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Special: Las Vegas Open Recap


So the Call It Shadespire playgroup headed out to play in the Las Vegas Open last weekend, and this article will focus on our experience there!

Factor: The People

I want to start out by saying that the people playing Shadespire at the convention were - universally - awesome.  Everyone there seemed out to have a good time, and all of my matches were fantastic, no exaggeration.  I'd like to give a special shout out to the Canadians there - especially Sam, Justin, and Kaptain Murder - who were all friendly to the Albuquerque crew, even putting up with our appropriation of Canadian culture in our team names (on Friday we were LETTERKENNY, on Sunday we were DIRTY DANGLES). 

My opponents were all super cool, and I honestly had a blast every single game.  It's been a long time since I played a tournament and didn't have a single game that felt bad.

Factor: Las Vegas

For real, hanging out in Las Vegas involves a lot of walking - and this is coming from a nurse.  For someone with anxiety like myself, there's also a lot of stuff that sets off those feelings.  It's loud, crowded, smoky, and fast. 

Don't get me wrong, we saw some fantastic stuff.  The best had to be the street busker playing his electric guitar between the MGM and the New York New York.  We walked past him going one way, and he was playing a completely passable jam.  On the way back, however, we saw the most glorious thing I've seen in a long while.  Apparently some tourist - an overweight middle aged man in a cubs hat, sunglasses, and an unbuttoned NASCAR shirt - had asked the busker to borrow his guitar to play a few licks.  And boy was he playing!  This king of all dads was just standing there, 3 feet from the busker, shredding the most ridiculous guitar ever played on that bridge.  One of the main things our friend group does for kicks is go to live shows, and we all agreed that this guy was really good. I just imagine the busker heading home afterward and making a bunch of stops to dejectedly pick up job applications.  It was brutal.

The food was generally good.  Hash House a Go Go was a bit disappointing, but Chin Chin and Greenberg's Deli were both solid.  The best meal of the trip was at Battista's Hole in the Wall, where I had literally the best cup of coffee I've ever had.

However, there was also some pretty bad stuff too.  Las Vegas is a caricature of capitalism, with the super rich playing games in private rooms over pots worth double my annual salary, while homeless folks outside catch attitude from tourists for having the audacity to want to eat on a regular basis.  The weather also sucked, which not only inconvenienced everyone visiting, but was absolutely brutal on a homeless population that can usually at least count on temperate weather. 

While we were in the MGM, a bunch of guys near the bathroom decided to beat the ever-living shit out of some other guy, knocking him to the ground and surrounding him to kick him in the head repeatedly.  After the initial shock wore off, we helped break up the fight, but the assailants got away.  It wasn't a great feeling, to say the least.

Finally, Las Vegas and lack of sleep managed to give me a full blown anxiety attack on Saturday, which is the first one I've had in a couple of years.  I had no meds, so it escalated into me acting like a total ass before I realized what was going on in my brain.  To those affected, I have nothing to offer but my apologies.  Mental illness sucks - I'm sorry bros.  It won't happen again.

Factor: The Deck(s)

Overall, I went 4-0 in the grand clash (3rd on tiebreakers, more on that later) and 3-0 in the skirmish (2nd).  My decklist is here.  I won't go over all of the choices, but I'll hit some highlights.  The week before the tournament, I decided to take out Great Strength, Gloryseeker, and Potion of Rage, after realizing that I had literally no objectives that they helped with.  This freed up enough slots for me to go all-in on the Katophrane Tomes, which proved to be the key to several victories for me over the course of the two days.

I also put in Obliterate right before the tournament, and I'm extremely happy with it.  In at least one game, it allowed me to inspire all my gerblins by the end of my first activation.   The only time I regretted having it was a single game against the Stormdaddies, where I had to throw it, Superior Tactician, and Acolyte of the Katophranes into the trash in my first hand.  I still won (through a miraculous last turn during which my only 3 remaining models were archers, who somehow managed to score me Superiority, Our Only Way Out, and Escalation to bring me to a 12-11 victory), but seeing it in that hand really felt bad.

Given the chance, I'd take out Faneway Crystal, which just doesn't perform the way I want it to.  On it's surface, it appears to be a solid choice for someone running Superiority and Our Only Way Out, but I'm beginning to think its actually much more valuable for Aggro decks than Objective decks.  Many people out there will consider this heresy, but I'd probably also drop Bag of Tricks.  It's incredibly good, but I simply don't have the activations to spare to use it.  Over nineteen total games, I used it twice.  Everything else did exactly what I wanted it to, and overall I'm very happy with the deck.

You can find other decks from my playgroup here:
Tim's Ghosts (7th at 3-1)
Alex's Rats (8th at 3-1)

 Factor: Games

Grand Clash:

Round 1: Sam - Eyes of the Nine.  Sam won both the Grand Clash and the Skirmish last year, and of course I got paired against him in the first round.  He was running Tomes as well, and our games were very close.  He's an extremely strong player, and his deck was good, but Eyes just aren't.  (2-1 +8 glory)

Round 2: Tyler - Ghosties.  Ghosts are my worst matchup.  I really was hoping to dodge them through the tournament, but that wasn't likely.  Tyler played well, but my goblins managed to eke out a win in our third game by a single glory point.  Another excellent player, and one of the nicest folks I've ever interacted with.  (2-1, +4 glory)

Round 3: Justin - Mollog's Mob.  Justin is in Sam's playgroup, and he's very very good.  I don't think he made a single obvious mistake the entire match.  I'll be talking about this match some more on the Battle for Salvation podcast in an upcoming episode.  Suffice to say Justin played excellently, and my deck carried me through a very tough match.  I know no one wants to believe it, but Mollog's is a good match for Gitz.  (2-1, +1 glory)

Round 4: Tim - Ghosties.  Tim is in my playgroup in Albuquerque, and he's very tough for me to beat.  As I mentioned already, ghosts are my worst matchup.  Honestly, he usually beats me in our local games.  I got lucky, and the dice were very bad to him this match.  We actually ended the match with me below him in total glory across the three games  (2-1, -3 glory)

Round 5: Oh, I don't get to play in round five, because GW cuts a 50+ person swiss tournament to top two?!  And their tiebreaker system for placings sucks out loud, but we'll look at that a bit later.  I end up 3rd.  C'est la vie.


Round 1: Damian - Ghosties.  Damian is another awesome Canadian, (there were seriously like a million of them there, who was on snowmobile-waxing duty up there in the great white wasteland?) and he piloted the ghosts very well.  When he pulled all his ghosts backward with his first activation in the first game, I literally had no idea what to do.  Luckily, the gerblins performed well even though I didn't, and I was able to pull out the match. (2-0, +14 glory)

Round 2: Rob - Eyes of the Nine.  Rob played the 6th place Mollog's deck in the Grand Clash, but switched it up for Eyes in the Skirmish.  He also won the "nicest dude" award, which he totally deserved.  He probably got tired of me asking "what?" every 30 seconds, but he's kinda quiet and kinda British and the hall was very loud.  Like Sam the day before, Rob piloted the Eyes as well as they can be piloted, but they just aren't very strong.  (2-1, +12 glory)

Round 3: David - Stormdaddies.  David was an awesome opponent.  During game 1, I managed to pull the ridiculous 7 point last turn mentioned above out of my...hat.  During game 2, the dice did everything they could to ruin his day.  When he needed lightnings, he got swirlies.  When he needed swirlies, he got lightnings.  Sometimes, the dice just aren't with you, and they weren't with David that game for sure.  (2-1, +6 glory)

There was no Round 4.  I got 2nd, based once again on GW's terrible tiebreaker system. 

Factor: Tiebreakers and Pairing System

Make sure your shoelaces are tight and your seatbelt is on, because I'm gonna rant a bit.  The GW tournament system sucks.  First of all, 4 rounds isn't enough for a 50+ person tournament to cut to top 2.  When undefeated people don't even get to play for first, your system is bad.  I believe they did the same thing in England a couple of weeks ago, with over a hundred and sixty players. 

Secondly, the tiebreaker system is the worst I've seen in any competitive game.  I get it - GW isn't used to running competitive tournaments, but this has to change if they want to be successful.  The first tiebreaker is game losses, so if you drop a game to a strong opponent, especially in round 1 (more on this later), you're likely not going to be able to make it into the top 2 cut.  The second tiebreaker is glory count, which only reinforces the system that rewards you for playing opponents who are significantly worse at the game than you.  Every other game I've ever played uses tiebreakers that reward you for beating better players, not worse ones. 

Out of curiosity, I ran the Grand Clash undefeated players' results through a DCI (Magic: The Gathering) tiebreaker system. In the actual Grand Clash, at the end of round 4, the three undefeated players were:
  1. Magore's (1 game loss)
  2. Stormsire's (3 game losses)
  3. Zarbag's (4 game losses)
(Please note I'm not including player names here - I don't want to take anything away from the winner and runner up.  They are great players who kicked ass all day long, and none of the flaws with the pairing and tiebreaker systems are their fault).

However, if you run our Strength of Schedule through the DCI system (also the same system used to tiebreak in chess tournaments), the results are exactly flipped:
  1. Zarbag's (0.6875 SOS)
  2. Stormsire's (0.625 SOS)
  3. Magore's (0.5625 SOS)
When SOS is used, instead of GW's nonsensical system, players are rewarded for playing and beating people who do better in the tournament.

Finally, the pairing system serves to reinforce the flaws of the tiebreak system.  After the first round (which is random), the players at each rank (3, 1, and 0 points) are matched in a way that punishes players who played against better opponents.  In each rank, the player with the best tiebreakers (0 game losses and a high glory differential) are matched against the player with the worst tiebreakers (1 loss and a low glory differential).  So when I managed to sneak my way past Sam in the first round, I was doomed to play one of the best players in my rank for the second round.  I managed to beat that player, but took another game loss, damning me further to face another very strong player.  This continued into the third and fourth rounds.  Whereas if I had played Johnny Newbsauce who just started last week and beat him 2-0 in the first round, I'd be on easy street for the second round - which increases my chances of going 2-0 again and playing an easier match in the third round, and so on and so on.

To add further insult to injury, the results you get from being randomly assigned a bye are incredibly out of proportion.  Not only can you not score a game loss during a bye (meaning you'll be at the top of the tiebreaker for your rank), but your victory was scored as +25 glory.  TWENTY FIVE.  My highest differential all tournament was +14, for comparison.  In the later rounds, this isn't generally a problem, as byes are awarded to players in the lowest rank.  However, a first round bye can easily set you up to win a tournament while facing fewer actual opponents than everyone else.  With a 2-0 record and a +25 differential, it's extremely likely you'll play against the player who eked out the narrowest victory in the first round, setting you up to hop on the easier-match train for the rest of the event.

Once again, this is not intended to take away anything from the people that won the tournaments.  They played well and won their games.  But this is a bad system, and if I were to consistently go undefeated in tournaments and be denied a spot in the playoffs because of it, I probably will move on to a non-GW game.

The fixes for this are easy.  First, Shadespire should go to a DCI-style tiebreaker system, which is the standard for competitive games.  Second, the playoff rounds need to be expanded so that all undefeated players get into the playoff rounds.  If GW is unwilling to give up their crappy tiebreaker system, expanding the playoff rounds would at least ensure that undefeated players wouldn't go home without getting a shot at the trophy.


Overall, LVO was great.  There were flaws (the vendor area was particularly anemic), but they were almost all unrelated to the actual gameplay.  The people were awesome, the games were fun, and Las Vegas never failed to be interesting.  All things considered, we highly recommend attending.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Fantastic write up of your experience at LVO!
    I 100% with you that the GW tournament scoring is WHACK. I've lost and won to this system and it's usually by ridiculous margins.

    You mentioned possibly removing Faneway and Bag of Tricks from your deck, what would you replace them with?

    Also what boards did you select?

    1. I usually go with Mirror Well for maximum scurry, though I occasionally use Penitent's Throne and Soul Refractor in specific matches (vs. Hyperaggro warbands and Mollog/Cursebreakers, respectively).

      I've removed Bag of Tricks, and currently have Great Fortitude in its place. I tried the deck without Faneway, and actually put it back in.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Mirror well definitely seems like a great choice. This newly teased board with the three adjacent starting hexes looks like a real contender though...

      I agree that Faneway is just too good to pass up, glad to see your keeping it.

      And now with the February Banned list, Extreme Flank, which as we all figured, is done-zo. Any thoughts to what you would replace it with for the Goblins?

    4. Currently, i'm trying out miraculous escape


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