Pro Tour New Jersey was the first ever event that showcased Flesh and Blood’s talent from all over the world in one place at the top level of play. The best players from Asia, Oceania, Europe and America all qualified to battle it out for the title of the Pro Tour champion. The metagame has seen a shake up a few weeks before the Pro Tour, but many players predicted Bravo, Star of the Show, Prism and Chane to remain at the top tier and representation. They weren’t wrong, as these heroes combined to a total of 71 percent of the total representation. However, there were some interesting off-meta choices that had fans roaring in excitement throughout the weekend. I will do my best to explain their unique place in the metagame and why they saw the successes they did.
Kano has been the resounding winner in terms of off-meta decks. The hero was represented by only seven players. Out of these, two made Top 8, three made top 16 and one topped swiss rounds and ended on seed 1 for the Top 8 pairings. Alexander Vore ended up going 12-2 in Swiss, ending up on number one seed. Sasha Markovic ended with an impressive 11-3 and finished sixth in Swiss. While both Wizards capitalized on the lack of Arcane Barrier presented by their opponents, they did so with two very different approaches to the game.
Alexander’s list creates a ton of value from letting strong, on-damage spells like Aether Flare and Sonic Boom to hit, then chain them with cards like Chain Lightning and red Reverberate to fire off multiple spells in a single turn. This approach meant he could efficiently utilize all four cards in his hand on a single turn, while Talismanic Lens helped to find missing combo pieces for huge damage bursts.
On the other hand, Sasha based his game plan on the exponential damage potential of Aether Wildfire. When combined with Blazing Aether, Aether Wildfire can unleash One Turn Kill potential on the opponent’s turn. Cards like Lesson in Lava and Tome of Aetherwind help to find the key combo piece, while Ragamuffin’s Hat helps to position it on top of the deck, if the needed card ends up in hand.
Alexander consistently produced big chunks of damage, while Sasha often opted for one big combo to wipe his opponents out. It’s refreshing to see how two skilled players can take a drastically different approach to the same hero and both perform at the top level of the game.
While most Runeblade players opted to play Chane, with 78 players picking up the Shadow Runeblade, Jacob gravitated towards Briar, played by only 22 players. Out of those, six made Day 2. One of the key aspects of Jacob’s success was improving his Bravo, Star of the Show matchup. He found the deck’s taxing effects, such as Channel Lake Frigid, Blizzard and Winter’s Wail to be a key aspect of what made the matchup challenging. By upping his blue count significantly from a standard 12 to 13 blues to 18 blues pitch cards, he became less prone to getting shut down by the Ice side of Bravo. While the blues reduce the damage output slightly, creating Runechants with Grasp of the Arknight, playing Tome of Harvest and tucking the spare blues away with Enlightened Strike are some of the great ways Jacob mitigated his high blue count.
Combined with Arcane Barrier 2, the blues helped him prevent key points of arcane damage against Alexander Vore’s Kano. This ensured he had enough of a life cushion to push through lethal damage and win his quarter finals game, without getting killed in response.
Against Runeblades, Jacob had access to three Sigils of Suffering and different options of Arcane Barrier. This allowed him to pick his spots on both offense and defense to get ahead in damage. Cards like Sigil of Suffering, red Bramble Spark and Revel in Runeblood offer between four to five points of damage for zero cost, making them exceptionally efficient ways to defend and deal damage, while waiting to set up Briar’s most iconic play – the Channel Mount Heroic turn.
Class: Ranger Hero: Lexi, Livewire Weapons: Voltaire, Strike Twice Equipment: Bull's Eye Bracers, Fyendal's Spring Tunic, New Horizon, Perch Grapplers, Snapdragon Scalers (3) Blizzard Bolt (red) (3) Bolt'n Shot (red) (3) Chilling Icevein (red) (3) Endless Arrow (red) (3) Fatigue Shot (red) (3) Ice Quake (red) (3) Lightning Press (red) (2) Lightning Surge (red) (3) Pathing Helix (red) (3) Searing Shot (red) (3) Sleep Dart (red) (3) Three of a Kind (red) (3) Art of War (yellow) (3) Blizzard Bolt (yellow) (3) Bolt'n Shot (yellow) (3) Chilling Icevein (yellow) (3) Fatigue Shot (yellow) (1) Frost Fang (yellow) (3) Rain Razors (yellow) (3) Amulet of Ice (blue) (3) Bolt'n Shot (blue) (3) Channel Lake Frigid (blue) (3) Frost Lock (blue) (3) Ice Quake (blue) (2) Icy Encounter (blue) (3) Winter's Bite (blue) See the full deck at: https://fabdb.net/decks/qyNWNwjp/
Last but not least is Yuki Lee Bender’s Ice Lexi list. She had a strong start with an impressive 9-1, ultimately finishing 9-5 and earning a PTI with a top 32 finish. Yuki’s list combines the best aspects of the traditional Ice Lexi decks and the zero-cost lightning builds.
Ice Lexi is known for having a strong game into Runeblades, due to the powerful taxing arrows, such as Blizzard Bolts and Chilling Iceveins and Ice cards like Channel Lake Frigid. Six copies of Ice Quake help to make each arrow attack threaten a Frostbite on hit – something Runeblades can really trip over on their turns. Even the blue arrow Frost Lock can threaten a full shutdown of the zero-cost heavy Runeblade builds. Non-fuse arrows such as Sleep Dart and Fatigue Shot also offer powerful on-hit effects, but without having to rely on fusion. Sleep Darts can stop a Bravo fusion, reduce Chane’s Soul Shackle or stop Viserai’s Runechant generation. Fatigue Shots can make Bravo’s attacks a lot more manageable, while also act as a useful mitigation to Prism’s heralds.
Traditionally Ice Lexi struggled against Prism and Guardians, such as Bravo, Star of the Show. However, with the suspension of Autumn’s Touch, Bravo’s average defense value has fallen, making it easier to get through Lexi’s on-hit effects and making the Ranger less prone to fatigue, especially against the more aggressive Bravo lists. While Prism has been historically an unfavored matchup for Ice Lexi, the hyper aggro, zero-cost no fuse Lexi builds have been able to put out enough pressure to stop Prisms from setting up too many Spectras to take control of the game. By including nine Bolt’n Shots, three Pathing Helixes and the power up Art of War, Rain Razors and Three of a Kind, Yuki’s list can tap into the same six-card combo potential that outputs 25 to 30 damage turns. This strategy can also work against fatigue Guardians – the arch nemesis of the Ranger class. By setting up six-card hands with New Horizon, the deck can push damage over the Guardian’s defense potential.
All four of these Pro Tour players have showcased innovation and adaptability to an ever-changing metagame. While there are known pillars of the metagame, each one of these players has shown that there are ways to tackle the top decks from a different angle and often take their opponents by surprise. As Uprising introduces a set of new heroes and other heroes start reaching the Living Legend status, the room for innovation and experimentation grows. I hope this overview inspires players to try niche strategies, even in established decks and lets hope we continue to see more underdog decks in Pro Tour Lille.