Gencon: A True Underdog Story

By: John Tatta

(If you want to skip right to the Gencon discussion, jump down a few paragraphs.)

This story starts before Origins. Typically around April or so the DMG chat starts to get pretty active in preparation for Origins and Gencon – what I like to call the tournament season. This year was no exception as our fearless leader, Kirk Buckendorf, created 5 different group chats and about as many Facebook groups. Soon after everything was in place we decided as a small group to expand our testing radius adding Sal D’Agostino to our testing group for Origins. Sal wasn’t going and his insight is pretty invaluable in general so we thought adding him to the group could only be a positive outcome – this was mostly accurate as he quickly identified our good decks as “Thor” and our bad decks as “this is trash and you should feel bad for playing it.” For those that know Sal, this is par for the course. I only got to really know him during our testing for the tournament season and while I give him a hard time about his comments on my decks, he’s damn smart and a great player. If he says something is trash. There’s a 72% chance that he’s probably right. 50% of the time, he’s right every time.

The UK event rolls around and we predictably pegged Thor as the real contender. Groot was decent but probably not great once Thor was built optimally. We knew some of the other decks were just outliers in a Thor metagame, such as Cyclops MC, but agreed with players assessments that Mystique was a real deck. We also fully understood that these decks were far from optimal but were a good baseline for testing. So our initial gauntlet for Origins was formed. We built about 10 decks for the event and started testing. Out of the gates we learned that Thor was great but that people still wouldn’t have time to optimize it. We wanted to exploit this and play MCs that were good against Thor such as Spider-Man and Mystique and came up with some great decks for both. That being said, we were very concerned with the 30 minute round length, in particular with Spider-Man and waffled back and forth for some time leading up to the event.

Arriving at Origins, we met with Colby Gerrish who was flying solo and decided to bring him on board to the team. Colby is a great guy and has really genius deck ideas. He’s really the mad scientist of the group and we’re always either blown away by his deck ideas or in disbelief that they even work; sometimes both of these things. He helped us tweak our Mystique deck the night before Origins and we were all set to battle with Mystique in a field of what we expected was going to be 40% Thor. Colby taught us that Ghost Rider in the side deck of Mystique was really great, not just for the level two ability at times, but for his level 1 ability. Sometimes decks would just hide their MC behind a wall of flying SCs and Ghost Rider’s ability to outright stun a character that attacked would allow us to get that surprise wound on their MC or at the very least stun a front row character who was “blocking” for their MC. Outside of that we were all in agreement that the other two logical choices were Deadpool and Dark Phoenix.

After all that, we decided at the 11th hour that we would just play Thor. We really like our version for the expected mirror and our Mystique matchup was really good due to our decision to run late game cards such as Thanos and Ghost Rider. As is turns out, our main rivals, Globo Gym, also decided to run Thor but they were with a short curve version with more, and better, plot twists that we were willing to run. Their Savage Surprise tech really caught us off-guard and definitely led to my loss to Tim S. in the later rounds of the event. Regardless, this isn’t really an Origins report. I do want to point out that this is really where our rivalry with Globo Gym started however. Friendly banter and trash talking on Facebook was backed up for a ridiculously solid finish by their team and we knew that our work was cut out for us for Gencon. While there aren’t many events for VS 2PCG, being the best is something that we as a team strive for – in a fun, not too seriously, kind of way.

Fast forward to 2-3 weeks before Gencon. We officially add Colby and David Leader to team DMG as well as continue our work with Sal and his playtest group of Trexler Kolde and Jon Ruland. In addition to our core group of Kirk, Eric, Nick, Tim, and myself we were rolling pretty deep into Gencon. Our testing naturally started with Thor and as spoilers for Monsters Unleashed started being released things were just making Thor better. The Monsters team was the first one to be spoiled and immediately we recognized Tim Boo Ba, Hi-Vo, and Elsa to be completely bonkers and an auto-include in to Thor; at the very least the latter two. Colby went to work immediately on an Elsa MC deck that we liked a lot and Eric started working on a Goom deck that also tested very well. We jammed each deck into the “Thor Machine” and it came out with reasonable results. We learned how to win on the play a large portion of the time but winning on the draw was proving to be much more difficult. Eric was the designated Thor gauntlet player for the team and one by one he would crush all of our decks into submission. Eric is a spectacular player and very analytical and he will always find a decks weakness and exploit it with Thor. We knew that most non-end boss players wouldn’t be able to find the lines that he does but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t figure it out by the time the top 8 rolled around.

This persisted for weeks with each and every group of spoilers. Champions – bashed. Inhumans – bashed. Leviathon’s – bashed. For a few days we had a really sweet Groot deck withy Champions end game that was a real contender for Gencon. It was discovered that Viv Vision, Nova, *Hulk*, and Hercules were a fantastic end game curve in addition to playing their busted defensive plot twists and gave Groot the lasting power that he needed to end the game. Then Eric came in and bashed us. Then we tried jamming Champions into other decks, with great results, until Eric bashed us. Then we built some Mystique decks that tested well but we were a little off the mark and didn’t feel super confident with her. I don’t think that we “missed” Mystique as a real deck but I do think that we gave up on her too quickly as a team. Eventually, again, we decided that maybe we should just build the best Thor deck and hope for the best.

During really the entire time we were trying other decks, David Leader was just building and testing some Warrant Officer Ripley deck that we mostly just dismissed. “Dismissed” is a bit harsh as we respect David’s input and results but the deck was still pretty untested and looked dreadful on paper. We joked about how long it would take to win games and only took it half-seriously. As the event got closer David kept insisting that the deck was a real deck and as the Leviathon’s got spoiled WO Ripley seemed like a good home for them; at least the Comet Fall supporting characters. I think that I was the last one to jump on the Ripley bandwagon but nonetheless I was convinced. His idea to run Calypso and Taskmaster in the deck were a game changer and we always loved Ronan in the deck. Honestly, the Thor matchup was as close to 100% as anyone could hope for and if we made it to top 8 and got paired against Thor in untimed games it would be amazing. We knew Mystique could be tough and Dark Phoenix is really close as it forces us to change our game plan but everything else was great. Anything that wanted to attack us aggressively wouldn’t be able to and Thanos SC was close to non-existent since Fin Fang Foom SC was printed.

24 hours before the event as we were all arriving in to town we were still on two decks – Warrant Officer Ripley, or the almighty Thor. Sal and Colby had a breakthrough the night before the event with our team Thor deck and added in copies of Reader and played 1-of Ghost Rider, Thanos, and Fin Fag Foom. Reader was good anyway as he would let us fetch a Lab if we needed to and at is best will grab us a FFF or Thanos against a control deck to end the game. I personally loved the idea and thought that it was brilliant but decided on WO Ripley anyway – as did everyone else with the exception of Trexler who battled with Mystique. We were all playing 1-2 different cards in our deck as we had a few flex spots and we were off to the races on Friday morning. It turns out that 14 players decided to battle with Ripley (our 9 plus 5 others) as well as 14 Mystique and 20 Thor. About what we expected but I thought that there would be a few more Thor decks. The Collective group is a bit of an echo chamber at times and group think tends to take over. It was for this reason we expected more Thor. I/we want to give props to the community for the innovation and diversity shown at Gencon. The player base as a whole really impressed up with their tech and deck choices!

I personally in my 9 rounds of Swiss played against:

1 Karnak (1-0)
2 Thor (2-0)
3 Mystique (2-1)
3 WO Ripley – teammates (2-1)

It sucked to battle teammates starting as early as round 2 but that’s what happens when you make up over 10% of the field. My most interesting games were against the round 1 Karnak player and all of the Mystique matches. The tightest game that I played all day was against Zac McGraw in round 7ish. Zach had me 1-0 in wounds as time was called and had a Mystique with a Power Loader equipped and five +1/+1 counters. There was no way that I could get through a 22 defense Mystique in one turn (or ever) and was ready to draw my cards and extend the hand. In a moment of maybe panic Zac transformed into the Rules Lawyer She-Hulk and passed turn to me for 1 additional turn. This made She-Hulk now a 15/15 due to Power Loader and counters. I already had FFF in my hand and needed to draw a second to play him, power him up, and be able to stun She-Hulk. I did exactly that, stunned She-Hulk, made her lose the Power Loader, and was able to recover and win from there. I felt bad for Zac but mistakes are part of the game and he was a gracious opponent regardless.

Anyway, I finished 7-2 on the day and ended up 7th after the Swiss. David, Nick, and Kirk all narrowly missed and ended up 10th, 11th, and 13th respectively. We really all fell victim to knocking each other out which was unfortunate but not completely unexpected. What was most unfortunate is that we played each other so much that I’m the only one that ended up in the top 8.

My preparation for the top 8 consisted of playing in the Loyalty event on Saturday with Colby and playing with Predator cards (Mr. Black is sweet). I did look at and build one of the Mystique decks that I would play against in the top 4 but I admittedly didn’t test my top 8 matchup at all. This isn’t a knock on Ryan Millhollin at all, I just already played over 100 games against Thor and knew that something catastrophic would have to occur for me to lose in the top 8 with the deck built do beat the very deck I was facing. I played a few games Saturday night against Mystique, discussed lines of play with my teammates, and went to bed somewhat-but-not-really prepared for Sunday morning.

Things went as expected against Thor. I knew in an untimed game I could allow myself to take a few extra wounds before worrying about perma-dazing Ripley so I spent the early and mid-game playing Singularity and dazing her instead to set up big Pocklet Dimension turns with Comet Fall characters and Kane. I went to 4 wounds game 1 but never felt like I was in danger of losing the game. Game two played out mostly the same way except that I had a Jessica Jones or 3 to fight through before finally wounding Thor. It took about 90 minutes for two games but dealing 6 wounds takes a lot of time even if the end is inevitable. The Top 4 played out better than I had hoped. The game plan against Xeno-Mystique is to wait until they get to level 3 and then call Spook with Ronan. This is exactly what happened and I was able to get 3 Spook game 1 and then 2 during game 2. The Xeno-Mystique struggles mightily if they can’t Spook your 8-drop wall. I saved a few power-ups for when Jan sent Mystique into FFF and used her red to copy and he never really got to Ripley after that. The games were closer than I’m leading on since the threat of Deadpool is always live as the WO Ripley player but fortunately it neve reached that point.

The finals were an entirely different animal and also 4 of the best VS 2PCG games that I’ve been a part of. First, congrats to Joe on winning the event. Secondly, thank you for the enjoyable games. If you can muster the strength to watch the finals in its entirety, please do it. Game 1, I ripped 3 FFF from Joe’s hand and looked to have the game in completely control until he immediately drew the 4th. This isn’t to say that he didn’t play very well but it really deflated me and was extremely frustrating. This would be a theme throughout the finals as we would go back and forth, I would get a great turn with Ronan, and Joe would draw the perfects to come over the top. Again, I’m not saying he top decked to beat me and I know that Joe knows that as well. They were *great* back and forth games. At 1-1 game 3 came down to literally the final turn when I needed to draw Thanos to win on the spot and whiffed. Game 4 was again extremely close at the end and I hit 2 FFF with a Ronan and Joe again just snagged one from the top of his deck right on time. Ronan was the MVP of the finals but couldn’t control the draw step. Joe played near flawlessly and I commend him on his victory and look forward to future games against him.

I’m going to end here and just thank everyone for the kind words throughout the weekend. I very much enjoyed putting names to profile pictures as well as all games played against members of the Collective. I also enjoyed finishing higher than any member of Globo Gym and slowing down their reign of VS terror in 2017 and look forward to an extended friendly rivalry into 2018. I can’t thank Chad and Mark enough for their continued effort to grow the game. Here’s to 2018 – and hopefully more than two events!

Thank you for reading.