While Oldhim and Iyslander continue to meet expectations as one of the top decks of the format, the last couple of weeks of National season have led to a rebellion from the heroes of fire for a share of the top spots in the metagame.
Since Pete Ward’s second place finish at calling Utrecht, and the subsequent ban of Stubby Hammerers, Fai has undergone quite an evolution. Today, there are currently two versions of the Fai decks that I like to dub the classical version and the UK variation and, most recently, the latest evolution that I have dubbed the USA hybrid.
All variations of the deck are fundamentally unidirectional aggro decks at heart, but their components and the way which they accomplish this strategy could not be more different. The classical version of the deck can be found in my home country of Canada and one of my own personal favorite TCG legends, David Rood. David recently took his list to a Top 8 finish at Canadian nationals and the deck list can be found here.
The deck has two simple yet very key core ideas that allow it to succeed. First, it plays zero defense reactions. David Rood is a big believer that you play Fai in a way that forces decks to play to your game plan rather than conforming to your opponents. Second is that it heavily leverages Mask of Momentum through the use of Kodachi to dominate the aggro mirrors. There has been a debate for sometime, perhaps it’s still ongoing, about whether or not to play Mask of the Pouncing Lynx in the aggro mirrors.
My belief is that this debate was precipitated by the original versions of Fai playing Mask of the Pouncing Lynx in conjunction with Stubby Hammerers when the deck functioned much more as an all-in combo deck. Although it is true that by playing Mask of Momentum over Mask of the Pouncing Lynx you are losing out on approximately five or six points of damage up front, this is made up several times over by Mask of Momentum. The idea is that you want to be presenting two Mask of Momentum triggers a turn. This puts your opponent into an unwinnable position of having to make the decision between blocking for sub par value relative to its attack rate or taking the damage and allowing the card draw.
At this point, I have hung my hat on Mask of Momentum as the ability to present this dilemma multiple times throughout the game far outweighs the burst of a one-time six-powered attack action card. Furthermore, Mask of Momentum actually blocks unlike Mask of the Pouncing Lynx, which must be discarded in order to utilize its effect. This may seem trivial, but aggro mirrors are often won by a margin of only a couple points of life. If you would like to read more about David’s thoughts on the deck, I will refer you to the twitter long he wrote after Canadian Nationals.
Something especially notable from David’s list is that he has opted for the full nine copies of Brand with Cinderclaw. Although it may seem like an innocuous addition, it is something that pays off huge dividends in matchups where Kodachi is played as it allows the class type Draconic to be passed onto the generic Ninja weapon. This may seem small, but adds up during the course of the game as it allows for easier facilitation of Fai’s activated ability to bring back Phoenix Flame from the graveyard. Contrast this to the UK variation of the deck, which functions very much like the red line aggro decks of the past with very little utilization of Phoenix Flame. Another fun interaction that Brand with Cinderclaw offers is boosting your Kodachis attack power with Spreading Flame, a card that usually only boosts one or two cards per combat chain and suddenly boosts three or more cards!
Here you can find Pete Ward’s Fai list. Pete was the runner up at the Calling Utrecht and most recently is coming off a Top 8 at UK Nationals. He played Fai and both events so you can say he knows his way around a Draconic Ninja deck. This list is much different than the traditional Fai decks, opting for a much harder hitting deck with a bunch of generic four-attacks. It should be noted that there is a typo in the published deck list and the blue Razor Reflex should be a blue Flex.
The first big notable change that jumps out to me is the lack of Spreading Flames. Being a much more generic-focused deck, it’s unable to utilize the attack boost of Spreading Flames well and makes logical sense to cut. While being more generic-focused means every card usually trades more efficiently in rate when compared to the Draconic Head Jab equivalents, it comes at the lack of synergy, namely Phoenix Flame. Fai’s key ability to get back a Phoenix Flame to do an additional one or two damage per turn cycle is absolutely critical, especially if the game is drawn out such as versus Oldhim. As such, this is a downside to this type of deck that I believe you should avoid when possible.
Since UK Nationals, the Americans have picked up the Draconic mantle and created what I like to think of as a hybrid build of Fai, such as the one that Daniel Rutkowski took to second place at USA Nationals.
This final version is what I expect to become the prevalent version of Fai moving forward. It combines the synergistic nature of the Draconic class with the power of the premium generic cards such as Enlightened Strike and Snatch. Enlightened Strike specifically plays extremely well in this deck being able to utilize otherwise mediocre Phoenix Flames into a powerful effect by tucking it with its ability while also ensuring you’re not likely to draw it again anytime soon. It also works well with Soaring Strike being able to be banished and then played with its “draw a card” or “attack buff” mode while still getting go again!
In the online star-studded gauntlet tournament, I have opted for a hybrid Fai list with some variations. I opted to include Spreading Flames back into the deck that both the UK version and USA hybrid version have cut. My logic being that the deck wants more Leg Tap than Head Jab effects when possible to maximize damage output while also doubling as an additional card to reveal to Belittle. Furthermore, it synergizes extremely well with Flamecall Awakening making the ceiling on a Spreading Flames a one for six or seven damage where the floor will almost always be a Leg Tap spread across itself plus Phoenix Flame.
Another big change I’ve made to my list compared to others is dropping down to Arcane Barrier 1 from Arcane Barrier 3. I think Arcane Barrier 3 is one of the biggest traps Fai players fall into and trying to play a long, drawn out game is only playing to Iyslander’s game plan. That’s not saying it’s impossible to win, and I know several Fai players feel strongly about their ability to win with Arcane barrier 3, but I’m a big believer in maximizing your own strategy first while ever so slightly shifting to deal with your opponent’s game plan when it’s convenient for you.
The final big change I’ve made to my list is changing from the mantra of “your blues should block for three” to having a much more high utility suite of blues. Notable stand outs are Snatch, Lunging Press and Flying Kick. In a perfect world, you draw only one blue with a grip full of red cards, but reality is often much messier and having the higher utility of the aforementioned cards can often net cards or damage per turn cycle rather than just threatening a vanilla two damage.
Blue Snatch at the end of the combat chain forces your opponent to give up early armor or a card, Lunging Press can push through key Mask of Momentum triggers while also putting the fear of god in your opponents just by pitching/revealing that it’s in your deck. Flying Kick does its best Lava Burst impression, hitting for a sizable five damage and often easily played off of a blue pitch plus Belittle turn. In summary, the offensive utility of the blues in my list far outweighs the extra point of block value the more generic attack actions offer. Besides, who really wants to block with the best aggressive hero in the game?
Moving forward, Fai, Rising Rebellion will be one of the premier heroes in the metagame. Should you want to have success in the upcoming months I strongly suggest you either start to learn or learn how to beat Fai. I hope this article provided some good insights and starting points and I’m excited where the community will take this archetype next!