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Smashing the Gauntlet

Convocation time is upon us! For those of us clamoring for some Constructed goodness, take heart, because this time around in constructed events like Gauntlet you actually can earn the best reward—the 2013/14 Convocation Pack. Before we jump in to what exactly you should play, let’s take a second to talk about what makes Gauntlet a different format from what you might want to bring to something like next month’s Constructed VIP.

What makes Gauntlet constructed any different from typical constructed?

First, it might seem painfully obvious but you get no reserves. That actually has a huge impact on both deck design and the viability of certain archetypes. Narrow cards like Sorrow and Drowned Shrine of Ulwaitletmelookthatup very rarely make the maindeck in most formats but can come out of the reserves and totally flip a matchup on its head. This means it is much harder—but not impossible—to build a control deck. When normally you rely upon your entire 75 cards to cover the array of matchups you expect to see, now you get only 60 and any narrow answers you look to lean upon will be there for every matchup. The old adage “There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers” rings especially true when you move from being in your non-optimal configuration for 40% of games (assuming a 50% win ratio) up to 100% of your games—so you better nail that maindeck configuration because it matters far more in Gauntlet.

Next, the power of rogue and unexpected strategies climbs immensely. In a best of three format, you might fool me once with a card or combo that I wasn’t expecting, but you won’t fool me again and I’ve got two more chances to adjust my own personal play. In Gauntlet you get one shot, and while you might see the guy that beat you again you still walk away with a check in the loss box.

Finally, while there is more than a couple of articles worth of information about how the Gauntlet constructed metagame will differ from the  VIP metagame, a key thing to remember is that differences are likely. As the formats start to diverge, decks that would be looked upon with great skepticism in a FiveShards Cup event will be fine choices for Gauntlet. In Gauntlet, you only have to win that best of one game—so if you find a build of a deck that can bring Sorrows, Blinding Lights, Heat Waves, or whatever other typical reserve fodder into the maindeck and use them to crush the dominant decks then you might be able to get away with it. With the rapid turnover of Gauntlet games, the meta and the decks that define the format likely will also move rapidly when a shift does occur. We get the chance to redefine the typical constructed metagame maybe once a month—but Gauntlet will continue to redefine itself often, as soon as players find the deck to break it.

“That’s great. But, uh, ship list plz…”

So what defines Gauntlet right now? Well, from all accounts two decks have pretty soundly emerged as the decks to play in Gauntlet thus far—Majesty and Tusker Rush. You probably remember Majesty from last week’s article, but Tusker Rush was there too as an “also ran” from our testing gauntlet (not to be confused with Gauntlet). Take a second to think about a deck like Tusker Rush under the conditions we’ve listed above for how Gauntlet is different:

  1. It doesn’t care much about reserves. In fact, the deck hates the thought of it because you can’t muck much with the maindeck configuration as the deck is built upon the premise of playing to a mathematical curve. It is littered with threatening troops, and it’s “answers” are cards that can just go to the dome as a worst case.
  2. While it isn’t necessarily a rogue strategy (although it does have some surprisingly plays like Crushing Blow on a Tusker whose activation is on the chain), it also isn’t very vulnerable to many “unknown” surprises. “Surprise, I play Purge!” doesn’t work if the opponent is just dead on turn 4.
  3. It requires some very strong metagaming to beat in a best of one. Sure, Sorrow and Heat Wave can blow it out of the water—but neither of those cards was defining the maindeck of any Cup-winner so far. When building a normal control deck and factoring in a deck like Tusker Rush you typically accept that you are behind a little bit in Game 1 and can be way ahead in the next two to make the overall matchup acceptable. That isn’t the case here, so you are asking each of your opponents to either figure out that correct configuration or Get Rekt.

So what should a Tusker Rush list look like for Gauntlet then?

Tusker Rush

Champion: Urgnock

Troops (25)

4x Quash Ridge Tusker
4x Deadeye Ripper
4x Ridge Raider
4x Unmerciful Tormentor
1x Kindling Skarn
4x Fierce Warlord
4x Psychotic Anarchist

Actions (12)

4x Scorch
4x Burn
4x Crushing Blow
4x Crackling Bolt

Resources (19)

19x Ruby Shard

The absence of Deadeye Ripper from last week was a big oversight. Turn 1 Tusker into a Speed troop is where you want to be, so Baby Yeti+ is a stronger play than the suicidal Savage Raider. We also throw in a miser’s Kindling Skarn who is actually quite strong in a format where you care first and foremost about racing—16 actions is enough to keep him satisfied but not enough to make him crazy insane. Typically in your opening hand you are praying for Tusker, but otherwise you are keeping most hands that can provide decent pressure from the get-go.

The other big player in Gauntlet will obviously be the Majesty deck. Again, let’s think about the deck in terms of how it operates in a slightly different environment.

  1. While Majesty cares somewhat about having reserves available (as the deck can afford to have access to matchup specific cards such as Heat Wave and Periwinkle), it is typically even more important to the deck that no opponents have access to their answers. Robots has to choose if they want to start with Verdict of the Ancient Kings against everyone, Blood Diamond Control leans harder towards Martyr in the maindeck, and Sapphire decks everywhere start bringing Time Ripple back in to the 60.
  2. The power of the Majesty deck is starting to be understood more widely, but you’ll still (for a couple more weeks) catch a few people totally off guard with how brutal it can be in just killing people early and out of nowhere. It also is fairly immune to being blown out by the opponent—only a dozen or so cards in the game actually interact positively with the Majesty strategy by turn 3 or 4, so once you know the interactions you don’t find many more surprises.
  3. Much like Tusker Rush, your opponent is typically either ready or they are dead. Mono Sapphire from the previous metagame is one of the few decks that can give Majesty a run for its money from just their pre-existing 60s, but because the answers are so few it can be difficult for a wide array of archetypes to just toss in a couple Verdicts or Martyrs and call it a day (hint—rarely does just having 4x Martyr mean you have a positive Majesty matchup as the deck is much more resilient than that).

The question then becomes, do we alter Majesty in any way for Gauntlet? It certainly has a little bit of space to work with, ranging from removing the Crocosaurs for something else if you don’t expect many Reese the Crustcrawlers or Vampire Kings up to even taking out Ozawa if you expect Ripples and Martyrs for days. I think where the meta stands right now, Heat Wave is likely a strong call—it is one of the few cards in the mirror that can catch you back up and it is one of the best cards against Tusker Rush you could ever hope for. Yes, it’s a total sack of garbage when you have your own resource troops, but both the mirror and the Tusker Rush matchup come down more often than not to two decks trying to race past each other as opposed to long attrition matches where the interaction comes up more often.

The other change comes from our gem slots (which hopefully be fixed by the time this weekend comes—as of right now Majesty and Rootfather don’t interact 100% correctly). While the best Rootfather kills come from stacking +X/+X with the direct damage gem, in the Tusker Rush matchup the Rhinoceros gem is actually far more important. Otherwise you might bring them to 4 before seeing a Rootfather being chump blocked and Tusker Rush coming back at you for lethal. Making a Rhino instead (and a second if they decline to chump) can swing the game around. It also is a fine correction to make for the mirror, as the Rhino can chump block an opposing Rootfather or Calamity before letting you swing for lethal.

We also can trim back on Eye of Creations if we aren’t expecting much control in a format—this deck isn’t built to create bombtastic Turn 5 Eyes like Scraptech Brawler and instead uses them as backups to your first wave. As such, only the occasional hands with Puck->Eye for three or four troops can actually be accomplished with any sense of speed.

Majesty

Champion: Cressida

Troops (23)

4x Howling Brave
3x Puck, Dream Bringer
4x Crocosaur
4x Ozawa, Cosmic Elder
4x Arborean Rootfather (Speed, Rhinoceros)
4x Walking Calamity

Actions (13)

4x Chlorophyllia
4x Titania’s Majesty (Direct Damage)
3x Eye of Creation
2x Heat Wave

Resources (24)

13x Wild Shard
7x Ruby Shard
4x Shard of Savagery

So let’s talk about the interactions between these decks and their mirrors for a second, since those are the most important matchups outside of someone creating a new deck that can demolish both.

Tusker Rush vs Tusker Rush

Barring games where the draws are extremely lopsided, the key to the Tusker Rush mirror is target selection and sequencing of your troops to prevent the opponent from selecting their best targets at the same time. Obviously Tusker is a high priority target, but the often too-ignored Unmerciful Tormentor is actually one of the key cards in this matchup. Games frequently go long enough that each player will be able to empty their hand—making Tormentor suddenly the largest troop in the matchup and thus the Tormentor player gains control of the board. You certainly want to be on the play but it isn’t the end of the world if you aren’t.

On the play, your goal is to try and force a race situation by deploying your hand as resource efficiently as possible. At the same time, you want to balance keeping your opponents target selection abilities at a minimum—which typically means either hold back Tormentor as the last card in your hand or by trying to set up Fierce Warlord turns where you can grant the +1/+1 before the opponent can react (the goal being  to get your Tusker out of Scorch range and getting your Ridge Raider(s) up to 3/3, thus forcing your opponent to basically have a Crackling Bolt). You also want to capitalize upon any free shots your opponent gives you to Crushing Blow a troop and kill a blocker—be aware of Burn and if you smell it then try and force your opponent to play more troops on their turn by continuing to add to your board presence. Urgnock activations are extremely difficult to judge as they are very board-state intensive, but anytime you feel you can even get a point of damage out of the activation it is often right to do so.

On the draw, often what happens is that the player who wins the coinflip tries to deploy their hand as fast as possible, while you try to manage Scorches and blockers to keep their health total from getting into range of being burned out. The edge you have from being on the draw is the extra card, so try and leverage that into a longer game where hopefully you can create a slight attrition advantage—at the same time, if your opponent doesn’t play a one-drop then by all means go crazy and steal the initiative. The big thing on the draw is to try and avoid being blown out by Crushing Blow—and not coincidentally try to position yourself to blow out an opponent who goes for Crushing Blow by countering with your Burn. It is a tough assignment for sure—you can’t just let a Tusker hit you twice and expect to win the game but it is nearly impossible to recover from being run over by a Crushing Blow’d troop.

Tusker Rush vs Majesty

The Tusker versus Majesty matchup actually comes down to the first coin flip a large percentage of the time. Majesty is more deadly at creating turn 3 kills (even accounting for how many dead resource dorks Tusker can create) but Tusker is more reliable at making sure the opponent is dead on turn 4. If you asked me who I would want to be in the matchup, the answer is always “whoever is on the play”.

On the Tusker Rush side, going first you are happy with any hand that has a damage action and enough damage from troops to kill on turn 4. That is most of your hands in a nutshell, not accounting for your own turn 3 kill possibilities thanks to the Tusker—Crushing Blow interaction (attack with Tusker, and with the ability on the chain play your Crushing Blow on Tusker and you will get the extra attack on both troops).

Tusker on the draw is fairly close to the same requirements, but with an even greater focus on ensuring you have enough troops to do the job. Troop swarm hands can sometimes still get there just by virtue of chump blocking a Calamity or Rootfather on Majesty’s key turn and counter-attacking for the win. Play tight, maximize damage, and hopefully you will keep the opponents options limited.

On the Majesty side, going first often means just looking for Majesty or Crocosaur first. Your resource dorks are often just going to be poor resource trades (Brave dies to Scorch, Puck to Burn for both being a -1 resource trade for you) but you aren’t doing much else anyway. You can mulligan somewhat aggressively, as the mono-shard one-drop deck is almost never getting threshold or resource screwed and thus is probably always going to kill you if you keep a slow hand. It doesn’t hurt that often all you need is four shards and one card and the game is yours.

Majesty on the draw is similar but even more focused on ensuring you are doing something by turn 4. Often even Crocosaur won’t be enough on turn 4, so if your opponent snap keeps their opening seven then start thinking hard about whether you can rest your hopes on a couple dorks and a dinosaur. Heat Wave helps immensely in these situations.

Majesty vs Majesty

If Tusker versus Majesty relies a large percentage on the coinflip, then Majesty vs Majesty relies a HUGE percentage on the coinflip. Heat Wave helps create a little interaction with their resource dorks, but you aren’t playing Heat Wave and still getting a T3 kill so you are pinning your hopes at that point upon the opponent not having the proper resources or the deck’s namesake.

On the play, you can keep some fast Crocosaur hands but mostly you are looking for either a big Eye or the Majesty itself by turn 4. T3 Crocosaur often can take enough out of the opponent to potentially neutralize Ozawa and try to race a Rootfather (but it is not likely beating a Calamity off Majesty). If you are going to a big Puck into Eye of Creation, avoid playing out a Howling Brave next to him which could turn your opponent’s Crocosaur on. But mostly just be somewhat aggressive in looking for killer hands…

…because on the draw that’s what your opponent will be doing. You don’t have to mulligan for the T3 kill (they won’t have it every time) but you also can’t just keep fatties and shards either. On both sides, it often can be correct to even just play an Eye for 2 or 3 if that is all you can muster and let the dice fall where they may—it is an unforgiving matchup that heavily punishes the person on the draw, but also has a fair amount of randomness due to the mechanics of Majesty and Eye.

While I don’t think (and certainly don’t hope) that Majesty and Tusker Rush will be the only viable decks in Gauntlet for the remainder of Chapter 2, they are an insanely strong starting point with which to define the meta. They are ruthless in their ability to kill opponents, unforgiving in terms of what actually can answer them, and they attack along such different angles that by coexisting they actually make it harder for either one individually to be pushed out of the Gauntlet meta. Likely there is a deck that can narrowly define itself to beat both of these archetypes, but the format is neither inbred enough, such that the only thing you will face is these two decks, nor is that narrow of a build likely to be obvious to put together soon. For now, that means if you want to aim for that 5-0 you better bring one of these bad boys to the table.

4 Comments on Smashing the Gauntlet

  1. I’ve been watching your articles closely as they’ve come out. I’m primarily a limited player, but I’ve amassed enough platinum to piece together one or two competitive decks.

    What would be your advice in terms of what to build? I really liked the mono-blood list you had in your last article as well as the Coyotle Control list, but am skeptical as to how well they’ll do in the meta.

    Is there enough in the game at the moment to create a sort of tempo deck similar to say the Delver of Secrets deck in Magic: The Gathering? In case you’re not familiar, the deck ran a lot of spells like Ponder (very similar to Arcane Focus), burn, counters, spell recursion in the form of Snapcaster Mage, and would usually just ride one creature (typically Delver of Secrets) to victory.

    Anyway, thanks for your insights. They’ve given me a lot to think about, but I’m just not brave enough to spend all the platinum I’ve earned without feeling sure that the deck will perform moderately well and retain some of its value.

    • The tusker deck in this article is very cheap to build, only things expensive are probably the tuskers as the arsonist AA is (or at least was) cheaper than the regular version.

  2. You are looking for Sapphire/Diamond control if you want the delver feel. I’m not sure its good enough in the current meta so i won’t speak to that but its very delverish.

  3. Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it. I’ll look into it. I also like the looks of Coyotle Control but am fearful it won’t survive the current meta.

    Very hard to make that leap and spend my platinum on a constructed deck. I haven’t even thought about Sideboards.

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