With lots of token decks running around, the current meta rewards you for flying over everything and getting damage in with flying units. While I don’t think that my burn list is optimized (despite hitting #1 on ladder), here are some key points for the current meta:
- Units are far more efficient than burn spells at dealing damage. Historically, the problem with units is that most decks run a lot of answers for them. However, some decks have weaknesses towards flying units.
- Flyers are good against tokens, Feln, and most Elysian decks. Those decks have few answers for flying units and will get wrecked by the repeatable damage.
- More burn games are being won by repeatable unit damage rather than burn. Champion of Chaos and the flying units have some form of evasion to help that get damage in. Rapid Shot, Annihilate (for Sandstorm Titan), and burn spells help to deal with things that get in their way.
- Quarry is much better than Kaleb’s Favor. Quarry helps you dig for whatever card it is that you need. That card will generally help you get in for repeatable damage- whether it’s a sigil to actually play your units, an evasive unit, or a card that deals with opponents’ answers to your gameplan.
I’ll also discuss some piloting tips for slightly increasing your odds of beating burn.
4 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
2 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
1 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
4 Rapid Shot (Set1 #259)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
2 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Quarry (Set1001 #15)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
1 Cabal Countess (Set1 #506)
4 Champion of Chaos (Set1 #402)
1 Bandit Queen (Set1 #389)
4 Impending Doom (Set1 #286)
4 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
3 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)
10 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
4 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)
4 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)
At the beginning of open beta (early January), Stonescar burn variants were one of the most popular decks on ladder so you had to tech for the mirror. Because the mirror was removal-heavy on both sides (from all of the burn spells), games would go longer. You were rewarded for going a little bigger… hence the “Big Burn” version of Stonescar Burn. Many people were running some mix of Umbren Reapers and Soulfire Drake in the 5-drop slots (sometimes running 7-8 of them). Due to the Umbren Reaper influence nerf (and the popularity of Armory), I choose Soulfire Drake as the 5-drop of choice. My list’s influence base asks for 3 Fire and 2 Shadow (with an optional 3rd Shadow to fully power Champion of Chaos).
It’s entirely possible that running more of the 5-drop flyers may be correct. I actually don’t have a 4th Soulfire Drake so I haven’t tested 4 instead of 2/3.
I play Dark Return as a slightly less efficient version of the deck’s best units. Its value goes up when there is less 8-silence Combrei running around. Unearthly is the player who introduced me to the idea of Dark Return in Stonescar aggro (yes, he used to play something other than Rakano).
I am playing fewer 1 drops due to the swarms of tokens that they can’t attack through. With fewer 1 drops, Bandit Queen isn’t as good so I run fewer copies of her.
Grenadin Drone is a 1-of since drawing the second Grenadin Drone is never good- the second rarely accomplishes anything that the first Drone didn’t accomplish. Grenadin Drone holds off Oni Ronins and Crownwatch Paladins while the Drone buddy gets in for 1 damage per turn. The Grenadin also act a meat shield against Armory’s relic weapons.
Cabal Countess isn’t great with tokens everywhere… but she is alright as the 5th 3-drop unit to help you curve out.
Thoughts on the current meta
Praxis Tokens is the hot new deck of the day and I see it a lot on ladder. It’s a cool deck but I don’t think it’s Tier 1. Like Stonescar burn, it runs the good burn spells plus whatever the most efficient units are. Stonescar has the more efficient units right now… partly because the units don’t stall the board like tokens or Boardstall Titan do.
Whereas Armory was very strong in the previous season (better than Stonescar Burn in my experience), the popularity of tokens right now rewards Stonescar Burn. Also, because it’s earlier on in the season, people are brewing decks and I feel like Stonescar Burn is more punishing to jank than Armory is. As Armory is matchup-dependent and fairly busted as a deck, the meta could shift in favour of Armory once again.
I haven’t had success with Big Combrei. You run into random control decks where you don’t have a dominating matchup. As a Stonescar Burn player, you really want to see Big Combrei piloted by weaker players- they durdle too much and let you topdeck lethal burn.
Time of day theory
If you play during peak periods (European evenings on weekends), you will get more matchups against weaker players like the guy playing Rakano with Pyre Adept.
I still haven’t figured out if there’s a small edge to be gained from playing during peak hours. Ranking systems are “supposed” to adjust for differences in skill level, so playing against weaker players shouldn’t be advantageous for ladder ranking. However, it’s possible that playing during peak hours will give you more ranking-advantageous matchups. Some players will have a ranking that exceeds their skill level, such as a weak player on a lucky win streak. Playing during peak hours may yield more matchups against win-streakers.
Playing during the peak periods could be providing the small advantage needed to achieve the highest ladder rankings. But honestly, only playing during weekends at certain times is tryhard nonsense that isn’t fun.
Piloting burn actually does take some skill. You should constantly consider three different lines of play:
- Directing all burn to the opponent’s face. If you have 18 points of burn damage in hand and the opponent has 18 or less health, the burn plan may be a great one. However, there are some decks that can put up aegis, gain health (Combrei healer), or gain armor (Throne Warden).
- Speculatively burning the opponent out, hoping that you will topdeck burn. This can be a good line of play against Combrei if they have a wall of big butts that you can’t break through.
- Playing normal Eternal and using burn spells as removal on key defenders and key units.
You should also think about attacking with your entire army. If you will lose one unit but get 3-6+ damage in, sacrificing that unit will usually be worth it. The kamikaze attacks are almost always worth it if they put the opponent into burn range.
When facing Combrei, sometimes you just have to be patient and wait. If you have a Champion of Chaos, you don’t have to attack in with her and trade with a defender. Wait for Rapid Shot or Bandit Queen so that she can be protected when she attacks. Do watch the priority windows to see if the opponent has an ambush unit in hand… the desert fun police (Desert Marshal) will ruin ChaCha’s day.
If there is a huge board stall, you may want to hold Bandit Queen in hand. The Combrei player, if playing correctly, should try to race you… leaving them open to a surprise Bandit Queen.
Tempo and preserving your health total
One common scenario is this:
- The burn player has an Impending Doom on the board.
- The defending player has 4 power open and can cast a 2-power removal spell (e.g. Vanquish, Annihilate) or a 4-drop unit (e.g. Sandstorm Titan, their own Impending Doom). The defending player does not have any units on board.
It would be more power-efficient to play the 4-drop unit. However, the aggressor may follow-up with a removal spell on the defending unit and swing in for 5 damage. If the defending player had played the removal spell instead, this would not happen. It is generally a good idea for the defending player to play the removal spell first to prevent this.
I know it’s not power efficient… but saving 5 points of damage is almost always worth it against Stonescar Burn.
Why you should block and let your unit die to Rapid Shot
Sometimes the Burn player will launch a suspicious attack. You might have a 2/5 Combrei healer that will easily kill their 2/1 Oni Ronin. The opponent is telegraphing either Rapid Shot or Torch. Because of weaker players running around, sometimes weaker players will attack into Healer and use Torch to finish off the Healer. Blocking would be advantageous for you. If the player’s name doesn’t have top 500 Masters beside it, I would assume that it is a weaker player who might be on Torch.
Another reason why you should block is because Rapid Shot takes 1 power. This sometimes prevents the aggressor from playing a unit that turn… that would be tempo-advantageous for you.
Sometimes you have a Sandstorm Titan in hand. You would much rather have your Combrei Healer die to Rapid Shot than your Sandstorm Titan die to Rapid Shot. Something is going to die to Rapid Shot. Throw the Healer under the bus.
Lastly, eventually you have to block. If you don’t block, Rapid shot turns into a 4-damage burn spell that will kill you.
When you shouldn’t block
Don’t block if you can later hold up some sort of counterplay to combat tricks, e.g. fast-speed removal or a combat trick (e.g. Finest Hour) of your own. So, don’t block and wait for next turn when the opponent does the same attack again.
If you can play a second unit on your next turn, then not blocking may be ok. If the aggressor only has 1 combat trick, then they will only attack in with 1 unit. If the aggressor attacks in with 2+ units, then the combat trick will only save 1 unit while the other attacker(s) will die. So let them attack in with 1 unit, and use your weaker unit to block.
In other cases, you can counterattack the opponent and race them back. Sandstorm Titan is especially good at this. If you don’t block, these counter-attackers will live and be able to race the opponent. (Keeping Sandstorm Titan alive is also important because Titan makes flying units blockable.)
Lastly, if you are playing Combrei, you can use your Combrei Healer to give a unit a high amount of toughness (e.g. use Healer on another Healer or Siraf). This will make that unit immune to a single combat trick. Not blocking for a turn lets you pull off this trick.
Every burn matchup is a race
The Stonescar Burn deck will eventually topdeck burn spells that will kill you. You need to kill them before they kill you. You have to intelligently race Stonescar Burn decks. If they pass 2 turns with at least 5 unplayed power, they probably do not have any Ambush or Charge units in hand (or any units in hand). So, you don’t need to leave back an additional blocker to deal with surprise attackers. Race them back.
Digression: fixing Stonescar aggro
Honestly, I don’t think that Burn (or Armory) are fun decks to play against. So, I have mixed feelings about pointing out the power level of unfun decks. But…. players will eventually figure it out so I try to be the first person to write about it.
The obvious fix is to nerf one or two of the big burn spells- either Flameblast or Obliterate. The metagame was great before Stonescar aggro players started running Flameblast and Obliterate (and to a lesser degree Kaleb’s Favor).
The first issue with burn is the “removal city” problem. In these games, the board is fairly empty since players use their spells to remove units from the opponent’s board. In the Stonescar Burn mirror, this is often the correct line of play. Not having a board sucks since you have no agency in the game- you aren’t making decisions that affect the outcome of the game. “Removal city” leads to un-interesting games where the winner is decided by the player who is neither power flooded or power screwed.
Of the two big burn spells, Obliterate is the bigger offender. There’s so much value from using it as removal that you are less likely to direct it at the opponent’s face. This leads to the removal city problem.
The second issue with burn is that it is non-interactive. It is difficult for opponents to have counterplay against it. You often randomly die to burn and it feels like there is nothing that you can do about it. The randomness of the opponent topdecking a lethal Flameblast to steal a game is not a great feeling. A unit-based finisher like Icaria is more interesting to play against- you can attack in her, play 2 removal spells on her, go wide around her, etc. Pre-nerf Siraf was interesting to play against, because you could see her ultimate coming from a mile away. The big burn spells have little counterplay relative to those unit-based finishers (or even equipment like Deepforged Plate).
Let Direwolf Digital know how you feel about burn
If you feel the same way I do, please tell Direwolf Digital that this isn’t fun. Go into the Game Options, click Feedback, and send them a brief message. Tell them you want games with interesting decisions and interactive gameplay.
Eternal does have interesting mechanics and cards like Icaria, pre-nerf Siraf, Shadowlands Guide + Ticking Grenadin, etc. etc. The combat tricks like Torch and Rapid Shot are interesting to play against. DWD should be pushing mechanics like Shadowlands Guide + Ticking Grenadin that see little constructed play… not nonsense like Throne Warden. The problem with Throne Warden in Armory is that it turns into removal city and one player is not allowed to have a board. Cards that add armor lead to situations where the damn relic weapons never go away.
Or… do what I did and take a break from the game. Still, it’s pretty ridiculous that the big burn spells haven’t been nerfed yet. For whatever reason, DWD is pushing unfun nonsense like Throne Warden. So, expecting sensible game design will be an exercise in frustration. I’m greatly disappointed that burn still exists as a deck.
Stonescar Burn preys on people who are having fun and playing jank. It happens to be really strong right now (though that may not last).
I hit #1 on ladder with Stonescar and didn’t really enjoy that. I don’t feel great about being rewarded for playing something that other people find unfun. Kudos to Rrabb1t (RrbbTT) for making #1 on ladder with an interesting and innovative decklist (4X backlash!!!)… I wish I had done something like that.