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gen con tournament experience recap

by Vince DeGulis

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, ‘bots and ‘cons! It is time for the obligatory Gen Con tournament report (Editor’s Note: Yes I made him do it...Scott). Normally I don’t really mind writing up reports from events, as it helps me in a number of ways. The least of which is that it forces me to look back and evaluate specifics from the games I played during an event. The importance of this should be obvious, but to put it concisely it is pivotal to review games you’ve played to find what caused both your victories and defeats. It is dangerous to be results oriented of the “what happened” as opposed to “why” it occurred.  


Unfortunately, in this case I am going to have to wing it. The reason for that is that I just didn’t take very good notes, really no notes at all. Don’t get me wrong, I did initially try but that quickly fell off..you’ll see why later.

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Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a few steps back and talk a little about the preparation for the event. As you’d imagine due to the majority of the team (everyone but me?) being in attendance at Origins we had what some would call a late start on Siege testing. While each of us had dabbled in one way or another when the spoilers were revealed, we didn’t all get together to truly test until the Saturday after the set came out. I went in trying to get the Steamroll-Thundercracker combo to work since Red Heat kinda-sorta reintroduced Swap Parts combo decks.


As you’d imagine it didn’t go well.


After literally the first 2 games of the day I was already frustrated. I was not truly excited by many of the cards in the third wave of Transformers. Again, don’t misunderstand. There are certainly powerful cards (as we saw at Gen Con itself) and I recognized them, but really it felt as though everyone on the team had already laid claim to ideas and I was just floundering, looking for any driftwood of an idea to cling to. 


Since I was absent at Origins I really needed to qualify at Gen Con and all the expectations were that it would be a more challenging event than Origins, if for no other reason that there would be significantly more entrants. This exacerbated the issue because for me I need to really be invested and attached to a deck. I’m not as strong of a player or deck builder as other members of the team so I need to run a lot more reps than they do, to understand a build and its match ups. I like to enjoy how the deck plays, playing to my strengths, while running all those reps, so that is an important consideration. Hurdle number 1 was closing that circuit. We ended up all trying a number of different lists and after a few games with Lionizer I had essentially settled on playing some version of it.


Weird right? Day 1 and I had picked a deck?

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Default Aggro?

 

Well there are a few reasons for that. The first is I wanted something orange. While I was anticipating that the field as a whole would be aggressive, I also expected it to be a long day, or days if I didn’t qualify early. Being aggressive this early in a field confers a few advantages: 


First, you can prey upon all those bizarre and unrefined lists that people come out with. Even at a large event, there is always a set of people who feel they have broken the meta after a new set releases. Once in a while they are correct, or they may even be on the right track. Given the amount of time between release and this tournament, however, it was going to be unlikely and those minor bumps that were ignored in testing may prove to be fatal as a deck sputters and tries desperately to climb a hill on square wheels. Aggressive decks due to their inherent redundancy can just go “well sorry, games over!” before any of the oddball builds really get going. 


Secondly, I would get more time to rest, eat, or whatever in between rounds. There was a very real concern about ending up in the draw bracket but if I came out of the gate swinging for the fences then I would end games quickly one way or the other. That meant that fatigue should be less of an issue over the course of the day.

Third, if you’ve read my previous articles you are probably aware that I was in a weird place with the game. I was back on the upswing at the time, but still recovering. Therefore, I wanted to select a deck early and practice the hell out of it so as to minimize mistakes. I was not confident in my own play skill or my assessments so I was leaning heavily on my teammates to provide me information. Literally every assertion I had about the game I immediately second guessed myself and that can end your tournament life very quickly.


 In the back of my head I wasn’t totally set on Lionizer decks. They were a front runner for me since the explosiveness cannot be ignored. Issues presented themselves in two ways for the battlemaster though. First there were and are plenty of ways to cripple the deck….that’s for another day, but tech cards exist to address the issue if you are so inclined. The second reason was the bigger one and that is the worst kept secret in the history of the game so far: Soundwave.

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I call it the worst kept secret because across a number of interviews Drew Nolosco has mentioned that the team “wanted to do it right” and when he confirmed we would be getting multiple versions of this iconic character this year I think many connected the dots and thought we would see some sort of standalone product. Since this was in my head I needed only to wait and see whether it was going to be legal and available to play in early August. I’ve said many times in person as well as on Tech Talk that if there is a Soundwave deck I am playing it.


Lo and behold the 35th Anniversary Edition deck was revealed and I immediately tossed Lionizer into the garbage. I’m playing Soundwave! Timeline-wise we are now not far out from the event. Between holidays, me catching a severe case of Bronchitis, work bordering on lunacy, general summertime stuff, and a number of other factors I was really pressed for resources. Chief among them was time. Still, I was being buoyed by my teammates at VectorSigma so I had that in my corner. This boon was invaluable and I don’t think I would’ve gotten anywhere without it, just wanted to call that out.

With Soundwave testing underway I shuffled between a bunch of blue focused builds. “Chunky Aerialbots” as I was calling them was doing admirably. Bring on all those wide orange decks, Soundwave can crush them all! Even Lionizer decks were vulnerable to the Decepticon communications officer, albeit less so than the wider aggro decks. 


Unfortunately, teammate Adam Bixler had this General Optimus deck that beat the snot out of our poor boy Soundwave. The match up was atrocious and I believe the team as a whole felt it was the superior three wide aggressive deck. As a result I felt I couldn’t go into the event as that big of an underdog, surely everyone else or at least a good portion of the player base, would come to the same conclusion as we had. In conjunction with what seemed to be a weak blue match up, I went back to the drawing board.


At this stage we were maybe a week and a half away from the event itself. I now have the deck that I really wanted to play, but it had been performing terribly and a deck that felt like a step below the premier aggro decks. Not an enviable position to be in. Given time was short, I didn’t want to audible to something completely new unless it was absolutely necessary. Desperate times and all that. I kicked the Soundwave idea over to Scott with a few pages of notes that I had taken during my own testing. He turned it back over to me with a wildly different list. In the midst of this we had both been independently toying with the other half of the deck, specifically the Blaster half of Soundwave vs. Blaster.

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I don’t recall exactly who said to try it first (Editor’s Note: it was me…) but I started running games with my version (1 tall) and quickly determined that unless you hit a flip effect such as Roll Out or Escape Route you basically lose on the spot. The entire flip sequence gets all out of whack and you end up either being forced to attack in alt mode with a whopping zero base attack  or risk never getting out additional cassettes (and you will not get them all out during the first combat round as “solo tape deck”). That is when I started looking running only two cassettes and a non-transforming partner. Initially I was on Stakeout. The micromaster allowed me to run additional star cards, had a base three attack which matched the cassettes, and maybe most importantly didn’t die without soaking an attack. He had more than three health so One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall won’t just blow him up. Plus he has stealth so you don’t just lose him to an attack going second which would put you back into the previous situation.


Scott quickly and correctly pointed out that there must be better options than Stakeout.

From there I was pouring over four and five star cost Autobots. I wanted a minimum of three attack so that I was sacrificing stats compared to the cassettes. Next I was trying to stick to that cost so I could continue to play either Mounted Missiles or Interpreting the Airwaves main deck to boost the double orange count. Lastly the ‘bot I selected needed to be decent enough in alt mode. They can’t just up and croak in a stiff breeze, as all my flips throughout the first round had to go towards Blaster or the entire idea implodes.

Eventually I selected Silverbolt because if I randomly got to flip him he can poke something, he has bold to find the double-blues, and my opponent needs to get pretty lucky going first to one shot him. Overall I didn’t feel terrible about it. Not great, but not terrible.

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Going Live in 1..2..3..

Now we are on the Sunday before GenCon, a mere couple of days before my wife and I would be driving out to the event. Thankfully we were able to get one more testing session in and I ended up learning a lot. The deck I ran that day was pretty close to what I ended up bringing to the qualifiers and the open, including some tricks Scott had thought of such as Bolster and Scrapper Gauntlets. Both are orange cards but allow you to unexpectedly remove opposing weapons or turn any ‘bot on your team into Ramhorn for a turn.


Potentially.


At that point Scott made the suggestion to run Firedrive, and I resisted initially because I was very much attached to the idea of 8+ cards with “OO” in the top corner. During my drive home from testing I mulled it over and ended up agreeing with the points presented to me. I would say I managed to suppress my pride for a minute and take the suggestion but as I mentioned earlier I very much was doubting myself anyway so the decision to switch was easier than you might think. Blaster-Steeljaw-Ramhorn-Firedrive. I can run with this.


With maybe 50 hours to spare I finally had a deck. Let me tell you right now it didn’t feel good cutting it that close. At least it was a far cry from what I have done at other Transformers events: Driving to a tournament, six decks in my bag, and deciding as I am registering. That scenario being bad doesn’t make this one very good though, I wish I had more time to playtest the deck but that’s how it goes I guess when a set releases this close to the big show.


As for the event itself, well as I started out, I didn’t actually take very good notes. The best I can offer are the highlights. I want to take a moment and call out that everyone was a great opponent. I met a lot of awesome people during those four days. All the games were great, everyone was a great sport and seemed to be having a lot of fun. It was really cool meeting other content creators and in general people from all over who love both Transformers as well as this game.


Oh and the WotC guys were really cool too!

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Event 1 – (0-2 and drop) An absolutely awful start to the day but not an unexpected one. I mentioned on our Tech Talk recap of Gen Con that I felt I needed warm up games. I need to get into a specific head space in order to play properly and I definitely was not there in the first event. I recall in round 2 I played against Chris from Southern Fried Gaming and we joked pre-game about how he gave me and Brian from Wreck-n-Rule a shout out in one of his videos.


Then he kicked my teeth in with Optimus-Lionizer.


Both rounds were still fun though. Here’s the silver lining about going 0-2: I knew I was eliminated, which meant I could drop immediately. The break provided by dropping from the event allowed me to get a meal instead of just random snacks I had brought. It let me walk around and see the exhibitor hall (there were a couple of things my wife and I wanted to make sure we picked up) and just decompress a bit. After walking around for a bit, I came back to the Transformers area refocused to cheer on my teammates still in the 11 AM qualifier. A number of them were doing well and it looked as though they would qualify from the first event (spoiler: they did!).


After being eliminated in the first event the proverbial weight was off my shoulders and I was ready to get going again in the 4 pm slot. I again apologize to my opponents as much of the weekend either runs together or squishes the memory of other parts. In the end I went 5-1, but was behind the eight ball the entire day after losing to Aerialbots in a squeaker in the first round! 


The funny thing is I 100% screwed up, which cost my game two, which cost me that match. Despite my error I managed to almost take the second game, and since I crushed it in game one I had the breathing room. Unfortunately, I came up one damage short in game three and got sent into the X-1 bracket in the middle of the event. This meant that I had to win out until the final round where depending on standings, I may be able to intentional draw.


Turns out I had to play in the final round, and I was paired against the (spoiler) eventual champion Kevin. We had a really fun match-up because we were both four wide and utilizing unique builds. I took first blood in the series by winning the match but each of us qualified for Saturday regardless.


With the Saturday berth secured I could sleep a little easier. Or as it turns out not really at all. The event ran until just shortly after midnight so I was driving back to the hotel super late, then I hit a monster pothole and nearly had a flat. For a few minutes I was concerned my luck was changing and debating just sleeping in Friday morning, but I made it back without any further disasters. After getting what felt like 15 minutes of sleep I was up and heading back to Gen Con. I ended up playing the Friday morning event and did rather well all things considered. While I did entertain the thought of just resting, I wanted to get in just a few more practice games against the competition to further feel out my deck. In retrospect I think I’d do it again the same way although I can certainly see the benefits of just taking the day off. I still felt a distinct lack of confidence in my play and even just a few more matches in a “real” setting helped calm my nerves as I looked forward to Saturday.

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Welcome to the Big Show!

This is what all the effort was for. Now it was much less stressful than I am sure the top 32 of Origins was because the qualification parameters changed for Gen Con,  and the entire top 32 (instead of 16) was guaranteed Q’d for the Energon Invitational in December. Although I felt a little loose, I was still was focused on trying to make as deep of a run as possible. My first opponent was Kye with a Three Wide Specialist Shockwave.

I actually did not test this matchup all that much. Although we spent a lot of time running a variety of Shockwave variants through the gauntlet there were a few glaring weaknesses that positioned the deck in an unfortunately place. I felt I should be favored going in but because of the lack of testing I wasn’t really sure. It turned out OK as you may have guessed: I am sporting triple Press the Advantage (PtA) main deck, Shockwave may be gigantic but PtA allows him to be cut down to size relatively quickly. Additionally, I wasn’t forced to discard many cards throughout the match as a whole but especially in game one. This allowed me to pretty much always play 2 cards a turn and keep the heat turned up.


In game two I boarded into the General Optimus plan. Since I was forced to go first, I was going to have an uphill battle since I wouldn’t get the appropriate attack sequence on his team. After my turn 0 Blaster flip yielded a Daring Counterattack I felt a lot better. Well Steeljaw get in there for 6 on Shockwave! After chunking the key component of his deck the game became a lot more interesting. Blaster came up just short of taking the game despite the fantastic early start. I am sure there was a play error along the way but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. As we shuffled up for game three I was beginning to build some confidence. I opted to go second to I could get a fully suited up crack at Shockwave and ultimately this game looked more like game one. No Daring Counterattack in this game but I ended up punching hard enough to take down the 14 star ‘bot relatively quickly. After that my opponent recognized the game was lost and extended the hand.


One match down.


After waiting around for a bit I shuffled my way over to the pairings board and the sinking feeling was back, I was paired against teammate Jon Palmer. I reassured myself that if I was going to get eliminated, I was OK with it being to a teammate. He was running the same deck as Scott, a more blue (and burn) focused General Optimus build (Editor’s Note: I knew this game was heavily in Blaster’s favor..we tested a bit and even though General Optimus was solid vs. Insecticon four wide aggro, the Blaster deck changing its look caused a lot of issues). Although I had some games under my belt against it I wasn’t entirely sure how this would go, but again I felt I was favored. In the end I took the match with the true weirdness being when I tanked for a good few minutes debating whether to “truly” play the Peace through Tyranny off my turn 0 Blaster flip. Ultimately I did not, which was correct, but it took me a few moments to run through potential scenarios in my head.


Two matches down.


Into the top eight. Nerves were still an issue at this stage despite the two match wins. Competition would only continue to get tougher and it had already started at an intense level 2 rounds ago! Once I had my table number I sat down and waited. Kevin sat down in front of me and we both laughed at how it was only fitting that we had a rematch in the playoff rounds given the epic nature of our preliminary match. Here we go.

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Going Live in 1..2..3..

Four wide vs. four wide. Die roll goes in my favor so advantage there. A little back and forth but game one goes to me. We shuffle up and a tense game two ends up with a W for Kevin as I once again came up a point short. In the last game Kevin plays out a secret action that I hadn’t noticed in the 5 games prior. Turns out that during our match in the preliminaries Ramhorn inspired him. That secret action was Bolster and he plopped a Forcefield onto the table to ensure that I couldn’t one shot a character. This particular play was approaching blow-out level but I wasn’t entirely out of the game just yet. We jockeyed for position for a couple more turns as both sides kept shrinking in number.

 

Then I made 2 critical errors.


In hindsight I could blame a number of things as to why I messed up, but really it was just a lack or loss of focus. I went on auto-pilot for one play, then after I realized my mistake it tilted me into making a second mistake on the same turn. What were they? Well the first was I just straight up didn’t play Forcefield. With Ramhorn already KO’d I couldn’t dodge a removal card if he had one, there’s just no way. Therefore I began pushing the Forcefield to the back of my head as far as options go and started down the path of just simply racing. We were even on characters though and the Field Communicator I played instead didn’t really mean anything. If I had played the armor instead, he has very few outs and a very limited window to find them. By delaying the play I just gave him an extra draw step as well as multiple combat flips to try and find an answer. That was very dumb on my part.


After playing the wrong card my brain just leaked out my ears and I proceeded to attack incorrectly, just straight up attacked the wrong ‘bot. The combination of those 2 misplays plus the earlier Bolster into Forcefield play ended up flipping the tables and I was extending my hand and congratulating Kevin on his victory.

In the end I was disappointed but as I explained to someone on site, I am more comfortable losing when I make a mistake than losing to variance or a matchup. In the latter scenarios there is not much you can do. If your deck is built properly, you can still lose to poor hands. If your deck is built properly, it can still lose to bad matchups. That’s just the way card games are but to me those are the most infuriating and tilting losses. In this case I messed up and the person who played better won, that’s a loss I can live with. Going forward I can be more meticulous and careful. Kevin earned the win by playing better.


Overall it was a pretty successful GenCon. As I started out with, I want to point out that it was a lot of fun and everyone I spoke with and played against was great. It was really cool to have the WotC group on site. It was awesome getting the opportunity to speak with them both “officially” in our interview, but also offline as well. I want to give a shout out to my wife who was off kicking butt in her own tournaments, and again a shout out to the VectorSigma team and patrons who all had a very successful weekend in which the entire team and a good portion of the patrons earned their invites.


If you made it this far thanks for reading, and as I tweeted out after being eliminated: now the real work begins. See you at PAX Unplugged!

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'Till all are one

 

Till All are One!


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“Till All Are One!”