Dream On

Hello friends!  While living in the future as a community playtester stops me from writing as often as I’d like, I’m back on the .horse (heh) to talk about decks!  We’ll start with the list of decks from our recent Winter Regional in case you missed them, then I’ll talk about (what else) a new version of Dream Quest I brewed up and the team refined for the occasion.

First, the event.  Seven of our regulars showed up, and brought the following (alphabetical order since most just cared about top 8 and dropped):

Steve Frantz
Harry Huberty
Kirk Lanciani
Jeremy Levine
Greg Pisano
Charlotte White
Johnny Yu

Long-time readers probably recognize the deck Charlotte and Harry played as an update on one of my old favorites – Dream Quest.  For those that don’t remember, here’s the story thus far.  I made the original deck list back in fall of 2014, inspired by a deck I faced at GenCon and some old Magic combo.  We played that deck a lot in the intervening year – I played it at PAX East 2015, and Charlotte played it at PonyCon 2015.   If you’re interested in how the deck plays, those links, particularly my first two-part article, can fill you in.  But by the time of GenCon 2015 we had to give up on it because of the rising power of Orange, but particularly one card:

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The Great Enemy

Absolute Discord’s Popping Corn took a little while to catch on, but it’s absolutely disastrous for this deck.  After Crystal Games, we thought Cutie Pox Scare might stop it,  since it shuts down a big combo turn, but sitting on the 3 AT proved too hard, and purple decks were generally too slow in any case: even if they stopped one big turn, they’d just lose on the next turn.

Popping Corn, though, is a disaster.  It exhausts every character in the deck except the rarely-seen non-frightened Dr. Hooves, who can’t do anything useful on his own in any case.  And the orange decks are fast and powerful enough that they might win or cripple you on the turn they gain, particularly since Absolute Discord gave them some other great tools, like Iron Will to shut down Snips and Snails.  That’s a major part of why no one ran the deck at GenCon 2015.

But we’ve gained several sets since then: Equestrian Odysseys and High Magic.  They added a bunch of awesome cards to the deck’s core strategy.

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Tank and The Wonderbolts Rap aren’t major changes to how the deck works, but they’re both fantastic cards.

Tank contributes to flipping the DJ main while also enabling Hooves.  Tank + Berry Punch is the deck’s best opening option, and just feels absurd.  You immediately flip DJ, and might end up with a Hooves to boot.  (I also had one test game that opened with Tank discarding Hooves, Two Bits, Pinny Lane, Pinny Lane and ended with scoring seven points on turn 2, but that’s wildly unlikely.)  Best of all, the deck was already playing Emerald Dreams for blue entry, so this is a straight upgrade.

The Wonderbolts Rap similarly doesn’t change the basic plan, but between being extra Two Bits (albeit not one you can play again with What’s Old is New Again) and having some moderately useful side options, adding it definitely makes the deck work more smoothly.

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Fancy Pants is a massive upgrade on the old Sugar Twist entry.  (Sorry, Twister Sister, I still love your flavor text.)  Obviously being able to unlock a bunch of the deck’s white cards without paying AT is a big step up, but equally important is that, unlike Sugar Twist, playing Fancy Pants later in the game when you’re set on white can be amazing.  Most of the Friends in the deck cost 2 or less, and plenty are good to get back, but by far the best is Snips and Snails.  The number of times this version of the deck can use that card is just flat absurd.

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The last new card that really changes up how the deck works is this Pinkie Pie.  Dream Quest has always struggled with deck slots, and you probably noticed from the deck list that this version “cheats” on a lot of cards, reducing the number to two or one.  Part of the reason is all the card draw, but the other is Everypony’s PFF.  The 2 AT cost isn’t nothing, but for a deck already packed with powerful but sometimes situational Friends, PFF is an ideal fit.  And you can even get it back with Fancy Pants…

Of course, for all these awesome additions, The Great Enemy remains.  Despite all these great options, I didn’t return to Dream Quest immediately after Equestrian Odysseys came out, or even after High Magic added Fancy Pants.  The deck’s basic plan remains reliant on 2 power friends, making it incredibly vulnerable to Popping Corn.  So what changed?

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Funnily enough, given the importance of Yawgmoth’s Will and Dark Ritual to the deck’s original inspiration, the answer was another card suspiciously similar to a Magic card.

Not going to lie: based on my experience with the Magic version and with the way MLP tends to work, I am not totally high on Harsh Judge.  A lot of decks in MLP are highly redundant, have lots of ways to remove her, and/or rely heavily on their main such that she’s not wildly useful.  Early on, people seemed high on Harsh Judge as a solution to combo decks like those reliant on Pile of Presents.  But given we already had a ton of friend answers to that deck which are not wildly effective as it can easily kill them, I wasn’t impressed.  As a result, I dismissed her as a meaningful card.

This is usually a mistake, and I certainly should have taken a more nuanced view here.  Fortunately, I got a second chance via the magic of friendship.  In the lead-in to Regionals, one of my friends from the West Cost was talking to me about deckbuilding on Facebook and sent me a blue/white aggro list which featured Harsh Judge.  Thinking about it in context of that deck – another one that’s notoriously weak to Popping Corn – jolted me into actually thinking about the situation.  And, of course, as it turns out, while there are a lot of decks and cards against which Harsh Judge is not impressive, Popping Corn’s timing makes her ideal as a method of combating that card, especially in a deck like Dream Quest, which doesn’t care that she probably won’t shut it down for the whole game – one turn free of the hated Corn is generally enough to put the game away.

There are obviously plenty of other good cards from Equestrian Odysseys and High Magic that go in this deck too, but most of them are utility cards.

Night Glider is absurdly powerful, but she’s a one-of in this version because one of the big appeals of Dream Quest is that it can win the game without winning a faceoff.  Night Glider can power up an unopposed win, which can be important when racing, but too many would leave the deck vulnerable to Carbo-Loader, and mostly ignoring that card is one of the big advantages of the deck.

Rarity – Soprano is also great, and helps combat things that disrupt your combo turn, but since she’s not a contributor to the core strategy, it’s hard to budget for too many of them.

Like every version of Dream Quest, even with the help of PFF, deck slots remain at a premium, and there are countless cards that could easily be in the deck (I lament the loss of Lead Pony Badge from last year’s version)  or could easily have more copies (like Soprano).  It’s kind of an accident that the two copies in our Regionals were identical; we talked about the last few slots constantly, and Steve might have played a modified Dream Quest rather than his Applejack deck if the event had been bigger.  I’d imagine I’ll change the last 5 or so cards and some of the ratios as time goes on.

Also relevant: we haven’t subjected this deck to a full gauntlet.  While it’s vastly better against Orange (and in general) than the older versions, the nature of a non-rotating format like Harmony is that every deck gets stronger and new decks emerge as new cards come out.  I haven’t tested this deck much, and it is especially lacking rigorous testing against Pile of Presents decks and the new blue turbo-aggro decks based on the new Luna main.  It’s possible it will prove too slow compared to those decks, though personally I think it’s more likely that such testing will just cause some more adjustment in which utility cards it wants to run.  If you want to mess about with it, let me know how it does.

Overall, though, my conclusion is that The Dream lives on.  We’ll see if it lasts until GenCon this year.

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