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How to Beat Aggro Briar in Flesh and Blood

The hyper-aggro variant of Briar has been the top performing deck of the nationals season. Aggro Briar, Cheerio Briar or Zero-Cost Briar has been dominating many events, often seen as the deck to beat in the current Classic Constructed metagame. But how can this powerhouse be stopped? First, let’s have a look at what strengths and weaknesses the deck has.

Briar draws its strength from the hyper efficient generic attacks with go again. Natural go again, paired with non-attack actions and red heavy pitch values, gives the deck explosive aggression. Embodiments of Earth, give the deck powerful defense for an aggressive deck as well, often turning the non-attack actions into very strong, defensive cards. The two main downsides of the deck are normally low defense values on the attack action cards and limited access to spare resource points. These two factors create a number of ways different classes can leverage and exploit these weaknesses. 

 

 

Header - Disruption

Spinal Crush (Regular)Frost Lock (Regular)Winter's Bite (Blue) (Regular)

We can abuse Briar’s inherent low defense value with powerful on-hit effects and abilities that disrupt Briar’s game plan. Cards like Spinal Crush, Frost Lock and Winter’s Bite are some examples of disruptive cards that can help to curb Briar’s explosive aggression. Even a single Frostbite can mean that the Briar player has to play with one less card on their turn, weakening their damage output. 

Disruption can also come from non-detrimental effects for your opponent. Powerful beneficial on-hit triggers like Herald of Erudition, Mauvrion Skies (Red) or Nourishing Emptiness can create scenarios where your opponent is forced to defend or give you significant value. 

Any small value win, either through beneficial or detrimental on-hit triggers, ensures you get back a bit of tempo to continue to disrupt the Briar’s game plan. The more threats they defend with, the less damage they will output on their following turn. Even getting those powerful non-attack action card blocks, means it’s harder for them to make those Embodiments of Lightning and makes it harder to attack multiple times in the turn.

A great example of this approach to the matchup has been in the form of Yuki Lee Bender piloting a disruption focused Ice Lexi deck to Canadian Nationals win. Ice Lexi has multitude of ways to stop zero-cost Briar in its tracks with detrimental on-hits like Frost Fang, Blizzard Bolt and Chilling Icevein and cards like Winter’s Bite and Channel Lake Frigid giving a major disruptive value. However, the deck isn’t the easiest to pilot. It’s important to know when to continue to pressure your opponent and when to stop attacking and start setting up for the next turn. A good rule of thumb is if you have forced at least two blocks and created a Frostbite or stripped a card with an effect like Chilling Icevein, it’s time to focus on setting up rather than pressuring. 

For example, you have a Winter’s Bite (Blue) in your Arsenal. You flip it over with Lexi’s hero ability and give your opponent a Frostbite. You then attack them with a fused Blizzard Bolt (Red) with go again. Your opponent defends with two cards. There’s no point playing out the Winter’s Bite from Arsenal to strip more cards from the opposing Briar, as their turn is efficiently disrupted, hence it’s better to keep the card for next turn to ensure you chain the disruption from turn to turn.

 

Header - Fatigue

Crown of Seeds (Rainbow Foil)Rampart of the Ram's Head (Rainbow Foil)Winter's Wail (Regular)

Some heroes can resort to a very defensive fatigue-based strategy. The aim of the game going for this strategy is preventing as much damage as possible from the opposing Briar and letting them slowly run out of threats in their deck. As the opposing Briar loses threats, the overall damage they can deal with their deck reduces over time. This is why often when your back is against the wall, constantly and consistently defending well can help to reduce threats in the Briar deck turn after turn.

When they go for a big attack, and you manage to stop it all, even if you don’t have any cards left for a swing back, that turn cycle is a win. This is because those cards they played out will go to their graveyard. If you continue to stop them, although it might look like nothing’s changing, their threat density is slowly dropping. Once you defend to the point your opponent goes through their whole deck, their threat count will be heavily reduced, meaning their damage output drops significantly.

Going for the fatigue strategy usually has to happen from the start of the game. Once you commit to fatiguing Briar, you need to be consistent. Trying to set up a big turn can often mean that in the short term you gain tempo, but in the long term, losing life to set that up means the exchange isn’t worth it. Disruptive plays outlined above are great, if you can make them happen on Briars’ off turn, when you haven’t really had to give up any life to make them happen, as again, any card they defend with, is a threat gone.

The hardest thing about fatiguing Briar is the way Rosetta Thorn splits damage. This is why heroes with access to cards like Rampart of the Ram’s Head, Phantasmal Footsteps and equipment with Arcane Barrier 1 or 2 can really help in reducing the split damage, without losing cards from hand. 

Yorgos Samaras won the Greek Nationals with Oldhim following this exact game plan. I definitely recommend checking out the stream of the finals to see how the fatigue strategy can work as gameplay means. Interesting tips from Oldhim can be timing the Ice ability to deny your opponent explosive turns, floating the prevention shields from Crown of Seeds and Oldhim’s Earth hero ability to deny the split of arcane damage and physical damage, while focusing on Winter’s Wail as a primary source of disruption during the fatigue plan.

 

Header - Arcane Damage

Runechant (Regular)Aether Spindle (Red) (Regular)Blossoming Spellblade (Regular)

Zero-cost Briar is not a very resource hungry deck. The list often relies on Fyendal’s Spring Tunic as it’s primary source of resource points and does not often run Arcane Barrier, often opting to race any arcane focused opponent. This opens a window to any arcane damage focused hero, especially those with powerful on-damage effects. Cards like Blossoming Spellblade, Aether Spindle and even the simple Runechant create powerful play patterns, knowing the opposing Briar player will most likely not be able to prevent any of this damage. 

Italian Nationals won by Pietro Gerletti are a great example of how arcane damage can help to deal with the aggressive zero-cost Briar variant. Pietro used cards like Reverberate and Lesson in Lava in combination with Ragamuffin’s Hat to aggressively use Kano hero’s ability and create card combinations that deal huge chunks of damage against foes with no way to stop the strong on-damage effects.

These are just some of the ways the highly popular zero-cost Briar can and has been dealt with in the past. The deck is extremely powerful, as we can see by the results it has already put up, but there are ways to tackle this powerhouse as proven in some of the Nationals mentioned above. If you’re struggling with beating the deck, I challenge you to explore some of the strategies the National champions have used to proven success. 

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