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Strategy Articles

The Road to Worlds

by Lucas Thompson, Ambassador

9th October 2017

First Edition World Champion Jason Drake
Title: Ace of Angels
Deck Archetype: Speed Solver
Play Engines: Attention All Hands, Finest Crew in the Fleet, Cybernetics Expertise, Holodeck Door
Draw Engines: Holoprogram: Cafe des Artistes, Handshake, Kivas Fajo - Collector
Bonus Point Mechanics: Assign Mission Specialists, Valuable Prisoner, Kir'Shara
Victory Correctly Predicted By: edgeofhearing, Worf Son of Mogh, rsutton41

Jason's Commentary:
Why did you choose the deck that you used?

It was the best deck I could come up with. :)

What other decks did you consider using?
I saw a lot of promise in the MACO faction and the new Vulcan affiliation, but because of lack of familiarity (a.k.a. "laziness") I decided to stick with some older paradigms.

I had been working on two general concepts, a high-volume Bajoran/Dominion treaty and a TNG Federation Café des Artistes deck. I ended out playing the Bajorans/Dominion deck on Worlds Day One, and I posted one of the later versions of the Café deck (in case anyone wants to look at it) as Love Shack 247.

I recruited my brother, who's really a "former" Trek player, to help me test these decks, as I have no one else in the area to play against. For testing, I built him a Klingon TNG-based deck (which, coincidentally, was remarkably similar in personnel composition to Kris Sonsteby's Day Two Deck). Now, my brother is very good at working with cards in play, but he was pretty unfamiliar with the modern report and draw engines; so for testing purposes, I removed all of the engines, had him strip the deck down to 25 seed cards (with a stack of popular dilemmas to choose from), and told him to simply play and draw three cards each turn.

The Federation Café deck got beat, and the Bajoran/Dominion deck barely won thanks to a messed-up dilemma combo. The Feds in particular suffered from the fact that too many personnel were tied down doing the romance thing for card draws, and I had insufficient personnel to go after missions early in the game. However, I took note of what my brother was able to do with the mock deck, which was continue reporting at a steady rate and go after missions using any personnel he wanted to. And I thought to myself, That's exactly what I want my deck to do.

So, back to the drawing board, with a few key requirements in mind:

1) Handshake was to be the primary card draw engine. Even though the Café deck could actually draw more cards, without the ability to recycle the entire hand I was often holding Interrupts I didn't yet need or, more frequently, I lacked the right balance of personnel to use all the free reports available.

2) Almost everything else had to play for free, including ships. More importantly, all of the mechanics had to be available without requiring a lengthy setup.

3) Almost all of the personnel had to be available for attempting missions. The Federation deck had romantic partners in the Café, Dr. Soong (or Tainer) on point for allowing android reporting, Miles O' Brien held in reserve for his special download, Suna held in reserve for a Reflection Therapy download, and (in another variant that used fewer seed slots) a ship sitting in place to host the Holoprogram. Other decks also had mission specialists held in reserve for when the dilemmas were cleared, because their bonus points were too critical to risk them on early attempts.

4) Everything had to enter play at the same location, so no turns were wasted shuttling people around the spaceline.

With that in mind, I put together a Klingon Illegitimate Leader of the Empire deck. A seeded Husnock Ship and a Hidden Fighter (for the Cha'Joh) gave me a starting complement of ships, the cybernetics personnel (Kitrik and several copies of K'ChiQ) all reported free, and, critically, Nu'Daq could report for free and use his special download to recover a Regenerate from the discard pile; therefore, only one copy of Regenerate was needed and it could be chucked with a Handshake whenever I drew it. Suna, K'ChiQ, and the androids provided ample skill selection, and high-point missions along with Arbiter of Succession made a two-mission win fairly achievable.

The biggest drawback to the Klingons, however, was that they were drawing a net of five cards per turn and only reporting three. I could alternate Handshake on one turn and a personnel reported as a card play on the next turn, but that only brought the average up to three-and-a-half per turn, and I thought a TNG Federation mix could do better.

The first thing I did, then, was to repurpose Café des Artistes as a means of getting out Vash, who has the special download for Dig. Because the Dig provides two card draws on top of the recovery option, I normally consider Vash well worth a card play, but if she comes out too early you have to hold the download in reserve; this means Vash can't be involved in mission attempts, and you don't get the extra draws, which can slow down the deck significantly.

Next, I designated Benjamin Maxwell and Dr. Farek as my starting mission specialists, because they provide two command star icons (for Going to the Top) and OFFICER + MEDICAL for I'm a Doctor, Not a Bricklayer (which fetches Juliana Tainer to kick off the android reporting). There were many tests of the original Café deck where I drew into Doctor/Bricklayer but lacked a MEDICAL personnel to make use of it. I also stocked three copies of Going to the Top because Admiral Riker is basically worth two ships (the Enterprise download and a free report using You Know I'd Like to Help).

Kir'Shara lacked the high-end potential of a Ressikan Flute, but is much more reliable (and not affected by an Altonian Brain Teaser, because it increases mission points). I added three mission specialists to the draw deck and came up with a good selection of missions that were generally easy to solve and offered up to three mission specialist opportunities each. Critically, those at the lower end (with only one potential mission specialist) all had Leadership as a requirement, which gives excellent odds for getting the minimum number of points thanks to redundant Leadership specialists (Benjamin Maxwell and Norah Satie).

The final linchpin was Valuable Prisoner. I was already inclined to use Rescue Captives in smaller decks because a Regenerate or Isomagnetic Disintegrator only recovers dead people, leaving you vulnerable to a heavy capturing strategy. The ten points from Valuable Prisoner would provide huge assistance in getting a two-mission win, and, critically, it allows you to risk special-ability personnel (like Dr. Soong, Suna, and Mission Specialists) on mission attempts, knowing you can save at least one from a kill.

What sorts of decks were you hoping to face while playing your deck?
After action earlier in the week, I tweaked my dilemmas to punish MACO decks. I thought Spatial Rift + Lack of Preparation + Talosian Cage would be pretty effective at Luna.

What decks did you hope not to face?
In terms of broad deck paradigms, nothing in particular worried me. I had a full complement of dilemmas and plenty of speed against another speed deck. I could report cards as fast as an aggressive battle deck blew them up, and operating from two adjacent outposts I wouldn't have any problem getting to my missions. I always make sure my dilemmas work against Borg, and my Lower-Decked androids would limit any damage from Assimilate Species. I wasn't counting on any mid-mission trickery, so a lone Computer Crash wouldn't be much concern (although I'm curious as to how I would have fared against an every-turn 'Crash deck, like The Fog off Elliot Bay II).

I was a bit concerned about Delta Quadrant decks because I wouldn't be able to use Valuable Prisoner (it requires an opposition crew or away team in the same quadrant). But against DQ, I'd have no problem putting my best 3-specialist missions together, and I also wouldn't have to worry about Cytherians (for which I didn't have any good contingency), so that pretty much balances out.

Prior to this tournament, did you have much experience playing this deck (or decks like it)?
I was playing Federation androids at the 1997 Regional before Dr. Soong even came out. And this is my third Worlds deck using them. So... yeah.

Did you learn anything new about it when you played it this time?
I learned a lot building it (see the wall of text above). But the clever/stupid things I did while playing it weren't deck-specific.

Did you use any situational cards (cards that you wouldn't expect to be useful in every game)? Are there any whose usefulness exceeded your expectations? Were there any that you wouldn't include if you played the deck again?
Guinan was a last-minute addition owing to the popularity of Quantum Leap (I didn't like losing an OFFICER permanently to someone with a time location in play), the potential for Exact Change and Defrosted Menace (an auto-include for Borg), and a scenario where my own Whale Probe was crusing down the spaceline towards me. I also expected to see some Brain Drains-- with the new Botany Bay dilemmas requiring so many skills, a single Brain Drain could easily give you an extra turn. But she never actually made it into play, because I had too many Enterprise-related personnel and always needed to report someone else.

I put Cyrus Redblock in the Q's Tent, without his Holoprogram, just because I always had a spare Going to the Top. I figured an extra body wouldn't hurt against space missions, and if he attempted with Admiral Riker and a couple of SECURITY, I could beat a Personal Duty + Friendly Fire combo on the first go (both have double leadership). I did set that up once, but encountered a different combo. On the other hand, I was able to download Cyrus in one game where I was infected with a Symbalene Blood Burn (playing a spare Holodeck Door onto the outpost) and allow him to do most of the dying.

What would you nominate as the MVP card from your deck?
There are a lot of cards which are mechanically essential, like Admiral Riker, Hanshake, the Holoprogram-Vash-Dig combo, etc. But to single out one that exceeded my expectations I'd have to go with Juliana Tainer. She has twice as many chances to enter play as Dr. Soong, she comes out free with I'm a Doctor, Not a Bricklayer, and, critically, when she came up in the opening hand I was still able to play Handshake, recover Tainer with Cybernetics Expertise, and report her on my next turn. So almost all of my android reporting came through Tainer, with Dr. Soong usually getting involved just for a little late-game reprogramming.

Do you have anything else you'd like to say about your deck?
I was pretty happy with the dilemmas. We now have a number of walls which also discard, kill, or "stop" even when passed (Quantum Leap, Exact Change, Forsaken, Spatial Rift, and Rules of Obedience), so I was often able to set up three dilemmas as two combos (1 + 2 and 2 + 3). Doing that and using 18 different dilemmas created a lot of variety. It seemed as I was playing that most of these top-level players could find at least one mission where they got through all three with minimal effort, but there was sure to be several other combinations that created serious problems.

Additional question: Why the one copy of KF:C amongst the Handshakes?
Short answer: Because, math.

Long answer: Handshake is always better assuming everything else comes out in the proper order. But there are three cards which can only be played at certain times: Isomagnetic Disintegrator (only good in the last hand), Rescue Captives (usually only good in the fourth or later hand), and Dr. Soong (good in the second hand, and good in the third or fourth hand unless a card play was already spent on Dr. Tainer, in which case more draws are needed first).

Vash can recover one of these from the discard pile with her Dig download (usually the Isomag), and another can be sent to the bottom of the deck with Masaka Transformations. So I only need one of them to show up at the right time, or two of them to show up together (and get Masaka'd together). But if all three show up in bad spots and in different hands, I call this a "toxic shuffle", and I could end out having to draw through my whole deck again (after playing the Isomagnetic Disintegrator) to get to Dr. Soong or Rescue Captives.

I estimated that a toxic shuffle would happen about 10% of the time. But because such a shuffle always has the three disruptive cards spread throughout the deck, the probability of a single Kivas Fajo: Collector showing up in the same hand as a disruptive card is very high; if that happens, I can play Kivas, hold onto the disruptive card, and either play it on the next turn or Masaka it along with a second disruptive card. So the toxic shuffle frequency drops all the way to 5%.

It's potentially useful in other situations, too. If I have Dr. Soong on the first or second turn, for example, and want to hold him for the next turn's card play, Kivas Fajo lets me do that instead of shuffling him to the bottom of the deck. Simply avoiding the Masaka saves me a card draw (from the Ref download), and preserves the Masaka for future use (e.g., after the deck is regenerated).

If I took out another Handshake in favor of a second copy of Kivas Fajo: Collector, that would drop the toxic shuffle frequency to about 2%, which is a pretty small difference (3%) in absolute terms. However, that would lower the frequency of "at least one" Handshake in the first eight cards from 69.8% to 63.7%, a much more significant drop of 6.1%. It also creates the scenario where I might be forced to use Kivas Fajo twice (perhaps once voluntarily, and another time because I don't have a Handshake availalbe). Playing Kivas once against an opponent using Mirror Image gifts them two net card draws (they have to spend one to download Mirror Image), but playing him twice gifts them five net card draws, a significant jump. Fewer Handshakes also gives me fewer chances to exploit the first option on the card ("Plays... for free if you have fewer cards in hand than opponent"). And, finally, if there is a bad shuffle or some other situation that requires the deck to be drawn through again, Kivas Fajo is much worse. In that scenario, the net card draws don't matter as much as the total card draws (seven for Handshake versus three for Kivas), because I'll be trying to get through the regenerated deck as quickly as possible for just one or two cards.

So, put another way, a single Kivas Fajo: Collector isn't always going to show up where it can be used, but it creates a lot of chances where good things might happen and doesn't create scenarios where really bad things happen. A second Kivas doesn't significantly increase the good scenarios but does significantly increase the bad scenarios.

My Commentary:
From the predictions thread: "I'm going to pick former world champion Jason Drake myself, and I'm excited to see what unused card will seem incredibly powerful in his hands." Well, we've got some excellent nominees here. I was able to watch the end of the game after my round ended, and Jason was attempting what would be his final mission. He was already at (I believe) 55 points, and was attempting The Last Outpost. Kris's dilemmas weren't going to stop his very large crew from solving, but he was confidently picking off all of the mission specialists with them. Jason didn't seem worried each time that happened though, because at the end of it, he earned Kir'Shara for a sweet (and immediate) 10 points.

While that's an excellent use of a new card I'd overlooked, I'd also like to nominate Valuable Prisoner. I don't play interactive decks in First Edition, so I'm not sure I'd ever read the text fully before - there sure is a lot of it, and it has that handy torture icon that tells me that the card isn't for me. But Jason saw the excellent defensive potential there - for a seed slot, he can prevent a kill of his choice, gain 10 points (Kir'Shara's usefulness proves that's enough on its own), and Rescue Captives turns into a card worth stocking. Imagine the face on the player of a capture deck when what looks like an ordinary speed solver actually stocks a capture retrieval card!

This deck certainly feels like a spiritual successor to the deck that Jason used (and won with) in the 2014 world championships. It's not just that it's also a Next Generation Federation deck, or the use of an overlooked artifact (my money's on Blade of Tkon as the more surprising artifact anyways), it's the laser-sharp solving focus of the deck while maintaining a high degree of in-game flexibility. Two strong draw engines feed 4 play engines that can all play to either of the seeded outposts. With all of high value the bonus point options, any planet/space pair spells a 100 point victory. An aggressive opponent would need to keep multiple locations locked down, and by the time he or she could do it, the game would already be over. Looks great!

Second Edition World Champion John Corbett
Title: Thoughts & Prayers
Headquarters: Ferenginar, Financial Hub
Deck Size: 70 cards
Deck Archetype: Control Solver
Dilemma Pile Size: 42 cards
Dilemma Pile Type: Standard Attrition
Victory Correctly Predicted By: Danny, pfti, Armus

John's Commentary:
Why did you choose the deck that you used? What other decks did you consider using?

First off, thank you for your patience Dr. Lucas on waiting on my interview. I'd like to tell you I'm a busy man these days. But honestly, one night I just ate a lot and fell into a meat coma. The next night I started a new job where I actually have to do physical work again and my fat ass was too lazy to respond.

Going into Worlds I decided to sell out and netdeck my way to victory. First I built my own version of Neil Timmons' Romulan Discard deck. Then browsing the interwebs I saw my Ferengi deck from about 3 years ago. It was the only good deck I made the past 5 years, so I netdecked myself. I also had a Relativity Deck that is 80-90% netdecked from Kevin Jaeger, but when Eric Robinett saw it in the team event I won he asked to borrow it. I didn't plan on using the Ferengi Deck both days. It was so dominate, only losing my eventual Day 2 final opponent (may he rest in peace), that I started to consider just running it again. I was confident I'd screw up a Romulan Discard deck since that's not my style. Luckily that evening I drank for the 3rd night in a row and it was also my night in the hotel to sleep on the floor. Waking up that morning I had no intentions of changing anything.

What sorts of decks were you hoping to face while playing your deck? What decks did you hope not to face?
I was teched out for Gamma Quadrant Romulan. I didn't have an absurd about of dual dilemmas and I packed Weight of Command x2. Both being used in my two Day 1 matches against Romulan, with harsh effect. It even hit three Officers against Relativity. I'm going to risk sounding like some other nerd ego maniacs, but I don't think the deck has any bad matchups. Battle would be an issue, but you would just have to play around it. I probably would screw that up. Luckily, I dodged battle decks both days.

Prior to this tournament, did you have much experience playing this deck (or decks like it)? Did you learn anything new about it when you played it this time?
Like I said, I built it about three years ago. I can run it like a machine, but that also means it gets boring playing after awhile. Get Gint, Par Lenor and a card under Ferenginar and it's off to the races.

Did you use any situational cards (cards that you wouldn't expect to be useful in every game)? Are there any whose usefulness exceeded your expectations? Were there any that you wouldn't include if you played the deck again?
I added Relief Efforts just because the Kurdon has four staffing icons. I thought that might be a little anti-kill overkill (sorry for the bad pun), but it proved useful against MVB Day 1. I only had one Grish out and he was able to keep killing him first with smart skill naming so his ability wouldn't pop. I didn't play any other kill piles both days, which was shocking, but I'm glad the card is in there and it's staying. I think I was able to cut the fat from the last version I played. I don't think there's anything I'd cut, but I will be replacing Nog, Little Green Man with Nog, Drill Instructor when he's legal. (Shameless plug for Nth Degree. Always Be Selling!)

What would you nominate as the MVP card from your deck?
As my finals opponent (may he rest in peace) will attest to, it's Rule of Acquisition #144. This card beats good players. Brian Sykes still has nightmares from the DC Regional where this card, and I quote, "Kicked me in the nuts." Good players track skills, #144 makes that meaningless. I usually hate 'gain any skill', but this card is one of the least offensive of the bunch. It requires building a bank, and it's an event that can get prevented/destroyed. An honorable mention goes out to the classic Brunt, FCA Liquidator. When he shows up to audit The Praetor's books on Romulus people get sad. :(

Do you have anything else you'd like to say about your deck?
Expect a Ferengi Weight of Command-style dilemma in the near future. They deserve it. They got the best "offense" (mission solving power) in 2E. Some people are of the mind that there should be a 'moral choice for everyone', but that's a little harsh. Let me finish by giving praise to my opponents who didn't make it easy. MVB gave me two tough games. I had to use the secret "MVB Cheat Code" (now 13-1 head-to-head ;)) to slap the "former world champ" epitaph on him. Maggie, Dan and Eric were a pleasure to play against. Steve Nelson (who has a better record against me then MVB) beat up my Krunk with Arena & Just Like Old Times. That's how you go down swinging! Well done! And of course my final opponent Day 1 and Day 2 (may he rest in peace). A true class act. If I could only remember his name.... :cheersL:

My Commentary:
I faced this deck twice over the weekend, and can confirm something John said about them during one of our games: it is hard to stop them. The problem with picking dilemmas for Ferengi is that, once they get rolling, there's not much you can do to stop them with dilemmas. They'll Ferengi Computer the stops, Grish the kills, gain skills with #144 and use #33 when skill gain is forbidden, and Reyga the rest. You might try to get rid of Reyga using Secret Identity, but he'll just come right back in with the help of his buddy Ulis.

That said, I just named a whole lot of moving parts that need to come together in order to present such an unstoppable force. I think the thing that both keeps Ferengi relatively underplayed and fans of the affiliation so loyal to it are the interesting and complicated ways to bring it all together. Klingons and Romulans do the things Ferengi do in such straightforward ways: if they want a card, they download it. If they want counters, they spend a resource or play a card to get it.

Ferengi, on the other hand, download three copies of the card, putting one in hand and two beneath Ferenginar (Call of the Nagus getting, for example, Par Lenor). Then, once Mr. Lenor is in play, they play Rule #239 to take one of the Lenors beneath Ferenginar out in order to get Rule #141 beneath Ferenginar instead. Now you just need one of several zero cost Rules in play at the start of your turn to swap with #141, and you can burn it with Lenor for 9 extra counters. And that's just how they generate resources - the way they spend those resources can get just as complicated.

That's why, despite losing to them (and often feeling helpless when giving them dilemmas) in the finals, I really like Ferengi. It's cool that you can basically play a deck like a Rube Goldberg device, and I like that there's a powerful solver option that isn't just plug-and-play. Playing Ferengi well is very skill-testing - I bet that if you gave a novice my day one Starfleet deck and another novice John's Ferengi deck, even with a good day of coaching, the Starfleet player would have a much better record despite being on fairly equal footing in terms of deck power. I like it when a deck requires dedication to master.

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