Constructed Analysis – Team League Week 1 Retrospective

Introduction

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Good news everyone, the tournaments are back on! After what feels like an immensely lengthy hiatus between the end of the World Championship, with only Eye of Winter Classic II to tide us over – the competitive season of the Eternal Tournament Series has begun. With it’s opening being the first week of Team League Season II.

With the field expanded immensely from the first Season, and a brand new Set and Metagame upon us I was personally very excited to see whether any team had figured out something that we hadn’t. Unfortunately, this didn’t really happen and team league was largely dominated by powerful ladder decks sporting relatively intuitive sideboards to shore up weaknesses in their post-board games.

So for this installment of Constructed Analysis, I thought it would be best to take a look at not just what my team brought and our rational behind it, but also take a look at some of the other interesting line-ups that other teams opted to play. With my opinions on what people were doing right, and what they were doing wrong during this first week.

You can find all of the deck lists that I will be discussing over at this useful link!

Part I: What We Played

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The decks that my team, E.T Phone opted to play for this week was a mixture of what we considered decks that were ‘too good not to play’ in Argenport Midrange and Feln Control along with an internal brew titled Combrei Flightschool. Combrei Flightschool was our way of covering against both potentially weapon-heavy Harsh Rule decks as well as giving us a good way of leading against very aggro heavy lineups featuring Skycrag since this high-aegis aggro deck can give Feln Control fits while Argenport does not feel too outstanding against them either, and would rather play against decks without access to Torch+Permafrost.

The primary front-runner that we had planned to run was going to be Argenport Midrange as it exemplifies a deck that you would like to lead on, having close to as close of a 50/50 spread of matchups that you can get – while offering opportunities to outplay the opponent, and a lot of free win potential off of either the opponent stumbling while you develop pressure or the opponent being unable to answer Tavrod and losing within 1 to 2 swings.

Rounding out the line-up was Feln Control which we felt comfortable playing into anything that was Midrange heavy or against other Control decks. While it is possible to go over the top of what Feln Control is doing, these sort of gameplans tend to be more vulnerable to disruption via having their hand attacked, without actually being as consistent as Feln’s core plan of just drawing cards and then slamming an activated Champion of Cunning. While I think there is potential for other Control decks to appear in the format, especially for Team League, they have to have an amazing Feln Control match-up for it to be worthwhile.

The two main options that we did not bring were Royal Burn and Feln Midrange. I think that any line-up should realistically include a Feln deck and as of now I’m not actually sure whether that should be Midrange or Control. The main reason we went with Control is simply a greater degree of confidence in the level of refinement for the deck. Feln Control was relatively easy to adapt to Set 3 after I had put over a month of work into it at the end of Set 2. Meanwhile as for Feln Midrange, it has been nonexistent as a real archetype since the days of Closed Beta prior to Scouting Party being printed.

Working around all of these new interactions and cards takes far longer than a simple update. I think with time though, Feln Midrange may very well end up being the primary Feln deck of the format. Eternal has historically favored proactive strategies by a serious margin, and much like Argenport – Feln Midrange has the tools to beat Control decks. While it does not have as powerful disruption as Argenport due to Protect being so incredibly efficient, it does have a wider array of tools to tailor the deck for any of the primary match-ups it can face.

The other deck we didn’t play, Royal Burn – had more to do with predictability. I will say this, I think Royal Burn is very much the best ladder deck and the raw power-level of the deck will likely translate to very good tournament performances as well. The addition of more dual powers in the Crest of Chaos even gives the deck greater potential at actually utilizing it’s best anti-lifegain card in Groundbreaker. However, we predicted that most of the teams will come ready for Royal Burn while very few will be ready for Stand Together-based Aggro.

Looking over some of the other represented decks that were at least of cursory interest for us were something like Big Combrei with a heavier Control lean to it, and Stonescar Grenadins. Both ultimately I feel are just a bit too vulnerable in the current Metagame. Big Combrei has it’s systemic issue of having to focus on one extreme of the format to really leverage it’s powerful options, while Grenadins being weak to both hyper-aggro and flyers makes it very poor at dealing with what the Tier 1 decks are presenting. While it has a very powerful linear plan, it can often be slow to assemble and really fail to provide sufficient counter-play.

So that’s some insight on how we prepared. Overall, we were pretty pleased with our line-up and our sideboards with Combrei Flightschool taking out Skycraggro from the opponent before falling to Feln Midrange. After which Argenport Midrange took over piloted by yours truly and cleaned house with a 5-1 record against Feln Midrange and Argenport Control.

 

Part II: What Was Working & What Wasn’t?

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Now to look thru a broader lens at what the rest of the teams were doing. To quote aReNGee:

“- Nine teams brought Feln Control, but its an extremely popular Team League deck especially into an unknown field, so no surprise to see it here.

– The next most popular decks were Royal Burn and Argenport Midrange, each with 5 copies.

– Shadow was present in 31/48 decks. – The 3-0 decks were Royal Burn, Charge Rod (!) and Argenport Valkyries (???).

– I don’t have my full winrate matrix ready to go, but Grenadin went 1 and 3 across 3 copies, a weak debut.”

Shadow has definitely usurped Time as the kingpin of the format! The backbone of Vara’s Favor, Annihilate, and Sabotage find themselves in an overwhelming amount of decks, nearly 65% to be exact! While often accompanied by their lackey, Argenport Instigator at times it is instead Vara that rounds out the faction from the other side of the unit curve. Shadow at the moment can do everything, and it can do everything well. From removal, to threats, to disruption, it even has multiple sweepers available to it now! You definitely want to be diving into the darkness in the Dusk Road.

While this gives us a solid glance at the format, with the main take-away definitely being that Shadow is exceptionally powerful right now – let’s go a tiny bit deeper and take a look at what else was going on. There were 14 decks across 8 general archetypes including Time in them, which prior to Set 3 was the most present and largely dominant faction though Shadow was generally trending upwards ever since the release of Horus Traver.

In Team League Week 1, Time Midrange went 6-12 for a 33% win-rate. This definitely shows that the feared return of Midrange dominance did not really occur and in fact, Time Midrange in general seems to be in a pretty poor place. It’s easy enough to understand why, the threats of Time are easier to deal with than those that Shadow strategies present while being often slow and cumbersome enough that they can be out-paced by the faster decks in the format. There is also something to be said for the broad archetype being weak to flying units when it does not draw multiple Sandstorm Titans and the popularity of flyers at the moment further exacerbates it’s issues.

The other archetypes that were present with Time in them were the Aggro strategies which went 3-5, Combo which went 1-2 as Vodacombo but an astounding 6-2 as Charge Rod, and Control in the form of FTJ Armory which went a solid enough 4-4. It’s harder to really say anything definitive on any of these given the smaller sample sizes.

It’s harder to make any definitive statements on these archetypes due to the smaller sample sizes, but there are a couple of interesting things to note. Going into this week, I think a lot of people were pretty underwhelmed by Armory myself included. It did not seem to be able to really compete with the speed and mass of charge units from Royal Burn, it was destroyed by Grenadins, and it would even generally lose in post-board games to Feln decks that came prepared for it with enough interaction. However, it managed to do better than expected so it may be worth keeping an eye on the deck going forward as a potential third deck to round out a line-up.

Charge Rod is another interesting archetype that our sister team ET Home managed to sweep with. While the curve of the deck is as approaching insanity as you can get, it arguably does the most powerful thing you can really do in the format with a 1-power Charge unit+Diving Rod generating potentially more than 20-power worth of value all charging and often simply outright killing the opponent on the spot with fortunate hits off of Kaleb, Uncrowned Prince. It’ll be interesting to see if other teams pick-up the deck and iterate on it, I think personally there is still a large amount of improvement that can be made to the deck specifically in how it balances it’s main deck vs. sideboard configuration.

Another important take away is the split between Argenport’s performance. While Valkyries (a tribal take on Midrange) and Midrange itself went 6-2 and 11-8 respectively; the slower Argenport Control deck went 2-5. Importantly losing twice to Argenport Midrange 2-0. I’ve found a lot of people to believe that Argenport Control can be used as a counter to it’s Midrange counterpart, and I think that this shows that even if it is not as bad as it looks right now – it’s definitely not a counter. Disruptive Midrange decks seem to prey hard on decks which rely on their spells over units to such a degree as Argenport Control.

Rakano showed up as well after an extended hiatus going 3-5 but looking pretty good in it’s matches overall, though I feel it is not nearly as strong against Feln as it used to be thanks to the builds that Feln is sporting now and Argenport is still a wash given it relies on a fast start that can overwhelm Argenport’s removal, but it does actually seem to have quite a lot of potential as a counter to Royal Burn thanks to the combination of Whirling Duo and Weapons with potentially even more Anti-Aggro via Silverwing Familiar or Righteous Fury in post-board games.

Finally, Icaria Blue showed up after an extremely long hiatus from seeing any competitive play and it didn’t perform too badly going 3-3. Another 50% for the Relic Weapon FJx decks. I actually think FJP Control has a lot of potential to it, and whether that is Icaria, Sword of the Sky King, or Channel the Tempest being it’s top-end. And whether it is FJ+P, JP+F, or (unlikely) FP+J I’m sure it will find a place in the format. Lightning Storm and Permafrost are pretty powerful tools at the moment, and Daisho is exactly one of those cards that Feln strategies fear the most.

The overall highest win-rates for decks which saw more than 10 games played were Royal Burn, Argenport Midrange, and Feln Midrange with them sporting a 62.5%, 57%, and 53.3% win-rate respectively. Although Feln Control also went a fine 10-10 over it’s 20 games only losing out to it’s Midrange counterpart by 1 game. Going into the ETS Weekly next week and the next week of Team League, it would be prudent for players to keep these decks on their radar and prepare for them accordingly.

 

Part III: What Was Absent

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Interestingly enough, there were a fair bit of popular decks that just did not appear in any capacity during Week 1. Xenan was only represented by a sole Big variant even though it has been regarded as perhaps the best anti-aggro deck in the game when built Lifeforce and still very good at defeating Aggro even with it’s Midrange builds, given how Royal Burn was on everyone’s mind it’s a surprise more teams didn’t consider this faction to round out their line-ups.

There was also the rather popular Temporal Control which was the talk of the town at the release of Set 3 as a end-all-be-all to countering Control, but has slowly faded away from ladder and it seems failed to even debut in the tournament scene this week though that may have to do with the true adherents of the deck simply not playing this week. I’m less excited about it’s prospects though since I think it will struggle substantially with the field of Aggro and disruptive Midrange decks which won’t give the time or luxury of setting up for it’s lategame plan.

FJS was also completely absent in both Gunslinger Tribal, Armory, and Removal Pile variants. This makes a moderate amount of sense to me as Removal Pile really is a deck designed to prey upon Time Midrange metagames, while FJS Armory has taken a backseat to FTJ as the Relic Weapon lovers combination of choice. As for Gunslingers, it’s actually a deck I’ve run into far more often on ladder than you would think – even though I have never seen a list. It doesn’t sound the worst though and has actually looked kind of impressive when I faced it.

Which brings me to my next point, the format is looking extremely conservative. While the addition of Crests and another 5 faction land in Common Cause have upped what you CAN do with your Powerbase significantly more, players have instead gone back to the basics and defaulted to playing overwhelmingly 2 faction decks. This does make sense as 3 faction decks and especially 4 faction decks take far longer to figure out and really get right, but it is still interesting that no one has really done that yet given how many players love their greed-piles.

Perhaps it’s ultimately the effect of Royal Burn showcasing itself indirectly. While greed piles are a fantastic way of going-over-the-top of strategies such as Feln Control by simply overwhelming them with high quality threats, and often play a large concentration of Time units to contend with Midrange decks on the board… you can’t really play slow powerbases when there is a deck that can kill you on turn 5 consistently.

It’ll be interesting to see though as the format progresses where we end up. Personally, I think Aggro-Midrange 3 faction decks have a lot of leg to them if they can be built to use Common Cause or high Crest configurations such as Felnscar. While Control decks that have access to Harsh Rule may even have the potential to be played with 4 factions assuming it’s something like a WXXYYZZ and not something more insane than that.

 

Conclusion

With that ends up my little recap and wrap-up of Team League Season II, Week 1. I hope you all enjoyed reading this article. I took another break for a week since a lot of what I wanted to write about last week would have been unfair to my teammates as we were preparing for the event.

I will be back next week with either another (Not-so-Brief) covering Non-Time Midrange decks given their ascendance in the format or potentially another retrospective going over ETS Weekly 1 and Team League Week 2.

Until next time, may you always play Tavrod on 5.

-VSarius