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WoW Insider interview with Brad Watson, top WoW TCG player

Mike Schramm

As we mentioned the other day, the WoW TCG World Championships are just around the corner-- they're kicking off in San Diego this coming weekend-- and WoW Insider got the chance to speak with one of the top players of the card game, Brad Watson. He's the US National Champion this year, and he, along with a long list of other qualified players, is going to sit down in San Diego to try and win the $100,000 First Place Prize.

Brad spoke with us about how he got started in the card game, the best and worst cards to use during play, and how Upper Deck's TCG has changed over the last year or so since it began. He gave us interesting insight on how sets like Fires of Outland and the holiday Winter's Veil set have affected tournament play, and we even asked him about what average TCG players think of the loot cards that online gamers seem to go crazy over.

Our interview with Brad Watson starts right after the jump. Stay tuned later this week for more news from Upper Deck's World Championships in San Diego.

WoW Insider: So first of all, how did you get into the trading card game?

WoW TCG US National Champion Brad Watson: Well, I'd played two other collectible card games in my past, and I sold all my cards when I went to college-- I just got rid of everything, I didn't think I'd ever be able to compete, I'd be meeting new people, and most of my player base, that I played with, kind of broke up, and had gone to different parts of either the state or the country. So I was away at school, and in my fourth year, my senior year, that final semester, right around Christmastime about a year ago when the game first came out, my friends at home all played the online game and they picked up the card game as well. So I just came home for Christmas break, and they had a bunch of cards and were playing, and with a fairly strong collectible card game background, I just kind of got hooked.

What other card games did you play?

I played Magic: The Gathering, and, off and on, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Dragonball Z, but nothing very serious with those games-- But Magic: The Gathering for eight years.

Do you mind if I ask how old you are?


Did you play tournaments in those other games, or did you just play them casually?

Star Trek was extremely casually. Magic was very serious-- I traveled all around the country playing it.

Do you play WoW online at all or no?

I'm familiar with it, only because my friends played for two years, so I know the language, I know they were on the Bonechewer server, and more or less-- I won't be lost in a conversation, but no I've never played it myself.

I have a really good friend who used to be a tournament Magic player, never played WoW online, and he really got into the TCG, and he likes the way it plays, but I feel bad for him because he doesn't get all the in-jokes and the items and so on. So you would say that you don't have to be an online player to be a good card player.

Definitely not. I'm sure it might help you understand the flow and you might laugh a little bit more with the jokes, but I'd say a strong card game background would be more beneficial than a strong online background, as far as being competitive at the game.

So when you play the TCG, what kind of a deck do you play with?

I usually try to adapt to the metagame. There's nothing I really prefer over anything else-- that might be one benefit, that I don't have a bias from playing online. But yeah, anything I think is the strongest deck, that's what I'd want to use. Recently I've played with Hunter-- I'm a big fan of Hunter in the metagame right now, and I also think the Druid is very powerful.

And how many different decks have you played with in the course of the game-- how often does it change?

In the course of the last year or so, the game has been strong-- I'd say I've played with every deck in a tournament. Mage might be one of the very few-- I don't know if I've ever had a Mage build. But certainly every other deck has been represented. I think Upper Deck and the designers have done a great job with the game, because any class is playable.

One of our writers wanted me to ask this question-- what class is the least powerful in the game and why? Would that be Mage, then?

Oh yeah, I'd definitely go with Mage. They've got the lowest health, which I understand is represented in the online game, but it doesn't really make sense in the card game for them to have such little health. They can't really use efficient weapons, because the caster weapons haven't been very aggressive or powerful. And they don't have pets-- they just kind of lack a lot of the really important things that make classes powerful.

But back to the good stuff-- what's your favorite game mechanic in the TCG? Coming as a person that plays a lot of card games, what's your favorite mechanic that WoW brings to the table?

Well, I guess I like the game mechanics of Elusive and Stealth. In other games, you could just block when you wanted to, but in this, it's just kind of fluid combat, and it adds extra strategy elements when either your Hero or your allies can't be attacked. It's a much more limited format, so I really like the Elusive and Stealth mechanics.

And are there any mechanics that you'd like to see in future sets that they might add in? The new decks bring out new mechanics, right?

Yeah, in the most recent set, March of the Legion, it has the Aldor and Scryer, and they have Sabotage and Inspire, the newer abilities. And I have no idea how that'll affect the gameplay-- I've only seen them once at the sneak peek, but I think that they'll be interesting. They look like they'll be powerful abilities.

In the past, how did Fires of Outland change the metagame in ways that you didn't expect?

Certainly, for limited, it made it a little faster. As far as construction play, cards that I didn't expect to be good-- there's a Morlug Soulslaver and Faesha Firestalker, and it's kind of like a two ally combo, and when you get both of them out, you can use all your resources to deal damage, and if you get more of the combo pieces it does even more damage. And it was a really great finisher for a while for a shadow priest, Omedus the Punisher. I didn't expect that-- I saw that do really well in the European nationals and the Canadian nationals, and I didn't expect the power between those two cards.

So how many games did you win to get to the championships, how long of a process is it?

I'm not even exactly sure which qualified me, but there's lots of ways-- I'm qualified on all the ways you can get in. You could get an honor rank of 6, a constructed rating of 2850, it was top 75 of nationals was qualified. So any of those ways would qualify you.

And you've done all those ways, huh? [Laughs]


How many players are as into this as you are-- is it a lot of guys? It seems like you're all over the place on this.

Yeah, I'd say you need to have a strong player group to be competitive. If I'm just one person sitting at my house with a ton of cards, I'm not going to be able to get much done, so thankfully I do have a good base who are just as passionate. There's about three or four of us-- my girlfriend plays too when she's away at school, but she's got a lot of studying to do, so there's not much free time.

So what are you expecting at the championship-- is it going to be really competitive, or do you think it'll just be tough against the top guys?

Oh I think it's going to be the hardest tournament I've played in by far, for two reasons. One, we certainly have the most competitive field so far. I know the best players from the US will be there. There's a lot of good European players, and Canadian players as well. The second reason would be the diverse metagame. I think in Chicago and the US national championships, I felt we had to beat a specific group of decks, like two or three decks to focus on that we felt would represent the field, and they showed up in droves, and that's why we had so much success-- we knew what to target. And now there's maybe six or seven really competitive decks, and maybe twelve decks you can expect to face at the tournament, and it's going to be really hard to prepare for all these decks. Even if you're beating ten of them consistently the other two or three you expect to see are going to give you a really hard matchup. There's equipment based decks, ally based decks, a combination of both, decks with other simliar strategies. Even now with the introduction of Feast of the Winter's Veil, there's a Winterval combo deck, and that's all abilities, so you've got even an extra element now to prepare for, and it's very hard to prepare for decks to have something consistent against everything, so the other reason I feel it'll be hard is that you haven't got good matchups when you play those ten rounds of constructed on day one.

Do you think it's a drawback to this game that they're adding decks like Winter's Veil, and that there's so many powerful decks out there, or is that a good thing for the game at large?

It's hard to say-- I think only time will tell. I think with more time, I could come up with something that I'm more confident with. Right now, I don't want to say I don't like my deck for Worlds but... I don't really like my deck for Worlds. I think with more time I could get something I was more comfortable with. In response to the Winter's Veil, I like it, I think it was innovative and it adds something great-- like Christmas presents for WoW players. There were a couple cards in the set that I was kind of scratching my head with-- there was one quest where if it's December you can draw two cards, so it's just weird. In December, everyone will play that card, and when it's not December, no one will. I guess it's kind of a fun card-- it's not December yet, so there's no way to tell how it will impact the game. And I kind of like how you can pick up any deck and any hero and play it, I don't think that'll be a bad thing in the long run, but it certainly makes it hard to prepare for big events.

That's true. The last question is just about loot cards-- on our site, everyone seems to love them. My question is, do the real players get excited about those, or are they just kind of there and it's really for just collectors and online gamers? Have you ever gotten a loot card?

Yeah, I actually have quite a few loot cards. It's an interesting question-- I think your average player might feel a little differently-- they might just be something that you open in a pack and you can just go and sell. I've had the Saltwater Snapjaw, which is the ingame turtle mount. The Landro Longshot, which is an ingame Tabard of Flame, and the Fortune Teller, which is the ball that dishes fortunes out to people in your party, and I've given those away to friends who play the online game, so they've been interested. When Fires of Outland came out, we did get the Spectral Tiger Mount, but that one was a little too high end-- we ended up selling that one. When I come across them, it's always great, because you know they're worth money, they're going to be great for trading, or they'll be great as a present for someone who plays the online game, so it's kind of helpful in that game. I think one of the main reasons WoW has been so successful-- it's a great game, I love to play it, but I think the loot cards were just a brilliant idea, and I think that's one reason the game is so successful. And then, collectors who want to get a lot of product open a lot of product, and that puts a lot of cards on the market, and usually it puts them on the market at cheaper prices, because they just want the high end loot cards to sell, so it's great for us.

Great. Thanks very much-- good luck in the tournament!

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