I know it is over a month ago now, but I still wanted to write about my experience at Winter Court. The whole event was really amazing, and I would have been happy with it even if I lost in the first round on day 2. The best part was meeting so many nice people, mostly but not all Cranes :).
Let me start by saying it was a lot of games to play over 4 days, so I don’t remember most details and might also misremember some. After each game I tried to think only about the next one. So sorry if I played against you and don’t remember a lot :p.
All of my opponents were really friendly and every game was a joy to play. I did not personally run into any issues with slow play / stalling, which was my biggest fear going to Worlds. So thanks for the games everyone!
Round 1 vs Bradley (Crane) – he started with a turn 1 Tengu Sensei, and my flip was Challenger, Whisperer, Miya Mystic, Imperial Palace. I decided to take passing fate immediately, because one of my characters would just get coverted by the Tengu and be completely useless that turn. At that point I already had 1 Fury in hand, and drew the second. That allowed me to bow the Tengu Sensei despite 1 Voice of Honor, and Bradley told me later he thought the game was already lost at that point (and he was probably right).
Round 2 vs Andrew (Crane) – another Crane vs Crane, as tournament software still seems to like this match-up a lot. Unfortunately I do not remember much about this one, I think it was a relatively standard game. The mirror is actually a relatively fun game in my opinion, because there are enough powerful cards that none of them dominate too much. For example Guest of Honor might be good, but so are Challenger, Brash Samurai, later Yoshi.
Round 3 vs Marcos (Scorpion) – the Seeker of Void Scorpion match is one that I practiced a lot, and felt good about going in. The 3x Let Go can almost always be saved for Cloud the Mind, so my deck had a high chance of sticking a Guest of Honor. It can still be tricky getting breaks fast enough, because the Scorpion will eventually get both players on low honor and has a clear advantage in that situation with cards like Duty, AFWTD (for unopposed + dishonor) and their many other dishonor tools. I don’t recall how this game went, but I did win it.
Round 4 vs Stephen (Crab) – this game went well from the start, as I hit the right provinces to get breaks fast. Let Go is crucial against Crab, and it is also one of the better match-ups for Mirumoto’s Fury. It’s important to try and interrupt a crucial save by using Let Go on Reprieve, canceling a Rebuild or breaking the Iron Mine during the turn so a big character actually leaves play at least once during the game.
Round 5 vs Steve (Scorpion) – this was the swiss game I lost. Steve plays a Keeper Scorpion deck, so from the start it is clear that his win condition is dishonor. Evidently I did not have enough practice against this style of play. On turn 1 we both bid 5, and by the end of that turn I was on 9 honor. That seemed like enough to bid 5 again on turn 2 (he bid 1, taking me to 5 honor), but by the end of turn 3 I lost an honor from a dishonored character leaving play and then the last one to a fate phase Backhanded Compliment.
Round 6 vs Evan (Phoenix) – we both got breaks fast this game, until we had to get a complicated ruling after we both forgot about a Master of Gisei Toshi effect until after the conflict was over. Oops! Luckily in the end we found a fair solution together with Tyler that we were all happy with. In that conflict I broke his third province, which Evan later said he probably should have defended more. That allowed me to attack his stronghold in a way he could not stop.
It was exciting to get to day 2. Initially I thought there would be more swiss rounds on day 2, but at some point it got changed to just single elimination for 7 rounds. My 5-1 performance on day 1 secured a bye in the first round, so there were 6 left to play for me.
Before the tournament there were quite a few match-ups and players that I was not very confident playing against. I knew Crane was not the strongest deck coming in, but I had so much more practice with it than with any other clan that it would be wrong to switch even if I wanted to. But when we were heading to the venue for day 2, I was happy to face anyone and thought they should be afraid of me instead.
Top 64 vs Antoine (Unicorn) – while I was enjoying my bye, Antoine had to beat a Crane to get to this round. I considered Unicorn a real threat for this tournament, because their Hisu Mori Toride is quite easy to activate and especially combined with a Shiotome Encampment you can get overrun fast. Even so, the match went as planned for me. I was able to Let Go an early Spyglass and cancel a Cavalry Reserves, and was pretty much able to answer all his plays.
Top 32 vs Daniel (Crab) – so in the top 64 some Crane friends went out in disheartening ways (one got stalled to time, another forgot to say ‘reaction’ on Mark of Shame – you know who you are). I felt a bit sad and tense about that, and told myself to play carefully but also be aware of time. Luckily when I sat down Daniel was a great guy, and it was immediately clear we could play a ‘relaxed’ game without any kind of fuckery. The advantageous construction of my deck against Crab came through again, and I was able to get the required breaks before I got in any honor trouble or Crab’s immortal characters took over the board.
Top 16 vs Chris (Dragon) – Chris was the first one I met after getting off my plane, at the airport. It was good to meet him, he is definitely just as cool offline as online. If I remember correctly I got two Cautious Scout early, but they still took a long time to disarm Restoration of Balance. In turn 5 or 6 Mitsu came out and it looked like he might stabilize, but I was on his stronghold and his conflict deck was running out soon (the -5 honor would have been severe). Unfortunately time ran out, but I guess it is sometimes inevitable if the game would naturally take 7-8+ turns. Tiebreakers were clearly in my favor, so I did not really consider them and just played until time was up.
Top 8 vs Jose Luis (Phoenix) – this was the closest call I had all tournament. On turn 2 I had a Yoshi (with favor) and Nerishma out, against 3-4 characters on his side. He was first player and hit my Magistrate Station first attack. I decided to defend with both and try to stop the break, as I had honor tools in hand so would be able to ready my Yoshi afterwards. During that conflict I used a Soul Beyond Reproach to honor Nerishma just for +1 skill, but his 3x Supernatural Storm produced just barely enough skill to break the Station anyway. Ouch!
After that I was able to stabilize and the game went on for many turns. In the end it was down to tiebreakers: it was down to my last political conflict, and the imperial favor was the critical point. I had the favor that turn, he had 2 rings claimed and I had 1. He also had a ready Prodigy of the Waves (through Clarity of Purpose earlier) so I had to win that conflict to tie up the favor contest and clinch the tiebreaks. He was also on 1 honor at this point. I dropped in a Political Rival to hopefully covert past for unopposed honor loss, but he answered with a Tattooed Wanderer. This meant he still had to defend though, so I was able to win the ring 3-3 and retain the favor for the win. He correctly remarked that he could have used the Clarity on his Kudaka instead of 4 skill instead of 3, and in that case he would have won. Very close game!
Top 4 vs Kingsley (Dragon) – another Dragon game, in this one my Mirumoto’s Fury did a lot of work. It was able to stop a critical break + ring, allowing me to keep up the tempo. I knew it was Sacred Sanctuary under his stronghold. His only monk on board was a Hiruma Skirmisher with Seal of the Dragon; she would not be able to defend with her ‘-’ political. Up until this point I was able to save up 2x Let Go in my hand, that removed both of his other Seal of the Dragon pre-conflict. Without the ability to ready a monk (and keep it ready after the conflict), his stronghold was just a blank 4-strength province, and I was able to attack in without too much fear of counterattacks, giving me the win.
Finals vs Johnny (Scorpion) – if you are reading this you have probably seen the stream, so I will try to keep it brief. The turn 2 Hidden Moon Dojo on a central province seemed like an unstoppable force, but he was unable to make much headway with it during turns 2/3/4. From his perspective his conflict draws were quite bad (mainly too few cancels), so in the end I suppose the variance was not that negative for me even though I never saw the all-important Guest of Honor.
Because he did not score any breaks or put me on dangerously low honor, I was still confident playing the game during that time. My plan was still to win by breaking the stronghold, even though I was not able to get any breaks either. I figured we would eventually both run low on honor and cards in deck, but hopefully before that time I would have enough board state at different times to break some provinces.
Johnny ended up giving me an opening by playing an ill-advised Cunning Magistrate (it cost him the conflict by blanking one of his characters that was dishonored) and then in the final turn attacking even though it seemed like I could defend and it was dangerous for him against Court Games and/or For Shame. I think the board looked better for me after that turn anyway with both of us on low honor and my Voice of Honor turned on (I had 3 in hand) so maybe attacking was his best shot.
This finals goes to show that endurance and dealing with pressure are extremely important in big tournament settings. I don’t believe I played a single flawless game all weekend, but all my opponents made more impactful errors. Some of the errors consisted more of not knowing the match-up well enough than clear play mistakes, and of course there is some luck involved in winning any large tournament, but I feel like most of it was lots of practice paying off.
Why pick Kakita Kaezin?
Why pick Seeker of Fire?
The alternative for Crane was Seeker of Void, and while that was probably the more stable and plain powerful choice, all the void-only cards suck. By picking Fire we can try Imperial Librarian and maybe Icon of Favor, as well as having a more interesting province row with Feast or Famine.
It was also the case that picking Seeker of Void would cause Dragon to pick Keeper of Water, so then Crab could not. That seemed to me like less fun for a lot of people, and because I deeply love this game I want as many of us as possible to enjoy playing it
What is next for Crane? We have had some time to experiment with Seeker of Fire, but there should be an updated restricted list coming soon as well as new cards, hopefully in January. I was strongly expecting the RL update to consist of only adding Feast or Famine, or at worst not adding any Crane cards, but rumors are indicating I was wrong about that.
It depends a lot on what cards come out in Children of the Empire and the Crane clan pack, but I suspect we might have to take Crane in a significantly different direction. I hope that neutral or in- clan attachment control becomes available, so that splashing clans other than Dragon or Scorpion becomes more competitively viable. In the past our clan has proven resilient and adaptive, and with the amazing roster of players we have at all levels of play I do not see that changing anytime soon.
I hope to meet you all (again) at the next Winter Court. Until then keep it true, keep it blue, keep it Grue!