Battle Hardened Portland is in the rear view mirror and as I currently write this, the Calling Singapore has just wrapped up Day 1 of play. The metagame has evolved from weeks prior with some of the actors changing, but the overall hierarchy staying the same.
The biggest drop off comes in the form of our newest aggro hero, Fai, Rising Rebellion. Since the loss of Stubby Hammerers, the deck just hasn’t been the same. This can be argued to be due to several reasons, but in my opinion, is most likely due to one key fact I highlighted in my last article; Fai is a purely damage-based hero, threatening very little in the ways of on-hit effects. Mask of Momentum and perhaps Snatch, depending on your build, are the extent of options available, and this fact provides an intrinsic catch 22 when building Fai.
The number of on-hit effects added to the deck are at odds with your damage output. When playing Mask of Momentum you are not able to play Mask of the Pouncing Lynx, and similarly when you are playing Snatch, you are upping the number of combat chain finishers, which puts a strain on your action points leading to more disjointed hands. Although I do believe this problem to be intrinsic to Fai, it’s not all downside. The one strength Fai does offer above all other aggressive heroes is amazing consistency in terms of consistent damage output without suffering from the “Runeblade Problem” where you have a higher chance of bricking causing an unforced off turn.
Speaking of Runeblade, Viserai remains king of the metagame. As of this moment, it has established itself as the rock of the format with no truly unfavored matchups. It won the Battle Hardened in Portland and seems to be all over the top tables in Singapore. This is due to the combination of high level of consistency and very high power level ceiling. Viserai plays extremely well off three cards, meaning that his average net damage conversion a turn is usually somewhere between 10 to 14, threatening even more if a Mauvrion Skies is not effectively blocked. As it currently stands, Viserai remains one out of three decks I have brought to Lille and will be the litmus test which every deck I am considering must pass in order for me to even consider. Check out the updated Viserai deck list and comprehensive sideboard guide below.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and as such the vacancy of Fai has made room for Briar. In my testing, Fai was a harder matchup for Briar due to how hard Fai would punish any off turns or stumbles from Briar. Of course, you could still high roll with CMH, but those tended to be the exception rather than the norm. However, with less Fai, and the metagame settling into a bit more of a midrange slug fest, the queen of sluggers can channel her inner Mount Heroic and can shine once again. Not much was added to the Briar deck from Uprising, so the deck list remains somewhat unchanged from prior. I see a couple of Briar decks floating around the top tables in Singapore so I will be keenly watching to see how they finish.
One thing of note about the newer builds of Briar is that there is a trend to add Sift to the deck to maximize the opportunity to hit Channel Mount Heroic as soon as possible. However, in my testing, the theory often didn’t live up to the practice. Sift is probably the best if you have it turn one, but past that it is very often just a titanium bauble or half of an Embodiment of Lightning token.
My personal mantra on playing the deck is that you want to minimize the amount of unnecessary blues to increase the overall power level of your hands, which also minimizes the chances of revealing a blue to Ravenous Rabble. One blue a hand is serviceable, as it acts as a five-power attack with Rosetta Thorn, but what do you do when you draw the second blue? Oftentimes, this means an Arsenal that does not synergize well with the rest of your deck or blocking, which is usually subpar when compared to any other attack action cards damage output. It is also not the end of the world if you draw a Channel Mount Heroic without an earth blue at the ready as long as you’ve constructed your deck to have a high likelihood of seeing a blue every two or three turn cycles. I have also been privy to some of the ideas of UK National Champion Matthew Foulkes and while I’m not at liberty to divulge his deck, I can say that he has something extremely good brewing and would not be surprised if he has a strong Pro Tour showing!
Prism was the deck that most surprised me by its results in Portland. Prism-gate aside, as of the end of Day 1 at the Calling Singapore, she continues to have a strong showing at the top tables and it will be interesting to see if she can put two or more copies in Top 8 again. I stand by my sentiments from the previous article, where although Prism has a bit of a weaker matchup against the aggro decks of the format, it absolutely curb stomps the rest of the metagame. I will also state again that despite the prevailing sentiment that Prism is actually favored against the Runeblades and Fai, I still don’t believe this to be the case. My thoughts on the matchup are beautifully exemplified by Dexter Canright’s dismantling of Prism on his way to victory in Portland. This isn’t to dissuade anyone from playing the Light Hero super star, as every deck has at least one medium matchup. I still expect Prism to be one of the more popular decks at Pro Tour Lille and am happy to be proved wrong by her many champions.
Bravo surprised me for the opposite reasons of Prism. It was a deck that I would have expected to put up better results at Portland and continues to be underrepresented at the top tables in Singapore relative to how strong I believe the deck to be. With the exception of Prism, Bravo has favorable matchups into the rest of the metagame. Perhaps the prevalence of Prism is the exact reason Bravo has been having worse than expected results? Nonetheless, my top dog heading into Lille is still the master of the show, and Cayle McCreath and I expect big things from him in Lille.
While my expectations for Bravo are high, the same can’t be said about his guardian counterpart Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity. The champion of fatigue has lost a lot of ground over the last several months. Not only does he suffer from the same Achilles’s heel as his cousin, Prism, but his ability to consistently fatigue aggro champions has diminished quite a bit.
Thanks to the consistency of Phoenix Flame, Fai is close to unfatiguable, while the two remaining aggro decks pack much more of a midrange punch than their linear predecessors. Briar is no longer the redline one-dimensional threat it used to be and can very easily pitch stack or Sow Tomorrow a very effective end game with CMH. Viserai also has the ability to be able to pull off 20+ mixed damage turns, meaning that the linear plan of fatiguing isn’t as guaranteed as it used to be. This means Oldhim must dig into its more aggressive tools, something that it is seriously lacking when compared to his aggressive counterpart. If you are one of the few who are reading this article and stand behind Oldhim, you must first answer what Oldhim offers in terms of strength that Bravo doesn’t have relative to the rest of the metagame, and that is currently a very difficult question to answer.
1 Viserai, Rune Blood (Regular) 1 Rosetta Thorn 1 Aether Ironweave (Regular) 1 Crown of Dichotomy (Regular) 1 Crown of Providence (Rainbow Foil) 1 Grasp of the Arknight (Rainbow Foil) 1 Spellbound Creepers (Rainbow Foil) 1 Vexing Quillhand (Regular) 2 Amplify the Arknight (Red) (Regular) 3 Command and Conquer (Regular) 3 Erase Face (Regular) 3 Mauvrion Skies (Red) (Regular) 3 Meat and Greet (Red) (Regular) 3 Mordred Tide (Regular) 2 Oasis Respite (Red) (Regular) 2 Rattle Bones (Regular) 1 Read the Runes (Red) (Regular) 3 Revel in Runeblood (Regular) 2 Rune Flash (Red) (Regular) 2 Runeblood Incantation (Red) (Regular) 3 Shrill of Skullform (Red) (Regular) 3 Sonata Arcanix (Regular) 3 Spellblade Assault (Red) (Regular) 3 Swarming Gloomveil (Regular) 2 Unmovable (Red) (Regular) 2 Lead the Charge (Yellow) (Regular) 3 Mauvrion Skies (Yellow) (Regular) 3 Shrill of Skullform (Yellow) (Regular) 1 Arknight Shard (Rainbow Foil) 3 Become the Arknight (Regular) 3 Lead the Charge (Blue) (Regular) 3 Mauvrion Skies (Blue) (Regular) 3 Shrill of Skullform (Blue) (Regular) 3 Sift (Blue) (Regular) 3 Spellblade Assault (Blue) (Regular) 3 Vexing Malice (Blue) (Regular)
Since prior, I have cut the Tunic from the list entirely to make space in the sideboard. I made mention before how Amplify the Arknight and Rune Flash were awkward due to the play pattern of ending with a Rosetta Thorn. However, cutting these cards to zero also drastically reduced the power level of the deck overall as they were either the start or middle of very good turns. The solution for me was to just play less overall cards to decrease the frequency of hands that contained multiple of the cost reduction cards.
Consuming Volition is a card I swapped for Meat and Greet. While Consuming Volition provides excellent disruption, I have enjoyed the play pattern that Meat and Greet provides as a card with natural go again in the aggro mirrors, allowing you to play in anywhere during the combat chain, freeing up your go again NAA to be used on other threats. It also plays well with Rune Flash.
I have also moved away from the Ninth Blade package and cut back on Read the Runes. I previously played these cards as an anti-fatigue package as a nod specifically to Oldhim, however with Prism on the rise and the premier aggro decks being harder to fatigue, Oldhim is in a bad spot in the metagame. As such, I have chosen to hedge more against Bravo by adding Unmovables to the list. I do think two is the sweet spot as the first Crippling Crush can be blocked with your armor suite while the two other Unmovables should sit in Arsenal until absolutely needed or versus their additional copies of Crippling Crush. I have not been a fan of Sink Below as it does not offer a clean block to stop crush effects from Crippling Crush without an additional armor block. Furthermore, it also rarely stops a Pummel from connecting.
Oasis Respite has been a nice addition, which has made the Iyslander and Kano matchups extremely favored. These are played over the more traditional Runic Reclamations found in other decks. Runic Reclamation has been a card that I have not been super fond of. Although it is a good phantasm popper against Prism, I think eight poppers is the sweet spot as I only want to see a popper approximately once every two or three turn cycles. When increasing the number of poppers, note that they also have diminishing returns, as it can make your hand very clunky and leave you vulnerable to double aura turns. While the text on Runic Reclamation would suggest it be very powerful against Prism, it often lines up very clunky. Any two Heralds and either a Spectral Shield/Parable of Humility means Prism can cleanly trade with Runic Reclamation, leaving you down a turn cycle and behind on board. If the prevalence of Briar increases, you could try adding them back into the deck to try and nab a CMH. Worst case, if they don’t fully block Runic Reclamation, there is usually an Embodiment of Earth token you can kill, making Runic Reclamation a two-card for eight damage combination with any blue pitch.
I have seen the general player like to play one Read the Runes in the deck on the off chance that you go first, but I would caution against this. Assuming you have four copies of Read the Runes (counting Become the Arknight), that only leaves you with roughly a 25 percent chance of seeing it in your opening four cards. The other 75 percent of the time it will be a very awkward midgame draw that does not block efficiently or contribute to your resource curve or game plan to end with a Rosetta Thorn attack. To me, it’s almost exclusively an anti-fatigue card or a card I bring in versus decks with disruption that will force me to have off turns.
There are 57 cards in the main deck plus the standard four-card equipment suite with Rosetta Thorn. The standard equipment suite is Crown of Providence, Aether Ironweave, Grasp of the Arknight and Spellbound Creepers, and unless noted, assume this is the equipment to play in the matchup. I will denote changes as +/- certain cards from the “main deck” 57 cards plus standard equipment suite.
Logic: Eight phantasm poppers is still the sweet spot for me. I know others play more, specifically Runic Reclamation, but there are diminishing returns and over sideboarding is a real thing. Phantasm poppers are generally clunky and the more you play, the less synergistic your deck becomes. Trying to aim for a popper every two turn cycles is roughly where I want to be at. It might be odd to see that I’m cutting Mauvrion Skies, but I have added yellow Lead the Charges to the newer list. So the number of go again NAA remains the same as prior in this matchup. Mauvrion Skies being slightly worse in this matchup due to the potential for an Arc Light Sentinel blow out where Lead the Charge plays around the Sentinel.
Logic: Play as many poppers as possible as they are tempo positive in this matchup against dragons. There is not much to say in this matchup besides that it plays like an easier Prism matchup. Be sure to remember that your Mauvrion Skies trigger off of hitting dragons, which can provide additional damage while you’re attacking for value.
Going first: +3 Meat and Greet,
Logic: Briar games get scrappy towards the end of the game usually requiring to play off of two or three-card hands. They often won’t have AB making Meat and Greet almost guaranteed to have go again. Command and Conquer is a great way to neuter your opponent’s turns when they are setting up with an Arsenal and probably the best card you can see on your first turn going second. However, it does have diminishing returns as there is rarely an Arsenal in the later parts of an aggro mirror, so block liberally with it if you find yourself in that spot.
Logic: Similar logic to Briar but Erase Face is at a premium in this matchup as it turns off the ability to make Runechants while also neutering Mauvrion Skies. There will be times that you want to block out a Mauvrion Skies/Shrill so having cards that are powerful in a vacuum is good to have on forced off turns. When I add generics, I like to cut back on the Runechant-dependent cards as they’re at odds with each other.
Logic: Cost reduction cards are good, if you have four Runechants and a Frostbite token, Amplify the Arknight and Rune Flash are still zero resources! Off turns will happen with Lexi due to the high amount of disruption in the deck. Shrill of Skullform and Mauvrion Skies requires a combination of cards to make work, which is hard when taxed by Lexi.
The best way to approach this matchup is to play defensively while making Runechants when possible, waiting for the opportunity to capitalize on an off turn.
Logic: About as close to a pure race as it gets. Meat and Greet plays very well into decks that cannot block well, offering a rate of one for five with go again. Go with CNC over Erase Face. Erase Face is a great two-card hand combination but it does not turn off as much as it needs to in Fai. Very often they can string together a very solid turn, ending with their weapon attack and aresnaling their finisher for a future turn. As such, you’re only really getting the Phoenix Flame for value when the Erase Face its. Furthermore, if needed, to block Erase Face is only a block two compared to CNC block three.
Logic: They will likely start Pounder, indicating a race. Off turns will happen so having cards that are good on off turns such as Read the Runes comes in handy. Erase Face is the card to play in this matchup over Command and Conquer as it turns off their Boost ability
Logic: Board up to 63 cards in this matchup as the risk of fatigue is present. In this matchup, you want to maximize the value of your Runechants by trying to stack Runechants during your off turns.
The key to this matchup is that Bravo relies heavily on four or more-card hands for its power turns. The only truly threatening thing Bravo can do off of three cards is a Tear Asunder with two additional three-plus costed blues. As such, CNC presents a thorn in their side as it demands two cards from hand to block, armor or taking six damage plus giving up of an Arsenal, which is oftentimes a power card or Pummel saved for a later turn. CNC is also exceptionally good during an off turn as well, which are very commonly forced by Bravo through various crush effects and Pummel.
Logic: Your primary game plan is to race while blocking damage with extra resources as you go. Don’t sacrifice your damage output for AB, instead make your Wizard opponent beat your damage output. Hold Oasis Respite until you either draw a redundant Oasis Respite or they try combo you out with Aether Wildfire. When they do, cast Oasis Respite and AB2 the Wildfire to take zero damage!
Logic: Same as Kano. Less concern for explosive one-turn kill potential, but you have to slog through Frostbites.
That wraps up my pre-Pro Tour Lille Viserai and metagame article. As a note, there is still a week leading up to Pro Tour Lille and while Viserai is currently one of my leading decks to play for the event, I like to keep my options open until the last moment. However, if I do register Viserai, this list will be very close to the list that will be submitted at the Pro Tour, plus or minus a couple of cards depending on the results of Calling Singapore and my week of dedicated testing. If you have any thoughts or opinions on either the deck list or metagame analysis, please feel free to comment or reach out to me on twitter @TariqPatel10. Take care and see everyone in France!