The two playgroups in Texas that I have any experience with are the Dallas and Austin playgroup. At one point, when I first started playing in North Texas around 2005, both playgroups were of comparable size. Unfortunately, last year, the turnout and enthusiasm for the Austin playgroup began to wane. Come this year, it seemed that the entire playgroup had fallen off the face of the Earth. When asked who was going to be attending the Dallas Qualifier for North American Championship, Ethan, one of the players there, texted us, “Austin VTES is dead.”
That was unfortunate. VTES, like any collectible card game, isn’t much fun if there’s not a community to play with. With the failure of the Austin playgroup, Dallas stood as the only regularly operating playgroup in Texas that I knew of. Worse still, the Lafayette, Lousiana playgroup seemed to be following a similar fate. It’s understandable that CCG playgroups die, and quite frankly amazing that a game such as Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, which was originally published under the name Jyhad in 1994, is till being played at all. The vast majority of CCGs that came out after Magic: the Gathering have merely been splashes in the pan that died out shortly after introduction. I remember playing the CCG Netrunner, which was the third game published by Wizards of the Coast under the monicker “Deckmaster” and enjoying it a good deal, only to see if soon fade from play altogether.
Let’s face it. If Wizards of the Coast can’t get a CCG off the ground, it just doesn’t bode well for the viability of the genre. That’s not to say certain games don’t find an audience, they do. But the key seems to a small publisher finding, nurturing, and responding to the needs of a small market. In our case, the small market of VTES players seemed to be getting smaller by the month.
It’s can be discouraging to watch the player base decline. You start to wonder when you should just get out of the game altogether or find a new hobby. Of course, we in Dallas have also had some victories in attracting new players. So it’s not all doom and gloom. Still, I didn’t like seeing the Austin playgroup fall off the map.
In early June, I logged onto the #VTES chat channel on Sorcery.net to spend some time chatting with Team Ossain (as the VTES players who frequent that channel call themselves). I saw the usual faces there for Matt Morgan and Kevin Mergen, but I also saw Eric Leal- an Austin player. My curiosity was certainly piqued because the Austin playgroup had been declared “dead” after all. Come to find out, Eric had been diagnosed with Hodgekins Lymphoma and was logging in from his Chemotherapy appointment. Of course I was sorry to receive this news. If there was a silver lining, it was that I have a good friend of mine who has survived two separate bouts with Hodgekins Disease, so I new it to be far more beatable that other forms of cancer.
Eric and I made some small talk and he said that the Hodgekins disease was probably why he stopped playing VTES: the disease rendered him too tired to do much of anything. But that now that he was on the mend that he’d really like to play some cards. I wanted to make that a reality for him.
I went to the main bulletin board for VTES in the Texas area, Presence and made a post where I described the situation to try to arrange an organized VTES event in Austin. Ben Peal, who’s both an excellent VTES player as well as an investment client of mine, kindly agreed to make the event an official qualifier. I attended and won the event last weekend. Here’s the post I made to the Presence forum about the deck I used:
Here’s the Decklist
Enkidu, the Noah x5 (11) for ANI CEL OBF POT PRO, Red List, Rush any minion, +2 Strength
Aksinya Daclau x4, cel tha (9) ANI FOR PRE PRO, Discard a master to redirect bleeds
Janey Pickman x3, (6)for ANI PRO, can burn a blood to make hand damage aggravated
Master Cards (22)
City Gangrel Connections
Life in the City x6
Talons of the Dead x2
Tension in the Ranks
Political Actions (1)
Dark Mirror of the Mind x2
J.S. Simmons, Esq.
Murder of Crows
Raven Spy x4
Action Modifiers ( 8 )
Forced March x8
Cat’s Guidance x3
Sense the Savage Way x6
Carrion Crows x6
Drawing Out the Beast x6
Flesh of Marble x8
Immortal Grapple x5
Taste of Vitae x4
I’ll be making a blog post at some point, but this deck has an interesting history. I’d been tinkering with it for years, most of the time as an Enkidu Anarck deck hoping to make use of Diversion. Then I came up with the current combat package by just copying the typical Gangrel combo of Crows/Drawing/Flesh of Marble. Seemed to work alright.
Paul Johnson, an LA player, has gone through a divorce recently and loved to come play with us, but didn’t have the time to put a deck together. I would always lend him this one, and, when he was done, he’d tell me what to change. In this way, Paul continually tweaked it for a couple of play sessions. Then, one day, a bunch of LA players were done with their round early, so I asked them to break the deck apart and make suggestions. The players were, Paul Johnson, Matt Wedge, and Robert Scythe. They recommended 11 card swaps that included cards I hadn’t considered before such as Talons of the Dead (which was a huge improvement) and Canine Hoard (“You need 1 just in case”). Also recommended was Anarchist Uprising (“It’ll always pass if there’s a breeder deck at the table”) and so on.
The only last improvements I made were swapping out two Shadow of the Beast for two Dark Mirror of the Minds. The deck is expensive and, unless you get your Villein, you can get run over pretty quickly. So I wanted those to help with the pool management. It’s a marginal all whether that or Shadow is Better.
Thanks to the LA crew for helping me make the deck. I wouldn’t have won without your suggestions.
As far as an actual tournament report, during the first round, I had Jon Glass as my prey playing Malkavian Madness Network deck and my predator was Taylor playing a Beast rush deck. My grand predator was playing a Lutz vote deck and it soon seemed clear to everyone that the game was going to quickly collapse to a three player game between Jon- Lutz vote- and me. Unfortunately, I had Villeined off of Enkidu to go down to 4 blood, and he proceeded to get torpored by Jon and Lutz blocking Enkidu and every opportunity and taking 3 agg to the face and only giving hands for 1. This was rather frustrating considering the six Life in the Cities and four sideslips in the deck, not to mention the Taste of Vitae. Oh well. Jon then won in the heads up game.
In round 2, my prey was an Ishtari deck and my grand prey was the Beast rush deck. Andy Smith was playing my predator with a hunters deck and my grand predator was the Lutz vote deck. I figured Lutz would eventually grind out Andy’s hunters, so I never blocked or interfered with any of Andy’s tool up actions. My prey reduced my grand prey to a single pool, which caused me to adopt a policy of minion elimination. I would torpor or burn every minion my prey brought out, else I feared he would oust his grand prey. Having the threat of his predator eliminated, I encouraged the Beast rush deck to attack forward into the Lutz vote deck which eventually ousted Andy. I ousted my prey, and then proceeded to torpor or burn every minion that was left on the board (sorry Beast) at which point I was declared the winner.
In round 3, my prey was Adrian playing a Ravnos wall deck and my predator was an Ishtari vote and bleed deck. I was a bit concerned about the speed of the pool damage that the Ishtari deck could shell out, but Enkidu was able to eventually come up and start torporing people. After crippling my predator, I was able to start gradually putting forward pressure on my prey by rushing his minions. I ended up with the game win this round and three VPs as I spent the rest of the game building strength, bleeding, and torporing minions.
In was second seed in the finals behind Jon’s Madness Network deck which was having one hell of a day. I chose to sit under Eric Leal’s weenie Potence deck knowing that my Flesh of Marble would reduce most of the threat to my minions. Of course, my grand predator was the Lutz vote deck again, and I knew he would spend most of his game rushing backwards anyway. This would give me time to set up Enkidu. Ethan was playing a !Torreador Palle Grande deck and Jon chose to sit as my grand prey with the Madness Network. Lutz put a lot of forward pressure on Eric, but soon Jon was able to oust both of them in consecutive turns with Homunculus Malkavians bleeding at the end of the each players turn.
Jon chose to make a deal with me to make it a heads up game after I ousted Ethan, which was a good choice for him. He was sitting looking at a Pentex Subversion and an Ivory Bow. He waited till I ousted Ethan (which was made much faster since I was using Askinya to redirect a three point bleed into my prey every single player turn) and then Pentexed Enkidu and equipped an Ivory Bow to start torporing minions. I had long since ran out of deck, but I held the 1 Canine Horde in the hand that I had drawn much earlier in the game. Thus when Jon ran out of deck and relied on the Ivory Bow to start torporing my minions I was able to destroy it with first strike. I was able to slowly pull ahead with Askinya as she had a Raven Spy, a Perfectionist, a Homunculus, and a Murder of Crows.
Humorously enough, the only reason I was able to win was because Askinya had a lot of retainers that would normally be held by Enkidu, and the only reason for that was because my opening crypt draw did not include Enkidu. Therefore I brough up Askinya and had her recruit the retainers that were in my hand at the time. Gradually Askinya was able to grind down Jon’s minions and I was able to free Enkidu from the Pentex subversion. Jon had a ton of pool (roughly 30 or so) but all of his minions were in torpor so he wasn’t able to bring any more out. He conceded, and I was declared the winner.