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By paulofhallett
5 days ago  (5 days ago)
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FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE

This deck is a slight variation of the ‘Defensive HMT’ deck I posted a few weeks ago. It was born from a desire to move away from the “high roll or lose” mentality that can trouble Unicorn HMT play, and build toward a stronger mid-range game.

If you’ve seen the Sydney Kotei results on Lotus Pavilion the elephant in the room is that I mananged to avoid Phoenix Echoes and Dueling Crane decks all weekend. These are by far the most troubling matchups for me and I acknowledge that I dodged some bullets Matrix-style here, especially given the number of strong Phoenix players in the tournament. That said, the deck did hold its own against both matchups in online testing before the event, and the two Scorpion finalists I faced (Hamoun and Roy) are excellent players who acquitted themselves with aplomb against the top Phoneix decks all day Saturday.

Caveat aside, onto the deck itself.

The genesis of the concept can be found in my previous tournament on The Lotus Pavilion: a Sydney EC in which I was completely destroyed by Dueling Crane and Phonenix Good Stuff decks (piloted by Hamoun and Roy). The following Monday I was again thrashed by my normal play group (shout out to the The Games Capital in Canberra and the boys there, especially James/Lammia who made the road trip to Sydney with me) and then had a horror run of games on Jigoku. This was particularly frustrating because in the previous month’s tournament (a Stronghold event not logged Lotus Pavilion) I had gone 3-0 and carried the day. High roll or lose. Some soul searching was in order.

The deck I had been using was a fairly standard aggressive HMT with Lion splash. It was, however, carrying a lot of duel protection (SyH, Cloud, FoJ), moderate attachment removal (2 HtH) and some Ready for Battles. The two problems were that I would either have a hand filled with dead cards when I didn’t need them, or I hadn’t drawn the right ones when I did. I was reacting against problems that may or may not exist and had forgotten what Unicorn does best: make the opponent respond to you, not the other way around.

The other thing the previous deck had was Chagatai, and this is the second big elephant in the room. Chags is the ultimate bull in a China shop: one way or another things are going to get broken. The problem for me is that it’s a coin flip between whether or not he smashes every piece of porcelin in the room, or trips over the first counter and knocks himself out.

I find myself getting tunnel vision when I flip Chags. I hard mulligan for Charge! or occasionally hard buy him when I probably shouldn’t. I give him Curved Blades and Banzai!’s to get the break, only for a good opponent to Cloud, dishnour/bow, send home, counterattack with political water, etc etc etc. Yes he’s only one fate and one card with Charge!, but if he doesn’t get the first break he’s a potato, plus I was also giving up a valuable void province slot to run Appealing to the Fortunes. High roll or lose.

So, I decided to go back to basics and try to even out the curve by avoiding high risk, high reward cards. Unicorn have really strong characters and attachments that I’d been shunting aside because they didn’t seem aggressive enough, but I honestly missed playing them. Shahai is the best example of this. She doesn’t synergise with encampment or cav reserves, but she can throw Force of the River for days and can covert a key tower when it counts. She can also bait a Cloud which doesn’t really bother me.

I also drew inspiration from the Phoneix Kaito Kosori tower deck that I really enjoy playing. Having a big shug in reserve who can send in in spirit horses (or Daiyu’s ability) really appealed to me, and being able to keep them out of conflicts also means they don’t get dueled to pieces, or wrecked by the usually dishonour/bow shinanegans. If things are dire, you can always give them a Barcha and make them get their hands dirty.

Thus we get to the heart of the deck: the ability to choose the terms of engagement. The Mongols would run circles around opposing armies for weeks before deciding to commit. The Ki-rin have the toolkit for this, with a little patience. Cheap units with Banzai! or Curved Blade can threaten province breaks at the drop of a hat, and Talisman and the right provice switch can be a real pain for attacking units. Either way your opponent has to either spend resources to overcome these low-cost investments. If they don’t, they risk breaks (and HMT triggers) or stalled attacks. The key point is that in either of these cases you don’t really lose. If they remove your Curved Blade or Talisman that means your Barcha and Force of the River in the next turn are much safer. If they bow/discard your attacker the deck has nine 1-cost drop bears (Australian for “conflict characters”) to continue the assault. If they decide to overcome your Ancient Master on Shameful they’re using resources they can’t deploy for your counterattack. Death by a thousand cuts in turns one and two.

Things get hairy in turns three or four when you still need to make sure you can trigger HMT, but by then your opponent has towers. The trick is to hold your nerve and make sure it is you who determines which conflict will be “the one” that gets you the trigger. By now you should have Cav Reserves online so use it strategically. Towers are threatening, but they struggle to participate in every conflict every turn. Ideally, you want to buy a cheap scout in turn one, a brawler in turn two (Tetsuko, Nergui), and an artillery Shug in turn three (Shahai or Daiyu). Each step up the curve increases the pressure on your opponent, plus you still have your drop bears and Keeper Initiates to peck away with. Captive audience is crucial for getting the HMT trigger if your opponent blocks your first military attack, or resists launching a military attack of their own.

Gaining the Imperial Favour is the other key factor. No Unicorn player likes having their Cavalry Reserves cancelled, let alone Kanjo, Ujiaki, etc. While you can never guarantee the favour, pushing for Keeper Initiates, playing Ancient Masters, and winning as many conflicts as you can helps a lot. I’ve tried DyH but found it less reliable than the favour. Having active Censures and Let Go brings great security, allowing you to make bold plays. In the event that you can’t get the favour, well, you just have to push through and hope your opponent can’t cancel everything. Charge!, Cav Reserves, Captive Audience, and Let Go are all swing events so at least some of them are going to stick. Ditto for the many great attachments Unicorn have.

PROBLEM MATCHUPS

(Disclosure again: I didn’t have to face these in the Kotei)

CRANE - those magnificent dueling bastards (also Dragon).

Dueling oppenents have given me headaches for months but I think I’ve found a way out. The key is to split the duels into two types: the ones were they pick one of your characters to be dueled (who then bows or loses fate), and the ones where you pick the character to be dueled, and then something awful happens when you lose. Toshimoko, Kaezin, Kuri, I’m looking at you. However, because you’re usually only only sending in scouts you don’t really care about the first type of duel. If a duel causes them to bow or be discarded you can just cut your loses and try again with a Captive Audience, or deploy a drop bear or river spirit to continue the assault.

For the second type of duel the humble Finger of Jade works wonders. Before attacking, give a character a FoJ which will cancel the effect of Toshimoko, Kaezin and Kuri’s duels (you get to choose who is targeted). If they attack with Yuri and use Doji Challenger to harpoon some poor bastard you can play FoJ and cancel the effect of Yuri’s duel. It costs you a fate and a card, and they can always try again next turn, but it allows you to maintain crucial tempo. Against Dragon, save Let Go for Daisho. Against Uji, well, turn up the tempo to 11 and hope you can close before they run away with it.

PHOENIX - they’re so hot right now.

This one is tricky, firstly because I haven’t had too much exposure to Echoe Birdies, and secondly because it just has so much synergy. I think the trick is not to overthink it. Stick to the plan, accept that if they want to win a military conflict they’re going to, and pick your fights elsewhere. For me the real problem is still Kori Mori on box. You sometimes get lucky with Ordu but can’t rely on it, so really you just have to hold on to all of your Captives Audiences (painful) and hope you can make it stick. The only other option you have is Child of the Plains and Ambusher, but its edge case.

POTENTIAL CHANGES

I’m well aware that this deck list looks a little like Unicorn from six months ago but I’m okay with that. The clan pack added a lot to the HMT toolkit, but the temptation to focus on Chagatai is strong. I’ve found playing without him refreshing, and I’m much better at planning for the next turn, rathering than tunneling on that one key province break. I’m also aware that that probably says a lot about me as a player, and I’m happy to be proven wrong on this one.

The other star player that could be included is Kyora, and I’m also happy to be proven wrong on this as well. The dream is to Charge! the Regulars then disguise in Kyora for a follow-up attack. You can also pay to replace a border rider or 1-coster but that gets expensive. Ultimately for me it was just too many moving parts in a deck that is trying to be as back-to-basics as possible.

I really like Trailblazer and Honest Challenger (harpooning in tower on a poke never gets old) but just couldn’t find space. Child of the Plains has less punch but the Ambusher combo is helpful for Shameful etc. Young Warrior for me is too risky as you might run into Yuri when you’re not ready and she’s very vulnerable to dishonour. Shinomen Wayfinders are a possiblity (especially with Kyora) but again I’m all about the probes and 3 force just isn’t that much to write home about. Other than that I’m generally happy with my flops and draws and rarely find myself out of options.

LOOKING AHEAD

Pack three is a big deal for swarm Unicorn. For this deck in particular I’m really only looking to sub in 1 or 2x Ujik Tactics for the final pushes, but lots of testing is in order for all the new toys. I’m keen to try all the variations of full-swarm, although it remains to be seen whether they’re competitive.

As far as roles go, Earth and Fire would both work here, although my slight preference would be for Fire. Djinn is a bit of a hail mary, but it’s one of the few ways Unicorn can effectively shutdown towers who are defending boxes and that is not to be sneezed at. It also works just as well as political when you have to break Kori Mori on political.

TLDR

So there you have it! Unicorn are on the board. Low roll and win, eventually :)

Wayne did an amazing job hosting the event and a big thanks to everyone involved. All of my opponents made progression difficult, especially in the finals, but each was a pleasure to play against. Shout out to Merlin for organising the casting, Melissa for the cool hat, and everyone in the Unicorn Discord for helping a noob like me with dumb questions. It’s a great place to be :)

‘straya!
call_split Inspired By
Defensive HMT by paulofhallett  (5 days ago)
comment Comments
Congratulations, Paul! Thx for sharing and for your comments about the deck. It's nice to see an unicorn as winner!
Paul, huge congratulations on your win.
I agree with so much of what you say here, especially the Chags deck is smash or crash.
Very nice write up covering all the key points.
And I really like the slim, focused nature of the deck (pretty much 3x of cards).
Thank you!

Yes a slimmed-down approach was definitely what I was going for. More moving parts means more potential points of failure, and nowhere is it written that HMT must be a rush deck :)
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Role
No Role
Keeper of Air
Organized Play Role
Increase your deck building influence value by 3.
After you win an conflict as the defending player - gain 1 fate.
Seeker of Air
Organized Play Role
You may replace 1 province of any element with an additional province while deck building.
After an province you control is revealed - gain 1 fate.
Keeper of Earth
Organized Play Role
Increase your deck building influence value by 3.
After you win an conflict as the defending player - gain 1 fate.
Seeker of Earth
You may replace 1 province of any element with an additional province while deck building.
After an province you control is revealed - gain 1 fate.
Keeper of Fire
Increase your deck building influence value by 3.
After you win a conflict as the defending player - gain 1 fate.
Seeker of Fire
Organized Play Role
You may replace 1 province of any element with an additional province while deck building.
After an province you control is revealed - gain 1 fate.
Keeper of Void
Increase your deck building influence value by 3.
After you win a conflict as the defending player - gain 1 fate.
Seeker of Void
Organized Play Role
You may replace 1 province of any element with an additional province while deck building.
After an province you control is revealed - gain 1 fate.
Keeper of Water
Organized Play Role
Increase your deck building influence value by 3.
After you win a conflict as the defending player - gain 1 fate.
Seeker of Water
Organized Play Role
You may replace 1 province of any element with an additional province while deck building.
After an province you control is revealed - gain 1 fate.
Support of the Crane
Increase your deckbuilding influence value by 8.
You may only spend Influence on clan cards.
Support of the Phoenix
Increase your deckbuilding influence value by 8.
You may only spend influence on cards.
Support of the Scorpion
Increase your deckbuilding influence value by 8.
You may only spend influence on clan cards.
Support of the Unicorn
Increase your deckbuilding influence value by 8.
You may only spend influence on clan cards.
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Conflict Initial Draw Probability & Mulligan by Card
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Conflict Initial Draw Probability + Bid by Card
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