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By: Tribal Apocalypse, Tribal Apocalypse
Jul 11 2014 12:00pm
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 It's that time of the year again (well, a little late, actually, as we're doing this halfway through the new season): the time when we meet up close the best tribal players of the previous Tribal Apocalypse season. We did it four times already, for both the players who ranked highest in that year's leaderboard (Player of the Year), and the winner of the relative Tribal Apocalypse Invitational (Ultimate Champion).

 Now it's time to cover the events of 2013. Starting with the Player of the Year, the fury from Hong Kong, Robin88. A man who's been able to stealthily earn more event points than anyone else last year, proving that he wasn't just a one- or two-hit wonder. Let's meet him, with all his unexpected wisdom, relentless quirkiness, and joie de vivre.

 Would you mind tell us something about you first? What's your real name, where are you from, what you do for a living, that kind of thing.
 My name is Robin Y., I'm a Hong Kong-born Chinese, went to school in Canada and USA, I'm a professional in finance.

Just one of the world's largest metropolises, no big deal.

 I'm guessing the "88" in your nickname is your birth year?
 Haha, I'm not born in '88, I'm a few years older. 88 is just a Chinese number that suggests prosperity and good fortune.

 Can you tell us more about your upbringing in Hong Kong? You're back there now, right? How is it living there?
 HK is a very dynamic place with lots of events happening here and there, and you will never run out of new people to meet. The city is centrally located in Asia, so most destinations like Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Macau, Shanghai, etc, are just a few hours flight away. You can literally go anywhere for a short weekend trip to see friends, go party, or just relax and take a break from the hustle and bustle.

 I admit I mostly know Hong Kong from the movies. I grew up with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, then as an adult I became a fan of John Woo, Johnnie To, and Wong Kar Wai (yeah, I'm essentially Tarantino). Is cinema among your interests? Suggest us a recent HK movie you particularly liked. Also, given your football passion, you can't avoid a comment on Shaolin Soccer!
 I would suggest Ip Man and Ip Man 2, starring Donnie Yen. I love the Wing Chun style of martial arts and how the practitioners can conquer the goliaths with their David-esque physique. The films not only portray the hardships of the southern Chinese people in the WWII era, and in the sequel, the post-war “reconstruction” in Hong Kong, but embody the proper spirit of Chinese martial arts (the “chivalry/bushido” ideals). On the other hand, Shaolin Soccer is a great comedy written by, directed by and starring Stephen Chow, who is a legend of the 90s era. It's worth a few good laughs.

 Aside from playing Magic, do you have any other intensive hobby? What do you like to do in your free time?
 I’m a football/soccer enthusiast – I do absolutely everything related to the world’s most beautiful game. Originally, I played a lot of console games like Winning Eleven (aka ProEvolution Soccer) for over 10 years, got really good at both dexterity and tactical formation. They have a Master League Online mode which is like our MTGO, except you play a lot to earn prize money to buy player “cards”, which you can further use and win more matches. Later, after watching the World Cup, starting 2002, I began actually playing football on the field. I’ve played for over ten years now, and I’m participating in local amateur leagues which really help me get away from the computer and get some exercise!

 When/how did you start playing MTG and MTGO?
 I was first exposed to MTG as a kid when I was in elementary. Back then, people were in Ice Age and Mirage, where we all thought Shivan Wurms and Serra Angels were bombs, and Dark Banishing and Lava Burst were premium removal spells. I started with 2-3 starter packs and a booster initially, as I didn’t have much allowance; while other well-off kids had their dads buy them 36-pack booster boxes. So this experience led me to try to build really effective and cheap decks with a limited budget, and I derived great joy when my commons + uncommons deck beat the crap out of their bling rare collections. My most successful deck then was a UW control deck with Master Decoy, Counterspell, Pacifism to control creatures and key spells, then have Soltari Priest/Soltari Monk bash in for inevitability. It won me more than my fair share of battles in the school yard.

 

 One of my most memorable moments happened during Invasion block. My dad drove me for 1 hour and a half to a pre-release event where I played the Apocalypse expansion. I opened a fairly bomb-filled pool with green mana fixers, Prophetic Bolt, 2x Quicksilver Dagger, 2x Minotaur Illusionist, Planar Despair. But initially I didn’t know how to build, so I used GBU, and neglected red. Luckily for me, my 4th round opponent who defeated me, helped me reconstruct my deck and I subsequently placed 4-1-1 for a 5th place finish for 8 packs. Victory never felt so sweet! And this experience helped shape my Magic preference to aggressively splash colors for bombs.

 I didn’t touch MTG at all in college with all my other priorities. But senioritis kicked on my last semester and so I tried MTGO V2. I started off playing the free 7th Edition trial decks. I got hooked. I then ventured to start small with a budget of 5 tix to build a midrange Boros deck with Sunforger, Lightning Helix, and Sulfurous Blast as a board wipe proxy for Wrath of God (which was the most expensive card in 2007 at 10 tix. My God, how inflation has crept into MTGO!). I had a blast playing in the Casual Room (what's now called Just For Fun), owning with a budget deck.

 

 I earned my first bucket of gold, so to speak, in the MTGO world when the Time Spiral block started and I did leagues. I played more than 10 leagues and I won one, and top 8 at least 6 or 7. Prizes were great, that first place got me 36 packs! I steadily built up my collection as Lorwyn rolled over. My casual deck back then became a midrange Lightning Angel deck.

 My second pot of gold arrived when I achieved some good results in 100 Card Singleton events. Back then, 100cs had premiere events, and entry was only 6 or 10 tix and it had the single highest EV you could get in the MTGO universe as minimum entry was only 24 players. Winner again took home 36 packs. I won at least 2 with a Valakut ramp deck filled with 187style creatures for my plan A attack.

 What's your Timmy/Johnny/Spike percentage?
 I don’t know my percentages! I know I’m not a Timmy because I don’t care about winning big. I am also not a Johnny because I don’t care to have a massive high quality win or winning with cards no one else thought of in an innovative way. I think I’m a Spike. I’m a huge net decker because I feel there is wisdom in the winning deck. But having said that, I improvise off the winning deck to add my own flavor to further get an advantage against my meta. I’m competitive and I play to win and to make tix. Okay, I’m unequivocally a Spike!

 What's the Tribal Wars format for you? Why are you playing it? And how did you find Tribal Apocalypse in the first place?
 I play Tribal because it's in the Legacy format and I have a good collection from 100cs that helps me make a strong deck. I play it mainly to get a few tickets each week to boost my collection. And it's fun cause there are more casual players in this group and the stress level is low, compared to, say, Heirloom. I found Tribal Apocalypse after reading articles off the MTGOtraders.com website.

 Are you satisfied about your current MTGO collection? How do you feel about spending money on MTGO to better one's collection?
 I’m generally ok with my collection. Last time I got it appraised it was 5.5k! But I certainly don’t feel well off, compared to certain of our other fellow TribAp players here. I wish I had certain staples like 4x Liliana of the Veil, or 4x Wasteland, or 4x True-Name Nemesis, but that would require me to sell off some of my collection. Right now I have a few top decks in each format, Pauper, Modern, 100cs, Commander, and 80% of Esper Stoneblade/Deathblade in Legacy; I guess I like to play different formats for casual purposes and to take advantage of random other PRE events.

 Personally, I’m dislike spending money on digital objects. I define my success as being able to play MTGO somewhat competitively with minimum spending – i.e. going infinite; I try to do that with a mix of PREs, speculative investing, and playing high EV events.

 You seem to like combo decks. What's the appeal in those for you?
  I like decks with two plans of attack. I developed this preference about my 100cs Valakut deck and my Modern KikiPod deck. For Tribal, combo is good 'cause there are many rogue decks and playing control is more difficult if you don’t know what to prioritize to kill or what prioritize to counter; so I just try to win on the spot and save myself from surprises the opponent may have packed for me.

 Last year you ended at first place in the Tribal Apocalypse final ranking, thanks to 7 wins (as many as legend player NemesisParadigm in 2011) and a steady flow of Top 4 placements. Let's review those 7 winning decks and what made them tick, shall we?

 

 For the Kor Breakfast decks, it was really a quest to search for the best deck, at the cheapest cost, executed consistently, and for which the meta was unprepared for. So I researched the historical archives for the winning decks and found this deck piloted by another person in Season 2 – I don’t remember his name, but he loved combos decks as well [it was DirtyDuck, back from Event 65 – Kuma's note]. I found out I had all the pieces except The Mimeoplasm and Lord of Extinction, so it was cheap for me to build. The deck was good when your opponent doesn’t know what you are doing, but its combo doesn’t work when they have graveyard removal (e.g. Deathrite Shaman) or have loads of spot removal (e.g. Swords to Plowshares, or Grove of the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire). The plan B of this deck, aggro beatdown, is good only when you land a piece of on-color sword and you manage to attach it. The creatures have evasion, but the deck has zero removal for opposing creatures, which is problematic if they have interactive, reoccurring abilities. It's not a deck that will likely finish 1st, but sometimes I run it because I don’t feel like researching and testing new ideas and want a familiar deck that will do 3-1 easily.

 

 Shaman was inspired by slug360’s then recent win in Singleton and my recent acquisition of Bobs at a then low price. So the deck was forged. Bobs give card advantage, Deathrites are generally good mana acceleration and blank those reanimator decks, and Wolf-Skull Shaman makes a huge army out of nothing. Rage Forger + Gavony Township is just icing on the cake, while Skarrg Guildmage makes my lands big beaters if I don’t draw Gavony. Oh yes, I also included the Isochron Scepter combo since I’m such a fan of Helix + Scepter and usually our Tribal Legacy meta folks don’t pack any artifact/enchantment removal, which makes it really sweet.

 

 I built Faerie because M14 just came out and I acquired a playset of Mutavault at the historical low of $5. Also, you changed the rules to allow Aether Vial so it was a natural fit. The deck runs into problems if it gets overrun by early aggro as there is hardly any creature removal.

 

 The Rebel deck for Underdog was first inspired by SBena. I further fine-tuned the creature composition with Lin Sivvi, the Amoeboid Changeling/Rebel Informer combo, and some Supreme Verdict/Force of Will synergy. I searched online and found out that CounterRebels was a hit deck back in the days, so I did that theme. Also, FoW was at an all-time low back then when the PRM version first came out, so I invested in a playset. Using it in Tribal was merely just a coincidence. Later in TribAp 140, I sold my FOW to rotate into Modern Masters, so I improvised with Spellskite, as it turned out as a good proxy that stops burn and protects my combos. The deck is good against the slower rogue decks without much spot removal, otherwise it dies horribly to aggro/burn.

 

 Spirits came into play when I invested in a playset of Geist of Saint Traft and wanted to play with them on all occasions. I found out Tallowisp was such a great card advantage engine with Brainstorm, and it helps me find spot removal cards, or find the (Steel of Godhead) that totally pwns aggro burn decks. I love this deck a lot.

 

 For this Slug/Vampire deck, the thing was that I needed a deck that had strong value. Slugs suck – let’s face it, they are worse than Bears; so I built the deck with the minimum amount of Slugs that I could get away with. The other rule of Slug Week was that spells were not allowed in non-Slug decks, only creatures. So where would you find built-in removal? The tribe that had the most creature-based removal was Vampire, with come-into-play, sac-a-dude Gatekeeper of Malakir, or level-upper Guul Draz Assassin, or the mighty Drana. Not surprisingly, my attrition-based strategy worked very well on those other honest players that built a 20-slug deck.

 

 The idea behind this new Kor deck was Web of Inertia + Rest in Peace, with which my opponent can never attack me. That’s very good, but I still have to close the game before my opponent finds his 1-2 copies of enchantment/artifact removal (e.g. Abrupt Decay/Maelstrom Pulse, which is always found in the strongest deck builders of Tribal). So how to take advantage of Rest in Peace? Obviously, Helm of Obedience for instant win. It’s a combo I borrowed from my favorite Commander deck, (Zur, the Enchanter), and apparently it works pretty damn well in Tribal as well.
 I don’t think the aggro portion of this deck is top tier, but then, it serves as a distraction and a good clock if I land on-color swords.

 A lot of your decks use more than 60 cards, in average at least 62. Why do you build them that way? You feel like the "stick to 60" rule is just a urban myth and the odds of drawing a specific card while having a couple cards more in the deck are pretty much the same?
 I’m surprised you all haven’t found out the real reason. It was my source of competitive advantage, IMHO, for the whole season! Okay, so the Tribal Wars rules say you need 1/3 of creatures of the same tribe, rounded down. In a 60-card deck, that means at least 20 creatures. In a 61-card deck, that also means 20 creatures. In a 62-card deck, it also means 20 creatures. It becomes 21 only in a 63-card deck, so that’s why I stop at 62.

  As you might have guessed, with the 2 extra slots I’m going to play more non-creature spells or off-tribe creatures. Reason is very often, the power level of the two additional cards is higher, especially when you are using an Underdog tribe. 2 extra slots allows me to stuff in more Legacy combos, may that be Isochron Scepter/Lightning Helix, or Rest in Peace/ Helm of Obedience, or even Big Jace + FoW. I view the tribal rule of 1/3 creatures as a hindrance so I find ways to get maximum flexibility.

 Now, the "Rule of 60" assumes you have fine-tuned each and every card in your 60. But this logic fails if there are 20 cards I don’t want to draw in my deck, or 20 cards I think are inferior to the other 19 (62 cards in library = 20 creatures + 23 lands + 19 spells).

 Another typical element in your deckbuilding style is what I would call "the singleton approach", meaning the presence of many 1-ofs, even in deck without a toolbox element. It's that an influence from singleton formats?
 My singleton building style comes from both limitations in my collection and practical elements. First, because I started my “career” in 100cs, I have a lot of powerful 1-ofs cards in my collection (most noticeably my MED duals). Second, the one-of approach allows me to pack a variety of answers in my deck so I won’t be screwed over by any single hoser card. Finally, including a variety of cards increases the element of surprise, and when your opponent don’t know what you have or cannot guess what you may have, it's very difficult for him to make the optimal line of play.

 You're famous (or notorious!) for playing your Kor build with the Cephalid Breakfast combo. And yet, you only won once with it (and went undefeated another time). What was the problem with it? In the end, was it less scary than it looked? Was it not consistent enough to end undefeated in a competitive environment?
 The problems with Kor Breakfast are spot removal and graveyard hate. An active Deathrite Shaman or Knight of the Reliquary + Bojuka Bog screw your plan A entirely. An opponent that starts his hand with 3 spot removals makes it very hard for you to combo out. Basically, I played the deck too much and now the whole meta knows my plan A, so it got increasingly difficult to execute it. And the plan B is just so mediocre with no spot removal to take out opposing creatures, so if they got out like a huge dude with lifelink, you’re done.

 You're playing less Tribal this year, focusing more, from what I've seen, on competitive Commander. Is there a reason for that? You just like Commander better?
 I feel like the banning of my Swords of X and Y in Underdog and Pure events, as well as key combo cards, really discouraged me. The rules in Tribal Apocalypse have evolved such that you need to brew a new deck every week. And A) I don’t think it's worth my time to spend 2-3 hours every week on it (I prefer to spend time in real life with friends); B) the new non-Major League tribes are usually niche and that requires capital investment into new cards, which often exceeds the prize money of coming first; also those niche cards usually serve little purpose outside of Tribal, so I hate to hold onto them. And selling them doesn’t make sense 'cause you'd lose close to 10% of the value per transaction.

 Commander is just more convenient because usually I have 1-2 decks pre-brewed and I can pull them out to play without preparation. To really prepare for Tribal, you have to research the meta of the last 3 events of that type (e.g. the last 3 Tribal Underdog events), check out the winning decks and see if your latest deck has answers to take those previous winners on. You also got to playtest extensively at least 10 matches to iron out mana problems, curve problems, etc.

 I'll be honest: you're a great player and a pleasant guy, but sometimes you make a host go mad by coming late, asking for last minute changes in the list, ignoring rules... I even jokingly wondered if you were high in a couple occasions! What do you have to say in your defense? Is it just the way you roll?
 Yes, I’m guilty of all the accusations! The thing is, I live in an Eastern Asian time zone so the event usually starts at 1 AM for me. And I’m usually just back from a party/movie/date at 12 AM and I really have little time to prepare for the event. So I try to maximize the remaining half hour to fine-tune my deck in order to get the best edge. The timing is just awkward for us Asian players really.

 You made a trip to Europe last year (you even missed the Invitational for it!). Where did you go and what did you do there?
 I took the biggest vacation of my life: travelled to Europe/Africa/Middle East for over a month, visited over 25 cities, and snapped over 2,500 pictures. I went shopping in London outlets, visited Oxford, and then took a train to Manchester to watch live football. I flew to Porto and drove all the way down to Lisbon and enjoyed the coast and scenic highway. Enjoyed tapas in Madrid, sipped sangria and watched flamenco performed by gypsies and slim Spanish dancers. I toured around Morocco in a SUV, rode a camel, and slept in a Berber tent, watching shooting stars upon a pitch black sky with zero light pollution (this is rare experience for us urban dwellers). I climbed rocky mountains in Petra, Jordan with my bare hands (I almost tried to climb on top of the Treasury, but they sealed the pathway cause someone fell and died). And finally I sealed it off with a classy dinner at Burj Al Arab in Dubai, overlooking those artificial islands by the sea. I like to joke with my MTGO buddies that I could have bought a singleton of each and every card in MTGO with the money I spent. But my advice is, spending your fortune on MTGO is not worth it; go out there and enjoy the world. It's worth every penny. 

Robin in a charismatic pose during his world tour; here (as in the picture at the top of the page) he's in Petra, Jordan.

 And then you met AJ_Impy in his natural habitat. You have to tell us all about this!
Yes, AJ_Impy was a jolly fellow who was kind enough to travel for one hour or more to meet me in Central London, Canary Wharf (ok, trust me, the central business district area was not his natural habitat, cause he looks like a card shop regular! But unfortunately I didn’t know where all the trading card stores were in London). We sat down at a nearby Starbucks and chit-chatted about MTGO. I found out that AJ is quite the opposite of me. He is a massive Johnny – i.e. he only cares about playing magic in a innovative way. He doesn’t care about winning; he doesn’t care about spending tickets without investment return; he takes his satisfaction from brewing unique rogue decks with never-been-though-of concepts and having people recognize that he was the original thinker behind the idea.

 During my tour I also wanted to meet with slug360 in Spain, but it was like a 4-hour drive away from Madrid, so I couldn't convince my travel buddies to make such a huge detour. But on the bright side, my next travel plan is to rent a Ferrari (ok, maybe not a Ferrari, but hopefully a decent sports car)
and do a grand tour of the Italian peninsula, and ferrying over to Sicily. So Gianluca, I’m out to hunt you down!

 I'll be glad to meet you! You'll have to go way north of Sicily, though, because I live in Genoa (on the bright side, you'll be close to the French Riviera there, which is a good place to show off that quasi-Ferrari).
 Speaking of interactions between tribalists, which other players from the Tribal Apocalypse crowd do you like, both for their skills in building and playing, or just as a guys you get along with?
 Slug360 is amazing. Not only he has a great collection, but he manages to build highly tuned decks so effortlessly. My heart beats faster every time I’m paired up against him. Romellos is a great guy, too. He also has a great collection and is a good investor with insights on the MTGO market. I occasionally borrow cards from him for these PRE events and we talk what’s the hottest thing to speculate on in the market.
 I found out Edison_88luckyplayer is also from Asia, Taiwan namely. We like to share complains about how PRE timing suck for us, and occasionally do some playtesting.

 Ah, there's the "88" again, I should've known! Speaking of which, being from Hong Kong, you brought a Tribal Apocalypse honor back to Asia after Vietnam-born Ayanam1 in 2011. Do you think there's a difference between European, American and Asian players?
  I don’t think there are any differences in skill at all. It's just the time-zone differences that make it difficult for us to show up a lot for Tribal or other US- and Euro-friendly PREs.

 So, in your experience, is the stereotype about Eastern Asian players being more focused and competitive just racist nonsense? Or is there some truth to it, maybe a cultural root?
 Don’t think so. Just because Asian students are purportedly more studious during their education, it doesn’t mean they are all diehard Spikes or something.

 What are your thoughts on the current status of Tribal Apocalypse? Something you would change, some opinions on endless debates lke "the true spirit of tribal", or "money builds vs. budget builds"?
 I think the “true spirit of tribal” alters the cost-benefit equation for playing in PRE events. I mean proponents, such as AJ Impy or RexDart, might like it that there are new tribal flavors for each event and no degenerate combo is too dominant. Especially for AJ, since he told me when we met up in London, he’s in Tribal for the intrinsic fun of it, and he’d feel accomplished if he brings out a new angle of attack or some nifty stuff no one has thought of and wins the event, never mind that he plowed in a 10-20 tix investment for an event that pays an average of 3-4 tix each week. For me, Tribal or PREs are more like my vehicle to help me go infinite. Anything that is EV-destructive I shy away from. Back in the times, Swords of X and Y were good because I could take any loser Underdog tribe, stick in a few swords, then voilà, it has edge against most of the other stronger tribes.

 Money builds don’t have a huge edge in Tribal, as the bottleneck is usually on the tribal base. 4x Wasteland or 4x Grove of the Burnwillows have a slight edge, but I’m cool with that as usually the mono-red burn decks have good matchups (e.g. Price of Progress) against those greedy non-basic mana bases. Sticking in 4x Tarmogoyf is usually not that strong as there ain’t a lot of planeswalkers or enchantments/artifacts goin to the graveyard, while it's very difficult to use 4x Liliana of the Veil/(True-NameNemesis) except in monocolored tribes. Force of Will is card disadvantage so it’s a fair card. And that’s it, I think I covered all the high-impact money cards in Legacy and they aren’t that applicable in Tribal.

 Finally, an added thought about the new Tribal Achievements for this season: I don’t like the winner-takes-all approach at the end of the year. First, there is less incentive to participate if you’re new and want to compete; and secondly, new players probably would have moved to something else rather than wait until end of year to hit the 25-tix jackpot. I think it is healthier for our PRE to attract new entrants by rewarding them as they unlock. This delayed reward and winner-takes-all structure dissuaded me from even trying to attempt any achievements this season. [I hear you, man, but there were no funds this year! Better that way than no achievements at all, no? – Kuma's note]

 To wrap it up, do you have something to say to the players that will face you in upcoming PRE matches?
 I really enjoy the friendly nature of the PREs here on MTGO, especially for Tribal. I mean, people are more often than not happy to strike a conversation with you and share with you their deckbuilding experiences. As for Commander, I hope people don’t exactly remember me 'cause I just want to lay low and quiet for those chaotic FFA-style battles. =)