It’s a frightening world out there on the ranked ladder right now. Everywhere you turn has a new threat – some Fire 1-drops backed up by burn spells, an army of 1/1s backed up by Xenan Obelisks and Shimmerpacks, an armory of Relic Weapons with Harsh Rule, and more! When the threats are this varied and the answers required are so different, sometimes it’s time to get your beatdown on.
4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Inspire (Set1 #129)
1 Slow (Set1 #70)
4 Awakened Student (Set1 #331)
4 Crownwatch Paladin (Set1 #139)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
2 Teleport (Set1 #80)
4 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Knight-Chancellor Siraf (Set1 #335)
2 Stand Together (Set1 #334)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
4 Vodakhan’s Staff (Set1 #336)
4 Copperhall Elite (Set1 #340)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
1 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
7 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
8 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
2 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)
The version of Combrei aggro, sometimes called “Combraegis,” is lower to the ground than MoistVL’s deck that occupies the Stock list spot for Combrei Aggro. Crownwatch Paladin, Vodakhan’s Staff, and Copperhall Elite hit faster and are more resilient to removal than the more defensive version with Temple Scribes, Combrei Healers, and Xenan Obelisks. This version is still quite strong against Stonescar Burn, as getting under them and presenting difficult to remove threats with Aegis usually wins the race for you. The trade-off is that it is weaker against bigger midrange decks, such as Elysian midrange and Combrei Midrange with Marshall Ironthron, Mystic Ascendant, or more Xenan Obelisk.
With the nerf to Gilded Glaive when Eternal transitioned into Open Beta, Combrei aggro had to change. There are no longer enough powerful weapons for Silverwing Familiar to be a reliable threat, so it had to go. I played Paladin Oathbook for a while alongside Inspire as a way to help with unit sizing, but too often I would have multiple large units with favorable attacks and would be unable to benefit from the Oathbook’s boost. A single Xenan Obelisk took its place, and I maxed out on Vanquish to clear the way for my somewhat smaller units when the opponent presents a good blocker.
Combrei aggro is based on the Combrei core of absurdly powerful units across the curve – Desert Marshall, Siraf, Valkyrie Enforcer, and Sandstorm Titan. These units form the backbone of any Time /Justice deck and are irreplaceable. To facilitate a more proactive plan, these are supplemented with more cheap, aggressive units and support spells: Awakened Student, Crownwatch Paladin, Stand Together, and Vodakhan’s Staff. This allows you to maintain some of the grinding power of traditional Combrei with Siraf activations and silences on key targets while picking up some free wins with silly Crownwatch Paladin + Vodakhan’s Staff openings.
This particular variant utilizes some more tempo tools to gain and retain an early advantage:
Initiate of the Sand is the best turn 1 play available when you have powerful 3- and 4-drops to curve into ahead of schedule. A turn 3 Sandstorm Titan is no joke – commence dududududus.
Teleport is a cheap and versatile fast spell that can mess up an opponent’s double block, save a unit from removal or Permafrost, or undo an opponent’s turn by bouncing an expensive unit. It is also somewhat disguised by the more common Desert Marshall and Stand Together when you hold up power on the opponent’s turn.
Slow is a somewhat odd inclusion, but it is actually very powerful in many situations. If you are working to end the game quickly, doubling a card’s cost might as well be discarding it. An opponent holding a Scorpion Wasp will never get the opportunity to ambush you if you Slow prior to combat. A key Harsh Rule suddenly costing 10 probably won’t be cast before the opponent dies. Mostly, though, I only had 49 non-power cards I wanted to play, and this deck doesn’t need any more power with 4 Initiate of the Sands, 4 Inspire, and a curve topping out at 4.
Combrei aggro is built to beat up on unwieldy decks like the current boogeyman. Stonescar Burn is a fundamentally clunky deck, with many 5-drops that don’t have a huge board impact, no card advantage and almost exclusively cards that can only be played on its own turn. Aggro decks can get underneath it and win the game before it can bring all of its burn to bear, and burn is relatively ineffective against units with aegis. To add insult to injury, Combrei’s 8 cheap silence effects wreak havoc on Stonescar’s expensive units like Umbren Reaper and Soulfire Drake. Teleport also makes Stonescar basically skip their turn when used on a 4 or 5 drop unit, and all the while you’re beating down with Awakened Students and Crownwatch paladins.
When you are low on health, it is important to hold up Desert Marshall for potential charging Soulfire Drakes or ambushing Cabal Countesses, as 5 or 6 surprise damage could be your undoing. When in doubt, though, go for the kill. If you give Stonescar enough time they can easily draw enough burn to kill you from 20 health over several turn, so narrow their window to draw that burn and go fast. If you are having trouble with Stonescar, Combrei Healer is your best bet.
It says Shimmerpack, but really the advice applies to all go-wide Xenan Obelisk decks: attack them hard and fast. These decks will completely overwhelm you in the late game with 8 power Xenan Obelisk or Shimmerpack upgrading all of their units and downgrading yours, so you need to end it quickly. Their only interaction is Scorpion Wasp and chump blocking, so you can play fearlessly and use Teleport and Stand Together to rbeak up any multi-blocks. Since they have so many chumpers, it is important to put Vodakhan’s Staff on a unit with overwhelm to push through damage, so wait a turn and put it on Siraf or Copperhall Elite instead of Crownwatch Paladin. It also helps to go wide, as even though the Shimmerpack deck will have MORE units, all of yours will be bigger, so their opportunities to block profitably will be lessened.
The key cards being reactive (Scorpion Wasp) or expensive (Xenan Obelisk, Shimmerpack) means that Slow is extremely powerful here, and if Shimmerpack gets more popular Slow will be good at 3 or 4 copies.
The semi-mirror against Xenan Obelisk aggro or Combrei Midrange are both bigger decks than you, so you need to get a bit lucky to win. Often, you will both match each blow-for-blow in the early game, and then in the late game you will fall behind against 6/7 Sandstorm Titans or Harsh Rules while you draw 4-cost 4/4s and 2-cost 2/2s that can’t profitably attack. If it gets to that point, you must save your silences for their Sirafs while building towards 8 power so you can start activating your own Siraf.
If you don’t get a quick win, a board stall is inevitable, so you have to play around your opponent’s way of breaking a board stall, which differs between the two Combrei varieties. The aggro build will look to land a couple Xenan Obelisks, get to 8 power, and clobber you with oversized monsters. To prevent this, you need to actively trade units before the double pump from 8 power Xenan Obelisks kicks in.
The midrange control build will try to stall long enough to get a Marshall Ironthorn ultimate activation for an instant win (barring Stand Together) or a couple Harsh Rules to mop up your second wave of units after the first one. After they destroy your whole board their own Siraf or Mystic Ascendant will look to cruise to victory. In this case, you should play out only 1 Siraf at a time and hold them as long as possible. Your chance of riding a Siraf to a late game victory are slim, so try to suit up a big unit with a Vodakhan’s Staff and win before the board gets too clogged. You need to attack even into double blocks so that you can trade units and prevent the board stall the opponent is playing for.
Various Control Decks (Icaria Blue, Feln Control)
These control decks are heavily reliant on board sweepers, which you are well suited to play around. Aegis is obviously great against removal spells, letting you play freely to the board without fear of a sweeper, but most of your units are also sufficiently threatening on their own to require removal. You can easily play only 2 units at a time while sandbagging more threats in your hand and force removal. If you have Stand Together to protect 3 units from Harsh Rule or Withering Witch the game usually ends on the spot.
The dance comes into play if our opponent does successfully wipe the board of your early threats. Against Icaria Blue, you always want to keep two units out or a Desert Marshall in hand so your opponent can never get a two-for-1 with a relic weapon. The Marshall also protects your crucial Aegis units from dying to one weapon. Against Feln Control, Aegis is more back-breaking, but it is also easier for your opponent to pop multiple aegises at once with Withering Witch, Lightning Storm, or Plague. You don’t want to waste your best tool, so don’t play out all of your Copperhall Elites and Crownwatch Paladins at the same time.
An important thing to keep track of against control decks is how much power they will have on their next turn and what the most frightening thing they can do with it is. If they are coming up on 5, don’t play a non-aegis unit into Harsh Rule/Withering Witch. If they will have 8 and could play a removal spell into a sweeper or a Sword of the Sky King, hold Stand Together or Desert Marshall up as appropriate. Imagine the worst thing you can expect, and then minimize its effectiveness.
Combrei Aggro is a powerful option in a world dominated by Stonescar and Shimmerpack. As long as time-based midrange decks remain under-represented, you will get a lot of free wins with undercosted, oversized Combrei units with many abilities. It’s hard to get more bang for your buck anywhere in the 2-4 curve.
Until next time, may your Sandstorm Titans go unanswered.