Note: the article is currently in the process of being updated for the October balance patch, so matchup statistics and decklists may appear mismatched with the commentary.

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Natura Haven

Identifying cards: Sneak Attack, Desert Pathfinder, Saintly Squeaks, Featherfolk Punisher Virtuous Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Alchemical Confectioner, Agnes, Hollow Feather, Sister Falconer, Imina, Viridia Magna.

What does Natura Haven do?

Natura Haven is a proactive midrange deck that relies on Natura synergy with various Tree-generating cards, with Agnes and Viridia Magna being the primary payoff cards. A significant portion of Natura cards in Haven have synergistic effects with Countdown Amulets, so efficient Amulet cards like Golden Bell, Sneak Attack and Sister Falconer are a good fit for Natura Haven. The defining characteristics of Natura Haven include an abundance of Storm damage and midgame power spikes with cards like Kel, Viridia Magna and enhanced Daffodil.

Natura Haven can either commit to a fair midrange game or go for an aggressive gameplan, depending on the draw and matchup. Broadly speaking, you should try to be the beatdown against decks like Natura Dragon, Roach Forest, Leod Sword and Blood/Rune in general. Against Natura Sword/Forest and Elana Haven, you usually have to outvalue the opponent and keep the board clear, even if it means doing painful things like value-trading with Storm cards or using Craving’s Splendor as removal. Against Natura Shadow/Haven and Artifact Portal, the gameplan depends on your and your opponent’s draw: you can’t fall behind on tempo too much, so you have to control the board, but you also have to close out the game eventually, so you can’t waste too much damage taking value trades.

Generally speaking, drawing a turn 1 Sneak Attack, 2 or more Agnes and Sister Falconer with some amount of Craving’s Splendor skews you towards an aggro game, while drawing a turn 1 Golden Bell, Kel, Shiva and multiple copies of Virtuous Aether after turn 5-6 means that you are going to play a long game. Naturally, trying to outvalue Roach Forest, Leod Ambush Sword or Zeus decks is a silly idea, so those matchups usually come down to pushing as much damage as possible (saving Sister Falconer for turn 4, evolving Storm cards and aggressively using Craving’s Splendor without playing into the opponent’s removal (e.g., not leaving followers with 2 or less attack on your side of the board against Roach Forest, and not playing into Viridia Magna,Masamune,Suzuki, etc. against Dragon and Blood). The 2 basic questions you have to ask yourself when playing Natura Haven is “Will this match conclude before turn 10?” and “Can my opponent do 20 damage out of hand in a single turn?”; if the answers to either of these questions is positive, you have to be aggressive, and if that’s not the case, you have to try and match the opponent’s threats with your answers. Important cards to keep track of in the latter case include Kel (as well as saving an Evolve point and/or Respite/Bells for it), Viridia Magna/Eidolon (to answer tall threats), Shiva (or rather, the damage and healing from Shiva‘s leader effect), Daffodil (more specifically, enhanced Daffodil, which cycles 3-4 cards, discounts Agnes, and can control the board if you save an evolve point for it) and Virtuous Aether (particularly relevant against Natura Forest and Dragon, as healing for 5-15 can give you a lot of extra time).

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Desert Pathfinder and up to one copy of Golden Bell and/or Agnes.
  • Keep a proactive 2-drop, this can include Pathfinder, Featherfolk Punisher, Saintly Squeaks, Sister Falconer and Marcotte, in order of priority.
  • If you’re playing a Destiny Wing Knight list, keep it with a Golden Bell or Pathfinder. With a Bell/DWK hand, keep a non-Respite Tree-generating card as well (such as Pathfinder, Squeaks, Aether). With a DWK/ Pathfinder hand, also keep Sneak Attack.
  • Keep Kel against Sword, Forest and Shadow. If you have prior knowledge that your opponent is playing Roach Forest, don’t keep Kel.
  • Going second against Sword/Forest/Shadow, keep Blackened Scripture.
  • Keep Confectioner against Dragon.

Natura Haven skeleton

Natura Haven (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 7 of the VeC set)

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Natura Haven (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 6 of the VeC set)

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Natura Haven

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Natura Haven

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Natura Haven

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Pre-CoG nerf Natura Haven (median decklist from 214 JCG top 16 finishes on the October patch)

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The mulligan strategy for Natura Haven has gotten a bit more straightforward after the City of Gold nerf and now closely resembles the mulligan plan for most other midrange-y Natura decks in the format, and mostly involves trying to hit a good early curve. A lot of Haven 2-drops work in such a way that they’re good plays off-curve, so it’s fine to have multiple 2-drops among your early draws. Kel is a very important card in board-based matchups, and it’s crucial to have interaction available as early as possible. Having an early Agnes is generally good since it speeds up your clock by a lot, and while the “highroll” draw for Haven usually involves a double Agnes opening hand, it’s important to not get stuck with a hand where you don’t have any early action, as Agnes only really comes online around turn 5-6. DWK is a similarly high-rolly early game card even when compared to things like Golden Bell and Pathfinder, but I generally think that it’s wrong to keep it if it’s not active on turn 3, which only works with fairly specific double Amulet draws. A 1-cost 3/3 rapidly falls off in terms of its board impact from turn 4 onward, and DWK can be a trap if you tunnel vision on trying to activate it without a City of Gold in your deck.

Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Kel, Holy Marskman (and Viridia Magna) are optional catch-all inclusions that help against midrange decks. Natura Haven loses games when it falls behind on board and doesn’t draw its interaction, so having at least a 2/2 split of Kel/Viridia Magna is the absolute minimum if you want to have a good shot at beating Natura Sword/Haven/Forest/Shadow. A third Viridia Magna can be a little clunky, but if you’re playing a standard-ish build with no other additional interaction, 3xKel can be a good choice.
  • Blackened Scripture and Imina, Mad Eidolon are functionally similar optional inclusions to Kel. Scripture has the additional utility of answering early Last Words effects (e.g., Pathfinder, Pteranodon in Dragon, Helio in Shadow, etc.) and it can also function as a 2-drop of sorts in a pinch. Imina really shines against other midrange decks like Natura Sword/Forest/Shadow, and mostly serves as a faster Viridia Magna. The important part of Imina is that it’s a removal effect that doesn’t require you to spend any evolve points, so it helps to save evos for Kel or enhanced Daffodil, and has fringe utility of being able to evolve to pop a Golden Bell on 5. You can usually get some advantage even if you can’t manage to break the symmetry of the metaphorical game of hot potato, since the Totem still enables things like Sainty Squeaks/DWK, discounts Agnes and makes it so that your opponent has to play around the Totem, which is relevant for the Sword matchup (since it can hit Leod in the late game). Imina has some redundancy issues with itself (since there can’t be more than 1 Totem on one side of the board at a time), so it’s not a great 3-of, but running 1-2 copies alongside 2xKel is reasonable.
  • Featherfolk Gardener is an optional inclusion that helps to save evolve points for a turn 7 Daffodil. After a turn 4 Sister Falconer, Gardener can be active on curve and can allow to push a good chunk of face damage (if you evolve the bird), and lining up a Tree or Sneak Attack on turn 6 is not too complicated either. In addition to that, Gardener has synergy with Imina, where if one of the your followers gets transformed, the Totem ticks down to 1 on your turn, and you can use it as a pseudo-Tribunal effect, which can catch your opponent off-guard and clear cards that are difficult to interact with otherwise, namely Leod. Gardener is a sweet midrange card and it’s reasonably versatile, albeit quite situational. The 5-attack threshold can be an awkward breakpoint against Shadow, since it doesn’t clear Ceres/Lubelle, but it trades well with most Sword/Dragon followers, so the card is somewhat matchup-dependant. These factors make it awkward to run too many copies of the card, but it’s a fine 1-of if you’re looking for more interaction.
  • Sister Falconer is the primary cuttable 2-drop in Natura Haven after the CoG nerf. The card can generate a good bit of tempo when played on 4, can push some extra face damage, can activate things like Saintly Squeaks and Gardener and gives another target for Craving’s Splendor if you choose to evolve the birb, which is particularly relevant against Roach Forest. Early Natura Haven builds started out with 3xFalconers, but the card has been gradually getting pushed to 2 copies, often replaced by 1-2xScriptures.
  • Craving’s Splendor is an optional inclusion that affects the speed of the Haven clock. The card pairs with Agnes and the evolved Sneak Attack token to generate 8 damage for 3-4 mana. Splendor is important against Roach Forest and in the Haven mirror, as it makes the difference between being able to close out the game before the Roach player goes off or before the Haven player gets to turn 10 and starts healing with Aether. The failure case for the card is a 4-damage removal spell for 3, which is not great against the currently popular decks, but it can have situational utility to clear out Wards such as Bayleon and Bayle. That said, it’s generally better to try to aim for the better-case outcome, and pair it up with Agnes, so the standard build of the deck usually includes 2xCravings: enough to race Roach, but not enough to rot in your hand as an inefficient piece of removal too often.
  • Alchemical Confectioner is an optional inclusion that helps in slower matchups, such as the Haven mirror, Natura Sword/Dragon/etc. The card can be awkward against Roach and Shadow, but it should be noted that a big chunk of Confectioner draws are damage cards (Agnes/Punisher/Saintly Squeaks/Sneak Attack/Daffodil), with Aether/Viridia Magna/Respite being the only “misses”. In a standard-ish Natura Haven build, the high-value draws (Agnes, Daffodil and Viridia Magna) have roughly a ~30% probability for each of the 2 draws, meaning roughly a 50% of getting at least 1 of the good draws from a Confectioner, though a lot of the “bad” draws also replace themselves, so they’re not necessarily bad value either. Long story short, Confectioner is a lot of value and has a good probability of hitting high-impact cards. The card is fairly cuttable if you need card slots for early game cards, but at least 2xConfectioners seem necessary if you want to have a shot at beating Natura Forest and the Haven mirror.
  • Shiva is a tech card for the Haven mirror, often included as a 1-of. The card is a solid play on turns 6 and 8. The Haven mirror often ends up as a race before turn 10 (which is a huge turning point since that’s when Aether healing comes online), and Shiva creates a significant health swing and puts up a vanilla Ward in the way of Storm cards. The downside of the card is that it’s not particularly great after turn 8 and can be a brick if you’re behind on tempo in the midgame. This factor, in addition to it not stacking with itself, makes it difficult to justify running multiple copies, but the opportunity cost of running a 1-of Shiva in any kind of slower midrange deck is so negligible that there’s very little reason not to do so, especially if you’re looking for a smidge of extra finishing power.
  • Viridia Magna is an optional inclusion that works wonders against slower midrange decks like both types of Haven, Natura Sword/Forest/Shadow/Dragon. The card is very rarely active on 6, and it’s often more of an 8-drop, following a turn 7 Daffodil, which can make the card a little clunky. In my opinion, 2xViridia Magna is basically mandatory, but a third copy can be a little much, and a 1xShiva or an extra Confectioner have performed better in that slot in my testing.
  • Destiny Wing Knight is an optional inclusion that helps against Roach Forest and aggro decks. The card is a lot worse after the CoG nerf since it’s a lot more difficult to activate it on turn 3, and the deck no longer skips turn 2, so there is less of a focus on trying to have a powerspike on 3. With that said, DWK still has some highroll potential, especially if you get 2 or more of them in the early game, but the card falls off rapidly afterwards and can often be literally unplayable if you can’t find a non-Tree Amulet for it. A 1-of Elysian Saint-Hares is an optional inclusion in 3xDWK lists, and can further amplify the “Keleseth effect” of the card, since it can create a turn 4 tempo swing and it does technically thin your deck by 1 card (2 DWK get pulled out, 1xHare gets shuffled in), but the downside of the card is that it’s a poor play at any other point in the game. The bunny package has seen some fringe success in the early post-patch tournaments, so it has some potential in a Roach-saturated environment, but it hasn’t been showing up in more recent events, and I personally believe that even DWK in and of itself is actively terrible currently, and running the whole 4-card package further exacerbates the problem.
  • Realm of Repose is a tech card against Roach Forest and other OTK- and pseudo-OTK setups (e.g., Valdain/Leod/Zeus/Maisha/etc.). The issue with the card is that its main application (the Roach matchup) is already Haven-favored, so it’s a little counterproductive to tech for it, but if some other deck that relies on OTK-like setups comes into prominence, it could be a reasonable choice.
  • The Feather Rush/Ephemera package was a fringe optional inclusion in Natura Haven lists before the CoG nerf, commonly paired up with a 2-of Iridescent Sphinx. The idea of the package was that you could turn terrible cards (e.g., Sphinx) into a source of face damage (with CoG on 2, Sphinx on 3, Feather Rush on 4, crack for 6 or 8 damage). In addition to that, if you don’t have any follower in play and had an evolve point, the evolved Ephemera+Splendor into Feather Rush does an extra point of damage compared to the standard Agnes+Splendor setup. Long story short, it’s an aggressively terrible (and terribly aggressive, too) package that you shouldn’t be running if you’re trying to win games and not just generate highlight clips.

Natura Haven is currently the best-performing deck in the Rotation format. The deck is extremely consistent, boasting the lowest matchup polarity of any deck in the format. The worst non-Haven matchup of Natura Haven is Natura Dragon, which has a similarly consistent game plan and can match Haven’s pressure with specific tech cards like Ian/Dragon Chef. Natura Haven is a deck that has many angles of attack and the highroll potential of Agnes in a Natura deck can turn even the seemingly unfavored matchups around, while the Kel-based board control package gives the deck a lot of breathing room against fair midrange-y decks. Natura Haven is currently the best-performing deck in tournament play as well, although it hasn’t reached the ~95% representation it had in late October, and it’s currently at roughly ~65% of the recent JCG lineups.

After the CoG nerf, the main changes to the archetypes are that DWK and Priest of Excess have become a lot less playable, so the deck has fewer answers against threats in Natura Dragon and Leod in Natura Sword, specifically. Apart from that, Natura Haven is still an extremely potent archetype both in ladder and tournament play, and I personally expect its popularity to increase over time, up to the point of the mini-expansion release. The nerf to City of Gold was a step in the right direction and the resulting format is a lot more midrange-y and diverse, which is certainly a positive change, but the whole Daffodil/Agnes/Splendor package is still somewhat problematic. Certainly, Splendor is going to rotate out at the end of December, and maybe the mini-expansion includes a Masamune for every class other than Haven, so it could be that the format adjusts and achieves perfect balance at the end of November. Nevertheless, the change to CoG likely means that the card will get changed back to cost 2 at the end of January, so I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be playing City of Gold decks. Certainly, Unlimited Storm Haven was a competitive archetype (even if it never performed better than Daria or Elana, neither on ladder nor in tournament showings), I don’t think City of Gold is all that overpowered for Unlimited play. I could certainly turn out to be wrong, but I predict that CoG nerf is going to get reverted in the balance patch some time around the 27th – 29th of January.

Elana Haven skeleton

Elana Haven (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 2 events)

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Elana Haven

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Elana Haven

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Elana Haven

Identifying cards: Tender Rabbit Healer, Unicorn Knight, Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Robowing Precant, Robofalcon, Zoe, Ironknuckle Nun, Limonia, Elana, Servant of Repose.

What does Elana Haven do?

Elana Haven is a midrange tempo deck with control elements, revolving around generating tall boards with Elana’s Prayer and low-cost healing effects. The archetype has a Machina sub-package, which works for 2 reasons: on one hand, a lot of Machina cards generate Repair Modes; this goes hand-in-hand with the overarching gameplan of Elana Haven. On the other hand, it enables Limonia to discount cards like Kel, Eachtar and Iridescent Sphinx. The defining characteristics of Elana Haven include its powerful midgame tempo swings with Elana and Kel, as well as access to ample healing and Wards.

Generally, the archetype is not particularly different from its pre-VeC iteration, and the build difference is primarily caused by De La Fille rotating out, which causes cards like Servant of Repose to come into the spotlight again. In addition to that, the shift in the format means that certain Natura cards (namely, Viridia Magna and Ladica) are extremely good at addressing Elana boards, and since those decks commonly feature inevitability or pseudo-inevitability engines (e.g., Thoth with Lubelle or Valdain), Elana lists have gotten a lot more cutthroat and include more early game than before. Elana Haven has primarily seen play immediately after the September rotation and late-October balance changes happened, so there is very little optimization and high-level testing done for the archetype currently. With that in mind, the deck isn’t really fundamentally any different, so there is little new information in the below sections compared to September’s MI report.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Golden Bell and Elana, Purest Prayer.
  • Keep a playable 2-drop, this can include Precant/Unicorn Knight/Robogoblin/Hoverboard Merc/Robofalcon, in order of priority.
  • Keep Kel against Haven/Shadow/Sword/Forest.
  • If you’re keeping 2 cards, keep a proactive 3-drop (Zoe or Ironknuckle Nun).

The mulligan strategy for Elana Haven involves trying to evolve the deck’s titular card as early as possible, and (preferably) not fall behind on tempo too much by curving out with low-cost vanilla idiots. Having some semblance of a board presence allows you to transition into the midgame and the high priority 2- and 3-drops generate Repair Modes for the later post-Elana turns, either to build a tall board or to set up a Kel board clear.

Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Iridescent Sphinx is an optional high-end inclusion that can be played in the Eachtar/Olivia slot. Unlike Eachtar, Sphinx is not conditional (as in, doesn’t require Shadows), is better proactively (since it develops a body with Ambush to stick buffs onto, and puts a Ward with a sizable butt into play), but is 1 mana slower. The good thing about Sphinx is that it can be discounted with Limonia tokens, meaning that it can often come down on turn 7 (after a turn 6 Limonia) or even turn 6 with an on-curve Limonia, and for decks like Natura Shadow/Forest a turn 6 Sphinx can be difficult to deal with. I’m personally not convinced that the card is better than Eachtar, but it has a lot more merit as a bomb in a Limonia package rather than a clunky 8-drop in Natura lists, so there could be some merit to the card, especially considering the fact that it’s one of the few high-end Elana cards that doesn’t get cleared by Viridia Magna.
  • Unicorn Knight, Hoverboard Mercenary and Robofalcon are all optional 2-drops that have marginal advantages compared to one another. Unicorn Knight lets you curve out better as it always gives you a passable turn 3 play, Hoverboard Mercenary is the most value-oriented option that can be helpful in slower matchups. Robofalcons used to be a core card in the deck when the format was a lot more midrange-y, and the card is still a great tempo option, particularly in combination with Precant, however, it seems like Unicorn Knight is a more well-performing choice currently. The currently popular split seems to be 2/2 Unicorn/Falcon with no Hoverboard Mercs.
  • Realm of Repose used to be considered a tech card, but has become a fixture in recent Elana lists. The card has two functions: on one hand, it stops OTK and pseudo-OTK setups (e.g., Roach Forest, Natura Dragon or Agnes with Craving’s Splendor), and, on the other, it can generate a tall board that is immune to Viridia Magna. After De La Fille rotated out, Servant of Repose has been seeing play in Elana lists, and having a similar trigger between the two cards makes Realm of Repose moderately better.
  • Blackened Scripture is a tech card against Roach Forest (banishes Liza), as well as Pathfinder decks, such as Natura Shadow, Dragon and Sword.

Elana Haven has seen an uptick in popularity after the CoG nerf, although the sure of popularity was quite short-lived, as players have rapidly found out that the archetype is plagued by a lot of the same issues as before: Elana Haven is weak to efficient removal cards like Viridia Magna, Ladica and things like Yuzuki/Calamity Bringer, it doesn’t have any reach and primarily relies on generating boards of tall idiots, and it shares its class slot with Natura Haven. The first two points could potentially make the deck playable as a counter to Roach Forest and some portion of generic aggressive strategies, but the fact that you have to choose between bringing Elana and Natura Haven if you’re playing in a tournament setting means that Elana Haven doesn’t see any actual testing from the competitive crowd, as it has a strictly worse matchup spread than Natura Haven. Elana Haven is still a fine ladder deck, it’s reasonably consistent (if a little unexciting) and performs fine against a lot of the currently popular decks, but its poor matchups against Natura Dragon and Forest likely mean that the winrate of the deck could decline in the near future.

Natura Forest

Identifying cards: Fertile Aether, Desert Pathfinder, Ghastly Treant, Blossom Spirit, Alchemical Confectioner, Ladica, Stoneclaw.

What does Natura Forest do?

Natura Forest is a midrange deck that aims to utilize two aspects of Tree synergy: on one hand, effects that get benefit from having a Tree in play (Blossom Spirit/Ladica), and on the other, effects that require to play multiple cards per turn (seeing as how Trees themselves only cost 1, and how Aether/Respite generate multiple played cards by themselves), which includes May, Irene and Miracle of Love as the main examples. The defining characteristics of Natura Forest include its consistent early game, capacity for board control without expending evolve points and a (relative) lack of reach.

Mulligan Priority

  • Always keep Desert Pathfinder and up to 1 Luxglaive Bayle.
  • Keep a proactive 2-drop, the best option of which being Pathfinder, followed by Ghastly Treant, Avatar of Fruition and Wellspring Elf Princess.
  • Keep Blossom Spirit if you’re already keeping a Tree-generating 2-drop like Pathfinder/Treant, also keep a pair of Aether+Blossom Spirit.
  • Keep Confectioner/Liza against Haven/Forest/Dragon.
  • Do not keep May, Eager Elf.

In my testing, the best-performing early game cards have been Desert Pathfinder and Blossom Spirit. The first of those cards doesn’t need any additional help, but Blossom Spirit needs an enabler. There is an argument to be made for keeping Fairy Circle/Wily Puck with Blossom Spirit, but the resulting curve is somewhat awkward, since you don’t want to play Blossom Spirit on 2, and playing out your Fairies disables Ladica later on, so I don’t think it’s correct. Blossom Spirit is a proactive early-game powerhouse, while Avatar of Fruition is mostly reactive, needs an activator to get Rush and relies on the opponent to play something on turn 2 (when going first). Luxglaive Bayle is one of the cards that limits your early options, but is extremely powerful if it comes down as a 1- or 2-mana 4/4 around turn 5. It’s important to get early Bayle discounts, but not important enough to limit your opening hand with 2+ less playable cards. For every card you redraw in your mulligan, there is an ~8% additional probability to draw into a May (assuming a list with 3 copies), and May is a card that you don’t ever want to draw.

Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Wellspring Elf Princess is an optional inclusion that makes Okami and May better. Normally, Natura Haven has a Tree in play that can be bounced with Okami, however, if you play Okami on curve, there can often not be a second bounce target for it. Having a Fairy Wisp helps in this scenario, and Wellspring Elf Princess is a good way to get one. In addition to that, Elf Princess helps activate May/Irene in the midgame, and a particular piece of synergy is that you can activate (and play) May on turn 5 with Elf Princess and a 1-cost card of any sort. Personally, I’ve found Elf Princess to be quite underwhelming, and the usual card that people cut for it (Desert Pathfinder) is what I would consider a core inclusion in the deck, seeing as how it’s literally the best-performing card in the deck in the early game (in my testing). Elf Princess is not a bad card, but cutting Pathfinders for it is a little insane when you could instead trim Fairy Circles/Airbound Barrages/etc.
  • Shiva is an optional card that helps against Natura Haven, Shadow and Roach Forest. Wards and healing are important against Haven, and Forest doesn’t have a lot of reach outside of Miracle of Love/Okami, so getting 4-8 damage out of Shiva can put pressure on decks that are good at board control. The recent standard build seems to be 2xShiva, and I would consider at least 1 copy mandatory.
  • Fairy generation effects such as Fairy Circle and Wily Puck help enable Ladica‘s 4-damage condition, which is relevant against Natura Haven. Fairies are also good for “play X cards” effects like Irene/May/Miracle of Love, as well as Blossom Spirit, so there is a bit of extra utility there. The general configuration for 3xLadica decks is at least 2xFairy Circles. Wily Puck is functionally a similar (albeit slower) card to Fairy Circle: you get an extra Fairy if you use its amulet mode, and a turn 4 Puck curves out into a turn 5 Ladica nicely. In addition to that, Puck can be another thing to bounce with Okami (as well as Barrage), so you can get an extra 4/4 with Rush even when your board gets cleared. Bouncing Puck in its amulet form takes away the option of playing it as a 4-drop later (since it’s transformed into an amulet).
  • Airbound Barrage is a card that helps enable Irene/May/Miracle by allowing to play more cards in a turn. Barrage is particularly good in Natura decks because you can always pick up a Tree (which “enables” Desert Pathfinders) and not lose any actual tempo. A functionally similar card to Barrage is Travelers’ Respite, which lets you save up a 0-cost Tree and provide a bit of healing in the process, making it possible to enable Irene as early as turn 5, once you hit the threshold for Aether to refund itself. Barrage has a lot more immediate tempo, while Respite is the slower, greedier option and doesn’t always make the cut.
  • Alchemical Confectioner is a tech card against Haven/Sword/Forest that helps in slower matchups. Broadly speaking, Natura Forest always feels like it has way too much gas, with all the Trees cycling, Ladica spell tokens and random Fairies, so there is an argument to be made that Confectioner isn’t really necessary. In my opinion, Confectioner is primarily important because it digs for Avatar of Fruition and Ladica, so Confectioner is good in matchups where those cards are good and mediocre when they’re not. In my opinion, at least 1-2xConfectioners are necessary if you want to consistently beat Haven, but you can cut it for high-end cards like Shiva and Cynthia.
  • Ladica is a card that I would personally consider a core inclusion in Natura Forest, however, the card is cuttable if you choose to run 1-2 extra high-end cards (Shiva/Cynthia/etc.), as well as 2-3xConfectioners. The idea here is that cutting Ladica guarantees that Confectioner pulls exclusively low-cost cards, which makes your early curve better, makes Confectioner a better keep in your mulligans and potentially makes conditional “play X cards” effects like May/Irene/Miracleetc. easier to activate. In addition to that, not running Ladica means that you don’t have to run mediocre Fairy cards like Fairy Circle/Puck. I am personally of the opinion that activating May early on is not a big enough priority in most matchups to justify cutting Ladica, and I would disagree with not running at least 2xLadica based on the played winrate percentages from my personal testing, however, there is an alternate point of view: why play Ladica when you can just have Confectioners and May perform better in your deck? There could be merit to both sides of the argument, but the currently “standard” Natura Forest build usually includes 2-3xLadica.
  • More tempo-oriented cards such as the aforementioned Cynthia, as well as Lily, are tech cards against primarily Roach Forest. Generally speaking, Natura Forest has a pretty good matchup against Roach because it runs a significant amount of Wards, and Roach decks can have trouble clearing early Blossom Spirit boards because Fairies are immune to Aria’s Whirlwind, but these tech cards can swing the matchup further in Natura Forest’s favor.

Natura Forest skeleton

Natura Forest (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 7 of the VeC set)

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Natura Haven (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 3 of the VeC set)

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Natura Forest

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Hybrid Forest

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Machina Forest

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Amatatamaz Forest

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Regarding Machina Forest

Identifying cards: Robotic Bagworm, Robogoblin, Cleft, Dual Fencer, Mechaclaw Elf.

Machina Forest is not exactly a new deck, and the main additions to the archetype are Airbound Barrage and Irene, which slot in over the recently rotated Metera and the clunkier 2-drops like Robogoblin. Machina Forest has seen some fringe play in the recent stages of the expansion, and I don’t believe there is much reason to discuss the archetype, as it’s built and played very similarly to its pre-expansion counterpart, which has been covered in the Meta Insight article from 09/11.

Regarding Amataz Forest

Identifying cards: Fairy Whisperer, Water Fairy, Amataz, Fairy Blader.

Amataz Forest is a prominent Unlimited archetype, where it has access to cards like Elf Song and Wood of Brambles (as well as Fairy Refuge and Firesprite Grove) and the deck can be built in a way that enables Liza to tutor up Amataz. Due to having more reach with cards like Blessed Fairy Dancer, Lily and Rhinoceroach (of which only Lily is Rotation-legal), the Unlimited version can even play a fair token-based game (if it can’t find Amataz on time). The Rotation build of the archetype has to rely on Natura synergy (which is awkward because it limits your board space) and is played more as a combo deck. The basic strategy is to get enough Fairies to activate Amataz, then play Amataz and bounce it with Barrage/Nature’s Guidance multiple times, until you get enough damage to set up a 2-turn lethal or even an OTK. The deck is extremely draw-reliant and not particularly consistent, but it could be an archetype to look out for with future Fairy cards printed into the game, be it in Rotation or Unlimited. Roach Forest has been an Unlimited-exlusive deck with a janky Rotation-legal counterpart for months, and then Airbound Barrage got reprinted for some reason. It wouldn’t surprise me if Amataz decks end up in a similar fashion: janky meme deck for 3 months, and then, voila, Elf Song randomly gets a reprint. Whoopsie, that’s a real deck now. Who could’ve thunk it? Who could have predicted such tragedy?

Natura Forest is currently the second best-performing deck of the format. The main strength of the archetype is its ability to control the board, which is relevant against the fair midrange decks in the format. The weaker matchups of Natura Forest include decks that are good at clearing the board and have a faster finisher (Natura Shadow/Dragon). Natura Forest is the textbook definition of a fair midrange deck: it can get burned out by faster win conditions, but it’s generally very consistent in terms of its matchups and even its unfavored matchups are 40/60 at most, making it a reasonable ladder deck. In tournament play, the main advantage of bringing Natura Forest is that it’s one of the few decks in the format that has an okay shot at beating Haven, though it’s unfavored against Haven/Dragon lineups, so it’s not currently performing particularly well despite its popularity. Natura Forest is a fine ladder deck and it has a lot of wiggle room for small card adjustments to make it better against specific pockets of the meta, although its performance could decline over time when/if Natura Haven and Dragon get more popular.

Roach Forest skeleton

Roach Forest (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes on the October patch)

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Roach Forest (median decklist from JCG 11-9 top 16 finishes)

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Roach Forest (median decklist from JCG 11-7 top 16 finishes)

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(OTK) Roach Forest

Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Ephemera, Sword Angel, Predatory Might, Whispering Woods, Gourmet Emperor’s Kitchen, Steadfast Angel, Ward of Unkilling, Angelic Smite, Slash of the One.

What does Roach Forest do?

Roach Forest is a combo deck with some control elements. The deck revolves around trying to bounce Whirlwind Rhinoceroaches with Nature’s Guidance/Airbound Barrage, Guard of the Machinatree and evolving Roaches themselves. In order to find the combo pieces consistently, the pool of Forest followers is at exactly 9: full playsets of Roaches, Liza and Guards of the Machinatree, enabling a “Liza loop”, where one drawn Liza eventually gets you all copies of Liza, Roaches and usually some number of Guards of the Machinatree (so long as Liza doesn’t get banished/stolen with Octrice). In addition to that, Whispering Woods also specifically digs for Forest followers, effectively giving a ~1/3 chance to start the Liza chain or at least get the missing pieces. The rest of the cards in a Roach deck are limited to either Neutral cards or Forest removal spells and amulets, in order to not disturb the Liza loop. The defining characteristics of Roach Forest are its ability to create OTK setups after bouncing 5 Roaches, abundance of removal and relative lack of ability to protect itself.

The general plan of the deck involves trying to evolve a Whirlwind Rhinoceroach on every turn that you can, since doing so increases the Roach count by 1, and can often get a value trade against midrange decks. With that in mind, a critical turn for Roach Forest is turn 7 (since you run out of evolves on turn 6), so it’s important to try and go through most of your Roach-bouncing setup by the end of turn 6, so that you have room to get the 6+7+8 Roach play and manage to fit in a removal spell if your opponent has a Ward up. Conversely, when playing against Roach, it’s important to keep track of how many Roaches the Forest player has in his hand (basically, keep track of how many follower cards they have drawn with Liza/Whispering Woods, subtract all the non-Roach cards played, and then add an extra Roach, which they’re likely to naturally draw at least a 1-of by that point), and if the Forest player is done with their setup (or is 1 bounce off), turn 7 is prime time to play the Ward(s) you saved up while trying to set up a 2-turn lethal on the backswing. In addition to that, when playing against Roach Forest, it’s very important to not leave up good targets for the Forest player to get value trades with evolved X/3 Roaches during their evolve turns, and use evolves and buffs (primarily relevant in Sword) to increase followers’ attack above 2 and make evolving Roaches as awkward as possible.

Mullian priority

  • Always keep Liza and Hoverboard Mercenary.
  • If you’re not keeping Liza, keep Whispering Woods.
  • If you’re already keeping a Liza or have a Roach, keep Nature’s Guidance, Airbound Barrage and/or Guard of the Machinatree as well.
  • Keep a removal piece against Haven/Shadow/Sword, this can include Ephemera/Predatory Might/Kitchen. Against non-Haven classes, also keep Sylvan Justice. If you’re already keeping Barrage, prioritize 5-damage removal spells.

The mulligan strategy for Roach Forest involves trying to fulfill 2 goals: spend your mana in the early turns and draw cards. The primary goal is to find Liza, of course; the 1-of Hoverboard Mercenary is specifically played in the deck in order to start drawing early (if you don’t keep Merc, you can run out of followers to draw with it later). If you have a Roach in your opening hand, it’s often correct to play it on turn 1 and then bounce it on 2 (naturally, if you don’t have a bounce, you don’t play it on 1), although there can be some exceptions (some decks can contest the turn 1 Roach, namely, Forest, Shadow and Rune, when going first), so you have to be a little patient if you expect your Roach to get cleared. Against classes that play 2-drops, keeping an early removal piece allows you to safely play Liza on 3. The exception to this is Haven, which can often develop a 1/3 on turn 3, so I wouldn’t keep Sylvan Justice against Haven. Roach Forest has deceptively little card draw when it doesn’t hit Liza early, and Whispering Woods is a fail-safe for games when you expect to run out of gas quickly: if push comes to shove, you can play it on 4 and basically guarantee to hit most of your pieces, even if it causes a bit of a tempo loss.

Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Premium removal spells like Angelic Smite and Slash of the One are tech cards against midrange decks that play big Wards (Haven in general and Natura Forest/Sword) that don’t get cleared by damage-based removal without using multiple cards. Generally speaking, Roach Forest is unfavored against decks with a lot of Wards, so if you want to have a fighting chance against Haven, at least 3-4 of these cards are necessary. All of these options are quite clunky, so they’re not great in the Roach mirror and in tempo matchups, so there is merit to cutting them for other tech cards if you’re preparing for a different field. Smite is usually better than Slash because it replaces itself and costs 4 (Slash can be drawn too late to get a discount or there can be spots where you have a Liza in play and Slash doesn’t get discounted on your evolve turns).
  • Miracle of Love is the most versatile of the optional removal spells in Roach Forest. The strong point of the card is that it can both be an above-rate Ward in the midgame, or a 5-damage-for-3 removal spell. Some decks also play 1-attack 2-drops (e.g., Unicorn Knight/Blossom Spirit and things like Sneak Attack tokens), which make Miracle of Love a solid tempo play going first, since the 3/1 sticks around and potentially gets to trade up next turn. If you’re not sure what the correct tech choice is for the format you’re facing, starting with 2-3xMiracle of Love is a safe bet, and then you can trim some copies of it for more specific answers when/if necessary.
  • A 1-of Hoverboard Mercenary is an optional inclusion that helps with early cycling and moderately improves Whispering Woods pulls. Playing more than 1 copy is unwise (because then it can redraw itself), but a 1-of Merc is pretty standard when preparing for a slower environment.
  • Fairy Circle is an optional inclusion that helps activate Aria’s Whirlwind and Miracle of Love, but is pretty mediocre otherwise. I personally wouldn’t play Fairy Circle, but some players run it as a 1-of.
  • Ward of Unkilling and Steadfast Angel are tech cards for the Roach mirror that can also have some utility against Natura Haven as well. Roach Forest has an inherent aversion to playing good cards because of deckbuilding constraints required for the Liza loop, so Steadfast Angel is literally the best Ward follower available to the deck. Ward both helps to cycle for combo pieces and prevents OTK setups and things like Agnes+Splendor, but the cards you draw from Ward of Unkilling are primarily removal spells, so it’s not a particularly good card draw effect, although it does still mean that it’s less of a dead draw in matchups that you didn’t tech for.
  • Neutral 2-drops like Unica and Hnikar are tech cards against aggressive decks like Natura Shadow/Haven and other proactive decks with strong early-game tempo plays, usually played in the Sylvan Justice slot. Having a 2-drop is better than a removal spell when going first, so these cards give Forest a more proactive play in the early game and make a turn 3 Liza better. In a similar fashion, Jafnhar is also a card that can be played over a third copy of some of your removal spells (e.g., cutting 1x Justice and 1xWhirlwind), and allows to leverage evolving Rhinoceroaches better. For most intents and purposes, Miracle of Love and Kitchen are better cards in the Jafnhar slot because of the additional flexibility, but having the ability to play followers proactively can be moderately valuable, following the age-old adage of “tempo = good”.

Roach Forest is currently the third best-performing ladder deck. Being a combo deck, Roach Forest is naturally a highly-polarized archetype; it’s generally unfavored against decks with consistent pressure and Wards (Haven/Sword and Natura Forest). Roach Forest generally beats decks that can’t protect themselves from the OTK setup and can’t close out games before turn 7, which includes decks like Shadow/Dragon and Artifact Portal. Roach Forest has seen a fair bit of popularity in tournament play, and although it generally doesn’t beat Haven, it does reasonably well against the second (and third) deck(s) in Bo3 (Bo5) formats, such as the recently popular Natura Dragon. Roach Forest has been on a decline recently because of the high popularity of Natura Forest in tournament play, although it’s debatable whether this trend is going to hold, considering how the best lineup against a Natura Haven/Forest lineup is Natura Haven/Dragon, which Roach lineups should be favored against. On ladder, Roach Forest is a pretty risky deck to play because of its high matchup polarity, but it’s still quite budget-friendly and good against a lot of non-Haven decks. Roach Forest has a unique niche in the format, since it is the most competitive combo archetype one could play in Rotation, and that (in addition to its occasional highroll potential) has some intrinsic appeal.

Natura Dragon

Identifying cards: Feral Aether, Desert Pathfinder, Traveler’s Respite, Lightning Velociraptor, Whirlwind Pteranodon, Valdain, Cursed Shadow, Viridia Magna.

What does Natura Dragon do?

Natura Dragon is a reactive midrange deck that utilizes ramp effects and cycling with Trees. The finisher of the deck is Valdain, which can generate enough damage to get the opponent into Neptune/Genesis Dragon range. The defining characteristics of Natura Dragon are mana acceleration, the inevitability engine of Valdain and efficient removal effects.

The general game plan involves ramping in the early game, then playing Valdain at some point and eventually getting to stabilize at a point where you get to protect yourself with Viridia Magna/Neptune while still getting to play the Valdain‘s spell token. After that point, you can start cycling Trees aggressively and try to set up an X-turn clock with whatever other reach you have. A big misconception regarding Natura Dragon is having to get Shadow’s Corrosion online as early as possible; I’ve personally found this notion to be basically strictly wrong in most matchups. While it can potentially mean dealing a few points of extra damage, it’s important to recognize the speed of Dragon’s clock (which is to say, fairly slow) and that unlike cards like Agnes/Daffodil/Lubelle/etc., that proactively generate tempo while pushing damage, Shadow’s Corrosion doesn’t do anything to the board state. With that in mind, it’s a lot more important to cycle through your deck, looking for ramp to get to Masamune mana, healing/Ward effects and other answers like removal spells (and active Viridia Magna), first and foremost.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Dragon Oracle, Desert Pathfinder, Pteranodon and Genesis Dragon.
  • If you’re keeping Pteranodon without Pathfinder, also look for Feral Aether/Velociraptor/Respite.
  • If you’re keeping Dragon Oracle or a Pteranodon+Tree hand, also keep Confectioner and/or Valdain.

Ramp Dragon mulligans are pretty all-or-nothing in trying to hit early ramp effects. Natura Dragon is not too different in this aspect either, as the deck has a lot of useless chaff that you don’t really want to see in your hand early on, but the overall curve of the deck is quite low and has a lot of Accelerate effects, so it’s difficult to truly brick with Natura Dragon. The mulligan plan doesn’t really change based on matchup, because ramping and playing cards on curve is strictly good in all matchups. Valdain is not super important early on, but it’s a good tempo play if you ramp into it or if you get to evolve it (which makes it annoying to trade into and discounts the Corrosion). In addition to that, getting 2xValdains early can be nice because you can either discount the Corrosions to 0 or at least get it to have some semblance of board impact when played. It may seem counterintuitive to keep Velociraptor + Pteranodon, because you have to play Pteranodon off curve, but the effect is important enough to miss out on immediate tempo, and you can often play something else on the turn before the Tree+Pteranodon turn.

The Aether+Dragon Oracle+Pteranodon Dragon opening hand has been a bit of a meme recently and often referenced as the Dragon nut draw, but in my experience, any Pathfinder+Pteranodon hand is better than Oracle hands, because contesting the board is very important and ramping an extra time is less of a big deal than it may seem. Generally speaking, if you have a Dragon Oracle and a Pathfinder in hand, Pathfinder is a better play on turn 2 even if it’s less mana-efficient, and the extreme cases of this (e.g., triple Oracle opening hands) further exacerbate this issue: ramping and getting to Overflow mana is important, but not as important as contesting the board and not drawing air after you play an 8-drop on turn 5 (what is your follow-up?).

Natura Dragon skeleton

Natura Dragon (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 7 of the VeC set)

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Natura Dragon (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 6 of the VeC set)

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(Storm) Ramp Dragon

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Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Shiva is a defensive tech card against Natura Haven and Shadow, which works well in a slower deck like Natura Dragon. A lot of midrange decks in the Rotation format can get away with playing 1-2xShiva because the card brings a lot of value on a vanilla 6-mana Ward, and Dragon gets the additional benefit of ramping into Shiva, which makes the redundancy issue of drawing multiple copies of the card a lot more bearable. With that in mind, Shiva is a fine 1- or 2-of in Natura Dragon.
  • Ian, Dragon Buster is a tech card against midrange decks that go wide, such as Natura Shadow and Forest. The card itself is less efficient than the AoE option of Genesis Dragon and the healing option of Ian is worse than Pure-Voiced Dragoon, but the card has some added versatility of being able to choose between the 2 modes, as well as the fringe utility of bouncing allied followers when evolved. Ian also has some flexibility in the late game with Masamune, since you can use Masamune to heal for 3 and put up a 3/3 Ward, or push 2 extra face damage. If you save an evolve point, you can also bounce Dragon Chef at the same time, so Ian into Chef into evolve on the Ian heals you for 8, leaves 3 healing for next turn and puts up a Ward, similarly, with a Masamune on 10 and an evolve point, you can go Ian+Chef+Masamune, attack with Chef and Masamune, then evolve Ian, and still have a Chef+Masamune next turn, all while putting up a 5/5 Ward. Ian causes some of the more complicated sequencing in Dragon games, and the utility of being able to bounce Velociraptor/Masamune/Dragon Chef/etc. for value in slower matchups, as well as putting up 2 Wards with double Ian against Roach Forest, or even pushing 2 face damage and dealing AoE damage to the board, makes it difficult to justify not running Ian as a 3-of.
  • Cheap removal effects such as Blazing Breath, Sneer of Disdain, Ephemera and Otohime are broad tech cards against board-centric midrange decks like Natura Haven, Forest and Sword. These cards are generally overshadowed by Ian in recent Dragon lists.
  • Dragon Chef is a tech card against Shadow/Haven/Dragon, usually played in the Confectioner slot. The difference between these culinary 3-drops is that Confectioner allows you to have fewer dead draws in the later stages of the game, while Dragon Chef lets you survive longer against decks with a lot of incidental face damage or general reach. Both of these cards are fairly bad against Roach Forest and exist to target midrange decks in the format, but the exact balance depends on what field you’re facing. If you’re seeing a lot of Natura Forest/Sword, Confectioner is better (since Forest doesn’t have a lot of reach and since it helps you dig for a second Valdain against Sword to answer Leod), and if you’re mostly facing Natura Haven/Shadow, at least 2xDragon Chefs are necessary to have a fighting chance in a 3xIan list.
  • Hulking Dragonewt is mostly a tech card against Roach Forest and Natura Haven. In my testing, the card gets answered too often for my liking: most Roach lists run 3xSmite (which answer Dragonewt even when it’s evolved), a lot of Haven lists run 2xScripture, which is the cleanest answer, Imina is also a fine answer in lists that run it, and if you’re not ramping fast enough, an enhanced Daffodil or Featherfolk Punisher can ping it down without much effort as well. In my opinion, Dragonewt is an aggressively terrible card in the current Rotation format, but it could certainly become a lot better once Blackened Scripture and Angelic Smite rotate out while Dragonewt is still Rotation-legal. Oh, wait.
  • Draconic Core, Aiela, Annerose and extra copies of Genesis Dragon are all optional inclusions, often run as 1-ofs, that improve the consistency of Overflow-enabled effects like Velociraptor/Dragon Oracle and pseudo-Overflow effects like Masamune. The most flexible option of the 3 is Genesis Dragon since it can also serve as an AoE against Forest/Haven/etc., but Draconic Core and Aiela can also be reasonably efficient. The weak point of these ramp effects is that they are all dead draws in the late game, and considering how you often have to trim cards like Dragon Chef/Confectioner/Neptune to fit in these cards, I generally believe that cutting good cards to fit in more highroll early game cards (in a deck with a lot of other highroll-y early game cards) makes the archetype less consistent in the long run.

Natura Dragon is a deck that can run a lot of slower decks in the formats out of threats, so it naturally does well against decks that try to win the board and don’t have a lot of actual reach, such as Elana Haven, Natura Forest and Sword. Decks that Dragon can’t interact with, namely Roach Forest and Aggro Sword are pretty miserable matchups, although Dragon can occasionally beat even the most unfavorable of matchups if you get a good draw and your opponent’s deck is spinning their wheels without finding the right pieces. The CoG nerf has also made the Natura Haven matchup a lot better for Dragon, since there is no Priest of Excess to worry about and since DWK is no longer a threat in the early game. In addition to that, recent advancements to Dragon builds (namely, the popularization of Ian/Dragon Chef in Dragon lists, which was, to my knowledge, initially caused by リグゼ (Rigze), and later other people that continued to iterate on the idea further) made Natura Dragon a lot better at stabilizing against Natura Haven. Natura Dragon has been seeing a decent amount of success in recent tournament play, and it seems to be one of the decks that is on the uptick while Roach Forest is on a downward trend. Dragon is still heavily matchup-dependant, but it’s one of the best decks in the format at dealing with Natura Haven while maintaining a favored matchup against Natura Sword/Forest, which makes it one of the best-poised archetypes for the current Rotation environment. Naturally, if Roach Forest has a resurgence in popularity as a reaction to the popularity of Natura Dragon, Dragon is going to perform a lot worse, and that is certainly a possibility.

Natura Sword

Identifying cards: Tempered Aether, Desert Pathfinder, Lupine Axeman, Bayleon, Sovereign Light, Swift Tigress, Mistolina, Forest Princess.

What does Natura Sword do?

Natura Sword is a midrange deck that revolves around Bayleon and various cards that refund play points when played, including Lupine Axeman, Levin Sisters, Swift Tigress, Mistolina, etc., with each discount generating a 2-damage buff spell token that can go on Storm followers (e.g., Tigress/Mistolina/Albert/Quickblader/etc.) and Leod (against decks that don’t play untargeted removal spells such as Predatory Might/Ladica/Mistolina/Calamity Bringer/Awakened Ragna/Deal with the Devil/Entrancing Blow/etc.). The defining characteristics of Natura Sword include its ability to tutor up various key pieces with Aether of the Warrior Wing, linear (if heavily telegraphed) gameplan and an abundance of Wards.

Generally speaking, Sword’s gameplan can be separated into 2 lines of play, depending on the draw and the matchup: on one hand, there is the “tempo plan”, where you try to take incremental advantages while trying to control the board (e.g., trade with Mistolina/Tigress, get value trades with Bayleon buffs, etc.) and establish board control without overextending into opponent’s removal, then close out the game with incremental reach like Shiva and/or some random Storm cards with leftover Bayleon buffs. This plan works particularly well if you have a Shiva on curve, and the more Mistolinas you have, the better. The other plan is the “Voltron plan”, where you try to stack buffs on a Leod and set up a 2-turn lethal around turn 7. Generally speaking, the Leod plan doesn’t work against Forest (because of May in Natura Forest and Predatory Might in Roach Forest) and can occasionally backfire in the Sword mirror (Mistolina/Ivory Sword Dance) and Dragon (double Valdain can clear an ambushed Leod), but without Priest of Excess in the format, this plan is a lot safer than before the balance changes. The weak point of the “Leod plan” is that having a Leod up makes activating Mistolina/Axeman more difficult, so the plan is worse at leveraging the Bayleon buffs, and as such is worse in tempo-oriented matchups.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Desert Pathfinder, Aether of the Warrior Wing and Bayleon.
  • Keep a proactive 2-drop, the best option among them being Pathfinder, followed by Lupine Axeman, Levin Sisters, Leod and Valse.
  • If you’re keeping Aether/Bayleon without Pathfinder/Axeman, keep Tempered Aether.
  • Keep Octrice against Forest, Shadow and Dragon.
  • If you’re not keeping Levin Sisters, keep King’s Welcome.

The mulligan strategy for Natura Sword involves trying to curve out and have the deck’s “win condition”, Bayleon, by turn 4, this can be done by either looking for the card itself or for Aether of the Warrior Wing on 3 (since the deck doesn’t run any other 4-drops). Trying to find Bayleon is the top priority, seeing as how the deck doesn’t really function without the card.

The other aspect of the deck is that you need a Tree in play for cards like Tigress and Bayleon‘s tokens to function properly, so it’s important to try and find at least one of the 9 Tree-generating cards, with the order or priority being Pathfinder over Lupine Axeman over Tempered Aether.

Natura Sword skeleton

Natura Sword (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 7 of the VeC set)

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Natura Sword (median decklist from JCG top 16 finishes from week 6 of the VeC set)

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Midrange Sword

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Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • The most tested “Levin package” consists of 3xLevin Sisters and a copy of Albert. Generally speaking, you don’t need a Levin follower to run Levin Sisters, but being able to thin your deck on turn 2 has little to no actual opportunity cost, seeing as how Albert is another Storm follower to stick buffs on. I believe that Levin Sisters are a good inclusion, and I’ve found in my testing that Albert is a lot better than Jeno or other (mediocre) Levin followers. One of the Levin Sisters tokens also refunds play points, so after playing Sisters for its Enhance cost and fetching the Albert, you can dodge Albert‘s Enhance cost by playing the 4-mana token, which also gives you an extra point of damage on Albert.
  • King’s Welcome is an optional inclusion that can potentially improve the deck’s consistency in finding Bayleon: the card has a roughly 50% chance of finding Aether (assuming the standard setup of 3xLeod/ Aether) and can be played on turn 1. Playing a 37-38 card deck comes with the disadvantage of having to lose tempo and losing information about your draws. In addition to that, Leod is not a good draw in the later stages of the game, so having extra copies of Leod can be a detriment as well. A recent development in Natura Sword lists has been that players have started to cut the Levin package and Octrice in favor of 3xKing’s Welcome and a second or third copies of Shiva, which makes the deck more consistent at hitting Bayleon on curve and improves the odds of finding Mistolina in the late game (since it’s the most expensive Sword follower in the deck). There is merit to the Octice/Sisters “package”, but the best-performing builds of Sword are currently the King’s Welcome ones, though this could change if Shadow/Dragon/Portal become more popular.
  • Shiva is a broad tech card against grindy midrange decks like Natura Haven/Forest/Dragon, and can be a fine 2- or even a 3-of inclusion. Most midrange decks in the Rotation format can afford to play 1xShiva without losing much, and the card has a bit of extra synergy in Sword when played on curve, since the turn 8 4-damage Shiva shot lines up with your usual Swift Tigress/Mistolina/Albert turn (following a turn 7 Levin Sisters, for example). In addition to that, if you have a Leod in play that you’re sticking Bayleon buffs on, the turn 7 Shiva buff also gives you 2 extra damage. The downside to Shiva is that it’s an awkward play on turns outside of 6 and 8. It’s no Zilliax, that’s for sure, but it’s close enough: neutral Healing, efficient stats and occasionally even some reach are something that every midrange-y deck without a specific limiting synergy might want to include.
  • Mirror Image is an optional inclusion that can function as the 4th and 5th copies of Ivory Sword Dance. Unlike ISD, Mirror Image summons a fresh copy of the selected follower (meaning it doesn’t benefit from evolves and buff effects), but has the utility of copying keyword abilities, e.g., it can get you an extra Ward when targeting Mistolina or Bayleon, or an extra Storm follower when targeting Albert (making for an 8-damage combo, since both Alberts buff each other). Notably, it can’t copy the Storm keyword from Mistolina/Tigress since those are aura effects. Mirror Image is (objectively) a pretty terrible card, when compared to ISD or even Usurping Spineblade, but the effect is so unique that I can’t help wanting to sneak it in some sort of Sword deck and it could be a key piece in some sort of dumb “big Sword” build in Unlimited, with Unsheathed Blade/Dionne/Fangblade Slayer/etc.

If there’s one thing Natura Sword is good at, it’s the Roach Forest matchup: Sword has the highest amount of Wards of any deck in the format, and the deck can consistently put pressure on Roach Forest since some Wards in Sword also get Storm occasionally. Broadly speaking, Natura Sword punishes decks with no interaction, which mostly means decks that can’t recover from losing a tempo lead, but also more specifically refers to the ability (or lack thereof) to clear Leod. Natura Sword struggles against decks with a lot of answers and healing, because it’s still mostly a fair midrange deck that tries to get incremental tempo advantages over the course of the game. This makes it so that Sword is for most intents and purposes a worse Natura Forest, and although its recent refinements (dropping Levin Sisters and Octrice for King’s Welcome and Shiva) make it a better deck against the current field, the gradually increasing popularity of Natura Haven and Dragon (as well as the decline of Roach Forest) make it likely for its overall winrate to decline over time. Nonetheless, Natura Sword is a reasonable (if unexciting) ladder deck and has seen a fair bit of success in tournament play. The archetype is fairly consistent, benefits a lot from the CoG nerf and has a decent matchup spread against a lot of the currently popular decks.

Natura Shadow

What does Natura Shadow do?

Natura Shadow is a midrange deck built around the synergy between Thoth, efficient Last Words followers and various Tree-generating cards. The main win condition of the archetype involves getting to 10 destroyed Last Words cards, and then playing multiple Trees and/or low-cost followers to generate face damage. Lubelle is a particularly notable card in that aspect, as it not only generates multiple bodies, but also doubles down on played Trees, effectively getting 2 damage from the first played Tree (and another 2 from the summoned token) and 4 damage from each of the consecutive Trees. The defining characteristics of Natura Shadow include its ability to cycle through their deck rapidly, versatile midgame cards and the inevitability engine of Thoth+Lubelle.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Desert Pathfinder and Helio.
  • If you’re not keeping Pathfinder, keep a 2-drop, of which Revenant Ram is the best option, followed by Sora. Manifest Malice can be a keep going second.
  • If you’re already keeping 1 other card, also keep Lubelle.
  • Going second against Haven/Forest/Sword, keep Sora as a 4-drop.
  • Don’t keep Thoth or Aisha.

The best thing to do as Shadow in the early game is to try and curve out, which makes high-rolly early game cards like Pathfinder and Helio a priority. With both of those cards, there is some risk of Octrice or a Banish effect against Sword and Haven, respectively, however, Shadow has a lot of good targets for both of those, and the probability of your opponent having the perfect answer is higher for each card they get to draw, so it’s less risky to play high-impact Last Words in the first few turns of the game rather than later. Apart from that, keeping Lubelle may seem greedy as you can’t really play it before turns 5-6, however, I’ve been finding that there is a direct correlation between the deck’s winrate and the number of Lubelles drawn, and the archetype is at its best when it draws at least 2xLubelle over the course of the game.

Aisha is a card that you specifically don’t want to draw, so it’s generally not a good keep. Thoth is a fine play on turn 2 if you have nothing else to run out, however, it’s a weak tempo play, a Squire that draws a card when it dies is vulnerable to Octrice/Banish effects and doesn’t trade too well. If it drew a card on Fanfare, that would be good, and if it could fetch up Batterskull and put it into play for 2 mana later, that would be format-defining, but Thoth doesn’t do any of those things. There is little reason to hold on to Thoth since the deck can cycle very quickly, and since it replaces itself and gives +1 to the Thoth threshold, it’s usually better to play it rather than not. In my testing, I’ve yet to have a game where I played Thoth before turn 4 and then didn’t have it active by the time its condition is fulfilled, and while there could be some personal bias here, I believe it’s generally correct.

Natura Shadow skeleton

Natura Shadow

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Natura Shadow

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Natura Shadow

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Natura Shadow

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Natura Shadow

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Natura Shadow

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Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Cerberus and Ceres are optional cards that compete for the same slot and signify the split between the more proactive and the more defensive builds of the deck. Cerberus puts more stats into play and progresses the Thoth condition, particularly if you can get its evolve buff on cards without a Last Words effect. Ceres trades better, heals you for more and can be problematic for some decks to clear, making it a better defensive option against Natura Haven/Shadow/Sword. Ceres discounts are not something you can afford to do every game because Trees and Respites/Pathfinders don’t get discounted, so you often can’t get to Vow into multiple 2-drops. Ceres itself does technically slow down the “Thoth quest” progression, but if you can get a discount on Thoth, Living Dog and Lubelle at the same time, you can sometimes play Lubelle into 2-3xTrees, activate Thoth and play out Dog with the remaining Trees for an alternate plan. I’m not really sold on Ceres, and Cerberus lists have been performing better in my testing, although Ceres seems to be more popular recently.
  • Aisha is a card that is played specifically for its invoke effect. The only out-of-hand activator for Aisha is Manifest Malice, and although Khawy/Helio can also situationally work to enable it, it’s still not something you want to play from your hand most of the time. In Cerberus lists, the package of Khawy/Aisha means that you can run 2xAisha and not feel too bad about it (if you’re not running any other 4-drops), however, Ceres builds usually don’t run Khawy and settle for 1xAisha at most. The more Aishas you run, the more likely you are to invoke it, but you’re also more likely to draw it as well, so there is a trade-off; there are also significant diminishing returns for running more than 2 copies of the card.
  • Viridia Magna is a tech card against Haven, Sword and Natura Forest that helps with board control in the later stages of the game. Compared to other Natura decks, Shadow gets 4 points of face damage out of Viridia Magna if it’s played post-Thoth (since it generates 2 different bodies), and the high popularity of Haven means that the card is more or less mandatory as at least a 2-of. Viridia Magna is also one of the few ways for Shadow to include actual Wards against Roach and Natura Haven and the 6-health threshold is awkward for Roach Forest to answer, since it dodges cards like Ephemera/Predatory Might/Kitchen/etc. It can sometimes be correct to manually evolve Viridia Magna if the Roach player is close to going off with their combo, and as painful as it is, it can still sometimes give you enough time to close out the game with Lubelle or some such.
  • Alchemical Confectioner is an optional inclusion that helps against Natura Haven/Forest since it can fetch up high-value Natura cards like Lubelle and Viridia Magna. There are some whiffs (e.g., Dog and Pathfinders) that don’t cycle themselves when drawn, but if you’re playing a slower list and don’t run Khawy, Confectioner can be a fine 1- or 2-of.
  • Irongear Corpsman and Disciple of Silence are tech cards for Roach Forest. The way Corpsman works in a deck with no other Machina cards is that if you have a playset of it and play one of them in the early game, later copies generate an extra copy of themselves for 6 Shadows, making for a worse Death’s Breath of sorts if you have 12 Shadows saved up. Naturally, if you don’t have any dead Machina followers, Corpsman doesn’t activate, even if you have the Shadows for it. Disciple takes up fewer card slots than Corpsman, but it doesn’t stop most of Roach lethal setups when it’s cast for 3 mana (e.g., 3 Roaches with 1 bounce effect or 3 Roaches with a 5-damage removal spell still get through it), so you often have to pay its Enhance cost (which still leaves you dead to 3 Roaches with 1 bounce effect, but at least dodges removal spells better). Low-cost Wards in general are neat with Thoth because the opponent has to clear them and they deal their 2 damage when removed, and while it’s not as good as cycling Trees, it still gets around the issue of having to kill off your followers to get Thoth damage.
  • Osiris is a card that has a lot of synergy in Natura Shadow, namely, it can triple-dip on the Thoth synergy if played on curve after Helio when going second. The weak point of Osiris is that it doesn’t trade particularly well in the midgame and is mostly outperformed by Sora in that function. Sora can clear multiple followers from the opposite side of the board, and is a lot more flexible because 2 is less 4. Hellfire Hound is functionally similar to Osiris, but it’s still usually worse than Sora because of the higher Shadow requirement and casting cost. There could be a shift in the format where Osiris becomes a better fit for the archetype (card’s pretty sweet if you get both of its triggers), but this is not the case with the current popularity of Natura Haven and other decks that play multiple followers in their midgame turns (e.g., Natura Sword/Forest).
  • Various 2-drops such as Deadly Dreamer and Buffalo Bones have seen fringe play because they can potentially improve Thoth consistency, however both of those cards have been getting cut because their impact is too small. Mino, Crafty Reaper is in a similar category (albeit, not a 2-drop), of cards that could potentially be good if you want to enable Thoth as early as possible, but don’t make the cut because of their low overall card quality.
  • Guilt, Existential Blader is an optional inclusion that has 2 purposes: on one hand, it allows to cycle faster, and on the other, it can pop allied followers post-Thoth for a bit of extra damage. Soul Conversion doesn’t have a lot of good targets in the current Shadow builds, since the only way to generate Ghosts is Manifest Malice, which is not sufficient in the early stages of the game, and most of Natura Shadow followers are not something you would want to eat with SoulCon because the current meta has such a huge emphasis on tempo. Guilt can be a passable 1-of, but it’s a pretty greedy card since it only comes online post-Thoth, around turn 7-8.

Natura Shadow is a decently well-performing deck, however it is one of the two proactive Natura decks that struggles against Roach Forest, and unlike Dragon, it does a lot worse against Sword since it doesn’t run a lot of interaction and can’t clear Leod, which makes the archetype’s recent performance a lot worse. Natura Shadow is in an awkward spot of the format’s “rock-paper-scissors” food chain, and it’s an almost strictly worse deck than Natura Dragon in terms of its matchups. The deck is still very consistent and has a linear game plan, so it’s a fine deck to play on ladder, even if it’s not as good as Natura Dragon and Forest currently. Shadow could have its spot in the spotlight if Sword and Roach Forest become less popular, and although there is a slight trend of that observable currently, I do not believe that it’s going to be sufficient in the span of the pre-mini-expansion period for Shadow to outperform Dragon.

Addendum: Lubelle multicast RNG

It’s no secret that Lubelle is a very powerful card, being both the win condition and enabler of a good chunk of Thoth damage. A particular aspect of Lubelle is that each of the summoned tokens can generate an additional Tree 1/3rd of the time, meaning that there is a non-negligible probability of continuing the chain when Lubelle is played, even when you only start with a limited amount of Trees. This question of probabilities has an analytical solution, as it’s possible to create a recursive probability tree by writing down the terms for each of the outcomes using a simple binomial distribution with a p=1/3, which can be found in this little spreadsheet . The basic assumption is that you start with 1 Tree already in play; that the Shadow player is not limited by mana, the opponent has a Heavenly Aegis in play (meaning Necrofamily tokens always have something to trade into), and the Shadow player has a Reliquary Tower out and that the deck doesn’t run out of cards. In this perfect universe, we arrive at the following discrete probability distributions for the configurations of 0 through 4 (extra) starting Trees, with portions of the distribution for extra Necrofamilies of more than 10 being omitted.

In the perfect universe, the expected average value of additional Necrofamilies is exactly 0.5 per every starting Tree in your hand. With just the starting 2 Necrofamilies (0 starting Trees), the average number of Necrofamilies is 2 + 0.5 * 2 = 3, with 1 starting Tree, the average number is 3 + 0.5 * 3 = 4.5, with 2 Trees it’s 4 + 0.5 * 4 = 6, and so on. With that said, we’re obviously not living in a perfect universe, and the most common constraint (mana costs) affects higher terms of the distribution, where the chain gets to a certain point and then stops because you can’t cast any more Trees, even with perfect RNG. With that in mind, introducing mana limitations into the system gives some more reasonable estimates, for example, for the case of 8 total mana (assuming Lubelle costs 5), we arrive at:

In this case, we only get an extra 0.815 Necrofamilies if we’re starting with no Trees, and 0.704 extra Necrofamilies if we’re starting with 1 Tree, so while the overall average is higher, there are some diminishing returns. This is an example that’s relevant for the case of completing the “Thoth quest” on turn 7, and then going off on turn 8. Since each Necrofamily does 2 damage and each destroyed Tree does another 2, we get 9.26 damage on average (since the first Tree doesn’t do damage) starting with no Trees, and 12.816 damage starting with 1 Tree. If we fulfil the Thoth requirement a turn later, and go off with Lubelle on turn 9, we get the following:

For the case of 0 starting Trees, we get an extra 0.926 Necrofamilies, for 1 Tree we get an extra 1.111 Necrofamily, and for 2 Trees we get an extra 0.802 Necrofamilies. Once again, there are slight diminishing returns for higher Tree counts because you don’t have enough mana to cast more Trees after a certain point. With 0 starting Trees, we get 9.704 damage on average; with 1xTree, we get an average of 14.444 damage, and with 2xTrees, we get 17.208 damage. Notably, you only get ~0.5 extra damage from the additional point of mana for the case of 0 starting Trees, but the difference grows rapidly for the non-zero cases. Lastly, for the case of 5 open mana (e.g., if you Lubelle on 10 or if you have discount Lubelle with Ceres and go off on turn 8), the following distribution is obtained:

For 0xTrees, we get an extra 0.971 Necrofamilies; for 1xTree, 1.321 Necrofamilies; for 2xTrees, extra 1.342 Necrofamilies; for 3xTrees, an extra 0.868 Necrofamilies. The average damage for 0 starting Trees ends up as 9.884 (only ~0.2 more than with 4 open mana); for 1xTree, we get 15.284 average damage; for 2xTrees, we get 19.368 average damage; for 3xTrees, we get 21.472 average damage.

To summarize the findings, the most efficient time to play Lubelle post-Thoth completion is when you have the amount of 1-cost Trees equal to the amount of your open mana (after casting Lubelle), subtracting 2; e.g., for a turn 8 Lubelle the most efficient outcome is at 1 starting Tree (3.704 at 1 Trees, ~0.3 damage less that the guaranteed 2-Tree setup). The 2 main conclusions are as follows: firstly, there is very little difference ( ~0.3 – 0.15 Necrofamilies, or ~1.2 – 0.6 damage) between casting Lubelle with the full amount of required Trees and 1 less than necessary, basically, Lubelle almost guarantees that you get the last Tree you need; secondly, it’s a bad idea to case Lubelle with no other Trees in hand, regardless of how much mana you have open. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, of course, and the results are intuitive, but I believe there is merit to question the intuitive preconceptions, especially when it comes to games of random chance.

Artifact Portal

Identifying cards: Mechanization, Mechagun Wielder, Magisteel Lion, Artifact Call, Displacer Bot, Alterplane Onslaught, Augmentation Bestowal, Shion, Mercurial Aegis.

What does Artifact Portal do?

Artifact Portal is a midrange deck with a combo finisher. The deck revolves around the play pattern of shuffling Artifacts into your deck, fetching them with Artifact-specific draw effects (Mechagun Wielder/Artifact Call/ Alterplane Onslaught/etc.). The defining characteristics of Artifact Portal are the deck’s ability to control the board and cycle through the deck using low-cost Artifacts, early game highroll potential, as well as cheating mana costs using effects that refund mana for every Artifact played.

The deck has 2 primary game plans: on one hand, the deck can get a tempo lead after drawing 2-3 1-cost Artifacts and then generating a wide board and buffing it with Shion, and on the other hand, the archetype can play a slow reactive game with Ines, Radiant Artifacts and Maisha as primary sources of damage. Gnerally speaking, the first plan doesn’t work against Haven because of Kel, and the second plan doesn’t work against Roach Forest, so there are some draw- and matchup-based limitations to what you can do.

Specific cards skew you in the direction of a specific game plan, e.g., if you don’t draw an early Shion in the first place, you can’t really go for the high-rolly tempo plan, so you have to play for value, in a similar fashion, if you’re not running Maisha and you’re up against Dragon/Shadow/Haven, you have to realize what the speed of your clock is supposed to be, since the game length is capped at a certain number of turns. A specific card that signifies the importance of this choice is Mechanization: for example, if you have a Shion hand, you shuffle Analyzing/Ancient; if you’re up against Roach Forest and don’t have a Shion, you shuffle Ancient/Radiant; if you’re up against Natura Haven, you shuffle Analyzing/Mystic; if you’re not sure what you’re doing and don’t have a Shion in hand, shuffle Analyzing/Radiant. I am oversimplifying, of course, but the general idea should be clear: try to have a plan and keep track of what type of Artifacts you need. With Mechanization, there is no actual tempo cost to taking your time since it costs 0, and shuffling Artifacts without a way to fetch them dilutes your deck and makes it less likely to draw the real cards from your deck (Artifact Call/Displacer Bot/Mechagun/etc.), although this obviously doesn’t apply to effects like Dazzling Archer/Cat Gunner/etc.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Magisteel Lion, Displacer Bot, Mechagun Wielder/Magna Giant/Hoverboard Mercenary.
  • Keep Mechanization/Dazzling Archer with Artifact Call and/or Mechagun Wielder.
  • Keep Maisha if you’re not keeping a Artifact Call/Mechagun + Magisteel Lion/Cat Gunner hand.
  • Keep Puppet Shock against Haven/Sword/Shadow.
  • Keep a proactive 2-drop, those include Magisteel Lion/Hoverboard Merc/Cat Gunner.

Artifact Portal mulligans usually involve trying to draw 2 with Artifact Call, and getting an early aggressive curve with cheap Artifacts is generally good. The best card in Artifact Portal is still Displacer Bot, since the card draws an Artifact and sets up for powerful midgame turns with Acceleratium. Generally speaking, I never keep Ines or Shion in my opening hand, because while both of those cards are powerful, they do require a lot of prior setup. If I could keep 4 cards in an opening hand, I would definitely keep a Mechanization+Artifact Call+Displacer Bot+Shion hand, but that is not how the game works. Artifact lists have a lot of synergy pieces, most of which can be dead draws if you’re not drawing them in the right order.

Artifact Portal skeleton

Artifact Portal

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Ragna Portal

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Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Dazzling Archer is mostly just a bad Mechanization, but it helps with Maisha/Shion setups and makes early Artifact Calls more consistent. The card is a dead draw in the later stages of the game, but it does align well with the deck’s game plan, even if it’s not particularly efficient at doing so. Artifact Portal in Rotation doesn’t have enough Artifact-shuffling effects, and if I have to make a choice between playing Archer and Angel of the Iron Steed, one of these choices is a lot faster than the other and allows for a turn 2 Artifact Call. Apart from that, Rotation-legal options include Prototype Warrior/Alpha Core (which shuffle Bifurcating Artifacts, that I don’t ever want to see in my hand; both of these cards also make it less likely to draw Displacer Bot/Mechagun Wielder with Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc), various Radiant Artifact generators (which aren’t something you really want for Shion setups and don’t help Maisha) and Tylle (see Bifurcating Artifacts). In that sense, Dazzling Archer is the lesser of the available evils, and as such, is a premier choice if you feel like you need to shuffle extra Artifacts. If you’re playing a 3xShion list, at least 1-2xArchers seem necessary. When is Biofab getting reprinted? Hell, I would even take a Metaproduction, I’m not picky.
  • Hoverboard Mercenary is an optional inclusion that improves your odds of finding Displacer Bot. Running more than 2 copies can be awkward since it can draw itself (and Magna Giant can draw into it), but even if you just cycle a few cards and end the chain on a Mechagun, it’s still decent value and works well with the deck’s game plan.
  • Maisha has been slowly getting relegated to an optional inclusion after the Shion buff. The card is still a fine play on-curve, and can give the archetype some inevitability, but it’s not that necessary in a 3xShion list. In my opinion, at least 2xMaisha seem necessary, but it’s one of the cards that you can easily trim if you play against decks that you can’t interact with, such as Roach Forest/Aggro Sword/etc., although at that point you have to wonder why you’re trying to play Artifact Portal in the first place.
  • The standard suite of optional Artifact Portal 4-drops, which includes Alterplane Onslaught/Icarus/Lishenna/Hamelin, are potential inclusions regardless of what type of Artifact Portal list you’re trying to build. Onslaught has a lot of good banish targets in the current format, so it’s fairly popular currently, and Icarus helps set up the Maisha combo (since it can fetch Augmentation and Mechanization, among other things). Lishenna and Hamelin have been phasing out of Portal lists because they’re too slow to make the cut, but they’re not bad cards in general, just a poor fit for the current meta.
  • Shiva is an optional 1-of that helps against primarily Natura Haven. Shiva is a fine card and Artifact Portal generally needs a way to protect itself against Haven and things like OTK Roach setups (although Shiva isn’t all that great at stopping Roach, since you still die to the 3xRoach combo with any one bounce effect).
  • Licht, Puppet Shock and Zwei form a healing package that is a broad tech choice against Haven and Shadow. Puppet cards in general speed up the Maisha setup, because they generate dead followers, and Puppet Shock is simply a fine stand-alone card that you’re always pretty happy to play against midrange decks. The Puppet package is difficult to fit in a standard Shion shell, but it’s a fine fit for slower Portal builds.
  • Awakened Ragna is a tech card against Leod and a potential janky win condition. In the overwhelming majority of games, the card’s not going to be a win condition, but having the flexibility of playing it on 9 (after clearing the board with Acceleratium/Augmentation discounts) can be valuable. The setup is as follows: evolve Maisha at a random point in the game, then play Ragna on 9, pick the “Banish everything” token, save it, and then Blade of Purgation the bloody thing next turn for 14 damage. With a Shiva proc on 8, this combo more or less closes out the game on the spot, but it’s so slow that it’s only really realistically applicable against exactly Elana Haven and Natura Forest. Ragna decks built in a similar fashion to the pre-Rotation Puppet/Silva Portal builds are a fringe deck that basically includes all of the generic good Portal cards, but the deck is still mostly a Maisha deck (with Orchis+Shiva being an alternate semi-wincon), so I wouldn’t personally call it a “Ragna deck” per se, but it’s not Artifact Portal, it does run Ragna and, most importantly, it sure is a Shadowverse deck.
  • Shin, Lawful Light says Ward on it, so it’s a tech card against Haven and Roach Forest. In my opinion, the Licht package is a better tech choice against Haven, and the Roach matchup still feels like pure misery, regardless of how many vanilla 2/2 Wards you choose to include.

After the Shion buff, Artifact Portal has had a spike in popularity, but the overall performance of the deck in its common matchups surprisingly hasn’t improved all that much. Certainly, the deck is a lot better when it gets its highroll-y draws, but Artifact Portal still has a lot of issues in Rotation: the archetype can’t protect itself, so it more or less autoloses to Roach Forest, Natura Haven and Ambush Sword. The archetype does fine against fair midrange-y decks like Natura Dragon, Sword and Shadow. This matchup spread makes it an awkward deck for tournament play, considering the popularity of Natura Haven, and while it’s not a terrible ladder deck, it still has a lot of miserable matchups among the currently popular decks. The archetype could have some potential in the future, especially if the mini-expansion shores up some of its weaknesses (e.g., with cards like Nilpotent Entity/Biofab/etc.).

Natura Blood

Identifying cards: Lunatic Aether, Corrupted Bat, Nightprowl Vampire, Cradle of Dark Divinity, Yuzuki, Righteous Demon.

Natura Blood is the newest shell for the Evolve Blood package. The basic Natura shell consists of playsets of Lunatic Aether, Corrupted Bat, 2-3xCradle and some number of Desert Pathfinders. The Evolve package consists of a Vengeance-based subpackage (usually includes playsets of Yurius, Azazel and Doublame), the Evolve cards (playsets of Hnikar, Jafnhar and Destructive Succubi, 1-2xZeus and some number of Trills). All 3 of these packages have a lot of synergistic overlap, and the card choices for the remaining 10-ish slots can be a little convoluted.

Optional inclusions and tech cards

  • Additional Natura cards, namely Desert Pathfinders, Nightprowl Vampire and Confectioner can be optional inclusions if you’re looking for a specific function to fill in your deck. The most commonly useful of these is Pathfinder, since the deck doesn’t have a lot of options for 2-drops, and Pathfinder is a reasonable 2-drop. Generally speaking, Blood has no actual Natura synergy, you don’t have to try to activate Viridia Magna or anything, and the Natura package is mostly there for 2 reasons: Cradle is a good evolve 7-drop, Lunatic Aether is a good burn spell when it lines up with your Zeus turn, and Corrupted Bat is mostly just a fine 2-drop, especially if you have some sort of Vengeance activator. Sure enough, cycling cards is good and all, but it’s important to realize that Natura Blood has the least synergy with actual Trees out of any Natura deck in the set, so it’s unwise to go too deep with Natura synergy, but 1-2xPathfinders are a fine choice if you don’t have a different 2-drop in mind.
  • Sanguine Core and Kiss of Lust are tech cards against aggressive decks like Natura Haven and Shadow that help to get to turn 10. A 1-of Core is a fine tech choice and can go a long way even in Azazel matchups like Natura Dragon, since healing for 4-6 can sometimes get you an extra turn.
  • Yuzuki (and, in a similar fashion, Calamity Bringer) are tech cards against midrange decks like Natura Forest and Sword. Yuzuki is the safer and the more flexible option of the two, and even in non-Azazel matchups (when you can’t get to Vengeance), the drawback of “Overload: (2)” is not a huge issue when played on curve, considering how many 6-drops Blood has, between the “standard” options like Shiva/Trill, as well as strong tempo turns like Yurius with Jafnhar. Yuzuki represents a ton of gas against midrange decks, and the downside of losing 2 health in the early game is often negated by Azazel setting you to 10 anyway. Calamity Bringer is difficult to fit into the deck without a dedicated Vengeance package, so I generally think it’s too risky for Evolve Natura Blood, but it does deal with some problematic cards (for example, Leod) that Yuzuki doesn’t, so it could be potentially worthwhile.
  • Trill is an optional inclusion that improves the consistency of evolve synergies, but competes with other turn 6 plays in Evolve Blood (e.g., Shiva or Jafnhar+Yurius). Trill has a lot more flexibility that Shiva (since you can play it on 4 and pick the AoE option, for example), but it’s somewhat greedy, so it’s tricky to justify running a full playset, and 1-2 copies seems sufficient.

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Natura Evolve Blood

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(Hybrid) Natura Vengeance Blood

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Machina Blood

Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Gearsnake Tamer, Metal-Blade Demon, Mono, Garnet Rebel, Technolord, Slayn, Steelwrought Vampire.

What changed in Machina Blood?

The only card that rotated out of pre-expansion Machina Blood lists is Restless Parish, which is quite important for Slayn, but it’s certainly very replaceable. The new additions to Machina Blood include Shiva, which is a fine 1- or even 2-of, as well as potentially Leraje and Deal with the Devil. Leraje is not particularly unfair and disrupts Unleash the Nightmare pulls, so I personally don’t think that the card is good enough for Slayn Machina Blood. Deal with the Devil can often be lined up in a way where the removal part of the card is one-sided and the fact that it’s a removal spell that replaces itself with a different card makes stacking your hand for Slayn easier. Apart from that, I don’t think there is much of a difference between the pre-rotation build of Machina Blood and its current iteration, so I don’t think there’s much merit to repeating all the points made about Machina Blood in the September MI update.

Aggro Blood

Identifying cards (generic): Goblin, Razory Claw, Swarming Wraith, Furfur, Yuna, Vampire Seeker.
Identifying cards (Vengeance): Steadfast Angel, Nightmare Dreameater, Dark General, Seductress Vampire.
Identifying cards (non-Vengeance):Disciple of Lust, Vuella, Imp Lancer, Demonic Storm.

There are 2 approaches to building Aggro Blood: the Seductress Vamp build, which can include cards like Laura and Dark General, in addition to being able to leverage Vengeance-based 2-drops better, with such cards as Swarming Wraith and Nightmare Dreameater. This build of the deck is similar to pre-nerf Vengeance Blood and can often “brick” by drawing Seductress Vampire too late. Another way to build Aggro Blood is to run Imp Lancers with some additional handbuff effects. The advantage of the non-Vengeance build is that it can fit in more burn with Demonic Storm and can run Disciples of Lust over Steadfast Angels (since health total is less important for the non-Vengeance build).

The main idea behind Aggro Blood is to exploit weak early turns of decks such as Natura Dragon and Roach Forest by getting ahead on tempo with 1-drops. Being ahead enables Hellblaze Demons to generate a good chunk of damage with the Storm card of choice (Imp Lancer/Laura/etc.), and Yuna helps reload your hand after expending cards in the early turns. Ideally, the deck aims to close out games on turn 6, seeing as how a lot of decks in the format can start to stabilize with Shiva and various other defensive cards. The format has a large variety of incidental healing (particularly, in Haven/Shadow), with Neutral cards like Respite and Shiva being staples in different decks, which makes burn-based aggressive strategies somewhat awkward. Aggro Blood is not a particularly popular or well-refined deck, but it has its strong points in the format.

Natura Blood has been showing some very mediocre ladder winrates, the deck is heavily unfavored against Natura Haven/Forest/Shadow/Sword, and it appears that the archetype is too fair to consistently beat any of the currently competitive Rotation decks. With that said, Evolve Natura Blood has had some fringe success in tournament play, so I don’t think that the archetype is a lost cause. In my personal testing, I got the impression that it can perform decently well against Forest (since it has Azazel and Wards for Roach Forest and has answers for most Natura Forest threats), and if you maintain board control, it has a decent shot against Sword. The deck is somewhat draw-dependant (drawing early Destructive Succubi is important), and there is a lot of inherent randomness to it because of its win condition (going second is a significant advantage; Zeus variance can cost you games; Cradle discarding key pieces like Aether/Succubi/Zeus/etc. can be problematic), but I don’t think that Natura Blood is a bad ladder deck; it’s certainly not the best deck one could play, but it’s fairly consistent and has a lot of room for tech cards.

Aggro Blood is the best counter to Roach Forest in the current Rotation format. The deck generally struggles against Haven and Sword, is mildly unfavored against Natura Forest/Shadow, but it also beats Natura Dragon very convincingly. Aggro Blood is not the best deck currently, but it still has some strong points as a ladder deck: it farms Dragon and Roach Forest, the archetype’s non-Vengeance builds are dirt-cheap to build, and even Vamp lists are very budget-friendly. The deck itself is proactive and plays fast games, making it a potentially good ladder deck if you’re trying to grind out as many games as you can. The archetype has even seem some fringe success in tournament play, although it hasn’t had a particularly good showing so far, primarily because the archetype loses a fair bit of surprise factor in an open-decklist environment.

Machina Rune

Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Mechanized Lifeform, Mechawing Angel, Jetbroom Witch, Magitech Golem, Mechastaff Sorcerer, Mechabook Sorcerer, Technolord.

What changed in Machina Rune?

The main change to Machina Rune is that Fate’s Hand has rotated out and has been swapped out for Chaos Wielder. This has minor implications on how the deck is played (particularly since Chaos Wielder takes up a board slot), but, apart from that, I wouldn’t say that there is literally anything different to how one would build or play Machina Rune compared to the deck’s description in September MI article (with all mentions of Fate’s Hand replaced by Chaos Wielder, of course). What did change, however, is the Rotation meta. A lot of decks have started having power spikes on turn 5, the most notable of which being Shadow and Natura Forest. If you play a 5-mana 3/4 into a Ceres, you’re probably just going to get a bad trade, and if you play Mechabook into a Cerberus, you’re going to fall behind on tempo, however, if you leave up an evolved Lubelle or a Daffodil, your opponent is extremely likely to put the “U” in “Murder” and demonstrate why that is an unwise decision. In addition to that, Roach Forest is also a lot faster, so Machina Rune now struggles in that matchup since the deck doesn’t run any Wards.

Spellboost Rune

Identifying cards: Solomon, Eleanor, Wind Blast, Raio, Truth’s Adjudication, Edict of Truth, Fiery Embrace.

What changed in Spellboost Rune?

Similarly to Machina Rune, the main change to Spellboost Rune is that Fate’s Hand has been replaced by Chaos Wielder. This has additional negative implications in Spellboost-heavy decks, as the card is not a Spell itself, so it doesn’t Spellboost your hand when played. In addition to that, being a follower with a Spellboost-based discount affects Solomon in the post-Raio stage of the game, as it reduces the chances to get Zealot/Twinblade Mages out of Solomon for 0. In addition to that, the deck is a lot more vulnerable to midrange decks because the format has gotten a lot faster, and you can’t rely on playing a vanilla 7/7 as part of your game plan. All of these factors combined mean that Spellboost Rune is more or less an unplayable archetype in the current Rotation format.

Dirt (a.k.a. Burn, a.k.a. Orichalcum Golem) Rune

Identifying cards: Melvie, Scrap Iron Smelter, Witch’s Cauldron, Rabbit Mage, Witch Snap, Silent Lab, Magisa, Emmylou, Levi, Orichalcum Golem, Erasmus.

Machina Rune skeleton

Machina Rune

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Machina Rune

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Dirt Rune skeleton

Dirt Rune

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Dirt Rune

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Spellboost Rune

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(Ginger) Natura Rune

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(Ginger) Natura Rune

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Natura Rune

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Natura Rune

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What changed in Dirt Rune?

The new toys in Dirt Rune are Silent Lab (replaces Vesper) and Passionate Potioneer (swapped in over one of the high-end cards like Tetra or Erasmus). Dirt Rune is fundamentally the same deck as it was before the expansion, however, it leans a lot more into its aggressive angle and is less of a midrange deck. Potioneer allows for more consistent Magisa setups, but the overall elevated power level of the format puts the deck in an awkward spot with all the incidental healing from decks with incremental Natura synergy, since they run Traveler’s Respite; Haven in general is difficult to race due to Kel and smaller healing effects like Golden Bells, and Shadow often runs Ceres, which is a huge commitment to clear and heals for a significant amount. In addition to that, Blackened Scripture, Octrice and even Smite in Roach lists make playing out OriGolem on 5 extremely risky in the relevant matchups. The format is generally less friendly towards aggressive strategies, and Dirt Rune gets swept up by that as well.

Regarding Natura Rune

Identifying cards: Arcane Aether, Desert Pathfinder, Apex Elemental, Travelers’ Respite, Pyromancer, Viridia Magna, Riley, Hydroshaman.

Natura Rune is still in a very unrefined place, the most well-tested build of the deck (in a Spellboost shell) doesn’t perform particularly well and doesn’t really beat anything in the format. The reason for that is, as one would expect, the shell itself being inefficient for a Spellboost strategy: you can’t fit in enough Spells and Tree-generating effects for Riley to work. The basic takeaway is that the deck plays 1-2xRiley with 2-3xMysterian Wisdom to shuffle it back into the deck when the condition is fulfilled, and then uses burn spells, Zealots, Twinblade Mages and Craving’s Splendor to close out the game. The problem with that build of the deck is twofold: on one hand, Riley is impossible to cast, and invoking it takes too long; and on the other hand, the draw engine doesn’t really function, so the deck can end up spinning its wheels in the midgame.

An alternative to the Spellboost build can be seen in ここしろ’s build that uses Riley in a hybrid Ginger shell. The basic idea is that you try to have Ginger in your first 7-8 draws, then evolve it, and reduce the cost of Riley(s) to 1 (since it only has 1 attack anyway) and potentially even get multiple copies of high-value cards like Riley, Viridia Magna and Zeus with Mysterian Project. Since the deck can support Viridia Magna (which has evolve synergy when active), it’s reasonably good at answering midrange boards. In my personal testing, this exact point has been the strongest aspect of the deck: Natura Rune is the best deck in the format at having an active Viridia Magna on turn 6, and while that in itself doesn’t sound like much, since it also discounts Ginger in the process, you can often follow up a turn 6 Viridia Magna with a Ginger on 7, evolve the Ginger, reduce Apex Ele to 1, and clear the board while setting up for a Zeus/Riley. Even if you run out of evolves by the time you get to Ginger, you can still get to a point where you invoke Riley and then use the 4-5-cost Ginger to cheat mana and get a double Riley attack for 16, which can get to 20 damage with a Craving’s Splendor, and random chip damage from Mysterian Wisdom, Arcane Aether on 10, etc. The deck has early blowout draws (e.g., Pathfinder on 2 into Pyromancer on 3), has a decent midgame with evolve cards like Monika and Jafnhar, cycles really quickly and can sometimes go off with its 16-damage combo as early as turn 8. The weak points of Ginger Natura Rune are that the deck can’t protect itself and autoloses to Roach Forest as well as Natura Shadow and Haven, it can have some draw variance since you need at least 1 Ginger in your deck to invoke it, and, well, Zeus is a Shadowverse card. Sometimes Zeus activates 9 times and doesn’t get Storm or a single point of healing, and you just have to accept that 1%-er and move on with your life.

The sample size for Machina Rune is extremely small, so the numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt, however, the archetype struggles against Natura Haven, Dragon and Shadow, which is to be expected of a slower Rune deck. Apart from that, the deck seemingly does well against Artifact Portal, which is consistent with pre-VeC data. All in all, Machina Rune is far from the best deck in the format and doesn’t see a lot of play. The deck is still reasonably well-refined after months of its prevalence in the format and has seen some fringe tournament success, and even though it’s not doing particularly well in the current meta, the central shell of the deck is going to take 5 more months to rotate (except for Zealots, of course), so it could still have its place in the spotlight somewhere down the line.

Dirt Rune doesn’t have a lot of data behind it either, but the data we do have shows that the deck is unfavored against Natura Haven, Shadow, Dragon and Forest and generally hovers around 44% winrate. The deck doesn’t really have a positive matchup against any of the currently competitive decks in the Rotation format, aside from Sword, which is a 50/50 matchup at the time of writing (within error margins), but could change over time, considering the extremely low sample size.

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