Another year, another Seattle Kotei. I’ve managed to attend every one so far, each time making the 2 ½ hour drive from Vancouver, and this year was yet another great event run by the inimitable Leon Phillips, taking over from the great job Dan Tibbles has done in past years. If you only want to look at the decklist, please go look for Josh Gaydos’ decklist instead of reading on, as we played virtually identical decks at the Kotei. As I recall I played one different event than he did (Ki-Rin’s Exodus vs. A New Wall) and my fate deck featured one Kharmic Strike.
I ran the table in Swiss and well into the elimination rounds, going 13-0 to reach the semi-finals until I got paired up with Sean Raycraft, playing corrupt Khol Wall (the eventual winner of the tournament, and a first-rate person to boot). I made a grievous play error in game one to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and repeated that dubious feat to abruptly be knocked out of the tournament and squelch an all-Mantis final (which would have resulted in a negotiated tie, obviously, as Josh and I had no desire to play a mirror match with identical decks.)
Going to the Seattle Kotei every spring for the last several years has increasingly become all about seeing old friends and not so much about shuffling cards and staring across the table at what nasty tactics and strategies my opponent has in store for me. Unfotunately, this year several of my best friends that I had originally met playing this zany card game had retired from the hobby or were stuck out of town. (You know who you are) Consequently, I was not as enthusiastic for this year’s trip as I had been in years past.
Once I discovered what my travel schedule would have to be, my enthusiasm plummeted even further. On Wednesday April 6th I got up at 6 in the morning, and was dropped off at the bus station at 7:15. I waited 90 minutes to board the bus heading south across the border, grabbing my first item of “food” at a McDonald’s in several years for breakfast. Four excruciatingly boring hours later I disembarked at the Seattle train station (currently undergoing massive renovations and about as unpleasant as construction sites usually are). Waited there for 75 minutes to board a train southbound to Tacoma, where I’d be staying with Leon Phillips. Arrive at Tacoma at 2:30 pm. Am met at the station by Leon, who is shockingly without his renowned whiskers. Happily pile into his car, get to his house, rest and recuperate until the early evening when my friend Josh Gaydos arrives, and we begin the process of testing out Mantis raiding decks for the Kotei.
I was of mixed feelings about playing Mantis raiding at the Kotei. Like Josh, I deplore a competitive environment that strongly discourages Mantis decks which focus on battle interaction. (My favourite deck of the past few months had actually been a Temple of Hoshi enlightenment build which was simply too slow and too fragile for a stiff test at a Kotei, but was tremendously fun to play.) So I resigned myself to going back to my tried-and-true non-interactive Mantis raiding deck which tries to avoid opposed battles at every turn while clamping down with stifling board control as soon as possible while destroying provinces. So, in short order I have my deck tuned for what I expect from the playing field and spend the rest of my time helping Leon prepare for the Kotei, all the while shamelessly raiding Leon’s fridge. Saturday morning arrives all too soon, as I struggled to fall asleep to Josh’s horrible snores (having the bed instead of the floor proved to be a mixed blessing!), and we drive north to the venue, half-awake yet happy as we listen to some first-rate Celtic music that Josh has painstakingly compiled over the years.
Saturday, Swiss Rounds
Round 1: Erik Carlson, Shadowlands, Spawning Grounds/Jigoku/Black Heart
Erik was playing Leon’s infamous infinite combo deck featuring Yajinden, P’an Ku, the Egg of P’an Ku, and various other despicable onis that cause all sorts of chi loss. Fortunately for me, I got a Tsuruchi Etsui (best pirate personality in existence) out on turn two and have two copies of Rend the Soul in hand. I strip away 5 provinces while killing or locking down every shugenja that Erik brings into play. My good luck charm of a French foil Yoritomo Katoa exp. backing my stronghold seems to be working well so far.
1-0, haven’t lost yet.
Round 2: Terron Williams, Crane, Kakita Dueling Academy (Wind/Sensei?)
I don’t remember this game. I’m fairly sure it was over in short order, as I have an excellent match-up versus all but the most agressive Crane opponents who realize that bringing out a personality on their second turn, even at reduced if necessary, at the expense of economic development is essential to try and foil early Mantis raids.
At the end of the round, Josh Gaydos and I twist Jeff Alexander’s arm to join our team as a third Mantis (the fourth member was Riley Bushman, we let get away with being a devoted Phoenix player with a famous “Riley combo of 5 uniques that spell doom to pirates”). All of us were former playesters for Jeff, but he doesn’t go for Team “Ex-Playtesters Fired by Jeff”, so we settle on Team Bitter Flower. We go on to take the top team prize, some lovely dragon crystals.
2-0, haven’t lost yet
Round 3: Spenser (last name unknown), Crab, Tani Hitokage/Tenshu/Black Heart
Interesting match, yet Spenser made a failed early attack where he swung at one of my 8 strength provinces with only 8 force and bounced. It wasn’t a game-breaking mistake, but it didn’t help. I was able to use Yoritomo Matsoru to keep Yasuki Hachi trapped in a province, and Yoritomo Takaro was consistently clamping down on his gold supply as Tsuruchi Etsui and Shosuro Maru controlled what personalities he did have on the board.
3-0, haven’t lost yet
Round 4: Sam Chen, Crane, Shiro Giji/Mihoko/Left Hand
Sam is a first-rate Crane player who beat me in a mirror match two years ago in Seattle at the end of the Gold Edition era, back when I was playing my original clan from the Jade arc all the way until Diamond rolled around. (That year I piloted my military Crane build to a top 8 finish at San Francisco and won the Calgary Kotei, where I was able to choose to promote the only Mantis, Yoritomo Katoa, to the Imperial Court. All the other Mantis personalities were unfortunately by then corrupted by the Shadowlands Taint.) I am happy to see Sam discard a pair of early Doji Hayakus from his provinces. Although Sam hits me with a double dose of Refugees and an Outer Walls, I am in full control of this game almost from the outset. All of my pirates make appearances to full effect and I take his last province while he is only at 26 family honour.
4-0, haven’t lost yet
Round 5: Jim O’Neil, Crane, Shiro Giji/Mihoko/Left Hand
(Leon announces that he is cutting to the top 32. I know that I’m almost certainly making it to the second day)
Jim O’Neil is someone I met at the Calgary Kotei which I won two years ago. Back then he was a fine Lion stalwart who gave me a real scare in the elimination rounds, where a timely Counterattack won me the game. My previous round gave me plenty of practice for this one. Jim has some minor trouble with early gold but makes the intelligent decision to buy early copies of Doji Hayaku at reduced cost, which are always trouble for pirates to face. Nonetheless I am able to overcome his clever use of his sensei and the defensive attrition he is able to pull off. The last Crane province is taken when Jim is also at about the 26 mark in family honour.
5-0, haven’t lost yet
Round 6: William Moyer, Unicorn, Khol Wall, Right Hand
William had an excellent start with a first-turn Pillar of Flesh seeing play, and had me playing defensively from the beginning. This is always a bad sign for a raiding deck which is designed to be aggressive. Things were looking exceedingly grim as he had seven personalities on the table to my two, and had 3 provinces to my 1, as Latomu exp was just ruining my game left and right.. However, after indiscriminate use of his corrupt gold and two uses of Feign Death, he was sitting at -18 with a dishonoured and bowed Loruko in play. I look at my solitary fate card in hand: an Ambush. I make the only possible play and immediately slap it on the table before he can use his Kaeru Fields. Williams tries to straighten using his region during the Ambush, but after Leon rules that he isn’t allowed to do so, William has no answer for my desperation play and I escape by the skin of my teeth.
6-0, haven’t lost yet (barely!)
Round 7: Nathan Peever, Crane, Kyuden Doji/Gozoku
Nathan is a good friend whom I always like to see when I travel to Seattle. We share an enthusiasm for agressively-played Crane decks that feature dueling and the ability to attack, and we’re both former playtesters. Plus, he’s one-half Canadian so he’s innately a better person for it. He’s a superb Crane player, obviously.
Unfortuanately, I don’t get to avoid the curse of the Swiss, as Nathan’s deck decides to lose unilaterally. He never gets a gold start worth mentioning, and only 3 Crane personalities see play the entire game. This was an instance where packing Outmaneuvered by Force cinched the game for me. This was a trend that would continue in the elimination rounds.
7-0, haven’t lost yet.
I am top Mantis, the #1 seed going into Sunday, etc. etc. Obviously I am pretty pleased going into the second day, and many of the Canadian contingent prove yet again that we can play L5R pretty darn well.
Sunday, Elimination Rounds
Top 32: Mike Retke, Dragon, Temple of Hoshi/Uso/Voice
Mike was a very pleasant opponent from Portland Oregon if I recall correctly. Unfortunately he didn’t have a very good matchup as my deck excels at avoiding his battle duels by controlling his personalities on the table with movement, naval actions and lockdown effects. 2-0
9-0, haven’t lost yet, avoid the Swiss curse.
Top 16: Dylan Allen, Crane, Kakita Dueling Academy, Mihoko, Voice
Game 1 of this round was perhaps the best game I played in the entire tournament. It became a long, drawn-out slugfest where we traded board control. At one point he nearly emptied my fate hand in a duel, which was awfully good for him. I am able to weather the whirly turn of death where mutiple No Victory reinforcements arrive, outlast most of his duels, and slowly move in for the kill. At one key point I was able to use an Outmaneuvered by Force to cancel what would have been a decisive use of his stronghold to fetch a duel. Game 2 was much less stressful; I got a much better start and was able to quickly prohibit any dueling shenanigans by any of his duelists. 2-0
11-0, haven’t lost yet
Top 8: Nathan Rice, Crane, Kakita Dueling Academy, Mihoko, Right Hand
Nathan came out both on Wednesday and Friday to test his deck at Leon’s house, and he quickly learned the lessons that buying an early Doji Saori at reduced cost is well worth it as a tactic to stall the crucial early raids. This was perhaps my second-best game of the tournament, and very similar to my last round matchup with the added disadvantage that my Shogun’s Fealty was a dead card against him. I had to struggle to outlast a total of 4 Doji Saoris causing me grief throughout the match, along with Asahina Sekawa exp., but all 3 of my Shosuro Marus survived until the end-game where I finally broke through. Nathan showed fine sportsmanship as I plunked down an Ambush while at -18 honour before I checked my honour total. He permitted me to take it back, which was just one of many instances where the competitors exhibited real virtue. The second game balanced on a razor-sharp edge, yet it was determined very quickly. Again, Nathan purchased a Doji Saori at reduced cost on his second turn, while I was unable to purchase a pirate and had to settle to purchase a Yoritomo Chimori and some gold. Knowing that I couldn’t permit his dueling engine to survive, I immediately played the Ambush/Naval Invasion/Overwhelmed combination to get Saori off the table. From then on, I was able to flood the board with pirates and roll his provinces in short order. If I hadn’t made that decisive early move, I likely would have lost the game to an early onslaught of No Victory reinforcements. 2-0
13-0, haven’t lost yet
Top 4: Sean Raycraft, Unicorn, Khol Wall/Black Heart
This was the match I dreaded all along, (not nearly as much as Crab/Umasu, but dread it I did nonetheless). Unlike Josh, I had a pretty good idea of how Unicorn decks work in the current environment. Unfortunately, like Josh would do in the finals, I made some game-losing mistakes against a first-rate player who made fewer mistakes than I did and thoroughly deserved to win the tournament.
In the first game, Sean got an average start while I got a very good one. I had managed to take the first province using two Tsuruchi Etsuis and by bowing his whole team with the help of a Shosuro Maru. Unfortunately, I made a crucial mistake by not using Death of Ryoshun before he declared an attack on his turn, and one Turong + two Larukos made mincemeat of both Etsuis and Maru with movement tricks. This completely changed the outcome of the game as I would have inevitably have taken two more provinces on my next turn and had complete board control, had I properly nerfed Turong’s ability to drag my bowed personalities into battles where he could kill them.
In the second game, it was again a real barn-burner of a game where the outcome was completely up in the air. Again, I made an error in judgement which cost me dearly, as I mistakenly failed to attack a province where he had a flipped-up Sorrow’s Path which had yet to attach. Had I done so, I would have narrowly won the exchange of provinces and forced a third game. I had a second opportunity to correct my mistake by using a Tireless Assault on a Shosuro Maru to sacrifice to the Sorrow’s Path, but I miscalculated on the attack when I could have taken both of Sean’s remaining provinces. Instead, I only took one of them and he was able to destroy my last province by excellent use of the Black Heart and Cavalry Reserves. Sean exhibited excellent sportsmanship here by letting me take back an action in the final battle, but it proved futile on my part, as I still lost. 0-2
13-2, finish 3rd overall.
Leon ran a great event. I was loaded down with some excellent loot on the way back north to Canada, and I even managed to get it through Customs! I urge everyone who had a good time at the Seattle Kotei this year to do their best to travel up to Vancouver for the first-ever Kotei in BC on April 30th. Andrew Ornatov has ensured that the prize support will be phenomenal, and we hope to follow Leon’s great example of how to run a Kotei properly.
Josh Gaydos, for proving yet again that he knows what he’s doing with Mantis.
Leon Phillips, who let me stay at his house, eat his food, and borrow a couple of cards for my deck.
Sean Raycraft, an exceedingly pleasant and honourable opponent. Congratulations on a job well done.
Andrew Ornatov and his wife Caroline, who amongst many other kindnesses kept me well-supplied with much-needed caffeine on Sunday.
Danny Walker, best support person at a Kotei I’ve ever seen.
All of my fellow Canadian players from BC and Alberta who came down and made a customary fine showing.
All of my Seattle/Team Issues friends who made an appearance, however brief.
Josh Gaydos, for proving that he can forget that Tsuruchi Etsui has a raid ability.
Ian Ryan, for not being there.
Wolfgang Baur, ditto.
Everyone responsible for the horrible train & bus service between Vancouver & Seattle.