Time for another “off-topic” article! This time though, it is something that has come up several times on the podcast, the Harry Potter TCG. Contrary to the many games I have dragged Wife into playing this is actually one that went the other way. In the interest of full disclosure, and as difficult as it is to believe, I literally did not know the Harry Potter series existed, that is until I met Wife. She very quickly educated me, and although it is an endless well of enjoyment for me to bust her chops over a variety of related topics, I have come to accept the wizarding world is pretty solid. Especially the more recent iterations (well in our timeline anyway) related to Fantastic Beasts.
History lessons aside, I actually wanted to write-up a tournament report about my GenCon experience for the HP TCG. Real quick though: if you aren’t familiar with this game but are looking for unique card games, I would definitely say check this one out. There’s an existing Facebook group (look for Harry Potter TCG) with a large number of welcoming people. Now back to phase 2 of the history lesson.
It comes up a lot in both the podcast and these articles, but Wife and I test a lot. I am not an incredibly strong card game player. Most of my skills have been acquired almost entirely through osmosis. Merely absorbing things over the long period of time I have gamed. It is most apparent when I try something brand new and have to sit and explore every possible decision tree and cannot just immediately recognize the correct plays as I know others can. After Wife discovered this game and we were able to finally track down some cards, we set about trying to teach ourselves going into GenCon 2016. Turns out we messed some stuff up because after she found the Facebook group and we asked a few questions we realized we had things totally wrong on a very basic level.
Fast forwarding to around January of 2017 we had a much better handle on a number of aspects of the game. For starters we actually knew how to play. Kind of a key component. Secondly, we had a better grasp of our strategic options and this is where the testing comes in. For the 2016 main event we just kind of threw stuff together. Wife’s build was significantly more coherent than mine in that event but overall I’d say we were at a significant disadvantage from the word go. This time around we took a more methodical approach and tried to identify what we thought the meta would look like and how we wanted to attack it.
Based on the previous year, and some internal discussion, we surmised that creature based strategies were likely to both be the most common and the most consistent. The recurring damage offered, combined with what we felt were few reasonable options for removal spells, led us to the conclusion that caring for the beasts was the safest play. However being who I am, I refused to play the “best deck”. In events this size, and also with this particular schedule a surprise strategy, even a super linear one, can win the day. As such, I went about just hyper-focusing on specific ideas including decks based around card types.
In general the professors seem to be one of if not the strongest starting witches and wizards you can choose. The ability to play 3 “colors” and have a perma-lesson on turn 0 is such a strong play it almost invalidates the other options entirely. That being said, we both wanted to explore other available play patterns. I love theme and tribal decks so I started out with plants and owls. The latter quickly got dismissed but plants still feels as though it has some potential. Wife was inches away from playing it and audibled literally the day on the event which she may regret. In both cases we still defaulted to one of the teachers as a starter. We wanted something a little fresher, so instead we turned to Malfoy, the Weasleys twins, and Ron Weasley. In each of these cases they lend themselves to linear builds centered around a card type, items, adventures, and characters respectively. They drew our attention because these abilities allowed you to get an “extra” action each turn. Instead of an adventure or character eating up an entire turn you instead go also advance your position in other ways. Malfoy was more direct as he literally grants you an extra action.
While I quickly settled on a build centered around Ron, I spent the next few months trying to tweak the other lists as well for the sake of thoroughness and also to try and just in case I missed anything. While I loved (and still do) the character list it is stressful to play. The majority of games are both layers with single digit cards in their decks and occasionally the deck would just beat itself instead of the opponent as you would clutter your hand with cards that literally could not be played.
The list I ended up taking was this:
4 Forbidden Corridor
4 Impersonating Goyle
2 Magical Mess Remover
4 Dobby’s Disappearance
4 Professor Quirinus Quirrell
4 Madam Pomfrey
4 Severus Snape
2 Hermoine, Top Student
1 Fat Friar
1 Percy Weasley
1 Colin Creevey
1 Prof. Minerva McGonagall
It actually started with charms and I have rotated just about every character you can think of in and out of the list throughout the testing sessions. Since Impersonating Goyle is a tutor you open yourself to a gigantic toolbox. However in order to combo effectively, and also not just die in the process, you really need to make sure you see very specific cards which ultimately led to a list the eschewed many 1-of’s in favor of the more traditional block of 4’s.
You’ll notice though that some key component such as Peeves and Griphook are in fact not running a full set of 4. This is not by design, it is out of necessity. We just flat out do not own copies of those cards and had some difficulty acquiring them. Throughout the event I had multiple instances where this fact came back to bite me as I was just shy in a few games of winning and an extra copy of the ghost and goblin would have probably made a difference. The brigade of healers are pretty necessary. Due to your own self inflicted wounds on top of whatever your opponent is doing you are always in need of healing. Pomfrey deserves a special mention as playing her can also lock your opponent out of a likely healing card. then you can simply leave her in play until it is most opportune for you to activate and replace her.
Hermoine and Percy however were really disappointments. The former pulled her weight early in testing as a psuedo draw 2, but over time I have found her to be less useful, mostly with the inclusion of more copies of Snape, and also included McGonagall. Percy was an 11th hour addition as I found I often was just a card or 2 shy of winning in testing. However he just never seemed to accomplish enough and I certainly would cut him for another Griphook for example.
On the contrary I found Colin Creevey (another late addition) to be pretty strong. He let’s you dig in a reasonable manner for pieces you may need but also “damage” your opponent at the same time. Since he fills their hand Griphook is now even more dangerous than he otherwise might have been.
How did it perform? Well let’s go to the video tape:
Round 1: Josiah with Prof. Minerva McGonagall
Josiah was actually the reigning champion going into this event. In fact he held the title belt/ring/trophy/whatever for the last 2 events. I joked around with him before the game about this as Stefan set the timer and instructed us to start. One other interesting quirk is I am pretty sure that I played Josiah round 1 in the 2016 event which was simultaneously probably my 5th or 6th game of the HP TCG total, as you would imagine that game did not go well for me. Certainly, was hoping for a better result this year.
Turns out he brought a modified version of his champion list. This actually was a matchup Wife and I tested pretty extensively. It’s already been mentioned we felt creatures are a strong option so we basically took Josiah’s list and that was our benchmark. Games in testing were always close but I had a slight edge we felt.
Turns out the builds are essentially dead even as the match result was a tie! After splitting the first 2 games I went first in game 3 and was within 1 card of ending the game in extra turns. Unfortunately, after activating Colin Creevey I was just shy of finding another way to empty Josiah’s deck. As a result that sent us both into the 0-0-1 bracket making the next 3 rounds even more pivotal than before.
Round 2: Wife
Note: Apparently we didn’t take a picture but Wife was running McGonagall
It’s kinda funny. We travel all those miles and end up in 2 different events essentially playing at our kitchen table. That’s the way the pairing fall sometimes, although we both had been saying in the weeks leading up to GenCon that we just somehow knew that both WoW and HP would lead to us playing each other. Wife was also running a modified version of Josiah’s deck from last year, and this time the games went more in my favor. Although I wasn’t crushing the race, I had a significant lead throughout the 2 games and managed to secure the win.
Round 3: JD with Madame Rolanda Hooch
Now for something a little different. No brown lessons in sight, instead this was charms and quidditch. The build itself is very interesting. Essentially it is a ramp deck which is a concept that is common to many games. It revolves around using locations available to the charms school of magic to allow you to windmill slam some gigantic and super threatening quidditch spells and items. I loved the concept and honestly wasn’t really sure how I was going to combat it. The character deck while combo-y is really more of a control deck, and specifically one that evolved to address creature based strategies. While his list included some items, including Quidditch Cup and some money items, Quirrel wasn’t going to have a huge impact. Dobby’s Disappearance allows me to interact somewhat but there’s only so many. In the end I felt the best course was just to try and pray that Peeves/Griphook pushed important cards out of his hand and into the graveyard.
Over the course of 3 crazy close games I ended up falling 1-2. In the 3rd I specifically recall that I was able to land a Forbidden Corridor to remove my own characters and put pressure on my opponent. Unfortunately, a Wand Shop showed up not only clearing my Corridor (which locked me out of certain plays) but also allowing the engine to rev up. I wasn’t out of it however until a key Fouled! Locked me out of an action. That spelled doom as I couldn’t answer the threats presented and the game ended the following turn dropping me to 1-1-1.
Round 4: Bridget with Ron Weasley
I wasn’t optimistic about my chances of making the final cut even if I won, but winning was the only way to even have a small shot at progressing so I sat down to see my opponent running the same starting wizard! We joked about what bizarre world magic led to Ron facing off against Ron and set about slinging some cards. Initially my fear was that someone else was on the “overload on characters” plan and this mirror would be excruciating. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but it didn’t change the fact that the matchup was intense regardless. There were multiple points where I had to bounce several Black Bats to my opponent’s hand in order to stem the tide (4 of them had hit play) and despite that being a play you pretty much never want to make, it was the lesser of 2 evils due to the pressure I was under. Eventually though Peeves and Griphook were able to rip threats that were stranded in her hand. Over the course of 3 grueling games I was able to squeak it out and take the W.
While my 2-1-1 record wasn’t strong enough to get me into the final cut the event was a lot of fun! I am not sure I would play characters again if I was going to do it over. I think that in 3 of my 4 games I would have had a much better chance with our plant based build, and if I had sunk more time into it the Draco list could have been competitive as well. This isn’t to express disappointment, more excitement about getting back “into the lab” to try to mad scientist some more lists. The character list is a lot of fun and I think I will give it another spin if I can track down the missing cards. The deck isn’t terrible without them, but playing an unoptimized list can mean the difference, and I think that was part of my downfall in a few games.
Everything was run smoothly and I am looking forward to next year’s event. I think there is a lot of room for this game to grow despite the official status of deceased. It certainly could use more discussion on the strategic side. Please share your thoughts, comments, and other ideas in the Facebook group or with us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Wife and I have been discussing adding a more permanent HP dedicated section to the podcast, or even splitting it out and doing 2 although both ideas are in the VERY early planning stages as that would be a lot to accomplish in addition to the existing content. Still, there is space and interest for others to contribute as well. Even quick Facebook posts are worth tossing out there. If you have anything to add please do!