Hello, aReNGee here with my first deck tech article in a very long time. First of all, I’d like to start off with some disclaimers: I don’t think anyone should netdeck this list. I think it is poorly built and tuned worse. However, I do think it serves as a useful illustration for a number of key topics, specifically pertaining to times when the objectively more powerful option is not the correct choice.
Let’s take a look at the deck. A long, sad look.
Yikes. That’s a lot of bad cards. This deck plays such hits as Wyatt (who isn’t good, and who’s effect isn’t optional) and the actual vanilla Drifter. The powerbase is bad, it used to be worse, and even the market is weak. Despite all this, and my history for bad decisions, I’m generally considered to have SOME method to my madness. So let’s talk about what led us down the sad path of Stonescar Gunslingers in the first place.
This is more or less the only draw to the archetype and its the most powerful card in the deck. It also
rationalizes justifies unplayable cards like Drifter, because a turn 1 Drifter lets you Hideout Pistol a Teacher of Humility on the draw. Hideout Pistol leads to some absurdly powerful tempo swings, where your two drops kill their 3 drop and attack, synergizes well with the Quickdraw units, and can even team up with other cards in the late game to take down larger threats. However, it asks for a huge base of units of the relative type, and that’s why I’m playing so many tribal enablers – even Wyatt, who’s just a strictly worse Rakano Outlaw.
That said, this deck does have another good trick – Shugo Tactic. Rampage is bad when it costs you a card, but its also exactly the card you want to draw in the late game to push through those last points of damage. It’s extremely strong on the Deadly units, pushing Champion of Chaos even further and going absolutely nuts on an activated Ashara (she hits for 10 through one blocker).
This deck doesn’t play appreciably different from Stonescar decks of the past – play out your early units, force enough damage through to keep them on the defensive, and finish it off with an early Bandit Queen or a combat trick. You can’t play defense very effectively, but you have enough removal to keep opponents from attacking you and enough combat tricks to force through the blockers. If your opponent gets the tempo, you’ll have a difficult time playing from the back foot unless you draw a lot of removal.
We’ve talked about the what and the how, now we need to talk about the why. Veteran players will have already expressed disbelief over this deck being chosen as a showcase, given how poorly it stacks up – indeed, I’m sure this will be unplayable in a week. However, it’s important to talk about why it’s successful at the moment, as it sheds a lot of light on the current metagame.
- Hailstorm is gone. If you take a quick look at this deck’s units, you’ll note that no unit has more than 3 health. Hailstorm is essentially unbeatable against this deck… but Bandit Queen can kill before Harsh Rule comes down. However, at the moment nobody is on Hailstorm! Why? The decks that are popular right now are TJP spells, Big Time, and Rakano X (which includes ramp, Answer the Call, and FJx Control varients). TJP Spells puts on too much kill pressure and grows too quickly for Hailstorm to be a real answer, and all the other decks go over top of it. Therefore, Hailstorm is on the bench this week.
- Scaling interaction is key. As noted before, TJP and Praxis hit very different ends of the spectrum. TJP plays out a lot like Praxis Tokens used to – you need to kill nearly everything they play while pressuring them, or you just die. This deck is very good at that – Pistol plays double duty, and early Torches and Annihilates slow them down. Your Champions and Asharas can play defense while you force them to use pump spells defensively. Meanwhile Praxis is just tossing huge idiots at you – you can go under them, use pump spells to burst through, or just Annihilate them. Stonescar’s removal suite is well set up to deal with the problems of the moment.
- Players have cut removal. TJP has little room for interaction. Big Time has a handful of removal spells but is mostly units. Big Rakano decks are shaving early game for late game and leaning on Harsh Rule. In general, players are attempting to deal with units by racing or blocking – and Rapid Shot makes both of those choices very questionable.
- Proactive decks are better. Eternal is all about question and answer. We have a lot of two card combo kills at the moment, which require a variety of answers. We’ve also got a lot of decks using hard-to-answer Icaria, and just for spice a combo kill spells deck in TJP. That’s a lot of ground for a reactive deck to cover – you need cheap, universal, fast speed interaction, and that just doesn’t exist. With so many questions being asked, you’re better off being the one hitting than the one hit.
- The Rogue Factor. This goes away as soon as I publish this, but it is worth noting that no small amount of edge was gained from opponents having no idea what was going on. Stonescar is a support faction at the moment, and I really doubt anyone else is playing Drifter. They don’t know what to play around, so my combat tricks pick them apart.
Individual card power was sacrificed in order to build a deck that best made use of the these factors. Traditional lists used cards like Grenadin Drone and Oni Ronin to build early boards for a Bandit Queen or even a Rally kill. The emphasis on early game units and interaction prevented this strategy from really working in the modern metagame. Other historic builds have used the Madness + Combust package – while Combust is effective, Madness is generally too slow and both pieces are dead weight against the control decks. In response, I focused on maximizing Hideout Pistol, a card that was still good, and supplementing it with a number of other cards that were well positioned in the metagame (mostly a focus on Quickdraw + Pump spells to punish blocking).
When deckbuiling, its always important to keep in mind what other players are doing. Sometimes you find a deck like this that hits the metagame at just the right angle, sometimes you build a deck that has the same gameplan as another deck but worse execution. It’s important to identify WHY a deck is (not) successful, as its the only way to improve it. This list is not very good and has no long term staying power, but if the current set of circumstances were to mysteriously stick around, it would still be an effective choice. Additionally, should there come a future point where Hailstorm is a nonfactor, players are trying to block, and early game interaction is key, this deck could again raise up to relevance.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Stonescar Gunslingers, and more broadly at metagame positioning. I certainly enjoyed the journey here – plus if I make even one person craft a Drifter, I’ve outdone myself as a content creator.