The wonderful world of accounting research prevented me from realistically being able to go to Rotterdam for WoW TCG Worlds this year. I was relegated to cheering my friends on from the comfort of my computer in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Needless to say, after a weekend of WoW festivities, I was very ready to get back into the mix at the Meta Mart 5K the following weekend. Shortly after Worlds, I received a text message from my good friend Charles Chapell regarding one of the decks in the Worlds coverage. Our conversation went something like this:
Charles: “Hey Michael.”
Charles: “Did you see Luca Magni's Monster Warrior list from Worlds?”
Charles: “I think that [Commander Ulthok] could be really good in the Core metagame.”
Charles: “How good do you think this would be at the 5K?”
Okay... so I might have not got the conversation entirely accurate, but that's actually pretty close.
One benefit to a narrow metagame is a predictable metagame. In the current Core format, you can usually rely on seeing three particular cards: 1) [Etched Dragonbone Girdle]; 2) [Grand Crusader]; and 3) [Mazu'kon]. About 90% of the decks in Core will focus on abusing one of more of these cards. So, if you have an effective way to answer them, then you can gain an advantage over an unsuspecting opponent.
Luca's deck featured several cards that are great responses to these metagame cards. [Obsidian Drudge] and [Crushing Strike] can remove wayward Girdles; along with [Devout Aurastone Hammer] and [Breathstone Infused Longbow]. [Bottled Spite] is a nice source of AOE damage to keep smaller allies from taking over the board. And, the coup de grace, [Commander Ulthok] is a permanent answer for any potential problem cards that your opponent may have. For many decks, removing a lynchpin like [Mazu'kon] can make the rest of the deck fall over like a house of straw in the face of a big, bad wolf.
Charles and I discussed the deck for a bit. While we both liked the idea, we thought that we might be able to make a few tweaks. We had experimented with Warrior back in Worldbreaker block. John Hall had made the finals in Oklahoma with a Warrior focused on weapons with [Enraged Regeneration] and [To Arms!] With a wide array of cheap weapons and combat tricks like [Bronze Drake] and [Raging Shout], the deck could make very efficient trades while taking a minimal amount of damage. Being able to kill an opposing [Rosalyne von Erantor] on the draw without actually having to use a card of your own is a huge tempo swing.
However, we felt that the Warrior ongoing abilities might be a bit vulnerable to hate. While we liked the idea of playing a build similar to John's pseudo-solo build, we realized that trying to make the deck do too much would be ineffective. So, we took a few of the more effective pieces of each build and merged them into the following deck:
4 [Bronze Drake]
4 [Bronze Warden]
4 [Bronze Guardian]
3 [Obsidian Drudge]
3 [Obsidian Drakonid]
4 [Commander Ulthok]
2 [Crushing Strike]
4 [Furious Strike]
4 [Raging Shout]
4 [Etched Dragonbone Girdle]
4 [Perdition's Blade]
4 [Polished Breastplate of Valor]
2 [Scimitar of the Sirocco]
2 [Shalug'doom, The Axe of Unmaking]
4 [Twilight Citadel]
2 [Seeds of their Demise]
The toolbox nature of the deck gives it efficient answers to many of the cards in the metagame. While [Commander Ulthok] is obviously the main man in the deck, he is not a requirement to control a game. The deck has efficient answers for allies, abilities, and equipment. Assuming that you don't fall too far behind in the early turns of the game, you can rely on a powerful late game to take control of the match.
At least, that's how it works in theory.
I sleeved up the deck on Saturday morning and marched into the Crowne Plaza in Ft. Worth to do battle. Here's a brief rundown of my matches:
Round 1 – Roger Brunson ([Wildseer Varel])
Seeing Blue Druid, I expected to see a [Gift of the Earthmother] combo deck. I was caught off-guard when Roger started off with a [Magni, the Mountain King] Stash and two Treants off of [Bottled Wild]. [Verdant Boon] followed by [Surge of Power] put me way behind on the board. I fought with [Perdition's Blade] to keep the board manageable, but a second [Verdant Boon] was pretty much the nail in the coffin. Despite a significant amount of draw on my part, I didn't find the [Gnash] that I needed to survive. I realized here that [Bottled Spite] does have some very relevant applications.
Round 2 – BYE
Kind of anticlimactic, but a win's a win.
Round 3 – Nicholas Hannah ([Rohashu, Zealot of the Sun])
After my break in round 2, I came back to face Ooga Booga Paladin in round 3. Nicholas started out with a couple of copies of [Blessing of the Kindred] to compliment [Telor Sunsurge] and [Lordann the Bloodreaver]. We both got Girdles out, but I was able to take his out with [Obsidian Drudge]. Ulthok made [Mazu'kon] a non-issue; and [Gnash] took out the little guys on Nicholas' side of the board. After [Obsidian Drakonid] took out the Blessings and a second Ulthok took out [Grand Crusader], Nicholas scooped up his cards.
Round 4 – Nick Fortuono ([Rohashu, Zealot of the Sun])
Nick was playing Red Paladin of the control variety (read: no [Grand Crusader]). I got ahead in the Girdle war thanks to a well-timed [Crushing Strike]. When Ulthok took [Mazu'kon] out of Nick's deck, there were few threats left that Nick could wield. Browsing through his deck, I noticed two copies of [Twilight's Hammer]. I planned to snag those if I drew another copy of Ulthok, but Nick managed to rip a copy before I could get another Ulthok. After claiming some significant cards on my board, I used [Obsidian Drudge] and Shalug'doom to get rid of the Hammer. After [Shockwave] reclaimed my Ulthok from Nick's board, I replayed the 5-drop. At this point, I made a poor choice to take out [Obsidian Drudge] to avoid losing any further equipment. I figured that there was minimal risk of Nick drawing into his second Hammer... which is exactly what he did. I tried to survive the onslaught of Nick picking off my big characters, but the Hammer did its work and I snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
After punting my match against Nick, I picked up a variant of Phil Cape's Red Warlock deck for the Classic rounds. My matches against Spencer Jackson's [Martiana the Mindwrench] deck and Matt Parker's [Vorix Zorbuzz] deck went smoothly, but Stuart Wright showed me what it really means to play Red Warlock. The Top 16 standings were released, and I managed to squeak into the octofinals into 13th place.
Top 16 – Stuart Wright ([Jak the Bilgewater Bruiser])
Although he dominated me in the final round of Swiss, I figured that I would fare better in the Warrior mirror than in the Warlock mirror. I hoped that my extra equipment destruction would help me in the matchup, which it did in spades. Game 1, I was able to KO Stuart's Girdle with [Crushing Strike] before he get any use of it. Though I didn't get mine into play until the later turns, it was enough to give me an insurmountable advantage in Game 1. Game 2 was much shorter due to an extremely poor draw on Stuart's part. A couple of copies of [Furious Strike] couldn't help his draw; and Ulthok to get his copies of [Mazu'kon] was the final nail in the coffin.
Top 8 – Sal D'Agostino ([Akumo of Thunder Bluff])
Sal fought his way into the Top 16 by winning a virtually unwinnable matchup against Charles in the last round of Swiss. After losing with his Vorix deck to Brad Watson and John Hall, both playing Simon McKey Blue Hunter Rush, Sal managed to triumph in three games over Charles... who was also playing Blue Hunter Rush! While Sal and I are pals, I was out to get some revenge for my monster brother-in-arms. Game 1 was a pretty aggressive start for me; with a couple of counters on [Perdition's Blade] taking out Sal's midgame. Sal tried to finish me off with [Mazu'kon], but I showed him that Ulthok was not my only way to deal with the epic 6-drop; as I bounced him to the top of Sal's deck twice with [Shockwave]. The resulting 12 points of damage allowed me to deal enough damage to take the first game.
Sal responded with an aggressive start of his own in game 2. I was able to remove the threat of [Mazu'kon] by destroying Sal's [Devout Aurastone Hammer] on turn three; then permanently with a turn five [Commander Ulthok]. However, the threat of Sal's [Cairne, Earthmother's Chosen] loomed large. I dug furiously with my Girdle to find a [Shockwave] to deal with the massive Tauren, but the ability didn't make an appearance in the matchup. After pumping Cairne up to 10 ATK and swinging twice (thanks to Akumo's flip), Sal took me from 9 damage to 29 damage in a single turn. The following turn, I picked up my cards to go to game 3.
Game 3 played out similar to game 2 early on. I made the choice to wait on taking out Sal's Hammer right away to get some card advantage with my Girdle/[Twilight Citadel] combo. Sal made me pay by dropping out a [Zudzo, Herald of the Elements] on turn three. While I was once again able to take care of [Mazu'kon] with Ulthok, Sal pushed the damage with Zudzo and Akumo's flip. I eventually got rid of the 5-drop; and ensured that he wouldn't make a return appearance by removing two copies of [Spiritual Return] from Sal's hand with a second Ulthok (one of which Sal had accidentally revealed by trying to recur a [Jex'ali]). Right as I finished the turn, time was called in the round. At that point, I was way ahead on board position; with Ulthok, [Gnash], [Bronze Guardian], Girdle, and [Polished Breastplate of Valor] compared to Sal's [Venerable Mass of McGowan]. However, I was behind in the damage race 24-12. Sal put me further behind with a copy of [Riptide]. He attacked with his weapon into my Guardian; which I allowed to go through to get the extra point of damage. On my final turn in time, I attacked with my remaining allies into Sal; along with a Scimitar plus [Furious Strike] and an [Obsidian Drudge] (given Ferocity thanks to Scimitar) to take a 26-24 lead. Unfortunately, Sal had plenty of outs in his deck; and he played one in the form of [Riptide] to take the match in the final turn of time.
While I was understandably disappointed to lose in that fashion (especially since I was so far ahead on the board), I'm happy that it was to a good guy like Sal (though I will forever remind him that he won BY THE SKIN OF HIS FRIGGIN' TEETH!!!) Sal went on to win the entire tournament and take home the $2,000 first prize. Congratulations, Sal!
As far as the deck, I was extremely happy with the way it played. While [Commander Ulthok] was the MVP to be certain, I was very happy with how [Furious Strike] played. The combination of 3ATK and Delve allows you to control early opposing allies while winning the war of card advantage (generally by allowing you to find a copy of your Girdle or one of the many answers in the deck). [Gnash] was extremely strong; and probably should be a 3-of in the deck. [Crushing Strike] is also amazing. While it tends to get overlooked because it's not as good as equipment hate from earlier sets, it is very strong in a format with a lot of powerful equipment trying to take advantage of a lack of equipment hate. That said, I wouldn't complain in the least if [Smash] was reprinted...
I would probably cut Shalug'doom from the deck. While it can be good in Horde and Alliance decks, the lack of Cairne/Magni tokens in the Monster Warrior deck make it less useful. Also, with fewer weapons in the deck, [Polished Breastplate of Valor] is probably unnecessary.
As far as cards that could be added, I think the deck needs a better win condition than a simple war of attrition. [Ozumat] is my initial consideration; as he can be very difficult for many decks to answer outside of combat. Additionally, the 8-drop can answer some of the more troublesome allies in the format (like the Cairne that Sal tortured me with in our quarterfinals matchups). Most importantly, the Eternal keyword means that your opponents can never truly get rid of [Ozumat] unless they also play [Commander Ulthok].
Some other card considerations are [Bottled Spite], [Sorrow's End], [Chaotic Rush], and [Augment Steel]. This last one particularly interests me. While it is a bit costly, it gives you an additional threat in the equipment war. It could be used to recur Bottles or Girdles in a pinch; or it can revive KO'd weapons with a significant power boost. The prospect of swinging for 9 ATK with [Sorrow's End] is one worth considering.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed the report. If you're looking for something different to play in Core, I highly recommend Monster Warrior.