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!

 

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.

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.

RDent Socket to ‘Em

Introduction

When Lazgar’s Vengeance got banned, it opened the door for a whole bunch of decks that might be interested in playing troops with less than 4 toughness, or playing games longer than 5 turns.  Sapphire-Wild dreadling decks (Furiko, Ivan Slagpot, Shoku the Botanist), Blood-based midrange decks (Xorath, Renner, Kagulichu) overtook the big 4 of Ruby Tork, Diamond-Sapphire Control, Takahiro Deathcry, and Ivan Slagpot Redlings.  I’m usually a control deck player, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to brew, and some ideas had been simmering for a few weeks.  So I’m here to write about the deck I took to cosmic this season:  Ruby Diamond Ardent “RDent” Sockets, an aggressive midrange deck that draws cards, makes big troops, and rams them into your opponent..

Decklist

Champion: Haraza the Incinerator
8x Diamond Shards
2x Ruby Shards
4x Carloth Cobblestone
1x Cosmic Shaman – Gems: 1x Major Ruby of Twinstrike, 1x Minor Ruby of Zeal
1x Blamsmith – Gems: 1x Minor Ruby of Zeal
1x Hero of Legend
4x Ardent Crusader – Gems: 4x Minor Diamond of Protection
1x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 1x Major Ruby of Twinstrike, 1x Minor Ruby of Zeal
1x Exalted Knight
4x Animus of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Ruby of Galvanism
1x Moonrise Elder – Gems: 1x Major Ruby of Twinstrike
2x Altar of Nulzann
4x Well of Conquest
1x Daughter of the Poet
4x Decree of Banishing
1x Llama Herder
4x Sentry of Nulzann
1x Totemic Elder – Gems: 1x Minor Ruby of the Arena
4x Guidance
4x Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Diamond of the Seraph
4x Ruby Ice
1x Templar of Lumos – Gems: 1x Minor Ruby of the Arena
1x Grim Skull Tactician – Gems: 1x Minor Ruby of Zeal
1x Righteous Outlaw
Reserves:
2x Totem Trap
2x Crackling Magma
1x Wise Magistrate
1x Altar of Nulzann
1x Pride’s Fall
3x Scouring Light
1x Wakuna Lookout
2x Blinding Ire
1x Silent Sentinel
1x Inquisitor of Lumos

What is it…you say…you do here?

So first, credit where credit is due:  This archetype got on my radar when Etruia played it to a 9th-place finish in the first Bash.  What struck me was how many troops there are that checked both Ardent and Socket boxes.  This got me to asking the question:  How many embarrassing cards do we have to play to satisfy Ardent Crusader’s ten ardent troop requirement and Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann’s ten socketed troop requirement?

Card Overview

The answer is less than you think:  Cosmic Shaman, Totemic Elder, Templar of Lumos, Moonrise Elder, and Ardent Crusader are all both Ardent and Socketed.  All are pretty reasonable cards.

This leaves us with only 5 socketed troops and 5 ardent troops left.  Sockets are easy to fill:  Blamsmith, Emsee, Grim Skull Tactician, Dark Heart of Nulzann, Animus of Nulzann are staples of aggressive socket decks.

And, because we are in Ruby-Diamond, there’s an abundance of good ardent troops that also round out our curve:  Llama Herder, Daughter of the Poet, Righteous Outlaw, Hero of Legend and Exalted Night provide us with aggressive draws that generate value later.  We pick these cards not only because they are Human, Ardent and powerful, but because they have 1 threshold requirements – while William Rowan and Wise Magistrate are strong cards, they have double thresholds which can be hard to hit if you also want to have RR by turn 4.

We add in some obvious socket synergy cards:  Sentry of Nulzann and Altar of Nulzann

…and we add in the best cards you can play in diamond: 4 Decree of Banishing and 4 Guidance.  A note on these cards: Sockets decks previously had problems with consistency.  If they drew their best cards, they were unstoppable, and if they didn’t, they were borderline unplayable.  Set 7 introduced fateweave – specifically, we can run between 8 and 12 fateweave effects (depending on whether or not we have troops socketed with Minor Diamonds of Fate) to help the deck curve out well.  When combined with the ability of Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann to find impactful cards from your deck (it only pulls socketed cards out, and all our socketed cards are great), this build ends up being significantly more consistent than it has any right to be.

Why are we playing RD?  

First and foremost, we’re playing Ruby because Haraza solves a classic sockets problem – most sockets can build a terrifying board, but the opponent gets a turn to answer them.  With Haraza’s champion power, you can play out your big, under-costed troops from hand and beat face immediately.  With Major Ruby of Galvanism, you can also regularly hit your champion power on turn 4, enabling big swings before your opponent can really get going.

Second, we’re playing Diamond over Blood because of Guidance and because Diamond’s socketing options are far superior to Blood’s.  While Speed is a nice minor socket, Blood’s major sockets are built to accrue advantage over time – we’re interested in pressuring our opponent’s life total, not getting value out of our troops.

Finally, we get a free Human sub-theme.  We have 10 humans in our deck, and this enables this deck to have some of the most consistent resources in Hex by playing 4 Carloth Cobblestones.  Our threshold requirements are easy – we can cast all but 1 of our cards and our hero power with just RR and W thresholds.  We play get to play 8 dual shards, guidance, and sentry of Nulzann…and we also play 15 cards with no threshold requirements.  

While you could build this as a Blood-Ruby Underworld Sockets deck, and Underworld Crusader is generally a better card than Ardent Crusader, the power of guidance and the quality of the ardent troops far outweighs the advantages of going Blood.  

Socket Choices

Oh god.  Somebody put 19 socketed cards into this deck.  What were we thinking?  How could we ever make socketing choices?!  Well, let’s go with some basics:

  1. We want Major Ruby of Galvanism in Animus of Nulzann, because it allows us to play Animus on 4, gain 3 charges, and hit our hero power.
  2. We want Major Diamond of the Seraph in Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann because we need that card to be evasive so it can diligence and be a card-advantage engine.
  3. After that, we just want to make sure the best gems are in our deck:  
    1. Protection is the best minor gem available, so we put that in Ardent Crusaders – this helps them win combat vs. other crusaders, dodge strangle and pyre strike.
    2. Major Ruby of Twinstrike is an absolute beating when you put it on a card that is big or can get big.  It gets put on Moonrise Elder, Dark Heart of Nulzann and Cosmic Shaman – all cards that can have 4+ attack when they attack.
    3. Minor Ruby of Zeal pairs really well with Major Ruby of Twinstrike, making it really hard to block cards that…sort of have to be blocked.  We put them in Dark Heart of Nulzann and Cosmic Shaman.  It’s also great at stalling early attackers in aggressive matchups, so we put it in Blamsmith and Grim Skull Tactician.
    4. Finally, Minor Ruby of the Arena is a flexible way to get a bit more damage or a bit more defense.  We put it in our remaining minor slots – Templar of Lumos and Totemic Elder.

Do you even sideboard, bro?

The Big Ideas

Let’s agree that sideboarding with decks that have deckbuilding constraints is really challenging.  We just don’t have that many cards to trim while still doing our most powerful thing.  In this sideboarding configuration, we’re mostly looking to:

  1. Adapt our removal suite to reflect the matchup.  Sometimes Decree of Banishing isn’t good – you need quick speed removal or removal that targets non-troops.
  2. Tweak your ardent troops a bit – there are a fair number of ardent troops that are specifically good vs. certain decks.  
  3. Shift your curve up or down – get a little slower in grindy matchups, and a little faster vs. aggressive decks.


Removal Suite:

All of these cards do something that Decree of Banishing doesn’t.  Pride’s Fall and Totem Trap are quick, Blinding Ire and Scouring Light hit constants, and Crackling Magma is great vs. wide boards of small troops like you will commonly see in dreadling decks.

Ardent Suite:

Wise Magistrate is very good against combo decks.  Inquisitor of Lumos punishes decks that aren’t fighting you with troops.  Silent Sentinel is a card that deathcry decks have to get off the table to do their thing.  You’ll frequently find that these are better cards than Righteous Outlaw, Llama herder, Daughter of the Poet and Exalted Knight.

Shift the Curve:

You want to think of Wakuna Lookout as a very tiny and feeble version of Cosmic Shaman or Totemic Elder.  In matchups where you need to lower your curve, you can just board in a 1/1 with fateweave, swiftstrike or gladiator…or 3 toughness for blocking.  In other matchups, you can shift your curve up by taking out bad removal spells and boarding in Altar of Nulzann.

Specific Matchups

Here are some general plans for matchups.  Note that you should follow the guidelines above to deal with particular versions of each of these decks.  For instance, Takahiro is a midrange blood deck – but it also has a deathcry theme, so Silent Sentinel and void removal are really good against them.

DS Control

Haraza decks tend to have good DS matchups, because of how the Haraza’s hero power makes every troop get value.  Also, a lot of our troops can pretty casually attack into a 6/6.  Finally, Dark Heart of Nulzann and Eldurathan’s Glory don’t hit a lot of our cards.  However, Decree of Banishing is bad against Dark Heart decks, so we need to tune up a bit to be more threat-dense.

In this matchup, look to pressure your opponents’ life total early and force them into making tough decisions when your hasty creatures hit the board.  Try to get at least one activation out of Animus – two activations will usually result in an unbeatable board.

-4 Decree of Banishing

+1 Pride’s Fall

+1 Altar of Nulzann

+1 Wise Magistrate

+1 Inquisitor of Lumos

Socket Changes:

Move our Ardent Crusader gem to to Minor Diamond of Fate.  This gives us virtual card advantage, and there’s no particular reason that 6 toughness is great here.

Blamsmith and Grim Skull Tactician should get Minor Diamond of Protection to dodge Eldurathan’s Glory.

Ruby Aggressive Decks

We can absolutely get run over by these decks.  But at the same time, swiftstrike blockers can give them fits, we play a reasonable number of troops, and our troops tend to be fatter.  In these matchups, we want to go faster.  So we’re going to board our curve down, change our sockets, and alter our removal to interact better.

In this matchup, trade.  Trade often.  Your life is a valuable resource, and if the game goes long, you will be able to burst them down as your troops are much bigger than theirs.  An early Ardent Crusader can provide a pretty impenetrable roadblock, as can any of our 5 swift-striking two-drops.

-1 Cosmic Shaman

-2 Altar of Nulzann

-2 Decree of Banishing

+2 Totem Trap

+1 Wakuna Lookout (Minor Ruby of Zeal)

+2 Crackling Magma

Socket Changes:

Ardent Crusader gets Minor Diamond of Protection – we want to be able to block Mama Yeti Profitably.

Blood Midrange

Very solid matchup.  Our cards are very big, we have reach, and they have difficulty interacting with some of our card advantage engines.  A lot of their tools for fighting slower decks, like discard and Withering Gaze don’t really do anything against us – we can empty our hand and play relatively few non-Troops.  Our maindeck is relatively well set up here – I tend to trim to play around herofall.

-1 Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann

-1 Ardent Crusader

-1 Animus of Nulzann

+2 Blinding Ire

+1 Altar of Nulzann

If they are deathcry-oriented, you may find it profitable to bring in a Silent Sentinel for either a Llama Herder or Righteous Outlaw, depending on whether you’re on the play or draw.  Remember that this is basically a matchup about 1-for-1ing – if can blank cards like strangle, do so.

Goot Constants

And let’s talk about a deck that attacks from a very strange angle – constants.  Game 1, this is a race.  Games 2 and 3, you have a lot of ways to win.  In game 1, you need to build a giant board and kill them before you get got by Twilight Eclipse or Twilight Archon.  Generally, your troops are bigger than their troops, but Twilight Eclipse is often tough to race.  Our boarding plan relies on our troops to kill their troops, and brings in a number of cards that can kill constants.

In this matchup, you’re on one of two plans:  If they have Twilight Eclipse and you don’t have Scouring Light, it’s time to race.  If they don’t have Twilight Eclipse, you can often grind them out.  Our troops get big and synergize well, so we can frequently outrace even a pretty scary constants board.

-4 Decree of Banishing

-1 Altar of Nulzann

-1 Daughter of the Poet

+3 Scouring Light

+2 Blinding Ire

+1 Inquisitor of Lumos

Tips and Tricks

  • Resources – you need 1 diamond first, then you need 2 Ruby.  Sequence accordingly.   Then get to 5 Diamond for Daughter of the Poet.
  • Remember that you can access diligence triggers like Righteous Outlaw and Emcee, Etcher of Nulzann using Llama Herder without actually having to attack.
  • Sentry of Nulzann costs 1 and reduces the cost of all socketed troops by 1.  If you’re not setting up for spending all of your resources the next turn, and not playing a troop this turn, you might want to do something else to spend your resources efficiently.
  • Remember that Haraza’s Banner gives speed- you can replace your old copy of Emcee with an Emcee from your hand and trigger Animus to make a wide board taller, and still have the new copy attack.
  • Our troops don’t really have crush or evasion, but two troops, Daughter of the Poet and Grim Skull Tactician can make blocking unpleasant.  If you’re behind on board but the opponent is at a low life total, sometimes you want to save these cards in your hands to sneak damage past an unwary opponent.

Conclusions

This is a deck that can do a lot of things.  Diamond and fateweave mitigate a lot of the problems that sockets decks used to have in terms of consistency and finding the cards they wanted.  It has card advantage engines, valuable cards, and solves problems in the best way – running people over with huge speedy troops.  

The BurgleDurdle Bible: Diamond Sapphire Control in Hex

 

(Editor’s note: I really wanted to name this “Teach me how to durdle” but I was told not to by the author. So there.)

 

About me:

Hi.  I’m burgleburgle.  I’ve been playing Diamond-Sapphire control in Hex since somebody first played Silver Talon Adjudicator against me on the ladder and I realized what a messed-up card it is.  I’ve played a dozen variants of it, and recently top-4’d the first Hex Bash with my latest.  I have been called a filthy netdecker, accused of making the game no fun, and being lucky: these are all true, but mostly I am just a simple man who likes to draw cards and have the most fun in every match.  Diamond-Sapphire is the deck for me.

Champion: Dreaming Fox
6x Sapphire Shard
4x Diamond Shard
4x Arcane Focus
4x Transmogrifade
3x Lanupaw’s Sight
4x Silver Talon Adjudicator
4x Dark Heart of Nulzann – Gems: 4x Major Sapphire of Clarity, 4x Minor Diamond of Protection
4x Well of Purpose
3x Eldurathan’s Glory
2x Psychic Ascension
3x Into the Unknown
1x Weave into Nothing
2x Clash of Steel
4x Guidance
4x Diamond Ice
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Runebind
Reserves:
2x Tribunal Magistrate
2x Totem Trap
1x Mad Robomancer
1x Diamond’s Favor
1x Lanupaw’s Sight
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
1x Dread End
1x Weave into Nothing
2x Pride’s Fall
2x Confounding Ire

 

Why DS Control?

Traditionally, control decks in TCGs have run into the “Wrong Half of the Deck” problem:  you have answers for all kinds of problems, but sometimes your answers don’t line up with the threats your opponent is presenting. Totem Trap is a great card against Redlings…except when they go Emperor’s Lackey into Underworld Crusader.  Frostheart changes this, by giving Diamond-Sapphire decks 12 new ways to filter their deck:  Guidance and 8 Ice Shards, in addition to the 4 arcane focus already in the deck.  It can be easy to look at cards like Culmination of Blood, Lazgar’s Vengeance, and Underworld Crusader and ask “how can we do anything more powerful than that?” – the answer is that we can’t, but we can do something almost as powerful every single game.  


The Game Plan:

The Diamond-Sapphire game plan unfolds in 3 stages:  Slow them down, Stabilize the board, and Bury them in a barrow of card advantage.  Let’s go over each step, and how it manifests in our decklist:

 

Slow them down.  In the first 3 turns, we’re looking to accomplish 2 things – prevent the opponent from progressing their game plan too much, and use our abundant filtering to set up a good turn 4 or 5 play that will stabilize the board.  Our primary main deck tools for this are Runebind and Transmogrifade, and to a lesser extent, Into the Unknown.  Note that our best tools, as well as our cantrips, are all 1-resource.  This is convenient because it means that playing tapped shards (our 8 ice) rarely prevents us from using our resources on a given turn.  In general, try to play your tapped shards on 1 and 2, to have 3 resources open for a turn 3 weave into nothing, or into the unknown.  Your goal during this point is just to keep the board under control – don’t worry about getting a ton of value out of your cards, just spend your resources efficiently.

 

Stabilize the board:  The reason that Diamond-Sapphire control far surpasses other sapphire variants is that it can stabilize the board far more consistently.  It relies on 4 cards for this:  Clash of Steel, Dark Heart of Nulzann, Silver Talon Adjudicator and Eldurathan’s Glory.  These cards are all important enough to warrant their own bits:

 

  • Clash of Steel:  Clash of Steel punishes decks that go wide.  For 3 resources, it leaves an opponent with only their best threat.  Generally, we have a lot of ways (Dark Heart, Into the Unknown, Transmogrifade, Runebind) to deal with 1 threat efficiently.  Particularly, as a follow up to a dark heart, this card is brutal.  Most importantly, unlike a lot of our cards, Clash of Steel hits all permanent types, including constants and artifacts, which can help DS Control deal with cards it normally has trouble with.

  • Dark Heart of Nulzann:  Socketed with Minor Diamond of Protection and Major Sapphire of Clarity, Dark Heart is a 4/6 for 4 that causes each player to sacrifice a non-socketed permanent at the beginning of their upkeep.  A 4/6 for 4 doesn’t die to Lazgar’s vengeance, it can block almost anything profitably, and, most importantly, every turn it’s on the board is another creature your opponent has to sacrifice.  If you ready and have the ability to protect your Dark Heart, you’re probably winning the game.

  • Silver Talon Adjudicator (STA): This card is the ultimate come-from-behind card.  Are you down cards?  It draws 2.  Are you down health?  It gains 5.  And it’s a perfectly acceptable 3/2 flier who is willing to be roadkill for the nearest Mortartrike Driver.  While it will not take over the game, it will often tax your opponent’s resources to the point where the next bomb can take it over.

  • Eldurathan’s Glory:  A 5/5 for 5 that voids all troops with toughness 3 or less, Eldurathan’s glory usually comes down, gets rid of the opponent’s board, and puts a real clock on the table that’s difficult to remove.  The set of main deck cards that deal efficiently with this card are…slim, and 5 damage a turn while blocking almost everything profitably is tough for decks to race.

 

Bury them: Congratulations!  You didn’t die, and you stabilized the board.  You’re now overwhelmingly favored to win any given match.  Protect your cards on the board.  Hit your resource drops with cantrips.  Use your hero power.  Draw to Psychic Ascension and eventually win, if beating them up with dark hearts, glories and adjudicators doesn’t get you there.

The important thing to consider, at this point in the game, is not how you win…but how you could possibly lose.  Maybe this means you need to gain some extra life with an adjudicator…maybe it means you should leave a dark heart back to block.  But understand that, at this point, you can probably mathematically eliminate the opponent by making conservative decisions, so do that.

 

The Sideboard

There are two primary differentiators between my deck and the most common builds of DS Control:  Our main deck draw spell of choice, and our sideboard.  

 

To the first, they play dreamcall, and I play Lanupaw’s sight.  Lanupaw’s sight draws me 3 more cards from my deck.  Dreamcall draws them X random cards.  I want to draw cards from my deck – I put the best cards in it on purpose.  Those random cards that weren’t in my deck?  They’re worse.  Nobody wants them.  I’m not really sure why this is an argument.

 

A more interesting discussion is in sideboarding strategy.  Hex doesn’t lend itself well to specific hate cards, because it has a diverse metagame with a lot of different threats.  So I wanted my sideboard to be equally diverse, so I could tailor it every game.

 

Totem Trap, Pride’s Fall, Diamond’s Favor: These are conditional removal spells – if they’ll work more often than not against the deck you’re playing, in they go.  With a few notable exceptions, you’d rather see a creature dead than transmogrified.  Remember that Diamond’s Favor doesn’t target, so it can get around spellshielded cards like gargalith.

Confounding Ire, Verdict of the Ancient Kings, and Weave Into Nothing:  Situational counterspells.  Bring confounding ire in if it will hit important spells, bring Verdict of the Ancient Kings into control matchups, and bring Weave into Nothing in if the opponent has some medium, slow cards that you can’t afford to allow onto the battlefield.

Dread End: A pretty unconditional board wipe – the only one currently in Hex.

 

Lanupaw’s Sight, Tribunal Magistrate, Mad Robomancer:  This is the primary place where my board will differ from other boards.  While other people slot in multiple copies of halt, or 4 verdicts of the ancient kings for control matchups, I want additional threats.  Many people see sapphire control mirrors as a race to see who can psychic ascension first, and thus stock up on interrupts.  But all of these cards are perfectly capable of taking over games on their own, and your opponent will frequently have to spend resources he’d rather spend fighting over psychic ascension to deal with these other cards.

 

A core idea to remember is this:  Threats are better than conditional answers, because conditional answers trade 1-1 with threats only when one player has the threat and the other has the answer.  In the other situations, the threat resolves…or the answer sits in hand.  This doesn’t become less true just because we’re playing No Rush 10 Hex.

 

Matchup Guide:

This deck has fairly good matchups with all of the best decks, which tend to be aggressive at the moment.  I’ll go over what I consider to be the 4 best other decks (Redlings, Ruby Deck Wins, Blood-Wild Deathcry, and Empress of Ice):

 

Ivan Slagpot

 

Redlings:  Redlings is an aggressive deck that relies on scrounge.  Look to hold up resources on turn 3 to transmogrifade or runebind their turn 3 threat (it’s usually a lot better than their turn 1-2 threats), and deny them a dreadling from Ivan Slagpot’s hero power.  Mulligan 7-card hands that don’t have both a way to slow and a way to stabilize…or significant ability to filter your deck.

 

Board Plan:

In:  +2 Totem Trap, +2 Pride’s Fall, +2 Confounding Ire

Out: -1 Weave into Nothing, -1 Lanupaw’s Sight, -2 Psychic Ascension, -2 Clash of Steel

 

Note that clash of steel is not actually great in this matchup – this deck usually has 1 big threat that’s pounding you for 4-6 every turn, as opposed to a go-wide board.  This matchup is marginally favored for us.

 

Angus

Ruby Deck Wins:  This deck is just aiming to do as much damage as it can.  The cards that are really scary are Escape Goat, Righteous Outlaw, Matriarch of Flames and Mama Yeti – everything else is just pretty adorable.  Try to make sure these cards don’t stick on the table:  Good news, you have 25 life.  This matchup is great.

 

Board Plan:

In:  +2 Totem Trap, +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Weave into Nothing

Out:  -2 Clash of Steel, -1 Lanupaw’s Sight, -2 Psychic Ascension

 

Clash is mediocre against most RDW variants, again, because they don’t have any innate go-wide mechanics.  We bring in conditional removal because it hits a lot of their important cards, and because we want cards that affect the board.  We already have plenty of card advantage.  This matchup is very favored for us, because we have 25 starting life and and ample maindeck lifegain.

 

Takahiro

 

Blood-Wild Deathcry:  This is a synergy deck that also gets to play a bunch of independently good cards.  They’re looking to put two things together:  A deathcry-enabler, and a card with a sweet deathcry.  Their best deathcry-enabler is Lord Blightbark.  Their best targets are Underworld Crusader and Rune-ear Heirophant.  If you can Into the Unknown any of those 3 cards, you should do it.  Our game plan here is to keep their board under control and wipe it with Clash of Steel or Eldurathan’s Glory.  Pay careful attention to how many cards are in the crypt – try to play around Culmination in Blood by either caching draws on the top of your deck with Lanupaw’s sight, not using your hero power, holding up countermagic, or keeping cards out of the crypt using Clash of Steel and Eldurathan’s Glory.

 

Board Plan:

In:  +1 Dread End, +2 Confounding Ire, +1 Lanupaw’s Sight

Out:  -1 Dark Heart, -1 Weave Into Nothing, -2 Runebind

 

We board in some unconditional counterspells against their deck (Ires), card advantage, and board wipes.  We board out some cards that are not card advantage (runebind), some more expensive counterspells, and a card that makes them sacrifice things…which they already wanted to do.  This matchup is also pretty good – if you can play around culmination in blood, you should be favored.

 

Uzzu

 

Empress of Ice:

Empress is a weird deck.  It has draws that are very aggressive, but can also board up and be controlling.  Into the Unknown is your best card in this matchup – you will generally fight a lot over Tribunal Magistrates and Commander Prompts.

 

Board Plan:

In:  +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Diamond’s Favor

Out:  -3 Eldurathan’s Glory

 

If you see that your opponent has gone super-late game, you can bring in some of your control mirror cards, such as verdict of the ancient kings.  However, because our mainboard can fight that control mirror just fine, I like to hedge against their more aggressive draws.

 

Dreaming Fox

 

Diamond-Sapphire Mirror:  My favorite matchup.  In this MU, you want to hit your resources, draw cards, and protect a threat.  Because we play two maindeck psychic ascensions, we tend to be favored in game 1s.  Chill.  Hit your resources.  Don’t play threats without protection.  Sit down and get ready for a long game with a lot of play on both sides.

 

Board Plan:

In:  +1 Weave into Nothing, +2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings, +2 Tribunal Magistrate, +1 Lanupaw’s Sight, +2 Pride’s Fall, +1 Mad Robomancer

Out:  -3 Eldurathan’s Glory, -4 Transmogrifade, -2 Clash of Steel

 

We’re bringing in 3 threats that matter (2 magistrates and 1 robomancer), more card advantage, and more countermagic.  We’re shaving threats that don’t do anything (Glory), and clash of steel.  We basically swamp the last 2 transmogrifade for pride’s fall, because pride’s fall hits everything important and doesn’t leave a lingering body.

 

Tips and Tricks:  This deck likes to make plays.  Here are some of them.

 

Sequencing your filtering spells is important.  Arcane Focus/Guidance first.  Then Fateweave.  Then Lanupaw’s Sight.  Then draw cards with Oracle’s Song or Silver Talon Adjudicator.

 

Runebind can be used to blank removal, by turning a creature into a rune.  It can be used re-buy deploy effects like Silver Talon Adjudicator’s life gain or card draw.  It can be used to save a creature, after blocks are declared.  Try to think about these situations 1 turn in advance, so you can fateweave a resource to the top of your deck.  Alternatively, turn 7 is a good time to do these tricks, because you have dreaming fox’s hero power to draw you into a resource.  Remember that you don’t have to naturally draw the resource – you can arcane focus for it.  Finally, it can just be used to delay an effect:  If you don’t have a hard counter for culmination of blood, you can Runebind it and Into the Unknown the rune…or hope they don’t draw a resource.

 

Into the Unknown is a terrific card that allows sapphire decks to deal with constants and artifacts.  In every matchup, you should have a mental list of what cards are core to the opposing deck’s strategy…and try to send them where they belong: the unknown.   If you Into the Unknown your own dark heart in a DS mirror, all of their dark hearts get turned into random cards, your single dark heart gets turned into a random card but the rest of your hearts are safe.  Remember that Into the Unknown does not revert: counters, prophesy effects, etc. will still be on the new card.  Because it transforms into a card of the same shards, you can sometimes bounce a transmogrified card to hand that they can’t replay, because they don’t have the shards for it.

 

Silver Talon Adept should be used as a card-drawing spell in a control matchup.  Don’t be afraid to use spells inefficiently to draw more cards with it.

 

Change your Sockets:  

  • Is there a big difference between 6 toughness and 4 toughness?  If your opponent doesn’t have Pyre Strike, Lazgar’s Vengeance or Strangle, and blocking isn’t too important, Dark Heart’s +2 toughness gem should change

    • Does the opponent rely heavily on a few key cards, or prophecy?  Use the Minor Sapphire of Lunacy

    • Just want to hit your resource drops?  Use the Minor Diamond of Fate

  • Psychic ascension board stalls are generally broken by evasive troops – give your Dark Heart flying and swiftstrike in PA mirrors.  

  • Mad Robomancer should generally be a Major Sapphire of Sorcery and a Minor Sapphire of Lunacy.  At two robomancers per turn, we can deck a control player in about 5 turns, while having a ton of blockers and free spells.

 

Updates for an Aggressive Metagame

You may have noticed that Lazgar’s Vengeance got placed on the watch list.  Probably because Tork Slamstyx and Ivan Slagpot decks have been running rampant over the constructed scene. Don’t worry – this deck, like any powerful archetype, can be tuned to fight against any metagame.  Here’s are the changes I’d make if I was playing the tournament this week:

 

Gone:

1 Lanupaw’s Sight (From the main)

2 Pride’s Fall

Diamond’s Favor

 

Moved to the Side:

Weave into Nothing

1 Into the Unknown

Eldurathan’s Glory

 

Added to the Main:

4 Thunderfield Seer

 

Playing against aggressive decks requires consistency and the ability to efficiently spend your mana in early turns.  Thunderfield Seer is a delayed cantrip – we’re eventually getting that card back, but it may take some time.  However, it frequently uses resources that we weren’t going to use, and it is the bane of baby yetis, escape goats, boltspasms and righteous outlaws everywhere.  Worst case, it’s a speedbump to throw in front of an underworld crusader.

 

In testing, I’ve found that adding the thunderfield dramatically improves our Tork matchup, and helps make our redlings matchup solidly favored.  But this is the fun of having a thriving control deck in the standard format – there are always tweaks you can make to gain percentage points in matchups.  I hope you guys have as much fun controlling the board, drawing cards, and grinding out that sweet v-owl-ue as I have.