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North American Cup's Report from Joshua B. Grace


Hello,

I thought I'd post a tournament report strictly for the NA Championships.

As background for the tournament, I went to Montreal with the intention
(apart from visiting people and seeing the city) of qualifying for the
World Semis. I did that with a couple of Minion decks. I played in
Amsterdam and on-line enough to know that the strongest Minion vs Minion
decks were all Balrog, but I didn't like the Balrog. So I thought I'd work
at a good RW deck vs Minion. I was pretty happy with my design until in the
first game of the Opens I ran up against another Minion player who bounced
characters with me. That led me to believe that I was going to face more
Minion players during the Semis than I had previously anticipated so I
switched from the FW decks that I had ready to play to a couple of Hero
decks so that I could use my invincible Elves against puny trolls and
stuff. The Elves came out in the first game of the Semis and crushed some
Minion behind. However, I then played 3 Heroes, and my vs Hero deck was
significantly weaker. I lost two games and didn't qualify for the finals.

For the NA championships, then, I decided to go with the FW decks that I
had originally planned to play in the Semis. One, because I was sick of
misjudging the meta-game environment. And, two, because that would allow me
to run the allignment spectrum: Hero, Minion and FW. And Minion as both RW
and Sauron.

My deck against Heroes was a FW Radagast deck with Orcs and Ulkaur the
Tongueless designed to enter CvCC whenever it was advantageous or else to
pick up Wolves and big items. Radagast would tear around as a tiger,
lending extra muscle if needed or else just pick up Tom and Skinbark and
draw cards like the machine he is.

My deck against Minions was a FW Alatar deck with a fairly buff starting
company: Celeborn as the Squire of the Hunt with his flunkies, the sons of
Elrond, and their buddy, Mionid, holding a Black Arrow. Alatar would get
dragon factions while the other company would go about getting big items
and initiate CvCC if it was a good idea.

Game 1: FW Alatar against Michael's (forgot his last name; Montreal local)
squatting trolls at Ettenmoors

Michael borrowed the deck from Dave Stegman, I believe, and was using it
for the first time. I figured out what he was doing pretty early on and
recycled my Heedless Revelry as often as I could. Alatar went about pretty
well unhindered while my other company met some resistance from masses of
Trolls. However, I ended up on the better side of his hazards when by the
time I managed to play The Great Hunt, I gathered 8 kill MPs. In the
meantime, squatting for Wolves and troll factions can't keep up with
gathering 4 MP factions and 4 MP items. And to top it off, when I had
gathered enough to call, I spent my last turn attacking his company and
killing another couple of Wolves. 6-0 for me.

As a sidenote, my grey dice were rolling poorly by the middle of the game,
so I took the red dice out of my bag which I had purchased the day before
from Wim. They rolled poorly on a couple of crucial rolls in the Semis
(failing BIG corruption checks of 2 and 3), so I had promoted the grey
dice. However, I offered them a 2nd chance (dice ARE sentient), and they
rolled like champs during the rest of the game... and, in fact, the
tournament. See? Treat them well. Dice can learn new tricks.

Game 2: FW Radagast against Gene Barry's Galadriel dunk

This was a little tense since I could tell he was going for the Dunk pretty
early. I managed to bounce Fatty in the draft after he revealed Sam first.
So that was good. And then Fatty died to an Assassin at the Eagle's Eyries.
That was also fortunate. I had put Rolled Down straight up in the deck
after seeing all the Ring decks from Opens and the Semis, and I managed to
play it two or three times. Gene, though, was able to discard a ring from
his hand each time. He spent most of his time in havens, so I wasn't really
able to attack with my Orcs. Instead, I raced through my MPs hoping to call
before he could do anything. In the end, Gene was unlucky when Gandalf
Lucky Searched for a Gold Ring and died to a strike of 16 prowess. With
support, he had needed only a 9 but missed. Then I rolled an 11 on the body
check. That's the way it always works, though, isn't it? I wasn't able to
get the hazards I would have needed to stop Gene entirely, but he said I
had managed to slow him down in a couple of ways... so it wasn't *entirely*
luck, yet I felt as though it was. This game made me seriously consider
playing about 10 anti-Ring cards in my playdeck straight up in any serious
tournament. That's just killer. Even with the Khamul he'd killed (!!!!),
Gene was playing a Ring deck, meaning 7 for him or 0. He got the 0, and I
got 6.

Game 3: At this point I guess I was the only one with 12 tourney points,
but I didn't know. I just knew I was in the finals if I won. I ended up
playing my FW Alatar deck, again, against Dave Stegman's Malady deck.

Chad Martin had asked me how to beat a Malady deck after the Opens in which
I had Maladied him to kill Elrond. I said I didn't really know. I usually
tried to add extra characters from my draft into my deck if I saw
shadow-magic users (you do a draft across allignments; you just never
bounce characters). But I didn't have any extra characters to add with this
deck, just two back-ups in the sideboard. So, I figured I had better run
away. Malady doesn't affect wizards, so my plan was to have Alatar do his
thing and just run away with my Elves and get an item or two if it was
convenient. My hazards were big Elf-lords with Chill Them and drakes. Too
combo intensive (Chill Them) to really work against shadow-magic users with
a hazard limit of 2. Dave was able to cancel just about everything I was
throwing against him. An early My Precious at Mount Doom slowed him down a
bit, stalling his MP acquisition there, but I knew it wasn't going to be
about those points. It was going to be about whether or not I survived the
Maladies. I ran as long as I could, but eventually Dave caught up with me
with Elerina and Taladhan. I actually went to their site when my back was
up against the wall, hoping to prevent Maladies by killing them in CvCC. I
wounded Taladhan and killed Elerina. However, Taladhan lived which meant on
Dave's next turn, he was able to throw 5 Maladies (or more) against my
company. Elladan, who was holding Wormsbane, passed his corruption check at
5, but then died to the body check (he was tapped). Elrohir picked up the
sword and then passed another 4 corruption checks at 5 and miraculously
survived all the body checks. Let's say it was because he was untapped...
Anyway, in a dice rolling game, I came out on top. Way to go red dice!
Again, Dave's deck was almost like a One Ring effort in that it was all or
nothing. 6-0 for me.

So I got into the finals, joined by James Montanus with 13 TPs, Andrew
Sitte with 12 and Dave Stegman with 12. Patrick Cochran also had 12 TPs and
just narrowly missed the finals by a tie-breaker. Chad had to leave the
next day by 2 PM, so we had to figure out how to work the rounds. We had
decided that it was okay to change decks, but the first game was going to
take place before we could realistically adjust those decks. This led to
some confusion later on...

Over dinner we decided since both Andrew and I were staying with Jimmy
Chen, along with Brian Wong, that Brian would be our rules judge and we
would pair off first to play back at Jimmy's apartment. That allowed Dave
and James to play at James' apartment while Chad would judge their contest.
After playing in the dim light during the drinking game the night before,
the space and quiet of Jimmy's apartment was a welcome change.

Finals game 1: FW Radagast against Andrew Sitte's Unexpected Party big MP
stuff.

Andrew was playing with An Unexpected Party and big point stuff like the
Southrons and Easterlings and Orcrist and Durin's Bane, etc. He kept saying
he was going to lose, so I didn't pay so much attention to the early game
set up as I was to the fact that I was just kind of doing my thing while he
was kind of doing his thing. Unfortunately, his thing was bigger MPs each
turn than my thing, so I had to adjust. I was able to detain him a couple
of turns by tapping out the bigger dwarves and then playing Skin-changers
or tapping his ranger and then playing River. Meanwhile, I was picking up
things like High Helm and War-wolves. Little, slow MPs. I was afraid of
attacking him since all his dwarves had racial bonuses against Orcs, and he
had a lot of them. Radagast got wounded at one point by a Cave Worm, but he
survived with his body of 10. Once he healed, my MPs got rolling. I managed
to stall Andrew enough turns that I was able to cycle and call, holding
enough Rivers in my hand to block his last turn, and pull a 4-2.

Since I hadn't yet used my Vs Minion deck, and I suspected James would be
playing Hero since he had during the Opens, I tweaked my hazards to stop
the Malady. I figured that my strategy during the day of running to the
coastals could be enhanced by packing 3 Lost in Coastal Seas to shut down
Taladhan and Elerina if they came to chase me. Also, in case Akhorahil was
going to run after me, I could pack 3 Rivers. I took out all my Chills
since the combos never made a difference, but kept my Elf-lords. With the
new deck, I had a fool-proof plan... provided Dave hadn't also tweaked his
deck to include masses of drakes and Dragons Ahunt. I relied upon my
ability to draw Marvels Told and VoM to counter that long enough for Alatar
to grab one Dragon faction and then get out of Dodge.

Finals game 2: FW Radagast against James Montanus Aragorn and Hobbits in
the south

Again, I managed to bounce Fatty which slowed James a turn or two until he
was able to discard Folco to bring him in. However, he flat-out decimated
my starting company when they moved to Moria and faced 4, count them, 4
drakes against a hazard limit of 4. Two cave-drakes and two cave-worms
annulled my ability to gather points for the next two turns or so, and I
had to retreat to The White Towers. Meanwhile, my Skin-changers weren't
showing up, and I worried that James would get Promptings before I had
them. He went and picked up a couple of big items. Scroll of Isildur and
Durin's Axe. Before I could wound his characters, though, and then Indur
away his items, he stored them at a haven. Of course, I had taken out my
Neither So Ancient Nor So Powerful from my sideboard while tweaking the
deck before Nationals, and I made a mental note to kick myself. (Self now
kicked.)

Oh, yeah, in the meantime, we were playing in this cafe down on Ste.
Catherine with a play area for our game that might (*might*) have been
adequate for a game of solitaire. Not remotely adequate for our game of
Middle Earth. My discard pile was on top of my MP pile, and James' site
deck was over on a different table where Spence Carney, Patrick Karcher,
Luc Shruers and some others showed up to watch. (Sorry I don't remember
everybody; I was intensely following the game.)

After two turns of wounded characters, my resources were clogging my hand.
During James' turns, I would play maybe one hazard and say, "Go." Finally,
though, I got my company to Isengard after picking up the Warg-king and
managed to play an item and two allies. Radagast also picked up an ally,
and I started moving through my hand and deck. James actually got the Army
of the Dead That Live (and I won't say how) in the Cool Move of the Game
and was able to survive and cancel a couple of my CvCC attempts. He wasn't
quite as prepared for Assassins, however, as several of them got their full
attacks, and, eventually, one of them took out Gandalf. On James' last turn
(he went first, and time was called), he got the Southrons and a solitary
ally at Lond Galen. I split my companies, now many, and made forays to the
Southron Oasis and Lond Galen. While I was drawing cards, I picked up two
Threats and noticed that it actually *could* be duplicated, so I hung onto
those. At the Southron Oasis, then, I influenced away his Southrons but
failed to kill anyone, and he Concealed from my attack at Lond Galen. When
the smoke cleared, Gandalf's disappearance and the treachery of the
Southrons were enough to give me a 5-1, making the tournament mine to win
or lose since I was sitting at 9 TPs to Dave and Andrew's 7 each.

Game 3: FW Alatar against Dave Stegman's Malady (Round 2)

Well, here is where things got a little sticky. Though we had discussed
that it was legal to change decks before tournament rounds, Dave had
apparently been confused about the matter since the first game was played
before we had time to change decks. The fact that I had changed my deck
caught him as a bit of a surprise, but we all agreed he would have a chance
to change his deck. He asked Chad or someone else for 2 cards and then
didn't make any other changes. I wasn't certain what he might have changed,
so I stuck to my game plan.

Right away, I went down to the Coastal regions with my Elves, even managing
to pick up 3 items, including a Sapling. Alatar got a dragon faction then
proceeded to less dangerous regions, and Ioreth passed some silly, nasty
corruption checks in time for Halbarad to join the company, providing me
with a back-up squatting sage. Dave ran only the one company of Taladhan
and Elerina, this game, to keep my hazard limit down, and I couldn't do
much to them. I managed to wound Akhorahil with an early Elf-lord as
Akhorahil moved from darkhaven to darkhaven, but I failed the body check.
So the game was setting up much like the previous day's until Dave played
Great Secrets Buried There and, since I didn't have an item in my top 10
cards, spotted a Lost in Coastal Seas in the pile and knew what I was
doing. His deck was all or nothing still, and he couldn't touch Alatar with
Malady. And he couldn't get through the Coastals to my Elves, so it was
just a matter of time until I was able to call. That was good, too, since a
couple of chain-smokers had taken up residence upwind of our game, and I
had developed a splitting headache so that I couldn't call the Day of
Reckoning a moment too soon. Finally, I reached 25 MPs and called. And
that, Chad, is how you do it... when you know Malady's coming, that is. 6-0
for me.

Meanwhile, the Red Dice (purchased as replacements for a pair of Red Dice
that I'd lost) came through for me in the clutch and earned the starting
position :-)

Now, thanks to Chad and Dave and Badali, I have a nifty Ring and look
forward to next year's semi-finals. I'm going to have to start saving my
money, and you should, too :-)

Thanks to everyone I was able to play for being fun opponents. I've played
a lot of Star Wars CCG as well as Middle Earth, and the Middle Earth crowd
is really something special. There's not half as much ego as there is
enjoyment. Congratulations, also, to Andrew Sitte who took 2nd, Dave
Stegman who took 3rd and James Montanus who took 4th at Nationals. I hope
to see you fellows next year at Worlds, too.

Au revoir (as the Quebecquois might say, oui?),
Joshua B. Grace




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