The Adventures at Hogwarts pre-release tourneys began here in Maryland on Saturday, June 8th. I played in two such tourneys on that day. Both were at Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) stores - the first at Owings Mills Mall, and the second at Arundel Mills Mall. In the first tourney, I had with me my son David and my niece Amanda, both 8 years old. Dave was playing a creature deck largely like the one that
Amanda played in my last tourney report:
Amanda's deck was also quite similar, using charms instead of potions to gain the use of Halloween Feast, Stream of Flames, Toe Biter, and Borrowed Wand. My deck was predominantly the same as before, although I'd made adjustments to focus on defeating decks that were heavily creature based. The current listing:
1 Cauldron to Sieve
4 Picking on Neville
4 Lost Notes
2 Transfiguration Test
1 Halloween Feast
4 Stream of Flames
3 Dragon Heart Wand
1 Hannah Abbott
1 Black Dragon
2 Guard Dog
4 Mountain Troll
10 creature lessons
13 charms lessons
The format at both tourneys was the same - 20 points for a win and 10 points for a loss, with no guarantee that players would play the same number of rounds. I hate this format. I hate it because my deck is slow and ponderous and requires careful play in order to succeed. It also requires thorough shuffling between games to avoid clumping, which isn't going to happen when you're rushing to find another opponent to face while constantly being called on by two eight year olds to shuffle their decks. I also hate it for less selfish reasons. Everybody is racing to get in as many games as they can - so there's little time to chat or be friendly. Players who play slowly or have powerful decks are soon ostracized. Although I managed to play every player who attended the two tourneys, there were times when I felt like a carrier of a fatal and highly contagious communicable disease.
The first tourney had six players besides my invading group of 3. One, named Joey, turned out to be a student in my wife's middle school band class. Another, Alex, recognized that I was a pojo contributor and naively asked if I got paid for that. Nope. If I did, I'd do a much better job, I assure you. One was an adult named Michael who I recognized, as he frequents our local WOTC store in Columbia Mall. I knew that he'd be my chief competition. Predictably, most of the kids shied away from the two of us. Our mutual frequent availability led us to play each other four times, splitting the games2-2. He had a strong creature deck and played well. He was undefeated in his other games, while I inexplicably lost one of the two games I had played with my son David. This was strange, as that deck match-up heavily favors me.
†Anyway, that one extra loss doomed me to second place for the 4th straight tourney. My son came in 3rd. We didn't have time to commiserate with this store's denizens, as the next tourney was starting soon. We collected our winnings (5 packs from the new set and 3 promo cards) and hustled on to the next place, where we met my brother Greg, and his 10-year-old son Neil. Neil was playing a variant of the same Hooch deck mentioned in my last tourney report. 7 other players, four of who were adults, joined the Hodgkinson clans of 5. Unlike the tourneys for the Diagon Alley release, there were no children playing who were under the age of 8. One of the adults, named Teresa, did have a cute little girl with her who looked about six, which I assumed was her daughter. Teresa was trying to teach her the game as she played, but was having a difficult time being competitive, as she got clobbered by every single Hodgkinson she played. Mainly, her problem was that she had a very limited card collection to pull a deck from. She was simply outgunned. I did feel a bit guilty about brutishly hammering her in front of her child like that. But what can I do? A tourney that has a payoff for the winners is all about the survival of the fittest. Life can be cruel sometimes.
Another adult, named Harry, also wasn't too pleased with me. I had been destroying his lessons all game long, crippling his development and constraining his options until, at long last, I was finally able to get out a few "fat" creatures. They were quickly whittling down his library, and he was getting exasperated. He said that I didn't have to keep doing that, as my creatures would soon enough finish him. On my turn, I destroyed yet another lesson he had just played, at which point he looked like he wanted to strangle me. Sorry about that. But that's the way the deck works. If the experience was too much for him, he could have conceded at any time. Nothing personal, but it doesn't make sense for me to give somebody a chance when winning brings with it an economic benefit. If its any consolation, I understand his frustration.
There were three games that tourney which put me into my own fit of angst. Two of these were against my nephew Neil. His creature-less deck was a very bad match-up for me, as 6 cards in my deck are useless against him. That's 1/10 of my deck that can't help me win. I thought I could overcome this severe handicap by superior play. But both games were losses, the second one in agonizing fashion just one turn before I could achieve my own victory. My other bad game was against one of the other adults, named Bjorn. His deck was clearly based on a limited collection, but he had the advantage of better drawing. My opening hand had only one lesson in it, and I was soon frantically discarding his creature lessons to keep his assortment of creatures at bay. This stall strategy failed when he was able to get out an early Harry Potter, who was combined with his Hermione starter to slowly gain a greater and greater edge. When he eventually cast a Start of Term Feast to get back four creature lessons that I have previously destroyed, I knew that battle was lost. At the 2/3 mark of the game, I finally drew my first sizable creature. I then switched to targeting his transfiguration lessons in order to protect my creatures. That didn't work well, as he put out a Remembrall. It was looking hopeless, as he killed my critters with Incarcifors. But I had one thing going for me. He was beating me down with two owls. Folks don't put one-power creatures in your decks. They just don't get the job done fast enough. He also seemed preoccupied with protecting his lessons, and forgot to attend to the business of finishing me off. I luckily drew my Halloween Feast, got back my creatures, and played some out. He had run out of creature elimination cards, but slowed up my two Trolls in play with a Wingardium Leviosa. The next turn I was down to just three cards in my library. After my Trolls had delivered their damage, he had 10 cards left. A third Troll was uselessly sitting in my hand. It looked over. I drew. My only Steelclaw! I played the 3rd Troll and followed it up with the bunny to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Whew! None of my other games were even close, including the mauling of my brother. Greg was rather peeved, as it ruined his perfect day. And yes, that meant that I was fated for second place for the 5th straight time. Dave came in third, and Neil and Amanda tied for 5th. Yes, the locals of Arundel Mills Mall weren't happy to see us swoop in and claim 10 of the 12 packs given out as prizes.
This store was nice enough to include bonus rare cards from past HP sets to give each participant, in addition to their free promo card. I think everyone would have been even happier if they announced that all prizes would be distributed as evenly as possible. With 12 people present, this would have meant that everyone would have received one pack. With no incentive to win, I could have relaxed during my games, and perhaps played a more experimental and less lethal deck. I could have then had time to write down enough information to make this tourney report more useful. I could have lingered to help make suggestions for the other players in how to improve their decks. It would have made for a friendlier environment. The HP game in our area needs to try to draw more people in, rather than causing them to leave in disgust. That's something for the stores to think about. As long as the winners are given greater reward, efforts should be made to clamp down on certain practices. The Arundel Mills store allowed the players to switch decks in the middle of the tourney. This is a very bad idea, and can be easily abused.
At the moment, I am working on trying to incorporate cards from the packs we won into our decks in time for the next tourney this upcoming weekend. That one will be held on our home turf, and I look forward to once again taking on Professor Lockhart in head-to-head battle. Hopefully, we'll play more than just one game against each other this time. I'm leaning towards playing a completely new deck, as Diagon Alley has weakened my deck archetype. That set made items too much of a threat and people responded by including anti-item cards.
Previously, I was given a free pass with my Dragon Heart Wands, letting me develop to full power in as few as three turns. This past weekend, I had many of my wands hitting the discard pile as soon as they came out. Although I like the idea of a deck with only a few large creatures to do the work of decking my opponent and leaving lots of room for control cards to fill up the deck, this strategy seems destined to fail against the creature-less Hooch decks arising that mimic the one my Nephew played. I could add Privet Drives back in to ward off that threat, but I'm hesitant to depleting my anti-creature armament, as three of the five losses I received over the weekend were to creature decks. For any of you trying to work on your own similar decks, there are a number of cards that you might want to consider using Griphook, Toe Biter, Epoximise, Unicorn, Madam Malkiní s Robes, and the new discard spell from Hogwarts called Purple Firecrackers.
Jeff Hodgkinson (aardvark)