The 6th OCTGN league just finished, and I wanted to supplement my deck list on http://dtdb.co/en/decklist/2408/blessed-dogs-are-we-there-yet-1st-place-octgn-league with some additional thoughts on the deck, how I got there, and some thoughts on blessed in general.
Evolution of the deck
A couple months ago I viewed blessed the same as nearly everyone else: they have some cool tools and a sweet new dude in Tolarios, but they just aren't top tier yet and need a lot of love. A common complaint is that they are really good at not losing, but not losing is a lot different than winning. I had a lot of experience playing against alotoaxolotls in previous OCTGN leagues, and his blessed deck was very good at getting a single super-powered blessed with a million stud bullets, and it was pretty resilient but all it would take is one unfortunately timed Sun In Yer Eyes, Pistol Whip, or Unprepared and he was in big trouble. I had also played against other blessed decks that were more about casualty reduction, with Lay on Hands and Get Behind Me, Satan! but those also had the trouble of 'not losing does not equal winning'.
My obvious love (and near obsession) with Putting The Pieces Together lead me to explore other archetypes outside of my 108 WD deck. I tried it with the Sanitorium and 4th Ring with Jia Mein Xp, and while those decks were fun and very powerful if they got off the ground, they were extremely vulnerable to early aggression (and even just a simple kidnappin any time before Jia could become a stud). The next evolution brought me to the Law Dogs Blessed. It seemed a natural fit, and I thought it would fix the problem of 'never losing, never winning' since your hand ranks would be boosted and PTPT could put them over the edge in each shootout.
The first deck I made was a straight flush draw structure using hearts. I built it similar to my 108 WD deck (http://dtdb.co/en/decklist/2276/putting-108-flushes-together-1st-octgn-league-1st-wi-sheriff), but to make a long story short: straight flush decks using anything other than clubs ARE AWFUL! If anyone is able to make a straight flush deck outside of clubs, that actually works, please let me know - my hypothesis right now is such a structure is not possible.
From that deck, it evolved into a more traditional 3-value deck which worked much better: http://dtdb.co/en/decklist/2320/miraculous-pieces . The ability to get legal full houses was pretty solid, and add one or two PTPTs onto that and you have a solid rank 8-9 legal hand in every shootout. One thing I found was the cheating in lowball, and even occasionally a shootout hand, was a little too often for my liking. I was very spoiled with the powerful ability of the 108 WD, and even with Henry Moran, it was not enough. Often I'd just end up cheating in lowball, then choosing not to pay for my PTPTs. I kept finding out that even without the PTPTs I was doing pretty well in shootouts, so hey - maybe I didn't even need them in the first place? If I could replace them with some strong cheatin' res or shootout actions, I could do even better (I did find a lack of cheatin' punishment was an issue with the 3-value PTPT list).
After dropping the PTPTs entirely, I moved to a 6/7/8 build, then eventually the 7/8/Q build (posted above) that I used in the OCTGN league. The structure was tighter, as I worried less about cheatin' in lowball, and it allowed me to be aggressive even from turn 1. Adding Hattie to the starting posse meant I could very easily defend most early kidnappin attempts, and that was the final change, of many many changes, that made this deck go from a decent one to what I think is a very strong one.
Why the blessed for the finals?
When I found out I was into the semi finals for the league, and who I was playing, I knew I'd likely be facing an extremely aggressive Desolation Row deck with lots of kidnappins, muggings, and shootout actions like pistol whip - all 3 very bad things for my blessed list. I was thinking of playing my 108 WD list for one last hurrah while it was still legal, or my other very strong 4th Ring Conditions deck. Both would have been much better than the blessed list, but I made the last minute decision that I wasn't in the league to win - I was in it to make the best out of various creative lists. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't, but the OCTGN league is always a great place to really put your ideas to the test in a competitive environment, so I decided to go with the blessed list. If it got chewed up and spit out, then that was ok... but if it managed to come out on top? That would really be something unexpected, and just maybe I'd have a new favorite list to spend more time playing and tweaking.
When it made it (barely) through the semi finals (and through all the kidnappins, muggings, and other painful shootout actions) and onto the finals, I wasn't about to stop there. My 4th Ring conditions deck would have been much better, and I'd already beaten Khudzlins 108 Rabbit Fu deck with it somewhat easily in the regular rounds of the league, but I'd be damned (pun intended!) if I didn't give those blessed the shot I feel the deck had already earned at this point. I have to admit there was an element of luck, at least in the last game, and I'd have to say overall if we played a hundred games Khudzlins deck would probably win more than half of them. But tournaments are not about playing a hundred games - we often get one chance, and sometimes 2 out of three, to do our best and in those small numbers luck will always play some role. In the end the deck did well despite my occasional missteps, and most interestingly it proved over all 6 games that it didn't always need miracles to win shootouts. With the banning of 108 WD I've lost my favorite deck, and what I think is probably the best deck I have and will ever make, but I've come out of this last league with a new baby to tweak, refine, and playtest a ton. I will, of course, continue brewing other decks (it's really my favorite part of this game), but I have a solid go-to option if nothing else works out.
Thoughts on blessed
The list of miracles is pretty darn good, even if there are a few that are absolute garbage. Ignoring those, there are very strong choices in enough values to have a good range of options. Blessed dudes are where the most help is needed, with so many options either being a zero blessed rating, no influence, or both. Taking a look at my starting posse and you can see I have 5 influence (including jake), 1 upkeep, and only 1 starting GR. I've been tinkering with hucksters out of 4th Ring a lot lately, and I can easily have 5+ starting GR with at least one stud, 5 influence, zero upkeep, and 3 hucksters!
It's not even a fair comparison, so in this regard blessed have a long way to go. However, with the addition of Tolarios they have a major upgrade. He is so good that the 1 upkeep is very fair, and gives the blessed an edge that I don't think the hucksters will ever see (dear god I hope not... can you imagine being able to search up soul blasts, puppets, and other low/off value hexes?!). Unfortunately that means if you lose Tolarios, especially early on, then most blessed decks are likely fighting an uphill battle. So far I've only played one game where I lost him early (despite dozens of kidnappin attempts), and even in that case I ended up able to keep my other blessed, Rev. Perry, around long enough to build back up and take the win. I don't think that is a typical outcome I should expect of my deck if losing Tolarios early, but I don't have enough experience to say one way or the other.
Another unfortunate fact I've noticed is the most successful blessed decks of the somewhat-recent past have all used Takin Ya With Me. Some in combination with Lay on Hands and others - like mine - with Get Behind Me, Satan. Either way, they all seem to employ some sort of 'lose-to-win' strategy, which can often be a negative play experience for some people. Even if that's not the main strategy (it's not with my list), it's clearly one way that blessed lists have found to get around the 'never lose, never win' problem. At least while 'not losing' we can inflict a casualty here and there, right? Well, this is certainly something to keep in mind for the development of this archetype if the goal is to generally dissuade wide spread use of 'lose to win' tactics.
Overall, I see Blessed as equally competitive as any other archetype to take any level of tournament. Compared to, say Calling the Cavalry horse decks, the options are more limited and there are often more complex decisions to make, but overall with the right list and the right pilot a blessed deck can do very well in the current environment. One thing they have going for them is, of any other archetype, the Blessed have the tools to deal with any type of shenanigans that currently exist - and all of these tools are searchable with Tolarios. It's tricky to try and fit all of these tools in one deck and still make it work, but the options are there.
I don't see the Blessed being particularly tournament viable outside of the Law Dogs (4 outfits), but perhaps with some better drifter or non-Law Dogs blessed, we can see the archetype open up into other factions. That's not to say you can't make a Sloane or 108 Righteous Bandits blessed deck work, but I just don't think it'll be something you see reoccurring in top 4/8 tournament lists. For now, I think the Law Dogs variety have the ability to be in the 'top tier' deck archetypes, and I'm excited to see how the blessed archetype will evolve.