Guest article written by Masters player Telamoniades, presented in its original form aside from formatting updates to meet WordPress requirements.
ManuS is my favorite Eternal player. I love that guy. I love his videos, I love the way he thinks about deckbuilding, I love how he explains his card choices, and I love them so much I don’t even mind his awful stream music. So when I was watching his Omens set review and heard him talking about wanting to build around Watcher of the Big Ones and Nostrix, Lord of Visions, I got excited about the idea myself. Unfortunately, a ManuHooru video didn’t seem immediately in the cards.
Since a fortunate early run to both Masters ranks this month left my Eternal time pretty free and a good yield in the event left me flush with shiftstone, I decided to have a go at crafting up the Hooru midrange deck myself. I don’t consider myself much of a deckbuilder, but I’ve put a lot of time iterating on this deck and think I have some insights worth sharing. Maybe someone can pick up where I’m at and make it even better.
Here is the list:
4 Inspire (Set1 #129)
3 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
3 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Borderlands Waykeeper (Set1 #517)
4 Kothon, the Far-Watcher (Set2 #218)
4 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
2 Eilyn’s Choice (Set2 #220)
3 Spellshield Architect (Set2 #221)
4 Spirit Guide (Set2 #83)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
4 Shelterwing Rider (Set2 #223)
4 Watcher of the Big Ones (Set2 #130)
4 Nostrix, Lord of Visions (Set2 #229)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
2 Emerald Monument (Set1 #422)
10 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
4 Hooru Banner (Set2 #216)
4 Seat of Order (Set0 #51)
Some disclaimers and parameters:
- This is not a top deck at the moment. It does a lot of very strong things, but isn’t especially well positioned in the meta, so if your goal is to totally crush the ladder, look elsewhere. In the ~50 games I’ve played with it, I’ve floated between 150 and 100 Masters, which I think speaks retty accurately to the strength of the deck as it stands. I haven’t kept track of exact win/loss ratios since I didn’t know I was going to do this write up when I started. Whoops.
- My goal here is to build around Watcher and Nostrix, which means we’re doing midrange. It’s possible that the low-curve, Hooru flying-pants deck is better, but this isn’t that deck.
- The deck is, in my opinion, super-fun and challenging to play. It has a lot of tricky decisions surrounding mentoring and often wins with careful use of abilities that don’t seem like they should be good enough to win games. Deciding when it’s best to take the tempo hit of mentoring now for later benefit, when we just need to run dudes out there, and when—rarely—we actually want to save the mentor for a good student later on, is the hardest and best part of playing the deck. When I lose, I’m often left with that feeling that there was a win in the game somewhere if only I could have found it.
Cards Currently in the Deck:
4 Inspire. This card is really good in this deck. It takes our 2 and 3 drops out of Torch range, makes our Shelterwing Riders do something even without aegis, and lets our Nostrixes kill Sandstorm Titan and Heart of the Vault in combat. I can’t see not playing 4.
3 Permafrost. Permafrost is obviously a really good card, right? But it has some serious weaknesses in this deck that led me to move away from the full 4. It doesn’t do anything about the deck’s mortal enemy, Sandstorm Titan, and it can often be a liability against Praxis midrange since it helps turn on their Shatterglass Mages in a big, swingy, way. That said, being able to interact with the aggro decks immediately is so important we still want it around, and it has decent applications in most match-ups.
3 Seek Power. Look, this should probably just be a 4-of. I know that, and I know playing 3 makes me a bad person. But I felt like I was getting flooded a lot, then I cut a Seek Power, and now I mostly feel ok. Sue me.
4 Borderlands Waykeeper. I’d like to play 8 Kothons, but I can’t, and the deck really needs another set of 2-drops to back up the bird-man. I tried basically all of them, and Waykeeper impressed enough that I kept adding more until I had the full 4. Most of the aggro decks right now are playing a very low curve and relying on Eternal’s crazy good suite of cheap removal to out-tempo people, and Waykeeper fights cheap removal and one drops well. It serves as a credible threat against Harsh Rule, wears a Nostrix buff well, and has evasion when we need it. It also contributes to building a critical mass of aegis in the deck to really strain opposing removal spells. In short, it’s way better than it looks.
4 Kothon, the Far-Watcher. I mean, come on. This guy. This. Guy. Talking about why a 2-drop 2/3 with endurance that is also 2 bodies, one of which has evasion and is relevant in the late game, is unnecessary, right? His worst feature is that he turns a do-nothing turn 1 on the play from our opponent into a very-relevant casting of Torch, but beyond that he’s just bonkers. It’s also worth pointing out that in this specific deck, Kothon is a good-to-great student for every mentor effect we have. Oh, PS: on turn 6, especially if he doesn’t have aegis, it’s often better to ultimate Kothon rather than play Nostrix. Took me a while to figure that out, but then I’m dense sometimes.
4 Vanquish. This started as two Vanquish and some other stuff instead, but this deck HATES Sandstorm Titan, even more than every other deck does. He is good against every single other card we play, so we need to play as many as possible of the best card in the game at matching up with him. Also, we race a lot with big flyers in this deck, so we rarely care about units that Vanquish can’t kill anyway. Sure, Vanquish=anguish when we’re stuck with a several in hand and no targets, but the converse of big dudes on the board and no Vanquish is even worse, so 4 it is. Other non-Titan relevant targets as proof we probably don’t need: Heart of the Vault, Cirso, warcried up guys, pantsed-up quickdraw guys from Rakano and sometimes Skycrag.
2 Eilyn’s Choice. This is a weird card. It does some great things but costing 3 makes it really clunky and pretty telegraphed. We usually have to take a serious tempo loss if we leave it up, and if we’re wrong about what’s going to happen or our opponent can profitably play around it, we probably just lose. Most often we want to kill big guys to take out blockers or remove Titan from the board, which makes the “attacking unit” clause awkward since decent opponents won’t attack into it most of the time. On the other hand, the counter half can win the game when it snags a Harsh Rule, Smugglers Stash, or Great Parliament. Finally, we want to race a lot with this deck, and removing a big ground attacker wins races, as does countering things like Obliterate and Flame Blast, so it’s nice there. The disadvantages are significant though, and we basically never want to see multiples of this card in our hand, so I can’t see running more than two.
3 Spellshield Architect. So this is a bad card, right? A 3/2 for 3 that trades with basically all the 1 and 2-drops played in the format has to be bad. I put it in my first draft of this deck since it was on-theme, fully expecting to cut it, but it keeps being almost inexplicably good, and I’m almost always happy to have it in my hand. Real-talk, I’d want the full 4 if the deck didn’t run so many other 3-drops. It just does so many things the deck wants, including, to be honest, occasionally being immune to removal so it can trade with that aggressive 1 or 2-drop. But it also comes down on curve and bubbles Kothons, reloads Shelterwing Riders, survives Harsh Rules, and makes 5/5s while also protecting our 5/5 maker. Because it has aegis natively, it wears Nostrix buffs and Gemblades well, and it is a magnitude better when Inspired. Most decks can afford one or two bad cards that glue the rest of the deck together, and I THINK Architect does that here.
4 Spirit Guide. This came into the deck later than it should have, to be honest. It’s quite good. 3/3 lifesteal on turn 3 is pretty good at slowing down aggro, especially since we probably lifestealed our 2-drop as well, giving us some value even if it gets Torched or Permafrosted. We’re never really attacking that aggressively, so it’s usually correct to mentor whatever we played on 2. The 1 or 2 damage we lose probably doesn’t matter, Kothon can block anyway, and lifesteal on Waykeeper probably outweighs the 2 damage from any non-Oni Ronin 1-drop. This card also ends up being huge in lots of midrange matchups where we’re trying to race them in the air. Spreading lifesteal around is often what swings those match-ups. We’re also a fairly slow deck, so padding our life out to avoid the big burn spells matters in a lot of games. Guide is at its worst against control decks, where it’s a not-quite-good enough 3/3 for 3, but sometimes in those games you do just need a body.
4 Valkyrie Enforcer. We all know that this card is under-costed for what it does. In this deck specifically, though, you want evasive units, you love being able to ground opposing flyers or turn off opposing Titans, and a 3/3 on 3 helps vs. aggro. This is another card that, due to its evasion, wears all the mentor buffs in the deck well.
4 Shelterwing Rider. This is such a weird card. It sits in the 4-drop slot and sometimes just wins games for free. One way to think of it is as a sort of 5/4 flyer for 4 with Entomb: play a 0/4 flyer. That’s not exactly right of course, but people would play that card, which makes me think it’s also right to play this card. It pressures really well if they can’t remove it, blocks a bit if they turn it off, and has a lot of ways in the deck to turn it back on (Nostrix, Gemblade, Architect). In particular, it often takes the removal spell they needed for Nostrix and then gets pumped by Nostrix, making it relevant again. The icing on the cake in that scenario is that any more Riders you draw after the Nostrix buff are completely ridiculous. Who feels good about having to use removal on an 8/7 flyer when they still have to deal with a 3/7 flyer even after they do?
4 Watcher of the Big Ones. Ok, I know this probably seems crazy, since this card seems like the reason to build this deck, but I think it might be the worst card in the deck. I haven’t had the guts to cut it just yet, but it may well be right to do so. Here’s why: A 4/6 for 5 is ok but not quite good enough in that it’s too slow to really fight aggressive units and too small to tangle with the good mid-range units. It also dies to a wide variety of conditional removal (Permafrost, Vanquish, Annihilate, Obliterate, etc.) without ever really affecting the board. This is made worse because so many of our other units resist removal that there’s a good chance they have some hanging out in their hand when Watcher drops.
Since he’s not good enough based on stats, we need to get good value out of mentoring him for him to work, which is tough. I mean, if mentor once he’s kind of like a better Twinbrood Sauropod that we have to work for. Is that even good? 5/5s don’t even match up that well against other midrange beaters like Cirso, Heart, Titan, etc. It also doesn’t matter how many 5/5s you have if you’re playing into Harsh Rule. That said, there are some upsides. Watcher blocks pretty well. Opponents are unreasonably terrified of it and will usually use removal on it on sight, clearing the way for real threats like Nostrix and Rider. And occasionally we do live the dream of just making a million dinosaurs and winning, albeit far less often than we might hope. The more common use of Watcher and friends is to gum up the ground long enough for us to fly over for the win. All told though, if he belongs in the deck it’s probably mostly as a lightning rod for removal.
4 Nostrix, Lord of Visions. At first, I thought we play this guy because we play Watcher, but it’s really the other way around. Nostrix is a serious boss. I started with only 3, thinking he costs 6, dies to removal without generating card advantage, blah, blah, blah. But really when playing this deck, I just want more Nostrix all the time. 5/7 flying is a crazy threat on its own, and he makes pretty much any other card into a crazy threat as well. The other cards in the deck all have some combination of aegis, evasion, lifesteal and endurance, which magnify the use of the Nostrix buff significantly. And spreading that buff to other cards in your deck and hand isn’t relevant all the time, but it’s probably relevant more often than you’d think. Watcher seems like the premier mentor target, and he’s obviously a good one, but to be honest, a lot of the time we’re just as happy if the turn 5 Watcher eats removal and the turn 6 Nostrix comes down and buffs something harder to remove. Bottom line: if you want to play a Hooru midrange deck, it’s because of this dude.
2 Emerald Monument. I think this is the best deck for Emerald Monument I’ve ever played. Two Monument cards is a reasonable max, and these started out as Sapphire Monuments, but in this deck the Gemblade is often better than the 4/4 flyer. I know it seems like that has to be wrong, but it’s worked out in practice, where the blades function as kind of a poor man’s Nostrix. So many of the units in the deck really like wearing pants, but there isn’t space for actual pants to be included. The Monuments get around that by being virtual-pants™ without spending deck slots. Suiting up an Aegis guy to fly over or beat through blockers is a perfectly viable route to victory.
Rest of the Powerbase. We’re just two colors, so not much to say here. I think 28 power plus 3 Seek Power is on the lean side for a deck that wants to hit six, but since we don’t have any card draw or selection, flooding out is really bad for us, and I think the risk is warranted. Diplomatic Seal doesn’t show up because we need to hit 3 Justice and 3 Primal in a timely fashion.
Cards Not Currently in the Deck:
Dragonbreath. This seems like an obvious inclusion but is actually bad, and I didn’t look back after cutting it. It seems good with Watcher but there actually aren’t many cards we want to kill on turn six that have 4 or less health, even if we get a 5/5. Its actual best use was to have a lifesteal guy kill a unit in aggro matchups, but since unlike killer, Dragonbreath loses to aegis, even that wasn’t good enough.
2-drops. Kothon is obviously the best. Waykeeper beats out the other 2s I tried. Tranquil Scholar is pretty good but not as reliably on-plan. Crownwatch Paladin trades with too much nonsense, and we’re not aggressive enough to want Tinker Overseer. Did I miss any?
Hammer of Might and other weapons. This might be good in some number, but I never felt aggressive enough to really want it. One of the nice things about the deck compared to the more pants-y versions of Hooru is that your dudes buff your other dudes, so you always at least have dudes and never lose to that nasty “all weapons, no wielders” situation. I think that extra consistency is worth leaving Hammer on the sideline and relying on Monument instead.
Auric Runehammer. This card is slow and doesn’t remove any of the units we really care about since we have no way of pumping it.
Torgov, Icecap Trader. We’re working on Hooru midrange, and this guy is a pretty aggressively statted midrange unit, right? I thought so, so I started with 4 of him, but he was an early cut. Torgov is too slow to really fight aggro and too small to fight midrange beaters. I’ve been recently wondering, though, if maybe I want him back in Watcher’s place since he might actually be better at one cost less. Is existing on turn 4 better than making a dinosaur on turn 6? I dunno, maybe the answer is yes.
Harsh Rule. We’re playing a creature deck with no card advantage. This doesn’t fit.
Crystalize. This card is pretty good against us coming out of Elysian, so I tried a copy in the deck. It’s not what we’re looking for, though. We already break stalls with evasion if there’s no Titan, and if there is, Crystalize doesn’t help that much. We also have to worry about Eilyn’s Choice in addition to Backlash now. Too situational for a 5 cost spell.
Pearlescent Drake. This is the only card I’m discussing that I haven’t actually tested. I only have one and am not sure I want to craft more. I THINK it might be worth trying over Watcher, since it might be more on plan for the deck. But I’m held back from dumping the shiftstone since we don’t trigger spark especially well early, and 3 Primal might be too tough to hit on turn 5. Worth considering, though.
Lines of Play:
Plan A: Super-Sweet Draft Deck. This deck plays decent creatures, many with evasion, and flies over while holding the ground, just like a good draft deck. Both its early blockers turn to later fliers, which helps support this plan. Liberal use of lifesteal often pushes it over the edge in a race. It’s important to save removal and silences for things that interfere with this plan, since we can race lots of things that seem dangerous at first.
Plan B: Accidental Voltron. Sometimes the deck curves out while mentoring. Turn 2 Kothon; turn 3 Architect bubbles Kothon; later on Kothon gets ultimated, Nostrixed, maybe lifestealed. This happens a lot more often than I thought it would. If he gets that turn 3 aegis and we’re still hitting on-curve plays, the opponent doesn’t usually want to take time to kill a 2/3 with two removal spells. The buffs slowly pile up and eventually Kothon’s out of hand and wins the game. The reason this works is that all the buffs Kothon—or more rarely Waykeeper—is getting are incidental, accompanied by other threats coming down. The end-game Kothon is usually joined by a 5/7 flyer, which is a tough pair for any deck to beat. The best thing about Plan B is that is doesn’t actually detract from Plan A, instead occasionally running parallel to it.
Plan C: I Really Thought This Would Be Plan A. Sometimes we just go turn 5 Watcher of the Big Ones, turn 6 Nostrix or Architect, and then just mentor our way to victory. A lot has to go right to get there, but it can happen. It’s pretty much always wrong to save mentor dudes to try and make the dino-chain happen, though. We have to play out our curve. Watcher just helps to turn on value for any cheap mentor guys drawn after him.
Skycrag Aggro. This is a fun match up. Sometimes we just get run over, of course, but we have a lot of tools to deal with their aggression in Waykeeper, Kothon, Spirit Guide, Permafrost, and even Valkyrie Enforcer. The trick is figuring out which version they’re playing, since if it’s the beatdown-Morningstar version we can take some damage to wrest control of the board, but if it’s the more burn-oriented version we need to preserve your life total at all costs.
Stonescar Aggro/Burn. I’ve been seeing a lot of this on the ladder lately. It’s a reasonable match-up. Permafrost is an all-star against them as always, and if we can survive and curve out we’ll eventually outclass their threats. Aegis helps stop them from tempo-ing us with cheap removal as well.
Skycrag or Stonescar Rally/Queen. Anyone can lose by stumbling against these decks, but if we curve out, the window for profitable attacks for them is pretty small. Spirit Guide is an all-star here, as lifesteal can swing the math in favor of their attacks being bad and can also take the game out of reach if they need to sit around and wake for their big swing.
Praxis Midrange. I’ve probably played more of this matchup on the ladder than any other. It seems kind of even and draw-dependent to me. If they stick a Titan for any length of time we lose, but otherwise our cards match up pretty well with theirs. They struggle to stop fliers if they don’t have Titan, and a combination of aegis and big butts makes our units decent against their burn and killer removal plan. Lifesteal can help put us out of reach of burn spells and help win an air vs. ground race.
Elysian Midrange. This is generally unfavorable, worse than Praxis for sure. They play bigger guys faster than us. Crystalize often wrecks us if we try to race. We get smashed by the mono-monsters version of the deck (which I humbly submit as the best version), but we have a chance against the Obelisk version, because it durdles more. Obelisk can sometimes be a liability against us because it’s tempo-negative, and we often don’t really care if their guys are a little bigger.
Other Time-midrange mishmash. There’s too many versions of this to really discuss. All the matches generally swing around Titan though. We can do pretty well if they can’t stick Titan, and we lose if they can.
Armory. This is bad but winnable. Aegis is poor against them, and we have a lot of useless removal janking up our deck. We really need to have our top end 8 of Nostrix and and Watcher show up, since their size helps fight weapons. The best thing Armony has against us is Runehammer, because it trades profitably against every creature we have at 4 power or lower. This forces us to dump our hand onto the board, which exposes us to Harsh Rule, exactly what Armory wants us to do. Our best card in the match is Eilynn’s Choice. Going 1-for-1 for a bit and then winning because we Choice their reload Stash is the best path to victory here, so trying to set up that situation is the goal.
Chalice. The brutal truth is that we are a slowish midrange deck with no real source of card advantage. We can never beat Chalice. I won exactly one game against them, in which I got there with ultimated Waykeepers they didn’t draw answers to. That’s not a winning plan. Be prepared to sit through a frusturated 15 minutes of slowly losing here.
Other Match-Ups. I haven’t played any other match-up enough to comment extensively, but I will say I find the deck handily beating the various non-meta decks it runs into. I take this as a good sign, indicating that the base power level of the deck is reasonably high, maybe even high enough that there will be a meta at some point where we want to play Hooru Midrange for reasons other than just fun.
Thanks for reading! If you have any experiences with the archetype, I’d love to hear about them.