Going Deep – New Age Masters

Hey friends! The meta is still in chaos from the wipe/patch, but we are beginning to see some lists rise to the top. Today I am going to cover some of the first lists to make master in the post-wipe world. This will help everyone get a snap-shot of what the meta is looking like at the top and where things are headed. This is obviously not a total list of all the Masters decklists, but I feel like it gives a clear picture of what has been successful so far, and lends to a compelling story. The lists we are looking at today are Stonescar Burn by Unearthly, Shimmerpack by finkel, Xenan Killers by Thunder and Pantless Rakano by Jaypeg.

It should be noted that I don’t know exactly how much card choice was affected by budget in each of these cases. If there are some slightly bizarre card choices or numbers, that may just be because that is what the player had access to. I will be pointing out some specific budget-constrained choices, but you may find others when analyzing the lists more closely.

Unearthly – BurnScar

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4 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)

4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)

3 Pyroknight (Set1 #16)

2 Suffocate (Set1 #251)

4 Torch (Set1 #8)

4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)

3 Kaleb’s Favor (Set0 #3)

4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)

2 Cabal Countess (Set1 #506)

4 Champion of Chaos (Set1 #402)

2 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)

4 Impending Doom (Set1 #286)

4 Obliterate (Set1 #48)

2 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)

4 Umbren Reaper (Set1 #299)

9 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)

8 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)

4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)

4 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)

To begin with, lets talk about the boogie-man of the format. Coming out of the wipe many people identified that Stonescar was well positioned as the rest of the format had been powered down, while it got away without much change. The plan of this deck is fairly straight-forward: do 10-15 damage through combat, and than do the other 10-15 damage from burn. Unlike lists such a Jito, the units are much beefier, and the curve is relatively high. This particular build plays much more like Stonescar midrange than a dedicated aggro deck, but simply opts to double-down on damage based removal that can hit the face.

The list we are looking at here is not exactly wildly innovative at its core, as lists similar to this were around even before the wipe. In fact, he actually took this list off of me, making a couple modifications of his own. Something that should jump out to everyone is the Cabal Countess, who is making an appearance. This card is very powerful in a shell such as this, as she helps fill out the curve, and is super punishing to unsuspecting opponents. That being said, she has her limits, and I doubt 4 is the right number to play in almost any deck. Another touch for this specific list is the inclusion of 2 Soulfire Drakes. I have been playing 1 in my deck, and I have been very impressed. In a world without Sandstorm Titan and Desert Marshall Soulfire Drake does tons of work. I have considered adding a second to my list, but you can only play so many 5-drops. There was a very lively debate in discord last week about the balance between Reaper and Drake in these decks, and only time will tell what is right. I personally prefer the Reapers because of there power in the mirror.

This deck has an exceptional match up against most midrange time strategies. One of the main reasons for this deck making so much progress initially was the overabundance of Combrei Midrange on the ladder before open beta. That deck has been almost wiped off the map from the overwhelming power of BurnScar. One of the secrets to beating a burn deck is putting them under the gun. Although decks that have almost no control of its draw can flood out fairly easily, it is only so long before Burn find enough Flame Blasts and Obliterates to finish the game. Combrei Midrange in it’s pre-wipe configuration was just not well equipped for that fight. Any deck looking to attack Burn must have a powerful strategy for dealing with these burn spells through some combination of life gain and backlash, or they must be looking to kill their opponent quickly.

There are many reasons to be attracted to a deck like this for ladder at present. First, you have some game against almost anything. Many of the cards in the deck are just exceptionally powerful, like Champion of Chaos (“Cha-Cha”), Impending Doom, Pyroknight and Obliterate. Drawing the right combination of these in the right order can win even the worst match up. Secondly, it is often best to be proactive in an open field. Trying to build a control deck in an environment such as this is difficult, as you don’t know if you need to prioritize Lightning Storm over Feeding Time, or whether you need to stock your list with high-end finishers or just early game interaction. I do think some control deck will eventually rise to the top (looking to LightsOutAce’s list for Feln Control is a good place to start) but it will take some time to identify the composition best suited for the current meta. Overall, I highly suggest picking up this deck if you are looking to grind ladder, as I think it has an exceptional match up against the field, as is simple to play.

Finkel – Shimmerpack

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4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)

3 Permafrost (Set1 #193)

3 Sanctuary Priest (Set1 #73)

2 Ephemeral Wisp (Set1 #84)

4 Storm Lynx (Set1 #353)

3 Talir’s Favored (Set0 #11)

4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #12)

2 Amaran Camel (Set1 #357)

4 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)

4 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)

3 Crystalline Chalice (Set1 #359)

4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)

4 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)

1 Lumen Shepherd (Set1 #117)

3 Scouting Party (Set1 #488)

2 Shimmerpack (Set1 #365)

6 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)

8 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)

3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

4 Elysian Banner (Set1 #421)

4 Seat of Wisdom (Set0 #63)

Finkel’s list is a fascinating way to attack a format saturated with BurnScar. Finkel and I had actually been talking about the Shimmerpack archetype a couple of times since the wipe, and he felt it was powerful and well-positioned. The game plan of this deck is quite interesting. First, you want to flood the board with idiots in the first few turns, so that you can reach some pay-off cards. The “idiots” include Temple Scribe, Initiate of the Sands, Amber Acolyte, Talir’s Favored and Sanctuary Priest (yes Sanctuary Priest has made Master). Next, we develop our “pay off” cards, such as Chalice, Obelisk or Scouting Party. From here we try to draw a ton of cards off Chalice, until we are able to find a Shimmerpack, at which point we can usually ranch our opponent from 20 with our beefed up Shimmer-army. There are some games where you can just ride Chalice + Obelisk to victory as well.

In talking with finkel, there were a handful of interesting comments he made. First, this is a skill intensive deck. The redraw is difficult, as much of the deck is “air”. You may look at a hand of 3 power, and 4 creatures and think it is a snap keep, but if those creatures are Initiate, Scribe, Acolyte and Wasp your hand doesn’t really do anything other than spin its wheels and play power. He suggested that people should redraw more aggressively to find powerful mid-to-late game cards. There are many other tough choices such has how/when to block, and how to sequence plays in the mid game. I would encourage players to take the time to learn the ins-and-outs of the deck.

One thing to point out specifically – no Vault of the Praxis. In the first half of my last article I suggested that Vault may be the perfect draw engine for a deck such as this. Finkel tried it, but was not impressed. The card actually has some bizarre tension. Do I take turn 4 off to cast it? How much should I go out of my way to maximize it? It is also a lousy top deck. Against control decks this card is obviously an all-star as you can take the time to milk it for full value, but that is not generally the case. Chalice appears to be a better card for the deck for now, as it is much less restrictive in its use. The winner from the tournament this weekend seemed to disagree, and instead opted for 4 copies of vault. We will see which Relic reigns victorious in time.

Shimmerpack actually has a number of very good match ups, including the BurnScar lists I discussed above. In fact, in his final push to Master, finkel beat me up real bad with this list, only losing a game where he kept a 1 power Initiate of the Sands hand (although I admire his gusto in such a keep)! As I mentioned before, BurnScar is looking to do about half the damage with units and about half the damage with spells. This list is exceptional at minimizing the effectiveness of opponent ground-pounders. 2/1s are a joke against any token deck, and Permafrost can easily lock down the most dangerous evasive threats. The inclusion of Permafrost was actually a suggestion I made for this list, as fewer decks than usual have a clean work-around.

Going forward, there is still room to innovate and streamline lists such as this. I personally doubt 2 Shimmerpack is the right number, and there are lots of other funky choices that need to be smoothed out (I would be shocked is 2 Ephemeral Wisp and 2 Amaran Camel were the correct numbers). I look forward to see what build rises to the top.

Thunder – Xenan Killers

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4 Copper Conduit (Set1 #66)

4 Dark Return (Set1 #250)

3 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)

4 Predator’s Instinct (Set1 #75)

2 Suffocate (Set1 #251)

4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)

2 Devour (Set1 #261)

4 Friendly Wisp (Set1 #82)

3 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)

4 Beastcaller’s Amulet (Set1 #282)

4 Dawnwalker (Set1 #86)

3 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)

4 Impending Doom (Set1 #286)

1 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)

2 Umbren Reaper (Set1 #299)

8 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)

5 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)

2 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)

4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)

4 Xenan Banner (Set0 #52)

In my first open beta article I suggested that bother Burn and Shimmerpack were well positioned, which I was apparently correct about. I also suggested that Xenan Killers was dead as an archetype, which I was apparently wrong about. Thunder made master with a relatively stock list of Xenan Killers, which appears to be a hard right from the rest of the format.

I’m not going to speak much to the core of the deck, as you should all know what is going on here. What is interesting is how this list matches up against the format. First of all, in the very earliest days of open beta there was a ton of Rakano hanging around. This is a powerful well known archetype that can be build on relatively little stone, so it is an obvious place to start. Xenan Killers decks devour strategies that rely on Aegis to protect multiple cards, as Killer doesn’t car about your fancy force fields. Also, with Combrei being cleanly kicked from its Tier 1 status, and being difficult to build without a surplus of stone, Killers had an opening as its primary predator had almost disappeared.

I actually battled against Thunder a couple of times recently, playing the BurnScar deck, and the match up probably favors Killers by 5-10%. Both decks are in the business of killing their opponents fast as possible, but the Xenan deck has a slightly tighter curve. Flame Blast and Obliterate is a little too clunky in that match up, and most Stonescar builds don’t have many tools to deal with Copper Conduits once they get past 6/6 in size. The match up is not terrible for Burn, but it is certainly behind.

This list is not perfect and Thunder himself admitted as much. You could cut any 3 random cards from the list and add 3 Sandstorm Titans and it would probably be an improvement (although Impending Doom, Beastcaller’s Amulet or Devour would be the place to start if you ask me). Overall I applaud Thunder’s courage to dial up an old favorite and not be afraid of the nerf to Dawnwalker, teaching me a lesson in calling something dead before its time.

Jaypeg – Pantless Rakano

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4 Finest Hour (Set1 #130)

4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)

4 Pyroknight (Set1 #16)

4 Torch (Set1 #8)

4 Champion of Glory (Set1 #314)

4 Crownwatch Paladin (Set1 #139)

4 Piercing Shot (Set1 #25)

3 Rakano Outlaw (Set1 #20)

4 Crownwatch Deserter (Set1 #316)

4 Sword of Icaria (Set1 #315)

4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)

1 Hammer of Might (Set1 #170)

2 Navani, Warsinger (Set1 #323)

2 Obliterate (Set1 #48)

2 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)

7 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)

8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)

3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

3 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)

4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)

For our last deck, we have an innovative new take on an old favorite. After the Gilded Galive nerf almost everyone knew Rakano was going to survive the change. Rakano’s bench is so deep, and the power level of its core is so high that some variety of Rakano was going to rise again to the top. I initially thought this would mean finding a slightly different collection of weapons, or transitioning to a more midrange build. Jaypeg had some different ideas.

The name of this deck – Pantless Rakano – speaks for itself in many respects. Rather than relying on Weapons such as Elder’s Feather, Deepforged Plate, or Shogun’s Sceptre, this version of Rakano abandons it all, instead relying on an expanded host of Warcry units. If you think about it, the cards in Rakano that have been continually hit by balance changes have been the weapons – Morningstar, Deepforge Plate, Gilded Glaive have all taken a hit from the nerf bat. With the exception of a minor tweak to Pyroknight, the units are untouched. It may be worth trying to build the deck such that you are maximizing the power of these great Rakano bodies rather than trying to assemble a deck from a weakened selection of Weapons.

Jaypeg’s list has some huge advantages over traditional Rakano Aggro lists. The first is how consistent it is. Anyone who has played a reasonable amount of Rakano has had the “All pants, no peps” hand. This list will never encounter that problem, and will instead smoothly curve from turn 1 to 4 almost every game. One of the major downsides of this build is it being slightly slower. Weapons have a pseudo charge effect, as you can attack with them the turn you play them if you put them on a unit that is already in play. Jaypeg makes up with this lose of speed by including some powerful 5 drops in the form of Obliterate and Soulfire Drake that are adept and closing out the game quickly.

As I said before, this deck seems to be striving for consistency more than anything else. Rather than playing just 4 Torch, there are an additional 4 Piercing Shot and 4 Finest Hour as more cheap “burn” spells. Rather than playing Vanquish, which is very good at handling large threats, but can rot in your hand, Jaypeg opts to use these burn and pump spells as his removal. In addition, this deck really taxes your opponent’s removal. I find the inclusion of Crownwatch Deserter particularly interesting in this deck. There a rule of thumb in Eternal where you can’t play 3-power units that die to Torch unless they have some great summon effect. These often allow your opponent to kill your 3-drop for 1 power and follow up with another play in the same turn, which is devastating when playing against decks like Jito. The fact that Jaypeg just has so many units that all need to be hit means that it is possible to soak up all the torches in your opponent’s hand. In this case, the Deserter will have much less opposition.

I strongly feel this deck gets a lot of equity off of not knowing how to play against it. In my own climb to Master, I played against his deck multiple times. Once I saw the actual list my win rate noticeably improved. Why? Take for example a game where your opponent plays turn 2 Crownwatch Paladin. In your hand consists of Torch, Suffocate, and Argenport Instigator. You have the choice to either spend your turn to clear the Paladin now, or develop the Instigator. Against a traditional Rakano list you may be tempted to spend your removal immediately as a card like Suffocate will not even be castable if the Paladin is equipped. Another key piece of technology is Finest Hour. If you are not expecting a card like this, it is pretty easy for your opponent to blow you out in combat.

The appearance of this list also appears to be a response to the Combrei vacuum we have been experiencing. Soulfire drake is nonsense against Desert Marshal. Titan will brick much of Jaypeg’s team, and will often eat multiple cards. Although this is certainly a successful build, I imagine If this surges in popularity we will see a response of heavy hitting Time-Justice units. Maybe that happens, maybe it doesn’t, but we do know that Jaypeg has cooked up a very interesting list that should be on everyone’s minds moving forward.

Conclusions

That’s all for today folks! Hope this gives you a fun sneak-peak into the early stages of the metagame. Of the lists I have been seeing most frequently in my climb to master, the only one that is not represented by one of these lists is Feln Control, which was covered by LightsOutAce’s article last Wednesday. That being said, there is a lot of room to experiment, and I am excited to see what rises to the top as we move further into the format. Cheers!

5 thoughts on “Going Deep – New Age Masters

  1. From the top of the ladder:

    Elysian Midrange is still Elysian Midrange. The jury’s still out on the exact best variation, HOWEVER: I have found that due to Elysian midrange’s notorious boardstalls, that a pair of cards I think a lot of people are overlooking is Mystic Ascendant (contrary to popular belief, there is no justice influence requirement in his cost), and staff of stories–a card favored by control decks with far flimsier fields. After all, if you have a stalemate on the board, why not take advantage of that downtime to bury your opponent in card advantage, and find that inevitable crystallize faster?

    Praxis Midrange is similarly no joke. Take the burnscar burn and drake core, add in titan, killer dino, mystic ascendant, and amber monuments surrounded by dorks and obelisks, and you have a straightforward smash-em-ash-em deck that is surprisingly effective. I am eager to see what sort of technology this pair will receive in set 2. Certainly, Praxis is at a complete lack for AoE effects.

    Also, Combrei may very well have a more aggressive dawnwalker variant that runs dawnwalker combined with twinbrood sauropod. Essentially, this seems to try and go for a more elysian style midgame outvalue and smash face plan.

    Also, Jpeg’s Rakano list is silly. No weapons AND no vanquish? Hey, let me just stick this sandstorm titan in your face, stall the game, then laugh at your warcry weenies.

    One other idea Sir Rhino has mentioned to me is the idea of jund quartermaiden. Drop statuary maiden, force a commit to the board, harsh rule, get cudgels, play quartermaster + C Chaos, cudgel up the champ, draw tons of cards.

    Similarly, Babam shared a list today that I can only best describe as “maiden control” or “grixis dragons”. Again, the idea is to abuse statuary maiden’s effect to create cudgels that whispering wind uses to discard to continue to provide gas. There are also three copies of thunderstrike dragon, two copies of stash, and two copies of staff of stories. I cannot testify to the efficacy of this deck as I’ve never run it, but I’m intrigued.

    Lastly, I’ve seen a “hooru dragon control” list running around played by weiseguy. Attempts at replicating it have been less than impressive on my end. Essentially, it takes the central control elements of your standard TJP control decks (wisdom of the elders, harsh rule, sword, staff, various primal interaction spells), and adds thunderstrike dragon, second sight, and mistveil drake. Unfortunately, this deck has little in the way of a pressure game, and no way of dealing with attachments, so a shimmer or armory matchup makes it look pretty lousy.

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    1. Those are all interesting ideas of where to go with the format. In all this I am not trying to say “this is what we got, these decks are it”, but more these are some early lists that are setting the pace of the format. Lots of possibilities of where we can go from here.

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        1. From what I understand his current build looks much different than this. I wanted to keep this version up though since it was such a wildly different take on the deck, and I want to give it for ideas to others.

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