The time is upon us! Flesh and Blood Pro Tour New Jersey is just over the horizon and I could not be more excited. With the recent ban announcement from LSS, it’s a whole new format and people are understandably keeping their testing information tight to the chest. Luckily, I’m here to spill the beans, so listen up.
Before we talk about where we’re going, we have to talk about where we’ve come from. At the Calling Indianapolis, the top three decks were Starvo, Prism and Viserai, with a smattering of Chane in the mix. Since then, LSS announced the banning of Bloodsheath Skeleta, Awakening and Autumn’s Touch, causing an overall drop in power level of the previous top decks. Regardless, it is this writer’s opinion that the overarching metagame dynamic stayed roughly the same.
There is no doubt that Viserai got hit the hardest, losing one of its most valuable pieces of armor while also losing its ability to functionally combo out against fatigue. Filling in the gaps for what was Bloodsheath Skeleta will be difficult, as anyone playing the deck will tell you. The extra block and efficiency needed was crucial to closing the game out through a powerful combo turn. With Skeleta gone, it will be very hard to continue to trade turn cycles efficiently and I’m not even sure it might be possible to beat a dedicated fatigue deck any more. As such, Viserai has fallen out of the top three decks and has been replaced with Chane, Bound by Shadow.
I’m making a prediction that the top three decks that will comprise the Pro Tour New Jersey metagame will be Chane, Bound by Shadow, Bravo Star of the Show and Prism, Sculptor of Arc Light, with a smattering of Kano, Lexi and other Runeblade varieties in the mix.
Let’s start our metagame discussion with the queen of light. I recently held a Twitter space with Arsenal Pass host Brendan Patrick and Calling Vegas winner Tyler Horsepool, both accomplished Prism players in their own right. Both had given up on the deck in light of the recent changes citing concerns with the rise of Runeblade in the metagame. At the time, I tried to uphold the mantle of Prism players everywhere, but after further testing, I unfortunately have to agree with them.
Originally, my optimism for the deck lay simply in the decks theoretical expected value, largely based on it’s perceived win percentage against Starvo. For example if you believed the metagame was 40 percent Starvo, 40 percent Chane and 20 percent other and you could expect an 80 percent win rate versus Starvo, you would only need to get Chane to roughly a 45 percent matchup to achieve an overall positive EV versus the field compared to Chane or Starvo, which may be closer to coin flips, due to the high number of mirror matches.
However, as it so often happens, reality did not match theory. In reality, the Chane matchup was absolutely dismal, made worse with the possibility of facing down multiple Runic Reclamations. This was still salvageable if Prism were to provide a very high win rate against Starvo, but my testing versus skilled Starvo opponents put that matchup very close to a coin flip – a far cry from the promised 80/20 favorable matchup it was supposed to be. As such, I am giving up my pursuit of the light queen a week before the Pro Tour. I know there will inevitably be a devoted group of players who will uphold the mantle against the world’s best, and to those players, I salute you.
Bravo, Star of the Show will continue to be a staple of the format; whether it will be the deck status post its nerf is a question that will only be answered at the conclusion of Pro Tour New Jersey.
In a nutshell, Starvo lost Awakening and Autumn’s Touch. This ban ultimately cripples Starvo’s ability to race other aggressive strategies as effectively as it did before. Awakening was an amazing catchup mechanic when paired with the powerful Pulverize, while Autumn’s Touch played a critical role of being an elemental block three in a deck filled to the brim with two-defense elemental cards.
At the Calling Indianapolis, I played a more aggressive (Casino/Captain Planet/XYZ aggro name) build of Starvo. I ended up being paired to three separate Chane players that event, falling behind early in each match, only to be dug out of my hole by the devastating combination of Awakening + Pulverize. Without that combination, it makes me a bit weary of the potential variance of sitting down across from a Carrion Husk and a well practiced, teched out opponent at the Pro Tour.
However, the nerf to Starvo’s ability to race does not mean the deck has disappeared. On the contrary it will probably remain one of the metagame defining decks. In fact, Calling Indianapolis winner Michael Hamilton won with zero copies of Awakening in his 80-card list.
Moving forward, Michael’s list will likely be the prototypical build for which the new format Starvo lists will be based off and will be my jumping board in respect to testing. With the disappearance of Viserai OTK, the deck has also lost a bad matchup! Obviously, this version received a slight nerf with the banning of Autumn’s Touch and as such, the amount of damage that one will leak over the course of the game will naturally increase. However, going through various matches of past coverage shows Starvo players blocking infrequently with Autumn’s Touch, meaning the amount of leaked damage will be relatively low compared to the prior version of the deck. Versus Chane, the deck’s ultimate goal is to survive long enough for the Chane players deck to be shackled to their soul, leaving no other option but to tap out from fatigue. I think a modified version of Michael’s list is a fantastic place to start and have provided a modified version below.
Weapons / Equipment 1 x Crater Fist 1 x Crown of Seeds 1 x Fyendal's Spring Tunic 1 x Ironhide Legs 1 x Nullrune Boots 1 x Rampart of the Ram's Head 1 x Stalagmite, Bastion of Isenloft 1 x Time Skippers 1 x Winter's Wail Pitch 1 3 x Break Ground (1) 3 x Crippling Crush (1) 3 x Evergreen (1) 3 x Oaken Old (1) 1 x Pulse of Volthaven (1) 1 x Pulverize (1) 2 x Sink Below (1) 3 x Spinal Crush (1) 3 x Staunch Response (1) 3 x Turn Timber (1) Pitch 2 3 x EverGreen (2) 1 x Pulse of Candlehold (2) Pitch 3 3 x Evergreen (3) 3 x Blink (3) 1 x Blizzard (3) 3 x Break Ground (3) 3 x Channel Lake Frigid (3) 3 x Disable (3) 1 x Exposed to the Elements (3) 3 x Flash (3) 3 x Glacial Footsteps (3) 3 x Heaven's Claws (3) 3 x Icy Encounter (3) 3 x Lead the Charge (3) 3 x Lightning Surge (3) 1 x Pulse of Isenloft (3) 3 x Winter's Bite (3) 3 x Winter's Grasp (3)
By now, I’m sure that it’s no secret that I’m a true lover of all things Runeblade. The ebb and flow of every match along with the multitude of microdecisions every turn makes for a very fun and engaging experience. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Chane is a deck with no bad matchups, only unlucky Soul Shackles, and has rightfully reclaimed his spot as villain #1 of the format. It was only a few short weeks ago that he was the underdog that we all rooted for, but that’s all about to change as Starvo’s ability to race now hinges entirely on their reveal rate and are now left without a subsequent catchup mechanic.
The deck has changed quite a bit since I first wrote about Chane week one of ProQuest season. Chane has a lot objectively going for him. Having Soul Shackles means you have mid/late game inevitability through overwhelming card advantage, while having an inherent built-in go again mechanic means it can still output quite a bit of damage in the early game, allowing you to go toe to toe with the most aggressive decks in the format.
Furthermore, Chane has by far the best equipment kit in the game. Carrion Husk is an absolute unit and can stop the biggest of attacks, while Arcanite Skullcap and Grasp of the Arknight both block for two respectively. The cherry on top is definitely Spellbound Creepers not only being able to block for one, but also a functional additional action point for the low cost of one resource.
Let’s jump into where I’m currently at a week before the Pro Tour.
Class: Runeblade Hero: Chane, Bound by Shadow Weapons: Rosetta Thorn Equipment: Aether Ironweave, Arcanite Skullcap, Carrion Husk, Grasp of the Arknight, Spellbound Creepers, Vexing Quillhand, Crown of Dichotomy (3) Belittle (red) (3) Bounding Demigon (red) (3) Command and Conquer (2) Flock of the Feather Walkers (red) (3) Ghostly Visit (red) (3) Howl from Beyond (red) (2) Minnowism (red) (3) Revel in Runeblood (red) (3) Rift Bind (red) (3) Shadow Puppetry (red) (1) Soul Reaping (red) (3) Swarming Gloomveil (red) (2) Unhallowed Rites (red) (2) Knick Knack Bric-a-brac (red) (3) Art of War (yellow) (2) Bounding Demigon (yellow) (3) Captain's Call (yellow) (1) Rift Bind (yellow) (2) Bounding Demigon (blue) (1) Eclipse (blue) (2) Flock of the Feather Walkers (blue) (3) Invert Existence (blue) (3) Mauvrion Skies (blue) (3) Minnowism (blue) (3) Shadow of Ursur (blue) (3) Shrill of Skullform (blue) (3) Timesnap Potion (blue) (3) Vexing Malice (blue) (1) Gorganian Tome (0)
Let’s discuss some of the key cards up for consideration in the provided lists.
The Belittle and Minnowism package is probably the most contentious package between Chane lists. At the moment, I’m currently leaning towards playing it versus not, but it’s so close that I could see myself cutting it in favor of more silver bullets.
A lot of players are very vocal about their dislike for the card and I am not entirely sure why. At face value, Belittle is a one-resource cost attack action with three power, which admittedly is a little bit underwhelming. However, if we go one step further, the ability to tutor up a blue Minnowism means that instead of costing one resource, it’s actually net plus-two resources, which is absolutely massive when your banish zone is full of blood debt and are resource strained. Furthermore, if our resource needs are met for the turn, it is one card representing six power (three from Belittle and three from Minnowism) with go again, an insane value for one resource. The downside that people like to bring up a lot is that it “ruins your pitch stack.” While that is technically true, the facts are that Chane has soul shackles and that turn cycles are ambiguous against Guardian decks
Due to cards like Blizzard, it’s almost impossible to deterministically set up a perfect pitch stack from shackles one to two. There are also plenty of times when you draw certain cards, such as a red Rift Bind, on early shackles, and would like to shuffle the deck to increase the likelihood of seeing those cards again before the fatigue portion of the game.
Speaking of fatigue, Minnowism also allows you to present more than 12 points of damage, allowing opportunities to leak previous damage throughout the game (more on that later). At the end of the day, it’s close and I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide, but I’m currently pro Belittle and will continue to test.
Not only is the powerful majestic an absolute bomb against Prism, it has utility in the mirror match by being able to both threaten to destroy a Soul Shackle and create a Runechant. However, due to needing the Belittle package, I have cut them from the list for two main reasons.
First, the Prism matchup is extremely good already and the card functions very much as a “win more” card. Second, the deck wants to cut down on the number of red line (one pitch) cards that it plays. Chane is already a very resource-intensive deck due to the need of maximizing the utility of the cards played from banished, not to mention that even though it has some cute utility in the mirror, three resources for one attack is a very expensive ask. If not played in the early game, it will require at least two cards to be sacrificed to the pitch zone just to get two attacks in with another one resource card such as Rosetta Thorn.
Knick Knack Bric-a-Brac
I know Knick Knack Bric-a-brac (KKBaB) looks like a weird card, and you wouldn’t be wrong, it is. Put very simply, it’s for fatigue matchups and an absolutely crucial step to winning. To fully go in depth on why KKBaB is crucial, we have to first have a discussion of where Chane’s weaknesses as a deck lies and how to properly approach the fatigue matchup.
So that we are all on the same page, Guardian decks are the archetype that will try to fatigue you successfully. While it is possible to be fatigued by a defensive Dash/Prism/Dorinthea, the lack of Crown of Seeds makes it much harder to accomplish, but you should still hedge by boarding in Timesnap Potions and Eclipse.
Before understanding how to outmaneuver someone trying to fatigue you, an understanding of how their game plan works needs to be obtained.
Let’s break it down to first principles. The Guardian players will usually have a four-card hand with one card in the Arsenal. Their only priority will be to maintain an Arsenal so that they can effectively block the two damage from Rosetta Thorn. That gives them four cards to block with, meaning they can block a mix of roughly 12 to 14 physical and arcane damage (depending whether they have four three-blocks or a mix of defense reactions).
Herein lies the underlying principle as to why fatigue is so effective, not only against Chane but in general in Flesh and Blood. It is not trivial to consistently output 12+ damage a turn, especially when you are on an eight or nine turn clock due to your Soul Shackles. So what can we as Chane players do to combat this super skillful and thought-provoking game play?
Let me introduce you to a term I have coined called damage stacking. It has picked up popularity in my testing group to the point where Calling Orlando runner up Joel Repta uses it every chance he gets.
Let’s consider the following hypothetical situation. You either have the option of dealing six damage and six damage over two turns or four damage on turn one, followed by eight damage on turn two. Although both examples average 12 damage over two turns, the way it’s presented is drastically different in the context of Flesh and Blood. Revisiting the above concept, the most damage a Guardian player can block is roughly 12 or 13 damage and keep an Arsenal or 15 without an Arsenal. So as a Chane player, if we can find a way of chaining back to back 33+ damage turns, we can kill our guardian opponents in one swoop. Obviously leaked damage throughout the game and equipment play into the equation and in reality, turns typically only need to be above 28 damage in order to push through the requisite damage.
In chemistry, there’s a term called the “rate limiting step.” Put simply, a reaction cannot move forward at a rate greater than its slowest process. In FAB, this simple concept also holds true. On any given turn, you can not do more than what your turn limiting component allows. Sometimes that’s resources, other times it’s the actual amount of cards you have, but with Chane, it’s usually action points. As such, we want to be stacking action points as much as possible until the end of the game through various methods such as Quicken tokens and Timesnap Potions (TSP), as both these methods carry action points through turn cycles.
This was a very long winded way of illustrating where KKBaB fits into the equation – being able to functionally act as copies four and five of TSP, making it much more likely to find two TSPs throughout the course of the match. I’ve once had a turn with a Quicken token, and two TSPs with a Spellbound Creepers on a Shadow Puppetry for seven action points!
Once you understand the value of stacking Potions and action points, it simply comes down to finding a creative way of dismantling your opponent’s defense. One of my favorite lines is having two Howl from Beyond and two red Rift Binds in banish along with two other blood debt four-power attacks, along with two non-attack actions between my hand and Arsenal. This gives you three cards of pitch to work with and will output 28 points of damage for four action points, not counting any additional damage your two non-attack actions in hand will provide. The four action points can be achieved through either Timesnap Potions, Spellbound Creepers or Quicken tokens and will usually be followed by an instant-speed Eclipse to do it all over again the following turn!
There are many different iterations of the above example that can result in absolutely bonkers damage output and I don’t have the fortitude to go over every one in depth. If you are planning to play Chane, I advise you to sit down with your deck face up on the table and reverse engineer your combo turns by coming up with several hypothetical scenarios, and then memorize what they are and what needs to be done to achieve the desired board state in a real game.
At the end of the day, one should realize that Knick Knack Bric-a-brac is a hedge versus fatigue. Ultimately, you have to sit down across from a Starvo opponent and not know whether their game plan will be to race or fatigue you. Last format it was Unmovable over Knick Knack Bric-a-brac and you were slightly punished against fatigue, but since the ban, I have had a lot easier of a time racing them than prior. Of course, your hedge will be wrong in some percentage of scenarios, and it may even end up costing you the match, but every hedge has a cost and that’s simply the nature of the game we play. The fatigue package is mostly blue swaps for blue swaps (Timesnaps + Eclipse) with two additional Knick Knack Bric-a-brac for a total of 62 cards. Because of this, your redline stays relatively the same, as does your race potential should your opponent choose to bash their head into the wall that is Carrion Husk.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s article. I put a lot of effort into doing a comprehensive review of what I believe will be the metagame and tried my best to relate everything I know headed into Pro Tour New Jersey. Please do keep in mind that there will be roughly a week until the Pro Tour since the writing of this article so the metagame/opinions may change. Please let me know if you enjoy these kinds of articles that give insight to what I think about with respect to upcoming events. Feel free to leave your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the comments. You can also reach out to me on Twitter @TariqPatel10.
Stay happy and healthy!