Going Deep – Game Analysis and Brewer’s Challenge VI

Hello Friends! I have a short article for you today. It is the end of the month, so I have another Brewer’s Challenge for November! Before we get to that, I thought we could review a specific game from this weekend’s invitational. RNG Eternal’s own LightsOutAce won, and I am sure you will hear more from him soon, but I wanted to run through a few decision points in one specific game that he played as I thought it was instructive. Let’s get started!

LightsOutAce versus Thundershot Game 2

I had a chance to watch a bunch of the ETS invitational this weekend, and had a ton of fun. If anyone wants to check it out I am sure youtube videos will be going up soon, and you can find the VODs through Twitch here. I am going to be talking through some specific decision points in game 2 of LightsOutAce’s match against Thundershot. I think LightsOutAce’s play was actually exceptional throughout the match. The match starts at about 3:24:00 and the specific game that we will cover starts at 3:35:00. It is often easy to either underestimate the number of decisions per game, or the importance of the various decisions. By focusing on a couple of these junctures we can learn a lot about what goes into making these decisions. Let’s take a look at the decklists just so we know what is going on.

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2 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
1 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
1 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Blistersting Wasp (Set2 #202)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auric Interrogator (Set1002 #13)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
4 Banish (Set2 #207)
4 Dawnwalker (Set1 #86)
4 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
2 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
3 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
4 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

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2 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Blistersting Wasp (Set2 #202)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auric Interrogator (Set1002 #13)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
4 Banish (Set2 #207)
4 Dawnwalker (Set1 #86)
2 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
4 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
2 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
2 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
5 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
2 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

These decks are very similar obviously, to simplify things, the following lists are all the differences between the two decks.

LightsOutAce’s Cards

1 Annihilate
2 Deathstrike
1 Predatory Carnosaur
2 Amber Monument

Thundershot’s cards

1 Seek Power
2 Xenan Obelisk
2 Twinbrood Sauropod
1 Time Sigil

So LightsOutAce has more removal and some Monuments, while Thundershot has a bit more meat, and is more likely to hit 8 power on time to power up Obelisk. The differences are so minor it is hard to guess who has the advantage. This is not a match up where I could say there is a specific “plan”, which is often the case in mirrors. Like most Time mirrors the person with the biggest animal in play gets to control combat, though there is enough removal in both decks that it is unlikely for the biggest unit to stay in play very long. The only flyers in either deck are the Blistersting Wasps, so ground stalls are pretty common. Card advantage is very important since a lot of games will work out where all the cards essentially collide with each other until one big unit is left over and the game ends. The Dawnwalker + Xenan Initiation combo is important for this reason, since this is obviously a great way to generate card advantage. With that, let’s get to our first decision point.

3:37:30

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Up until this point nothing too interesting has happened. The Blistersting Wasp on Thundershot’s side was buffed with a Xenan Initiation, and was used to kill an Ayan. LightOutAce’s hand is tight on power and low on action, while Thundershot has 2 Predatory Carnasaurs in his hand. Carnasaur is one of the best cards in the match up because it is the biggest unit in either deck and helps generate card advantage. Ace played a Sandstorm Titan on his turn, and Thundershot is now faced with a decision on his turn 5 on whether to Banish the Sandstorm Titan now and attack for 2, or just pass, holding up Banish.

Let’s work through all the possibilities. First, using Banish right now to clear the was for the Blistersting Wasp attack does not seem important. LightsOutAce is at 32, and you are clearing the way for only 2 damage. Holding up Banish for LightsOutAce’s turn also has some other benefits. Given the way the game has played out it is entirely possible that Ace has Dawnwalker + Xenan Initiation or Auric Interrogator + Initiation in hand. By holding up Banish you get to disrupt those “combos”. Ace also plays 0 protection effects (as is expected in Xenan), so it is not like letting him power up will suddenly turn on Stand Together or Protect. For these reasons I feel it is at least correct to wait for Ace’s turn to use Banish.

Next, I don’t think you want to use Banish on the Titan if you can avoid it. Outside of the 3 Predatory Carnasaurs in Ace’s deck, Banish hits everything Ace can play. Trading with the 2/4 feels like a better use of resources, since a killer Wasp is a good thing to have for Dark Return. Still, I don’t even think that is the best use of resource. Thundershot has 2 Predatory Carnasaurs in hand, which are perfectly built to eat Sandstorm Titans. By keeping the Titan in play you get to set up a value Carnasaur attack. Even if Ace plays an Obelisk to protect the Titan, you can then Banish it, followed by the Carnasaur attack. There is a chance that Ace has a removal spell in hand to protect the Titan from the Carnasaur, but in that case you can simply trade with the Wasp on the following turn.

I think this scenario is a good example of the importance of prioritizing and managing resources. Thundershot chose to cast the Banish on his turn. In the way the game panned out Thundershot didn’t get another good Carnasaur target until much later in the game, which brings us to the next scenario.

3:40:00

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By this point in the match, there has been a lot of passing with very little action. Both players have an Obelisk in play at this point, with Thundershot’s being fully powered and LightsOutAce’s still only at half power. Given the way Thundershot has been playing, Ace has determined there is at least 1 Carnasaur in Thundershot’s hand. It is hard to tell exactly how he figured this out, but there have been a lot of small tells like Thundershot’s pacing. On the previous turn Thundershot fired a Vara’s Favor at Ace’s face so he could play a Sigil to fully power up the Obelisk. Given that you would avoid wasting the Favor if you had some other kind of power available, it is pretty safe to conclude that the other 2 cards in Thundershot’s hand are action, and Predatory Carnasaur makes a lot of sense as a card to hold.

This information becomes key on LightsOutAce’s turn. His hand is a Dark Return that he has been holding back (probably for the purpose of pairing with a unit that eventually gets a Xenan Initiation buff), 2 copies of Xenan Initiation, and a Argenport Instigator that he has just draw for the turn. If he plays out the Instigator it will be eaten by the Carnasaur in Thundershot’s hand, but if he draws a power he will be able to play the Instigator with Deathstrike backup. With that, Ace decides to play Dark Return and bring back a Sandstorm Titan but not play it. Why? Well, playing the Titan would be stupid, since you are just feeding the dinosaur obviously. Instead, he is setting up for the potential of drawing a power and Thundershot playing a unit. Let’s say Thundershot draws and plays a Sandstorm Titan next turn. It is a 5/6 base with an Obelisk in play making it a 7/8. When Ace Dark Returns back the Titan it becomes a 6/7, the Obelisk in play makes it a 7/8, and the Xenan Initiation in hand makes it a 8/9 which could eat the 7/8 that Thundershot played. In addition, the Titan would now be out of the range of the Predatory Carnasaur, which is an 8/8. This subtle little play was low-key genius, as it recognizes the contents of Thundershot’s hand, reasons through the tactical implications of the scenario, and correctly selects a line that accounts for all of that. Really great play!

3:40:30

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The final moment that I wanted to discuss was this attack by the Predatory Carnasaur, and the sequence of plays that follow. Having drawn a Dawnwalker rather than a power Ace decided to finally feed the Carnasaur, and plays out a second unit to at least set up a counter attack. On Thundershot’s turn he must decide if he will killer the Dawnwalker or the Instigator. Instigator is the obvious choice in most scenarios, but Thundershot has an Ayan in hand. If he gobbles up the Dawnwalker he may entice Ace to attack into his ambushed Ayan (which is a 5/5 because of the Obelisk in play). Thundershot attempts to bait Ace, so he chooses to attack the Dawnwalker.

Although I realize the appeal of this line, I think it is easy to underestimate how much your opponent is able to figure out what is happening. Ace should immediately recognize that this play was funky. What are the reasons why Thundershot would kill the Dawnwalker over the Instigator? Ayan is the only reasonable explanation. On Ace’s turn he draws a Banish and attacks his 4/4 into his opponent’s ambush blocker. Ace is able to Banish the Obelisk turning the 5/5 into a 3/3, to set up a total blow out. It is hard to know for sure how much of this Ace figured out as the game played out, but I do think Thundershot’s play was unnecessarily risky. Sure it is nice to eat an Instigator, but it is entirely possible that Ace has a Banish in hand (or drew it for his turn). In fact, there has been a stop for several turns from Ace’s Deathstrike, and it is entirely possible that this was Banish instead. The blow-out implications are just way too gruesome, especially since

Ayan’s ultimate is such high value (it would bring back a 10/11 Titan). In addition, the Instigator is not that important. In the world where Thundershot gets to play out Ayan’s ultimate and the other Carnasaur the 4/4 on Ace’s side would be totally invalidated. I feel like Thundershot was too greedy here, and got punished as a result.

From this point LightsOutAce was pretty far ahead. He proceeded to get the Dawnwalker + Xenan Initiation combo set up while Thundershot draws a couple of power and low-impact cards in a row. Ace goes on to take the game and the match. Overall, I thought this series was very interesting. Game 1 was extremely intense and instructive as well. LightsOutAce has done a terrific job of showing everyone that he is not just a memester, but a memester with some skills!

Brewer’s Challenge VI

For those that don’t know, every month I get to Master playing decks built around some off-meta card (you can find my articles about last month’s challenge here and here). I have 9 cards for you to choose from, and I will build around the winner! Votes count until the season actually turns over. Vote here!

Flamestoker

This has seen some play, but I honestly haven’t worked with it at all. It has potential in some Praxis Horn style decks, or a finisher in some near-unitless control strategy.

Sentinel’s Might

I keep on thinking this card has some kind of potential in some sort of all-in lifeforce deck or a version of Elysian Chalice. It seems powerful if you can get it to “go-off”, but it is clearly a high variance effect. I’m not sure if I can make it work, but I feel like it is worth a try!

Augmented Form

SirRhino has convinced me that this card is worthy of another look. +6/+6 is a lot of stats, and it is easy to imagine a world where you get to do some insane nonsense with a card like this.

West-Wind Herald

I wanted to put South-Wind Herald in this spot, but I was not quite brave enough. West-Wind Hearld clearly has potential in a few different decks beyond that, like Bad News combo, or just some Hooru Cheese deck. Hopefully I get to try out a few of these!

Obrak, the Feaster

I still can’t believe that a 7/7 revenge flyer for 5 is seeing no play. I understand why, since it clearly has a significant draw back, but it is a 7/7! For 5! With revenge! And flying! That has gotta be worth the work.

Stronghold’s Visage

Believe it or not, this card was top-tier ranked playable once upon a time. Visage control is an archetype that did very well for a while before people figured out how to combat it. I was messing around with it a little this month, and it felt OK, but there was clearly more work that needed to be done. It might be possible to pair this with another card on this list in some kind of control-ramp-lifeforce-something-something strategy.

Curiox, the Collector

Every now and then I look at this guy and wonder if I am missing something. 6/6 Flying endurance for 7 is not insane, but it is also not embarrassing. The Dragon’s Eye is also just sooooooo good! I feel like Curiox deserves another try.

Molot and Nakova

I have been experimenting a little with various versions of Skycrag Midrange on-and-off recently, and it occurred to me that Molot and Nakova might me the missing piece to a deck like that. I am not going to go into the details now, but this card is legit exciting for me.

Mask of the Tormenter

I am slowly warming to this card. With Shatterglass Mage taking a break for the first time since she was released, as well as the introduction of Power Stone, Lifeforce Ramp is starting to look playable. Not exactly sure what it would look like, but it has gotta be worth a shot!


That’s it for me! Make sure to vote for the Brewer’s Challenge! Did you have any thoughts on the game that I commented on? Any other games that you thought were particularly fun to watch? Thoughts on other cards to include in the Brewer’s Challenge in the future? Be sure to comment in the Reddit thread! Until next time,

Love,

Neon

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