There has been plenty of discussion on how Fourth Ring 'Hex Control' decks have died a death and have no chance at doing well at tournaments these days. Now, I'd always fancied giving a hex deck a try, but I absolutely hated the way that Paralysis Mark could just kill games and leave my opponent with nothing to do - we're playing a game for fun, after all - so in the past I'd avoided them like Ivor's plague. I'd done a hex/condition mix before, but never really explored 'pure' control hexes. In my usual state of uncertainty over what I should play at the tournament, in the couple of weeks beforehand I'd been playing around with a bunch of different decks that were updates of my old favourites - Law Dogs Bounty Hunters, 108 Dead Man's Hand, and my 'Sharp Dressed Man' Eagle Wardens - trying to decide which one 'clicked'. I was going to go with the Law Dogs as I felt it had the best chance against the Horse meta I was expecting, but then a few days before the event some renewed discussion about what place Fourth Ring Hex Control had in the current metagame made me think, "well, pretty much everyone's stopped playing it, so how do we really know how well it holds up today?" My decision was made. I'd play the Hex Deck I'd wanted to try for ages, and the Paralysis Mark errata meant I no longer had to deal with the anguish it caused. Maybe if I did well it'd even convince the naysayers that there is hope for the archetype yet.
Having witnessed the likes of Ijiasu and swider have success with 'passive' hex decks post-ParaMark errata, I figured that's where I'd start. The patient chess play style required for such a deck is right up my street. When looking at problem decks, I figured the big one was that my early game need for a slow build, sit-at-home style and loose structure would have a weak matchup against Morgan Regulators. The influence cap played against me and the mobility from the home and horses could get round my Phantasm tricks and make Shadow Walking to lure dudes out of position and take deeds harder, but I thought that though the home would be popular I'd face enough other stuff that I'd have a chance at picking up a few wins along the way. I was fairly sure that at the very least Neramoor and Harlath were both bringing Regulators horse decks (of the gadget and non-gadget variety respectively) but hoped I'd get the luck of the draw and not have to face them until later on.
The choice for my deck was between the original home for extra ghost rock and card cycle, and Full Moon Brotherhood to deal with annoying influence boosting traits - Jake Smiley, Fred Aims, Chuan "Jen" Qi, etc (and a few other bonuses - the preventing movement from card effects is nice). Looking at what I'd put into the deck I figured I could play most of my hand often enough to cope without the card cycle, and having a zero upkeep starting posse and loose structure for lowball meant I wouldn't miss the extra ghost rock so much, so the utility of the Full Moon Brotherhood won out. After playing a couple of games with an even looser structure than this one, I decided I wanted to max out my Phantasms and Shadow Walks as they were key to getting my opponent's dudes out of position, so Fetch and Paralysis Mark were dropped. A few other changes were made, notably getting rid of 4x Buried Treasure to get a second Takin' Ya With Me, 2x Too Much Attention and The Whateley Estate which I'd somehow missed out from the first build. I got one game with the tweaked version the Friday before the event and I was a lot happier with it than the one I'd been playing earlier in the week and felt confident I could have some fun games and avoid crashing and burning completely (with 20+ players no way were all of them bringing Regulators!)
With only twelve each of 10s and Qs, and eight 9s, I wasn't going to go running around calling dudes out unless it was with someone expendable and I could remove some opposing influence by using Takin' Ya With Me. In the case of the Regulators matchups throwing Ambrose, Tyx or the like to the cavalry to turn off the influence cap and buy me more time to search for hexes was necessary. I went for Too Much Attention as I could boot problem deeds (both my opponent's and my own to deny occupying opponents their ability). I also thought there would be a reasonable Sloane showing so bounty and CP on dudes would give me more targets, plus anyone who had attempted a Kidnappin' or similar would become eligible for booting too. It was useful enough that I didn't regret its inclusion. The only card I don't think I really needed was Magical Distraction due to my shootout-avoiding strategy. Perhaps Framed or Backroom Deals would have been more useful in that spot? I don't think I Soul Blasted or Puppeted anyone all day but when the spells hit play they still had an effect as my opponents would play to avoid them, so I feel the risk of spell failure is still worth it for the advantage you get from having them.
27 players on the day at IQ Games, Huddersfield meant five rounds. The players as a group opted for a top four cut rather than top eight due to venue time constraints and people needing to travel home.
My first opponent was Andrew Davidson and his Den of Thieves. With the loss of his influence, Rico's place in the starting line-up had been usurped by Gina Tailfeathers and Andrew only had three influence on the board to begin with. My opening hand wasn't great, but I think I got a couple of deeds into play. A Phantasm on Valeria made her the target of a Kidnappin' which I allowed to go through unopposed. Tyxarglenak showed up to protect my Hucksters from further attacks and I started to see some hexes, including the all-important game winner, Blood Curse. The Brute showed up to bolster Andrew's numbers but not his influence. With his dudes weakened by black magic I played The Whateley Estate for an unassailable control point advantage.
Next was Dave Woof's 108 Righteous Bandits. Dave is a notorious slide player and with several deeds hitting play turn one it was clear he was up to his usual tricks. Ambrose covered town square while my dudes occupied his street. I was able to keep his deck from critically snowballing, and with help from some Shadow Walks and Kevin Wainwright I was able to match his manoeuvrability and pick off some influence with Blood Curse. Dave being more used to running the deck out of 108 Worldly Desires meant he kept forgetting he could use his home to move his dudes around, and ultimately that helped me seal the win as I was able to Shadow Walk to a booted out of town Jake Smiley, Dave forgot he could use 108RB to move Hamshanks there unbooted and I hit Jake with Full Moon Brotherhood, removing his influence for the turn which was just enough to land the win. I think this was a good example of control in action, as without so many tough decisions to make and outcomes to consider I doubt he'd have made the mistake.
Round three was one of my dreaded Regulators matchups - Dave Avery/Neramoor and his Yagn's-riding Regulators. This was pretty much a direct hard counter to my deck so I wasn't expecting things to be easy and indeed they weren't. Though I was able to hang on until time largely due to Dave not seeing enough deeds with CP, I couldn't compete with multiple Yagn's Mechanical Skeletons, Hydro Punchers and high influence Morgan dudes and had there been five more minutes in the round I wouldn't have been able to prevent him from getting the full amount of points.
Fourth was Max Way/Redgar's Law Dogs. Max was in the UK on holiday from Canada, and staying in York so we'd met up a couple of times during the week beforehand to get some games in ahead of the tournament. I'd seen this deck before and I really liked it - it had the potential to cause me real problems with attack jobs. Some early manoeuvring saw some hexes enter play and deeds on both sides of town. The Law Dogs managed to successfully Hang Valeria after I left her to fend for herself, but the following turn I drew a good hand and loaded up my other two hexslingers with Phantasm and Blood Curses. Max was struggling to get cards into play (I later learned his hand got clogged with Shootout actions) and I was starting to split up his dudes. Constance was brought down by a vengeful Ambrose thanks to Takin' Ya With Me, and being in Old Man McDroste's fine company meant no one was taking the booted "Thunder Boy" Nabbe seriously and that left Max with only one influence and me with multiple CP.
Final match of swiss was against the Des Row hucksters of Steve Wallace/forkbanger. Things didn't get off to a great start as I made a misplay and threw a lot of money at hiring Nicodemus early on to try and sneak a win via democracy, but it was only after he'd hit the table I remembered Jake Smiley couldn't vote as he didn't have any influence and that left me one CP short. Nico's upkeep costs weren't paid the next turn! Despite me letting him run the Des Row job unopposed an awful lot, Steve kept finding himself low on ghost rock as I kept winning lowball hands and he only really had expensive high value dudes to put into play and no deeds. This began to cause cash flow problems as the upkeep mounted and ultimately saw him having to discard dudes to break even. Thanks to my zero upkeep starting posse and an uncontested Jackson's Strike I was able to steadily grow my side of town and load up on hexes. Having to discard Sloane, combined with influence drained through Blood Curses and Jake Smiley Phantasmed into my home and then hit with its ability meant Steve wasn't left with enough influence when the Whateley Estate hit play.
Four wins before time left me on twenty points, which was enough to get me in to the top four cut. This did however mean I was facing Robert Campbell/Harlath - another Regulators deck! Things actually got off to a pretty good start for me as I saw a couple of deeds and Blood Curses early on, but Robert managed to snipe the last Blood Curse that would have sealed a quick win for me out of my hand with a Sight Beyond Sight. I was able to keep up the pressure for a couple of turns but he eventually got Androcles Brocklehurst in to play to bolster his influence, all the while playing more horses to make his dudes mobile which in turn made it harder for me to contest control points or deny him production. When Lillian Morgan (Experienced) hit play he no longer needed to worry about Blood Curses and was able to play more aggressively. Calling the Cavalry is an incredibly powerful/super unfun card but it was complete overkill in the Run 'em Down initiated shootouts as I was only revealing pairs and two pairs to full houses and four-of-a-kinds, which started to see my influence get whittled down. However much to Robert's consternation every time he sent one of my dudes to boot hill, I'd play another one from my hand, replacing the lost influence while the shootout meant Regulators' influence cap was no longer active that turn, so I was able to stay in the game for a few turns longer until time was called but there was no question which of us was in control of the game and he went on to the final.
Many thanks to IQ Games for hosting, Scott and Heidi for running the show, everyone else for turning up to celebrate the re-reloading of Doomtown and playing in good spirits, and special shout outs to Max and Zac Seldon/jordan_caldwell for travelling to play in the event! I had a great day and can't wait for the Epitaph events to get going.
So, Hex Control - is it still a force to be reckoned with? While nowhere near as dominant as previously, I would certainly say it shouldn't be written off and can definitely hold its own against a varied field. Regulators and Horses in general are, and always have been an effective counter to the strategy that has only got better with time, and with them being (in my opinion) the current strongest archetype I don't see hexes rising to the top of the pile again just yet. It's still possible to build a stacked shooter variant of this style of deck with the option to go heavy on any three of 9s, 10s, Js Qs and Ks. You've also still got the nasty Hex Slingin'/It's Not What You Know combo that made old Hex Control such a pain to play against, which will also help counter Calling the Cavalry, and with that and a tighter structure the matchup against Regulators Horses won't be as bad as this build's was.
I had the fortune to not have to deal with multiple removal jobs early on so I can't comment on how the deck performs against them, but I think with three Hucksters you're definitely safe letting the first job go through unopposed anyway. If landslide is still a problem in your area then trying something like this should give you the edge over them and I definitely recommend giving it a go.
|Jul 02, 2017 DoomDog|
|Jul 02, 2017 Harlath|