Shisogenius’s Unlimited Meta Insight
“Meta Insight” are a series of articles covering the differences between various Shadowverse deck archetypes, their role in the metagame, common play patterns and tech cards.
Artifact Portal is a tempo deck with some combo elements that revolves around cheating on mana costs with Acceleratium/Augmentation Bestowal. The basic “combo” of Artifact Portal is to get 2 mana-refunding effects up (ideally, an Acceleratium and an Augmentation, but the deck can still function, albeit worse, with duplicate enablers) and then play Analyzing Artifacts to clear the opponent’s board and generate a tempo lead by getting mana refunds. The general goal is to end the chain on a Shion (or two), however, there are two specific combo setups to be aware of: firstly, there’s the early-game proactive setup, that involves setting up a 12-14-power board with simply Analyzing Artifacts and a Shion, usually done on turns 3-4. The proactive setup is primarily applicable in matchups against combo archetypes or other decks that don’t generate an early board presence, in other words, in matchups where you have to be aggressor, but it’s obviously not something you can do every game, as you have to have a pretty specific hand for the setup to work. The secondary setup generally requires the opponent to have some semblance of a board that you can trade Artifacts into and involves Radiant Artifacts, so it generally doesn’t start until turns 5-6. The prerequisite for the Radiant Artifact setup is that you have to find a Mechanization to start shuffling Radiant Artifacts into your deck (which you can then clone with Biofab once you get going), and while this iteration of Artifact Portal has existed for so long that there are certainly more comprehensive mathematical theories for this whole Artifact-shuffling process, the basic rule of thumb that I follow is that you have to aim for a 3:1 ratio between Analyzing (or Ancient) and Radiant Artifacts that you’re putting into your deck (the reason for that is that with 2 mana-refunding effects, Radiant Artifacts effectively costs 3 and Ancient Artifacts effectively cost -1, so the 3:1 ratio puts you at parity on average). In practice, this ratio is a bit more slanted towards Radiant Artifacts due to the fact that you generally get extra Analyzing Artifacts from Syntonization/Artifact Scan and can’t usually get a Radiant Artifact out of those cards, but it’s a close enough approximation.
I should also note that against decks like Daria Rune and Summit Haven, it can sometimes be correct to go for the defensive combo with Mystic Artifacts instead of Radiant ones if you’re under a lot of pressure: the Mystic/ Analyzing setup is a lot less stringent on shuffling specific Artifacts and finding enablers (since every Mystic draws a card), but is somewhat contingent on running an alternative finisher of some sort (e.g., PtP), as a board of 4/5-s can technically be answered with some clever Kel/Justine lines of play, for example. In addition to that, a somewhat recent (~4 months old) addition to the archetype is Artifact Scan, which makes it so that you can get a Paradigm Shift from Syntonization, pick the Drain Artifact, trade it off into something, and then clone it with Artifact Scan, which can represent 6-10 points of healing and is particularly relevant against hyper-aggro decks.
In the early game, the cards that you’re generally looking for include combo pieces (up to 1 copy of Acceleratium and Bestowal), any and all card draw (Focus, Night’s Way, Metaproduction, Syntonization), as well as 2-card combos between cards that shuffle Artifacts into your deck and cards that draw Artifacts (e.g., Mechanization+Call, or Metaproduction+Mechagun). It is not uncommon for Artifact Portal to be passing for the first 2 turns of the game, then play Focus on 3, and start going off when it finds 1 (ideally, 2) enabler(s).
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Anti-combo tech cards such as Nilpotent Entity, Mugnier and Seraphic Blade are played to primarily combat Gremory Shadow and other combo archetypes, such as Encounter/Dagon or Roost Dragon, both builds of Roach Forest, and so on. Seraphic Blade also has the important defensive utility of answering Summit Temple against Haven decks running it, and Mugnier can also pick up value in the Portal mirror by silencing the card draw from the opponent’s Analyzing Artifacts; but the main purpose of Nilpotent Entity/Mugnier is to prevent Dragon players from resolving Dagons (or at least, make them have a Seraphic Blade), and Mugnier is played to answer Path to Purgatory (which is primarily a Gremory Shadow card, but is also played in some Artifact Portal lists). The anti-combo tech cards are very important for tournament Artifact Portal lists, and I would say that running 3-5 of these cards is fine for ladder (depending on how often you run into non-Portal players), however, these cards do cost you percentages in the Portal mirror and against proactive decks like Amulet Haven, as you’re cutting Mechagun Wielders/Artifact Calls to fit in these tech cards, and as such, you are making your deck run worse. If you’re running into a lot of aggressive decks, I would personally recommend a build akin to 小山JAPAN’s decklist, which runs full playsets of Calls and Mechaguns and also includes Technomancers to make the archetype really consistent against early game pressure, but that obviously leaves you a bit soft to Dragon/Gremory Shadow.
- The Radiant Artifact setup is not something that you can reliably set up in every single game that you play, so it’s not uncommon for Artifact Portal lists to include 1-2 damage cards that can either contribute to the Radiant Artifact gameplan or compliment the archetype in other ways. The most common choice for this slot is Path to Purgatory, which is fairly easy to activate around turn 6, which is mostly just a big Demonic Strike, but if your deck is spinning its wheels a little too much (as in, you can’t find a Biofab or a Radiant for Biofab), you can sometimes just set up a PtP and play defensively to set up a 2-turn lethal. Other cards once could try in this slot include Ines (basically, a reverse PtP, in that you play Ines first and then start your chain), cards that serve as extra copies of (bad) Shions (e.g., Craving’s Splendor or Keen Enchantment), and so on. All of these cards are pretty interchangeable and mostly depend on player preference/expected meta: if you’re seeing decks like Aggro Blood, Ines is probably the best choice for this card slot, but PtP is a lot flashier and more exciting, which are important factors for a deck archetype that has been more or less the same 37-40 cards for the last 6 months. The Unlimited format is inherently very balanced, and Artifact Portal is the most balanced deck of the format, which should be evident from its 60-70% tournament representation over the course of the last 9 months, and as such, a wide variety of late-game flex slots can have their applications in the deck.
- Early-game card draw, such as Night’s Way and Mechanical Designs, is an alternative to the more conventional early-game cards like Technomancer, that can set up the deck’s gameplan better. These types of effects are obviously redundant with Focus and Artifact Call, and cut into the anti-combo tech card sector, so if you’re not playing 3xCall, you’re probably not going to find a slot for Night’s Way, but if you’re not concerned about the Dragon matchup, a 1-of Night’s Way or Designs can marginally improve your percentages in the Portal mirror.
Identifying cards: Sacred Plea, Sealed Tome, Pinion Prayer, Temple of Heresy, Moriae Encomium Holy Sentinel, Noble Fangs, Staircase to Paradise.
Amulet Haven is a tempo deck that utilizes the new and improved Skullfane to draw cards and generate tempo advantages by getting Anvelt/Calm Featherfolk/Satan into play for 1 mana, and if you have Skullfane in your opening hand, you’re generally looking at a turn 4 tempo swing. It should be said that in matchups like Dragon/Rune and against aggressive decks (e.g., Summit/Selena Haven/Blood/Vehicle Forest/etc.), you’re generally looking to put as much power into play as early as possible, and ideally set up for a turn 5 lethal (by way of generating a big board on turn 4). In Amulet Haven mirrors, against Atomy Shadow or Artifact Portal, the rule of thumb is that the player that overexteneds first is likely to lose their tempo lead to Anvelt AoE or an Acceleratium chain, so it is often correct to stagger your Anvelt/Shady Priest/Moriae activations. In the case of Anvelt/Temple of Heresy in particular, Selena can enable you to put up a bit of pressure on the opponent and/or draw cards (e.g., with Sneak Attack/Golden Bell/etc.) while maintaining the threat of Anvelt without firing off Skullfane, so there is some finesse to the archetype. In these types of matchups where you have to play the role of a reactive deck, your general win condition is Vengeful Sniper damage (ideally, you should be able to find 2 or more copies), so the priority is on drawing cards/removing opponent’s threats and assembling a Sniper finisher. In the case of Artifact Portal in particular, it is often correct to not reveal Anvelt/Calm Featherfolk to the opponent if you can afford to: if the Portal player has the information that you’re going to generate a board eventually, they’re going to play out the matchup for a slow Acceleratium + Bestowal setup (which Amulet Haven isn’t generally coming back from), but if you’re not generating any pressure, the Portal player might be inclined to use their critical resources (more specifically, Augmentation Bestowal and Shion), so the Haven/Portal matchup often comes down to a strange game of cat and mouse, where your goal as the Haven player is to bluff not having an Anvelt and (with an average draw from both sides) the first player to overextend into the other player’s bluff is likely to lose.
In the early game, you’re generally trying to hard mulligan for Skullfane, and if you have a Skullfane, it’s also fine to keep a Globe/Moriae Encomium and/or an Anvelt with it. Against Haven (assuming the Amulet Haven mirror) and Portal, it is also fine to keep Selena with a Globe when going second.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Pinion Prayer, Sneak Attack and Temple of Heresy are aggressive tech choices that improve your matchups against combo archetype (Rune and Dragon) and aggressive decks (e.g., Summit/Selena Haven, Aggro Blood) that you have to pressure in the early game. These cards are bad against Artifact Portal (as they generate more followers for them to farm Bestowal/Acceleratium discounts off of), so there is a balance to be found between trying to have a low enough number of aggressive follower-based amulets to not sabotage yourself against Portal, but a high enough number of threats to have enough pressure to consistently race Dragon/Rune. The deck always has some amount of these follower-based amulets (Anvelt and Calm Featherfolk), but the exact point of balance depends on what you’re trying to beat.
- Holy Sentinel and Noble Fangs are Ward amulets that help against aggressive decks and Encounter Dragon. Since you generally need 2 Wards to beat Encounter Dragon, just having Anvelts isn’t quite enough without an early Skullfane, and a similar principle applies to matchups against aggressive decks (e.g., Daria Rune, Aggro Blood, Vehicle Forest, etc.). As a general rule, Holy Sentinel is more flexible (namely, it’s way easier to activate with Selena), so Holy Sentinel is the standard inclusion, but Noble Fangs is marginally better if you’re specifically target to target Dragon/Rune.
- Sealed Tome, Sacred Plea and Staircase to Paradise, on the other hand, are the card draw effects that contribute to your percentages against Artifact Portal. Tome and Plea are more flexible in an average game (due to costing less and drawing cards immediately with Skullfane/Selena), but Staircase has the specific utility of fetching up Snipers (among a relatively small pool of followers that you’re playing).
- Realm of Repose is a tech card against Encounter Dragon and other combo decks like Gremory Shadow. RoR is more or less a dead draw against Portal, and generally doesn’t do a whole lot in the Haven mirror and against Rune, and due to having an awkward tension with Skullfane, it is an awkward inclusion in more aggressively teched Amulet Haven lists, but if you’re running Sacred Pleas/Sealed Tomes, RoR is a card to consider to have a better matchup against Dragon. Naoise has similar utility to RoR, but it’s obviously not an Amulet, so it clashes with the rest of the deck’s game plan, particularly if you’re running Staircase to Paradise.
- Kel, Holy Marksman is a tech card for the Amulet Haven mirror. The main utility of Kel is that in combination with Calm Featherfolk/Anvelt and Skullfane or a couple Golden Bells, it can get to the critical threshold of a 6-damage AoE, which most Amulet Haven followers don’t survive. In more recent Amulet Haven lists, Shady Priest generally has a similar utility to Kel in extended games, so Kel is a bit difficult to fit in the deck.
えすあい's Amulet HavenSource
Lucy's Amulet HavenSource
ゼオン's Amulet HavenSource
渡邉美穂's Amulet HavenSource
Grandsoil's Amulet HavenSource
Krone/東工大sv部's Amulet HavenSource
豚饅頭@手帳's Amulet HavenSource
Kii's Selena/Summit HavenSource
ガイルンルン's Selena/Summit HavenSource
真田莉々奈's Selena/Summit HavenSource
Chibi/ARC's Selena/Summit HavenSource
Katsura's (Non-Skullfane) Selena/Summit HavenSource
にーかな's (pre-mini-expac) Summit HavenSource
えすあい's Control HavenSource
Identifying cards: Jeweled Brilliance, Sweetwing Seraph, Graywing Featherfolk, Summit Temple, Destiny Wing Knight, Major Prayers.
Summit/Selena Haven is an offshoot archetype of the more conventional Amulet Haven shells and is a natural evolution of the prior iterations of Selena/Summit lists from before the Skullfane patch. The two flavors of Skullfane decks have a similar game plan, but Summit/Selena decks focus more on putting early pressure on the opponent and less on the card draw-based approach that Amulet Haven can follow. An important notion to consider when playing Summit/Selena Haven is the tension between Skullfane and Summit Temple, so unlike older Summit Haven lists, it is generally incorrect to play out Summit Temple before your amulets (Graywing Featherfolk/Sneak Attack) pop, and you have to be careful about wasting Summit Temple damage if you’re trying to go for a Skullfane line of play.
In the early game, you’re similarly looking for an Skullfane, and if you have an Skullfane, it is generally fine to keep Jeweled Brilliance/Globe/Anvelt. The other card to look for is Summit Temple, as having an early Summit allows you to also keep cards like Graywing Featherfolk/Sneak Attack against Portal/Rune/Haven, and it’s also fine to keep Major Prayers with Summit Temple if you can activate it on curve (e.g., with a Globe/Bell/Graywing). Generally speaking, conventional Amulet Haven lists have their one “highroll” card (Skullfane) and the game plan you’re following depends on whether you manage to fine an early Skullfane or not; while Selena/Summit lists have different game plans based on which of your two “highroll” cards you find, and if you can find both, the deck has a significantly more unfair early game and can both pressure the opponent’s life total and utilize tempo swings created by the Anvelt/Skullfane package.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Jeweled Brilliance is an optional inclusion that helps enable cards like Major Prayers/DWK. The issue with Brilliance is that it requires you to reduce the number of amulets you’re playing in the deck, so more conventional Amulet Haven card draw tools (e.g., Golden Bell/Sealed Tome) doesn’t really fit into Jeweled Brilliance lists, so the choice is generally between Bells + Tomes and Jeweled Brilliance with some non-Amulet based support pieces (e.g., Calm Featherfolk/Sweetwing Seraph/etc.).
- Destiny Wing Knight is an aggressive tech choice that helps against Amulet Haven/Dragon/Rune, but is a bit weak against Artifact Portal. DWK has a pretty limited shelf life (as it’s more or less a dead draw after turn 3), but it’s extremely useful in its relevant matchups to generate early pressure.
- Calm Featherfolk is a tech card that helps against aggressive decks. In a lot of matchups, Selena/Summit Haven is the aggressor (or at least more so than traditional Amulet Haven), so Calm Featherfolk is generally only a good card in lists that either don’t run Brilliance or are low on amulets in other ways (e.g., if you’re not running Golden Bells/Sealed Tomes/Sweetwing Seraphs).
- Sweetwing Seraph is the other optional inclusion that improves your amulet count in a similar fashion to Calm Featherfolk without diluting your Jeweled Brilliance pool. The big upsides of Seraph are that it has a body (and thus provides early pressure in Haven mirrors and against Rune/Portal) and that you can be a bit more selective about which amulets you want to clone: e.g., against Atomy Shadow, getting an extra Shady Priest or Anvelt can make the difference between being able to clear the board or not, and against decks like Rune/Dragon, you can copy Sneak Attack for more damage. An important general application of Seraph is that if you have both a Skullfane and a Summit Temple in the early game, you can clone a Summit Temple and then have it as a backup to push face damage for when you resolve Skullfane.
- While this is not particularly common after the Skullfane patch, there are still players playing non-Skullfane/Anvelt/Shady Priest Selena/Summit lists. In my testing, the Skullfane/Anvelt package significantly improves the deck’s matchups in the Haven mirror, so I don’t think there is a lot of merit to not playing Skullfane if you’re trying to be competitive. Nevertheless, if you’re keen on playing non-Skullfanes Haven decks, I’d recommend checking out the translated guide for the 無妄’s list, which is a bit outdated (in terms of the decklist, the 1-of Ra isn’t really necessary for the current format, for example), but should still reflect a lot of the common play patterns of this build of the archetype.
Regarding Control Haven
Identifying cards:Aegina, Resolve of the Fallen, Set, Benevolent Blight, Feather Rush.
Control Haven is an archetype that is primarily utilized in the same tournament contexts as Control Blood: the main sticking point of the archetype is that you get Realm of Repose (which you can tutor up with Globe and Jeweled Brilliance and clone with Sweetwing Seraph), which gives the archetype a lot of protection against combo decks (it’s just like having Azazel online, except you don’t need 2 Archangels of Evocation to get to 20 health). The win condition of the archetype involves Ra damage and 1-2 copies of Feather Rush, which can be used with invoked Zelgenea for a 14-damage setup in the late game. I’m sorry, did I say 14? I meant 11, don’t know what came over me. Control Haven is more or less a more anti-combo-slanted Control Blood: your healing, AoE and card draw are all a bit worse than in Blood, but you’re a lot better at staying alive against combo decks, which makes it mostly a tournament-oriented archetype and not particularly competitive in a ladder setting after the Skullfane patch.
Identifying cards: Soul Conversion, Guilt, Existential Blader, Jackshovel Gravedigger, Lady Grey, Deathweaver, Minthe of the Underworld, Sonata of Silence, Gremory, Death Teller, Path to Purgatory.
Gremory (a.k.a. Tyrant, a.k.a. Minthe) Shadow is a combo deck that utilizes the combination of Gremory with Path to Purgatory, Deathly Tyrant, and in recent times, Necroimpulse to close out games. Due to Gremory refunding mana from casting cards with high Necromancy costs, the deck can cheat on mana once it gets fully set up, which means that you get to resolve 2 of your finishers (Tyrant/Path to Purgatory/Necroimpulse) in the same turn, which is usually enough to deal somewhere in the realm of 20 damage to the opponent’s face. A key piece of the Gremory puzzle in a format as fast as Unlimited is the combo between Minthe and Sonata of Silence, which effectively gives +23 to your Gremory thresholds for just 4 mana, which potentially allows you to set up for the Tyrant OTK on turn 6, and gives you access to cheating mana with Ghostly Grasp in the process: e.g., if you do the Minthe+Sonata on 4, you can effectively take a 9-mana turn on 5 with Ghostly Grasp. The Sonata combo is the primary setup, however, it is important to be aware of the “slow” Gremory setup, which involves playing Minthe on 5, and following it up with either a Gremory or a Lady Grey (with Gremory in your 2-drop Reanimate pool): this setup generally isn’t enough to have PtP active on 6 (the opponent isn’t just going to leave Minthe alive), but you can get close to having Tyrant thresholds, and you can obviously still do silly things with Grasp/Necroimpulse to stabilize and generate sufficient Shadows in the meantime.
In the early game, you’re generally looking for card draw (Demonic Procession, Death’s Mistress, Sacrophagus Wraith, Soul Conversion and its ilk), and in addition to that, if you see a Minthe+Sonata pair, that’s obviously good to keep as well. If you’re keeping Procession/SoulCon, you should try to keep a 1- or 2-drop to use it with. Against creature-based aggro classes (Blood/Haven), keeping early interaction like Seraphic Blade (deals with Summit Temple in specific) and Jackshovel Gravedigger is obviously good. I also tend to keep Lady Grey going second against Blood/Haven/Rune, and though it’s obviously a lot better with a Jackshovel in your Reanimate pool, it’s still fine if it only brings back a 1/3 Ward.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Seraphic Blade is a tech card against Acceleratium/Nilpotent Entity and Summit Temple, which can also help contest the board in the early game against random aggressive decks. The card is a bit awkward against Acceleratium/Summit Temple, as you can’t always afford to cast it if you also have to deal with the opponent’s board at the same time, but if you get a bit of breathing room (or if the opponent, for example, casts Summit Temple on 1), Seraphic Blade can disrupt the opponent’s game plan a fair bit.
- Guilt and Soul Conversion are functionally similar cards that an average Gremory list would want 4-5 copies of. The difference between the two is that you can Guilt can be used with Burial Rites effects (while SoulCon can’t be), however, the downside of Guilt is that it makes your Demonic Procession worse at finding combo pieces and early-game action. The priority doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things (they’re functionally the same card), however, there are marginal merits and downsides to both of these cards.
- Goblin and Skull Beast are in a similar category to Soul Conversion-style effects, in that they’re functionally the same card, but have fringe implications on certain other cards: namely, Skull Beast makes your Demonic Procession worse (you generally don’t really want to hit a 1-drop with your card draw), however, if you actually play (and then promptly Guilt/Soul Conversion) your 1-drops, Skull Beast does generate an extra Shadow, which is generally not particularly relevant, but is still something to consider. As strange as it is to say (in a vacuum), Goblin is generally strictly better than Skull Beast for what Gremory Shadow is trying to achieve, but the difference is pretty marginal. Steadfast Angel is an alternative to Goblin, which has the important utility of being a cheap Ward in the Gremory Shadow mirror and against other Storm-based combo/aggro decks (e.g., Daria Rune, Summit Haven, etc.).
- Necroimpulse is a card that has recently started seeing play as a 1-of. Historically, Gremory Shadow lists generally ran 3xTyrant and 2-3xPtP, however, getting to 30 Shadows can be difficult if you’re going for the “slow” Gremory setup. Necroimpulse is a lot more flexible, and I am quite convinced that it’s generally better than a third copy of PtP, but it’s debatable whether you need a 6th finisher in the first place. With these factors in mind, I would say that Gremory Shadow lists that previously ran 3xPtP/3xTyrant are better suited to trim 1xPtP for a Necroimpulse, but if you’re playing a bit more card draw (and can thus get away with a 2/3 split), Necroimpulse isn’t that necessary.
- Altered Fate is an anti-combo tech card that allows you to activate Gremory a lot faster if you can’t set up a Minthe combo. Altered Fate is at its best in the Gremory Shadow mirror, but the big downside of it is that you obviously don’t contest the board when wheeling your hand away. Altered Fate is primarily a tournament-oriented tech choice for players trying to get some percentages in the Shadow mirror, and I’ve personally found it to be too clunky for the current ladder environment.
Syura's Gremory ShadowSource
ビットロン's Gremory ShadowSource
Chibi/ARC's Gremory ShadowSource
小山JAPAN's Gremory ShadowSource
ぐりふぃすじむ's Gremory ShadowSource
小山JAPAN's Atomy ShadowSource
へーちょむ's Atomy ShadowSource
Lucy's Atomy ShadowSource
ユーリ's Atomy ShadowSource
えお's Atomy ShadowSource
かげなつ's Atomy ShadowSource
のち's Atomy ShadowSource
Identifying cards: Fount of Angels, Haunted House, Coffin of the Unknown Soul, Princess Knight, Lord Atomy, Cloistered Sacristan, Zeus, He Who Once Rocked, Fatal Order.
Atomy Shadow is a tempo deck that revolves around playing its eponymous card in order to generate a large tempo swing on turns 3-4. An 8/8 on turn 3 isn’t really that great by Unlimited standards in the year of our Lord 2020, however, Atomy has significant synergy with Coffin of the Unknown Soul and Cloistered Sacristan, which put a lot of stats into play, even more so if said Coffin had a Zeus or He Who Once Rocked to immediately start pressuring the opponent’s life total, or a Deathbringer to control the board. In order to hit Atomy more consistently, the deck generally doesn’t include any Fanfare followers, which allows Princess Knight to consistently fetch Atomy in the early game for the turn 4 combo. The new additions to Atomy Shadow include Death of the Party (which is an early-game play that replaces itself, gets some extra fodder to activate Atomy easier, and does some chip damage to the opponent), as well as Necroimpulse (which turns the deck into a quasi-aggro deck, in that if you go off on turn 3-4, a Necroimpulse follow-up is generally enough to close out the game on the following turn against non-Portal decks; in addition to that, you can always just use Necroimpulse to simply play Atomy on 4 if you don’t have anything better going on).
In the early game, you’re generally looking for specifically Atomy or Princess Knight if you don’t have an Atomy, and if you have an Atomy or PK, you can also keep Coffin of the Unknown Soul, Death of the Party, Staircase, Fount, etc. If you’re keeping Atomy with a Coffin, also keep HWOR/Zeus to go along with it.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Atomy Shadow is generally not an archetype that particularly cares about what the opponent’s trying to do, but a bit of early interaction can still be somewhat useful; this can include Manifest Malice (good against aggressive decks, incidentally also helps activate Atomy a bit) and Seraphic Blade (answers Nilpotent Entity/Summit Temple), which can slot in at 1-2 copies, depending on how aggressive the field you’re playing against is.
- The other avenue which allows a bit of customization is the early-game card draw slots. I am of the belief that Princess Knight should be a 3-of, and I place a lot of value on 1-mana amulets (Fount of Angels and Haunted House, although the latter doesn’t draw cards, but can generate Ghosts with Burial Rite effects), as they make setting up for Atomy a lot easier, but I think there is a lot of potential flexibility in the Death of the Party/Death’s Mistress slots. Some potential options include Staircase to Paradise (which lets you reload after an early Atomy), Demonic Procession (which does require some additional support, preferably of the Neutral variety, e.g., Goblins), and if you want to get even more highroll-y, Frozen Mammoth (doesn’t draw cards, but generates an extra body with Atomy). I have personally been very unimpressed with Staircase and I believe that the card is simply an outdated carryover from old Atomy Shadow builds, so I believe that the most consistent configuration is generally 3xDeath’s Mistress+2-3xDeath of the Party.
Identifying cards: Mystic Ring, Goblin Mage, Sneer of Disdain, Sudden Showers, Clash of Heroes, Ramiel, Princess Knight.
Encounter/Dagon Dragon is an archetype that revolves around drawing Dagon with its eponymous card, Encounter from the Deep. In order to guarantee that Encounter specifically hits Dagon, the archetype is constructed in such a way that Dagon is the only Dragoncraft follower in the deck. In essense, the Encounter combo needs 3 conditions to be met: firstly, you need to have Phoenix Roost in play, secondly, you need to play Encounter, and thirdly, you need to have at least 1xDagon in your deck. As such, initial builds of the archetype looked a whole lot like conventional Roost Dragon builds that didn’t include Zooey/Zell (or any other non-Dagon Dragon followers). The issue with such a construction of the archetype is that you’re playing a lot of bad cards (e.g., early builds ran Ramiel, Bahamut, Draconic Fervor, Embodiment of Cocytus) and awkward removal spells that don’t do much in the early game against Amulet Haven, and the big issue is that you needed to start your turn with 7 open mana and a Phoenix Roost in play, which is not terribly realistic for a format as cutthroat as Unlimited.
The solution to these issues is the inclusion of Resplendent Phoenix instead of actual Phoenix Roost. Having 2-drops in your Encounter deck is obviously a questionable idea, so the more recent build of Encounter/Dagon Dragon generally runs 3xGoblin Mage and a singleton Resplendent Phoenix, with the basic game plan of the archetype generally involving trying to resolve Resplendent Phoenix on your first evolve turn, then play Encounter and set up for a lethal Dagon on the following turn. Going second, this setup obviously requires you to ramp once, but the combo is relatively safe (you’re removing two followers from the opponent’s side of the board and you’re not playing Phoenix Roost, so you’re not discounting the opponent’s whole hand) and extremely fast and consistent for a combo deck (it’s a 2-card combo that wins after the opponent’s turn 5). Encounter Dagon has largely overshadowed its Zooey/Roost counterpart and while it’s not the best deck of the format (it can still die on turn 4 to Amulet Haven), it’s one of the more meta-warping Unlimited archetypes: the fact that it is the third most played ladder deck (according to the data I have access to at the time of writing) effectively means that fair decks can’t really be played in the format without dedicating a lot of card slots to anti-combo tech cards. Encounter Dagon doesn’t have as big of a meta share as Artifact Portal or Skullfane decks, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a healthy archetype for the Unlimited format.
In the early game, if you’re going first, you’re generally looking for Resplendent Phoenix or Goblin Mage (prioritizing Phoenix), and if you have one of these cards, you can also keep Encounter. Naturally, you’re never passing up a Dragon Oracle/Cursed Furor since you’re playing a Dragon deck. If you’re going first and already keeping 2 cards (e.g., a ramp card and a Goblin Mage/Phoenix), it’s also fine to keep a removal spell for your turn 4, such as Sneer of Disdain against Portal or Sudden Showers against Haven.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Mystic Ring is an optional inclusion that draws a card for 1 mana in the early game and has the important utility of shuffling Dagon back into your deck. In my testing, I have yet to draw triple Dagon before my Phoenix turn, but it’s somewhere in the realm of a 2-4% probability depending on how many cards you draw. A lot of Encounter lists default to running 3xRings, which has felt a bit incorrect in my testing (why would you need a full playset to cover for ~2-4% of your games), so trimming the third Ring for some ther card draw effect or a removal spell isn’t something I’d consider blasphemous.
- Seraphic Blade is a tech card against anti-combo tech cards like Nilpotent Entity, and the card can also pick up value against Summit Temple decks. Seraphic Blade is absolutely crucial against Portal, and while it doesn’t have good targets in every matchup, it can still pick up value against decks that play 2-drops (which are what, Summit/Selena Haven and fringe decks like Blood and Vehicle Forest).
- Sudden Showers is a tech card against Atomy Shadow and Amulet Haven. Being able to clear a Zeus/Anvelt that they cheat into play way earlier than any Shadowverse deck should have any right to is extremely valuable, but the random targeting can obviously miss if they have multiple followers out.
- Sneer of Disdain is a tech card against Artifact Portal, which can specifically answer the early Acceleratium turns (but obviously folds to Shion-ed boards, but then again, this deck generally folds to a resolved Shion in any of its modes). Running Sneer doesn’t make Encounter Dagon favored against Portal by any means, but it at least gives you an out in the early game, especially when going first.
- Dungeon Explorer Chloe is a tech card against Atomy Shadow and, to a lesser extent, Amulet Haven and Artifact Portal. Encounter Dragon has issues dealing with either multiple Ward followers (primarily relevant against Amulet Haven), and Ward followers that have Bane (Syntonization tokens and Zeus out of Atomy Shadow), and Chloe is a simple solution to all of these issues. The drawback of Chloe is that it does cost 2-3 mana, so you have to ramp once or twice if you’re curving out with Phoenix + Encounter into Dagon, which is not even that high of a highroll. Some Encounter lists also play Princess Knight, and Chloe is obviously on bad terms with PK, but PK is kind of hot garbage in the deck anyway, so it’s not that much of a competition.
- Draconic Counsel is an optional inclusion that can help you find your Encounter faster. Scalebound Plight is kind of a no-brainer in the deck, but Counsel is a bit awkward in that the cheapest card in your hand is often going to be Resplendent Phoenix, which you obviously don’t want to discard. I’ve found this particular drawback not particularly limiting in my testing, and I’ve personally found the common inclusion of Draconic Fervor a bit confusing for the archetype: in my testing, Fervor is literally uncastable in 80%+ of ladder matchups, and I don’t quite understand in what universe you can get away with drawing 2 cards for 5 mana against Portal/Haven/Shadow. Or rather, I’d like to be in that universe, please take me there.
Identifying cards: Zooey, Arbiter of the Skies, Dragon-Devouring Dread, Genesis Dragon of Disaster, Pumpkin Dragon, Resplendent Phoenix, Wind Reader Zell.
Zooey/Phoenix Roost Dragon is a combo deck that utilizes its eponymous card, Phoenix Roost (as well as Resplendent Phoenix) to repeatedly play Zooey, Arbiter of the Skies, which makes your leader immune to damage. Doing so gives you ample time to set up your win condition, which involves either bouncing Zooey with Ian to get more damage, or using the combo of Dagon, Lord of the Seas and Wind Reader Zell to deal 30 damage to the opponent (assuming no anti-combo tech cards). There are two primary builds of the archetype: the Dragon-Devouring Dread shell, which runs Genesis Dragon of Disaster, Pumpkin Dragons, 3xDagon and 2-3xZell, which means that the win condition for the DDD shell is generally the Dagon combo; and the “vanilla” Zooey shell, which often runs a playset of Ian, Dragon Buster to repeatedly bounce Zooey, which allows it to stall for longer, and makes it so that your top-end cards are limited in such a way that you can run Dragon Emissary to tutor for Zooey ~42-50% of the time (Ian shells generally run only 1xDagon, so the only Emissary targets are 3xZooey, 1xDagon and 3xPhoenix Roosts). Generally speaking, the DDD build is a bit better at ramping (since you only need to 2 DDD activations and 1xDragon Oracle to play Phoenix Roost on turn 3), which makes the initial setup a bit safer (the faster you ramp, the less of an opportunity window your opponent has to kill you on the crackback), but the Ian shell is better against anti-combo tech cards like Nilpotent Entity (more time to dig for answers).
Zooey/Roost Dragon is a bit of what I would call a “glass-cannon” combo deck, in that your early game setup generally involves playing Phoenix Roost, drawing some cards or evolving Resplendent Phoenix to have a backup against anti-amulet tech cards, then passing the turn and seeing if your opponent can kill you with out-of-hand damage, which is certainly not impossible for some decks (e.g., most hyper-aggro decks and decks like Gremory Shadow) if you’re discounting all cards in their hand by up to 50%. For that reason, there are some decks which are more or less free matchups for any and all Phoenix Roost decks if you manage to ramp at least once and just play Roost on curve (e.g., D-Shift or Daria Rune), but for a lot of other prevalent decks, you either have to ramp twice (primarily applicable to DDD lists) or outpace their big setup turn (e.g., if the Shadow player played a Minthe+Sonata, or if the Portal player already has a 14-power board on turn 3, it might already be too late to play Phoenix Roost), which makes Zooey/Roost Dragon somewhat draw-dependant. Another thing to note is that if you’re going second and have a somewhat slow-ish hand, you can use the Resplendent Phoenix setup, but it’s obviously somewhat contingent on you not having any of your combo pieces in your hand, so, for example, if your hand is Resplendent, Pumpkin Dragon, Zooey and a Cursed Furor/Oracle, the correct line of play is to save all the card draw until the turn where you play Resplendent Phoenix (that’s right, no Zooey on turn 1!), and then try to go Resplendent into Zooey into Pumpkin (so long as your mana allows for it) in order to maximize your chances of having Zooey on the following turn. So, long story short, if your opening hand has both ramp and Uriel/Phoenix Roost, you can use your card draw however you want, but if you have a Resplendent Phoenix with no Roost or with (little to) no ramp, you have to be a little more careful about your sequencing. A similar logic applies to tutor effects during the later stages of the game: if you’re trying to dig for Zooey and you have 8-9 mana, you should use Uriel first to thin your deck (and possibly get some fodder for Counsel), before using your generic card draw (Zelgenea/Counsel/etc.).
Naturally, the cards you’re looking for in the early game include Dragon Oracle, Cursed Furor and Phoenix Roost/Uriel (preferably, Phoenix Roost). Going second, you can also keep Resplendent Phoenix instead of Roost. If you’re playing a DDD list, you can also keep DDD with a non-Zooey (do not fuse Zooeys!) fusible card (e.g., Dagon/Genesis/Pumpkin, although you should obviously try not to fuse Pumpkin if you’re going for a Resplendent Phoenix line of play). If you’re playing an Ian list, you can generally keep Dragon Emissary if you have ramp already, but no Phoenix Roost.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Uriel is an optional inclusion that can tutor for Phoenix Roost. Uriel is pretty cuttable if you run more generic card draw (e.g., if you’re running 3xZelgenea, Adramelech or Dragon Counsel, not to be confused with Draconic Counsel, which is a very different card in a game with really creative card names that is Shadowverse). Uriel is pretty narrow in its application, but the 3/3 body isn’t irrelevant and can contest the board against aggressive decks if you ramp into it.
- Georgius is primarily an anti-Portal tech card that can clear Shion boards and adds a bit of extra damage in the later stages of the game. In addition to that, you can also bounce it with Ian to generate a bit of extra face damage, which makes the deck less reliant on assembling the Zell + Dagon combo.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Nilpotent Entity in specific (and other miscellaneous damage-preventing amulets, e.g., Ward of Unkilling in Roach lists, or Realm of Repose in Control Haven), as well as random big Wards (e.g., Shion-ed up Mystic Artifacts, or He Who Once Rocked/Zeus in Atomy lists) that you can run into on occasion. Angelic Smite is run over Resolve because it draws you a card, which Zooey/Roost Dragon gets more mileage than the opponent’s deck, in most cases.
- Dark Angel Olivia is an optional inclusion in Ian lists. Normally, you only get to Ian the number of Zooeys equal to the number of your evolve points, but a 1-of Olivia allows you to have 6xZooeys a game, and still have a spare evolve for the Dagon+Zell combo. In that sense, Olivia is a quasi-tech card for the Dragon mirror (because you get more Zooeys) and healing-heavy matchups where you need the Dagon combo, and how relevant that application is heavily depends on the metagame you’re facing.
- Adramelech is an optional inclusion in DDD shells. The issue with Adramelech is that it gets really awkward if you have 2 Roosts out, and even with just one Phoenix Roost, it can be tricky to get the card draw out of it. With Pumpkin Dragon, with a Phoenix Roost out, you can still draw 3 cards for 4 mana, which is a bit clunky, but still does potentially allow you to resolve a Zooey on the same turn, but if you play Adramelech with 4 mana, it does, well, it does its best, okay. Cards were designed a bit differently 2.5 years ago.
Regarding Discard Dragon
Identifying cards: Scalebound Plight, Wise Dragonewt Scholar, Turncoat Dragon Summoner, Shipsbane Plesiosaurus, Dragoon Medic, Wildfang Dragonewt, Altered Fate.
Discard Dragon is a midrange archetype that utilizes mana acceleration (Dragon Oracle/Cursed Furor/Dragon Emissary) to evolve Shipsbane Plesiosaurus on curve, and then start generating value and board control through Shipsbane triggers. The deck is quite similar to the Rotation build of the archetype, however, it also utilizes a quasi-OTK combo of Wildfang Dragonewt and Altered Fate to close out games. Discard Dragon is a somewhat unique archetype, in that it does have a combo component, but it’s not a conventional combo deck (since you can’t really deal 20 damage with the Wildfang combo), so aside from the initial mana acceleration, it is as close as one can get to a fair deck in the Unlimited format. Discard Dragon is generally a bit weak to aggressive strategies, so while it was pretty competitive during the July-September period, with the introduction of more and more degenerate tempo decks (e.g., Amulet Haven/Atomy Shadow) and fast combo decks (e.g., Encounter Dragon), Discard Dragon has been on a decline. It’s still a playable deck (or about as playable as a fair deck can be in the format), but the Unlimited environment is quite hostile to it currently.
Identifying cards: Blade Mage, Enchanted Sword, Twinblade Mage, Zealot of Truth, Mutagenic Bolt.
Daria Rune (a.k.a., Follower Rune or Storm Rune) is a tempo deck that utilizes Spellboost synergy and wins by playing a wide variety of Blade Mage variants printed over the course of Shadowverse’s history, which include Blade Mage, Twinblade Mage, Enchanted Sword, Zealot of Truth and the honorary Blade Mage known as Runie, Resolute Diviner. Since a lot of cards in the deck get discounted by getting Spellboosted and happen to Spellboost your hand when played, Daria Rune generally doesn’t tend to generate a lot of early-game pressure, but once it gets to 6-7 Spellboost triggers, the deck can put out 14-16 face damage in a single turn, which usually happens around turn 5-6. While generally Daria Rune is played as more or less a quasi-aggro deck of sorts, I should note that Runie does give the archetype a bit of healing, which is primarily relevant when racing against other aggressive decks, and Runie can potentially allow Daria Rune to play a slower game in a fashion similar to Rotation Spellboost Rune lists: Spellboost Runie 10 times, then Spellboost the copies, and so on. Generally speaking, Daria Rune isn’t very good at this type of strategy, but against slow, healing-heavy decks like Control Blood, chaining Runies can be a valid game plan, as Daria Rune does have a finite amount of damage, but you can get a bit more if you’re not under too much pressure.
In the early game, you’re generally looking for Fate’s Hand and Chaos Wielder, and if you have any of those, keeping some early-game action (e.g., Mysterian Knowledge/Shikigami Summons/Kaleidoscopic Glow) is generally fine. I have a tendency to keep Runie against aggressive classes (Portal/Rune/Blood/Haven), as the healing is valuable to have sooner rather than later, and I’m also more inclined to prioritize cards that contest the board, like Kaleidoscopic Glow/Shikigami Summons, in aggressive (non-Rune) matchups (Haven/Blood), and card draw (e.g., Magic Missile, Chain of Calling) against Dragon/Shadow/Rune/Forest.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Chain of Calling and its strictly worse counterpart, Sorcery in Solidarity (imagine losing out on so much F6 value), are early-game flex slots that are good against decks that don’t contest the board in the early game, such as Artifact Portal, Gremory Shadow and the Daria Rune mirror. The archetype is built in such a way that Chain of Calling always finds either a damage card of some sort or a Chaos Wielder, so it makes your inevitable swing turn stronger in matchups where you don’t have too many KaleidoGlow targets. While the “strictly worse” part is mostly sarcasm, Sorcery in Solidarity does have a slower animation than Chain because of the choose menu popping up, so if you’re really trying to optimize your Daria games, Chain of Calling is strictly better than Sorcery in Solidarity.
- Shikigami Summons is a tech card against aggressive decks like Vehicle Forest/Aggro Blood/etc., which helps contest the board, and more importantly, it Spellboosts your hand twice for 2 mana. Summons is specifically bad in the Rune mirror (since it enables the opponent’s Glow), and it’s also not particularly great against Portal, as you’re giving the Portal player room to trade in 2 Analyzing Artifacts, and the 1/3 doesn’t really contest the board in that matchup. I am not a huge fan of Summons in the current ladder environment, but there is room in the deck to trim a Twinblade Mage or two, if you’re facing a lot of conventional aggro decks.
- Golem Marshal is a more aggressive alternative to Solidarity/Chain of Calling and has obvious synergy with all the Storm cards Daria Rune tends to play. For all intents and purposes, Marshal is mostly just a worse Angelic Snipe, as it restricts you from playing Runie/Chaos Wielder and as such can cause some awkward sequencing, but it’s the best choice for the Chain/Summons slot if you’re trying to target combo decks such as Dragon/Gremory Shadow/etc.
- Mutagenic Bolt is a tech card against primarily Artifact Portal, and to a lesser extent, Amulet Haven. 6 mana is a lot, so running more than 1 MutaBolt is difficult to justify, but an important factor to consider about the Portal matchup is that the Portal player can occasionally opt for a defensive game by setting up a bunch of Mystic Artifacts and/or get healing with Syntonization, and in those cases, holding back your proactive board developments (in order not to give the Portal player an opportunity to get trades to free up board space and heal with Syntonization), then MutaBolt-ing their board and using your 0-cost Spellboosted cards can be enough to turn the corner. In addition to that, after the Skullfane balance changes, Amulet Haven can often generate a wide board on turn 4-5, and while MutaBolt isn’t fast enough to beat the Haven players’ best draws, it is helpful to have access to if the Amulet Haven opts for a slower line of play. These scenarios are common enough where a 1-of MutaBolt is a pretty tempting inclusion.
Identifying cards: Pursuit of Truth, Crystal Fencer, Fiery Embrace, Kuon, Founder of Onmyodo, Dimension Shift.
Dimension Shift is a combo deck that utilizes its titular card, Dimension Shift to close out games. The archetype’s primary combo setup generally involves resolving a Kuon or an active Crystal Fencer during its setup turn (which usually happens on turn 6) and then closing out the game with Dimension Shift on the following turn. The archetype certainly has the potential to close out games on turn 6 (particularly on the draw), but as a general rule of thumb, D-Shift Rune is a turn 7 combo deck, so it’s often plays out games as a quasi-control deck (particularly in aggressive matchups). After the addition of Pursuit of Truth, a common staple of D-Shift lists is Crystal Fencer, which gives the deck a secondary combo setup: instead of resolving Kuon, if you manage to draw 3+ copies of Fate’s Hand/Chaos Wielder in the early game, it’s often possible to get Crystal Fencer online on turn 6 and then either go off with D-Shift immediately (if you drew it early enough) or set up for a turn 7 lethal.
In a similar fashion to Daria Rune, the cards you’re generally looking for in the early game are Fate’s Hand and Chaos Wielder, and if you have one of those, you can consider keeping Insight/Glow/Magic Missile, although keeping Glow against Portal/Dragon is obviously inadvisable. If you have either multiple Fate’s Hands/Chaos Wielders or a Fate’s Hand with a 1-drop, it’s generally fine to keep a Kuon.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Crystal Fencer is an optional inclusion that gives the archetype an alternate combo setup, which helps you close out games in matchups where you can manage to stabilize. Since you’re generally cutting defensive tools (early-game cards and Traditional Sorcerers), running Fencer inherently makes you worse against conventional aggressive decks (e.g., Aggro Blood, Vehicle Forest, etc.), but in matchups where those cards don’t really matter (e.g., Artifact Portal/Amulet Haven), Fencer is better than anything else you could play in these card slots. In my testing, there is no real way to tech for the Amulet Haven matchup with D-Shift Rune (no matter what fancy tech cards you’re running, the deck doesn’t really beat a turn 4 Skullfane), so I’d personally consider Fencer a no-brainer inclusion in the current format, but if you’re seeing a lot of aggro, you can consider swapping to Traditional Sorcerers/Shikigami Summons/etc.
- Pursuit of Truth is an optional inclusion that makes Crystal Fencers a bit better. D-Shift Rune has a tendency to burn cards from its deck when it’s running well, and a Pursuit can be a passable stand-in for the third copy of Fate’s Hand-type effect you’d need for a turn 6 Fencer setup. The card you’re generally cutting for Pursuit is Demoncaller (as they’re both Spellboost payoffs that can serve as removal), but Demoncaller is a bit faster (you don’t need to get to 10 Spellboost triggers for it to have an on-board effect), while Pursuit is a bit less bricky (you can always cast it for no effect for 1 mana). I’ve personally found Demoncaller to be the better card of the two against Artifact Portal, but Pursuit is marginally better in the Amulet Haven matchup (which still doesn’t make it anywhere close to favored), so if you’re trying to target Artifact Portal, Demoncaller is generally the correct choice (which is the case for most tournament-oriented D-Shift lists), but if you’re facing a lot of Amulet Haven on ladder, Pursuit of Truth is probably the second best path of action to consider, with the first being, you know, trying a different deck.
Identifying cards: Hungering Horde, Azazel, the Depraved, Archangel of Evocation, Sanguine Core, Angelic Smite, Resolve of the Fallen, Diabolic Drain.
Control Blood is a control archetype that utilizes the combination of Azazel and Archangel of Evocation to disrupt combo decks and a suite of efficient AoE/removal available to Blood (Io, Nerea, Hungering Horde) to control the board against proactive decks. The win condition of the archetype varies on a build-by-build basis and can include anything from a Ravening Corruption package to Prince of Cocytus. Previously, Control Blood builds utilized the combo of Demon Commander Laura with invoked Zelgenea as a win condition (which was usually enough to close out the game with a Garnet Waltz or two), but that game plan isn’t really on good terms with Archangel of Evocation, so for a lot of the more recent Control Blood builds, it has transformed into a pure attrition deck, where you try to answer every threat the opponent could have and stop them from pulling off game-winning combos with Azazel + Archangels, and then wait for the opponent to either concede out of boredom or go on the beatdown with the random midgame followers (Nerea/Zelgenea/etc.) once your opponent is out of gas. For the purposes of ladder play (and personal sanity), I would recommend running a win condition of some sort that can win the game eventually, but if you have unlimited time (e.g., if you’re preparing for a tournament or if you really like wasting other people’s time), going “full durdle” is something you can definitely do, but I wouldn’t really recommend playing something along the lines of Jespaia’s build, for example.
After the Skullfane patch, Control Blood has transitioned into more of an archetype that specifically targets Portal and combo decks (Dragon, Gremor Shadow, etc.), and as such, the archetype has a lot of trouble against Amulet Haven without running cards like Revelation (which you generally need to pair up with Blood Moon to be on par with fast Skullfane draws). In addition to that, even previously favored matchups (e.g., Roost Dragon) have transformed into literal turn 5 OTKs (Encounter/Dagon Dragon), so due to these factors combined, Control Blood is a lot worse than it used to be before the mini-expansion patch.
In the early game, Control Blood doesn’t generally do a whole lot, so you’re looking for card draw (Unleash/Dire Bond/Confectioner), as well as matchup-specific cards: Azazel against Shadow/Dragon/Forest, Hungering Horde against Portal, Io against Portal/Haven/Rune.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Hungering Horde is an anti-Portal tech card that can answer early-game Shion+Analyzing Artifact setups. Hungering Horde is good to have going first against Aggro Blood and tempo-oriented Haven decks, but it is a dead draw against Shadow/Rune/Dragon/Forest.
- Resolve of the Fallen is a tech card against Path to Purgatory out of Gremory Shadow/Artifact Portal, and can also serve as an answer against an early Atomy in a pinch (although if you’re spending 4 mana answering an Atomy, you’re obviously not in a great spot in the first place, but it’s certainly better than nothing). Angelic Smite is functionally similar (albeit generally worse), but if you feel that 3xResolve isn’t enough to answer whatever field you’re facing, running some number of Smites can be helpful. In theory, Amulet destruction cards are potentially helpful against Zooey/Roost Dragon if they only have one Phoenix Roost out, but in my testing, Dragon draws way more cards than Control Blood, so the matchup doesn’t really come down to destroying the Roost itself, and is decided more by whether you have Azazel and Archangel(s) early enough, so I don’t think that Resolve/Smite are too important for the Dragon matchup.
- Ravening Corruption is an optional inclusion that can allow you to close out the game faster once you stabilize. This is something that I talked about in the introductory section, but against certain decks that can play the long game (e.g., Artifact Portal, Daria Rune, Summit/Selena Haven, etc.), you need to have a bit of counter-pressure to not allow the opponent to just answer your followers and heal up, so alternate win conditions such as Ravening Corruption, Prince of Cocytus, Luzen are good to have for ladder play. Obviously, you don’t really need a win condition against decks like =Dragon and Gremory Shadow, because those matchups are mostly about getting Azazel+Evocation up and answering all of the opponent’s threats, so there is value to cards like Mask of the Black Death and Sanguine Core. I am specifically featuring a Ravening Corruption list in the tab menu, as Ravening Corruption incentivizes you to run more card draw (Dire Bond, the Tree cards, maybe a Confectioner or two), and while the extent to which you want to support the Ravening package is up to you (with things like Altered Fate and Showdown Demon), having more card draw inherently makes you better against combo: the way I see it, Control Blood is like a quasi-combo deck in some matchups, e.g., against Gremory Shadow/Dragon, your “combo” setup is Azazel+Archangel, and if you don’t evolve Azazel on curve, you’re going to be unfavored against Shadow regardless of how many Masks you’re running, so having the opportunity to just Altered Fate/Showdown on 2 when you don’t have an Azazel in hand is valuable in and of itself, so running Ravening Corruption inadvertently pushes you into the direction of running better anti-combo tech cards.
Regarding Aggro Blood
Identifying cards: Ambling Wraith, Hellblaze Demon, Savage Wolf, Blood Wolf, Yurius, Traitorous Duke, Jormungand.
Aggro Blood is a blanket term for hyper-aggressive Blood archetypes that tend to have a very low curve of early-game followers and a lot of reach to close out games on turns 4-5. In an ideal scenario, Aggro Blood is aiming to have a 1-2-3 early-game curve, and then starts chucking Razory Claw/Garnet Waltz or various Storm cards at the opponent’s face, and due to the archetype’s construction and the high degree of redundancy (you have 9-12 Goblins, 12+ 2-drops and 9+ 3-drops), Aggro Blood is very consistent at curving out and spending all of its mana every turn. There are 2 primary builds of Aggro Blood: the “Handbuff” variant (which runs things like Vuella, Gabriel and sometimes Entrancing Blow) and the more follower-heavy Baal variant (which runs Baal and tries really hard to not run Neutral cards or non-Razory Claw spells). The two builds have obvious overlap (e.g., Hellblaze Demon is generally run in most Aggro Blood lists, as it doesn’t need much help to get an extra 1-3 damage in most games). With all of this said, even if Aggro Blood is this hyper-aggro deck, it still has some midgame interaction with Io and it usually runs 1-2xJormungand for games that drag out: Aggro Blood isn’t a “Jorm deck” per se, but if you’re ahead on tempo, you can just play a 5-mana 5/5 and if it doesn’t get Mugnier-ed, you then have enough incidental activators for it (Razory Claw, Blood Wolf, Silverbolt, Ambling Wraith, Bloodbinder, etc.) to get good mileage out of its effect. Aggro Blood exists to punish bad openings of slower decks, and while it doesn’t do anything flashy or inherently unfair, it is incredibly consistent at what it does and is a necessary aspect of the Unlimited format to keep greedy combo decks like Dragon in check.
Regarding Ravening/Baal Blood
Identifying cards: Vuella, Unblemished Wings, Blood Pact, Altered Fate, Nightprowl Vampire.
Ravening Blood is a blanket term for a tempo archetype that revolves around the synergy between Ravening Corruption, Altered Fate and Baal to deal a lot of burn damage. Ravening Blood can be described as a slower, more burn-heavy Aggro Blood, and while you can build it as more of a slower reactive deck with more card draw (e.g., with Blood Pacts or a small Confectioner package), you can also just build it as literally a Baal Aggro Blood shell with a 6-card Ravening Corruption/Altered Fate package. A common play pattern with the archetype is to evolve Corruption on turn 5 and follow it up with Altered Fate, which is generally enough to set up a 2-turn clock. Depending on the build direction you’re taking, the deck plays as either something akin to Control Blood (e.g., with a list like ユーリ’s, your goal is to look for card draw in the early game, then play Ravening Corruption and start controlling the board or launching burn spells at the opponent’s face); or with a list like わかぱぱ’s, your game plan is to curve out with early-game followers and then either resolve Ravening Corruption into Altered Fate/Baal, or if you’re running a bit more burn, you can just Altered Fate/Baal to dig for more damage. The slower builds of the archetype are better at setting up for a 6-card Baal, but the more aggressive variants of the deck get more chip damage with 1-drops and disruptive early-game cards like Yurius (either of them).
After the mini-expansion, Bloodsoaked Archdemon is an important addition to Ravening Blood that adds a slight “highroll” angle to the archetype: if you manage to start cycling Archdemons in the early game, it is occasionally possible to have it active around turn 6, which adds a lot of extra damage to the archetype. Archdemon is specifically important against Artifact Portal, as they’re usually only running 2 Mugniers at most, and trying to clear an Archdemon with Rush followers isn’t the greatest of ideas.
Regarding Vehicle/Aggro Forest
Identifying cards: Spring-Green Protection, Cactus Cowboy, Giant Pastures, Fita the Gentle Elf, Quixotic Adventurer, Rivaylian Bandit, Fount of Angels, Vagabond Lizard, Varmint Hunter, Wandering Chef, Lina & Lena, Sukuna, Mighty Malleteer.
Vehicle/Aggro Forest is an aggressive tempo deck that revolves around the neutral Vehicle package and utilizes a variety of pay-off cards (e.g., Fita/Rivaylian Bandit/Chef/Varmint Hunter) and Storm cards (Sukuna/Lina and Lena/Mallet Monkey) to leverage the early tempo lead and close out games. Rivaylian Bandit is one of the most important cards in the deck, as snowballing an early Bandit is about as unfair as Forest can really get in the Unlimited format. Generally speaking, Vehicle Forest is an aggressive deck that does really well against other aggressive decks (e.g., Blood) due to having a lot of Rush-based early developments, as well as Wandering Chef (which can both control the board and stabilize your life total), however, it struggles against Skullfane decks and is often not fast enough to pressure Artifact Portal or even Encounter Dragon. The deck performs decently well against Rune, but that is about the only redeeming quality of Vehicle Forest compared to other decks in this aggressive sector of the Unlimited meta, compared to more streamlined archetypes like Aggro Blood, for example. The archetype has some potential in a Conquest ruleset, but it’s generally just too bad against Haven to be competitive in a Bo1 setting.
Whirlwind Rhinoceroach Forest
Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Guard of the Machinatree, Dungeoncrawl Fairy, Fairy Torrent, Pixie Mischief, Fairy Refuge.
Whirlwind Rhinoceroach Forest is a combo deck that revolves around bouncing Whirlwind Rhinoceroaches to set up an OTK around turn 6-7. In order to tutor for Roaches, the deck runs Liza with a relatively low number of other followers, which also makes Whispering Woods quite consistent at hitting either Liza or Roaches. In addition to that, there are also builds of the deck that don’t run any 2-drop followers (Machinatree or Dungeoncrawl) and include Goblin Mage as an additional Roach tutor. The archetype is pretty straightforward in its playstyle, in that you’re generally looking for Roaches/Liza in the early game, then start bouncing the Roaches while using Fairy Refuge/ Aria’s Whirlwind/Barrage/Whispering Woods/Lionel to contest the board. The deck generally does decently well against Gremory Shadow and Artifact Portal (although those decks can certainly outpace Roach Forest with a nut draw or a timely Nilpotent Entity), but the deck really struggles against tempo decks that generate a big board swing around turn 5, such as Amulet Haven or Atomy Shadow, as well as faster combo decks (e.g., Dragon), so the archetype has been falling out of favor for a while now, especially since a lot of the common anti-Dragon tech cards (e.g., Nilpotent Entity) also happen to incidentally hose Roach Forest as well, and as such isn’t really something I would recommend playing if you’re trying to be competitive, although the same sentiment generally applies to all Forest decks of the format, as none of them really have a fighting chance against a turn 4 Skullfane.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Aria’s Whirlwind is an anti-Portal tech card that can potentially answer non-Shion-ed boards in the early game, and 1-Shion boards in the midgame. Aria’s Whirlwind is a very important card against Artifact Portal, and while it’s not the greatest AoE card in the format (since you’re not running the Tree package), it can get the job done so long as the Portal player doesn’t have the stone-cold nuts.
- Seraphic Blade is a tech card against Nilpotent Entity, that also has the fringe utility of answering early-game followers from aggressive decks and Summit Temple against Haven.
- Lionel is a midgame answer to Wards, most notably, Shion-ed up Mystic Artifacts. In previous iterations of the archetype, Predatory Might served this function, and while Lionel is certainly worse in the very early stages of the game (where Might was pretty bad anyway), Lionel is simply more mana-efficient.
- Ward of Unkilling is a tech card against Gremory Shadow. In theory, it does stop a fair bit of damage against decks that are playing really big idiots every turn (e.g., Dragon or Atomy Shadow), but in practice, you don’t really have the removal nor healing to actually answer the cards those decks are playing, even if you don’t immediately die to the things they cheat out, so against those matchups, you tend to just use Ward for early-game card draw instead, and if you’re really desperate, you can even bounce Ward to draw 2 cards if you have a handful of bounce effect but no Roach/Liza.
Regarding (original) Rhinoceroach Forest
Identifying cards: Rhinoceroach, Fertile Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Flower of Fairies, Wolfraud, Hanged Man, Aerin, Forever Brilliant, Soothing Spell.
Despite the similarities in nomenclature, (old) Rhinoceroach Forest is a very different archetype from Whirlwind Rhinoceroach decks, in that it’s more or less a quasi-control deck with a combo finisher. The combo component of Rhinoceroach Forest involves getting 0-mana (or effectively 0-mana) cards (e.g., Fertile Aether, Respite, Fairy Wisps, etc.), and then utilizing them in combination with Rhinoceroaches to eventually set up lethal, all while controlling the board with Aria’s Whirlwind/Elf Queen and healing with Aerin/Primal Giant/Soothing Spell/etc. (Old) Roach Forest is a pretty slow combo deck by Unlimited standards (as it generally only really goes off on turn 7 at the earliest, in my experience), but it is quite resilient to Artifact Portal and conventional aggro decks (Blood/Haven) by virtue of having a lot of interaction and healing. This combination of factors make it so that you give Gremory Shadow and Dragon effectively infinite amounts of times to set up, you don’t really have any anti-combo defense mechanisms in the deck and you can’t really win before Shadow can set up Tyrant or before Dragon finds its Dagon combo, so (original) Rhinoceroach Forest is in a bit of an tough spot, and the unusual construction of the archetype makes it an awkward fit for the current Unlimited metagame.
Identifying cards: Perseus, Shield Phalanx, Latham, Gelt, Resolute Knight, Empress of Serenity, Nahtnaught, Cursed Queen, Amelia, the Silverflash, Stroke of Conviction.
If one were to ask about playing a Sword deck in Unlimited, I’d personally recommend trying a different format: not only are you going to have a better time, but you’re also not going to need high-rarity cards from old sets such as Latham/Celia/Perseus. Well, leaving aside the whole “least P2W deck of the format” aspect of Unlimited Midrange Sword, the archetype is a tempo deck that utilizes Rally synergies to generate aggressive board states in the early game. The archetype is a natural progression from early-October “Rivaylian Bandit/Vehicle/Buff/Aggro” Sword variants. The deck’s win condition is generally either Stroke of Conviction or angry Lecia, and the general game plan involves trying to curve out in the early game and try to go wide on board to reach Rally thresholds for Thief/Fieran/ Shield Phalanx. A notable inclusion in the archetype is Nahtnaught, which does a lot of work in the Amulet Haven matchup (although the early Skullfane setup is obviously not something that you’re particularly happy to see, but Naht can at least stem the bleeding for a bit). In my begrudging Midrange Sword testing, I’ve found the deck to be very effective against Encounter Dragon: not only is the archetype extremely good at generating multiple Wards (with Empress of Serenity/Perseus/Ernesta/Shield Phalanx/Levin Beastmaster being key players in that aspect), but a lot of the deck’s early game conveniently sidesteps the early interaction played in Dragon decks (with the only real exception being Sneer of Disdain, which is quite painful for Sword). In that sense, Midrange/Rally Sword is in a similar meta sector to Aggro Blood and Vehicle Forest: does well against combo decks, but gets hosed by Artifact Portal and Skullfane decks. In my testing, out of all of the conventional proactive aggressive decks in the Unlimited format, Sword has had the best results (which in not to say that it had a positive record), so the archetype could have some potential in a Conquest setting in a Shadow/Dragon/Rune-heavy metagame, but it’s obviously not a great deck against the two format-warping behemoths that are Portal/Skullfane. Midrange Sword is okay, but okay decks don’t really beat turn 4 Skullfanes.
Regarding Leod Sword
Identifying cards: Everlasting Castle, Courtly Dance, Leod, the Crescent Blade, Keen Enchantment, Craving’s Splendor, Forge Weaponry, Ivory Sword Dance, Dualblade Flurry.
Leod Sword is an aggressive Voltron deck revolving around its eponymous card, Leod, which you can stack various attack buffs on, totaling somewhere in the realm of +5-6 attack, then use Dualblade Flurry on it, which in combination with incidental chip damage from Quickbladers/Strokes of Conviction and attacks from previous turns, should be sufficient to close out the game on turn 5-6. The deck utilizes a variety of tutor effects (Everlasting Castle, King’s Welcome, Courtly Dance) to tutor out Leod, so it’s incredibly consistent at getting the target for its buffs ready, and the Leod Sword I’m featuring also runs the Unsheathed Blade+Dionne package, which can represent 10 potential damage on turn 5, so even if your main plan doesn’t quite work out (as in, you can’t find Dualblade Flurry), there is a backup gameplan, and Dionne can also be used for removal purposes when necessary. The big advantage of Leod Sword is that it does really well against Rune decks, as you’re never giving the opponent targets for their early-game spells, and they can’t really interact with Leod itself (you have to be a little careful with casting Craving’s Splendor willy-nilly, but Leod gets out of Runie range pretty quickly in most cases). The issue with Leod Sword is that roughly a third of the format is comprised of Mugnier decks, another third of the format runs 3xShady Priest and 0-3xMoriae Encomium, another ~10% is Encounter/Dagon decks (which have Cursed Furor and well, Encounter from the Deep), and then there’s Shadow decks which either play Deathbringers or Sonata of Silence. Leod Sword is a relic of the past, and while you can certainly try to target Rune with Leod Sword, the odds of ever winning a game against ~85% of the format are stacked against you.
The below charts show the performance of various deck archetypes in qualifiers of open JCG events, which follow the Conquest Bo3 ruleset. Deck archetypes are categorized by their popularity (as in, how many players brought said deck) and the average number of match wins of lineups containing the specified deck archetype. For the qualifier performance chart, deck archetypes are sorted in descending order of Score values, where Score is a weighted average of “winrate score” (a linear scale where the 100% represents the maximum number of match wins among deck archetypes with more than 10% meta share, and 50% representing the average number of played matches per player, which is equal to exactly 15/16 for a 4-stage single elimination bracket, but gets adjusted accordingly when not all player slots are filled, as BYEs don’t count as played matches) and the “frequency score” (a.k.a., “relative frequency”, in other words, the ratio of popularity of a deck compared to the most popular deck in the field: e.g., the most popular deck of the format has a relative frequency of 100%, and a deck that is played half as much has a relative frequency of 50%), with the weight of the sum determined by the adjustable “Meta score parameter”, set by default to 80/20, meaning that the default formula for calculating Score is 0.8 * [Winrate score] + 0.2 * [Relative frequency].
For more detailed information on how the archetypes are defined, I’d recommend looking at the conditional clauses in class-specific sections of the qualifier spreadsheet linked below.