February 17, 2016

[Report/Deck Tech] Winnig a tournament with Control Clowns


on 6th February I managed to win a 13-player tournament in Cracow, Poland. I'll share my thoughts on the deck I played and spice it up with a brief tournament report.

*** The rules ***

So, to begin with, I'll briefly describe the tournament rules that we play with here in Poland as they are not the same as the ones that are used most of the time in other tournaments around the world. The differences are:
  1. We play a 60 minutes rounds with a best-of-three system. During the swiss rounds, if the match did not finish in time, we would play usual 3 Noon actions per player and then check the regular win condition (CP>INF) – if someone won, cool for them, if not, then that game is considered a draw. We do not check further tiebreakers.
  2. During a play-off stage, if there is a tie (1-1, or 0-0), when the time is called, the above rules follow, with the exception that if a win is not claimed, a completely new game starts with a time limit of 15 minutes. If the extra time is called again, then after 3 Noon plays we check: regular win conditions, 'closest to victory', more CP, more INF etc. as per the AEG rules.
This may appear weird, but the goal of the system is to give the players as much game time as possible. With a standard one game per round system, some players may have a very quick round and then will need to wait considerable amount of time to play again. However, the system has its flaws as well and to be honest, I am not a big fan of it. First and foremost – it is incredibly difficult to finish 3 games in 60 minutes. I consider myself a reasonably fast player, i.e. I try not to overthink every move and do not try to brute force all chess moves in my mind, so I usually have enough time to at least avoid a 0-0 draw, but finishing three games in an hour – that's just really hard, and almost impossible in some matchups.

    The above system means that a lot of the time a match does not finish in time. I would estimate roughly 30% of the games end within the designated time lmit and all the others go to time. This is really bad as there are numerous unintentional draws in the swiss portion of the event, which skews the overall results and adds to overall bad experience.
    How to resolve this issue? Frankly, I don't know. I don't think there is a system that would both allow maximum game tiem for players, allow to finish all games on time and do not prolong the tournament forever. I guess some concessions need to be made and as long as other players are fine with going to time every round, I'll just oblige and won't fight the tide.

This particular tournament lasted 5 rounds of swiss with a cut to top4. Usually, you would have played 4 rounds with 13 players, however the organizer decided to add another round to maximise the game play experience for all involved. You see – we all really love to play as much as we can. :)

*** The tournament ***

There was a nice variety of decks among the participants:
2x Desolation Row
1x Base Sloane
2x Law Dogs Straight Flush
2x The Spirit Fortress
2x Gadgetorium (1xJ-Q-K, the other one – I don't know the details)
2x Clown Control (me and another player from my group, we played the same list with ~4 card difference based on personal preference)

My rounds went as follows:

R1 against Warden Blockade – Win 2-0
I must admit I am a big fan of kollatt's decks. They are always well though-out with no random chaff and a clear gameplan. This particular deck is super sweet, because it's focused around one of pet cards of mine, which is Hot Lead Flying'. I surely do love to throw some lead at my foes. Unfortunately for my opponent, the deck has far to little influence and crippled economy to stand a chance against proper Clown build. The deck also lacks the necessary aggression – 4 Kidnappings is too little and the deck has no real clock whatsoever, so the Clowns have all the time in the world to set up and finish the job with a combination of Paralysis Marks, Blood Curses and Takin' Ya With Me. At no point in both games, I was remotely close to even feel threatened and comfortably won 2-0.

R2 against Control Clowns – Intentional Draw
This was an easy decision for both of us. We knew our decks inside out and playing nearly 100% mirror is not fun at all and is mentally taxing to the extreme. Also, chances were, we would have not finished in time and would split the games anyway. I do not really like ID'ing that early in the tournament, becuase it typicaly messes up the breakers for both players and is more of a loss for both parties. However, with the special format of the tourney, a draw is not nearly as bad as in usual circumstances, as you could expect the results distribution will flatten and spread out more evenly, so you won't be punished as much with losing the 2 precious points. Also, the advantage of having a spare hour to relax, rather than burning your brain during a mirror match is nothing to scoff at. The fact that my opponent was a teammate of mine only added to the decision.

R3 against J-Q-K Gadgetorium – Win 2-1
Generally speaking, this should be another easy matchup. My opponent didn't have any form of pressure, lacked influence and the dudes were perfect target for Soul Blast with their low values present everywhere. I won the first game without too much effort and that was when my troubles began. I felt far too cocky and my hubris hit me game 2. I didn't really pay too much attention to the amount of control points on the table and managed to get myself booted out without any real reason. Without ability to move and with my pants down, my opponent calmly took over some deeds and humiliated me with evening things up. We had 15-20 minutes left on the clock and I needed to get together, buckle up and try to win the decider. Thankfully, I had a decent draw with a lot of deeds. The control points were there on the table, so the only thing left was to paralyse some guys and curse others and the game was done with a few minutes to spare. This should have been an easy round, but due to my arrogance and good play of my opponent, I almost threw up the win out of the window.

R4 against Spirit Fortress – Win 1-0
This matchup is an interesting one. It can end up two ways, depending on how you decide to approach it. You can either build up at home and just stall out to a draw as neither player would be able to surpass the wall of influence (even with the help of Nico and Chief Steven) or you could do the last thing your deck was supposed to be doing, which is rush the opponent like a true Zerg. I thought that with a 2-0-1 record I could still afford a loss and would be in a win-and-in situation last round and a potential win would virtually lock me into the top4. With that in mind, I took the path of bravery. My draw helped me considerably as I had an early Steven Wiles, two Soul Blasts and a couple of Unprepareds to work with. I quickly occupied opponent's deeds and engaged in risky shootouts. After a 50-minute grind, I emerged victorious making few remaing CPs with Nicodemus. With 10 minutes left on the clock, my opponent decided there was no sense in starting the second game as there was exactly zero chance that we could finish the game in time.

R5 against Straight Flush Law Dogs – Intentional Draw
An easy decision, considering it puts us as first and second seed in the top4.

Semi-finals against Clown Control – Win 2-1
I lost game one in a pretty typical fashion for the mirror. My opponent drew more relevant spells (Paralysis Marks and Blood Curses) and promptly put them to good use. To crush my dreams further, he had a chance to Take Me With Him, whereas all my copies got cycled during lowball. Oh well, onto game two. This time around, my opponent made some questionable decisions and rushed onto my deeds without sufficient insurance. I made the most of the situation and managed to kill some of the more influential of his guys occupying my deeds. The rest was elementary. Few Marks here, few Curses there and we were set for game three... Which we didn't finish, as was pretty much obvious from the get go. So we shuffled up again and started another game, which was supposed to finish in 15 minutes... yeah, right... We timed-out again with 3 chess moves left for each of us. I was in a better position as I had a clear win on board with my opponent was out of money and me having 2 more influence on the table and two deeds to his one. There was no chance for him to get out of this with just 3 moves left. I think I had a slight advantage on the board, but it was far from over at that point to predict a clear winner, had the game been played out till the 'true' end.

Finals against Straight Flush Law Dogs – Win 2-0
My opponent was another teammate of mine who beat Desolation Row in the semis (played by my fourth teammate – yay!, four of us took the tournament by force!). Typically, we would have split the prizes and shook hands without playing as the prizes were exactly the same for both 1st and 2nd (a Chief Stephen playmat, a pouch with ghost rock coins, some promo cards and a ~16 year old sealed 7th Sea CCG starter deck generously donated by one of the players), but the guys were waiting for their train anyway and I had another hour to wait for my girlfriend to drive by and pick me up home, so we decided to play it out. I had a very good draw with multiple Soul Blasts, Jael's Guiles and my relevant Clubs. After some build up, it all ended up with some very bloody shooutouts, where I managed to kill enough dudes to seal the deal. The remaining influence of the Law Dogs was simply not enough. It took a little while to finish the game, so with a clock ticking my opponent had no choice, but to engage in some risky shootouts from the get go in game two. Again, I managed to stand up with my head above the water. With my opponent booted out, I unleashed my sandbagged Blood Curses and Puppet and proceeded to wreak havoc in his home with my freshly suited Avie Cline. Puppeting a dude to win a tournament is certainly an achievement that's now considered unlocked. ;)

*** The deck ***

This is the monstrosity I piloted to win:


Clown Control 2.0

The Fourth Ring (Base Set)

Dude (17)
1x Arnold McCadish* (Base Set)
1x Avie Cline (Base Set)
1x Bobo (Base Set)
1x Eve Henry (Base Set)
1x Jake Smiley (Election Day Slaughter)
1x Leonardo "Leon" Cavallo (Double Dealin')
1x Max Baine (Exp.1) (No Turning Back)
1x Nicodemus Whateley (Faith and Fear)
1x Old Man McDroste (Nightmare at Noon)
2x Steven Wiles (Base Set)
1x The Brute* (Election Day Slaughter)
1x The Flying Popescus* (Frontier Justice)
1x The Ghostly Gun (Base Set)
1x Travis Moone* (Base Set)
1x Tyxarglenak (Base Set)
1x Valeria Batten* (Faith and Fear)

Deed (12)
2x Baird's Build and Loan (Double Dealin')
1x Carter's Bounties (Base Set)
2x Circle M Ranch (Base Set)
2x General Store (Base Set)
1x Pat's Perch (Base Set)
1x St. Anthony's Chapel (Faith and Fear)
1x The Pharmacy (Base Set)
1x The Union Casino (Base Set)
1x The Whateley Estate (Faith and Fear)

Goods (3)
3x Jael's Guile (Dirty Deeds)

Spell (12)
4x Blood Curse (Base Set)
4x Paralysis Mark (New Town, New Rules)
1x Puppet (Election Day Slaughter)
1x Shadow Walk (Base Set)
2x Soul Blast (Base Set)

Action (8)
1x Recruitment Drive (Base Set)
1x Rumors (Base Set)
4x Takin' Ya With Me (Base Set)
2x Unprepared (Base Set)
Joker (2)
1x Joker (Black)
1x Joker (Red)

52 cards with printed value (required 52)
Cards up to Dirty Deeds

The above list is heavily based on the following deck by gozik: http://dtdb.co/en/decklist/1507/the-most-consistent-deck-1st-moscow-5-0-. There is quite a lengthy description of the deck concepts in the above link, so please make sure you're familiar with it beofre reading any further. I'll just sum up in a few short words why the deck is so good and focus on my changes that made the deck even better.

So... why are the Clowns head and shoulders above all the other decks in the current metagame? The answer is not an easy one. The deck definitely does not look broken at first glance, but truth be told, it is very close to that magical border, where a banhammer is waiting for it. The main strength of the deck is that its strategy is non-linear. Most decks in Doomtown are direct opposite of it, i.e. Spirit Fortress runs its combo or dies, shooter decks initiate shootouts and sling lead, landslide just plays its deeds and dudes repeatedly etc. None of these decks are good at changing gears and adapting to the situation. They also attack the opponent from one particular angle and if the opponent is prepared, such decks struggle. With Clowns, the story is completely different as the deck attacks from several completely different directions:

  • it does not need to shoot at all to win the game,
  • it employs a lose-to-win shootout strategy with Takin Ya With Me', having a solid shhotout structure at the very same time,
  • it hinders enemy's movement,
  • it reduces influence,
  • it makes helluva lot of money and plays a lot of cheap dudes which helps in grinding out the long game.

All the above are different things that require different answers and no deck currently in the metagame is capable of handling all of the above at the same time.

It is also worth pointing out that the above deck is a completely different deck than what is typically perceived as a 'Clown Control' deck, especially in the US environment. The American versions of Clowns are quite different as they typically forego Takin Ya' With Me for It's Not What You Know and play J's ratehr than 10's. Those decks are a different kinds of animal as they intend to actually win  some shootouts. With my deck, you don't really care if you win or lose. Your structure is more to force your opponent to show at least a four of a kind, so that they must remain honest while calling out and cannot for example go 1 vs 1 like one could against Landslide.

The versatility and resilience of the archetype makes it the strongest in the game, with 80%+ winrate against the field. Is the deck too good? I am on a verge of saying yes (If I were to ban something I would have gone for Takin Ya' With Me AND another card, either Paralysis Mark or Blood Curse), but with a caveat that I am ok to give the designers a two-three saddlebags of trust more. Maybe the cure is looming and the bogeyman will be finally gone? So far, cards like Dumbstrack, Sword of teh Spirit and Fancy New Hat didn't really help much against the archetype. I haven't had a chance to test  Yagn's Mechanical Skeleton yet, but I sincerely doubt it'll be enough to stop the Clowns on its own.

*** The changes ***

The changes I made to the deck are not earthshaking:
-1 Rumors
-2 This'll Hurt in the Mornin'
-1 Too Much Attention
-1 It's Not What You Know
-2 Shadow Walk

+1 The Whateley Estate
+2 Takin' Ya With Me
+1 Soul Blast
+3 Jael's Guile

I removed all the 8s of Clubs, leaving single Rumors, which I don't like anyway. I think all the 8s in gozik's version are bad, but you need to make a concession and play at least one to give yourself a chance of drawing a legal four of a kind on 8s. Rumors is actually passable in the deck as together with Blood Curse and Old Man McDroste you can acually completely shut down opponent's influence. At the same time, I don't really think you need Rumors to win and most of the time you just cycle them for no tangible benefit.

As far as This'll Hurt in the Morning is concerned, I think the card is extremely overrated. I have played a fair share with it and while I liked it in the begining, after a few bad beats, I lost my attraction to the card. Unfortunately, it suffers from the variance syndrome, i.e. instead of helping you readuce luck being a factor in your games, it actually increases it. Quite often the effect will just whiff and you'll suffer a horrible death. It's also counterproductive to play cards you need in shootouts if you don't want to engage in the shootouts in a first place. Clubs that are good only during a shootout have a tendency to rot in your hand, which is something I wanted to avoid as much as I could. It's true, you can technically cycle them during law ball, but it feels so bad, I'd rather have cards that actually do something. That's why 3 of the 8s got the axe.

Too Much Attention is very situational. Most of the time it's a 'do nothing' card with a very low ceiling. It does not belong to the deck at all.

Takin' Ya With Me however is INSANE in the deck. If I could play 6, I would. The card perfectly compliments your spells. You have plenty of options to lock down enemy dudes and sniping their influence is the best feeling in the world. Trust me folks! Takin' wins games by itself. It's nearly impossible to play around and you'll always find some juicy targets to hit. That meant INWYK needed to go and again – same as with This'll Hurt in the Morniong – you don't really need a cheatin' resolution on a club. This is what makes this deck different than the typical Control Clowns. You don't focus on winning the shootout too much – if you win it – great!. If you lose, no big deal, as you're reaping the rewards anyways. This strategy is also much more reliable. In the current metagame, it is very hard to center your gameplan around winning shootouts. You can simply run into another deck with the same premise and your matchup will end up within 50-50 margin with no clear frontrunner. If you don't need to win shootouts to win the game, you're golden.

Adding another Sould Blast was actually a last minute addition. I typically played a second Puppet in that slot to hedge against 108 Landslide. However, for this tournament, I thought there will be many more hostile aggro decks than landslide, so another Sould Blast would probably be better.

And now for the icing on the cake... Jael's Guile!

For starters, I've never been a huge fan of Shadow Walk. Don't get me wrong, the card isn't bad. It's just that it doesn't really do enough to help you win the game. Sure, you do get some better chess game, helps you use your home ability and makes it easier to threaten opponent deeds. It's also quite good in the mirror. However, this archetype is so strong already, that the card feels like it could be virtually anything (Forget, Phantasm) and the deck would not lose much of its efficiency.

At this point, I thought to myself – ok, the deck is really good, but when do you actually lose? To no surprise, most of the losses came from early aggression. Although clowns are almost like cocroaches – you kill one, another one emerges out of nowhere, it is definitely possible to kill both Hucksters quickly and it's all uphill battle for the control player. To help mitigate this small weakness, I thought about a good defensive option for the deck. And then the hammer dropped from the sky! Jael's Guile! – the card is perfect for the efficient protection this deck looked for. I must admit – I'm a bit of a fanboy of the card, not only in this particular deck, but in pretty much anything that plays 10s on value. I could even see the card being plashed off-value. The hammer is just that good. It's much better than Quickdraw Handgun for example. It's also much better than a Coachwhip and most club cheatin' punishment cards. This sort of puzzles me, because the card went largely unnoticed and overlooked by the general public. It might be, because the wording is a tad complicated and full of clauses which make it hard to evaluate the card properly. In short , the card reads: „Cheatin' Resolution, Boot: Your opponent discards two dudes.” This effect is AMAZING. It actually stops your opponent from cheating at all in the shootout as not many decks can afford to just let two dudes go before resolution. You may wonder about the clause that allows your opponents to boot the dudes instead – how often does it thwart your plans? I would say, while used on defense, you're very likely to take down two dudes. While used on offense, you're 50-50, which is still good.

Consider a situation: you're up against an aggresive Desolation Row deck. You win lowball and play Jael's Guile on Popescus. What can your opponent do? If he plays a Kidnappin', he pretty much can't cheat in the shootout, or he'll lose two dudes. And showing a legal full house does not really guarantee him a win (not even counting The Brute and Arnold's React). The hammer is also a Mystical good, so your Popescus suddenly become a second stud in your starting posse – with a 7-3 shootout hand, you're not that unlikely to threaten a Four of a Kind. So, let's say your opponent decides to play a good of their own – like a Shotgun or a Peacemaker. You then follow-up with a Soul Blast on Valeria. At this point in time, you actually survived your bottle-neck moment and the victory is pretty much sealed already. Had you played with cards like This'll Hurt in the Morning or It's Not What You Know instead, your opponent would probably just Kidnapped one of your guys and you would be up with a dillemma: do I let go and don't opposse or do I oppose, spin the wheel of fortune and hope for the best? With the simple addition of one card, you change the dynamics of the whole matchup, which in my opinion is huge and helps a lot against the worst matchups of the deck (which are still positive - around 60%).

All in all, the deck is really good. It hardly ever loses against anything and the addition of Jael's Guile just gives the deck another lap of advantage in front of the opposition. If you want to win your next Deputy event or Outlaw Series tournament – just copy the list above and I can gurantee you'll succeed. :)

1 comment:

Ricard said...

Congratulations on your win and great write-up. Man, I do hate clowns, but I thought their power was diminishing. And now, you just appear and create a monster deck that brings them back to their abusive position of power. I'll build this deck and try to figure out its weaknesses, if that's possible...