several cards from the SB for games 2 and 3). It should go without saying that this was my first major mistake: not only should I have been far more cautious making a last minute change with very little testing (if at all), I should have remembered that my first round opponent was Kampf—a burn player! I may have taken him in the first round, but he exacted his revenge much more easily in round three.
And, why did I fight Kampf again in round three? Because I went against AngryChicken in the second round and… lost. While the first match was a fairly harsh power screw with only two power for the first six turns or so (from a redraw), second game was a close slugfest that ended in his favor. Even with my alterations, my deck was still only slightly favored to beat the menace at best.
Perhaps most importantly, my deck was just too untested. Looking at it now, it feels rather disorganized in the form I submitted it. The decision to play this deck still only came around two-three days before the event, before I could really hone and tune the deck into a well-oiled machine. I relied too much on a rough theory and not enough on actual testing and playing, and it should be no surprise a rough theory is often not enough—especially against a group of some of the best players in the game. I achieved almost all of my success this season on the back of Stonescar Burn lists, and in a situation where I didn’t know what to play, I should have just stuck to my guns (the ones that Bandit Queen wields.) Instead, I doubted the power of the very deck that brought me so much success, and I fell to it.
There were other errors I had this weekend, such as a play mistake from playing too fast in round 3 vs. KampfKrote; I played my Valkyrie Enforcer after hitting a Champion of Chaos with an Auric Runehammer, which made me take two damage than I could have—a mistake that mattered a lot when he killed me a few turns later for exact lethal. While play mistakes like this are not excusable, my biggest take away from this weekend will be my bad planning and decisions that happened before the tournament took place.
That’s all for today. Congratulations to KampfKrote for taking the whole thing (and also for getting married!) Going forward, I will continue to brew—and always will. I will just be sure to not throw my half-baked lab experiments into the fray, even when they earn great ladder success. Hopefully this article will help others not make the same mistakes I did. I’m determined to bring my “A” game in Season 4 and, with some luck, earn a spot for the World Championships.
*note that this was nothing personal at all against AngryChicken—he’s actually been a very nice guy in my experience. I just wanted to beat him, as I think many of us did.