Skirmish season is upon us and we’ve seen some amazing participation at many of the online and in-person events so far. A clearer picture of the metagame has started to emerge and, based on recent results, Dorinthea appears to be giving Ira a real run for her money in recent events for the title of the Queen of Blitz.
This purpose of this article is to cover a few key things to watch out for when playing against Dorinthea to help you prepare for your next big event. There’s no replacement for experience when playing against a deck like Dorinthea, but hopefully going in armed with a bit of knowledge will help out!
The most common build in the meta currently is a “go tall” version which looks to throw out at least one big weapon attack each turn (and two on their big turns!). This deck uses actions such as Warrior’s Valor, Spoils of War, Ironsong Determination and Steelblade Supremacy, backed up with a ton of attack reactions, to push through damage and keep pressure up throughout the game. Most Dorinthea decks will run 20 to 24 attack reactions, with 12 to 14 of these being red versions that give at least +3 power to their Dawnblade. Altogether, this makes Dorinthea a very tough deck to defend against, with even small mistakes often leading to extremely punishing results.
This probably seems obvious, but when playing against Dorinthea, keeping track of their current and potential resource count is critical. Remember that Dorinthea needs at least one spare resource if they want to attack for the second time on their turn. You want to be calculating if they’ll be able to attack again if you force them to spend resources on attack reactions in order to go over the top to let them attack and whether they’ll be able to use Braveforge Bracers or leave up resources to pump the second attack.
A common line involves pitching a blue card to play Warrior’s Valor/Spoils of War and attacking, leaving one resource up. Consider how many cards they have remaining, what reactions they might play and whether they’ll need to sacrifice placing a card in Arsenal if they play an attack reaction and if they need to pitch their final card to attack again. Sometimes taking a bit of damage to leave Dorinthea without an Arsenal card is actually a fine tradeoff. The nature of the deck means that it gets exponentially more difficult to block with each additional card it has access to each turn due to the number of threats you have to consider, meaning that a four card hand is much less threatening than the full five.
It’s also very important to calculate what attack reactions they have access to and how much damage they can potentially deal. With the exception of Ironsong Response, all of Dorinthea’s attack reactions cost at least one resource to play. Be sure to check their graveyard and consider what they’ve pitched recently to give you a better picture of what you might be facing down. All their one-cost reactions will give a max of +3 power to their weapon (except for Singing Steelblade into Ironsong Response giving +4), while their two and three-cost attack reactions (Rout, Overpower) will often preclude them from doing much else with their turn. Don’t forget the additional benefits of cards with reprise such as Overpower and Rout when making decisions on how to defend. Which leads us nicely to my next point…
Playing around reprise is a key part of beating Dorinthea. As a general rule of thumb, if you have a pretty good hand, be wary of blocking a “naked” Dawnblade attack for three. This allows Dorinthea to get great value out of cards like Glint the Quicksilver, Singing Steelblade and Ironsong Response which they might be relying on. Even cards like Out for Blood can make your life much harder when combined with cards that give go again.
The +1 to your next attack, especially when combined with Braveforge Bracers, can make your life very hard when facing down a second Dawnblade attack for up to five damage. It’s always a bad feeling to block a Dawnblade for three, only for them to play Singing Steelblade, fetch Glint the Quicksilver and come over for one damage with go again to attack a second time.
Always ensure that you sequence your defending correctly when playing against Dorinthea. Understanding priority is absolutely key in this matchup. Once Dorinthea passes priority in the reaction step (after they’ve chosen to play no reactions or their reactions have resolved), they cannot play any further attack reactions if you also pass.
Don’t give your opponent a free shot at reprise by announcing no initial defending cards, then immediately using a defense reaction card before requiring them to first pass priority. This is super important and I cannot stress this enough. Consider a situation where Dorinthea attacks with Dawnblade for three, then plays a Razor Reflex when you choose not to defend. Wait for them to clearly pass priority before doing anything. They could easily have something like Glint the Quicksilver in hand that they’re considering playing for go again, or even a Singing Steelblade that they just want to use to push one damage in a close game.
If you play a Sink Below early here, you’ve just made a potentially difficult decision for them very easy. Glint the Quicksilver now draws them a card and Singing Steelblade can now fetch any attack reaction in their deck. This also applies in close games where the Dorinthea player might be deciding whether to go for lethal damage or save their attack reaction for a five-card hand next turn, particularly when the attack reaction might only be getting one or two damage through.
Singing Steelblade is an absolutely key card to keep in mind when calculating how to block a Dawnblade attack. If you haven’t seen them show up at all in a game, you need to carefully consider how it can impact the turn before deciding on how to block.
Overblocking for one is correct in some instances where Dawnblade doesn’t have go again, as it helps to shut down the Singing/Glint combo which can be a particularly devastating tempo swing in the early-mid game. This also applies to situations where you’re considering overblocking an attack by three to shut off a one-cost +3 react such as Stroke of Foresight or Razor Reflex.
Assuming you’ve seen no Singings, keep in mind they can give +4 to Dawnblade off one resource with Singing fetching Ironsong Response (Red). Sometimes you can’t really play around this without giving up too much tempo, but it’s good to keep in mind if it’s critical to stop a Dawnblade counter and/or Steelblade Supremacy trigger at an important stage in the game. Finally, Singing Steelblade combos extremely well with Twinning Blade if Dorinthea can give their Dawnblade go again. Cards such as Spoils of War and Hit and Run can achieve this, or Singing can fetch up Glint/Twinning Blade if they already have one of these two attack reactions in hand.
Rout is one of the premier finishers in the game. This particular reaction is scary at many points in the game, but in the mid to late game, it becomes a threat to end the game on the spot.
Rout with reprise is effectively a +6 attack reaction for two resources (+3 to your Dawnblade and bounces a card defending for three), making a two-card fully blocked Dawnblade for six suddenly a six life swing.
Playing around Rout is generally quite difficult, but it’s one of the better examples of playing around reprise in general. You can’t indefinitely play around Rout as you’ll be constantly losing tempo and giving Dorinthea too much time to set up an unblockable Rout turn by pairing it with Ironsong Determination or ensuring reprise through a “must defend” attack such as a Steelblade Supremacy or Warrior’s Valor Dawnblade swing.
Ideally you want to put yourself in a position where a potential Rout won’t outright kill you, but will represent enough damage to force your opponent to use it. Using your equipment as part of a one to two card defense to allow yourself to survive through Rout on two or three life in the late game is a perfectly valid play. They have to give you back one of your defending cards to get the maximum amount of damage through, which gives you an opportunity to go back on the offence on your turn.
Zero-cost defense reactions like Sink Below and instant-speed life gain like Sigil of Solace (Red) are also very good at helping in these situations. Feel free to put on your best Oscar-worthy acting performance if you need to (throwing out a “I just don’t know if I can play around it” never hurts). Rout can sometimes be an all-in play, so if you they get greedy and you survive, you might be able to strip two or three cards in your next turn and get right back in the game.
These will always be context-based decisions which require an assessment of life totals, cards in hands, what cards they’ve already played, if Refraction Bolters are still up and so on. Often though, in a close game, if you’re able to sacrifice some equipment and maybe a defense reaction from Arsenal to block out damage without turning on reprise, this can really help swing the tempo and game in your favor. Giving up your Mask of Momentum and Fyendal’s Spring Tunic to block out an attack for three against Dorinthea with no resources up might get you just enough tempo to win the game if they were relying on an Ironsong Response for lethal!
Note: Don’t be afraid to regularly check your opponent’s graveyard (while still playing at a reasonable pace) to see what threats are left that you need to play around. There’s nothing worse than playing around a particular threat, only to realize two turns later that they have none left! Once critical reprise cards such as Glint/Singing/Rout have all been used, you can adjust your strategy accordingly to make your life a whole lot easier when defending.
Dorinthea has access to some of the best equipment in terms of armor with Arcanite Skullcap, Courage of Bladehold, Braveforge Bracers and Refraction Bolters. If you’re trying to force cards out of their hand to minimize a swing back, always consider the amount they can block for without using cards from their hand! A Command and Conquer for six is much less threatening against an opponent who can use their equipment to fully block it out. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re ahead in this matchup, only to have them block for seven with their equipment and swing back the tempo with a five-card hand.
Courage of Bladehold and Refraction Bolters are also extremely high-impact pieces of equipment. A good Dorinthea player will know when to use their Bolters for maximum pressure. Always assess whether letting a Dawnblade swing (without go again) through might result in you having to throw away cards from your hand on the next attack if you were hoping to utilize a four or five-card hand to try and end the game.
The flipside of this is that you shouldn’t be afraid to occasionally try to bait out their Bolters! If you let damage through and save a defense reaction, taking advantage of a greedy early Refraction Bolters use and blocking out the second attack can put you in a good position for the mid to late game. Courage of Bladehold is usually saved to play out a big turn where Dorinthea is confident they can attack twice. You know that they’ll be doing their best to save this for a big turn, so remember that when worrying about whether they can block out your big attack with a Courage that already has a -1 counter on it.
On a Courage turn, don’t forget about Twinning Blade! This can be very difficult to play around. Just remember that if your opponent goes Spoils of War into Steelblade Supremacy with Courage up, there’s a real risk of getting completely blown out if you block with your entire hand.
Twinning Blade here (or a Singing Steelblade into Twinning), allows them to attack a second time for at least five with Supremacy active and then potentially a third time if they get through damage and use Refraction Bolters. Even without Spoils of War, they can utilize the Glint the Quicksilver and Twinning Blade “combo” to achieve the same effect. If you feel something suspicious is going on, it sometimes pays to make a lower risk block and risk a bit of damage rather than potentially losing the game to a single card.
A lot of this comes with experience, but just try to remember that blocking with equipment or playing a defense reaction from Arsenal are the easiest and best ways to get around reprise triggers.
As a general rule, you should almost never be using your equipment to defend “vanilla” damage (i.e damage with no on-hit triggers) for most of the game. If you need to in order to survive a potential lethal reaction, that’s fine, but using your equipment to just “save life” at random points in the game will definitely come back to bite you. Try and ensure that the turns you block with equipment have a high probability of shutting down their attack completely, or are just enough of a roadblock to keep the tempo in your favor.
Finally, don’t be afraid to block with Blade Break equipment in midgame. While you don’t want to throw around your Fyendal’s Tunic on turn four for no particular reason, sometimes it’s correct to block with it much earlier than you usually would (especially if it has no counters). Saving your equipment for the right turn does not always mean saving it until the end of the game. This is something that took me a long time to learn but it’s crucial to giving yourself the best chance to beat decks like Dorinthea with strong on-hit triggers. I’ve seen many games where a player has clung to their equipment to the very end, despite having multiple opportunities to pull off an efficient block earlier in the game that would’ve swung the game in their favor.
In regards to defense reactions specifically, try to consider whether it’s worth giving up your safety net to protect your life total from vanilla damage. For example, my opponent attacks with Dawnblade, I defend with one card for three, they play Razor Reflex and pass priority. If I have a Springboard Somersault in Arsenal here and no defense reaction in hand, I’m going to be very hesitant about burning it to save myself three life. It’s often more important to save it for a future turn where it will save you from a much more dangerous play. If you’re playing a deck like Ira that runs a lot of defense reactions, these decisions might be a bit harder, but even then a defense reaction in Arsenal is much better than one in hand due to reprise.
Blitz is a tough format to include specific “hate cards” for certain matchups. Despite this, there are a few options you might consider if Dorinthea is wrecking your local meta/online Skirmish events in your area.
For Ira, consider cutting two-defense cards like Life for a Life and potentially one blue card in favor of additional defense reactions. Sink Below is the gold standard for zero-cost reactions, but if you’re worried about your resource base for Kano, then Springboard Somersault is one of my favorite cards to throw in.
If you’re really concerned about Dorinthea and don’t mind a slightly worse matchup against other non-Bravo decks, you could even look at including one copy of Unmovable, either yellow or red.
While a good Dorinthea player will often be able to play around this quite well in Classic Constructed, it has enough of a surprise factor to potentially win you a close game in Blitz. Unmovable (Red) from Arsenal, especially when combined with equipment, is a devastating tempo loss to a Dorinthea deck that has taken damage in order to get off a big Determination/Supremacy turn. It doesn’t trigger reprise and blocks for eight plus whatever equipment armor you decide to use, which is enough to stop basically enough attack in its tracks.
Springboard Somersault is also playable in decks such as Rhinar, which might otherwise only play two copies of Reckless Swing. Cards like Bone Head Barrier can leave you at the mercy of variance, but has the advantage of not triggering reprise and potentially saving you from an otherwise unwinnable position (plus it’s great against Kano!).
Kano has a bit less room to maneuver as any defense reactions you add make the deck more vulnerable to missing on a Kano activation. As Dorinthea has become an increasingly difficult matchup as the deck has evolved, feel free to try out cards like Unmovable (Blue) (which you can pitch for Kano anyway) and even a single copy of Fate Foreseen (Red). While these cards tend to decrease the ceiling on how powerful your deck can be, they can catch opponents off-guard and sometimes buy you enough time to pull off a lethal damage combo. Both these cards also have the added benefit of breaking Zephyr Needle in the Ira matchup if they play it, plus the Opt from Fate is very relevant to Kano.
I hope this has been useful in giving players struggling with the Dorinthea matchup a few tips on how to avoid some common pitfalls. Playing against Dorinthea is never easy. I’ve played hundreds of games against the deck across Blitz and Classic Constructed and still get blown out at times by a bad decision, misblock or simply by my opponent having an unstoppable hand.
In saying that, experience and practice is a massive help against a deck that benefits so heavily from asymmetrical information. As you play against it more and more, you’ll start to spot game states you’ve encountered before and find yourself reading your opponent’s plays in time to avoid feeling completely helpless at least!