• How It Works: The Meta (or Winning Without a Bard Team)



    Normally in this series we take a key portion of the game and break down those aspects. Today I plan to use my experience at Origins 2016 Worlds Qualifiers and the Worlds competition to highlight Meta analysis and adaptation.


    To begin with, my mission was to find a team that could compete against Bard, but that wasn't Bard. There were many folks who tried the same, varying from Poly Hulk, to @Flexei's Colossus and She-Hulk team and an array of Mask Ring teams. But in the end, I settled on something more akin to my own heart, Vicious Struggle.

    First, let's go a with a bit of my history with Vicious Struggle. When War of Light was first released, Vicious Struggle kind of limped onto the scene. Folks didn't really leap at the chance to use it as both an offensive weapon and mostly saw it as a defensive deterrent. Some folks picked it up and played with it, making teams with force attack globals, or using it with Silver Surfer to mitigate the cost. However, I had seen a hilarious combo with my "You're Out of Time Team" and constructed the team to show off on an episode of In the Lab. Essentially the team revolved around Giving my opponent Captain America Man Out of Time and creating an infinite loop of damage between him and Vicious Struggle. Shortly after this, folks locally in Florida (and in other places as well) started using Vicious Struggle as a win condition at their local and state level PDC events. These teams did well, in part because they utilize the fact that your opponent must forgo their original strategy to keep pace of your strategy. The more characters they buy, the more damage you could force them to swing into your Vicious Struggles with. In the end though, the trend was put to rest by a thread on Facebook complaining about Vicious Struggle, where JT has been quoted as saying something akin to "What's so hard with Vicious Struggle, just buy two of them when you go first and then they can't do anything." For the majority of Vicious Struggle strategies, that was the end of the road. Struggle is a great stalling tool, and it does have ways to win, but when it comes to being the win condition of your team, it suffers from the same symptoms as Power Bolt teams, Imprisoned teams and any other BAC mini-game teams: If they buy hem first, they're ahead. In part, it was this Dichotomy that I was looking to utilize when I designed my team, and made the decisions that separate my team from the other struggle teams at worlds. We'll get to that, but first, let's take a few to talk about the other struggle teams that showed up.

    Columbus, home of the "C-bus Clan" showed up at World's Qualifier day one, in force. Seven Vicious Struggle teams across 8 players and a 3 day strategy of Shock, awe and skill. They had been playing around, casually, with Mr. M and Captain America Man out of Time to try and replicate the You're out of time team, and it seems somehow it evolved into a team to pit Bard against in their World's prep. What they realized is that the day one worlds qualifier was likely to be the event with the lowest skill set amongst players. This isn't a disparagement, it's a meta analysis. Some teams, are cheesy, or one trick pony teams, but if your goal is to simply qualify by making top 8, all you need to do is win more than 50% of your games to have a reliable shot. As such, bringing a team that folks aren't prepared for, or don't have a lot of practice against, can give you that easy run. And keep in mind, this was just day 1. If the strategy didn't work for an individual player he still had his World's level team to bring day two to try to qualify with, and should VS make a big enough splash, he would already have the right answers on his World's team. Shock and Awe.

    Some notes on the VS teams brought by C-Bus Clan and several others over the weekend. First, they almost all brought Kobolds to provide a cheap purchase to get fists. Because they brought kobolds, they also brought Red Dragon's Global to allow for turn 1 Kobold and VS purchase. I actively chose NOT to bring these tools because I wanted any opponent who played against me to be forced to play slower if they bought my VSs. I wanted them to have to get ONLY VS on turns 1 and 2, otherwise not have enough energy to perfect pxg into 10 dice turn 3. Any advantage I could eke out going second was the plan, and if I could increase the odds that they miss going 1st, that helped me get the chance to get Cap out turn 3 and turn the tables on them. More about that below.

    I personally made the VS choice for the same reason. I'd been having decent luck against the Bard team that JT won Nats with and I felt that folks weren't going to be prepared for the strategy. Additionally, I did some dirty stats work and felt that if VS wins 90% of the time going first, then 50% of the time going second my opponent tries to play their team instead of mine, and on top of that, 10% of the time they don't successfully pull off my team on turn 3, that's an 70% chance to win. It's not pure stats, but it played out this way in the long run. So, going into Day 1, when I saw the VS teams were in abundance, and that many of them were actively having a defining role on the meta, I stuck with it.

    Without further ado, let's look at the pieces of my team, and how the meta encouraged me to make those choices.

    First and foremost the core of this VS team is Vicious Struggle and Luke Cage:


    This combo is powerful in the meta because there is only a single card that can counter it. Previous counters to Vicious Struggle (including Super Soldier) are actually useless in conjunction with instances of damage that are in batches of just one, such as those created by Luke Cage.



    These two globals allow me to prep enough dice to get a turn 3 lethal, cycle for turn 4 if I need it, and also reroll missed action faces on turn 3 if I do fail. In addition, Parallax helps define the meta that can be used against me by providing the counter to Constantine Anti-hero, a reroll to counter a reroll. In the end, it turned out that my dependence to PXG was actually the downfall fo this team, Oracle and Elf Thief are just oppressive characters, especially when you bring Parallax yourself.



    These two allowed me to get more reliable damage on turn 3, without NEEDING only fist energy. Human Torch boosts damage dealt either by Luke Cage or Vicious Struggle, and can even be used to boost the damage that I personally take from Silver Surfer. This may seem counter intuitive to some folks, but boosting the damage you take, actually multiples if you have two VS effects active. Luke Cage for 1 damage each, boost the damage so you take 2 and they take 1 and you end up with 5 damage at the cost of a bolt, fist and 2 life. Silver Surfer Provided the 1/turn shield fix for damage, as well as giving us a clutch bag reset tool to hopefully mitigate Elf Thief steals.



    These two tools were pure meta reads. I knew Elf Thief was going to be a problem. Hellblazer let me get a tool in place to hopefully come back from an early Elf Thief abuse, and gave me something to buy turn 1 that was only 2 cost, if I didn't think VS was the right play. Blink Transmutation, was my tool to truly deny Bard from hitting me back hard, without killing itself. If I miss turn 3 it's because I roll too many SKs or Masks. Both of which are effectively blockers against Bard teams. If the Bard team does try to swing for lethal and miscalculates, then we have a tool to allow just the right attacker through and return lethal back at our opponent with VS damage.



    This piece of tech was my secret weapon. We talked earlier about what would happen if we go second. 50% chance our opponent doesn't buy our VS and follow our plan. We also talked about the 90% chance of winning going first. Well, This guy, lets us turn that 90% of theirs into a much lower number. Going first, the standing wisdom of our opponents is to buy two of our VSs and use them to beat us. It works. Michael Le was able to get the right rolls and pull that maneuver off on me during day 2 of Qualifiers. However, just as often did my opponent only get me down to 4-6 life. Twice I was able to get Cap out, after my opponent had purchased two VS, and they proceeded to play into the VS strategy more. Cap would heal 1 life after every VS tick, and they would take damage while I would heal back up. They slowly chip away at me for 1-2 damage a turn with silver surfer, while meanwhile I can get my own VS up and trade 0 life for 2, the same ratio fists were giving me when I had to get 2 VSs out. This single card allowed me to turn the tables on any opponent who thought buying my action die was the best strategy to beat me. Not to mention, against other VS teams, he's a hard counter.



    My last slot, I never really figured out the best card for. I needed an answer to Oracle. Dwarf wizard was a good one, but Hellblazer was on every good mask control team. Kryptonite wasn't helping me get PXG on their turn 3, and while Daredevil was a great addition, I didn't have enough practice transitioning him into my rotation to really feel out how he should work, plus Hellblazer, still. In the end, this was the weak point of my my team. I had a spot, to try and find the right answer, but Oracle simply has such good protection in the current meta that it's hard to play around her.

    So, that's the team, and the reasons I chose the pieces of the team. But why did the team that I was thinking about just using to cheese my way into worlds with end up becoming the team I stuck with all the way to top 8? The simple answer is Rock-Paper-Scissors. In first day of qualifiers I was getting a solid image of the meta, and it turned out that VS beats Bard Blitz and Bard Buzzsaw (US/Can Nats) pretty reliably. There's the outside chances of them buying our team and winning with it, and the chance that they go first and we miss hard on turn 3 because of a a good elf thief call, but for the most part we should win going first, and even if we miss turn 3 we usually have turn 4 to seal the deal. The problem I was finding was that Mask ring was beating me, despite the fact that Bard was doing wonders at beating them. Rock, Paper, Scissors.

    I stuck with VS because I kept seeing more and more bard teams out there, and heard that folks weren't really worrying about the VS teams. With Bard winning Nats, and my read that VS beats bard, I felt confident that I could take my team deep into the competition and at the very least have a good showing as I was bringing one of the few rocks, to a field of Scissors. My problem occurred when I faced a team that realized he could wrap his scissors in Paper and take the whole event. And that my friends is exactly how a Mask ring team won, drop the ring, add the bard and become the World Champion. I'm happy to say that I made top 8, got knocked out by the World Champion and brought a team I was proud of. Some folks may think it was a cheese team, or against the spirit of the game, not buying characters, but hey, I played Burn and combo teams in Magic, this is the type of team I love! To all those guys out there that I beat on turn 3, without letting them play a character, I apologize. I know how it feels to effectively lose on the roll off (here's looking at you Michael Le) but that was the current meta. Whether we played Bard mirrors or Mask ring lock downs, the strategy is still the same, go first and you win.

    Hopefully this example gives you some insight on reading a meta, and how to make choices based on what you expect to face. It's not a science, and truly is half gamble and half art, but it is the true heart of competitive gaming, knowing what most folks are going to play, and finding an opening whether it be a single card different(Ring for Bard), or a whole team(VS).
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. bahamut7's Avatar
      bahamut7 -
      This almost mirrors the VS played by the Cobra Commander of Melbourne, I have played that team many times and yet to give up. It is tough, but not cheese as all teams are beatable. I have finally figured out an elegant solution to it, just have to speed it up.
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      Quote Originally Posted by bahamut7 View Post
      This almost mirrors the VS played by the Cobra Commander of Melbourne, I have played that team many times and yet to give up. It is tough, but not cheese as all teams are beatable. I have finally figured out an elegant solution to it, just have to speed it up.
      Of course it reminds you of his team... who do you think I got to help me tweak this

      JT, Josh, Johnny and the rest of the TRP playtesting crew.
    1. bahamut7's Avatar
      bahamut7 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shadowmeld View Post
      Of course it reminds you of his team... who do you think I got to help me tweak this

      JT, Josh, Johnny and the rest of the TRP playtesting crew.
      Ah Hah! Lol, I thought it looked familiar.
    1. Coletrondeluxe's Avatar
      Coletrondeluxe -
      I've never played a VS team before. What do your first three turn purchases look like ideally?
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      Turn 1, VS pxg
      Turn 2, vs pxg, pxg, pxg
      Turn 3, win.