For those of you who haven’t been following the game very long, Azalea (and by extension Ranger) has been the runt of the litter. With limited success in the competitive sphere, to the point where she has seen nearly no representation at all in some of the more competitive tournaments.
I, however, am quite well known for playing Ranger and Ranger only, which is why it gives me great pleasure to begin a master class series on how to nock your arrows and line up those headshots.
Why Play Ranger?
To me, Ranger is far and away the class where theme and mechanisms are blended the most effectively. Loading an arrow into your Arsenal just feels so ridiculously satisfying, and the various mechanisms of opting, drawing more cards, and switching the top card of your deck into your Arsenal to set up a powerful attack really do make you feel like the smartest guy in the room – if you can pull it off.
Indeed, part of the reason I also enjoy playing Ranger is because playing Ranger well is very difficult. Sequencing each of your individual abilities each turn is much more complex than many of the other classes in the game. In addition to that, Ranger has easily the worst defensive game out of any class. With no weapon attack to fall back on, Ranger relies heavily on their attack actions. The catch? All their support cards (except for Nock the Deathwhistle) only defend for 2, meaning that you’ll need to often use your attacks to defend for 3. This makes blocking much more awkward for Ranger than other classes, as you don’t have as much ability to chip back at your opponent with only a one-card hand.
I think the complexity and the poor defensive game are many reasons why Ranger has not performed as well as other classes; not necessarily because they aren’t as competitive, but because they’re skill requirement is much higher.
As someone who’s played Ranger exclusively since the release of Arcane Rising in Australia, I’d probably be in the running for the most experienced Ranger player in the world at this point. And let me tell you, when you can get the sequencing and the defensive game down pat, Ranger can compete just as well as any other class in the game. And you have the bonus of playing the underdog and feeling like you’ve got the biggest brain in the room.
Another awesome thing about Ranger is that you have some of the most explosive and exciting cards in the game. Rapid Fire and Three of a Kind are the kind of cards that invite you to exploit them and find a way to break them. There are few things more satisfying in Flesh and Blood than hitting your opponent with an Endless Arrow while Rapid Fire is active. A dominated Red in the Ledger can completely shut down an otherwise deadly turn from certain classes. And being able to Increase the Tension on Remorseless completely shuts your opponent out of using Defense Reactions. All these combinations feel very satisfying to pull off and can be highly effective.
How Does Ranger Play?
Ranger falls into two major categories: go-wide and go-tall. In go-tall builds, you try and play builds that use many buffs (Increase the Tension, Take Aim, Nimblism) and try and set-up a powerful dominated arrow (Red in the Ledger, Sleep Dart) in order to force through damage and mess with your opponent’s next turn. In go-wide builds, you throw a wide range of attacks (Scar for a Scar, Ravenous Rabble) at your opponent to overwhelm their defenses. Personally, I’ve had a lot more success with go-wide builds, particularly because they are more challenging to play against.
Ranger acts as something as a hybrid Guardian-Ninja. You have the potential to cripple your opponent with control effects through your arrows, but you can also simply throw out a ton of damage and hope for the best. Thanks to your unique reload mechanism, you can take advantage of a wide range of cards that gain bonuses when played from your Arsenal, namely Plunder Run and Promise of Plenty. On a standard five-card turn; I’ve been able to consistently threaten 12-15 damage as Ranger. Generally, this looks something like:
Red Plunder Run (from Arsenal), red Ravenous Rabble (hitting a red on top), draw a card from Plunder Run, load up a card with Death Dealer, Nimblism, any 5-attack arrow
For those counting at home, that’s around 15 damage, all for the low, low price of two resources.
Often, you can manipulate the quality of your hand through skilled use of Skullbone Crosswrap, Azalea, and Death Dealer, which allows you to cycle different cards out of your hand and Arsenal and acquire new options. This means that you can generally mold your hands, and therefore you turn, more effectively than other classes. There have been many games where I’ve been able to stay on the aggressive for four or more turns in a row, simply wasting away an opponent’s hand and forcing through a few points of damage each turn, only to repeat in the turn after.
You might also see me mention the color red a lot. This is because you can get away with playing almost exclusively red attacks and support cards due to your low energy requirements, meaning your offensive capabilities are the best they can be. Sometimes, you can power an entire five-card hand off a single energy (perhaps even provided by everyone’s favorite Spring Tunic).
Where Do I Start with Ranger?
Here is the most recent list I’ve been using:
Class: Ranger Hero: Azalea, Ace in the Hole Weapons: Death Dealer Equipment: Bull's Eye Bracers, Fyendal's Spring Tunic, Skullbone Crosswrap, Snapdragon Scalers (3) Command and Conquer (red) (3) Endless Arrow (red) (3) Enlightened Strike (red) (3) Hamstring Shot (red) (3) Head Shot (red) (3) Life for a Life (red) (2) Nimble Strike (red) (3) Nimblism (red) (3) Plunder Run (red) (3) Ravenous Rabble (red) (3) Razor Reflex (red) (3) Red in the Ledger (red) (3) Remorseless (red) (3) Salvage Shot (red) (3) Scar for a Scar (red) (3) Sigil of Solace (red) (3) Sleep Dart (red) (3) Take Aim (red) (3) Three of a Kind (red) (2) Nimblism (yellow) (3) Rapid Fire (yellow) (3) Remembrance (yellow) (3) Ridge Rider Shot (yellow) (2) Take Aim (yellow) (3) Nock the Deathwhistle (blue) (3) Ridge Rider Shot (blue) fabdb.net
This deck is pure, unadulterated aggression. It plays a plethora of red Attack Actions with go again (Scar for a Scar, Life for a Life, Ravenous Rabble), in addition to a myriad of buffs (Plunder Run, Take Aim, Nimblism). One of the easiest parts of playing this deck is that you have virtually no sideboard; you can opt to side out Sleep Dart against Mechanologist, or Red in the Ledger against Guardian, but you can also simply keep them in as arrows with 5 attack and 3 defense. This may seem strange, but because of Ranger’s lack of weapon and constant use of cards, it does result in them fatiguing out faster than other classes may. As such, you need a larger than usual deck size to ensure that doesn’t happen.
The rule I follow with this deck is quite simple; don’t defend unless you must, or you have no use for the card. I’ve found that I’m able to easily make use of all four to five cards of my hand each turn to launch insanely aggressive turns. Because most of your attacks are in the 4-5 attack range, your opponent will likely be “overblocking” and failing to maximize their potential damage.
One of the best things about the no block strategy is that you are rarely blown out by surprise Attack Reactions. Pummel and Razor Reflex aren’t going to ruin your day as much as other people, and Warrior will often be left with at least one dead card in their hand each turn. This lack of being blown out means that you’re likely to be able to continue to effectively trade damage with your opponent. And when you’re threatening 10+ damage each turn with a high level of consistency, your opponent may find it difficult to keep up with you.
Frequently, I’ll start the turn with Opt 1 from Skullbone Crosswrap and making a judgment about whether the card in my Arsenal is better or not. If I can make use of the top card of my deck instantly (Nimblism), I’ll often use Azalea to flip into it. Afterwards, I’ll use it and try and follow that up with any of the various go again options I have in hand (Ravenous Rabble). Following that, I’ll load an arrow up with Death Dealer, hopefully draw into something interesting, and then fire off the arrow from Arsenal. I’ll end the turn by dropping my final card into Arsenal, reading to repeat the same sequence the next turn.
There are situations, however, where your turn will look very different. Three of a Kind is often the biggest cause of this and is the most challenging card in the deck to master. Generally, I make use of Three of a Kind in two ways; I’ll either defend more on the previous turn, then use Three of a Kind to refill my hand with aggressive options, or I’ll try my best to hold onto the Three of a Kind until I have a Rapid Fire in hand, which will allow me to have a monster turn. Remember that you can reload while Three of a Kind is in effect, allowing you to do things like the following:
Three of a Kind > Take Aim from Arsenal, reloading something > red Ravenous Rabble from Arsenal > Death Dealer loading an arrow > arrow from Arsenal > use Bull’s Eye Bracers to load another arrow > arrow from Arsenal
Any excess cards are used to pay for the various energy costs during such a turn.
There’s only so many times you’ll need to threaten your opponent with 15-18 damage before they succumb to your barrage. Once you’ve gotten your opponent down low enough (generally below five), you’ll be looking to set-up a killer dominate arrow with a few buffs to finish them off. Keep applying pressure with your other attacks (remember; offense is the best defense, and usually the only defense for you) while you try and hold onto buffs like Take Aim and Nimblism. Eventually, you’ll be able to use your Skullbone Crosswrap to find the killer arrow, at which point you’ll be sending your opponent to the grave.
One important mistake that is common amongst newer players is misunderstanding how to use Skullbone Crosswrap with Death Dealer. Remember that Death Dealer draws you a card, meaning that you can’t use it to load a card in and then hope to flip into the dominate arrow you just saw on top; instead, that card will now be in your hand! Skullbone Crosswrap will let you set up to use Azalea before you use Death Dealer, rather than after.
In the next article, I’ll be talking about the various matchup and how Ranger fairs in them, and things to keep in mind while playing against them. Until then, may every arrow you nock be your opponent’s Deathwhistle.