(Metagame Archive) Stall Tactics

By Brian-David Marshall

No lies . . . I’m stalling this week.

No, this is not a “clever” intro to an article about the X-Stall deck or its progenitor Solitaire, although, as I will soon explain, that specific progression could easily be covered in the coming weeks. I’m just buying myself a week to get my sea legs under me for the new direction my column is going to be taking. In the past I have written about Sealed Pack formats, but as I have watched innovation upon innovation during the Constructed portions of Pro Circuit events and especially on the $10K circuit, my attention has been increasingly drawn toward 60-card decks.

My fascination began in the early days of the Pro Circuit Qualifier scene, when I watched countless players try to harness the power of Longshot with Random Punks and the like. Eventually, Mike Thicke started to tear up the PCQ circuit with the counter-curved Wild Vomit. Later, I got to watch Dave Spears take Curve Sentinels all the way through to the finals of the Wizard World Texas $10K tournament. I later learned that the deck was based on a PCQ-winning decklist from the prior week. I could see a direct line from those early PCQ days all the way through to the impact that Curve Sentinels had on Pro Circuit: Los Angeles.

What I want to do is approach various deck archetypes and chronicle their history, from humble PCQ beginnings through triumphant $10K and Pro Circuit incarnations. Sometimes, it’s not even archetypes, as much as it is team affiliations. My first installment in what I am going to be calling “Essential X” (as in Essential Brotherhood, Essential Titans, etc.) should be a two part series that takes one affiliation from one archetype up through an entirely different one.

Essential Sentinels will follow the cadre of purple robots through the development of Wild Vomit, looking at the various iterations of the one of the game’s early popular archetypes. The second part will focus on the development of the more popular, current Sentinel build, Curve Sentinels. One reason I am stalling the launch of the subject until next week is that I’m still researching and I want to make sure I get it right. A conversation with Mike Thicke and Gabe Walls is required, and I am still poring through year-old deck archives to look for early Longshot decks that may have preceded the Vomit archetype.

Some of the decks I want to look at in the coming weeks include Wild Vomit, Curve Sentinels, and the various incarnations of Brotherhood, Teen Titans, and Cosmic Cops. I’m also looking for feedback from readers who can help me unearth clues as to some of these decks’ earliest developers. For the most part, I’m looking for deck iterations that accomplished something significant, such as reaching the elimination bracket of a PCQ and leading other players to pay attention to it.

By looking at early versions of today’s top decks, we can gain a better understanding of how a deck moves forward from its first incarnation. We can look at the extenuating circumstances of the metagame and not only understand why certain decks have evolved, but what forced them to adapt. Hopefully it will provide a resource that deck builders can look back on to reference successful builds of the past.

In the near future players will be forced to think outside of the booster box they have been relying on when building decks. With the Modern Age formats on the horizon, many of the staple team-up cards, teams, plot twists, and locations will be put aside while the new kids on the block get to shine. Hopefully, by looking at the development of successful decks from their primordial beginnings, we will be able to gain some information about how successful decks are constructed.

When Ben Seck won the Sydney $10K tournament with his Cosmic Cops deck, it wasn’t even close to the first time that type of deck had reared its cowled head, but it was the most significant finish by the archetype. This is not to take anything away from Mr. Seck, who managed to find a build for the deck that has set the standard for the archetype. By looking at earlier versions and contrasting them with later, more successful iterations, we can try and isolate the factors that may have held the deck back from earlier success. Who knows, we might even identify a talented but unheralded deck designer hiding in the Pro Circuit Qualifier ranks.

Another example is the X-Stall deck that Eugene Harvey designed for Pro Circuit: Los Angeles. Prior to the PC, there were many decks that used a similar combination of cards to accomplish a similar, albeit slightly different, strategy. Had any of the players who piloted the deck been familiar with the Solitaire archetype, it’s likely that they would have borrowed that deck’s addition of Avalon Space Station. One simple card, taken from a deck with a similar strategy, could have made the difference in the excruciating mirror match between Paul Sottosanti and Antonino DeRosa—a financially compelling reason to pay attention to the decks of the recent past.

As the array of decks in the Vs. System player’s arsenal increases with each new set, it’s ever more important to pay attention to the lessons of the past. For Superman decks, Spider-Friends builds, New Gods, Crime Lords, and other decks that might be lurking on the periphery of the elimination brackets to break through into the spotlight, they may need to look at what factors have allowed previous archetypes to become successful.

As I mentioned earlier, you can help. Write to me with the decks you want to see broken down into their essential components. If you have any clues to said decks’ origins that you want to see tracked down, let me know about them as well. Consider this a class project with no teacher—we’re all going to take this course together. I’m going to be kicking things off in one week with Wild Vomit. If you have any information about significant developments with this deck early on please write me at brian dot davidmarshall at gmail dot com.

See you in one week with the story of an unlikely alliance between a mutant and the mutant hunter.

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