Going Deep – When the Meme Decks Go Mainstream

Hey friends! As people are getting settled into the post-Jekk’s Bounty ranked meta, I thought I would share some decks that have been over-performing for me that are a bit…off meta. They may look like “meme” decks, but they have a lot of competitive power that people are not taking advantage of. I think these two lists are extremely powerful and playable on ladder, although they can be fragile. There may be room to improve on either of these lists, so do what you can to mess around with them and see if you can bring them to the next level! I have been playing these two lists almost exclusively for most of the last week as I have been battling in the top 10 of Master. They are both powerful enough to be successful at the very top of the ladder. You might find them questionable, but I promise that they work.

Let’s start off with the budget deck:

Rakano Jito

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2 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
4 District Infantry (Set1 #134)
4 Fearless Nomad (Set1 #311)
4 Finest Hour (Set1 #130)
4 Frontier Jito (Set1 #9)
4 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
4 Pyroknight (Set1 #16)
4 Ruthless Stranger (Set1 #11)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Assembly Line (Set1 #29)
4 Rally (Set1 #33)
4 Shogun’s Scepter (Set1 #26)
10 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
3 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)
4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)

Do you want to go fast? Like really fast? This is for you. The idea of this deck came from Conley Woods, who has been tearing up the ladder with a Rakano Jito variant between jamming his more exotic brews. Since Conley is a DWD employee he can’t give us his exact list, but given the kind of deck we’re talking about, this is probably close to what he is playing. If you are an experienced player I’m sure you are familiar with Jito decks as a broad concept, but you are probably wondering – how is this better than Stonescar Jito?

I think there are two reasons. The first answer is simple – Fearless Nomad and District Infantry are just better cards than Blood Beetle and Knifejack. Knifejack is Okay, but Blood Beetle is a truly terrible card. Fearless Nomad is exceptional in a deck like this. 3 strength for 1 power is totally absurd. In addition he carries buffs like Finest Hour or Shogun’s Sceptre way better than he should. District Infantry is also better than you would expect. This is obviously a deck without very much power, but you don’t need to get in many hits for 3 before Infantry pulls his weight. If you can connect once with an empower buff you are happy, though I have played plenty of games where my little Infantry does something like 10 damage. Crazy!

The second reason is Flame Blast. This deck is very heavy into Fire, which allows you to play the card, which you probably know is absurdly powerful. You can Flamblast face to end the game, or units to clear the way/buy time. Obviously not a card you want in your opening hand, but it’s an excellent top-deck late in the game. Stonescar Jito variants are a little too deep into shadow to play this card. You see it occasionally in the “Burn Queen” lists, but at that point you are usually not playing Jito, which negates some of the “oomph” of the early game.

The one drops we get in Rakano Jito lead to some insane openings that pile on a ton of damage, but what we gain in explosiveness, we give up in staying power. Shadowlands Guide is a big loss in terms of grinding ability. You also obviously lose the headliner of the previous Jito deck – Bandit Queen. This is a surprisingly minor loss, as you get to load up on 4x Rally and 4x Sceptre in exchange. Queen is also a real cost to the Stonescar version. 4 power is so much, and although she can dole out a ton of damage, there are a lot of games that she comes down a little too late. Playing Rakano Jito you have no cards that cost more than 3, so you are less likely to have those same issues.

Although the core of this deck is very much like Stonescar Jito, I think there are some important differences in the match ups. I have noticed that the Combrei match up is not outstanding, as you don’t have quickdraw effects to shoot down blockers. I personally play no Vanquish in my list, but it might be right to include one or two as a substitute for a Sceptre. All Jito lists are going to be weak to Storm, but this one is weaker than the Stonescar variant. Luckily Storm decks are not particularly popular right now, but if they do become popular, you should drop this deck like it’s hot.

This deck is very good against most Stonescar variants. The Burn lists are a little too slow to keep up with you, especially if their hand is packed with clunky burn spells. Stonescar Jito is favorable. Fealess Nomad and District Infantry match up better than most units in that match up, and Sceptre can be a beating. The Armory and Rakano match ups are basically a joke if you have a functional draw.

Some quick advice for those picking up the deck: sequencing your 1-drops is harder than it seems, and this is a deck where every point of damage matters. One constant struggle for me has been trying to figure out what to lead with and when. Playing out Jito itself turn 1 is often wrong, especially on the draw, as he is likely to die before you get any real benefit from it. I usually like to time him so that I get to attack in with at least 1 extra unit. For example, if my hand had Jito, Infantry and Nomad I would probably sequence things Infantry> Jito + Nomad. Although this technically gets 1 less point of damage than Jito>Infantry +Nomad, it gets in 7 more damage if the Jito is killed immediately by a Torch.

You should also be aware of the hierarchy of your 1-drops. The card you should play out first most often is District Infantry. The extra damage you get from him is super important, even though he is vulnerable to 1-drop removal. You are also not too upset if he eats a Torch, as he is a less reliable source of damage than most of your other cards. I find people (for now) often try and just take the Infantry damage, and just hope he becomes irrelevant rather than burn a card on him. Sometimes your power situation forces you to play the Infantry on turn 2, such as times where your only source of Justice is a banner. In these cases, you obviously need to wait. From here, there are some important differences on the play versus on the draw. If you are on the play Oni Ronin is probably your next favored turn-1 play as you gain value from your attacks. Grenadin Drone is preferred over Ronin on the draw. He is not vulnerable to cheap removal and he can block your opponent’s turn 1 Oni Ronin or Pyroknight. Nomad and Ruthless Stranger are next on both play or draw. Stranger goes up in the sequencing order if you have a second in hand as you want to try and get in the big hits while you can.

When looking at redraws, the most important thing is #of power versus #of 1-drops. I don’t think I have seen a hand with 4 power that I would keep. Keeping a hand with multiple 3 drops is sketchy, but sometimes correct (if I were on the draw and had 2 power, 2 1-drops, Torch, Assembly Line, Rally I would feel good).

Almost any hand with 2-3 power and at least two 1-drops is a keep. Flame Blast is not something you want to keep but sometimes should. Some cards go up or down in value on the play versus draw. Torch and Grenadin Drone are particularly good on the draw, as it allows you to counter an aggro opponent.

When you play the deck, you need to accept that it has some serious vulnerabilities. You (almost) always lose to Storm, have a difficult time against Copperhall Baliff and you usually lose to drawing 5 power, but by the same token you have draws where your opponent might as well of not shown up. If you build up enough Warcrys it is possible to play around a Lightning Storm off the top, but you shouldn’t go crazy. 5-power sweepers are easier to play around in some senses – just get maximum damage out of your board before the sweeper hits! I often fire off Finest Hours on turn 4 just to get in the damage in case my opponent drops the Harsh Rule next turn. Obviously, this is match up and game-state dependent, but this is the sort of play I don’t see other people make often enough.

One quick thing to note for playing against this deck – stop trying to Torch units in combat into open power. This deck plays 4 Finest Hour, and that card can often be a blowout. Take this scenario: I play turn 1 Fearless Nomad, you play Fire Sigil and pass, I attack with Nomad, you Torch, and I Finest Hour. I could turn Finest Hour into 3 damage and counter your Torch. If you had even waited until the end of my turn it would be better for you, although it is probably right to Torch on your turn. What card are you trying to hit with the Torch? Is possibly nabbing a Jito really that much more valuable than the Nomad? I see people make this mistake all the time and it costs them games, and is just sloppy play.

The two most powerful cards in the deck are Jito and Rally. We discussed the role of Jito a bit, so let’s talk about Rally. You are usually happy to get 6 damage off Rally, though sometimes you need it to do more work than this. It is worth practicing Rally math in your head. There are a lot of games where Rally off the top is your only way to win, so you should start practicing math around Rally kills. “If I block now is rally lethal next turn?” “If I kamikaze attack now will rally be lethal later through another blocker?” Etc. Figuring this out ahead of time to allow you to just swing in without hesitation, increasing the chance your opponent makes poor blocks. In some senses, Rally gives the deck much more staying power. With some minor misplays from your opponent you might be able to deal a ton of damage in just one turn. Many people concede too quickly playing aggro decks that get out to a slow start, but this is especially true here, since you are almost always a Rally top-deck away from being back in the game.

One important angle this brings ups is the idea of when to play for value, and when to push for damage. Even in an all-out aggro deck like this you don’t want to just throw away units, and would rather trade resources while getting in damage, but at some point, you need to switch to full-on SMorc mode. For example, if you have 6 1/1s and a Rally in hand, while your opponent only has 1 blocker and no open power, you should always just push for damage, and accept that your 1/1 will die. You are trading 15 damage for Rally and a 1/1, which is obviously a great deal. Most of the time things are not as obvious though. What if your opponent has 2 blockers? What if you only have 4 or 5 1/1s? These calculations change as well depending on your opponent’s life total and the contents of the rest of your hand. Identifying these spots where you need to push for damage versus keep your board intact is what differentiates a good aggro player and a great aggro player.

Overall, I legitimately think the deck is great, and is worth trying out if you have a chance. If you were thinking about making some changes I would consider shaving 1 or 2 1-drops as well as some of the Sceptres. With this deck done, lets move onto a deck that is slightly more expensive to put together.

Vodacombo

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-1-52-54-am

4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
2 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
4 Find the Way (Set1 #513)
2 Talir’s Favored (Set0 #11)
2 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
3 Voice of the Speaker (Set1 #78)
2 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)
4 Combrei Emissary (Set1001 #12)
4 Combrei Healer (Set1 #333)
4 Knight-Chancellor Siraf (Set1 #335)
4 The Great Parliament (Set1 #338)
3 Marshal Ironthorn (Set1 #174)
4 Mystic Ascendant (Set1 #116)
4 Vodakhan, Temple Speaker (Set1 #347)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
9 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
2 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
2 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)

I should note that if you are not deep into collection building already, please don’t build a deck like this before you are ready. Although I truly think Vodacombo is competitive right now, it doesn’t take much of a change in the meta before that is no longer true. I don’t want someone coming to me in a week saying “I spent all my stones on this deck and now it’s trash”. Spend your stones on something more consistent performers in the game like Black Sky Harbinger or Statuary Maiden before crafting 4x Vodakhan.

Like the previous deck, I was turned onto this list by other people in the community. Unlike the previous deck, I hated the idea when it was first suggested. I’ve played Vodacombo in the past for funsies, but have always thought the deck was too slow and inconsistent to matter. Well, that might not be the case anymore.

Before talking about the details of the list, I should spend a bit to talk about what is happening here in case there are some people unfamiliar with this type of list. The “TLDR” – Vodakhan is a busted card. Sure, he is a big dummy, but that is not even half the story. Here is a glossary of some of the silly things you can do with this deck:

(Important note: when you “draw a card” with Vodakhan out that is WAY better than drawing a card normally, since your power has destiny)Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 11.19.17 AM.png

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-11-19-23-amScreen Shot 2017-02-23 at 11.19.29 AM.pngscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-11-19-36-amscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-11-19-43-amScreen Shot 2017-02-23 at 11.20.04 AM.pngscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-11-20-15-amscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-11-22-56-am

Hopefully you get the gist from all of this, and obviously mixing-and-matching is encouraged. What functionally happens is that if you power up with Vodakhan in play you can basically take actions at random and you will end the turn with infinite stats in play, and your hand full of sweet cards. So, the problem is obviously not winning once you get to this point, but rather getting to this point. That is the real challenge of the deck.

Old versions of Vodacombo were basically built like “super big Combrei”, which I always hated. Big Combrei has a fair game plan that is quite strong, and filling your deck with all these “combo pieces” just added unnecessary fat. Titan, Siraf and Mystic are good enough to win a lot of games, so why go crazy with all these shenanigans when they were not very good in most match ups? Obviously doing busted things is a blast, but is that necessary?

The release of Combrei Emissary is a huge upgrade for the deck. I underestimated this little dude at first, but holy moly is he nuts. Playing 2 power a turn will get you to way ahead of your opponent very quickly. He also combines beautifully with Mystic Ascendant as a mini-combo. The “dies to Torch” issue for Emissary is obviously real, but getting a permanent boost of 1 power is already a reasonable gain for this deck. There is also a mini-combo with Voice of the Speaker, as she will draw you into enough power to feed Emissary.

Unlike the previous deck, there is a lot more room to customize and tune a list like this, and I don’t pretend to have the perfect build. My version is trying to go super fast, and has gone as far as cutting Sandstorm Titan and Harsh Rule. When I first looked at lists without Titan I was convinced it was a mistake, but the more I have played the deck the more I feel you want to just pack your deck with either ramp or pay-offs. On this note, I am only playing 2 Vanquish and 2 Desert Marshall for interaction. That is virtually nothing! Basically, the theory here is you basically want to draw roughly 1 piece of interaction through the early game, but spend the rest of your resources setting up to “go off”. Once you do go off you can draw into any interaction you need. Combrei Healer is another card that is functionally “interaction”, although it is just a 3-power gain 6-10 health. In the grand scheme of things, a 2/5 doesn’t matter once you have gone off, so feel free to throw her under the bus to just buy time. The Sigil searching units fall into a similar category. We don’t play Obelisk, so Talir’s Favored isn’t going to do anything more than be a 0/2. Just block a big ground-pounder the first chance that you get.

The match ups for this deck are polarized, as you can imagine. You are a heavy favorite against most midrange-to-controlling decks. Here you want to try and set up one giant turn so they cannot interrupt you with silence or removal. In these match ups, all that matters are drawing a reasonable mix of combo and ramp. The aggressive match ups are…spotty. You are pretty much relying on your opponent being slow enough that you can set up shop. You can win against any deck that stumbles. If your opponent floods a little they don’t get a chance to draw out of it. If you get to power up with Vodakhan in play the game usually just ends, and that can realistically happen on turn 6. Obviously, that is too slow against double Champion of Chaos, but that is what you sign up for when playing a deck like this.

One specific card choice that is worth mentioning for my list is Initiate of the Sands. Other people were not playing the card, and I think that is crazy. I have very very strong feelings about Initiate in most lists – it is either horribly unplayable or totally insane. Big Combrei? Utter nonsense. Shimmerpack? Unbelievable. This is one of the “totally insane” decks. My personal favorite play pattern is Initiate > Emissary > start turn 3 with 4 power. I once did Initiate > Emissary > Initiate start turn 3 with 5 power, which is nutty. Other minor combos include Initiate > Voice of the Speaker > Seek Power, or Find the Way > play depleted Sigil. This brings up another point about this deck that is important to mention – power management. Although you basically don’t interact with the board for the first few turns of the game, you still have a lot of interesting decisions related to sequencing your power, your power searchers, and your ramp. The various objectives include playing your searchers after your Voice of the Speaker, playing your depleted Sigils as soon as possible, and playing an extra Sigil when you have an Emissary in play. It can be quite difficult to sequence all these properly, so I would encourage you to think through your early turns carefully, as well as practice in the Gauntlet so you become familiar with the most common lines. You should also try and save a power searcher to start the Vodakhan chain (Seek Power and Talir’s Favored are the best for this), as well as sandbag excess power to feed Mystic Ascendant. Balancing all these through the early and mid-game will make a huge different in how smoothly you transition to the late game.

As I said above, the “going off” process often doesn’t require much careful thought, as just playing random cards will leave you with a full board, full hand, and a sad opponent. There are other times you need to be a little more careful, and it is worth testing the deck for these scenarios. If you played Vodacombo in the past timing out of your turn was a very real problem, but I think DWD has changed things such that free actions no longer consume your time. There is still a lot you can do in these turns, so you should have a plan before you start your turn. Is your life total low? Playing Healers is a priority. Need to silence a unit? Keep your eyes peeled for a Desert Marshall. Opponent has a large board? Maxing out on power plus getting a Marshall Ironthorn is most important. You also want to have a sense of how deep you want to go in your deck. Drawing cards is obviously sweet, but you can only hold a maximum of 12 cards at a time, and you can only hold 9 when you pass the turn. If your board is stacked, and your hand is stacked, why bother drawing more cards when most of them will get thrown away? My rule of thumb is that I stop when I have enough material in hand where I can “go off” again next turn.

It is important to note that there is a “free card limit per turn”, which basically limits the amount of destiny you can do in one turn, although this is mainly an issue if you are running Talir (which is a “win-more” card in my opinion). Your hand will fill up quickly, so it is often best to play out any spells/units you want as soon as possible. The most common example is playing out a Healer mid-way through comboing off to free up space in your hand. You can then just play another Sigil searcher. It is easy to panic in these combo turns and just spam card draw effects, but this is how you lose from these positions. Another tip is holding Sigil Searchers other than Find the Way. Since Find the Way gives depleted Sigils it costs power, as opposed to Seek power or Talir’s Favor which gives you back power as well. As I said, getting reps in with the deck in Gauntlet is a big bonus, and will help you play through these turns without spazing out.

One final note – The Great Parliament is an important inclusion in the deck that take on 3 separate roles. The first is 4/4 flyer speed bump. Although a 4/4 flyer for 4 is not an outstanding card, it is often good enough to help you survive. Its next role is for countering your opponent’s flyers after you have gone off. Let’s say you are against Burn or something off-meta like Hooru or Combrei Fliers. Although you have started to do busted stuff, you still need another turn to close out the game, but you are facing flyers that are poised to deal you lethal damage. Playing multiple Birds to hold off Impending Dooms or Silvering Familiars is a totally viable plan. The final job of Parliament is “post Sweeper reload”. Against a control deck your opponent will often Harsh Rule your board after you go-off, which obviously sucks. Playing Parliament for 4 Birds is a must-counter threat that only requires 1 card. If that doesn’t finish the game, you probably have another Parliament. Knowing which role Parliament is “supposed” to take in each game matters quite a bit. Playing it out on 4 versus Feln isn’t exactly exciting, but is often needed against Jito and the like.

If you were planning to tech the deck there are a few places I would look for trimming. First is the exact combination of Sigil searchers and ramp effects. It is hard to figure out what mix is “right”, outside Seek Power being a must play 4x. I’m certain 4x Combrei Emissary is right, but 3x Voice of the Speaker or 4x Initiate could be reversed. It might be worth shaving 2 Parliament for different interaction, or additional ramp effects. I think 3x Marshall Ironthorne is probably correct. He plays an important role in the deck, but unlike the Mystic and Vodakhan he is not really a pay-off all by himself. Once you have a lot of power the first thing you want is more cards to play, and the last thing you want would be just more power. I see Ironthorne as an enabler like Emissary or Voice of the Speaker, but with a bigger body to stabilize the midgame, plus an activated ability that is useful for ending the game (play Ironthorne + ultimate is a very common play after you go off). I find building decks like this hard because you want very different things in different games. Let me know if you come up with some variation of the deck that you like!

Conclusion

That’s a wrap for today! Some outlandish decks that explore the extremes of the format. Hopefully one of these lists tickles your fancy. As I have said several times in this article – I legitimately think these decks are viable at top levels of play, so don’t sleep on them! With a meta that is extremely diverse with a variety of strategies I feel you want to do something proactive, so decks like these capitalize on this in spades.

5 thoughts on “Going Deep – When the Meme Decks Go Mainstream

  1. I like the discussion of the ramping effect of Initiate in Vodacombo. I’ve been brewing a Praxis Ramp deck with Initiate and Saurodpod wrangler to get 3rd turn Sandstorm Titans and/or 4th turn Soulfire Drakes to start a wave of Rhinarcs, Cpper Conduits, and Dawnwalkers.

    Like

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