The first major Blitz tournament has come and gone in New Zealand, providing a glimpse into the developing competitive metagame. In this article I’d like to look at four key takeaways from the event based on my testing, observations, personal tournament experience, and discussions with other players.
#1: Ira Is Currently the Deck to Beat
Class: Ninja Hero: Ira, Crimson Haze Weapons: Harmonized Kodachi, Zephyr Needle Equipment: Breaking Scales, Fyendal's Spring Tunic, Mask of Momentum, Nullrune Boots, Nullrune Gloves, Nullrune Hood, Nullrune Robe, Snapdragon Scalers (1) Ancestral Empowerment (red) (2) Command and Conquer (red) (2) Drone of Brutality (red) (2) Enlightened Strike (red) (2) Flic Flak (red) (2) Razor Reflex (red) (2) Sigil of Solace (red) (2) Sink Below (red) (2) Soulbead Strike (red) (2) Torrent of Tempo (red) (2) Springboard Somersault (yellow) (2) Torrent of Tempo (yellow) (2) Whirling Mist Blossom (yellow) (2) Crane Dance (blue) (2) Find Center (blue) (2) Flic Flak (blue) (2) Fluster Fist (blue) (1) Lunging Press (blue) (2) Rising Knee Thrust (blue) (2) Rushing River (blue) (2) Whelming Gustwave (blue) fabdb.net
With a full 50% of the Top 8 consisting of Ira decks, including three of the Top 4 and both finalists, Ira has firmly established herself at the top of the pack so far. While Ira Control was the most popular choice, there were also a few players (such as Cayle McCreath, who lost an extremely close semi-final) who chose to zig where others zagged and go full aggro instead. So, what is it that makes Ira so strong?
Ira’s hero ability (+1 attack to your second attack each turn) gives incredible value over the course of the game. Threatening 2 damage with your second Harmonized Kodachi hit each turn really changes the math on blocking as you can’t afford to take too many hits that equate to 10% of your starting life total. This often places your opponent in a position of having to block the second Kodachi, then use two cards to block their “big attacks” like Torrent of Tempo/Enlightened Strike/Drone of Brutality. It can also come in handy for throwing down a Command and Conquer for 7. This effectively allows Ira to consistently pressure opponents and force three-card blocks, controlling the tempo while getting chip damage through. As a bonus, the Hero ability lets you play Zephyr Needle against decks that don’t run Defense Reactions like Wizard!
The combination of cheap, efficient attacks along with a full suite of strong Defense Reactions (Flic Flak is very good) gives Ira a level of power and consistency that is difficult to match. Ira Control tends to run threats like Soulbead Strike (red), Torrent of Tempo (red), Enlightened Strike, Command and Conquer, Drone of Brutality, and Flying Kick. The rest of the deck largely consists of 0-cost blue cards (to power Harmonized Kodachi), life gain, and 0-cost Defense Reactions. One cool trick the deck can pull off involves using Crane Dance with Snapdragon Scalers. The basic idea is you pitch a blue card, attack twice with Harmonized Kodachi, play Crane Dance (using Snapdragon Scalers for go again), then play Find Center with its combo ability activated. This has the effect of making it practically unblockable by any class other than Guardian and maybe Runeblade (if they’re lucky).
The Control versions had some minor variations, with some choosing to play Whirling Mist Blossom (very threatening with Razor Reflex) while others doubled down on a full Control plan and opt for additional life gain/Defense Reactions. Some notable tech cards included Lunging Press (great for Command and Conquer/Whirling Mist Blossom), Heron’s Flight and Sigil of Solace (yellow) – I particularly liked Heron’s Flight as it is effectively unblockable off the back of a Crane Dance (using Snapdragon Scalers for go again if required) in the mirror and against Wizard. Combining Ira’s Hero ability + Breaking Scales + Razor Reflex allows this to connect for up to 10 in one hit!
#2: Kano Is Still Really, Really Good
Class: Wizard Hero: Kano Weapons: Crucible of Aetherweave Equipment: Fyendal's Spring Tunic, Metacarpus Node, Nullrune Hood, Storm Striders, Talismanic Lens (1) Aether Flare (red) (2) Aether Spindle (red) (2) Blazing Aether (red) (1) Cindering Foresight (red) (2) Forked Lightning (red) (2) Snapback (red) (2) Stir the Aetherwinds (red) (2) Tome of Aetherwind (red) (2) Voltic Bolt (red) (2) Chain Lightning (yellow) (2) Lesson in Lava (yellow) (2) Sonic Boom (yellow) (1) Tome of Fyendal (yellow) (2) Aether Flare (blue) (2) Energy Potion (blue) (1) Eye of Ophidia (blue) (2) Gaze the Ages (blue) (2) Reverberate (blue) (2) Scalding Rain (blue) (2) Snapback (blue) (1) Timesnap Potion (blue) (2) Voltic Bolt (blue) (1) Zap (blue) fabdb.net
The only player to go 6W-0L in the Swiss rounds was my good friend, and Kano master, Rohan Khanna. A Wizard deck in the hands of an experienced player is a force to be reckoned with. Even though only one Wizard player made the Top 8, this was more down to representation in player numbers rather than an indictment on the deck’s potential power. Kano requires a lot of skill and practice to play well over the course of an entire tournament. Whilst some players simply felt other decks were more powerful, it does present a barrier to entry for those who just didn’t have enough time to practice the deck to feel comfortable playing it (myself included!).
Kano benefits from the 40-card no-sideboard deck structure of Blitz. It’s very rare to see Eirina’s Prayer be played (zero in the top 8), leaving players relying on equipment for Arcane Barrier and Sigil of Solace for life gain. Furthermore, most decks run at least some Defense Reactions, and some (like Ira) run a lot, which are effectively dead cards in the matchup.
Kano also has the highest potential raw damage output out of all the Blitz heroes. A powered up Forked Lightning with all the fixings can hit for up to 14 damage in one hit (Stir the Aetherwinds + Crucible of Aetherweave + Metacarpus Node + Forked Lightning). Players will generally have somewhere from 3-5 Arcane Barrier from their Equipment when playing against Kano, but this is by no means an insurmountable obstacle. Blocking 4 Arcane Damage requires pitching at least two cards, leaving an opponent in a difficult situation on their turn. If they choose to attack, they leave themselves open to instant-speed damage, yet doing nothing just gives the Kano player more time to set up big combo turns for a ton of damage.
New tools from Crucible of War such as Chain Lightning and Snapback have made it much easier to threaten damage with multiple Attack Actions each turn to force your opponent to pitch multiple cards. Others, such as Cindering Foresight, help to create a window on the opponent’s turn to get through damage after stripping cards from their hand on your own turn. A good Kano player will be paying attention to their pitch order and know when they can strike, which can come from several angles. A simple two-card combo of Stir the Aetherwinds + Lesson in Lava can be devastating with enough resources. Activating Crucible of Aetherweave + Metacarpus Node makes the Lesson hit for up to 8 damage, allowing you to search up a Blazing Aether to hit for another 8. Storm Striders ties the whole deck together by threatening a huge damage combo at instant speed anytime your opponent gets a bit too aggressive with their resources.
Kano can struggle at times when put under constant pressure which prevents them from going on the attack. Starting at 15 life doesn’t leave you much room for error. This occurred in the semi-final at BlitzCon when Rohan took 8 damage on turn two, making it very difficult for him to choose a turn to take damage to take back the tempo. If your metagame has a lot of Rhinar players, then you have a tough time on Wizard. The Intimidate mechanic makes it very difficult to play at Instant speed as you’re forced to make a decision on the spot whether to activate Kano/go for lethal (and risk dying in the process), or wait it out and potentially take a bunch of damage anyway. Bone Head Barrier is also super annoying as it blocks Arcane damage!
Despite this, investing your time into Wizard is very rewarding and it’s an extremely fun deck to play. It has strong matchups against many of the decks currently in the format and is a deck with one of the highest skill ceilings if you put the practice in.
Pro Tip: If you’re really struggling with Ira, consider playing one Fate Foreseen (red). Ira is going to play Zephyr Needle 99% of the time against you. If you manage to destroy it early in the game, it makes the matchup a whole lot easier to win!
#3: Slower Decks Need to Have a Way to Exert Pressure
Full disclosure – I decided to play Dash Control for the tournament so this point comes partially from my own experience (hey don’t judge me, I was pushed for time to test due to my final exams and wanted something I could just pick up and play). The issue with playing a “slow and steady” strategy in Blitz is that you only have 20 life to protect. Whilst you can survive a few mistakes or opponents drawing the nuts in Classic Constructed, you are a lot more vulnerable to outright losing the game to these in Blitz.
If your deck is unable to force out blocks and relies on grinding out a win, you leave yourself open to decks like Rhinar and Kano that are more than happy to take 5-6 vanilla damage in order to hit you back for way more. You can mitigate this to some degree with cards like Command and Conquer that threaten their Arsenal, or the raw damage of an Enlightened Strike for 7 as your final attack for the turn to change the math on their decisions. Despite this, most of your turns on these types of decks force minimal interaction from your opponent. The reason why decks such as Ira Control are able to succeed so well lies in their ability to get through chip damage with small attacks (Harmonized Kodachi) while also threatening damage with efficient red-line attacks and on hit effects such as Mask of Momentum.
When opting to play decks like Dash Control or OTK Runeblade, you need to be very aware of the metagame you’re playing in. If you’re playing against a lot of other slower decks (Ira Control, Guardian) or decks reliant on physical damage without evasion (Dorinthea, Katsu) then these aren’t necessarily a bad choice. Ultimately I was fairly happy with my decision as I expected a lot of Ira and not too much Kano which ended up being about right, I was just largely the author of my own demise due to a few too many mistakes.
On the other hand, in a meta full of Rhinar and Kano you may need to tune the deck to be a bit more aggressive than it would usually be. For example you could add in more red-line attacks in Dash Control (Zipper Hit, Zero to Sixty, Drone of Brutality, Push the Point) and adapt an OTK strategy to try win the game on 2-3 big turns with 12-14 Runechants out rather than one single attack.
#4: The Metagame in Blitz Is Still WIDE Open
There is still a huge well of untapped potential in the Blitz format! I believe it’s safe to say that we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the decks so far in Blitz. I’ve heard rumors that there are multiple strong decks created by the developers in internal testing that haven’t yet popped up in tournaments so far.
It’s important to keep in mind the context in which BlitzCon took place. Blitz is still a relatively new format for competitive play. Many players likely felt the best strategy was to play something they were already comfortable with to give themselves the best chance at preparing in the four to five weeks before the tournament. There’s also a possibility some players were wanting to hold back their best strategies for The Calling coming up in January next year.
Given all the above, don’t feel confined to existing decks when you’re looking to brew something up for Blitz! Heroes like Kayo (not to be confused with Kano), Runeblade, and Shiyana, just to name a few, are all ones I’ll be taking a close look over the next few months leading up to The Calling.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start brewing!