1. GENERAL COMMENTS:
The US Nationals 2018 was going to be decided at NOVA Open starting August 30th with the champion crowned on September 1st. Just shy of a week after the UK Nationals 2018 where Greg Pike had taken down the event with eSnoke/eBazine/FOst, things were definitlely starting to look exciting for the largest national tournament of the year.
Villain vehicles were making a strong showing at UK Nationals, while 3wide hero mill were not looking nearly as unbreakable as had first been predicted after the dominant performance of team Hyperloops and eventual winner Andrew Cox at Gen Con 2018.
All eyes were on NOVA to see how the top players from around the US (and beyond) had adapted and to see which decks would be fielded by the various players.
While I was initially disappointed at the number of players registered for the US Nationals: 132 players split into two separate heats with the top16 from each heat battling it out in the top cut, I'm a bit more clarified now. I'll save those thoughts for another article on "The future of competitive Destiny" including my ideas on how to improve the numbers and also grow the competitive scene beyond the scope of mere attendance.
Remember how we’ve been going crazy over the bad coverage of various high level Destiny events lately? And while I understand all the arguments, I just want coverage (yes, I’m selfish) ... and boy, did we get it from the US Nationals. THUMBS UP, sadly I only have two, to the Chance Cube guys for providing an excellent stream, quality commentating and the setting of a stage worthy of the probably largest national event of the year!
Generally people underestimate the importance of good coverage of major events. As with many other things, it is not until you haven't got it you truly appreciate the value of it! THANK YOU!
3. EARLY FAVORITES:
I guess it’s fair to say that there were a number of the usual suspects at the event, and it would be of no surprise to anyone if these players did well at the event. It included, but was not limited to, crew members from Artificery: Nick Obee (former runner-up at Worlds), Sean Aguilar, Agent of Zion, Olivier de Ridder and Zachary Hahn, Arrow Brook Gaming with newest member, World Champion Edwin Chen teaming up with eventual US Champion Drew Warren and Cody Williams. Also The Destiny Council was present in force with the Magnusons, Luke and Jonathan expected to make a splash, and obviously the Hyperloops lead by Joe Colon, Nick Cuenca and newly crowned North American champion Andrew Cox (unfortunately for them Mike Gemme had to sit this one out because life has a way to get in the way of our fun).
Of the above mentioned players, most made the top16 on either Day 1a or Day 1b, and thus making the cut, so ... well ... honestly no surprises. We’ve said it before, and will reiterate it here: It is definitely the dawn of the big teams.
Being on a team has several advantages, and most of the players who are doing consistently well are teaming up. If you are a competitive player with you eyes set on one of the grand prizes, whether a Galactic Qualifier, a National event, a Continental Championship or even the World Championship come May 2019: TEAM UP!
4. THE KING IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE KING!
Mill was crowned king of Destiny and expected to rule the game, but the dominance has so far been short-lived. Nature, as we exclaimed in our article covering Gen Con 2018, found a way ... sort of.
Andrew Cox once again brought his mill deck and looked early on as a strong favorite for the top title, but his run was eventually ended at the hands of hyperloops team mate Nick Cuenca, who played probably the optimal deck to combat mill: eDooku/eTalzin, offering a ridiculous level of consistency, constantly putting pressure on your opponent’s mitigation (and hence resources), while still being able to push through damage. This match-up is a difficult one for mill decks. We already talked about it in the YOUR Destiny Podcast Episode 20, but being able to reliably put damage on your opponent's characters without the need for rerolls is incredibly powerful and Dooku paired up with Talzin does this job better than most other decks.
Getting your sequencing right is important, but once you've got it figured out, you'll be able to play around Easy Pickings and Entangle with relative ease, while being able to live with the rounds where you get Hyperspace Jump’ed or Beguile'd, because your other rounds are so efficient. The Force Wave can be crucial against those pesky 3 and 4wide decks, while Unyielding can be a nasty surprise against decks shielding up or hiding behind Force Illusions, and takes full advantage of the monoblue package with mixed damage on the dice.
This deck was expected to make quite an appearance at US Nationals 2018 after having just taken down the UK Nationals 5 days prior. It was played by one of the absolute best players in the world: Joe Colon aka HonestlySarcastc of theHyperloops, and he did - as expected - well, but was eventually taken down by Nick Cuenca in top8 whose job it apparently was to be the friendslayer of the weekend.
The version fielded by Joe which he took to top8 is most likely similar to the one that took down the UK Nationals the week before and rumours has it that it was indeed Joe's version that was brought by Greg Pike. Seeing that the deck was spoiled prior to the event, I'd assume that Joe did a few changes to the deck though?!
The deck is deceptively good, but I also feel that it can bebetrayed by it's relatively low health pool and is extremely volatile to variance. Snoke and his Focus sides are alpha-omega to this deck, just like Yoda was to the Drive-by-Shooting (and this really feels like the villain version of that deck). If an opponent is able to prevent the ramp of the deck, it also means severely limiting the effectiveness of the deck (here Snoke is inferior to Yoda). On the positive it does have good odds against mill, which sort of seemed to be the soundtrack of the tournament.
Also a huge shout out to fellow YOUR Destiny mate Lake Quitt, who managed top16 with this character pairing, although in a slightly modified version relying more on heavy-duty vehicles.
Man ... Luke Magnuson, you glorious bastard. I was sitting there innocently looking at The Chance Cube stream when suddenly I saw, at the top of the standings and battling it out on Table 1, two Executioners flanking Doctor Aphra. I actually think I immediately started smiling ... it was nothing but AMAZING. And who else would be piloting the deck, but Luke Magnuson! A great deck builder, and if you haven’t read his 101 guides to deckbuilding yet on the Destiny Council website you’re missing out, as well as an outstanding player. Luke also did a fantastic write-up on the deck, which you should definitely read. Luke will probably tell you that the deck was a team-effort! Can't say I'm surprised, there's something in the Minneapolis water, which I'm sure can be attributed to the high density of microbreweries up there as well as Scandinavian influence!
His deck is at first glance pretty straightforward, and follows the outline of most Aphra decks, piling on Indirect damage to both you and your opponent, but putting enough pressure on your opponent’s characters to push through lethal. With a collective 26hp there’s just enough to keep your own characters alive while your opponent’s are struggling. Add into this the extra damage from the Exceutioners when their dice are rolled back into the pool after defeating a character and you’re looking at a pretty scary line-up!
The deck seems low on vehicles, with just "5" in the entire deck, but the combination of damage output from characters, the self-inflicted Indirect damage that stacks damage on your opponent courtesy of Climate Disruption Array, 0-0-0 and BT-1, and a few defensive measures such as Bubble Shield seems to be more than most decks can handle. Luke took the deck to a 7-1 finish on Day 1b and although he bowed out of the tournament in top32 at the hands of eYoda/Cassian/Anakin, I’m still full of adoration and hope this deck continues to find life in the meta!
7. GRAND MOFF'ING IS IN:
Simon Smithson showed us at UK Nationals 2018 that Grand Moff had a home in Jabba/Tarkin mill decks abusing the beJsus out of Command Center, and at US Nationals it was once again showcased in the absolute top flight by Zachary Hahn.
Seriously though, did you ever expect Thrawn/Snoke to use Grand Moff in conjunction with Jedi Temple ... Yes? Your pants are on fire! Please put it out while I continue ...
This is quite simply a stroke of deckbuilding genius right there. Using Thrawn to check out your opponent's hand discarding one and then go after the remaining events with Grand Moff --- OUCH! You could potentially decimate your opponent's hand in just two swift actions. It also allows you to aim much wider with Thrawn's ability, going for Supports or Upgrades, not worrying about just guessing 0 or 1, but using Thrawn to spy, discarding the most obvious dangers to your own gameplan and then swoop in and rip the remaining events from your opponent. Nicely done Zachary! We salute you!
The deck is built as a vicious hardhitting vehicle deck with plenty of mitigation to keep you in the game against aggro and other vehicle decks, while being able to put up more than a decent fight against mill. The normal dangers of Hyperspace Jump, Beguile, Flames of the Past, etc. really lose quite a lot of their fear factor against this deck. And more importantly, this deck puts a lot of decision making pressure on your opponent, who will almost be in the defensive from the very beginning knowing how punishing this deck is to passive and reactive plays. I LOVE IT!!
Some of the stand out cards are Separatist Landing Craft to basically replace Dark Ritual (adding a 6hp Battle Droid to your line-up is functionally just as good as resurrecting either an exhausted Thrawn or Snoke at half health), while simultaneously providing damage sides to the deck, as well as that single copy of Ancient Lightsaber as a pseudo mill defense and healing ad nauseum on your characters.
Don’t bring a Lightsaber to a gun fight! Bring a Holocron?! Which is exactly what the Artificery crew decided to do with their take on Kylo/Snoke, and while the deck does look very similar to that in the YOUR Destiny Gauntlet, barring the change from sabers to Holocrons, it still represents a totally different way of playing the deck:
This was somewhat surprising to me. The YOUR Destiny discord (which you can access by becoming a Patron here) has been rife with talk of Kylo/Snoke as potentially the strongest aggro deck in the format, and although it suffers to Kylo/Pryce (because of the advantage that Kylo Ren inherently holds against mono-coloured match-ups), the starting point for our discussion has always been a list with Lightsabers. I see the basic idea behind the swap, and although I don’t fully agree, results often speak louder than words.
The combination of Force Wave, Force Throw, Force Lightning and Rise Agains makes the deck extremely well suited to combat vehicle and mill decks, and the inclusion of two Rend is definitely a meta call from the guys at Artificery expecting to combat money generating vehicle decks and Talzin/Mandalorians with bouncing Chance Cubes all day long. They weren’t far off the mark!
Normally, I'd never advise someone to "try and figure out the meta", but rather identify which deck is strongest in the format and pick that - I know, it's easier said than done - but in this instance their choice seemed to be a very strong call indeed. Kylo definitely has game against all of the strong decks in the meta, but being somewhat susceptible to decks that can pile on a lot of damage, and possibly stop the early Kylo ramp or prevent the game changing Rise Again to be played.
9. DOCTOR APHRA I PRESUME?
Since the release of Way of the Force, Doctor Aphra based decks have gone from strength to strength. Not only due to several cards that slot effortlessly into Aphra decks such as 0-0-0, Reprogram, By Any Means, Hailfire Droid Tank, etc., but most notably the arrival of Mr. Snoke himself.
We've already done extensive analysis on him in several articles, and the conclusion remains the same: As an enabler, Snoke is simply outstanding and as we receive more sets and continuously expand the card pool (at least until rotation cycles out the Awakenings cycle), we might even see him eclipse the power of mr. consistency himself: Yoda.
Doctor Aphra was represented in 3 out of 8 decks in top8, while 2 of those 3 decks made it through top8 into the finals for an exact mirror match to determine the final champion! After having seen the results of both UK Nationals and US Nationals, it fair to say that Doctor Aphra definitely has made her presence felt on the competitive scene.
10. APHRA IS SPELLED "HAILFIRE DROID TANK":
While Doctor Aphra is obviously good her success is not really down to her alone, because she's been around for a while without making an impact at all, but to her accomplices in crime: Her murderous droids, 0-0-0 and BT-1, and not least the indomitable Hailfire Droid Tank. The ability to play any of these at a discount, possibly combining her own ability with Reprogram and/or Weapons Factory Alpha is absolutely braindeadly good.
I'm confident in saying that vehicle decks are going to suffer some with that particular Battlefield rotating out of the game, and it's fair to say, even with the current generation of vehicle decks able to generate resources out their wazoos, that vehicle decks do owe quite a lot of their success to the access to Weapons Factory Alpha. It might only be a one-time thing, but sometimes it is just that one time you need to set the avalanche in motion.
There's an almost sad irony to the fact that Nick Cuenca suffered defeat at the hands of the very deck he himself originally designed.
11. MY REMINGTON SUCKS?
I'm currently on vacation, and my old laptop just can't cut the job at hand ... We'll be crunching the numbers a lot more when I'm back from my holidays, but as it is right now, this is what we have as a preliminary report from US Nationals! We apologise - and are sorry for keeping you waiting!
I'm also certain a long list of deck and tournament reports will be coming out, so we'll read those and add this into our follow up report! So stay tuned for more to come!