FAB has evolved a lot since the original four heroes. Nowadays, the Flesh and Blood meta is so wide that creating a deck which wins against every matchup is near impossible. These days, knowing the state of a meta, the heroes and archetypes in that meta are your best friend. Since most metas tend to coalescence into certain styles of play, the overall impact of simply having a “resilient deck” is reduced. Although that sort of thinking may work in a perfectly even meta, where every hero is equally represented and must be equally accommodated for in deckbuilding, siloed metas require siloed responses.
To give a specific example, if you know your local scene has 40 percent Dash players, then even if the entire online world says otherwise, you’d be mad to forgo running Argh… Smash! or Smashing Good Time in your deck list. Although that is a very specific example, it accentuates clearly how information is key in Flesh and Blood. Those three sideboard slots dedicated to item removal will win you more games than any overarching sideboard card which is better into a wider range of matchups.
Similar to hero knowledge however is knowledge about the time frame in which a meta exists. For many like myself, who have a busy personal life and can’t keep tabs on our local scenes, understanding the overall meta from an overarching level and then building our decks is the best we can do to attack a local Pro Quest or such. This is where the cyclical nature of a format comes into play.
Just like most aspects of life, Flesh and Blood formats are the same cyclical. Understanding how formats evolve in Flesh and Blood might be one of the most underrated aspects of knowledge available to players now. Even if you build an incredibly good deck that can tackle most decks well, it won’t do as well as a deck that is specifically suited to a format or meta. This is just the nature of TCGs – even large tournaments are going to skew towards certain heroes or archetypes for one reason or another, and today we’re going to breakdown exactly how we can use cyclical format patterns to our advantage when building for competitive events.
Format resets are usually quite self-evident. For the most part, these are going to include box releases, which I like to think of as hard resets, and then ban and restricted announcements, which I consider soft resets. The former is simple enough to understand, where the introduction of a brand-new set of cards and heroes completely changes the fundamental matchups available to heroes in the game and shuffles up the prospective meta for all heroes. Most importantly however, new sets create uncertainty in the future of the format, shifting away from somewhat “solved” format as the previous set ages away. Supplemental sets fit in between soft and hard resets, but mostly tend to keep heroes where they are in the format currently. However, adding in new tools to each hero can help heroes fix up old matchups and help them firm up their position in the meta.
Ban and restricted announcement are another matter altogether, these are usually going to be removing key pieces from top heroes and are usually most relevant for heroes just below the top of the meta. Hitting the top of the meta usually will result in great balance for a little while in the meta. Bans are still taken very seriously by LSS and tested heavily as to how the format will finish after the B/R. As much as I love new sets, I believe formats are best balanced after a good B/R announcement. As much as they should be used rarely, being ready for an open meta after a B/R announcement is a good practice.
The first few weeks after a format reset is usually marred by uncertainty. In theory, this should mean decks that “do the best at everything” in a midrange form are going to be winners. The midrange style should allow them to engage with a wide variety of decks in the meta without being too shunned by certain playstyles.
Reality, however, ends up being different. Although these midrange decks do exist, the big tournaments are usually won by players with specific aggressive plays trying to present as many “lose-lose” situations to the opponent as possible. This means decks with access to heavy disruption or on-hits are usually going to be king in the early meta.
If you’re focused on winning, I highly encourage you to go with a deck that has a very specific game plan to attack the opponent, while simultaneously having access to some “unfair” combinations where, if given time and space to set up, can completely blow the roof off a game. Think of Channel Mount Heroic turns with Briar or Rain Razors + Three of a Kind with Lexi. These heroes can consistently attack you while waiting for their big turns to finally finish you off in style. Although this might not be to the taste of some players, for those who simply want to farm wins, picking a hero which can do “unfair” offensive things is your best bet in early metas.
Unless a hero is totally broken (ala Chane), the meta will usually find a midground as control decks emerge from the shadows. If aggro has dominated early, then decks like Aura Prism and Control Oldhim will start to seep out to counter aggro. These decks require some time to fine tune since they require longer game plans which can react to the opponent. For both Oldhim and Prism, working through the opponent’s big threats and slowly building their advantage is going to be key. For these sort of decks to henceforth function, they require lots of knowledge about exactly who they shall be facing off against, and hence its difficult for them to dominate in the early weeks of a meta shift.
In this period, you may start the see the meta open slightly more. Midrange decks which lean control, like Axes Dorinthea and Club Rhinar can also start to do quite well in this time frame, and the slower meta overall will allow more decks to enter the format and see some success.
To be fair, I don’t think all metas even reach this stage. Many are interrupted by new releases as the meta commences widening again in the late-mid stages.
Late metas I find are prime for combo decks. With most linear aggro decks struggling versus control, you’re going to see those initial aggro players pivot into combo decks which focus even more heavily on their biggest turns. Earlier on, there simply wouldn’t have been the time and space to set these kinds of turns up, however in a later, slower meta not only is this possible, but it is rewarded greatly.
Breaking through the wall of control usually requires going over and beyond standard damage outputs, and combo decks are prime for this. Think of Bloodsheath Skeleta + Sonata Arcanix in Viserai or Double/Triple Lumina Ascension in Boltyn Sabers. At this point of metas, you usually have found a strong balance of the TCG triad of aggro, control and combo, and as a result, the meta should be open to many heroes and styles looking to play against one another.
Although not always going to be true, having thumb rules for how metas progress can be essential information for those who aren’t always able to play at their local scene, or are entering a huge event like a Calling. I do want to note once again that and early/mid/late meta isn’t as much defined by time as much as it is by the archetypes that make it up. If you pay attention, you may be able to now notice when a meta is shifting into either stage or adjust your deck accordingly, giving you the edge at the next competitive event you play! If you have any more questions about this piece or meta developments, feel free to ping me on Twitter @a_dedanwala.