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The popular saying, “I’d rather lose than tie,” never really rang true to me. But after my second Road to Nationals event where I sat through gruelingly long matches that ended in draws (when they never should have), I grew to understand those wise words.
The event was at The Lotus Lookout in Illinois. The staff was incredibly accommodating; they gave out shop-made playmats with the entry, and even raffled off a cold foil Luminaris. It would be my third time to ever play Flesh and Blood in person. I was piloting a custom Katsu-build that, while not being fully optimized, was versatile and capable of winning matches.
My first match up was against a player whom I faced off against at a Road to Nationals event the week prior. He was playing Dash, and since I beat him last week, I felt confident about the match. He was able to get far more set up in this bout than in our first pairing, but I still felt in control most of the game. He had so many items on the board and was adding multiple steam counters on each of his turns. Dash’s Teklo Pistol was in overdrive firing off round after round at my agile ninja. Needless to say, his turns took some time.
When my action points rolled in, my lines of play were pretty simple. I would have blocked with one or two cards from my hand, sometimes, three, so I used my remaining resources to determine if I would double or single Kodachi before swinging with a third attack or arsenaling. He refused to block almost every single Kodachi, so his life was tinkering away. He was also losing a lot of cards from the top of his deck from his Teklo Foundry Heart and Boost triggers, so I knew decking him was a good possibility.
I felt safe and secure in the grinding battle against the mechanologist, but there was a snag in my plan—the clock. As Dash tinkered away at her toys with steam, sparks, and sweat flying around her, my Katsu was waiting patiently to dodge, parry, and strike. When I became fully aware of the time crunch, I sped my turns up even faster (this would become a theme of the day). However, it was not enough. Time in the round was about to be called. Dash was swinging with enough attacks to threaten lethal damage, so I had block with my entire hand. As time was called, Dash gave it all she had. Her deck was empty and Katsu still stood, Kodachi’s ready. But with nothing to threaten lethal, I did what damage I could and ended my turn. First round draw, “there are worse ways to start a six-round event,” I thought. If I had had just one more turn, I could have secured the win. A win, of course, would have also completely changed the trajectory of my day. I would have played against another 1-0 player instead of playing down against the 0-1 Prism deck that I would go on to face in round 2. Who knows what would have happened in that universe. For now, I was 0-0-1 on my quest to reach the top 4 and secure my nationals invitation.
The previous week at my first Road to Nationals event, and my first time playing Classic Constructed against another human, I played against two Prism decks—both of whom drew the Great Library of Solana on turn 1. TURN 1! Throughout the interim week I completely changed my sideboard to hedge against Prism by slotting in 9 Phantasm breaking attacks. I thought I was shoe-in to defeat the Illusionist in her tracks, library or not.
I would turn out to be wrong. I’m sure my big 6 and 7 strength attacks initially surprised my foe, but he was clearly a clever and skilled Prism pilot. He immediately switched his game plan to cutting me down with shields and auras 1 point at a time. My initial tempo that I gained from breaking some Phantasms shattered as he slowly ticked down my life total.
This loss was devastating because of the amount of deck I had committed for the match up. Props to the player for his flexibility.
My limited knowledge of swiss tournaments informed me that Round 3 was crucial to my chances of making the top 8. I was squaring off against Dawnblade Dorinthea. I felt pretty comfortable in this matchup even though I knew that I was not fully up to date on how much Crucible of War enhanced the original warrior’s power level.
The pilot was a newer player like me and did take his time pretty often, but I lost this game on my own. I wasn’t aggressive enough to keep up with the turns that Dorinthea did swing through my defenses. My lack of aggression would be my ultimate takeaway from this event, but more on that later.
Round 4 would bring me against Rhinar. I felt great about this match up, but my two inhuman foes would return to hinder me—my build’s lack of aggression and the clock relative to newer players who take long turns.
This match was a blur. My Katsu turtled up against the big intimidating swings from the brute and returned as much damage as he could. However, Katsu was in full control of his colossal opponent. The player was as nice as could be and repeatedly apologized for taking a long time. I helped find a couple of triggers that he missed along the way to make sure I was playing against as optimal a deck as I could—these organized play events were tremendously beneficial for truly understanding the game. Even though my next swing would take Rhinar down, time was up. Katsu, with barely a bead of sweat on his brow, sheathed his Kodachis and left his opponent to fight another day.
The day was ultimately a loss. Sitting with two draws was a gut punch. It was hard to know if I would even make the top 32 to get a promo at that point in the night, and I do mean night, the event started at 7:00 pm.
Round 5 was a mirror match. My opponent was at 0 wins for the night. I suppose that I was, too at 0-2-2. He was, however, in a great mood. We chatted in between turns and had a good time. Our decks, like many in this beautiful game, were built very differently. I was able to win out on the damage curve while blocking plenty of his biggest swings.
It was cathartic to finally watch my deck do what it needed to do within a 50-minute round. I was glad to at least pile up some experience points, and I was looking forward to trying to secure one more win and a sweet cold foil promo.
For round 6, I was elated to be sitting across from a Chane player. I had the most practice reps against Chane by a large margin. My strategy with the Katsu build that I brought was to try to do some damage early and then turtle up until Chane decked himself. Unfortunately, the Chane player was relatively new. His deck was blinged out with all of the tools that the top Chane decks use, including the Flock of the Feather Walkers for increased Go Again shenanigans, but this was his first classic constructed event.
He was fearless with his Soul Shackle count, which, of course, gave me increased confidence about reeling in the W. However, as the game went on and his shackle-banish pile got bigger and bigger, it took him a long time to compile his line of play. Similarly to my previous matches, my turns got faster and faster as the game went on as I tried to preserve enough time on the clock.
With my spirits mostly crushed from how the day had gone, I maintained a level head and tried not to worry about time. I am not one to call out a newer player for “slow play.” With all of my self-testing reps against Chane, I could see the lines of play as he was flipping over his cards from the top of the deck, so watching the seconds tick away when I knew exactly what I was going to do in response to his Seeds, Rift Binds, and Demigons was challenging to say the least.
Chane was able to pull off an Eclipse late in the game which certainly challenged Katsu’s defenses. Regardless, though, time was up.
Three draws in one tournament was hard to reconcile. Sure, I had my share of misplays on the day, but my biggest mistake was bringing a Ninja Turtle-type Katsu deck to a tournament with a large number of newer players. With my sideboard full of Phantasm breakers, I couldn’t easily shift between turtle, midrange, and aggro variations of my deck depending on my opponent.
It’s possible that early wins would have pitted me against more experience players—making running out of time less of a risk. I should have been more prepared to be able to shift to a more aggressive deck in the swiss rounds.
So if you’ve made it this far, then that is certainly my advice to you. As Team Covenant noted in their August 17th livestream, we are in an aggressive meta right now, and while blocking out Chane or other aggressive deck can be an effective winning strategy, if the pilot of that deck isn’t ready to play their lines quickly, then time can be a lethal factor.
Draws are no fun. I was not able to really test myself as a player and deck builder in an environment where half of the moves on the table are out of my control. I will certainly keep what I learned at the Lotus Lookout Road to Nationals in mind as I try to position myself to go to more events this season.
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