Shisogenius’s Meta Insight 4/21
“Meta Insight” are a series of articles covering the differences between various Shadowverse deck archetypes, matchup statistics, common play patterns and their role in the metagame.
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Hoverboard Mercenary, Changewing Cherub, Armored Bat, Neun, Daybreak Vampire, Mechashot Vampire, Natur Al’machinus, Mono, Garnet Vampire, Slayn, Steelwrought Vampire.
What does Machina Blood do?
Machina Blood is a midrange archetype that revolves around Blood-specific Machina synergy. The deck has two primary finishers: on the one hand, it can set up for Mono on turn 7 by going wide on board in the midgame, which can set up for a 2-turn lethal (primarily applies to combo matchups, e.g., Natura Dragon); and on the other hand, in slower matchups (either against other tempo/midrange decks or slower combo draws), it is often correct to fuse all non-Mono cards in your hand onto Natur Al’machinus and spin the wheel on turn 7, which doesn’t really win the game on the spot, but sets up for a huge tempo swing on turn 8, and if you manage to roll 1-2 Mono as one of the Natur Al’machinus draws, it effectively sets up for 15-20 Storm damage on the following turn. Playing a 6/6 on turn 7 may seem like a tempo loss if you’re only clearing 1 follower with its Fanfare, but if you manage to roll an active Mechashot Devil or Changewing Cherub, it’s often possible for the Natur turn to regain a bit of tempo if you’re at parity or slightly behind on board. Putting it simply, if you’re expecting for the game to last to turn 8, the Natur line is preferrable, outside of rare freak cases (e.g., if you don’t have a Natura card to fuse, or if you haven’t drawn Natur by that point).
- Always keep Hoverboard Mercenary, Unleash the Nightmare and Confectioner, prioritizing Unleash over Confectioner. If you’re playing Vampiric Bloodbinder, keep it over Merc.
- Keep Changewing Cherub going second against every class that isn’t Rune or Dragon.
- Keep Neun with Unleash going first, as well as if it’s in a pair with Armored Bat or Changewing Cherub.
- Keep Mechashot Devil going second.
The early game of Machina Blood mostly comes down to trying to hit your card draw and sculpt your hand in a way that lets you transition into a Slayn/Nerea on 6 and/or Natur on 7. Cantrips are nice and all, but Unleash and Confectioner are the actual bees’ knees: they either allow you to have a smooth 2+2 turn 4, set up for Nerea on 6, or find another important engine piece of Machina Blood, Mechashot Devil. The earlier you can get the leader effect, the better, and it’s generally correct to evolve Mechashot even if it causes you to float some mana and play off-curve. Getting a 1/1 with Storm every turn may not sound like a lot of value, but taking into account the long list of synergies which this effect works with and enables (Mono/Technolord/Neun), and even using it to trade can set up board clears with Nerea and Io that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Another card that opens up a lot of early lines of play is Neun, and while it’s mostly just a card that you’re interested in when going first, if you have a token-based 3-drop like Unleash or Armored Bat. It should be noted that the Unleash setup can occasionally fail in Nerea lists, as you’re bound to get a Forrest Bat from time to time, in which case you’re often going to have to sac a 2-drop. Even with that in mind, I still believe that trying to set up Neun on 4 is worthwhile, even if it occasionally doesn’t work out.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Most Machina Blood lists fall into two categories, with the demarcation point between the two being the inclusion of Slayn. Since Slayn doesn’t like non-Machina cards, running Slayn means having to include Machina cards that don’t quite make the cut in non-Slayn lists, namely, Metal-Blade Demon, Mechawing Angel and Technolord. Since both of those cards are bad Natur Al’machinus pulls, the inclusion of Slayn skews the playstyle of the deck in a more proactive direction, since, on the one hand, Slayn lists are worse at spinning the Natur wheel (on average), and on the other hand, since you include less interaction and card draw, it’s more difficult to get games that last to turn 8. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that including Slayn means that you’re somehow banned from running Io/Nerea, and you can always split the difference and run a 1-of Slayn, for example, but my experience with “hybrid” Machina Blood lists has been that Slayn is a bad card in Blood lists that can’t enable it consistently. It is important to understand that you’re very unlikely to play more than one Slayn in any given game, so even “dedicated” lists include 2 copies of the card at most, as Blood has a lot of card draw, and effects like Unleash and Hoverboard Merc have a higher probability to find Slayn than regular card draw effects. In my testing, I’ve personally found that the Slayn build of Machina Blood has been performing worse than non-Slayn variants, and while this is primarily a meta-dependant choice (as in, Slayn is better if you’re expecting a lot of Dragon/Natura Rune/Control Forest/etc.), I am inclined to believe that Slayn is a poor inclusion in Machina Blood for ladder play.
- On the other side of the fence from Slayn, there’s the “interaction package”, comprised of Nerea, Io and Nightprowl Vampire. It should be said that Nerea is a a silly Shadowverse card against fair decks, so I do believe that if you’re playing a Blood deck in the current Rotation format, you should probably include 2-3 copies of the card, even if your deck doesn’t “enable” it particularly well: a 5/5 that comes with a “2 damage” AoE and a 4/6 Ward (ignoring 2 other lines of text on the card) is a tempo play that is about on par with a turn 6 Kuon, although it should obviously be mentioned that it is primarily a reactive tempo play, so it’s somewhat weak against decks that don’t build a board and/or have efficient answers to it (e.g., Natura Dragon or Control Forest). Nightprowl Vampire is a consistent, if somewhat telegraphed Nerea enabler: e.g., a turn 5 setup of Mechashot into Vampire means that you’re very likely to have an answer to most board developments in the format and often allows you to save an evolve point for Natur on 7, but since the setup is so obvious, a lot of the savvier players can play around it if they see a Vampire on 5 and not overextend into Nerea. This can occasionally be used to your advantage: you can bluff having Nerea when you don’t actually have it, or if the opponent sandbags their turn, you can simply develop the board in a different way on 6, e.g., with an Io and Confectioner/Unleash. A slight downside of Vampire is that you often have to preemptively fuse a card to Natur (e.g., if you have 7 cards in hand, a Robogoblin and a Vampire in play), thus revealing information. This is not (strictly speaking) necessary, as you still get the Avarice trigger even if the second card drawn for the turn gets burned, but it is nonetheless a downside. Io has a similar function to Nerea, but obviously competes with Mechashot Devil, so most Machina Blood lists only include 1-2 copies of the card, as clogging up your hand with cards that don’t have a tribe tag can make Natur awkward, so there is a limit to how many non-Machina/Natura cards one can feasibly include. The “interaction package” has been falling out of favor lately, but I still believe that it’s more versatile than Slayn for the current ladder environment, based on my personal testing.
- Sanguine Core is a tech card against Spellboost Rune and Natura Dragon. The card is primarily relevant in matchups where you take incremental damage, however, being a Machina card means that it can still be fused to Natur even in matchups where the healing isn’t particularly relevant. Getting both a Core and a Mechashot as Natur draws means that you can get the healing immediately (if Mechashot is active), so having Core in your deck allows you to fish for healing if you’re in a desperate position (e.g., against Natura Dragon or UB Blood). Most lists include 1-2 copies of Core, as the opportunity cost of having the card in your deck is pretty low, especially in non-Slayn lists.
- Confectioner is a tech card for midrange matchups (such as the Machina Blood mirror, Artifact Portal, etc.), that helps set up the Natur line of play. In Nerea/Vampire lists, you’re not always guaranteed to hit a Natur, since you have 3 different Natura cards in your deck, however, in Slayn variants, Confectioner always draws Cherub and Natur, which conveniently also sets up for a great midgame curve going first (e.g., Confectioner on 3 into Cherub with a Merc or Robogoblin). Confectioner is a fantastic card in the early game, but it has a similar issue to Unleash: if you draw it after turn 5-6, you often don’t have time to play it, and it ends up clogging up your hand if you’re going for a Natur line of play, which limits the number of copies you can run to 1-2 at the very most.
- Metal-Blade Demon has a similar function to Confectioner in Slayn builds of the archetype, and some lists run a combination of both cards. Being a Machina card and filling up your hand before turn 5 if you’re ahead on board in one way or another (or even if you simply draw 2 cards with just a Mechashot leader effect going) are powerful assets in Slayn-focused decks, however, the card competes with Nightprowl Vampire (as in, if you’re setting up for a Nerea on 6 with a Vampire on 5, Metal-Blade Demon doesn’t really fit into that equation), so it’s pretty mediocre in Nerea/Nightprowl Vampire lists.
- Zeus is a tech card in reactive builds of the archetype, and primarily helps in drawn-out midrange mirrors, against decks like Artifact Portal and bad Discard Dragon/Elana Haven draws. In my Machina Blood testing, games have lasted to turn 10 roughly 11% of the time, which means that Zeus would be a dead draw against 89% of the field, which leads me to believe that the card is a poor choice for the current environment: 11% is significantly less than 17%, so you can’t really guarantee Zeus working literally every time.
- Gearsnake Tamer is a card that has seen play in earlier builds of the archetype in the Io slot, however, it has mostly phased out of the more refined Machina Blood lists, as it competes for evolve points with Mechashot Devil and Io. Machina 2-drops that don’t replace themselves with another card are difficult to fit into the current lists, and the effect doesn’t work particularly well without Hellblaze Demon. Vampiric Bloodbinder has also seen some fringe play in the Io slot, but the card suffers from an unfortunate fate of not having a Machina tribe tag, which means that it can stranded in your hand if you draw it during the Natur stage of the game.
Machina Blood has consistently been the best-performing deck of the format after the April 1st nerfs. The archetype has moderately favored matchups against most decks in the format, with the only exceptions being Natura Rune and UB Burn Blood. I personally believe that Slayn variants of Machina Blood are closer to a 50/50 (and possibly even slightly favored, for the UB Blood matchup) against both of these unfavored matchups, but the reactive builds are obviously going to be weaker to combo-based decks. The high degree of adaptability and the potential for unfair lines of play (enabled with Natur and Mechashot Devil’s leader effect) make Machna Blood the best “fair” deck of the Rotation format. If you really want to play Shadowverse the way Richard Garfield intended, there is no deck I would recommend over Machina Blood. I guess it wouldn’t really be Richard Garfield, but “playing Shadowverse as KMR intended” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way.
UB Burn/Avarice/Natura Blood
Identifying cards: Lucius, Vampire Slayer, Corrupted Bat, Creeping Madness, Hellspear Warrior, Princess Knight, Illya, Queen of Night, Garnet Waltz, Razory Claw.
The exact nomenclature for these variants of Blood decks is still largely undecided at the time of writing, with a common abbreviation being AVV (“Aggro Burn Vampire” in Japanese, don’t ask me where the “B” went), but the defining characteristics of the deck are still the “UB package” and burn spells, so I will primarily refer to the archetype as “UB Burn Blood”, “UB Natura Blood” or simply “UB Blood” for short. Look, I’m not a linguist, and I’m not here to argue about naming conventions.
What does UB Blood do?
UB Burn Blood is a midrange archetype that uses the powerful Blood-specific card draw and interaction to stall the game long enough to find enough burn spells that can close out the game (Razory Claw/Garnet Waltz). Two honorary mentions that bear mentioning in the “burn package” are Illya and Hellspear Warrior, which effectively mean that the deck has access to 12 quasi-“Razory Claws”, and if you can manage to combo damage with even more damage, you get yourself a decent gameplan. The “Natura package” of the deck, which consists of Lunatic Aether, Corrupted Bat, and, most importantly, Creeping Madness, enable Avarice triggers on Nerea and Heckspear Warrior, as well as serve to dig towards more burn damage. In essence, UB Burn Blood is an evolution of pre-existing shells of Pain and Natura Blood, but instead of cutesy pay-off effects, it utilizes the most efficient sources of burn damage and interaction available to Blood in the Rotation format and plays less as a attrition-based control deck, and more as an aggressive midrange archetype.
- Always keep Vampiric Bloodbinder, Unleash, Confectioner and Princess Knight. The priority of 3-drops is generally Unleash/Confectioner/PK, but it’s fine to keep PK with another 3-drop when going second.
- If you don’t have a Bloodbinder, but have a 3-drop, keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Corrupted Bat and Hellspear Warrior, prioritizing Bat.
- Going second against Blood/Dragon/Portal/Sword, keep Io as an evolve target.
- Keep Lucius going first against Portal/Sword.
The basic game plan of UB Blood is to try to draw through your deck and set up to start bringing down the UB count on Illya and lining up board clears with Nerea/Io in the midgame. A subgoal of the deck on ladder is attempting to conceal the fact that you’re not playing Machina Blood from your opponent until turns 3-4, which is why I do not believe that it’s correct to keep Lucius in your opening (outside of playing against proactive classes like Artifact Portal and Evolve Sword, where Lucius can actually contest the board pretty well). To give a more concrete example, if you take a bad mulligan, and your opening hand is, let’s say, Aether, Garnet Waltz and Unleash/Confectioner (a perfect 1-2-3 curve!), it is often correct to pass on turn 1 and 2 (if you don’t manage to find a 2-drop). Obviously, this doesn’t matter as much against linear proactive decks like Artifact Portal (they’re going to play their cards regardless of what you do), but against Natura Rune/Dragon and Spellboost Rune, revealing information about your deck can lose you percentages in the long run.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Alchemical Confectioner is an optional inclusion that helps enable Nerea, and as such, particularly shines in midrange matchups. Since the only 3 cards with a Natura tag in the deck are usually Aether, Corrupted Bat and Creeping Madness, an early Confectioner is extremely likely to set up a 0-cost Avarice trigger (it always finds at least one Tree-generating card, and you have a 2/3 probability of finding Madness alongside it). Most lists include 1-2 copies of Confectioner, but the card is pretty cuttable if you’re looking to be more aggressive.
- Bear Pelt Warrior is a more aggressive alternative to Confectioner and Princess Knight, that can be played proactively in the early game, and can deal a bit of extra chip damage. UB Blood is an archetype with not a whole lot of wiggle room, and I’ve personally found Bear Pelt Warrior somewhat underwhelming in my testing, and I do believe that the card is better suited for a hybrid UB/Pain build. Another card that bears mentioning in this context is Yurius, which I’ve been trying in this Bear Pelt Warrior “slot”, which can still be an aggressive 3-drop in the early game that brings some chip damage and healing, while also having unique defensive applications: for example, it can throw off the common Natura Rune setup of Riley with 7 played Trees (the lowest threshold to invoke Riley) with UB Karyl, where if the Rune player saves an evo point, it does exactly 20 damage, and against that setup, Yurius can function as a pseudo-Ward: if they don’t have a Clash of Heroes, it leaves the Rune player 1 damage too short to close out the game, and even if they do, if you’re going first, you can occasionally have a Flood Behemoth out at the same time, which basically locks the Natura Rune player out of winning on turn 7. Yurius also makes Goblin Warpack awkward to play, so it also helps in the Discard/Evo Dragon matchup. Long story short, there are some flex options for the 3-drop slot, which can skew the archetype in a more aggressive direction.
- On the other side of this spectrum, there are cards like Shiva and Cradle of Dark Divinity, that can take the deck in a more of a grindy midrange-y direction. In my testing, the overwhelming majority of UB Blood games end on turn 8 (whether you win or lose), and I do not think that decks like Machina Blood, Natura Dragon/Rune, Control Forest, etc., ever give you another breathing room to actually resolve a Shiva, and Cradle is even clunkier. The one matchup where these cards can be releveant is Artifact Portal, but turns 7-8 are their Artifact Duplicator/Belphomet turns, which both require some sort of AoE as an answer, and playing vanilla idiots during those important turns is effectively tempo suicide. I really dislike any and all UB Blood cards that cost 6 or more and are not exactly Nerea and I believe that these cards make you lose more games on average. The only exception to this is Permafrost Behemoth, which is on the cusp of being playable, if you really want a Blood Pact in your deck, I guess. It gets pulled with Unleash and doesn’t hit you in the face immediately, so it’s a slight upgrade, but I’m personally not very excited by Blood Pact.
UB Burn Blood is a somewhat new archetype, and its primary role in the format is similar to pre-nerf Discard Dragon: the deck can prey on midrange archetypes that rely on spinning the Natur wheel on turn 7, as it can often threaten to set up a lethal amount of burn damage in response to a turn 7 Natur. This makes the archetype mildly favored against reactive builds of Machina Blood (and even to mildly unfavored against Slayn builds, which averages out to a roughly even matchup overall), but it can struggle against combo-oriented decks such as Natura Rune/Dragon if they get a fast start. Since UB Blood runs all of the same interaction as Machina Blood (in fact, it often has more, as Machina Blood lists have been dropping Io/Nerea recently, and there are some sneaky things you can do with Lucius, Garnet Waltz and/or UB Io that can catch overextending opponents off-guard), so it has great tools to interact with midrange decks.
At present, UB Blood is the second best-performing deck of the format, and while it could be vulnerable in the event that the “combo sector” (Natura Rune/Dragon, Control Forest, etc.) of the format expands in popularity, but so long as Machina Blood is a popular deck in the format, UB Blood is going to continue being a viable “meta breaker” choice. Even outside of its meta-based strength, UB Blood is a consistent and well-rounded midrange deck in and of itself, and I would personally recommend looking into UB Blood if you’re a fan of control-based Blood decks and don’t enjoy Natur Al’machinus RNG; not to mention the fact that it’s a pretty budget-friendly gateway to transition from the Rotation-legal UB Burn Blood to Unlimited UB Jorm Blood, which runs a lot of the same cards and is one of the best-performing Unlimited archetypes at the moment. It almost makes one think that printing more Razory Claws and overtuned interaction like Io in back-to-back sets can warp formats around a specific class. No way, that doesn’t sound right at all, who would even say that?
Identifying cards: Feral Aether, Lightning Velociraptor, Whirlwind Pteranodon, Wildfire Tyrannosaurus, Travelers’ Respite, Natur Al’machinus, Valdain, Cursed Shadow, Viridia Magna,.
What does Natura Dragon do?
Natura Dragon is the premier ramp-based Dragon archetype. Using early-game mana acceleration with such cards as Dragon Oracle/Whirlwind Pteranodon/Draconic Core/etc., the archetype can transition towards one of two angles of attack: on the one hand, the deck can play Valdain and start cycling Trees to eventually close out the game, and on the other hand, you can pitch the cards in your hand to Natur Al’machinus and have powerful tempo turns on the back of Natur discounts. These two strategies naturally synergize with one another, since when you play an early Valdain, you can then reload with Natur and find more Tree-generating cards, and on the other hand, if you get a tempo lead off a Natur swing turn (and even draw a discounted Valdain), you then have a window an opportunity to develop the Valdain game plan. Unlike the other “fair” Natur decks (Blood/Forest) that have to diligently wait for turn 7 to spin the wheel, Dragon can resolve a Natur as early as turn 5, and even “cheat” fusion costs with Steelstorm Dragonewt, a card that generates multiple fusible cards all by itself. Natura Dragon is the most “unfair” of the Natur-based archetypes, although that “unfairness” is contingent on its ability to hit early mana acceleration, so it’s a lot more draw-dependant than any of the other Natur decks.
- Always keep Dragon Oracle, Whirlwind Pteranodon, Cursed Furor, Draconic Core.
- If you’re keeping a ramp effect already or if you’re going second, also keep Genesis Dragon of Disaster.
- If you’re keeping Pteranodon, also keep either Pathfinder, Aether or Respite, in order of priority.
After doing extensive Natura Dragon testing and trying to keep different cards, I’ve noticed a positive correlation between the number of ramp cards you play before turn 5 and the deck’s winrate, all while there is no observable correlation between mulligan percentages and winrate for most of the other cards. While there could be some merit to keeping specific matchup-dependant cards, such as Pathfinder or Wildfire Tyrannosaurus, I am nevertheless inclined to believe that if a card doesn’t contain the words “gain an empty”, it’s not going to contribute to your game plan. The one exception to this is that having a Tree for Pteranodon is important, since it’s a lot better if the card can actually activate on curve.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Hoverboard Mercenary, Changewing Cherub and Rola, Inferno Dragoon are optional inclusions that help enable Natur Al’machinus. Unlike the rest of the Natur decks, Natura Dragon isn’t a Machina-focused deck, so it can’t get away with just running Cherub and Natur as its only enablers, primarily due to the fact that Cherub is going to be inactive (as in, it’s not going to get the 2 damage condition). Generally speaking, Cherub is a pretty mediocre card in Dragon, which is why a lot of lists include Hoverboard Mercenary (poor tempo, but can potentially fish for Draconic Core in the early game) and Rola (which can often be a 0-cost Ward after the Natur stage of the game, and sometimes you really have nothing better to do with your turn than a 4/4 Storm for 7). None of these cards are ever going to be the best cards in the deck, but since you can’t always hold on to Core/Steelstorm Dragonewt in the early game, running some combination of 3-4 of these effects is a necessary evil if you want your Natur to fire off consistently.
- Cursed Furor and Genesis Dragon are optional inclusion that help with the early game high-rolls. Unlike Draconic Core, these cards don’t have a Machina tribe tag, so they’re a lot worse in the midgame stages of the game, although they do have some fringe utility: e.g., Furor can be good as a removal spell against specific board states, and both modes of Genesis Dragon can catch opponents by surprise.
- Viridia Magna is a tech card against midrange decks, such as Machina Blood and Artifact Portal. Viridia Magna is a clean answer to Nerea boards, and it can answer other incidentally tall followers (e.g., against Gabriel). Being a Natura card means that you can both fuse it to Natur and get it for 3 mana post-Natur, so it’s one of the better Natur rolls. The card is pretty mediocre in the Dragon mirror, and against other combo-based decks such as Natura Rune and Control Forest, so it’s difficult to justify running more than 1-2 copies.
- Shipsbane Plesiosaurus is a more proactive alternative to Viridia Magna that has the utility of being able to dig 2 cards deep into your deck. The card can also often evolve for free in the post-Natur stage of the game, so it’s also a good Natur roll. Natura Dragon doesn’t have a ton of room to include other discard synergy, and Plesiosaurus is pretty self-sufficient in a lot of its applications, but Rockback Ankylosaurus is pretty close to being playable if you’re running Plesiosaurus, due to having a Natura tag.
- Desert Pathfinder is an optional inclusion that helps enable Pteranodon in the early game. With Natura Dragon lists including a lot more early game to accommodate Natur, Pathfinder often ends up just short of making the cut in the deck. Playing the card on 2 is still great tempo, but I’ve been noticing that keeping it in your opening doesn’t really amount to much if you don’t have a Pteranodon at the same time. In my opinion, Pathfinder is somewhat underplayed currently, and while a lot of lists have started to drop the card altogether, having 1-2 copies can help smooth out the deck’s early game.
- Darkprison Dragon is a tech card for the Dragon mirror and combo decks like Natura Rune. DPD is pretty mediocre against midrange decks, and due to Natura Dragon being less about Valdain damage, this “burn”-related approach to building Natura Dragon yields worse results than in the previous sets. Not having a tribe tag also means that running DPD clogs up your hand for Natur (even more so due to the fact that it’s a burn card, so it often ends up sitting in your hand for most of the game), and the same applies to other efficient Dragon cards that can push face damage and used to be staples in the archetype (Inori/Garyu/Kaya/etc.).
- Speaking of which, there have been some Natura Dragon lists that omit the Natur Al’machinus “package” in its entirety in order to include DPD/Inori/Garyu/etc. Limiting yourself to one angle of attack makes the archetype overly reliant on finding Valdain as early as possible. These builds of Natura Dragon have consistently performed extremely poorly in competitive play, so I am not going to discuss them in detail.
Regarding Discard/Evolve Dragon
Identifying cards: Soaring Dragonewt, Scalebound Plight, Dragoon Medic, Gabriel, Heavenly Voice, Goblin Warpack, Zeus.
After the nerf to Shipsbane Plesiosaurus, the burn-heavy Discard Dragon lists didn’t have quite enough damage to close out games the old-fashioned way (as in, chaining discard spells after playing Shipsbane and churning through your deck to find more discard outlets and Darkprison Dragons). For this reason, the Discard-based shell needed a new finisher, which is a package of Goblin Warpack and Zeus. Since the discard shell already has incidental evolve synergy (Soaring Dragonewt and Shipsbane Plesiosaurus) and great card selection, it can find both parts of the “combo” fairly consistently. Discard/Evo lists often have to include more ramp effects than Natura Dragon (due to not having access to Pteranodon), and ramping into a Goblin Warpack on turn 6-7 can be pretty back-breaking for the more “fair” decks in the format. Gabriel is also a card that works well with the early ramp and various early game followers that are awkward to clear (e.g., Soaring Dragonewt, Dragoon Medic), so Discard Dragon also has this tempo-based angle of attack: if any of your followers ever stick on the board, Gabriel for 6-7 mana can put a lot of pressure on the opponent. In essence, Discard/Evo Dragon is a slightly less consistent ramp deck than Natura Dragon: it can’t ramp into Natur Al’machinus, and has a more linear play style that relies on an RNG-based finisher to close out games.
Natura Dragon is one of the most well-rounded decks in the current Rotation format. The archetype is even to mildly favored against most of the competitive decks in the format, with the only exceptions being Natura Rune and Machina Blood, which are both ~45/55 matchups for Natura Dragon. This matchup spread puts Natura Dragon in a position where it’s one of the best-performing decks in Conquest tournaments, in that it often has a favorable matchup against at least one of the opponent’s decks. On a shorter time scale, Dragon decks can suffer from draw consistency issues (as in, not drawing ramp early makes the deck a lot worse), which also applies to Natura Dragon, but the abundance of potential “highroll” lines of play makes the deck fairly consistent in the long run.
Discard/Evolve Dragon has a very similar matchup spread to Natura Dragon, except the deck is weaker to faster burn-based strategies (e.g., UB Blood, Spellboost Rune, Natura Shadow) and has similar percentages against Machina Blood and Natura Rune. Putting it simply, at its best, Discard Dragon is about on par with Natura Dragon, but due to having a slower and less consistent win condition, it can struggle against decks that can burn it out.
Addendum: Zeus RNG
In the context of Discard/Evolve Dragon, I am going to include the Zeus probability chart in this section. The slider in the top right corner of the chart can be used to adjust the number of evolves (set to 10 by default), and the histograms below said slider display the probabilities of having a specific amount of Storm damage upon playing Zeus. Note that the Storm damage is set to 0 if Zeus doesn’t get the Storm keyword.
Identifying cards: Magic Missile, Shikigami Summons, Chaos Wielder, Kyoka, Prized Pupil, Chaos Wielder, Traditional Sorcerer, Demoncaller, Daria, Infinity Witch, Kuon, Founder of Onmyodo.
What does Spellboost Rune do?
Spellboost (a.k.a. Shikigami, a.k.a. Kuon) Rune is a tempo deck that utilizes low-cost spells and Spellboost followers that get discounted whenever you play a Spell, chief among those Spellboost-based followers being Kuon, Founder of Onmyodo. The basic plan of the archetype is to attempt to resolve a Kuon on turn 6, which then greatly discounts the rest of the cards in your hand and allows you to set up for further tempo swings. Compared to its previous iterations, Kuon Rune has become a lot less aggressive due to Zealot of Truth rotating, and while Rune still has access to Clarke, Kuon and Twinblade Mage for damage, the shift away from Mysterian Project to Sorcery in Solidarity means that the deck is slower at actually closing out games, but has more consistent mid-game.
- Always keep Chaos Wielder and Kuon.
- Keep Insight/Shikigami Summons with Chaos Wielder/Kuon.
- If you don’t have a Kuon in your opening, keep Sorcery in Solidarity.
- If you’re keeping Kuon without Summons, keep a turn 2 play, this includes Clarke/Magic Missile/Sorcery/Project, in order of priority
- Going second, keep Sagacious Core and/or Kyoka.
- Going first against Blood/Portal/Dragon/Sword, keep Mystic Absorption.
The basic mulligan strategy for Spellboost Rune involves trying to find Kuon as early as possible, and then start the discounting process. For the most part, this play pattern is similar to how the archetype used to work before the expansion, however, with the addition of Sorcery in Solidarity, you can fish for Kuon/Chaos Wielder/etc., which has a higher probability than regular cantrip effects like Insight/Magic Missile. Keeping Mystic Absorption is a bit of a gamble, but the basic idea is that if you’re playing against a deck that plays a 2/2 on turns 2/3, Absorption is extremely efficient, and can pick up a fair bit of extra value if you’re banishing Pathfinder/Bloodbinder/Robogoblin/etc.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Twinblade Mage is an optional inclusion that helps against combo-oriented archetypes (e.g., Natura Dragon/Rune, Control Forest) and competes with Traditional Sorcerer. Twinblade Mage adds more reach, but has less utility. Traditional Sorcerer is better at fighting for tempo (since it Spellboosts your hand), but can have awkward implications in terms of board space: for example, if you really need to protect yourself against, let’s say, a Mono lethal setup, you can play Sorc into Kuon, which loses you a point of damage; and similar issues can arise if you’re trying to line up Demoncallers with Sorcerer as well. Another possible, albeit clunky, inclusion in this slot is Flame Destroyer, which has no actual utility, but provides the biggest potential tempo swing. If you manage to resolve a Kuon and then incidentally drop a 7/7 for 0, it can be pretty backbreaking for a lot of decks in the format. Putting it simply, Traditional Sorc is the most well-rounded option, Twinblade Mage is the most aggressive, and FD is also a playable option if you want to highroll harder, and don’t mind bricking more often.
- Gabriel is an optional inclusion that adds an extra late-game threat, making it similar to a more versatile Twinblade Mage. After a certain point (turn 7-ish), all the cards in your hand are going to start costing 0, and if one of those cards happens to have Storm (Kuon/Twinblade Mage) or if you incidentally happen to have a follower stick in play in one way or another, Gabriel can often represent an extra 4-5 damage if you’re taking a slower turn. I would personally consider a 1-of Gabriel more or less mandatory, as the card is extremely versatile even if it doesn’t get maximum possible value.
- Mystic Absorption is a broad tech card against midrange decks that particularly shines in the early game against Natura decks, but can also pick up value in the later stages of the game as well, once you’ve drawn through enough of your deck. An alternative to Absorption is Sagacious Core, which is obviously slower and can be a bit clunky when going first, but is better at Spellboosting your hand in the midgame. I’ve personally found that running more than 2 copies of Absorption can often make your Kuon 1 turn too slow, but I’ve also seen a lot of players run 3xAbsorption regardless, so it might have more to do with player preference.
- The Mysterian Project is a card that has largely phased out of Spellboost lists after Sorcery in Solidarity got printed, but basically any and all 2-mana Spell-based cantrips are pretty playable in Spellboost Rune, so Project and even Mysterian Wisdom have seen play in the Sorcery/Mystic Absorption slot.
Spellboost Rune is the most popular Rune deck in the current Rotation format and has decent matchups against the slower midrange decks of the format. The archetype struggles against Blood (more so against UB Blood) due to the fact that Blood has extremely efficient midgame interaction and can often answer most Spellboost Rune boards. Since the archetype lost a lot of damage, it shows moderately unfavored matchups against combo-oriented decks like Natura Dragon and Rune, which doesn’t really line up with expectations (tempo decks should do well against reactive combo decks). The archetype has had a bit of a resurgence in tournament play recently due to being one of the better decks against a field with a lot of Natura Dragon/Control Forest, so while its overall ladder numbers may seem unexciting, the archetype has a lot of potential in specific pockets of the meta, and if the “combo sector” of the Rotation format continues to expand at the same pace as it does currently, Spellboost Rune could be a good deck to look into.
Identifying cards: Desert Pathfinder, Geoelementist, Travelers’ Respite, Pyromancer, Stormelementalist, Apex Elemental, Riley, Hydroshaman.
What does Natura Rune do?
Natura Rune is a combo deck that utilizes Tree-generating effects and cards that bounce Amulets back to your hand in order to amass a number of played Trees that is sufficient to invoke the deck’s primary win condition, Riley out of your deck. Riley by itself doesn’t really do 20 damage, so the perfect scenario involves setting up Riley into UB Karyl, which is a setup that can do 20 damage as early as turn 7 (if you save an evolve point for Riley), and with a Clash of Heroes, it’s often possible to clear out a Ward out of the way at the same time. If you don’t have enough damage, it is often correct to evolve Karyl for a board clear and set up a 2-turn lethal instead in that scenario, but the general game plan doesn’t really change: the main objective of the deck is to play 7 Trees by turn 6, and then try and adapt to the situation accordingly.
- Always keep Desert Pathfinder and Apex Elemental.
- If you’re not keeping Pathfinder, keep Geolementist.
- Against Blood/Portal/Sword, keep Pyromancer with a Tree-generating card, these include Pathfinder/Aether/Respite.
- Keep Potioneeer with Pathfinder.
- If you’re keeping 2 different Tree-generating cards (e.g., Pathfinder+Geoelementist), keep Aeroelementalist.
The mulligan strategy for Natura Rune is extremely similar to the pre-expansion iteration of the deck, and involves trying to curve out, bounce/play Trees and control the board. A few specific cards that bear mentioning are Pyromancer (very efficient early-game card against proactive decks), Potioneer (the best proactive 3-drop, but requires a Tree), as well as Aeroelementalist (a great tempo play if you can activate it early enough). Some cards that are omitted from this section include Forbidden Darkmage, which is a 1-mana cantrip that is a bad play early since it messes up Aeroelementalist, as well as Karyl, that I generally believe is incorrect to keep in your opening hand, as it’s often going to be stuck in your hand until turn 7.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Forbidden Darkmage is a tech card for the Natura Rune mirror and can also prevent lethal setups against Machina Blood, Natura Dragon and Control Forest. In those matchups, it is often correct to save Darkmage for their Mono/Riley/Roach/etc. turns, and in matchups where the effect isn’t relevant (e.g., UB Blood or Spellboost Rune), it’s fine to cycle it whenever you have 1 mana open. It is important to be aware of the fact that cycling Darkmage in the early game can potentially influence your Aeroelementalist rolls and turn it into a 2/1 if you get unlucky. On the other hand, it can sometimes be correct to copy it with Potioneer (e.g., Darkmage into Potioneer into Darkmage when going first), particularly if you have a poor curve and/or don’t have Aeroelementalist. Most tournament list run 2xDarkmage due to the high popularity of Natura Rune/Dragon and Control Forest, but you can get away with 1 or 0 copies if you’re not running into a ton of matchups where Darkmage is relevant.
- Viridia Magna is a tech card against midrange decks, namely Machina Blood and Artifact Portal. Viridia Magna is a clean answer to Nerea, and it tends to be active on turn 6 in a deck with as many Tree-generating effects as Natura Rune, so it often brings down the UB count on Karyl as well. It’s important to be aware of the fact that if you’re playing a Viridia Magna on 6, you’re likely delaying Riley until turn 8, so it’s usually better to use a different answer if possible and save Viridia Magna to answer Ward(s) at a later stage. Natura Rune doesn’t have a lot of flex slots, so Viridia Magna is a 1-of at most.
- Mysterian Wisdom is a necessary evil for a deck that relies on invoking its win condition, so running at least 1 copy is pretty mandatory, and ideally you’d want to include 2, although you can get away with trimming the second copy if you’re looking to fit in an extra midgame tech card.
- Princess Knight is an optional inclusion that helps enable the UB effect of Karyl on time. PK competes for evo points with Stormelementalist (and to a lesser extent, Karyl), so it’s difficult to justify running multiple copies, but it’s a passable 1-of.
Natura Rune is one of the best-performing decks in ladder data and tournament play. While a lot of the deck’s ladder matchup percentages seem a bit fishy to me (I’m not convinced that it’s favored against Machina Blood for example), the strength of the archetype should be pretty self-evident: it’s a combo archetype that can prey on slower midrange decks, and doesn’t rely on drawing a specific card from its deck to assemble the combo (rather, it relies on not drawing a specific card). In a vacuum, it has worse interaction than Control Forest and can’t really highroll with mana acceleration like Natura Dragon, but Natura Rune is nevertheless the least polarized combo deck in the format, both in terms of matchup polarity and draw variance.
Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Fertile Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Aria’s Whirlwind, Primal Giant.
What does Control Forest do?
Control Forest is a reactive combo deck that utilizes a combination of Tree-generating cards ( Aether/Respite) to enable Forest-specific interaction, which includes Aria’s Whirlwind, May, Eager Elf and Awakened Gaia. The actual combo setup involves bouncing Whirlwind Rhinoceroaches, either by evolving them or with Nature’s Guidance/ Airbound Barrage/Guard of the Machinatree, up to the point where you have played a total of 5 Roaches, after which you can set up an OTK with some combination of 3 Roaches and/or bounce effects. The deck utilizes an unusually high amount of healing (by Rotation standards), so it has a unique capability to outlast midrange-y decks with incremental damage, all while setting up for a Roach OTK. A significant portion of the deck’s strategy has remained the same after the expansion and is consistent with the March “Meta Insight” article, so I do not believe that there is a lot of merit to reiterating the same ideas over and over.
- Always keep Kokkoro, Confectioner and Harvest Season. Against Blood/Portal/Haven/Sword, prioritize Confectioner over Harvest Season, against other classes keeping both is fine.
- Keep Aria’s Whirlwind against Blood/Rune/Portal/Haven/Sword.
- Keep Roach against Dragon/Forest/Shadow.
- If you’re keeping Roach, also keep Guard of the Machinatree, Airbound Barrage and Guidance, in order of priority.
- Don’t keep May.
The mulligan strategy for Control Forest is fairly consistent with the one before the expansion. The main change is that Carbuncle has rotated out, so it’s more important than ever to find card draw in the early game. It is not uncommon for Control Forest to not play a single card before turn 4 if you get a bad mulligan, and having something to do in the early turns (even if it doesn’t translate into any proactive tempo) is always better than nothing. The deck has a lot of situational cards that are better saved for when they actually do something (e.g., Aether and Respite), so while it may sound silly to say that a deck with an average effective mana cost of ~2.1 can “brick”, it does happen, albeit in a somewhat unconventional manner. Against proactive decks, Aria’s Whirlwind is a key card, so it’s important to find it in relevant matchups. Against combo-oriented decks, it’s often correct to keep combo pieces so that you can start setting up early. The one uncertainty in Control Forest mulligans is the Rune matchup: I usually mulligan for Spellboost Rune (since it’s the more popular Rune deck currently), but if you somehow know that your opponent is on Natura Rune, you have to mulligan the same way you would against Natura Dragon, obviously.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Awakened Gaia is a broad tech card against any deck that generates a tall board around turn 7, which includes Machina Blood, Natura Dragon, Spellboost Rune Artifact Portal, Elana Haven and so on. Gaia effectively represents your 4th, 5th and occasionally even 6th copy of Aria’s Whirlwind, however, the card has 2 major downsides: on the one hand, it usually takes 3 turns of setup before you can use it (which sounds a lot harder to do than it actually is, since the setup consists of doing the things you would be doing anyway), and on the other hand, it suffers from a tragic fate of having a Natura tribe tag, which means that running 3 copies of Gaia makes your Confectioners worse. With these factors in mind, and taking into account how many decks Gaia is strong against, running at least 2 copies of the card is more or less mandatory, but the 3rd one can get a little clunky.
- Phantasmal Fairy Dragon has a similar function to Gaia, in that it’s a piece of late game interaction that has a bit of additional utility, namely, that it costs 1 (which means that you can dump it into play for hand size when necessary, and you can even use if to set up May or Aria’s Whirlwind), protects your face from Storm cards and can even bring down the UB count on Kokkoro when active. I would personally consider Fairy Dragon a no-brainer 3-of, but you don’t necessarily need to run a full playset, especially if you’re trying to fit in more card draw.
- Speaking of card draw, Alchemical Confectioner has become a staple 3-of in most Control Forest lists that run Gaia, and Harvest Season is an optional inclusion if you’re looking to have more early card draw. Generally speaking, Harvest Season is worse than Confectioner because it’s worse at setting up for May or Aria’s Whirlwind, and the 1/2 body also matters somewhat, so Harvest Season effectively represents the 4th and 5th copy of Confectioner for most intents and purposes. I would personally consider 3xConfectioner and 1-2xHarvest Season to be the most consistent setup.
- Ghastly Treant is an optional inclusion that helps with May and Whirlwind setups, and also makes Fairy Dragon a bit better. I personally really dislike Treant, as it makes Confectioner really inconsistent, and running 4 different Natura cards can lead to situations where you have an Aria’s Whirlwind against, let’s say, Spellboost Rune or Machina Blood, and your Confectioner draws Treant+Gaia and you really start to question the decisions you’ve made in your life up to that point. A safer alternative to Treant is Rino, although it obviously requires an evolve point to activate, which is an additional cost in and of itself.
Control Forest is one of the best-performing archetypes in tournament play, and while its ladder percentages have always been somewhat underwhelming, some strengths and weaknesses of the archetype can be inferred from available data: the deck generally does well against proactive archetypes that utilize incremental sources of damage (including UB Blood, Spellboost Rune, Artifact Portal, etc.), but struggle against faster combo decks (e.g., Natura Rune and Dragon). This leaves Control Forest in an unusual niche in the format: if there’s a lot of midrange-y decks, the archetype is going to perform a lot better, but if combo matchups become more common, Control Forest is going to struggle. This trait of the archetype makes it a strong candidate for Conquest lineups (as it’s usually going to have a good matchup against at least one of the decks in the opponent’s lineup) and makes Control Forest perform significantly better in tournament play than in ladder data.
Identifying cards: Robotic Bagworm, Ironback Beetle, Wayfaring Illustrator, Robogoblin, Changewing Cherub, Cleft, Dual Fencer, Mechaboomerang Elf, Mechaclaw Elf, Damian, Drillarm Brawler, Natur Al’machinus.
What does Machina Forest do?
Machina Forest is a proactive midrange deck that utilizes Machina-based synergy available to Forest. The archetype has 2 primary angles of attack: on the one hand, it can set up for Damian on turn 7 by using Bagworms, which is a pretty slow plan after the April nerfs, and on the other hand, it can spin Natur Al’machinus, hopefully discounting some Damian(s) and/or Mechaclaw Elves. The defining characteristic of Machina Forest among other Natur decks is its ability to fight for early tempo with Ironback Beetle(s), which can be (50% of the time) tutored up by Mechaboomerag Elf and copied with Illustrator. This, coupled with the abundance of Storm-based reach, between Damian and Mechaclaw Elf, makes Machina Forest the most aggressive Natur deck in the format.
After the April nerfs, the archetype has plummeted from its position as the best deck of the format and has more or less effectively vanished from competitive play. This section may get revisited in the future, if players somehow manage to unearth the secret to building Machina Forest that makes it remotely competitive, or if some of the nerfs get reverted at some point in the future.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Kokkoro is an optional inclusion in the archetype that helps in midrange matchups like Machina Blood/Artifact Portal/etc. After the Ironglider nerf, the archetype is in need of a tempo-efficient option to refill and you can only run so many Hoverboard Mercs and Confectioners. There is an argument to be made that you can still play Ironglider, but it’s difficult to justify running it as anything more than 2 copies.
- Nature’s Guidance is an optional inclusion that can be used to bounce Bagworms and Ironback Beetles, either enabling further discounts with it (e.g., saving Bagworm for a future Damian after using it for tempo with a Mechaclaw Elf), activating Cleft or even simply sculpting your hand for Natur Al’machinus.
- A variety of high-end threats, including Shiva, Gabriel and Mechalance Elf have seen play in Machina Forest as 1-ofs. A big issue with the deck currently is that it doesn’t have a good turn 6 play, which is a critical turn in a format where Nerea and Kuon see a lot of play; both Shiva and Gabriel are passable play if you are ahead on board. Mechalance Elf is on the other side of this spectrum: the card doesn’t really help you any in the midgame, but if you manage to discount both a Mechalance and a Damian, it can be possible to set up for 15+ damage on turn 8 (e.g., against an X/6 follower, Damian AoEs the board for 5, then you attack with Mechalance and get the 5 Trample damage), which makes Machina Forest into more a “combo deck”, in a similar fashion to Natura Dragon tempo swings or Machina Blood (with Neun and/or Mono), though you obviously don’t have mana acceleration or the Blood midgame interaction that would allow you to get there consistently.
Machina Forest doesn’t have a lot of data behind it, likely due to the fact that most players aren’t particularly keen on playing it, but the data that we do have shows that the archetype is significantly unfavored against every deck in the format that isn’t Artifact Portal, and even the moderately favored Control Forest/Discard Dragon matchups have such a small sample size that they’re difficult to actually gauge (at the time of writing, its matchup against Control Forest is 53.33%±4.86%, which results in a 3-sigma range between 38.75% and 67.61%), and I somehow doubt that the random variance is going to improve those percentages once more data becomes available. In its present state, I am inclined to believe that there is no reason to play Machina Forest over literally any of the other Natur-based decks in the format.
Identifying cards: Hoverboard Mercenary, Robogoblin, Robowing Precant, Changewing Cherub, Robowhip Reverend, Ironknuckle Nun, Limonia, Flawed Saint, Vice, Death Grip, Natur Al’machinus.
What does Elana/Machina Haven do?
Machina/Elana Haven is a midrange deck that utilizes the Machina-focused early game package in combination with its key engine piece, Limonia, to generate card advantage and cheat mana. The ideal play pattern for Machina/Elana Haven is to curve out in the early game, then evolve Limonia on turn 4 or 5, then use one of the Limonia discounts to play Natur Al’machinus on turn 6, which can hopefully find a Robowhip Reverend or a second Natur to try again next turn. The centerpiece of the archetype is the interaction between Limonia Spell tokens and Natur Al’machinus: since they have a Machina tag, you can feed them into Natur to “reroll” them into real cards, and since most of those cards are Machina followers themselves (that often generate Machina tokens). Once you’ve successfully assembled the figurative Rube Goldberg machine, you can either try to get a big tempo swing with Robowhip Reverend, or against slow decks (e.g., Artifact Portal) get enough Limonia discounts to resolve an Aegis. The latter is more of a fallback plan, however, as the primary goal of the archetype is to spin the Natur wheel on turn 6 and build a board of 4/4+ followers. If you don’t manage to find a Limonia, the deck can still do the setup in a slower, backwards way: play Natur on 7, then use the Limonia on turn 8 with the discounted cards you got. This is obviously a lot slower, but can still be fast enough if you’ve had a big enough tempo lead in the midgame. Machina Haven has more or less 0 out-of-hand reach (well, you can get 3 from Justince, but that’s about it), so it’s somewhat different from other Natur-based archetypes: Machina Haven is strictly a tempo deck, with no combo or Storm-based finisher of any kind.
- Always keep Limonia and Hoverboard Mercenary.
- If you’re keeping Limonia, also keep Confectioner.
- Keep Robowhip Reverend going first.
- If you don’t have a Limonia, keep Elana.
- If you’re playing Golden Bells in your list, keep Bell.
The mulligan strategy for Machina/Elana Haven is fairly straightforward: finding Limonia makes or breaks the archetype, so finding it as early as possible is the top priority. If you already have a Limonia, then Confectioner has a decent chance to find Natur Al’machinus if you don’t draw it naturally, or fill up your hand if you did. In addition to that, the conventional, “tempo = good”, Elana Haven plan is also something to look out for in the early game: if you can evolve Elana on turn 4, it’s going to set you up for good tempo later, or if you’re going first and played Machina cards on turns 2 and 3, then Reverend on 4 into double heal (e.g., with Repair Nodes or if you have a Justine, then you can Reverend into Respite, then fuse the Tree to Justine) or a 2-drop into Reverend into Justine fusion are all strong tempo plays, especially against decks like Natura Dragon, Spellboost Rune and Control Forest that are bad at contesting the board in the early game.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Robogoblin and Robofalcon are the flex slots in the 2-drop category. Robogoblin is good on exactly turn 2, while Roboalcon really shines on turn 4 (going first), when you can play double 2-drop and get a value trade. Robofalcon also has some cute synergy with Vice in the post-Limonia/Natur stages of the game, as it can kill off Vice once you don’t need it, and it also turns into a 3/1 itself, and even without Death Grips, rushing the 7/7 Natur into an opponent’s follower can really get get get get some midrange-y decks got.
- Elana is an optional inclusion in Elana Haven that particularly shines in midrange mirrors when going second. This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron (“I am playing Elana Haven, of course I want Elana in my deck!”), but Elana can get stranded in your hand if you already have a Limonia going, which is a very real downside, as having more hand size makes your Natur odds a lot better. With that in mind, I do not think that running a full playset of Elana is really necessary, but having 1 or 2 can enable some lines of play that don’t rely on the whole Limonia/Natur combo working out.
- Justine and Travelers’ Respite are a synergistic package that allows you to get healing procs without paying mana, either by fusing a card to Justine. Respite is usually chosen over other cards like Aether or Saintly Squeaks because of the double-dipping synergy between the healing effect and the Tree generation: if you draw a Respite with a Reverend off of Natur, you immediately get the free buff to your board, and you can then use the leftover Tree to fuse it to a second Natur for more card draw or to Justine for another healing proc. Respite also enables a lot of early game lines of play with Reverend, particularly when going first. I believe that Justine enables too many lines of play not to run a full playset, but Respite is somewhat cuttable.
- Kel and Yukari have potential synergy in an Elana shell, however, for the most part, their effects don’t really line up with the threats/removal in the format, and due to neither of them having a tribe tag, they can be bricks in a similar fashion to Elana.
- Alchemical Confectioner can randomly fetch up either Justine and/or Natur Al’machinus to go along with your midgame threats (Elana/Robowhip and Limonia, respectively). Confectioner is a bit of a win-more card, as in, when your deck is functioning well, it’s going to be good, but if you don’t have a threat to develop your game plan around, it doesn’t really do a whole lot. Even with that in mind, I would consider at least 2 Confectioners to be sensible inclusions, but running a full playset seems a bit too ambitious.
- Plucky Treasure Hunter is a more conservative alternative to Confectioner: while it’s certainly a lot less sweet in terms of raw value (since you have to discard a card), since you can pitch a Repair Mode, there are ways to mitigate the card disadvantage, and more importantly, search for Limonia if you don’t have it yet.
Elana Haven doesn’t have a ton of ladder data behind it, and based on the data that we do have access to, it appears to be unfavored against both of the Blood variants and Artifact Portal. The deck is highly draw-reliant and largely unoptimized at the time of writing, so it’s not surprising to see it perform poorly on ladder. I should mention that Elana Haven has seen a good bit of success in tournament play, though its performance has been pretty inconsistent: if one were to look at the JCG results of Elana Haven players that got to the top 16, the archetype either loses the very first match or goes straight to the finals, with no in-between results. In my opinion, Machina/Elana Haven is not a very well-optimized archetype at present, but it could have some serious potential once players get to practice it some more. The archetype is somewhat inflexible, being an all-in tempo deck, so it’s not really possible to prepare it to deal with, let’s say, Control Forest, but I have the impression that the archetype will gradually improve over time in terms of performance, due to players getting better at either building or piloting the deck.
Identifying cards: Technomancer, Syntonization, Android Artisan, Vertex Colony, Magic Gunsmith, Rebel Against Fate, Absolute Modesty, Ironsting Archaeologist, Shion, Mercurial Aegis, Augmentation Bestowal.
What does Artifact Portal do?
Artifact Portal is a proactive midrange deck that revolves around the synergy between various Artifact-generating effects and pay-off effects, such as Technomancer, Augmentation Bestowal, Absolute Modesty and Vertex Colony, as well as Paradigm Shift tokens, which not only generate Artifacts by themselves, but also benefit from having other Artifacts around and basically feed into themselves. The general game plan of Artifact Portal involves trying to curve out, eventually setting up Absolute Modesty to ping the opponent, and the standard “inevitability” plan for the archetype is to resolve Vertex Colony with an Absolute Modesty leader effect active, which is usually enough damage (~12-14) to close out the game. Along the way, the deck can have powerful tempo turns, either with Augmentation and/or Shion, or with synergistic high-end cards like Artifact Duplicator and Belphomet, which generate a board all by themselves, in a similar fashion to cards like Arthur. Remember Arthur? Yeah, me neither.
- Always keep Syntonization and Android Artisan.
- Going first, if you don’t have an Artisan, keep Vertex Colony as a 2-drop.
- If you’re keeping either Syntonization or Colony, also keep Technomancer.
- Going first, if you have a turn 2 play, keep Rebel Against Fate. Going second, keep Ironsting Archaeologist/Absolute Modesty.
The early game of Artifact Portal involves trying to use your mana efficiently and generating Artifacts that can proactively take board control. With a turn 1 Syntonization, the choice is between Analyzing and Bifurcating Artifact, depending on how your curve is looking like: if you have an Artisan on 2, Bifurcating is correct, if you have a Colony or a Technoman in hand, then Analyzing Artifact is the pick. If you don’t have a 2-drop and/or aren’t sure what you’re doing, Analyzing Artifact is generally still the best pick. Artifact Portal surprisingly has jack all in terms of 2-drops, and ideally you’d want to avoid the t2 Ralmia of shame, so even if the curve ends up being somewhat awkward, a Fighter or a Colony on 2 are still the best tempo plays available to the archetype. If the first 2-3 turns are taken care of, keeping one of the high-value 4-drops can be decent, although obviously not as a high of a priority as having a good 2-drop: most Artifact Portal lists run 8-9 4-drops, and a grand total of 6 2-drops, which makes the mulligan strategy somewhat unusual for what would seem like a straightforward midrange deck.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Mugnier is a broad tech card against Natura Dragon/Rune/Shadow, which can incidentally pick up some value against Robogoblins, Armored Bats and Nerea boards. Ameth is a similar tech card, albeit a more defensive one, that can prevent Storm followers from connecting with your face in the late game. The card text on both of these cards is surprisingly a lot less important than one would expect, and the main role of these cards is to improve the deck’s early game as Fighters that you can play on turn 2. The 2-drop slot is extremely lacking in Artifact Portal lists, and even a vanilla 2/2 is a better tempo development than doing literally nothing.
- Belphomet, Worldreaver is an optional inclusion that serves two specific functions in Artifact Portal: on the one hand, it’s a card that you can play on turn 8 after fusing 5-6 Machina cards that are incidentally included in the deck (or Rebel Against Fate tokens), in a similar fashion to Artifact Duplicator. On the other hand, Belphomet lets you clear up some hand space during Augmentation Bestowal turns, especially if you’ve used 2 Bestowal and still need to find a critical card (e.g., Modesty or Vertex Colony). Belphomet is pretty defensive as a late-game bomb, but it’s also pretty slow, so it can be a dead draw against decks like Natura Dragon or UB Blood, that can go over the top of the healing/Ward tokens.
- Vibrochakram Thrower is the least playable of the Paradigm Shift cards, but it can be a decent on-curve play against decks that play X/3s or X/2s on turn 3, which include primarily Natura Rune and Dragon. In the late game, there can be occasions where just grabbing a Radiant Artifact for 8 mana can close out the game, but that is certainly not the main usage case of the card. I’ve found Vibrochakram Thrower pretty underwhelming in my testing, but running 1 or 2 copies is reasonable.
- Magna Giant is an optional inclusion that can help smooth out your early game curve as a 1-mana cantrip and serve as a quasi-Vertex Colony if you’ve drawn a lot of Artisans/Ralmias or Archaeologists.
Regarding Machina Portal
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Changewing Cherub, Ironclad Armadillo, Aerial Craft, Natur Al’machinus.
Machina Portal is a midrange archetype that uses Belphomet and Natur Al’machinus as its primary finishers. The main “unfair” enabler of Machina Portal is Aerial Craft, which allows you to either play Natur on turn 6 or Belphomet on turn 7. In essence, Machina Portal is pretty similar to Elana Haven: instead of Limonia, you have Aerial Craft, and instead of cards that win games on turn 6, you get powerful Machina Portal cards Ironclad Armodillo. Machina Portal is a real deck, however, it’s missing a particularly unfair midgame shell, and either has to rely on the “float mana” package with Karula/Boost Kicker or Neutral cards like Mechawing Angel/Technolord, Gabriel and Heaven’s Gate, and having to rely on Heaven’s Gate hitting the right card doesn’t inspire much confidence for the archetype.
Artifact Portal is, surprisingly enough, the second most popular archetype in user-reported matchup data. The archetype appears to be unfavored against both variants of Blood, Natura and Spellboost Rune, as well as Control Forest. Artifact Portal has seen some fringe success in tournament play, although it hasn’t really had a big breakthrough so far, which is to be expected with how hostile the current environment is to the archetype. I personally find Artifact Portal to be a fairly unexciting deck: there is very little reason to play it over any of the other midrange decks in the format, and while there is some novelty factor to having to keep track of which Artifacts have died each game, the deck is fundamentally different and a lot more bland from the prior variants of Artifact Portal. Thankfully, Artifact Portal is still a competitive (and extremely budget-friendly) Unlimited archetype, so if you really miss the unusual dichotomy of having to keep track of both cards in your hand and in your deck, the Unlimited format’s got you covered.
Machina Portal does not have a lot of data behind it, however, it’s showing some decent percentages against a lot of the competitive decks in the Rotation format, which doesn’t line up with conventional wisdom and tournament results (or rather, lack thereof) in regards to Machina Portal. I have a sneaking suspicion that Machina Portal data is affected by selection bias: it wouldn’t be unusual for players to report it as “Machina Portal” when the Portal player gets to resolve a Belphomet, for example. Even if the matchup data for the archetype is somewhat dubious, I can not deny that Machina Portal is a playable deck, but I would recommend taking reported Machina Portal numbers with a grain of salt.
Identifying cards: Kagemitsu, Matchless Blade, Twinsword Master, Steadfast Samurai, Shizuru, Sisterly Sabreur, Lecia, Sky Saber, Pecorine, Peckish Princess, Luxblade Arriet.
What does Midrange/Evolve Sword do?
Evolve Sword is a midrange deck that utilizes evolve-oriented payoffs and Union Burst cards. The archetype’s primary win conditions include resolving enhanced Courtly Dance, which in turn enables Arriet and various UB cards. Prior to the expansion, a popular finisher for the archetype used to be Regal Wildcat, which could be used in conjunction with Kagemitsu to set up for 14-ish Storm damage over the course of 2 turns. While this combo in and of itself is still technically possible in Rotation, the rest of the format didn’t quite stay the same: a critical turn in the format for a lot of decks is turn 7, which is when Natur Al’machinus can come down in fair archetypes like Machina Blood. If one were to carefully compare the Enhance cost on Courtly Dance and the casting cost of Natur Al’machinus, it can be inferred that having a setup turn on turn 8 might be a bit too slow for the current Rotation environment. For that reason, the Evolve Sword lists have gotten a lot more cutthroat after the expansion, with key play patterns including snow-bally cards like Ivory Sword Dance and Gabriel, that punish the opponent if they ever leave any of the Sword’s board developments unchecked. In that sense, Evolve Sword is less of a slower, highly telegraphed midrange deck, and more of an aggressively slanted tempo deck that happens to run the UB/Evolve synergy package for midgame value.
- Always keep Gelt.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, the general priority is Pompous Prince, Elegance in Action, Twinsword Master, Steadfast Samurai.
- If you’re not keeping a Gelt, keep Kagemitsu.
- Going second, keep Shizuru as a 4-drop.
- If you have a 2-drop going first, keep Gabriel.
The mulligan strategy for Evolve Sword involves trying to curve out in the early game, which means having a playable 2-drop and a turn 3 play of some sort. One thing to mention is the interaction between Gelt and Pompous Prince, where if the Prince doesn’t get cleared, Gelt can often pick up a value trade, which is particularly relevant when going first, but even if Prince gets answered with a Cherub, for example, Gelt is still going to pick up some value as a (delayed) cantrip. Shizuru is a great tempo play when going second, and Gabriel is similarly good if you have any follower in play going into your turn 4, and with Kagemitsu, while not a great target for the Gabriel buff, can still generate a decent amount of tempo.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Pompous Prince is an optional inclusion that helps enable Twinsword Master as well as Gelt in the early game. Evolve Sword has a pretty noticeable lack of good proactive 2-drops, and while Prince doesn’t have a ton of value outside of the Commander tag, its Fanfare effect can sometimes get you a value trade in the midgame, which isn’t a lot of value, but also is not nothing.
- Quickblader is an optional inclusion that helps against specifically Natura Dragon and Rune. QB also has some fringe utility in being able to activate Lecia on 5, but does come with a slight downside of making enhanced Courtly Dance less consistent (depending on the board state, it can be an upside if you’re looking to push some face damage, but it’s generally going to be worse than having Kagemitsu as its only target, because matchups where you can resolve a Courtly Dance on 8 are generally more about trading).
- Gabriel is an inclusion that I would personally consider core in Evolve Sword. A play pattern that comes up fairly often when playing Sword is that occasionally you’re going to have a follower of some sort stick going into your turn 5, at which point one of the best possible tempo lines is to evolve it, play enhanced Ivory Sword Dance and go face. Gabriel is no ISD, of course, but it has a similar snowball effect: if you ever have a 2-drop or a 3-drop stick around, playing Gabriel and evolving the follower than stuck around at the opponent’s face is a good proactive play. In addition to that, there are some cute things you can do if you’re running Quickbladers, which aren’t going to come up very often, but can put on some serious pressure. Stroke of Conviction can fulfil a similar role to Gabriel if you’re playing a more aggressive list, but Gabriel is a lot more flexible than Stroke.
- Regal Wildcat and Zeus may be a bit too slow as finishers for the current Rotation format, however, Splendid Fencer is a passable alternative in faster Sword builds. The Officer restriction is not particularly relevant, as a lot of cards one would want to target with Fencer are Officers anyway, this includes Kagemitsu, Twinsword Master and even Patrick.
- Speaking of Patrick, the card is a reasonable inclusion even without Fencers as an honorary quasi-UB effect (as in, you get to turn 7 and drop it as an undercosted Ward). In addition to that, it doesn’t take a lot of work to make a Patrick “wishboard”, where you can run 1-2 Natura cards in weak parts of the deck’s curve and use Patrick as a tutor effect. A common example of a Patrick wishboard is running 1-2 Panther Scout, which you can fetch up on turn 1 if you don’t have a 2-drop, but it could potentially be used for other mana slots as well if there are other Natura Sword cards that are worth tutoring for outside of a Natura-based deck.
Evolve Sword is not a particularly competitive archetype, and the available matchup data reflects that factor: Midrange Sword is unfavored against effectively every competitive deck in the format, and the deck’s only favorable matchups are based on a laughably small amount of data, and thus aren’t particularly reliable. While Sword has access to some pretty unique and interesting tools, it doesn’t appear that the Evolve Sword archetype has any potential way to catch up to the rest of the field in terms of competitive viability.
Identifying cards: Desert Pathfinder, Travelers’ Respite, Necromantic Aether, Revenant Ram, Beastly Medium, Night of the Living Dog, Lubelle, Necrofamily.
Natura Shadow is an archetype that is similar in construction to prior Natura Shadow builds, and primarily revolve around the synergy between various Tree-generating cards and Thoth. The deck is still heavily reliant on drawing Lubelle, which is the deck’s main engine that doubles down on Trees generating Last Words cards, and with both Beastly Medium and Respite as setup, a turn 5 Lubelle can by itself activate Thoth on turn 6, at which point you can start setting up a 2-turn lethal over by the end of turn 7. Fatal Order can also masquerade as 4th, 5th and 6th copies of Lubelle, so the deck can be pretty consistent once it gets to that point. However, if you don’t get a similarly good setup or don’t manage to find Lubelle altogether, the deck doesn’t really function, which is not to say that it can’t activate Thoth by turn 7, but rather that the resulting clock is too slow when compared to what some of the other decks in the format are doing at that point.
PtP (a.k.a. Hades) Shadow
Identifying cards: Jackshovel Gravedigger, Mechawing Angel, He Who Once Rocked, Phantasmal Core, Lara, Soul Taker, Hades, Father of Purgatory.
PtP Shadow has gotten a variety of upgrades, between the new token cards that work well with SoulCon effects (Guilt/Ghoul) and generate a lot of Shadows due to being tied to Accelerate effects; the “Jackshovel package” package of Friends Forever and Gravedigger, which works in such a way that if you haven’t had a 3- or 4-drop die during the game (which the deck doesn’t run a whole lot of), Friends Forever then brings back Jackshovel (or even two if there’re no other 2-drops in the Reanimate pool, or if you get lucky), which is a great defensive tempo play. Even still, the archetype is overly reliant on either drawing Phantasmal Cores in the early game, hitting the Lara+Procession combo on Hades/Ginsetsu to consistently activate PtP by turn 6-7. In contrast, the Unlimited version of the archetype (which is more centered on Deathly Tyrant, but often runs PtP as well), which still isn’t really particularly competitive in the grand scheme of things (due to being in a more powerful overall environment), has put up some decent tournament results, which leads me to believe that even if these support pieces for PtP Shadow are not quite enough to make the deck competitive with the current Rotation card pool, the whole Lara/Hades “package” has ~5 more months of Rotation legality, so it could be a real deck eventually.
Natura Shadow is the more popular of the 2 main Shadow decks in the Rotation format, and available matchup data points to it being unfavored against most of the decks in the format. Compared to a deck like Evolve Sword, that couldn’t quite keep up with the power creep, but had a strong enough support base to stay somewhat playable, midrange Shadow decks didn’t quite manage to fit in too well: despite a lot of the key pieces of Shuten Shadow, the deck can’t really compete with Blood/Dragon and isn’t really well-equipped to be particularly aggressive. Natura Shadow has some novelty and can occasionally sneak in some wins against slower draws of some decks, but the deck is too draw-dependent and inconsistent for its game plan to work out often enough.
PtP Shadow has a similar matchup spread to its Natura counterpart, and the deck’s role in the format is similar: it is also a heavily draw-dependant and inconsistent combo deck of sorts. Unlike Natura Shadow, however, I get the impression that the Machina-centric PtP Shadow shell could have some potential in future sets, which is evident from the performance of Tyrant/Gremory OTK decks in the Unlimited format.