Going Deep – Rilgon’s Lessons

rilgon_hooru_operative

Hey Friends! In my last article I ran a poll that many of you participated in! I set out a challenge for myself where I would make a run to master playing a deck built around a card of your choice. The winner of that poll was everyone’s favorite Ninja Shaman Warrior “Rilgon, Hooru Operative”. To be honest, I was somewhat surprised by this result. I didn’t realize he had such a cult following. Right off the top, I just wanted to share the list that got me to Master to appease all the net-deckers out there.

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2 Elder’s Feather (Set1 #128)
4 Finest Hour (Set1 #130)
3 Inspire (Set1 #129)
2 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
1 Protect (Set1 #132)
3 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
3 Borderlands Waykeeper (Set1 #517)
4 Eager Owlet (Set1 #144)
2 Paladin Oathbook (Set1 #140)
2 Tinker Overseer (Set1 #138)
4 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Whispering Wind (Set1 #202)
4 Silverwing Familiar (Set1 #152)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
4 Hammer of Might (Set1 #170)
3 Rilgon, Hooru Operative (Set1 #519)
1 Crystallize (Set1 #232)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
1 Emerald Monument (Set1 #422)
6 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
2 Cobalt Monument (Set1 #418)
4 Hooru Banner (Set0 #57)
4 Seat of Order (Set0 #51)

Ok, are all the net-deckers gone? Did they get what they came for? In that case, I have a secret for you. This deck is horrid. I’m pretty confident that this is close to the best Rilgon list you can make given the current card pool/metagame, but I promise you that the deck is awful, and that you should not take it seriously as a competitive deck.

That being said, I actually learned a ton from this experiment, to the point where I think I will repeat this process for getting master in some future months. At this point I have been playing Eternal for almost a year, and have made master every single month. I remember first making Master with my budget Rakano deck back in closed beta, or better yet, making Master the month that the point system was glitched and your points in Diamond would be +2-5 for a win, and -12-20 for a loss. Those were months where hitting master really meant something to me. Now? It has lost a little of its lustre to me. By giving a special constraint on my progress, I feel like I really had to flex my muscles, both as a deckbuilder and as a player.

For all you veteran players out there who have made Master month after month, looking for something to spice up your journey, I would strongly encourage you to take on a similar challenge. There is nothing wrong with playing Burn, Shimmerpack or Combrei to Master, then switching over to your preferred janky brew, but isn’t it a much bolder statement to start with the jank brew? I also feel that it stops you from giving up on you pet deck just because it faces opposition. Couple bad match ups in a row? Well you either got to fix your deck, or power through it. I also feel that this process will help to really dig deep into the corners of the card pool. Sure people have “tried” all the cards before, but until someone forces themselves to build a Nightmaw or Fevered Scout list that can battle through Diamond 1, you can’t really say the card has been pushed to the maximum.

Ok, let’s talk about some of the actual lessons from playing with Rilgon. After playing with this Shaman Warrior for the last week I have developed a unique relationship with this peculiar animal, so what do I think of him?

Rilgon Sucks

At this point, I’m probably one of the people outside DWD who has played the most with Rilgon, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about him. The “TL;DR” is that Rilgon isn’t very good, but I the reasoning is more complicated than you may expect.

Let’s start by talking about the deckbuilding restrictions that Rilgon imposes. The text of on the card is “When you play a weapon on Rilgon, he gains aegis. When you play a spell, Rilgon gains double damage this turn.” Some important details to this – the weapon must be played on Rilgon himself, rather than some other unit you might be interested in buffing. This restriction does not apply to spells, meaning draw spells, removal spells, or pump spells all work equally well in doubling Rilgon’s attack. It should also be noted that the double damage bonus is temporary while the aegis bonus is not. You can also re-trigger the aegis bonus later on in the game if it were popped earlier, but it is impossible to have “double double damage”, so chaining spells together on the same turn does nothing interesting for you.

To be clear, it is not necessary that a Rilgon-deck take advantage of both abilities, but you really want to. A 2/4 aegis for 4 would be understated relative to something like Throne Warden, and the double damage ability is only really appealing when you have a way to continually amplify that bonus. That being said, I think the more important bonus of the two is the double damage ability. Aegis is only really interesting when it is on a unit that is worth protecting, and the base 2/4 body does not qualify. Double damage, on the other hand, gets out of hand real fast. Just a relatively simple Rilgon + Finest Hour is 10 damage. Unfortunately, there are no other pump spells that are particularly exciting in straight Hooru, so any stat bonuses that take advantage of the double damage will need to come from weapons, meaning that we are really stuck playing some volume of both weapons and spells in any Rilgon list.

The real challenge comes from striking the balance between weapons, spells, other units, and any non-weapon attachments. For example, everyone knows that Permafrost is a very powerful card when the opportunity is right, but it does not fall under any of the categories we are looking for. Runehammer and Oathbook have the same issues. Rilgon has another very important deficit – he has no evasion. It doesn’t matter how many Hammers of Might, Mantles or Justice, or Finest Hours you have, Rilgon is still stopped dead by a Temple Scribe or Grenadin Drone. Rilgon desperately wants evasion, and there are very few ways for him to get it. The most obvious two are Elder’s Feather and Levitate, but to be honest these cards are horrid. Although I think many people underrate flying at the moment, Elder’s Feather is just a very low impact card. Levitate, on the other hand is a slightly better card, but it is not the type of effect you can “save it” for Rilgon. Let’s say you are missing PP to cast your Rilgon, and you have Levitate in hand. It is almost always correct to just cycle the Levitate so you can actually cast the Rilgon rather than save it for some “combo” turn. It’s also not like Levitating a Rilgon is setting the world on fire. You jump him over the opponent’s ground pounders and deal 4…. congrats? Similar things can be said about using a removal spell like Vanquish to clear the way for Rilgon. Yeah, it is a fine move, but unless you are doing some additional work Rilgon is still only doing 4, which is not worth the work. I feel the correct approach is to run a mix of minor spells like Inspire and Seek Power to turn on Rilgon casually, rather than jumping through elaborate hoops to fully power his damage bonus.

This is all aside from the issue of available weapons. Since the Gilded Glaive nerf there has been a deficit of solid weapons for straight Justice decks to play with. Hammer of Might is the only weapon that you are actually happy to run. Glaive and Mantle of Justice are not consistent enough to be effective, and given that Rilgon does not naturally fly, he can’t be suited up with the Saddle. In order for Hooru to be a viable aggressive deck I feel it needs a 2 or 3-drop weapon to really take it to the next level. As it stands, you basically need to jam 4x Hammer of Might in your deck as a bare minimum, with some additional Elder’s Feathers.

So, with all of this talk about the deckbuilding costs of playing Rilgon, why don’t we just splash some effects we are more excited about in this list? That brings us to the next reason why Rilgon sucks. The influence requirements for this card are unnecessarily strict, and extremely punishing. I understand that DWD is being more conservative about influence costs recently, and Rilgon is part of the “enemy” faction cycle of promos with XXYY influence needs, but none of that changes the fact that JJPP is quite onerous. The impact of the JJPP is more noticeable for Rilgon than some of the other promos. For example, Arcanum Monitor could obviously want some help from Primal or Justice, but the best token producers are largely already in straight Praxis, and the best splash cards for the archetype do not need to be cast in the early game (eg. Scouting Party, Stand Together). Oathbreaker also doesn’t have much burning desire for cards outside Justice and Shadow as essential elements of the support. Rilgon is specifically asking for certain types of card, and unlike his Praxis and Argenport counterparts, his faction pairing does not offer the best support cards. The best weapons tend to involve Fire, and the best pump spell is in shadow. So, not only does Rilgon have strict influence needs, meaning he sometimes cannot even come down on time due to missing Justice or Primal, you also cannot play a 3 faction deck with access to the proper support cards.

So, to this point, I have covered how the deckbuilding costs are onerous, and how you cannot properly splash the support cards you want. Now, lets talk about the play patterns of this card, and why he never does what you really want. How on earth can we be expected to ever connect with Rilgon in any deck against any opponent? Lets imagine you are playing a relatively aggressive deck, and Rilgon is your top end. You generally need to spend many of your resources on the rest of your motley crew of knuckleheads to actually deal some damage. By the time you can play a Rilgon you have often played out many of the tricks and weapons you had, and now you are left with a 2/4 for 4. Now imagine you are playing a more midrangy deck, and by the time you play the Rilgon you still have resources in hand. In that case he either eats a removal spell/silence effect immediately from some of the more controlling opponents, or he is an irrelevant blocker against a faster aggro deck. There is also the chump-blocking factor. I feel the “it can just be chump blocked” argument is moderately misused, but it is very important here. In order for Rilgon to have a real kick when attacking you need to have access to some spell effect. You can’t expect to have that every turn, so chump blocking is very effective. Rilgon also lacks Endurance, so he must commit to an aggressive posture, and cannot take on the offense/defense split of a card like Sandstorm Titan (which also fails the “chump block” test). The best application I feel Rilgon had was against controlling decks. I trade resources with my opponent until they sweep the board, at which point I can reload with a single threat, that they must deal with or risk being one-shotted out of the game. If they are on a unit light deck they are unlikely to have an appropriate blocker, meaning we have a real chance to close out the game very quickly on the back of our Shaman friend. Playing Rilgon + Elder’s Feather was effective sometimes on turn 5, but that is not particularly consistent, and even if it were, it is not a powerful enough interaction the build you deck around it.

I have a bit more to say on this topic, but I am going to leave it to my next article. For now, I wanted to run through my process of finding the perfect Rilgon deck.

The Quest for the Perfect Rilgon

Here is a picture from my deckbuilder:

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That’s a lot of Rilgon, but most of these were total trash. Honestly, they were all trash, but some of them were merely bad, while others were complete garbage. Most people, if asked what deck Rilgon would fit in best, would immediately say Hooru aggro. That was my response as well, but I felt like I wanted to try everything possible with to make sure there were no archetypes I was missing that was secretly busted. I found working through these different versions of the deck to be an interesting process, so I will outline each of the general archetypes for you, and spell out some of the advantages and weakness of each.

If anyone would actually like to see any of these decks, please feel free to contact me on discord. I am not saying they have no legs, but they will probably need to love to become playable.

JFP Rilgon – This is a deck that would be similar in some respects to Icaria Blue, but would be a built with a more midrange flavor. Navani struck me as a reasonable pairing with Rilgon, since both are relatively fragile and understated 4-drops which have high upside if you can clear a path for them. It might be possible to build a deck such that you landed a high impact threat on 4, and then played a “protect the queen” style. Although this did some powerful things at times, and Rise to the Challenge is a hell of a card, this deck just felt like bad Icaria Blue, as it was diluted with non-relic weapons, and had to split resources into protecting both its threats and its life total.

JPS Rilgon – The aim of this deck was to mix a little of the Feln aggro/tempo decks into a JP aggro shell. Rapid Shot is obviously a helluva card (some might say it should cost 2), and the pairing with Rilgon sounds off-the-chain. Trickster’s cloak also seemed like a possible inclusion, as Rilgon + Cloak + any pump spell is probably game over. Ultimately the deck had too many moving pieces, and added inconsistency to the Feln tempo shell, which already suffers from some inconsistency.

TJP Rilgon – This could be described as a TJP aggro deck, with a weapons sub-theme. Decks along these lines have existed before, but generally play very few weapons, meaning some serious modifications would need to take place. I did not put much effort into this, as the addition of Rilgon into a otherwise well functioning deck felt awful. There is also a noticeable nombo of Rilgon + Sandstorm Titan, since you often want to find ways to give Rilgon flying.

Cute TP Rilgon – This deck looked at including Tundra Explorer, Static Bolt, and Second Sight into a TP aggro list. This would give a continuous source of spells for Rilgon, allowing his double damage to basically always be turned on. Once again, I felt the deckbuilding costs of Rilgon were too warping to the rest of the list, and there was no question that durduling around with these “cute” components didn’t do enough for any match up to make it worth the effort.

Midrange JP Rilgon – the object here was to surround Rilgon was just a bunch of good JP cards. Wisdom of the Elders, Auric Runehammer, Throne Warden, etc. Maybe the problem with the other Rilgon decks was not the deckbuilding costs for Rilgon, but rather that we were just jamming a bunch of bad cards into decks that didn’t want them. It became pretty obviously that this deck was really just Hooru control with Rilgon and Hammer of Might. Hooru control is already not an overpowered archetype, so diluting it down with nonsense like 2/4s or 4 did not exactly add very much.

ManuS’s TJ Rilgon – I spent a little while chatting with ManuS about this challenge, and he sent me a decklist that was basically off the top of his head. His list pushed the weapon-related bonus of Rilgon much harder than any of the lists I had come up with, playing 4 Hammer of Might, 4 Elder’s Feather and 2 Spiked Helm. This meant Rilgon had a better chance of doing work here than anywhere else, but the problem was Rilgon ended up being one of the few real threats in the deck. It wasn’t too difficult for most opponents to keep our board clear of anything too important. The list also ran Copperhall Bailiffs, which have a mid anti-synergy with Rilgon, as your opponent is encouraged to leave back chump blockers ready to slow down your Rilgon.

JP Rilgon Aggro – The eventual archetype that I settled on was just straight JP aggro. This deck went through a few iterations as you can see. Over the course of the iterations the build became less about Rilgon and more about flyers. I mentioned briefly above that I feel flying is an under-rated key word at present, and I stand by that. My climb happened at the same time as the Felnscar scream fad came into effect. A big part of why that deck works is because flying is so good, and since we have our own flyers (and some silence effects) we get to just accidentally murder them. Elysian midrange/Shimmerpack was also a popular archetype in my run, and these decks lean very heavily on Sandstorm Titan to protect them from flyers. If you have a Vanquish and/or an Enforcer to keep you fleet airborne, you basically can’t lose. Kalis also has no chance against a reasonable curve of flying threats.

My first versions of the deck included Crownwatch Paladin, but boy oh boy was this card horrible. I had not played her too much since the nerf to 2/1, but you really notice is. There are a lot of token decks around, so she almost always trades with something stupid like a Temple Scribe, or is forced to sit on her hands until she eventually dies in an alpha strike. Not an impressive performance.

Once I cut Paladin completely for cards like Owlet the deck improved immensely. Owlet is certainly a high variance card, but any time you can have 3/3 for 2 you should take that very seriously. I messed people up with this little bird, to say nothing of his little birdy buddy Silverwing Familiar. One concept I hear deck builders talk about is the importance of having “free win” potential. Obviously not all your wins can be free, but you want some percentage of your games to just be unloosable, so that not every encounter is a struggle. If you are coming from Magic, the most famous “free win” draws historically come from Thoughtsieze decks. Sure you have a lot of interesting decision points in many games, but if you get turn 1 Thoughtsieze into turn 2 resilient threat (such as Pack Rat, Bitterblossom or Death’s Shadow) the game is often just over. If you are from Hearthstone, you have probably experienced the Pirate Warrior nut draw, which can have your opponent half way dead before turn 4. In my JP aggro list I would say I got “free wins” from curving Owlet, into Familiar into Hammer of Might, especially against Burn. How do you race that? This was the real appeal of this version of the deck.

Conclusions

I am going to leave things here for now. I have some additional thoughts I would like to include in next weeks article, but I feel there is enough here already for people to digest. One thing I want to point out, is that if this deck can make it to Master, you should view a lot of the “XYZ deck made it to Master” posts you see. Bad decks with decent pilots and a little luck and a lot of hard work can make it all the way through Diamond League. If anyone out there wants to improve on my JP aggro list they are welcome to try, but as I have said, I don’t think this archetype is very good. It is probably best to just drop the Rilgon and fill in those slots with better cards. But that is going to do it for today! I hope more people take up the brewer’s challenge in future months, because as I said, I learned a ton, and enjoyed the challenge, even though the deck was driving me a little crazy by the end.

Much love to everyone,

Neon

2 thoughts on “Going Deep – Rilgon’s Lessons

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