Lights Out – Spellcrag

Neon has done it again! Spellcrag is an incredibly fun and surprisingly powerful archetype, and I am loving it. I absolutely demolished the Diamond ladder en route to masters with it last week on stream (you can find the twitch VOD here), and it has several attributes I absolutely love:

It is difficult and interesting to pilot. Normally a deck being hard to play is a downside, as you are more likely to mess up and lose games with it, but here the ceiling is high enough to justify the difficulty. There are so many cheap cards and so much card draw that you almost always have many options on how to play out a match in the midgame, and the nature of the deck with both tempo and card advantage elements means that you can adjust your role to being the aggressor or defender as necessary. There is no better feeling than navigating a close game with many decisions and pulling out a win.

Jotun_Feast-Caller

It is also proactive. Being able to just murder people when they are durdling around is a huge benefit on ladder, as there’s no telling when you’ll face someone playing four-faction greedpile nonsense or Crown of Possibilities. Keep the ladder honest!

It plays Jotun Feast-Caller. Feast-Caller has a lot of detractors, but the card is absolutely dominant if you can sculpt the game for it. Spellcrag does a good job of this by packing plenty of removal and other must-answer threats along with Kaleb’s Choice, which can protect the Diesel from both removal spells and relic weapons like Auric Runehammer. If Feast-Caller ever attacks twice, you can absolutely bury the opponent in cards.

It draws a lot of cards. What can I say, I’m LightsOutAce, I like to draw cards.

So what does my current decklist look like? Feast your eyes on this:

Spellcrag.PNG

3 Levitate (Set1 #190)
4 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Powderglider (Set3 #155)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Fury (Set2 #187)
2 Kaleb’s Choice (Set2 #188)
2 Rockslide (Set2 #189)
4 Strategize (Set3 #165)
2 Daring Pioneer (Set3 #170)
2 Polymorph (Set1 #211)
2 Vadius, Clan Father (Set2 #191)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
2 Alpine Tracker (Set1 #522)
4 Kaleb, Reborn (Set3 #255)
4 Jotun Feast-Caller (Set3 #187)
3 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
3 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
3 Granite Waystone (Set3 #1)
5 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
3 Cobalt Waystone (Set3 #151)
4 Crest of Fury (Set3 #266)
3 Seat of Fury (Set0 #53)
4 Skycrag Banner (Set2 #186)

I’m normally not a fan of card-by-card breakdowns, but Spellcrag is strange enough and different enough that I think it’s warranted here.

Levitate. Levitate is amazing in this deck! Powderglider, Kaleb, and Jotun Feast-Caller all want you to play a Levitate every turn, and the ability to use it as a combat trick or a way to get in attacks on a clogged board makes it extremely versatile. Since it is so valuable with so many of the units, don’t spew off your Levitates just to draw a card in the early game unless you’re desperately digging for something like a unit or removal spell. That applies to Strategize as well, but I’ll get into that a little later in the article. I wish I could fit a 4th copy in, but the deck really needs all of its units, and flooding on draw spells and not affecting the board is a common way to lose games. If anything stops pulling its weight, 4th Levitate is the first card on deck.

Powderglider

Powderglider. Powderglider is a bizarre new card from The Dusk Road (about half of my opponents read it when its first played), and he is frequently underwhelming, but every time I think of cutting one he does something amazing the next game and I keep him around. The little Glider generally attacks for 2 on average, and can get huge on key turns later in the game and really mess up combat for your opponent. He can also make combat a nightmare for your aggressive opponents – Torching a 2-drop while eating a 1-drop is a massive blowout that puts you in a great position to take over the game. The Summon effect of stunning a unit comes up more frequently than you’d think, too, and I have stunned many a Black-Sky Harbinger or Champion of Cunning to attack for lethal. Also, what the heck is the flavor on that ability? Does he ramp off a snowdrift and hit the flyer with his little ice sled? Does he spray snow into their eyes? Are they so dumbfounded by his sick sled tricks that they fall out of the sky slack-jawed for a couple turns? Let me know if you can figure it out.

Champion of Fury. It’s a Skycrag deck that plays units; you have to play Champion of Fury. Even though this is not a pure aggro deck, it does still want to be aggressive. You also get draws with two Champs where your opponent is at 14 on turn 3, and I’m not one to turn down free wins like that. And again, you need a certain density of units so you aren’t just spinning your wheels drawing cards and killing stuff and can actually take advantage of the tempo elements of Skycrag like Torch and Permafrost.

Kaleb’s Choice. As alluded to earlier when I was taking about Jotun Feast-Caller, Kaleb’s Choice really is the ultimate protection spell. It doesn’t matter if your opponent has Annihilate, Permafrost, Harsh Rule, Auric Runehammer, or Sword of the Sky King – all are stopped by Choice. Only Feeding Time and Combust for spells and Sword of Icaria and Starsteel Daisho for relic weapons can escape Kaleb, and those are uncommon enough that a Feast-Caller with Choice backup on 7 power usually lives to draw cards. I would only play two copies on the ladder, as there are a some decks that aren’t planning to interact with you using spells and attachments, but those two are invaluable and you can tuck them away with Strategize in the matchups where they aren’t good.

Strategize

Strategize. Strategize is a pretty obvious inclusion in a spells-matter deck and any Primal deck that isn’t super aggressive, but the card is difficult enough to play that I think it warrants some discussion. Strategize, despite costing 2, isn’t a card you want to blindly throw out on turn 2. You shouldn’t Strategize until you know EXACTLY what you want or don’t want. If you need a power or unit RIGHT NOW, then play Strategize. If you’re not sure what you’ll need down the line and have things to do for the next couple of turns, hold onto it. It can be used to buff Powderglider and Kaleb on difficult boards later on, and can be used to exchange useless power cards or cards that are bad in a matchup for real cards in the late game. Generally you don’t need power beyond 7 or so, so save extra power in hand to turn into new cards with Strategize or Kaleb. If you don’t have a 3 drop on turn 3 but do have Strategize, a couple more power, and some units and removal in hand, it’s okay to do nothing and pass the turn. Spellcrag can grind people out, and Strategize will be of more value later when you know for sure that you won’t need a power or a Rockslide and can put it on the bottom of your deck. In every deck, not just this one, you should be holding onto your Strategizes until you know for sure what you need and don’t need so that you can get maximum value out of the powerful draw spell. However long you’re holding it and waiting for a better time to play it, you should probably be holding it longer.

Daring Pioneer and Vadius, Clan Father. Both of the 3 drops in the deck have spots where they excel and spots where they are bad. Vadius is embarrassing when you’re behind. Pioneer sucks when your opponent has a Seek Power they don’t need.  Vadius is insane when you hit 7 power and your opponent is trying to block. Pioneer is devastating when your opponent was counting on a Harsh Rule or needs to topdeck removal for your Feast-Caller. Since they have different strengths and weaknesses, I play a 2-2 spit, and I’ve been happy with it. Again, you need a certain density of units for all of this card velocity and tempo removal to matter, so you can’t cut them

Polymorph. Polymorph is mediocre removal, but sometimes you do what you have to do. The deck is very soft to Sandstorm and (especially) Tavrod, so Polymorph is in to help out with that.

Wisdom of the Elders. Wisdom is a great card, but it doesn’t belong in aggro decks. While Spellcrag is playing Champion of Fury and 1 drops, it is not an aggro deck, and Wisdom is great in it. Fast spells of any sort are especially valuable since they double as combat tricks with Powderglider and Kaleb and can be played to pump those guys immediately when attacking with Feast-Caller. Always four.

Alpine Tracker. The doggo is a recent addition to the deck who wasn’t in Neon’s original draft, but after talking to Sir Rhino and both of us feeling like the deck wanted a couple more units, Alpine Tracker was added. Spellcrag doesn’t play any 1 health units like other versions of Skycrag, so the summon ability is basically all-upside here, and Charge is nice against relic weapons and to turn the corner when it’s called for. Tracker isn’t super exciting, but I don’t really want more copies of Daring Pioneer or Vadius and he has been solid, so I’m keeping him for now. Torgov is another consideration, but there is enough aggro on ladder right now that I value the “1 damage to each other unit” more than the extra points of stats.

Kaleb, Reborn

Kaleb, Reborn. Finally, the main inspiration for the deck. Kaleb may look unassuming as a 4/4 for 4, but he has a LOT of lines of text, and all of them are relevant here. The +1/+1 whenever you play a spell makes him nigh-invincible in combat in such a spell-dense deck, and with so many fast spells your opponent never knows how much he can grow in combat. This leads to them chumping too early or too late, making bad double or triple blocks, or simply getting large units like Sandstorm Titan or Rindra eaten by the scion while you draw cards. Kaleb puts out a LOT of damage. The ultimate doesn’t get used very often, but the threat of it (and his enormous size) makes Kaleb a must-answer threat, and in long games using it to exchange 2 power cards in hand for 3 fresh cards often pulls you ahead enough to win the game. You frequently play Kaleb planning to use the ultimate the next turn, but then don’t because you drew good cards to play, so it’s really win-win to power up with Kaleb and 6 power.

Jotun Feast-Caller. Kaleb may be the inspiration, but Feast-Caller is the real powerhouse in Spellcrag. The deck is very well set up to maximize him, and he carries so many games. I already gushed about the big guy in the introduction, so I won’t repeat myself here. Play four Feast-Callers in Spellcrag, and you won’t regret it.

Obliterate. Obliterate is good, and games where you draw multiples will always be easy, but you can’t play a ton of 5 drops in a 25 power deck. Adding more power with so much card draw is asking to get flooded, so something’s got to give somewhere. 3 Obliterate is plenty, and Spellcrag has enough deck velocity that you can usually find one to close out a game when you need it.

Playing Spellcrag

Playing Spellcrag is extremely contextual, and as such I can’t really convey how to do so in text. I would recommend playing some games to get a feel for it, but realize that you will make a lot of mistakes. That’s okay – everyone makes mistakes, and if you can recognize them you will improve rapidly. Errors I make a lot (hopefully MADE, past tense, but I’m realistic) include playing Strategize too early, not checking for lethal when you have a lot spells and a Kaleb or Powderglider in play, and being too aggressive when you need to be defensive or play for value.

champion_of_fury

On that note, Spellcrag isn’t an aggro deck. It’s aggressive, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes by trying to kill the opponent fast when I should have been playing for value. It’s a tempo deck with some aggressive elements and some control elements, so it can adjust to the opponent. You basically want to play it out slightly faster than your opponent if they are midrange or control and slightly slower than your opponent if they are aggro. Against decks like Rakano and Stonescar aggro, you should hang back to block and use removal defensively until you have the board locked up (unless you have an aggressive draw with Champion of Fury with removal and followup units). Generally your first attack of the game will be with Feast-Caller, or Kaleb if you have a good draw and stymie all of the opponent’s aggression. Against decks like Temporal Distortion, Argenport Control, or Feln Control you can pace out your threats and go to the late game easily – if you have a Kaleb or a couple Powdergliders applying pressure, there’s no reason to run out a Feast-Caller into a possible sweeper. That would remove his Aegis, and that Aegis could take another card from the opponent if you wait a turn. Waiting a turn is fine – you have tons of card advantage and can control the amount of power you draw very well between Strategize and Kaleb’s Ultimate. You are also only playing 25 power while your opponent has 32+, so you will have a LOT more gas than them over the course of a long game. Often players will panic when they are against a control deck and it is turn 5 and you have not done more than a couple points of damage – don’t. I have ground out Feln and Argenport control several times each.

Maximizing Jotun Feast-Caller is another key part of playing Spellcrag. If you land the 4/3 on a board where he can’t attack because the opponent has a bigger blocker, you don’t need to suicide or trade him in for a single card. The mere presence of the Feast-Caller prevents your opponent from making aggressive attacks, similar to a Gorgon Fanatic. With the Feast-Caller just sitting there, you are able to deploy Kalebs and Vadius and such and set up for a big turn where you play a removal spell or two and a combat trick and completely flip a stalled board. It also helps if you had a Champion of Fury earlier in the game, as an opponent at 12 has to make less-desirable blocks than an opponent at 20. Also, Feast-Caller is probably the best possible card to play on a clear board if you have removal and Kaleb’s Choice in hand.

Matchups

Spellcrag has pretty close matchups against most decks, but there are a few outliers.

Slow decks without early interaction get absolutely demolished by the cheap units and removal spells of Spellcrag. Praxis, for example, can’t easily deal with Kaleb or Feast-Caller and falls super far behind if you can Polymorph or Obliterate Sandstorm Titan and Permafrost Worldbearer Behemoth.  Feln control also feels easy, as their units are vulnerable to Permafrost and they don’t have efficient removal for Vadius, Kaleb and Jotun Feast-Caller.

The tough matchups are those that Permafrost is bad against and faster decks not vulnerable to Alpine Tracker or Rockslide. Tavrod is the single biggest problem, so Argenport is the worst matchup. It doesn’t help that Tavrod is always accompanied by Auric Runehammer, and Runehammer can go 1-for-1 or better against Vadius and Feast-Caller. Rakano is full of 3 health units and goes faster than Spellcrag, so it is tough to race and tough to defend against. Any time you have to desperately block and trade with Jotun Feast-Caller, you aren’t feeling great. These matchups aren’t unwinnable, but I would rather not face them.

As a synergy-based tempo deck, Spellcrag’s worst enemy is itself. It has non-functional draws that don’t do anything sometimes, and it can not draw any units or draw too much or too little power without any card manipulation and just die. It can have hands that are difficult to play, and you can easily miss the winning line and throw games. Don’t be discouraged – there are way more games that you can win if you figure out what matters and play to it. The good draws with free wins will also come. Spellcrag is really rewarding, and the time you put into it is worth it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Until next time, may your Jotun Feast-Callers always survive to attack.

LightsOutAce