Hi everyone! I’m back with another tournament report for your delectation.
Last week’s Melee was short-lived for me – I suffered my first loss (!) at the hands of the mighty Dragall in my second match. Game 1 was a massacre thanks to a strong first two turns from Dragall’s control Songhai deck, and Game 2 was very close and very strange, but concluded with a Spiral to the face for exactsies. Turns out Dioltas is a good card, who knew?
Fortunately, I had another chance to redeem myself at the weekend in the brand new Brawl4All! The idea behind Brawl4All is to make a more newcomer-friendly tournament by grouping people into pods with others of a similar experience level. The first day had eight pods of six players apiece, and everyone played three rounds against other players from the same pod. The top two players from each pod – a total of 16 people – then went on to the second day of the tournament, which was a more typical single-elimination bracket organised by seedings, similarly to the Melee events. This meant that a mix of people of all experience levels got to the top 16, whereas newcomers to Melee are often knocked out early by the scary regular S-rank types thanks to how the seeding works.
I brought Keeper Vaath again, of course. The memes must flow.
I think I’ve more or less settled on a list now, at least until Ancient Bonds comes out and brings me Lavaslasher. Here it is in full:
Massive props (again) to Pylons for putting me onto Void Hunter, a card I initially dismissed. Although fragile, Void Hunter helps me find the more resilient cards I’m looking for in a long game, and if I hit it off Keeper, at least I drew two cards. You have to play it defensively in order to avoid it dying for free and milling a card early on, but since you want to hide your three-drops anyway (to reduce the chance it gets Keepered) that works out very well, similarly to Mirkblood Devourer from my previous article. I’ve had some success playing it in positions where it’ll be able to move forward and trade with something next turn, threatening a value trade without being directly in harm’s way. Thank you, Pylons!
Outside of the two Void Hunters, the list is the same as the one in my previous article, including the sideboard.
The event itself
Personally, I’m a huge fan of newbie-friendly tournaments. I entered the first Newlyst to Duelyst event shortly after I started playing, and snuck into the top 8 with my sweet budget Mech Vetruvian list. (The event had an infinite sideboard rule, so in game 2 I rocked up with an Obelysk control list with Dominate Wills and Starfire Scarabs and the like. Nice Crossbones you’ve got there.) Brawl4All’s relaxed entry requirements seem like a strong evolution of that idea. We had familiar competitive faces like PandaJJ and Minmaxer (and, uh, myself, I guess) alongside people who’d never made Diamond before, with everyone assured they’d get three fairly-matched rounds of Swiss before they could come into contact with someone terrifying. Such a good idea!
I made the top 16 on tiebreakers. I won the first two rounds (Zurael did good work in round 2) and got flattened by Whyb0t’s Bond Argeon in round 3. The top 16 saw me win against Kara Embla control, Faie control with Pandora and Zurael (after my own heart!), a different Bond Argeon deck (this one slower, with Night Watchers and Z’irs, a much better matchup), and then reach the finals, up against PandaJJ. By this point, I was somewhat fatigued and quite nervous.
PandaJJ was also on Bond Argeon, and what I’d consider to be the best overall direction to take the deck. Looked at one way, it’s basically Tempo Argeon pre-sideboarded for the mirror. Take out some of the less terrifying cards, add in Dioltas, Ironcliffe and Bond. Job well done.
This was a very rough match for me. Game 1 started well with a Natural Selection and a hand of Makantor + Keeper, only missing a Flash Reincarnation. Unfortunately, Panda’s second turn involved a Windblade Adept and an Azurite Lion with no Flash in sight for yours truly, and all I could do was run away and hide behind a Sunsteel Defender. That got rapidly Immolated and I was effectively dead on the spot. I held on better than I’d expected, but died to something like double Divine Bond on a Sojourner for the final bit of lethal. Ouch.
Game 2 started out well for me, but a couple of things went wrong. One, a Trinity Oath in the midgame pulled Panda ahead of me on resources in a way I couldn’t easily catch up with using the cards I had. Two, between fatigue, nerves and frustration at the previous game, I was playing horrendously. Multiple times, I intended one thing, got my wires crossed, and executed another, costing myself entire cards on more than one occasion. It was awful. I lost, of course, and felt absolutely distraught for a little while. What even happened there?
I’ve never been upset like this before at a game. My attempts to be good at Magic the Gathering have been plagued with perceived strings of bad luck, low confidence, and struggling to get over plateaus, but I’ve never been so bitterly disappointed in myself (and embarrassed, knowing I was going to be on stream later). This went double given I was already keen to redeem myself after publicly missing lethal last time I was in a final.
Looked at objectively, it’s a good sign in a way. I was aware of my mistakes during the game, which is better than not realising them at all, and it’s a sign that my confidence and self-image have improved, since I now have actual high standards for my own play. I’ve also never really been good enough at a game for tiredness or nerves to make that much of a noticeable difference before. Still, that hurt a lot.
It’s a lesson to learn, right? I need to make sure I relax, don’t let nerves or tilt overtake me, don’t let myself get too hungry or too tired, and so on. I’d had a long week and quite a few factors came together to half shut my brain down during that crucial moment. The more tournaments I play, the less nervous I’ll get and the better at self-care I’ll be, and the fewer occasions I’ll have of one disastrous final game dominating my impression of how I played in the rest of the event. People make mistakes, stuff happens.
I sometimes forget that it’s perfectly OK to be bad at things like this even when you’re already supposed to be good at them. Nothing rides on my tournament success except some prizes and my own pride. (Well, and my supply of 9moons article topics.) Still, I think it’ll take a while for the butterflies to stop knotting my stomach when I sit down to play. I love Duelyst and I’ve genuinely enjoyed the majority of tournament games I’ve played, but caring strongly about the game also invests me heavily in my own performance. I need to work towards the right mix of engaged and carefree.
The meta evolves
One fascinating aspect of playing tournaments every week – something I’ve never done before – is being able to see the meta develop over time. Since I picked up this deck, not only has it experienced something of a rebirth, but a new contender has entered the arena: Bond Argeon.
We haven’t seen Divine Bond much in a while, with Healyonar not having a ton of space for it and Argeon too busy going face to play Ironcliffe Guardians. However, the lack of hard removal and the weakness of the aggro lists to large provokes leaves a natural opening for Divine Bond decks to come roaring (heh) back into the spotlight. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have assumed a list trying to stick individual big minions would be easy prey for Keeper Vaath’s removal suite, but it turns out the matchup is a lot tougher than I’d initially expected.
The challenge comes down to two aspects of the list: one, the more effective Bond Argeon decks are still playing the bulk of the Tempo shell, and can still nut-draw to run the opponent over; two, Dioltas. Dioltas is not normally a huge issue for this deck, but when you have to assume the Tombstone is a 12/10 and can’t just sit around and spend time killing it due to the aggressive slant of the deck, it gets much more difficult to deal with. Smoothly fusing two strategic angles of attack is a hallmark of a lot of powerful decks (e.g. Control Faie making the opponent worry about both their life total and their resources), and the most effective versions of Bond Argeon I’ve seen neatly blend the fast aggressive openings of Tempo Argeon with the “if you ever leave a high-toughness minion in play I instantly win” grindy aspect of old Lyonar midrange decks. This means that if you stumble in the early game, you’re taking 6-10 damage a turn while also trying to kill every single one of the larger minions your opponent is deploying. Brutal.
Needless to say, Keeper Vaath’s clunkiness is a weakness here – as I mentioned earlier, my first game against PandaJJ in the finals went south on turn 2 where I hadn’t drawn a Flash Reincarnation with which to Makantor away his board, and I had to make a very pedestrian play of body-blocking with a Sunsteel Defender, which just isn’t good enough against a deck like that. I rapidly lost from there. I’m not sure there are a ton of decks that could claw their way out of that position in the first place – maybe Faie using Gravity Well to buy time for Enfeeble? – so it’s probably not a weakness unique to Vaath, but it’s one worth noting. The addition of Dioltas plus the threat of Divine Bond to that early rush makes dealing with the deck so much harder for any control player.
Of course, what does this mean in practice? I have to evolve in kind. I’m not sure there’s much I can fit into the main deck that would improve the matchup, but I sure can do something about the sideboard.
I’m writing this paragraph an hour and 18 minutes before the start of this week’s Duelyst Melee. Freshly nestled in my sideboard are two copies of Hollow Grovekeeper. Joining my existing 3/4s for 5 that net me a pile of value, the Hollows should give me an embarrassment of riches when it comes to removing Bond Argeon’s large threats, and a way to deal with an Ironcliffe while still advancing my board at least a little bit. The tempo swing helps fight back against any two-drops I haven’t been able to clear, and I can drop my Grovekeeper to clear a provoke then run away from it, ideally locking a Lyonar unit a distance from my general while playing around Holy Immolation.
Is the deck still good?
I think so.
It’s hard to recommend picking up anything in particular right now, with the release of Ancient Bonds seemingly right around the corner, but I’m still happy with my list. With practice and the right draws, the Argeon matchup is still very beatable, and the Hollow Grovekeeper nuclear option in the sideboard is a clear boost to Vaath’s overall winrate, at least in single-deck competitive formats. (I wouldn’t run Hollows on the ladder.) Slower Lyonar decks aimed at beating the fast ones are relatively easy prey, and the Control Faie matchup seems to be good.
For now, I’m happy with the list I have, and with Lavaslasher coming in come Ancient Bonds, it’ll take some substantial shifts in the meta to seriously weaken the deck. I’m even confident in my tech slots. Void Hunter is by far the best three-drop I’ve tried playing, and Zurael is exactly what the deck needs for reliably resurrecting Grove Lions in the late-game or allowing you to freely overcommit against Enfeeble/Skorn decks.
Only running one Meltdown seems odd at first glance, but it feels right. It’s very expensive, and you don’t always have the luxury of saving your bloodborn spell activation for the 8-mana turn. Keeper Vaath isn’t really the sort of deck that needs an explicit win condition; you have enough random damage from Vaath, Makantors and general minion trading that your opponent’s health will drop sharply in the midgame, and you can turn up the SMOrc heat quite easily when the opportunity presents itself with Adamantine Claws and Overload. Meltdown is big and powerful enough that it’s worth having one, and it’s a wonderful topdeck in a long war of resources, but it’s inaccurate and doesn’t really supply the deck with tools it doesn’t already have. The deck would be just fine without it, but I do like having access to it to unequivocally close the door.
Brawl4All is a wonderful idea – roll on the next one! – and I had a great time. I learned some valuable lessons about needing to relax a bit and take care of myself, lest I crash all of a sudden and throw a match like a madman. I’ve seen the meta shift in a way that isn’t great for me, but that I should be able to deal with, and I think the deck still has some legs. Ancient Bonds is coming soon and everything will be turned upside down, but until then, I’ll be busy smashing face with a massive scary dinosaur. With forcefield.