While I’ve always liked Kano, early on in my testing for this event, I was pretty keen on playing Rhinar, who has been one of my favorite heroes since the introduction of Crucible of War. I had played the deck quite a lot, including at Nationals and the Blitzathon event at the end of last year.
However, like many other people, I found that the Ira matchup in particular wasn’t great, mostly due to the shear amount of life gain the deck can run. This tends to put them out of kill range of a single big turn, meaning that you’ll often take too much damage yourself and end up dying before you get to play the two big hands you need to win. On top of that, the Kano matchup was a bit of a coin flip so instead I decided to join light side.
While there are plenty of busted cards in the Wizard deck like Tome of Aetherwind and Sonic Boom, in my opinion, your most valuable cards are the ones that can actually push damage against your opponent. Having played the deck against a variety of matchups, it soon became clear which two cards were the most important in the deck.
While they seem very similar on the surface and actually pair quite well together, they’re often at their best against completely different matchups. Aether Flare can be game-breaking against any player with less than three arcane barrier but it’s terrible if they can block most – if not all – of the damage.
Conversely, Stir the Aetherwinds boosts the amount of damage you can deal with a single action, allowing you to get over your opponent’s arcane barrier even if they have the full suite of Nullrune armor and it’s obviously excellent with Forked Lightning. After a fair bit of testing, I was pretty happy with the aggressive match ups like Dorinthea, especially when playing two copies of Aether Flare (Red) and if they skimped on blues, but the Ira matchup still left a lot to be desired again, mostly due to the amount of life gain the deck could run.
The breakthrough with the deck actually came during an innocuous testing session with Hayden Dale. I ended up losing the game horribly, dealing a pitiful amount of damage on the final turn, but I realized something quite important about the matchup: if you aim to block everything relevant, it’s actually quite easy to survive until you’ve been through your entire deck. This means you can effectively set up the bottom of your deck and kill your opponent in one turn at instant speed.
I had heard of some players looking to utilize this strategy in Classic Constructed against Dash when Arcane Rising first came out. The concept is pretty basic: put some blue cards on the bottom of your deck, followed by some powerful red cards that can kill your opponent in one turn. In Classic Constructed, you typically have access to more cards and resources by the end of the game than in Blitz, so the combos are a little different but still just as powerful.
Bottom of Deck
There are a number of different variations to this combo that you can set up throughout the game, but this is the basic version I looked at when I first started playing the deck. With four blue cards in hand, this gives you 17 pitch points to use on the final turn of the game. That’s enough to use Kano’s ability three times (nine pitch), play Stir the Aetherwinds and Forked Lightning (five pitch), use Storm Striders, Metacarpus nodes and Crucible of Aetherweave (three pitch).
From here, your Forked Lightning will deal 14 damage followed by another 14 damage, then 28 damage from your two Blazing Aethers for a total of 56 damage. Even if your opponent has a full hand of blue cards and four Nullrune armor, the combo will still deal 10 damage, followed by six damage from Blazing Aether then another 12 damage from the final Blazing Aether for a total of 28 damage, which is more than enough in almost every game state you’ll come across.
While this is fine in theory, it can be quite difficult to actually execute in practice. You might get incredibly lucky and find these cards on top of your deck in the exact right order, but generally speaking, you need to set this up during a game. By pitching cards to the bottom of your deck in a specific order, you can simply count the quantity of cards on the bottom, wait until you get to the end of the game, then execute the combo at instant speed in your opponents turn.
Keeping track of the exact order of cards can get pretty difficult, especially if things don’t go exactly to plan. You’re not allowed to take notes or position your cards in such a way to make this easier during competitive play, so I used a number-based system to keep track of the bottom of my deck to try to make things easier. You can usually get away with just counting the number of total cards, and then alternating between blue and red cards to get a total count.
For example, during one of my games at The Calling, I had a 3-1-2-2-8 count, which is three blues followed by one red, then two blues, another two reds then eight blues for a total of 16 cards on the bottom of my deck. I certainly did not manage to keep a perfect count during the tournament but without some sort of system, it’s pretty difficult to reliably pull this sort of combo off.
My first versions of the deck revolved around trying to execute the combo plan against Ira in every game,. You can achieve this, but you need to modify your deck quite a bit from the version I was running at The Calling:
The extra life gain means you’ll almost always get to your endgame and can effectively run Ira out of all their red attacks. Remembrance is a bit of a hedge in case you need to block with a lot of combo pieces in the early game.
Before the Mighty Ape Blitz event in Auckland, I was pretty keen on playing the Sun Kiss version of the deck; it was much more reliable than Tome of Fyendal for life gain and Ira looked to be the most popular deck in the metagame. With five Kano players making the top 8 of that tournament though, ignoring the mirror was no longer really an option. Only playing 16 or 17 blues and adding cards to the deck that are pretty questionable in the matchup made it feel pretty rough. While Kano was quite prevalent at the tournament, there were plenty of Ira players as well and they decided to improve their Kano match up by changing their equipment.
Needle is great against opponents not running defense reactions and, with none of the Kano players at the top tables playing any of them in their deck, it was effectively a free roll. There are couple of good options you can play to take advantage of this.
If you’re considering the Ira matchup only, Absorb in Aether is probably the best, as it can be used as a combo piece late game and also acts as a way to break Needle. In the end, I decided to go with Unmovable (Blue).
The red spots in the deck are pretty important – you need as many as you can against aggressive decks to make sure there are enough hits on top of your deck when you use your hero ability. Your blue cards are much more flexible.
It’s not that common to need to blindly play a card from the top of your deck, especially when playing with Talismanic Lens. In many cases, it’s better to block and play something from your hand on your turn. Even if you’re punting from the top, many of the blue cards you would be playing instead are almost as bad as Unmovable anyway – I can’t recall many games where it has actually been relevant.
The upside against Dorinthea is also relevant, as having a way to block without triggering reprise in the deck can really catch them off guard. It also allows you pitch potions in the matchup to help block on turns where you need to defend. Along with the defense reactions, I also played another card which was again included to help improve the Ira matchup.
While it might seem a little strange on the surface, the biggest benefit cards like this bring to the deck are to increase your deck velocity. Typically, you’ll aim to play every card in your hand, then draw four at then end of your turn.
This means that at a basic level, it takes 10 hands to get through your entire deck. Every turn against Ira, you’ll often always leak at least one damage, meaning you’ll die after, at most, 15 turns. This is why life gain is so important in the matchup as every life you gain effectively allows you to survive an additional turn.
Opt has a similar effect. Every time you opt a card, you get to the bottom of your deck one quarter of a turn faster. This may not seem like much, but having an extra turn up your sleeve at the end of the game can be the difference between winning and losing.
In the end, I settled on the list below with my good friend and testing partner, Dan Mckay, playing a very similar version.
Class: Wizard Hero: Kano Weapons: Crucible of Aetherweave Equipment: Arcanite Skullcap, Bracers of Belief, Fyendal's Spring Tunic, Ironrot Gauntlet, Ironrot Helm, Ironrot Legs, Metacarpus Node, Robe of Rapture, Storm Striders, Talismanic Lens (1) Aether Flare (red) (2) Aether Spindle (red) (2) Blazing Aether (red) (2) Forked Lightning (red) (2) Snapback (red) (2) Stir the Aetherwinds (red) (2) Tome of Aetherwind (red) (2) Voltic Bolt (red) (1) Chain Lightning (yellow) (2) Lesson in Lava (yellow) (2) Sonic Boom (yellow) (2) Tome of Fyendal (yellow) (2) Aether Flare (blue) (2) Aether Spindle (blue) (2) Energy Potion (blue) (1) Eye of Ophidia (blue) (2) Gaze the Ages (blue) (1) Rousing Aether (blue) (2) Snapback (blue) (2) Unmovable (blue) (2) Voltic Bolt (blue) (2) Whisper of the Oracle (blue)
I made a last minute decision to cut the second Aether Flare (Red), mostly due to it being pretty mediocre against the mirror and Ira but, in my opinion, it’s one of the best cards against Dorinthea. Depending on what your metagame is like, you could look to cut a blue card for an extra Aether Flare – otherwise I was pretty happy with the list overall.
After finishing round four on two wins and two losses against the mirror, including one against my testing partner Dan, I was pretty disheartened and decided that instead of looking towards a top table finish, I would just try to have a bit of fun and OTK some people. After winning three in a row – including an OTK against Ira – I was feeling a little more confidant about my choice and was asked to play in my first of four feature matches of the day. Quite a few people have asked me about the feature matches I played so I’ll briefly touch on each of them.
Round 8 – Antonio Radich
Antonio was playing a Dash control deck with five arcane barrier. I had not played against this deck during my testing but figured it played almost exactly the same as the Ira matchup. The game started pretty well and I managed to stack up a pretty solid 3-1-2-2-X stack on the bottom of my deck with Talismanic Lens up to remove some of the blue cards breaking up my combo.
My opponent didn’t seem to know exactly what I was doing so I was able to get to the end game. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a brain fade during the middle of the match and forgot the exact count. At this point, I mistakenly swapped one of the twos for a one and thought I had a 3-2-2-1-X stack on the bottom. This meant that I used my Talismanic Lens at the wrong time and flipped a blue card instead of the Blazing Aether I had intended. Luckily, I still had enough damage on the table to play a scuffed combo, dealing exact lethal to my opponent who had over extended.
Round 9 – Brett Rogers
After my lucky escape in the previous round, I had a brief respite from the feature match area playing Brett Roger who was on Ira. After killing his Needle early, I setup a perfect OTKilling him from 25 life.
At the end of the day, I was pretty disappointed in my play in many of the games I played, especially at the business end of the tournament and barely did the deck the justice it deserved. A lot of the credit for my success came down to the strategy my team and I had developed for the tournament, along with most of my opponents playing against it incorrectly rather than my own play throughout the day but I guess that is the upside of playing an outside the box strategy.
Round 10 – Jacob Pearson
Yet another Ira match, this time on camera with the eventual winner of the tournament, Jacob Pearson. This game played out a bit differently than against Brett. Instead of passively blocking, Jacob decided to play out stronger hands and push more damage through in the early game. This also allowed me to push damage as well but I was forced to take more damage than I would have liked. I still managed to set up the bottom of my deck for lethal and break his Needle in the process so I decided that an OTK was still the best path for victory. With only one or two turns to go, I probably should have played around Razor Reflex but didn’t and instead had to rely on the top of the deck for the win. Luckily, I found the Sonic Boom and Voltic Bolt (Red) to get the job done.
Round 11 – Rohan Khanna
In what was an eventual win and in (although we could only guess at the start of the game), I played against one of the best, if not the best, Kano players in the room, Rohan Khanna. I managed to win the dice roll, taking the draw and decided early on to keep a Stir the Aetherwinds over a Tome of Fyendal, both of which are very good cards in the matchup.
The early game was pretty uneventful with both Rohan and I trading cards until one turn where Rohan played Tome from Arsenal, used Kano’s hero ability, did not find a hit and passed with two cards in hand and no Arsenal. I was pretty sure that he had at least one red card in hand to place in the Arsenal, and with very few misses in his deck, it seemed unlikely his other card was blue. In the end, it seemed like a good opportunity for me with three blues in hand and an Aether Spindle (Red) to go along with the Stir the Aetherwinds in Arsenal.
I decided to pop the Talismanic Lens and found a Blazing Aether and Tome of Aetherwind on top. After banishing both, I played the Tome drawing another yellow card along with a Snapback (Red). At this point, with Rohan on 16, I had two options: play Storm Striders into Stir plus Aether Spindle, offering seven damage followed by Snapback and Blazing Aether, or pass the turn. If Rohan has a blue card, he can block four damage from Aether Spindle, leaving the other card in his Arsenal and me with shields down going into my turn. If Rohan has two red cards. he dies. If he has a red and a yellow, he can survive but needs to block with both of them. In the end, I went for the kill, Rohan blocked with a red and yellow, I forgot to opt from Aether Spindle and Rohan ended the turn on two life.
During my next turn, Rohan popped his own Talismanic Lens but did not find what he was looking and allowed me to draw back up to four. We went back and forth again after this point, eventually reaching a game state where I was offering lethal damage with Voltic Bolt (Red) and Rohan was forced into making a play. He used all of his resources to play a Sonic Boom from the top of the deck, allowing me to respond with the Snapback (Blue) I had in arsenal for exact lethal with a Metacarpus Node.
Top 8 – Winner’s Bracket – Callum Gittens
Having made Top 8, I was fairly happy with how the deck was playing albeit a bit disappointed with my own play. My first match of the Top 8 was against Callum Gittins off camera who was running a more aggressive version of Ira. I new it was unlikely I would be able to combo him out. In the end, I didn’t find the Unmovable (Blue) early on to break his Needle and ended up folding under the constant pressure, not able to find the cards I needed on the top of my deck on the final turn.
Top 8 – Loser’s Bracket – Matt Rogers
I knew I would have my work cut out for me against the number one ranked player in the world. The game started off pretty interestingly. Early on, I had a couple of awkward hands and needed to block with my Tunic early to prevent Command and Conquer from breaking a Tome but was able to navigate it well enough, setting up a 3-4-2-2 stack with a Tome of Aetherwind in the mix to get around the issue of not having Tunic.
Matt used most of his offensive cards early on, including both Command and Conquers and his sole Razor Reflex. Regrettably, I miscounted my deck at the end of the game and ended up leaving a single blue card on top of my deck during the kill turn, blocking my potential path to victory. Had I remembered it was a Gaze the Ages, I still could have won the game, but in the end fell short eventually succumbing to a single Kodachi with nothing of relevance left in my deck.
While I really enjoyed playing the deck, I found it pretty tiring and by the end of it, I wasn’t playing it at the level I really wanted to. Having said that, I can’t complain about the result and would definitely consider playing it again especially in a heavy Ira and Dorinthea metagame. Like everyone, I’m hanging out for those Monarch spoilers and can’t wait to see what changes they’ll bring to Blitz and Classic Constructed.