Three tournaments. Three decks. Three matches in top cut. Valdain’s Waifu- wait, that’s a different tree.
Why do these things always come in threes?
The purpose of this primer is to inform the reader of the less well-known aspects of the game we all hate, through my experiences, and for the reader to hopefully have a better shot at winning tournaments.
I. Three tournaments
Hold up, you thought I was talking about how there’s three SVOs every expansion?
No. Instead, I would like to make clear the fundamental difference in how Shadowverse is played in comparison to many other major card games.
In most card games, players bring one deck to a tournament. They pour countless hours into mastering the specific deck, all its matchups, and all the lines they can take. In Magic, I often played only the same deck for a year – Mardu Pyromancer, Burn, Grixis Shadow.
In some cases, this can really pay off – Sentoki has been relevant in OCG Yugioh for more than 2 years now. It doesn’t matter if the deck is now only the 4th best deck; the skill ceiling of the game is so high that an experienced player will be able to consistently take games off the best decks.
That is, of course, not to say that there aren’t players who master a new deck every week – at the very top level, you kind of have to do this, to have the absolute highest shot of winning.
But in Shadowverse, players are required to play 3 decks in a tournament. Any player. I’d like to introduce the concept that, in fact, every tournament, you are playing 3 different tournaments with each of your decks. This is a stark contrast to ladder, where most players do indeed focus on one deck.
In my preparation for the January 2019 SVO, I was feeling fairly confident. I had just come off a Top 4 finish at Razer Cup, losing to bricked hands twice, which was expected eventually since I was playing fairly high variance decks. My signature Nacht Blood deck had not put up finishes under any other player elsewhere (and would proceed for the entire lifespan of the deck not to), so I was certain most players would consider that deck a fluke. Hybrid Mysteria was rendered unplayable due to the Miranda nerf, but I had two other decks I felt confident in registering.
At the end of the tournament, Nacht Blood had gone 5-2. I was right, no one had adequately prepared for it (and they were right not to, seeing as preparing for a deck only one person is going to play is a terrible idea), and the Hybrid Shadow list I borrowed from my teammates went 4-2.
However, my Orichalcum Turbo deck went 4-4. This was for a few reasons – one, I couldn’t move on from the past and played it too much like my old Hybrid Mysteria deck I ran for the majority of Omen, two, I ran a defensive list suited for the Japanese playstyle but not mine, and three, all the good players were wary of the deck seeing its recent strong performance in Japan.
The point of this is not to tell you my bad beats story (okay, maybe it is), but to illustrate that, if this was a one deck tournament, I very well may have made top cut, and in fact Razer Cup before was a two deck tournament where I played two decks I was very confident in and people largely didn’t prepare for, but because the impetus is on doing well with three decks, my mediocre performance on Rune and Shadow held me back.
II. Three decks
Now, I’d like to present to you my September run. This is probably my least deserved finish ever, where I picked the three decks I felt were the most fun with no preparation, made top cut, and then punted in top cut.
Mech Blood 6-2 Mech Rune 3-0 Ambush Sword 2-3
But, wait, Kuru, didn’t you say you play three tournaments? You basically did well in two and then scrubbed the third one, right?
I remember a conversation I had with several high profile players (which happens to be the origin of the old “Fuck Kuru” meme) in Brigade Mini format.
In this format, almost every good player brought the same lineup (with minor tweaks). Puppet Portal, Axeman Forest and Tenko Haven. I was advocating banning Haven in the mirror as it had a favorable matchup against the other two decks, but a lot of the people I talked to banned Forest, due to it having a highroll.
And you know what? If you believed your skill level to be significantly higher than the opponent’s, this was correct! Haven was 45/55, but if you were more than 55/45 good against your opponent, it suddenly doesn’t sound so bad. Meanwhile, Axeman Forest had like a 25% chance to just kill you no matter how well you played.
The interesting thing to this, however, is that most Shadowverse players overrate their own ability. I definitely do. So, players will unjustifiably gravitate to banning decks they feel are uninteractive, highrolly, skillless and so on. In fact, even if these players don’t, they feel the need to prove that they are able to win mirrors with their decks. Even if the Amataz matchup is alright, for example, they feel the need to show that they can win Kuon mirrors.
Often, bringing decks like Amataz and Ambush lead to heavy bans on those decks. Ironically enough, Ambush Sword is one of the most interactive and skillbased decks in recent history (hence my record on it), but it has a reputation among the less informed and less skilled as an uninteractive highroll deck, since it plays on a different axis to everything else. (This did not mean good players did not ban it, though. Preparing for it meant making your matchups against more common decks worse, so you could alternatively just ban it and if you were really that good, indeed win the mirrors)
Knowing what decks players consider to be “autobans” will lead to turning your three tournaments into two tournaments, if the format is right for it. You could not really do this in Brigade, for example, since it was fairly contentious, but so many players in Colloseum would autoban every Amataz they saw. And, hey, that’s one less tournament you have to do well in to top.
III. Three matches in top cut
Let’s talk more about lineup construction. I want to introduce the idea of the Kingmaker, a role which I have time and time again found myself in due to my poor decision making.
The Kingmaker might do very well. He might even make Top 4, or the finals. But the Kingmaker cannot win the tournament. It’s simply not possible, in almost all cases. However, the Kingmaker has a much larger decision share in who wins than the average player. Here’s why.
The Kingmaker plays decks that test players on a very specific axis. Did you prepare for this matchup, or did you not? If the player has prepared, the Kingmaker’s chances of winning are almost none. Sounds crazy, right? Why would you bring that lineup to a tournament?
An example of a Kingmaker lineup would be triple Aggro in Dawnbreak. That lineup straight up could not beat Midrange Sword. At all. However, against unsuspecting Summit, Artifact and Ginger players, the lineup was nigh unstoppable. If you had no way to stop the linear progression of these decks, you were completely and utterly screwed unless they bricked. This lineup never won a major tournament in the west. But from the outside perspective, the lineup looks extremely strong. It only autoloses to one deck and every other deck has to tech for it and make their other matchups worse? Plus, the ban is completely useless against it!
The thing is though, that someone WILL tech for it. In a tournament, you play so many rounds that it is inevitable that you play against someone prepared for it. In addition to that, the decks were all less consistent than the top tier (except Aggro Forest), and could be expected to fizzle out at least once over the course of a long tournament. Furthermore, Aggro Forest was actually a top tier deck, so people did have incentive to prep for that too. Lion Champions were popular in Ginger not because of the lineup, but because Aggro Forest was being played in a lot of orthodox lineups too.
This lineup was very good for getting someone to top cut (though it was woefully underexplored), but for the reasons above, it could not win anything major. As time has gone on, and lineups have become more and more random 50/50 matchups as opposed to anything that’s a real counter, Kingmaker decks are far and far fewer. However, decks such as Ambush Sword have often fulfilled a semi-Kingmaker role, where in some tournaments people were adequately prepared but the deck shut down anyone who wasn’t. They were well rounded enough to win tournaments, though.
It is important to consider your goals for a tournament. Do you want the highest chance of winning the tournament, or the highest chance of making top cut? If your goal is just to top, perhaps you should become the Kingmaker.
You can also play a lineup that’s too orthodox, and too expected. Imagine a tournament where everyone plays the exact same lineup, card for card. How much more than a 50% chance to win do you have in each match? This is Shadowverse, not Chess. Your chances are low to win the tournament, no matter how you slice it. It’s important to adapt play a lineup that beats what you expect, but not to go so far as to become the Kingmaker.
IV. Three sections
What? Did you expect more? I’d love to talk more about these concepts, but this is all I’ve got for you this week. Everything comes in threes, of course.
Until next time;
Play hard or go- wait, that’s ARG.
I guess, uh, stay safe from Corona?