This is an article that is highly specific and niche, but I think requires addressing in the community no less. Since Kano is such a dynamic hero, it’s particularly difficult to write strategy pieces on him, since so much of his gameplay depends on the game state and opponent. However, the sheer lack of content on his strategy has been stupefying me recently as a Kano player myself, so I thought it best to answer one of the most frequently asked questions to me by intermediate Kano players: how do I beat arcane barrier four?
Before I do get into the nitty gritty of things, I do want to preface that this piece is really an intermediate to advanced level piece of strategy, even regarding the already high skill floor Kano demands. I’ll be speaking to sequencing which requires a strong knowledge of pitch tracking and the ability to manage and defend your life total simultaneously very carefully. In addition, although I will be addressing them here, you should have strong knowledge of your matchups in the current meta and how to correctly alter your play against them. I’ll be focusing on mostly Blitz here, (since that is most Kano players) but will touch on CC here and there. Of course, a full playset and accessibility to all cards is also understood with the above. I understand that this may seem like a lot of prerequisites, but for those already in deep with the Wizard class, they’ll hopefully appreciate this article to great degree as a result. With that in mind, let’s get right into it!
For those new to even playing against arcane barrier four, you first need to understand the issue at hand. Since most Wizard decks and players are used to playing against arcane barrier three, many players aren’t sure how to get over the regular breakpoint of three. In most cases, cards like Sonic Boom, Lesson in Lava, and Aether Flare all become extremely threatening alongside the activation of Crucible of Aetherweave. In fact, most Wizard cards are even balanced around this exact fact, that you can reach the breakpoint of four with your ever-on-hand staff. Since these powerful “on-damage” effects are let through in arcane barrier three, it opens a lot of dynamic gameplay options and ways to win the game for the Kano player.
With arcane barrier four however, and similarly with spellvoid equipment, this option can be taken away. That incredible Sonic Boom turn you just took damage for might not even connect due to your opponent now being able to block it out. In the same manner, standard kill turns where you can “go-wide” with cards like Chain Lightning, Snapback and Lesson in Lava may not be as effective as the relevant on-damage effects can’t connect. In this sense, going wide against nullrune four relinquishes a lot of control of the game-state over to the opponent and their hand quality, something any sensible Kano player should run from.
So, the first and foremost thing to investigate in the realm arcane barrier four is who exactly is going to be running it? In the current meta, you really will have to deal with the following heroes running this type of armor.
- Oldhim (Heart of Ice + three Nullrune)
- Prism (four Nullrune)
- Kano mirror (four Nullrune)
Now keep in mind, these heroes also have pieces which allow them to access spellvoid alongside an arcane barrier three. In that case, the situation would change, and you would need to alter your game plan. In addition, although other heroes can run arcane barrier four (Dorinthea, Rhinar, Lexi, Ira, etc), they usually can’t really take advantage of it in the way the above three can, and so we’ll be focusing on the top three matchups for this article. Depending on who you’re playing, the advice for those heroes should be applicable to others outside those three when playing against nullrune four.
I’ll start with what I consider to be the easiest of the trio here. Due to the nature of her deckbuilding, arcane barrier four in Prism is quite different from others. Since she runs so many yellows to interact with Luminaris, she won’t likely be using the full arcane barrier four as much other heroes. However, her ability to pivot into you with her Heralds is very real, especially if you get hit by Herald of Erudition. As a result, even if she does block four arcane on your turn, her under-costed Heralds will equally demand two cards out of your hand next turn as well.
Simultaneously getting swamped by Spectral Shields is also a very real concern against Prism, as she easily blocks out you pivots them. As a result, Prism matchups can be very tricky should you draw a dud hand and let her Shields starts to build up. This is her essential game plan. Beat you down with Heralds in the early game, possibly have some backbreaking turns and simultaneously accrue card advantage and move away from the need of her arcane barrier four once she has enough Spectral Shields out. The core of this game plan makes it so the game becomes increasingly difficult for you to pivot should it slip out of your hands in the early or mid game as Kano. To combat this, there are a few key elements we can put into play.
- Go second (if we have the choice)
- Play Arcanite Skullcap
- Focus on high damage spells/combos
- Capitalize when they overreach/overstep
Let’s address this one by one. Regarding the option of going first or second, the latter is almost always better. Playing against Prism with tempo is a nightmare for us and will usually allow them to dominate the early game quite heavily and create Spectral Shields into the midgame. If we end up going first, we most likely can’t do damage over the four attack, and in the worst case we draw a dud hand and get punished by having the Prism player put down an aura into play. The early arsenal is not worth it on our end, as the risk is much too high going first. If you have the choice, take the turn two every time.
Arcanite Skullcap is quite key to this matchup. Since Herald of Erudition hits for five, this reasonably lets us block out one of them with a card from hand and this equipment piece, and possibly a second as well combining a tunic block in the same manner. Having the extra block is quite useful as well simply since Prism’s Heralds can hit extremely hard, and it’s not unreasonable for her to wipe out 12 or more life in a turn where you can’t block to the level you need to. Arcanite Skullcap is the insurance we need in the case the game goes long, and the piece we need to pivot upon our small life total.
Focusing on high damage/spell combos is absolutely required here to keep drawing two cards out of the Prism player’s hand on our turns. If the opponent wants to be blocking in this manner, then we simply need to be presenting cards like Voltic Bolt, Aether Spindle, Aether Flare and Snapback, over and over to draw her pitch out. This will prevent her from gaining too much tempo back, keep Spectral Shields off the board, and generally chip her down life total wise.
Finally, watch for the Prism player to go all in on a turn with their resources. As you whittle them away, chances are good that eventually they’ll have to either push to close out the game or fall in range of many easier kills for Kano life total-wise. Watch out for this pivot and make sure you’re able to strike big at that time. Since the exact play is going to depend mainly upon what life total the Prism player is on, there is no right way to finish the game. However, Lesson in Lava and Aether Flare are both very solid plays out of Arsenal in these cases, as they can kickstart big turns out of arsenal alongside a Storm Striders activation. Subsequently, you can go all in on the opponents turn and do what Kano does best… burn.
One of the most difficult to master matchups in the game is the Kano mirror. There is so many constant decision points in the game that providing straight advice or heuristics is perhaps not the best way to explain it out. Rather, I’d like to speak out the Kano mirror from a perspective of what to look for and what not to look for.
Just as in the Prism matchup, tempo is very important, having the ability to control the second turn with a filtered hand is crucial and can be key to disrupting out your opponent’s entire game. In the best cases you can soak their arcane damage, and even strike then back again for four on the first turn. However, most smart Kano player should and will simply pass back if they must go first in this matchup, not allowing you to filter and taking that important first Arsenal
Once the game is in the normal turn cycles, it plays like a standard Flesh and Blood game really, back, and forth attacking until you both get into the low life thresholds. Unless you have a very high life total, I do not recommend that you go all in for big “tall” turns as in a Stir the Aetherwinds (Red) into Forked Lightning and such. Blowing your resources out and giving all the information to the opposing Kano player can spell doom for you, especially as they now have free reign to do whatever they want on your turn. Rather play out three card hands by pitching a blue and attacking with relevant attacks like Aether Spindle, Voltic Bolt and Sonic Boom. Always keep an extra blue or yellow in hand to ensure safety from your opponent. Eventually, one of you will blink first and forced to dump a good chunk of resources into an attack while only being at around eight to 12 life. At this point, if you have set up a relevant card like Aether Spindle or Sonic Boom in Arsenal, it can easily cascade into a variety of plays which allow you to win the game before their attack ever resolves on the stack.
As one more note on the arcane barrier four, I want to note that unlike other games, breaking your equipment pieces in this matchup has very real consequences should you not be able to kill. Suddenly, you’ll be able to feel the tempo switch around to your opponent as all their on-damage effects connect for certain, especially if they still have a good chunk of life left. The only equipment I could possibly advise you break would be Robe of Rapture for its resources, and that too only if you have a full four blue card hand with no offensive output.
I consider this to currently be the hardest match for Kano to currently win in Blitz. With arcane barrier four and the sheer volume of pitch available to Oldhim, it can be near impossible to get anything of note through, much less 20-plus damage. Add in that each turn the Oldhim player can activate Heart of Ice and swing the Sledge of Anvilheim for six and you have a devastating conundrum on your hands. If you do respond to the Heart of Ice with your cards, you most likely do so with two pitch leftover from its activation costs, and another likely blue in hand. That’s a lot of defense to get through. If you choose not to respond, which will be most turns, then the choice becomes how to block this massive Sledge for six damage. Blocking with two cards doesn’t leave you many choices to attack the life total of the Oldhim player on your turn, and not doing so will quickly erode your life total down as they keep soaking up the arcane damage you throw like a sponge. Alas, this matchup is then heavily favored into the Oldhim player, especially if they are running two Sigil of Solace (Red).
However, there is a single line of play which can guarantee the kill no matter the cards they have in their hand, or how many they pitch to arcane barrier four. This line consists of pulling off a Stir the Aetherwinds into a Forked Lightning (along with Crucible and Metacarpus Node) for 14 damage on the opponent’s turn, followed by two Blazing Aethers played at instant speed. Even if they somehow manage to block four arcane on each attack (almost impossible mind you), the total damage from this turn would be 28 (10 from Forked, six from Blazing #1 and 12 from Blazing #2).
Pulling off this feat is no small feat however, as it requires a very specific set of cards to be pitch stacked together. First and foremost, you’ll want to be stacking four blues together to draw into the late game. This, combined with two Energy Potions (that you have played through the match) and a Tunic counter will provide you with the 17 pitch (you can’t have any less than this) for this play to work out. Once you have the four blues in hand, you’ll be using three of them to Kano thrice, one for a Forked Lightning, and twice for two Blazings. These three should be stacked together throughout the game, or at least close enough to where you can move them around with Opt effects as with Eye of Ophidia, Gaze the Ages or Talismanic Lens. Once you have all three in the banished zone, you have one blue in hand to activate Storm Striders and play out your Stir the Aetherwinds.
Using both Energy Potions and a Tunic resource, you can now Forked + Crucible + Metacarpus for 14 damage on your opponent’s turn. Even if they block all of it, your subsequent Blazing Aether will now come in for 10 damage, and even if they block four of this, your third Blazing will add in the damage dealt by the Forked and the previous Blazing to come in for 16 damage, with a guaranteed 12 to connect. All in all, this is a 28 damage turn when fully defended out, and 56 damage turn if left unchecked. This, and only this is the method to guarantee victory against a super slow, four arcane barrier Oldhim.
Keep in mind, strong Oldhim players can play around this if you keep just giving them four card hands and giving them signals of your game plan. Oaken Old can ruin your pitch stack, so make sure you keep your Talismanic Lens around to fix those issues. Also, be careful not to Arsenal too early, as they will know something’s up and could come at you with a Command and Conquer and Pummel.
Last, but not least, make sure to apply pressure through the game with your two-card hands. You absolutely need to protect your life total, but realistically you can’t survive a game against a Guardian with dominate abilities if your just stack for an entire game. Cards like Voltic Bolt, Sonic Boom and Aether Flare are key to making sure they can’t heavily pivot into, and you’re able to keep the game in this two-card hand gridlock till the end.
Ideally, this game will be going very long for Kano standard, and you can fool the Oldhim player into thinking they have all the control and will fatigue you out this game. The game gets a little more dangerous if the Oldhim player is simply left unchecked with four cards hands and aggressively attack you while still keeping cards in hand to pitch away. Another extremely important consideration is Channel Lake Frigid, which could just ruin your whole day if they cast it at the right time. Try to see when and where they play their Channels, and if they happen to be at the bottom of the deck, then be ready to burn before they come out, or wait through them in worst case.
That about wraps up this mammoth of a piece on Kano and his tricky relationship with arcane barrier four. Although the question of extra arcane defense does ask Kano to jump through more hoops than usual to pull off his wins, it’s incredible that the Wizard players still have options in every matchup, and being able to consistently find solid, skill-based outs against the odds is what makes Kano and Kano players such dynamic and difficult opponents to face.