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.