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By: Tribal Apocalypse, Tribal Apocalypse
Jul 05 2016 11:00pm
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 He had already been Tribal Apocalypse's Player of the Year back in 2012; now he's the reigning Ultimate Champion following last January's triumph in the Tribal Apocalypse Invitational. Since our last interview with him more than three years ago, mihahitlor's status as a tribal legend has only strengthened, but his modus operandi definitely changed. To find out how and why, keep reading.

 It's been three long years since we last had a chat in occasion of your 2012 leaderboard placement. Did anything happen in your life since then? New job or something?
 Nothing really, pretty much the same old stuff.

 Did you watch some good TV shows in these years? Ever made peace with dramas? In this Golden Age of American television (or stuff that's akin to television while not being actually broadcast), there's so many great dramas.
 I haven't watched much except for Rick and Morty (great stuff) and Silicon Valley (which is solid). I hear good things about the various drama series but just can't get myself to start watching any. The last one I tried was Breaking Bad, which at the time was considered one of the best, and I got really into it, but somewhere in the season 2 I got tired of the fact that basically every episode consisted of some suspenseful situation that never really amounted to anything important. Because of these cheap devices that are employed to artificially prolong the series and sustain interest in the audience, I cannot put them on the same level with the best movies (a comparison I have heard couple of times), which are not nearly as compromised artistically, for obvious reasons. [I feel like we have to continue this discussion somewhere else. – Kuma's note]

 Cartoon Network's Rick and Morty really is one of the funniest, most thought-provoking cartoons of this decade.

 Speaking of that little tongue-in-cheek experiment that generated your screen name (see previous interview), somebody made a documentary about people who have Hitler as a last name. So they actually exist! But apparently, they're not allowed to register a Facebook account.
 Haha, that's interesting.

 All right, let's move to Magic. Since 2013 we have had Theros block, Tarkir block, the new Zendikar block and now the new Innistrad block. What did you think of those? Did you find yourself playing more cards from one rather than the other?
 I am not a big fan of Theros and the new Zendikar block, but I really like the new Innistrad block so far. I also enjoyed Khans of Tarkir block, cards from which I played the most out of the four. The reprint of Onslaught fetches dropped their price enough that I bought them, and there are also Dragonlord Atarka which turned out to be the essential piece of my Natural Order decks, Monastery Swiftspear which is a great aggressive 1-drop for Human and Warrior decks, and Tasigur which I play in Shamans.

Dragonlord Atarka, doing miha's bidding since late 2015.

 We have also stopped to do 3-set blocks. Do you think it's a good thing?
 I think it is, because it makes for more exciting Standard and Limited especially. When the blocks consisted of 3 sets, things could get quite stagnant since the third set didn't change the draft environment too much. Now, with every new set the draft experience is substantially different, because you are always drafting with at least two-thirds of new cards.

 And we got Vintage Masters online. That has to be one of the most game-changing sets ever released for Tribal Wars, right?
 Yeah, prices of many Tribal Wars staples took the nose dive, most importantly the dual lands. Now it seems that everybody plays them, even budget players, whereas they used to be the domain of players with expensive collections. Having a set of duals and a couple of fetchlands allow us much higher freedom in deckbuilding. There are many interesting tribes that don't cost much, but need a multicolor manabase. And even mono-colored tribes can sometimes be made competitive if they are supported by cards from another color.

 Speaking of Tribal, do you feel your approach to Tribal has changed in these years? For one, I don't think I'd characterize you as a linear aggro player anymore.
 My approach has always been strongly influenced by the cards that I own, and if you are a budget player that also wants to be competitive, aggressive strategies are an obvious choice. Through time I amassed enough tix (predominantly via investing my winnings into cards that I thought will rise in value) that I could build more complex and interesting decks. I have always been most attracted to grindy, toolbox decks that do powerful stuff (utilizing cards like Natural Order, Recurring Nightmare, Birthing Pod, etc.) which were not possible to build for me in the past.

 So the new sets and Vintage Masters are mostly responsible for this new approach of yours.
 Maybe, to the extent that I am not sure I would have bought all of the dual lands if they didn't drop in price so much. But otherwise no, there was nothing in the new sets that particularly inspired me.

 Assassin was your signature tribe 3 years ago (hence the title of the article about you back then). You kind of abandoned it, didn't you?
 I haven't played it in a while, yeah. Tribal Wars has changed a lot since playing 4-drops like Nekrataal and Murderous Redcap was a good idea. When your opponent is doing broken stuff on turn 2 or 3 or has a very strong late game (or both), your top of the curve better reflect that if you are playing a slow midrange deck. Assassin as a tribe is very good against creature decks that rely on spamming the board but run out of gas if their creatures are answered one-by-one. Against such decks 2-for-1 creatures backed up by early removal are very efficient. But it's been a while since the main threat of the tournament were Goblin, Elves and Soldier decks. Now you have to worry about your opponents casting Entombs, Natural Orders, Alurens, Eldrazi, etc., and the prospect of sitting there with useless Murderous Redcaps in hand is just depressing. Now, you can certainly have luck and avoid all the best decks and finish 4-0, but I'd rather not count on that.

Not as good as it used to be.

 Let's review your winning decks from last year. You were second in the leaderboard at the end of the season, with 8 undefeated results. First of which is this one.

Mother of Soltari
1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 214 (Underdog)
Creatures
4 Soltari Champion
4 Soltari Foot Soldier
4 Soltari Monk
4 Soltari Priest
4 Soltari Trooper
4 Mother of Runes
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Spectral Procession
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Path to Exile
15 cards
Lands
21 Plains
21 cards
 
Mother of Runes

 

 You never entirely stopped playing Soltari in Underdog events, right?
 I guess I have, since I haven't played it in a while, and I have no plans of revisiting it again. It's not a particularly fun tribe to play and I rather do something more interesting if I have the cards to support it. I still think it's a powerful deck, though, and a solid choice in Underdog.

Pure Lackeys
1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 221 (Pure)
Creatures
4 Goblin Lackey
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Gempalm Incinerator
3 Goblin Matron
3 Murderous Redcap
3 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
1 Krenko, Mob Boss
1 Lightning Crafter
27 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
3 Forked Bolt
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Tarfire
9 cards
Lands
24 Mountain
24 cards
 
Siege-Gang Commander

 

 You started paying more attention to Goblin in the past few years.
Yeah, Goblins are a great tribe, and they actually support many different strategies. You can go really aggro with them, you can build a midrange/control deck with all the value Goblins, you can create several different combo decks, or you can do something in-between like trying to have an aggressive early game with a backup plan of casting threats that must be answered, such as Krenko. Goblin Lackey, which is now banned, was especially good at blending the aggro and midrange strategies together.

The Warriors
1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 233 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Keldon Marauders
2 Figure of Destiny
2 Foundry Street Denizen
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
3 Fireblast
1 Goblin Grenade
16 cards
Lands
20 Mountain
20 cards
 
Ash Zealot

 

 This kind of red Warrior build has become popular since, but they look like sort of less synergistic Goblins. What's the advantage of playing them over the gobbos?
 They are better creatures on their own, so you don't need to devote so (many) slots to supporting cards. The majority of these warriors threaten immediate damage via haste or comes-into-play damage, then you have Goblin Fireslinger that can deal damage regardless of an opponent's board state, and there's Figure of Destiny that is a very good creature on its own. You can also play more burn than in a synergistic Goblins deck, which is an advantage against controlling strategies. Playing a lot of burn is also better versus decks like Elves or any fast deck that folds to creature disruption. I've always liked my matchup with this against aggro Goblins, for example.

Red Men (and Women)
1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 236 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Ash Zealot
4 Cunning Sparkmage
4 Keldon Champion
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Monastery Swiftspear
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
4 Forked Bolt
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
3 Fireblast
19 cards
Lands
21 Mountain
21 cards
 
Monastery Swiftspear

 

 This is a similar burn-oriented build, but with Monastery Swiftspear moving it onto the Human tribe. What do you think of Human being such an easy choice to build within? At some point, it almost feels like not choosing a specific tribe at all.
 With this deck, I really tried to push the concept of every creature threating immediate damage. Each creature either has haste or is guaranteed to do damage when you successfully cast it (or both). Coupled with all-burn spells, the idea of the deck is that every non-land card you draw can potentially harm your opponent on the same turn, so it's tougher for them to stabilize.

 As for my thoughts on the Human tribe, I agree that they are an easy tribe to build various decks with, but I am not sure they are the best at any strategy really. Goblins are probably still the better aggro tribe overall (despite the fact that, as I said above, they can perform worse in certain matchups), and I would rate Slivers and Merfolks as roughly equals to the various aggro Human decks you can build. Shamans are better as a midrange option (they share a lot of common cards with Humans, but they also cross with Elves, which puts them over the top, and they have Woodfall Primus as a Natural Order or reanimation target). Then you have combo/broken stuff like Elves, reanimation strategies, Cloudpost decks, Eldrazi, and so on. You can do some combo stuff with Humans too, but I am not sure they are the best option in this regard. So to me, they are definitely not a concern in terms of power. I guess that one can make an argument that they are just too big of a tribe that allows you to do too many stuff, which comes at the expense of the appearance of other, more focused tribes; but I don't know, that never really bothered me.

Regular Goblins
1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 240 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Chieftain
4 Goblin Wardriver
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg War Marshal
2 Spikeshot Elder
26 cards

Other Spells
4 Forked Bolt
4 Goblin Grenade
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Pyrokinesis
14 cards
Lands
20 Mountain
20 cards
 
Goblin Wardriver

 

 Goblin again, but these feel different, more traditionally low-cost, 1-drop oriented. No shenanigans with 5-mana Goblins like Krenko or Siege-Gang Commander here. How so? What does make you go more or less cutthroat at any given time?
 My goal is never to go more or less cutthroat, I always aim to build a powerful deck. The variation in styles is caused by other factors, like wanting to play something different, recognizing that something doesn't work (maybe here I changed strategy because I couldn't play Lackey anymore), exploring a certain theme – not in a flavour sense, but more in terms of a construction, e.g. creating a deck that has x creatures that do this, y creatures that do that, z spells that support all that, etc. I am far from being creative in deckbuilding in a general sense (like coming up with wild ideas), but I tend to obsess over small details and everything needs to be consistent with an underlying framework, no matter how boring it is. I think that's more of an "aesthetic" thing for me, rather than thinking that it's the best possible approach to building a deck.

 In a later event (249), your Ash Zealot/Monastery Swiftspear deck lost the playoff to Robin88's Izzet Delver control. Thoughts?
 I don't remember the match in any details, but judging from Robin's decklist, I think our decks were relatively evenly matched.

 

 These Zombies lost the playoff to ScionOfJustice's Elves, instead. This is when you started dabbling with multicolor mana bases and graveyard strategies. You've made a lot of variants of this deck, then you changed tribe altogether for the shell.
 The idea of this deck was to have two powerful ways to win, along with a grindy midrange backup plan if both of them failed. The first one was obviously through reanimation, and the second was through Contamination/Gravecrawler lock (by the way, for anybody that might want to try this: Contamination is currently bugged and doesn't allow you to choose a creature to sacrifice during your upkeep). Entomb assured that I had effectively 8 Gravecrawlers in the deck in case I drew Contamination but not a reanimation spell, and it could also fetch Vengeful Pharaoh to function as a removal spell, so it was never a dead card. Zombies are a very good graveyard-oriented tribe, and now with the printing of Prized Amalgam they got even better.

 

 Opposition Elves. You played these for a bit, too. That manabase looks very NOT classic mihahitlor!
 Yeah, I think this was actually the first time I played blue in Tribal Wars. The deck has access to 8 very powerful cards: 4x Opposition and 4x Vedalken Shackles. The first is obviously a natural fit for the Elf deck that can quickly spam the board with creatures and also untap them for double duty (by activating Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote), and the Shackles are one of the most annoying cards you can face in Tribal. They can be a little slow in most decks, but with Elves' fast mana it's rarely a problem.

 Did you ever play the Zombie Control deck you built for the previous interview?
 I haven't, no, and now that I look back at it, it doesn't really seem that exciting to me.

 What do you remember from this year's Invitational? You started round 1 by playing your Plant deck that made several appearances between the end of the last season and the current one.
 In the vacuum, that's the best Underdog deck that I had, and since I didn't know who I will be playing until the last minute, I went with it. I lost the first game to Armont who was playing a fast Berserker deck, but managed to win the next two.

 I have since stopped playing Defense of the Heart and the cards that support it, because it always felt too slow and clunky, even when it worked; I'd rather go with Green Sun's Zeniths, couple of planeswalkers and Firespouts as more reliable options. Also, I've added Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage as the default targets for Primeval Titan, which I find myself fetching most of the time.

 Then it was all red with your Warriors against Lordpipas's Berserkers.
 I knew Lordpipas would play his Berserker deck, as that was his only option, so I chose a deck that matched favourably against him (he had slightly worse creatures and 4 dead Prices of Progress). I think I won that match easily.

 Semi-final: time to bring the Shamans against AJ_Impy's Golems. This Shaman build was an evolution of the process you started with Zombie and then Wall/Plant, right? You're still playing it often.
 It has some similarities, yeah, but this deck plays a little more fairly than those two. Natural Order into Woodfall Primus is a powerful play (especially if followed by Recurring Nightmare or another Natural Order), but the deck is not designed to depend on this sequence. It came very handy against AJ_Impy, though, because the destruction of his Cloudposts with my Primuses turned out to be crucial for the victory. I don't think I would have won if he managed to assemble his mana base.

 Finally, using the crazy Freeform rules you built Goblins for the final. With still a Krenko in there! You really like Krenko.
 I like Krenko indeed, but it had no place here, heh. I totally underestimated the brokenness of the format, as was ruthlessly demonstrated by AJ_Impy in his battle for third place, when he won before the game even started. [With the legendary 60x Chancellor of the Dross build, which is indeed a Tribal deck! – Kuma's note]

Karl Kopinski's art for Krenko, Mob Boss (and, not incidentally, for Krenko's Command, too).

 Don't you think Yokai_ overestimated what Burning-Tree Emissary into Goblin Bushwhacker could do? It essentially leads to one early non-evasive alpha strike per game.
 I think his deck was actually better than mine. I was lucky that I managed to stabilize, because in most cases I would be overwhelmed against his turn-2 army. If I remember correctly, first game I was on the play and removed a blocker for my Lackey, which put Siege-Gang Commander into play (pretty fortunate sequence), and in game 2, I think there was some miscalculation on his part, didn't leave enough blockers back, and I managed to clear the way for Lackey into Commander again.

 Always happy with Tribal Apocalypse? Anything you wish to see enforced or modified?
 Yeah, very happy with the tournament. As I said last time, you are doing an extremely good job with all the stuff (I am especially impressed with your work on that Googledocs behemoth that seems to be slowly growing out of all proportions).

 I guess what I would do differently is I would unban Goblin Lackey, the Swords of X and Y in Pure and Underdog events, and Moat. Regarding Lackey: there are cards that are much more powerful and especially much harder to deal with. Lackey is at its worst in a creature format where removal is rampant, while Legacy staples like Natural Order, Aluren, Entomb, etc. are at their best there, because of a lack of countermagic and sideboards. I know arguments can be made for banning cards for reasons other than their power level, but I generally don't agree with them, unless there is really a huge problem (extremely ubiquitous presence, for example).

  

So miha wants Lackey, Swords and Moat back. Will his wishes be granted?

 Then there are the Swords which are honestly just not particularly good cards (they see almost no play even in Modern, let alone in real Legacy), as you need to spend 5 mana to try to equip a first creature, so you need to have a certain board state to be able to afford the investment, your opponent needs to be of certain colors and he must not respond with a removal spell (in which case the tempo loss can be devastating). In this format, Swords just shouldn't be banned in my opinion. I understand that they can be annoying to play against if everything comes together for your opponent, but there are many cards that are more annoying to play against, and they are allowed. Like turn-1 Entomb into Griselbrand, GG. Which reminds me of another thing that I would change: I would limit Griselbrand to the Demon tribe.

Griselbrand is indeed a good candidate for restriction to tribe.

 What now? Any plan for your near tribal future?
 Nothing in particular. Maybe developing some new deck as I have been stuck in a rut with that Natural Order nonsense lately.

7 Comments

Nice interview - Congrats as by Bazaar of Baghdad at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 16:35
Bazaar of Baghdad's picture

Nice interview - Congrats as always to a great champion.

Excellent interview. Totally by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 16:36
AJ_Impy's picture
5

Excellent interview. Totally agree on Moat and restricting Griselbrand to tribe (Maybe a couple other entomb targets as well), disagree on the swords. And yes, people seriously underestimated Freeform.

I agree more with unbanning by Bazaar of Baghdad at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 17:12
Bazaar of Baghdad's picture

I agree more with unbanning Lackey than Moat or Swords of XY. For Lackey, I like Miha's reasoning. For Moat, despite Control desperately needing some presence in the metagame, I hate some of the budget implications the unbanning allows (and I own four foil copies), with the rich getting richer in options. For Swords I think the ban reasons were more along the lines of redundancy and lazy deckbuilding (seeing them ad nauseam) rather than power level, but Kuma can of course correct me. When they hosed you, it felt kind of random sometimes.

I was not a fan of AJ's already having solved the finals format before it was announced, but that's definitely not his fault. He played it well.

I had no idea what the twist by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 18:31
AJ_Impy's picture

I had no idea what the twist was going to be, nor the extra restrictions, but I have indulged in a number of freeform thought experiments and played a few games, enough to know how ridiculous it could get. It took me quite a few seconds of frantic thought before settling on the 60 Chancellor deck, followed by several minutes of even more frantically trying to buy the other 56 Chancellors to make it a reality. It's more a case of knowing that the format was so ludicrously degenerate as to have multiple turn zero solutions and working from there the moment the word 'freeform' was typed.

In case anyone had any doubts by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 23:06
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In case anyone had any doubts about the genius of this man. Case in point. A dangerous and lethal mind in any format. But Tribal is his forte.

In case anyone had any doubts by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 23:07
Paul Leicht's picture

I have no idea why my single click submit made two copies of my post but...ok?

Miha has definitely been one by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/06/2016 - 23:12
Paul Leicht's picture
5

Miha has definitely been one of the most consistent of the top players and his decks have increasingly garnered my respect as a builder. (Even I don't play the tourney I still watch sometimes and usually read the lists.) The Elfposition list is a deck after my own heart even though despise using elves normally. Using them for this sort of thing is what they exist for imho.