Interview with Karakondzhul
During the first weekend in June, Karakondzhul earned his ticket to the 2019 Master Series Finals at QuakeCon from July 25-28 by earning 15 points in the qualifier series. Kara has been playing The Elder Scrolls Legends since open Beta and has more than 10,800 wins in ranked play. He is among the most consistent top players in the game, finishing in top 10 ten times and taking 5 podiums. He finished at #1 Legend in August 2017.
He is also a very strong tournament player. In 2018, Karakondzhul participated in the Master Series Finals at QuakeCon and won $10,000 for placing second. We are very happy to be given the privilege of an interview, so without further ado…
Hello Karakondzhul. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. First of all, congratulations on qualifying for the 2019 Master Series Finals. 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.
What is Karakondzhul doing in real life and what’s keeping you busy when you are not on TESL?
Thanks for the introduction! I’m working as a machine learning engineer in Bulgaria. I play a lot of TESL so I don’t have much time for other hobbies. However, I do love traveling – I’ve done a decent amount of backpacking to exotic locations. It’s definitely something I’m looking to do more of, now that I’m no longer a student and I actually have an income.
Sorry, but I have to ask this regarding your IGN. It is always fun when the tournament casters make their desperate attempts to pronounce it properly. Apologies if this is common knowledge, but is there a special meaning behind your IGN, Karakondzhul, and how did you come up with it?
I have to admit, I’m enjoying people struggling with the pronunciation a bit too much! It’s always fun when you see someone finally getting it right and then the whole twitch chat tries to “correct” it. For the record, it’s “jewl.”
Karakondzhuls are creatures from Bulgarian mythology. Think of naughty forest spirits that like to mess with people, kind of like the slavic version of imps. My name is a tribute to mythology that’s largely ignored and that has always fascinated me! I’m really hoping that gets changed some day and someone finds slavic mythology interesting enough to compile it in a movie or at least a book.
Tell us a little bit about how you started playing The Elder Scrolls Legends.
Well, in late 2016 I was a Hearthstone player, until I got very frustrated with the state of the game and realized I don’t enjoy playing it at all, even though I was spending a lot of time grinding the ladder. So I figured I could have looked around and try different CCGs – and TESL was simply the first one on the list. I don’t even know why I picked Legends over the others. Perhaps because I was familiar with the universe through The Elder Scrolls RPGs? Anyway, I loved the game from the get-go and never looked back at Hearthstone or any other CCGs for that matter. Most of my early TESL was primarily Scout. I remember I reached legend with some janky ramp deck and it was good enough to finish at the #2 spot in the first month of me reaching legend! I felt insanely proud at that achievement and it has probably helped a lot of retaining me as a TESL player. What I had accomplished, building my own jank and reaching high ladder, is completely unthinkable in Hearthstone where there is absolutely no deck diversity and trying to think outside the box is penalized.
Can you look back on any previous card game experience?
All my other card game experience is Hearthstone. I like to think I was decent, even though I was never amazing. I reached Legend rank a grand total of one time for maybe 2 or 3 years of playing.
Aggro – Midrange – Combo – Control? What’s your favorite style of play and why?
I’m probably best at playing aggressive midrange decks and that shows in my tournament performance. Every time I do well it’s on the back of such a strategy. I don’t mind playing control either as long as it has some kind of way to turn up the aggression and no game feels like a snooze fest.
What’s currently your favorite deck?
People don’t realize how much time it takes me to polish off a deck to a state where it becomes a true “Karakond” deck with all the one offs and two offs. I can promise you that a lot of strategy goes into that and I have a reasoning for every copy of a card in there. That being said, no deck feels like a favorite currently. I’m mostly waiting for the upcoming balance changes before investing a lot of time perfecting a deck. That’s the bad thing about announcing balance changes with no specifics a whole month in advance: I lose my drive to build and polish decks when I know the meta is going to get flipped in the near future.
…and what’s your all-time favorite?
Ramp Scout! The first deck I built and the reason everyone knew me as “the ramp scout guy” back in the days! When I started playing legends, Scout was considered bad and everyone stayed away from it so it felt amazing to put out top ladder results with a home-brew deck as a new player.
Karakondzhul about Tournaments and the 2018 Master Series
When did you start playing in TESL tournaments?
It was during the Champion Series, the first regular and prized tournaments TESL had seen. I remember I was a good and renowned ladder player but it took me several months before I was able to prove myself as a good tournament player by winning some prizes.
Let’s talk about your experiences at last year’s Master Series Tournament 2018. How did you make it there?
I did very well in the qualifiers! I had serious doubts about making it to QuakeCon because I was visiting Singapore for the month when all of them were held. That means I hardly had any time to play and practice decks in-between the weekly qualifiers. Moreover, the events themselves started at midnight and finished at around 6 am – so you can imagine how insane it was to play against world-class players while barely awake.
I remember that for the 3rd qualifier, I had a flight at 7 am to Thailand. So I had to start the tournament at midnight, played throughout the late hours until it was time to head for the airport and find my way to my plane – all while playing to qualify for the top 8 for the next day! Somehow, I managed to overcome all that and get to the top 8 while using the airport WiFi, then I got on my plane and flew into Thailand. I spent the whole day doing touristy stuff and then, when it finally became midnight, the streamed event started. I was on like 30+ hours of no sleep at that point so I remember I played like crap against Santosvella, and, ultimately, he came out on top. Luckily, there was one more event after that, so I managed to get through that one. In all honesty, I didn’t play very well throughout the qualifiers and I remember I was making misplays left and right. Luckily, my lineup was good enough to carry me through the sleepless nights. I’m glad I didn’t have to sacrifice any as many nights for this year’s event as I’m back to living in Bulgaria!
Tell us a little about how you prepared for the 2018 tournament, please.
I had a pretty good understanding of the meta in the months before the qualifiers and I had already prepared several decks. For conquest format, the winning strategy is usually to play very similar decks and hope that your opponent has at least one bad matchup against your lineup – then he can’t ever win. Hlaalu was absolute bonkers back in the days with its 3 cost manor, so including aggro Hlaalu was a no-brainer for anyone, even hardcore control players. So my preparation was mostly coming up with 3 more decks that have similar matchups to Hlaalu. In the end, my picks were Dagoth, Redoran and Warrior.
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?
I’d probably have been nervous if I wasn’t so jetlagged. Singapore to Dallas was a full 24 hours flight and I didn’t have any time to adjust. Add the excitement about meeting all the awesome people there, having the chance to play TESL for a nice chunk of money, and there isn’t really any room for being nervous! I loved the event and I’m very much looking forward to doing it again this year.
One of the most memorable moments of the tournament was the $5,000 topdeck Ahnassi in the semi-finals against TDCJason. Can you tell us a little bit about what you thought during those moments?
I had never felt such a surge of emotions before! I’ll walk you through my memories: I had an amazingly close game against his factotum archer and I had set up lethal from hand. Then, he played Conscription and everything went his way. Conscription pulled all the right targets in the right lanes in a way that I’d lose my board and still not get through his guards. It was a game 5 so it wasn’t looking pretty for me. I thought I was done for.
And then… Ahnassi happened! It took me a couple of seconds to realize she gave me guaranteed lethal, pretty much the only card in my deck that could have saved me from that situation. My facial expressions during that time probably says it better than I could ever put into words!
The 2019 Master Series
Let’s talk about the Master Series Qualifiers 2019. You had some very tense matches across the series. What was your favorite match in that tournament?
I’m gonna go with my matches against hakme in MSQ2 – it was an exciting series that was pretty much a rematch of last year’s QuakeCon finals. I’d recommend anyone to watch those for some high level game play!
Let‘s discuss your deck line-up a little bit. Which decks did you bring to the tournaments and why?
Throughout the qualifiers, I played Slay Ebonheart, Aggro Crusader, Aggro Hlaalu, Mid-range Dagoth and Market Assassin. I also brought Mid-range Dominion in the first event but this deck was a mistake. I tried to diversify my lineup with bringing all types of decks – control, aggro and combo. This is very important for last hero standing format.
Why did you switch from the Mid-range Dagoth to Aggro Hlaalu after the second qualifier?
Way too many people are playing Penitus Oculatus Agent, so Hand of Dagoth, the main reason to play Dagoth, is not really that strong in the meta. The deck performed well in MSQ2, but I figured a Hlaalu deck has a much better match-up against other aggro lists, which is something I struggled with before getting to top 8. Yes, the Dagoth can get on top of other aggressive lists if it gets the ring or a prophecy but I tried to play decks that don’t have to rely on factors outside my control as much.
Your Market Assassin deck had some interesting card choices. Can you explain some of your deck’s key ingredients?
In all honesty, the exact card choices don’t matter all that much because the deck just got banned every time. The only time it went through was against a full aggro lineup, so teching against aggro went a long way when bringing such a deck in the format. I found shackles and Fireblooms to be more effective than cards like Firebolts that other lists typically play.
Your line-up also featured a Slay Ebonheart deck. What was the game plan behind that deck and how did it perform for you?
I don’t think there was anything special about my Slay Ebonheart. I just included a bunch of cards that I had seen other people play and it turned out to be a good deck. The deck has a really favored matchup against Tribunal and Telvanni so I felt like I had to include it in my lineup unless I wanted to get swept. It wasn’t really a choice: it’s either bring Ebonheart and Market Assassin or get swept by Tribunal and Telvanni enthusiasts. It’s just a byproduct of the last hero standing format: you are forced to play certain decks to counter the meta.
What is the game plan behind your Red Aggro Crusader and what was special about that specific decklist?
I think a lot of people found it weird that I play no cultists in an aggro red deck. And I stand by this decision: red has so many 3 drops to pick from that I saw no reason to brick my assaults and raiding parties. Also, you will find that triple assault, fervors and outposts mean that I can play for value. This was very important to have a chance against control, as pure red decks often run out of cards before they can close out the game.
What was your favorite deck in this tournament, and, retrospectively, which one was the weakest?
I’m most proud of the crusader since I saw no other pure red variants even though there was plenty of Crusader. It just felt refreshing to have something that no one else really brought. The weakest one was probably the Assassin but this didn’t matter as everyone just refuses to play against it and it got banned like 80% of the time.
Now onto some more general TESL topics, if you don‘t mind. What is your view on the current state of TESL?
The game is still enjoyable, but I’ll use this opportunity to talk about the negatives. Playing against 75 cards control is not fun. Tribunal, Telvanni and now Ebonheart have so many tools that very often I just lose games with no possible recourse. I’d really like to see something to tone down the amount of cheap removal and force the opponent play for the board. But as of now, tri-colour control has way too many cheap removal options. He can just spend his early turns passing, ramping and drawing cards off runes. Once I have a scary board, he then can use his cheap removals like negation and gambits to 2-for-1 my board that I’ve worked so hard to build. Not fun! Good removal should never cost as little as 2 magicka!
Other than that, I don’t mind the current state of the game. I know people are hating on Market Assassin and Empire Abomination but I’m loving them because they keep the Tribunals and Telvannis in check. I dread the metas when they become popular once again.
If you had one wish for the game, what feature, card or card mechanic would you like to see implemented?
I’d like to see more creatures like Garnag and Withered Hand Cultist that can mess up my opponent in an interactive, board-centric way. For example, a minion that disables all summon effects while on board (screw you necromancer!). Or a minion that disables all keywords while on board.
You are also streaming Legends on your twitch stream. What was driving you towards streaming and what benefits do you take from it for your Legends game play?
I never really considered streaming until people started asking me to start doing it. I really didn‘t start with much but I‘d recommend more people try it out! It‘s really not as scary as it sounds – it‘s more of social gaming. That is what I most like about streaming: the community around it. I like it when people are curious about me or TESL and I‘m happy to answer any type of question. Another positive of streaming is that I‘m much faster to learn a deck. I‘m lucky to have a few really good players tuning in and correcting my misplays. At the end of the day, the feedback proves to be invaluable when I‘m trying to learn things and saves me a lot of time.
Unfortunately, you need a regular schedule if you want to grow as a streamer. It‘s hard for me to commit to streaming since I like my job and streaming while working full-time is hardly doable. All that means is that you will not see a regular stream schedule from me – it‘s something that I do whenever I feel like spending a few hours on TESL.
Thank you very much Karakondzhul, 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.