Written by Jesse Bergman
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Battle for Sularia's 2017 National Champion, Dustin Rogers, from Kansas City, Mo. Dustin and I discussed how he got into Battle for Sularia, his process to prepare and win Nationals, his thoughts on an underplayed card, and the Alpha and Omega Program. You do not want to miss out on his insight!
Jesse Bergman: I have the pleasure today of interviewing the Battle for Sularia 2017 National Champion, Dustin Rogers. Dustin, obviously I want to give you a big congratulation on the win, I know that field was diverse and very well played. Before we jump into your Nationals experience, let's talk a little about your card game history. Is Battle for Sularia your first strategy card game?
Dustin Rogers: First of all, thank you for inviting me to do this interview. (super politician during a debate right there) My strategy card game history started, as many players in my age bracket all seemed to start, with the American launch of Pokemon. After that game became stale, and let's face it, I was young and I didn't commit to anything back then, I moved onto a game titled Young Jedi. It was released after the Phantom Menace was released. I gave that game up after a couple of years as well, as the content was not forthcoming. Then there was a 17-year hiatus from strategy card games, a short break, and I made my glorious return to the card game world with Battle for Sularia.
Jesse: That is a pretty diverse, I consider myself a pretty avid card player, but I've never heard of the Young Jedi game. That is pretty awesome! So after 17 years what was it about Battle for Sularia that drove you back to strategy card games?
Dustin: I think it was the planets that aligned, a perfect storm of my yearnings that ended in my picking up of Battle for Sularia. I am an avid science fiction connoisseur, so it spoke to me thematically. Coupled with the amazing art that was enticing and vivid. If that wasn't enough, which it certainly should have been, it was a new concept (to me) of a strategy card game that was not a trading card game, yet containing all of the joys of deck building as one of the pillars. It all hit me at once, in one demo. (Thanks, Matt Ochs.) I had been looking for this exact style of game at the exact moment it appeared.
Jesse: So Sularia grabbed your attention? When you played your first game, what exactly said to you—man, I have to have this game? Was it the Deckbuilding? A certain faction?
Dustin: I know that I had spent a major chunk of my play time, just fascinated with all the possible play combos. My head was just running a bunch of the "what-if" scenarios in my head even after the game was over. I also remember thinking that here is a game with a level playing field. I won't get beat by a bank account, and I won't win in that fashion either. I liked that it was how well I played with what deck I built.
Jesse: Very true, that was, and has always been, the goal of Battle for Sularia. So when you first started playing the game, which faction drew you in?
Dustin: I think it was the Jotune faction, that honestly pulled me in at first. It was pretty obvious there were some serious attack numbers that you could put on the board, and then boost those numbers to indefensible heights.
Jesse: That's interesting, yet when you went to Nationals, you decided to run a Synthien combo deck. Were you fearful that the Jotune simply wouldn't compete or what was your rationale?
Dustin: Well, even up through Regionals, I was still running Jotune. It was the Jotune faction I competed with at Regionals. When it came time to get serious about Nationals, and to really tune what I was going to run, I had been toying with K.Y.Z.R. builds, with both factions and I just really enjoyed how well I had built my Synthien, K.Y.Z.R. combo. So that was what I focused on, getting that deck tuned and ready to compete.
Dustin: I want to add that, here in Kansas City, K.Y.Z.R. decks, they were not in our meta. So he was also a unique approach, from those of us out here who were playing.
Jesse: That's interesting that K.Y.Z.R. decks weren't really pushing the meta in KC. They had become so prominent around here that many were playing cards specifically to counter against him. Obviously, the plan paid off, as you won Nationals 2017. Take me through your preparation for that tournament. It sounds like you used the Regional to decide what to run, and then once you committed how much time did you spend practicing with your deck?
Dustin: Let's step back just one step, I just went to Regionals. That was as far as I had intended to go. I hadn't even considered going to Nationals before Regionals was a wrap. My major match partner, Logan, was actually the one who both won Regionals, and had decided to go compete in Nationals. That moment was when I got serious about my tournament deck. So we both struck out to be as ready as we could, and after I settled on a general deck build I probably played at least 100 matches to not only tune my deck but also to tune my play style. I had to get all those pesky rookie mistakes out of my game. I honestly was thinking in the month leading up to Nationals, when I lose it will not be because I messed up, but because I was beaten. I was going to go down swinging.
Jesse: That is awesome that you have a great test partner in Logan. So how many of those 100 matches do you think it took to dial your card selection in and what was maybe the most difficult decision you had to make in final preparation for you Nationals list?
Dustin: I would say the first quarter of the matches we deck tuning. It was like play 6 to 10 matches, let the deck get a feel, for what worked, and what needed shored up and then adjust with a few card changes. I remember my last major change was adding in Projectus. Then I just tuned how many numbers of each card I wanted. All of these were small tweaks though, I was happy with my decklist as a general rule. I think the hardest decision was figuring out what was going to be my general strategy, but once I had committed to my general path, I didn't turn back.
Jesse: Yeah, we do believe in order to find success with tournament play, committing to a plan and doing the best at it will always be better than any list just thrown together. So you obviously have a very strong handle on the deck building and 60/90 construction system. If you had to go back to your early days in Sularia, what would you wish a more experienced player could tell you to help get you off the ground with your own custom deck builds?
Dustin: Simple, plan then execute, and always be thinking on your feet. I can't count the number of strategies that emerged in the middle of a match, and when you are first starting to explore the game or even a new faction, just goof off a little. When I started, I had no idea what I was going to find, but I always discovered new strategies in the game, in the "well I wonder how this is gonna go" moments.
Jesse: That is great advice, and I think exactly what new players should adhere to. I think because every player has access to every card as a full playset that players should enjoy the experience and not worry about honing in on a specific build and just enjoy the creativity. Recently, we released a blog talking about the 5 Jotune cards you are not playing but should be. What is one card you think is currently being criminally underplayed and why?
Dustin: This sounds so award show-y. The Criminally Underplayed Card of The Year goes to...... (insert your own drum roll) Grey Harrier! I get it, the deck building cost is for its just static number values is a hard run of mental gymnastics to overcome. But its great early game, to put your opponent on the defensive quick when you can turn one a combatant, its great mid game, to throw down more damage, with the one extra Sularium you generated. And the number of ways you can buff it, Fire from the Sky, Art of War, Fenris, Storm Citadel. I could continue to praise the utility of the card, but its greatest strength is that its that this card is immune to Sularium denial strategies, so you can always get one down on the field.
Jesse: Yeah, I think in a past life I was a game show host! Gray Harrier is a great card but I do fear its defense value in the early game. So we've discussed your deck building strategies and your criminally underplayed card. You recently signed up for our new Alpha Program. As a player, what do you think of these two new Alpha and Omega formats?
Dustin: I think whatever roadmap gets your cards into players hands is a successful venture. I have been enjoying the new alpha cards, and without a doubt, I will be getting the Omega cards as well. I am glad that you have committed to making sure there is a goal even for the Alpha cards, with the Alpha Tournaments. It adds a certain something, a jes ne se qua if you will, to this format that makes it more than say a beta release. I know that I am in full preparation mode for exactly that right now.
Dustin: Plus as a pseudo-ambassador, as I know that program is changing, it is great to have some Alpha to demo with as well. It shows that there is a future to the investment, for players that is a great sell. It also is fun to show off stuff that has not been released, in a standard sense, to players. It is a behind the scenes that new players get to see.
Jesse: I agree that the Alpha program keeps the game constantly fresh and able to be played without any investment, a sort of try before you buy. Do you feel, as a competitive player, it could lend an advantage when it becomes time for these cards to be Omega released and played at the higher level tournaments such as Nationals?
Dustin: I think a player that has more exposure to cards is likely to feel more comfortable with them. If that unto itself is an advantage, I do not know. I was not subjected to the cards before their official releases before Nationals, and I don't think that it put me at a disadvantage with any of the players who had been exposed to them at an earlier time. The deck builders out there, the ones who like to experiment like I do, probably benefit the most from early exposure. It just gives them more time to play around.
Jesse: Good point, and I agree that early play time doesn't necessarily translate to better results during Omega tournaments. Okay, so one last question, after the alpha release of Reign of Terror and a chance to look at the two new factions, which one excites you the most? And, which card interests you the most? Okay, so maybe that was two questions.
Dustin: Honestly, I am more excited about the Exsularian faction a tiny bit more than the Protoan. I think that they are going to have more interesting, in game, "a-ha" moments to them. Which translates to the slight advantage in my mind as to whom I want to tinker with at the moment. That being said, I have to say my current card of most interest is in the Parasitex combatant. I can see so many strategies evolving around that card alone, like a power-up build or, my current favorite, the suicide bomber build. I know there are undiscovered gems, yet to be unearthed with all of the Reign of Terror cards, and I can't wait to discover each and every one of them.
Jesse: Great Dustin, thank you so much for your time today! It was awesome to hear your insights regarding the game and we can't wait to see what you brew up next.
Dustin: Absolutely, it was my pleasure, it's not often it is socially acceptable to talk about yourself.