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Strategy Articles

GenCon 2014, Part I

by Johannes Klarhauser, Kaiser

10th September 2014

Disclaimer: I am writing this article about three weeks after GenCon, so apologies for any mistakes or missing details.

Before GenCon

It has been six years since my last GenCon. In 2008, when Borg was all the craze, I secured second place on Day 1 with a Bajoran Integrity deck, then worked my way into the final confrontation with the Queen. A lot of time has passed since then, I was lucky enough to play in three more World Championships since then, though never again did I do so well as I did in Indianapolis. Fond memories, I was very much looking forward to revisiting that place.

In the past, I have often built decks and scribbled decklists at the last minute because of time constraints, or maybe just being lazy. The low point was probably the European Continental Championship 2013, when I turned up in Austria without a deck and had to borrow one from Tobias. This year, I had the luxury of having an entire week off that I spent agonizing over deck choices, building new decks, tweaking old ones, printing cards, sleeving and packing my decks, and yes, even printing my deck lists in advance, hoping that this would prevent me from sitting up late at night or tinkering with my decks shortly before registration closes (see Worlds 2012 in Australia, where I ended up handing in a deck with only three missions...).

I felt a bit out of touch with the meta this year. Unlike other years, the only Regional I could make was my own, and with only four participants, it was hardly representative of the bigger picture. I was unable to make it to either a National or our Continental Championship, so what preparation I had came from some online tournaments and the old run-my-decks-against-each-other routine. Eventually, I wanted to have three decks with me for 2E, and one for 1E; for Tribbles, I just packed my Regionals-winning pile of randomness and relied on the community in general (and the brothers Hoskin in particular) for decks to borrow, should I want to play something else for a change. I made a conscious decision not to bring decks for any of the limited cardpool formats like Academy or Block and had decided not to play in any of those several weeks before.

2E is still my main focus, so most of my preparation time went into those decks, but there was one affiliation I wanted to stay away from: Romulans. I have played them myself quite a bit, and I have played against them much too often now, and I was frankly getting tired of seeing them, even though pre-GenCon I considered them the best and most flexible affiliation. In the end, these were the decks I ended up taking with me:

[Voy] Voyager - unchanged, my old stand-by deck. Dead-solid solver that offers an insane amount of dilemma pile support.

[TOS] TOS - unloved by many, the ALC-bomb is very powerful. The version I had with me (different from the one linked here) had some twists to Kris' original design...

[Kli] Klingons - unimaginative Past Klingon solver with an MVB-style TT/ACE pile, mostly to have a non-Federation option.

Ok, now, let's be honest, that three-deck limit was ridiculous from the start. So what else do I have sitting here on my desk? New Age Bajorans? I have been working on them for a while. I fear there might be a way to break them. I haven't found it yet, though, and the way my deck is now, they just don't make the cut. Relativity? Very strong, but I think I know how to beat them. If I do, so do others; the future guys are cut. Dominion solver, Nick Yankovec-style? Lacking some key pieces to make me feel comfortable enough to take it either to an 8-round Day 1 or into the bracket, but quite possibly an option for the WCT event. Then again, I might miss that event anyway because my flight was pushed back by half an hour, so Dominion is cut. Borg assimilation? I have a deck built, but have not looked at it recently, and that's a beast that needs practice to work best. I don't have the time to wrap my head around them, the Collective stays home. TNG super speed? No...just...no.  Starfleet? I still feel bad about riding them to death in the side events in Sydney two years ago, Archer is out. Non-aligned super fun? Yeah, right, that deck didn't even make it to the stage where I would play it in a local. Ok, what else...ah, the Regionals deck. Yes, that one might be fun. Actually, I'm 6-0 with it so far, so it's in. But that's yet another Federation-heavy design, I need another option that is not blue. Also, ideally it should be something that I have not played recently, as some element of unpredictability certainly wouldn't hurt. So let's have a look at what others have been playing...

That's when my eyes fell on Stefan Slaby's European Continentals runner-up Ferengi again. I have built several Ferengi decks, none of which have made it out of the private testing stages, but Stefan knows his stuff, so I decided to give it a try. I built the deck card-for-card, had a look at elements I normally don't use. Gave it a few test shuffles, ran it against a standard attrition pile. First impression: so many weaknesses, so many points to attack this deck...how can I try to improve this? What followed was about a full of tinkering with this deck, adding personnel (Morik? Goval? All those useful high-Integrity Ferengi?), verbs (Quantum Slipstream and Astrometrics Labs were in for several iterations), toying with ratios. In the end I scrapped all those changes and went back to a carbon copy of Stefan's draw deck. I opted for a different dilemma pile, though. It might be stupid to question the reigning world champion's decisions, but I felt my dilemma pile build had a slight advantage, though in all fairness, I never built Stefan's pile and ran it. Dilemma pile evaluation is something that I usually do in my head, and for the most part, I'm not doing too bad that way. So, let's add more deckboxes:

[DS9][TNG] DS9/TNG - undefeated in two events, dual HQ microteaming with the potential to fall flat on its face if the gimmick doesn't work. Fun.

[Fer] Ferengi - untested except for test-runs against my other decks, this was the big unknown.

[Car][Dom] Cardassian/Dominion - unholy Machine Gun Madness. I built a new version of the Pseudopod loop craziness because I couldn't sleep. Not a serious option for tournament play, but I was hoping to get to play it in a pickup game.

Ok, five proper decks for 2E, now let's move on to 1E. Why, oh why have I started this? Maybe because once you're familiar with not only the most basic but also some of the finer points of the messy rules baggage, it can actually be quite fun, and the game seems to be in a lot more balanced state now. I'm not much of a 1E deckbuilder myself, and at this point, with less than two years of experience under my belt, I'm mostly relying on other people's designs. For GenCon, I wanted one competitive deck that might carry me to a .500 record on day 1, and since I had some time to spare, I also built a backup deck, one to which I lost online, and had a blast doing so.

Bajoran/Maquis/Son'a - unashamedely copied from the other Stefan (Mogh Son of Worf). Stefan kindly provided some pointers on how to play this deck and gave some ideas on how to improve the version he played at European Continentals.

Ferengi - un-non-TNG Ferengi, dropping Brunt's Shuttle again and again. Based heavily on Sebastian Kirstein's deck, this was something I figured I might play in the 1E team event.

That's it, I ended up taking twice as many decks with me as I had planned. Except for two 2E decks that shared the same, each deck had a complete dilemma pile so I wouldn't end up changing cards around between tournaments. Now, off to bed, need to catch an early train tomorrow.

Wednesday 13th August

The alarm clock rang at six in the morning, but I hadn't slept much anyway, if at all. After saying goodbye to Sherlock and Miss Watson, our cats, for three weeks, I made my way to the train station and then to Munich airport. Again, I had to explain to the people at Security what's in those little boxes, what you do with those cards, whether this is a children's game, and so on and so forth. Eventually, Security decided that the somewhat uncooperative, roughly 6'8'' mountain of a man in black robes, heavy iron chains and an epic beard reaching down below his waist warranted more of their attention than further inspection of my cards (was it a good thing that the box I picked to show the cards was the one with the Tribbles cards in their rainbow-coloured My Little Pony sleeves..?).

On the plane, there was much rejoicing...initially. Shortly before takeoff, it looked like I would have three seats all for myself. Of course, the last two people to board were a young mother with her eight-months old child, who sat down next to me. And so the crying began. And lo, the crying increased once we took off. As the plane ascended, so the shrillness of the baby reached ever new levels. Finally, a man introduced himself to me as the baby's father, saying it was missing its grandmother, who also happened to be on the plane, but unfortunately on the other side, several rows back...(cue mental angelic choir singing Hallelujah)...why, of course, I'd be happy to swap seats with Grandma! So I said goodbye to the young lady, and the baby, and sat down next to the father, looking forward to a few hours of sleep, after some smalltalk with him of course. Except that the concept of smalltalk apparently must be a very different one in Albania, where he was from, as he told me, among other things. Many other things. Actually, a great deal of other, mostly completely unrelated things. His childhood. German football. Life in Chicago. I'm sure I would have found all of this genuinely interesting, had I only had a decent amount of sleep the night before. Eventually, he dozed off, while I just couldn't fall asleep (not usually something I have trouble with).

After we had landed in Chicago, I made the way through immigration. After about 90 minutes of queueing, of course I ended up at the one booth where a combination of clueless tourist and overly helpful immigration officer (she left her post to go find the people who had just left some of their documents at her desk, and was gone for what felt like ten minutes or more) had me sweating, because there was a good chance I might miss my connecting flight. I made my way to the gate with a few minutes to spare; the flight to Indy was uneventful (this time with a veteran airplane captain, who had just returned from Shanghai, next to me, who made for much better conversation), and even my luggage was there early. So, let's phone Lucas Thompson, who had offered to share a taxi. Turns out he had already made his way into the city, so no need to look for him. I might still make it to the venue in time for the WCT Champions League event. I called Charlie Plaine, saying I was on my way. Apparently, the play-in games were running a bit late anyway, so I had enough time to go to the hotel first, check in, get my bags to the room, then made my way to Granite City.

The first familiar face I saw was Nick Yankovec; lots of other people I had met over the years came over and said hello, too many to remember them all. The play-in games were over by now, and as expected, Jared Hoffman emerged victorious in his game to make it to the bracket. I still hadn't decided what to play - I was not quite sure whether people would see this more or less as a friendly warm-up gig, or were willing to bring the big guns to have a shot at grabbing that precious double-bye. So, I figured, why not ask the world champ for his opinion. Hey, Stefan Slaby, what should I play? - "Töten!" ("Kill!") was his only answer, so I took out the Klingon box, and sat down to play my game against Jared.

WCT Champions League event, Top 16 game vs. Jared Hoffman (Mugato), #14 seed
Deck: [E] Cadets
Game Summary: Jared was my opponent in the semi-finals of my first World Championship six years ago. It was a Borg vs. Borg matchup that, I think, ended in a timed win for me. This time he brought a pretty straightforward Cadet deck, and started spamming personnel immediately. In addition to the Cadets, he had characters like Curious George, Cheap Rachel and other notorious Federation bodies. Jared did not expect a kill pile, though, so he lost a good number of people early on when he ran headlong into the Tragic Turn buzzsaw and had to take several turns to rebuild. This gave me enough time to power through my missions. In the end, I was relieved to get a clear win against such a high-calibre opponent to start off GenCon.
Moment to Remember / Forget: After Jared had rebuilt his forces and completed Practice Orbital Maneuvers, he microteamed Investigate Massacre with five people. I wanted to find out whether my skill tracking, um...skills were already working, and called his bluff. I had indeed made the right call, which gave me confidence for the next games.
Game Result: Full Win, 100-40.
Tournament Standing: 1 win, 0 losses; advanced to Quarter Finals

My game was over rather quickly, so I said hello to other faces old and new, among them Kris Sonsteby, with whom I had played several great games online over the past few months. I observed some of the 1E fun going on at his table, then went on to play my next game.

WCT Champions League event, Quarter Finals game vs. Phil Schrader (pschrader), #11 seed
Deck: [TOS] dilemma-dodging solver using James T. Kirk (Experienced Commander)
Game Summary: Phil had eliminated his Team Jersey teammate Darrell in the previous round. He played almost exclusively TOS personnel who had a cost of four, as well as Tosk (The Hunted).  His gameplan became clear when he played Self-Replicating Roadblock on his space-mission, naming Secret Identity. He then proceeded to play Kirk, basically making his personnel immune to random selection. Of course, I drew an otherwise perfect dilemma hand, including the Secret Identity. No thanks to SRR, however, none of my dilemmas had any chance of doing anything, so I just gave Phil the mission without revealing any of my dilemmas. Phil then proceeded to bounce Kirk back to hand using the ability on Willard Decker (Recommended Replacement) and played him again, but attempted his next mission without another SRR to protect Kirk. This time, I was able to take advantage with Secret ID and proceeded to kill several TOSsers. Again, the damage wrought would be enough to carry me to the win, as between the occasional kill and my own dilemma busting tools, the Klingons had the upper hand now.
Moments to Remember / Forget: First, apologies to Phil / Darrell for getting their names wrong a couple of times. Second, the fact that I had a godly dilemma draw (I think it was Tragic Turn, Entanglement, Secret Identity, The Clown: Guillotine, The Dreamer and the Dream, Horny Worf), but still had to give away that mission was just sad.
Game Result: Full Win, 100-35 (?).
Tournament Standing: 2 wins, 0 losses; advanced to Semi Finals

On the bright side of things, the Sexecutioner, Niall Matthew was in town! He introduced me to the "Klingon beer" the bar offered, which actually wasn't bad. Great, I needed some refreshment going into the next game. The field was down to only four people now...

WCT Champions League event, Semi Finals game vs. Michael Van Breemen (The Ninja Scot), #2 seed
Deck: [Maq] lockout using Biogenic Weapon and Strange New Worlds
Game Summary: Hey, it's MVB again! Having played each other more than 20 times now on three different continents, it's always a blast to square off against Michael. Recently he had the upper hand in an online tournament, and he also schooled me at Worlds last year with his Klingon deck. Oh, right, it was more or less HIS Klingon deck that I was using now, albeit with some slight changes. After my first attempt in space, Michael locked the mission with a Biogenic Weapon. Ok, on to a planet then. Some losses to kill dilemmas, but no Tragic Turn so the damage wasn't as bad as it might have been. I got through Rescue Prisoners eventually, but Michael then dropped a Strange New Worlds on Brute Force. However, it turned out I had more Law in my deck than expected, and I actually completed the mission using the Integrity requirements. With a Tacking Into the Wind, I got rid of the Biogenic Weapon to get in another attempt in space, which failed, and Michael promptly put another Biogenic Weapon on it on his turn. Eventually, I caught a lucky break when I hit Michael with a Dreamer. He lost lots of good stuff, and my dilemmas had already decimated his crew quite a bit. In the end, I had to get around Biogenic Weapon the hard way by completing yet another planet mission (Deliver Ancient Artifact) in order to clear the way into Provoke Interstellar Incident.
Moment to Remember / Forget: Doing four missions, especially against a lockout deck & pile does not happen every day.
Game Result: Full Win, 100-70 (?).
Tournament Standing: 3 wins, 0 losses; advanced to Final Confrontation.

By now, time was running late, and the venue had to close for the night, so we were unable to play the final confrontation there. The other finalist, Mike Harrington, and TD Charlie were cool with playing the game whenever we would find time the following day. So back to the hotel it was. For some reason, the warcry "F*** the Queen!" seemed to be all the rage; I didn't know why, but I was happy to play along. The rest of the night involved, among other things, getting my badge from will-call because I felt I had not quite queued enough that day, a nightly invasion of the Hoskins' room, and meeting roommate Jason Drake (who was probably quite happy being sound asleep and would have been fine with just saying hello the next morning) - apologies, Jason! Now, after about 36 hours without sleep, the hardest part of the first night of GenCon was still to come: sharing a bed with the Sexecutioner...

Check back later this week for part II of the report.

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