Going Deep – Where’s the Beef?

Tavrod_Auric_Broker

Hello friends!

Over the history of Eternal there has been a continual ebb-and-flow around what decks are “the best”. Sometimes we are in an open metagame where a whole collection of decks are all competing for the top slot. I really love the gameplay in this time since it feels like anything can happen. Other times the meta settles around 1 or 2 consensus best decks. Whether these are actually significantly better than the rest of the meta is beside the point, as the hive mind tends fixate on the particular strengths of a given deck. Although many people become frustrated in these times as they feel compelled to “join them”, I love the challenge of trying to “beat them”. In fact, some of my most productive periods of deck building have been focused around finding decks that can counter a narrow metagame.

We are clearly in one of these narrow “narrow” periods. Argenport Midrange is the most popular deck by a pretty wide margin. Although the experience on the ladder will obviously vary depending on your exact rating, and idiosyncratic factors like who happens to be playing at a given time, I would guess the meta is probably something like one third Tavrod decks, with roughly one quarter being Argenport midrange. Before mooving on, I thought I would give a couple comments on my thoughts on Tavrod, since a number of people have asked me. Clearly the card is very pushed, but overall I do not think it is crazy-of-the-top busted. DWD clearly wanted to breath new life into Argenport, and I am happy that they did, since I have not really seen any exciting Argenport deck for a while. If I had my choice I would probably power Tavrod’s attack trigger down slightly, such as limiting to the top 3 or 4 cards, allowing the selection of a Minotaur or weapon, or limiting the bonus to +1/+1. Still, I don’t think this needs to be done. At present he occupies the same band of power as cards like Sandstorm Titan or Oni Ronin, and it is interesting to have a new pillar of the format to adjust to.

I have largely avoided most threads/conversation about Tavrod as I am infuriated by the hypocrisy that some have shown when talking about this particular card. After Omens of the Past and Jekk’s Bounty some complained that the power level was too low, but when DWD gave more power in Tale of Horus Traver, people complain that the power is not the exact shape they wanted. There are valid critiques that can be made of either Omen’s of the Past or Jekk’s bounty (see my article about the mentor mechanic), but if your particular criticism is a blanket statement like “the sets are underpowered”, you don’t get to then turn around to say Tavrod is ruining the game because it is overpowered. Tavrod is good, but beatable. I am really only bringing this up my particular thoughts on Tavrod because a number of people have asked my opinion. People are free to discuss what they like in the Reddit thread associated with this article, but I will pre-emptively let everyone know that I don’t intend to engage on this particular subject.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get into the actual topic for the day. Argenport is the new boogieman on the ladder, so how do we counter it? What can we do to milk them for wins? First we are going to do a bit of an analysis of the deck, then a brief overview of its approach to various match ups, followed by a discussion on its strengths and weaknesses to identify potential strategies to counter the deck, and finally we are going to pick out a few decklists that work as effective counters. Although the primary point of the article is to think about countering Argenport Midrange, this will also serve as a pretty through guide to the construction and play of the deck. Sound good? Let’s get started by meating our competition.

Welcome to the Herd

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2 Protect (Set1 #132)
2 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
2 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Auric Interrogator (Set1002 #13)
4 Bartholo, the Seducer (Set2 #234)
4 Bloodletter (Set2 #235)
4 Slay (Set2 #236)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
4 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
4 Impending Doom (Set1 #286)
4 Lethrai Falchion (Set1 #285)
4 Tavrod, Auric Broker (Set1002 #18)
7 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Argenport Banner (Set2 #231)
4 Seat of Vengeance (Set0 #55)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

The list that I am going to focus on the list from the most recent RNG Eternal tier list. Surprisingly, the lists for Argenport Midrange have become quite homogenous after a very short period of time. Some favor playing more 2-drops to get onto the board early, some prefer playing more anti-spell effects like Sabotage and Protect, and some prefer loading up on more removal. All of these various lists have their merits and weaknesses, and I am not in a position to comment on which version I actually think is the best, but the differences are really on the margins. This list is fairly representative of what you will typically see.

Ok, what is the game plan of this deck? It is classified as “midrange”, but the term is fairly inexact since there is a lot of variety possible within that. People occasionally look at a deck and say “Well, it is not playing 1-drops so it is not aggro, it is not playing sweepers and card draw so it is not control, and it is not playing any combos, so I guess it is midrange?” There is a pretty big difference between something like Argenport Midrange, Praxis Tokens, or Xenan Lifeforce. They are all kind of midrange decks, but the actual way the decks play out is wildly different. I suppose I should bring up one particular “rule of thumb” that I find unhelpful. People will sometimes say that aggro decks are “supposed to” lose to midrange, while midrange is “supposed to” lose to control, and control loses to aggro. This rock/paper/scissors view of metagaming is deeply flawed. For example, Argenport midrange does not have a great Bandit Queen or Burn match ups. Obviously it is possible to slap a Falchion on a Bart and ride it all the way to victory, but I think Argenport is very clearly a dog in the match up. Conversely, Feln control with 4 Lightning Storm and 4 Black Sky Harbinger has a positive Bandit Queen match up. It is important to focus on the actual game plan of each deck, and how the particular cards in each deck are positioned to accomplish the respective game plans.

So what is Argenport’s plan? Distilled into its most pure form, Argenport focuses on playing a premium threat then using a combination of removal, protection effects, and weapons, to clear the way for these threats. In many respects it is very similar to the approach of traditional Rakano, but relies less on the on brute strength and building up momentum with warcry, but instead favors more interaction. Argenport plays around 25 power, 25 units, 12 removal spells (counting Vara’s Favor), 8 weapons, 4 relic weapons, and a couple of tech cards. Argenport typically plays 0 monuments, can function fairly effectively on 4 power, and would like to stop at about 6. Argenport tends to play very few 2-drops. Argenport Instigator is obviously a 4-of inclusion in every list, but that is often it (though Auric Bully and Tranquil Scholar each see some play). A lot of units can be found at the 3-slot, Auric Interrogator, Barthallo and Valkyrie Enforcer being 4-ofs in almost every version of the deck. Impending Doom is fairly typical at the 4, and Cowthulu topping off the curve as a 4-of. Next, lets talk removal. There is a lot of it, though it should be noted that the vast majority is slow. Annihilate is typically a 2-of, and literally every other removal spell happens at slow speed. Relic weapons are clearly an extension of the removal suite. Some lists play 1 or 2 Talon of Nostrix, but 4-of Runehammer is basically universal. The Blood Letters and Lethrai Falchions make up a clean package that helps combat aggressive decks. Tech cards typically include things like Protect, Sabotage or Dark Return.

Argenport’s Game Plan

The typical game plans of Argenport can be split into racing with lifesteal cards against aggressive decks, establishing threats and than clearing a way against midrange decks, or playing “protect the queen” against control. I am going to talk about what each of these

Fire Aggro

We will talk about this in more detail in the next section, but Argenport really lacks “defensive speed” against aggressive strategies. The first good blocker it typically plays comes down on turn 4, and even that pings you for one each turn. The typical strategy of midrange against control involves playing effective blockers until the mid-game where the superior card quality runs away with the game. Argenport doesn’t really do that effectively, so instead they hope to strap up whatever unit they have available with a Lethrai Falchion, and just set up a race. Sometimes things line up such that Tavrod comes down while Argenport is still at a high life total, and he acts as a massive stop sign, but often he is too late. If you want to improve your aggro match up be sure to max out on the lifesteal weapons and Vara’s Favor, but also consider shaving cards like Impending Doom, Vanquish, Protect and Sabotage for things like Copperhall Bailiff, Auric Sentry or 2-drops. It may even be correct to go down to 3 Tavrod if you are seeing a lot of low-curve aggro.

Time Midrange

If the match up is against Time-based midrange, the pile of Slays, Vanquishs and Annihilates are going to do work. Argenport hopes to stick about 5-10 worth of attack on the table, and than just kill every blocker the opposition can muster. This can feel like a somewhat tempo-like game plan. If you are encountering a lot of Time based midrange, you might want to go a little bit down on the weapons and the Vara’s Favor to make room for more copies of Vanquish. Dark Return and Protect are both reasonable inclusions as well, but I also might want to test Rapid Shot or Finest Hour as interactive spells.

The Mirror

The mirror is a war to see who can stick anything on the field. It kinda reminds me of a football match where both side are pushing back and forth with little change, but is someone is able to go unanswered they can quickly take it all the way to the end zone. The card-advantage-cows become particularly important here as anyone that can get a little ahead in the card economy has a really good chance to come out on top. If you want to improve the mirror, Vanquish and Annihilate is a great inclusion to beef up that match up along with Protect. It might be worth cutting a couple Bart given the ubiquity of Rune Hammers, though he is still attractive as a sticky threat.

Control

Against control, Argenport just hopes to stick anything and play “protect the queen”. Bart is particularly important here, given his difficult-to-interact-with nature. Since each or Argenport’s threats can become so deadly so quickly they have the freedom to not overextend into sweepers, and instead can lean on a single Bart for pressure, a single Auric Interrogator for card advantage, or a single Tavrod for both. While cards like Bart and Tavrod are great against control, while Vanquish is awful. Protect, Dark Return and Sabotage are good here, while Lethrai Falchion could probably be shaved.

Argenport’s Weaknesses

Now that we have a thorough analysis of what Argenport is and how it executes its plan, we can now think about what its weaknesses are. Although the deck is very powerful, it would be mistaken to say that it is free from weaknesses. Firstly, Argenport really lacks “defensive speed”. What do I mean by that? Well, how many plays do you have to make in the first couple turns of the game that can slow down an opposing aggressive deck? Take a deck like Feln Control. Basically every version of the deck plays 4 Vara’s Favor, at least a couple copies of Lightning Storm, and 4-6 1 or 2 cost removal spells. In addition, 4 Feln Bloodcaster on 3 and some number of Steward of the Past are great blockers that come down on turn 3 and 4. Though they are not aggressive, they are still able to curve out turns 2-4 with plays that affect the board. Does “defensive speed” have to be removal spells? No, in fact Combrei and Chalice rely on units like Temple Scribe, Desert Marshall and Combrei Healer to take this roll. This “defensive speed” concept is very important in understanding how a given deck interacts with aggro.

Outside of 4 copies of Vara’s Favor and 2 copies of Annihilate, Argenport’s defensive speed sucks. Vanquish is a 2-cost removal spell, but since it is typically not active until turn 3 or 4 it doesn’t really count for our purposes. Slay does a medium job, but basically everything relies on picking of threats one-by-one. Some versions of Argenport do play Copperhall Bailiff, but it is not as exactly a home run in terms of power level outside of that. Many of Argenport’s early units also die to torch, which matters a good deal once you are already behind on tempo.

Argenport’s moderately slow start is pacing out the gate is a great weakness against pure aggro decks, but can also become an issue when facing some of the more assertive midrange decks. The combination of Slay, Vanquish and Annihilate are great for disrupting an opposing midrange deck once you have a threat in play, but if your opponent is able to get under you, you have some very real problems. The Argenport units are potent when unopposed, but clearly lose the head-to-head against the giant Time animals that see a lot of play. Particularly, any deck that can leverage the killer mechanic well can also effectively counter cards like Bart. Tavrod does throw a bit of a spanner into the works here since he can effectively brawl with opposing Titans and the like, but as powerful as he is, you can still only play 4 copies, and he is still only going to save you starting on turn 5.

Although it is pretty reasonable get under Argenport, there are other ways to counter them as well. Argenport as a faction is famous for its lack of card advantage or draw manipulation. Clearly Tavrod and Auric Interrogator have given a couple of sources of card draw, but before that, Argenport didn’t have a ton of options. This means that any deck that can out draw Argenport could find heavily advantaged going long. In addition, Argenport plays a lot of removal. Any deck that can effectively blank the Slays, Vanquishes and Annihilates could easily accumulate a ton of virtual card advantage going long. Anything that is close to a traditional “Draw-go” style deck would be at a very heavy advantage.

So, we have 3 general strategies for beating Argenport. We can get under them with a flat out aggro deck that goes wide, we can out-tempo them by play a midrange deck that gets on the board faster than the opponent, or we can out-value them by leveraging powerful card draw while dodging the opponent’s removal. Now let’s take a look at some deck lists that actually implement these plans.

Bull-ying Argenport

I have organized a small menu of decks that are designed to counter Argenport Midrange. I have tested them all against stock Argenport, and each (in my experience) have at least a minor edge. I do not promise that any of these lists are optimized to battle against everything on the ladder, but they should be functional. Though this is my attempt at building effective counter decks, I don’t think these lists are in their final form. Be sure to share your thoughts on card choices, or deck improvements in the associated Reddit thread!

Jito Queen

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4 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
4 Knifejack (Set1 #257)
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
4 Pyroknight (Set1 #16)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
3 Frontier Jito (Set1 #9)
4 Rapid Shot (Set1 #259)
4 Assembly Line (Set1 #29)
4 Champion of Chaos (Set1 #402)
4 Rally (Set1 #33)
3 Shogun’s Scepter (Set1 #26)
4 Bandit Queen (Set1 #389)
8 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
5 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)
4 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

Variants of Bandit Queen decks have been popular since the closed beta, though the question has continually been whether you favor being as low to the ground as possible, or whether you favour higher impact cards. With Argenport on the rise, a number of people have identified that now is a time to go fast. I particularly like Rally versions right now as it allows you to effectively race something like Barthollo with a Falchion. Sure they gain 6 life this turn, but they are taking 12 next turn! Jito is also a powerful tool to jump ahead in tempo, and a lot of newer players do not yet respect the card. Some people have been playing Lurking Sanguar again, and although I understand it, I am not excited about the card myself. On the other end, some Big Burn players have told me they have found ways to counter Tavrod. I guess the moral of the story is that we should not count out Stonescar just because people are playing lifesteal weapons.

This is honestly just one possible go-wide aggro deck that is worth considering. I have been thinking about testing Praxis tokens as well, or possibly some version of Elysian Obelisk. Certainly worthy projects if anyone wants to undertake that.

Classic Armory

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4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Quarry (Set1001 #15)
4 Rakano Artisan (Set1 #312)
2 Rolant’s Favor (Set0 #18)
2 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Slay (Set2 #236)
4 Sword of Icaria (Set1 #315)
2 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
3 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
4 Rise to the Challenge (Set1 #320)
4 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
3 Throne Warden (Set1 #514)
2 Smuggler’s Stash (Set1 #396)
2 Starsteel Daisho (Set1 #328)
2 Icaria, the Liberator (Set1 #329)
3 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
5 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
2 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
2 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)
4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)
1 Argenport Banner (Set2 #231)
4 Seat of Vengeance (Set0 #55)
4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)

I think Tavrod Armory is over-rated. I would rather be a good Harsh Rule deck or a Good Tavrod deck, rather than being a mediocre version of both. With that said, traditional style Armory decks are quite strong, and is almost a nightmare match up for Argenport. You have few good targets for their removal, they have minimal ways to interact with your weapons, and Argenport can’t beat Smuggler’s Stash going long. Weapons as a style of removal is also superb against cards like Bart and Argenport Instigator. Icaria as a finisher is also very difficult for them to interact with. Tavrod can be a bit difficult take chop down with relic weapons, but Armory’s 1-for-1 removal can corral him effectively.

Comberi Aggro

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2 Finest Hour (Set1 #130)
4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Awakened Student (Set1 #331)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
4 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
2 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
2 Combrei Healer (Set1 #333)
4 Knight-Chancellor Siraf (Set1 #335)
4 Stand Together (Set1 #334)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
1 Vodakhan’s Staff (Set1 #336)
4 Praxis Displacer (Set1 #100)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
3 Reality Warden (Set1 #343)
7 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
2 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)
10 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)
2 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

While the first two decks are pretty standard fare, this is much more of a blast from the past. Combrei aggro has not seen much play in a good long time, but it might finally time to get the band back together. Initiate of Sands is great for getting ahead on tempo, while Stand Together helps to protect you little army. A couple particular tech cards. First, Reality Warden. He is not essential to the deck if you don’t have your copies, but he is really hard for Argenport to get past. This deck also plays a few copies of Xenan Initiation as it is the best way to actually remove Bart. It also might be time for Praxis Displaer to have a second chance. Imagine a game where you power down to play Tavrod on 5 with the hope of stabilizing a board of 3/3s and 5/6’s. If they play Displacer in return you could easily be taking 10+ damage. Although I can’t really comment on how this fares against the rest of the field on ladder, I was playing around with it a bit, and it feels pretty decent.

Lifeforce Killers

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4 Cult Aspirant (Set2 #35)
3 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
3 Sanctuary Priest (Set1 #73)
4 Oasis Seeker (Set2 #41)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auric Interrogator (Set1002 #13)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
4 Banish (Set2 #207)
2 Devoted Theurge (Set1002 #6)
4 Katra, the Devoted (Set2 #208)
2 Praxis Displacer (Set1 #100)
2 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
2 Beckoning Lumen (Set2 #59)
7 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)

Xenan has been slowly gaining a contingent of supports. Auric Interrogator is a really big addition to the archetype, given that he helps overcome of the issues of flood in the late game. The 4-drop slot is really hard to get right, and I can see arguments for more Devoted Theurge, Praxis Displacers, Xenan Obelisks, or mix in some Sandstorm Titans, Deathstrikes or Steward of the past. There really is just a lot of work that still needs to be done tuning this archetype. The original skeleton of this deck came from SirRhino who has been toying with versions of this deck constantly, so be sure to talk to him if you would like some advice on how to improve this list. This particular version of Xenan is fairly low to the ground, and plans to get established before Argenport is really able to develop a threat. Getting hit with a Valkyrie Enforcer early stinks, and Tavrod himself is a little difficult to handle sometimes, but everything else in the deck is very beatable.

Draw-Go Feln

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2 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
2 Suffocate (Set1 #251)
3 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
3 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
2 Eye of Winter (Set1 #210)
4 Feln Bloodcaster (Set1 #386)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
3 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
2 Feeding Time (Set1 #381)
4 Steward of the Past (Set1 #287)
2 Staff of Stories (Set1 #234)
2 Withering Witch (Set1 #368)
4 Black-Sky Harbinger (Set1 #385)
2 Celestial Omen (Set1 #241)
1 Azindel’s Gift (Set1 #306)
2 Channel the Tempest (Set1 #244)
9 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
8 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)

For those who don’t know, “draw-go” is a style of control deck in Magic the gathering that aims to basically counter every card in their opponent’s deck, draw extra cards, and win with whatever. Before all the control enthusiasts lose your minds I know this isn’t technically a “Draw-Go” deck. Don’t have a cow, man! While that is true, this deck is very much in the spirit of Draw-Go control, as you are just looking to kill everything your opponent plays. Feln Control has always been a player in the metagame, but this list has a different composition compared to what is typically seen on ladder now-a-days. 0 Champion of Cunning and 0 Vara! These are great tools against Chalice or Armory, but in a world where Argenport is loaded with removal, these cards are becoming a liability. When testing this deck there were a number of games where I could exhaust my Argenport’s threats, Celestial Omen for Azindel’s Gift, and than play out units only after I had nuked their hand. Bart is very much still a problem, but Eye of Winter is a great help, as it allows you to pick off the aegis without spending a card. Staff of Stories is actually a great “threat” in the deck, since Argenport only really has Runehammer for burn, so it is pretty easy to protect it. Channel has also worked well as a finisher for me. Unlike Chalice, Channel is not actually killing my opponent, but you really notice the card advantage when you play a draw 3 that kills a unit.


Well-done!

You now have the tools to counter Argenport! Hopefully this was a useful for everyone. I would love to hear everyone’s experiences playing with these decks, and ways to improve them. If you have more decklists that you think are effective a butchering Cowthulu, be sure to share them in the Reddit thread!

Love,

Neon

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