Shisogenius’s Meta Insight 6/11
“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 Rebel, 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 win conditions: on the one hand, it can set up for Mono on turn 7 by going wide on board in the midgame (or pushing for face damage with Slayn on 6), which can set up for a 2-turn lethal (primarily applies to combo matchups, e.g., Control Forest); 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).
After the mini-expansion patch, the addition of Ravening Corruption has made it so that setting up the Ravening Corruption leader effect often enables a turn 7 Natur Al’machinus to clear the board by itself (or push a good bit of face damage if the opponent’s board is relatively empty), which makes the deck a lot less reliant on Natur Al’machinus RNG: sure, it’s certainly great if you manage to get a discounted Mono/Neun or two (or three), but if you’re moderately behind on board, you no longer need to rely on hitting Changewing Cherub/Mechashot to recover tempo on the Natur turn.
- Unleash the Nightmare and Confectioner, prioritizing Unleash over Confectioner.
- 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.
- If you have a turn 3 play (Unleash/Confectioner) and the condition for keeping Cherub doesn’t apply, keep Hoverboard Mercenary, Robogoblin or Mechawing Angel.
- Keep Ravening Corruption and Mechashot Devil going second if you have either a turn 2 or a turn 3 play (any of the aforementioned 2-drops, Unleash/Confectioner); generally prioritizing Corruption over Mechashot.
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 best cards in the deck: they either allow you to have a smooth 2+2 turn 4 going first (which is worse than Neun, but still pretty good) or find other important midgame engine pieces (Ravening Corruption/ Mechashot Devil). The earlier you can get the value-generating leader effects online, the better, and it’s generally correct to evolve Ravening Corruption/Mechashot even if it causes you to float some mana and play off-curve. I generally believe that Ravening Corruption takes priority over Mechashot for two reasons: on the one hand, it makes playing the clunky “3 mana draw 2” cards on turns 5-6 a lot easier (since you get some random pings along the way) and makes the Natur turn a lot more threatening (which often makes the opponent overextend onto the board to play around the random damage); on the other hand, Ravening Corruption is a bad draw post-Natur (you’re usually out of evolve points at that point), while Mechashot Devil can enable itself in the late game once its condition is met, so using the “worse” card in the early game is marginally better, based on my testing. There is an argument to be made for the reverse to be true (as evolving Mechashot enables more aggressive lines of play and makes activating Neun, and to a lesser extent, Mono, trivial), so if you’re playing a more aggressive variant of the deck (e.g., with cards like Slayn and Technolord), there is some merit to prioritizing Mechashot. A rare corner case here includes games where you don’t manage to draw a Confectioner or Cherub by turn 4-5, where if the only Natura card in your hand is a Ravening Corruption (aside from Natur, of course), you have to save Ravening Corruption for fusion purposes: in those cases, you have to weigh the risks of lacking damage post-Natur and managing to find a Natura card by turn 7 and play accordingly based on your hand and decklist.
A 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, the curve of 2-drop into Unleash or Bat into Neun is about the best possible curve for Machina Blood. It should be noted that the Unleash setup can occasionally fail in lists with a high number of non-Machina followers (Confectioner and Ravening Corruption are a given, of course, but you’re more likely to whiff if you run things like Nerea and Nightprowl Vampire), as you’re bound to get a Forest 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, either because of the opponent trading to play around it, or if your Unleash RNG goes the wrong way.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Sanguine Core is a tech card against decks that deal incremental damage over the course of the game, which include Natura Dragon, UB Burn/Natura Blood, Natura Shadow, and, to a lesser extent, tempo-based decks like the Machina Blood mirror and Spellboost Rune. Core is an incredibly efficient healing card, and it has a few notable synergies in the deck: firstly, it’s a Machina card, so it contributes to Slayn thresholds and can be both fused to Natur Al’machinus and get discounted by Natur (the latter is very important, as it allows you to fish for healing with Natur if you save an evo point or if Mechashot is active), secondly, some key late-game threats in Machina Blood evolve themselves (such as Mono and Neun, and, to a lesser extent, Mechashot Devil and Nerea), and lastly, it’s an Amulet (which is not hugely relevant, but occasionally comes up with Ravening Corruption in the post-Natur stages of the game). Machina Blood as a deck has a big problem with going second (especially bad in the mirror and against Natura Dragon), and Core is a card that can allow you to stabilize if you fall behind on tempo and lose a lot of health in the early game. In the current environment, I would consider 2xCores more or less mandatory, but the choice between running 2 or 3 comes down to how much Dragon you’re seeing: the card is pretty medium against Shadow, so if the field you’re trying to beat is primarily dominated by Shadow/Blood, 2 copies is enough, but if there is more Dragon (and other fringe burn-based decks like UB Blood/Natura Shadow/etc.), running a full playset should be considered.
- The landscape has changed somewhat after the mini-expansion, and with the archetype’s focus shifting towards evolving 3/3-s on turns 4-6, clunky 6-drops like Slayn and Nerea don’t always fit into your midgame curve, especially when going first. Since you’re often going to be evolving a 3-mana card on turns 5-6, the cards that Slayn and Nerea primarily compete with include Mechawing Angel, and, to a lesser extent, Armored Bat and Technolord. With that said, Nerea still has its defensive utility in midrange matchups (primarily against Shadow and Portal), and Slayn has a relatively low opportunity cost (due to having a Machina tribe tag) and can add a lot of extra finishing power to the archetype, particularly when discounted by Natur. Long story short, Slayn is the “win more” option, while Nerea is the “lose less” option, and since the deck needs 0-2 threats in this slot (depending on how many Technolords/Mechawing Angels you choose to run), and since Slayn is the lesser of two evils when your deck is functioning well (which is to say, when you’re going first and have both Mechashot and Ravening Corruption) because of its Machina tag, a lot of players gravitate towards 1/0 and 2/0 Slayn/Nerea splits. In my testing, Nerea has been a bit iffy: there are times when topdecking a Nerea is your only chance of staging a comeback, but when you’re that far behind, you’re often not very likely to win in the first place; in addition to that, Nerea can get stuck in your hand, making Natur Al’machinus 1 card worse. The currently available JCG data (shown in the spreadsheet linked in the tab menu for JCGW10) indicates that the optimal (winrate-weighted) split is 1xSlayn, 0xNerea, 3xMechawing Angel and 1-2xTechnolord, but there is obviously some wiggle room for experimentation with these card slots based on player preference and the expected field.
- Metal-Blade Demon is a card that has gotten a lot more relevant with the addition of Ravening Corruption, as it can get a bit of extra value from random pings in the post-Natur stages of the game. Reloading in the midgame after extending your early game resources with Mechawing Angel/Neun/etc. is the main application of Metal-Blade Demon, and it should be noted that a turn 5 Metal-Blade generally sets up for an active Slayn on 6, so the card tends to be a 2-of in lists that run Slayn and a 1-of in lists that don’t, although it’s obviously not a hard and fast rule.
- Nightprowl Vampire is an optional inclusion that helps to find key engine pieces like Ravening Corruption and Natur Al’machinus in a similar manner to Confectioner. The weak points of Nightprowl Vampire are that the card makes your Natur Al’machinus less threat-dense (since it doesn’t benefit from the discount in any way, shape or form), and that it makes your Confectioner marginally worse (e.g., if you play a Corruption into Confectioner on turn 6, looking for Natur on 7, you have a 66.(6)% probability to find a Natur in a deck with 9 Natura cards, and a 50% probability to find it in a deck with 12 Natura cards), and while the cantrip is seemingly not very expensive (“It’s just 1 mana, right?”), there is a significant opportunity cost to not drawing the card until next turn (which is pretty similar to the whole Restless Parish debacle in Unlimited Blood decks). Nightprowl Vampire does have some cute synergies, namely, it activates Ravening Corruption and can enable Nerea after setting it up on turn 5. Both of these synergies work well in tandem with one another and form a defensive curve, so Nightprowl Vampire tends to be played in Nerea lists.
Machina Blood is generally considered the best-performing deck of the Rotation format in competitive play. That is not to say that the deck doesn’t have its weaknesses: since its midgame turns (5-6) are somewhat low on interaction, decks that can exploit that point in Blood’s curve can perform decently well against Blood: this includes decks that can resolve Natur Al’machinus before turn 7 (which primarily consists of Machina Portal and Machina/Elana Haven). With that said, despite being very “fair” (or as fair as a deck that consistently does ~15-20 out-of-hand face damage on turn 8 can be), Machina Blood is incredibly consistent at what it does, when compared to archetypes that require drawing a specific enabler to function (Elana Haven and Machina Portal) or archetypes that have generally high draw variance (e.g., Dragon decks), so while the “ceiling” of Machina Blood’s performance is relatively low in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t “brick” nearly as hard as Natura Dragon, Elana Haven or Machina Portal can, which makes Machina Blood the best deck in the format if you’re trying to play Shadowverse the way Richard Garfield intended. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, because cards are supposed to cost mana and Natur Al’machinus often makes it so they don’t. In addition to that, Richard Garfield has no actual connection to Shadowverse. It’s a figure of speech, give me a break.
UB Burn/Avarice/Natura/Control/Midrange/Aggro 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 undecided at the time of writing, 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.
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/Illya). The “Natura package” of the deck, which consists of Lunatic Aether, Corrupted Bat, and, most importantly, Creeping Madness, enable Avarice triggers on Nerea, as well as serve to dig towards more burn damage. With the addition of Ravening Corruption, the archetype has shifted towards a more control-oriented strategy, which means that the deck runs less overall burn (Hellspear Warrior doesn’t really make the cut, and a lot of slower lists don’t run Razory Claw either). UB Blood is an archetype that is fundamentally weak to combo decks (since your interaction cards lose a lot of value) and healing (the deck has a finite amount of damage), but the archetype’s abundant interaction (between Io, Nerea and Ravening Corruption pings), healing and consistent burn damage make the archetype a viable alternative to its more popular Machina counterpart.
- Always keep Vampiric Bloodbinder, Unleash, Confectioner and Princess Knight. The priority is generally Unleash/Confectioner/PK.
- If you don’t have a Bloodbinder, but have a 3-drop, keep a proactive 2-drop, which mostly consists of just Corrupted Bat, but if you’re running Desert Pathfinders or Hellspear Warriors, they are a good keep as well.
- Going second against Blood/Dragon/Portal/Sword/Shadow, keep Io as a turn 4 evolve target.
- If you have a turn 2 or a turn 3 play, keep Ravening Corruption.
- Keep Lucius going first.
- If you’re playing Ruinweb Spider, keep it against Blood/Shadow/Portal.
The basic mulligan strategy of UB Blood is to try and hit your early game cantrips, to either dig for AoE in the midgame if you fall behind on board or to develop a Ravening Corruption if you’re not. Keeping Ravening Corruption may seem like a bad idea in a deck with as much card draw as UB Blood may seem like a bad idea (since you can occasionally draw multiple copies), but playing it as a Scalerider on turn 3/4 is fine tempo if you drew redundant copies. Io and Lucius are cards that don’t need much explanation, but it should be mentioned that if you’re playing a Ruinweb Spider list, the card gets better the earlier you can set it up in matchups where its effect is relevant, and while a turn 2 Spider is a pretty high-rolly opening against midrange decks, it doesn’t do a lot against combo decks (e.g., Dragon/Control Forest/Natura Rune/etc.), and skipping your turn 2 can be too slow against tempo-based decks (such as Elana Haven and Machina Sword), as it is very important to not let the opponent get extra Limonia value from followers that stick around (in the case of Sword, the cards that you’re playing around are things like Gabriel, ISD and Stroke of Conviction, but a lot of the same principles still apply).
Now, these are cards that I personally found to have a positive impact on my winrate when kept, however, I should also mention some cards that are not good to keep despite being playable in the early game. On the one hand, there are 1-mana cantrips like Nightprowl Vampire and Creeping Madness, which are primarily included in the deck to get the “double” Nerea activation, and since you’re often losing out on value (such as the Ravening Corruption pings, activations for Ravening Corruption‘s fanfare in the case of Nightprowl, and the little bit of healing that you get from Creeping Madness) by playing these cards in first few turns of the game, I believe it’s aggressively terrible to keep any of these cards. On the other hand, some Tree-generating cards such as Lunatic Aether and Respite are often poor plays in the early game, as they don’t impact the board in a meaningful way and have other utility in the later stages of the game (the big one being that against slower decks, Lunatic Aether can represent 3 points of burn damage in the late game, but it can also include other fringe cases, such as saving a 0-cost Tree from Respite to activate “double” Nerea on 6 if you have a Tree set up, as well as the basic factor of missing out on Ravening Corruption pings and healing from Respite). It is very easy to get baited by Ruinweb Spider into keeping these low-cost Tree-generating effects, but the fact of the matter is that there are simply more important cards to look for in your mulligan.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Alchemical Confectioner is an optional inclusion that broadly improves midrange matchups for 2 reasons: on the one hand, it helps enable Nerea on turn 6 (by either finding a Tree card, Respite, Creeping Madness or Nightprowl Vampire), and on the other hand, it can tutor up for Ravening Corruption with a relatively high probability (50% in a deck with 12 Natura cards, 40% in a deck with 15 Natura cards, 33.(3)% in a deck with 18 Natura cards, and so on). In my opinion, Confectioner is more or less a mandatory inclusion, but if you want to slant the deck in a more aggressive direction, it can be excluded in favor of early game cards such as Lucius and Yurius.
- Azazel is a tech card that theoretically helps the deck’s matchup against combo decks such as Control Forest and Natura Dragon. While it’s certainly true that Azazel makes the Control Forest matchup significantly less miserable, I’ve personally found Azazel to be strictly detrimental against Machina Blood and Natura Dragon, not to mention the matchups where the card is obviously aggressively terrible (the UB Blood mirror, Natura Rune, Natura Shadow). While there are matchups where Azazel does a lot of heavy lifting (Control Forest and Discard/Evolve Dragon), in the vast majority of other matchups, Sanguine Core does a lot of the same things as Azazel without putting you at risk of randomly dying to Ravening Corruption pings against Machina Blood, some combinations of Shipsbane Plesiosaurus and Wildfire Tyrannosaurus against Natura Dragon, a random Karyl against Rune, and so on. I really dislike Azazel and I believe it to be a trap card that players lean towards as it can cover the deck’s weak matchups (such as Control Forest), all while losing a lot of percentages against Blood/Shadow/Dragon by not running Core.
- Aggressive cards like Razory Claw, the aforementioned Yurius and even Gabriel are an alternative tech choice to the more defensive cards like Sanguine Core/Azazel, that can potentially improve your matchups against Dragon and decks like Control Forest. Running more direct damage often means that you have to be a little careful about launching your burn spells against Machina Blood (that often runs 2-3xCores) and other decks with access to healing (Machina Shadow, Natura Dragon and various fringe decks like Evolve Sword), so that you don’t run out of damage in the later stages of the game. An extreme example of this aggressive transition in UB Burn lists is the Vengeance-based Aggro Blood archetype, which gets rid of the high-end defensive tools (e.g., Nerea/Cores) and slower burn cards (Illya) to instead include aggressive 2-drops (e.g., Swarming Wraith/Nightmare Dreameater/etc.), Dark Generals, cards that can capitalize on an early tempo lead (Cursebrand Strike/Gabriel) and Seductress Vampire to enable all of it. While I believe that the more aggressively slanted variants of UB Burn Blood can perform well, there isn’t a lot of data on the Vengeance Aggro variant and I personally haven’t had great results with it in my testing, but it is a build of Blood that can certainly capitalize on the surprise factor in ladder play.
- High-end Blood threats like Cradle of Dark Divinity and Neutral cards like Shiva/Zeus/Boom Devil are primarily tech cards against Machina Shadow and grindy midrange decks like Evolve Sword. In theory, if you can consistently answer all of Machina Shadow’s threats, you should have enough damage to close out games, however, depending on the exact configuration of Shadow tech cards, they can occasionally get a lot of mileage out of cards like Ginsetsu, so having a few extra value cards can go a long way towards matching the number of threats in the opponent’s deck. It should be noted that Cradle is a Natura card, so it makes your Confectioner marginally worse in the early game, and due to how many cards UB Blood tends to draw over the course of the game, I believe that it’s unwise to run more than 2 of these late-game bombs.
- Ruinweb Spider is a similarly slow tech card against midrange decks such as Machina Blood and Machina Shadow, which skews the deck in a more control-like direction, which usually means cutting burn cards like Illya/Claw (and even Garnet Waltz, which doesn’t really seem correct) and early-game cards like Bloodbinder for additional amulets like Nightprowl Vampire and Respite. I’ve done a lot of testing with Spider lists, and my impression has been that these “slow” builds of UB Blood are a lot more polarized than the “standard” variants: they’re slightly better against midrange decks (which are already fine matchups for UB Blood) and a lot worse against combo-based decks like Natura Dragon, Control Forest and Natura Rune. While you can certainly win games despite playing bad cards in your deck, I do not think that these variants of UB Blood are good in the current environment, with how popular Dragon is.
UB Blood is a fairly polarized deck in ladder play: it does well against midrange-y decks like Shadow or Artifact Portal, but can struggle against its Machina counterpart (due to most Machina Blood lists running 2-3xSanguine Cores) and decks that can get ahead on tempo in ways that Nerea can’t consistently answer (e.g., Machina Portal and Elana Haven). In tournament play, UB Blood loses one of its main strengths: the surprise factor of not being Machina Blood isn’t there if your opponent knows your decklist before the game starts. In that sense, while UB Blood is a decently competitive deck (that isn’t losing too much in the June set rotation aside from Unleash and Sanguine Core), it currently suffers from an unfortunate fate of sharing a class slot with Machina Blood (which is widely perceived as the best deck of the format), which effectively means that there is very little merit to playtesting and refining the archetype for competitive play, which in turn makes it so that the archetype doesn’t have a streamlined, optimized direction in its builds. This is a bit of a harsh take, but until some rogue deckbuilder manages to win a big name tournament of some sort with the deck, people are simply going to keep cutting Bloodbinders for garbage cards and tanking the archetype’s performance in aggregate data. It’s Evolve Sword all over again.
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 off 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 of 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 somewhat more draw-dependant than “conventional” Natur decks, such as Natura Blood or Forest. Unlike prior variations of Natura Dragon, the archetype is a lot more tempo-oriented, as building a big board (as early as turn 5), all while setting up for Valdain/Viridia Magna/etc. in the process can be pretty backbreaking for decks that lack efficient interaction.
- 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
Natura Dragon (median decklist from top 4 finishes of week 10 JCG events)Source
Natura Dragon (median decklist from top 4 finishes of week 2 Rotation JCG events)Source
- 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, but has defensive utility since it adds a bit of healing to the deck and has the highest toughness of any 2-drop you could run (relevant for Ravening Corruption pings). Some 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, the Bane keyword can be fairly relevant against Aenea decks; and sometimes you really have nothing better to do with your mana 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 3-5 of these effects is a necessary evil if you want your Natur to fire off consistently. Currently, the most consistently included variations include 3xCherubs and 1-2xRola, as they are the best proactive options of the batch.
- 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. A 1-of of either of these cards (but usually, not both) is a reasonable inclusion.
- Viridia Magna is a tech card against midrange decks, such as Machina Blood and Artifact Portal. Machina Blood really loves evolving 3/3-s in the midgame, and the presence of Aenea in the format makes Viridia Magna a lot more relevant than before the mini-expansion. Viridia Magna can also 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 medium in the Dragon mirror (as in, it’s only good when you’re in a losing position), and against other combo-based decks such as Natura Rune and Control Forest, so it’s somewhat matchup-dependant, but if you want to have a decent shot at beating Blood/Shadow, running 2-3 copies is pretty necessary.
- 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.).
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. After the mini-expansion, the addition of Jerva is another factor that pushes Discard/Evolve Dragon into a more tempo-oriented direction, so the archetype is a bit of an unusual spin on the whole “Goblin > Gabriel” tempo formula: while the metaphorical “Goblin” can be a literal 1/2 (Soaring Dragonewt), more often than not, the “Goblin” part of the tempo angle of attack is comprised of cards like Dragon Oracle and Cursed Furor, which then eventually lets you transition into a tempo lead, and utilize Gabriel aggressively to push for an insurmountable tempo advantage. 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. “Dragon Oracle is a Goblin, if you really think about it”, says the deranged spreadsheet man.
Natura Dragon is one of the more consistently well-rounded decks in the Rotation format, despite the highroll-y nature of mana acceleration as a whole. The archetype is generally favored against slower decks that lack early pressure, which includes decks like Natura Shadow and other combo-slanted decks, such as Natura Rune and Control Forest. The deck is weaker against archetypes that can create a midgame tempo lead around turn 6-ish (Machina Blood, Machina Portal, Machina/Elana Haven): you can certainly manage to pull ahead if you ramp 3 or more times by turn 5, but if you’re trying to race Limonia/Heaven’s Gate/Aerial Craft discounts while being even on mana with your opponent, you’re not going to get very far. When compared to pre-mini-expansion data, Dragon is a lot (~5-10%) worse against Machina Blood and Portal, which still leaves it in a fairly competitive spot in the grand scheme of things, both on ladder and in tournament play. Natura Dragon is the most “fair” of the “unfair” Natur Al’machinus decks (when compared to tempo decks like Elana Haven and Machina Portal), but its high degree of deck optimization (which stems from being a presence in competitive play for ~6 months) and consistent matchup spread makes it one of the decks that managed to retain most of its aggregate numbers despite not getting any new cards in the mini-expansion.
A spectre is haunting the Rotation format—the spectre of a sentient robot community; which brings a great, if Fleeting, Joy to some, and a great sadness to others. Discard Dragon as an archetype fits in the latter group, as decks with Aenea and Friends Forever can generate so many damage-preventing tokens that Zeus more or less never works against that deck. In that sense, Discard Dragon has retained its role of being a slightly less consistent Natura Dragon: it has a similar (if a more linear) game plan, but lacks a lot of the flexibility and decision points available to Natura Dragon, however, due to a high popularity of Machina Shadow, the archetype is generally a lot worse. It should also be mentioned that some of the tech cards played to combat Natura Dragon (e.g., Forbidden Darkmage in Natura Rune, or Azazel in UB Blood) incidentally hose Discard Dragon. Discard Dragon is still decently competitive in the grand scheme of things, but it has a similar problem to UB Burn Blood: sharing a class slot with a vastly more competitive archetype leaves players without any real impetus to optimize Discard/Evolve Dragon lists, and with the deck being less consistent than Natura Dragon in the first place, Discard Dragon is left in an awkward place: it is a real deck, you can play it and win games, but it’s not really going to outperform its Natura counterpart any time soon.
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: 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, 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.
- If you don’t have a Syntonization, keep Focus or Magna Giant.
- 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 Technoman in hand, then Analyzing Artifact is the pick. If you’re doing something else on turn 1, you can save Syntonization for when you have more information: for example, if you have a Colony on 2, it’s often correct to pick Paradigm Shift. Magna Giant and Focus replace themselves when played on turn 1, which is not that great in the general sense, however, there are a few factors that make these cards better than Insight on 1: Focus stacks with itself, so if you draw 2 or more copies, the second copy is effectively free; Focus also draws cards at EoT, so it’s better to play it earlier rather than later to get it out of the way; Magna Giant has a fairly high chance (100% in non-Ralmia lists, and 83-85% in decks with a 1-of Ralmia) of finding a Paradigm Shift-generating card, which are usually good tempo plays and set you up for late-game swings (so they’re better to draw early rather than late). The basic goal of Artifact Portal in the early- to mid-game is to curve out and spend mana efficiently, so the mulligan strategy mostly revolves around just that: using all your mana every turn and setting up Paradigm Shift tokens.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Focus and Magna Giant are optional inclusions that serve to improve the deck’s early game consistency. I generally believe that Magna Giant is a 3-of, however, my opinion on Focus has been gradually shifting over time, and after ~2 months of sifting through tournament results and doing testing, the “default” cantrip configuration in Artifact Portal is generally 3xFocus and 3xMagna Giant, although a third copy of either of these cards can be trimmed for any of the other early-game tech cards.
- Sure-Sighted Lancer is a tech card against Machina Portal and various Gabriel decks (which primarily means Machina Shadow). The card has been showing decent results as a 1-of in tournament play, and I’ve personally had decent success with it on ladder, as some people love putting Gabriel in random decks, and there are always some people playing meme classes like Sword, and Sure-Sighted Lancer is absolutely incredible against those types of decks, not to mention other fringe applications of the card (e.g., against Neun boards, or against Shion boards in the Artifact Portal mirror), even if the card’s primary utility is taking down Belphomet. I should mention that Lancer is a very matchup-dependant card (it’s pretty worthless against Dragon), so running more than 1 copy is generally unwise, even if the blowout situations more or less win the game on the spot, so it’s important to weigh the card’s performance on average (which is so-so in a large enough sample of games) against the confirmation bias of blowing out some poor sod playing Machina Portal. Well, that’s a joke, of course, I have zero sympathy for Machina Portal players, let’s not be silly now.
- Mugnier, Cat Gunner and Ralmia are other early-game tech cards that can be included over the third copy of Focus, Ironsting Archaeologist or Shion. Mugnier is particularly valuable against Shadow and Dragon, as it blanks Aenea and one of the Trees (from Pathfinder or Pteranodon) against Dragon. Cat Gunner and Ralmia are deceptively similar cards when looking at their text box, however, they are pretty different functionally: Ralmia opens up unusual lethal setups with discounted Paradigm Shifts tokens, with the setup being Artifact Duplicator on 7 (which usually discounts at least 1 Paradigm Shift to 0), then Ralmia into Paradigm Shift on 8 does somewhere in the realm of 8-12 face damage (depending on whether the opponent has Wards or not). The big downside of Ralmia is the Machina tribe tag: if you run Ralmia in your deck, your Magna Giants get a lot worse at finding Paradigm Shift-generating cards. Cat Gunner, on the other hand, addresses a somewhat different issue: it marginally improves the probability of getting a Rush Artifact off your Artifact Duplicator and generally makes Technomancer and Augmentation Bestowal slightly better (if you ever manage to find the Artifact(s) you shuffled into your deck). For that reason, despite having a more or less identical text box, Cat Gunner is a fine turn 2 play, while Ralmia is more of a mid- to late-game card. I have not been particularly impressed with Cat Gunner in my testing, but it’s one of those cards that improves the deck performance in specific cases by a few percent; and while Ralmia is a lot more flashy and memorable when it works, it can also sabotage your Magna Giants in the early game, so there are downsides to all of these cards, and it might be correct to run 0 copies of them altogether.
Artifact Portal is one of the most consistent midrange decks in the format and has a linear game plan that doesn’t rely on Natur Al’machinus RNG. While the archetype is moderately unfavored against Machina Blood and Machina Shadow, it does decently well against Dragon, which makes it one of the best-performing decks in the current Blood/Dragon-dominated tournament environment. On ladder, the deck can have some issues (some of which are addressed by Sure-Sighted Lancer), but still performs decently well against the field. It’s far from being the flashiest or the best-performing deck in the format, and that is perfectly fine: not every match has to come down to a game of craps, and Artifact Portal is a breath of fresh air in a world where ~half the decks in the format have a finisher that does random things when played. I sure love knowing what my cards are going to do when I play them. Well, Artifact Duplicator can have some RNG involved, fair enough, but a lot of its RNG usually comes down to 80% or 66% chance of getting what you want, and if you can plan ahead a little, it’s often possible to set up a deterministic outcome.
Identifying cards: Robogoblin, Changewing Cherub, Ironclad Armadillo, Aerial Craft, Lasershell Tortoise, Bearminator, Natur Al’machinus.
What does Machina Portal do?
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 cards that load up your hand for your fusion-based finishers, such as Ironclad Armodillo. After the mini-expansion, the deck has gotten a lot of support, with Bearminator being a particularly important pay-off effect: on the one hand, it’s a great hit from Natur Al’machinus, and on the other, it’s a card that rewards you for being ahead on board after resolving a big Natur/Belphomet (if the opponent doesn’t manage to answer your board). The archetype has a better draw engine than Machina/Elana Haven, so it can theoretically find Aerial Craft more consistently than a Haven deck can find Limonia, although it’s obviously a lot less flexible than Elana Haven with its discounts. In that sense, Machina Portal is yet another archetype that has the potential to outpace Machina Blood with its Natur Al’machinus/Belphomet tempo swing, which makes the archetype particularly relevant in the current Rotation meta.
- Always keep Aerial Craft, Focus, Syntonization, Magna Giant and Hoverboard Mercenary.
- If you have an Aerial Craft, keep Ironclad Admadillo and/or Robogoblin.
- If you don’t have an Aerial Craft, or if you have an Aerial Craft with no other card draw, keep Kaiser, but mulligan away 1-mana cantrips (Focus/Magna Giant).
Aerial Craft is the name of the game when it comes to Machina Portal, and it is extremely important to aggressively mulligan for the card, as the deck doesn’t really function without it. If you have an Aircraft, then you’re already doing great, but if you don’t, it’s important to try and get as deep into your deck as possible before the first evolve turn. As I mentioned in the Artifact Portal section, Portal cantrips are a bit different from cards like Insight, in that every single one of them either has a higher chance of finding Aircraft then simply drawing an “extra” card (as in, when you mulligan them away) because they draw Machina cards, or in that they have a delayed effect (Focus/Syntonization), so all of those cantrip effects are correct to keep. Kaiser is a bit of a special case, as it digs the deepest out of any cards you could play, but has the awkward issue of discard potential threats from your hand in the process. If you’re playing Kaiser on 1, it is often correct to keep whichever one of the necessary pieces that you have (the usual 2-card “combo” being Aircraft and Natur or Belphomet), and if you manage to naturally draw both an Aircraft and a Natur, you obviously don’t play Kaiser before Aircraft, even if the card is shiny, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to play it. Who would’ve thunk it?
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Focus and Syntonization are low-cost cantrips that help find Aerial Craft. There is an argument to be made for playing less that full playsets of each of these cards, as there are some players that choose to omit some copies of these cards. This argument is wrong and those players win fewer games because of it.
- Kaiser is not so cut and dry, however, as there are actual downsides to Kaiser, which mostly come up when running multiple copies of the card. Kaiser is bad in the following cases: if you already have an Aircraft and one of your fusion finishers (in which case you don’t really cast Kaiser); if you play Kaiser and find both of the “combo” parts that you needed, however, one of the cards that you redrew into is a Kaiser; if you have a hand with multiple (3-4) fusion finishers and a Kaiser in the early game, you can technically Kaiser for Aircraft, but you’re going to discard a bunch of threats and can fizzle out by running out of threats later down the line. Kaiser is good in the following cases: when you don’t have either an Aircraft or a fusion finisher in the early game. With these factors in mind, it is important to weigh the risks of these scenarios: running 3 copies makes the unfavorable outcomes a lot more likely, and the difference between running 1 and 2 copies is that you are more likely to draw a Kaiser by running 2 copies. With this in mind, I believe that for conventional Machina Portal variants, 2 Kaisers is the correct amount, but you can get away with running 1 copy as well.
- A 1-of Heaven’s Gate is an optional inclusion that helps in combo-oriented matchups by allowing you to set up a turn 6 Natur/Belphomet even without an Aircraft. The Gate setup is as follows: if you can set it up so that your hand only has Machina cards (with one of them being a fusion finisher, either Natur or Belphomet, and in the case of Natur, you also need at least 1 other Natura card, obviously), then, on turn 5, you fuse your entire hand to your fusion card of choice, pass the turn, Gate gets invoked, then you get your discount at the start of your next turn (before card draw) and play Belphomet/Natur, hopefully generating a big enough tempo swing to transition into a win. The big issue here is that you have a window on turn 5 (and, to a lesser extent, turn 4) where you can’t really afford to topdeck Focus, Syntonization or Kaiser, as having any of these cards in your hand blocks the Gate from working 100% of the time. This is one exaple where topdecking a Kaiser is particularly bad (even if you play it on turn 4, you might draw into a Syntonization that you can’t dump, for example), and savvy opponents can occasionally leave up an Analyzing Artifact that you played on turn 4 if they see what you’re trying to do. Long story short, even if you don’t make any mistakes on your end, you still have a ~7/40 (17.5%) chance of drawing a card that blanks your Heaven’s Gate on turn 5, and if we count both the turn 4 and turn 5 natural draw, there is a 32.31% chance to draw a card that you don’t want to see (assuming a 3xFocus, 3xSyntonization and 1xKaiser build). For this reason, I believe that Heaven’s Gate is generally a bad card for the deck: the card is at its best when your deck isn’t functioning properly, it disincentivizes you from playing good cards like Focus, Syntonization and Kaiser, and even if you do everything right, there is still a non-trivial chance of failure if you get unlucky with shuffler RNG. There is merit to Heaven’s Gate, however, it comes with a lot of risks and seems to have a negative correlation with winning matches, based on available tournament results.
- Ralmia is an optional inclusion that enables some cute Bearminator lines of play if it gets discounted by Natur. Gabriel is also a potential win-more card that works once you have a tempo lead after playing Belphomet or Natur. There is a variety of these types of effects, and I should mention that all of those win-more effects have shown poor results in available tournament data (and my personal testing). I generally believe that the weak point of Machina Portal is its pre-fusion turns, and if you can optimize the deck in a way that makes it fire off Natur on turn 6 or Belphomet on turn 7, it’s going to perform better than when you try to get more value out of the post-Natur turns, which is why I place so much value on early-game card draw and don’t focus on factors like playing Kaiser on turn 10: it is a valid line of play, and sometimes you have to go for it, but the turn 6/7 breakpoint is so incredibly important in the current format that it’s a bit ridiculous to look towards the magical Christmas land where all your fusion threats get cleared and your opponent somehow still enough resources to keep playing the game.
Machina Portal is one of the best-performing decks in user-reported matchup data and simultaneously one of the worst-performing decks in tournament play. The main reason for this, in my opinion, is the archetype’s high draw variance: even in the most refined builds of the deck, there is still a non-trivial probability of being unable to find your Aircraft on time, not to mention the occasional Belphomet lowroll that can similarly cost you games. When looking at the current tournament meta, a key characteristic of well-performing decks is their degree of consistency, which makes decks like Machina Blood, Natura Dragon, Control Forest and Artifact Portal perform more consistently: these decks have a lot of decision points that can impact the course of the game and can steer their game plan accordingly when necessary. Machina Portal, on the other hand, has very limited player agency: you rarely get to make any meaningful decisions outside of the mulligan phase, and as such, while the deck can have middling results, it can’t help but “misfire” occasionally. So, how bad can this variance really get? There is a variety of factors, but the main one that jumps to my mind is Belphomet RNG.
Addendum: Belphomet configurations
Below is a collection of simple probability charts that show the probability distributions of Belphomet after fusing a specific number of cards (from 0 to 15). The available charts include probability distributions for the number of drawn cards (0, 3, 6 or 9), probability of total summoned Tentacle tokens, separate discributions for the number of Ward (2/4) and Storm (4/2) tokens (which are symmetrical), as well as a simple table for probabilities of exact configurations (denoted as the number of Storm tokens/Ward tokens/cards drawn). The last table has a slider filter for the number of fused cards, and below that filter there is also a filter for the number of available board slots (which has options for 4, 3, 2 and 1 open board slots) aside from Belphomet, which affects the rest of the probability distributions. All the charts have tooltips that show additional information when hovering over cells of the charts.
I should note that the displayed “occurrence rates” are the counts for each of the observed categories. While the card does technically have an analytical solution, these results were obtained by simulating the outcomes: for each of the fused cards, the program that I made rolled a 3-sided die 10E9 times, and then the results were counted up in accordance to the available board space limitations (if the first 2 outcomes have already been rolled an number of times exceeding the amount of open board space, that roll doesn’t increase the number of summoned tokens or drawn cards, obviously). After rolling the dice 480 billion times, the results have been aggregated into the below chart, and while there can be some imperfections caused by the random number generation algorithm, this estimate should align with the exact analytical solution within a margin of error of ~0.01%.
Identifying cards: Jackshovel Gravedigger, Aenea, Amethyst Rebel, Friends Forever, Mechawing Angel, He Who Once Rocked, Solossal Skull Lord.
What does Machina Shadow do?
Machina Shadow is an umbrella term for a variety of Shadow decks that utilize the synergy package of Aenea, Friends Forever, Colossal Skull Lord, Mechawing Angel and He Who Once Rocked. The defining characteristic of Machina Shadow is its ability to generate Fleeting Joy tokens, which can be used to generate late-game boards. The quintessential Machina Shadow “package” consists of a mere 18 cards, so the archetype usually leans on previous Shuten-Doji Shadow shells, with efficient midgame cards like Miyako, Shuten-Doji itself, Ceres and Ginsetsu, Great Fox, that allow the archetype to transition from its token-based early game towards its late-game plan of generating a threatening board on turn 9.
The mini-expansion patch has truly revitalized Shadow as a class, as it not only brought with it some extremely efficient defensive midgame tools (Sacrophagus Wraith and Nightmare Devourer) and Aenea going to 4 mana means two things: it can come down very early and be an extremely annoying midgame threat, and that Friends Forever can reanimate an Aenea as well; long story short, Aenea is a very good Shadowverse card in a tempo-based deck, because a turn 4 Aenea puts the opponent into a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation: if you don’t manage to clear both the Roly-Poly and Aenea, Aenea is going to keep generating value every turn; and if you only clear Aenea, a Friends Forever follow-up leaves you right where you started. In that sense, if Machina Shadow can resolve an on-curve Aenea against an empty board, most decks are going to struggle with answering such a board state, which makes Machina Shadow an unusual tempo-based midrange deck that functions in a similar fashion to Artifact Portal.
- Always keep Jackshovel Gravedigger, He Who Once Rocked and Aenea, Amethyst Rebel.
- Keep Miyako going first.
- If you’re not keeping Jackshovel, keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Mechawing Angel, Legendary Skeleton, Grudge Knight, in order of priority.
- If you’re not keeping He Who Once Rocked, but have a 2-drop, keep Sacrophagus Wraith.
- If you’re not keeping an Aenea, keep Shuten-Doji going second. If you’re keeping He Who Once Rocked, keep Shinobu under those conditions.
The general goal for Machina Shadow in the early game is to try and curve out. Some specific factors to mention is that it’s rarely about pushing face damage in the early game (which is one of the reasons why I don’t like keeping Yuki-Onna as a 2-drop, for example), but rather to play cards that trade favorably and either clear the landing strip for an Aenea on 4 or to set up a good reanimate pool for Friends Forever. Keeping Sarcophagus Wraith often feels like a bit of a bait in my testing, as it doesn’t contest the board particularly well, but it draws 2 cards while incentivizing the opponent to trade (since going face for 1-2 damage is a waste against a Wraith) and often makes it so that you have a follow-up play on turn 4, so while it is a bit greedy, I personally believe it to be correct. If you don’t have Aenea on 4, setting up Shuten early on can be valuable, and if you have a token-based opening (with things like He Who Once Rocked and Mechawing Angel), some of them are bound to stick in play, which allows you to get value from Shinobu buffs and take a high-tempo line of play.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Shuten-Doji is a technically optional inclusion that makes a large variety of midrange-y Shadow cards (that you’re likely to include in the first place), such as Miyako, Legendary Skeleton and Ginsetsu, potentially generate a lot of extra pressure in the later stages of the game, and that is without mentioning other fringe Shuten synergy, such as using Jackhovel Gravedigger for removal. Running Shuten-Doji also allows you to include some of its additional payoffs, such as Yuki-Onna (can pressure the opponent’s life total if you’re ahead on tempo) and Ceres (adds a bit of healing, also enables the good old Shuten into Ceres into Vow into Ginsetsu on 7 curve). Not running Shuten-Doji is possible, but requires to include some other (often more defensive) cards, which includes effects like Grudge Knight over Yuki-Onna, for example.
- Gabriel is another optional inclusion that helps capitalize on an early tempo lead. The card has notable synergy with Shuten-Doji, but can also function outside of a Shuten shell, when combined with cards like Helio and Ghastly Assault. Gabriel is a bit of a “win more” card, so it can be somewhat underwhelming if you’re behind on tempo, but since a lot of the deck’s midgame tempo is mostly reactive or defensive in nature, turning this defensive tempo lead into actual pressure on the opponent’s life total can end games extremely quickly. In the context of capitalizing on defensively-slanted early tempo leads, a card that has seen some play in Gabriel lists is Zashiki-Warashi, which dodges a lot of the evolve-based interaction in current Rotation format and can provide a defensive target for Gabriel that is difficult for most decks to deal with. An aggressive variant of this type of Leod Sword-like strategy is “Zashiki-Warashi Voltron”, which includes cards like Well of Destiny and the 1-mana “give an allied follower Divine Shield” spell to build up and protect a big Zashiki-Warashi and hope that there isn’t a Sure-Sighted Lancer in your future.
- Nightmare Devourer is a Shadowverse card that works particularly well in a deck that can generate a lot of incidental tokens and doesn’t have a lot of other Shadow sinks. Being a 5-drop means that the card competes with Ceres in Shuten lists, and while the effect is somewhat conditional and primarily reactive, I believe that the card does so much on average that it’s difficult to justify not running it as a playset, although it’s certainly cuttable if you’re trying to be more aggressive.
- An alternative to the “Shuten package” is the inclusion of high-value reanimate cards such as Fatal Order and Demonic Procession to activate it, which can also benefit from an old Take 2 allstar, Path to Perdition. I believe that there is some merit to running Fatal Order as a simple late-game bomb, as the card is good in the Shadow mirror, but I’m not convinced that it’s better than just running Shuten and a couple Gabriels instead.
- Hades, Ghoul, Phantasmal Core, Mino, Ghoul form a package that transforms Machina Shadow into PtP Shadow. While most of the “Aenea package” is not particularly relevant for what PtP Shadow is trying to do, since a lot of Machina Shadow cards (such as Mechawing Angel, He Who Once Rocked and Ginsetsu, Jackshovel Gravedigger) are extremely effective at generating Shadows, the archetype doesn’t really rely on finding Phantasmal Cores to function. Naturally, PtP Shadow isn’t particularly interested in Nightmare Devourer, however, likely based on the recent popularity of Gremory/Tyrant Shadow decks in Unlimited, a card that has opened up a lot of unusual lines of play is Legendary Skeleton: if you run Gremory and you go through the usual PtP Shadow gameplan of getting to 30 Shadows, you can start cheating mana in the late game by using Legendary Skeleton: for example, on turn 8, you can use the Accelerate effect of Hades for AoE, then Legendary Skeleton, refund 8 mana, then set up an enhanced Grudge Knight or a second PtP. It is no Ghostly Grasp, and it’s no Tyrant, that’s for sure, but PtP Shadow can still do some very unfair things once it’s set up.
Machina Shadow has a decent matchup spread for ladder play: it does fairly well against Machina Blood and both variants of Portal, and due to having access to Fleeting Joy tokens, it can hose OTK-based decks like Discard Dragon (stops Zeus), Control Forest and Natura Rune. The weak point of the archetype is strategies that involve incremental burn damage, this includes such decks as Natura Dragon, UB/Burn Blood and burn-based Shadow decks that don’t win through follower damage, such as Natura and PtP Shadow. This matchup spread limits the applicability of Machina Shadow in tournament play (which is primarily Blood/Dragon-dominated) and while the archetype theoretically has an even matchup against Machina Blood, it should be said that Machina Blood lists are a lot more streamlined and optimized than Machina Shadow lists, which are still a bit all over the place. I believe that Machina Shadow is in a similar spot to Artifact Portal at the start of the expansion: players generally understand that the deck exists and how it works, but it’s going to take some time before the archetype is properly refined to consistently deal with the threats in the format. In this context, it is debatable whether there is even enough time before the rotation for Machina Shadow to settle into a single well-tested and optimized variant.
Identifying cards: Desert Pathfinder, Travelers’ Respite, Necromantic Aether, Revenant Ram, Beastly Medium, Night of the Living Dog, Lubelle, Necrofamily.
What does Natura Shadow do?
Natura Shadow is a combo deck that deals incremental damage to the opponent after enabling Thoth‘s leader effect. In order to reach the threshold of 10 destroyed Last Words cards, the archetype utilizes Tree-generating effects in combination with Lubelle, which works particularly well with cards that generate 0-cost Trees (Respite and Beastly Medium). After the mini-expansion, an important addition to the archetype is Nightmare Devourer, which not only is a 12/12 Rush for 5 mana, but also generates 3-4 Last Words followers by itself. In addition to that, Sarcophagus Wraith is another mini-expansion card that has incidental synergy with Thoth. Natura Shadow is gradually approaching a critical mass of Last Words cards, where every card that you can play from turn 2 to 5-6 adds 1-3 Last Words when resolved, so the archetype can activate Thoth on turn 7 extremely consistently, which lines up with a Nightmare Devourer, Lubelle or Ginsetsu for the remaining 5 mana, so the deck’s combo setup can compete with a lot of other decks in the format (as in, taking a defensive setup turn on 7 and then closing out the game on turn 8 is about on par with Machina Blood timings, for example).
- Always keep Desert Pathfinder, Beastly Medium and Lubelle.
- Keep Mino going first.
- If you’re not keeping a Pathfinder, keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Revenant Ram and Grudge Knight.
- If you have a turn 2 play without Beastly Medium, keep Sarcophagus Wraith.
- If you’re keeping Lubelle going first, keep Travelers’ Respite.
The mulligan strategy for Natura Shadow is fairly consistent with the deck’s prior iterations: the main cards you’re looking for include Lubelle, Pathfinder and the cooler Pathfinder. Aside from that, trying to curve out in the early turns and spending your mana efficiently is also fairly important.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Mino and Grudge Knight are very medium early-game cards that can start upping your Last Words count early on, and Grudge Knight also has its fringe defensive utility in the late game, particularly against Machina Blood as a pseudo-Curate.
- Guilt, Existential Blader is a card that does does double duty in Natura Shadow: on the one hand, it is a fairly efficient card draw effect that can dig towards Thoth in the midgame, and on the other hand, it has the utility of clearing up board space in the post-Thoth stages of the game, so it works a bit like a quasi-burn spell.
- The Hades “package” of Hades itself, 1-2xGremory and some number of Legendary Skeletons can perform a similar function to the Machina-based PtP shell, and since Natura Shadow tends to draw cards and generate a lot of Shadows, this is not a very unreasonable build of the archetype in theory. In practice, however, running the “PtP package” often means that you have to cut Nightmare Devourer and cards like Ginsetsu, which makes your combo setup a lot less consistent. In my opinion, the PtP “package” works a lot better in a Machina shell due to the fact that it adds a combo element to what is ordinarily a midrange-y tempo deck. Adding a secondary incremental damage combo into your incremental damage combo deck effectively means that both of your potential combo setups are going to suffer in the process.
- Natur Al’machinus, alongside a small sub-package of Machina cards (Jackshovel, Friends Forever, Aenea, etc.), is an optional inclusion in Natura Shadow that can theoretically utilize Natur Al’machinus to get discounted copies of Lubelle and Nightmare Devourer. In my testing, I’ve found the Natur “package” extremely clunky and in ~90% of the games in my testing I never actually played the Natur itself, which calls into question the inclusion of the card in the first place. A neat upside of Natur Al’machinus is that you can use it to free up hand size during Lubelle turns, which is suprisingly relevant, but feels a whole lot like the whole “run Belphomet in Artifact lists to unclog your hand during Bestowal turns” mentality: it is an upside, that’s for sure, but is it really that important not to to burn cards from the top of your deck? I am inclined to believe that the Natur “package” is aggressively terrible, based on how similar ideas worked in various decks in the past. Aside from that, playing Natur on turn 7 has some awkward overlap with the deck’s usual setup turn, and a critical flaw of Natur is that Thoth is not a Natura card, so if you’re missing a Thoth to start the combo setup, Natur Al’machinus can wheel into a whole lot of cantrips, but can’t actually find the Thoth itself.
Natura Shadow as an archetype primarily exists to prey on slower midrange decks like Machina Shadow and Artifact Portal, but can struggle against decks with a high amoung of healing (e.g., Machina Blood with Sanguine Cores and Natura Dragon with Cherubs/Respites/etc.), where the slow combo setup isn’t quite enough to close out the game. Natura Shadow can’t really do 20 damage in a single turn without prior setup, so decks that win around turn 8 are a bit difficult for Shadow to deal with. The archetype has briefly come into the limelight in tournament play during the first week of the mini-expansion, when a lot of players were experimenting with Machina Shadow, but just as Machina Shadow started to decline in popularity, Natura Shadow was soon to follow. Natura Shadow is not the most competitive deck one could play in the current environment, but it has its decent matchups and there is some novelty to the archetype, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the archetype gets more optimized in the near future.
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.
- If you don’t have a turn 3 play, keep Elf Queen. Against Shadow, keep Elf Queen even if you have a 3-drop.
- 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. Elf Queen of Abundant Life is specifically important against Shadow (since it answers Aenea cleanly), but it can also be played on 3 in the same way you would with Confectioner/Harvest.
Control Forest (median decklist from top 4 finishes of week 10 JCG events)Source
Control Forest (median decklist from top 4 finishes of week 2 JCG events)Source #1 Source #2 Source #3
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 is a staple 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. What sets these cards apart is that Harvest Season is better at finding combo pieces, so it’s marginally better than Confectioner against combo-based decks like Natura Dragon. In tournament play, if you’re preparing for a Dragon-heavy field, it can be correct to include 3xHarvest and 2xConfectioner, and if you’re trying to beat Blood, Confectioner has a marginally higher priority.
- Elf Queen of Abundant Life is a similar card to Confectioner and Harvest Season and has the specific utility of being a secondary AoE effect, akin to an extra copy of Aria’s Whirlwind, which is releveant against token-based decks (which includes very fringe decks like Machina Sword, for example), but more importantly, can cleanly answer cards that Whirlwind can’t, chief example among which being Aenea. The downside of Elf Queen is that tempo is not very important for Control Forest, so the difference in stats between Elf Queen and Confectioner is not very relevant, and since it’s an AoE effect that is fairly clunky (and usually makes you unable to invoke May or proc Gaia on the turn you play it) that requires evolving a follower (which means that you’re losing progress on your combo setup if you’re evolving it over Roaches), Elf Queen doesn’t make the cut in a lot of Control Forest lists. There could be a meta where Elf Queen is a relevant tech choice in Control Forest, but there’s only ~3 weeks left for it to form while Control Forest is still a Rotation-legal deck. Well, the silver lining is that it’s still a staple in the Unlimited Natura/Roach Control variants, it just competes with too many cards in the current Rotation build of the deck.
- Windfall Fay is a functionally similar card to Harvest Season: it’s an additional source of card draw that you can include if you’re trying to improve your matchups against combo-based decks. The upside of Windfall Fay is that it has a way higher ceiling than any of the card draw effects you could run (you can feasibly draw 5-6 cards with it on turn 6-ish), however, a big issue with Windfall Fay is that it competes for your “enabler pieces” (such as Aether/Respite and 1-cost cards in general) with effects like Aria’s Whirlwind, so it can get stuck in your hand (or turn into a 1-mana card that discards itself with no effect) against midrange decks (e.g., Machina Blood). Windfall Fay can potentially have a lot of value, however, turns 5-6 are when a lot of Control Forest’s cards really come online (e.g., May, Whirlwind, evolving Roaches, etc.), for that reason, card draw that can be played on turns 2-3 (Kokkoro, Confectioner, Harvest Season and the late Carbuncle or Ward of Unkilling) are a lot less clunky than Windfall Fay in practice. With these factors in mind, I believe that it’s risky to run more than 1-2xWindfall, and the cards that you generally cut for it are not payoff effects (Fairy Dragon, Gaia, etc.), but rather Confectioners and Harvest Seasons. Based on my testing, the best split of these card draw effects is 3xConfectioner, 2xHarvest and 0 copies of Windfall and Elf Queen, although a third Harvest or a 1-of Windfall may be preferred over the third Confectioner if you’re running into Dragon a lot.
Control Forest hasn’t lost a lot of numbers in most of its matchups, however, the archetype has a new miserable matchup that has started popping up after the mini-expansion: Machina Shadow. Not only is it difficult to chew through a turn 4 Aenea, the damage prevention effect of Fleeting Joy means that you have to set up a combo with 4 Roaches instead of 3, which is pretty complicated, and Shadow can generate so many Fleeting Joy tokens that it can stay protected for 4-5 turns. To add insult to injury, if you don’t manage to assemble the 4-Roach setup by turn 9, you’re going to have to get through the Ward matryoshka dolls of He Who Once Rocked and Mechawing Angel, which requires a pretty specific setup to beat: 2 discounted Awakened Gaias, 2 Roaches and 2 non-Machinatree bounce effects (for board space reasons), or to trade one of your Roaches into the 6/6 (which more or less requires you to draw all 3 Roaches, which is not particularly likely). Long story short, Shadow is a miserable matchup for Forest, which makes is a somewhat awkward ladder deck. With that said, the tournament meta is primarily dominated by Blood/Dragon/Portal, so Control Forest does decently well in that environment, in a similar fashion to what it did before the mini-expac, and if ladder follows the current tournament trends and Shadow declines in popularity (which it has been doing recently, but some things still remain to be seen), Control Forest could become a lot better on ladder in the near future.
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 mini-expansion patch, Machina Forest has not magically become a competitive deck out of nowhere, as it’s still hamstrung by its April nerfs. Some players have been posting good results with the archetype after adopting a playset of Elf Queens, however, the archetype has seen 0 competitive play after the mini-expansion patch, and it doesn’t even have enough user-reported matchup data to have its own matchup section, so it’s not exactly a well-explored archetype. It could be that Machina Forest is the greatest deck in the format (which it is, if you were to believe the 3 people that are trying to force the archetype), but I am inclined to believe that there is a significant amount of possible confirmation bias at play, based on its success (or rather, lack thereof) in tournament play and user-reported ladder data.
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 Slayn see a lot of play; both Shiva and Gabriel are passable, if not particularly exciting, plays if you are ahead on board.
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 Justine, 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 Robofalcon 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. Most current Elana lists prioritize Robofalcon, but Robogoblin has its utility as well.
- 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 necessary and the third copy is generally fine, but you can get by without it.
- 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 is a deck that has gotten swept under the rug after the mini-expansion, in no small part due to the fact that Machina Portal is a flashier (and easier to pilot) spin on the archetype. With that said, the archetype has been showing some great results in tournament play because it benefits a lot from Machina Blood lists cutting interaction (read: Nerea) and generally getting more conservative in its decklists. Since Elana Haven specializes in building thick midgame boards, it’s also naturally resilient to Ravening Corruption pings. With these factors in mind, Elana Haven is one of the best decks in the format in the context of a Dragon/Blood-dominated environment, and while it has some draw variance (having Limonia on curve is a huge deal), I’ve personally found it to be more consistent than Machina Portal at what it does. There are more decision points in Machina/Elana Haven turns 6-7 than in a lot of entire games of Machina Portal; although I am, of course, biased, as no Rotation-legal Shadowverse card makes me more unhappy than Belphomet with its scammy RNG. Guess they really nailed the whole “all-powerful villain that doesn’t really understand what he’s doing” flavor of Belphomet.
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 a lot of the 5/5-s that Machina Blood tends to have in play in the midgame, as well as 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.
- Uhlein is a card that seems to be designed for Natura Rune, however, it has a lot of redundancy issues with similar midgame cards, such as Stormelementalist, Karyl and Viridia Magna, so it’s currently better suited for a Dirt Rune shell (due to that deck having access to Prep and generally valuing face damage more than a Karyl-based deck would). There could be a meta further down the line where Uhlein is a good inclusion in Natura Rune, but this is not one of them.
- 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 (median decklist from top 4 finishes of week 10 JCG events)Source
Natura Rune (Median decklist from top 16 finishes of week 2 Rotation JCG events)Source
Item Shop RuneSource
Natura Rune has taken a hit after the mini-expansion due to the fact that its Machina Blood matchup has gotten a lot worse with Ravening Corruption. In addition to that, the presence of Aenea makes Natura Rune an awkward ladder deck, and this is not even because Machina Shadow can prevent Riley damage; but rather that Natura Rune has a very hard time answering both parts of Aenea without being open to a Friends Forever follow-up. In addition to that, the archetype has gotten a lot softer to Machina Portal (especially the Gate variants), as Natura Rune can’t feasibly answer a ~15/15 Belphomet (well, Viridia Magna is a card, sure, but it only works if the Portal player rolled fewer than 2 Wards, in which case you likely have a few other, all 4/2-Storm-like, things to worry about). Despite all of these factors, Natura Rune is still a decent deck against both Natura Dragon, Machina Blood and Control Forest, so it has seen some fringe tournament success after the mini-expansion, even if the format is a lot more hostile towards a glass cannon combo deck such as Natura Rune.
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/Robogoblin/Armored Bat/Bloodbinder/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 defensive 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 a deck that has fallen out of favor to an even greater extent than Natura Rune. The main issue of the archetype is that the format is a lot more aggressive overall (in part due to Blood being faster, and in part because of all the tempo decks that are built to race Machina Blood), so it’s necessary to build the archetype in a way that is even more highroll-y, which in practice means including cards like Flame Destroyers in the Traditional Sorcerer slot. The bar has been raised, and with the nature of Spellboost Rune as a deck, improving your highroll potential also makes your bad draws a lot worse, so while the current “greedy” Spellboost Rune have the potential to overwhelm Dragon/Blood, the probability of bricking is also a lot higher. This means that while Spellboost Rune can do very unfair things, it’s important to avoid confirmation bias and look at the bigger picture, which is not particularly flattering in the grand scheme of things.
Regarding Midrange/Evolve Sword
Identifying cards: Kagemitsu, Matchless Blade, Twinsword Master, Steadfast Samurai, Shizuru, Sisterly Sabreur, Lecia, Sky Saber, Pecorine, Peckish Princess, Luxblade Arriet.
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, with key play patterns including snow-bally cards like 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.
After the mini-expansion, the addition of Amelia and Lady of the Lance has made it so that Evolve Sword has a fair bit of additional value in the midgame, which, in combination with Lady of the Lance‘s capacity to take value trades in the early game, has shifted the archetype into a slower more value-oriented direction. With that said, Evolve Sword (and Rotation Sword decks in general) are still inherently tempo-based Gabriel-style decks, regardless of how many players try to skew it into a control direction.
Regarding Machina Sword
Identifying cards: Hoverboard Mercenary, Changewing Cherub, Robogoblin, Autoblade Patroller, Stampeding Fortress, Grayson, Rocket Blader, Johann, Ironforged Hero, Natur Al’machinus.
Machina Sword has gotten a comparable amount of help in the mini-expansion patch to Machina Shadow: the class has effectively gotten 4 new cards to play with, and while Mechablade Soldier isn’t particularly amazing, Johann being conveniently out of range of Blood’s evolved 3/3s is a great addition to the archetype. Machina Sword also makes use of a pretty unique tutor package with Amelia: the only Officers in the deck are Patrick and Lady of the Lance, so playing Amelia on turn 5 finds a Patrick and a LotL, then playing a Patrick on 6 (usually) tutors up the Natur Al’machinus (why can Patrick draw itself?), and since Accelerated Patrick also gives you a Tree on the way down, Amelia effectively sets up the entire Natur chain by itself, which then has a chance of discounting a Patrick, which can be combo-ed with Regal Wildcat on turn 8. Why don’t you simply combo Patrick into Wildcat without Natur Al’machinus being the middleman in the whole transaction? Now that’s just a silly question, if you can spin a Natur on turn 7, you have to go for it. If you’re not spinning the wheel, you’re simply missing out!
Unlike Evolve Sword, Machina Sword can utilize a cooler Gabriel in Stroke of Conviction due to being more token-heavy, so while I can joke about the convoluted chain of tutoring for Storm cards, the archetype can amass a significant amount of reach in longer games between enhanced Lady of the Lance, the whole Patrick/Johann + Wildcat combo, and Stroke of Conviction. In my testing, the card that I’ve personally found the most underwhelming is Grayson: you’re not running any tutors, so you can’t really control when the effect goes off, and even with things like Natur drawing into it alongside a few discounted Machina 2- and 3-drops, it often feels like the effect isn’t particularly relevant against most board states; and Amelia is consistently a way better turn 5 play than Grayson, so it often feels like the only reason the card is in the deck is to get its draw-based trigger, which certainly makes me miss Latham a little. Not really, nobody misses Latham. Machina Sword is a somewhat unusual archetype, and while a lot of its key pieces are going to rotate soon, the rest of the shell, namely, the tempo-oriented Stroke/Gabriel setup and the Amelia/Patrick/Natur tutor chain seem like they could have some potential in the future, even if the deck currently gets outperformed by Blood, Shadow, Portal and Haven at its gameplan.
Midrange/Evolve Sword is generally unfavored against most of the remotely competitive decks in the format, including Machina Blood, Natura Dragon, Artifact Portal, both variants of Rune and Control Forest. Evolve Sword (and Sword in general) has seen more or less 0 competitive play after the mini-expansion patch, it appears that the archetype is significantly worse at playing the fair midrange game than similar tempo-based decks like Machina Shadow and Artifact Portal.
Machina Sword has very little data behind it, so a lot of its numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt, however, user-reported data indicates that it has an okay matchup against Machina Blood and Natura Dragon, which is a bit difficult to believe (as in, if it’s so good against Blood and Dragon, how come nobody’s playing it in a competitive setting?), however, it’s not really that surprising to see its matchup data improve across the board after the mini-expansion patch. Is there more to Machina Sword than meets the eye? I have a strong bias against Sword decks being remotely competitive (based on my personal testing and tournament turnout numbers, in terms of players that bring Sword), but I do feel like the archetype could have some potential if it was optimized properly, but it’s also possible that there is no actual way to optimize Machina Sword any further.