Introducing a new Community Spotlight series featuring new contributor –Saints!
We’ve been so impressed with Saints’ ongoing analysis of the game meta that we thought it was necessary to give it some extra visibility.
His detailed report summarises the state of the game from a player’s perspective and contains valuable insights for new and veteran players alike.
Take it away, Saints!
The big balance change this past week introduced new spells, primarily board clears and single-target removals, to all classes, except Nature.
For more accurate testing, copies of each card were also given to every player. Last week’s dominant archetype, Nature Flourish Zoo, received a substantial nerf as well, effectively taking it out of the meta.
The addition of even more spell removals for Magic, along with the nerf to Nature Flourish, appeared to be the green light for Control Magic archetypes to dominate over the weekend.
However, it was Onslaught War that ended up being the most popular archetype by far, since it can be tuned to uniquely counter aggro and control with essentially the same core deck list. The meta as it is directly favors Deception, although it was underplayed over the weekend.
Death, Light, and Nature are all fairly playable, and for the first time since Ranked Constructed, there doesn’t appear to be a completely underpowered God.
More importantly, though, we’re beginning to see even more archetypal variety within each God, which allows us to move away from blanket statements like “X God counters Y God” and instead describe the meta as certain decks countering certain decks, regardless of God — signs of a healthy metagame.
The new spells, especially board clears, allow players to explore more slow, control-oriented styles of play. The indirect fallout from this generally means that Midrange becomes stronger, due to its role as a natural counter against Control. The new spells can also be utilized by Midrange to survive better against Aggro.
Aggro’s identity appeared to have changed the most. Personally, it seems as if the addition of new board clears and nerfing Flourish was a step too much. While Nature Flourish Aggro was oppressive last week, with some the highest usage numbers we’ve seen so far in these Ranked Constructed events, it primarily thrived due to the lack of board clears available to all Gods besides Magic.
Aggro now needs to either play fast enough to threaten lethal before the board clears become playable, or play sticky enough to where board clears lose absolute value. The latter is achieved by playing warded creatures, like Dryder Sailweaver, or persisting on board through death via afterlifes like Viking Bloodguard or with the Death God Power, Undying Wish.
There are also a couple other options that I’ll explore in the deep-dives for each God below.
The last thing I’ll say about Aggro is that it would probably be in a much better spot if it weren’t for the Magic God Power, Blastwave. I expand more on this in the section on the Light God.
Where the new cards tend to have the most impact is on the lower ranks. It’s essentially no longer a safe strategy to carelessly play creatures and develop wide boards, as people now have access to more efficient ways to clear them. More thought and care needs to be taken to consider how you develop your board and how you plan to win. At the higher levels, this has so far translated into playing reactive decks that favor card value over tempo.
Onslaught War, an archetype that blossomed last weekend as a response to Nature Flourish Aggro, was the clear winner this week, likely influenced by Yorku’s ascent to the top of the rankings for the 2nd week in a row. With a few adaptations, it’s also able to counter the predominant Control Magic playstyle, while also taking on the Control role against Aggro decks.
Overall this is patch has generated a relatively healthy meta and I think it will only be a matter of time until even more viable deck options are discovered.
Reanimate Aggro is a more unique form of Aggro that’s able to compensate for the increased board clears by having a way to recycle card value, which is usually lost when your board gets wiped clean. Reanimate Aggro is probably the strongest Aggro variant played in the meta currently.
In terms of viability, Death isn’t significantly represented at the highest levels of play, but that may just have to do with the overwhelming presence of Onslaught War this week.
While it’s far from being an unwinnable matchup against Onslaught War, the more aggressive Death decks typically need a bit of breathing room to be able to develop into their win condition board states, but Onslaught War is built to answer board threats as they appear.
Where Aggro Death variants can really shine is in a meta that more aggressively counters Onslaught War (see Deception). Overall, Death is probably in a fine spot right now, although Death Control could probably benefit from having access to a few cards that are currently un-lived in the game.
Deception has natural counters to Onslaught War and Control Magic, making it one of the most viable Gods in the game in this meta. The plethora of Hidden creatures like Shade Walker doesn’t offer the War player any killable targets, largely nullifying the strength of Onslaught.
Since Onslaught War is generally positioned as a reactive deck, it suffers against Deception, which has many different ways of generating card advantage, such as with Cutthroat Insight, Vault Vagabond, and the newly-buffed Double Dealer.
Many Onslaught War decks are also lacking frontlines, allowing Deception players who use the Cheat God Power to continuously keep a damage-dealer like Shade Walker or card-value-generator like Vault Vagabond Hidden for multiple turns.
Onslaught War, at its core, typically intends to be the control player, as opposed to the aggressor, in its matchups. As a result, the advantages Deception has against Onslaught War can also be applied to other popular control decks in the meta, such as top-heavy Control Magic decks, making Deception the best counter-play against the two most popular Gods this weekend.
Despite the benefits, Deception was still underutilized in the competitive landscape this event. I’m wildly guessing two reasons: 1. It’s generally harder to pilot Deception decks, 2. Many Onslaught War players probably felt like they had an advantage in the mirror match anyway. Or maybe no one thought of the counter.
Where Deception tends to fall short is against Aggro/Zoo decks, like the old Nature Flourish. Taking Nature’s place, however, are different Zoo variants such as Reanimate Death, that can usually try and pressure Deception well enough to the point where Cutthroat Insight offers no value and weak-tempo turns like playing Vault Vagabond on turn 3 are punished significantly.
Deception appears best run slowly as a Midrange or Control variant (decklist, decklist), with current decklists tuned around countering War specifically. Cards that were originally considered staples, like Lightfoot Informant and Uncanny Rogue, are starting to see less play.
Lightfoot generally doesn’t offer enough value against War and Hunting Trap appears to be a more reliable single-target removal than comboing the more expensive Uncanny Rogue. Deception’s new board clear, Rapture Dance, is probably one of the best in the game for its role as well.
Deception’s role in the meta is the most fascinating to me. It exists to keep a check on Control decks, but when the meta gets dominated by Aggro, Deception tends to disappear. Perhaps the newly-buffed Sleep cards and Rapture Dance will change that slightly, but I like its role as a meta enforcer for the time being.
Light finally got a ton of love, and I’ve always insisted it would be in a better place with a board clear and single target removal, but their new cards seem a bit too unreliable to me. Both of the new spells are conditional and can destroy your own creatures, which to me makes them a tier weaker than the new spells offered to other Gods.
With that said, Light is in a much better place than before. Its current identity is Control (decklist), based around stat reduction to keep boards non-threatening, until it power spikes late game with Zealous March. Light’s stat reduction tools work very well with the new Onyx Nightblade, making it a versatile single-target removal combo that can be replenished via Radiant Embalmers.
Light as a counter to the current meta might also be successful. Onslaught War generally has trouble clearing Zealous March and Light is the only God capable of casting Ward and Protected on all of its creatures, which are essential for countering spell-oriented Magic decks. Like all Control decks, however, it will likely be disadvantaged against Deception Control.
Even after the nerf to Serene Blade, I was keen on still making it work, especially as a Zoo variant with token creatures like Will O’ Wisp and others. What I ran into, however, was Blastwave generating tremendous amounts of value against me, and this was even before Magic got its new board clears. The answer that other Zoo variants have found for this is to buff the health of your creatures with cards like Aging Veteran, but by doing so, you can actually buff your creatures out of Serene Blade range.
As a result, I’m personally unsure if Light as an Aggro variant will be successful any time soon, primarily due to the popularity of Magic and how safe of a pick Blastwave is for them in the current meta.
In previous reports, I’ve warned that Magic would need to adopt different play styles soon. Specifically, the main Control variant (decklist) that tries to “build tall” by dropping expensive, late-game frontline threats will eventually need to adapt, which would possibly split Magic into different archetypes.
We’re beginning to see the start of that, especially the new archetypes, although I think the new spells for Magic gave the current Control archetype a bit more staying power for now (as Hoej demonstrated).
Where the build-tall strategy fails is its weakness to Onslaught War’s multiple deadly threats, especially in Amplureal, Sentient Shard. As a result, a show-stopper card like Tyet, which many Magic decks run/ran, is essentially unplayable in an Onslaught War-heavy meta (Creatures with Protected like Echophon and Avatar of Magic get the 9-slot nod, if any, instead).
Any Onslaught deck running Amplureal threatens to not only counter your expensive frontlines, but also never run out of cards, forcing the Magic user on a “clock” in very late-game scenarios before succumbing to fatigue. The new single-target removal spells also make expensive frontlines a bigger potential liability.
Magic offers many tools outside of stalling until big frontlines, and players have started exploring those options. Notably, Magic has a lot of mana-cost reduction cards like Morgana’s Grimoire, Assistant Alchemist, creating opportunities for combo decks and win conditions via overt card value (decklist).
Overall, Magic still has some of the strongest tools and spells in the game, so it will be interesting to see what prevails in the coming weeks.
Nature is back to struggling for its top-tier competitive identity again, with refugees from the Flourish fallout choosing Animal Bond or Leech Life as their God Powers of choice. Leech Life in particular is a fairly strong and sees some play in Aggro/Midrange decks at the lower/mid-levels of play, but did see some play at higher ranks in a Control variant (decklist) as well.
To reiterate from above, I think the combination of nerfing Flourish and introducing the new spells at the same time may have been a bit too much, I would certainly have liked to see an Aggro Nature deck play a small part in a Midrange/Control-heavy meta, but perhaps we’ll see a readjustment for Nature soon.
In my last report I mentioned:
There was an uptick in Onslaught War (and reduced Nature Aggro usage) might also mean an uptick in Aggro Deception as a counter, so I anticipate Onslaught War’s time in the spotlight may be limited.
And I have to admit I got a couple things a bit wrong: It wouldn’t be Aggro Deception to counter Onslaught War — Control Deception seems far more reliable (to be fair this was also before the patch ;)), and I thought Onslaught wouldn’t last too long, but it became the most used deck this weekend.
The reason for that is Onslaught War was uniquely positioned to counter Control Magic, which people initially believed would dominate the weekend, not only because of its card choices, but the fact that people already had experience running the archetype from the weekend before when it was built as a Nature Flourish Aggro counter.
The fact of the matter is that being able to force good trades is and will always be a good thing. Onslaught, especially at a 1 mana cost (making it the only 1 mana cost God Power in the game at the moment since Heaven’s Light isn’t live) simply offers too much value for it not to be too weak in any meta.
Weeks ago, Onslaught War variants existed, but its decklists weren’t completely refined and it sometimes lacked clear win conditions. The previous Midrange creature buffs also played a part, finally giving cards like Devouring Golem a home. The addition of more Twin-Strike creatures like Devouring Golem means it counters Aggro a lot more effectively.
Against Control, it can eventually win via card advantage because the amount of Deadly creatures it packs outnumbers the amount of expensive threats that Control decks play. As a result it could either win via fatigue or win via overt card advantage in the longrun, especially if it runs Amplureal (see Magic section).
Some variants even run the newly-buffed Planetar Centurion, whose stats are difficult for Magic to efficiently deal with, using Amplureal as a tribal trigger, which allows it to generate more card value, especially when you can delve another Planetar Centurion.
So, unless the Onslaught God Power gets a nerf, I think Onslaught War will continue to have a presence now that its decklists have been refined by virtue of 30% of the population playing it over multiple events. The question is whether or not it can adapt well against its existing counters (see Deception section) for it to still remain a popular choice in the meta.
Lastly, Enrage is starting to see some play as a way to reliably and cheaply develop powerful board threats early on, offering another potential Aggro archetype to the mix.
Full List (make sure Ranked Constructed is selected) I’ve only included players with greater than 20 games.
|Hoej||Magic, Death, Deception||Control, Reanimate, Control|
|Corgi Unleashed||Light, Nature||Control, Control|
While the top 10 at a glance might look Magic and Control-favored, you’ll have to just take my word for it that ranks 11-50 were littered with the corpses of Onslaught War decks trying to out-blitz each other.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this, consider supporting me by using my ref code the next time you buy packs. If you’d like to discuss GU strategy, feel free message me at saintsintosea#9137 on Discord.