Shisogenius’s Meta Insight 09/11
“Meta Insight” are a series of articles covering various Shadowverse deck archetypes with matchups statistics, as well as brief commentary on specific tech choices and play patterns.
Note: this article is currently being updated with information pertaining to the mini-expansion, so the decklists/stats may be mismatched with the discussion.
Identifying cards: Hoverboard Mercenary, Mechanized Lifeform, Magitech Golem, Mechabook Sorcerer, Technolord.
What does Machina Rune do?
Machina Rune is a tempo deck that utilizes mana discounts from Mechabook Sorcerer‘s leader effect to play multiple low-cost Machina cards in a single turn, which cycles cards with Mechanized Lifeforms, Spellboosts the cards in your hand (Zealots/Twinblade Mages/Fate’s Hand/etc.) with generated Repair Modes and controls the board with Magitech Golem/Technolord. The defining characteristics of the archetype include early game draw reliance (for the centerpiece of the deck, Mechabook Sorcerer) and “miracle”-like midgame turns.
Machina Rune games can be separated into two stages: firstly, you have to find Mechabook Sorcerer, digging through your deck by aggressively mulliganning for cheap card draw and Sorcerer itself. After playing Mechabook Sorcerer, the deck transitions into the second stage, where you can start playing multiple Machina cards in a single turn, cycling with Mechanized Lifeforms and Fate’s Hands. An important point here is that if you evolved Tetra, you can start replaying Delta Cannon every turn, preferably pinging your opponent for 2 damage every time. Cycling through the deck digs towards Zealots of Truth/Twinblade Mages/Clarke/Mechastaff Sorcerers which should eventually get you enough damage to close out the game.
It should be noted that Machina Rune has a finite amount of damage, so it’s necessary not to waste too much of it, particularly against decks with healing like Elana Haven and Lishenna Portal. To that end, keeping track of your hand size and available board space can often be an important factor, since certain cards add to your hand size with Mechanized Lifeform, namely Delta Cannon, Jetbroom Witch, Hoverboard Mercenary and Robogoblin. In a lot of decks, burning a card from your deck is not particularly important, but burning a Zealot/Clarke/Mechastaff because you forgot about Delta Cannon or a Robogoblin can set you back significantly. For that reason, if you’re starting a Mechanized Lifeform turn, be sure to account for hand size, and play Lifeform as the 2nd/3rd card of the turn if you’re at 8 cards. In addition to that, in the late stages of the game, try and plan the beginning of Lifeform turns during the opponent’s turn, because turn time limit can be a factor, especially with long animations like Technolord and Clarke. Machina Rune is a pretty straightforward deck in terms of its macro game plan, but there are a lot of small decision points that depend on play order/drawn cards/etc that you have to keep track of when playing/drawing multiple cards every single turn.
- Always keep Insight, Hoverboard Mercenary, Mechabook Sorcerer.
- If you’re already keeping Mechabook Sorcerer, keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Robogoblin/Jetbroom Witch/Mechawing Angel/Conjure Golem, in order of priority.
- If you’re not keeping Mechabook Sorcerer, keep Magic Missile and/or Fate’s Hand.
- JCG 10-16
- JCG 10-15
- JCG 10-14
- JCG 10-12
Machina Rune (JCG 10-16 median decklist, with -1 Clarke and -1 Mechawing Angel)Source
Machina Rune (JCG 10-15 median decklist, with +1 Mechawing Angel)Source
Machina Rune (JCG 10-14 median decklist, rounded down)Source
Machina Rune (JCG 10-12 median decklist, rounded up)Source
The mulligan strategy for Machina Rune revolves around trying to play Mechabook Sorcerer on curve, and to this end, it’s good to keep cheap card draw. Insight is the only 1-cost spell in the deck, and Hoverboard Mercenary is the card draw effect with the highest odds of hitting Mechabook Sorcerer (~10-12%, depending on how many Machina cards you’re running). If you have Mechabook, then it’s fine to keep an early game card that helps curve out into turn 5. Fate’s Hand is a somewhat tricky card, and I’m not sure if it’s actually correct to keep because the deck has relatively few early spells and it can get stuck in your hand costing 3 or 4, but I think it can generally be justified.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Twinblade Mage and Mechastaff Sorcerer are two options for the “damage package” in Machina Rune. Generally, 3xZealots and 2-3xClarkes are the “core” damage cards that you’re playing because they’re more efficient than either of the other options. Twinblade Mage is a slightly faster option of the two, but it restricts your deckbuilding in that you have to run a few more cheap spells like Conjure Golem and Magic Missile to justify it. Twinblade Mage lists can include 1-2xGilnelise, a card that works well with 0-cost Storm followers and all the low-attack followers you generate during Mechanized Lifeform turns. Mechastaff Sorcerer is often playable on curve, deals 1 more damage and doesn’t really require any addtional help, so it has been a more common choice with the recent refinements of the archetype. Personally, the setup I’ve used the most is 3xMechastaff Sorcerer with 3xZealots and 2xClarke. The rule of thumb is that the total damage in your Machina Rune list should add up to roughly 25 without Tetra.
- Fate’s Hand is an optional inclusion in Machina Rune lists and is often run at 1-3 copies. In my opinion, a lot of players simply default to 3xFate’s Hand without thinking too much, following the example of Spell/Burn Rune, but Machina Rune plays a lot less spells than either of those decks, so the card is a lot worse in the early stages in the game. With 3xMechawing Angels and 3xClarke running 3xFate’s Hand is fine, but if you’re running fewer spells, 2 or even 1 Fate’s Hand is going to make the deck a lot smoother.
- Insight is a card that I used to consider a staple 3-of in the archetype, but I’ve recently started to realize that Insight clogs up your midgame turns and the draw is not as free as one would believe. Putting it simply, Insight basically allows you to play a thinner deck, but the price you pay for that is that you lose tempo and (to a lesser extent) information. Insight does make it easier to find Mechabook Sorcerer in the early game, but it competes with Fate’s Hand and Lifeform in the midgame, so it does fall off as the game goes on. The common splits are 1/3, 2/2 and 2/3 Insight/Fate’s Hand, with the overall average across tournament decklists (that I analyzed, around 40 in total) being roughly 1.7xInsights and 2.5xFate’s Hands, with Insight being on a slight downward trend and Fate’s Hand on a slight upward trend over time.
- Lovely-Heart Monika is a recent optional 1-of in Machina Rune lists, usually played in place of the third Mechastaff Sorcerer. The role of Monika is somewhat similar to other damage cards, the way it works is that you play it on curve in games when you don’t have Tetra on curve, then, once you have Mechabook Sorcerer effect going and cycled through your deck to find a Tetra, you can play Tetra, use the Accelerate for 3, and get a Delta Cannon that you can start using. Since you can’t really do the whole thing on turn 6 (unless you use an extra Repair Mode), Monika effectively does 4-8 damage over the course of the game in that scenario. Personally, I don’t think that Monika is particularly great outside of slower matchups like Elana Haven because it can clog up your hand if you draw it late and the extra value is not that necessary either. In my testing, the card has been fairly unimpressive. Eh, it’s just Monika.
- Craving’s Splendor is a another optional damage card that has been seeing some play as a 1-of. The idea is that you can use it as a removal spell when behind and it can deal 7 damage with a Zealot. In my opinion, having a third Clarke is a more flexible option because of the card draw, but I can see the merit of a faster damage card.
- Optional cheap spells like Conjure Golem/Magic Missile/Mechawing Angel can be included in Machina Rune to improve the consistency of heavy Spellboost cards like Fate’s Hand, Zealot of Truth and Twinblade Mage. These cards can be slotted in over Robogoblin.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Elana Haven and Lishenna Portal.
Machina Rune is currently the most popular deck in both tournament and ladder play and is commonly considered as the best deck of the format. The main reason for the deck’s popularity and success is its consistency. Machina Rune is a deck with one of the lowest values for matchup polarity in the current Rotation format, and although it has some weaker matchups (e.g., Machina Blood), even the deck’s poor matchups are close to 50/50. This matchup spread means that Machina Rune is positioned very well in the current Rotation format meta, although it remains to be seen how well the deck’s going to perform after losing Fate’s Hand.
Regarding Ginger Rune
Identifying card: Hnikar, Janfhar, Melvie, Lyria, Monika, Ginger, Accursed Word, Olivia, Zeus, Catherine, Satan.
The Evolve archetype for Runecraft is built somewhat differently from Evolve decks in other classes and revolves around drawing Ginger and evolving it to start getting spell tokens that reduce the cost of your followers to 1 and set their stats to 1/1. In order to get there, the deck uses cards like Jafnhar and Hnikar to reduce it to 6-7 mana while still having an evolve point. Once that setup is done, the deck commences various shenanigans, namely reducing expensive evolve synergy cards to 1, which includes Olivia/Zeus, as well as other miscellaneous effects like Grimnir and Catherine to clear the board/heal. Some lists play Satan as its win condition, because decks like Elana Haven and Lishenna Portal can’t really beat a turn 7 Satan.
The deck is a showcase of a few unusual interactions, for example, it can use 1-cost Olivia(s) to cheat mana (e.g., play Hnikar into 1-cost Olivia which refunds mana to play something else); or play a Monika “loop”, where you reduce the cost of the dog to 1 and replay it every turn, basically generating an extra evolve point every turn; or play a tiny Zeus, which does slightly less damage, but can be weaved in with other cards. Interestingly, the cost/stat reduction is an aura effect, so even if you evolve the 1/1 follower, it doesn’t get any extra stats, but buffs (e.g., Zeus buffing itself or Gilnelise) still apply additional stats.
Addendum: the curious case of a 1/1 Zeus
In a similar fashion to the addendum in the Blood section, below is the damage distribution chart for a copy of Zeus with a specific number of evolved followers (which can be adjusted using the slider in the upper right corner). If Zeus doesn’t get Storm, the damage is set to 0. The upper graph shows the exact probability distribution (probability of Zeus doing exactly X damage), while the lower graph shows the cumulative probability (doing X or less damage). The summary of the results is displayed in the table to the right. Doing a regression analysis for the damage values with the standard deviations set as instrumental error margins shows that a 1/1 Zeus on average does (-0.74±0.11)+(1.21±0.03)*N damage, where N is the number of evolved followers, and that trend line unfortunately doesn’t make for a simple heuristic that is easy to remember. If you’d like to know how these values are calculated, refer to this spreadsheet. As fun as Ginger decks are, it’s extremely disappointing that it’s mathematically impossible to get a 4/20 Zeus. A 4/19 or a 4/22 are both possible, but it’s just not the same, you know?
(PoC) Spellboost RuneSource
(Pre-patch) Spellboost RuneSource
(Pre-patch) Burn RuneSource
(Pre-patch) Spell-based Burn RuneSource
Identifying cards: Solomon, Raio, Omen of Truth, Truth’s Adjudication.
What does Spellboost Rune do?
Spellboost Rune is a reactive combo deck that utilizes Solomon to tutor Raio (or other cards if Raio gets draw naturally) and uses cheap Spells to increase Truth’s Adjudication damage and discount Zealot of Truth and Twinblade Mage to get lethal setups over multiple turns. The defining characteristics of the archetype include its capacity to tutor specific followers with Solomon, access to burst healing with Truth’s Adjudication and a suite of efficient follower removal.
The main addition to the archetype after the mini-expansion release is Golem Squad, which makes the archetype’s early and mid-game a lot more consistent. Golem Squad also does a fair bit of work in the post-Raio stages of the game, where it only needs 3 extra spells to turn into a 7/7 Rush that also protects you with a Ward. Even with all the dithyrambs for Golem Squad, it’s tricky to include it as a 3-of since the card competes with various tech cards and in slower matchups can be underwhelming compared to a card like Edict of Truth. In my experience, to consistently beat Haven, 2xEdict seems necessary, and I’ve personally been playing a 2xSquad/2xEdict build.
- Always keep Insight, Solomon and Fate’s Hand.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop. This can include Solomon if you intend to play it on 2, but can also include Conjure Golem/Mechawing Angel.
- Keep Tetra/Elanor going second. If you’re going first and are already keeping a 2-drop, keep Eleanor/Golem Squad.
The mulligan strategy for Spellboost Rune hasn’t really changed since the deck’s previous iteration, and still mostly involves trying to hit early card draw to dig towards either Solomon or Raio. If you have an Insight on 1, then Solomon is a fine 2-drop, but if you have a different 2-drop that you can play or an Eleanor on 3, it’s better to play Solomon a little later, when the Seal is discounted more, since that gives you more options in the midgame if you happen to draw Raio naturally, which happens reasonably often (~30-40% of the time).
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Wind Blast is an optional inclusion that helps against Elana Haven and generic midrange decks. The Haven matchup often comes down to being able to clear the midgame push of tall followers, and 3xFiery Embraces/Eleanor are not quite enough removal. In my opinion, it is responsible to run at least 2xWind Blats for ladder games, but it obviously depends on the matchups you are facing, since it can be a dead draw in the Rune mirror or against Lishenna Portal, so there is some opportunity cost to it.
- Mechawing Angel is an optional 2-drop that helps the deck’s early game and can serve as (sometimes) tutor-able Ward off of Solomon. Normally, when you play Seal of Solomon for 8, it’s a toss-up between Mechawing Angel and Twinblade Mage (where the odds depend on how many of each you have in your deck), however, after you play Raio, all the Zealots/Twinblade Mages get discounted to 0. There are 2 sides to this interaction: on one hand, with a Seal of Solomon for 0 post-Raio, you get either a Twinblade Mage or a Zealot of Truth, but on the other hand, if you play a Seal for 8 or 9 post-Raio, you get a 0-cost Mechawing Angel, which is good against things like Maisha, for example.
- Edict of Truth is an optional inclusion that I personally consider obligatory as at least a 1-of. Edict has obvious synergy with Raio, but even without a spellboosted deck, it can still be a bigger Fate’s Hand of sorts that draws more cards. Spellboost Rune can have cards sitting in hand for a while with things like Seal of Solomon and Fiery Embrace, and Edict is somewhat similar, so it can technically increase the odds of bricking, but 2 copies of Edict have a very minor effect on that aspect of the deck.
Burn (a.k.a. Orichalcum Golem, a.k.a. Dirt) Rune
Identifying cards: Melvie, Witch Snap, Emmylou, Smilemancer, Magisa, Vesper, Witchunter, Levi, Orichalcum Golem, Erasmus.
Note: because of the archetype’s low popularity, as a temporary exception, one of the decklists included in the tab menu shows a deck that I have personally tested and optimized over the course of ~80 total matches (under the tab “Shiso”).
What does Burn Rune do?
Burn Rune is an aggressive tempo deck that uses various Earth Rite synergy, a large portion of which involves dealing face damage. Unlike the previous, pre-mini-expansion version of the archetype, the current build doesn’t include any Spell synergy and is a lot more aggressive overall. The defining characteristics of Burn Rune are its aggressive early game, abundance of reach and a somewhat random win condition in Orichaclcum Golem.
- Always keep Melvie, Rabbit Mage, Orichaclum Golem.
- If you’re keeping Rabbit Mage, also keep Magisa. Without Rabbit Mage, keep Magisa with Vesper/Cauldron or Smelter.
- If you’re not keeping Magisa, keep Emmylou.
- Going second, keep Levi/Tetra.
- If you’re keeping Melvie without Rabbit Mage, keep 2-drop followers, including Legendary Fighter/Sammy/etc.
The mulligan strategy for Burn Rune is fairly straightforward and generally doesn’t depend too much on what you’re playing against because the deck is very proactive. In my testing, the best-performing early game cards have been OriGolem (by a very significant margin), followed by Melvie/Rabbit Mage/Magisa, and then Emmylou. The plan with Magisa is usually to play it on 3 or 4 to get a tempo swing, and it’s fine even if it’s only hitting 1 Sigil. Witch Snap is often a bad play in the early game, having the lowest early game winrate of every card I’ve tested. That doesn’t mean that Witch Snap is a bad card, it simply doesn’t develop early tempo and only really shines in the midgame. 1-cost Sigils are generally a bad keep because they turn off Rabbit Mage, the only exception to this is with Magisa.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Levi is an optional card that can be omitted from more aggressive builds of the archetype. In my testing, of all the 4-drops available to the archetype, Levi has had the highest played % of any card in that slot and I think that makes its inclusion more or less mandatory. Levi is at its best when you’re behind on tempo/card advantage, and unlike any other Rune 4-drops, can even be played when going first. The weak points of the card are that it’s not great when you’re significantly ahead, as well as its bizarre card pool: firstly, evolving Levi can draw another Levi, which is fine going second, but awkward going first (happens roughly 2/(N+2)≈14-18% of the time, where N is the number of non-Levi Earth Rite cards in the deck), and secondly, Orichaclum Golem is not an Earth Rite card. The former of these card pool issues can be minimized by including more Earth Rite effects, but the latter seems like an unintentional oversight.
- Tetra is another optional 4-drop that can be included in Burn Rune. Tetra requires an Evolve to do anything useful, so it can be awkward as a 3-of, but is a fine 2-of as an efficient tempo card. Cagliostro is a functionally similar card that can be run in the Tetra slot, but having 2 less toughness is felt a lot against Machina Rune, Elana Haven and other classes that play 5/X followers in the midgame. In my testing Cagliostro has shown significantly worse winrates (~25% worse) than Tetra, so I generally think that the newer, shinier 4-drop does the job a lot better.
- Erasmus is an optional inclusion that helps against midrange-y decks. Erasmus is simply a very efficient card and more or less guarantees a 3-for-1 when played on curve, and it does 4 face damage as well. In addition to that, Erasmus makes the Levi card pool marginally better, not only because it makes it less likely to go Levi into Levi, but also because it sets up a good curve after Levi.
- Magisa is a card that I had a lot of doubts about when I initially started testing the archetype after the mini-expansion, but in later testing I’ve found that I played the card somewhat wrong. Putting it in simple terms, it’s generally wrong to treat Magisa as a finisher like Orichalcum Golem: it does a lot less face damage on average, and setting up 4-Sigil Magisa(s) can be game-losing against decks with any semblance of comeback mechanics. Magisa is a way simpler card: it’s a lot better if you only play it with 1-2 Sigils as a simple tempo card. In tempo-oriented matchups (e.g., against Machina Blood or Aggro Sword), it’s sometimes correct to set up for a 4-Sigil Magisa+Evolve to push a lot of damage since OriGolem can be too slow there, but it’s more of an exception than the rule.
- Additional 2-drops like Legendary Fighter/Sammy are necessary for the archetype because having one proactive 2-drop (Rabbit Mage) is not really enough. The difference between the 2 cards is very marginal in my testing, with Legendary Fighter being ahead ~2% in terms of winrate, with roughly the same played %. The advantages of Sammy are that it draws you a card and that it doesn’t cost 11 thousand vials for a playset of vanilla 2/2s, while the advantages of Fighter is that it can function as a removal spell (particularly good with Witch Snap, but works with 1-cost Sigils and various Accelerate effects as well), and can push damage in the midgame in a similar fashion to an evolved Melvie. I’ve had a few games where I was going into an Evolve turn with a Melive and a Fighter on board, and the opponents usually clear the Fighter since it’s bigger, so you get to evolve Melvie into Clarke and crack for 10 damage. Putting it simply, Sammy is good for some extra value, while Fighter shines against Elana Haven and players that don’t understand how cards work.
- Slumbering Calamity is a tech card against primarily Machina Rune. In my testing, I’ve found the card to compete with Erasmus (who generally does the same-ish thing, but 2 turns faster), and I think there are ultimately better options for that card slot.
- Goblins were fairly common in the pre-mini-expansion build of the deck, but the current build of the deck is a lot less aggressive. For most intents and purposes, Melvie is a Goblin with a bunch of bells and whistles, it’s not technically strictly better, but it may as well be.
Spellboost Rune is a deck that has had a very short lifespan over the course of the mini-expansion. The archetype is fairly consistent, proactive and has a built-in inevitability engine; however, the problem with the archetype is that it’s generally too slow for ladder play: Raio only comes online on turn 6 at the earliest, which makes the archetype awkward against decks like Machina Blood (that can start threatening a Slayn or a Mono around that time) and Aggro Sword (that Spellboost Rune can’t interact with), as well as Machina Rune (that comes online 1-2 turns earlier and plays the same-ish damage package). The archetype still does well against Portal and Haven in general, as well as Vengeance Blood, so it has seen some fringe tournament play, but it’s performing significantly worse that Machina Rune and is a lot less popular.
Addendum: Truth’s Adjudication probabilities
Below is a simple histogram that shows the probability of having a specific number of a particular outcome from Truth’s Adjudication based on the number of times the card has been Spellboosted. The number of Spellboosts can be adjusted in the upper right corner. The upper chart shows the exact probability distribution (having exactly X as the outcome), while the lower chart shows the cumulative probability distribution (having X or less as the outcome).
Burn Rune is a fairly well-rounded deck in the Rotation format. Its poor matchups include Elana Haven, Aggro Sword and Portal in general. The deck is strong against Blood and has a fairly good matchup against Machina Rune, so it’s a fairly reasonable ladder deck in my experience. This awkward matchup spread means that the deck is unlikely to see any tournament play (since it’s, on one hand, a Rune deck and competes with Machina Rune for the “class slot”, and, on the other, it doesn’t do well against Haven/Portal), but the short game duration and even-to-good matchups against Rune/Blood make it a decent ladder deck.
Addendum: Orichalcum Golem probabilities
Below is a simple chart that shows the probabilities of specific OriGolem outcomes, the left part of the chart shows the damage distributions, the right part shows the possible number of summoned Clay Golems. The upper half of the charts shows the probability of getting a specific amount (X) of damage and Clay Golems. The lower half of the charts is the cumulative probability distribution for these variable (getting X or less). The number of total Earth Sigils can be adjusted using the slider in the top right corner of the chart (denoted “# of Sigils”).
Identifying cards: Tender Rabbit Healer, Zoe, Queen of Hope, Elana, Purest Prayer.
Note: the decklists in the tab menu under the tabs JCG 10-4, 10-5 and 10-7 are median decklists from all the players with top 16 finishes in the corresponding JCG events. Since median decklists occasionally don’t add up to 40 cards, a card is either included or excluded, the choice is based on the card’s average popularity. For more information on how the median decklists are constructed, see the comparison spreadsheet in the “Source” link.
What does Elana Haven do?
Elana Haven is a midrange deck that utilizes synergy between cards that benefit from healing (Elana/Kel/Zoe) with various efficient ways to generate incremental healing sources, which includes Repair Modes from various Machina cards, De La Fille‘s leader effect and various low-cost healing effects like Golden Bell and Tender Rabbit Healer. Since a lot of healing cards come with a Machina tag, Limonia is also a natural inclusion in the archetype that can provide mana discounts and a potential alternative late game plan. The defining characteristics of Elana Haven are its powerful midgame tempo turns, ample healing and lack of burst damage without a board presence.
While the archetype can go the distance with its slower cards (e.g., Limonia technically gives the deck an inevitability factor with Aegis), has a bunch of Wards/healing and good AoE with Kel, it’s not very productive to think of it as a reactive control deck. The biggest strength of Elana Haven is its ability to generate tall boards of 2-3 followers around turns 6-7 which the opponent doesn’t have a clean answer for. This does mean that you have to sometimes play off-curve and somewhat inefficiently, e.g. skipping a turn of development to cycle Repair Modes with Zoe, or setting up cheap Machina followers post-Limonia to get to a critical discount threshold that lets you set up a Daria-like turn 7. In that sense, Elana Haven can be played a tempo deck depending on the opponent’s range of answers: e.g., you shouldn’t overextend into Destructive Refrain or Calamity Bringer, but in a lot of other cases, it’s a lot more productive to follow the basic Shadowverse fundamentals: play cards so they’re in play, hit your opponent’s face so they have less life (unless you’re playing against a Vengeance Blood list and that puts them into Vengeance range, then maybe leave them at 11 or 12), and most important of all, tempo = good.
- Always keep Golden Bell and Elana, Purest Player.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Precant/Hoverboard Merc/Unicorn Knight/Robogoblin/Mechawing Angel, in order of priority. Going second, keep Blackened Scripture, particularly against Blood and Forest.
- Against Forest/Sword/Shadow, keep Kel, Holy Marksman. If you have prior knowledge that your opponent is playing a midrange deck in another class (e.g. Machina Blood or Rune), also keep Kel.
- If you’re keeping 2 cards, also keep Ironknuckle Nun.
- Going first, if you’re already keeping Precant, also keep Robofalcon.
- Against Portal/Haven, keep Limonia.
- JCG 10-7
- JCG 10-5
- JCG 10-4
Elana Haven (JCG 10-7 median decklist)Source
Elana Haven (JCG 10-5 median decklist)Source
Elana Haven (JCG 10-4 median decklist, with -1 Unicorn)Source
The mulligan strategy for Elana Haven revolves around having Elana on curve. Golden Bell is obviously a good play on turn 1 because it uses up the first turn and improves your odds of drawing your powerful midgame cards on time. While Elana Haven can play a slow game, at its core, the archetype still plays like a tempo deck in the first 4-5 turns of the game, and having a good early curve does 2 things: on one hand, it allows you to have something stick when going into your Elana turn to double dip on the buffs, and on the other, it prepares a supply of Repair Modes for your Elana/Kel/Zoe in the midgame. Kel is a card that is extremely important against midrange decks, and even if you don’t play it on curve (turns 4/5), it’s necessary to find it at some point in those matchups. Limonia is similarly important in slower matchups, and you often end up playing it on turn 6 to set up for later turns or to try to go for the Aegis plan.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Hoverboard Mercenary, Unicorn Knight and Mechawing Angel are all optional 2-drops that are usually included at 3-6 total cards. Hoverboard Mercenary cycles itself and is a fine play on curve because it either hits Limonia or something that you can play on turn 3. Unicorn Knight is the most tempo-oriented card of the three and is the best choice if you want more board control in your Elana list. The neat thing about Unicorn Knight is that it always gives you a good turn 3 play, and if you’re going second, you can always answer the opponent’s 3-drop, even if it’s something really sticky (like a Yurius). Mechawing Angel is a card that speeds up the Limonia plan and makes Holylord Eachtar more likely to be active on curve. Mechawing Angel is the greediest option of the three and helps against specifically Lishenna Portal (because it’s one of the matchups where the Aegis plan is particularly relevant). In recent lists, Hoverboard Mercenary seems to be a clear favorite, and Unicorn Knights is often played as a 2-of.
- Blackened Scripture is an optional inclusion that really shines against Burn Rune and Machina Blood. Both of those matchups are already Haven-favored, and the card is quite low in impact aside from that, so Scripture has been phasing out of Elana lists since the start of the expansion. Unicorn Knight is a functionally similar card to Scripture and usually does more against most other decks.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card for the mirror match and Lishenna Portal. Smite has other applications as well, like banishing Orichalcum Golem or enhanced Armored Bats, or serving as a generic removal spell, so it aligns well with the deck’s overall game plan and is run as at least a 1-of in most Elana lists. In the earlier stages of the expansion, Slash of the One also saw fringe play, but Slash is a little more narrow since it doesn’t deal with Lishenna tokens and the condition of having only one follower when evolving isn’t always fulfilled, so Smite is generally the better card.
- Realm of Repose is a broad tech card that has been getting traction lately. The card initially started out as a tech card against Artifact Portal in tournament play since it protects the Haven player from Maisha and can allow to generate a tall board which the Portal player can’t interact with using Rush Artifacts. The card has application against other OTK-like setups against decks like Machina Blood, various Zeus decks, Aggro Sword, etc. The weak point of Realm of Repose is that it’s a dead draw against Rune in general and various midrange decks, so there is a fair bit of opportunity cost to the effect when ~25% of the ladder meta is Rune.
- Olivia, Blackened Wing is a frequent 1-of in a lot of Elana lists. Elana decks don’t have any actual Evolve synergy aside from Limonia, so Olivia often gives you 2-4 mana to work with, which is not a lot. However, with 1-2 Limonia discounts and a bit of forethought, you can set up a Kel or an Elana turn even after you’re out of evolve points, which can be an extremely strong reactive or proactive play, especially if you have De La Fille‘s effect going already. This is relevant against midrange decks like Machina Blood, Rune and Forest that can run Elana out of gas, and having an extra bomb in your deck can mean the difference between winning and losing. A similar card to Olivia that saw play previously is Saintly Core which is a little cheaper, but also has a lot less value. In addition to that, Saintly Core can clog up your Hoverboard Merc draws, so it can be detrimental in the midgame.
- Heretical acts such as cutting Holylord Eachtar, Zoe and Limonia are somewhat common in tournament Elana Haven decklists to try and eke out a small advantage against Vengeance Blood, and there are arguments to be made for those decisions, but I personally consider it unwise for ladder play: those cards are an important backbone of the deck against various midrange decks and cutting them gimps your percentages in a lot of matchups. If you’re running fewer Machina cards, you can consider running 2xLimonia; if you’re not running Mechawing Angel, you can consider running 2xEachtars, and so on, but cutting good cards from your deck is a slippery slope that you have to be careful on.
Elana Haven is the second best-performing deck of the Rotation format. The weaknesses of the archetype include Vengeance Blood (because of Calamity Bringer), as well as reactive decks with enough removal to answer most of Elana threats (Spellboost/Machina Rune, Ramp Dragon and some builds of PtP Shadow). The archetype does very well against burn-bases strategies and “fair” midrange decks in general, so it’s still one of the most popular decks of the Rotation format, both in ladder and tournament play.
Vengeance and Evolve Blood
In my personal opinion, midrange Vengeance and Evolve Blood utilize a lot of the same midgame shell and often follow a similar early-midgame strategy, so it makes sense to make a separation between the two, but still discuss certain aspects of the two decks in conjunction.
Identifying cards (Vengeance Blood): Lykos Berserker, Swarming Wraith, Nightmare Dreameater, Laura, Enraged Commander, Calamity Bringer.
Identifying cards (Evolve Blood): Vira, Hnikar, Jafnhar, Grimnir, Trill, Odin, Olivia, Zeus.
Note: the decklists under the tabs JCG 10-4 and 10-5 are median decklists from all the players with top 16 finishes in the corresponding events. Since median values can be fractions (if there’s an an uneven number of decks), the rounding rules are specified where applicable. In addition to that, since median decklists occasionally don’t add up to 40 cards, a card is either included or excluded, the choice is based on the card’s average popularity. For more information on how the median decklists are constructed, see the comparison spreadsheet in the “Source” link.
What does Vengeance Blood do?
Vengeance Blood is a midrange deck that involves getting powerful pay-off effects from cards such as Laura, Doublame, Yurius and Calamity Bringer. The primary win condition of the archetype is giving Storm to either a Calamity Bringer or Destructive Succubus using Laura which can be back-breaking for a lot of decks, considering how the 5 damage from evolved Laura itself, the 7-9 damage from Calamity Bringer/Desctuctive Succubus, as well as chip damage from Yurius, Swarming Wraith, Doublame tokens, various handbuff effects and follower damage can often add up to 20. The defining characteristics of Vengeance Blood is its reliance on Vengeance activators and the speed of its win condition: a good Vengeance Blood curve can close out games as early as turn 7, and the archetype has enough gas with Calamity Bringers/Desctructive Succubi/Yurius and Medusiana tokens to go toe-to-toe even with slower decks like Elana Haven when the fast Laura plan doesn’t work out.
In addition to that, there is a build of the deck that is similar to its pre-nerf construction: the “aggressive” Vengeance Blood, which is somewhat less common. The difference between it and the midrange build is that it plays 1-drops (Goblins/Disciples of Lust), and packs a lot more reach with Dark Generals, which are enabled with Seductress Vampire. On top of that, the aggressive lists commonly run Nightmare, Dreameater, which is a pretty mediocre 2-drop in other builds of the deck, but serves two purposes in the deck: on one hand, it can occasionally (~17.98% on average without any other card draw) come down as a 3/1 on turn 2, and on the other hand, even when it doesn’t, it can still be sticky enough to push some early face damage. The aggressive build of Vengeance Blood is worse against Elana Haven since it often cuts Calamity Bringers and Desctuctive Succubi and often can’t close out games in that matchup. Considering that a big reason as to why Vengeance Blood sees tournament play is to beat Haven, it hasn’t seen much testing at a high level, although it has had a fair bit of reported success in ladder play because of the surprise factor and a more diverse overall environment. The aggressive Vengeance decklists are listed after the “standard” Vengeance builds in the tab menu, before the deck skeleton for Evolve Blood.
- JCG 10-5
- JCG 10-4
Vengeance Blood (JCG 10-5 median decklist, rounded up with +1 Furfur)Source
Vengeance Blood (JCG 10-4 median decklist with +1 Vuella)Source
(Aggro) Vengeance BloodSource
(Aggro) Vengeance BloodSource
What does Evolve Blood do?
Evolve Blood is a midrange deck that runs all the neutral Evolve synergy (Hnikar/Jafnhar/Zeus, 1-2xOlivia) combined with all the Blood-specific Evolve cards such as Trill/Destructive Succubus and a small Vengeance package of Yurius/Azazel/Doublame that can get free evolves from Yurius in matchups that allow for it. The game plan of the archetype involves controlling the board for as long as possible and then playing Zeus on turn 10 to hopefully get enough damage to end the game on the spot (more on that in the Addendum section).
Compared to Vengeance Blood, Evolve Blood is a lot slower (since it usually can’t close out games before turn 10), but has a midgame curve that is significantly more consistent in terms of board control (namely, turns 5, 6 and 8). Putting it simply, Evolve Blood has a lower “ceiling”, but a higher “floor” than Vengeance Blood because it doesn’t rely as heavily on getting a Vengeance activator on time and generally involves a lot less decision-making. In my experience, Evolve Blood is the best Evolve archetype overall, in part due to Trill/Destructive Succubus being good standalone cards, but also because of having access to specific Blood cards that are silver bullets against specific matchups and have general synergy with the deck (e.g., Azazel being extremely valuable against Lishenna Portal by protecting you from Maisha setups and giving you a lot of extra time against Destruction in Black and guarantees you can get to your Zeus turn even against a nutty Lishenna draw; or Calamity Bringer getting you 4-for-1-s against Elana Haven; Vira working extremely well against decks such as Machina Rune in conjunction with Olivia: you can often play Olivia into Vira into Jafnhar on 8 which controls the board and protects you from burn damage; Yurius being a big midgame threat even if you evolve it manually, in particular, Yurius with Jafhar is a sweet turn 6 play that often leaves a 5/5 around and generates a lot of tempo). In my personal opinion (which a lot of competitive players are likely to disagree with), Evolve Blood is a better ladder deck that Vengeance Blood: it’s easier to pilot, gets bad draws less often and has a lot of the same strengths that Vengeance Blood has. The two big downsides to Evolve Blood are that it’s, firstly, slower (which is a big deal against decks like Burn Rune) and, secondly, that the win condition of the deck sometimes randomly deals 0 damage. More on that in the Addendum.
- Always keep Restless Parish, Unleash the Nightmare and Lykos Berserker (the last of which is exclusive to Vengeance lists, obviously).
- If you’re already keeping Lykos Berserker going first, also keep handbuff effects that can get to the 4-attack threshold, this can include things like Entrancing Blow/Hellblaze Demon/Furfur/Vuella/etc.
- Against proactive tempo classes (essentially, every class except for Portal/Dragon) keep a proactive 2-drop. For Vengeance Blood, the priority is usually Swarming Wraith/Dreameater/Hellblaze Demon/Bewitchng Succubus/Doublame; for Evolve lists the priority is usually Vira/Alexandrite Demon/Doublame/Hnikar. Going second, Entrancing Blow can also serve as a 2-drop.
- Keep Azazel and/or Blood Pact against Portal.
- For the aggressive Vengeance lists, keep a 1-drop (Goblin/Disciple of Lust) and do not keep Seductress Vampire.
The mulligan strategies for both Vengeance and Evolve Blood are very similar and involve trying to curve out early on and use efficient card draw to smooth your midgame curve out. With Vengeance Blood, there is a slight aspect of the, let’s call it, “Lykos minigame”, where you can try to get a Blood Moon out of Lykos Berserker without having to use an evolve point on the thing, so it’s reasonable to keep a handbuff effect that curves out into Lykos Berserker (e.g., when going second, Entrancing Blow on 2 into Lykos on 3). Exposing yourself to Blackened Scripture/Octrice can sometimes backfire, but Elana lists usually don’t run Scripture and the more popular Sword archetype is Machina Sword (which usually doesn’t run Octrice). In addition to that, even against decks with 3 copies of the “punish effect”, the hypergeometric probability of having a specific 3-of on turn 3 is 39.43% (44.77%) when going first (second), so even if it’s a gamble, the odds are still (slightly) in your favor.
Personally, I don’t like keeping Yurius because very rarely do I want to play it over Unleash on 3, due to, on one hand, how poorly it contests the board, and on the other, how valuable it is in the midgame (whether you’re playing a Vengeance list or not). There are scenarios where it’s a good play on 3 (e.g., going second against Machina Forest, Yurius on 3 into Doublame and Owlcat on 4), but (in my opinion) those are fringe cases, and can often lead to unfavorable board developments (e.g., with Precant into Robofalcon, or things like Puppet Shock and Predatory Might) where your Yurius gets cleared easily and you end up behind on tempo.
The logic in regard to 2-drop priority is similar: on one hand, tempo is a lot more important than health total/overall value in the early game, and on the other hand, cards that have strong Evolve or Enhance effects are better when saved for their relevant turns. For example, this is the reason to play Vira over Doublame and Hnikar on turn 2.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Calamity Bringer is a core card in Vengeance Blood and an optional anti-Haven tech card in Evolve lists. Calamity Bringer is the main reason as for why Vengeance Blood has been hugely favored against Elana Haven (before and after the nerfs) and a key card in the matchup. In addition to that, the card does a lot of extra work with Laura, where it can also do 7 Storm damage, and generally Calamity Bringer, together with Destructive Succubus are the best Laura (and handbuff) targets in Vengeance Blood. In Evolve Blood, Calamity Bringer can be played as a 2-of and it’s very good against Elana Haven and other midrange-y tempo decks, but is more or less a dead draw against Burn/Spellboost Rune and Lishenna Portal, and the health loss from it is not negligible either: quite often your opponent will leave you at 11 health going into turn 7, so Calamity Bringer puts you at 4, which means that you can’t let go of board control for the rest of the game and even puts you in range of things like Ommis, Prime Okami. It should be noted that evolving Calamity Bringer deals 9 damage to random targets that follows a binomial distribution and results in 4.5±1.5 damage with 2 possible targets (3±1.41 for 3; 2.25±1.3 for 4); the variance on it is quite significant. Long story short, don’t evolve Calamity Bringer unless it’s your only out. The random variance can and will screw you over.
- Restless Parish, Blood Pact and Alexandrite Demon are optional card draw effects that can fit into any Blood archetype. Personally, I find Blood Pact too difficult to cast in the early game, and after the Seductress Vampire nerf there is less incentive to include every piece of early game card draw you can. Alexandrite Demon has a lot of the same issues, but is a little more flexible (and slower). With that said, there still is some downside to running Restless Parish: the cycling isn’t actually as free as some players might be inclined to believe, because on one hand, the card can be unplayable in the mid-game if you’re not curving out well, and on the other hand, it doesn’t draw the card immediately, so you are trading efficiency/deck thinning for immediate tempo and information. With that in mind, there are Blood lists that have more flexibility with cards like Bewitching Succubus/Hnikar and various 3-drops like Furfur/Grimnir that can get by without running Parishes.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Burn Rune, Lishenna Portal and Elana Haven. Personally, I find that Angelic Smite is a bad tech card for Vengeance lists because the 2 main matchups that it counters (Lishenna/Elana) are already moderately favored, so in my opinion, it is a bad card for ladder and that card slot is better suited for extra card draw/2-drops/etc. That said, the card is a lot better in a tournament environment since the overwhelming majority of the field tends to bring Haven and the slight percentage increase can be worthwhile.
- Razory Claw and Dark General are a mainstay in the aggressive build of Vengeance Blood and an anti-Rune tech card in the midrange variant. Cards that can be cut for extra reach are usually Medusa or some of the 2-drops.
- Bewitching Succubus/Kiss of Lust/Furfur/Vuella are optional inclusions in Vengeance lists that have mild synergy with cards in the archetype and improve midrange matchups. Bewitching Succubus used to see a lot of play before the Blood nerfs, primarily because the deck didn’t have a proactive 4-drop that it could play going first (specifically, against Rune), and Bewitching Succubus is a reasonable option that can even push some face damage with the Bats that stick on the board. Furfur can either serve as a Lykos activator when going first or add a bit of extra damage for the Laura plan. Unlike Entrancing Blow, Furfur is a turn slower, so you can’t just curve out with Furfur into Yurius, for example, making the card a lot narrower in application. Vuella is a card that has been getting traction recently, and it enables Lykos Berserker when evolved, e.g. going second, you can evolve Vuella on 4 and play out the 4/2 Lykos alongside it, and you can often double dip on the buff if you also have a Laura or a potential target for Laura in your hand.
- Odin, Wargod Ascendant is an optional inclusion in Evolve Blood lists that gets the archetype a bit of extra oomph in the late game. I’ve literally never seen an Evolve Blood deck get to turn 10 without evolving 6 times, and having it alongside Zeus on turn 10 can clear most Wards with the exception of Poseidon/Eachtar and sometimes Adjudication. Personally, I find that Odin is a helpful tool for the deck since it prevents a big point of Zeus counterplay from decks such as Lishenna Portal and Machina Forest. Taking as an example an Evolve Blood list with 3 copies of Unleash/Parish, by turn 10 the deck on average draws 13.5 cards naturally, which on average has 1.0125 of any 3-of in the deck, which results in (on average) 3 extra draws from Parishes/Unleash in total, resulting in roughly 16.5 drawn cards by turn 10. With 3 copies of Odin, the hypergeometric probability of having at least one in your deck is 93.72%, with 2xOdins it’s 83.59% and with one Odin is 58.75%. On the other hand, odds of drawing at least one Odin by that point is 80.79% for 3 copies, 66.09% for 2 copies, and 41.25% for 1 copy. With this in mind, since Zeus has a roughly ~20% failure rate (more on that in the Addendum section), the sweet spot for Odins is 2 copies if you want to have it active about as consistently as the deck’s primary win condition.
- Medusa is a cuttable 5-drop that can be played on curve and be good (albeit not essential) in most matchups. In Vengeance lists, evolving it allows for a Laura setup with other handbuff effects like Hellblaze Demon and Entrancing Blow, and since Medusiana gets triple the benefit from attack buffs, it can outdamage Calamity Bringer/Destructive Succubus against a board with 1 Ward with at least +4/+0 (e.g., two Entrancing Blow), although it does depend on the exact board state and how many handbuff effects you have available. This is a pretty fringe scenario that can occasionally come up against decks like Lishenna Portal and Spellboost Rune. Against most decks, however, it’s generally better to Laura either Calamity Bringer or Destructive Succubus.
Addendum: to Zeus or not to Zeus?
Zeus is a card that rolls the dice for each time that you have evolved a follower during the match, and for each of these rolls, a single outcome out of 5 is selected, adding different effects and stats to the card. In a similar fashion to X-Y-Z cards (Adjudication of Truth, Belphomet and Baleful Necromancer), X-Y cards (The Untrue God) and Orichalcum Golem that perform different, equally probable actions a fixed amount of times, Zeus follows the multinomial distribution for each of the outcomes. With that in mind, I have created a simple chart that shows the damage probability distribution for when Zeus is played with X evolved followers. If Zeus doesn’t get Storm in one of its rolls, the overall damage is, obviously, 0. The number of evolved followers can be adjusted using the slider in the top right of the chart. The upper chart shows the exact probability of Zeus doing a specific amount of damage, and the chart below it shows the cumulative probability (doing X or less damage). In addition to that, the table to the right shows a quick summary of the chart: the average damage values, standard deviations and failure rates (odds of Zeus not getting Storm) for each of the cases. If you’d like to learn how the calculation is performed, you can take a look at this simple spreadsheet, which should be fairly self-explanatory. It should be noted that Zeus‘s average damage follows a linear trend of (-0.17±0.03)+(1.568±0.008)*X, where X is the number of evolved followers. A simple, easy to remember heuristic here is that on average, for every 2 evolved followers, Zeus is going to do 3 damage (rounding 1.568 to 1.5 and -0.17 to 0)
Vengeance Blood matchups
Vengeance Blood is currently the 5th best-performing deck of the Rotation format. The main strengths of the archetype are its good matchups against Haven and Portal, and its only significant weakness is its matchup against Rune decks across the board. The main reason as for why the deck is weak against Rune is that you can’t really use Azazel as a Vengeance activator: Rune decks deal damage in increments of 2 (Delta Cannon/Twinblade Mage) or 3 (Zealot/Clarke), and setting yourself to 10 is a deathwish against Rune. Apart from that, Vengeance Blood is a fairly well-rounded deck that has seen a lot of ladder viability and tournament success.
The “pure” Vengeance Blood is a fairly unpopular deck archetype at the moment and is gradually getting pushed out by hybrid Machina builds because of the overall popularity of Rune. The August balance changes have not had a statistically significant impact for any of the affected decks, and in the case of the well-explored case of Artifact Portal the reason is quite obvious: the Vengeance Blood/Artifact Portal has never really been about board control, but more of a game of cat and mouse with evolved Azazel. Portal has a limited amount of damage, and Destructive Succubi and Calamity Bringers are good at dealing with Portal boards. Most of these factors, however, are also relevant for the hybrid Machina builds, and the difference between the two main Blood builds is that Vengeance Blood is bad against Rune, but good against Haven, while Machina Blood is generally favored against Rune, but struggles against Haven. Because of the recent uptick in Machina Rune (and decline of Elana Haven), Vengeance Blood is currently outperformed by Machina Blood.
Regarding Flauros decks
Identifying cards: Servant of Lust, Prison of Pain, Valnareik, Evil Eye Demon, Diabolus Agito.
At the end of the Vengeance Blood tab menu, there is an example decklist for a deck that has seen fringe play before the Blood nerfs: a deck that runs all the self-damage cards with the new addition of Prison of Pain. This deck is similar to its Unlimited counterpart, and although it is less consistent overall, it can reasonably often get a turn 3 Flauros when going first: the play pattern is to play Disciple on turn 1, then don’t have it cleared on turn 2 (a lot of decks don’t have a removal spell on turn 2), then play Prison of Pain with a Restless Parish on 3 and invoke Flauros, refilling your hand and getting to a point where you only need 2 more procs (one of which is provided by the last Prison of Pain tick) to get an active Valnareik, which can hopefully get enough damage with Wings of Lust. To get to that point, charged up Evil Eye Demons and Diabolus Agito can be used for board control in the midgame.
This game plan can struggle against decks with a lot of healing (e.g., Elana Haven) since the deck has a finite amount of damage, but there are decks in the format that can’t actually win a game against a burn strategy (e.g., Lishenna Portal and slower Evolve decks) that Flauros Blood can exploit, and the “highroll” draw can even beat some midrange decks. The deck has not seen any competitive play and is unlikely to do so without additional support, but it has some potential. It’s easy to look at this archetype and dismiss it as “gimped DFB Blood with no wincon haha”, but Prison of Pain is an extremely powerful card for this type of deck, and the Unlimited version of the deck (with Bloodfed Flowerbed/Gift for Bloodkin/Ambling Wraith/Scorpius/etc.) basically gets a free Flauros on turns 3 and 4 and can consistently deal 20 damage by turn 6. I am exaggerating for dramatic effect, of course, but this deck could get very powerful with additional cards, and in my opinion, it’s only 2-3 cards off from being a competitive Rotation deck. It’s a good thing that Restless Parish/Vira/EED are rotating out with the next set, so we don’t have to worry about it for too long, but the 2 mini-expansion cards could just do the trick.
- Minus ion
(Evolve) Machina BloodSource
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Gearsnake Trainer, Armored Bat, Mechaforge Demon, Metal-Blade Demon, Slayn, Steelwrought Vampire, Mechawing Angel, Technolord.
What does Machina Blood do?
Machina Blood is a midrange deck archetype that is centered around Blood-specific Machina synergy (Gearsnake Tamer/Unleash/Armored Bat/Metal-Blade Demon) to generate card advantage and get to the Mono and Slayn thresholds. The “standard” build of the deck has a focus on generating a big hand size to activate Slayn, which places some deckbuilding constraints on the included followers. The defining characteristics of the archetype include its inherent synergy with other Blood packages, token generation and overall curve consistency.
The deck has come into the spotlight after the Blood nerfs, however, the “standard” Machina Blood build seems to be on a steady decline, slowly being pushed out of the the format by its various hybrids, such as the Vengeance-Machina or even Evolve-Vengeance-Machina builds. In my experience, the deck is very good at curving out and can generate wide boards often, which is good against Spellboost/Burn Rune, but the abundance of Wards in every deck and the popularity of Elana Haven really hamper the deck’s performance between being unable to get through all the Wards (Elana/DLF/Eachtar/etc.) and Kel punishing the Blood player for overextending onto the board.
- Always keep Restless Parish and Unleash the Nightmare.
- Going second, keep Gearsnake Tamer.
- Try to keep a proactive 2-drop, these include Robogoblin/Mechawing Angel/Hoverboard Mercenary/Hellblaze Demon/Gearsnake Tamer. Against proactive decks, when going second, Entrancing Blow can also be justified. Do note that Mono is not a 2-drop.
- If you’re already keeping 2 cards, keep Mechaforge Devil/Metal-Blade Demon. Going second, keeping Destructive Succubus is also fine in that scenario.
- Against reactive classes like Portal/Rune, keep Blood Pact.
- If you’re playing an Azazel list, keep Azazel against Portal.
The mulligan strategy for Machina Blood is fairly straightforward: try to play Unleash on 3, and don’t miss your curve on turns 2 and 4. Compared to the deck’s previous iterations, the main changes that affect the early game plan are Gearsnake Trainer, which is a good evolve target, Hoverboard Merc which replaces itself, Entrancing Blow, a handbuff removal spell that works well with Mono/Slayn, and Mechaforge Devil, which curves out into Metal-Blade Demon and is run in some lists. It’s not too different from how it was before the RoG expansion: play good cards so they are in play, draw cards so that they’re in your hand to make your curve better, and try to set up a curve where you can draw cards with Metal-Blade Demon.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- The “Vengeance package” consisting of Azabazel, Yurius and oftentimes Calamity Bringer is a recent trend in Machina Blood lists that helps against Elana Haven and Lishenna Portal. Lists running the “Vengeance package” usually cut Slayn, Robogoblins, Hellblaze Demons and Entrancing Blow to make room. In addition to that, a lot of regular Machina Blood lists already run Destructive Succubus, which has great synergy with the package as well. This trend shows the overall gradual evolution of the metagame: after the Blood nerfs, a lot of players switched to the good old Slayn Machina Blood as their new preferred Blood deck, then promptly realized that the deck can’t consistently beat Elana Haven and can struggle against Lishenna Portal, and the next logical step is to put in Azazels and 2-3xCalamity Bringers, and if you’re running those cards, you might as well slot in Yurius as well.
- The “Evolve package” is another package that fits well into the Hybrid Machina-Vengeance build, and usually consists of Hnikar/Jafnhar and occasionally a 1-of Zeus. Destructive Succubus also double-dips on the synergy in the triple-hybrid builds of the deck since it both benefits from Calamity Bringers/Azazels getting you into Vengeance range and all the Evolve cards help reduce its cost as well. Triple-hybrid Machina Blood lists often run a 1-of Zeus because a double Mono on 9 curves out into Zeus nicely and the deck needs a bit of extra reach since you’re cutting handbuff effects and Slayn. In this day and age, it is quite insensitive and plain offensive to just call a deck “Machina Blood”. Machina Blood is a spectrum in a 3-dimensional space, and it’s necessary to understand and accept that.
- Restless Parish and Blood Pact are optional card draw effects that improve the deck’s draw consistency and improve the odds of getting Assembly Droids from Unleash (because you’re running fewer followers overall). In the standard Slayn build, a 3xParish with some Blood Pacts is necessary to activate Slayn, but if you run more Machina followers (e.g. Mechaforge Demon), you can get by without the extra card draw.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card for Elana Haven, Lishenna Portal and the mirror matchup. Apart from dealing with amulets, the Banish clause is relevant against Burn Rune (banishes Orichalcum Golem) and in the Machina Blood mirror (answers Enhanced Armored Bat), which were relevant cases for a short while after the Blood nerfs. Generally, Machina Blood has moved on from trying to run Smite to deal with its poor matchups, and the current paradigm shift leans towards Vengeance-Machina builds, which already do fine against Lishenna/Elana. With that said, even though Burn Rune is not that popular currently, not running Slayn makes the matchup considerably worse for Blood, and although it’s probably not the right tech choice, there could be some merit to running Smite in the future.
- Removal cards like Viper Lash and Kiss of Lust are optional inclusions in Slayn builds that improve the odds of getting 2 Assembly Droids from Unleash because the deck runs fewer followers. Kiss of Lust has too little impact for my personal liking, but Viper Lash has some fringe applications against decks that play 2/3-s on curve (e.g., cards like Maisha and Ironknuckle Nun) and has some cute synergy with Gearsnake Tamer if you either play it on 5 or have a curve of Trainer on 2 into Lash on 3.
Machina Blood is one of the better-performing decks of the format, although it is a little polarized: the deck struggles against Elana Haven, but does well against Rune (particularly, against Spellboost lists). It should be noted that a good chunk of Machina Blood data likely refers to the hybrid Evolve-Vengeance-Machina Blood build. Compared to the regular Slayn build, the hybrid Machina Blood build performs better against Portal and Haven, but loses some percentages against Rune since you are less likely to have a good early curve. In my personal experience, the Rune matchups heavily depend on which player goes first since you get to push some early chip damage with 1/1 tokens, and the matchup against the most popular Rune archetype (Machina Rune) seems to rely on getting enough of a tempo lead that the Rune player is forced to use their damage cards for board control. Machina Blood is a very flexible archetype that can take on different forms depending on the expected meta, so it’s likely to continue having success in the near future, whether it’s played as a Slayn-oriented deck or as an amalgamation of various synergy packages.
Identifying cards: Mechanization, Mechagun Wielder, Magisteel Lion, Cat Gunner, Icarus, Sunbound Wing, Displacer Bot, Augmentation Bestowal.
What does Artifact Portal do?
Artifact Portal is a tempo deck that is centered around generating low-cost Artifacts to control the board, cycle cards and enable the “OTK” setup with Maisha, which usually comes online around turn 8-9. The deck follows one of two game plans, the first of which is the “tempo plan”, where you try to build an early tempo lead with Mechagun Wielders and 1-cost Artifacts, generate a wide board and do some early chip damage, then close out the game with `1-2x Radiant Arifacts while cycling aggressively with Augmentation and using your evolve points for extra face damage. The other strategy is the “Maisha plan”, where you control the board while trying to get to 16 dead followers (so that Maisha does 20 damage), then save a 2-3xAugmentation Bestowal (or Acceleratium, which you can play beforehand) and some number of 1-cost Artifacts to get enough discounts for the Maisha combo.
Depending on how many combo pieces you have and how many 1-cost Artifacts are shuffled into your deck, you can sometimes start the combo even if you don’t have enough 1-cost Artifacts in your hand (or dead followers) for the full combo, examples of this include cases where you have an Acceleratium down, 2 or 3 Augmentations and an Analyzing/Ancient Artifact, so you play the Maisha, then Augmentations and the Artifact, trying to find more 1-cost Artifacts or card draw (Mechagun/Magna Giant/other Maisha/etc.). A simple(?) estimate here is that if you count the amount of cards you draw (1 from Maisha, 1 for each Augmentation and an extra 1 if your Artifact is an Analyzing Artifact; 3-5 total) and look at the EV of the number of drawn Artifacts among those draws. If the mean value is 1, then the odds of the play working out is 68-72%, depending on the exact deck size. For example, if you draw 3 cards (2xAugmentations and an Ancient Artifact) and there are 12 Artifacts (and Mechagun Wielders/Maisha/etc.) in your 36-card deck (EV equals exactly 1), you have a hypergeometric probability of 71.65% to be able to continue the chain. Naturally, this is a specific example that doesn’t come up that often, but being able to recognize various edge cases where it’s correct to start combo-ing off earlier than one would expect is the main difference between Artifact Portal and other “APM-intensive” decks like Machina and Spellboost Rune, since you not only need to keep track of your hand/board space and available mana, but also know how many Artifacts you have shuffled into your deck (as well as their types).
The choice between going for the “tempo plan” and the Maisha OTK depends on a variety of factors: namely, on the matchup (against Blood/Rune, you should almost always try to play a tempo game because Azazel prevents Maisha, while Rune has a faster clock than Portal most of the time, but can’t deal with wide boards; against Haven and other midrange-y decks, particularly those that have AoE/healing, you can take your time, control the board without overextending and set up for an eventual Maisha), on your draw (if you have an aggressive curve with Mechagun Wielders and a good 2-drop, it’s better to be aggressive, while if you have strong/reactive midgame cards like Icarus/Displacer Bot/Puppet Shock, it’s preferable to focus on controlling the board) and whether you’re going first/second (if you’re going first, you get the initiative in taking early trades so you can play proactively and force your opponent to deal with your board; and when you’re going second, you get to evolve Icarus/Hamelin/etc. on curve and have an extra evo point, which steers you in the direction of setting up a Maisha OTK). In my personal opinion, a lot of players newer to the archetype tunnel vision on the Maisha plan and lose percentages playing against Blood/Rune. Looking at the difference between going first and second (as seen in this chart that is too big to be hosted on Team Manasurge’s website), Artifact Portal is one of the decks that benefits the most from going first; and while there are other factors to it (e.g., being able to go off with the combo first in the Portal mirror is a huge deal), board-centric matchups like Elana Haven and Machina Sword have a statistically insignificant delta, while tempo-based matchups like Machina Blood/Rune significantly benefit from going first and establishing a tempo lead.
- JCG 10-16
- JCG 10-15
- JCG 10-12
Artifact Portal (JCG 10-16 median decklist)Source
Artifact Portal (JCG 10-15 median decklist)Source
Artifact Portal (JCG 10-12 median decklist, rounded down)Source
- Always keep Magisteel Lion, Displacer Bot, and either Mechagun Wielder or Magna Giant.
- Keep Mechanization with Mechagun Wielder.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, the priority is usually Magisteel Lion/Hoverboard Merc/Cat Gunner. Licht/Zwei are not proactive 2-drops.
- If you’re not keeping a 2-drop into Mechagun hand, keep Angel of the Iron Steed/Maisha. Going first and if you’re not keeping an Artifact-shuffling 2-drop (Magisteel Lion/Cat Gunner) or Mechanization, Angel of the Iron Steed is slightly better than Maisha, if you’re going second and/or keeping Magisteel Lion, Maisha is preferable.
- Keep Puppet Shock against Haven/Blood/Sword/Forest.
- If you’re keeping an early Artifact-shuffling effect and going second without Displacer Bot, keep Icarus/Alterplane Onslaught/Hamelin/Lishenna. Going first, keep Onslaught if you’re keeping Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc/Maisha (and Mechagun with Mechanization).
Artifact Portal mulligans revolve around trying to set up a strong early game curve. The best card in the deck is Displacer Bot which you really want to play on curve since it enables a lot of the deck’s midgame and sets up for faster cycling with Analyzing Artifacts and the Maisha OTK. Because of Displacer Bot/Mechagun Wielder/Alterplane Onslaught, it is also important to keep an early Artifact-shuffling effect that doesn’t bring any card disadvantage, the best examples of which are Magisteel Lion and Angel of the Iron Steed.
The logic for keeping Onslaught is that you keep it if you are in Resonance on turn 4 and have 2 or more Artifacts in your deck, and since you naturally draw an uneven number of cards on even turns when going first, you have to draw an extra card to draw 2 off an Onslaught. Other 4-drops are fine on curve, but 4-cost followers (particularly Hamelin/Icarus) are better than conditional removal spells when going second because tempo is good. Hamelin can be somewhat awkward because you don’t always have a good target (Analyzing/Ancient Artifact or Mechagun Wielder) for it, and copying Angel of the Iron Steed/Cat Gunner/Hoverboard Merc can be awkward since they either dilute your deck with Ancient Artifacts (the first two) or make you run out of Machina cards faster and disable Magna Giant (which can be relevant since Artifact Portal cycles very quickly and often burns cards on Augmentation turns).
If you’re keeping Mechagun Wielder with Mechanization, you play both cards on turn 1, and your second Mechanization choice (one of the choices is always Analyzing) somewhat depend on the matchup and the rest of your hand: if you have a 2-drop but no 3-drop, you can pick Analyzing/Mystic if you want to be really safe with your curve; if you’re playing against Sword/Haven and have a Displacer Bot or an Augmentation Bestowal, you can pick Analyzing/Ancient. If you are confused and/or don’t have a specific plan, you pick Analyzing/Radiant because it’s the best option in a vacuum and it’s not terribly sad to lose the coinflip: you’re still enabling the Icarus evolve effect and other Artifact-drawing effects for future turns, and having the option to send 4 damage upstairs should be useful eventually.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Additional copies of Alterplane Onslaught/Hamelin/Lishenna are optional inclusions that improve midrange matchups like Elana Haven, Machina Sword/Forest. After the balance patch, early Portal lists ran full playsets of Displacer Bot/Icarus/Onslaught, which has turned out to be a little too heavy since all of those cards compete with Displacer Bot. The general theory in card games like Hearthstone/Shadowverse (where you get an extra mana/play point every turn) is that even-costed cards are better than odd-costed cards by design (because on odd-mana turns even cards float one mana; if you add up 2 odd-costed cards you get an even number, but if you add up 2 even-costed cards you get an even number), because odd cards are more efficient at spending mana, which is why there is usually a lot of competition for 2- and 4-drops, but (usually) only 1-2 options for playable 3- and 5-drops. This is a completely irrelevant tangent, but long story short, Portal has a lot of good 4-drops and you don’t want to run more than 7-8 in total. In terms of functionality, Icarus is the most versatile option since it draws cards towards your Maisha setup (Augmentation/Mechagun) but can sometimes hit Mechanization which is not always desirable. Onslaught is the best reactive option which makes it good against midrange decks like Haven/Sword/Forest, but it can be a poor draw against Machina decks and Rune in general. Hamelin is very conditional, but the best pay-off of any 4-drop in the class, and the aggressive statline lets it trade with evolved 3/4s when going first (Tetra/Elana) and trade up against evolved 5-drops. Hamelin is sometimes played as a 1-of. Lishenna is an extra threat in the deck that is good against specifically Haven because it trades really well. A less-known synergy is that Lishenna tokens are Artifacts and can “cheat” one mana and draw a card with Augmentation/Acceleratium.
- Low-cost Puppet-generating cards like Zwei/Licht/Puppet Shock are a necessity in a deck that uses Maisha as its win condition. Zwei is the most efficient of the 3, so it’s more or less a universal 3-of, but Licht/Puppet Shock are somewhat optional, with Licht usually run at 2-3 copies and Puppet Shock run at 0-3 copies. The rule of thumb here is that if you want to play other 2-drops (e.g., extra Hoverboard Mercenaries), you cut a Licht, and if you want to play 2-3xAlterplane Onslaught or a third Angel of the Iron Steed, you cut Puppet Shock(s). The weak point of Puppet Shock is that it can often be a dead draw against Rune, but if you’re facing a lot of proactive decks (particularly, Elana Haven, Machina Forest and slower Yurius decks), Puppet Shock is good because it’s literally one of the best removal spells in the game; it’s just that good removal spells (that have little synergy in the deck and can’t hit face) are not necessarily great in a tempo deck.
- Hoverboard Mercenary is an optional 2-drop that has a shot at finding either Displacer Bot or Mechagun Wielder and even when it misses, it hits Magna Giant, allowing for another attempt. The card is somewhat slow and is often worse than other 2-drops in the deck, so it’s usually played at 1-2 copies, but if you’re building a deck to specifically beat slow decks like Haven, it can be justifiable to run a full playset.
- Alpha Core is a tech card against Elana Haven and the Portal mirror. The application of the card is that you can either play it for 7 to restore an Evolve point in the late game, and/or set up for a Maisha OTK if you don’t have 2 mana-refunding effects like Acceleratium/Augmentation (since it refunds 2 mana when you evolve Maisha, you can play the Core on 7 and then go for a Maisha on turn 8). The problem with Alpha Core is that it’s a dead draw in the early game and can clog up your Hoverboard/Magna Giant draws. The effect basically does nothing on curve and even makes your future draws a little worse (Ancient/Bifubricating Artifacts are not something you want to have a lot of in your deck because they lose you card advantage in the long run). I personally really dislike Alpha Core because the card loses you a lot of percentages against Rune/Blood and seems like an unnecessary crutch in matchups that should already be Portal-favored.
- Amulet destruction effects such as Angelic Smite (and to a lesser extent, Slash of the One/Seraphic Blade) are tech cards for Elana Haven with some other fringe applications. Seraphic Blade was mildly popular on the first day after the Displacer Bot buff because it could destroy Acceleratium and delay Maisha for a turn, but Artifact Portal mirrors are ultimately decided by which player goes first, and Seraphic Blade loses you percentages against token decks (Machina Rune/Blood/Forest/Sword), so it’s not that great currently. A 1-of Angelic Smite is a sensible inclusion in any midrange-y Shadowverse deck if you’re struggling with Haven, but the Haven matchup is generally considered Portal-favored, so it’s mostly a tournament-specific tech choice.
- Silva and to a lesser extent Metadivision are tech cards against Azazel decks. The idea is that Artifact Portal can cycle cards fast enough so losing card advantage should be fairly negligible, but in practice, that has turned out not to be the case, and Silva does actually make your early game significantly worse. In my experience, another problem with Silva is that the card is not actually that great against Azazel decks because if you play it early, the Blood player isn’t going to evolve Azazel in the first place because of how the curve lines up. In my opinion, Silva is a trap and loses you percentages against good players, even if you’re playing against a predominantly Blood-saturated field.
Artifact Portal performs well against midrange board-centric decks like Elana Haven, Machina Forest and Ramp Dragon, but can struggle against Azazel decks and Aggro Sword. Artifact Portal is one of the better decks in tournament play for 2 reasons: on one hand, it usually has a deck it’s favored against in most Conquest lineups, and on other hand, even in it’s “unfavored” matchups, it’s facing a 45/55 at the very worst. In addition to that, the deck has a steep learning curve, so it requires a lot of practice, and as such, it is represented more commonly in tournament play rather than on ladder. In a lot of ways, Artifact Portal is similar to Machina Rune (except it’s slightly worse at everything): it’s highly consistent, good at clearing boards and can cheat mana in the midgame. The relevant weak point of the deck in the current format is its Aggro Sword matchup (which is better for Machina Rune with Magitech Golem/Technolords), so I personally see very little reason to play Artifact Portal over Machina Rune, but if you’re limited by class restrictions (e.g., in a tournament environment or if you’re allergic to playing Rune), it’s a powerful deck to play (in a somewhat nonobvious way).
Note: it is debatable whether the Magna Giant/Hoverboard Mercenary package is a core part of the deck, but I personally consider it crucial in the archetype, more on that in the later sections.
Identifying cards: Joy of Destruction, Windup, Marionette Lad, Licht, the Gearturner, Apostle of Destruction, Destructive Refrain.
What does Lishenna Portal do?
Lishenna Portal is a control archetype that involves controlling the board using cards that generate multiple followers (most notably, Puppet tokens), which discount Lishenna Amulet tokens and add to the Maisha damage. A sub-theme of the archetype is the interaction between Lishehnna and its Amulet tokens with cards that require you to destroy allied followers or amulets, these include cards like Joy of Destruction, Disciple of Destruction and Destructive Refrain. The defining characteristics of Lishenna Portal are its high draw reliance, powerful (but conditional) AoE effects and the inevitability factor of Destruction in Black and Maisha.
Compared to its previous iterations, the archetype has gotten a lot of new tools between Puppet Shock, Licht, Zwei and the aforementioned Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc. Zwei and Puppet Shock are very simple modal cards that simply do a lot for their cost at all stages of the game. Licht is a conditional healing card in two ways: on one hand, saving Puppets (and other Lichts) gives incentive to save resources to get a lot of healing in matchups where health total matters; and, on the other hand, Licht has an “expiration date”, where you can’t play it in the late stages of the game with Destruction in Black in play for board space reasons: two board spaces are taken up by amulets and your Puppets don’t have anything to trade into. For that reason, Licht requires a bit of forethought and planning: against burn-based decks (e.g. Burn Rune/Vengeance Blood), it can be worthwhile to intentionally delay your win condition in order to maximize your available healing.
- Always keep Magna Giant, Hoverboard Mercenary, Maisha and Lishenna.
- If you’re not keeping Lishenna and are playing against a slower class like Portal/Rune/Dragon, keep Disciple of Destruction.
- If you’re already keeping Lishenna, keep Mechawing Angel/Puppet Shock/Troupemaster.
- Against Sword/Blood/Forest, keep Puppet Shock regardless of the other cards.
The mulligan strategy for Lishenna Portal involves trying to have Lishenna on curve, because it enables a lot of cards in the archetype, so it’s necessary to keep most of the efficient card draw. Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc can’t draw Lishenna themselves, but provide you with an early curve; early deck thinning (that starts on turn 1!) is also moderately relevant. I also mentioned Puppet Shock as it’s an important card to answer a turn 3 Yurius, Autoblade Patroler or a Bagworm into Mechaclaw Elf.
Regarding the Magna Giant package
A full playset of Magna Giant/Hoverboard Mercenary/Mechawing Angel is technically an optional package that I would personally consider mandatory in Lishenna Portal. A big problem with Lishenna Portal is that a lot of the deck’s early cards are very vanilla and don’t actually do anything particularly unfair by themselves. Magna Giant and Hoverboard Merc can actually unconditionally cycle themselves on turns 1 and 2, in addition to that, a significant amount of the time the cards chain into one another: Magna Giant can’t draw itself, so if you play it on 1, you have a 50/50 of having Merc on 2, which in turn gets you a 57.14% of hitting another card draw effect, which you can then play on turn 3 and hit another one, and so on. Eventually, the chain stops when you hit Mechawing Angel, but at every point that it happens, you are spending all your mana every turn (except for turn 3 where you float 1 mana), getting tempo and thinning your deck. In addition to that, a very important aspect of the package is its impact in the later stages of the game: a turn 7 Magna Giant can often do 5-6 damage to the board and protect you from incoming Storm damage. And the best part of it is that when it doesn’t do enough damage, you can just cycle it! Another important aspect of the package is that Lishenna Portal can often have spots against various decks where it has Destruction in Black in play, at which point the deck is only vulnerable to Storm and burn damage (and Angelic Smite), so it needs Wards to protect itself against things like Maisha/Heavenly Aegis/etc., at which point the mana efficiency of the Wards doesn’t really matter and even mediocre Wards like Mechawing Angel are big enough to protect from Storm damage/tank Aegis hits, etc. The deck thinning aspect is only marginally important: the hypergeometric probability of evolving Lishenna on curve (having it in your first 7 cards) is 44.77%; and if you, let’s say, get a good chain and draw 4 Machina cards from your deck by that time, a simple estimate here is that you’re trying to find Lishenna in a 36-card deck, the hypergeometric probability of which is 48.82%. A quick heuristic here is that each of the cards drawn with the Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc package improves your odds of having Lishenna on curve by roughly 1% (if you do a regression analysis, it is actually 1.157%).
Other optional inclusions and tech cards
- Marionette Lad and Windup are cheap Puppet generation card that get begrudgingly included in Lishenna Portal lists due to the necessity of having a certain critical mass of Puppet generation to get to Maisha/Lishenna thresholds. These cards are very cuttable, but you should generally aim to have 3-5 of them in a Magna Giant/Hoverboard Merc list if you want the deck to function properly.
- Puppet Troupemaster is a broad tech choice that improves midrange matchups, more specifically, helps against Machina decks and other token-based strategies. Troupemaster is in a similar category of cards to MarioLad/Windup, but the difference between those cards and Troupemaster is that it competes for Evolve points with Maisha/Lishenna, and with how popular Angelic Smite is, you can’t rely on just having Lishenna as your win condition. These factors have pushed Troupemaster out of a lot of recent Lishenna lists.
- Inspired Inventor was an optional inclusion in earlier build of the archetype. A big upside of Inventor is that it enables Disciple of Destruction in the early game, but the overall level of consistency of the deck without the Magna Giant/Hoverboard has proven to be inferior across the board. Inventor lists usually run full playsets of MarioLad/Windup/Troupemaster, so the overall card quality is somewhat lower.
- Apostle of Destruction is an optional inclusion in the archetype that serves two primary functions: on one hand, it allows for some counterplay against Amulet-banishing effects like Angelic Smite, and on the other hand, it can discount Maisha to 0, allowing for pre-turn-10 lethal setups (this can be done either on turn 7 with Maisha into Apostle or when Maisha is played on curve and doesn’t get cleared before turn 4). Apart from that, Apostle has some other fringe applications like targeting a Disciple of Destruction for extra card draw or targeting Licht for an extra point of healing and +2 to the Maisha counter.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card for Elana Haven, Burn Rune and the mirror match. Compared to a lot of other decks in the format, Lishenna Portal is not a midrange-y tempo deck, so Smite aligns with the deck’s gameplan a lot better and even has some additional synergy against miscellaneous Last Word cards like Armored Bat.
- Catherine, Epicurean Angel is a tech card against Burn Rune and Vengeance Blood. Burn Rune in general is a miserable matchup for Lishenna Rune, but with an early Lishenna, a good double Licht turn and a Catherine you can potentially get to stabilize against Burn Rune and live long enough to get to a Maisha lethal. Against Vengeance Blood (and Azazel decks in general), Lishenna Portal has two lines of play that lead to winning games: either you get a Lishenna on curve and stabilize to live for ~13-15 turns against a deck with 3xLaura, or you don’t (win). Certainly, there are cases when the Blood player doesn’t have Azazel in their first ~14-ish cards (26.32%) or doesn’t have Laura (or Zeus, for the very similar case of Evolve Blood) before turn 10, but those are not something you can reliably count on. Catherine is a card that help you stabilize if the Blood player only draws one Laura or doesn’t wait to turn 10 to play it.
- The Silva/Cucouroux package has seen some fringe with the new Orchis in a more aggressive Puppet Portal build, some of which also run Lishenna in the same deck. Puppet Portal in and of itself is not a real deck since the overall card quality is low (and its high reliance on drawing Silva early), but Orchis is a decent anti-Blood tech card for Lishenna Portal. The card is not that great against Rune (defensively) and doesn’t do a lot against Haven, so it’s not particularly good in the current Rotation format, but could become better in the future.
Lishenna Portal is a fairly poor-performing and not particularly popular in the Rotation format. The deck generally gets outshone by Artifact Portal in tournament play because of its awkward matchup spread; but on ladder it struggles against Vengeace Blood (and Azazel decks in general), Aggro Sword (since it can’t interact with Leods), Artifact Portal (since it’s more or less uses the same engine, but goes off 2-3 turns slower) and Ramp Dragon (since it can’t pressure the Dragon player and Satan discourages from going for the Lishenna plan). Lishenna Portal does decently well against Rune, Machina Blood and Elana Haven. The deck has seen some fringe success in tournament play during the early stages of different post-patch environments, but it has been rapidly phasing out of competitive play over time.
Aggro (a.k.a. Ambush, or Leod) Sword
Identifying cards: King’s Welcome, Well of Destiny, Forge Weaponry, Sgathaich, Craving’s Splendor, Dualblade Flurry.
What does Aggro Sword do?
Aggro Sword is an aggressive combo deck that revolves around Leod (and its 2 tutor effects, King’s Welcome and Everlasting Castle) in conjunction with buff effects (Well of Destiny/Forge Weaponry/etc.), as well as attack buffs like Craving’s Splendor and Dualblade Flurry that allow the archetype to set up 2-turn lethals (and sometimes even “OTK”s) around turns 6-7. Aggro Sword lists can’t include any Commander cards or 2-drops (other than Leod), so the deck has some deckbuilding constraints, which often means that it has to run a significant amount of Amulets, reactive Spells and pseudo-Spells (Jiraiya/Sgathaich/Dionne). The defining characteristics of Aggro Sword are its ability to blank targeted removal, short game length and highly polarized matchups.
- Always keep King’s Welcome, Everlasting Castle and Leod. The priority is Welcome -> Castle -> Leod.
- Against non-Portal/Dragon classes, keep multiple Leods/tutors.
- If you don’t have a Leod or any of the tutor effects, mulligan away all 3 cards.
- If you have a Leod, keep Ivory Sword Dance and early-game buff cards (Well of Destiny/Forge Weaponry/Sgathaich/Strategic Assembly, in order of priority).
- If you’re already keeping a Leod or a tutor effect, as well as one of the early-game buff effects, also keep Ivory Sword Dance.
- If you’re keeping Leod/Castle (and not King’s Welcome), keep Quickblader against non-Haven classes.
The mulligan plan for Leod Sword is fairly straightforward: the primary goal is to have Leod on 2. With the described mulligan strategy, you have a 80.82% probability of having it in your opening hand. Tempting as it may be to keep certain matchup-specific cards, the deck doesn’t really function without an early Leod, so I think it’s generally correct to follow this conservative mulligan approach. If you have a Leod, early buff effects and Ivory Sword Dance are the best-performing early game cards in my personal testing (going by played % and winrate), with marginal differences between one another; in terms of played %, buff cards (in descending order) are Weaponry > Sgathaich > Well > Assembly; in terms of winrate it’s Well > Weaponry ~ Sgathaich > Assembly. In some matchups (e.g., Lishenna Portal or Spellboost Rune), you can justify keeping Craving’s Splendor or Dualblade Flurry as your third card in a Leod+buff hand, but I personally think that it’s quite greedy and it should be safer to look for better early game cards instead. Against specifically Haven, it’s often important to keep single-target removal for their midgame tempo spike.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Before the mini-expansion, Brave Intervention used to be a key card in the archetype as the second tutor effect for Leod. The card was run in some early mini-expac lists, however, more up-to-date lists have started to exclude it for 2 main reasons: on one hand, not limiting your card pool allows you to squeeze in 2-3 Quickbladers, which help the archetype in unfavored matchups where your LeodLeods, you are out of Leods after drawing 8 total cards 38.12% of the time). For that reason, most of the recent Ambush Sword lists run Quickbladers and not Intervention.
- Strategic Assembly is an optional inclusion that helps against Rune and Portal. The card is more or less a worse Well of Destiny, but helps if you want to have some additional redundancy. Aggro Sword can sometimes have board space issues with Castles/Wells, so Assembly going away after 3 turns can be somewhat of an upside, but in matchups with random damage the fact that Assembly doesn’t give any extra toughness is an issue. In my opinion, Strategic Assembly is a bit of a trap: it improves the deck’s good matchups and makes its bad matchups worse; this type of effect does speed up the deck’s clock, however, so if you’re specifically interested in playing as many games as possible, going more aggressive with Assemblies could be a good choice for grinding ladder games.
- Slash of the One and Angelic Smite are functionally similar cards that help the most against Haven. Realistically speaking, both of these effects are worse that Jiraiya, because you’re still playing a tempo game, so the choice of whether to run these cards (or which split to include) depends on personal preference and expected/local meta (What is a “local meta”? Is “local meta” even real?). In my testing, running a 3/1 split, the Elana matchup is ~40/60 (so, still highly unfavored), so Slash/Smite don’t fix the entire problem, but they certainly help (aggregate ladder data shows a ~30/70 matchup, for comparison).
- Dionne is an optional inclusion that helps against midrange-y decks like Blood and Machina Rune, mostly as a worse Usurping Spineblade. A specific application for Dionne is that it can clear Sneks from Destructive Succubi and other 3-toughness Wards that come down around turn 7 like Eachtar and Poseidon.
- Albert, Levin Champion is a somewhat common 1-of that improves the deck’s poor matchups and can be tutored up with Castle for a bit of extra damage when your Leod gets cleared. Albert is the only Rotation-legal Storm card that costs a sensible amount for the damage it does, doesn’t disrupt King’s Welcome or overlap with any other mana slots in the deck (e.g., like Zeta with Sgathaich). Albert is basically a big Quickblader.
Risks and dangers
Aggro Sword is a fairly straightforward deck, but there are a few matchup-specific threats that you have to keep in mind. To estimate the risk factors, I have compiled a simple table (shown to the right) showing the hypergeometric probability of having a specific card(s) depending on the number of drawn cards. The first column shows the number of turns by which the specified number of cards gets drawn (without any additional card draw), as a point of reference. The specific categories I’m looking at include cases of drawing 1 or more of a specific 3-of card; a case of drawing two different (1 or more) copies of two different 3-ofs; 2 copies of a specific 6-of (ehich is a similar case to the previous column, but also includes the 2+/0+ and 0+/2+ splits in addition to the 1+/1+ case); a case for drawing 2 or more copies of a specific 3-of card; and a case for drawing 3 or more copies of a specific 6-of. In most matchups, you’re playing around a specific answer, which includes either 0, 1 or 2 different cards, and this table is a simple reference point for when and how likely these threats can come into play.
Matchup-specific play patterns
- A category of Aggro Sword matchups are the “Voltron matchups”, these include Spellboost Rune, Ramp Dragon, Artifact and Lishenna Portal. All of these decks have no way of interacting with Ambush cards aside from an occasional Ward or a very late-game effect, so in those matchups you should usually just attempt to play an early Leod, stack a bunch of buffs on it, and (if you draw your damage cards in time) set up lethal around turn 7. The unique point about these matchups is that you don’t want to play more than one Leod early on, in order to ensure that your Well/Assembly buffs go on the same body, so that your clock is as fast as it can be. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore board control, of course, but removal spells like Spineblade and Ivory Sword Dance should be sufficient to keep up in tempo. Against these decks it’s good to use Craving aggressively (e.g., Craving into Sword Dance instead of just playing an enhanced Sword Dance).
- The Machina Rune matchup comes down to 2 cards: Technolord and Magitech Golem. These cards come online after the Mechabook Sorcerer turn (usually, turn 6), and a single Magitech Golem/Technolord is usually not enough to clear an undamaged Leod, so the factor to play around is your opponent having 2 or more of those cards (e.g., a Magitech/Technolord or double Magitech/Technolord). To that end, it’s important to keep track of how many 1-cost token the Rune player has (from Robogoblin/Jetbroom/Tetra/etc.) and the damage count for Technolord. Depending on how many cards the Rune player has drawn (and how good their early curve has been), you have a 40.98%-64.95% chance of the Rune player having 2+ of the threatening cards. The way to play around this depends on how many Leods you have: if you only have 1, you have to “cash in” the Leod damage after the opponent plays Mechabook Sorcerer and expect it to get cleared; if you have multiple, play and Evolve the “secondary” Leods and don’t trade with them to better tank the random damage.
- Slayn-based Machina Blood usually puts you on a 6-turn clock: it’s very difficult to come back after a handbuffed Slayn hits (if it doesn’t win the game outright). In the early stages of the game, Entrancing Blow can snipe an unbuffed Leod, which is particularly relevant when going first. In addition to that, Technolord can be a factor in the later stages of the game. For these reasons, the correct line of play is usually to ignore the board state and attempt to set up lethal before turn 6, which is more or less impossible if you’re going second, because the Blood player will get to their turn 6 first. For these reasons, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t (go first) in the matchup, and it’s usually an auto-loss.
- Hybrid Machina Blood builds, Vengeance and Evolve Blood usually revolve around Azazel and Destructive Succubus. The way to play around Azazel is to try and set a 2-turn lethal with multiple Leods and/or Quickbladers; basically, don’t stack buffs on a single Leod. It’s also important to keep track of the potential lowest cost of Destructive Succubi, primarily because of the 3-damage AoE effect that can clear Leods if you trade or play Craving, but also because the 1/1 Wards can slow you down if you don’t save a Sword Dance/Dionne or 1-damage Spell tokens to clear. Another card to mention here is Calamity Bringer, most hybrid lists don’t run the card, but some include it as a 2-of. Broadly speaking, the way to play around Calamity Bringer is to set the Blood player to 11 or 12 health and save some reach for later, but if the Blood player is already in Vengeance, Calamity Bringer is more or less impossible to play around for Sword.
- Elana Haven has no real way of clearing Ambush followers, and the matchup mostly comes down to the Haven player evolving Elana on curve (a ~49.80% from my estimate). If the Haven player has Elana, it’s very difficult to keep up in tempo, but even when they don’t, Haven still has access to a lot of Wards and healing. The general plan against Elana Haven is to hope they don’t have Elana early and try to keep the board clear while setting up an OTK turn with Dualblade Flurry. Some Elana lists run Realm of Repose, which is another hurdle to get over, but it’s usually only a 1-of or a 2-of.
- Burn Rune has 2 cards to worry about: going second as Sword, Magisa sniping Leod on turn 3, as well as Erasmus on 6. Both of these cards are very telegraphed and require some prior setup, so there are ways to play around them (don’t trade with the main Leod, don’t use Craving if it puts your Leod into the 4-damage range). Apart from that, it’s a fairly straightforward tempo matchup and so long as you don’t make a huge mistake (like putting Leod into Erasmus range, or letting Melvie/Legendary Fighter stick on the board on turn 4), it’s generally Sword-favored.
- Recent Machina Forest lists don’t usually run Tecnolord, Predatory Might or Fairy Refuge, but they do occasionally include a 2-of May. Double May can potentially clear a buffed Leod, but it’s not very likely and can only occur after turn 7-ish, so the main factors in this matchup are mostly high-tempo cards like Cynthia, Okami and Miracle of Love. If you can line up Ivory Sword Dance(s) with Machina Forest threats, you should be favored, but the number of threats/answers obviously doesn’t line up (because 3 is less than 9), so the probability of that happening is roughly in the 15%-20% range, which means that you can’t play a control game against Forest and should aim to race instead.
- Shadow decks have a lot of answers for Aggro Sword: Control/Reanimate lists commonly play 3xSonata of Silence, which removes Ambush from Leod and sometimes can stick a large threat at the same time, Lara on 5 into enhanced Sonata on 6 usually clears your board, which means that you have to play around the Shadow player having a copy 2 different 3-ofs (roughly 24.8%-34.7%, depending on the draw), which is not very likely, but can happen sometimes. PtP lists run 2-3xFatal Fields and sometimes even Mechasaw Deathbringers; so you mostly have to play around the Shadow player drawing 1 or more Fatal Fields by turn 4, which happens roughly 44.78% – 54.50% of the time, depending on the amount of card draw. In addition to that, some Shadow lists also run Plagued City, which can also deal with buffed Leod(s) in the later stages of the game. The way to play against Shadow usually involves using Leods for face damage as early as possible and try to close out the game afterwards with Quickbladers using some leftover buffs. The Shadow matchup is generally bad for Sword, but the saving grace here is that Shadow decks don’t put on a lot of pressure in the midgame, so you get a lot of time to try to find extra damage; and people with common sense usually don’t play Shadow, so unfavored as it may be, it’s not a super common matchup.
Aggro Sword preys on reactive decks like Burn/Spellbost Rune and Lishenna/Artifact Portal that have no real way of interacting with Ambush followers, but can struggle against decks with Technolord/untargeted damage (e.g. Magitech Golem) as well as Azazel/Calamity Bringer. Aggro Sword is currently the most popular Sword deck in the Rotation format and its popularity is on an upward trend, although it doesn’t seem to be performing all that well because of how popular Blood is. Aggro Sword has seen a fair bit of tournament success and it’s a reasonable (if polarized) ladder deck. The deck’s polarity are both its greatest strength and weakness: it means that the deck can usually find a niche for itself in the format (where it’s more or less guaranteed to beat some portion of the ladder meta and it has a ~70/30 matchup against at least one deck in the common Conquest lineups); but it also means that the deck can be very frustrating to play if you hit your bad matchups. Sometimes, you can queue into Portal/Rune over and over and think that the deck is really consistent and powerful, but you can also repeatedly queue into triple Calamity Bringer/Fatal Fields/etc decks and have a miserable time. In that sense, Aggro Sword is a very good deck if you manage to face the right portion of the meta, but can underperform because of its swingy matchup RNG.
(Evolve) Midrange SwordSource
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Autoblade Patroller, Stampeding Fortress, Johann, Ironforged Hero, Technolord, Blazing Lion Admiral.
What does Machina Sword do?
Machina Sword is a midrange tempo decks that utilizes Sword-specific Machina synergy cards such as Autoblade Patroller and Stampeding Fortress. The natural capacity of Swordcraft token generation with other cards like Cybercannonner/Latham/etc. feed into effects like Blazing Lion Admiral, and to an extent, Johann and Technolord. The defining characteristics of Machina Sword include its potential to generate wide boards, ample answers to other token decks (with Ivory Sword Dance/Technolord) and a straightforward macro game plan.
The main change to the archetype after RoG release is that it has lost access to its main source of reach, Celia which broadly applies to all Sword decks. It’s not all bad, however, because Hoverboard Mercenary and Autoblade Patroller fit into the deck very nicely and work well with a lot of other cards already prevalent in the deck (e.g. Autoblade Patroller pairs nicely with Ivory Sword Dance, and Hoverboard Mercenary feeds into Stampeding Fortress/Patroller card requirement thresholds).
- Always keep Hoverboard Mercenary, Aether and Autoblade Patroller.
- Going second, if you’re not keeping Aether, keep Stampeding Fortress.
- If you’re playing a list with a Levin package, keep “Meet the Levin Sisters!“.
- Going first, Cybercannoneer is fine to keep as a 4-drop.
- If you’re not keeping Levin Sisters or Hoverboard Mercenary, keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Robogoblin/Mechawing Angel/Cybercannoneer, in order of priority.
- Keep Octrice against Forest/Shadow. If you have prior knowledge that you’re playing against Burn Rune or Machina Blood, also keep Octrice.
The mulligan strategy for Machina Sword involves keeping the good cards and trying to get a smooth curve. Autoblade Patroller can be a little awkward in the early game if it’s not active on curve, in which case you have to save it for turn 5 with a 2-drop and play somewhat off-curve. Evolving Stampeding Fortress is one of the more unfair things Machina Sword can do, which also makes Aether better by extension.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Octrice is a tech card against Machina Blood, as well as all forms of Forest and Shadow. Stealing Armored Bat and denying Liza draws is a reasonably powerful, if narrow effect, however Octrice also has other minor applications, e.g., it can steal Hnikar‘s Last Words against various Evolve decks; and even denying a Repair Mode from Elana Haven/Machina Rune’s Robogoblin is a bit of value that also happens to help activate Autoblade Patroller/Stampeding Fortress.
- Usurping Spineblade and Dionne are optional inclusions that help against other midrange decks.
- Meet the Levin Sisters! and 1-2x preferred Levin follower(s) is a reasonable optional inclusion in the deck. Being able to play a card on turn 1 that makes your curve slightly better and doesn’t affect Fortress activators is a fairly good effect, and Levin Sisters are also a good turn 7 play. The problem with the “Levin package” is that most Levin cards are, frankly speaking, mediocre, with the best options being Jeno and Albert. In my opinion, Albert is pretty terrible in most matchups, so the best version of the package (in my testing) has been 3xLevin Sisters with 2xJeno. This leaves a reasonably high chance of either drawing a Jeno when the card is kept on 1 or having Jeno in hand for the turn 7 Enhance, where you play Jeno instead of the 2-drop and get the 4/3 Rush token and evolve the vanilla 3/3 dude for free. This leaves you with a Jeno that threatens another free evolve next turn and is overall a powerful tempo swing.
Machina Sword is a deck that has aged poorly over the course of the expansion. The archetype is generally favored against Spellboost Rune and Vengeance Blood, where it can get a lot of leverage and early pressure from repeatedly generating wide boards, but it struggles against most of the other popular decks of the format. After the mini-expansion, the deck has barely seen any play at all, and despite how little data there is for the deck currently, I still personally consider more or less unplayably bad in the current Rotation environment.
Identifying cards: Quickblader, Rapier Master, Servant of Usurpation, Lecia, Sky Saber, Apostle of Usurpation, Alwida, Pirate Queen.
What does Midrange Sword do?
Midrange Sword is a midrange deck (duh) that utilizes tribal synergy between various Swordcraft packages: this includes the “Levin package” (consisting of Levin Sisters and various Levin followers), the “Lecia package” (consisting of Lecia and low-cost Officers like Quickbladers/Rapier Masters/Servants of Usurpation) and the “Alwida package” (consisting of various Loot-generating cards, Alwida and Apostle of Usurpation). The defining characteristics of the archetype include its capacity of double-dipping on various synergy effects, curve flexibility because of various Accelerate/Enhance effects and the ability to deal with token-based boards due to Ivory Sword Dance.
After the expansion, Midrange Sword lost access to Chromatic Duel and Celia, and while Chromatic Duel has gotten a functional replacement, not having Celia means that the the archetype is a lot worse at closing out games. In addition to that, the shift in the meta and the overall powercreep of the RoG expansion left Midrange Sword, a deck that has been using a vanilla 8-drop as its primary win condition for the last 8 months, somewhat lacking in many aspects.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Alwida, Pirate Queen is a pay-off card that is commonly included in Midrange Sword lists. The card usually requires a bit of additional support with optional Loot-generating effects like Servant of Usurpation/Spineblade/Octrice. Alwida is a pretty good 4-drop, and it even has some fringe synergy with Celia since it summons Officers. The glaring problem with Alwida is its cost: since it needs a Loot card to activate, it effectively costs 8 (well, the fact that it actually costs 7 matters since it can be tutored with Aether), and even if you randomly happen to have the best Loot card for it (Gilded Boots), it still compares unfavorably to a lot of similar effects in the format: cards like Eachtar and Okami cost 7, Destructive Succubus (usually) costs 6-7, and AoE effects that Alwida overextends into like Calamity Bringer, Kel or even Magna Giant, cost 7 or less. Long story short, Alwida is very unreliable as a threat, and even when compared to cards from the same deck (e.g. Dragon Knights), the card is underwhelming on most board states. The saving grace of the “Alwida package” is that Alwida very flexible, so it’s on par with cards like Cybercannonneer in pre-RoG Midrange Sword lists.
- “Meet the Levin Sisters!” is the centerpiece of the “Levin package” and is a card that requires you to play at least a few Levin followers of some sort. I have already gone over my general stance of the Levin package in the Machina Sword section, but to sum it up, playtesting has shown that most Levin followers are fairly mediocre and the least bad of the bunch is Jeno, which makes for a sensible 4-5 card package with 3xLevin Sisters and 1-2xJeno. To be fair, some Levin followers do have a bit of extra synergy in Midrange Sword lists, e.g. Lounes being able to attack twice is very relevant post-Latham with buffs from Gilded Necklaces and Enhanced Ivory Sword Dance (the catch being that you have to somehow manage to play Latham and live to see the following turn); and how Albert is a pretty sensible card against reactive decks like Lishenna Portal, for example (the catch being that it doesn’t really help you beat Elana Haven or a Blood deck of any type). However, even with those additional factor at play, none of these cards really make the cut in more recent MidSword lists. In my opinion, Levin cards really suffer from the engine limitations of cards having only 1 tribe: for example, if Jeno (and Lounes/Archer, too) were Levin Officers, they could double dip on the synergy as Lecia activators, which would not only be flavorful, but also a slight buff to a fairly weak deck, bordering on the level of a QoL fix.
- Angelic Smite and, to a lesser extent, Sellsword Lucius are tech cards against primarily Elana Haven.
- Ernesta, Magic Dealer is an optional inclusion in the Servant of Usurpation slot that can capitalize on the “Alwida package” by turning bad Loot cards into actual card advantage. Since Alwida on 4 generates 2 different Loot cards, and a bunch of other cards come with “free” Loot tokens, Ernesta could be a potentially relevant card in future sets, when Midrange Sword becomes a more competitive (and refined) deck.
Midrange Sword is the second worst-performing Rotation deck (with a statistically significant matchup data sample), following Reanimate Shadow. There is something to be said for the potential power level of Everlasting Castle in a midrange toolbox-style build of Sword, but a lot of cards in the deck don’t function particularly well with Castle, and even without taking into account the miserable matchup against Machina Rune and Elana Haven, Midrange Sword has a lot of issues and is one of the decks in the current Rotation format that I would personally advise not to touch with a ten-foot pole.
Identifying cards: Robotic Bagworm, Robogoblin, Cleft, Dual Fencer, Hoverboard Mercenary, Mechaclaw Elf, Ironbow Sniper.
What does Machina Forest do?
Machina Forest is a midrange deck that combines efficient tempo tools available to Forest decks with a package of synergistic Machina cards (Bagworm/Hoverboard Merc/Cleft/Guard of the Machinatree/Mechaclaw Elf/Ironbow Sniper). The defining characteristics of the archetype include its consistent midgame with plentiful comeback effects, abundance of chip damage effects and reliance on board control in the later stages of the game.
Machina Forest is not exactly a novel deck, but the archetype has gotten a lot of support in this set which made it significantly more consistent. The actual Machina part of the deck got support for Robotic Bagworm between Guard of the Machinatree and Mechaclaw Elf, both of which not only form a proactive curve, but also generate card advantage and some early pressure. Hoverboard Mercenary also slightly improves the deck’s consistency across the board. The Elf Princess/Omnis, Prime Okami package provides the deck with a late game plan that works well as follow-up to Cynthia; and Miracle of Love is simply a very flexible card that is good at most stages of the game.
- Always keep Robotic Bagworm and Liza.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Hoverboard Mercenary/Robogoblin/Mechawing Angel/Guard of the Machinatree/Wellspring Elf Princess/Cleft, in order of priority. Going second against Blood/Sword/Forest, Sylvan Justice is also a fine keep as a 2-drop.
- Going second, keep Metera/Cleft. If you’re keeping a non-Cleft 2-drop, also keep Wellspring Elf Princess in that scenarip.
- If you’re keeping Bagworm, also keep Guard of the Machinatree and Mechaclaw Elf.
- If you’re keeping Liza going first, also keep Ironbow Sniper.
Machina Forest mulligans revolve around trying to curve out and pair up Robotic Bagworm with various cards activated by it. I personally don’t really like keeping Miracle of Love because it’s rarely good on curve as most decks don’t play 1/3 2-drops. Machina Forest is a bit of a weird midrange deck in that it doesn’t really mind being behind in the early turns due to having a lot of comeback effects around turns 4-5 with Metera/Cleft/Sniper/etc., so it’s fine if, let’s say, your Hoverboard Merc or Liza get value-traded into. On top of that, cards like Robogoblin/Hoverboard improve your Cleft damage since they put Machina cards into your hand. As a rule of thumb, it’s also preferable to use Ironbow Sniper over Metera when possible because it doesn’t need an evolve point and Metera can usually do more. Elf Princess can be a good evolve target if you’re ahead or at least at parity on board since the Fairy Wisp can set up for a good Cynthia/Okami turn later.
(Hybrid) Machina ForestSource
(Pre-patch) Machina ForestSource
(Mechalance) Machina ForestSource
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- May, Eager Elf is an optional inclusion in post-mini-expansion Machina Forest lists, commonly played as a 2-of with optional low-cost effects that help enable the card (the most popular of which being Nature’s Guidance). May works well with cards like Robotic Bagworm, Cleft and Miracle of Love, where it can get “coincidentally” activated alongside the deck’s regular midgame turns. The downsides of May include, but are not limited to: making Liza unreliable in terms of fetching Bagworms, encouraging running bad tempo cards like Nature’s Guidance and going for awkward midgame play lines. Personally, I’ve been under the impression that May is a noob trap, doesn’t fit into the current builds of Machina Forest and naturally makes some of the best cards in the deck (Liza and Bagworm) significantly worse. For that reason, I believe that Machina Forest performs better without the card in its current iteration. With that said, cards in the upcoming set (most notably, the Airbound Barrage reprint that was revealed yesterday) could potentially change the state of affairs in the near future, especially considering Metera leaving in the upcoming rotation.
- Fairy Refuge and Genesis of Legend are optional cards that improve your Okami consistency. Of the two, Fairy Refuge is a lot more valuable since it can lock down a follower for a turn, then get picked up by Okami and be available again on the following turn (and since it keeps the transformation when bounced, you don’t even need to enable it again by playing 2 cards). Neither of these 2 cards are something you should play on curve, of course. Whispering Woods also has a similar functionality, but works a lot worse than the other 2 options because of its awkward countdown value: you can’t play it for 2 because it only has Countdown (1), but if you play it on turn 4 with its Enhance, it runs out exactly at the start of turn 7, so you can’t use it with Okami. I’ve seen multiple Machina Forest guides that state that Woods on 4 curves out into Okami on 7, but that seems factually incorrect. Am I missing something here? Is this Mandela effect in action?
- Technolord and Mechawing Angel are an optional package that saw fringe play but ultimately phased out of popularity due to lack of overall synergy. Machina Forest has some problems with neutral Machina cards, especially cards that try to go wide on board, in part because of Cynthia being racist and refusing to evolve Neutral cards. Technolord/Mechawing Angel still sees fringe play in Mechalance Elf lists, which are somewhat uncommon, but are usually more aggressive and don’t include Cynthia in the first place. The neutral cards that make the cut in the deck are either Hoverboard Mercenary that generates card advantage or Robogoblin, that improves Cleft consistency. Robogoblin even has a very specific fringe application in “the forbidden tempo play” (patent pending), where you use Bagworm on the Repair Mode and play a buffed and Enhanced Miracle of Love on turn 7. Sure, you can do the same thing with a Fairy Wisp, but that’s way less cool.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Lishenna Portal and Elana Haven, both poor matchups for Machina Forest. With Smites, the deck can reasonably run Haven out of value, but Lishenna Portal is still a pretty rough matchup because of all the AoE effects. It may seem strange to run a reactive hate card in a midrange tempo deck, but Machina Forest has a lot of gas with buffed Miracles of Love/Okami/etc., so the idea of runnning Haven out of value is not that far-fetched.
- Sylvan Justice and Predatory Might are both broad tech cards against midrange decks. Predatory Might was specifically intended as a card to beat Yurius in a lot of earlier Forest lists, however, Yurius has turned out a lot less relevant as an on-curve play, and Machina Forest can already reasonably answer a turn 3 Yurius with Ironbow Sniper (going first), or with Miracle of Love (going second, requires to have a 2/2 2-drop on turn 2), so Predatory Might has phased out over time.
- Metera and Lycoris are optional inclusions that can be run alongside Ironbow Sniper. Metera is the generally more sensible option, but Lycoris has some applications when going first. Lycoris is particularly terrible against Lishenna Portal because of its poor statline and because of how poorly it trades with Lishenna.
Machina Forest is one of the better-performing ladder decks in the Rotation format. The primary weaknesses of the archetype include Machina Rune, Elana Haven and Artifact Portal, which makes it more or less unplayable in the current tournament meta. With that said, the deck is proactive, plays fast games and is fairly flexible in terms of its tech cards, so it makes for a well-rounded ladder deck.
Regarding Roach Forest
Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Aria’s Whirlwind, Nature’s Guidance, Legendary Fighter.
OTK Roach Forest is a deck that players have been trying to build since the start of the expansion and generally have not managed to do so using the conventional midrange Forest shell with Metera/Okami/etc. Recently, however, a faster build of Roach Forest was popularized by Spicies and it has already shown some moderate success. In the Forest tab menu, that specific decklist is towards the end of the tab menu, under the name “Spicies”.
The “fast OTK Roach” is built in the following fashion: the deck runs Liza as its most expensive follower, with the only other (Forest) followers being Roaches and Guard of the Machinatree. This, in combination with Whispering Woods that specifically only draws Forest followers, allows the deck to cycle through all of its Forest followers very quickly if you either draw a Liza naturally or from Whispering Woods. This leaves you with 3xRoaches/Guards by roughly turn 7 of the match. Since the full OTK setup with Roaches is 6-7-8, you need 2 more bounce effects, which can be achieved by either evolving Roaches or finding one or more of the Nature’s Guidances. Generally, if the deck can draw Liza in a timely fashion, it can set up an OTK on turn 9 or 10, and since the OTK itself is very inexpensive, it can be played alongside single target removal to get through Wards as well.
In my experience, getting to turn 9 is the tricky part: Forest doesn’t really have good removal, so you often have to use Fairy Refuges and Whispering Woods to stall for time, which is far from a perfect plan. Some Neutral cards have cute synergy with this strategy, e.g. Legendary Fighter with a spell of some sort and Fairy Refuge can deal with 2 threats, and Ephemera also works well in a deck that has heavy anti-synergy with playing good cards. Aria’s Whirlwind works reasonably well against decks like Machina Blood and pairs well with Predatory Might against things like Gearsnake Trainer/Medusa/Stampeding Fortress/etc. The overall deckbuilding is interesting, but a hodgepodge of Neutral cards and Forest Spells can only get you so far against real proactive decks, so in my experience Roach Forest doesn’t really beat any of the competitive decks except for Lishenna Portal. Roach Forest is a somewhat worrying prospect for the design space of cheap bounce effects in the future, because the deck could feasibly win games as early as turn 7 if it had access to cards like Airbound Barrage. The deck should be fine in Unlimited because turn 7 lethal setups are fairly normal for an eternal format and a lot of decks can reasonably beat and even outpace it there, but Rotation is a lot less cutthroat and none of the key cards in the deck (Liza/Whispering Woods/Guidance) are rotating any time soon.
Roach Forest is an extremely polarized deck that does well against slower decks (Artifact/Lishenna Portal, Machina Rune, etc.) and doesn’t really beat any of the currently popular proactive archetypes. The archetype has seen some fringe tournament success, but it hasn’t really had any particular breakthrough because of how limited it is in terms of deckbuilding.
PtP (a.k.a. Hades) Shadow
Identifying cards: Hoverboard Mercenary, Phantasmal Core, Fatal Fields, Hades, Father of Purgatory, Spectral Cascade, Plagued City.
Note: because of the archetype’s low popularity, as a temporary exception, one of the decklists included in the tab menu shows a deck that I have personally tested and optimized over the course of ~60 total matches (under the tab “Shiso”).
What does PtP Shadow do?
PtP Shadow is a combo deck that relies on finding Phantasmal Core(s) and using cheap followers to get enough Shadows for the PtP threshold. There are 2 common builds of the deck: one that relies on Spectral Cascade as it primary win condition, and a tempo-based build similar to 亀様’s one that doesn’t run Cascade.
Spectral Cascade lists are built in a way that limits the number of total unique Shadow followers to either 4 or 5, two of which are Cerberus and Hades, and the rest depend on player preference, with some popular options including Deadly Dreamer, Lady Grey, Bone Drone and Mechasaw Deathbringer. The game plan then involves playing Spectral Cascade on turn 9, which gives 10-12 extra Shadows (depending on how much board space you have and how many followers you have in your deck) since it summons a Hades and then kills it, which adds 6 extra Shadows. The way Hades‘s Accelerate effect works improves your odds of hitting Hades off a Cascade because you (almost) always have 3 Hades in your deck and a lower number of other follower cards. All in all, the Cascade build is generally slower, but a big advantage of it is that it’s basically immune to Amulet removal (since you have 6 PtPs with 3 tutors for them, “regular” decks with 1-2xAngelic Smites can’t really run you out of threats).
The “tempo” build of PtP Shadow is built with more aggressive cards like Goblins and Gremory and doesn’t have to adhere to a limit on the number of Shadow followers and can more or less borrow the early game part of the deck from a standard-ish Midrange Shadow shell. The main difference compared to the Cascade build is that the tempo build cuts all the Machina cards except for Hoverboard Mercenary and Phantasmal Core, making Hoverboard Mercs into a slow (since it can draw itself), but (eventually) reliable tutor for Phantasmal Cores. The faster build of PtP can generally go off earlier, but can often run out of gas when facing amulet removal.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Plagued City is a broad tech card against various Storm cards, which includes things like Okami, Zeus, Maisha and Mono, to name a few. Personally, I find that at least 2xPlagued City are absolutely required if you want to beat Evolve decks and Lishenna Portal. A neat thing with Plagued City is that you can play it to disincentivize your opponent from developing into it, but if they do take the risk and play into it, you can always clear the Zombies with Hades‘s Accelerate ability.
- Fatal Fields are a tech card against Elana Haven and Aggro Sword. The card makes it difficult for the Haven/Sword player to stick a threat in the midgame and the effect is usually not symmetrical and benefits you a lot more than the opponent since your side of the board is often going to be empty. Fatal Fields disincentivizes from playing followers into it and gives you a lot of time to draw cards, play Cores and assemble Lara combos. In my opinion, at least 2-3 copies of Fatal Fields are absolutely necessary in current ladder builds of the deck. Mechasaw Deathbringers suffer from the unfortunate fate of having a Machina tag, but if you want to shoot yourself in the foot in terms of Hoverboard Merc consistency (but beat Aggro Sword every time!), you can include Mechasaw Deathbringers. In all builds of the deck I’ve tested, Hoverboard Mercenary and Phantsmal Cores have been the highest-winrate cards of anything I’ve tried, so making those cards worse (or less likely to be drawn) is a counterproductive idea in my mind.
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Lishenna Portal, Elana Haven and Burn Rune.
- The choice of specific early- and mid-game cards can differ based on preference, and so long as you don’t run any Machina cards, you can run more or less any midrange-y shell you want. In my testing, the best-performing cards have turned out to be Manifest Malice, Dreamer, Fran aqd Cerberus. Lady Grey is bad against Elana Haven, but valuable for the healing aspect against Blood/Rune, so it seems necessary. Ceres is similar to Cerberus in function, but has been worse that Cerberus in terms of every metric I’ve looked at. A lot of people are wary of running Fran for some odd reason: the card has been a snap-keep in my testing and the ability to be proactive in the early game and reactive in the later stages of the game is nothing to scoff at. The card has an optional (and a fairly high) Shadow cost, but it’s not really that complicated: if you’re going to need the 4 Shadows (6 – 2 = 4), you can always choose to play it in “Soul Hunt mode”. In addition to that, Fran on 3 into Lara on curve is a curve that often works out because players often can’t conveniently clear the 0/1 body.
- Tartarus is a broad tech card against Elana Haven and various midrange-y decks that adds additional consistency to Lara. In addition to that, in matchups where it’s not needed (or when you don’t draw the Lara), you can always play it for 1 and then dump the 8-cost token with Death’s Mistress to cycle. In my opinion, if you’re playing a deck with Lara/Mistress package in it, you should include 2-3x Tartarus regardless of what the actual game plan is, even if you don’t include the spicy Reanimate cards like Sonata of Silence.
- Speaking of Sonata of Silence, it’s more of a Reanimate Shadow card (since you can go for the Lara+Tartarus combo and then Sonata the Tartarus so that it sticks around), but the card also has another application: it can remove Ambush from Leod with its Enhance effect, which can come up occasionally and be relevant even in PtP builds.
- Soulsteal is an optional inclusion that improves Lara consistency. Unlike Death’s Mistress, Soulsteal effectively loses card advantage (-2, then +1), and unlike Mistress, only digs 1 card into your deck. There is a tricky balance to maintain between Burial Rite effects and followers, because the more “combo pieces” you have, the less likely you are to have a good Soulsteal target in your games. In my testing, Soulsteal has been an actively terrible card in the deck: it rots in your hand a non-trivial amount of time because you don’t have a lot of discard targets for it, and you end up running a lot more suboptimal followers if you want Soulsteal to be good, which is somewhat counterproductive.
(Pre-patch) Cascade PtP ShadowSource
(Pre-patch) Tempo PtP ShadowSource
(Pre-patch) Midrange ShadowSource
PtP Shadow is not a competitively viable deck in the broad sense of the word: it doesn’t beat Machina Rune and it folds to most Blood decks. The deck does well against Elana Haven/Spellboost Rune/Ramp Dragon (because those decks don’t put any pressure on the Shadow player) and Aggro Sword (because of Fatal Fields). In light of these factors, I believe that PtP Shadow is a lot better than players give it credit for, and in my opinion, a lot of players that try to build the archetype do so very poorly, thus gimping their chances of winning games. Certainly, the deck is not going to have a good tournament showing with its matchup spread, but it’s a decent ladder deck. This could simply be the case of me yelling “Everyone but me is wrong!”, and judging by the correspondence I usually receive and my viewership metrics, I am most definitely wrong about everything ever. Nevertheless, I still believe that PtP Shadow is a fine deck (when built properly) and has a lot more potential (some of which may be “highrolly” with drawing multiple Phantasmal Cores in the early game) than the average Shadowverse player seems to believe.
Regarding Evolve Shadow
Identifying cards: Hnikar, Jafnhar, Grimnir, Hellfire Hound, Olivia, Zeus.
Evolve Shadow is a midrange deck that runs Neutral Evolve synergy cards in a regular Midrange Shadow shell. There are 2 ways to build the archetype. On one hand, the deck can be built in a similar fashion to Evolve Blood: where the primary win condition of the deck is Zeus with Neutral support cards like Olivia; drawing parallels to Evolve Blood, Hellfire Hound is a replacement for Trill and Grimnir has a similar function to Destructive Succubus. An example of such builds is Potofu’s decklist in the tab menu. On the other hand, Shadow has other effects that can be built upon without having to rely on Zeus RNG, to be more specific, Ferry. An example of those “hybrid” builds is Emblem’s list: the basic game plan involves getting to turn 10, at which point you invoke Odin, and in combination with either an enhanced Khawy (or Gremory) and Ferry, you can set up a 21 (18) damage turn 10, although it does require you to save some cards for Ferry (effectively making it a 4-card combo).
After the August buff, recent Evolve Shadow builds can include Crow, not as a Reanimate payoff effect, however, but rather as a proactive tempo tool that works well with Storm cards. For 5 mana, you get a 5/5 that gives you a 1-cost Spell that deals 4 face damage when combined with Manifest Malice, Ghostwriter, Khawy, Aisha and Odin. 緹米婭絲’s list even includes a 1-of Lowain since it generates a 2/1 Storm token for a bit of extra burn damage. This particular build of Evolve Shadow hasn’t seen much testing so far, but it seems fairy promising since it plays good cards and does a lot of face damage, which are all things that a good Shadowverse deck should be doing. The archetype is still fairly constrained because of the awkwardness of the Shadow evolve package (Khawy wants to be in an Aisha build, but the other evolve synergy card and Bone Drone are both 4-drops), which seems tricky to eliminate without severely gimping the deck.
After the mini-expansion, Evolve Shadow got 2 new toys in Lara and Sora. Running the “Lara package” with Mistress allows you to get a 0-cost Zeus (which is not very reliable, but can be huge if it gets Storm or healing), as well as lets you slot in 1-2xTartarus to get a board clear in matchups where it’s necessary. Sora specifically works well with Jafnhar and is usually fairly good even if you don’t have enough Shadows to activeate it, although it does compete with Hellfire Hound for Shadows, so you can’t run both Hounds and Sora.
Since Shadowlog doesn’t a category for Evolve decks, I assume that the Midrange Shadow bucket also includes some fraction of reported Evolve Shadow matches as well. Obviously, I am somewhat grasping at straws here, but the available data sample shows that the deck is generally unfavored against Rune/Blood decks across the board, Elana Haven and Aggro Sword, and has a 50/50 matchup (within error margins) against Spellboost Rune and Ramp Dragon.
Usually, I omit covering matchup statistics for decks with a winrate of below 40% (because they’re usually not all that popular, for obvious reasons), but Reanimate Shadow is popular enough to warrant a brief discussion. The archetype generally struggles against every deck in the format, with the exception of Aggro Sword. The reason as for why the Aggro Sword matchup is as good as it is is quite simple: enhnaced Sonata of Silence blows Aggro Sword out of the water. Sonata has started to see play because of its interaction with the Lara/Tartarus package. Reanimate Shadow also commonly runs Death’s Mistress and Fafnir, which is another package that works with Lara and benefits from running Sonata. Be that as it may, the deck still doesn’t have a proper wincondition, and simply resurrecting vanilla idiots over and over is not enough to properly combat decks in the current Rotation format. Reanimate Shadow also doesn’t have any “highroll” potential the way PtP Shadow does, so while there could be things to be learned from Reanimate Shadow builds, in my opinion, the only takeaway I can see is that Sonata of Silence is good against Aggro Sword. Now this excites me…!
Identifying cards: Dragon Oracle, Annerose, Draconic Core, Genesis Dragon of Disaster.
What does Ramp Dragon do?
“Ramp Dragon” is a blanket term for Dragon decks that utilize mana acceleration to play big followers before other classes can. The “conventional” finisher in Ramp Dragon is Satan. Genesis Dragon and Ailea adding extra ramp effects do improve the archetype’s consistency to an extent, but they don’t really fix all the other issues with Satan Dragon, and Genesis Dragon itself is obviously not enough as a deck’s sole finisher. Nevertheless, Satan Ramp Dragon is probably the most common and well-explored variant of the archetype, and going Oracle into Genesis into Aiela+Annerose for a turn 5 Satan shows how good Satan Ramp Dragon can be when it draws the stone cold nuts.
A more recent development in Ramp Dragon lists is the Evolve Dragon build that utilizes neutral Evolve cards like Hnikar/Jafnhar as well as various Dragon-speicific cards (like Soaring Dragonewt and Splendorous Roc) and uses Zeus as a finisher. If playing the game when Azi Dahaka was Rotation-legal has taught me anything, it’s that Galmieux evolving itself with either Disciple/Rending on 6 or by itself on turn 7 is a good source of “free” evolves that organically fit into the deck’s game plan. In addition to that, because of mana acceleration, Ramp Dragon can do some unique things that most other Evolve decks can’t: for example, if you go first and play Oracle on turn 2, you can Hnikar on turn 4 and start the evolve train early (the only other class that can start evolving followers before evolve turns is Forest with Milolo), this happens to activate Draconic Core as well; having more mana to work with means that it’s easier to weave in a Jafnhar alongside things like Annerose; and lastly, playing Zeus around turn 8 is fairly powerful, even if Zeus itself isn’t as juiced-up as in other Evolve decks, it’s still a very big threat for that stage of the game.
In my experience, the main problem with Evolve Dragon ultimately ends up being card quality: if you’re playing Ramp Dragon, you want to run 3xOtohime, 3xPoseidon, 3xAiela/Genesis (primarily, for the ramp effect, but they can be proactive threats, too), 2-3xVVD and 3xDisciples (for the card draw). Then, you look at the 9- to 12-card Evolve package with cards that are either Neutral followers or things like Soaring Dragonewt (in a deck that usually runs 6-9 total spells, and usually actively can’t attack since it would discard your midgame cards, Rendings or Masamune) and have to choose which top-end Dragon cards you cut to fit all of that. After that, you finally get to turn 10, play a Zeus with 8-9 evolved followers and neither does it heal you nor does it get Storm. For that reason, in my opinion, after the Otohime buff and after the release of Aiela, Evolve Ramp Dragon seems like an inferior build of the archetype.
Another build of Ramp Dragon is the Hastewing Dragonewt Storm Ramp build that runs a variety of high-end followers with things like Alterplane Arbiter, Hulking Dragonewt, Poseidon and Genesis Dragon to enable Dragonewt. As a simple estimate, let’s say that you want to invoke Dragonewt by turn 9. In order for that to work, you need to have to have 4 “activators” in your top 12-13 cards (3 starting cards + 1 card drawn naturally every turn), which means that you have to have 30.77% of your deck (~12.3 cards) as 7+ cost cards, which is, frankly, quite excessive, especially considering that cards like Galmieux/Genesis Dragon don’t count since they either use an Enhance or an Accelerate cost. For these reasons (as well as drawing the card naturally), the deck often ends up playing Hastewing Dragonewts from hand, which is not particularly efficient. Lastly, the deck runs a lot of high-end followers, so on one hand, it bricks often, and on the other, it’s extremely expensive to build in terms of vial costs. I wouldn’t really recommend it to newer or returning players. Or even the active players with a full collection, for that matter, because the build is quite inconsistent.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Hoverboard Mercenary is a neat inclusion in Ramp lists since Dragon usually doesn’t run any Machina cards, and being able to tutor Draconic Core in the early game is quite a powerful effect, so long as you don’t miss with it (meaning that you don’t draw the second Hoverboard with the first one). In Evolve builds you can also tutor up Soaring Dragonewt, which is a lot less cool that it actually sounds (since you still need to have an activator for it).
- Angelic Smite is a tech card against Lishenna Portal, Burn Rune and Elana Haven. Smite is a bit better in Dragon than in other classes because of the mana acceleration, so even if it’s not super efficient, Dragon can still use a 4-cost single target removal spell without much issue. In my opinion, Ramp Dragon is one of the few decks in the format that can actually afford to run 3xAngelic Smite without gimping the deck too much.
- Sneer of Disdain is a broad tech card against Machina decks in various classes and Blood in general (since Blood generates a lot of 1/1s with things like Unleash and Medusa).
- Dragon’s Hoard is a build-around card for aggressive tempo-based Dragon lists (that usually run a lot of token-generating cards like Byron/Mechafin Diver/Steelclaw Wyrm Bruiser/Mechawing Angel/etc.). Judging from ladder data, the deck is not popular or competitive enough to cover in-depth, but the tab menu has an example decklist at the end of it which can serve as an example. Generally, the deck’s strategy involves trying to play Hoard on turn 1, and if you manage to do that, it can feasibly be “active” around turn 7 between all the token generation effects and Countdown naturally going down every turn. The strong part of this type of deck is that it activates immediately (at the end of turn) when completed, so it can actually beat midrange decks reasonably well when it gets an early Hoard. The problem with the archetype (apart from draw reliance) is this little card called Angelic Smite that is played in too many decks to count, and a plain old Tempo-Machina Dragon build doesn’t have enough gas to chew through Elana Haven or Machina Rune, which makes the deck significantly worse. With that said, the deck now is fairly similar to how Machina Forest was before the expansion: it has a lot of good synergy between things like Byron, Doting Dragonewt, Gadget Mermaid and Steelclaw Wyrm Bruiser, but lacks some midgame tools and a proper finisher (the best current option being Forte, which is a pretty mediocre card); so it could get a lot more functional with a bit of additional support, at which point Dragon’s Hoard might even become unnecessary in the deck in the first place. Dragon’s Hoard has also seen some fringe play in regular Ramp lists; in my testing, the standard build doesn’t have enough followers to activate it in a timely manner even if you play it on turn 1, so I think that Hoard is an actual noob trap in Ramp lists: it’s often a dead draw and even makes one of the best cards in the deck, Otohime, ~25% worse. On turn 8, the card competes with other late-game options like Otohime/Poseidon/Galmieux and there are better threats that Dragon doesn’t currently run (e.g., Dragon Ranch/Alterplane Arbiter). For most intents and purposes, any other card in that slot should perform better, this can include Dragonrider, Firstborn Dragon or an actual Shadowverse card of your choosing. Well, Hoard is probably still better than an Albacore or something. Is Hoard actually better than Albacore? I haven’t tested it extensively, so I wouldn’t know, I’m sorry.
Ramp Dragon is a fairly inconsistent deck by Rotation standards, however, the matchup spread is suprisingly not very polarized. The main weaknesses of the archetype are its Vengeance Blood and Aggro Sword matchups, and the archetype performs very well against slower deck with Amulet-based winconditions (Elana Haven/Lishenna Portal). The deck has seen some fringe tournament success (primarily, the Satan build as an Elana counter) and while its winrate is not that high, it’s a reasonable ladder deck. After the mini-expansion, a lot of the archetype’s percentages have gone up by 7-10% because of Aiela. This makes sense as Ramp Dragon generally wins more games if it draws its ramp in the early turns, and having more efficient cards in that category certainly helps.
I personally think that Ramp Dragon is in a very good spot right now: it’s not powerful enough to the point where it’s constantly run in tournament lineups and turns matches into frustrating solitaire-like showdowns (as was the case in the early Lion Haven/Midrange Sword meta a few months ago), with games decided by which cards you hit you get in your mulligan and Satan draws RNG, but the archetype is strong enough to play on ladder and in GP events to (gradually) climb and get your 4-1/5-0 runs. The deck is fairly flexible, and there could be better builds still left to be found, but in my testing, the KISS principle is the best philosophy to follow in regard to Ramp Dragon: play all the good Dragon cards in your deck, then add 3xSatan and you should end up with a good Dragon deck, so long as you you don’t put Dragon’s Hoard in your deck or something. Good cards good, Hoard bad.