Greetings motor sports fans.
In response to the current level of outcry against the Khopesh, the comments at Liege and the countless emails that I am sure Damon is getting, I decided to do a simple back-of-the-envelope evaluation of the card to determine if in fact it is broken, or requires restriction at this point in time.
In an attempt to make this "Scientific", I will be using the results of the European Championships (the largest ever COC LCG tournament) as data. It is also important to define "broken/overpowered" beforehand. For the purposes of this analysis, I will consider "broken/overpowered" to be defined or symptomized as:
"Cards that win games by simply being on the table (If I have it and you don't - I automatically win, immediately or inevitably) , and thus require specific consideration in any deck build. In essence, you must play this card or loose. Mechanically this means the the board configuration will now permanently slant toward the player who played the card."
Recently, the largest COC LCG event in the history of the game took place in Liege, Belgium. Overall there were 26 players, representing quite a few countries, at the tournament. I think roughly 50% had Khopesh in their decks (at least 12 decks, maybe 13). In the top 4 decks, only I had the Khopesh in his respective deck build (that I am aware of). Now, by definition, if a card is "broken" it should dominate the metagame...but here we have 3 of the top 4 in a tournament dominated by Khopesh not having Khopesh - and even more damningly from what I saw none of the top 4 had any particular "anti" Khopesh cards.
This has to be the poorest showing ever for a "broken" card. It is well over a standard deviation below what even random card flipping should have produced (with 50% of the decks containing Khopesh, random card flipping expects 2 (or just a tad lower..1.7-9ish) of the top 4 to be Khopesh decks). To complete the data set, I had the Khopesh dropped 2-3 times against me in a situation where I didn’t drop it- and I always just let it go off (I didn’t destroy the attached char or the Khopesh or cancel wounds etc...I'd say that I basically ignored it, but the reality is I was always praying for my opponents to drop it as it was (at least for this tournament) always an auto-win for me).
Unfortunately for the Khopesh, the story is even worse.
Being the only Khopesh player in the top 4, my experience with the card should share some light on why the card performed as poorly as it did. (The following part is subject to my memory’s accuracy, which is starting to cloud over a bit do to the amount of time passed)
I played a total of 7 games. During my first or second game, I watched as my opponent mangled himself with the Khopesh (*1). When I realized what was going on (*2), I shifted my style of play, and began resourcing the Khopesh when I drew it. For the tournament, out of my 7 total games, 2 games I didn't draw it, 3 games I resourced it and in 2 games I played it.
The two games I played it:
Game #2 or #4:
I was playing against a ST/Hastur "bounce" deck. Strictly speaking (and I am not trying to be petulant here), Order is not playable in a tournament backdrop, so this game was essentially over before it started. On the second turn I dropped the Khopesh (I can not remember if I actually used it, I do not think I did), but the reason I dropped it was to force the opponent to go to 3-1-1 instead of 2-2-1 on domain building. If he had dropped multiple chars on his next turn he might of held out till turn 5 instead of turn 4 (with excessive suicide blocking). By playing the Khopesh I forced him to go 3-1-1 to drop either Jeff or the Housekeeper (he gets his 2-1, but gets overrun next turn as he doesn’t have enough chump blockers to survive the next hit). Khopesh net result: I give up a 2-1 trade to the opponent, but have a 50% chance of winning the (already won) game 1 turn earlier.
This game was a "showcase" for Khopesh of the Abyss. On the 3rd turn I dropped a Double Khopesh and removed most of his defenders going for an unopposed win.The evaluation was "I won do to the Khopesh". While it certainly provided fireworks for the finale, the actual analysis of the situation is quite different.
From an analytical point of view, the game ended T1 (*3). I went 2-2-2, then 5-4-4. On T2 I had overwhelming superiority in Skill, T and C and I icons with a flood of chars. The Khopesh was more an insurance policy, and had no actual material effect on play (Had I not played the Khopesh, I still would have achieved the tokens needed to win the game, the best that could be hoped for in that situation was to stall the game 1-2 more turns). Khopesh net result: Similar to the previous Khopesh drop, the net result was to basically take a 50/50 T4 or T5 ending and shift it to 100% T4.
The Shivan Khopesh
The tournament at Liege was, for me, a fascinating event. I have only played COC a very finite number of times...6 or 7 at most. I don't play on the internet, and have no meta, so I only do large tournaments. I have however played copious amounts of MTG (though a long time ago - starting in Beta, and sticking with it through until "the Dark"), including at least 30 large tournaments throughout that era. What was so fascinating was the way Liege overlaid with my early MTG experiences. I think this was do to the simple fact that there were enough players for the classic "player patterns" to manifest themselves.
The very first MTG tournament I went to was about 70 people. Gathering inside the doorway was a small group who were into "analyzing" the game. Their conclusion: "The Shivan Dragon" was the ultimate most ubar card ever invented - it should be banned as its too strong and dominates their meta (an exact quote was something along the lines of “whoever gets the Dragon out first wins”). About 50% of the players had adopted the "anti game" stance and packed their decks full of kill and cancels...a group were playing "The Dragon", and a handful had what I refer to as "lottery ticket decks", and the remainder playing a montage of traditional rush/control type decks. I didn't have a Shivan Dragon, nor did I have "anti dragon" cards, nor did I pack particularly much removal, but the ensuing slaughter was epic (*4). Note that throughout those 30+ large tournaments (and they were spread out over a couple of states with all sorts of different metas/playgroups), I never once saw a Shivan Deck win (or place....or even make a cutoff...and actually I never even saw or even heard of one winning a game)…in fact, at least in my games, I never even saw one hit the table, yet the “Dragon” always lurked in the shadows, and was always rated as “powerful” by lower tier players.
As I mentioned above, I basically threw my deck together on the plane. As I had not played in such a long time, I had no idea what the environment was like, and even didn’t know the entire card pool, so I asked the tournament organizer (Damien) for a description of the current metagame. Damien sent me back a page or so description; a snap shot of the current metagame - and, and as it turned out, it was beyond perfect (I should probably post it as it was almost scary accurate). I printed it out and on the plane ride over, marked up the key words, and then noted every key word that appeared more than once and interpreted the results.
When I was done, I was surprised to see the classic “MTG decktype distribution” appear (primary decktypes of “destroy everything”, lotto, and “Big effect”). Normally I build decks that interact with the game on a mechanics level, but I really had no time to do this, so instead I made the following assumption: Do to the "big effect of the Khopesh" most players would be Khopesh or anti-Khopesh, and the rest would be an assortment of destroy decks with 1-2 “other”, and I decided to "play the players". The destroy decks basically dictated what my deck distribution/flow had to be (Good distribution beats heavy removal every time: they have to pray you get a really really bad draw or its over before the cards hit the table). I took a risk and choose to ignore the “big effect” group (I already had an inkling I was dealing with “The Dragon”), and the “other” group almost always beats itself. Ironically, for my deck building analysis, the Khopesh ended up a non-issue. The result? - the tournament played out as expected, and I won!
If I were to complete this analysis (and get back on track in the process), I would need to do a deeper analysis on a mechanics/tactical level, and also build “proof” decks that can beat every other deck because of it, or decks that can beat Khopesh decks that don’t use it. Given how lopsided the “simple” analysis is, I see no reason to continue with a mechanical evaluation….there is simply no evidence that warrants even continuing this discussion. Without revealing too much, I can say I have at 5 decks in my deckbuilder at the moment, none have the Khopesh, and in some light testing all have destroyed my Liege “Khopesh” deck. To give an idea just how absurd things are, I recently took a challenge from a player to build a deck that could *lose* to a posted “Strong” Khopesh deck. I, of course chose Miskatonic, and what started out as a joke has turned into a fairly brutal deck (The posted deck loses a large % of games to the Misk deck). This is what good players do….challenge the status quo. A card is only broken if it can’t be maneuvered around. If I can beat Shub-Cthulhu Khopesh (apparently accepted as meta dominant) with Miskatonic + other, the problem starts to look at lot less like a card problem and a lot more like a player problem.
Another analogous example is “Fetch Stick” - how many people evaluated that to broken and howled at FFG (Amazingly there appear to be some that are STILL howling)? After exactly 1 tournament, not only was it found not to be broken, it was found to be not playable (FAIL).
There is no tangible evidence that the Khopesh is broken, in fact, it is doubtful if it is even an auto include in mono C. My own impression is that the card is somewhat hard to use properly, and should not be included in deck builds unless you really understand how it interacts mechanically (going even further, I would venture to say that even vanilla MonoC builds should not include it as a default card). I think it would behoove players complaining about this card to spend more time understanding the basics and less time screaming about nerfing. From time to time I have built decks for players to be used in large tournaments. If I did such a thing now, I would most certainly not include the Khopesh in the build, as I don’t think the player (Who I am assuming for this argument would be a novice player with potential) would be able to discern how to play it correctly, and in all reality, doesn’t need it to win. To be complete, I do think that the Khopesh is a great card, and I would certainly include it when the analysis calls for it. I would not blindly throw it into any deckbuild. In fact, as a deckbuilder, while I knew it was going to be somewhat "dicey" to set up correctly - even I was amazed at how useless it was to me. I could have replaced it with 3 blank cards and the most that would have happend is that 2 of my games would have continued for an extra turn or 2. To a deckbuilder, this is the definition of useless. I would have been better off just dropping 3 copies of a random Cthulhu char into the build.
Before demanding “action” against cards, players should first be asking themselves why they can’t beat the card. If you are still adamant it’s broken, then you should be able to provide a proof with all the evidence and analysis in the fashion that I have presented here (including a detailed mechanical breakdown why the card is a problem), and be able to back up the claims with real data. We have gone down this road before, and once the nerf bat starts swinging (especially when its in the wrong direction) the game has suffered. Poor nerfing do to people (poor players) stating their opinions ended up nerfing the wrong cards and wrecking the game in the CCG (*5). Do people really want to end up playing Hastur-Agency flip-the-“small price to pay” again? Damon’s card design ability is excellent - very creative and intelligent. I personally can not be more thankful that we are lucky enough to have such a designer at the helm (especially considering this games history). I have a strong feeling the new cards are going to generate a lot of nerf calls in the future, so I think this issue needs to addressed sooner rather than later. Can you imagine the train wreck MTG would be if they decided to ban every “Shivan Dragon” that came along? There will be cards that need nerfed along the way. Designers and Playtesters can't forsee everything. Damon is really pushing the envelope with his designs. I expect some chafing on the rules and possibly a few broken cards along the way (when you release good cards this is inevitable). If something proves to be a problem it should be cleaned up in the FAQ. But it should be done so intelligently - and with enough evidence to prove that there is actually a problem (and additionally: what the actual problem is). The alternative, is to degenerate the game back to an Agency/Hastur flipfest, and packs of cards that do nothing. In the case of the Khopesh, people are calling for the banning of a card that had no material impact on a tournament, and provides new functionality to the game that may enable new decks in the future (or even make unplayable factions playable). It is always possible someone will break the card in the future with some newly released card, and when that happens then it needs to be determined what the problem is and how to fix it, but as at this moment in time it a near certainty that the card is not broken or even overtly powerful.
As a corollary to this, a lot of people were complaining at Liege about the large amount of removal that average decks were now carrying. I mentally went through all the large COC tournaments (defined as 15 or more players) winning decklists that I have created in this game and tallied up the number of removal each deck packed:
Stahl CCG 2008 Euro Championship: 0
Stahl CCG 2009 CCG World Championship: 1
Stahl LCG 2009 Euro Championship: 12
French Nationals 2009: 3
Italian Nationals 2011: 12
Liege Asylum 2012 Euro Championship: 9* (+ 6 qualified removal): *I would have optimized this to probably 6-8 total removal if I had tested it before playing.
This yields an average of 6.1 removal per deck. Clearly, the game is not dictated by the amount of removal you have in the deck. For people complaining about “too much removal” – you should rejoice! Since these decks are clearly inferior (they certainly aren’t winning), they should be easy tournament wins. Never complain about easy wins!
(*1) Definition: "Self Mangling" (Action): (1) To play a card or series of cards where the resultant board position is better for your opponent than it was before you played the card/s. (2) Self Slaughter. Often accompanied by exclamations containing the word "Ubar!".
(*2) I found out about this tournament about a week before the tournament. I had made a combo deck the day before the flight, but decided that I had no time to really analyze it/tune it, so I dropped it and made a deck on the plane ride over. When I drew up the deck matrix (I build decks via a matrix method, it is a bitstrange but it works --> its kind of like a rendered Karnough map), I realized that the Khopesh "didn't work as advertised". Without testing I couldn't be sure if it was even playable, so I made a mental note to sluff it off as a resource if its use cases did not manifest. Unlike most deck builds, I used this card as a part statistical soft lock I found in the game (I T2 soft locked the game 3 times in the tournament; soft lock here is being defined as "nothing the opponent can do to materially alter the board configuration, but is still free to play cards and interact).
(*3) While I really like how Vincent built his deck, unfortunately from a meta-game perspective "Things in the Ground" isn't actually viable in any realistic sense. A competent deck should be able to beat it 90+% of the time. In this case, I had 9-12 cards that "auto won" against it. Also, my icon density was orders of magnitude higher than his, so, irrespective of hitting AOs, the average "Things" action was producing more icons/skill in aggregate for me than him (I also had an oversized # of chars for my deck – more than he did, which would yield far more "hits" over time for me than him). Given this, even if he hit all his AOs, I would still have overwhelming Skill/Icon superiority do to shear density (in essence, his Things was working for me not for him). In order for him to win, I would have had to fail the momentum game (NOT draw one of the 9-12 auto-win cards and have a terrible hand), and also have extremely bizarre card distribution problems with the order of my deck (have some strange arrangement of chars that allowed him to out produce me).
(*4) This was probably the best tournament win in a game I ever had. The local “guru game store owner” had his wife take decklists and entry fees. She actually *laughed* at my decklist…..”This is the big leagues..we don’t play these types of decks…we play for blood!”. I won the tournament, slaughtering her husband-lord-of–the-tournament before his second turn with a scryb sprite that did 22 points of damage. To this day, I get a few emails a year from friends who claim they still have nightmares about my sprites! OK…I will try to stop reliving MTG now….
(*5) In the CCG, I won the original Stahleck Asylum with a deck using something later dubbed "Jump" tech. Players - and some Playtesters - who really did not understand even he basics of the games underlying mechanics - screamed to nerf the Rituals. Bowing to populist sentiment, FFG -who rejected our submissions and board pleas- nerfed the rituals. Ironically, this helped the broken decks instead of hurting them as the rituals were part of the solution not the problem. So I ended up building 2 more broken decks (Tsath, The97%T1RipOff) in addition to reworking the Jump decks (which still worked) and another player built the Messenger deck. Without rituals the metagame was left defenseless. FAIL