A Closer look at Mono Red with VinKelsier
VinKelsier was an Artifact closed beta participant, who was in the top cut or near it in the closed beta tournaments. Recently, VinKelsier qualified for the WePlay Mighty Triad: Agility tournament using a Mono Red deck that features , , and ! I sat down with VinKelsier and asked him about his experience with card games, what he thought of the closed beta, and of course, wanted him to give us a breakdown of his unique Mono Red deck!
What is your gaming background?
VinKelsier - I’m older than most Artifact players, I started playing Magic in 1995, when I was in middle school. I played that for 4-5 years and eventually, online games came around and grew in popularity. I started playing in the MMO genre, Asheron's Call, Anarchy Online and eventually World of Warcraft. I played a Priest in Vanilla WoW named Failure and I was a guild leader for one of the top 3 Raiding Guilds at the time, Risen. We had a lot of world firsts, seconds, and thirds, and here, you can see we had the world first Atiesh.
I even met my wife through World of Warcraft! Now that I have kids, I can't really devote as much time to MMO games, which is why I've gone back to card games. It’s great playing card games because I can kind of play it and walk away to take care of something, which allows me to be a gamer and a father much easier.
As for card games, I played Hearthstone and Gwent. I hit Legend a few times in Hearthstone, and I like the free-to-play system in Hearthstone with daily quests. I’ve always been more of a deck builder, instead of a "ladder grinder". Every expansion, there are so many new cards to experiment with and try to build new decks, I've always enjoyed those first few days of a new set.
In Gwent Open Beta, I played Gwent a lot and enjoyed the deck building much more than Hearthstone's. Around a year ago there was a big patch in Gwent that frustrated a lot of players, but I became a minor name within the Gwent community. I was partly responsible for a couple of meta breaking decks, based on cards everyone called trash, at first. I met Swim through Gwent and he’s a good friend of mine, we talked regularly in Gwent and now in Artifact. I got invited into the Closed Beta for Artifact around June, because Swim gave my email to the Valve team.
What were your thoughts on Artifact during the closed beta?
VinKelsier - My initial impression of Artifact was just pure intrigue. I was fascinated by the gameplay, instantly I thought that Constructed was awesome. In Magic the Gathering: Arena and Hearthstone, I loved the limited Draft format. In Artifact however, I despise the Draft modes, I just can’t stand it. In the closed beta, one of the Valve tournaments was something they were calling "Chaos Draft". Players were given a completely random 40 card deck.
In one of the my best of threes, by round 2 I had triple in my hand! I ended up placing 11th, missing the Top 8 cut. Chaos Draft was okay for an entirely "fun" format. But in a tournament, with a lot of money up for grabs, it wasn’t fun at all. Maybe I’m biased toward Draft because of this experience.
Either way, Artifact is definitely the best card game I’ve ever played. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s destined to succeed.
What do you think about Valve's release for Artifact?
VinKelsier - I think that’s a much deeper question than what you implied. Sadly, the quality of the game isn’t the only determining factor of how successful a game launch will be. One of the major things I point toward is when I joined the beta, it was all Draft by that point. I assume most of the Constructed balancing had taken place during the early stages of the beta, in small constructed tournaments. I can only imagine there were 20-30 players participating in those. Because when I joined the closed beta, constructed wasn’t really being supported or focused on, at all. You couldn't really queue for constructed at all, and instead had to seek out people to play against directly.
I think if they had a lot more people playing in closed beta, maybe the patch 1.2 changes would have happened prior to launch. I think Valve actually had a pulse on people’s feelings, but as for , we were all telling Valve that the masses would complain about and that it should be changed prior to launch. We really wanted Valve to change it, but I guess they didn’t believe us. Had more people been in the beta, maybe Valve would have listened then.
What were your initial thoughts on the changes to ?
VinKelsier - I’ve never been much of a fan. Swim has loved for a long time, and he always tells me it’s better than what I give it credit for. After the changes, I realized might be alright. The changes were kind of what I want to see from Valve, boosting lower tier heroes. When I first saw it, I didn’t think I’d ever be playing it in a deck but I do think the changes to and were good for the game, overall.
I didn’t think it would be overpowered, but I think is in a healthy spot right now. He has more synergy with his signature spell, . I really like it when Hero cards pair together with their signature card, like with . I mean yeah, he isn’t that good, but at least his signature spell works with the Hero.
Why Mono Red?
VinKelsier - The change made me more interested to go back and try . I actually tried back in the closed beta, and I got second place in a tournament back then with Mono Red as well. Because pairs with ’s signature spell, they can work together.
Initially, it was mostly just a fun deck, but as I was playing it, it actually felt way better than I expected. I kept playing it and modifying it and decided after I was comfortable with it, that I would try it out at the Mighty Triad: Agility Qualifiers. Because I’m a deck builder, I think I’d almost rather lose with my own deck, versus winning with something that I netdecked.
I think everyone running Mono Red is doing it wrong if they aren’t running 3 . It sort of replaces , and with red having larger bodies, forcing your opponent into the combat phase is often beneficial. does proc off of casting , just to clarify that interaction. Many people have asked me about that, so I just wanted to explain, yes they do work together. It gives you an amazing initiative play, outside of the already powerful and .
Why 41 cards?
VinKelsier - Honestly, I didn’t know what to cut. Generally, if I can’t decide what to cut, I guess it’s not that big of a deal. I have since cut a .
A working theory of mine about Artifact deck building is that 2-ofs are a lot stronger in Artifact than they are in other card games. Usually, when you run 2 copies of a card, it's because the card is situational. It's only good in specific situations. In most card games, situational cards aren't as good. You would much rather just run max copies of your best cards.
But in Artifact, it's different. Because you’re playing across three boards simultaneously, three different lanes, three different scenarios, the optimal play for situational cards has a higher chance of taking place. So, in Artifact, situational cards are actually better than in other card games.
For something like , it's much easier to "find" the right play for the card. Playing him down next to a creep to get an easy kill on an enemy Hero, or playing it next to a unit to increase tower damage, these opportunities will come up many times in one Artifact match. Whereas in other card games, it might not be so simple!
What was it like playing in the WePlay Open Qualifiers?
VinKelsier - I was visiting my parents out of state, for Christmas, so I didn’t want to be rude to them. But I had to play in the Qualifiers while I was staying with them, which only added to the pressure to perform well.
I got a Round 1 Bye and I decided to take a look at the bracket, check some deck lists, look at who I might be facing. I realized there's a chance I would have to play a friend of mine in Round 2, and if another friend of mine wins out, I would have to face them in Round 3 as well, which feels really bad! It's weird to root against your friends, but I'd rather beat the person they lost to than have to face them.
In my first match, which was Round 2, I disconnect in the middle of the game, because my parent's internet is really bad! I quickly setup my phone as a hot spot and connect into that, to try and have a stable connection. When I reconnected, my opponent had played two whole turns while I was disconnected. Somehow, even though I missed out on two entire turns, I was able to mount a comeback and win it.
In the Top 4, I had to sit and wait for 2 hours, waiting for a Mono Blue player to finish their matches. The Mono Blue player was two whole rounds behind me. Events like this make me hate Mono Blue with a fiery passion.
This was also the last night that I was staying at my parent's house. I have to get up at 6:00 AM in the morning for a flight to go back home. The guy, whom I was going to play in the finals, was told by the tournament organizers that he can go to bed and that he would be guaranteed a spot. But they couldn't tell me that, because I'm still waiting on the Mono Blue guy and have to win to make top 2. Eventually I ended up winning in Top 4, but after waiting around for quite some time.
What was it like in the group stage?
VinKelsier - After very little sleep, a long day of travel, I finally made it back home. Even though I'm totally exhausted, I had to play in the group stage for a chance to play at WePlay Mighty Triad: Agility. I finished my first series before the other groups finished their first game. So, I had to wait a long time again, but I wasn’t too worried about it. Second series I was playing against AndyWand of Team Aretuza, and I didn’t play that match well, at all.
In one of the games against AndyWand, I threw the game, by making a gigantic misplay. I thought one of my plays was going to kill one of his Heroes, but I didn't calculate it right and the Hero survived with 1 Health! Next turn, he was able to cast from the 1 Health Hero!
In the second game, I didn’t make any misplays but AndyWand got all of his ramp cards and destroyed me. It was kind of close for awhile, but he ramped into a Round 3 or 4 , which pretty much sealed the game.
Last series was against Lazer, playing Blue/Red Control. I was hoping to face more Black/Red in the Group stage, because that’s a really great matchup for me. Blue/Red is a little more stressful to play against, because of their removal options and eventually, they'll have . Either way, I feel I am favored in that matchup, somewhat.
Do you think you'll play Mono Red at the WePlay Mighty Triad: Agility tournament? ;)
VinKelsier - I want to.
Based on the spreadsheet you made, do you think Mono Red was the strongest deck at the qualifiers?
VinKelsier - Statistically, it seems like Mono Red and Red/Green were the two top performing decks. Only half the number of people brought Red/Green to the tournament, when compared to Mono Blue. But four and a half times the number of Red/Green decks qualified, versus Mono Blue.
Often in card games that I’ve seen, people prefer to judge the best deck by it’s final results. In my opinion, Mono Blue is definitely overrated. And before that, Blue/Green Combo was overrated! It’s not that they are bad decks, but they weren’t number one, have-to-bring-it-to-the-tournament, type of decks. There were a lot of decks that were just as viable then, as there are now.
Neither Mono Blue or Blue/Green Combo from 1.1 are 70% win rate decks, based on the statistics. While both Mono Blue and Combo are hard decks to pilot, a lot of people will say, "Of course these decks won’t perform well in the open qualifiers, people aren't as good!".
I think that is incorrect to say. Mono Blue performed perfectly fine for getting into top 16. So, in those lower tiers, it made it through. But against better players, in the higher tier of the tournament, Mono Blue just didn't win. Many people say Mono Blue is just hard to play, but if you asked me, it's actually hard to play against. The burden of skill is on the opponent, not the pilot of Mono Blue. This applied to Blue/Green Combo as well, in my opinion.