Shisogenius’s Meta Insight 1/13
“Meta Insight” are a series of articles covering the differences between various Shadowverse deck archetypes, matchup statistics, common play patterns and their role in the metagame.
Shuten-Doji (a.k.a. Yokai) Shadow
Note: personally, I find the name “Yokai Shadow” somewhat confusing since it doesn’t describe any of the in-game mechanics or relevant card names, and “yokai” is not a very common word in the English language, so in the interest of clarity for new and returning players, I personally prefer the nomenclature that is different from the direct translation of the Japanese name for the deck, and call it “Shuten-Doji Shadow”, or “Shuten Shadow” for short.
What does Shuten Shadow do?
Shuten Shadow is a midrange deck that is built around the synergy between its eponymous engine piece, Shuten-Doji, and heavy-hitting 1-power/toughness cards such as Legendary Skeleton, Ginsetsu, Miyako, etc. The archetype features a lot of card draw between Demonic Procession and Kasha, and due to incidental card advantage of Thoth, Union Burst cards, Enhance effects and Ginsetsu, it’s difficult to run Shuten Shadow out of threats. Unlike most other midrange decks with 6 Union Burst cards and some sort of Storm finisher (e.g., Evolve Sword, Lymaga Forest, etc.), Shadow gets to have a lot of healing with cards like Ceres and Ginsetsu, and since Shuten-Doji incidentally turns most of your cards into pseudo-removal (when necessary), Shadow is generally considered the premier midrange deck of the format.
The archetype has a bit of highroll potential as well, the Shadow “nut draw” involves going second, evolving Shuten-Doji on 4, followed by Ceres on 5, Vow on 6 (which allows you to run out Legendary Skeleton/Yuki-Onna/Manifest/ etc. to negate the tempo loss), followed up by a turn 7 Ginsetsu. A Ginsetsu this early can be often be backbreaking for other midrange decks, and even if the opponent does manage to clear the Ginsetsu, you can often play another one on turn 9, and the second wave can be even more difficult to answer if you’ve run the opponent out of their answers. After double Ginsetsu (whether you get the highroll or not), Thoth usually comes online, and while Thoth is not true inevitability (since you’re not playing Natura Shadow and can’t churn through Trees and Lubelle tokens), it adds a fair bit of extra damage to your Storm cards, so Shadow can grind out long games even when it would seemingly run out of threats at some point.
In addition to that, Shuten Shadow can also play an aggressive game with sticky early drops like Miyako and Helio, and the flexibility of putting up multiple Wards with Ginsetsu‘s Accelerate ability can allow it to eke out early wins and race Storm-based combo setups, so while the archetype is generally fairly slow, against tempo decks like Spellboost Rune and Amataz Forest, playing efficient early threats on curve and stabilizing with Ceres can be a decent game plan. Long story short, against faster inevitability setups (e.g., Natura Rune/Dragon), Shadow plays the beatdown role, against tempo decks (e.g., Spellboost Rune), Shadow usually plays the role of the control deck, and midrange decks depend on the draw and usually end up at some middle ground in-between the two.
- Always keep a Shuten-Doji.
- If you’re keeping Shuten, also keep Bone Crane and Helio/Kasha.
- If you don’t have Shuten, keep Procession/Kasha, with Kasha taking priority over Helio.
- Keep Bone Crane with Procession.
- Going first and against Rune/Dragon in general, keep Miyako/Mino as a 1-drop.
- Going second against Sword/Forest/Shadow, keep Manifest Malice.
Median Shuten Shadow decklist of top 16 JCG finishes from week 6 of the January patchSource
Shadow mulligans involve trying to curve out in the early game and set up for Shuten as early as possible. In the beatdown matchups (Rune/Dragon), having a 1-drop is a huge boon as it puts a fair bit of pressure on the opponent, and Miyako can even tank a Magic Missile or other removal spells, so it often gets to stick around and get in for 3-4 face damage. Apart from that, Bone Crane with Procession is a ton of gas (effectively draws 2 cards for 1 mana, which is not quite Ancestral Recall, but still an amazing rate for what you’re getting). It’s important to be aware of the fact that you don’t always want to play Shuten on curve, and when going first, it’s often fine to play Ceres on 5, then Shuten with a 2-drop (e.g., Yuki-Onna or Skeleton Man) on 6, and you can also evolve Shuten on 5 with a 1-drop (that still gets Storm), so Shuten is very flexible, often gets a 2-for-1 because of the Bane ability and enables the deck’s engine. This is a pretty verbose way of saying “tempo = good”, but it’s important to keep in mind that while tempo is good, giving Storm to most of your deck is even better.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Thoth, Bone Crane and Manifest Malice are cuttable 2-drops that can be slotted out for other cards with similar early game functionality, which includes more aggressive early game cards like Mino and reactive 2-drops like Sora. In my experience, Sora is specifically only good against Rune/Sword and eats Shadows that could be used for Skeleton Man activations instead, so it’s somewhat matchup-dependant, so it’s difficult to justify running a full playset, but if you want to have a better shot at beating midrange decks, running 2-3xSora over Manifest is a fine choice. Mino is aggressively terrible against Sword/Shadow, but helps against Rune and Dragon. I personally believe that Mino makes you effectively 2-for-1 yourself in too many matchups, but if you want the deck to be more aggressive, it’s a decent choice.
- Nicola is a tech card for the Shadow mirror that can generate a fair bit of extra damage in the late game. Having a recurring threat in grindy matchups is fairly relevant, and while you often don’t get to the 20 Shadow threshold, it’s still decent even it only does 4, since you can often pair it up with other damage cards (e.g. Union Burst Miyako and Skeleton Man). Nicola has some redundancy with itself, so it’s difficult to justify running multiple copies, but you can still pitch it to Demonic Procession, so drawing a second one is not a completely dead draw.
- Ghoul (and in a similar vein, Guilt) are optional inclusions that help in slower matchups. Broadly speaking, Shuten Shadow doesn’t have a lot of sacrifice fodder, and the only targets are the Skeleton token from Bone Crane, Manifest Malice and Nicola (which even buffs the Ghoul to a 2/2), so for most intents and purposes, these cards are mostly just slower Demonic Procession. There are some cute applications, for example, if you discount either of the pieces with Ceres (doesn’t apply to Guilt, obviously), you can eat one of the Ginsetsu tokens if your opponent doesn’t have a big enough board and deal an extra +2 damage with Ginsetsu, or how it’s possible to speed up the Nicola clock by playing it twice (or thrice) in a turn. I personally believe that Guilt is aggressively terrible, while Ghoul is a justifiable 2-of due to how common Shadow mirrors are on ladder. A lot of players bring lists with 3xGhouls in tournament play to have more gas in the Shadow mirror, cutting Bone Cranes, which is not necessarily wrong, but is a bit greedy. The saving grace of Ghoul is that you can always pitch it to Demonic Procession in tempo-oriented matchups, so it’s not a dead draw even if you can’t afford to sacrifice tempo.
- Ephemera is a tech card against decks like Rune/Dragon. Shuten-Doji doesn’t discriminate against Neutral cards, and having the potential to be a 2-mana 7/5 Storm is powerful if you’re trying to race a faster deck. With that said, the awkward condition of having to have nothing else in play makes it a little tricky to use against Wards, and you often need to combo Ephemera with a Union Burst Shinobu, Manifest Malice and/or Yuki-Onna to negate the tempo loss. Being Neutral, Ephemera also doesn’t get discounted by Ceres, so if you’re cutting Shadow 2-drops (Thoth/Manifest) for Ephemera, you’re making Ceres slightly worse, which is a minor drawback as well. In my personal opinion, Ephemera is a bad card against Shadow/Sword/Forest and it can be a vanilla 3/1 for 2 too often (since you don’t want to play it as the first card of the turn if you want to use it as removal, but if you’ve played, let’s say, a Skeleton Man or Yuki-Onna, they often go face and stick around, so Ephemera doesn’t activate), so while I think that the combo is cute, Nicola has been a better functionally similar card in my testing, so I find it difficult to recommend running Ephemera.
- Fafnir is a tech card against Sword and the Shadow mirror. Being able to answer a Ginsetsu board or multiple Pecorines/Shizurus/Leods/etc., can be valuable, especially if you discount it with Vow and play it on turn 7. The Shadow investment is the big downside of the card, since on the one hand, it makes your Skeleton Man worse, and on the other hand, if, let’s say, your Sword opponent has a healthy Shizuru in play, and you only have 6 Shadows, Fafnir doesn’t activate in the first place, so it can sometimes require a bit of extra setup. Fafnir is quite slow and leaves you defenseless on the backswing, so while it’s good against midrange decks on paper, it’s not great against decks like Lymaga Forest and it’s too slow against decks like Spellboost Rune, so I personally don’t really like Fafnir in the current Rotation format, but it could be a reasonable inclusion in a slower meta.
- Shiva is an optional inclusion that helps against Shadow and Sword. The card has gotten a lot worse with how popular Rune is, and a lot of midrange decks can activate Union Burst on the turn where you want to run out the Shiva, so it lines up poorly against things like Pecorine and Miyako even in the matchups where it’s supposed to be good. With that said, it still brings a considerable amount of value in slower matches, and Shadow gets a bit of extra tempo when playing it on turn 8 since a lot of Shadow 2-drops are decent plays at that point (e.g., Yuki-Onna and Skeleton Man). The main issue with Shiva is that it’s a dead draw against Rune (you don’t get enough breathing room to play it in that matchup), so it’s difficult to justify running more than 1 copy, and I would personally consider 0xShiva to be optimal currently.
- Night of the Living Dog, Aether, Respite, Revenant Ram and Lubelle are an optional 14-15 card package that transforms a Shuten Shadow deck into a hybrid Natura-Shuten Shadow, cutting Demonic Procession, Bone Crane and some number of Manifest Malice, Sora, Helio, Thoth and Skeleton Man. The upside of the “Tree package” is that you get better card draw and significantly improve the performance of Thoth, in addition to that, giving Night of the Living Dog Storm can allow you to get in for a lot of face damage if you have multiple Trees saved up, and Lubelle is a fine card against midrange decks in general. The downside of the package is that you’re cutting early game cards and some of the Shuten-Doji synergy package, so the deck becomes slower and less consistent in terms of early tempo, but since you still have all the relevant swing cards (Shuten/Ceres/ Ginsetsu/etc.), it’s an interesting, if somewhat underexplored package. If there is a significant divergence between Shuten and Shuten-Natura Shadow lists, this section could be updated into a separate deck primer, but I don’t think it has a lot of merit currently, as the 2 decks are extremely similar.
Natura Shadow is one of the most popular decks in current tournament and ladder meta. The deck is currently the best-performing ladder deck, and it’s generally even to mildly favored against the majority of midrange decks in the format. Some of its weaker matchups include Spellboost Rune and Leod Sword (which Shadow can’t always interact with). There could be some other, yet unrefined decks in the format, that could have potential to beat Shadow (e.g., the newly emerging Control Forest archetype), but Shadow is very consistent, so even if there is a “Shadow counter”, the deck is unlikely to have a worse matchup than a 40/60. In addition to that, the archetype is a lot less draw-dependant and less polarized than some of the other prominent decks in the format (e.g., Spellboost Rune, Leod Sword, Amataz/Control Forest), and both the ease of piloting and relatively short game duration make it one of the best choices for ladder play if you’re trying to be competitive.
Spellboost (a.k.a. Kuon, a.k.a. Shikigami) Rune
Identifying cards: The Mysterian Project, Kyoka, Prize Pupil, Chaos Wielder, Traditional Sorcerer, Demoncaller, Zealot of Truth, Clarke, Knowledge Seeker, Kuon, Founder of Onmyodo.
What does Spellboost Rune do?
Spellboost Rune is a reactive tempo deck that revolves around Spellboost-based followers (such as Kuon/Chaos Wielder/Zealot of Truth/Democaller/Traditional Sorcerer/Twinblade Mage/etc.), as well as low-cost spells and Spellboost effects. The general game plan of Spellboost Rune involves trying to spend the early game turns cycling through your deck and Spellboosting your hand all while controlling the board and resolve a Kuon around turns 6-7. A turn 6 Kuon in and of itself is a powerful tempo swing against most decks in the format, but it doesn’t end the game by itself. Rather, it Spellboosts the cards in your hand 5 times once all the Shikigami tokens get cleared, which means that on the following turn, you get a lot of “free” mana to work with, which in turn can lead to further tempo swings with more Kuon/Demoncallers/Zealots/etc. The archetype often includes a full playset of The Mysterian Project, so it’s a lot more common to see back-to-back Kuon turns than one would expect.
The archetype has a limited amount of damage, so it’s important to plan ahead and keep track of how many Clarkes, Zealots/Twinblade Mages and Kuons you can set up, which often determines the play pattern of the deck. If you have enough damage (and time to play out all of the damage cards), you can focus on pushing the advantage and playing aggressively, while if you don’t have enough damage, it’s often more important to cycle cards and focus on board control. An example of this is when you’re out of evolves and have a Sagacious Core in hand post-Kuon: if you’re looking for more damage, it’s often correct to play Core for its enhance cost, then play a 0-cost follower and evolve it to dig for more damage. In addition to that, it’s important to remember that some Rune cards incidentally deal some chip damage, such as Kyoka with its Union Burst ability, Demoncaller (does 1-2 extra with Kuon), as well as Shikigami Summons (if you have a Kuon stick around), especially if you’ve reached the 3/3 threshold.
The deck is built in a similar fashion to D-Shift Rune in Unlimited, with the Unlimited build of the deck including Dimension Shift (duh), and some of the rotated low-cost spells like Angelic Snipe/Kaleidoscopic Glow/Fate’s Hand over Zealot of Truth/Sagacious Core/Project/Kyoka. This in itself is not particularly notable, as we’ve had similar cases with Amataz and Roach Forest not too long ago, where the best-performing Unlimited deck is pretty similar to Rotation, however, I find it very interesting how D-Shift has pushed out the other Spellboost-based Unlimited archetype (Daria) out of the format (primarily because it has a way better matchup against Amataz Forest because it runs Wards, and some Daria lists have even started to take a page from D-Shift’s book and adopted Tradiditional Sorcerer), and the deck is ~12 cards different from its Rotation-legal iteration.
- Always keep Insight, Shikigami Summons, Kuon and Chaos Wielder.
- Keep Sagacious Core going second. Against Rune/Dragon, keep Sagacious Core when going first as well.
- If you’re already keeping either Kuon or Core, also keep Kyoka.
- If you’re keeping Kuon without Shikigami Summons, also keep Conjure Golem/Clarke/Magic Missile/Mysterian Project, in order of priority.
Median Spellboost Rune decklist of top 16 JCG finishes from week 6 of the January patchSource #1 Source #2
The mulligan strategy for Spellboost Rune primarily involves finding Kuon as early as possible and cycling through your deck. To this end, low-cost Spells and Spellboost effects such as Kyoka/Chaos Wielder/Core are important assets, since you don’t just have to find a Kuon, but you also have to try and Spellboost it 9 times by turn 6. In the perfect scenario, you have 15 mana to work with, in which you have to fit 9 Spellbost effects, and the most efficient cards to do so are Shikigami Summons (2 for 2), Sagacious Core (2 for 3), Kyoka (either 1 or 2 for 3), as well as cards with variable costs (Chaos Wielder/Demoncaller/Traditional Sorc/Fiery Embrace), that can often get to 0-2 mana and Spellboost your hand once. Long story short, drawing an early Kuon is very important, but so is filling out your early curve with low-cost cards. In my experience, keeping Demoncaller/Sorcerer/Fiery Embrace is usually too greedy, but Chaos Wielder is cheap enough that you don’t have to Spellboost it a lot to make it work, and it’s a passable play even when it costs 3 or 4.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Traditional Sorcerer and Twinblade Mage are a meta-dependant flex slot in Spellboost Rune lists, with the former being more defensive and the latter being better at controlling the board. Broadly speaking, Traditional Sorcerer has more synergy by itself (since you can play Sorc and then follow up with Summons/Demoncaller or even Kuon to protect yourself with multiple Wards and Spellboost your hand in the process), so it has been a fixture in recent Rune lists, however, Twinblade Mage has its upsides as well, and particularly shines against proactive decks that go wide on board such as Evolve Sword and Lymaga Forest; having more Storm damage is relevant against aggressive decks that you can’t really interact with (e.g., Amataz Forest and Leod Sword). Against Leod Sword, for example, it’s often correct not to copy Kuon with The Mysterian Project, but make an extra copy of Zealot of Truth or Twinblade Mage instead, and having more targets for Project also tangentially improves those types of matchups. In addition to that, some Spellboost Rune lists also run Flame Destroyer in this slot, and the main upside of Flame Destroyer is that it’s really big (duh). Following up your regular Kuon turn with a random 0-mana 7/7 can be backbreaking for the more fair decks in the format (such as Shadow/Sword/Lymaga Forest/etc.), but it obviously leaves you defenseless on the backswing, so it’s bad against aggressive decks and in the Rune mirror. I personally believe that Flame Destroyers are way too greedy, but including 2-3 copies of either Sorc or Twinblade Mage are rather sensible.
- Mysterian Wisdom is another flex slot in Spellboost Rune lists. The great thing about Mysterian Wisdom is that it smoothes out your early game curve, which is particularly great when going first: if you Wisdom on 2, then your opponent likely doesn’t have a lot of pressure despite you “skipping” your turn 2, and it discourages playing 3-drops going into the Rune player’s turn 4. The bad thing about Wisdom is that you have to pitch a follower to play it, and it’s important to understand which followers are relevant in which matchup. Generally speaking, you never want to pitch Chaos Wielder or Kuon (unless you have a 2+ Kuon hand), and losing Traditional Sorcerer against aggro decks (e.g., Blood, Amataz Forest, Leod Sword) is bad, while losing Demoncaller against proactive decks (e.g., in the Rune mirror or against Shadow/Sword) can be an issue as well; in addition to that, pitching damage cards like Zealots/Clarke can be reasonable against slower midrange-y decks, but is a poor choice against combo-oriented archetypes (e.g., Natura Dragon/Rune and Control Forest). Most Rune lists run 1-2 copies of Mysterian Wisdom, but the card is fairly cuttable and can be swapped out for other cards discussed in the later sections.
- Conjure Golem and other low-cost followers, such as Eleanor and Golem Squad, improve the consistency of Sagacious Core and the deck’s early game curve in general. Spellboost Rune can have bit of a follower problem, where if you’re going second and play Sagacious Core on turn 3, the only playable followers on turn 4 are Kyoka, Chaos Wielder and Shikigami Summons (if you drew multiple copies). For this reason, if you’re running a deck with 3xCores, a non-trivial amount of matches can turn into non-games if you can’t evolve a follower on curve. The most efficient and versatile option of the three is Conjure Golem, since it’s a playable 2-drop by itself. Elenor is the best card to actually evolve, since it can either clear two followers or even save the token for later. The issue with Eleanor is twofold: on the one hand, its Fanfare ability is at its best when your deck isn’t functioning well, which is not a huge downside, but often means that the Fanfare only Spellboosts 1 card once; and on the other hand, there’s the “Tetra problem”: if you play Clarke/Missile/Project on 2 and Core on 3, then evolve Eleanor on 4, you go up to 9 cards in hand, which is not as bad as that same line of play with Tetra, where you burn one of the Insights from Core, but still blocks Chaos Wielder and generally makes your turn awkward (basically means you have to use the Eleanor spell token right then and there). Golem Squad is somewhat redundant with Traditional Sorcerer and I wouldn’t run it instead of Conjure Golem in a 2-3xSorc list, but it’s decent in a deck that runs Twinblade Mages or FD in that slot, and it can serve as a Spellboost payoff effect by itself as well.
- Clash of Heroes and Wind Blast are optional reactive inclusions that help against Sword/Shadow. Clash saw fringe play at the start of the expansion since it can allow evolved Kyoka to clear 3 followers at the same time, and it’s particularly relevant against Shuten-Doji and Ceres (since Clash ignores Bane and Clash abilities), and the card also has some fringe synergy in that it kill off your Shikigami tokens, effectively Spellboosting your hand twice for 1 mana. Clash also works decently well with Storm cards (e.g., Zealot/Kuon) since you can attack the opponent first and then get a “trade” with Clash. The issue with Clash (and symmetrical fight effects in general) is that you always 2-for-1 yourself, and while there could be cases where the tempo is valuable enough to justify running the card, the format’s aggro decks are either not super aggressive in the early game (the only exceptions being Aggro Blood) or have a plan that Clash doesn’t interact with (e.g., Amataz Forest and Leod Sword), but if there’s a meta where Goblin decks are prevalent, Clash of Heroes could find a home in Spellboost Rune lists. Wind Blast is a more versatile and slower alternative to Clash: 2 mana is quite expensive for a removal spell in a Fiery Embrace/Demoncaller deck, but at least you’re not 2-for-1-ing yourself.
Spellboost Rune is one of the most popular Rotation decks currently, however, the deck is highly unfavored against aggressive decks such as Leod Sword, Amataz Forest and Aggro Blood, so it is somewhat polarized. Against midrange decks, such as Shadow/Sword/Lymaga Forest/etc., Spellboost Rune is generally mildly favored, which makes it a good deck in ladder and tournament play. One important thing to keep in mind in regard to Spellboost Rune is confirmation bias: the deck is “highroll-y”, so it’s often perceived as being a lot stronger than it actually is. That is not to say that Spellboost Rune is a bad deck, however, but rather that the deck is a lot less favored in its midrange matchups than it is unfavored against its bad matchups, which means that it has a poor ladder winrate. With that said, Spellboost Rune has been improving in terms of winrate over time, likely as a consequence of lists and playstyles getting more optimized, as well as due to the fact that aggro decks are starting to fall in popularity, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Spellboost Rune have a positive ladder winrate by the end of the month. I would personally highly recommend Spellboost Rune if you’re trying to be competitive: the deck has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s proactive, dirt-cheap to build and doesn’t have a long average game duration, so it’s very effective for climbing the ladder once you get the hang of things.
Identifying cards: Desert Pathfinder, Geoelementist, Apex Elemental, Pyromancer,Passionate Potioneer, Aeroelementalist, Viridia Magna, Karyl, Catty Sorceress, Riley, Hydroshaman.
What does Natura Rune do?
Natura Rune is a combo deck that utilizes Tree synergy and uses Karyl and Riley as its primary finishers. The archetype runs every card that can either generate or bounce Trees, and by the time it gets to 7 or more played Trees, a Union Burst Karyl in combination with the invoked Riley is often enough to close out the game against most decks. Generally speaking, the numbers don’t quite line up (since Karyl reduces the opponent’s max health by 5 and then does 5 damage), so it’s not a complete OTK in the strictest sense, but if you deal some early chip damage (more specifically, put the opponent below 13 health), save an evolve point or play 2 additional Trees the Natura Rune setup does result in 20 damage, and even if all else fails, you can always just wait for a turn instead.
Natura Rune is the quintessential “glass cannon” combo deck: it has a lot of card draw and can set up 20-damage combos often as early as turn 7-8, however, it has no good way to Ward up against Storm cards, and since the whole Tree setup often takes a significant amount of mana, the deck can struggle if it falls behind on tempo. The archetype has access to some powerful board control tools in Aeroelementalist, Pyromancer, Karyl and Viridia Magna, however, the more pressure is put on the Natura Rune player, the slower their OTK setup becomes, and since the deck has very limited defensive capabilities against Storm followers and cards like Leod, most Natura Rune games turn into a race.
- Always keep Desert Pathfinder and Apex Elemental.
- If you’re not keeping Pathfinder, keep Geolementist.
- Against Sword/Shadow/Forest, keep Pyromancer with a Tree-generating card, these include Pathfinder/Aether/Respite, but not Geolementist.
- Keep Potioneeer with Pathfinder.
- If you’re keeping Potioneer or have 2 other Tree-generating cards (e.g., Pathfinder+Geoelementist), keep Aeroelementalist.
- Don’t keep Riley/Mysterian Wisdom/Karyl.
The mulligan strategy for Natura Rune involves trying to cycle Trees and utilize powerful board-centric payoff effects (Apex Ele/Pyromancer). Aeroelementalist is an insane Shadowverse card if you manage to activate it by turn 4, but it’s somewhat conditional and can get stuck in your hand if your draw is awkward. Apart from that, Desert Pathfinder is the best 2-drop in the deck, and Apex Elementalist is an incredibly efficient way to rack up your Tree count, so it’s always good to have in the early game, and a double Pathfinder draws allow Apex Ele to effectively draw a card “for free”, which is amazing rate. Riley and Mysterian Wisdom are the deck’s invoke-based finisher and the card that shuffles said finisher back into your deck in the event that you manage to draw multiple copies, respectively, and as cards that you never want to draw, they’re not good in your opening hand. Karyl is a bit more controversial: certainly, in slower matchups, the card is a godsend, and there are specific matchups (e.g., Control Forest and Blood decks that somehow come to the bright idea of evolving Azazel against Natura Rune) where Karyl is the bee’s knees, but the Azabazel matchup is incredibly rare and Control Forest is more or less unlosable for Rune anyway, so I think it’s more important to cycle Trees and set up your early game plays, since it could always be Lymaga Forest, and the percentages you gain by mulliganing for Control Forest are (on average) not worth losing a card in your opening against Lymaga Forest. With that said, if you’re playing in an open decklist setting and know that your opponent is playing Control Forest, you can obviously keep a 3xKaryl opening hand: what is Control Forest going to do about it? Play 1-attack followers at you, menacingly?
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Clash of Heroes is a card that I would personally consider a core inclusion in the archetype, since it helps the deck’s worst matchups and works particularly well with Aeroelementalist, Karyl and during your Riley invoke turns it effectively becomes a 1-mana removal spell that can get through Wards. The card that Clash often gets cut for is Insight, and while Insight in and of itself is not terrible, it’s a card draw spell with no board impact in a deck chock-full of cards that cycle themselves, which is the exact opposite of Clash. I personally believe that 3xClash is a responsible build of the deck, but running 2 copies can also be justifiable.
- Viridia Magna is an optional tech card against Sword and Shadow. In my testing, I’ve found the card incredibly important, as the deck can consistently have Viridia Magna active on turn 6 and it can even bring down Karyl‘s Union Burst count, which is valuable in and of itself, particularly when going first. I personally believe that running at least 2 copies is necessary if you want to have a decent shot at beating Sword and Shadow, but the card is somewhat mediocre against Spellboost Rune, so I don’t think it’s good enough to run a full playset.
- Alchemical Confectioner is an optional inclusion that helps in slower matchups like Rune/Dragon. Broadly speaking, Confectioner is a fine card for any sort of Natura deck, however, Natura Rune is a little awkward in that one of its finishers is a Natura card that you never want to draw from your deck. For that reason, I don’t think that Confectioner is a good fit for the deck as anything more than a 1-of: it’s a passable, if low-tempo, 3-drop, but drawing Riley as one of its cards is just too sad, especially if you draw it with a Pathfinder or some such. For most intents and purposes, Confectioner is worse than Geolementist and Potioneer on curve, and I personally don’t believe that Natura Rune needs more value.
- Mysterian Wisdom is a necessary evil in a Rune deck that tries to rely on invoking unplayable cards out of the deck as a win condition. The probability of drawing 3xRiley in the first ~20 cards of your deck is roughly 11.5%, so in 1 out of 9 Natura Rune matches, Mysterian Wisdom saves you from having non-games. Regarding the argument of playing fewer copies of Riley, with 2xRiley, that same probability increases to ~24.3%, so it’s actually very much necessary to run 3 copies of Riley.
- Dawn’s Splendor is a broad tech choice against Rune/Sword/Shadow that can protect your precious life total against Storm cards.
- Bazooka Goblins are a tech card against Sword (particularly, Leod Sword). Natura Rune is one of the only decks in the format that can actually utilize Bazooka Goblins, because the deck has a lot of card draw and can dig up 2 copies pretty consistently if you’re running a full playset, and you can set up Goblins on 5 into Karyl on 6, which can sometimes clear the Leod(s). Even with that in mind, it’s important to not show Bazooka Goblins in the early game against Leod Sword, because if you blow up the Leod on curve, the Sword player is going to realize that the jig is up (where there is one Bazooka Goblin, there is usually a full playset), and stop playing into it with cards like Clash of Heroes and value trades, which does not bode well for the Natura Rune player. Generally, I don’t believe that Leod Sword is popular enough currently to justify running Bazooka Goblins, but it could be a relevant tech choice in the future.
Regarding Item Shop Rune
Rune decks built around Arcane Item Shop are another example of poorly refined glass cannon combo decks, and compared to its previous iterations, the deck has a new 2-drop to play with in Shikigami Summons, which is a slight upgrade. The game plan of Item Shop Rune involves getting a 0-cost card (either the token from Travelers’ Respite or a Spellboosted Fiery Embrace), then, once you get to turn 7, play Arcane Item Shop, then the 0-cost card, followed by either 1-cost spells (Insight and Trees) that effectively don’t cost mana, cards that refund play points (Arcane Aether gives +1 by itself, and secondary Fiery Embraces can also give +1 if you have a target for it), and 2-mana spells (that effectively cost 1). Getting a big enough chain can result in a 20-damage setup on turn 7 (with multiple Aethers/Respite/Insights/etc.), since each of the Tree-generating Spells does 4 damage (if the board is clear).
The deck often runs a full playset of Edict of Truth, which can be utilized by playing it on turn 7 before running out the Item Shop to fill up your hand (if it’s Spellboosted enough, of course). It should also be mentioned that while 1- and 2-cost spells are generally way better than 3-cost Spells, follower-summoning spells like Golem Squad are at a premium in a deck that can’t run followers: on the one hand, because they allow you to have proactive turns in the early game, and on the other hand, because you need to evolve for board control at every opportunity you can get: evolves are essentially free tempo, and as trivial as it may sound for real Shadowverse decks, you have to have at least 3 followers by turn 7 every game, so even mediocre follower cards like Conjure Golem/Mysterian Wisdom are at a premium in Item Shops decks.
Lastly, a card that should be mentioned in the context of Item Shop Rune is Heaven’s Gate, which is another way to get a 0-cost card in your hand to start the chain. The issue with Heaven’s Gate is plain to see: 5 mana is a lot and in most matchups you can’t afford to spend your turn 5 invoking (or playing) that thing, with the only exceptions being slower decks like Natura Dragon. Heaven’s Gate can very rarely “highroll” and discount the Item Shop, but the deck generally keeps a pretty high hand size at all times, so it’s not very likely, and in addition to that, it can also “lowroll” if it hits cards that already cost 0 or things like Edict of Truth. Long story short, invoking Heaven’s Gate is good only if you have multiple Item Shops in hand, have no other way to get a 0-cost card (no Respites/Embraces), or if you’re playing a matchup that is extremely slow (e.g., Control Forest), and in all other cases, it’s usually correct to avoid it like the plague, because giving discounts to your opponent is generally bad, especially if their card quality is better on average.
Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Guard of the Machinatree, Carbuncle, Immortal Jewel, Aria’s Whirlwind.
What does Control Forest do?
Control Forest is a reactive Forestcraft deck with a combo finisher. The archetype has 2 primary game plans: on the one hand, there are matchups where the deck plays in a similar fashion to pre-Divine Smithing Roach decks: trying to evolve Roaches at every opportunity, and trying to race to the magical number of 8 played Roaches. Since there is no way to reliably tutor for Roaches in the current Rotation format, it’s unrealistic to follow this game plan (outside of getting very specific “nut draws”) against decks like Spellboost Rune, Shuten-Doji Shadow, all builds of Sword and other midrange board-control-oriented decks; however, against decks with fast inevitability engines (such as Natura Dragon/Rune, Control Forest mirrors, Artifact Portal, etc.), the Roach plan is the archetype’s only out (you can’t outvalue a 20-damage OTK), so you have to dig through your deck rapidly, evolve Roaches and occasionally even ignore the board state if it gets you to complete the combo setup faster.
Against midrange decks (Spellboost Rune, Shadow, Sword, etc.), Control Forest employs a wide range of healing (between Primal Giant and Respite), removal (May/Irene), with a key card being Aria’s Whirlwind, which can clear most boards in the current Rotation format, when paired up with some combination of Fertile Aether/Travelers’ Respite, 1-cost bounce effects and May. Against decks with a finite number of threats, Control Forest can often get to turn 10, at which point a lot of doors open to the Forest player: all 6 of the Union Burst cards become constantly active by definition and can be bounced for extra AoE/healing/card draw, Fertile Aether turns into Pot of Greed, and with the constant stream of card advantage and healing, there is more than enough time to run the opponent out of threats and complete the Roach setup eventually. While the combo-centric games usually end around turns 7-9, midrange matchups can often last to turns 12-13 if the opponent is putting on a lot of pressure.
An important card to mention in regards to slower matchups is Carbuncle, which is the pseudo-inevitability engine in grindy games: while it’s not “true” inevitability, as you can’t really control when you draw the Sparks, but the fact of the matter is that after a certain point of the game, you can start evolving Rhinoceroaches on every turn, and since it’s often possible to cycle through 30-ish cards over the course of the game, it’s more than enough to close out games in practice.
- Always keep Kokkoro, Carbuncle, and either a Confectioner/Harvest Season/Ward of Unkilling, in order of priority.
- Keep Aria’s Whirlwind against Rune/Shadow/Sword.
- If you’re keeping a card draw effect without Carbuncle against Sword/Shadow/Rune, also keep Rino going second.
- Keep Rhinoceroach and/or Hoverboard Mercenary against Dragon/Portal/Forest.
- If you’re keeping Roach, also keep Nature’s Guidance, Airbound Barrage and Guard of the Machinatree. Going first, the priority is Guard/Guidance/Barrage; going second, it’s Guidance/Barrage/Guard.
- Always mulligan away May and Primal Giant.
The mulligan strategy for Control Forest is somewhat unorthodox, as the majority of the deck consists of cards that are unplayable before turn 4, and with cards like Respite/Aether, Rino and bounce effects, it’s aggressively terrible to play them, even if you have nothing else to play, as they are either important setup pieces for May and/or Aria’s Whirlwind or part of the Roach combo setup. With these factors in mind, it’s still important to utilize your early game turns, as doing something is always better than doing nothing, and the best “development” plays in the deck are either early card draw or effects that take a while to get going, such as Carbuncle (since getting the dork down earlier means that you potentially start drawing Spark(s) faster). It’s generally correct to play Kokkoro on turn 2. I generally never keep Ghastly Treant: the card is a fine tempo play, but there are way more important cards to look for and Control Forest is not a tempo deck. The priority on the 3-drop draw effects is that Confectioner is generally the best thing to do on turn 3, as it sets up May on turn 5, and Ward has more value in the late game than Harvest Season on turn 3 because of the damage prevention effect, where that’s relevant.
In combo-centric matchups (Natura Dragon/Artifact Portal and the Control Forest mirror), keeping combo pieces is important, as the earlier you find a Rhinoceroach to evolve, the better. Broadly speaking, Forest and Rune are uncertain matchup on ladder in terms of mulligans, but I generally assume that Rune is usually Spellboost Rune (though if you know that your opponent is playing Natura Rune through external means, it’s obviously better to mulligan against it the same way you would against Dragon). Forest is a split between 3 decks, the most common of which being the mirror and Amataz Forest. The reason to assume that you’re playing the mirror is that Amataz Forest is not really a winnable matchup for Control Forest (and the way you beat Amataz Forest is that you have to hope that the Amataz player gets a bad draw while you draw well). Sometimes, you miss and get paired up against Lymaga Forest or a non-Maisha Portal deck, which are midrange-y decks, but since those decks are generally not very fast, these uncommon matchups should generally be Control Forest-favored, even with a suboptimal draw.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Alchemical Confectioner is a broad general inclusion that helps against midrange decks. Since Confectioner always draws Respite+Aether in the standard build of the deck, it sets up May and Aria’s Whirlwind by itself. The weak point of Confectioner is that the first drawn copy is always very good, but since the card is restricted to drawing 2 different Natura cards, the second and third copies often only get to draw 1 card (e.g., if you have played 3xAether and 1xRespite, Confectioner is only going to draw 1 Respite). A way to remedy this issue if you want to run multiple Confectioners is to include an arbitrary number of Ghastly Treant(s), which give an extra target for Confectioner and make it more consistent at drawing 2 cards (albeit less consistent at setting up for Aria’s Whirlwind).
- Ward of Unkilling and Harvest Season are an alternative to Confectioner that are better than Confectioner in multiples. Personally, I would never swap out the first Confectioner for Ward/Harvest, but in lists that don’t run Treants, having a 1-of Confectioner and 1-2 copies of either Ward/Harvest are reasonable. Ward of Unkilling also has fringe utility against specifically Natura Rune since it stops the 20-damage Riley+Karyl setup, but the damage prevention is pretty irrelevant against most other decks in the format. Even against Dragon and in the Control Forest mirror, the 5 damage threshold doesn’t save you against a 4xRoach setup and incremental Valdain/Inori/etc. damage. In addition to that, you can bounce Ward to dig really deep if your hand is close to empty, but realistically speaking, there is very little difference between Ward and Harvest: the former can sometimes incidentally hose Natura Rune, while the other can sometimes draw an extra card. I personally prefer Ward over Harvest Season, but it’s a very marginal difference on ladder.
- Hoverboard Mercenary is a tech card against Dragon and the Control Forest mirror. The card helps speed up the Roach setup in combo-oriented matchups, but since it only has 3 targets in the deck and doesn’t draw cards that help against Rune/Shadow/Sword, it’s difficult to justify running it over any of the 3-mana “draw 2” cards and as anything more than a 1-of. A simple way to think about Hoverboard Merc is that it’s an inverse Confectioner: makes combo matchups better, but is a bit mediocre against midrange decks.
- Irene is a flexible card slot that helps against Rune/Sword and is mediocre against Shadow. The card adds a bit of additional board control in the midgame stages of the game and can serve as an incidental Ward in the later stages of the game in the Forest mirror. The card is good at trading, but lines up poorly against Bane followers and Miyako, so it’s awkward against Shadow, but a simply way to think about Irene is that it’s a 4th or 5th copy of May against Rune/Sword. A cute play against Spellboost Rune in particular is Aether with Irene and Aria’s Whirlwind, which can clear Kuon boards if you don’t have enough setup to get to 5 with Aria’s Whirlwind, and it also leaves behind a 4/4 Ward as well. The pattern is Aether, then Tree, then play and evolve Irene, attack the 4/5, Whirlwind for 3, then attack the 5/5. This setup is specifically relevant since it’s one of the few ways to cleanly answer a turn 6 Kuon without an early Confectioner, and it’s also way better tempo and value than evolving Rino (since you get to save it for a later Union Burst).
- Cutting the third copy of Rino and/or Primal Giant is a way to improve the combo-oriented matchups at the expense of Shadow/Rune/Sword matchups. I personally really dislike cutting either of these cards even if they’re more or less blank draws in the Forest mirror and against Natura Rune, as healing can have value even against Natura Dragon, and there is still a lot of people playing Shadow and Spellboost Rune on ladder, which are both matchups where Rino is extremely important (either to clear Ginsetsu boards in the late game or to enable Aria’s Whirlwind on 6). In my personal testing, I’ve found that cutting either Rino or Primal Giant makes the Shadow/Rune/Sword matchups significantly harder for Forest and I would not recommend doing so, unless you’re specifically trying to target a specific field.
- Zeus is a card that used to see play as a 1-of in earlier builds of Control Forest, either as an additional bomb in Roach builds or as a standalone finisher. Zeus has more or less become obsolete with recent optimizations of the archetype, as it’s not very reliable at closing out games because of the RNG aspect (see Addendum). Realistically speaking, it’s not a card that I should even mention in the context of recent Control Forest builds, but I am influenced by the sudden cost fallacy due to spending ~5 hours updating the Zeus RNG chart for an impractically high number of trials, it would be a shame to delete the whole Addendum section after all that work, so it’s staying there, if only to reiterate the idea that yes, Zeus is a (mathematically) bad card in Control Forest.
Ladder matchup data shows that Control Forest is generally heavily favored against aggressive decks like Leod Sword and Aggro Blood, is roughly even against midrange builds of Shadow/Sword/Haven, mildly unfavored against Spellboost Rune and generally unfavored against decks with faster inevitability setups (Natura Dragon/Rune, Amataz Forest). Based on my personal testing and recent tournament results, I get the impression that the archetype’s matchup winrates are significantly lower than expected due to the deck’s recent emergence and notable learning curve. In my personal (heavily biased) opinion, Control Forest is the second best deck in the format and I would expect its winrates to trend upward over time. Compared to Shuten Shadow/Spellboost Rune, Control Forest is a bit of an unconventional Rotation deck, and while it still has some inherent draw variance and a bit of a learning curve, it’s not an archetype to be dismissed based on nothing else but its low ladder winrate.
Addendum: Zeus 2, Electric Boogaloo
A few months ago, when Evolve-based decks with Zeus, such as Evolve Blood, Forest, Haven, Shadow, Ginger Rune, and (probably) some other decks that my senile old man brain is struggling to remember at this point, I have created an interactive chart for Zeus probability distributions, that could go up to 10 possible evolve points, and was basically a sum of a multinomial probability distributions for each of the rolls (where the damage is weighed as 0 for two of the multinomial probability distributions, as 1, 2 and 3 for the remaining three, respectively). The extra damage is added to 5 (Zeus‘s base power) and multiplied by 0 if it doesn’t roll Storm as one of its keywords. This approach is exact, but not particularly efficient, so in order to expand it to a higher number of trials, I had to write a C++ script that would fill out the used spreadsheet for the 142506 total combinations, since I have decided to expand it to 25 trials. Certainly, 30 would be a prettier number, but going from 25 to 30 increases the total number of combinations to 324632, and a twofold increase in source data for the highly impractical case of evolving more than 25 times in a game isn’t very applicable in actual games of Shadowverse.
The updated interactive chart can be seen below, and the number of evolves can be adjusted using the slider in the top right corner, with the probability distributions (hopefully) being self-explanatory. The best way to use this chart is to set the number of evolves, then look at the cumulative probability chart that shows the probability of getting X or less damage and looking at the probability equal to your opponent’s health total and subtracting 1. For example, if you evolved 12 followers over the course of the game, your opponent is at 20 health and you have an evolve point (so they’re effectively at 18), the probability of whiffing with Zeus is 35.64%, which means that the probability of dealing enough damage is 1-P = 64.36%. The table below is a cheat sheet for the cases of at least 18 and 20 damage.
Amataz (a.k.a. Aggro) Forest
Identifying cards: Water Fairy, Divine Smithing, Spiritshine, Fairy Whisperer, Sylvan Justice, Amataz, Fairy Blader, Wily Puck.
What does Amataz Forest do?
Amataz Forest is an aggressive combo deck that uses Divine Smithing and Amataz to give Fairies (and other 1-cost followers, in the case of Smithing) Storm, which can then be utilized in conjunction with Blossom Spirit and Airbound Barrage (on Amataz) to set up 2-turn lethals around turn 6-7. The archetype is not particularly different from its pre-rotation iteration, however, losing access to Lily makes the deck less consistent across the board. Even with that in mind, the deck’s underlying strengths (speed of the combo setup and its ability to generate incremental Storm damage) can still prey on slower reactive decks in the format that don’t run Dawn’s Splendor, a lot of Wards and/or healing.
- Always keep Amataz or Divine Smithing, prioritizing Amataz.
- If you’re keeping either of the 2 enablers, also keep turn 1 plays like Wily Puck/Water Fairy/Spiritshine, in order of priority.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop when going first, these include Avatar of Fruition/Fairy Whisperer. Sylvan Justice can also function as a 2-drop against Sword/Shadow.
- Keep Kokkoro against Dragon/Rune.
- Do not keep May.
Drawing one of its 6 enablers by turn 4-5 makes or breaks Amataz Forest, and I generally consider trying to aggressively mulligan for Amataz/Smithing necessary. With that said, early tempo is still somewhat important, so keeping a playable 2-drop is often fine. There is an argument to be made for keeping Wily Puck because it takes the most setup compared to other Fairy-generating effects, but I personally like having an enabler way more than a turn 1 Puck. The archetype hasn’t changed much after the expansion, however, out of the new cards played in the deck, only Kokkoro is a passable early play. At its worst, it cycles itself, and in slower matchups, you can even wait until turn 4 and draw 2 with it, if you still don’t have an enabler by that point. Kokkoro is generally too slow to keep against Sword/Shadow, and keeping it against Forest is a bit of a toss-up: it’s really good against Control, but pretty mediocre against both Lymaga and Amataz Forest, and I generally don’t believe it’s correct to keep blindly against Forest, unless Control Forest is the only Forest deck in the format (which it is not, at the time of writing).
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Kokkoro is an optional inclusion that helps in slower matchup such as Rune/Dragon. If an Amataz Forest deck is functioning properly, you’re never really going to get to Union Burst turns, so Kokkoro is generally just played for the early card draw. Certainly, against decks like Natura Dragon and Control Forest, games can drag out to the point where you can get to turn 7 and buff your board by +1/+1 if you’re going second, but it is a fringe case, and drawing towards an extra Amataz, a Barrage to bounce Amataz, or a Blossom Spirit is going to make you win more games on average than holding onto Kokkoro for the Union Burst buff.
- Mallet Monkey is a card that skews the deck in the opposite direction from Kokkoro, and can generate a bit of extra chip damage in the later stages of the game. Amataz Forest often runs Miracle of Love for much the same reason, and while Miracle is better against midrange decks like Sword/Shadow, Mallet Monkey is better against Rune. More aggressively slanted Amataz lists run both Miracle and Mallet Monkey, while the slower lists play Kokkoro in that slot.
- Wellspring Elf Princess is an optional 2-drop that helps enable May more consistently and can serve as a Fighter on turn 2. The card has better synergy in Amataz Forest than Rino in more midrange-y Forest decks, because Aggro Forest has other ways to invoke May (~40% of the deck costs 1) and the generated Fairy is actively relevant for the deck’s win condition. In addition to that, Divine Smithing also works with the Fairy Wisp, which doesn’t come up too often, but can be an upside.
In the strictest sense, Amataz Forest is the best-performing Forest deck on ladder. The main strength of the archetype is its ability to beat up decks that can’t interact with it such as Spellboost Rune and Natura Dragon. The deck is generally mildly unfavored against proactive midrange decks like Sword/Shadow, however, Amataz Forest is the least polarized aggro deck of the format, so even its unfavored matchups are 40/60 at worst. The deck plays fast games and does reasonably well against the field, which makes it a fine ladder deck, however, it generally doesn’t perform too well in a tournament setting, since it loses a lot of its surprise factor in an open-decklist environment. Even with those factors in mind, the archetype has seen some fringe success in tournament play, getting a few top 16 finishes in post-expansion JCG events. If the format continues to trend towards Control Forest, Amataz decks could be a fine counter to the meta lineups, as it does well against Rune and Dragon (which are the best Control Forest “counters”, based on preliminary available data), and it has a way faster win condition than Control Forest and can set up a 20-damage turn without much issue if it ends up playing against Control Forest, given how slow that deck is.
Lymaga (a.k.a. Greenwood, a.k.a. Jungle) Forest
Identifying cards: Crossbow Sniper, Greenwood Guardian, Woodland Cleaver, Lymaga, Forest Champion, Assault Jaguar, Synchronized Slash, Wildwood Matriarch.
What does Lymaga Forest do?
Lymaga Forest is a midrange archetype that revolves around playing multiple Greenwood Guardians over the course of the game, which eventually invokes Lymaga, which in combination with Okami, Miracle of Love and Wildwood Matriarch can close out games. Six Union Burst cards, a Storm-based finisher and every generically good midrange card to fill out the gaps; those were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect midrange Forest deck, and Lymaga Forest is that deck. Having access to low-cost Union Burst cards in combination with bounce effects is a unique strength of Forest decks, and since Barrage/Nature’s Guidance already have synergy with the Greenwood Guardians themselves and cards like May, and even Okami can bring a lot of value in slower matchups if you bounce a Lymaga or one of the Union Burst cards. The archetype, as should be evident from the joking tone in one of the previous sentences, is very similar to Shuten-Doji Shadow in terms of construction, but has a bit of a different flavor, with most of the Greenwood Guardian cards generating incremental tempo advantages, either by dealing damage, having Rush, or by being cheap enough to help invoke May.
- Always keep Crossbow Sniper, Woodland Guardian, Assault Jaguar and Matriarch.
- If you’re not keeping Sniper, keep Lymaga.
- If you’re not keeping a 2-drop (Woodland Guardian or Lymaga without a Sniper), keep Woodland Cleaver.
Lymaga Forest mulligans are pretty punt-proof and mostly involve trying to curve out aggressively while generating Greenwood Guardian tokens. A lot of players seem to have a misconception of Lymaga Forest being a combo deck and playing it the way they would Roach Forest, trying to bounce Woodland Guardians in the early game with Barrage/Guidance to invoke Lymaga faster, but I’ve personally found this approach to be generally incorrect. While it can be fine to hit face for 2 with Guardian, bounce it with Airbound Barrage and replay it on turn 3 (to clear the opponent’s 2- or 3-drop), using Guidance on non-Union Burst cards is simply poor value and doesn’t develop the board in a meaningful manner. When I was younger, a wise man once told me: “tempo = good”, and I have taken this piece of advice to heart and have been following it ever since. Having more stats in play than your opponent, pushing face damage and getting value trades are what Lymaga Forest is all about, and the deck has enough comeback mechanics to recover from the opponent’s tempo swing turns. Please, stop playing vanilla 2-drops on turn 3 and bouncing them to your hand with Nature’s Guidance, it’s painful to look at.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Nature’s Guidance is a tech card that helps in slower midrange matchups like Shadow/Sword/Haven, since it allows to bounce either Rino or Kokkoro and reuse their Union Burst effects (or even just plain card draw, in the case of Kokkoro). This is a bit of an unpopular opinion based on the common builds of the archetype, but I personally believe that Guidance is aggressively terrible and too slow for most Lymaga Forest lists. The card has other fringe synergy, like being able to bounce Woodland Cleaver and May for extra board control and value, but I personally believe that Barrage and Okami are more than enough value for those purposes. I have also already expressed my opinion on bouncing Greenwood Guardians to complete the “Lymaga quest” faster, so I’m not going to comment on it any further.
- Primal Giant is a tech card against Rune/Dragon that also helps against Shadow. Broadly speaking, bouncing Kokkoro can provide a fair bit of healing in longer games, however, against Spellboost Rune specifically, being able to heal 4 for 1 mana during your May turn can negate some of the damage from Zealots/Clarke/etc., and allow you to stabilize and get to the later stages of the game. The first Lymaga usually gets invoked around turns 7-8, so the archetype can close out games around turn 9, and being able to get to that point against either a highroll-y Rune opening or an early Valdain can make the difference between winning and losing games where your opponent draws well. On top of that, you can occasionally gamble on trying to roll an Okami/Lymaga against extremely slow decks, and while it’s not guaranteed (since you run cards that cost 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8) and I’m not entirely sure how the probability distribution is actually calculated (as in, whether it’s weighed equally by mana costs, or whether it’s weighed by the number of dead followers for each of the costs), but it is an option. In my opinion, running 1-2xPrimal Giant is reasonable.
- Clash of Heroes is an optional inclusion that helps against decks that can Ward up against the Lymaga setup. I’ve personally found that Clash is a dead draw too often, so I don’t think it’s a necessary inclusion, but running it as a 1-of can get a good amount of value with Storm cards.
Lymaga Forest has a very consistent, if not particularly impressive, matchup spread. The deck is generally mildly unfavored to even against most decks in the format, and while that doesn’t sound that great on paper, the linear game plan of the archetype and a lack of extremely unfavored matchups (with the only exception being Natura Dragon) means that it’s a decent ladder deck. Realistically speaking, it’s likely worse than Shuten Shadow and Evolve Sword in a vacuum, but it has more card draw than Sword and (arguably) better AoE than Shadow, so it has its merits. Compared to the other Forest deck that runs all the Union Burst cards, Lymaga Forest can actually close out games in less than 20 minutes, has better early game and a more consistent finisher, so while Control Forest is likely a better deck for tournament play, Lymaga Forest is a lot less draw-reliant and faster, which could be a bit of an advantage for the archetype on ladder.
Evolve (Midrange) Sword
Identifying cards: Kagemitsu, Matchless Blade, Steadfast Samurai, Twinsword Master, Lecia, Sky Saber, Regal Wildcat.
What does Evolve Sword do?
Evolve Sword is a midrange deck that runs a variety of Sword-specific Evolve synergy with cards such as Kagemitsu/Twinsword Master/Steadfast Samurai/Lecia, as well as 6 Union Burst cards (Pecorine and Shizuru). The primary win condition the archetype involves getting Regal Wildcat active, which can then be used with either Kagemitsu (where you play Kagemitsu on a preceding turn), which does a variable amount of damage (usually, around ~15-ish total damage, but can scale up to 20 in longer games), Twinsword Master (where you save an evolve point, and then Twinsword Master into Wildcat on turn 9 for 14 damage), as well as a variety of other miscellaneous setups (e.g., with QB, Leod, vanilla 2-drops like Valse, and Union Burst Pecorine on turn 10). In addition to that, the deck runs a fair bit of other incidental chip damage between Leod, Quickblader, Steadfast Samurai and Union Burst Shizuru, which can get the opponent below the 14-15 health range. Evolve Sword is a fairly straightforward deck that is heavily telegraphed in terms of its win condition (since it requires at least 10 dead followers to activate Regal Wildcat, and in the sense that having an evolve up or setting up a Kagemitsu informs the more savvy opponents of what you’re trying do do), but even with that, you can often force the opponent’s hand and “make them have it”, which makes Evolve Sword a bit more complicated and interactive that one would be led to believe at first glance.
- Always keep Aether and Leod.
- If you’re not keeping Leod, keep a proactive 2-drop, this can include Valse/Elegance in Action/Twinsword Master, in order of priority.
- Going first, keep Regal Wildcat or Cybercannoneer as a 4-drop.
- Going second against non-Shadow decks, keep Shizuru.
- Going first against Rune, keep Quickblader as a 1-drop.
Evolve Sword mulligans involve trying to curve out in the early game and getting your card draw. The best proactive 2-drop in Sword is generally Leod, but vanilla 2-drops and Elegance in Action are passable plays as well. Of the vanilla 2-drops, Twinsword Master has the most value in the midgame since it’s pretty trivial to enable, so it’s often preferable to save it for later and not play it out on turn 2. Steadfast Samurai is not a good 2-drop most of the time, in a similar fashion to Twinsword Master. Sword has no actual 4-drops that can be played on a neutral board state, so Regal Wildcat (or Cybercannoneer) are the best proactive options, which also happen to set up for Wildcat in the future. Shizuru is always active when evolved on turn 4 (since your opponent doesn’t have any evolve points at that point), so it’s a great tempo play, however, the 5/7 body lines up poorly against evolved Shuten-Doji, so it’s not that great against Shadow.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Cybercannoneer was a common inclusion in the early builds of the archetype that improves the deck’s early game consistency and helps to enable Regal Wildcat. The downside of Cybercannoneer is the tribe tag: Evolve Sword gets a lot of value from Commander/Officer tags (since it enables Twinsword Master and Lecia, respectively), which makes it a weak play after turn 4. The more recent card played in that slot is Steadfast Samurai, which is a lot worse in the early game, but can push damage during Lecia turns (though it does require a manual evolve), and it can be tricky for Shadow and Rune to clear through regular means, meaning that it can often “trade” with a Clarke or force an awkward trade for Shadow, which in turn makes you effectively have more health. Sword has very little in the way of healing (apart from an active Shizuru), so forcing your opponent to sink damage into a Steadfast Samurai has inherent value.
- Tsubaki is a tech against slower midrange decks like Shadow/Haven. Generally speaking, the “Regal Wildcat quest” is usually completed around turns 7-8, so for most intents and purposes, Tsubaki is kind of an honorary 4th Pecorine. The main usage case for Tsubaki is that it can clear the main body of Ginsetsu and can clear tall followers in Elana Haven decks (e.g., Wilbert). Tsubaki is generally too slow against Spellboost Rune and mediocre against Forest decks across the board, so it’s somewhat matchup-dependant, but it’s a decent 1-of.
- Zeus is an optional inclusion that helps in grindy midrange matchups such as Shadow/Forest/etc. Generally speaking, Kagemitsu is a better (as in, more consistent) Zeus if you can set up the Regal Wildcat combo, but the big advantage of Zeus is that it usually heals you to 20, and while most decks in the format have ways to answer a big Zeus (Yuki-Onna in Shadow, Fiery Embrace in Rune, Valse in Sword, Viridia Magna in Dragon), slower Forest lists have to deal with it the old-fashioned way, so even if it doesn’t kill the opponent outright (which it usually won’t, since it activates 8-9 times in a standard-ish Sword game), it can still present a significant amount of value.
- Honored Frontguard General is a defensive tech card against primarily Rune and Shadow. Getting through 2 layers of 6+ toughness Ward protection can be tricky for the fair decks of the format, however, the issue with Frontguard General is that it shares its mana cost with Regal Wildcat, which makes Aether unable to reliably tutor for your win condition in the late game, which makes it an awkward inclusion.
Midrange (Evolve) Sword is the second best-performing Sword deck in Rotation and is even to mildly favored against Rune and Forest across the board, and performs particularly well against aggressive decks. Sword generally gets outvalued by Shadow (because the two decks are very similar in construction, but Shadow gets healing and removal, whereas Sword gets Wards and AoE), and the Dragon matchup is mildly unfavored because it’s difficult for Sword to close out games before turn 8. Evolve Sword is about on par with other midrange decks in the format in terms of its ladder performance, however, its poor matchup against Shadow means that it gets overshadowed in tournament play, but it’s nevertheless an extremely consistent ladder deck, which I would personally recommend trying out to anyone who doesn’t find Shadow enjoyable.
Ambush (a.k.a. Leod) Sword
Identifying cards: Everlasting Castle, Clash of Heroes, Grand Acquisition, Well of Destiny, Strategic Assembly, Forge Weaponry, Brave Intervention.
What does Leod Sword do?
Ambush (Leod) Sword is an aggressive combo deck that revolves around stacking buffs on its eponymous card, Leod, and closing out games in multiple attacks, either over the course of multiple turns, using Assassin token to prevent your opponent from interacting with Leod, or Dualblade Flurry to double up the Leod damage.
After the rotation, Leod Sword has lost some of its old toys, namely, some of the damage buffs (Craving’s Splendor and Sgathaich) have rotated out, so the deck has more demand for Amulet-based buffs (e.g., Well of Destiny/Strategic Assembly), and some of the removal spells (primarily Usurping Spineblade, but Jiraiya is also a card) are gone, which makes cards like Clash of Heroes, Brave Intervention, Dionne and Gourmet Emperor’s Kitchen a lot more prominent. Leod Sword is simply a deck that keeps cropping up in Rotation due to lack of ways of interact with Ambush creatures, though it does make me happy that the old bastard only has ~2.5 months remaining in Rotation, but what do I know? As an evil time traveler, I should mention that in my original timeline, there was a Conscription reprint in the April set, so we got to play Vagabond Frog Voltron decks instead. Please look forward to that.
- Always keep King’s Welcome, Everlasting Castle and Leod. The priority is Castle/Leod/Welcome.
- If you don’t have a Leod or any of the tutor effects, mulligan away all 3 cards.
- If you have a Leod, keep early-game buff cards (Well of Destiny/Grand Acquisition/Strategic Assembly/Forge Weaponry, in order of priority).
- If you’re already keeping a Leod or a tutor effect, as well as one of the early-game buff effects, also keep Ivory Sword Dance.
- If you’re keeping Leod/Castle (and not King’s Welcome), keep Quickblader.
- Keep Elegance in Action against Sword/Shadow (if you’re already keeping a Leod).
- Keep Brave Intervention going second (if you already have a Leod or a way to tutor it up).
Leod Sword mulligans are fairly consistent with previous iterations of the deck and generally involve trying to have Leod on curve using one of its 6 tutors effects. If you have a Leod, the rest of the early game plays is generally dedicated to establishing ongoing buffs (the earlier they come down, the better), followed in priority by 1-time buffs. Elegance in Action more or less always does 3 random damage and draws you a card, which is a solid rate even for an aggressive deck, and has the fringe synergy of being able to clear the opponent’s Leod in mirrors (not necessarily a Leod Sword mirror, since all Sword decks play a playset of Leods). Grand Acquisition is technically the least mana-efficient buff in the deck, however, since the cost can be split between multiple turns, it’s quite good at filling out your curve whenever you have 1 mana open, so it’s fairly efficient with a 2-cost card on turn 3. Brave Intervention is also a way to tutor up Leod, but it’s 2 turns slower, so it’s not one of the “primary” tutors and is mostly important to get an extra Assassin for the main Leod.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Brave Intervention is one of the optional removal spells that improves the deck’s consistency, especially when going second. I have a strong belief in the “1-Intervention theory”, which states that the first Brave Intervention that you draw in a match is always very good, but the card rapidly falls off if you draw multiple copies. For that reason, I don’t think there’s much reason to run a full playset of the card, and 2 copies are the sweet spot: enough copies to consistently draw at least one, but not enough copies to draw multiple too frequently.
- Dionne and Gourmet Emperor’s Kitchen are optional inclusions that improve midrange matchups. Generally speaking, Kitchen has more value and can generate a bit of chip damage when going second, while Dionne is more flexible since it costs less, but the 2 cards are mostly up to player preference and are in contention for the remaining 2-3 card slots. Leod Sword is a deck that has an extremely one-dimensional game plan, so it’s difficult to trim cards from the archetype, and the restrictive deckbulding requirements mean that the only tech cards available to the archetype are Spells and Amulets, which are, frankly, quite lacking after rotation.
Leod Sword is one of the best-performing decks of the Rotation format, however, the deck is also extremely polarized. The archetype is generally extremely favored against Rune and Dragon (which is where the bulk of its winrate comes from) and is heavily unfavored against Sword (because of ISD and Elegance in Action), Elana Haven (since it can’t really get through all the Wards), faster aggressive decks and Portal in general (because of Mugnier and Karula). With these factors in mind, Leod Sword is generally the best deck against Spellboost Rune in the Rotation format, which means that it’s a decent, if highly polarized, ladder deck. This matchup spread also makes it a fine secondary deck in tournament play since it has a fair shot against both Rune and Shadow, and it has gotten some decent finishes in recent JCG events. Leod Sword is tied with Aggro Blood for being the most polarized deck of the format (they’re ~0.2% apart at the time of writing, to be precise), so the archetype’s performance heavily depends on matchup variance and broad meta trends, so it’s likely going to remain a deck to keep on your radar, even if it’s not particularly popular, because there are certain pockets of the meta where Leod Sword is going to be great, and there’s also going to be phases in the meta where it’s quite mediocre.
Identifying cards: Feral Aether, Desert Pathfinder, Travelers’ Respite, Wildfire Tyrannosaurus,Lightning Velociraptor, Whirlwind Pteranodon, Valdain, Viridia Magna.
What does Natura Dragon do?
Natura Dragon is a reactive midrange deck that utilizes mana acceleration and Tree generation. The primary finisher of the archetype is Valdain doing damage over the course of multiple turns, however, the deck has access to other sources of reach, which include Union Burst cards Ines and Kaya, and chip damage from Ian and Garyu.
In the early game, the deck primarily revolves around ramping, then evolving Valdain at some point and cycling Trees to generate damage and attempt to close out the game by turn 8-9. Compared to its previous iterations, the deck has gotten a lot more aggressive in its post-expansion iterations, which can be partly attributed to the format itself getting faster and Union Burst cards adding a fair bit of reach to Natura Dragon’s late game.
- Always keep Dragon Oracle, Pathfinder and Pteranodon.
- If you’re keeping Pteranodon without Pathfinder, also keep Feral Aether/Respite.
- If you’re keeping a hand with Dragon Oracle or an active Pteranodon, also keep Valdain.
Natura Dragon mulligans are pretty similar to what they used to be before the expansion, and primarily involve trying to ramp early. Any combination of cards that enables a turn 3 Pteranodon is generally good, and the card works a lot better than Dragon Oracle in multiples. It’s important to understand that both Valdain and Corrosion have little to no board impact by themselves, so it’s extremely important to evolve Valdain against most of the common Rotation decks. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as against Sword and Control Forest, which are both decks that give you enough breathing room to play a 4-mana Corrosion, but against Rune/Shadow/Lymaga Forest, spending 4 mana on doing nothing is a significant tempo setback.
There is an argument to be made about keeping early removal effects like Blazing Breath, Tyrannosaurus (and Ian, kind of), but I generally believe that Dragon only starts to transition into its more reactive role in the later stages of the game, and getting early ramp effectively translates into incremental tempo advantages over the course of the game. This notion may appear as if it’s in a slight disagreement with the principle of “tempo = good”, but upon closer inspection, it’s merely an extension of the idea, as losing some tempo in the early game results in a net tempo increase over the course of the game.
Median Natura Dragon decklist of top 16 JCG finishes from week 5 of the January patchSource
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Union Burst cards, namely, Inori and Kaya, are technically optional inclusions that improve the deck’s midrange matchups. The opportunity cost of running Inori is pretty negligible since it’s at worst a vanilla 2-drop with Ambush, and being able to deal up to 5 face damage for 2 mana can speed up the deck’s clock considerably, especially if you manage to stack multiple copies. Kaya is significantly clunkier than Inori, but generates a lot of extra value without Union Burst, often getting at least 2-for-1 trades against midrange decks like Sword/Shadow. While Dragon is technically worse at utilizing Union Burst than other midrange classes (because Dragon often closes out games by turn 8), the “failure” case for both of these cards still lines up decently well with Dragon’s game plan, so it’s difficult to justify not running a playset of Inori and 1-2xKaya.
- Ian, Dragon Buster is a broad tech card against Shadow/Sword/Forest that primarily functions as AoE, but can also be utilized defensively. Ian used to be a fixture in Natura Dragon lists before the expansion, and while the card is still pretty solid, it’s not particularly great against Spellboost Rune, so it’s not unreasonable to cut it in favor of cards like Kaya and Mammoth God’s Colosseum. Dragon is about the only class that can afford to run Mammoth God, and while the card does deal with Kuon boards nicely, it lines up poorly against Ginsetsu, and even with all the ramp effects, 9 mana is still a lot, primarily because you don’t get to develop your game plan alongside a 9-drop.
- Dawn’s Splendor is a tech card against primarily Spellboost Rune and Amataz Forest, but it also has utility against Sword/Shadow, for obvious reasons. Natura Dragon has a lot of 2-drops, so while there is some potential opportunity cost to running more than 20 2-drops, since most of these cards can be cycled or have relevant abilities in the later stages of the game (Inori/Garyu), it’s a lot more difficult for Natura Dragon to fizzle out and run out of gas than one would expect. In my opinion, running any number of Dawn’s Splendor fewer than a full playset is irresponsible (to put it mildly), particularly with how popular Control Forest and Spellboost Rune are currently.
- Marion, Elegant Dragonewt is a recently popular fixture in Natura Dragon lists, commonly relacing some of the high-value cards such as Alchemical Confectioner, Viridia Magna, Kaya, etc. The upside of Marion is that the card is a lot faster than Confectioner in the late game, however, the obvious downside is that it’s conditional. Naturally, there is an argument to be made that having Goblins in your combo deck can help you survive the early stages of the game against decks like Aggro Blood, for example, but proactive aggro decks are not a very significant portion of the current meta. In addition to Marion, some Natura Dragon players have started to lean into a more aggressive direction with cards such as Ice Dancing Dragonewt: the archetype has a surprisingly high amount of chip damage for a deck with an inevitability engine, and between cards Inori/Ian/Garyu, it’s often possible to set up 5-8 extra damage and speed up the Valdain clock by a turn, and the incremental damage also coincidentally doesn’t get affected by cards like Ward of Unkilling. In my testing, Marion has not shown significantly better numbers than the more standard 2xConfectioner, and I am of the opinion that the choice of optional card draw effects is not particularly relevant to the deck’s performance. Marion is worse than Confectioner in the early game and can whiff with some of its draws (e.g., getting secondary Valdains or Ian once you’re out of evolve points), and while Confectioner can also get bad draws (e.g., Pathfinder/Valdain/etc.), due to drawing 2 cards and being limited to Natura cards, even if you only get 1 good draw out of it, you’re still usually contributing to your win condition or at least get to cycle a card.
Natura Dragon is one of the best-performing ladder decks in the current Rotation format. The deck is surprisingly not very popular for how well-rounded it is, but it’s generally even to mildly favored against most midrange-y decks in the format, and while it does have some weaker matchups (e.g., Leod Sword and other aggro decks), it does reasonably well against Rune/Sword/Forest, so it’s decently well-positioned in the format. In addition to that, the recent trend of Control Forest coming to popularity is extremely favorable for Natura Dragon, as the matchup is more or less unlosable for Dragon, so it could be that if Control Forest rises to even greater popularity, Natura Dragon could function as one of its counters in tournament play. All in all, Natura Dragon is a decent deck for ladder play, and it should be a familiar deck to most players based on its role during the December meta.
Identifying cards: Sneak Attack, Desert Pathfinder, Destiny Wing Knight, Virtuous Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Featherfolk Punisher, Saintly Squeaks, Feather Sanctuary, Daffodil, Agnes, Charaton, Iceflame Priest.
What does Natura Haven do?
Natura Haven is a proactive midrange deck that utilizes Tree-generating effects and Amulet pay-offs. The primary axis of the archetype is Daffodil, which can generate multiple Trees with its Enhance effect, which not only generate immediate value with Daffodil itself, but also enable Agnes/Charaton/Viridia Magna. Trees also naturally work well for the “Amulets matter” subtheme for Haven cards, enabling effects like Destiny Wing Knight/Saintly Squeaks/Saren that require you to have multiple amulets in play. For that reason, the archetype runs low-cost Amulets like Sneak Attack, Featherfolk Sanctuary and, to an extent, Golden Bell (as in, you don’t really need to have any synergy to run Golden Bell in a Haven deck), most of which slant the archetype in the direction of incremental Storm damage as its primary win condition (with cards like Agnes/Saintly Squeaks/etc.).
Natura Haven has been a fixture of the Rotation format for the last 3 months and was universally considered as the best deck of the format for most of its time in the spotlight, however, after the Agnes nerf and both Craving’s Splendor and Feather Rush rotated out, the archetype has gotten a lot less consistent. Part of the issue is that all 4 of the popular midrange archetypes (Shuten Shadow, Evolve Sword, Lymaga Forest, Natura Dragon) have access to highly impactful Union Burst cards, which specifically swing midrange matchups in their favor, and Haven got, for lack of a better expression, a wee bit shafted with their Union Burst cards: while Saren is not a bad card by any means, it’s a lot more expensive than AoE Union Burst cards in other classes, that typically cost 2-3 mana (e.g., Miyako/Rino/Pecorine/Inori). It’s difficult to justify running a full playset of conditional 5-drops, so when compared to classes like Forest/Sword/Shadow that have 6 cards that get 3-for-1 trades after a certain point in the game, Natura Haven struggles with card advantage, and the more aggressive slant of the archetype means that it’s a lot worse in the current format than it used to be.
- Always keep Golden Bell, Desert Pathfinder and Destiny Wing Knight.
- If you’re keeping DWK, also keep a Tree-generating card with a 1-cost Amulet (Bell/Sneak Attack), the Tree-generating cards include Saintly Squeaks/Aether/Respite, in order of priority. In addition to that, also keep Sneak Attack with DWK if you have any 2-card combination of Bells and/or Sneak Attack.
- If you’re not keeping Pathfinder or DWK, keep a 2-drop, this includes Saintly Squeaks/Punisher, in order of priority. Going second against Shadow/Sword/Dragon, Blackened Scripture also works as a 2-drop.
- Keep Kel against Sword/Forest.
- Keep Featherfolk Sanctuary against Rune/Dragon.
- If you have a 2-drop, keep Confectioner against Rune/Dragon/Forest/Shadow.
Natura Haven mulligans involve trying to get the early-game highroll cards (Bell/Pathfinder/DWK), and in the case of DWK, try to set up 2 Amulets so that it can come down as a 3/3 either on turn 2 and 3. DWK is a card that rapidly falls off as the game goes on, so, generally speaking, the earlier you can get it into play, the better it is. Scripture is good against Pathfinder decks and Shadow/Sword in general, but somewhat unimpressive against Forest. Kel is an important comeback mechanism against Evolve Sword, Amataz and Lymaga Forest, and while there are cases where keeping Kel ends up being incorrect (against Leod Sword and Control Forest), I generally believe it to be correct for ladder play on average. Kel is somewhat awkward against Shadow, as the deck often doesn’t really go wide around that point in the game. Keeping Confectioner is correct in slower matchups where you don’t have to contest the board early and against decks that play X/1s. Against Shadow, Confectioner can often trade into Kasha/Helio, so it’s not even a huge tempo loss, but Sword can often either get a value trade if you play a 1/2 on turn 3 or turn out to be Leod Sword (in which case the card is not too great anyway), so I would consider keeping Confectioner against Sword a bit greedy.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Destiny Wing Knight is an optional inclusion that slants the deck towards a more aggressive game plan. There are 2 main approaches to building Natura Haven after the expansion: you can either make it more highroll-y and aggressive by cutting some of the high-value cards like Viridia Magna/Shiva/Alchemical Confectioner/Charaton/etc., all the while running DWK and a playset of Feather Sanctuaries, which improves the deck’s performance against Dragon and Rune. In my testing, this build of Natura Haven (with Rigze’s list being a good example) has a lot of issues with draw consistency, and can fizzle out when it doesn’t get a good opening. Since this build of the deck runs more Amulets, Saren happens to be significantly better, which has some decent value against Ginsetsu boards, but the 3 damage AoE is woefully insufficient against Kuon boards and often doesn’t do enough against Evolve Sword as well.
- The more conventional build of Natura Haven, similar to the one we’ve seen in December, with 1-2 copies of Feather Sanctuary instead of the rotated cards, is another potential build of Natura Haven. While I don’t think there’s much merit to go over every little detail in how that build of the deck functions since it’s more or less the same deck that it was a month ago, card advantage is an issue for Haven decks in general, so in my testing, Alchemical Confectioner has been incredibly important, and while I don’t really like Shiva for how fast the current format is (and how easy it is to answer for Sword/Shadow/Rune), Viridia Magna still feels pretty solid against decks like Shuten Shadow and Evolve Sword. The build of the deck that I’ve personally had the most success with is similar to しお’s list, with +1 Viridia Magna over Shiva and +2xSaren over the 1-of Scripture and the third copy of Charaton. While Charaton is a 5/5 that often costs 0 and clears a follower when it comes into play after turn 8 (basically, more or less a bad Pecorine), it can be an unplayable brick if you don’t get to play enhanced Daffodil on turn 7, and I personally believe that running 3xCharaton is somewhat greedy due to how popular Rune is. Saren, on the other hand, has utility even before that point, and there are some interesting setups you can do with it against Rune once you get to a low enough Union Burst count, e.g., against Spellboost Rune, when facing down a turn 6-7 Kuon board you can play Saren into Saintly Squeaks on turn 7, then evolve the Saren and clear the board (if the Rune player didn’t evolve one of the 3-health tokens), or at least, most of it. For that reason, I think that Saren is fairly important in the current format, and an argument could be made for cutting Viridia Magna for it altogether.
- Wilbert and Hallowed Cave Shrine “package” has seen some fringe testing in a Natura Haven shell, usually cutting some of the slower synergy pieces like Respite/Charaton. While Wilbert is a solid card in a vacuum, it’s important to be aware that a lot of decks in the current Rotation can get around its effect or minimize its impact, with Union Burst cards being some prime examples of such effects (e.g., Miyako/Pecorine/Shinobu/etc.) as well as the older examples of cards like Fiery Embrace/Valse, that can interact with Wilbert boards without actually coming into contact with them. In addition to that, a significant problem with Wilbert and HCS is the board space issue: the archetype already need 3 open slots to play Daffodil and 0-cost followers like Charaton/Agnes, and both Wilbert‘s Last Words effect and the HCS activate at the start of your turn, often only leaving you with 1-2 board slots to work with, since 1 or the spaces it usually taken up by a Tree, which in turn hamstrings your potential for both proactive and reactive tempo developments. In my opinion, the “Wilbert package” works a lot better in an Elana shell and has little to no merit in Natura Haven.
Identifying cards: Hoverboard Mercenary, Robogoblin, Robowing Precant, Ironknucke Nun, Zoe, Queen of Hope, Limonia, Flawed Saint, Elana, Purest Prayer.
What does Elana Haven do?
Elana Haven is a midrange deck with some control elements that revolves around utilizing incremental healing effects in the form of 1-cost healing cards and Repair Mode tokens in order to generate tall boards of 2-3 followers, once Elana’s Prayer is in play. Apart from the “Elana highroll”, the archetype has adopted another angle of attack in Wilbert, which helps transition from an early tempo lead, dealing incremental chip damage and making trading awkward.
- Always keep Golden Bell and/or Elana. Going first, only keep 1 Elana, going second, keep up to 2xElanas.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, which includes Robogoblin/Precant/Hoverboard Mercenary/Falcon, in order of priority. If you’re keeping one of the 2/2s, also keep a Robofalcon going first.
- If you’re already keeping a 2-drop, also keep Ironknunckle Nun/HCS.
- Keep Kel against Rune/Sword/Forest.
Early-game strategy for Elana Haven involves trying to evolve its namesake card on curve, as well as have an aggressive early curve. Despite the deck’s defensive slant, it’s important to recognize that Elana Haven doesn’t actually have a proper inevitability engine and any reach (outside of Wilbert chip damage), so getting an early tempo lead and pushing some face damage at the same time makes the difference between closing out games and running out of gas against decks with full playsets of Union Burst cards or Viridia Magnas (and sometimes, even both). Getting a 2->3->2+2 curve is optimal when going first (which is why Robofalcon is so important to have, as it can either push extra face damage or get a value trade with one of your 2-drops on turn 4), and the 2->3->4+evolve is the optimal curve when going second. Generally, you want to try to go wide early on, and then capitalize on the tempo advantage with either Elana, Limonia, Zoe or Kel, depending on your draw and the board state. In my testing, Wilbert is a card that I always want to draw into by turn 6, but I don’t think it’s responsible to keep Wilbert, since the early tempo is so important, and either Ironknuckle Nun or HCS are better turn 3 plays that Wilbert (mainly, because they trade better and line up against most decks’ early game, respectively), and the card is also better than Nun/HCS in the later stages of the game. Three 1/2-s are better than 2, and a 2/3 trades better that either of them against the majority of 2- and 3-drops.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Limonia is an optional inclusion that helps in slower midrange matchups. Generally speaking, I believe that Limonia is not particularly necessary, as it’s often just a 6/5 Rush for 6 that gives 2-3 discounts over the course of the game, however, with the recent emergence of Control Forest, going for the Aegis plan is a pretty legitimate plan against that deck, because 3-4 Aegis hits are usually enough to close out games against Control Forest.
- Blackened Scripture is a tech card against Shadow and Dragon. Being able to cleanly answer Helio and Pathfinder et al. is fairly valuable in and of itself, so Scripture is a sensible inclusion if you’re trying to improve your early game in those matchups. Personally, I’ve found Holy Counterattack to be more or less a strict upgrade over Scripture: sure, you lose the banishing utility, but against Sword/Shadow/Rune, the effect is more or less the same in the early game, as there’s little difference between doing 2 damage and banishing a 3-toughness follower. The big upside of Counterattack is that it’s less of a dead draw in the late game, and can often do 6-7 damage for 2 mana during Kel turns, which is a huge tempo swing, and it also buffs your Wards, which is rarely relevant (since Wards generally have less attack than non-Ward cards), but still constitutes a bit of additional upside, e.g. when going first with an Ironknuckle Nun on 3, you can often get a 2-for-1 trade with the 3 damage and the buff, all while developing a 2-drop alongside it, which is solid tempo.
- Yukari is a tech card against Natura Dragon. The card is not particularly impressive in its other applications, but it can be swapped out for some of the other cards in that mana slot (e.g., HCS) if Dragon becomes popular enough to warrant doing so, and since most of the Wilbert package doesn’t do much against Dragon anyway, Hallowed Cave Shrine could be pretty cuttable.
- The rest of the “Ward tribal” package, with cards like Saintly Leader and Holy Lancer, simply don’t fit into an Elana Haven shell, as the deck doesn’t have enough room to accommodate so many additional midgame cards. Cutting most of the Elana “package” in favor of Saintly Leaders makes it so that you have to really zero in on drawing Wilbert every game. Regular Elana builds have multiple angles of attack: sometimes, you evolve Elana on curve and start making tall boards, in other cases, you get an early tempo lead, then play Wilbert and eke out that last bit of damage from its leader effect, and if you limit yourself to only half of the “highroll” potential by going “full Ward”, the deck becomes too linear and starts to autolose to decks with a high amount of follower removal and comeback mechanics, e.g. Shuten Shadow/Natura Dragon/Evolve Sword/Control Forest, etc. For this reason, I don’t think that the “Ward tribal” Haven build has a high enough card quality of the card pool currently, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become a real deck at some point in the future.
Natura Haven doesn’t have a ton of data behind it, and what information we do have shows that it’s roughly even against Spellboost Rune, Natura Dragon and Midrange (Evolve) Sword. The deck struggles against Shuten Shadow and Union Burst-based Forest decks, and the poor Shadow matchup likely means that Natura Haven is unlikely to see much tournament success. In my opinion, Natura Haven is on the cusp of being a playable ladder deck, but it’s worse at most of the things it does compared to other midrange decks in the format (Shuten Shadow/Evolve Sword/etc.), so I find it difficult to recommend playing Natura Haven despite its (surprisingly) high aggregate ladder winrate.
Elana Haven is a more popular archetype than Natura Haven, however, it does 5-10% worse than Natura Haven against Spellboost Rune, Evolve Sword, Natura Dragon and Shuten Shadow. While I have no doubt in my mind that there’s going to be some future refinement and optimization to the archetype, it doesn’t seem like the archetype has legs in the format with the current Rotation-legal card pool.
Identifying cards: Dazzling Archer, Magisteel Lion, Cat Gunner, Artifact Call, Mechagun Wielder, Displacer Bot, Augmentation Bestowal.
What does Artifact Portal do?
Artifact Portal is a combo deck that utilizes Artifact-based synergies in order to enable OTK setups with Maisha. Throughout the course of the early- and midgame, Artifact Portal spends turns cycling towards the combo pieces and controlling the board using efficient midrange Portal cards and low-cost Artifacts. The primary win condition of the archetype involves getting at least 2 cost-refunding cards going at the same time (which includes either Acceleratium from Displacer Bot or Augmentation Bestowal), and some number of 1-cost Artifacts to cheat mana costs (the total number of which depends on the turn when the combo is assembled and whether you need to spend mana setting up the Augmentation). The setup is as follows: if you have an Acceleratium in play and it’s at least turn 7, and your hand has a Maisha, Augmentation Bestowal and at least 2-3 1-cost Artifacts, you play Maisha and Augmentation, then start cycling Artifacts and if you get enough to get to 7 open mana and have X – 4 dead followers (where X is the opponent’s life total), then you evolve Maisha, use the spell token, and attack for lethal damage. Naturally, there are other ways to set up the Maisha OTK (e.g., if you play an Alpha Core on a prior turn, or, well, if you get to turn 10 somehow), which can be a contingency plan with a bad draw against slower decks, but Portal in general doesn’t have a lot of ways to heal or defend itself, so it’s unwise to follow a slow game plan against decks with linear win conditions (e.g., Shuten-Doji Shadow, Evolve Sword, Natura Dragon, Lymaga Forest and Rune in general), and the only way to outpace those decks is through an early Maisha setup.
Maisha being a win condition in Portal decks is not a novel concept, and the pattern of cheating mana costs with Artifact-based discounts has been a defining characteristic of Artifact Portal lists in multiple formats over the course of the last ~5 months (it was technically possible even before that with Deus in Unlimited and even before the Displacer Bot buff, but it only came to prominence in Rotation following the July balance changes). What’s different this time around, however, is that, on the one hand, Portal has no (playable) Rotation-legal way to generate Radiant Artifacts without Mechanization, meaning that the previous midrange iterations of the deck with more tempo-oriented cards like Ines/Shion can no longer close out games; and on the other hand, because of Kaiser and Focus, which are powerful draw spells that help find the necessary combo pieces. Focus is a card that needs no explanation: it draws cards in the early- to midgame, at 2 different mana breakpoints, and has a fair bit of incidental synergy with Portal cards in general. Kaiser, however, is somewhat different: while there are spots where you mulligan into unplayable cards, so you pitch your hand and redraw 3-4 cards, Kaiser is primarily useful during the Maisha turns. After doing the initial setup of Maisha into Augmentation and cycling (most of) the Artifacts that you have available, you can then play Kaiser (keeping one of your 1-cost Artifacts or the second Kaiser, of course), and try to find more fuel to keep the combo setup going. The reason to keep an Artifact is that if you draw an extra Augmentation with no other Artifacts, you can jump-start the draw chain again and get to something useful.
Naturally, this does come with some risks, as you have to keep track of how many Artifacts you have in your deck, how many Artifacts you need (considering that you spend an extra point of mana on Kaiser), how many allied followers died this game (as in, can you get to lethal damage?), board space (relevant with things like Mechagun Wielder, also in the sense that you sometimes have to intentionally trade the Artifacts awkwardly in order to get more trades and more board space), hand size (you need an empty card slot to evolve Maisha, which may sound like a trivial requirement, but can be tricky once you have multiple Augmentations going, so keep a Focus or a Kaiser to dump from your hand before evolving Maisha), cards in your deck (don’t deck yourself) and lastly, the turn timer. The last item on the list is probably the most important of all in the moment, as animations take up time (with some, such as Maisha’s evolve animation and Kaiser redraw taking significantly longer than one would expect), so it’s important to keep track of all the extraneous factors (the first 4 mentioned above) before you start taking your turn and plan the early part of the turn in advance. The critical decision here involves asking yourself the question, “is it necessary to start the combo this turn, or do I have more time?”, which is influenced by how much damage your opponent can do (how likely are you to die next turn?), how much setup you still need to go through (e.g., with cards like Mechagun Wielder/Displacer Bot or Artifact-shuffling effects) and what the remaining Countdown on your Acceleratium is (or whether you have another one ready).
- Always keep Dazzling Archer, Magisteel Lion, Cat Gunner and Displacer Bot.
- If you’re already keeping Archer/Lion/Cat, also keep Artifact Call and/or Mechagun Wielder.
- If you’re not keeping Displacer Bot, keep Magna Giant.
- Keep Mugnier against Sword and Shadow.
- Going second against Sword, keep Karula.
The mulligan plan for Artifact Portal involves trying to get Artifacts into your deck. Some of the Artifact-shuffling effects are fine cards in the midgame (as “vanilla” 2-drops), however, Dazzling Archer specifically requires 2 turns of “setup”, so the earlier you have an Archer, the better. Displacer Bot is a Shadowverse card that is legal in the Rotation format, so it’s a snap keep. Keeping Artifact Call can be a little risky if you don’t manage to get any Artifacts in your deck (which is reasonably common on turns 2-3, with most lists only having ~9 Artifact generators). Artifact Portal is a pretty linear deck that can play both proactively and reactively, but some matchup-specific factors involve keeping Mugnier against Sword (stops Leod shenanigans) and Shadow (answers Helio and can often hit multiple targets in that matchup). Karula is an efficient Leod answer that can often get at least a 3-for-1, and Evolve Sword lists have trouble clearing the 6/X body on the crackback (e.g., it can often kill the main body of Lecia).
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Karula is an optional inclusion that helps in midrange matchups and is played in most lists at 2-3 copies. Both modes of the card (an evolve target on turns 4-5 and its enhance ability on turns 8+) can usually answer 2 followers, and present a threat that could generate value on future turns. In and of itself, Karula is a pretty fair midrange card, but it’s pushed over the edge by 2 factors: on the one hand, Artifact Portal decks always need to save an evolve point and often can’t go off with Maisha on turn 8, so the enhance ability can bridge the deck’s game plan between the midgame and the OTK setup; and on the other hand, it can pair up with Focus and mitigate the usual tempo loss associated with the draw effect. Focus in general is one of my personal favorite cards of the set, and making Focus better makes me happy, so spinny shirtless Tron man also makes me happy. I have never actually watched Tron, but I think that’s the aesthetic Cygames were going for. He could pass for a Furi boss, if drawn in a simpler, less busy art style.
- Mugnier is an optional inclusion that helps against specifically Sword and Shadow, but can hit a lot of targets in the current Rotation format (Shikigami tokens in Rune, Leod in decks that play Leod, Desert Pathfinder/Pteranodon in Dragon, turns off Wilbert‘s leader effect against Haven and other incidental Ward cards, banishes Elana’s Prayer and can even enable some nasty turn 4 Maisha beats when going first). It’s important to be aware of the sequencing (mostly relevant with Acceleratium, but also comes up with Karula and Analyzing Artifacts), since the effect is symmetrical, but Mugnier is very rarely bad, so it’s difficult to justify running fewer copies than a full playset.
- The role of Kaiser has already been discussed in previous sections, but since the card has some heavy redundancy issues, it can be correct to play 2xKaiser. In my testing, I’ve found that running 3xKaiser makes it so that there are often 2 copies of it stuck in the left of my hand, so I personally prefer running 2, but there is merit to running a full playset as well.
- Alpha Core is a necessary evil for the sorry state of Artifact Portal in Rotation: on the one hand, it enables the secondary Maisha setup (as in, play Core on turn 7-8, then evolve Maisha on the following turn) and it can be useful to have an evolve-refunding effect in a deck that hinges on Maisha as much as Artifact Portal, and on the other hand, it shuffles 6 Arifacts into your deck, 4 of which are good Artifacts, with the other 2 being passable at best. Unlike Sagacious Core, you often don’t want to play the Core on turn 3 (unless you haven’t drawn any of the other Artifact-shuffling effects), but Core on 3 into Karula with a 2-drop on 4 (e.g., with Cat Gunner or Artifact Call) can be a decent tempo play. The problem with Alpha Core is that it makes your Magna Giant draws a lot worse (since there are only 6 other good targets for it), so running 3xCore has proven mediocre in my personal testing, but running 1-2 is generally a responsible choice.
- Dawn’s Splendor, Phantom Blade Wielder and Shin are optional cards that can be included in Artifact Portal lists if you’re trying to strengthen the deck’s early game. Artifact Portal doesn’t have a lot of 2-drops, and Fighters that come with a bit of an upside (Focus synergy, or ways to protect yourself against Rune/Shadow/Sword) are reasonable inclusions. I’m not entirely convinced that running Splendor actually helps the Rune matchup to a significant extent and Sword/Shadow don’t really play multiple Storm cards per turn, so the Dawn’s Splendor only heals for 2-4 at most. Phantom Blade Wielder is generally good against most midrange-y decks since it gives you a +2 to the Maisha counter if it activates, and if you can line it up with a Focus on turn 3, it’s a decent tempo play, in a similar fashion to Licht. Shin is mostly just a bad Dawn’s Splendor for most intents and purposes, but it can be marginally better against Leod Sword (which is already a Portal-favored matchup, so teching for it doesn’t make a lot of sense). In my opinion, 1-2xPhantom Blade Wielder (or Licht) are a good inclusion in a 3xKarula list, but I don’t think Dawn’s Splendor or Shin improve the deck’s poor matchups to a sufficient enough extent to warrant inclusion.
Artifact Portal matchups
There is very little data available for Artifact Portal at the moment, so I can’t include a matchup spread chart for Artifact Portal in the interest of intellectual honesty: I wouldn’t want to make up numbers based on my personal testing, because the systematic error margins would be too high to make a good judgement, and I’m no class expert, that’s for sure. Once more data becomes available, this section is going to be updated to reflect that, but based on my personal experience, Artifact Portal is generally favored against Shadow, both builds of Sword; and heavily unfavored against Spellboost Rune and Natura Dragon. The archetype generally struggles against faster inevitability engines and burn-based win conditions as it has no way to protect itself, so both builds of Rune can often burn you out before you finish setting up the combo, and Dragon generally closes out games by turn 8, which is not unbeatable, but you have to either have a very aggressive opening or stumble into the full Maisha combo in time, which is not very likely, and due to Dragon often not developing the board, even if you have the full combo ready to go, board space can be an issue. Against slower midrange-y decks, Artifact Portal’s potential for board control comes into play, and even matchups that one would imagine to be difficult (e.g., Leod Sword) are a lot easier for Portal with the Mugnier/Karula “package” (which isn’t a package per se, but more so a set of highrolly midgame cards that are a pain to deal with for Sword/Shadow).
The overall role of Artifact Portal in the format is tricky to discern: on the one hand, it’s a deck with an inevitability engine that doesn’t rely on board control, and on the other hand, not drawing the right pieces often means that it’s less consistent that other “infinite damage” decks like Natura Dragon and Rune. Personally, I think that Artifact Portal is incredibly fun to play because the core gameplay loop is challenging to execute properly and it’s very easy to punt away games that you should’ve won because of poor sequencing, so there is a lot of room for improvement and optimization, which are the things that I personally really enjoy about card games. With that said, some of the inherent draw variance is unavoidable and the deck’s steep learning curve, as well as potential for misplays are downsides if your sole intent is to grind games and climb the ladder. With those factors in mind, Artifact Portal is not a deck I would recommend to the more enfranchised players (because it’s not that competitive and pretty difficult to pilot), but if your goal is to learn the game and improve, it’s an archetype I’d suggest looking into. This (somewhat elitist) viewpoint may seem objectionable to some players and is likely influenced by personal biases, but I like Artifact Portal being in the format in the form that it is currently.
Identifying cards: Sure-Sighted Lancer, Gravity Grappler, Colosseum on High, Orchis, Linked Heart.
What does Colosseum Portal do?
Colosseum Portal is an archetype that revolves around the synergy between cards that require you to float mana at the end of your turn (Gravity Grappler/Karula/Focus/etc.), with one another and Colosseum on High. The numbers don’t quite line up (3 is not equal to 4), which is not even necessarily a downside, as some matchups are not good Colosseum matchups (e.g., Shuten Shadow, Evolve Sword, Spellboost Rune), so you can manipulate whether you want to pull it out of your deck or not. In Colosseum matchups, the primary “combo” setup is to evolve an Orchis, and then use the double-attacking token on the following turn to deal 10 (or 14 with an evolve) face damage.
Even 14 damage is not exactly enough to close out games, so some ways to improve the odds include Shiva (a turn 6 Shiva into Orchis on 7 lines up your 14-damage attack with the 4 damage from Shiva), as well as Joy of Destruction (which adds an extra 3 damage). An interesting setup with Shiva is the Awakened Ragna “combo”, where if you set up a Shiva beforehand, you can line up the Shiva 4-damage shot on turn 11 with the Ragna token that sets your opponent to 2 health. This may sound too slow and janky for a Rotation deck (and it usually is), but against decks like Elana Haven and Control Forest that don’t really die to the Colosseum setup, it can be a decent plan if you maintain board control.
The big challenge of Colossesum decks in general is that the effect is symmetrical, and your opponent gets the benefit first, so breaking the symmetry is somewhat tricky. A card that really shines in Colosseum Portal is Sure-Sighted Lancer, which can be a highly conditional 1-mana removal spell against Sword and Forest, but more importantly, it always has targets with a Colosseum in play, as your opponent is likely to play followers that survive to your turn, which can then be picked off with Lancer, and it’s even possible to duplicate Lancer(s) with Hamelin in grindy matchups. Other ways to break the symmetry involve using keywords that synergize with buffs, such as Ambush (e.g., Begoggled Mole and Ines, kinda), Ward (Shiva/Shin), Storm (apart from the main Orchis setup, cards like Dreadnought Gorilla can also add a fair bit of damage) and Bane (Vier, which doesn’t get much benefit from the extra stats, but rather the Rush aspect). Even with all these factors at play, the archetype is not very functional in its current iteration despite having a lot of build variety, so I don’t think there is any merit to further discuss its strategy.
Colosseum Portal in general doesn’t have a lot of data behind it, but based on what’s available so far, the deck is unfavored against Spellboost Rune and midrange builds of both Sword and Shadow. The archetype is a nightmare for Leod Sword: it runs 3xMugnier and 3xKarula, often includes Boost Kicker and full playsets of Sure-Sighted Lancer, which make it near-impossible to stick a Leod. In addition to that, both Lancers and Mugnier pull their weight against Elana Haven, as they can cheaply answer followers buffed by Elana’s Prayer and “disable” Wilbert damage. Somehow, the archetype has an even matchup against Amataz Forest, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but a lot of lists do run triple Dawn’s Splendor, so it could be that the matchup is less Forest-favored than it seems to me, though it could just be an issue of variance due to not having enough available data. Generally speaking, Colosseum Portal is a deck that I would recommend to avoid like the plague: none of its positive aspects can compete with other midrange decks of the format, and a lot of its powerful tech cards (e.g., Mugnier/Karula) are shared with Artifact Portal, which is a way more consistent deck. Based on my testing and available data from tournament and ladder play, Colosseum Portal is an aggressively terrible archetype with little to no redeeming qualities.
Identifying cards: Goblin, Vuella, One-Winged Demon, Swarming Wraith, Razory Claw, Laura, Enraged Commander, Yuna, Vampire Seeker.
What does Aggro Blood do?
Aggro Blood is a blanket term for aggressive Blood decks that aim to establish early-game board control with aggressive 1- and 2-drops. Doing so allows the deck to push some chip damage, and also enables Hellblaze Demon to buff either Laura, a Leoparion (the 2/1 Storm token from Doublame) or Kudlak. When combined with other handbuff effects (Vuella/Entrancing Blow), chip damage from Yurius and Razory Claw, the archetype can aim to close out games by turn 6. The deck is fairly aggressive and has a low curve, but has 2 reload effects (Unleash and Yuna), which allow the archetype to dig for extra damage to close out games.
Compared to previous iterations of Aggro Blood, the deck has gotten a new 1-drop in Lucius, which is mostly just a Goblin with some upside in the midgame. Apart from that, some builds of the archetype adopt a “Pain” sub-package, which consists of a playset of Balto and some combination of Antelope Pelt Warriors, Rookie Succubi and Illya. The package has some incidental synergy with other cards in the deck since cards like Kudlak, Swarming Wraith and Razory Claw happen to deal damage to your leader. The cards to cut for the “Pain package” include Entrancing Blow (for Balto), as well as Swarming Wraith/Doublame/Vuella for the relevant 2-drops. In addition to that, there are also Seductress Vampire builds of Aggro (Vengeance) Blood, which get to include such cards as Nightmare, Dark General and Azazel over some of the variable 2-drops (e.g., Vuella), Kudlak (which gets a lot worse in a Vengeance-based shell, because the health loss is felt more when your health total randomly gets set to 10) and some number of burn cards (Laura/Razory Claw).
While there are 3 different flavors of the deck, which does cause a fair bit of build variety, you can’t really teach an old dog new tricks, and Aggro Blood is more or less the same deck as it was before the expansion. Certainly, it runs a new 1-drop, and it now gets a choice between two different 3/2 2-drops, but the deck’s role in the format is more or less unchanged: the archetype exists to punish decks with weak early game, slow win conditions and lack of healing (e.g., Natura Dragon and both builds of Rune), and in that sense, it’s about on par with such decks as Amataz Forest and Leod Sword.
Regarding Evolve Natura Blood
Identifying cards: Creeping Madness, Desert Pathfinder, Hnikar, Jafnhar, Corrupted Bat, Cradle of Dark Divinity, Destructive Succubus, Zeus, the Supreme.
Evolve-based builds of Natura Blood are fairly similar to their pre-expansion variants, and while the archetype did get a bit of “free” card selection with Creeping Madness, at its core it’s still a fair midrange deck that uses Zeus as its primary win condition, and it has a similar problem to Haven: due to already having access to an “honorary” Union Burst card (Destructive Succubus), Blood only got 1 Union Burst card, and it’s a lot worse on-rate than what other midrange classes are working with, and the base Natura Evolve Blood “package” wasn’t very competitive to begin with, so the archetype has been more or less DOA from the very early stages of the expansion.
Regarding Machina Blood
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Mechawing Angel, Gearsnake Tamer, Armored Bat, Metal-Blade Demon, Technolord, Slayn, Mono.
Machina Blood is another Blood deck that has remained extremely stagnant and is extremely consistent with its previous post-RoG iterations. The unique strength of Machina Blood lies in its ability to go wide on board in a similar fashion to Aggro Blood, which is a powerful asset against Spellboost Rune, and the archetype does have a proper comeback mechanic in Technolord. To be fair to Machina Blood, there isn’t much to be discovered for a tribal synergy deck that utilizes a tribe that has gotten a single support card (Bubbleborn Mermaid) over the course of the last 2 sets.
Blood is the least popular class in Rotation, so Aggro Blood (its most popular deck) doesn’t have a ton of data behind it, but what data we do have shows that the deck is heavily favored against Spellboost Rune and Natura Dragon. Compared to Leod Sword (another highly polarized aggro deck), Aggro Blood does significantly worse against Shadow, but it does actually beat Leod Sword (in part due to having Entrancing Blow, and, to an extent, Kudlak as well), so it has seen some fringe tournament success in lineups that would ordinarily include Leod Sword/Amataz Forest instead. Aggro Blood is also a very fast deck, so it’s very efficient for grinding ladder games, in a similar fashion to Leod Sword and Amataz Forest, so despite the low popularity of Blood as a class, Aggro Blood is still one of the more competitive ladder decks of the format.