I’ve always liked defense. I’m not sure what it is, but ever since I started playing Redemption competitively, I’ve always favored decks that rely more on the defense to stop your opponents from winning than on the offense (of course I also like to win, so I do put some thought into my offense, but I just don’t enjoy it as much. Who knows, maybe I have a good twin running around somewhere…).
The prime example of my preference came about circa 2007, just after the Priests set had released. A little while before then (not precisely sure when), a player from Florida, Josh Kopp, had posted a deck that contained 0 Heroes. As I remember, his wasn’t the first but it was his idea, as far as I know, as I never heard of other Heroless decks until after he had made his known to the Redemption world. The idea of the deck was that it would contain a huge defense that would shut down an opponent for the majority of the game then toward the end, when the opponent’s deck had dwindled down to the last few cards, Josh would convert one of his evil characters via Holy Grail to a Hero and use his few good enhancements to walk through an opponent’s defense.
As I recall, Josh used an Egyptian defense with several of the cards from Kings, Angel Wars, and the G Deck to do deck discard (keep in mind this was before Priests had been released so options were limited to cards like Egyptian Charioteers, Begging to Go Back, Panic Demon, Seemingly Insignificant, and King Shishak). Huge Egyptian (along with Egyptian Spear), Given Over to Egypt, and the majority of the Herod theme had yet to be developed.
Josh has always been a “fun before competition”-type player, so even though he was very good and could routinely win, he admitted that his Heroless was far from reliable. One thing I noticed right away was that there was no way to protect Holy Grail from Destruction of Nehushtan so if your opponent figured out your plans and held onto Destruction until the right time you were pretty well sunk. However, I loved the idea and started to think of ways that I could make a Heroless deck into a tournament winner.
The Beginning of the Heroless of the North
Despite the title of the article, as I mentioned, the idea for Heroless actually came about previous to Priests being released at Nationals in 2006. The very first version I built largely failed as a 105 card “hand control” deck (again, limited to cards released previous to Priests). My thinking was that hand control was similar to deck discard in that it took away valuable cards from your opponents, but it had the advantage of not discarding lost souls from their deck, as well as the potential to take out something they could use to win the current battle. Needless to say, there wasn’t enough of a balance between battle winners and hand control cards, and I only played a few games with it before realizing it was not worth it. After that, I didn’t think much more of the Heroless idea until after the release of Priests which changed the landscape of the game and, with the release of a few key cards, really made my ideas possible.
Heroless: The Anti-Meta
For a few years before the release of Priests, the name of the game was speed. In addition to some of the classic speed cards (Reach of Desperation, Words of Encouragement, and Book of Hozai), the Feasts (First Fruits, Pentecost, and Feast of Trumpets) added to the potential, and even though the Speed Bump Lost Soul and Rain Becomes Dust were introduced to try to curb speed somewhat, neither had too much impact on the game at the time. The idea for most people was to have a large offense with a few battle winners and to just make sure you draw your cards (especially Son of God and New Jerusalem) before your opponents.
As I observed this trend, I noticed a few things: First, other than Authority of Christ and Zeal for the Lord on Phinehas, son of Eleazar, almost any battle-winning special ability that a player could use was able to be negated. Second, speedy decks tended to deck out pretty quick so that if a defense could survive the initial onslaught and still remain pretty solid the deck would have a decent chance of winning. That’s when I realized the key to Heroless wasn’t really deck discard (because people are more likely going to draw their cards faster than you can discard them) nor was it hand control (because discarding 1 card from the 11-15 cards people routinely had in their hand was pretty unlikely to do much).
The key was to have a powerful defense with a balance of small guys that could play devastating enhancements and big guys that could use negates. And that’s when I landed on the defense that would take Heroless to the heights that it achieved that year: Sadducees with a crimson splash. I needed a defense that would essentially be able to wipeout a massive amount of Heroes quickly.
Wrath of Satan, Hunger, and Great Image just so happened to be great ways to do just that. In addition to those, black provided me with Foolish Advice and Devourer for negates and crimson’s Ananias, Sapphira, and Midianite Attack would also help in that regard. And using the new Sadducees provided me a few other advantages: the three High Priests (Annas, Ananias, and Caiaphas) could use the new artifact Urim and Thummim so I could know what was coming and how to best defend it. The Sadducees cards from Apostles and the G deck could bring in a bunch of Sadducees, including the High Priests and Captain of the Temple Guard which would help against cards like Captain of the Host.
And one of the most sneaky cards I could use with them was High Priest’s Plot. With Judas Iscariot also used as part of my crimson contingent if I wasn’t able to hit Son of God to effectively wipe out 2 potential rescues I could often take out a different battle winner, sometimes including Angel of the Lord, greatly increasing my chances of my defense holding out. The last benefit of Sadducees was their new protect Fortress, High Priest’s Palace, which will be evident later on as I describe the offense.
So How Did I Win?
Aside from making a Sadducees defense viable, the Priests set also introduced a card that would make the offense reliable: Lampstand of the Sanctuary. I could put that in my Solomon’s Temple, activate Holy Grail on my artifact pile, and have no worries about Destruction making it impossible for me to win.
So generally the end of games went something like this: My opponent had exhausted all of their offensive options trying to get through my defense, but still hadn’t been able to rescue 5 souls. I would convert one of my Sadducees (best for initiative at 1/3) to purple and then make a rescue attempt. When my opponent blocked, I would play Authority of Christ (with the addition of Reach of Desperation if the blocker was Emperor Nero, Prince of this World, or Red Dragon; or if they had blocked with a 1/1 Evil Character and played a battle winner). My High Priest’s Palace would keep Sadducees in my territory alive in case my opponent still had some Heroes left (I also used Herod’s Temple (site) and the Color Guard Lost Soul to help keep my blockers alive).
If my opponent had a protect fortress themselves I had Besieged and several ways to get enough blockers to discard it earlier in the game. In most cases, Authority would clear out all of their blockers; though if they happened to have one more in hand I could also use Angel of the Lord. In the next few turns I would walk in for a few more lost souls before playing my own Son of God and New Jerusalem to win.
The Heroless of the North (so called out of respect for the original Heroless from Florida) went on to win 3 local/district tournaments (the first of which on Josh Kopp’s birthday, which I thought was cool) and it took 2nd place at North Central Regionals all the while only losing 1 tournament game, and that in timeout. The 2nd place was a result of me using an alternate deck vs. an opponent who I knew was a very slow player and would likely prohibit me from getting a full non-timeout win; as it turned out my alternate deck was not very strong so I ended up losing that game and going 6-1 in the tournament.
And the timeout loss was due to my opponent rescuing 1 early Lost Soul then putting up Lampstand and Altar of Dagon and refusing to attack for the rest of the game allowing him to win 3-2 (that was his plan all along for dealing with Heroless…and he never let me forget it, though I did still end up winning the tournament). I wasn’t able to participate in T1-2P at Nationals that year due to not being able to get time off of work, but if I had I know of at least one guy (aside from myself) who was convinced that it could have taken the title 8 years before a defensive-heavy deck ended up doing just that.
From 2008 to Beyond
Following the release of Faith of Our Fathers, I was excited to see what the future would hold for Heroless. There were a few great cards that could be added including the Philistines with the Twelve-Fingered Giant and Philistine Armorbearer able to add some power and recursion to the deck and Bringing Fear adding another negate. However, cards like Jacob with Reuben’s Torn Clothes and Hidden Treasures with Spiritual Warfare started to show up and my deck was very unprepared for the idea that I couldn’t block.
I remember one game I played in the online tournament at the time (I think it was back in the Jacob’s Ladder days) where my opponent had been informed that I liked defensive-heavy decks so his entire offense was a choose the blocker and pre-block ignore deck; I was soundly defeated. Redemption also started to become less a part of my life during that year, after I met Mrs. Professoralstad in college.
I didn’t play in many tournaments almost up until Thesaurus ex Preteritus was released (and after I had pretty much established that Mrs. ProfA was in it for the long haul, when I figured it was safe to let on that I was actually more of a nerd than she may have thought…). And by that time I had to learn a whole new meta that was focused on territory destruction combined with the card that has probably had the most impact on the game in Redemption history (while also representing a location that has had a significant impact on human history, I might add): The Garden Tomb.
Over the years since then I have tried various renditions of the Heroless of the North. Most of them have involved Paul and Hidden Treasures to allow me to play Authority of Christ before the block, and still be able to use other powerful battle winners from brigades other than purple. But even though each new set introduces cards that could help the deck there are also several new cards that I am forced to account for.
The first tournament that I used Heroless in after the release of Thesaurus, I lost 5-0 and 5-1 in the first 2 rounds. Around the same time, I started to focus more on Type 2 than Type 1, so while I would still use Heroless in some online fun games my tournament experience was largely focused on Type 2. My post-2007 renditions of Heroless never achieved the same heights that it did that year, but for a long while it was quite the deck. Once in awhile when playing online I will still pull out the most recent version of Heroless and give it a whirl.
If you feel like you’re up for the challenge, find me on Lackey sometime. I’d be glad to show you (or at least try to) exactly how good a deck with no Heroes could be.
Next issue – From Chumps to Champs: How the Tiny, Little Panic Demons Became the Focus of a Nationals Winner
To buy singles, sealed product, and other gaming supplies, please visit Three Lions Gaming!