With a collective exclamation of worldwide excitement and jubilation at the announcement of the release of the next expansion, Tales of Aria, players around the globe screamed “Yes!” at the confirmation of the new Ranger class hero, Lexi. But before Lexi, there was Azalea.
Iain “Ritetime” Kenderdine shares the story of his and the Ace in the Hole’s journey to hit the massive milestone of 500 match wins. As the tension increases and tips are silvered in anticipation of Lexi’s arrival, take cover, take aim and take a moment to appreciate the irreplaceable, original Ranger, Azalea, Ace in the Hole.
For those that don’t know me, I like to call myself the “Worst Player to Get to 1000 XP”.
I was the fifth player in the world to break the 1000 lifetime XP in GEM and the first to do it without running top tier decks. :) I’m not saying I’m a bad player, but much like the famed Lucha Libre wrestlers, I play with the “High Risk, High Reward '' mindset. You can often find me rolling dice for Crazy Brew or trying to stretch my Scabskin Leathers to an extra turn or two. I have an affinity for playing underdog and lesser played characters, jank combos and decks full of spice.
With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago I noticed I was getting close to another milestone, 500 tournament wins! I was trying to think of a way to make this something to celebrate in my unique playstyle, when I came across Wesley Lingard’s “Red Ranger” Azalea list that he had piloted to a top 10 finish in the recent global Cancer Society Charity event.
Always up for a challenge and already having a strong connection to Azalea, (Ranger being my go to class to draft in Arcane Rising) the numbers spoke to me- I was 10 wins away from 500, he came 10th with this deck. It was meant to be.
I decided I would play Azalea till I reached my goal of 500 wins.
In putting together my Azalea decklist, I made a few changes to Wesley’s list. One of the keys to the deck is multiple zero cost generic red pitch Go Again attacks, which lets you swing two to three times a turn, usually finishing with an arrow.
I'm going on record here to say Wesley likely played this deck 100 times better than myself and some of these changes were purely based on the cards I had access to. I upped the number of Sleep Darts as that card is great against a number of popular decks. I also included one Chains of Eminence which came in clutch in a number of games. Also, I changed the Sink Below for Fate Foreseen as I prefer the Opt, this is also partly why I ran one Fervent Forerunner for the Opt. (Also I could only find two red Promise of Plenty)
Here is my final list: Azalea, Hard Travelling Hero.
So with a target ahead of me, a quiver of arrows and some spicy tricks, I took up the challenge of getting my 500th win.
Day 1: Card Merchant
My first stop took me to a Card Merchant Westcity armory event, where I was able to pick up a rainbow foil Skullbone Crosswrap to complete my outfit. Now to see if my aim is true...
As I sat down to face my first opponent, a chill ran down my spine and I felt the Brute gods frown down on me for stepping away from the Brute life. It was none other than Levia sitting across from me. Franklin, who has almost single handedly been flying the Classic Constructed flag for Levia here in Auckland, was my first challenger.
In a hard hitting game, a couple of dominated arrow hits, with a Red in the Ledger and a Sleep Dart being the difference makers, saw Levia be the one to become a sacrifice to the Brute gods. 1-0
Next up, Tom running Chane. This is a hero I expected to see a lot of as he seems to be the current front runner coming out of Monarch. Tom is a very good player who has been playing Chane a lot. This was my second game with the deck, no contest here, though I did learn a fair bit about the match up. It was from here that I decided to up the Sleep Dart count. Stopping Chane from making a Soul Shackle is very good. 1-1
Last round of the night saw me up against Andy with ‘One Turn Kill’ Combo Viserai.
The first half of this game saw Andy defending and taking damage in exchange for making Runechants. With the life totals at 40-20 in my favor, Andy decided now was his time to strike, cracking his Bloodsheath Skeleta and playing Sonata Arcanix, but luckily for me I had some yellow and blue in my hand to help prevent some of the Runechant damage and an amazing, well timed Feign Death to stop the big attack. (I think it was a Ninth Blade of the Blood Oath.) With the life scores now even at 20-20 it was a race. I managed to continue to apply pressure with the Go Again attacks, followed by an arrow.
I ended the night 2-1 and happy with how the deck was playing after the first event.
Day 2: Mighty Ape
The next day I grabbed a coffee and drove the 40 minutes up to Mighty Ape. Again I managed a 2-1 record.
First up I took out a Chane, using knowledge I had gained from the night before’s loss. Then I took out a Bravo, in what became a reoccurring pre-match conversation with my opponents over this journey; my opponent admitted he had never played this match up before.
This match is a grind with Bravo having a lot of defense pumps. I sided in Remembrance and simply had to constantly fire dominated arrows early trying to run him out of defense then, mid to late game go wide. I ended with less than 10 cards left in my deck, but I managed to get enough damage through, thanks to the value from Memorial Ground, bringing back Head Shot to push through those final few points. Final round, a second Chane took me out in a close match.
Two events down, a 4-2 record, feeling pretty good, I'm learning some of Azalea’s hidden tricks and learning the match ups.
Day 3: Shuffle N Cut
This was a weird phenomenon, as all my opponents here were playing Welcome to Rathe heroes. At the end of the event I had taken out two Katsus, but split the honors 1-1 to Dorinthea.
So after the weekend I was sitting at 7-3 and wondering why more people weren’t playing Azalea, but in the back of my mind I hear the wise words of the great philosopher Han Solo saying “Don’t get cocky kid”
....then I ran into Prism. Ouch.
Wednesday night saw me at Dice Goblin’s Armory event, where in round one, Jimmy’s Heralds ran me over. I'm talking possum in the headlights. This game went four turns tops. 7-4
This was followed by Ethan slicing me up with Kodachis and taking the win back for Katsu. 7-5
The only silver lining of the evening was an unlikely win against Luke’s Bravo deck. Late game I hit with a Frontline Scout, this let me look at his hand and I spotted a red Pummel. Two turns later and I'm low on life, as is he. Luke swings with Anothos and has two cards left in hand with no resources floating. Here is where my “High Risk, High Reward” mindset kicks in and I’m left with a choice:
I can either; over-defend, taking into account the Pummel. Or, gamble on the other card in Luke’s being a red pitch and defend only with the Fate Foreseen in my arsenal then use the Take Aim to hopefully send in a dominated arrow back at him next turn for the win. The risk in the second scenario is that if the second card in Luke’s hand is a blue pitch, I die to Pummel.
Luck favors the brave, it is indeed a red pitch in Luke's hand and victory is mine!
This must be what it feels like when Rey Mysterio dives off the top of a 20 foot ladder, delivers a picture perfect frog splash on his opponent through a table to pick up the three count and the win.
I guess I may have lost some of you with that reference. 8-5
I close out the night with a second loss to the Ninja death spiral, now sitting with an overall record for the week of 8-6.
Day 4: Card Merchant
So close to the finish line in just a week, I head back to Card Merchant Westcity Friday night hoping to close it out.
I sit down and see I’m paired with Tom, excellent. I have got some more games against Chane in and I look forward to the rematch from last week. However, Tom pulls out Boltyn with double Cintari Sabers. This is going to be interesting. I’ve heard about the Lumina Ascension combo, but haven’t seen it go off in play. Honestly, I thought I had this in the bag. I made him defend early with V of the Vanguard and also his Beacon of Victory twice in two turns but it was all for nought. Boltyn hit me six times with his Sabers off the back of two Lumina Ascensions for over 30 damage. I survived that turn, but he easily picked me off a turn or two later. 8-7
From bad to worse, round two was Nick with Prism. I’m still having nightmares of the Prism match from Wednesday. I sank into my chair and prepared for the onslaught. Nick’s Prism isn’t quite as aggressive as Jimmy’s, but still has the goods to take me out, though this was a lot closer than Wednesday's match. I’ll go on the record to say Prism is likely Azalea's hardest match up. 8-8
Now I’m 0-2 for the night and I am staring down the very real possibility that the wheels have fallen off the wagon and I may not even get a win tonight.
Round three sees me against the Chane match up I had hoped for at the start of the night. Sleep Dart was the MVP in this match hitting on turns two and four, slowing down the Soul Shackles and giving me some breathing room. I escaped with a win and now I’m one away from 500. 9-8
Day 5: Dice Goblin
So now fittingly, I have the opportunity to get my 500th win in a Cancer Charity event at Dice Goblin, while running a deck inspired by Wesley Lingard’s Card Merchant Cancer Society Charity event decklist.
Remember in my first match of this journey where I stated the Brute gods were frowning down upon me? Well you better believe after a week away from the fold they were still mad and I had to pay.
Round one Rhinar, played by none other than Simon Austin-Wallace (The SAW). This game took less than 15 minutes, a four card intimidate turn finished me off. Honestly, it was a bit of a blur. (Sadly, I was live streaming this event so it’s on the internet, lol.)
Round two rematch against Ethan’s Katsu deck from Wednesday night, same result. I was left bleeding out from a 1000 Kodachi cuts.
Doubt was setting in. Was live streaming the event a mistake? How long was I going to be stuck at 499?
Round three Bravo. All or nothing time, I come out swinging from turn one and don’t let up. Go Again attacks, dominated arrows, I threw everything at him. One huge turn that sums up what this deck can do if things line up was:
Attack with Promise of Plenty from the arsenal. It gets Go Again.
Promise hits and puts red Plunder Run into arsenal from the top of the deck.
Play red Plunder Run.
Play Ravenous Rabble. Reveal Snatch from the top of the deck. Opponent fully defends.
Play a second Snatch from hand. Use Snapdragon Scalers for Go Again, hit and draw Snatch from the top of the deck.
Play Snatch and use Razor Reflex to hit, draw the top card and arsenal it.
...didn’t even have to use an arrow.
With that I was able to pick up the win and reach my goal of 500 tournament wins. It was indeed a hard road to travel, but Azalea made sure it was never dull.
Again, I must thank Wesley for the inspiration to once again take up the bow and live the Ranger life. I hope that this journey may inspire others to try it out. There is an excitement when the Ranger plan comes together and you leave your opponent wondering “What just happened?!”
For me, it's onto the next challenge. Whatever that may be.