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Support Removal, or: Why Three Factions Rule the Metagame


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#1 Runix

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 08:07 AM

Metagame

After reading through a number of tournament reports, reviewing listed decks, reading through the various discussions here, and testing my own decks while doing some face-to-face play, something is becoming very clear to me:  support removal is currently a key component of the metagame.

The reasons for that are fairly complex, and I'm not sure I understand all of them.  But one important reason could be the addition of some support cards in recent cycles that are extraordinarily powerful, and that have effects that dramatically influence play for both players.  For reasons of their own, the developers' efforts to shape the metagame have often come down to introducing powerful support cards to shape the direction of play.  Examples:  Khopesh of the Abyss to deal with flooding; Flux Stabilizer to deal with bouncing and resurrections; Snow Graves to deal with discard pile fishing; etc.

The Problem

Why is that a problem?  Quite simply, because certain factions are able to remove support cards, and others aren't.  Factions that can remove support cards are therefore able to retain control of the game, while factions that lack support removal are not.  What is more, many of the support card effects are triggered effects, so having "slow" support removal - e.g., available only during your turn - is not good enough.  It has to be ready, on-demand support removal, or very bad things can happen.  Ideally, support removal would be able to target both attachments and locations - splitting removal between attachments and locations is card-inefficient and very often less reliable (removing problematic attachments by directly targeting characters does not work on Snow Graves, for instance).  Bottom line, direct support removal is optimal and virtually indispensable.

Two Factions

Unfortunately, direct support removal is readily available to only two factions:  Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath.  Virtually every tournament-competitive deck I have seen listed includes either one or the other, and with their ubiquitous support removal cards:  Deep One Assault (arguably the best card in the game) and Burrowing Beneath (Thunder in the East is also good, but not as reliable as it is Operations phase only, ditto for Grasping Chthonian).  Other factions have support removal that is either unreliable, inadequate (e.g., Silver Twilight's Lodge Housekeeper - congratulations, you have removed a support card for exactly one-half of a turn), or almost entirely missing - good luck removing support with that Miskatonic deck, you're going to need it.

Case Study:  The Temple of Mutual Sacrifice

Consider, as a case study, how one would deal with a simple but brutally effective deck - a Cthulhu deck stacked full of Serpents, with Temple of R'lyeh and Sibilant Cry. (Yes, I know; "There he goes complaining about the Serpents again" . . . but seriously, this deck is going to rampage over some unprepared players.)  Serpents are flooded out as fast as possible until the Temple of R'lyeh can be put into play, then everything is sacrificed clearing both players' boards (which can be done in one fell swoop in any given action window once the Temple is up), then all the Serpents are popped out of the discard pile with Sibilant Cry and walk to an easy win.

What do?  "Snow Graves" is the obvious answer.  Except that any half-competent Cthulhu player is going to stack the deck with Deep One Assault and Get It Off, which means he can easily pop off the Snow Graves as soon as he's ready to clear the board before bringing the snakes back from the dead.  Likewise for Flux Stabilizer, etc.

That means, realistically, that the only way to shut down the combination is to destroy the Temple - but it has to be on-demand (so that the player can respond when the Temple goes up in the Cthulhu player's Operations phase), and would almost certainly have to be an event card, as anything else - say, a Ritual of Inferno or a Crazed Arsonist - is going to get Deep One Assaulted (again:  best card in the game) before the combination gets put in place.

Looking at that, it becomes perfectly clear:  you need on-demand support destruction, or just this type of a combination will be absolutely ruinous.  That means you either play Cthulhu or Shub-Niggurath, or some combination including them, or you get ruined.

*Three Factions, Actually

OK, actually, there is another choice, and that is to play Hastur and have a Power Drain ready (or just have a two-resource domain with Hastur match available, and just get this look on your face as if you have a Power Drain in hand, that works too).

Hastur is a bit of a special case, in that they have a lot of unique effects - especially related to event cards - that give them a lot more control over the game.  Hence, even though Hastur doesn't have that powerful on-demand remove-this-support-card-now effect available, they have a lot of other interesting tools in their toolkit that lets the faction deal with nasty strategies.  Power Drain is one obvious example, but in this case they could also, for instance, focus on rendering as many of the Serpents insane as possible, which means they can't be removed by the Temple of R'lyeh as they aren't Cthulhu faction matched while insane.

But that's very specific to Hastur.  The other factions, generally speaking, do not have the same kinds of unique tools to deal with difficult situations.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, as important as support cards are, removing them as soon as possible is critical to controlling the flow of the game, and only two factions are really able to do that consistently:  Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath (while Hastur is an honorable mention, as they can frequently deal with difficult situations in other ways).  That means that any serious competitive deck is going to have to have one or more of those factions.  That stinks, as it limits the versatility of the game and limits the options on deck-building.

I realize that the decision was made to have each faction have some flavor, by limiting certain things - support removal, event cancellation, etc. - to certain factions.  But you can't do that and then introduce powerful support cards and event cards into the game - particularly support cards, whose effects are persistent.  At some point, if the developers want to balance the game out across the factions, they are going to either have to spread the support removal around, which will necessarily reduce the unique flavor of the factions, or they are going to have to bring the hammer down hard on the more powerful of the support cards, and stop using support card effects to try and balance the metagame.



#2 HilariousPete

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 08:44 AM

It's true, generally, support cards have the most powerful effects and stay in play, but I think they are also the most easiest to destroy. Events are the hardest to cancel/prevent, but usually don't have such a big impact and are usually not reusable. Characters are somewhere in between. I think that's part of the balance of the game. I like that you can set your focus somewhere in between these 3 categories…

When I first looked at the Temple, I also thought that this card is really brutal. And it probably is, you need to prepare for it. But it an be countered by most factions. You already listed Hastur, Shub and Cthulhu.

Agency: Agency Groundkeeper. Torch the Joint. Temple of R'lyeh is a location and therfore pretty exposed.

Silver Twilight: Lodge Housekeep + Nathan Wick to bring her in play at Action speed. Ritual of Inferno.

Miskatonic: Magnetic Spike, perhaps with Horrid Dreams. Or Nathaniel Peaslee.



#3 .Zephyr.

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 10:25 AM

 Political Demonstration for any fraction. It is "story phase only" but still free on domains.

Dimension rift as well. Especialy this guy is insanely expensive (4+3) but board reset when you have card advantage is really nice.



#4 dboeren

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 10:26 AM

I think you're jumping to a conclusion here that's warping your perspective.  There are powerful support cards, so if my deck can't crush all of them it's no good, so only decks that excel at support destruction and can do it on demand are viable in the game.

You need to look at things from a higher view.  You don't measure a deck against a deck, you measure a deck against the living ecosystem we call the metagame.  No deck beats everything, it would suck if the game worked like that because we'd all just play that deck and get bored.  Tune your deck to play the way you want and to perform well in general.  Other people will be playing a variety of deck types, and you have very little control over what they are.  Maybe your deck has a weakness against some particular design, say for instance it's Khopesh.  Maybe you can change your deck to do better against Khopesh, but in all likelihood you're simultaneously making it perform worse against something else.  Find the point where you're comfortable and the deck is working for you.  Other people will be designing decks to beat that Khopesh guy for you, and that reduces his threat as a contender.  You see, because HE has to worry about not being able to beat everything out there in one deck design too.

Make your deck good at what it's good at and don't try to have a perfect answer for everything, because it can't be done.  Don't play paranoid where you let your deck be dictated by what you're afraid of.  Make something that other people need to fear, something you want to play for yourself.



#5 Konx

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 08:46 PM

Runix said:

(e.g., Silver Twilight's Lodge Housekeeper - congratulations, you have removed a support card for exactly one-half of a turn),

 

So, you have written a long post, there are some easy observation where everyone can agree (supports became more important in the metagame. And I add: luckily) and then you write the above sentence that make me understand where the problem is :)

Point is: half a turn of support removal CAN BE ENOUGH if in that half turn you win. If you are talking about more controlloish kind of deck, then yes, somehow you have to reach a control situation and one way to achieve that is board control then yes, you need support removal.

But what if I'm running a fast rush deck, that can win in 2 turns? Why should I care about support destruction? I care about putting success tokens on the board and winning the stories!

Long story short: the post you wrote is perfectly fine _only_ if you read it as a control player. If you read something like this as a rush/combo player, the situation doesn't hold anymore simply because the winning path is different.

 

I think the problem is that destruction proves to be (right now) an easy to find/easy to play combination, so everyone now thinks that playing destruction is the only way to play this game.

 

I don't know if you were around at the very beginning of the LCG, but back then the most effective strategy was rush (namely, Agency/Hastur rush). Back then EVERYONE was complaining that the combination of dogs+wouding+ cheap characters was unbeatable. Result? I won Stahleck with a deck designed to beat rush. Now the situation it's just the opposite: everyone complaining about destruction. You just need to find a rush deck that simply doesn't care about destruction.

Destruction, to be effective, requires 2-3 rounds and often it's not enough to be in full control (and with full control I mean a situation where virtually any card played by the opponent it's useless in changing your path to victory).

 

TL;DR: instead of focusing on the single cards that enable the destroy strategy, try to focus on the path to victory that those decks have, analyze where those decks are weak and then build around those weaknesses.

 

hope it helps in looking at things on a new angle :)

Konx



#6 jhaelen

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 09:09 PM

Runix said:

but seriously, this deck is going to rampage over some unprepared players.

I'd argue that every decent deck will do that.

 

I agree, though, that the Cthulhu and Shub have the easiest access to lots of generic support destruction. Dealing with Location support cards or attachments is generally easier to do and every faction has the means to do so.

I can still recall a time when there was little point in playing support cards, so I'm actually happy about this development. Support cards are now (very) worthwhile and that's a good thing in my book.



#7 KrissS666

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 12:01 AM

About mass destruction, you can keep in mind if you have more characters than the opponent, i'll failed to use temple r'lyeh

Right now Uroborus is unique so you only put 1 in a turn and if he back from discard, it come unsane (without faction type so it can't be sacrified to use the temple).

I don't say this deck is easy to beat, but not impossible, so you need to DECKBUILD your deck according to current meta.

You need to remove some support card OR attachement support card (means you need to remove the character attached by wound, destroy, bounce, STOLE )

You need to put more character than opponent and/or jump characters (always usefull)

You can lock the discard pile (for a lot of combo decks in shubb, cthulhu, yog)

 

So, only myska is in trouble with current meta, but it's a faction played very often as support faction. Even Syndicate can be efficient with mass characters



#8 Runix

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 03:19 AM

Konx said:

I don't know if you were around at the very beginning of the LCG, but back then the most effective strategy was rush (namely, Agency/Hastur rush). Back then EVERYONE was complaining that the combination of dogs+wouding+ cheap characters was unbeatable. Result? I won Stahleck with a deck designed to beat rush. Now the situation it's just the opposite: everyone complaining about destruction. You just need to find a rush deck that simply doesn't care about destruction.

Destruction, to be effective, requires 2-3 rounds and often it's not enough to be in full control (and with full control I mean a situation where virtually any card played by the opponent it's useless in changing your path to victory).

 

Thanks, and I appreciate the perspective from a veteran player.

My counter-argument would be this:  I think control and destruction are the dominant meta-strategies at this point, and both are enhanced by a number of cards that have slowed down the pace of the game, which has allowed them to gain eminence over rushing strategies.  Specifically, cards like Black Dog, Master of the Myths, and Ya-te-veo can stall a rush deck long enough to allow control or destruction strategies time to kick in.  That means that support removal really is in fact critical, because control decks and destruction decks can buy the time they need to get their powerful support cards into play.

From the very broad perspective of the metagame, I certainly understand the rock-paper-scissors approach which has been prevalent in CCGs since the early days of Magic.  Of course, there is always a risk if one of the rocks or papers or scissors just gets to be too powerful.  But there is also a risk if certain strategies include Swiss Army knives that work against rocks and papers and scissors equally well.  In CoC, a lot of factions have some interesting and unique tools that make for distinctive strategies, but Shub, Cthulhu, and Hastur have the Swiss Army knives that can deal with just about any situation:  cards like Burrowing Beneath, Deep One Assault, and Power Drain.  That disrupts the metagame and leads to deck compositions that clearly and consistently dominate others, which is boring for competitive play and casual play alike.



#9 kamacausey

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 08:30 AM

 I get where everyone is coming from about the rock paper scissors but I'm in runix's camp here on this one. Political demonstration just isn't getting it done. And I would even go as far as saying snow graves is worse to deal with in some decks then khopesh. 



#10 Penfold

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 09:58 AM

 For perspective, it isn't Rock-Paper-Scissors.

It is Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. Right now people who play more for fun are playing Scissors (theme decks). Because they are shiny and cut stuff! :) The more serious players playing Rock (destruction decks) and are crushing scissors left and right. This leads to the call of rocks being too strong and generally creating a hubaloo of nerf it, restrict this, and ban that. And the metgame players are quietly playing Spock decks (non-linear tool box) bending scissors and vaporizing rock.

I'm just not concerned. If you don't like how a deck is beating you don't play their game. Build a deck that simply ignores or evades their attempts and dowhatyouneedtodo.



#11 AUCodeMonkey

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 10:33 AM

Penfold said:

And the metgame players are quietly playing Spock decks (non-linear tool box) bending scissors and vaporizing rock.

I agree with you 100% Penfold. It's hard to sacrifice Serpents when, on turn 3, my Initiate of Huang Hun keeps 3 guys off the board every turn kthxbai :-D



#12 Runix

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 10:02 AM

AUCodeMonkey said:

 

I agree with you 100% Penfold. It's hard to sacrifice Serpents when, on turn 3, my Initiate of Huang Hun keeps 3 guys off the board every turn kthxbai :-D

Initiate is the reason any good Serpents deck has Uroborus in it.

I know what you're getting at, but the reality right now is that most "Spock" decks are Shub or Hastur based, and many have Cthulhu splashed in, for all the reasons I outlined above.



#13 AUCodeMonkey

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 07:56 AM

Uroborus meets an untimely end when splashed with a number of other factions  Trust me, I've had to deal with way too many Dreamlands Fanatics and Rich Widows to be worried about stupid unique snake man.






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