Brew theory: threats and answers

Eternal features various beatdown strategies, each with powerful answer cards that shut down those threats.  While answer cards like Vanquish are generally high efficient, they are somewhat narrow and not good against every other deck.  Vanquish for example can only destroy creatures with 4+ attack, which is not very helpful against Bandit Queen’s go-wide strategy.  The narrowness of the various answers tends to favour proactive beatdown strategies over control strategies.

A successful control deck must pack many answers to the diverse aggro strategies out there.  Bandit Queen requires the control deck to have a lot of blockers for ground units.  However, 2/5 ground blockers with high toughness don’t have flying to deal with flying units.  Meanwhile, Rakano decks are best answered with Scorpion Wasp and aegis strippers such as Levitate and Vara’s Favor.

Aggro archetypes

Some competitive aggro archetypes are:

  1. Aegis + equipment such as Rakano Pants/Warcry.
  2. Bandit Queen-style decks that go wide on the ground.  With a large number of creatures, the defending player can only block so many of them.  Fire/Time tokens is another deck that occasionally sees play on ladder.
  3. Flying-oriented decks like monojustice, monojustice splashing shadow, Flight school (a Combrei deck running Divining Rod, formerly called Instructor’s Baton), and my Feln brew described below (“Feln Flyers”).

Party Hour- an example of control being top tier

Before it was nerfed, Party Hour was a Feln deck featuring Champion of Cunning and Witching Hour.  When both cards were available, the combination would often result in a one-hit kill that was difficult to interact with.  Party Hour would run answers to both aegis and Bandit Queen aggro with sweepers (lightning storm and plague), spot removal (deathstrike and annihilate), and ground blockers with 2/5 and 3/5 stats.

Party Hour warped the metagame because the deck was widely recognized as being extremely dominant.  The one-hit-kill combo of Champion and Witching Hour was a fairly fast win condition relative to other finishers.  Many midrange decks could not race Party Hour’s win condition.  The addition of the promo card Scouting Party synergized with Champion of Cunning (because Champion would grant the Yeti Spies flying) as well as Witching Hour (Scouting Party counted as 4 cards and reduced Witching Hour’s cost by 4).

One of Party Hour’s weaknesses was that the combo took some time to assemble and that the deck did not have a good answer for flying-oriented aggro.

Rogue deckbuilding: Feln Flyers

I brewed a competitive Feln aggro deck with flying creatures and cards that synergized with flying.  The key ideas behind the deck were:

  1. Cloudsnake saddle (3/3 equipment for 2 power) and Twilight Raptor (2/2 flyer for 1 power, multi-faction) was a powerful combination.  Cloudsnake saddle and any of the flyers in the deck would be a turn 5-7 kill if unaswered.
  2. Beastcaller’s Amulet.  6 points of attack and 5 points of toughness for only 3 power is very efficient!
  3. Recurring Nightmare.  Occasionally going all-in on this card would steal games.

The damage done was largely in the air, though the deck ran the most efficient ground-based beatdown creatures (Argenport Instigator and the beast created from Beastcaller’s Amulet).  The deck would often kill the opponent before Witching Hour was castable.

Original decklist:

4 Blood Beetle (Set1 #260)
4 Levitate (Set1 #190)
4 Rapid Shot (Set1 #259)
3 Sabotage (Set1 #252)
1 Suffocate (Set1 #251)
4 Twilight Raptor (Set1 #379)
4 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Cloudsnake Saddle (Set1 #199)
2 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Whispering Wind (Set1 #202)
4 Beastcaller’s Amulet (Set1 #282)
1 Flash Freeze (Set1 #209)
2 Plague (Set1 #274)
2 Recurring Nightmare (Set1 #382)
1 Shadowlands Guide (Set1 #280)
2 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
9 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
8 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)

Current iteration (not good due to Combrei-heavy metagame):

Unstable form acts as a debuff and silence (the silence is mainly for Boardstall/Sandstorm Titan).  It comes with 2 copies.

4 Blood Beetle (Set1 #260)
2 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
4 Levitate (Set1 #190)
1 Rapid Shot (Set1 #259)
4 Sabotage (Set1 #252)
1 Suffocate (Set1 #251)
4 Twilight Raptor (Set1 #379)
3 Unstable Form (Set1 #189)
4 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Cloudsnake Saddle (Set1 #199)
1 Gorgon Swiftblade (Set1 #377)
2 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Whispering Wind (Set1 #202)
4 Beastcaller’s Amulet (Set1 #282)
2 Recurring Nightmare (Set1 #382)
2 Impending Doom (Set1 #286)
7 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)

 

Threat overload / threat stacking

One of the mechanics of a good aggro deck is that it will stack multiple threats that attack from the same angle.  Flying-oriented aggro decks would stack together multiple flying threats.  This would bleed out answers from the control player until they ran out.  (Shadow-based decks could also run Sabotage to strip answers from the control player’s hand.)

Threat stacking is limited by the varying power levels of the available cards.  I believe that the developers of the game carefully thought about this and assigned different power levels to cards that would fit in a particular archetype.  The power level tapers off as you try to find more similar threats to play- Bandit Queen for example has to run low-power cards like Knifejack.

One advantage of threat stacking is that the control player is limited by how quickly answers could be played.  Throwing down blockers against Jito Queen takes time.  Using spot removal on creatures takes time- 4 power in the case of deathstrike (or basically an entire turn to remove a single creature).

The combination of the Feln multi-faction 1-drop flyer and Cloudsnake Saddle was strong because Party Hour’s only answer costed 4 power if they did not kill the flyer right away with lightning storm.  Cloudsnake Saddle was a guaranteed 6-9 points of damage if it was landed early.

Control shells

A good control shell must run answers against the dominant aggro decks in the metagame.  Currently (Sept 24 2016), flying-oriented aggro decks see little play at the Masters level in ladder.  The main aggro decks are Bandit Queen and Rakano pants.

There are two competitive control shells:

  1. Combrei.  e.g. Desert Marshal, Combrei Healer, Siraf, Sandstorm Titan (Boardstall Titan), Valkyrie Enforcer, and Scorpion Wasp.  Desert Marshal’s ambush and silence abilities are good at taking down flying creatures as well as ambushing the weaker creatures in Bandit Queen.  Combrei Healer is a ground blocker.  Siraf is a resilient ground blocker with a backbreaking Ultimate ability.  Sandstorm Titan has a big butt and deals with flyers.  Valkyrie Enforcer is a reasonably efficient creature (3/3 flyer for 3) with a silence ability that pushes it over the top.  Scorpion Wasp can 2-for-1 aegis creatures with equipment.
  2. Primal-Justice (Hooru).  e.g. Lightning Storm, Harsh Rule.  These are the two most efficient sweepers in the game.

Other control shells:

  1. Eye of Winter + Stronghold’s Visage on top of the Primal-Justice sweepers.  Eye of Winter uses up a mana to stun a single creature and to strip aegis.  Stronghold’s Visage gains life and armor every turn.  These decks are not competitive at the moment.
  2. Feln: plague, spot removal, and ground creatures with big butts.
  3. Armory.  Weapons, the burn spells from Fire, and Harsh Rule can clear an opponent’s board.

In my opinion, Combrei is currently the most powerful control shell.  The influence-fixing in time could allow deckbuilders to splash Lightning Storm from the Primal faction.

Resilience

Against removal, certain traits make a creature more resilient:

  • Toughness greater than 3 protects a creature against Torch.
  • Multi-faction protects a creature from annihilate.
  • Endurance protects a creature against stun effects like Permafrost.
  • Ambush protects a creature against non-fast speed spells.
  • 3 attack is as high as you can go without putting the unit in Vanquish range.
  • (Aegis protects against a single enemy spell or effect.)

One of the reasons why Combrei is a dominant control shell is because many of its creatures have resilient traits.  For example, Siraf has less than 4 attack, is multifaction, and does not die to Torch.

Current Combrei Dominance

Desert Marshal and Siraf are both very pushed cards that are good against almost all of the metagame.  All of Combrei’s answers are creatures, so Sabotage does not work on Combrei.  The high toughness on Combrei creatures also make them fairly resilient against weapons.

As well, the creatures themselves are threats that put a clock on the opponent.  This gives Combrei a proactive gameplan that threatens other decks.

One of the issues that prevents the metagame from being balanced is that there aren’t any narrow cards that are great against Combrei, e.g. something similar to Magic The Gathering’s Retribution of the Meek – destroy all units with 4 or more attack.

Future decks

When the new faction pairs are released, I would look carefully at:

  • New champions and multi-faction creatures that push existing decks over the top.  Many of the existing champions are fairly pushed in terms of power level.  Some of the current unsupported faction pairs are fairly close to being dominant decks.  Primal Justice is almost at tier 1.  Monojustice splashing shadow is also close.  Time-Shadow has an interesting deck with Dawnwalker, Beastcaller’s Amulet, Dark Return, and big creatures.
  • Any new aggro mechanics, e.g. burn-style decks that win largely with spell damage.  (I doubt that Direwolf would consider this a development success as such a deck would not be very interactive and therefore “not fun”.)
  • Control cards that are strong against the dominant aggro archetypes.

It’s also possible that one of the new factions has some broken synergies like Party Hour did.

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