Altador Cup VI: A Preliminary Analysis
It's coming! (And no, it's not a shower of neopoints. Though you could stand to wash a bit better, pfaugh...) The great summertime event known as the Altador Cup returns for its sixth annual competition and the teams have been preparing even more heartily than ever. Much of the actual players' practices and plans have been kept under wraps, but the fans--who, one might argue, are just as integral to their teams succeeding or failing in the Cup--are toiling away in the spotlight. On the Neoboards, the chatgroups are revving up. The annual questions are stirring: who will win, who will lose; who will surprise, who will disappoint; is the winner's curse still legit, or will a former champion not just break into the top tier this time, but re-claim the Cup? Many of these questions won't be answered until the Cup gets underway, but we can take a good stab at some of them right now.
What changed in ACV, and what did we learn?
1. The winner's curse isn't as potent as it used to be.
Krawk comes up with a solid 7th. Roo makes it to the top tier alongside Darigan, who becomes the first Cup winner to repeat on the medal stand.
2. Everybody in the pool--all eighteen lands compete.
Great news for those who love an all-out Neopian slugfest. Not-so-great news for Moltara and Altador who had to suffer through a four-day slog against each other in the finals.
3. The finals get glitchy again, and side games turn tides.
It wouldn't be the AC without a good controversy, and ACV didn't disappoint: glitched finals. Teams scrambled to recover from the first day of the finals where nobody knew what was going on, and most had hardly played. Strategies disassembled themselves faster than TNT could Tower of Turnips. And since Slushie Slinger seemed to count just as much as Make Some Noise as well as Shootout Showdown (a huge change), many teams' strategies in the finals suddenly evolved into a pick-your-poison side game + YYB combo, with some disastrous results.
4. Rest days! Everyone rejoiced.
No, really, they did. And a fair few of us saw daylight for the first time in a while, I'd wager.
5. It's no sure thing anymore; the Nefarious Nine heat things up.
The Nefarious Nine were the nine teams who, for most of the Cup, were in the running for the top tier. They also finished 1-9 in the Double Round Robin: Kreludor, Darigan Citadel, Lost Desert, Roo Island, Meridell, Virtupets, Krawk Island, Maraqua, and the late-game surger Haunted Woods. Each team made the fight for fourth--and then, the right to remain in the second tier--a nailbiter.
6. Not quite fearless deeds, but they'll do.
Achievements mean players get nifty little prizes for competing, and with the gauntlet being thrown by a few of these achievements, some found themselves playing more than usual, especially in side games. (I'm looking at you, Make Some Noise. D'you know how many of the keys on my keyboard fail to work now?)
What happened in the finals?
Lost Desert took home the Cup, defeating Kreludor roundly in the final match; Darigan vaporized the tough-minded Roo Island for third; and Altador survived the fury of Moltara to avoid finishing last. Other finals surprises included Meridell collapsing in the second tier after a strong run for the top four; Tyrannia and Terror Mountain serving Shenkuu and Haunted Woods unusual Yooyuball losses in the third tier; and returnee team Brightvale recovering from their mid-season implosion to take care of business in the fourth tier.
With finals matches taken into consideration, Maraqua had the best Yooyuball record; Tyrannia took down Slushie Slinger gold once again; Kreludor suddenly found Make Some Noise prowess; and Terror Mountain picked up where Virtupets left off in ACIV and crushed nearly everyone in Shootout Showdown.
But how did the teams do overall--and who's going to be on top this time?
It was anyone's game going into tier play for the finals, but as every team knows (including poor Meridell and Haunted Woods, who just missed zipping up a tier), you have to get to the top tier to have a shot at the gold. That means that a top tier team's performance in the Double Round-Robin is key, and all-around talent is a must. Here's an alphabetical breakdown of the teams' performance in the DRR, with some commentary on why they ended up where they did.
*Notes: Statistics, if not indicated, almost always refer to the team's performance pre-finals. In the DRR, each team played one another twice, so the pre-finals statistics are (for me) more balanced than those which take into account the four matches in the finals. For example: MD rocked YYB in the DRR, but tanked in the finals, decreasing their overall performance in that game; I choose to acknowledge, statistically, their prowess against all the teams in even balance, rather than skewing the results with the extra finals matches.
DNP = Did Not Participate.
DRR finish: 17th; final placement: 17th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 14th, 13th, 13th, 15th.
Strengths: Slushie Slinger, with a finish of 11th out of 18th--not too bad!--in the DRR with 11 wins, 6 draws, and 17 losses.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, just about everything else.
What happened?: Altador swept day one. That was about the end of the good news for AL. Perennially a tiny power--though not necessarily always a tiny team--Altador lived up to its reputation in ACV, essentially becoming what Faerieland had in early years: a Slushie Slinger menace, but otherwise nonthreatening.
What next?: Likely, continuing to make a solid reputation in Slushie Slinger. If teams fear them enough in Slush, they might overcompensate and AL can steal a draw or a win in another side game, maybe even Yooyuball.
DRR finish: 13th; final placement: 13th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 8th, 12th, 16th, DNP.
Strengths: Slushie Slinger, with a 3rd place finish in the DRR, garnering 23 wins, 3 draws, and just 8 losses.
Weaknesses: MSN and SOSD, finishing in 14th in both games. Also: morale.
What happened?: Brightvale, like Altador, rose high in the early going. Everyone feared that BV had "pulled a Shenkuu" and was going to maul us all. They took the top seed for a while, even. Then they took a loss. And another. And before you knew it, BV crashed down harder than Faerieland Castle in The Faeries' Ruin.
What next?: They'll try to keep the faith going, try to hang on to their best players, and pick one other side game (I'd try MSN) to excel at. Many teams tried for the ego-win to best BV's Slush strength, and this might come in handy once more.
DRR finish: 2nd; final placement: 3rd.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 2nd, 1st, 7th, 7th.
Strengths: Golly, everything? 3rd in YYB, 4th in Slush, 3rd in MSN...
Weaknesses: ...And then there's SOSD, where they finished 10th with a losing record of 12-9-13.
What happened?: Glitches in the finale caught everyone off-guard, but mostly DC just ran into the brick wall of LD. Their ROOdiculous destruction of the highly capable RI in the next match proves that DC has no trouble with morale. Their reputation, once their largest handicap, is even improving.
What next?: Trying not to fall down in the back stretch as in previous years; they avoided doom this time, and will need to keep it up. Also, the glaring weakness in SOSD will need shoring up. If you stink at one game, the chances of getting into the top tier diminish greatly. Luckily for them, DC's a motivated team that doesn't play around.
DRR finish: 16th; final placement: 15th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 16th, 15th, 15th, 16th.
Strengths: They're hard to pin down; one Cup it's Slush, the next it's YYB. Their best record was in SOSD, finishing 7-3-24 and 15th overall in it.
Weaknesses: Their reputation for being a poor team precedes them. Also, not so hot at MSN--just 2 wins.
What happened?: Faerieland continued their trend of not being able to produce against the tough teams, but against more equally matched opponents they were capable of mass terror. The good part? Everyone loves Faerieland now...
What next?: The recent plot means newbies might be predisposed to joining FL and making them great. Their chatboard has one of the strongest reputations for being kindly and moofin-loving. Protect your YYB goals, because FL might just kick a bit of can.
DRR finish: 9th; final placement: 12th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 1st, 7th, 8th, 10th.
Strengths: YYB, finishing 4th overall in the game with a 21-7-6 record; and Slush, finishing 5th.
Weaknesses: SOSD (ranked 11th) and MSN (ranked 12th). Morale, for sure. Also, winner's curse and trending decline.
What happened?: HW started off with perhaps the worst schedule any team has ever had, and during the first five days they got mopped worse than a 1st place trophy game of Mop 'n' Bop. In true felix culpa, however, HW got underestimated and paid back many a team in the second round of the DRR, storming to what many thought would be the greatest comeback since Shenkuu, ACII. Unfortunately, HW hit the wall right near the end and was the victim of the Nefarious Nine contenders who just came up short.
What next?: The former Kings and Queens of the Draw have shown that they can, absolutely, buck a trend. They keep declining in finish year after year, but if you slack off against HW, you're, well, dead. They have a solid reputation and will be underestimated. Mark my words--the Woods are coming back.
DRR finish: 14th; final placement: 16th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 13th, 15th, DNP, 14th.
Strengths: Slushie Slinger! Their only winning record came there, finishing with a superb 14-7-13 and 7th in the game overall.
Weaknesses: Everything else, including MSN where they finished dead last statistically. Also, the thought is that KL's fanbase is teensy tiny, being a member of the TWERPS alliance for smaller teams.
What happened?: KL continued to be the SOSD streak-breaker, ending TM's perfect run just like they did to VP in ACIV. They also cleaned up in Slush, taking draws and wins from nearly everyone. Unfortunately, KL couldn't compensate in any other game, and so stayed constant in the 4th tier.
What next?: When they focus all their members on a singular task, KL will achieve that task or come pretty darned close. While YYB isn't their best sport, fear their side game ability every time. You never know what those wily Kikos can do; and if they can get as good in another side game as they have in Slush, they could possibly escape the 4th tier.
DRR finish: 7th; final placement: 7th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 1st.
Strengths: Although it keeps bouncing around side-game wise, you can never count them out in YYB (7th/8th overall in a tough field, at 21-5-8) or MSN, where they finished with their highest statistical rating (in this Cup) at 5th.
Weaknesses: Slush. 9-10-15. 12th overall. Also, they're probably losing Dasher, a key team member who garnered and kept most of their fans.
What happened? Winner's curse... not so much. Krawk was in it to win it from day one, and although they were never really a favorite to take it all home, they stayed competitive all the way. If anyone could, it would've been Krawk, I suppose. VP tripped them up in the finals, but they manhandled the struggling Meridell to hold on to a more-than-respectable 7th.
What next?: Krawk's one of the hugest question marks going into this new season--will Dasher's absence help or harm the team? Will they rise now that the "winner's curse" passes to LD? Is 7th place good enough to be ignored by freeloaders? One thing's for sure: more than a few teams will get turned into Food Club leftovers by the Krawks. Watch out for them in MSN.
DRR finish: 1st; final placement: 2nd.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 9th, DNP, 6th, 4th.
Strengths: MSN, finishing second overall in the DRR, and SOSD, finishing third with a record of 25-2-7. Not bad in Slush either, with a 6th place finish.
Weaknesses: Weirdly enough for a team placing so highly, YYB--they finished 9th and with the worst record of the Nefarious Nine gunning for the top, though still picking up 21 wins in the process. Also, they finished 2nd. And yes, in this day and age, that's a weakness.
What happened?: Finally, the tiny team that could didn't choke in the finals, though it was a near thing. And once again, they emerged as DRR champions, never quite dominating but never swept, either. Their reputation devolved, slightly.
What next?: Safe odds are on KD taking a huge hit thanks to freeloaders, similar to what happened to Shenkuu this past season. Couple that with KD's glaring weakness in YYB and you could have a team heading into free fall... though isn't that what analysts say every year? Watch out in Slush; they've slain giants in it and used it to win against Roo in the finals.
DRR finish: 3rd; final placement: 1st.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 5th, 5th, 3rd, 3rd.
Strengths: Let me count the ways...5th in YYB; 2nd in Slush; 1st in MSN at the end of the DRR, finishing 27-1-6.
Weaknesses: Well, they won, so expect (as usual) a lot of folks to jump overboard. (Oversand?) Also, not so hot in SOSD, finishing 9th overall with a winning record of 14-8-12.
What happened?: LD proved why they were the favorites and terrorized a path to the top tier with little trouble. They got everyone's best game and as such got beat up as the second round dawned, but they took charge in the finals and stomped DC, then KD into submission.
What next?: Safe odds are on LD taking the same fall Krawk did: mid-second tier. And while LD's always been a tough team to beat right from the start, the winner's curse could cripple them this time. Watch for a Slush collapse.
DRR finish: 8th; final placement: 5th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 10th, 9th, 10th, 5th.
Strengths: Focus. Also, best in YYB post-finals and sixth overall pre-finals at 21-6-7.
Weaknesses: Side games. 7th in SOSD isn't anything to sneeze at, but 9th and 10th in MSN and Slush, respectively, indicates a glacier in the ocean.
What happened?: One of the largest teams fanwise, Maraqua crushed all comers in the finals after a solid performance in the DRR. They took some truly weird losses along the way, though, and even I can't figure out their side game strategy. Better left for aged sages, I guess...
What next?: The favorite of many to win, MQ continues for the second straight year to get a lot of hype. It's well-deserved hype, however, since they proved they're here to stay in the fight for the top tier. They will be a fearsome YYB force once more, and they'll continue to work one side game more than the others a great portion of the time. One problem: if MQ gets unwieldy size-wise, can their leaders keep them in check? They're ruthlessly organized, but nobody can control morale--or a fishy reputation.
DRR finish: 5th; final placement: 8th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 7th, 8th, 5th, 11th.
Strengths: Good Fyora, YOOYUBALL. A phenom in the DRR, finishing first (tied with Roo) at 23-7-4. Solid in MSN, too, at 18-4-12.
Weaknesses: Uncharacteristically, Slush (9th overall, at 11-9-14) and morale, collapsing in the finals.
What happened? Meridell, thy moat was invaded by Maraqua, and they sunk your battleship. Similar to KD in ACIII, Meridell put up a strong showing statistically only to choke in the finals, achieving just two wins out of a possible sixteen. (Oddly enough, it was Meridell's defeat of KD in ACIII that started KD's reputation as a "choker".)
What next?: MD is the risky bet for the top spot, though they still seem as fearsome as ever. They'll continue to roll in YYB and shore up that odd year in Slush. If they don't make the top tier, I'll be shocked, though if I can guess why I'll say it'll be because of MSN.
DRR finish: 18th; final placement: 18th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): DNP, DNP, DNP, DNP.
Strengths: Aside from a burgeoning reputation for being pretty great folks in general? MSN. They finished 15th overall with 8 wins, pushing rivals AL, FL, and KL down the totem pole.
Weaknesses: SOSD. Also YYB, in which they ended the season winless. Also, they're new and they're small.
What happened? The newbies got pwned. Sadly for MT, most folks had too strong a loyalty to their own team and MT's membership wilted. A day one decimation at the hands of Altador didn't help matters, either. Their morale got the bottom cut out of it. Some players abandoned them. In the beginning they showed a talent for drawing Slush with even some of the top teams, but that fell away, too.
What next? They'll lose the chaff and keep the goods, though how high they'll rise--or if they'll rise--is anyone's guess. Beware them in the side games, and whoever gets the dubious honor of being the first team MT beats (outright) in YYB might just suffer a huge collapse.
DRR finish: 15th; final placement: 14th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 6th, 6th, 9th, 6th.
Strengths: It has been and will always continue to be YYB; they took 11th overall at 13-6-15.
Weaknesses: Morale, and side games, including a dismal 16th place in Slush at 9-6-19.
What happened?: I'm sure MI would like to know that, too. In short, they fell all sorts of apart and couldn't even clean out BV for bragging rights after slipping all the way to the fourth tier.
What next?: MI is the most unpredictable team you'll ever meet in the side games (not even MQ compares on this one), but they'll always scare in YYB. Watch for them to rebound to the third tier or higher and shore up in MSN.
DRR finish: 4th; final placement: 4th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 4th, 2nd, 1st, 9th.
Strengths: YYB, where they tied for first overall with Meridell. Also, unexpectedly, SOSD, with a behemoth-like 2nd place finish at 28-2-4 pre-finals.
Weaknesses: Also unexpectedly, given their ability in past Cups: Slush. 9-8-17, 15th overall.
What happened?: The team that fought their way into the top four and out of the winner's curse shadow did so with style, racking up YYB and SOSD wins to cover their MSN and Slush weaknesses. Unfortunately for Roo, a win in Slush by KD on day 1 of the finals was the deciding factor, and they went on to lose to DC in the fight for third.
What next?: If you think the Rooligans are done for, you need to get your head examined. Watch as they clean up the Slush record and clean house in YYB. Watch, too, that MSN weakness; it might keep them from the high seeding they deserve. A top-four favorite.
DRR finish: 10th; final placement: 11th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): DNP, 3rd, 4th, 2nd.
Strengths: Like MI, it's always gonna be YYB. They finished 10th overall, at 17-7-10.
Weaknesses: Just SOSD, statistically, where they finished 12th overall at 9-8-17.
What happened?: I'm sure SK would like to know that, too. From the start they faltered, but that's Shenkuu's MO: lackluster open, brilliant finish. Not so this time around. They started low and stayed there, piloting themselves to be the "best of the rest" and not even a vague contender to be part of the Nefarious Nine.
What next?: Shenkuu can recover, and likely will. Don't forget: they posted an 8th place finish in Slushie Slinger, and with their YYB game still solid they can easily gain momentum early on this year. But if they don't, they'll find themselves face-to-face with the fourth tier.
DRR finish: 12th; final placement: 9th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 15th, 10th, 12th, 13th.
Strengths: Oh, just a first-place, 32-0-2 record in SOSD. Also, the ultimate dark horse pick.
Weaknesses: YYB, unfortunately, and Slush; they finished 13th overall in each.
What happened?: They stole Virtupets' thunder in SOSD and streaked nearly to perfection; only Kiko Lake and then Maraqua could dent them. In the finals, they shocked everyone by manhandling HW and then, by virtue only of two MSN wins, taking down Tyrannia for a record-best 9th place finish.
What next?: If they continue the VP trend and use the nigh-impervious SOSD record to their YYBing advantage, they'll turn into a Terror, for sure. Even if they don't, look for them to turn into another Tyrannia; beasts in one side game, and not too shabby in another (for TM, that's MSN, where they finished 6th--yes, 6th!--overall).
DRR finish: 11th; final placement: 10th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 11th, 11th, 11th, 8th.
Strengths: Perhaps you've heard of it, it's called Slushie Slinger and you can't beat them at it. Well, you can (here's looking at you, Meridell, who seems to do it nearly every year), but at 29-3-2 and a first place finish in it, they've got a pretty imposing track record. Still cleaning up at MSN (4th overall) and just to make things worse for everyone else, they're starting to work SOSD: 5th overall. Oh, and just about everyone loves them.
Weaknesses: Just like every year: YYB. They sagged to 14th overall with just 7 wins.
What happened?: They got a line-up change on the YYB front, and suddenly starting kicking boots at SOSD alongside MSN and Slush. Unfortunately, their YYB slumped just too much for them to stay competitive, and the Side Game Kings and Queens reverted to third-tier glory... until they smacked Shenkuu around in the finals, even besting them in YYB. Twice.
What next?: With an awesome reputation on the NeoBoards and for their side games, everyone will continue to try and take Tyrannia out in at least one side game to avoid the "Tyrannian Sweep." This, like every other year, leaves TY open to take a run at YYB. If they do it, Fyora help us all. If not, they'll still be a pain in the sides.
DRR finish: 6th; final placement: 6th.
Previous performances (ACI-ACIV, out of 16 teams): 12th, 16th, 14th, 12th.
Strengths: It's still SOSD, as they finished 4th overall in it, but they turned it around in YYB. With a 21-5-8 record, they tied with Krawk Island for a 7th/8th place finish.
Weaknesses: Like many of the Nefarious Nine, VP wasn't so hot at Slush, finishing 14th overall at 11-4-19. Also, the teams are on to them now, and will always give VP a tough match.
What happened?: They got good at YYB. The ultimate ACV sleeper, VP woke up and ate for breakfast anyone who dared poke it in the eye while it was sleeping. They kept MSN solid and SOSD blitzing right along, but their weakness in Slush kept them out of the top tier. In the finals, they put up a brave fight but got swallowed up by MQ to finish 6th. I don't think they were complaining, though.
What next?: Like Roo, this is another favorite for the top tier. If the only thing you're weak in is Slush these days, you're in the same boat as just about everyone else. They can focus just as well as MQ, with a quarter of the size. (Maybe a sixth, really.) Watch. Out.
And now, before we go:
Predictions are like Omelettes; everybody has one lying around somewhere. Here are my (final placement) predictions, for the moment, and I'm taking some rather unorthodox risks with them:
Thanks for reading, and good luck in the Cup!
Note: I play for team Kreludor, and when they sat out and/or were eliminated from contention in ACI and ACII, I played for HW, LD, and RI. I therefore have considerable bias which I have, for journalism's sake, attempted to set aside. No offense intended to any team, truly. I did my best. I have no regrets. Chicken rules.