What do you call it? The Aristocrats!

Introduction

So let’s take a moment to look at where Set 8’s format stands.  At first, we saw powerful linear decks – Momentum and Candles.  These decks received dramatic buffs and clear, powerful mechanics from the latest set release.  They have big gameplans that, if you don’t interact with them, will kill you quickly.  Some people wrote a lot of words about how to think about formats like this, and how to attack them.  But, it turns out, people listened; last week’s bash was a tour of force for control decks with the devious and durdly taking 7 out of the top 8 spots.  More than that, about 70% of the decks in the tournament (59/85) played in traditionally control shards (Sapphire, Blood-Diamond, Mono-Blood).  42 of those decks were in the big 3:  Blood-Diamond, Diamond-Sapphire, and Blood Sapphire.

And so it was that we found ourself asking the hard-hitting questions.  Should we start our curve at 3, or 4?  Is 2 Psychic Ascensions enough?  Can we maindeck 4 Primordial Cockatwice, 4 Demented Whispers and 4 Withering Gaze, or is 3 Gaze enough?  Which brings us to the big-picture idea of this article:

Take the Road Less Traveled

Let’s be straight on what I mean here:  If the format’s aggressive, don’t play aggressive decks.  If the format’s full of control, don’t play control decks.  Don’t try to build a control deck that’s tuned against control decks.  Don’t try to build an aggressive deck that’s tuned against aggressive decks.

Why?  Because there’s always somebody out there who’s willing to sell out harder than you.  This is just a statement of fact.   Seriously – look at the decks that did well.  The winner: 3 removal spells, 11 plays for 1 or 2 resources.  The most popular deck in the top 8:  No early interaction except 2 Into the Unknowns, and 10 plays for 1 or 2 resources.  These guys took a look at the metagame, said “there aren’t any great aggro decks here” … and they were right.  They honed in on Exalted Pathfinder as a source of crazy card advantage if you could protect him with runebind, as well as an unbeatable road block for decks that were trying to attack without speed.

Having control decks be dominant early on in a format isn’t terribly uncommon.  The core cards for control have been around for a while – blood decks with Cheap Shot, Herofall and Strangle and DS decks with Dark Hearts and Clash of Steel.  Meanwhile, the good aggressive decks change every format.  So the natural refuge of players, unless something stands out as gross, is to play slower decks with high-quality cards.

As usual, the answer is generally to do something else.  So here we try to brew an aggro deck that has a lot of reach:  the ability to do a lot of damage without actually having to punch through blockers.

The Aristocrats

So, there’s an old TCG archetype that involves sacrificing a lot of troops for fun and profit, called The Aristocrats (after an old Magic: The Gathering card called Cartel Aristocrats).  The idea is that you get value when a troop hits the board, you get value when a troop leaves the board, and you get value from a troop being in the crypt.

These decks tend to be good against control for a couple of reasons.  First, they tend to have troops that let you sacrifice other troops for a benefit at quick speed, so it’s difficult for control to get value out of removal.  Second, they tend to use the crypt, which is a tough zone to interact with.  Finally, because they are value-oriented decks, they can often grind on a value axis with control decks.  They can sometimes struggle against other aggressive decks because it can take some time to get their engine online…but hey, who’s playing aggressive decks right now?

So on to the genesis of the deck:  Dead of Winter came a whole bunch of new troops with a strong deathcry theme…interestingly, most of them in mono-blood.  Specifically, it also brought about an absolute bomb (…remember how we talk every article about cheating resource costs…):  Doomed Guardian, a mass reanimation spell on a 6/6 lethal body.  Doomed Guardian comes with a catch, though – he’s got to die in order for his reanimation to happen, and he only brings back troops with death cries.

A thing that gets value from dying?  Let’s look at what sacrifice outlets are in standard:  Giant Centipede and Lazgar’s Bloodsworn both allow you to sacrifice troops at quick speed whenever you want.  So if Doomed Guardian gets on the board and you have a sacrifice outlet, there is nothing your opponent can do to prevent you from bringing back every troop in your crypt.  We complement Doomed Guardian with a whole bunch of aggressively costed cards with powerful deathcries.

While you might think that this deck naturally wants to be in Blood-Wild for the deathcry synergy, due to the need for sacrifice outlets and an aggressive slant, we end up in Blood-Ruby.  The result is a deck that has aggressive draws, reach, and requires a ton of thought to play.  It’s also the deck that, so far, has made me giggle madly the most in this format.  So that’s good.

Decklist

Champion: Isabella the Cursed
3x Ruby Shard
1x Blood Shard
3x Naive Lackey
4x Well of Hatred
4x Nefarious Corruptor – Gems: 4x Major Blood Orb of Fleshcraft
2x Shard of Hatred
2x Giant Centipede
2x Nightbloom
4x Lazgar’s Bloodsworn
4x Boltwing Phoenix
2x Herofall
4x Blood Ice
4x Ruby Ice
4x Lady Violet Blightbark
2x Doomed Guardian
4x Blightbark Burster
3x Exalted Cabalist
4x Blightbark Reserve
4x Liberated Berserker
Reserves:
1x Herofall
1x Exalted Cabalist
2x Disruptor Drone
3x Return to Cinder
2x Stalking Quarry
4x Massacre
2x Ghastly Exchange

 

On to the main components of the decklist.  Let’s start with the engines:

Let’s be serious:  by themselves, these are sort of embarrassing cards.  Not sure they’d even see play.  But we don’t get Hideous Conversion in standard, and we need to be able to sacrifice our troops for fun and profit, so these are the cards we’re playing.  We’re only playing 2 centipede because, by himself, he’s a pretty embarrassing card.  These cards are sneaky good – our deck feels okay when they’re not on the table, and absolutely unstoppable when they are.  As a 2-cost 3/3, Lazgar’s is also more than able to brawl with aggressive decks like Momentum; he can stuff a Righteous Waxshot or Leprechaun Artist on the draw.  Nightbloom is sort of like a sacrifice outlet; it lets us trigger the deathcries of a troop, while also functioning as a reasonable combat trick.  We’ll talk more about it later.

Straight truth:  I started looking at deathcry decks because Blightbark Burster was really good against me when the AI played it.  A 4/2 for 3 in a deck that wants its troops to die is fine stats, and being virtually guaranteed to do 3 damage is terrific.  Frequently, control decks will stabilize at low health; this deck excels at sneaking that last bit of damage through.  Nefarious Corruptor, gemmed with a Major Gem of Fleshcraft, is also a deathcry troop that persistently sneaks damage through.  Most decks play a troop or two that they need to use to stabilize.

Finally, Liberated Berserker is a sneakily powerful card because of how he synergizes with our champion power.  Basically, his deathcry lets us make more zombies with the same deathcry…which lets us make more zombies with the same deathcry.  He’s also a very reasonable 2-drop that can get some damage in and then die with purpose.  We’ll talk about him in the Tips and Tricks section.

And the good Hex Devs said, “Let there be Value” – and it was good.  These 3 cards let us accrue huge chunks of value in the mid-game.  Boltwing Phoenix doesn’t die to anything except Void Removal, and has one of the most powerful deathcries in the game.  Exalted Cabalist is virtually guaranteed 3-for-1 (takes a card from their hand, gives you a card in your hand, eats a removal spell) that will absolutely bury people if you get repeated uses of its deathcry.  It’s also a reasonably aggressive body.  Finally, Naïve Lackey just makes a lot of your draws a lot smoother.

One way to think about this deck is as a toolbox deck; its goal is to get a lot of troops into its crypt and then have access to the deathcries of those troops through hero powers and Lady Violet Blightbark.  By having a couple of lackeys, “Draw a Card” becomes one of the deathcry effects you have access to.  It also acts as an okay roadbump for aggressive decks.

We have 3 ways of re-using deathcry troops once they’re in our crypt.  We’ve talked about Doomed Guardian a bit, which is just a blanket reanimation spell.  Almost all of our troops have deathcries, so it’s just a beautiful un-board-wipe.  The second is Isabella the Cursed’s champion power, which voids a troop in our crypt and makes a zombie with the same deathcries.  This is an incredibly strong power, when you consider how good our deathcries are.  It can deal 2+ damage to the opposing side of the board (Boltwing Phoenix), steal a card from the opponent’s hand (Exalted Cabalist), do 3 damage (Blightbark Burster), or reanimate every troop in our crypt (Doomed Guardian).  Yes, you can make a Doomed Guardian Zombie.

Most saliently, it can also do All Of Those At the Same Time, which is where things get deeply upsetting for our opponent.  Lady Violet Blightbark is the best card in this deck and it’s not close:  she allows you to stack multiple deathcries on a single troop, which, aside from granting you the mass re-use of all the troops in your crypt, lets a hero power that targets the Lady make a zombie with a ton of deathcry effects.  When that zombie hits the crypt, you still have a single troop with a bucket of deathcry effects, so the Lady is a gift that just keeps on giving.  Finally, unlike Doomed Guardian and Isabella’s hero power, Lady Violet leaves the troop in the crypt so you can use it again.

Reserves

So, this deck is somewhat pre-boarded against control decks.  Against aggressive decks of all kinds, our troops can be a bit undersized.  So we’re basically going to go for one of two plans:  we’re either going to stay relatively similar-sized and make some small tweaks as to removal, or we’re going to look to wipe the board, run our opponent out of resources, and eventually drain/combo them out with something deeply silly.

Control (DS , WS, Mono-Blood):

-2 Nightbloom

-1 Naïve Lackey

-1 Nefarious Corruptor

+2 Ghastly Exchange

+1 Herofall

+1 Exalted Cabalist

These tend to be relatively good matchups.  None of these decks have particularly strong clocks, and they all rely on very specific pieces to establish those clocks.  Aside from Silver Talon Adjudicator in DS and Vampire Prince in Mono-Blood, they have no life gain.  In this MUs, you’re basically looking to count to your opponent’s life total.  Pay attention to how much damage you have, and what combinations of charge powers, Lady Violet’s, Nefarious Corruptors and hasty Boltwings will ensure your opponent’s demise.

As a general rule, if you can get an Exalted Cabalist into your bin, you can quickly empty the opponent’s hand of non-shards.  When given the opportunity to take an opponent’s hand and place in yours, I highly recommend doing so.

In control matchups, we trim Nightbloom because control decks often play quick-speed removal.  We replace it with Ghastly Exchange, which functions as a sacrifice outlet and also lets us see some more of our deck.  We also trim a Naïve Lackey and a Nefarious Corruptor because we can afford to be a bit slow, and bring in the 4th Exalted Cabalist along with Herofall

Notes on what to Herofall:  Bride of the Damned needs to be dealt with immediately.  Likewise, it can be tough to race Vampire Princes.  Out of DS, you want to herofall Silver Talon Adjudicator to limit life gain and Eldurathan’s Glory to limit their board wipes.  Dark Heart is much less of a problem – you have tons of sacrifice fodder, and it slows their progress as well.  Against WS, their deck can fall apart if they don’t have access to Exalted Pathfinder.

Candles

-3 Exalted Cabalist

-1 Liberated Berserker

+4 Massacre

It’s tough to 1-for-1 candles to death, and they can rapidly get out of control, so this is a tough matchup.  So your plan in this matchup is straightforward:  You’re going to clear the board and drain them out.  A typical winning gameplan will involve massacring (or using Boltwing Phoenix to board wipe) and eventually doing something really dumb with Lady Violet.

Liberated Berserker gets outclassed by their troops too fast, and their hands are frequently pretty empty, so Cabalist is a bit slow.  Massacre, on the other hand, often resets their board.

Herofall is for Scion of Lyvaanth and any other card that’s going to establish an oppressive board state by itself.  Try not to Herofall candles.

Momentum

-3 Exalted Cabalist

-1 Liberated Berserker

-1 Nefarious Corruptor

+1 Herofall

+4 Massacre

This plan is similar, except you’re a bit more reliant on Herofall:  You need to get cards like Shamrock the Goldfather off the board.  We cut Nefarious Corruptor because, while it blocks twice, our goal is to wipe the opponent’s board, so persistent damage effects are not as valuable here.

Fire Herofall off on the first important 4-of you can find in their deck.

BD Verdict

-2 Herofall

-2 Nightbloom

-1 Nefarious Corruptor

+2 Ghastly Exchange

+1 Exalted Cabalist

+2 Disruptor Drone

These guys don’t have troops, so we trim Herofall and add in ways to get rid of Twilight Justice.  Our goal here is just to drain them out.  First, always give them phantoms.  Whether or not you give them daybreaks or nightfalls depends on your draws.  Your goal here should be to get a couple Exalted Cabalist triggers and take all of their cards so they can’t From the Ashes your best troops…and then just out-value them.  This is an exceptionally good matchup.

Tips and Tricks

You may notice that my love of a deck is proportional to the length of the tricks and tips list.  That would be observant of you.

  • Freaking Count Damage. This isn’t the fastest deck.  But it can do a lot of damage.  2 blightbark bursters in the crypt, a sacrifice outlet on board and a Lady Violet in hand?  You can do 12 points of damage (Lady Violet, sacrifice Lady Violet, make a Lady Violet Zombie, Sacrifice it).  If your opponent’s at 16, put Nefarious Corruptor on something and plan to kill them in 2 turns.
  • Giant Centipede and Lazgar’s Bloodsworn
    • Sacrifice outlets let you interact at quick speed without having any resources up. Never auto-pass with this deck.
    • If you are using a deathcry troop to block, and it’s not important to do the damage to the blocked troop, sacrifice it to Bloodsworn after blocks but before damage
    • If you sacrifice a troop targeted by Herofall, you will not have to discard copies of the troop in your hand or deck.
    • In Hex, targeted effects imply “in play”. If you sacrifice something targeted by Pippit Hustler, it won’t transform in the crypt.  Likewise, something targeted by Into the Unknown won’t transform.
    • It’s usually not valuable to play out multiple sacrifice outlets. Save one in your hand for when the first is dealt with.
    • Against decks with Winter’s Grasp, sacrificing a troop to trigger Bloodsworn’s rage is frequently worth it – it will dodge Grasp.
  • Nightbloom:
    • Nightbloom on a Liberated Berserker will generate a ton of charges.
    • Nightbloom on a Phoenix is a 5-resource, 1-sided board clear. You can also do this with a zombie from Isabella’s hero power.  Phoenix is by far your most important card in aggressive matchups.
    • Nightbloom on Nefarious Corruptor produces a 6/3 Abomination at quick speed.
    • Nightbloom can be used to counteract both Winter’s Grasp and Return to Cinder, two popular hate cards for our deck
  • Blightbark Reserve has two uses: It can either make your sacrifice outlets have deathcries, so Doomed Guardian can bring them back, or, more commonly, you can use it to stack up a whole bunch of deathcries on a single troop.  This deck is going to win the long game, so making zombies to throw in front of opponents’ bigger troops can be very important.
  • Nefarious Corruptor:
    • Target a troop that you think is likely to survive, and one that you can afford to have survive
    • Don’t put its effect on a troop with lifelink. It will do nothing.
    • Feel free to throw the 3/2 body under the bus. It’s not worth much.
  • Lady Violet Blightbark
    • If she picks up Boltwing Phoenix’s deathcry, remember that she has lethal: she’s going to wipe the entire opposing board if that triggers, because all of her damage is lethal damage.
    • It’s virtually always right to add Liberated Berserker’s deathcry, because Lady Vi’s death will then give you 4 charges (80% of a hero power).
    • Remember that she targets 3 troops – not 3 deathcries. So if you target a troop with multiple deathcries, she will get all of them.  This is good incentive to stack up deathcries using Blightbark Reserve
    • Zombies created from the Lady have all of her deathcries. They are some of the grossest 2/2s you will ever see.
  • Second Lady Blightbark (Yep. This is happening.)
    • If you play a 2nd Lady Violet Blightbark while there is a first one in play:
      • The first one will die, triggering her deathcries
      • The second one can target the first, and two other troops, getting all of the first Lady’s deathcries on her plus some bonuses
    • If the first targeted a Boltwing Phoenix, you can bring the first back to your and and do all this again next turn but with more deathcries. This is an unspeakably gross and fun thing to do.  Your opponent will generally concede at this point because, I assume, they hate fun.
  • Liberated Berserker
    • Liberated Berserker Charge Math is one of the harder parts of this deck. As a general rule, if you’re not sure if you’re going to hit your next resource drop, and he’s at 4ish power (and you think the game will be decided soon), it’s time to throw him under the bus and take your free hero power.
    • Once you’ve got a Liberated Berserker in your crypt, remember that you can always use charges to make a zombie that will give you charges.
  • Boltwing Phoenix
    • Putting enough Blightbark Reserves on a Boltwing Phoenix is a pretty good way to bury any deck without void removal.
    • Remember that Boltwing has inherent value just sitting in our crypt. If it gets massacred, it’s often not worth it to bring it back to hand as a -1/-1; just leave it in the crypt, we’ll get that deathcry eventually.
    • If you need to kill Momentum’s board, you can sacrifice Boltwing Phoenix to one of our sacrifice outlets during their ready step before their troops get momentum triggers.
  • Doomed Guardian
    • Against decks with void removal or transform, try not to play Doomed Guardian without a sacrifice outlet on the table.
    • Doomed Guardian is actually more valuable in the crypt than on the board. His deathcry voids him, whereas in the crypt we can get multiple uses of it with Lady Violet
    • Remember that he brings troops into play exhausted.
  • Exalted Cabalist
    • This is your best deathcry vs. control decks. Do everything you can to keep this troop’s deathcry available.  It means that every 5 charges, you 2-for-1 your opponent – a significantly better rate of value than any other champion power.
  • Remember that your hero power lets you effectively play a deathcry troop to the board without spending resources. This can be a good way to effectively double-spell on a single turn.

Conclusions

Honestly, this deck is just super fun.  It’s not the best deck in the format.  Its cards are not invidually powerful.  But it’s an absolute blast to play and gets to do bit, stupid, swingy things and reward you for playing at a high level.  Also, it attacks from an axis that not a lot of other decks are, which is always super appealing to do.  Hopefully, this article gives you guys an example of how to brew a deck to attack a format from a weird direction, as well as a complex and interesting approach to Aristocrats in Hex.

 

Remember to come chat with us about this deck in our new Discord!

Yana Does Yarna – A Dead of Winter Mill Guide

Introduction

Ah, rotation.  A time to take a step back, enjoy a new format, and go stir-crazy with a new set of cards and figure out all of the neat synergies and top-tier a new Standard metagame gives us.

And then there’s Mill.  For those that are unclear on what Mill is, it is simply a strategy of play designed to provide a victory by forcing our opponent to draw from an empty library, by moving cards from our opponent’s deck to the crypt or graveyard.

Mill archetypes have had a long and storied history in TCGs of being fringe playable but never truly “competitive.”  In Magic: The Gathering, for example, the closest thing to a true Mill deck is a purely prison-style deck that essentially allows you to manipulate the top card of an opponent’s deck, choosing to put it in the graveyard if you like, one at a time.  It is an agonizingly slow approach, and – rightfully so – many players are disenfranchised by such a style of play.  Alternatively, “Mill” decks that have been more powerful in Magic were essentially control shells that provided a similarly slow mill option as one of several avenues of victory.  Decks that aim for a purely Mill-based victory in most TCGs suffer from one of three things:

  1. The deck is too slow to achieve its objective before dying to more aggressive strategies,
  2. Too few cards exist to really provide a true “Mill” deck, or
  3. The cards that do exist are not competitively focused and designed primarily for casual play.

Most players will shy away from Mill-centric archetypes in TCGs for fear of being easily defeated or, frankly, ostracized by opponents for their sub-par choice of deck.  Not me.  Not in Hex.   Luckily for us, Hex seems to have deviated from the “causal only” approach to the Mill archetype.  Starting with Frostheart, Hex has provided a solid framework for a more focused and powerful Mill engine, and that has continued with a vengeance in Dead of Winter.  Today, I’d like to discuss some of the core cards behind the Mill archetype and then offer a few variations on deck choices for your next laddering effort or Standard tournament.

The Staples

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yarna is the Champion of choice for Mill decks, and provides a solid starting life total, to boot.  Plus, it kinda sounds like Yana – what’s not to love?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of the final direction you take with the Mill archetype in Hex, these four cards should absolutely be in your deck.  Cult of the Nameless City provides a consistent bury effect that is harder to remove than a troop, making it a reliable choice to produce value in every game.  Moreover, in the mid-to-late game, it can act as a solid source of card draw.

Inevitably, Mill pilots will need to have consistent answers to the many troop-based threats in the current Standard metagame, and to that end, I would never leave home without a full four copies of Herofall and at least 3 copies of Massacre.  Make sure to tune the rest of your deck to not suffer to a cast of Massacre!

Nameless Draught is one of my favorite resources to have come from Dead of Winter.  Providing a fast resource and Sapphire threshold, I have come to value the Drop of Chaos it provides more than gaining a charge.  If you’re playing Mill, play four of these.

The “Probably Should Plays”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demented Whispers is a deceptively powerful card in that it provides not only a decent bury effect, but also hand disruption that increases over time courtesy of Escalation.  My general rule of thumb with all Escalation cards: if you are going to play one, play four.  Demented Whispers is absolutely at its best when a full playset is considered.
Emerging Blasphem is one of the stronger uncommons I’ve seen that provides a decent bury effect.  Don’t let the cost scare you – it is generally easy to cast this for 4 resources or fewer, making this a strong card in the mid-to-late game.  I would play four copies for consistency as well as the extra bury effect it provides.

Sample Decklists

Now, what you all have probably been waiting for: Decklists!  I’ll be presenting two decklists for you to use as a starting base for your Milleficent adventures.  The first is a creature-focused strategy that takes advantage of the Chaostouched troop trait:

Champion: Yarna of Lost Voices
4x Blood Shard
2x Sapphire Shard
4x Well of Cunning
4x Shackling Strands
4x Herofall
3x Sapphire Ice
4x Blood Ice
4x Massacre
4x Cult of the Nameless City
4x Runebind
1x Demented Ascension
1x Shard of Cunning
3x The Librarian
4x Emerging Blasphem
4x Demented Whispers
4x Nameless Draught
4x Nameless Devourer
2x Void Star the Sightless

Reserves:
3x Strangle
2x Primordial Cockatwice
1x Demented Ascension
2x Nameless Truths
4x Fever Bloom
3x Stalking Quarry

Every troop in our deck is Chaostouched, which promotes fantastic synergy with The Librarian.  Creating a Library Curator provides our Chaostouched troops with the ability to more freely swing as they are unblockable.  This gives us an additional avenue to be the beat-down, should our opponent’s threaten our Mill game plan with a card like Robogoyle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robogoyle is likely the most effective “Gotcha!” card when playing against a Mill deck.  Playing directly into our primary game plan, Robogoyle, for all intents and purposes, is a “free” 3/3 with Flight that undoes at least one, if not multiple mill effects that we have put into place.  I would never feel bad Herofalling this, as there will likely be multiple copies in an opponent’s deck who is worried about the Mill match-up.

I want to highlight two troops in this decklist that have been back-and-forth with my playgroup as to their effectiveness:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nameless Devourer is a brilliantly designed card, that provides some interesting decisions for our opponents.  In one sense, one could argue that Nameless Devourer dies to most removal – and they would be right.  To that end, it may not appear to be the best card on the surface.  Having said that, a 5/5 crush for two resources is insane, and the cost of not having it is either a removal spell, or milling 10 cards.  I think Nameless Devourer deserves a lot more credit than I’ve seen it been given, and I have been on four copies since day one of post-Dead of Winter Standard – I don’t intend to change that.

Void Star, the Sightless is also in an interesting design space.  While it doesn’t seem extremely powerful on the surface – a 2/3 with Lethal for four resources is underwhelming – the bury ability is subtly powerful in that any mill effect can trigger its ability to put a Chaostouched into our hand.  Void Star is certainly a troop I would only advocate for in a Chaostouched-focused deck, but given the number of troops currently running around in Standard, I find it to be a solid inclusion.  Left unchecked, it can take control of a match.

Beyond our troop suite, the rest of the deck ensures that we have the staying power to effectively attack both when we do and don’t have The Librarian on the battlefield.  I have found Shackling Strands to be particularly effective in lowering the gates for a solid attacking front with benefits, with support like Runebind as extra pseudo-removal when needed.  Our reserves are primarily focused on socket strategies, control and removal-heavy decks.  In these situations, we have the ability to transform into a more all-in Mill deck that eschews some of our Chaostouched package for a harder-to-remove Mill package that can function effectively during all stages of the match.  The reserves are naturally a work in progress while the metagame becomes more solid post-rotation.

The other deck I want to discuss comes from fellow BattleShopper writer Androod, who has seen a fair amount of success with his take on Mill:

Champion: Yarna of Lost Voices
7x Blood Shard
4x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity, 4x Minor Sapphire of Lunacy
4x Herofall
3x Casualty of War
4x Well of Cunning
3x Cheap Shot
2x Dingle
4x Massacre
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Blood Ice
3x Cult of the Nameless City
3x Emerging Blasphem
3x Demented Destiny
4x Nameless Draught
4x Howling Madness
4x Nameless Devourer
Reserves:
2x Nameless Truths
4x Runebind
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings (Alternate Art)
2x Disruptor Drone
1x Demented Destiny
1x Cheap Shot
2x Stalking Quarry
1x Into the Unknown

Androod has built something special here, opting to use a heavy control package to take on the many troop-focused decks of the format.  Typically, it is difficult to defend against the Mill archetype’s primary game plan (with the exception of the aforementioned Robogoyle), but in our previous, troop-based deck, the majority of our troops are undersized and susceptible to removal.  As such, other angles of play are needed to prevent us from falling victim to the loss of troops.  Don’t be fooled, though – there are plenty of solid mill effects here that keep the deck true to Yarna’s goals.  I’m particularly impressed in Androod’s inclusion of Dark Heart of Nulzann (with bury and cost reduction gems) to provide a reasonable body, reasonable mill, and a reasonable source of removal; honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed I hadn’t seen this as an option when testing this archetype!  Beyond that, Androod is deploying a full playset of a card that I’m sure will see plenty of play going forward:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demented Destiny was a card that, I’ll admit, I took for granted until I saw Androod’s list, but my oh my does it look stellar in this take on the archetype.  Androod’s deck is absolutely designed for the late-game grind, and having multiple copies of this card in play make for a hard-to-win late game for any opponent who has already been nickel-and-dimed by the plethora of removal effects that Androod has put into place.  While perhaps not the best home for the Chaostouched version of Mill, the control-heavy iterations of Mill should absolutely stick to four copies of this card, as it shines brighter and brighter the longer the game goes.

Conclusion

Call me naive or even a dreamer, but I fully believe that Hex has provided us the tools to finally make Mill an established and powerful competitive archetype in post-rotation Standard.  There are a number of different avenues that you can explore as you seek out to wreak havoc on your opponent’s library, and I’m beyond excited to see what the Hex community comes up with.  Stay tuned as I’ll be providing some videos of each of these decks in action later this week!

What do you think?  Does Mill have a place in Hex Standard, or will it fall by the wayside as another casual pile of cards?  Feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with me on Twitter @profyana_twitch.

Join the new Battleshopper Discord channel for real-time communication with all of our content creators and quickly ask questions or give feedback!  As always, I thank you for reading, and I’ll see you on the battlefield!

 

The Judge is In: Holding Court in Standard with Verdict Control

In the first part of this pair of articles, we talked about how to think about new formats.  In this part, we talk about how to build a control deck to attack them.

Building Control in a New Format

So this left us with ideas as to what the good aggressive decks were.  But I…well…I really like drawing cards, and playing long games.  So I set about trying to brew control decks.  Brewing control decks isn’t hard – you just put in bigger and better cards than everybody else.  But brewing good control decks can be tricky, because you need to prepare yourself to survive anything that comes along.

Getting to the deck I felt comfortable with in this format took me a while, so I wanted to walk you guys through my thought process and the things I tried along the way.

Ask What the Good, Aggressive Decks Have in Common

Sad as it may be, games of Hex frequently end before you can draw your whole deck…so you need most of the cards in your deck to be good against the popular aggressive strategies.  So it’s really convenient if the aggressive decks all do the same thing.  In Lazgar’s Vengeance decks, all the aggressive decks went super-wide to get as many Lazgar’s triggers as possible, but didn’t really have any way to recover from a stabilized board state.  So stabilizers like Dark Heart of Nulzann were a sure way to land a win, and cards like Eldurathan’s Glory were extremely effective at clearing their boards.

The aggressive decks in Dead of Winter are both more explosive and better at recovering.  Cards like Palm of Granite or Pippit Pal can enable multiple momentum triggers in a single turn to build enormous dudes, but those same cards can also enable Exalted Pathfinder to draw multiple cards a turn.  Meanwhile, Confession of Embers and Lumagoth are single cards that immediately re-establish a threatening board position.

However, both of these decks don’t really have speed troops (Lumagoth excepted).  This means they’re vulnerable to basic-speed board wipes.

They also play a lot of tiny troops – candles are vulnerable before they get illuminated, and momentum troops are all tiny during the ready phase.

And they are 100% going to murder you on turn 4 if you don’t stop them.  This is the power of effects that put escalating amounts of power onto the board.  As anybody who’s been smashed for 30 damage by a momentum deck or double-confession-of-embers knows, it’s not okay to do nothing and hope you can stabilize.  You’re not going to stabilize and you’re going to die.

There Will be Blood

The blood shard has the best basic-speed board wipes in the game.  Clash of Steel leaves the most terrifying card on the board.  Dread End arrives dreadfully late, often on turn 5.  Blood also has the best troop-removal in the game:

In particular, looking at cards like Leprechaun Artist, Righteous Waxshot, Intrepid Conjurer and…candlekin, I felt like I wanted access to Cheap Shot.  Not only does it kill something, it makes me a 1-drop that I can throw under the bus of a giant momentum’d troop.  I also noticed that, with Ardent probably not being the most popular deck, and no obvious underworld deck emerging, that Casualty of War was again a playable card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blood’s traditional problems of drawing cards and filtering were addressed by a recent champion addition, Bar’dak the Butcher (a.k.a. Screaming Fox).  Much like the recently-rotated Dreaming Fox, he could pull ahead in the late game if he had the life to do it by activating his champion power to draw two cards.  And far from just being dead to a powerful constant like blood decks of yore, the new Disruptor Drone gives any shard the ability to remove problematic enemy constants.

Finally, there are a number of powerful cards that can really only be access by mono-blood strategies, like Thought Collector, Vampire Prince and Bride of the Damned.  With Bride of the Damned’s ability to assassinate 1/1s early and take over the game after turn 5, it seemed like a mono-blood deck was well-positioned to crush the early metagame.

Decklist

Champion: Bar’dak the Butcher
15x Blood Shard
2x Casualty of War
4x Herofall
4x Vampire Prince
2x Cheap Shot
4x Strangle
4x Necropolis Coins
4x Bride of the Damned
3x Journey Into Nightmare
3x Massacre
3x Primordial Cockatwice
4x Blood Ice
4x Thought Collector
4x Zeddek’s Judgment
Reserves:
4x Withering Gaze
1x Cheap Shot
2x Casualty of War
1x Waltz of the Damned
1x Primordial Cockatwice
1x Journey Into Nightmare
3x Disruptor Drone
2x Robogoyle

Thoughts

This deck is just about removing your opponents’ board again, and again.  It plays Massacre, 10 main-deck removal actions, and some incremental advantage cards like Vampire Prince and some game-enders like Journey into Nightmare.  It also features 3 maindeck Primordial Cockatwice to beat control decks – uninterruptable early-game discard that turns into a late-game 3-for-1 is brutal for sapphire-oriented decks to deal with.

What I didn’t realize was how spoiled I’d become.  I can’t even remember the day that I played a deck with less than 8 ice, but in a mono-color you can only play 4.  While the deck’s best draws were unbeatable by aggression, it frequently felt clunky and unable to use its resources to curve out and interact efficiently.  It had problems dealing with a diverse range of threats – decks that weren’t troop-based, or constants like Merry Caravan that took over the game faster than it could.  It basically didn’t have the filtering that control decks usually require.

So I added a second color.

Wallet Warrior: Blood-Sapphire Control

I needed the ability to out-grind mirrors.  I needed the ability to interact on the chain.  I needed sapphire.  But I still thought that Bride of the Damned was the best thing I could be doing, and didn’t want to sacrifice threshold consistency.  So I essentially splashed Sapphire for 4 things:

  1. 4 Sapphire Ice. To control the enemy, you must control yourself.  And to control yourself…you need to control the top of your deck.  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the main reason to go to a second color is to get to play 8 fateweave shards.
  2. Bounty of the Magus over Zeddek’s Judgment. Bounty can take over the game, late, in a way that Zeddek’s judgment cannot, providing a snowballing tide of card advantage.
  3. Major Gem of Clarity in Dark Heart. Dark Heart is a great general answer, and playing it on turn 4 can lock up a game that you were close in.
  4. Interrupts in the sideboard. These allow you to interact with actions that would crush you while they’re still on the chain.  Blood isn’t any good at interact with the stack, but Sapphire is the best at it.

Decklist

Champion: Bar’dak the Butcher
12x Blood Shard
2x Casualty of War
4x Herofall
4x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity, 4x Minor Sapphire of Lunacy
4x Vampire Prince
2x Cheap Shot
4x Strangle
4x Well of Cunning
2x Ryaalinth the Soulcursed
4x Bride of the Damned
3x Massacre
4x Sapphire Ice
3x Primordial Cockatwice
4x Blood Ice
4x Bounty of the Magus
Reserves:
3x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
1x Cheap Shot
2x Casualty of War
1x Waltz of the Damned
1x Journey Into Nightmare
1x Confounding Ire
1x Primordial Cockatwice
2x Disruptor Drone
3x Robogoyle

Thoughts

I had done it.  In Ryaalinth, I had a board wipe that got around spellshield.  All of my actions at 3 resources or below were quick.  And according to hex.tcgbrowser.com, my deck cost $236, a new record.  So how could anything go wrong?

It was there that I learned that I had fundamentally misunderstood the power of Bounty of the Magus.  The first bounty, is a bad card – it’s 3 resources to do nothing (that card you drew?  It would already be in your hand if you didn’t have Bounty in your deck).  The second bounty is a pretty good card – 3 resources to pick up an extra card at quick speed is playable.  By the third bounty, you’ve paid 9 total resources to pick up 3 extra cards at quick speed – this is a good deal.  The problem is that, unless you have a lot of other card draw in your deck, there’s no guarantee that you’re finding the second and third bounty.  And, with my lack of card draw in the deck, I found these games playing out a lot like the mono-blood variant.

 Blood-Diamond Verdict

All the experimentation was not in vain.  After a bunch of blood-centric games, I realized a couple of things:

  • Of big blood payoffs (Bride of the Damned, Vampire Prince, Thought Collector, Strangle), only strangle seemed particularly impactful. 1-for-1ing my way through the game wasn’t an efficient strategy vs. Eternal Seeker or Merry Caravan.
  • Dark Heart of Nulzann felt like a good way to slam the door vs. any number of decks, as well as like an all-purpose answer. The minor gems in Sapphire and Blood were deeply underwhelming.
  • I was missing a way to filter through my deck to find the cards I needed.
  • Zeddek’s Judgment always felt sneakily good. Sometimes the opponent would discard a card.  Sometimes they would sacrifice a troop.  Sometimes I’d draw a card.  I always felt like I was getting a bit more than 2 cards of value from it.

Inspired, I build a blood-diamond deck based on exploiting the verdict mechanic and eking out marginal advantages over long games.  The core concept here is simple:  We’re not playing bad cards just to fit a theme.  We’re going to be a Blood-Diamond control deck that happens to use some reasonable verdict cards.

Decklist

Champion: Adoni-Zeddek
7x Blood Shard
4x Diamond Shard
2x Casualty of War
4x Herofall
4x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Diamond of Hope, 4x Minor Diamond of Protection
2x Cheap Shot
4x From The Ashes
4x Well of Retribution
4x Guidance
3x Journey Into Nightmare
4x Diamond Ice
2x Massacre
4x Blood Ice
4x Zeddek’s Judgment
2x Twilight Justice
2x Winter’s Grasp
4x Cruel Sentence
Reserves:
3x Diamond’s Favor
1x Cheap Shot
4x Primordial Cockatwice
1x Massacre
1x Journey Into Nightmare
1x Stalking Quarry
1x Winter’s Grasp
2x In the Halls of Twilight
1x Twilight Justice

Overview

The layout of this deck is simple:  We have filtering, removal, board wipes and bombs.  If we run into anything weird, we’re going to rely on our Verdicts to carry us through Game 1.

This is our filtering.  All of these cards draw a card, and the Verdict cards also slow our opponent down, or gain a small edge.  We’ll have an entire section devoted to how to best exploit the Verdict mechanic.  We never trim these cards.

This is our removal.  The notable thing here is that we’re not playing Strangle, because we frequently want to be able to play Guidance on turn 1 (which would make getting 2 blood thresholds on turn 2 impossible).  In a brief tangent:  control decks need to be able to cast their cards on time or they’re goin to die.  Don’t expect to play double-threshold requirements on 2 consistently if your deck is split roughly 50/50 in resources.

Back to the removal – we have maindeck Cheap Shot to ward off aggressive decks and spend our mana efficiently early in the game, Winter’s Grasp to do a Strangle impersonation, and Herofall because it’s the best removal in the game.  We also maindeck two casualty of war – there’s a reasonable argument that those should be additional Winter’s Grasp, but the metagame hasn’t flattened out quite enough.  Casualty is excellent vs. most decks that are not RW Elk with Communion of Wax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are our board wipes – probably the best two standard-legal board wipes in the format.  We play 2 Massacre and 4 From the Ashes because From the Ashes is dramatically better.  One of the problems with basic-speed board wipes is that in the best case you destroy your opponent’s board and then they have a turn to rebuild and you might be in the same spot.  From the Ashes destroys your opponent’s board and takes their best threat, guaranteeing that you’re ahead on board.

A reasonable question to ask is “Why aren’t you playing Sunlit Sentence in your Verdict deck with lots of board-wipes?”.  The answer is:  Our deck is mostly basic speed.  If we’re holding up all of our resources on turn 5, it’s pretty clear what we’re doing.  Further, it only kills attacking troops, so it doesn’t kill the things our opponent played that turn – a similar problem to what most basic-speed board wipes have.  Basically, From the Ashes is a lot more powerful.

These are the cards we have that take over games.  We gem Dark Heart of Nulzann with Hope and protection, because occasionally we can play it on turn 3.  While flight and swiftstrike can be nice, we’re more than willing to pick up some occasional early-game power from top-decking a Dark Heart.  Journey to Nowhere is reliably card advantage – it will draw you an extra card every turn.  And the pair of Twilight Justices turns all our verdict cards into reliable card-advantage.  We’ll talk more about Verdict later.

It should be noted that a veteran TCG player will observe that playing Dark Heart of Nulzann and powerful constants is not a combo.  Here’s the thing:  If the Dark Heart stays on the board, you’re going to win the game, and Verdicts generate plenty of sacrifice-fodder.  Generally, you can afford to hold your constants until either your dark heart dies or you have enough random stuff on the board that it will stick around for a while.  Post-reserves, you can streamline to either lean heavier into the dark hearts against troop decks, or heavier into constants against control decks.

Reserves

Our reserves are a bit primitive (I wouldn’t call them refined yet).  We have 5 additional pieces of removal in Cheap Shot, Winter’s Grasp and Diamond’s Favor.  As you can see, we’re just going to tailor our removal suite to be able to line up well against the decks we’re facing.  We’re playing another massacre so that we can reserve up to 7 board wipes and bury decks looking to go wide against us.

Finally, we want to get around the traditional Blood problem of not being able to reserve out enough removal, so we need to have at least 8 cards to bring in against decks where troop removal (and massacre) is bad.  We have 4 Primordial Cockatwice, 1 Diamond’s Favor, a Journey to Nowhere, another Twilight Justice and two In the Halls of Twilight to make sure we can line up well against action-based decks.

We make sure to splash a bit of targeted hate:  Stalking Quarry eviscerates sockets decks (and is fine against just Dark Heart decks), and Diamond’s Favor is a versatile piece of interaction against Constants and big troops.  Here are some specific reserves plans:

Diamond-Wild Momentum and Candle Aggro

+1 Cheap Shot

+1 Winter’s Grasp

+1 Massacre

-2 Twilight Justice

-1 Journey into Nightmare

Our reserves against these go-wide synergy decks is the same; our maindeck is relatively well set-up here.  This deck has boatloads of trouble with board wipes, and has few useful ways to get rid of Dark Heart.  Hiding it under Decree of Banishing is going to get them into a lot of trouble.

Make sure to differentiate when you’re against the more ramp-y versions of this Diamond-Wild Momentum.  Against the ramp versions, consider reserving out Cheap Shots and bringing in Diamond’s Favor (and keeping the Journey into Nightmare).  We want to make sure that we don’t get obliterated by Merry Caravan as a reserves plan.

Mono-Blood

+4 Primordial Cockatwice

+1 Journey into Nightmare

+1 Twilight Justice

+2 In the Halls of Twilight

-2 Cheap Shot

-2 Winter’s Grasp

-2 Massacre

-1 Casualty of War

-1 Dark Heart of Nul’zann

…did ya see what we did here?  We turned into a 3-troop deck against the deck that has too much removal and can’t reserve it all out.  We kept in 6 pieces of removal (2 Casualty of War and 4 Herofall) just to deal with the annoying stuff, and now we’re all constants, disruption and card advantage.  And yes, I said 3 troops:  don’t ever play your cockatwices until your opponent’s hand is completely empty.  You don’t want to get them herofalled – the thinner your deck gets, the better a chance you’re going to draw a discard-2 that they can’t interrupt.

This is a phenomenal matchup, just because we are so much better than mono-blood at accumulating incremental card advantage.  We get to play all their good cards, plus a bunch of tough-to-interact-with constants.

Ruby-Wild Elk

-3 Journey into Nightmare

-2 Massacre

+3 Diamond’s Favor

+1 Cheap Shot

+1 Winter’s Grasp

This deck’s best draws are a beating – they can do a ton of damage on turn 4 from hand thanks to Communion of Wax with the double-damage gem.  Here, our goal is just to blow up all of their troops at quick speed.  While Casualty of War isn’t ideal (a lot of their troops are ardent), some of their troops are still reasonable targets.

Happily, this deck is also relatively inconsistent.  If we get to the point where we can hold up herofall, we can trade removal 1-for-1 and generally grind out the game.  Twilight Justice tends to be better than Journey to Nightmare here because of its ability to affect the game on turn 4 in games where Journey into Nightmare is too slow.

Blood-Diamond Constants

-2 Winter’s Grasp

-2 Cheap Shot

-2 Casualty of War

-2 Massacre

-4 From the Ashes

-1 Herofall

+3 Diamond’s Favor

+2 In the Halls of Twilight

+1 Journey into Nightmare

+1 Twilight Justice

+4 Primordial Cockatwice

If the opponent is playing an aggressive version, consider leaving Herofall, Massacre and 2 From the Ashes over Primordial Cockatwice or Journey into Nightmare.  Otherwise we’re turning into a lean, mean, 1-for-1ing machine.  A core concept of this deck is that we want to take out enough troops that their removal is dead, and enough of our removal that all of our cards are live.

Blood-Sapphire Bury

-2 Cheap Shot

-2 Winter’s Grasp

-2 Casualty of War

-2 Massacre

+3 Diamond’s Favor

+1 Twilight Justice

+4 Primordial Cockatwice

These decks come in two forms – troop-centric and control-centric.  Against control decks, you want to attack their hand with Cockatwice, whereas against troops you need to keep in removal.  Either way, your goal here is to run them out of cards and kill them before they can mill you out.  There’s a reasonable argument that I should have two Robogoyles in the reserves for decks like these, but the mill decks don’t seem to line up well against the aggressive decks.

How to Use Verdict

A lot of the deep lines in this deck come from optimally using your 10-12 verdict cards and your verdict hero power.  Let’s first state:  We don’t actually know how Verdict works.  We know that it won’t generate an option that does literal nothing.  What we have no idea about is how it chooses from the other options.  Is it random, equal probability?  Are the probabilities shifted?  I would love it if the Hex devs released the code so would could play accordingly, but for the meantime, we’re going to assume that all options are equally plausible.

So here are the Verdict Options:

Light Verdicts Dark Verdicts
Each opposing champion draws a card. Discard a random card.
Each opposing champion summons a Phantom. Sacrifice a troop you control.
Each opposing champion summons a Daybreak. Each opposing champion summons a Nightfall.
Opposing troops get +1[ATK]/+1[DEF]. Troops you control get -1[ATK]/-1[DEF].
Each opposing champion puts a random troop from their crypt into their hand. Sacrifice an artifact or constant you control.

 

Your goal, whenever you are casting a card with Verdict, is to get an effect you want.  So let’s look at how to narrow down the set of effects.

If you have no troops: You can’t get +1/+1

If you have no troops in the crypt:  You can’t return a troop from your crypt

If they have no artifacts or constants:  They can’t sacrifice an artifact or constant

You can generally achieve these 3 things early in the game – you have no troops, and most opposing decks don’t play early artifacts or constants.  So that leaves us with 7 options remaining.  With the 3 light verdicts (Draw a Card, Phantom, Daybreak), you are drawing cards or gaining life.  With the 4 Dark Verdicts (Discard, Sacrifice, Nightfall, Troops get -1/-1), you are getting card advantage or functionally gaining life on 3 out of 4.  In general, you want to play these cards when a particular option will be really bad for the opponent; if so, they’re more likely to be forced into a choice like giving you a free card.  If Zeddek’s Judgment reads “Draw 2 cards, your opponent discards a random card”, it’s an insane card.

This math changes completely when you have Twilight Justice in play.  Without it, to get an effect you want, the opponent has to be presented with two effects you want.  With it, to get an effect you want, only 1 of the two options has to be useful.  This means that frequently, Playing Twilight Justice and using your hero power on turn 4 can stabilize a board just by doing something like making your opponent sacrifice two troops, or giving your opponent’s board -1/-1 twice.

Always, always think about which options are currently available, and which you’d like to get.  Do whatever you can to limit that set of options.

Some notes on Verdict options

  • Being able to force your opponent to sacrifice an artifact or constant shores up a weakness that Blood and Diamond generally have – inability to kill artifacts.
  • If you can keep your crypt clean, do it. Your opponent does not want you re-playing a dark heart, and re-buying that with a verdict trigger is brutal.
  • Random discard is much better than the opponent getting to choose what they discard. Very good hands can turn into absolute junk if the wrong card falls out of it.

Tips and Tricks

We covered a lot of stuff in the Verdict section, but there’s some non-verdict nuances to this deck as well.

  • Cruel Sentence is quick-speed. If one of your Verdict options is going to get much worse (say they have Twilight Eclipse and no other constants in play, but are casting a Daybreak), be sure to Verdict them with Cruel Sentence on the stack.
  • Unless you have a specific verdict you need to hit to live, save your Verdict power until Turn 4 when you might have Twilight Eclipse. If you can’t think of a specific reason why you need it, or if you think you can get better odds later, save it.  When it reads “Summon a Daybreak or Nightfall”, you’re no better than Papa Goot.  When it reads “Draw a card”, it’s absurd.
  • You can cast Dark Heart of Nulzann for 3 resources if you draw him. If you’re guidancing and trying to decide whether or not your 4th resources should be slow…guidance first.  That way, if you hit a Dark Heart you can play a fast resource and cast it.
  • You get the deploy triggers from bringing back your opponent’s troops with From the Ashes. This is particularly useful against Eternal Seeker decks.

Conclusions

This is a grindy control deck.  It’s looking to stabilize with constants and eke out victory.  It has a lot of deep lines and a lot of thinking about probability.  If you’re into those things, and you’re into play 30 or 40 minute matches of Hex, this deck could be for you.  It’s probably not the fastest to ladder with, but it is a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of ways to make it budget – Dark Hearts of Nulzann, From the Ashes and Herofalls are all pretty critical cards.  That said, I think as people explore Verdict shells, they’ll start to balance

This was a bit of an experiment, article-wise:  I wanted to take everybody through the long process of analyzing a new format and brewing a control deck to target it.  Thanks for sticking with me for all of this! And let me know what you think by joining our discord! discord.battleshopper.com

 

The Big Picture: Looking at Dead of Winter from the Top Down

Introduction

When the Dead of Winter spoilers got released, Hex content aficionados saw an overwhelming wave of set reviews.  They’re great!  Experts go through, card by card, and tell you what they think will be good.  But in contrast to the close-up examinations of cards that these reviews take, I prefer a macro-level approach.  So in this (extremely long) two-part article, I wanted to walk you through my review and testing process for Dead of Winter, and then talk about how I settled on brewing a control deck for the format.

Dead of Winter Analysis

Take a Moment to Think

Before we even get to look at the cards, let’s remember some big-picture ideas.

Two Sets Rotated Out

Those sets had some important cards!  Transmogrifade, Rune Ear Heirophant, Arcane Focus, Emperor’s Lackey, Thunderfield Seer, Cyclone Shaper and Rotten Rancor saw real play in the many good decks.  All 3 of the best decks in the format had access to a racial shard to give them more resource-consistency.  Now, running pure two-shard decks with challenging threshold constraints could be problematic.  So we should be on the lookout for cards that could serve similar purposes – if we see these cards, it’s an indicator that some archetypes from the previous season might survive.

On the other hand, did any top decks not lose anything?  Ardent Haraza decks (both the earlier sockets version and the more-popular straight Ardent version) lost barely any cards.  This provides us with a good starting point in testing.  We know that this Ardent deck will be about the same power level in Dead of Winter (maybe a bit better if it picks up some additions).

Frostheart Mechanics Have Another Set

This is the second set of a pair.  So Gladiator, Fateweave, Frostform, Illuminate, Runic and Boon all have a whole second set of cards featuring these keywords.  Other archetypes, like BW deathcry, BD constants, and BS Chaostouched/Bury, seem like they were supported with splashy mythics like Lord Blightbark.  So it’s worth keeping an eye out to see whether or not these decks receive additional support in Dead of Winter

There are New Mechanics, Too

Verdict, Momentum and Portal were new in Dead of Winter.  It’s worth keeping an eye out to see if these mechanics end up having a critical mass of otherwise reasonable cards.  In particular, Momentum is a mechanic that gains power the more you can trigger it – non-linear mechanics tend to be either really good or really bad, so it’s worth paying attention to.

Remember What’s Good

  1. Cards that cheat resources have the potential to break formats wide open
  2. Cards that cost few resources are always more important than big expensive ones, because every time you draw them, you can play them. They get their value every time.
  3. Cards that are flexible, or good in many situations, will always get their value.
  4. Some cards take over games single-handedly and are obviously powerful. We’re not proud – we’re definitely going to play these.

Lay Out the Archetypes

You’ll sometimes here me refer to decks as Pre-Constructed (Pre-Cons).  The Hex devs, being generally good at their jobs, tend to test the big archetypes in a set.  Here’s a fun test:

  1. Pick any mechanic you want: Frostform, Gladiator, Illuminate, Runic, Momentum, Verdict, Bury, Deathcry
  2. Go search for all cards containing those words.
  3. You’ll find a set of cards in 2 shards that has playable cards at every spot on the curve.

Ladies and gentlemen, the decks you build from these are the Pre-Cons.  The Devs made these decks.  They’re going to be playable.  And the first step to understanding the format is to figure out which of the Pre-Cons is good – which of these mechanics are the best.  Here’s the list I came up with after seeing the full spoiler, in no particular order:

Blood-Sapphire Bury Control

A lot of bury-cards-from-your-opponent’s-library cards got released in blood and sapphire.  The sapphire ones tend to have a more control-ly plan to them.  Was there a spot for a BS deck whose win condition was milling the opponent out?  Cards like Fall into Despair, Demented Destiny, and Demented Whispers seemed like they would fit nicely into a troop-less BS Control Shell with Yarna of the Lost Voices as a champion.  You could see this deck being good in a slower meta, where its implacability and disruption gave it an edge.

Mono-Blood Bury Aggro

One of the classic problems of Bury decks is that they attack on two axes (health and burying your library), but you only need to succeed at one to win.  It’s sort of inefficient.  Grix’shal the Profane solves this problem, a bit, by giving a troop an attack buff based on how many troops are in the opponent’s yard.  So the more you bury, the bigger your troop is – when you combine this with evasive troops like Squirming Terror, Malevolent Mi’go, or Vampire Prince, you get a low to the ground aggressive deck that also threatens to bury your whole library.

Sapphire-based Necrotic Control

With a pretty chase mythic in Lixil, and a reasonable tempo swing on turn 4 (play Heartsworn Mordrom, then steal their turn 3 play), this seemed like the basic replacement archetype for the old-school Dreaming Fox control builds.  A whole bunch of sapphire-based necrotics had just been printed, as well as a necrotic-based sapphire champion.  The question was, were there enough necrotics that fit into a control shell to support this as an archetype.

Ruby-Diamond Candle Aggro

  

Wrath of Elements and Flame Barrage jumped out at me as cheap, efficient removal (remember what’s good?), while Choir of Lumos had a cost-reduction mechanic.  Candlekin were almost a deck previously, and the additional cards it received were inexpensive interaction.

Diamond-Wild Momentum

Shamrock was the first card in this set that jumped out at me.  A 4/4 for 3 resources, that was virtually guaranteed to generate card advantage, produced non-slow fateweave resources…what’s not to love?  The real question was, what shell would use him best?  A value-oriented DW deck, or an aggressive momentum deck?  In general, you want to test the aggressive builds in a format first, so a Lady Avalanche DW deck seemed like the best guess.

Diamond-Sapphire Evasive Frostform

There was a lot of support for elementals printed.  All frostformed troops are elementals.  A DS frostform deck was well-positioned to use the tempo generated by cheap cards like Wrath of the Elements and Unhenge to run its opponents over with hard-to-block cards that were big threats late, and cheap threats early.

Blood-Diamond Verdict Control

The verdict mechanic occurs only in Blood/Diamond, traditionally the constant and grindy-late-game decks.  Given that the premier combo deck in the format (Turbo-PA) was leaving, it seemed like it might be time for a deck that had the best troop interaction.  A bunch of cards with Verdict on them are pretty reasonable in their own right, so if the verdict could regularly get reasonable value, it might be a reasonable way to get to Blood-Diamond’s powerful end-game.

Blood-Wild Deathcry Lords

BW Deathcry decks with Lord Blightbark, Promiscuous Succubus and Rune-Ear Heirophant had some popularity in early Frostheart standard before the Lazgar’s Vengeance decks got optimized.  With so many plant and undead lords, and so many undead plants, as well as interesting cards like Plague and Famine, it seemed like this was a potentially explosive deck.

Ruby-Sapphire Runes

 

This deck picked up a legitimate card-advantage action in Runic Passion, as well as a second super-powerful 4-drop.  It seemed possible that, if Scars of War was good, an action-based control deck oriented around runes, with cards like Flame Barrage and Return to Cinder for early power and a lot of value from Runic could be good.

Prioritize and Test

Given those initial archetypes (and a few others), it was time to prioritize and test.  I prefer to always test the linear, aggressive decks that have high upside, as they tend to set the pace early on in a format. Control decks are created to react to those, and are generally only popular when the set of super-aggressive decks is both narrow and dominant.  For instance, before the Lazgar’s Vengeance ban, Diamond-Sapphire control was the most popular archetype in the Bash, as it could fight and beat Slagpot Redlings and Mono-Ruby Tork.  After Lazgar’s Vengeance was banned, those two decks were worse…and Diamond-Sapphire control was never seen again.  The Lesson:  the best aggressive decks set the metagame and everything else reacts.

Based on that, I wanted to try the two synergy decks first – Diamond-Wild Momentum and Ruby-Diamond Candles.  Synergy decks are always hard to evaluate on paper, because they’re greater than the sum of their parts.  A single illuminate is bad, a second illuminate is okay, the third illuminate is good, and the 7th illuminate is ridiculous.  The easiest way to figure out if these decks are going to be good is to test them against the best aggressive deck of the last format that survived.  After testing them both vs. Ruby-Diamond Ardent, it because clear that these two aggressive decks were just bigger, more reliable and more powerful versions of the Ardent deck.  They had better interaction and could reliably kill faster and generate more value.  This basically sets the bar for the new format.

We then tested these new decks against some of the other decks like RW Communion of Wax and a modified version of Blue Sparrow Reanimator.  RW Communion’s best draws were extremely powerful, but it suffered from threshold consistency issues.

In the second part of this article, we’ll look at how to build control decks to target a new format, in the meantime, come talk to us about this article in our new discord! Found at discord.battleshopper.com

New Dead of Winter archetypes with Androod

Introduction

Hey everyone! Androod here taking a look at some potential sweet new decks that are made possible by Dead of Winter. With new sets come new brews and I’ve been itching to get started since the beginning of spoiler season. What I have for you today is a few points I’ve been kicking around waiting for the new set to drop. Without further adieu let’s hop right in!

 

Blood/Diamond Verdict

 

Verdict is a mechanic I’ve heard a lot of varying opinions on. While the mechanic in a vacuum is not very powerful since your opponent gets to choose and will likely have a choice that isn’t greatly impactful presented to them I think there is some potential here. The Hex design team has made it very clear that single instances of verdict are not intended to be powerful. Many verdict cards have either a repeatable trigger, multiple instances of the keyword, or simply have the word verdict stapled onto a card that could still be reasonable otherwise. All these factors give us the workings of a reasonable engine which brings me to the following shell that has a few things going for it.

 

Champion: Adoni-Zeddek

Troops:

4x Sunrise Specter
4x Dawn Charger
4x Umbral Guard – Gems: 4x Minor Blood of Tombs
2x Day Rider

Spells:

4x Guidance
4x Guiding Light
2x Winter’s Grasp
4x Gloaming Edict
3x Hailstorm
4x Herofall
4x Zeddek’s Judgment

Resources:

4x Blood Ice
5x Blood Shard
4x Diamond Ice
4x Wax Sacrament
4x Well of Retribution

 

  • The deck has a low-curve, proactive game plan which is always a bonus in a new format.
  • The deck is FULL of fateweave meaning it’s going to have a wide range of keepable opening hands and be able to consistently make plays every turn.
  • It is more than happy to take a nightfall or daybreak off of a verdict trigger due to Day Rider and Dawn Charger
  • It is an aggressive game plan with a bit of reach. It is not unreasonable to think Umbral Guard can get buffed up to 5 ATK between the Minor gem of Tombs, Gloaming Edict, and verdicts. This means your verdict triggers are hitting the face for five! In addition to this direct damage you also have the evasive troops in Hail Hawks, Sunrise Specter, and random Phantoms from verdicts.
  • Incidental life gain is also nothing to scoff at. The deck has ways to gain little bits of life between Daybreaks, Sunrise Specter, and Guiding Light.
  • Dawn Charger also has a lot of synergy with the rest of the shell. Bouncing our Guiding Light over and over gives us repeatable fateweave which means control over our draw step and more Hail Hawks. Even when it has to bounce itself it triggers additional verdicts off the Gloaming Edict. These combined with the whole being a 4/4 for two thing bring a lot to the deck.
  • Zeddek’s cheap charge power lets us get away with playing some chargeless Wax Sacraments. These free bodies can act as roadblocks when we are racing another aggressive deck or even grow a little bigger with our verdict triggers and be a real threat against a control deck.

 

Wild/Sapphire Transform

 

The Pippet revolution is upon us! Corey has been Jonesing for a good transform deck and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these new additions where from him bribing Burkhart to make it happen. I tried REAL hard last season to make a Puff deck work but it just didn’t have all the pieces. However we got some new toys with Dead of Winter so let us take a look at what this shell could look like!

 

Champion: Puff the Rainbow

Troops:

4x Merrymaker
4x Whimsy’s Familiar
4x Party Fungi
4x Sour Grum’puss
3x Vision of Zeota
4x Whimsy Witch
4x Changeling Cuties
3x Jinglejinx Witch – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity

Spells:

4x Evaporate
4x Runebind
2x Jubilant Destiny

Resources:

4x Ludicrous Libations
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Sapphire Shard
4x Well of Instinct
4x Wild Ice

 

This is an archetype that is hard to evaluate without getting a feel for it first hand since it has not really existed before but it has some cool tools and synergies.

 

  • The curve in this deck is obnoxiously low. Especially when you throw a Major gem of Clarity in the Jinglejinx Witch to make it a two cost. Eight upgradable one cost troops backed up by Runebind and Evaporate leads to some fast openers.
  • Our Drop of Whimsy from Ludicrous Libration combos nicely with our Puff power giving us a free upgrade to a five cost troop. I wouldn’t be surprised if this interaction is what prompted the Puff nerf lowering the cost of the Butterfly and increasing the activation cost.
  • This deck has a high level of synergy but individually weak cards. When this thing is firing on all cylinders it can steamroll someone but it won’t have much in terms of come back potential.
  • Merrymaker is a great addition that the archetype did not have last season. It was hurting for more recurring transforms and this one drop fits that bill while being relativly easy to enable with Ice and Vision.  
  • I’m not convinced Runebind is a great card for this deck but wanted to try it before dismissing it. There is notable anti-synergy with Vision of Zeota giving the opponent the ability to Fateweave a resource and Mat Bimonte’s vanity card Sour Grump’puss preventing our own cards from returning to their normal state.

 

Diamond/Ruby Candles

 

Candles is a deck that never really caught fire. It saw some play shortly after the release of Frostheart but was quickly pushed out by Eternal Seeker and Lazgar’s Vengeance. Now that Lazgar’s is banned and Kagu has rotated it may be time to bust out these cute little fire hazards again. Below is what I would consider a reasonable starting point.

 

Champion: Cassia Goldenlight

Troops:

4x Scion of Lyvaanth
2x Lyvaanth

Spells:

4x Guidance
4x Light the Votives
2x Return to Cinder
4x Wrath of Elements
4x Runic Candescence
4x Wax Dawn
2x Wings of Wax
3x Confession of Embers
4x Choir of Lumos

Resources:

4x Diamond Ice
4x Diamond Shard
4x Ruby Ice
3x Ruby Shard
4x Wax Sacrament
4x Well of Conquest

 

  • Dead of Winter gave us quite a few of quality Illuminate cards. If the last few seasons have taught us anything it’s that cost reduction should be respected and Choir of Lumos gives us the potential to have a heavily reduced Illuminate three. It is almost arguable you should just be playing Wax Sacrament in any diamond deck and it’s obviously much stronger in this shell than any other.
  • Wrath of elements is the best piece of removal we have seen in a long time (ever?) but due to its elemental stipulation this is one of the only decks that can really abuse that. Combined with Return to Cinder and Confession of Embers Candles has access to some top shelf removal.  Note that it can also be used to get rid of pesky constants and artifacts.
  • Confession of Embers also combos nicely with Lyvaanth himself. This dragon doesn’t mind taking a hit for three and gives us a few candlekin for our troubles.
  • This deck also has an easier time refueling than most aggressive decks. A Light the Votives into a Confession of Embers can bring your board from 0 to 100 real quick when the game enters top deck mode.
  • Wings of Wax also gives us a nice bit of evasion by letting our candles take to the air with Lyvaanth

 

Closing

Rotation is always an exciting time, no one knows what is good, bad, or otherwise but hopefully this is a good starting point. Dead of winter brought us some exciting new mechanics as well as new tools for existing ones. I look forward to experimenting with these new cards and hopefully bringing you all some new brews once the set releases. Happy hexing!

 

-Mike Kletz (Androod)

@Androod27

Spoiler – I’ll be taking that!

Introduction

Hey everybody, Androod here with a sweet new spoiler! However, first let us take a look at a few cards that have always been on the fringe of standard.

 

Existing comparisons

                                               

 

Both of these cards have the powerful mechanic of gaining control of an opposing card. This action is inherently a two-for-one since it takes a card from our opponent and forces them to invest another one to deal with the stolen card. The problem with these two cards is that they don’t consistently get to achieve this.

 

Playtime uses the ever room dividing “punisher” mechanic which gives your opponent the choice which means you are not usually going to get the card you target. While Lapidary has to sit on the board for a turn and connect in combat. Both of these can be hard to accomplish especially when behind but have some amount of constructed history despite this proving the power of stealing opposing cards.

 

Reveal

Luckily the card I have for you today doesn’t suffer from either of these problems and pulls a troop over to your side of the board with no questions asked. My Dead of Winter spoiler for you today is Heartsworn Mordrom!

 

 

Benefits

This card has A LOT going for it. The most important thing about this card that you may miss at first glance is that payment power is a square. Yes, this power is activated by paying five charges not resources! This means he can come down and activate right away with no additional resources. If you are using the recently spoiled Frostshaper Gorkrog as your champion it gives you the fifth charge itself meaning it can be activated right away on turn four.

 

 

Targets

Initial thoughts may have you thinking that the three cost limit on what it can steal is restrictive but you have to remember we live in a Crusader standard. The crusaders are arguably the best cards in standard and have been for awhile and this guy can take them both as well as count towards our deck building requirement for Underworld Crusader. Other powerful hits include Emsee and Scion on Lyvaanth.

Possible Decks

We still have a lot of spoiler season to go and the Necrotic side of things has not had a ton a spoiled yet but I am anxious to see what else Hex is hiding from us. I envision Mordrom sliding in along side “Lixil, Heartsworn” and Underworld Crusader. The racial payoffs like Sepulchra Crypt Dust and Prodigy of Volosolov are rotating but I have faith we are going to see some new ones. The Necrotic race is pushed with a dedicated champion and Lixil being in the spot light story wise.

On the other hand we have the option of going the Ruby Sapphire route and taking advantage of the Major Galvanism gem with our charge based payment powers. Currently Naagan Lapidary is our only Necrotic with a Major Socket which is a little lack luster with only 2 ATK but we still have some spoiler season to go. Webborn Apostate is another great charge generator we have available to us.

The Necrotic have always been my favorite race in Hex and I’m glad to see them getting some love to stay relevant through rotation. I look forward to spending far too many hours trying different builds to take advantage of the racial pay offs and charge payment powers.

In Conclusion

Charge costed payment powers have the potential to be incredibly powerful. Between Mordrom and the new “Lixil, Heartsworn” Hex has proven they are willing to experiment with alternative resources and I am loving it. A long standing question with card evaluation has been “how many charges equal a card” and I think that is going to become very clear with this set. I don’t think we have enough information to start brewing with these cards yet but I think a Blood/Sapphire Necrotic deck is practically begging to be made with the pieces we are starting to see.

 

Coral Reanimator: Spamming Seekers in Standard

Introduction

Disclaimer

So, I’ve written about Haraza Ardent decks and Turbo-PA.  Uh, soo…last bash had 25 Haraza decks, and the turbo-PA decks won 68% of their matches.  The only other deck with over 5 entries were 9 valiant BW Kagulichu decks who clocked in at a whopping 41% win percentage.  Roughly speaking, this puts the state of the format at:  Turbo-PA beats everything but Ardent, and Ardent beats Turbo-PA while also being an aggressive/straightforward deck that punishes slow draws.

I’m not here to tell you I’ve found the deck that beats Turbo-PA and Haraza Ardent.  Because I have not.  What we do have is a deck that is fun as hell to play, favored against Ardent and a lot of other stuff, and not favored against Turbo-PA.  I’m going to repeat this, and also probably write 500 words on it in a later section:  This deck is not favored against Turbo-PA.  Best case it’s about a 60/40 underdog.

The Deck

Credit where credit’s due:  This is a fusion of the player Yasi’s “Crow Combo” deck and an old idea for Reanimator. One of the things I like to do as a deckbuilder is, any time I see an interesting deck on the ladder, just play it and try to figure out:  Is there a part of this that’s powerful and re-usable, and if so, what’s the right shell for that powerful component.  So let’s take a look at Crow Combo:

Champion: Blue Sparrow
8x Sapphire Shard
2x Blood Shard
4x Arcane Focus
4x Ruinforge Rummager
4x Sorcerous Sculpting – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Sorcery
2x Crowbones
4x Change Course
4x Well of Cunning
4x Coralcove Witch
4x Heart’s Whisper
4x Mordrom’s Gift – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity
4x Eternal Seeker
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Blood Ice
4x Runebind

This deck is cheating resource cost in two ways:  first, by putting big troops in the crypt and reanimating them, and second, by using Coralcove Witch’s -2 Cost power to play cards like Eternal Seeker ahead of schedule.  Finally, if you reduce the cost of Sorcerous Sculpting to 0, and sculpting a Crowbones, that sculpted crowbones can return the 0-cost sculpting to your hand, giving you infinite 3/3 flying speed troops.  Cute, huh?

Problem is that the best decks in the format are killing you fast, and playing a 6-drop is probably a bit too slow.  Playing Yasi’s version, I felt like I had too many clunky cards, but boy was reanimating an Eternal Seeker on 4 great.  And going Coralcove Witch on 4 into Seeker on 5 was also great.  Once I had a seeker out, it was easy to get more seeker triggers with Sorcerous Sculpting and Runebind, and it felt like I couldn’t lose.

Unfortunately, the Hex Devs have forbidden me from putting 7 or 8 Eternal Seekers in one deck.  However, there’s a card that does a remarkably okay Seeker impression against decks that are light on removal:  Chronodaemon.  So what if we just focused on a simple game play:  delay for the first 3-4 turns, and then wipe their board repeatedly while playing enormous fatties on 4, 5, 6, etc?  Here’s the result:

Decklist

Champion: Blue Sparrow
8x Sapphire Shard
2x Blood Shard
4x Arcane Focus
4x Transmogrifade
3x Chronodaemon
4x Change Course
4x Well of Cunning
4x Coralcove Witch
4x Heart’s Whisper
4x Mordrom’s Gift – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity
4x Eternal Seeker
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Blood Ice
4x Runebind
3x Sorcerous Sculpting – Gems: 3x Major Sapphire of Sorcery
Reserves:
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
2x Cheap Shot
3x Rizzix
4x Underworld Officer
2x Aegilus
2x Confounding Ire

Card Breakdown

This deck has almost all 4-ofs (good sign), and the cards break down as follows:

Arcane Focus, Change Course and Heart’s Whisper help us filter through our deck.  The first few turns, we’re just trying to slow the opponent down and set up a board wipe.  All of these cards have some other uses, but mostly they’re there to make sure that on turn 4 or 5 we can do something dumb.

These cards enter the battlefield and immediately stabilize a board.  In a world where Massacre and Clash of Steel are the best action-based board wipes, it’s almost hilarious how much better these troops are.  They clean up the best threats and also present a clock.  But obviously, we’re not going to be paying 7 and 8 resources for them.  That would be too honest.

…and cheating costs pays off.  Mordom’s gift, gemmed with Major Sapphire of Clarity, allows us to reanimate a troop from the crypt (ideally one of these big bad boys) on turn 4, after using our champion power or Change Course to put it there.  Sorcerous Sculpting lets us run out copy after copy of these troops until our opponent stops playing.  And Coralcove Witch provides a reasonable ambush blocker (quick 2/4) that simultaneously allows us to hard-cast Seeker on 5, or store up resources for a future turn by making interaction or filtering cheaper.

We gem Sorcerous Sculpting with Major Sapphire of Sorcery because then it’s a Sorcerous Sculpting of Sorcery.  Also because we can discard the extra action created with our champion power if it’s bad.

Finally, we play 4 transmogrifade, because we’re trying to stall, and it’s efficient and cheap removal.  Nice and easy, right?

How to Play It

This deck packs more value than any other popular deck in the game.  If the game goes long, you will be getting 5 or 6 seeker and chronodaemon triggers, while slamming 5/5 and 6/6 fliers onto the battlefield and doing grotesque and unfortunate things with runebind.  But it’s also a board-wipe deck – it doesn’t aim to counter everything your opponent does, just clear it off the board.  So against decks that have potent action-based threats, remember that you do need to actually kill them.

Your #1 priority is to set up something silly to do on turn 4 or turn 5.  Your #2 priority is to slow down your opponents’ primary game plan.  Try to spend your resources efficiently, because in the games where you do, you will probably win.

Reserves

Our reserves are pretty simple.  We’re rarely changing more than a half-dozen cards in our deck because its game plan is pretty solid.

 

These are all cards we play to give our deck some more early-game plays.  Cheap Shot is a great way to have stuff to do in the early turns vs. aggressive decks.  It frequently gains you some life by producing a blocker, and it can eliminate threats like Intrepid Conjurer, Righteous Outlaw and Wartorn General.

Verdict of the Ancient Kings and Confounding Ire help us deal with action-based decks like Furiko, as well as Culmination in Blood and other problematic actions.

Aegilus is here because some decks have a relatively easy time removing Chronodaemon…but have absolutely no answer for double Aegilus.

Finally, we have a legion of unblockable troops because I haven’t found a better way to deal with Turbo-PA other than trying to kill them through their infinite blockers.

Haraza Ardent (…and other aggressive decks):

We are close to pre-boarded for this matchup – with 7 cards that wipe their board (and clear their banner), we are a strong favorite.  Most notably, current Haraza builds eschew removal and interaction, which means that Chronodaemon is just a 6/6 that wipes their board.  Post-board, we want to make ourselves a little bit more robust to interaction and also bring our curve down a little bit:

-2 Chronodaemon

-1 Sorcerous Sculpting

-1 Heart’s Whisper

+2 Aegilus

+2 Cheap Shot

Cheap shot lines up well with Wartorn General and Intrepid Conjurer, while also provided a body to throw in front of things.  Aegilus is more resilient than Chronodaemon to removal, and also effectively blanks their troops.  These matchups tend to be good for us – post Lazgar’s ban, most decks are a little bit too slow to effectively get under our cheated-out fatties

BW Kagulichu (…and any blood-based grindy deck)

Kagulichu was a powerful deck because of its ability to play effective 3-drops with deathcries (Promiscuous Succubus, Rune-Ear Heirophant and Underworld Crusader), as well as interaction (Strangle, Herofall) and, most importantly, being able to Rotten Rancor an Eternal Seeker on turn 5.

I am here to tell you that we are much, much better at cheating out Eternal Seekers than BW Kagu, and that voiding all of their 3-drops is an absolute beating.  In this matchup, you need to:  not let culmination in blood resolve and not let your Eternal Seeker get Herofall’d.  If you do this, you will very likely win.  This matchup is great (…most of our midrange matchups are great).

Because we’re just throwing bombs, Aegilus is better than Chronodemon.  Eternal Seeker is the only way they have to get double-Aegilus off the table, and we have ample ways to interact with it.  We trim some transmogrifades to make room for hard counters for culmination in blood.

-2 Transmog

-2 Chronodaemon

+2 Confounding Ire

+2 Aegilus

Furiko

This matchup is very tough, because you are actually the beatdown here.  Given enough time, they are going to draw cards and build up a critical mass of runebinds, and arcane soil/hero power you for a million damage.  We are a board wipe deck, and they’re a deck that can win from hand.

However, if you don’t get Arcane Soil’d, this matchup is virtually impossible to lose.  So we’re going to bring in 4 hard counters to Arcane Soil.  We bring in Aegilus because it also addresses their primary game plan of combo-ing us from hand.  While they have a lot of ways to deal with it (their own Transmogrifades, Pippit Hustler), it forces them to have more interaction.

-4 Transmogrifade

-2 Chronodaemon

+2 Aegilus

+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings

+2 Confounding Ire

Constants

Easy matchup.  All our board wipes hit constants.  Whee!  Just make life a little bit better in the post-board:

-4 Transmogrifade

+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings

+2 Confounding Ire (…they’re usually blood)

Turbo-PA

…well, we saved this one for last because I have the most to say about it.  First, let me say that this matchup is bad.  Not unwinnable bad, but nothing I can do to get it over 50% when both decks are played by good players.  I have tried, with little success:

  • Fifth Book of D’Harsis: It turns out that spending 6 resources just to make sure your opponent won’t cast Psychic Ascension isn’t really worth it.  They are going to murder you with candles.
  • Demented Ascension, The Librarian, Cult of the Nameless City: While you sometimes get to have a lot of fun screwing with fateweave, this isn’t close to fast enough.  These are long-term game plans against a speedy combo deck.
  • Interacting With Them (Subterfuge, Indigo Trickster with Speed Gem, Verdict of the Ancient Kings, Transmogrifade, Massacre):   They have more redundancy and card draw than you do.  If the game goes on long enough, they’re going to do their thing – without a good clock, this disruption isn’t a winning plan.
  • Tribunal Magistrate and Blight Knight: Too slow, and too easy to interact with for them.  Good Turbo-PA players know these are coming and can play around them easily.
  • Bogberg, the Great Gobbler: …desperate times, desperate measures.  I just wanted you to know how deep the attempts went.

Looking at my reserves, I bet you can guess what game plan I settled on:  Over whelm them with threats and pressure their life total.  Underworld Officer and Rizzix effectively act as reach, and you will rarely have problems casting Rizzix on 3 against them (plenty of cards in the crypt).  You want to slam these cards on the table and race.  We play 3 Rizzix because he’s unique and significantly worse with Sorcerous Sculpting.  When this primary plan (play unblockables) does not work, Turbo-PA can also stumble by lacking the interaction required to stop our flying fatties from resolving.

In this matchup, you want to focus on establishing an early threat, and then forcing your reanimation actions through.  You are the beatdown – eventually, they’re going to ascend and make arbitrary numbers blockers/damage.   You need to kill them.  Here’s the board I settled on – this matchup is not great, but you can punish stumbles:

-4 Transmogrifade

–1 Sorcerous Sculpting

-2 Coralcove Witch

+3 Rizzix

+4 Underworld Officer

Tips and Tricks

This deck is the best Runebind deck in Hex, and it cheats resources in a weird way.  It’s tough to play.  So here are some tips that might help you:

  • Two Aegiluses are a hard lock against decks that can only destroy troops (most non-sapphire/diamond decks). Use Sorcerous Sculpting to get two Aegiluses into play as soon as you can against aggressive decks.
  • Aegilus doesn’t make you immune to life loss, like Necropolis Coin.  It does make you immune to damage.  Note that you can also die from running out of cards in your deck.
  • Runebind can save your giant troops from removal. If you can afford to, don’t reanimate them until you can protect them.
  • Runebind can re-buy triggers from Chronodaemon and Eternal Seeker, enabling multiple board wipes. Notably, Runebinding Chronodaemon doesn’t give them their board back­, because it hasn’t left the board yet.  When it reverts and you re-cast it, it will give them their stuff back…at which point you can promptly remove it all again.
  • Remember that you can runebind opponents’ actions, and then void them with Chronodaemon and Seeker. This is a reasonable way not to get Culmination in Blood-ed.
  • Sapphire decks have relatively few ways of getting their stuff back from Chronodaemon – transformation effects don’t do it.
  • If you think you’re about to get into a Runebind fight, you can give yourself some edges:
    • Leave up resources for Change Course – if somebody Runebinds your Runebind on the chain, you can get another one into your hand at quick speed and revert/replay it.
    • Fateweave a resource to the top of your deck and use your hero power to draw it.
    • Use Arcane Focus or Heart’s Whisper to find a resource to re-flip your
  • In general, don’t put troops into your crypt until you’re about to reanimate them – you’re just turning on your opponent’s crypt hate or Culmination in Blood.
  • Coralcove Witch can also be used to give Spellshield to one of your fatties – it and runebind are very important against blood-based Herofall decks for this reason.
  • Mordrom’s Gift and Sorcerous Sculpting grant the gemmed powers to the targeted troop. This comes into play in a few ways:
    • A Sorcerous Sculpting’d troop is better than the original. If you reanimate it, it will give you another random action.  If you Sculpting it again, it will give you two random actions.
    • Casting Mordrom’s Gift repeatedly lowers the resource cost of a card. When you can, try not to have too many cards of the same resource cost on the board; you never know when you’re going to need to cast Eternal Seeker for that number.
  • Feel free to tuck an Eternal Seeker or two under your Chronodaemon. This puts your opponent in a bad spot:  Either his board is gone forever, or when he gets it back you get to get rid of some of it with your new Eternal Seeker triggers.

Wrapping Up

…this deck is super fun.  I don’t want to mislead you – it’s not unbeatable by any stretch, and I think I’ve laid out its weaknesses: if your opponent is playing to the board, it’s an excellent deck.  If they’re not, it’s less good because the fatties we currently have selected don’t help much.

However, I also expect this deck to be consistently good in the future:  It’s only losing Arcane Focus, Transmogrifade and Chronodaemon at rotation.  As it’s in Sapphire, I expect that Arcane Focus’s filtering will be replaceable (perhaps with Theorize), and that there will be some cheap, efficient blood removal or interaction to replace Transmogrifade.  If the format slows down and a dual-shard appears, it may even be reasonable to maindeck Herofall and take a more controlling role.  Finally, Chronodaemon is only dramatically better than Aegilus vs. Turbo-PA, a deck which preys on this deck.  If you’re budget-conscious, I’d recommend replacing Chronodaemon with Aegilus maindeck, and playing Shackling Strands.  The rest of this deck should be a staple of this format for a while.

What is Your Desire? A BattleShopper.com Exclusive Dead of Winter Spoiler

Greetings Hex enthusiasts!  Today I am thrilled to share an exclusive Dead of Winter spoiler with you all that I’m sure will make you think of another Standard all-star.  Hex Standard players are no stranger to the artifacts from Nulzann, and this new addition will be right at home with its brethren:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming the first socketed spoiler of the new set, Dark Desire of Nulzann is strongly reminiscent of Dark Heart of Nulzann, which brings a huge level of power to whatever deck it becomes a part of.  For this set, however, the Nulzann legendary is letting our opponents keep their cards, while giving us more!

Sadly, though, I am worried that this card may be lost by the wayside when compared to its dark-hearted counterpart in Standard; lacking the ability to remove cards from our opponent’s battlefield, I fear, is a large setback, even when able to copy socketed abilities.  Compared to Dark Heart of Nulzann, this card lacks any striking evidence of immediate playability beyond the copy effect.  It just seems like any old double-socketed card that could potentially see play in the right environment.  Now, if we were to give it a bit of a push with, say, double Major sockets or something, perhaps you could gain my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much better.

Welcome the first-ever double-Major socketed card to Hex!  Color me excited, for sure!
Let’s break down this new artifact:

  • Two Major sockets, which can also be socketed with Minor gems, if wanted.
  • Colorless – like Dark Heart of Nulzann, this can be slotted into a large number of decks.
  • Copies itself – think Spiders, but actually good for you!
  • Created copies have Major sockets – particularly good for mono-shard decks.

When evaluating this card, we have to remember that is not like Mad Robomancer – copies of Dark Desire of Nulzann will grant two random Major gems that match thresholds you have available (think Warpsteel Shardsworn).  This makes mono-shard decks particularly interesting, since you can be guaranteed of the gems that will be socketed in later copies.

Now, let’s remember the current round of Gems in Standard:

Gem guide courtesy of HexSets

If I did the math correctly, there are 190 possible gem combinations for Dark Desire of Nulzann!  That said, there are a few places where I really think Dark Desire of Nulzann can shine and augment the new world of post-rotation Standard.
The first level of thought will be mono-shard strategies, as alluded to above.  I think that mono-Ruby is the de-facto choice for this, with double damage and charge increase being extremely powerful with champions like Haraza.  That said, I see strong potential in mono-Blood and mono-Diamond builds using Dark Desire of Nulzann, as well.

Speaking of Haraza, where I really see this card shining from the get-go is in a sockets-oriented deck.  Haraza has already proven to be a great home for socketed cards, and players have found the Ruby-Diamond variants of Haraza sockets to be most effective in the current Standard metagame.  With Sentry of Nulzann and Altar of Nulzann sticking around in Standard, this archetype will likely be the best day-one home for making our dark desires known.  Given that Dark Desire of Nulzann creates copies of itself when deployed – and the Major gems in Ruby and Diamond are all powerful in this deck, even if randomly granted – we never need a full four copies in any deck.  One or two will do just fine, which is perfect when a Sockets deck builder needs as many different socketed cards as possible to make Emsee an inclusion in the deck.  In Ruby-Diamond sockets alone, we have multiple combinations of Major and Minor gems to power Dark Desire of Nulzann; I’m sure that Sockets players can find a home for a strong attacker and blocker with two Major sockets in Ruby-Diamond.  There’s no reason to believe this deck is going anywhere, so look out for it alongside Dark Desire of Nulzann soon!

While Ruby-Diamond is one of the current mainstays in Standard, perhaps Dark Desire of Nulzann would thrive in a different type of already-existing core – one where we can draw a lot of cards to get multiple copies of Dark Desire of Nulzann on the battlefield.  Where do we naturally go to draw all the cards?  Sapphire!  And of course, when given the choice for sockets and champions that blend well with Sapphire, Diamond lends itself to some great synergies that I feel could fuel our malicious deeds:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a large toolbox of strong effects, and the potential of being able to cast this for only 3 resources, I’m confident that deck builders will be able to find a combination of Sapphire and Diamond cards that can help make the most out of Dark Desire of Nulzann in the upcoming standard meta.

Finally, I want to take a swing out into left field and try something That we haven’t seen in Standard yet.  We’ve been gifted some really powerful cards and effects in Blood-Ruby with the spoilers we know now; consider a core of cards that would start with the following:

 

While obviously untested and unproven (plus, who knows what lies ahead in this set’s spoilers), I see a lot of potential in a new Blood-Ruby deck; perhaps it’s a strong midrange deck with the cards above utilizing Haraza instead of the newly-spoiled Venoma of the Nox, and perhaps it’s a more sockets-oriented Blood-Ruby strategy where Dark Desire of Nulzann shines.  Either way, I’m definitely excited to try out some Blood-Ruby builds with Dark Desire of Nulzann and see where the deck-brewing winds take me!

Whatever the home(s) end up being for Dark Desire of Nulzann, one thing is for sure – I believe that it has a place in post-Dead of Winter Standard, and I am convinced it will be a powerful threat from day one.  What does malice truly want?  I think we’re all about to learn together.

What do you think?  Is Dark Desire of Nulzann here to stay, or do you think it will fade into the abyss?  Leave a comment with your thoughts!

I thank you, as always, for reading, and enjoy the rest of spoiler season!

Cheers,
Tom

 

Androod’s Academy of Cerulean #2 – Reserves

Hello again Androod here! Class is back in session here at the Academy of Cerulea, where we dive into game theory and more advanced play concepts. Today’s lesson is going to be about effective use of your reserves. A lot of players tend to treat their reserves as an afterthought when building a new deck, and I’m guilty of this myself on occasion. Reserves are just as important as your main deck, however, since they come into play in at least half of your matches. So let us take a look at how to sharpen our fifteen-card tool.

 

Making your main deck reservable

Making your deck able to be effectively reserved is the first step. Below you will see a reanimator deck I tinkered around with for a bit. The deck has a lot of synergy between the underworld races and gets to take advantage of two racial shards, both of which are very appealing. The problem is that this deck cannot make use of many reserves slots. It needs to keep racial counts high for two different races and Mistress of Bones and Machinations both rely on a high underworld count.

Not-Reservable Decklist

Champion: Blue Sparrow
3x Sapphire Shard
4x Exarch of the Egg
4x Zin’xith Silk
4x Scrios Limestone
4x Transmogrifade
4x Arcane Focus (Alternate Art)
4x Mistress of Bones
4x Skittergear Gang – Gems: 4x Major Blood Orb of Fleshcraft
4x Well of Cunning
2x Rotpaw Gang
4x Change Course
4x Ruinforge Rummager
4x Mordrom’s Gift – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity
3x Ghastly Exchange
4x Sapphire Ice
1x Blood Ice
1x Runeseeker
2x Malevolent Machinations
Reserves:
1x Psychic Ascension
2x Gemborn Prowler
3x Cheap Shot
2x Aegilus
2x Into the Unknown
4x Withering Gaze
1x Archive Dweller

These conditions mean our deck gets a very minor power boost from swapping out individual slots in reserves since they weaken the overall game plan of our deck. The ideal situation for reserves is taking out an F and replacing it with an A+ and that just simply isn’t possible with this configuration since we need so many cards just to make our deck function. For example we know Exarch of the Egg is bad against control decks but if we take it out our resources don’t work.

ResERVABLE Decklist

Champion: Blue Sparrow
7x Sapphire Shard
4x Exarch of the Egg
4x Zin’xith Silk
4x Transmogrifade
4x Arcane Focus (Alternate Art)
3x Mistress of Bones
4x Skittergear Gang – Gems: 4x Major Blood Orb of Fleshcraft
4x Well of Cunning
1x Casualty of War
2x Rotpaw Gang
4x Change Course
4x Ruinforge Rummager
4x Mordrom’s Gift – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity
4x Runebind
4x Sapphire Ice
1x Blood Ice
1x Eternal Seeker
1x Runeseeker
Reserves:
1x Psychic Ascension
4x Tribunal Magistrate
3x Cheap Shot
2x Aegilus
2x Into the Unknown
1x Archive Dweller
2x Gemborn Prowler

Above you see how we alleviate some of these issues. We have removed some of the need for a dense troop count. We have slightly reduced our deck’s solitaire power but have greatly increased its matchups in a diverse meta. This list acknowledges we may need to take out some of our troops in reserves by replacing the machinations with more consistently powered removal and having a Tribunal Magistrate to take the place of Exarch of the Egg in control matchups.

 

Having the correct number of cards

Sometimes when discovering a bad matchup the first response is “oh I’ll just throw four X in my reserves and it will be fine.” This is not an effective approach. When making a reserves plan for a new matchup you should first evaluate what cards you do not want from your main deck. For example, if you put six copies of cheap removal in your reserves because you think mono Ruby is a poor matchup, but you only have five cards from your main deck you really do not want the sixth slot is sort of going to waste. As we stated earlier, reserves ideally upgrade an F to an A+. Sure, you can probably find a sixth card to swap out if you have to, but it is likely upgrading a B to an A+ which probably isn’t worth the slot and can make you short a card somewhere else forcing you to leave in an F.

 

Something the Hex Heroes testing team does before every event is work together to come up with a reserving guide for every matchup we can think of writing down what comes in and what goes out. Doing this helps you identify matchups you have too many or too few slots and really helps optimize your slots. This isn’t something that needs to be elaborate and professional looking.

 

Recognizing you do not have as many slots that you want to spare for a matchup can also change the cards in your reserves. For example: Redlings can only spare so many slots for DS Control that do not deal damage to the opponent so we have to make sure those slots are punching the clock and working overtime when we bring them in. Culmination of Blood fits this description perfectly by having an immediate and powerful impact on the game.

 

CHANGE YOUR FREAKING SOCKETS

Sockets are easily my favorite aspect of deckbuilding in Hex. They take deck design a step further allowing cards to function differently across multiple archetypes. Much like main deck cards your main deck slots may not be ideal for the matchup. Far too often I see people neglect to consider changing them during reserves. Below are a few examples of how effective this can be.

 

1.) On the draw in a Redlings mirror? Change your underworld Crusaders from Speed to Gladiator 1. This has directly won me a number of games by correctly addressing that I am on defense by going second. My Crusaders are able to block the opponents Crusaders and Matriarchs more efficiently and most importantly they are able to survive opposing Lazgar’s Vengeance.

2.) Playing reanimator vs DS control? During testing for the CCS we had Hogarth as a reserves card for the DS control matchup. When Hogarth came in when changed Mordrom’s Gift from -1 cost to Speed to be able to catch the opponent off guard and transform our champion the same turn.

These changes and other similar ones can give you an edge in a matchup for absolutely zero slot investment in the reserves which is huge!

 

Identifying what matters

Are you just trying to survive till a key turn? Do you just need a little more tempo on the draw? Or do you just need to run them out of cards? Properly identifying what matters in a matchup is key to identifying what cards you include in your reserves to help you out. Let’s look at a few examples.

Redlings VS Mono Ruby

As the Redlings player I could look at cards like Herofall or Primordial Sabretooth to handle the large threats like Matriarch of Flame and Mama Yeti but those aren’t the cards that are deciding the game. This is a matchup where both sides are just looking to kill each other as fast as possible, preferably with little interaction. Matchups like this are typically decided by tempo and who gets out of the gate quicker which is a tall order for the player on the draw. By correctly identifying that our role in this matchup is to slow my opponent down and steal their tempo we find Runic Missile being an all star. This card removes every one cost troop in their deck as well as some of the twos and does all this for one resource. By allowing first turn interaction followed up by potentially free interaction on the following turns this card allows us to buy back huge amounts of tempo and swing the game in our favor.

BS Reanimator VS Sockets

                                    

As the Reanimator player your goal is typically to just get an Aeglius on the table and make sure it stays there. However the sockets deck put you in an interesting spot because they have a reasonable clock and have ways to remove a double Aeglius lock with Transmogrifade, Rune Bind, and Naagaan Lapidary which poses a problem for us. You could just bring in some ways to counteract their interaction like Verdict of the Ancient Kings but then you just die to their big troops while holding resources open. If we take a moment to analyze the matchup however we can see that the sockets deck needs a critical mass of stuff to be scary. It is easier for us to adjust our game plan to break up what they are doing instead of trying to defend ourselves. We adjust our play to focus on getting advantage with Eternal Seeker and bring cards like Chronodaemon and Into the Unknown to take them off their game plan. We take the role of the control deck and try and grind them out instead of trying to protect a cheesy victory.

In Conclusion

Constructing effective reserves is a key component for competitive success. Properly preparing for a meta can mean all the difference between tournament success and failure. If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section. Until next time class is dismissed!

-Mike Kletz (Androod)
@Androod27 on Twitter

 

The Price is Wrong: Cyclone Shaper Turbo-PA

Introduction

Repeat after me: cost-reduction mechanics are busted.  Behind every hilarious design mistake, behind every truly screwed-in-half deck, you will find a person who looked at a cost-reduction mechanic and innocently mused, “this seems fine.”  The Hex Dev Team is very ambitious – they are always printing cards  that reduce costs, and in the average deck, they’re usually fine.  But, as brewers and deckbuilders, we should always be on the lookout for these mechanics – they can be used to propel the right deck far ahead of the field.

Cost Reduction in Hex

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look at the last format, dominated by Ruby Tork, Slagpot Dreadlings, Diamond Sapphire Control, with a splash of Blood-Wild midrange in the form of Takahiro Deathcry or Kagulichu.  Take a peek at the mechanics they employed.

Lazgar’s Vengeance: Nobody thought that 4-damage to the face and a board wipe should cost 0 resources.  But that’s frequently what aggressive decks like Tork and Slagpot got to do.  This card single-handedly rendered a dozen decks unplayable, and was one of the only recent bans in standard.

Culmination of Blood: Should you be able to empty your opponent’s hand, effectively locking the game up, as early as turn 4?  Probably not.  But that’s what decks like Kagu and Takahiro Deathcry could do, by creating a bunch of small troops, feeding them to sacrifice outlets like Emperor’s Lackey, powering out a game-ending effect before the game has gotten going.

Major Sapphire of Clarity: Dark Heart of Nulzann was a really good 5-drop the previous format.  Turns out it’s an even better 4-drop.  While this gem only reduces the cost of a thing by 1, we should always be on the lookout for places that matters – for example, it allows Sapphire-Diamond Sockets to re-buy an Animus of Nulzann with Bishop Elijah’s hero power.

Psychic Ascension:  A 15-cost card that reads “Win the game, unless you’re embarrassingly far behind” isn’t very good – heck, we can already do that for 8 with Absolute Power.  But with cantrips like Guidance and Arcane Focus able to cycle through our deck and reduce its cost, it frequently became reasonable to ascend for 5 or 6, holding up resources to spend to protect your action.  This action has been a staple win condition for control decks since its initial printing.

Now let’s look at the current format.  The most popular deck is Blood Wild Kagulichu, an innocent-looking pile of incredible cards:  blood removal, powerful 3-cost cards like Underworld Crusader and Rune Ear Heirophant, and…cost reduction.  That’s right – Rotten Rancor frequently lets you put a 7 or 8 cost troop onto the battlefield on turn 5.  In the case of Eternal Seeker, it has a Lazgar’s-y effect: it can destroy an opponent’s big board and establish a huge blocker.  This tempo swing, combined with the threat of Culmination of Blood, has lead this deck to take up 50% of the top-8 slots in bashes.

The biggest overperformer from last week’s bash, though, was RDent Sockets, which five people played, resulting in two 5-2 records, a 6-1 record, and two entries into the top 8.  This deck has a wide range of draws, but the ones where your opponent is never had a chance tend to prominently feature Sentry of Nulzann.  For a 1-resource investment, 19 troops in your deck all cost less, which often allows you to giddily spew your hand onto the table while your opponent is stuck honestly playing on curve.

What’s Busted Next: Cyclone Shaper Turbo-PA

So this deck began popping up on the ladder last week with an interesting fundamental idea:  What if we just played 1-resource actions that filtered through our deck, Cyclone Shaper, and Psychic Ascension?  In case you missed the theme of this article, Cyclone Shaper is a 3-cost flying coyotle that…reduces the cost of every action you play by 1.  Eventually, all these actions find you a Psychic Ascension that costs virtually nothing, and the opponent is buried under an avalanche of cheap troops.  Let’s go through this deck design, because it’s beautifully simple:

Decklist

Champion: Cassia Goldenlight
6x Sapphire Shard
4x Arcane Focus
2x Transmogrifade
4x Well of Purpose
2x Psychic Ascension
4x Thunderfield Seer
4x Cyclone Shaper
4x Consult the Talon
4x Cosmic Calling
4x Heart’s Whisper
4x Guidance
2x Evaporate
4x Diamond Ice
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Runebind
4x Light the Votives

Reserves:
2x Tribunal Magistrate
2x Transmogrifade
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
2x Scouring Light
3x Into the Unknown
3x Confounding Ire
1x Martyr

Cost-Reducers

 

First, we’ve got all these cards that reduce the cost of our actions.  Cyclone Shaper is the big payoff in this deck.  With Cyclone Shaper and enough troops on board, you can play TWENTY-EIGHT of the actions in this deck for free.  

As for Light the Votives and Thunderfield Seer…bet you thought that these were just great chump blockers that generated value.  Little did you know that they allowed you access to extra resources!  We play Cosmic Calling and Consult the Talon, so every troop on the board will usually give you about 2 free resources of cost reduction per turn.  Light the Votives and Thunderfield Seer, plus candles from our champion Cassia Goldenlight, are both great ways to have access to far more effective resources than you should have.

Cards That We Play For Free (to find other cards)

With Cyclone Shaper out, these cards all cost 0.  Notably, the card you find with Cosmic Calling will also have mobilize.  So we can use that to make a Heart’s Whisper effectively also cost 0 (-1 from Cyclone Shaper, -2 from Mobilize).  You want to use these cards to help you find your payoffs and smooth out your draws.

Cards That We Play for Free (for protection)

 

Runebind doubles as pseudo-removal (it will generally prevent you from taking damage from an opposing troop for two turns), as well as protection for Cyclone Shaper.  Given that you’re an overwhelming favorite to win any game where Cyclone Shaper sticks to the board, the strong game plan against this deck is to try to keep Cyclone Shaper off it.  Runebind lets you protect Cyclone Shaper for the low, low cost of 0 resources.

Evaporate, in this case, represents a 5th and 6th Runebind – it can buy us time, or protect Shaper.  Transmogrifade is a flexible spell that can be used to delay aggressive decks until we can combo off with Cyclone Shaper.

Cards That We Play For Free (to draw more cards…to play for free…)

 

 

Consult The Talon, mobilized with 3 troops, costs 1.  With Cyclone Shaper, it costs 0.  A 0 cost action that draws 3 cards is pretty good.  As a general rule, if you cast Consult the Talon with Cyclone Shaper out and it resolves, you’re going to run your opponent over with cards.

Heart’s Whisper…isn’t free.  It costs a few cost.  But, unlike just about every other card in our deck, it requires no enablers – neither Cyclone Shaper nor a troop for Mobilize.  And sometimes it’s convenient to be able to draw more cards to set up a really big next turn.

Cards That We Play For Free (to win the game)

Psychic Ascension is the bomb of bombs.  Even decks that don’t play an overwhelming amount of actions can use this to generate a reliable stream of troops and free actions.  But our deck…our deck is all actions.  And we can cast many of them a turn.  The turn we play psychic ascension, we’ll usually create an incredibly wide board.  The turn after, we probably kill our opponent.  This deck is called Turbo-PA because it can power this card out as early as turn 3, and will regularly power it out by turn 5.

See?  This is a deck that knows what it’s doing.  It gets to play 18 resources because of its excellent selection and low curve, it plays 2 win conditions, some cards to cheat cost, and a whole ton of ways to find cards to cheat cost.  This deck knows how to win TCGs.

Reserves

Like any deck with a phenomenal Plan A, we don’t have a lot of cards to bring in and out in any given matchup.  In general, we don’t want to mess with drawing cards, cheating cost, and winning the game (…after all, those are the only things we want to do) – we want to mess with the card we use to delay the game and protect our important pieces.  So we’re usually looking at siding out some set of Transmogrifade, Evaporate or Runebind and siding in cards that are better in a particular matchup.

To anybody who read my article on RDent Sockets, we’re going to take an awfully similar approach to using reserves:  Keep the pro-active cards the same, and change out the interaction to line up better with our opponent.  Our options for alternative interaction are:

Transmogrifade and Martyr are flexible interaction for troops.  Notably, always bring in martyr if you suspect Misery or Crackling Magma.  Being able to preserve your board as well as be flexible maneuver is terrific.  Into the Unknown gets brought in if the opponent has a specific troops(e.g. Wise Magistrate, Tribunal Magistrate, Vampire Princess) that’s incredible against us.

We also have specific answers targeted at decks that can interact with us:  Confounding Ire for blood disruption, Tribunal Magistrate and Verdict of the Ancient Kings for control decks and the mirror.

Specific Matchups

Kagulichu

Kagulichu is the midrange deck that beats other midrange decks.  Thanks to powerful hand interaction like Culmination of Blood and Primordial Cockatwice, it can also grind out control decks.  But, compared to what we’re doing, its cheating on cost is adorably honest – its best draws cheat out a 7 drop on turn 5.  We might well have drawn our entire deck by then.

The only thing that’s scary for us in this matchup is Culmination of Blood, so we’re going to bring in Confounding Ire.  This doubles as protection for Cyclone Shaper, and they usually board out removal (it’s a little embarrassing to strangle a candle):

-2 Evaporate

-1 Runebind

+3 Confounding Ire

If the deck looks like it’s pre-boarded for this matchup, it’s because it is – Kagu has been the most popular deck at both of the previous bashes, and I imagine it will continue to be so, so it behooves us to be ready for it.

Mono-Blood Decks (Renner, Zorath)

I usually don’t mention these decks, as they’re not much of the metagame, but Mono-Blood decks, such as the one that placed 10th at last week’s bash, are some of the hardest decks to beat with Turbo-PA.  They have some early disruption in the form of Withering Gaze, early evasive/disruptive threats like Vampire Prince and Vampire Princess, and actions that end the game in the form of Culmination of blood.  Bride of the Damned will kill a card every turn.  Finally, drawing your whole deck is a lot less fun when your deck is full of spiders from Xentoth’s Malice.  Massacre’s one of the only genuinely clean answers to our board.

In this matchup, our goal is to keep Vampire Princess and Bride of the Damned off the table, build up card advantage, stick a cyclone shaper, and power out a Psychic Ascension.  We want the Into the Unknowns and Confounding Ires in the reserves, and they’re going to replace less useful interaction.  We’re also going to trim thunderfield seers, as 1/1s get picked on by Bride of the Damned.

+3 Into the Unknown

+3 Confounding Ire

+1 Martyr

-1 Transmog

-2 Evaporate

-2 Thunderfield Seer

-2 Runebind

Control Decks (Dreaming Fox DS and Wintermoon)

These decks are basically byes.  We are the beautiful, troop-less flower they wished they could be.  Their removal is bad against us.  Cards like Dark Heart of Nulzann are bad against us.  They have to hold up resources to try to 1-for-1 us when our entire deck is filled with cards that draw other cards, and our interaction is cheaper.

In these matchups, Runebind is often bad – runebinding your cyclone shaper does not save you from Into the Unknown or Pippit Hustler.  Further, you tend to have plenty of time to draw multiple shapers and bury them under a mountain of cards.  

-3 Runebind

-2 Evaporate

+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings

+2 Tribunal Magistrate

Vs. Dreaming Fox

-2 Transmogrifade

+3 Into the Unknown

Vs. Wintermoon

+1 Transmogrifade

The difference in boards here is because casting Into the Unknown on multi-shard cards Pippit Hustler, Brown Fox Scout or Windsinger generally results in the opponent getting more hustlers, scouts and Windsingers.  Whereas casting it on Dark Heart of Nulzann generally results in the opponent getting resources and useless artifacts.

Furiko

They are an aggressive, turn 6 or 7 combo deck.  We are a turn 3-5 combo deck.  This is a good place to be.  But, as a general rule, this matchup goes to whoever gets to Consult the Talon more.  In this matchup, we adjust our board to counter their high-impact actions like Arcane Soil.  They generally don’t have enough pressure to beat us if they can’t resolve an Arcane Soil.

-2 Evaporate

-2 Transmog

+2 Confounding Ire

+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings

BD Constants Decks (Goot, Fateweave, etc)

This deck is actually sometimes tricky, because you can’t block Twilight Eclipse or Twilight Archon.  Happily, we have plenty of space in our deck for scouring light, and these constants decks have plenty of extremely slow draws.  We change our board to focus a little less on interacting with troops and a little more on interacting with constants.

-2 Transmogrifade

-2 Evaporate

-1 Runebind

+2 Scouring Light

+3 Confounding Ire

Aggressive Decks (RDent Sockets, RD Ardent, Tork, Redlings)

These decks are surprisingly good matchups.  We have plenty of blockers, and we combo off extremely fast.  In these matchups, we’re just looking to bring in additional interaction, and worry a bit less about protecting Cyclone Shaper.  It can be tough for aggressive decks to continually hold open resources on your turn.

+2 Transmogrifade

+1 Martyr

-2 Evaporate

-1 Heart’s Whisper

Cyclone Shaper Turbo PA (The Mirror)

You might be seeing this mirror a lot.  Here’s what’s important:  Game 1, one of you is going to stick a cyclone shaper, disrupt your opponent, and ascend first.  That person is probably going to win, because you have almost no permament answers to an opposing cyclone shaper.  Try to be the person who combos off first.  In game 2, we board in more interaction and an alternate win con: Tribunal Magistrate.

-4 Runebind

-2 Evaporate

+2 Transmogrifade

+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings

+2 Tribunal Magistrate

With our board, you want to use your verdicts to counter their big draw actions (Heart’s Whisper, Consult the Talon) and Psychic Ascension.  If you manage to stick a Tribunal Magistrate, protect it at all costs – it is virtually impossible to lose with one on the table, as an ascending opponent will fill their deck with spiders and give you an unblockable army before they can kill you.

Tips & Tricks

  • This deck is all cantrips.  It mulligans well.  If your opening 7 doesn’t have 3 cards that are cantrips you can cast or resources (ice counts as 2 cards for these purposes), mulligan it.
  • Remember that un-exhausted troops= 2 resources.  If you’re going to throw a candle in front of a charging Underworld Crusader, wait until it’s necessary, because that candle can generate a lot of resources first.
  • You can empower a Cyclone Shaper in your hand in response to a spell like Herofall which targets one on the battlefield.  Empowered Cyclone Shaper has a different name from Cyclone Shaper, so it won’t be taken out of your hand.  
  • Cyclone Shaper reduces the cost of actions in your hand by 1.  Once they are cast, they still have the regular cost.  So for the purposes of generating troops with Psychic Ascension, Consult the Talon will generate a 7-drop (…all of which are evasive), and most of your other cards will generate 1-drops
  • There is no Diamond-Sapphire 3-cost troop in Standard.  Cosmic Calling will never generate a troop with psychic ascension.
  • Don’t forget your champion power.  Either use it to get extra resources when you have a mobilize spell, or to power up a bunch of candles created by Light the Votives.
  • If the opponent doesn’t have pressure on the board, feel free to just poke and them with candles and draw cards.  There’s rarely any hurry to combo off – in addition to being a fast combo deck, we are generally the better late-game deck.
  • Try to think about which troops you use to mobilize – do you need to use one as a chump blocker?  Does cyclone shaper profitably block?  Remember that Cosmic Calling is quick – you can do it after blocks or at the end of the opponents’ turn.
  • If you see Crackling Magma or Misery out of your opponent, make sure to bring in Martyr – not only is it mostly unconditional removal, it can save your 1/1s from dying.

Conclusions

This was a bit of a two part article – I wanted to talk about how, as a brewer, you should always be on the lookout for cost reduction mechanics, and I wanted to show an example of an incredibly powerful new deck that exploits a couple of them (Cyclone Shaper, Mobilize, and Psychic Ascension).

The deck itself involves a lot of decision making, draws a ton of cards, and has aggressive draws that can race even the fastest decks in the format.  It is also the deck that I think will probably break the stranglehold that Kagulichu decks currently have on the format…by doing something even sillier.