Eternal’s ranked ladder has become a bizarre place.
Normally, the metagame cycles in a sensible manner – Stonescar Burn is popular, people play faster aggro decks to get under it which then become popular, so people play Lightning Storm decks to beat those, which in turn are countered by Armory then go-wide strategies then bigger midrange strategies then back to Burn.
Right now, however, people seem obstinately attached to playing Stonescar Burn/Burn Queen and Armory, and are not paying any attention to the Jito decks that run roughshod over these decks. People can’t play Lightning Storm to beat Jito because Lightning Storm decks get crushed by Burn and/or Armory. Stonescar Burn is incredibly prevalent and punishing to any slower deck, and Armory further punishes strategies trying to be reactive by forcing them interact on yet another axis (small units from Jito, large units from Stonescar and Combrei, relics from Armory and Xenan Obelisk decks). The only way to consistently beat Burn is to be even faster aggro, and Rakano Jito is the fastest aggro. In summary, to beat the popular aggro decks, play aggro. Welcome to the grim future. Hopefully the upcoming balance changes help the Feln and Xenan decks of the world.
Normally I like to write about a reactive deck that you can play to climb the ladder each week, but right now I think that it is not possible to play a slow deck if your goal is to climb ranks consistently – you will not be able to hit what you target often enough. My honest advice is to play Rakano Jito, as you will see about one Lightning Storm per hour and win 65% of your matches for free. That is super boring and victory is largely out of your hands (opponent puts Lightning Storm in their deck and draws it + another playable card or two = you lose), so I’m going to present a more casual deck today.
4 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
4 Find the Way (Set1 #513)
4 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)
4 Second Sight (Set1 #207)
1 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Combrei Healer (Set1 #333)
1 Decay (Set1 #95)
1 Knight-Chancellor Siraf (Set1 #335)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
2 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
1 Rise to the Challenge (Set1 #320)
1 Elysian Pathfinder (Set1 #108)
4 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
1 Celestial Omen (Set1 #241)
1 Mistveil Drake (Set1 #242)
4 Nictotraxian (Set1001 #16)
1 Sword of the Sky King (Set1 #186)
1 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
4 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
1 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
3 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Seat of Order (Set0 #51)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)
4 Seat of Wisdom (Set0 #63)
There are many ways to build Nictotraxian Control – you can play literally any card in the game! I believe the strongest build uses the TJP Control base – Desert Marshall, Combrei Healer, Harsh Rule, Lightning Storm, and Wisdom of the Elders for early defense, sweeping ability, and card draw. Second Sight is an automatic four-of because it works so well with Nictotraxian – you essentially draw a card from your deck and a random card for 2 power. Seek Power and Find the Way are essential to hit your difficult 5-faction influence requirements.
A side note on Second Sight – just because it is a fast spell does not mean you need to play it during your opponent’s turn. If you don’t have a power to play or won’t use all of your power this turn, play it on your own turn to look for more cards to play. Pilfer isn’t popular enough to live in fear of it. This applies to Wisdom of the Elders as well. There is no penalty to playing these spells on your own turn! Also, you should hold onto Second Sight until you can combine it with Nicto if you are not in danger of dying immediately.
Building on this base is the most interesting part of the deck. Here are my opinions on the options I see the most:
Azindel’s Gift – an essential one-of for control matchups, especially if you play Celestial Omen to find it more consistently when it’s great.
Celestial Omen – I like Omen more when I have a toolbox to choose from. Omen is extra Nictotraxians, extra Azindel’s Gifts, extra win conditions or extra removal depending on the situation. It is super slow, so it isn’t advisable to play more than one, but the first copy is close to staple.
Twinning Ritual – my version of the deck doesn’t play enough units to make Twinning Ritual a consistent draw engine, and only Nicto really provides advantage when Twinned. I would only run Twinning in an echo-focused version of the deck.
Excavate – again, it just doesn’t do enough without echo units, and is card disadvantage. I don’t think any deck should play Excavate now that it can’t form an endless loop with Elysian Trailblazer anymore.
Elysian Pathfinder – Second Sight + Pathfinder is an absurd card advantage engine in slow matchups if you can fulfill the conditions, but the conditions are difficult to achieve outside of the very slowest of matchups. Azindel’s Gift is a better anti-control card, so Pathfinder should sit on the sidelines unless you’re facing a lot glacial control decks.
Other finishers – I like having a couple more pro-active finishers than Pathfinder or Nictotraxian (who you don’t always have the influence for turn 7). I like playing Rise to the Challenge as a one or two-of to find Nictotraxian, so units and weapons are preferred here. You can pick one to three of Siraf, Mystic Ascendant, and Sword of the Sky King. Siraf is probably the best since she is the best early (but unfortunately doesn’t dodge Vanquish if you Rise for her). Mistveil Drake is great when burn is popular, and you can even Celestial Omen for it in response to a burn spell to block it!
Auric Runehammer – I really like the positioning of Auric Runehammer in general – it can often be a 2-for-1 against oponnent’s playing around Harsh Rule and it matches up amazingly well against Umbren Reaper. If you play a small Rise to the Challenge engine it gets even better, as a 6-strength Runehammer can kill basically any unit. 2-3 Runehammers will rarely disappoint, and you can go up the full 4 if you are facing lots of Rakano.
Deck Tuning Guide
Permafrost is the best removal spell against Stonescar, so if you are facing a lot of it you will want to go up to the full four. Mistveil Drake is also the best finisher here. Stonescar also has some trouble answering Sandstorm Titan efficiently, but without any other good targets for Annihilate in the deck he will not often live very long. Titan PLUS some number of Lumen Defender can be good, although Defender matches up awkwardly against Impending Doom in the absence of Sandstorm Titan.
Backlash is another card that is always on the fringe of viability – it is great against burn spells and useless against Champion of Chaos and Argenport Instigator. If there are a lot of other decks Backlash is good against (control decks, Armory, Righteous Rakano), a couple Backlash can do some good work.
Decay, Decay, Decay. It is just the best answer to relic weapons in TJP since Furnace Mage is too hard to play with this influence base. Large units are also great against Armory, but they play Vanquish so Sandstorm Titan isn’t the best idea. If you are having trouble with Armory, I would recommend Lightning Strike over Titan.
In general, you want to deploy exactly two units at a time (or one unit plus holding up an ambush unit) so that you don’t get 2-for-1’d by relic weapons or 3-for-1’d by Harsh Rule. If you can last until you are able to drop Azindel’s Gift or multiple Nictotraxians there isn’t much Armory can do to come back from behind. This advice also applies to Icaria Blue, which is basically Armory with more anti-aggro cards, and thus is weaker against Nictotraxian.
Almost everything that matters against Jito (both Rakano and Queen varieties) happens in the first three turns. Cheap blockers are the best way to get better against the flood one-drops, so cards like Storm Lynx and Awakened Student are your best bet if Jito is plaguing the ladder (Plague is too hard to cast reliably). There isn’t a whole lot of strategy here – just draw a lot of Lightning Storms and/or Combrei Healers into Harsh Rule.
The deck in its current state is actually pretty well set up against control – Nictotraxian will generally be a 2-for-1 when you take her Fate ability into account, and the control deck gives you enough time to find several Nicto + Second Sight combinations. Azindel’s Gift is basically the end-all be-all, but it can be difficult to pop an aegis on the opposing player and land it sometimes. Backlash is great, as it can counter a crucial draw or removal spell while popping an aegis.Failing that, there’s always drawing a Forge Wolf off of Nictotraxian.
The key in matchups like this is patience – don’t be too eager to over-extend onto the board or play your draw spells. Try to avoid getting 2-for-1’ed as much as possible and don’t draw too many more cards than the opponent if it looks like the game might come down to decking. It is okay to take some damage to better allocate your resources. For example, don’t waste a removal spell on a Feln Bloodcaster that has already used its ultimate and instead take 2 per turn until you draw a Combrei Healer to block it.
It’s been kind of a strange week. My best advice is just to play what you want to play – there’s not enough metagame shifting in ranked right now to make anything a terrible choice. If what you want to play has a good matchup against Stonescar, that’s always a plus, but there’s enough random stuff out there that it isn’t necessary to enjoy yourself.
Until next time, have fun out there.