Interview with Thuldir
This past weekend, Thuldir won the first 2019 Master Series Qualifier tournament and is the first player to have earned a ticket to the Master Series Finals at QuakeCon from July 25-28.
Thuldir has been playing The Elder Scrolls Legends since open beta and has more than 10,000 wins in ranked play. He is among the most consistent top players in the game, finishing in the top 50 every month since November 2017, and he holds the records for Most Top-10s in a row and the Most Top-20s in a row. With eight Top 3 finishes since March 2018, he finished ranked play as #1 Legend in April 2019.
Last year, Thuldir participated in the 2018 Master Series Finals at QuakeCon and made it to the top 4 players. Today, we are happy to be given the privilege of an interview, so without further ado…
Hello Thuldir. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. First of all, congratulations on winning the first 2019 Master Series Qualifier tournament. Before we go into the details of the Master Series, let‘s talk a little bit about yourself and how you came to card games and TESL in particular.
So what does Thuldir do in real life? What’s keeping you busy when you are not on TESL?
Mostly my studies and my student job. In my free time I do a lot of sports, play TESL and read books, mostly fantasy novels.
Tell us a little bit about how you started playing The Elder Scrolls Legends.
At the end of 2016 I played the Hearthstone tutorial, noticed that I like digital card games and searched for alternatives. At that time TESL was in open beta. I immediately liked TESL much more and it is still my favorite game since then.
Can you look back on any previous card game experience?
No. When I was a child, I had some Magic: The Gathering cards. I liked collecting them, but never played in an event.
Aggro – Midrange – Combo – Control? What’s your favorite style of play and why?
Due to my recent tournament line-ups, I am mostly known as a control player these days. But I actually have a slight preference for more aggressive decks. Many control decks rely on having certain recovery tools, such as Ice Storm, at the right time and require the aggressive player to not be able to play around it.
Because of the way each player decides on their turn, which creatures are trading or attacking the opponent directly in TESL, board-based aggro and mid-range decks are my favorite styles of play.
I’m not a fan of the combo decks that are popular in TESL at the moment at all (like Abomination Scout, Abomination Empire, Market Assassin, Dragonstar Rider decks and still to some extent Nix-Ox Telvanni). These decks often have an OTK or game-winning play from hand, which sometimes happens as early as turn 5, and there is no reliable way to interact with that. Being on the receiving end of these combos feels miserable. Performing such a combo turn yourself feels good when you achieve it for the first time, but it gets repetitive very soon.
I think it is one of the biggest problems in this game that most of these combo decks do not or only to a very limited amount interact with the opponent’s board, can perform their combo that early and there are only very few, limited and unreliable ways to interact with their combo turns.
What’s currently your favorite deck?
Currently I am enjoying Conscription Empire and Aggro Daggerfall a lot. Those are the decks I played the most last month as well, when I finished #1 on the ladder.
…and what’s your all-time favorite?
Math Crusader. It is an incredibly flexible deck, which requires a lot of skill to master. Depending on the matchup and your draw you can take very different approaches. Those range from controlling an aggro deck by clearing their creatures in the field lane with charge creatures, locking down the shadow lane with big guards such as Hive Defender and outvaluing the opponent in the late game with your supports. Card draw engines such as Ash Berserker allow you to then prepare an OTK from hand by assembling a lot of buffs and cheap charge creatures.
When did you start playing in TESL tournaments?
The first tournament I participated in was the Weekly Elder Scrolls #6 organized by TCG eSports in July 2017. It started at 2:30 am my time and I stayed up all night for it. The next day I was very exhausted, and I never stayed up that late for a tournament again.
I was extremely excited to make 3rd place in my very first tournament, only losing against the tournament winner zyzzyvaproject and winning all my other matches 2-0. (Editors note: here is the deck Thuldir used).
The tournament’s format was very enjoyable as well, best of 3 with 1 deck and a 10 card side board. I hope there will be similar tournaments in the future again.
When Bethesda started the Go4TESL Cups in cooperation with ESL, I was happy to have an EU friendly tournament series that I could participate in regularly.
Thuldir: About Last Year’s Master Series Qualifiers 2018
Let’s talk about your experiences at last year’s Master Series Tournament 2018. How did you make it there?
That was quite a surprise. In all four qualifiers I made it quite far and accumulated a total of eight Master Points. But in the end, I never made it to the top 3 and was one point short of qualifying through points.
About a week before the tournament an admin from ESL contacted me and told me that I might still get an invite if someone else couldn’t make it. On such short notice, applying for a visa would have taken too long. Luckily, I found another way for me to get permission for travelling to the United States. Thanks to Visa Waiver Program I only needed a passport and had to apply for an ESTA approval. Without knowing whether I would get an invite, I went to my local city council on the next day and applied for an express passport (for which I had to pay more than usual). That was necessary to get all required documents in time.
The admin from ESL hardly gave me any information or updates until 2 days before the tournament, when I finally got the invite. Only a few hours before the flight my passport was ready for pick up and I was incredibly happy and relieved that I managed to arrange everything in time.
Tell us a little about how you prepared for this tournament, please.
I tested my decks both on the ladder and in practice matches with my teammates from The Listeners. With all the last-minute travel arrangements I had very limited time for refining the decks and practicing overall. I’m very thankful for my amazing team. They worked on my decks, when I was not around as well, gave me feedback on what worked well for them, and suggested potential changes.
In particular, Jele77 has been phenomenal in her support and I am very grateful for that. She’s a great streamer as well and you should check out her Twitch channel.
You must have been very exhausted after the long flights and probably had only a shorter than usual preparation period. Would you consider this a handicap?
Definitely. There was a balance patch shortly before the Finals which affected all my decks from the qualifiers, some even drastically. Especially the nerfs to Drain Vitality, Ulfric’s Uprising, Tel Vos Magister and Haunted Manor hit my decks very hard. Since I was not expecting to participate in the Finals, I did not test whether my decks from the qualifiers were still good, how they could be adapted, or what would be good replacements for them.
The flight was not very pleasant either, mostly because of screaming children. Due to limited budget and late booking, ESL was only able to arrange a flight with a budget airline and a pit stop in Iceland. There were several delays for both my flights from Germany to Iceland and Iceland to the US, which lead to a total travel time of 22 hours. Shortly past midnight on the day the tournament started, I finally arrived at the hotel.
How was it to be on the big stage in front of the camera being broadcasted via Twitch and in front of the audience? Were you nervous?
Before my first match started, I was quite nervous. But during the match there are a lot of things to focus on, such as keeping track of your opponent’s hand and trying to memorize cards from their deck list you need to play around, trying to find the optimal play every turn and deciding which resources you want to play out or hold back in hand. This requires your undivided attention and displaced my initial nervousness.
One of the most exciting moments in the entire tournament was probably in the Round of 8. You were playing Tomercory, it was a score of 2:2 and you had only very little health in the final match. Can you tell us a little bit about what you thought during these moments?
I remember that match very well. This was one of my favorite moments playing TESL. I was playing Conscription Redoran against Aggro Dagoth. Tomercory was very far ahead in that game from the very beginning. He used all 3 ring charges during the first 3 turns. His (2-cost) Goblin Skulk was pulling Lesser Wards, and with Daggerfall Mage and Queen Barenziah he had a fantastic start.
Despite running 29 cards that cost 2 or less, I missed the first 2 turns and I didn’t find good answers to contest or recover that board state during the next couple of turns either. When my life total was close to 0, I finally managed to turn the board state around with a combination of several cheap cards such as Bruma Profiteer gaining a bunch of life, Skaven Pyromancer breaking some Wards and weakening several creatures, Orc Clan Captain allowing for better trades and cheap charge creatures trading into the opponent’s threats.
I have always been a fan of playing those “low-to-the-ground” control decks with lots of cheap cards, because they allow for more options and flexible plays compared to just dropping a big guard or casting an expensive removal action every turn. Those styles of control would not have been able to come back from a spot like this. After winning that match, I felt rewarded for my style of deckbuilding.
Have you considered conceding?
No, definitely not. As long as I can think of a realistic way to win the game, I always play it out, especially in a tournament.
Thuldir: About the 2019 Master Series Qualifiers
Let’s talk about the Master Series Qualifiers 2019. You had some very tense and fun matches. What was your favourite match in that tournament?
Definitely the finals against Really_Beau. It was an incredibly close series that I managed to win 3-2. Pulling off an OTK-combo dealing 57 damage with Flesh Atronach, Ornamented Sword and Unstoppable Rage in the final match and thereby winning the tournament and securing my invite to the Master Series Finals at QuakeCon was just overwhelming for me.
I was very happy to meet Beau in the finals, because he is a good friend and the first streamer I ever watched on Twitch. It is great to see him playing TESL again and performing so well. I hope he qualifies for the Master Series Finals as well, so we can finally meet in person. With 10 Masters Points he is certainly in the driver seat for that.2019 Masters Series – Qualifier 1 TOP 8 Games by TESLegends on www.twitch.tv
How did you cope with the time zone difference? I was watching enthusiastically myself, but fell asleep half-way through the last semi-final. You must have had tons of coffee that night!
On Saturday, the tournament started at 6pm for me. Luckily, I was in the faster part of the bracket. When I reached the quarter finals (after 5 rounds), it was almost midnight for me. Then play paused and was continued on the next day.
The final 3 rounds were played on Sunday. Since all matches were streamed on Twitch, it took much longer though. On that day, the tournament started at 6pm for me again and lasted until approximately 3am.
I never drink coffee though, not even that night.
Let‘s discuss your line-up a little bit. Which decks did you bring to the tournament and why?
I decided to bring Control Tribunal, Slay Ebonheart, Market Assassin and Aggro Daggerfall. Control Tribunal is one of my most reliable decks for tournaments, one that I’ve been refining and adapting to the meta for a long time already. Traditionally, it is one of the best decks against aggro and has the late game to compete with other control decks as well.
The new Ebonheart tri-color combination is just incredibly powerful. Slay Ebonheart combines Control Archer with Slay Warrior. This gives you one of the best decks against aggro together with the incredibly powerful late-game that overpowers most other control decks. By combining these two decks Slay Ebonheart gets rid of their biggest individual weaknesses and I can’t think of a really bad matchup.
Market Assassin got a lot of new tools in Alliance War such as Spoils of War and Forked Bolt. The deck can high-roll with OTKs from hand as early as turn 5-8. With no reliable interaction from the opponent, this deck was an easy addition to my lineup.
Warrior and Sorcerer are already two of the best aggro decks in the game. Adding Sower of Revenge and Withered Hand Cultist to Sorcerer, or Sorcerer’s Negation, Wardcrafter and High-King Emeric to Warrior makes those decks even better and Aggro Daggerfall an obvious choice.
How did you come up with Gnarl Rootbender as an inclusion for Burn Assassin?
That was an idea from my team member Emikaela. We both tested Gnarl Rootbender in Market Assassin a lot and had great success with it. I think Rootbender significantly improves the matchup against control decks. In this matchup you can’t just play your combo pieces and hope they stick for one or several turns, because your opponent has support and creature removal. Gnarl helps you finding your combo pieces faster, so you can OTK from hand more consistently.
Your third deck was a Slay Ebonheart control deck. Can you tell us about your game plan for this particular build?
This deck plays defensively in the early and mid game. With lethal creatures and ping effects like Archer’s Gambit and Quicksilver Crossbow, it effectively removes the opponent’s creatures while drawing cards and ramping up. The deck usually wins by giving a large Flesh Atronach Breakthrough with Ornamented Sword and using Squish the Wimpy or Unstoppable Rage to deal lethal damage to the opponent.
Why did you not include Odirniran Necromancer?
I have built and tested a lot of different builds of Ebonheart Control since Alliance War was released. This particular build was performing the best for me when I was testing them on the ladder. I actually forgot to put Odirniran Necromancer in the deck and only noticed that a day before the tournament. The best version of this deck almost certainly contains 3 Necromancers, but I did not find 3 cards I wanted to remove and had no time to test potential changes. So I decided to play this version.
The fourth deck was a Tribunal Control deck, an archetype that has been dominating the meta in the past year. What role was this deck supposed to take in your line-up?
Control Tribunal is traditionally very good against aggro. The mix of cheap removal, many playable prophecies, large guards, effective AOE and some powerful unique legendaries like Varen Aquilarios, The Gatekeeper and Archcanon Saryoni, makes this deck one of the best against opposing aggro decks. With the support cards Namira’s Shrine and Divine Fervor, which provide a lot of value over time, and the Odirniran Necromancer package for card draw, I’ve found great success against other control decks as well. After the nerf to Indoril Mastermind and other control decks getting more and more powerful late game, I felt like the deck needed to get slightly greedier. That’s why I added Therana and Soul Tear to the deck compared to previous builds.
What was your favorite deck in this tournament, and, retrospectively, which one was the weakest?
I was very happy with my lineup overall and how the individual decks performed.
Fun fact: I never played the Assassin during the entire tournament. It got banned most of the time, and when it wasn’t, my other decks won the series before I got to play the Assassin.
About The Elder Scrolls Legends
Now onto some more general TESL topics, if you don‘t mind. What is your view on the current state of TESL?
The developer switch to Sparkypants was positive for the game overall. However, in the first weeks after its release their new client was not ready and the game basically unplayable, which drove a lot of new or returning players away who had heard of the changes and wanted to try the new TESL experience.
Sparkypants is showing a lot of dedication, fixes bugs quickly, communicates a lot on Reddit and provides regular updates. This gives an optimistic outlook for the future of this game.
With regards to the meta decks, there are several issues that need to be addressed. Most importantly, I already explained earlier why I think that combo decks are very problematic at the moment. In addition, some random effects are much stronger than they should be. Ianbits has recorded a great Youtube video on this topic and I completely agree with his opinions on these cards.
I also feel that purple control decks are still on top of the meta, even though the design team wanted to change this with Alliance War. One reason for this is that ramp feels a bit too strong to me overall. In addition, the best aggro decks got nerfed repeatedly. In the most recent expansions aggro decks got barely any good new cards, while the most powerful new cards buffed control and combo decks massively.
What is your opinion on how Bethesda is evolving the game and the TESL community?
As a competitive player I would like to see a regular tournament series again. One thing that really makes me sad is how poorly Bethesda handles community tournaments. The recent fall of Warpmeta shortly after Bethesda announced a partnership and tournament series with them was a real shame. Unfortunately, this was not the first time something like that happened. The TESL Champion Series got cancelled shortly after Bethesda got involved as well.
If you had one wish for the game, what feature, card or card mechanic would you like to see implemented?
First of all, I hope we will get the missing features that were announced with the developer change about a year ago soon. An in-game tournament mode, the return of in-game events such as Gauntlets, a public API for developers of third-party applications such as deck trackers and the release on consoles (Editor’s note: announced last year for the end of 2018) are the most anticipated features for me. In the (far) future I’d love to see a 2-vs-2 mode, where two players face two other players and each one controls a lane on their side.
A card that I’d like to see would be a well-statted creature that can attack creatures in the Shadow Lane (similar to how Blood Dragon can ignore Guards). This might be a good idea for a mechanic or keyword as well. One of the game designers has mentioned on Reddit recently that they want to encourage control players to play more creatures instead of removal (editor’s note: Thuldir refers to this reddit post by Josh Utter-Leyton). This might be a good way of achieving that.
Thank you very much Thuldir for your time and this interview. We wish you all the best of luck for the Master Series Finals and hope to see many more of your victories.
If you would like to participate in the 2019 Master Series Qualifiers, please head over to Bethesda’s page with further details. As a viewer, you can improve your Legends game-play by watching these top players compete in these events over at twitch.tv/TESlegends. Good luck to all combatants!