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Markovictory

Card game strategy.

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The Calling Auckland 2020 Champion Deck Tech

The Deck

This previous weekend I was extremely fortunate enough to attend, compete, and eventually take down the Calling Auckland 2020. I only say ‘eventually’ because of the strategy behind the deck that I had chosen to play. If you haven’t seen it already, here it is:

Spaghetti Tornado 🍝🌪️

Katsu the Wanderer

// Equipment

  • 2 Harmonized Kodachi
  • 1 Mask of Momentum
  • 1 Fyendal’s Spring Tunic
  • 1 Breaking Scales
  • 1 Snapdragon Scalers

// Resource (Blue)

  • 3 Rising Knee Thrust
  • 3 Whelming Gust Wave
  • 3 Fluster Fist
  • 3 Lord of Wind
  • 3 Wounding Blow
  • 1 Head Jab

// Defense

  • 9 Unmovable
  • 9 Flic Flak
  • 6 Sink Below (Not Blue)
  • 3 Springboard Somersault

// Value

  • 3 Tome of Fyendal
  • 3 Timesnap Potion
  • 3 Drone of Brutality (Red)
  • 3 Sigil of Solace (Red)
  • 3 Remembrance

// Damage (Red)

  • 3 Snatch
  • 3 Razor Reflex
  • 3 Enlightened Strike
  • 3 Fluster Fist
  • 1 Pounding Gale
  • 1 Open the Centre
  • 1 Mugenshi: RELEASE
  • 1 Hurricane Technique

The official link to the decklist where you can browse the images for each card can be found HERE

Breakdown

This isn’t your typical Ninja deck. It doesn’t focus on the popular and default strategy of playing the Lord of Wind combo-line along with another of personal preference (or all three!), trying to set up a blowout turn that will win the game all the while pressuring the opponent to block more often than not due to the threat of Mask of Momentum triggers. Nope. None of that. This deck was built to griiiiiiiiiind. (Close to twelve hours of constant gameplay!)

The primary objective of the deck is to expend all of the opponent’s impactful cards until the game is in a state where you are able to block all of their attacks without taking any damage indefinitely thanks to the unique effect of Drone of Brutality, the key card of the deck that makes everything work.

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The deck features a very high density of defense reactions that will help you prevent as much damage as possible in a versatile way. Putting your whole hand to defend every turn isn’t as effective as a smart opponent could wisen up and save their attack reactions until the very end of the game where the average blocking value of a hand is much lower thanks to Drone defending for two rather than the status quo of three. In my eyes, if a card blocks for two or less it must be exceptional or crucial to your decks game plan. Whereas when you have access to defense reactions you will be able to dynamically block as much as needed, saving your cards to last longer and to be timed against more crucial cards. For me, the boogeyman for the event that I prepared for was Ironsong Determination. It is advisable that you’re prepared to defend against that card, it is easily the card that I lost the most games to in testing.

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The next step is to take advantage of the scenarios where your opponent stumbles and cannot force you to block with all four cards. This is where the “value” section of the decklist above comes into action. The purpose of these cards is to “get ahead” of your opponent in the abstract concept of how much damage they can deal to you instead of the normal case of being able to deal more damage to your opponent than they are able to do so to you (a crucial fundamental every ‘Flesh and Blood’ player should try to master). Whenever you gain life without impunity that is extra effort and cards your opponent will have to use to defeat you. When you play a potion you are investing that card for a high impact turn later in the game (for specific matchups only). Remembrance more often than not allows us to play more than three Tome of Fyendal’s per game, pushing the upper limit of how much life you can gain to an absurd amount (Psst, it’s more than the starting life total! Imagine having to kill your opponent at least twice in a regular game!)

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In a different world, I would not include as many, if any, cards dedicated to dealing damage as they incur risk in both blocking for two and not being able to pitch to satisfy the cost of Unmovable’s when required. The practical nature of the event where a conclusion must be reached within fifty minutes is the driving factor for this category of cards. It’s pretty easy to guarantee that you won’t die in fifty minutes with this type of deck, but will you be able to kill them in time? That’s not so easy.

A quick aside; a major fear coming into the event was that the deck would achieve a draw every round due to the timing constraints. We struggled to find appropriate methods to actually survive and kill at the same time. And then came the resource section.

It was a late revelation that our resources should serve a hybrid purpose;

  • Pitch for both Unmovable and Harmonized Kodachi’s, and
  • Block for three.

Throughout most of the deck’s development in testing our pitch cards would not block for three. Allowing us to what seemed to easily overcome any deck within the early game, only to lose most late games against our opponents weaker cards when our pitch order caught up to us. Instead of cashing in for extra value cards that made getting ahead earlier easier and obvious, having a higher density of cards that block for three enabled the deck to survive later and more often.

The chosen resource cards also unlocked a rather important aggressive capability that gave them an extra function in addition to their current hybrid pitch and block role. A big thank you to Snapdragon Scalers and Timesnap Potion! Both of these cards allows the presentation of a threat to use the Katsu ability to find either a Mugenshi: RELEASE or Hurricane Technique from both Whelming Gustwave and Rising Knee Thrust respectively. Players that were switched on would respect this threat and waste a card from their hand to block.

It is very advantageous for this type of deck to have their opponent block with cards from their hand, as you will likely be blocking with fewer than four cards the following turn, allowing you to utilise your value cards. This is the spot where you want to be, blocking with three cards per turn and having one to play with. Stabbing with Kodachi’s if it is a ‘resource’, setting up an attacking turn if it is a ‘damage’ card, or cashing in a ‘value’ card if possible.

The way to lose with this deck naturally is for the opponent to continually make attacks that require all four cards to block. Eventually, you will draw a hand with cards that block for less than three and start taking damage. Luckily, the gamble to play this deck was not punished by that notion as the metagame did not include overly aggressive cards like Sharpen Steel and Nimbilism.

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Matchups

Brute - This is the matchup that I feared the most, despite Ironsong Determination being the most feared card. Brute is built by design to beat up on decks that stock up on defense reactions. The only real hope to win here is to play like a bad version of a regular Ninja deck and do more damage than they are dealing to you, occasionally taking turns off to cash in your value cards. Depending on the patience of your Brute opponent it can pay dividends to always have a zero cost defense reaction in your arsenal so that you may block effectively on a turn where they play up to three Barraging Beatdown. I felt very fortunate to have dodged this matchup throughout the event, outside of Isaac Olssen in the first round(!) He did not expect this type of strategy from a Ninja opponent and did not prepare his deck appropriately in the pre-game procedure.

This is another huge edge to bringing an unknown archetype to an event like this, the possibility of getting free/easy wins increases due to players being unfamiliar or unprepared. This is accentuated even more in ‘Flesh and Blood’ as so far a class has only ever been associated with one archetype. Hopefully, this event changes that for at least Ninja in the future and people might think twice on how to prepare their deck in the pre-game procedure.

Against Brute, I would exclude the following cards:

  • 9 Unmovable
  • 3 Timesnap Potion
  • 2 Remembrance

Guardian - A matchup that I honestly didn’t expect to be high in numbers and felt like I would only face if it were in the hands of Cayle McCreath. Any Ninja veteran could tell you that this matchup is quite favourable if the Guardian isn’t playing Forged for War. That doesn’t change much here. You won’t be able to pressure them as often as a regular Ninja so Crippling Crush and friends will more often come down against you, but you have access to a plethora of defense reactions to dispatch them without consequence. You’re aiming to chip away at their life total with both Kodachi’s every single turn possible. Death of a thousand cuts. You won’t be able to Drone them out effectively as they can use the Bravo hero ability to give their late-game weaker blue cards dominate invalidating your strategy. Because of this, you will need to prepare for a burst finish with Snapdragon Scalers and/or Timesnap Potion.

Against Guardian, I would not exclude any cards.

Ninja - My testing partner Brendan and I religiously played the standard Ninja mirror match at the beginning of our preparation for the event as we were both drawn to the deck and thought it would be the matchup with the most intricate gameplay. As a result of the countless games we were well versed in knowing how to attack the deck and what cards/scenarios were truly threatening. Any deck that has a full set of Flic Flak and the appropriate number of ‘combo’ cards that can be paired with them should have a relatively easy time fending off Ninja attacks.

Against Ninja, I would exclude the following cards:

  • 7 Unmovable (Leaving two Red)
  • 3 Remembrance
  • 3 Timesnap Potion
  • 1 Head Jab

Warrior - Coming into the event I expected Warrior to be the most popular and successful class. So, at the very least I felt that I wanted to play a deck that had a favourable Dorinthea matchup. The standard Ninja deck has A LOT of cards that block for two and this was not an overly attractive trait for that deck. Brendan and I jammed more games against Warrior than any other class by far. Even with a version of Warrior tailored to combat this deck we felt like we knew enough play patterns to balance the matchup out. Throughout the event, no Warrior deck was configured to beat the deck and most matches felt close to a bye (outside of punting on camera in Round 2 haha).

Against Warrior, I would exclude the following cards:

  • 2 Remembrance
  • 2 Timesnap Potion
  • 1 Head Jab

Preparation

From the very beginning of my podcast series, ‘Fyendal’s Podcast’, I’ve touted that I would opt to play Ninja for the first constructed Calling event. I don’t have any clear cut reason why other than it was the class I gravitated towards the most and enjoyed playing. However, I did think there was a slight hint from the developers that Ninja would be the boogeyman of Welcome to Rathe constructed due to Mask of Momentum being the only Legendary equipment with Blade Break instead of Battleworn, haha. Instead, I chose to play a glorified Ironrot Helm in a defensive deck. What a double down.

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In all seriousness, Ninja was chosen to be the class to support the value package mainly due to the powerful Harmonized Kodachi’s. Being able to deal one damage even after an opponent blocks with one card is great value. The added flexibility to also play a potion or continue attacking that incentivises a block due to Mask of Momentum (even though its primary function is to block for two in this deck) is unparalleled by the other classes. The closest to that at the moment is Scabskin Leathers rolling for two or more action points. However, the defense reactions available to Brute are very inflexible and not efficient at combating Ninjas and Warriors, the likely and eventual largest slices of the metagame. With Flic Flak, being in my opinion, the best defense reaction in the game (and coincidentally very effective against the two aforementioned classes) the decision to go with Ninja wasn’t very close.

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Brendan and I had a very rigorous schedule and approach to testing leading up to the event. Recording every piece of data we could from games played, analysing every decklist from Road to Calling events, constantly challenging every assumption to avoid what felt like the inevitability of tunnel vision and bad habits. I really have to commend Brendan for his dedication in preparing for this event, due to the timezone difference between us, the only opportunity to communicate effectively or play games through sceptical and unreliable card game engines/webcams pointing at our desks was in the early wee hours of the morning and lunch breaks during workdays. Funnily enough, this trend continued while we were both in Auckland a week ahead of the event in order to test in person for the first time together, just when we thought the four a.m wake up calls were over, haha. Our bodies were conditioned for this pattern by this point, I suppose. It was such a shame that we paired against each other in round four. 😥

? A snapshot of the moon shining through the clouds over the Auckland CBD as I am making the walk over to Brendan’s apartment to test very early in the morning.

Stories

Here are a couple of tales and recollections from across both the preparation and during the event.

Namesake - During our testing period, while using an online piece of software to simulate games we would periodically observe games that were being played by others as a break. There was this one game in particular that stood out. A pair of budding young game designers had uploaded a copy of their own game that featured this card:

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The game that they were playing was eerily like an oversimplified version of ‘Flesh and Blood’ and the most powerful card was easily the aforementioned ‘Spaghetti Tornado’ which reminded us of Tome of Fyendal. From then on out we referred to the deck as such.

Mirror Breaker - (Preface) The evening before The Calling a bunch of friends were out to dinner at a Mexican joint near Sky Tower, starving after just finished playing the Battle Hardened event (in which Brendan and I played a standard Ninja list as to not raise any suspicions for when we bring the real deck the following day). Which included fellow Top 8 competitor Nick Butcher, esteemed World Premiere Champion Luke Badger, and a bunch of other people worthy of note but not my recollection. Like Andy, Anthony, Laurel, Brendan, Mimi, and not Jason Chung.

Partway through the dinner, my brain ticked over and I rushed to notify Brendan that I wanted to change eighteen(!) cards in the deck. His assurance and lack of hesitance at such a drastic last-minute notion which is understandable in card game history as regrettable and ill-advised were surprising but welcome to my frantic and sleep-deprived mindset. So, we throw some cash on the table, leave our meals, and hustle it over back to the apartment, make the amendments, plan the pre-game procedure for each matchup and then conclude; “This is it… bar these three cards which are fine, but could be better suited.”. So, before it gets too late, we lock in the seventy-seven cards and leave the tentative three to our own choices as we felt like they were non-critical. The sleep would be more valuable at this point than another long night irking out the most optimal decision. And slept well we did. Kind of.

On the morning of The Calling, I was constantly reconfiguring my last three slots. I decided to go with the Head Jab, Open the Centre, and Pounding Gale as a late-game Remembrance package to finish off any slower decks. When I asked Brendan for his thoughts, he found the choice to be valid but let me know that he also opted for something different from our original tentative three cards and would be keeping his tech a secret. The “mirror breaker” he dubbed it.

How hilarious that we would pair in round four only for the super-secret technology to never see the light of day. That match was easily the most cognitively engaging game of the day and was a shame that it didn’t happen later on in the day where the potential of it being recorded was higher. Brendan tucked his special card the entire game through the hidden means of Enlightened Strike and Sink Below, what a master of deception!

He was, unfortunately, one turn away from deploying his threat when the game ended slightly prematurely to a long chain of attacks from myself thanks to both Snapdragon Scalers and Timesnap Potion. His unique card would have won him the game no question. If anyone can guess the specific card Brendan chose to add into his deck to combat the mirror match gets a special prize.

? Lifepad from the game against Brendan in round four of The Calling.

Retrospective

Wow, what a journey it has been. Having played each of The Calling events so far, this most recent event has been the most hyped, difficult, and importantly, fun one so far! It was an amazing event to be a part of, seeing players who haven’t played since the last Calling in Auckland late October last year vying to redeem themselves or to prove and hold true to their previous performance (Jasin Long 100% Top 8 rate 😍), as well as those who travelled from all corners of the globe becoming new friends, and of course, the tremendous staff of Legend Story Studios who orchestrated our gathering in the flesh and blood! A massive thank you to everyone who attended!!! I think it was evident to all those in attendance that we are on the frontier of something truly special and unique. I can’t wait for the next one, let alone Arcane Rising which is just a short month away! I hope to be able to talk about the highly anticipated follow up expansion sooner rather than later. 😁

? Flying out of Auckland on a picture-perfect day.

Credit

This deck was created by Brendan Patrick and myself throughout our many extensive testing sessions leading up to the main event. It would be a hot pile of garbage without Brendan’s invaluable input, dedication to testing sessions, and patience of always piloting the “victim” decks. From the very outset of our testing regime he said, “I’ll match your grind, no matter what”, and I can’t respect that dedication and devotion enough. I’m incredibly overjoyed that I was able to bring the trophy home on behalf of both of our efforts. Here’s to the next one!

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