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Worlds 2016 Day Two: Top Cut

What a day! After four grueling matches against some of the toughest opponents I know, I took Top 8 and learned something very important: you can’t win Worlds with decks you’re not intimately familiar with. If you followed my livetweeting of the event, you’ll know that my light side deck swept every opponent but my dark side deck struggled in every matchup, which makes sense when you consider that the light side deck I brought was one I knew very well, and the dark side list was one I’d been given by my teammates the night before, as I didn’t have a dark side list that could function properly.

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The Fight For Top Eight

My first round opponent was World Champion Tom Melucci, and was one I was definitely not looking forward to. When we finally sat down, he chose to play dark side (something that ended up working in my favor, as I would have chosen dark side were I given the option), and set up his board: a turn-one Mara Jade. My opening hand was horrible, but I was banking on turning it into something good – Knobby White Spider, Dagobah Training Ground, R2-D2, Jubba Birds, and a Nudj got my resources set up so that when he deployed only a Lannik Lackey on his second turn, I slammed Owen into Luke with his lightsaber, and just started making chump attacks to get his Lannik to focus out Luke so Luke could throw his lightsaber around long enough to kill Mara Jade without even engaging her. By the time Mara Jade had been dealt with, I had avoided combat (and relevant edge battles) enough to mean that I was up significant strategic card advantage on him and he had been forced to use his kill spells on my chuds like Jubba Birds and Speeder Bike. Luke subsequently turned an open board into a victory, just as I had designed the deck to.

I defeated the reigning World Champion in my first round, and quite handily! I was feeling good! My second round would put me up against another (soon to be) World Champion… Brad Emon’s light side deck is truly a marvel to behold. While it seems light on blast thanks to two Kyle Katarn and two May the Force Be With You, it’s actually got enough tricks to turn the more blast-heavy sets, namely Luke Skywalker and T’ra Saa, into a huge amount of burst damage. And I’ve never seen anyone use Sulon Sympathizer to as much deadly effect as Brad does.

On to the game—I drew an opening hand that was actually perfectly acceptable, but as I didn’t understand the deck, I wasn’t thrilled about playing a turn-one Boba Fett/turn-two Captured without any starting resources, and mulliganed into a worse-but-technically-playable one. Unfortunately, “technically playable” isn’t good enough to defeat a World Champion, especially not a deck like Brad’s that’s designed to turn any on-board opening into a victory. He started with a Kyle to put some damage on my objectives (since my Zuckuss couldn’t defend) and then when I let Kyle become double-focused and then captured him, another Kyle appeared to wreck my plans alongside Yoda and Sulon Sympathizer. On his final turn I thought I could squeeze another turn cycle out of him to try to stabilize, but A Gift From the Past alongside May the Force Be With You gave him exactly the number of bombs that he needed.

Now in the loser’s bracket, I had a long way to go if I wanted to win the final trophy. But I was back on light side, which meant I felt I had a strong chance of victory, especially since I was paired up against close friend Colby Bennardo. I knew what dark side deck he had brought, as I had been trying to learn how to play it myself, and I felt confident that with the amount of focus-manipulation tricks in my deck it wouldn’t be difficult to keep a board larger than his and just overwhelm him with strong units. As usual, the correct strategy to a turn-one Chimaera was to play Yoda with three creatures (Jubba, Nudj, Nudj) and commit the creatures so not only could he never take the Force, my Mains would also be safe from any focus tokens he might want to leverage against me. By sitting back and accumulating strategic card advantage, as well as accumulating Balance of the Force damage, I was able to clear a simple path to victory. I didn’t need to win edge battles, because as long as T’ra Saa could get in unopposed I could keep his Chimaera locked out and I had enough Size Matters Not, Double Strikes, and Luke’s Lightsabers to beat his single-tactics Gladiators.

If you would have asked me what would have knocked me out of the tournament, I would not have been surprised if the answer was Mick Cipra. Not only is he the 2014 World Champion, he’s also my personal Worlds Nemesis (and a good friend) as I’ve played him in many high-stakes games over the last few years and have yet to win a single one. However, I would not have believed you if you had told me that the card that would eliminate me from Worlds would be Mon Mothma. Yes, that’s right, Mick had slotted a single Mon Mothma and a single Bren Derlin into his otherwise normal Jedi deck and when my strategy revolved around attacking to destroy objectives, a deck that could put out damage against Yoda, Luke and Qu Rahn couldn’t then retaliate when there was 3 HP (with protect) and a black tactics icon on the table. For an affiliation supposedly flush with cheap tactics, I was sorely lacking in them, as I drew mostly 4-LOMs, Boba Fetts, and Energy Spiders instead of Zuckusses and Dengars. I just wasn’t quite fast enough.

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The Road to the Finals

That put Mick up against Donovan from the NYC meta, and while Mick’s Force Hunters deck is strong, Donovan had mastered the art of winning with Brainiac. Expert piloting by Donovan and no small amount of luck allowed him to emerge victorious against the former World Champion, and propelled Donovan into the Top 4! There he would be forced to go up against Norman Horn, the Massachusetts Regional Champion, and once again a turn-one Brainiac utterly dominated Norman’s Navy Fortress.

This meant that Donovan, Nathan Nuhring, and Brad Emon would claim the Top 3 positions, with either Donovan or Nate advancing to face Brad. The game was tense and tight from as early as turn zero, and while Donovan had already piloted his light side deck to victory twice in a row, the third time would not end up being the charm. An inability to win edge in critical turns prevented a lot of Donovan’s crucial blast damage, and thanks to the defensive strength of Gladiators and the game-extension ability of Yularen, Nathan was able to claim the title of “Worlds Finalist.”

At this point, as you might have heard, there was a bit of a dilemma. FFG had scheduled the event such that the finals would occur at 8:15pm so that they could be streamed after a day of streaming X-Wing preliminaries. That seemed fine, except that it was now 4pm and everything had been worked out such that the players were ready to play the finals. We knew it was Brad vs Nate, and now we needed to wait four hours so the stream would become available. However, Brad was “local,” in so much as he lived 3 hours away. And between feeling poor because of how intense yesterday had been, and the fact that he had plans already in place for Sunday, he wasn’t about to wait around for 4 hours, play under the stream, and then do a 3-hour drive back home and get in at 1 or 2am.

This meant that FFG had to change some plans at the last minute: were they going to change the streaming schedule for X-Wing, so that Star Wars could have its time in the sun before the finals were over and Brad went home, or was Star Wars not going to be streamed at all, and they would just rely on Team Covenant and Fully Operational to film the game for later commentary?

The decision ended up being that the X-Wing stream couldn’t be changed (there was too much of an audience already watching), so the SWLCG stream would have to be canceled. It fell, then, on the FFG Organized Play and Shadow Archive twitter accounts to provide coverage of the match… and so we did. Here is a full recap of the final game of Worlds 2016. Be sure to keep your eye out for the Youtube recording of the game, which was done by Team Covenant and FullyOps, coming soon!

The Play of the Year

A setup of Tarkin Doctrine, Entrenched Defenses, and Enforced Loyalty had Nate Nuhring in a dominant position out of the gate, especially when his immediate plays were a pair of Mouse Droids. The card advantage engines were supplemented by a Fleet Staging Area and an Early Warning System, two resources to set up his second turn. To take the Force, Captain Zed.

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Brad’s initial turn seemed weak, with only a resource, a Twi’lek Loyalist, and a Sulon Sympathizer to his name, but Protection kept the Sympathizer ready so that once the only defender was out of the picture, he could Seek Yoda! Yoda then put a third focus token on Zed and dealt a couple early damage to the Entrenched Defenses to start the train rolling.

On the back foot now and forgetting to trigger Enforced Loyalty, Nate recouped what he had available and put out a new defender: a Golan Defense Platform. However, he was both unwilling and unable to take the Force, meaning it was back to Brad with a free point of damage on Enforced Loyalty.

This time another resource into Luke set Brad up for the one-two punch, and while Yoda threatened the Entrenched Defenses and subsequently got himself killed by a Golan Defense Platform, Luke and the Sulon Sympathizer charged in to get revenge. Enforced Loyalty fell to the jedi, and two points of targeted strike damage brought the Golan to a more reasonable health value. Knowing Luke wasn’t long for this world, Brad committed him to keep a strong hold of the Force with May the Force Be With You.

This time, Zed would be ready to fight, and he and his Defense Platform were quickly joined by Grand Moff Tarkin leading a DP20 Corellian Gunship and more resources. But as Nate was forced to commit Tarkin to keep the Force away from Luke, he was made vulnerable for Brad’s next play: Kyle Katarn!

Not only had Brad drawn Kyle, he had also drawn his second Luke, and he had Heroes and Legends and plenty of resources to use. So to draw out some of Nate’s defenders, Luke charged into a defensive wall of guns, lost the edge, and bailed from the engagement with Heroes and Legends. However, Zed had use the Imperial Fist to put some damage on Heroes and Legends, setting him up for his next big turn.

Yularen and an Interdictor arrived to lay the beatdown on Brad. The one point of remaining damage left on his side of the board was moved to Heroes and Legends, and when the Interdictor brought Kyle into the engagement to be killed, Brad burned the Luke he had in his hand to protect Kyle by winning the edge and destroying the Interdictor. However, that opened the door for Yularen to destroy Heroes and Legends by attacking… perhaps exactly as Brad had anticipated?

Brad then drew his hand… and found nothing. A Lost Master stuck around, but with no other relevant units he needed to add more blast to the table. Thinking creatively, he decided to put everything on his committed Kyle instead of on Luke; attacking this turn would do him no good, so he would be better off keeping his three Force icons alive, and making Kyle’s one strike count. Two Jedi Lightsabers and a Shien Training suited Kyle up, though Tarkin promptly destroyed one lightsaber and the Shien Training over the next turn cycle. Pushing what he had, Brad managed to get four damage onto the Tarkin Doctrine and hoped not to see the other Imperial Fist from his opponent.

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With the Jedi clearly weak, Nate pushed his advantage. A new Interdictor attacked and pulled Luke in to be slain, and a smattering of blast that went unopposed destroyed May the Force Be With You. The dial was now at 8… and Brad had to destroy two objectives!

With only a Lost Master, Kyle, and a Sulon Sympathizer, Brad needed to draw something good or he was going to lose the following turn. What did he draw, then? Dagobah Nudj, Force Rejuvenation, Ataru Training, Dagobah Training Grounds, Echoes of the Force, and A Gift From the Past. He had been fortunate enough to flop into another May the Force Be With You, which meant the last two would have some utility, but this was far from the hand he needed. To make things worse, Kyle was double-focused, meaning he would need to use Force Rejuvenation just to fight with Kyle at all. How could he deal 6 (actually 7) damage with so few units and resources?

After thinking long and hard, Brad decided what he needed. His opponent had two defenders: Zed and a Golan Defense Platform, and if either one of them struck he would lose Kyle to three guns or a black tactics. The only way to win was to strike twice with Kyle, as that plus the Lost Master and Sulon Sympathizer could destroy the six-health objective (though one could be substituted for an unopposed if he could somehow kill both). But that meant neither Zed nor the Golan could strike, and he had no tactics icons. There was literally only one path to victory, and it was the longest of shots. If he could win the edge by 2 with Ataru Training, he could destroy the Golan during the edge battle and kill Zed with Kyle’s black guns. That would clear out not only the units that might prevent Kyle from striking twice, but it would also leave a clear board for his Nudj to deal the final point of damage to the Tarkin Doctrine to win the game.

However, this was a huge risk. After playing the Ataru Training and Force Rejuvenation (leaving 2 resources to pay off the Tarkin Doctrine), he was left with three cards in hand he could edge… and one of them was a Dagobah Training Grounds. Not only did he need to win the edge, he needed to win by 2 or more—meaning that the two cards in Nate’s hand couldn’t have more than 2 Force icons between them. This was the longest of shots, but it was the only way this hand could get him to victory, and if he didn’t win this turn then it was certainly game over. Projecting calculated confidence, Brad took the play.

Kyle, Lost Master, and Sulon Sympathizer attacked. Zed and the Golan defended. Brad edged Echoes of the Force and the Nudj, while Nate edged both his cards. They revealed their edge stacks… and Nate had only two Force icons! Echoes of the Force uncommitted Kyle, Ataru Training destroyed the Golan, and Kyle killed Zed. Then A Gift From the Past recommitted Kyle, refreshed him with May the Force Be With You, and allowed him to strike again for two more blast alongside his supports. The objective was destroyed, and the Nudj waltzed in to get a single unopposed damage and win the game.

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Not only was this an incredible game to watch, considering Brad’s line of play here continues to be fascinating. That hand should not have won Brad the game, but he was able to turn six seemingly useless cards into the riskiest of strategies, knowing that if he was even remotely unlucky he was guaranteed to lose the game. Not only that, but with the exception of the Dagobah Training Grounds, every single one of those cards was critical. Ataru Training was necessary to prevent the Golan from killing Kyle on the return strike, Echoes was necessary to uncommit Kyle to set up the Gift from the Past, and the Rejuvenation was necessary to even fight with Kyle in the first place. Even the Nudj was important for contributing exactly the two Force icons needed to win. It’s these mental puzzles and these incredible plays that recognize and accept their risk for their even higher reward that make this game so interesting, and which define our incredible World Champions.

Congratulations Brad Emon, and I look forward to playing you again in May!

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