Friday, February 15, 2013

The Easiest VP You'll Ever Get

Here I sit in a Burbank coffee shop, killing time until I can drop by Mike's place for some pick-up games. I figured it might be high time to finish up a post with which I've been toying for a while. So, caffeine-infused enough risk posting, here it is.

Oh no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken, about a great many things. 
- the Emperor, Return of the Jedi, 1983

At a recent tournament, a visiting player made a favorable comment about my old weenie Presence deck. A few weeks afterwards, I was struck by a terrible thought that turned his comment sideways.

What if I'm doing it all wrong 
and my local metagame is making it worse. 
It could be encouraging all my wrongdoings.

Many of my current deck-building efforts have been influenced by an excellent, but largely unknown player. I'll preserve his anonymity in hopes he has a breakthrough performance at an upcoming Championship.

This guy's approach is often reflective of the game worldwide - big minions, Villein for everything, Bless them, gain more pool, then crush the end game with a lot of +bleed minions and card recursion. It's good stuff, often powered by a broken mechanic (card recursion, not Villein)

My response to those decks cropping up is a visceral "Screw you and the Tablets you rode in on!" I yearn to crush decks these decks before they can get going. So I've been building very fast, very aggressive decks like the War Ghoul deck from the last blog entry and a [THN] deck that usually bleeds for 16-21 in the first 3 turns (believe it or not, it's true).

I revel in the table hate these decks generate. I guffaw at anyone uttering the words "table balance" in my company (yeah, that's a topic for another blog). I merrily point out that others' concern isn't merited anyway: I'm not getting a disproportionate number of game wins with these decks.


Wait just a second. That last sentence is troublesome. It's apparent what's happening. 

I'm trying to win by getting the "World's Most Difficult VP."
It sits to the left of my crippled initial prey.
Even getting that difficult VP doesn't guarantee a game win.

Holy Crap on a Cracker......

Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station! 
- the Emperor, Return of the Jedi, 1983

Combining the speed of today's pool management (Villein instead of Blood Doll) with player's natural tendencies to "wall up under pressure" makes the first VP harder then ever before - so VP #1 is getting tough to garner quickly that it used to be.

Then, even the best aggressive decks run right into a new prey, who is likely using the same wholesale blood recursion tools as the first. Only now its prey has a fully developed play space, instead of one stunted by early pressure. Among the fast archetypes, only stealth bleed is routinely capable of easily getting that second VP.

Even when successful in getting the second oust, the aggressive deck faces more predatory pressure than its Y2K analogs would have, simply by virtue of the longer time-to-oust associated with contemporary deck design.

All this suggests a metagame conflict with the fast and lean decks I've been trying out.  I'm going to contrast this with a different perspective.

Should I be trying to get the "Worlds Easiest VP?"
Ousting the last other (remaining) player is effectively worth TWO VP.
No other VP is "just gifted" in the same way.

This is how decks like "Stickmen" function. When they are the last man standing, they receive that free gift VP. They are patient, resilient and opportunistic. They are happy to see global resource deprivation (e.g., Smiling Jack)  in play. They use others' actions to their advantage by redirecting bleeds. They have enough resources for independent mid/late-game lunges.

But the fact remains, it's all set up to reach and win an endgame duel, which I'll call the Ohio Syndrome(tm)

Before leaving the NAC last year, a friend told me "Play more Dominate" with just this thinking in mind. I submit that it's not that bleed part that makes Dominate rock solid in decks like Stickmen. It's the resilience associated with Deflection.

So I wonder if what he should have said was "Play more bounce.  You'll live longer, generate offense at no cost and get into positions to earn the World's Easiest VPs."

I think there's a hidden causality buried in that, specifically as it relatives wholesale blood recursion (Villein ).

The direct effects of Villein's use is 
more large minions in play

The design philosophy behind Villein was specificall to make larger vampires more competitive - it was resoundingly successful from that standpoint. Maybe the intent wasn't to see 9 capacity vampires played like 3 capacity minions (low blood on the minion, one discipline used) with great special text, but the deep Minion Tap approach had been used by some ever since the first Inner Circle members were printed. We shouldn't be surprised to see it employed with Villein. And yes, Lilith's Blessing exacerbates the problem when drawn early in games.

 An indirect effect of Villein's use is 
higher average pool totals in the later stages of games.

With more players using larger minions and Villein, I'm seeing the last minion drained at least as heavily as the first ones. Folks are influencing to the same 8-10 pool total to get their final vampire, then Villeining immediately drives their pool total into the 14-18 range for the end game (not counting any Villein/Golconda shenanigans).

This is a huge change from the slow drip-drip-drip of pool seen in the Blood Doll/Vessel days. It creates a shorter window for effective surges in offense. It follows that good player's offensive approaches should address that change.

Successful lunges must be perfectly timed or much larger in size then before.
Pool-grinding approaches should strip more than 1 pool per action to be effective these days

Simple and intuitive so far. Here's the leap of faith.

Is an unexpected side effect of Villein's use
making bounce stronger?

That part requires some reading between the lines but the gist is clear. If people are indeed bleeding more often or in larger chunks to offset the effect of large-scale direct pool recursion, bounce must also be getting better as a result.

It's easy to say that everyone running at higher pool totals, so the net effect of more bleeding is maintaining an old status quo. I beg to differ, as I think we're living in an era of increasing pool volatility.

That minor sidetrack set aside, the underlying theory looms large and I would be a fool to not consider it.

The Path of High Risk for High Reward now seems 
less balanced against other approaches.
The game is increasingly played with large pool totals, 
often based around the free last-man-standing VP. 

As I test the theory, I wanted to put a spin on the Stickmen discipline spread of Auspex, Fortitude and Dominate. I've wanted to build a deck with Matthias and Anatole for a long time, here was my chance.
  • They both have +1 intercept, [AUS] and [for]
  • They can both play Spirit Marionette and Gift of Sleep, just in different ways.
  • Renewed Vigor is Owain's ability on steroids.
Since I'm leveraging Matthias, [OBE] and intercept anyway, it seems inevitable to provide create a deluge of blood on a minion that no one elsewants to see gain blood....Maris Streck. She can also play outferior Spirit Marionette, Gift of Sleep and feeds intercept to my minions, making her an excellent 3rd minion (for when I can Villein/Renew Anatole early).

Building around these 3 vampires makes a terrible card intriguing: Babble. Babbling my prey's minions when they aren't elligible to block creates a untapped Spirit Marionette target. Cute, huh? The "yeah, but is it effective?" remains so unanswered that the card got cut from the initial design.

Finally, I think there's incredible synergy between Spirit Marionette and Codex of Edenic Groundskeepers. As prey to that combination, which minions should tap or leave untapped? Will they just get Spirit Marionetted? And at [obe], or [OBE]?  It creates just enough confusion to encourage errors.

The resulting deck is not as stable as Stickmen. It grows more slowly (no Govern down). It has less Fortitude, less hitback, fewer Deflections, less transient bleed. The trade-off is having light stealth with permanent bleed, much more (pimpable) intercept, directed blood deprivation (Spirit Marionette) and more significant blood recursion.

So it probably fails on the "easiest VP" criteria - it just isn't as fundamentally invulnerable as a typical grinder. But it's a lot more fun to play.  The 3 test games I've played so far suggest that I really need to be better about Anatole's special and that more [for] defense might be necessary (perhaps with a counter-press for [ANI] decks.


Deck Name : [REBOOT] Truely Inferior Babble
Author : Darby Keeney
Description :

Crypt [12 vampires] Capacity min: 6 max: 9 average: 7.58333
4x Matthias               7  AUS FOR OBE nec               Salubri:2
3x Maris Streck           9  AUS OBF ani dem dom  justicar Malkavian:3
3x Anatole, Prophet of Gehenna     8  AUS DEM OBF dom for           Malkavian:2
1x Dr. Douglas Netchurch     6  AUS OBF dem dom               Malkavian:3
1x Tony                   6  AUS DEM dom obf               Malkavian:3

Library [66 cards]
Action [13]
  1x Lord of Serenity *// I suspect this is worth including
  2x Pulse of the Canaille
  4x Renewed Vigor
  5x Spirit Marionette
  1x Unburdening the Bestial Soul

Action / Reaction [1]
  1x Treat the Sick Mind *// another card likely to be removed

Action Modifier [9]
  3x Cloak the Gathering
  4x Freak Drive
  1x Repulsion
  1x Veil the Legions

Action Modifier/Reaction [4]
  3x Gift of Sleep
  1x Random Patterns

Ally [1]
  1x Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)

Combat [4]
  4x Superior Mettle *//may need 2-3 Hidden Strength

Equipment [5]
  1x Bowl of Convergence
  1x Codex of the Edenic Groundskeepers
  1x Heart of Nizchetus
  1x Ivory Bow
  1x Sniper Rifle

Master [17]
  1x Bleeding the Vine
  1x Dreams of the Sphinx
  1x Giant's Blood
  2x Heidelberg Castle, Germany
  1x Pentex(TM) Subversion
  1x Rack, The
  1x Rumor Mill, Tabloid Newspaper, The
  1x Sight Beyond Sight
  1x Smiling Jack, The Anarch
  5x Villein
  1x WMRH Talk Radio
  1x Wider View

Reaction [12]
  1x Eagle's Sight
  4x Eyes of Argus
  1x My Enemy's Enemy *//probably should be 2 of these
  2x On the Qui Vive
  4x Telepathic Misdirection

Crafted with : Anarch Revolt Deck Builder. [Mon Feb 11 10:16:27 2013]


  1. If the last VP is "free", and there is more pool on the table than ever before, thanks to Villein, I do wonder why more people don't play Smiling Jack? If you get it out on Turn1, it likely wipes out 24 pool off the table. Then you can either make your deck to block all removal attempts or you can let it go and put another one out later and have THAT one wipe out another 12-24 pool.

    The real problem Smiling Jack suffers from nowadays is that a single Villein is SO MUCH BETTER than Jack, for EVERY SINGLE DECK TYPE.

    Which is why Villein is too good, and should have been changed or banned a long time ago (and probably never should've been made).

  2. I've been getting kind of tired of these Huge master heavy, or action heavy decks. Makes me think that if I just play bruise bleed with rush that I would have an easy time of it. "I rush you... aw... you just have a hand of master cards. How unusual." Thoughts?

    Adam H.

  3. Darby-
    I too noticed the synergy between Spirit Marionette and Codex, though the deck I use it in is not a wall at all.

    There's a card I don't think sees enough play, but that I have started either replacing 1 Spirit Marionette with, or including as an "extra" Spirit Marionette: The Ailing Spirit. Worst case, there are no Crazies, or Carlton, or Imbued, and it's just a Computer hack for dominate or Obeah. Best case, you steal Lutz, or Stavros, or Gilbert Duane, or Carlton or an Imbued, and do your worst with them.

    Villein isn't broken, nor is it the problem with Jack. In fact, a beefy Jack on the table devalues other people's villeins (since once jack is up to 3, you start thinking of blood on your vamps as equivalent to your pool). Having played quite a number of Jack decks before the advent of Villein, I can say that it was quite a flawed card to begin with.

    The reason for this is two closely linked reasons, or perhaps one multi-part reason. Jack is something you need to defend. Not only that, but it's something you need to defend the hard way: with blocks and intercept. You can't bounce a attempt to burn Jack. You can't DI it. You can't Delay it. None of the location defense tech will help. So, to be effective at keeping Jack around, you need to be able to deal with 2 stealth and block fails (if you can't handle the most basic obfuscate package, you have a problem). You also need to have a plan once you've blocked, since otherwise you'll lose if there's a single combat deck on the table.
    The second part of the problem is that Jack may demolish the table, but it doesn't inherently do it in a controlled manner. Jack decks are looking for that last "free VP". If they don't have any table control though, the number of permutations that involve someone having 2 or more vp's going into that 1v1 are much greater than not. On a 5 player table, if you're going for a heads up with your prey, you have a 1/6 chance for the vp's to be evenly spread. On a 4 player table, it's much better: 50%. But those numbers aren't the chances you'll win the game... just the chances that you'll get to the endgame you were aiming at. Assume you'll win 2/3 of the 1v1's. You get a game win 1/9 5 player tables. That's terrible. That's not even a baseline 1/5. You do pretty well on 4 player tables, winning 1/3 of them... but tournaments are mostly 5 player tables.

    All that said: that assumes no mechanism to control how the table falls. The problem I always encountered was that after including your intercept and wake package, and your combat defense, and pool recovery, finding room for table control was difficult. I like Darby's idea for Spirit marionette, as it is a very card efficient way to shift lots of pool around.