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!

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