My Tale of Fail - GenCon 2016

Joe James

"The only failure is not continuing to try your best." -D. Hammond

They say you only truly learn by failing, and I sure learned a lot at Gencon 2016. My hope in writing this is that you will learn from my mistakes, or at the very least be entertained by them.  I also write these articles for a selfish reason: I want more folks writing deck building and general strategy articles. To this day I think there's been a real lack of content for those topics, and instead of idly wishing someone else would do it I thought I'd step up to the plate. "Hey, if that dude can do it, why can't I?" I hope you are saying to yourself right now. I hope every person who went to the Marshal event (or any other big event) would write-up their experience. We all have experiences on what has worked and what hasn't, and sharing those makes us richer with that collective wisdom.

Sheriff Events

So with that in mind, let's take a peek at my Gencon 2016 experiences. I'd like to break down where things went wrong, where things went right, and lessons learned for the future.

I planned to enter 2 Sheriff events followed by Saturday’s Marshal event. For the Sheriff events I intended to play a "fun" deck - a revised version of my Flyin’ Zombies (not terribly different from this: ), I saved my "real" deck(a revised version of my108 WD Putting The Pieces Together deck ( for the Marshal event. I had played the heck out of my 108 WD flushes deck, and with the recent tweaks since the Outlaw event, I had a lot of confidence in this deck.

I sat down for the Thursday morning Sheriff event, trying my best to recover from some really bad news I received the previous night. Upon arriving, though, I enjoyed meeting friends old and new. Right before the event, I decided to quickly double check my deck. Not only had I forgotten to add the 2 jokers, but also the single most important piece of any Doomtown deck: the home! Off to a bad start, but I borrowed the cards I needed (thanks Dan and David!), and the tournament was on. I also found out during the Friday tournament that I had a Takin Ya With Me instead of a Its Not What You Know... (which is kind of a big deal for this deck). By then it was too late, so I just rolled with it.

I don't remember all the details of the next 10 games I would play over both Sheriff events, but I do remember the highlights. I ended up 3-2 both days, against a variety of opposing decks. 2 of my losses included original Law Dogs decks that brought the aggro from Turn 1. The Flyin’ Zombies need a little bit of time to get off the ground, and suffer against early aggression. In one game I mistakenly sent Jen alone (who I started) to an out of town deed for an impending fight. I should have sent in a body I could afford to lose first, then sent in Jen after. Even with a force field and plenty of money, the tied ranks meant discarding her. It ended not long after that.

The deck also lost to a Jia Mein Exp deck that defined what early aggression can do. I got a couple of early force fields and high studs from Yagns and Bio-Charged Neutralizers, stopping the early aggression after round 1. I gained some breathing room, but again I found myself at a big fight at an out of town deed. I won the fight, and we both ran home booted,. With all my guys booted at that point, I lost the chess match as he used his Pharmacy to unboot Jia Mein and sneak in a quick CP victory. I felt good about this game, and I think it was the only loss that I didn't feel I could have done anything differently, given the same information again.

The last loss came against a slide deck, another weakness of the Flyin Zombies. I added a single Kidnappin' for this occasion. While I did draw it once, it simply didn’t do enough. Gadget decks are inherently awful against slide decks, and mine was no exception. Having to boot my dudes with influence to invent things slows the tempo when I should play the 'deny income' and chess games to stop the constant flow of CP's and influence from their side. I also had a ton of influence, so the game went to time. But by that point I clearly lagged behind in the stack of influence so I lost to tie breakers at time.

Overall the deck did pretty well. The 6 games I won went just exactly as they should have - tons of money built up, along with lots of big studs and a harrowed dude with a force field (and sometimes Ornithopter) to make every shootout a guaranteed win. There's not much an opponent can do once that gets set up, and it often doesn't take too long to get that going.

Lessons learned:

-Double check your deck BEFORE you leave for the tournament. Not having your home is bad, and I was clearly not in the right frame of mind while putting together the deck. Some things can't be helped (ie: the really bad news I received), but you should make a habit of double checking your deck before stepping foot out the door.

-I didn't have a lot of practice with this new version of my Flyin Zombies, so I could have avoided the mistakes leading to Jen’s discard. I knew the deck was good, but that's not as important as actually playing the deck and getting used to how it works.

-Likewise I would have benefited by testing against more slide decks. Only playtesting can resolve the tradeoff between booted mad scientists inventing more, cheaper gadgets (e.g. William Specks), or gadgets clogging my hand while I camped their production with unbooted dudes.

The Marshal Event

I got all my losses out of the way during the two Sheriff events, right? Since I had revamped my 108 WD flushes deck, I had tremendous success with it - both in OCTGN and the Outlaw event. I have never brewed, tweaked, and playtested a deck more than this one. Looking back now, my overconfidence in this deck was one of my first mistakes.

Round 1

I learned my lesson from before, and sat down to round 1 with a pre-double-checked deck ready to go. My first opponent, Christine Bailey, played an Oddities deck. I quickly set up a couple of Putting The Pieces Together along with a Fiddle Game, and made short work of the abominations. I quickly realized that I had survived some foolish mistakes. Once I could have used Quickdraw Handgun to severely punish a cheatin' hand, but forgot about it. Instead, I used a This'll Hurt to only mildly punish it. I made a couple of other minor mistakes, but overall Christine could not get through the impenetrable wall of hand rank raises and cheatin' punishments. The slow pace of the game, however, meant that I had to win at time (and netting four points instead of a full five). Unfortunately for me, the pace of the game was very slow and I only won at time.

Round 2

Round 2 defined the tournament for me. Having only won the previous game at time and not getting full points, likely meant a loss would probably put me out of the top 8. My opponent also had a 108 Worldly Desires deck, but an A-3 (or 4?) Legendary Holster variation. Initially we both drew pretty well - I had a single PTPT and a bunch of deeds, and he got his Holster by turn 2. Normally a bunch of deeds is bad for me, since I need to keep my ghost rock low, but I threw out a Steven Wiles to soak up that extra income. Still, holsters and soul blasts can be tough for my deck to deal with, but hat's why I have two Muggings in the deck. This deck also has one Bottom Dealin’. Top-decking typically results in a hand rank of 1 or 2, and that card has won me games by itself. Nevertheless, the Muggings filled a very real weakness, and the split of Bottoms and Muggings provided the most flexibility.

The Holster was, in theory, able to be dealt with. I had 6 different cards in my deck that should take care of it - 2 Muggings, 2 Pistol Whips, and 2 Sun In Yer Eyes. As (lack of) luck would have it, I didn't see the best card for the situation, Mugging, nor did I have any pistol whips, but I did have a single SIYE. He Holstered up a 2 stud. Since I won nearly every lowball, I could toss some sun in his eyes, and only an Ace would succeed on the pull. I took the opportunity to get Steven Wiles into a fight and try to take down the Holstered dude. My play: SIYE - his play: Holster. Luck was not on my side, again, and he pulled an Ace to ace my Steven. Sometimes you have to make the plays according to the best odds, but even then you can roll snake eyes. Never put yourself into a situation where rolling those snake eyes means a loss if you can avoid it. I had a Mario Crane ready to take Stevens place next round, and the game went on.

After awhile, I found myself again in the situation of only having a single SIYE to go against his Holster. Despite the massive card cycle of this deck, I couldn't find those Muggings. I sent in Mario by himself to take on the Holstered dude, and made a fatal mistake. Earlier that turn he had used my Charlies Place to give his dude +2 bullets, but because the turn had so many actions and lasted so long I had forgotten about that. I played my SIYE, and he used his Holster to pull a 2. At first I was relieved that he didn't get another Ace, but when he reminded me about the extra bullets I just inwardly shook my head at myself. I discarded Mario (Harrowed, so he wasn't aced), resulting in another hard blow to my board position. Each of us had out a good number of deeds, but I had a plan C with Xui Yin Chen as backup. Losing 4 influence and 2 of my 3 main studs hurt a lot, but this deck has the ability to take on armies with one little draw dude and win, so I still had plenty of room for hope.

The same turn Mario died, Xui Yin Chen made her way into town and promptly got called out. I didn't have to worry about the Holster any more, and I handily won the shootout. Unfortunately in the process, I did something I still have major problems with: I brought all my dudes from home into the fight so I could make a ton of studs with Xui Yin Chen. After winning the fight I went home booted, not wanting to get called out without an unbooted Xui Yin. This, however, gave my opponent the run of town. Normally it's not a big deal, since this deck often has plenty of influence. I quickly realized there were a lot of control points on the board. I had enough influence to handle it, but he ended up playing more deeds that turn. He had a couple of unbooted dudes, and I had only one unbooted dude: Clementine Lepp at my Union Casino with 3 influence in opposing dudes (his own Xui Yin Chen, and another 1 influence dude). Clementine had to call them out as I was in check by one CP. At this point, I only had a Coachwhip in hand, and I was able to ace his Xui Yin Chen with it. Clementine also died in the process, leaving his single influence dude there to take the Casino. Add an unbooted Jake Smiley at home, and he took the last CP needed to seal the win.

It was a solid loss by being out-chess maneuvered, and with very tight and impressive play by my opponent. At this point I knew I wouldn't make the top 8, but I'd continue trying my best.

Round 3

My third match squared off against Will Gentry and his Morgan Gatling Fortress that highlighted another occasional weakness of my deck. Starting out, he thought I had brought a slide deck. Turn one I equipped Xaiodan with a shotgun. I promptly sent him over to my opponent’s Wagner Ranch to have some words with his busy Mad Scientists. I drew a terrible opening hand, so I really only hoped to either slow down his inventing or potentially score a casualty on his side while ridding of my hand of actions.

It didn't work out. When I showed a hand rank of 1 or 2 (can't remember), he probably wondered what the heck was going on. Sometimes my suicidal Xiaodan pays off, and when it doesn't it's still worth cycling my hand instead of slowing down due to a clogged hand. Either way, at this point he realized I was not playing slide and became much more careful about the possibility of shootouts.

It wasn't long before I had a PTPT plus Mario Crane with a gun (I can't remember if it was a shotgun or a quick-draw handgun - I just remember the +1 bullet). Will had built up an impressive fortress with 2 Auto-Gatlings and some other gadgets. Despite that, Mario went into the gauntlet solo (as par for the course) and scored some casualties over a couple of turns. Still, it took a lot of time. Each shootout often lasted many rounds as Mario just wouldn't die, until I got a good hand or punished his cheatin' hand.

He had several deeds on his side and really only had a chance when defending his fortress, which got yet another Auto-Gatling to make a permanent +6 stud bonus at the Ranch. While I clearly had the upper hand in shootouts, he kept putting out deeds, influence dudes to replace his losses, and defending his Ranch. After the ten-minute warning, I decided to run an Ambush on his highest influence dude who happened to be at the Ranch. Since this game would likely go to time, I needed all the points I could get or remove.

In hindsight, it may have been better to simply sit on his deeds and gain points by taking his control. However, I didn't realize just how long this shootout would go. I can't remember how many different rounds that Ambush shootout went, but it was well over a dozen. Time after time I would draw a flush, and he would draw a legal four of a kind (thanks to his Auto-Gatlings drawing him a million cards). I think I scored a casualty or two, but nothing really worthwhile. Occasionally I would draw a three of a kind or a straight, but Mario would never die thanks to the PTPT and his trait. This went on so long that I never got a chance to take over any more deeds, they called time during the shootout. We finished it, of course, and Mario did end up finally dying. At that point Will would have won by tiebreakers either way.

Two Putting the Pieces Together is the magical number for a flush deck, especially when running Mario Crane. Had I gotten only one more, Will would have taken a casualty every time he drew a legal 4 of a kind. Legal 5 of a kind is the only other option for typical draw structure decks, and one can only hope for that hand twice at most. Even so, it was a very good and very close game that highlighted a problem this deck sometimes has: speed. If game play is slow, I often have trouble winning before time. It only took three games, but I finally felt like I had gotten back into the groove of my deck and stopped making any more stupid mistakes.

Round 4

This article went longer than expected, so I will sum up game 4. I played a Tattooed Man Sanitorium hex deck. I got a couple of PTPTs and Mario Crane out, basically ending the game at that point. It took a long time, however, with my opponent resurrecting aced abominations and hexes but I nevertheless won a couple of minutes before time. I definitely felt back in the groove by this point.

Round 5

By this point a lot of folks had dropped, I and faced off against a good friend of mine from OCTGN: DeVon (aka: Shekky_Ducky). We've played about a million games against each other, and it was a fitting end to the tournament. While he had seen my deck many times, I don't think I'd ever played against his 'Action!' deck before ( Either way, at this point I just wanted to have one last fun game and enjoy the end of the Marshal tournament.

Completely back into casual mode, I royally screwed up my starting posse. I not only put in a wrong dude, but completely forgot to start with Companhursts in play. Off to a hilariously bad start, DeVon graciously offered to let me fix my starting posse. I was morbidly curious how the deck would do with the loss of a dude, income, and saloon for Clementine to sling whiskey (aka: give me another influence). Not surprisingly the answer was: not good! DeVon actioned me to oblivion, and that ended the tournament for me.

Lessons Learned:

-Yet again, the same lesson from my stint with the Flyin’ Zombies deck: practice with your deck! Yes, I had actually practiced a lot with this deck but I didn't have any recent experience with it, and it showed. It took me a couple of games to really get back into the deck, and that just reinforces the difficulty of piloting a PTPT deck. It is a very complex card, especially in deck construction but also during play. Many different things have to align in order for it to work well. Even two weeks away from the deck sufficed to throw me off the first couple of games. I had two chances during the previous Sheriff events to get some great practice, but foolishly missed that chance. Well, it was only a foolish mistake if my only goal was to win the Marshal. I chose to play a "fun" deck during those 2 events, and in the end I don't regret it. Competition and fun are equally as important to me.

-I need to get better at chess! When playing a shooting deck I tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. Control and influence - that's what the game is about in the end. I have a bad habit of booting all (or most) of my dudes into shootout, especially when I have an unbooted Xui Yin Chen to take advantage of. Not having at least one or two unbooted spare chess pieces back home has cost me more than one game, including game 2 at this tournament. I did have some rather bad luck that 2nd game, but I could have overcome it if not for my mistakes.

Riding Into The Sunset

Thus ended three awesome days of Doomtown tournaments, and the last official AEG Marshal event. I looked forward to the Outlaw event later that night, and it did not disappoint! I met more great folks this Gencon than any other before, and I very much look forward to seeing them again next year. There will certainly be Doomtown events, but in what capacity remains unclear. All I know is that after meeting so many from the Doomtown community this year and seeing the level of unadulterated enthusiasm for this game, it will most certainly continue on in one form or another.