Top 4 Finish in the Empires of the Ascended Seasonal: A Tournament Report by Agigas
Hey everyone, Agigas here!
I finished top 4 in the recent EU Seasonal, and today I wanted to go back on my preparation, lineups, and performance in this tournament. I hope this article will give you some insight, have fun reading!
I have participated in both previous Seasonal Tournaments, but I was yet to reach the Top 32 cut before this season. This tournament was the first time when Open Rounds were played as the 9-round Swiss. The previous 2 tournaments were based on a 5-round Swiss, where only 5-0 players would advance. This is a great change, rewarding consistent players as opposed to relying on the ‘spike’ performances.
However, knowing that I also felt this new system was also putting much more pressure on me. This time, it was my shot to prove myself, and missing it would have been rough.
Because this tournament was very important to me, I dedicated myself to grinding Ranked ladder more than I usually do. I wanted to finish in the top 20 in Europe to make sure a 7-2 record will be enough to get me through to the playoffs. After the mid-season patch, I started to play only what I thought were the best decks and managed to climb pretty rapidly to the rank 8 EU with 641LP.
Later on, I learned from the casters of the tournament that my win rate on ladder was one of the highest among the fellow Top 32 players, which is something I am very happy about.
To prepare for the Open Rounds, I continued playing Ranked on my NA second account. I felt Masters ladder was a fitting environment for a prep – many were grinding either to qualify for seasonal or get a high ranking to secure a better seeding. Everyone was trying their best, making the ladder an interesting and competitive training ground.
To create my lineup, I was working a lot with matchup tables, which kind of became my specialty with the meta guide series here on RuneterraCCG. I spent an entire week theorycrafting each day for hours and considered pretty much any meta deck one could think of.
I wanted to have something that I would feel comfortable playing into Thresh Nasus and Lissandra Matron, which I thought would be the two staples of the format. I also needed my decks to have game against pretty much anything – I wanted a very flexible lineup. It was not an easy task to find such a thing, but I am very happy where I finally landed.
Thresh Nasus is the most conventional deck of my lineup, and after a lot of training and practicing, I felt very comfortable with it both against Lissandra and in the mirror. I thought about specifically teching it for the mirror and/or for the Lissandra matchup, but I wanted to keep the deck strong against the whole field so I decided to simply go for a generally strong version.
Zoe Vi ‘Rubin’s Pile‘ (named after Steve Rubin who pioneered the deck this season) is not a very well-known archetype, and I didn’t know it existed until a week before the Seasonal Tournament. But when I discovered this deck, it was love at first sight. This deck is both strong and flexible when you learn to play it well, and there aren’t many matchups I’m afraid of. It reminds me a lot of the Targon Heimerdinger Vi deck, which was a favorite of mine back in the day.
Lee Sin combo was one of the best-positioned decks in the meta in my opinion. It is favored into both Thresh Nasus and Lissandra Matron while having a pretty good matchup table overall. The newest version with Gifts from Beyond is amazing – Crescendum is great with Eye of the Dragon, and enabling Dragonlings couldn’t be any easier. However, I wasn’t allowed to play Zoe if I was running Lee and Zoe Vi in the same lineup. I started playtesting with a mono-Lee version, and I was blown away by how good it was – at the very least on the same power level as the Zoe version, but even more consistent thanks to Solari Priestess.
This lineup was pretty much everything I was looking for – comfortable matchups into the top meta decks, and not too many hard matchups against the field. I had a clear ban target in Zoe Asol, making the lineup even more cohesive.
At first, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would bring this exact lineup – but since I figured it out pretty early I had a lot of time to practice with the decks. All of them became my favorites to play on the ladder, which further made me more comfortable with my choice.
To zero in on my lineup this early is actually something pretty rare for me. I usually end up making my final choice on the last day. It allowed me to put more time into optimizing the lists.
- Open Rounds report
Unfortunately, I do not have detailed notes or video footage from my Open Rounds. However, there were some very key moments that I remember very well.
In the 1st round, I queued into a tough lineup. In game 1, my opponent beat my Zoe Vi in a long and grindy duel with his own take on Thresh Nasus that included Sanctum Conservator. His second list is a Lee Karma Targon deck, and I need to beat it twice – with Zoe Vi and Nasus Thresh.
I managed to secure a slow but convincing victory with Zoe Vi, but with such long games, we were getting low on time. The last game was very intense – we had to play fast, but also play well. Fortunately, my Nasus deck did the job well to repeatedly put my opponent in tough positions, forcing them to take more time thinking about their plays. The timer was starting to run out for my opponent, with their board position becoming worse every turn. Struggling on both fronts, my opponent lost to the timer while also being in a very difficult game state.
Afterward, the run went pretty smoothly until I was at a 5-0 record. I queued into a lot of very conventional lineups (Nasus, Lissandra). In round 5 I faced ToReRo091 (who made the Top 32 last Seasonal) and managed to win game 3 in a very hard matchup: Zoe Vi against Zoe Asol. After a clean 5-0, the tournament went into a scheduled 30-minute break, which I used to take a quick nap.
After the break, everything suddenly changed and started going poorly for me. I lost two Bo3’s in a row – one to an aggressive lineup that bullied out my Lee Sin, and the other one to a more classic lineup. I felt like everything I worked for was falling apart. If it wasn’t for my good ladder rank, I would already be out of the tournament.
Win or lose, I decided that I would fight to the end, and will not go down so easily – it was my time to prove myself. I wasn’t out yet and determined to do everything I could to make it in. Two of the following rounds were close but ended up as clean 2-0’s against Lissandra lineups, and I qualified for the Top 32 with a 7-2 record as seed #28. Such a relief!
Now that I was qualified for the Top 32, the stakes were even higher – each game makes a big difference in terms of proving yourself on the competetive scene, and securing higher cash prizes. But also a very important bar for me to reach was an invitation to the World Championship, which was given out to the players that finished in the top 4 of the Seasonal.
But, paradoxically, I felt the pressure on me was much lower as compared to the Open Rounds. I had proven to others, and even more important, to myself, that I was able to compete with the best and get to the Top 32. Even if I would have lost in the first round of the playoffs, I would still have been proud and happy about my performance in the tournament overall.
Of course, I was still aiming to do my absolute best to go further, and maybe even win it all! With such high stakes, I decided to free the entire week to focus exclusively on tournament preparation.
To prepare for playoffs, I turned to scrim training instead of playing Ranked. The ladder wasn’t a good testing environment at that point. Firstly, after the Seasonal, people in Masters were mostly experimenting and tuning their own brews, and secondly, the Top 32 meta was expected to be quite specific and different to the ladder.
Also, I felt it was more important for me to focus on my lineup and matchup knowledge rather than to polish my in-game play skills. At such a high level, the skill factor mostly evens out – it is having the best lineup for the day and knowing the matchups where you can really gain the biggest advantage.
I wanted to test with qualified players from other regions, but because I did not scrim often in the past, I didn’t have a lot of contacts. I messaged many of the top 32 players from NA and SEA, and many were ready to scrim! Not only it enabled me to do a lot of prep (4-5 scrims per day), but I also got to know many great players and individuals – it was an awesome week.
I’d like to take this occasion to thank all the players who helped me prepare for the tournament. I would also like to give a special shoutout to Random7 – who reached the final of the NA Seasonal (and he is also a writer on RuneterraCCG), Kyzen – who top 4’d the SEA Seasonal, ADELtrocity, and MisterBear – who were kind to scrim with me despite not playing in the Seasonal, and even when I was asking them to play bad matchups repetitively (I had to make sure my lineup beat Thresh Nasus 😅). This Seasonal Tournament wouldn’t have been the same without them.
For the Seasonal top cut, I wasn’t looking to find a flexible lineup anymore – I was really looking to get a lineup advantage. Also, aggro was expected to be almost absent in the meta, so I didn’t need much flexibility for that reason as well.
The first idea I had was to target Thresh Nasus and Lissandra Matron, as I did in the Open Rounds, but this time focus them a little bit harder with an Overwhelm deck instead of bringing Thresh Nasus myself:
This lineup was looking quite convincing. Targeting both Nasus and Lissandra seemed like a good plan. Moreover, I knew that my round 1 opponent would be BaJAtak, a player who brought both of those decks alongside Zoe Lee Sin into the Open Rounds. It was also the upside that I did not have to change too much as compared to my own Open Rounds lineup, meaning I would already be pretty comfortable with the decks.
So I started the week of scrimming with this lineup, and things were going pretty well. However, as I was practicing the matchups, I found out that my lineup was hardly favored against what I was trying to target. Mono-Lee was struggling against Lissandra versions with lots of freezes and, most importantly, Overwhelm was losing way too often to Thresh Nasus. When top players are piloting the decks, the actual matchup often plays out differently as to what the general stats suggest. Overwhelm vs Thresh Nasus, which is 65/35 favored for Overwhelm on stats, was in fact a 55/45 with very little room to outmaneuver the opponent.
After this disappointment, I had to build a whole new plan – 3 days before the Seasonal Top 32. Fortunately, I quickly identified that Lee would be a popular deck and that it was a deck my first-round opponent was also very likely to bring. Moreover, Lee and Nasus have two common weaknesses: freezes and silences. Therefore, I compiled a list of decks that use freeze and/or silence:
This was a simple but extremely effective approach, and a lot of other players that brought this strategy ended up with great results in this Seasonal Tournament. I had 5 decks to choose from: Ashe Noxus, Dragons, Soraka TK, Ezreal Teemo, and Zoe Vi. The final choices were tough – every deck and combination had its own advantages:
For a while, the lineup I wanted to bring was Ashe Noxus, Dragons, and Ezreal Teemo – to not have a weakness to Zoe Asol. However, the day before the Seasonal, something hit me. Teemo Ezreal has a very particular problem – forcing the opponent to draw, you are also giving them much more agency. High-level players will often use it to upset matchups, especially in the Zoe Lee matchup. Therefore, I decided to go back to Zoe Vi – my signature comfort pick at that point.
Ashe Noxus is a popular and powerful archetype, looking to dominate combat through strong units and combat tricks, finishing with the Ashe win condition if needed. With aggro out of the picture, Ashe was a very clear pick for me, and I was already very comfortable and confident on the deck because it was the most recent archetype I wrote a guide about before the Seasonal Tournament. Out of the five decks on my ‘freeze and silence’ list, Ashe Noxus was really the one that stood out as an obvious choice for me.
Dragons is a deck looking to curve out powerful midrange Dragon units and back them up with efficient Demacia’s combat tricks to dominate the board. It can have a hard time converting board strength into pressure – it is where Aurelion Sol comes down in the late game to actually close out games. Dragons was actually a deck I barely had a chance to practice before, but it felt really good in my lineup and quickly became my 2nd deck of choice after some testing. Zoe Asol could have been a consideration, but Shyvana was doing really great – especially in the Nasus matchup – and I needed Zoe to be free for my Zoe Vi deck anyway.
Zoe Vi was the only ‘run-it-back’ deck from the Open Rounds. The only change I made was to take out Guiding Touch for a Moonlight Affliction, to improve even more the matchups against Nasus and Lee. I didn’t mind losing some points of win rate in the Lissandra matchup, as I was now looking to ban it.
Alongside the good matchup against Thresh Nasus and Zoe Lee, this lineup was also doing very well into Soraka TK. While this matchup might not be very important on the ladder, I expected some players to bring it in the top cut to try to target the top meta decks. And even though my lineup also had quite a lot of unfavorable matchups, most of them were still pretty fine to play.
- Top 32 report
- Opponent’s lineup: Thresh Nasus + Ashe Noxus + Zoe Lee.
- Bans: They ban Ashe Noxus, I ban Ashe Noxus.
Like I thought, my opponent was on both Thresh Nasus and Zoe Lee. The Ashe Noxus pick instead of Lissandra Matron didn’t change much to my strategy – I was going ban the 3rd deck anyway.
In game 1, my Dragons deck does its job against Lee – I killed all three of their Lee Sins, leaving my opponent with no win condition as my Asol levels up. Zoe Vi lost to Zoe Lee, which was pretty disappointing but the deck redeemed itself in the Thresh Nasus game with a very clean victory. I am happy with the way I played, even though there’s still room for improvement. My lineup and preparation are what truly carried me to a pretty clean 2-1 victory.
- Opponent’s lineup: Mono Nasus + Jarvan Shen + Ashe Noxus.
- Bans: They ban Dragons, I ban Ashe Noxus.
My opponent for this round had a very surprising lineup. His mono-Nasus was something I’ve never seen before – no Thresh, more sacrifice synergies with 3 The Undying, 2
My matchup against Ashe Noxus seemed to be the hardest one even if Dragons gets banned, so I decided to ban Ashe and improvise against his 2 other lesser-known decks.
In the first match, I played Ashe Noxus against mono-Nasus. I am comfortable in that matchup, but The Ruination is the card that could swing the game in their favor. Unfortunately, my opponent found both of his 2 copies of Ruination, while I stumbled with a low amount of units, which lead to a pretty unwinnable game.
Down 0-1, my hope now is to beat his Jarvan Shen twice. Ashe Noxus is a natural counter of the deck and it got a one-sided victory against a pretty bad draw from my opponent. The matchup with Zoe Vi is a lot closer, and I decided to race them down and got rewarded for my choices by surviving at 1HP before finishing them with an
Quarter-finals: Agigas vs Spaiikz – if you only have time to watch one match, this is it!
- Opponent’s lineup: Ezreal Teemo + Zoe Asol + Lissandra Matron.
- Bans: They ban Dragons, I ban Lissandra Matron.
This lineup looks a bit scary for me in terms of matchups. Fortunately, the ban phase went very well and I found myself in the only favored matchup I could possibly have had in game 1 – Ashe Noxus vs Zoe Asol. This first game goes very smoothly, with a very good hand I managed to close it out pretty cleanly.
The second game, however, was Zoe Vi against Zoe Asol – my deck’s worst matchup. I try to upset it by putting a lot of pressure on my opponent, and then level up Zoe to finish with Elusive units. Unfortunately, my plan gets defeated by a triple-Sharpsight draw, into a Starshaping on my last chance to find lethal. It was close but wasn’t enough.
This 3rd game is probably the most important one of my whole tournament run – the winner will make it to the top 4 and earn the invite to the World Championship in September.
Zoe Vi against Teemo Ezreal is a pretty close matchup. Unfortunately, I did’t find any Ballistic Bot early, but I managed to create some pressure. They didn’t have Hexcore Foundry but had 2
I managed to remove their leveled Ezreal as soon as they played him, which gave me a shot to win the game. Problem is, I was getting very unlucky with shroom draws, and things were looking really scary.
Finally, the deciding moment comes: I have 1hp. If I draw a shroom next turn, I lose. If I don’t, I play The Great Beyond and threaten lethal. I’m shaking, and I almost want to cry because of how ridiculous this is. I Hush their Peddler to limit their number of shrooms to get the best possible odds – now, all I can do is hope. I draw my card, and… no shroom. I’m happy, but this is not over – if my opponent top-decked an Elusive or a Mystic Shot, I was still going to die. I play The Great Beyond, attack, and I win. I couldn’t believe it, I was literally screaming and jumping everywhere.
I am really happy I managed to stay focused and did the right plays, despite the pressure and the intensity of that game. It’s a match I will always remember.
- Opponent’s lineup: Thresh Nasus + Lissandra Matron + Zoe Lee.
- Bans: They ban Dragons, I ban Lissandra Matron.
Unfortunately, my recording crashed (the match was probably too intense 😂), so I don’t have my own footage of this match. Instead, I’ll link you to the official broadcast, which covered part of game 3.
My opponent brought a conventional lineup, which is what I was prepared to beat. In the first game, I played Ashe against Nasus, a favored matchup with my version. However, to keep up I needed to find some draw in the mid-game (Trifarian Assessor, Whispered Words) – and I found none, leading me to lose that game.
In the second game, I play Ashe Noxus into Zoe Lee. This time Ashe Noxus gets the job done, letting very little room for my opponent to develop his plan – the combination of a strong board, freezes, and lots of draw is what makes Ashe Noxus such a strong deck.
The third game is Zoe Vi against Lee, a matchup slightly favored. My deck, however, did’t give me the tools to get rid of Lee Sin – no Thermogenic Beam on the turn they played Lee Sin with only 3 mana left, and no Hush to remove him with Vi. My opponent was able to protect Lee from Vi with two Hush’es of his own. I end up losing to Lee’s OTK.
After rewatching the game on the broadcast VOD, I found out that I could have played a little bit better, but that it wouldn’t have mattered because my opponent had the answers anyway. Therefore, I leave with no regrets, while knowing how I could still improve my plays – which is a very sweet end in my opinion.
With this Top 4 finish, I got a nice cash prize of 800$, and, very importantly, a qualification to the World Championship in September.
Overall, I am very happy with the way I played. It was my first time playing in the late stage of a major competitive event – I didn’t know how I would cope with the stress and pressure. But in the end, I managed to handle it the way I do in smaller community events – transform the pressure into focus. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement and I’ll continue to train to be even better next Seasonal Tournament, but this is a nice start. 😊
Thanks for reading, I hope this article was interesting! If you have any questions I’ll be happy to read and answer you in the comments below and in this dedicated Reddit post!
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