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:
Champion: Cassia Goldenlight
6x Sapphire Shard
4x Arcane Focus
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 Diamond Ice
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Light the Votives
2x Tribunal Magistrate
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
2x Scouring Light
3x Into the Unknown
3x Confounding Ire
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.
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.
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):
+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
-2 Thunderfield Seer
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.
+2 Verdict of the Ancient Kings
+2 Tribunal Magistrate
Vs. Dreaming Fox
+3 Into the Unknown
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.
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 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 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.
-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.
+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.
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.