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The King of Spring - A Lucky Champion's Tournament Report

Aaron Gertler, the 2022 Spring Champion, shares the story of his tournament.

Hello! I'm Aaron, a dual streamer for SBB and Magic: the Gathering. I've had success in the latter game, but never expected to get far in the former. But after this weekend, I'm thrilled to be going to the Bahamas for the World Championship — and I'm also thrilled by the chance to share this report with you.

See the games yourself

I streamed my games on both days, though I missed the visuals for the first game of day one. You can see recordings here, in case you want to follow along:

(Warning: I sometimes swear on stream when I get excited.)

Day 1

Game 1: Hoard Dragon and the Pumpkin of Doom

I don't remember what I chose Dragon over, but it's probably around my fifth-favorite hero in this patch, so the choice may not have been close.

My first shop starts with two Blind Mice and I'm feeling fantastic — maybe I'll get an L5 treasure on 2.1!

Then I lose my first six fights as I scramble around looking for another mouse, with my unsynergistic 2/2s doing very little to help me. Not the best place to start.

I manage to start winning with the combination of Friendly Spirit and ranged units to absorb the boost. Adding an Oni King on 5.0 helps, as does finding the third Mouse on 5.1 (!), finally securing a decent treasure in the form of Ambrosia for the King. Even getting an L5 treasure one or two turns ahead of the rest of the lobby can be a big deal.

Much of this game is a bit fuzzy (due to the missing recording), but triple Friendly Spirit gives me a Mimic, double Nian gives me Ivory Owl, and I ride +4/+4 per turn to the finals after Kissing Nian into a Grumblegore to support a Burning Tree and (one of my favorite units) a frontline Pumpkin King. When I see that Xelhua is the last surviving player, I assume I'm dead (since the average Xel lategame is ridiculous). But I'm still hoping to survive my fight so I can find a third Pumpkin, spike a Mirror Mirror or Magic Sword, and scam their gigantic trees.

Instead, their board is only the same size as mine, which means that my final unit — a golden Pumpkin — dies at the same time as theirs, and they take 27 damage for the KO. First place!


Game 2: Fates and the Big Frog

I choose Fates over Tiger and Mask — the latter heroes can have some ridiculously powerful games, but Fates is consistently solid, and I'm hoping to combine my first place with a bunch of solid finishes to make the top eight.

On Fates, I hope to hit Mouse, Polywoggle, or Crafty as my first unit — but have to settle for a Lonely Prince, which is a bit stronger than Crafty but also risky. Luckily, I find Cinderella just in time for a 2.2 golden Frog, which carries me for a few fights. With such a strong start, I decide I can afford to risk Locked Chest over the immediate power of Fairy Tail. The Chest can help you hit HatBall (my favorite combo in the game), Treasure Map (the strongest early treasure), or another potent utility treasure once your comp is figured out — seems worth a try.

Tbe midgame plays out smoothly — I don't buy Hippocamp much these days, but it's a great unit to freeroll off a Polly. My golden Lady of the Lake pays off when I find Lancelot and slam an early L5 treasure. Sadly, my attempt to force Slay with the ensuing Evil Eye fails — it's possible I should have gone with Helm of the Ugly Gosling in hopes of converting to Good Boy, but no path felt especially clear.

My choice of Dracula's Saber over Sword of Fire and Ice was sketchy before the final fight, since I wanted Good Boy dying early and they probably weren't going to kill any opposing units in the process. But my opponent was much larger, and I don't think it would have mattered. Third place is fine, considering the multiple 5-gold units I purchased and quickly abandoned in my frantic scrambling.


Game 3: Potion Master and the Useless Flailing

PM is one of my favorite heroes even if it's not among the strongest, and with a strong start to cushion me, I'm happy enough with the choice.

I take experience to ramp into 4.0, but then play my 4.0 turn very awkwardly, taking one L4 unit over two L3 units and getting a weaker board + fewer shots at Crystal Ball (the best early PM treasure) for my troubles. My attempt to pull off the Riverwish Mermaid / Lightning Dragon combo is hampered by my lack of extra health for the Dragon, I fail to find the L5 units I want, and I die in sixth place with no real sense of what went wrong. Feels like my opponents were getting off to faster starts in this lobby than the ohters, but I also never found anything approaching a real comp with actual synergy. Just a bunch of small mediocre decisions adding up to a mediocre finish.


Game 4: Wonder Waddle and the Legend of Crafty's Gold

This recording was cut short by a bug, but you can see the full game on the main stream starting at 2:39:00.

Waddle is probably the best hero in the game, and a nice option to have for a round when I need to recover from my weak finish.

Another starting shop with a Blind Mouse — but this time, I never see a second one. Ouch.

I triple a Crafty, which isn't exactly the plan on Waddle but works out well enough. I make a bad mistake on 3.2 when I forget that I can cast another spell and fail to take Roll the Dice, losing +2/+2 on my Wizard's Familiar as a result (and losing the chance to hit a cheap, boosted Stag or Spellweaver). I also think I was meant to freeze for a pair of Sporkos on 4.1, though I lucked out and managed to triple both of my animals instead.

Lots of other small mistakes in this game — failing to trade non-animal units for a potentially profitable Chicken , not using True Love's Kiss on my golden Siren on 6.0 to find a unit that could anchor an actual comp, and possibly taking Dracula's Saber over Hand of Midas when I had a Staff of the Old Toad to find me an upgraded Pumpkin or Ashwood. (Imagine not having to lock a Knighthood and instead getting to dig around for more big units to pair with my Pumpkins.) Hard to tell whether it made a difference to my placement — Salty hitting my Croc'd Pumpkin with a Medusa was the biggest hit — but it's still important to track those things!


Game 5: Peter Pants and the Last Chance

Pants may have a hard time getting firsts, but the other heroes in my pool have a hard time getting fifths, so I take him.

I get off to kind of a miserable start — no triples, Brave Princess whiffing slays, weak shops all around. I lose lots of fights and probably take too few L3 units early, but the sheer number of random units I build up finally accumulates into HatBall on the last possible turn. I then avoid dying by hitting Fates's last golden unit for exactly enough damage as my heart threatens to burst from my chest.

I then hit a couple of terrible turns where I can't find many castable spells, but HatBall is still enough power before L6 to keep me alive before my luck turns again and I convert an L3 into an L6 golden Hercules, which then hits by far the best treasure I can find in Wand of Weirding. With HatBallWand assembled, I power through the rest of the lobby until I get skewered by an unbeatable Lightning Dragon.

(Note: I really should have picked up any random tree at some point to cast all the tree spells I kept finding — I was just tilting off about my bad spell rolls and playing too quickly as a result.)


Game 6: Potion Master and the Revenge of the Ball

When it comes to solid finishes, I think Headless Horseman and Potion Master are actually close. But I like playing PM far more, and I was also ready to get revenge for my poorly-played third game.

I probably screwed up on 2.1 by failing to sell chicken for the other two units (since I didn't want to cast the spell I locked in the shop). But my shops are very solid in the early turns, and once I see Crystal Ball I know it's going to be a fun ride.

(Note: You do need to be careful with Ball on PM — it's tempting to cast every spell you see once you have some Wizard's Familiars, but you do need to be buying units so you can find Hat or Horn.)

On 4.1, I fail to sell three very weak units for a True Love's Kiss, which is silly — Kiss is amazing on PM, since it gives stats and you're more likely to find additional Kisses until you have a massively boosted golden six. In fact, I could have had that L6 unit the next turn if I'd played the initial Kiss. Meh. I also should have taken the second Sporko, since Moonsong Horn and Forking Rod were both excellent for me.

And then, once the upgraded Aeons appeared, my turns were more about "go fast" than "play optimally" — lots of bad small decisions there, but nothing I regret, since slowing down to think probably means fewer stats overall. My comp would have needed another strong treasure and maybe some Storm Kings to stand a chance against Gwen's trees, but a top eight is a top eight!


Day 2

Game 1: Fallen Angel and the Worst Possible Start

I almost never buy Eggs — too much risk for my cowardly soul — but my starting shop has two of them and a neutral unit, so I grit my teeth and click "buy". (I could have cast Shrink Spell, but then I'd have had to buy TWO Eggs.)

I'm counting on Cursed King not to have an Egg himself, but CK doesn't really need Eggs anyway — he's already strong in the early game. So I'm relieved not to see one when the battle opens, until I realized that Brad went Forbidden Fruit into Mim + Minotaur and he WINS THE FIGHT. So I start 2.1 with zero units and I assume I'll be starting the day with an eighth. The only thing that keeps me going is the thought that I'd already qualified for Worlds, and that this day would just be "playing for fun".

I have to gamble on a Genie's Wish giving me some econ on the next turn, and am incredibly fortunate to see it do so — I end up with two 3/3s, which is perfectly fine after two turns. My bad luck and good luck having canceled each other out, I proceed to play a normal Fallen Angel game. My 1/1 Pollywog lands a fortunate slay on 3.0, and I fight reasonably well through the next few rounds despite my disjointed comp.

Taking a Shoulder Faeries on 5.0 was very wrong, since I wasn't playing a comp that wants to keep Good units on the board. I end up selling it literally the next turn for a horrendous four-gold loss. That extra gold could have given me just enough stats to find an extra treasure (though I'm not sure it would have mattered, since Midas was going to bury me anyway and I don't think I was ending up with more health than Catter).


Game 2: Wonder Waddle and the Manifold Mistakes

Lots of interesting decisions and punts to discuss here:


Game 3: Mad Catter and the Lure of Luck

I finally have an excuse to play my favorite hero! Let's get random.

Trying to triple Godmother here was... ambitious. I never actually get there, and generally lag behind on treasures most of the game, though my Catter buffs are at least synergistic and land me in a very strong early animal comp. I then take my first Oni King on 6.0 when I need to be digging for Bearstein, Grumblegore, more Pumpkins, or a third Baby Bear. I definitely like Catter's ability more than I should; 14/14 Oni King isn't so different from 8/8, but I let the bonus distract me. This mediocre choice perhaps wound up weakening my future board just enough to land in fifth place instead of third, though it's hard to tell.

Fun fact: We put Brad Nelson's Morgan to exactly 20 and exactly 5 this game; the second of those popped his Treasure Chest into a Mirror Mirror and let him stomp the lobby easily.


Game 4: Fates and the Unreal Fourth

This was a very weird game, and was also covered on the main stream (starting around ). I had a Dracula's Saber on 3.0, crushed the lobby for a bunch of turns, then suddenly got squashed out of nowhere by several people playing better versions of my own board. I think I did a reasonable job of getting stronger every round, though it's possible I could have relaxed even more and tried to invest in future strength by... playing a golden pig for a turn? Not really sure.

What I am sure about is that buying that Green Knight was a very silly mistake when I should have just been rolling for Ashwood Elm. (It did end up becoming an Ashwood Elm, but I definitely couldn't count on that.)

I'm still not sure where Brad's strength came from in that last game (Kissing Nian into Ashwood?), but it's worth noting I could have survived with a better last hit and gotten third, which at least makes more sense than fourth. (Not that I have any license to complain with 3.0 Saber into 3.2 Wish.)

Fun fact: This was my first time trying to go full Trees in the entire tournament.


Game 5: Pied Piper and the Mad Scramble

Four rounds, and no one has qualified yet! I just need a seventh place to be eligible here, but the 2nd-to-8th-place prizes are still determined by total points, so I still want a good finish.

...unfortunately, despite my choice of a top-three hero, the wheels fall off here. I take a lot of damage early but then stabliize quickly and feel like I should sail to a top four, until a Polly'd Feasting Dragon plus a Bounty Board trick me into trying to go Slay and I get zero gold for the next two turns. I do get some gold on the third turn, but I also die, so it doesn't matter.

I still think it was correct to aim at Slay there, and I did have an ~87% chance of slaying against Pants, but there's a world where I have nine gold instead of Grim/Baba and get strong enough to actually win some fights instead. This marks at least the third time this tournament that I've tried to go Slay and failed — looks like I need some focused practice.

But a seventh still qualifies me, and that turns out to be important...


Game 6: Gwen and the Good Game

This round cut off early in my recording, but you can see it on the main stream (starting around 3:51:00 to pick up where my fight left off).

Gwen is capable of highrolling, and when I see Polly, I also see a chance to spike a first. So I grab him, cross my fingers, and... fail to slay. And then fail to slay again.

I should have taken Egg/Glory on 2.1, but was still too afraid of Egg to try it — another weakness in my play to correct.

It's possible that I should have placed Polly to aim at a slay on 3.0, but I could already picture how horrible my board would be if I missed on that turn, and the next turn, and the next, so I took the conservative line. And even though I got unlucky and failed to grow the Assassin the first turn I had a chance, it still won me several fights by itself, which is how Gwen tends to play out.

And then, because all the bad Slay luck was straining the fabric of the universe, my Polly turned into a 5.0 Pumpkin! That's a good start, and I think I stand a chance, until I see that May's Piper has a forest of enormous trees and a golden pumpkin and is several XP ahead. Oh well — second place isn't so bad.

Several fights later, it's just me and May. I brace myself for the inevitable slaughter...

...but huh, her board's not as big as I thought it would be. And after our front lines clash, the surviving unit isn't a big Burning Tree, but instead a low-health Robin Wood I steal twice with Siren. And when her own Siren springs out of her Pumpkin with a golden Oni King boost, my Burning Tree, which started at 200 health, LIVES AT ONE. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me???

That fight was absurdly lucky, one of the luckiest I've ever fought in SBB, and at the perfect time. No other way to put it.

Sadly, the rest of the fights are anticlimactic, since my Gloves of Thieving keep stealing May's units and we're playing the same comp. I scale up very quickly and it's a smooth run to the finish.


Last reflections

This has been the best patch in Brawl's history, I think, but there are still plenty of improvements to be made — and I can't wait to see what's next. Thanks to the SBB team, the casters, and everyone else who helped to make this tournament happen.

And most of all, thanks to my fellow competitors; playing games at the highest possible skill level is incredibly fun, and I can't wait until we're battling in the Bahamas!