You might be surprised to know that you don’t need that much skill to make it to the top of constructed ladder.
By far, the most important thing to do is to identify and play a Tier 1 deck. (Sorry Icaria Blue fans.)
Skill matters, but only up to a point. You have to be good but you don’t have to be amazing at this game. Some have reached the top of ladder with only a few weeks of experience- jaypeg did it when open Beta began.
Get a win streak and stop playing once you’ve secured a high position. Sunyveil held the #1 spot on ladder for a long time because he went on vacation.
Many people confuse complexity with depth. For example, take a look at sweeper cards like Lightning Storm and Harsh Rule.
Both cards have very little text on them. New players don’t have to read a novel to understand these cards. At the same time, they offer a lot of gameplay depth. If you are the control player, sometimes it makes sense to wait another turn before casting it (especially when playing the old Jito Queen decks). When playing against Lightning Storm, you have to be careful not to overextend or underextend (as I discussed in my patient Bandit Queen article).
From a game design perspective, good card designs lead to interesting gameplay and have low apparent complexity to new players.
You might think that a Top 10 ladder ranking is solely about a player’s skill, but that has never been the case and still isn’t.
I’ll give my thoughts on what worked on ladder since the Party Hour metagame when I started playing. Overall, earlier seasons really rewarded skillful piloting as Party Hour and Big Combrei had skill intensive mirrors. It also rewarded you for abusing the matchmaking system- you would often be matched against the same player a few to several times in a row, so picking a deck that is good against their deck was a good strategy. Or, you would simply stop playing for a bit so that you would get matched with a different opponent. Part of the reason why Unearthly is a good player is because he picked up on that.
Since then, high level play has become less skill intensive as Tier 1 matchups have fewer opportunities for players to make good/bad plays. There has also been more try-harding as fewer high-level players would play fun decks like Sunyveil’s Dark Clockroaches, partly because jank is less viable and partly because DWD introduced a badge beside a player’s name for previous’ season ranks.
However, I suspect that the current ranking system creates advantages for players who play at certain times of day. Due to win streaks, some normal players will achieve an ELO/MMR rating that exceeds their skill level. I suspect that playing during certain times will increase the number of matchups against such players. There is some phenomenon going on where the game’s highest-skilled pilots like Finkel are ranking lower on ladder than lesser-skilled pilots.
Patch 1.18 definitely nerfs Champion of Chaos as she now dies easily to relic weapons. She will also trade with many units in combat, making her easier to block. She is no longer the hyper-efficient unit that could repeatedly get in damage. This also makes Dark Return less powerful because you would previously run Dark Return to bring back Champion of Chaos, essentially playing more copies of Champion. Now, 0-1 copies of Dark Return is likely correct.
The current list that I am playing is a fire heavy build that aims for a more consistent influence base. It doesn’t need double/triple shadow other than 1 copy of Cabal Countess and 4 copies of Champ. With many decks playing unit spam and Temple Scribe, Cabal Countess is weaker.
On the surface, the post-wipe metagame might seem reasonably diverse. However, many tier 1 decks are simply aggro decks in different factions: rakano, aggressive combrei, and stonescar burn are proactive decks that play out mostly the same. Slower reactive decks (“control”) are in a bad place due to how strong Stonescar burn is against slower decks.
Because the metagame is fairly fast, very janky decks like reanimator and Clockroaches curently see close to zero play (unlike the pre-wipe meta).
JayNite currently sits at #4 on ladder with his armory deck. While armory was previously considered a Tier 2 deck, perhaps there is a reason to revisit this classic. The wipe changes nerfed everything else and gave this deck a buff in the form of Scheme:
Scheme allows the deck to dig for the correct answers to counter and punish opposing strategies. Against aggro, this deck looks to trade relic weapons with units to stop the aggression. Then it will dig for the correct answer cards (e.g. Harsh Rule, Auric Runehammer) or Icaria as a finisher. Against control, this deck will look to beat down with relic weapons since control decks tend to be bad against relic weapons.
Lifedrinker is an interesting addition that helps the deck combat an aggro-heavy meta.
Here’s a competitive deck that’s also interesting to play and pilot, unlike the current bogeyman of the metagame- Stonescar Burn. My winrate with the deck has been 64% (18-10). I currently sit at ~#8 on ladder.
This deck is very similar to Finkel’s Shimmerpack deck (discussed here), except that it runs Twinbrood Sauropod (“Echosaur”) as another win condition. Whispering Wind is a way to assemble the Shimmerpack combos. Levitate + big units shore up the deck’s weaknesses against flyers.