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The Calling Auckland 2021 in Review

This past weekend saw the largest Flesh and Blood tournament in the game’s young history, with 157 players showing up for the Auckland Blitz Calling 2021. It’s a truly impressive number when you take into consideration only domestic players attending. With the difficulties that many regions in the world face right now, in-person play outside of New Zealand and perhaps a few other countries is almost impossible on this scale at the time of writing.

For myself, I was fortunate enough to be present in the virtual commentary booth for the weekend, calling this event from the comfort of my home 1,400 miles away from the tournament floor in Sydney, Australia. With players and fans around the world watching along, we had 11 rounds of Flesh and Blood Blitz before a thrilling double-elimination top 8. You can watch all the action back here on the official Flesh and Blood YouTube account.

 

Metagame Breakdown

The above graphic shows the breakdown of the 157 players who battled at the Calling and their hero choices. Ira, Crimson Haze was the most played hero, and the eventual winner represented by 30 percent of the field. Kano, to the surprise of many (including myself), made up only 15% of the field after the strong showing in the last few Blitz events in New Zealand. Dorinthea was popular as always, with 23 players in the field.

As the event unfolded, the top tables began to be dominated by Ira and Kano, with Dorinthea not putting up the strong finishes despite being the second equal most played hero. In the end, just one Dorinthea made the top 16. Other decks to be seen at the top tables over the later rounds were Bravo, Dash and Rhinar. The top 8 ended up with six Ira, one Kano and one Dorinthea. 

Full deck lists for the top 8 can be found here.

 

Major Takeaways

Top 8 Double Elimination Brackets

For the first time in premier Flesh and Blood play, there was a double-elimination top 8, with players effectively given two lives in this format. Players losing in the quarters, semis and finals were dropped down to a lower bracket to play again instead of being immediately sent home. Those that dropped down ended up battling it out in the lower bracket for the corresponding round they had lost in the upper bracket, all for a chance to keep playing for the trophy. Eventually, the winner of the upper bracket and lower bracket met in the grand finals to decide it all., with the upper bracket affording the player who reached the grand final via that route an extra life. The lower bracket winner needing to win two games on the bounce to take the grand final, and the upper bracket victor needing to win just one. 

This is a change in top 8 structure that I think makes a lot of sense for a format like Blitz. Unlike Classic Constructed, Blitz is played out with half the life and with a card limit of just two as opposed to three. Players also have a set 40 card deck, with all this adding up to a much faster format that can see players sometimes be on the end of some variance that you would typically impact the game less over the longer match in Classic. So, for me, I think in the shorter format of the game works in this top 8 bracket structure and even makes for a more enthralling top 8, watching players with their backs against the wall battle through that lower bracket.

 

The Same Heroes Can Have Multiple Decks/Strategies

Ira, Crimson HazeSnatch (Red)Heron's FlightSpringboard Somersault

 

One of the most interesting things we saw over the course of the day was the variety of decks, even amongst the most played hero. Although Ira represented 30 percent of the field, few decks actually were identical – 10 to 15 card differences in mirror matches weren’t uncommon.

Some players opted for full control builds, utilizing Drone of Brutality (Red), a full suite of Flic Flaks and other defense reactions like Springboard Summersault. The control decks paired those defense reactions with large amounts of life gain such as Sigil of Solace (Red), Sigil of Solace (Yellow) and some even played Tome of Fyendal and/or Sun Kiss (Red).

Other builds threw aside most of the life gain and defensive package to take an all-out aggressive stance with Snatch (Red), Razor Reflex (Red), Ancestral Empowerment and Leg Tap (Red) to go wide and apply the pressure. Heron’s Flight was a real MVP card in these aggressively slanted decks. There was also a number of midrange or hybrid strategies that implemented a mix of defense reactions and aggressive cards to switch between gears depending on the match up. 

I was personally intrigued by the “Ira mirror matches” across the day, where in many of these games it very quickly became apparent that players were on different builds and strategies. This led to players showcasing their ability to adapt on the fly and manage their decks. I was overall impressed with the variety players brought to the table and it showed that most heroes don’t have a single correct build or necessarily even a solidified play style.

I hope this variety will continue as Flesh and Blood grows as a game. Just think how daunting it might be sitting across from a Viserai opponent, not knowing if your defense reactions could be dead as they stack up a big “one turn kill” strategy or vitally important as they launch into an aggressive attack actions combined with Runechants strategy. What could Monarch bring to the table in that regard?

 

Flesh and Blood Isn’t Just About Finding a Deck That Wins Turn Cycles

KanoBlazing AetherMordred TideNinth Blade of the Blood Oath

 

Winning the turn cycle is something I’ve written about before and is definitely a key fundamental in Flesh and Blood. If you want to read more about this concept, check out my article on leveling up.

Early in Flesh and Blood’s life, the game’s traditionally seen decks favored by players that are good at consistently edging turn cycles. For this Calling, while the top 8 saw six Ira, Crimson Haze decks, some control and other midrange or aggro, it also saw a Kano make the top cut. The lone Wizard in top 8, piloted by Jasin Long, had a unique strategy to battle the match ups with arcane barrier 4, generally favoring to set up his deck by pitching a set combination of cards to draw back into an order he set to unleash a big combo kill (if you want to see this in action, be sure to check out round 8 of the live coverage). Jasin, moving completely away from the pure damage in-and-out turn cycle approach, did this throughout the day to multiple Ira opponents. Again, in the lower bracket quarter finals, Jasin continued to stack his deck for that one final turn, falling just short of doing it once more to advance to the semifinals in the lower bracket. 

Jasin wasn’t the only player across the day aiming to set up a “one turn kill” or OTK against his opponents, nor was Wizard the lone hero attempting this. We saw an OTK Viserai deck, while other heroes such as Rhinar with Bloodrush Bellows have the cards available to build around these big single kill turns and are more than capable of delivering them. What the Blitz Calling showed us is that these strategies are viable and, while at times difficult to master, devastatingly difficult to play around when unleashed.

I fully expect to see more decks in this format look to setup big kill turns, forgoing traditional strategies of consistent damage over the game. The big damage strategies are a great way to take on the boogieman of the format in Ira, Crimson Haze. The combination of defense reactions and life gain make it hard for Ira to apply pressure turn after turn, affording OTK or setup decks the time to get their game plan online and cards in order.

This was a breakout weekend for the Blitz format and some really important cards rose to prominence. Let’s dive a bit deeper into some of the critical cards in the Blitz format right now and their impact over the weekend.

 

The Blitz Power Rankings

 

1. Flic Flak

Flic Flak (Blue)Flic Flak (Yellow)Flic Flak (Yellow)

 

Flic Flak has to be the number one card of the weekend, with six Ira, Crimson Haze making the top 8. It’s chiefly responsible for the Ira deck’s ability to beat up on aggressive decks and one of the most important cards in the mirror. This card allows the Ira deck to really get extra defensive value, filling their deck with as many Combo cards as makes sense to utilize the effect on the defense reaction. This was seen across the weekend, with a typical line in the Ninja mirror looking something like this.

  1. Harmonized Kodachi for one attack – no defense
  2. Harmonized Kodachi for two attack – block with Flic Flak (Blue) or (Yellow)
  3. Attack action, e.g. Flying Kick (Red) – defend with a Combo card for five

The strength of this card means Ira will continue to suppress the aggressive side of the format fairly well. The format and players will now need to adapt to reduce the effectiveness of Flic Flak and Ira as a whole. I expect to see a lot more go-tall builds of decks or setup decks to combat the Ira meta.

 



2. Talismanic Lens

Talismanic Lens

 

This card continues to impress me and go up and up in lists of the top cards in Blitz, and for good reason! Over the Calling, Kano players utilized this piece of equipment to setup combo kills, get themselves out of tight situations or find damage from a seemingly innocuous hand. The card is a crucial part of the Kano deck, especially in the setup-based versions or match ups where Kano wishes to look for that OTK setup. Fixing your next draw, guaranteeing the card does what you need off Kano’s ability or being able to couple it with Sonic Boom is huge!

Talismanic Lens effectively increases the consistency of these big output decks, allowing them to guarantee turns and/or draws. Don’t be surprised to see this card continue to breakout and start showing up in other setup-based decks in the Blitz format.

 

3. Sigil of Solace (Red)

Sigil of Solace (Red)

 

Sigil of Solace (Red) was certainly among the most played cards in the event. There were 13 of 16 possible copies played in the top 8. Sigil is a card that shines for its versatility to help gain life, which effectively replaces life lost through either combat or arcane damage. Since in Blitz you play the same 40 cards for an entire event, you can’t swap in and out cards that deal with each specific damage type such as Eirina’s Prayer (Red) or Sink Below (Red).

Versatile cards like Sigil of Solace or Bone Head Barrier are super valuable in the format for this reason. I think we’ll see Sigil of Solace continue to be played ad nauseam in Blitz, but the exact number of copies in events will likely reduce as the metagame stabilizes. Players will begin to play greater numbers of specific cards for certain match ups that are key to the meta, rather than always defaulting to catch-all cards like Sigil, which have versatility but are overall less powerful cards.

 

4. Heron’s Flight

Heron's Flight

 

Heron’s Flight is a card I certainly wasn’t expecting to make a big splash on the weekend, but it was played with success to strong finishes by many of the midrange and aggressive Ira, Crimson Haze decks across the day. Two decks in the top 8 were playing Heron’s Flight, a red line card that fits well in Ira decks as a Combo card for Flic Flak.

However, the Combo text on this card is very relevant as a finisher on the chain from Soulbead Strike (Red) and Crane Dance (Blue). Played after Crane Dance, it’s an attack for five that prevents your opponent from defending it with either your choice of their non-attack or attack action cards. Against Kano, it’s almost impossible to defend with a card from hand when used as a combo attack and naming non-attack action. A lot of decks in the format can have a difficult time dealing with this attack due to their skew towards either attack or non-attack action cards. You can also easily set this combo up with the help of Snapdragon Scalers on the Crane Dance. 

 

5. Command and Conquer

Command and Conquer

 

Command and Conquer is a card that can really punish players who are looking to setup specific big hands in the current Blitz meta. A lot of the setup decks like Kano, Viserai and even Rhinar will often build to setup a key card in their arsenal and even try to take a full turn of damage on the way back before unleashing their big turn, often with the intent to end the game. However, Command and Conquer puts the pressure back on those decks by either buying defending cards out of hand or by destroying arsenal cards. Command and Conquer is also a fantastic card in a format that’s seeing a number of defense reactions played through a large portion of the decks in the meta.

 


 

Wrapping up, I have to say, even though I was nowhere near the tournament hall, I had a such a fun weekend on the coverage team, watching the Calling along with everyone at home. The Blitz format, despite what the top 8 from Auckland may suggest at first glance, is diverse, with viable options across the board. Ira, Crimson Haze was without a doubt the correct meta call this weekend with an open field, walking into the unknown for the first big Blitz event. She’s consistent and as discussed in this article, flexible in how you build her. Players were clearly very focused on Kano and perhaps having forgotten just what Ira is capable of to their detriment on Sunday. 

I personally can’t wait to play more Blitz and I’ll be furiously working on my big setup decks over the next few weeks aiming to unleash some huge turns in my games!

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