Shisogenius’s Meta Insight 9/9
“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.
[ps2id url=’#rune’]Rune[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#sword’]Sword[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#blood’]Blood[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#portal’]Portal[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#shadow’]Shadow[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#forest’]Forest[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#haven’]Haven[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#dragon’]Dragon[/ps2id] [ps2id url=’#stats’]Stats corner[/ps2id]
Identifying cards: Shikigami Summons, Chaos Wielder, Kyoka, Demoncaller, Fiery Embrace, Kuon, Founder of Onmyodo.
What does Spellboost Rune do?
Spellboost (a.k.a. Runie, a.k.a. Shikigami) Rune is a reactive midrange deck that utilizes Spellboost-based synergies. Prior iterations of the archetype used to be a lot more tempo-oriented with cards like Zealot of Truth and Clarke that could be used to capitalize on the tempo lead created by Kuon by burning the opponent out, however, the current build of Spellboost Rune is closer to a control deck than it is to a tempo deck, and due to the fact that in certain matchups (e.g., against Item Shop/Dirt/Roach decks), Spellboost Rune can occasionally perform the beatdown role with an early Kuon. Aside from matchups against fast combo decks, the general game plan of Spellboost Rune against the more “fair” sector of the meta is to loop Runie: ideally, once you get to 10 Spellboost on a Runie and clear up some hand space (6 or fewer cards in hand), then follow up Runie with a Kuon, which can Spellboost the newly copied Runies 5 times by itself, you only need 3 other Spellboost triggers to “restart” the chain (2 triggers for the first 2 copies to deal face damage, and then an additional trigger to get the next part of the chain). This setup requires you to carefully manage somewhat unorthodox resources: board space (as Kuon takes up to 4 board slots by itself), hand size (a fully Spellboosted Runie puts 4 cards into your hand, and burning extra copies of Runie slows down your clock and requires you to have more Spellboost triggers if you need more damage) and deck size (every new Runie draws a card, and against healing-heavy attrition decks like the more control-oriented UB/Burn Blood lists or Ra Haven, you have to be mindful of decking yourself, which sometimes makes it correct to play the 0-Runie to avoid drawing extra cards).
The dichotomy between going “infinite” with Runies and playing for tempo with Kuons/Demoncallers/Fiery Embraces/etc., which usually depends on the matchup (“Does the opponent’s deck win before turn X?”) and the expected damage breakpoints (“Do I have enough damage with my current resources if the opponent heals for Y?”), makes Spellboost Rune quite complicated to play optimally in a macro sense: the archetype has a bit of a learning curve when you’re trying to figure out the proper balance between these 2 lines of play. When playing against Spellboost Rune, it is important to keep track of how many Runies the opponent is holding (and how many times they are Spellboosted), and, to a lesser extent, the early- to mid-game Kuon breakpoints (for example, if the Rune player kept 2+ cards in their mulligan and has had 7-9 Spellboost triggers on turn 5, you have to hold up efficient removal cards to answer a possible t6 Kuon if you can afford to do so). One of the statistics I’ve personally kept track of in my testing is the Kuon timing, and the median Kuon turn is 7, so turn 7 is an important bottleneck to be aware of if you’re playing any sort of midrange deck against Spellboost Rune.
Spellboost Rune skeleton
Spellboost Rune (median top 16 decklist from week 7 JCG finishes)Source
Spellboost Rune (median top 16 decklist from week 8 JCG finishes)Source
- Always keep Chaos Wielder, Kuon and Authoring Tomorrow.
- If you’re keeping Chaos Wielder/Kuon, keep a proactive turn 2 play, with the general priority against proactive classes (Sword/Blood/Portal/Shadow) being Authoring/Sorcery in Solidarity/Shikigami Summons/Magic Missile. Against classes with weak early game (Haven/Forest/Dragon/Rune) the priority is generally Solidarity/Authoring/Magic Missile/Shikigami Summons, it is also pretty safe to keep a cantrip with an Authoring (as a turn 3 play) if you have an early Spellboost payoff in slower matchups.
- If you’re keeping 1 or more cards, keep Insight, also keep Kyoka if you’re specifically going second.
The general mulligan strategy for Spellboost Rune invoves trying to hit an impactful Spellboost payoff as early as possible, and then find some early game action if you already have a payoff. Authoring Tomorrow is generally just good in every matchup, as you can play it on 2 if you’re getting pressured and on turn 3 if you’re not, so it’s generally the best non-payoff card to look for. One card that I wanted to specifically mention in the context of Rune’s early game is Shikigami Summons: it’s not good in the Rune mirror or against Forest, as playing it on turn 2 makes the opponent’s removal come online (e.g., Roach+Barrage in Forest, or things like Augmentation in Rune), so it can be detrimental to play it in the early game, hence its low priority despite in reactive matchups despite the card’s high (theoretical) efficiency. Another thing that I should address before the “Insight on 1 Council” gets on my case is that keeping Insight (with a payoff effect) doesn’t mean that you’re playing it on turn 1: the reasoning is similar to 3-keeping a double Angelic Snipe+Fate’s Hand opening in Unlimited, where you generally pass on 1, then you either double Snipe on 2 if you’re drawing heavy cards, or play a 2-drop on 2 into double Snipe (or Snipe with another 2-drop) on 3. Putting it simply, unconditional 1-drops in Spellboost Rune have a lot of utility in oiling the wheels of the deck on turns 3-5: they’re effectively “free” with how your curve usually ends up looking, and the more cards you manage to Spellboost, the more mileage you’re going to get out of them.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Daria, Infinity Witch is an optional inclusion that saw a lot of play in the early builds of the archetype. As the archetype got more refined, Daria started showing signs of consistently being the worst card in the deck, and current optimized Spellboost Rune lists trend towards exactly 0xDaria. The issue with Daria is that the card is at its best when your deck is functioning badly (as in, you can’t find Kuon/Runie, so you need card draw), and that it can get incredibly clunky in the midgame: with how starved Spellboost Rune can get for hand size, having a Daria spin into 2-3 new cards is a huge detriment to the archetype’s Runie-oriented game plan. With these factors in mind, Daria is generally the most overplayed card in Spellboost Rune, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s an aggressively bad inclusion, available data from the tournament results I have access to at the time of writing leads me to believe that Daria is just bad and you should have a very good reason to include it in your deck.
- Clash of Heroes and Magical Augmentation are cards that you can discard from your hand for 1 mana to Spellboost your hand once. Clash has a higher ceiling (as it has the utility of killing off your Shikigami tokens on command, and can hit for 4-5 damage with Spellboost followers in the midgame), while Augmentation does a lot of work against early-game X/1 followers, making it somewhat important against Sword and Portal in particular. Generally speaking, any split between 2/3, 3/2 or even 3/3 appears to be optimal, with the exact number of copies depending on the rest of your early-game Spell package. The best-performing split is 2xClash/3xAugmentation at the time of writing, but the differences between the three are fairly marginal.
- The Mysterian Project is an optional inclusion that is primarily intended to copy Kuon, but can also hit Demoncaller or even Kyoka to have a smoother curve in the eary game. If I could run 5-6 Kuons, I probably would, but Project is about as close you one can get to having the gas to go the distance against healing-heavy decks. I would personally consider at least 2xProjects to be necessary, but it’s possible that 3 copies could become the standard configuration if the format has a lot of Haven.
- Wind Blast and Traditional Sorcerer are low-cost Spellboost effects that have vaguely defensive functions and particularly shine against Sword/Blood/Shadow. Unlike Daria, these cards can be dumped from hand with little opportunity cost, so even if they don’t always make the cut, these cards can be added or excluded depening on the prevalence of Sword/Shadow.
- Sudden Showers, Mystic Absorption and Disintegration are all broad tech cards against follower-heavy decks (e.g., Sword/Portal/Blood), which have primarily seen play as an answer to Alyaska in Sword lists. With that said, the banish condition can certainly pick up a good bit of value against Portal (by denying the Portal player from having uncommon Artifacts in the Modesty/Scan/Duplicator pool) and Shadow (where it can deny Milteo card draw, among other things), however, both Absorption and Disintegration are somewhat contingent on drawing through your deck, which is not always possible when these effects are really needed.
Spellboost Rune is one of the best-performing decks in the mini-expansion Rotation meta: the archetype generally deals well with fair midrange decks, but can struggle against Yukari decks, Item Shop Rune (which has a faster win condition) and Baal Burn Blood. The archetype is certainly not without its flaws (as it can have issues on both sides of the spectrum: it can get burned out by faster decks, and there are also decks that can outlive its damage), but it’s still an incredibly well-rounded ladder deck and would be the first deck I’d recommend to someone trying to be competitive in the Rotation format, all while allowing to transition to one of the best-performing Unlimited decks with little to no vial investment.
Item Shop Rune
Identifying cards: Travelers’ Respite, Sudden Showers, Arcane Item Shop, Arcane Aether.
What does Item Shop Rune do?
Item Shop Rune is a combo deck that consists of 97.5% Spells and Amulets, and utilizes Arcane Item Shop mana refunds to chain low-cost cards and deal up to somewhere in the realm of ~30-36-ish damage to random targets on the other side of the field. Against decks that can’t put up a thick enough board going into the Shops Rune player’s turn 7, this can effectively represent a turn 7 OTK. The combo has 3 setup requirements: firstly, you need to draw into Arcane Item Shop in your first 15-18 cards (which has a hypergeometric probability to fail of 15.59% – 23.28%), secondly, you need to find one of your Sorceries in Solidarity or a Vergewalker (which has a probability of whiffing of 8% – 13.84%), and lastly, you need to draw at least 2 out of 9 mana-refunding cards, which include Travelers’ Respite, Spellbinder’s Preparation and Arcane Aether (which is the most trivial requirement assuming you don’t use any of the pieces prematurely, and has a failure rate of 2.29% – 6.68%), and at least one of those enablers has to be a non-Aether card to start the chain (which it is 91.67% of the time), so that you can actually, well, play your cards after playing the Item Shop on 7. What I’m alluding to here is that while Item Shop Rune is technically an out-of-hand turn 7 OTK, it is important to be aware of the fact that there is non-trivial (30.44%, using the more optimistic estimate of drawing 18 cards by turn 7) probability of the combo whiffing entirely, which places an upper constraint on the archetype’s theoretical peak performance: Item Shop Rune can’t have a winrate of over 70% in any of its matchups, even against a deck that literally doesn’t play any cards.
But enough about how Item Shop Rune loses games, let’s briefly go over how the archetype actually wins. In the early stages of the game, your objective usually involves cycling through your deck with various cantrips and draw spells, trying to sculpt a hand of Arcane Item Shop, 2 or more “chain starters” (Preparations, 0-cost Trees from Travelers’ Respite and Arcane Aether, with at least one of them being one of the former two), and to either have a Vergewalker Magician in hand or in the “played cards” tab. After getting to turn 7, you play Arcane Item Shop and start climbing up the discount chain to get to 2-3 open mana, and play as many cards as you can, ideally until you only have a Madcap Conjuration with 2 other Spells, which can then be used to reload and get some more damage. It is important to note that you have to use your removal cards first (while they still have targets in play), which includes things like Magical Augmentation and Sudden Showers, as well as the less obvious examples like Mirror of Truth (which can nab a 2-drop that you can hopefully use to deal 3-4 damage to one of the opponent’s followers) and Magic Missile (which can go face, of course, but if your opponent is on an even life total and has a follower with an odd amount of health, it’s going to do an extra point of damage if you can Missile a follower). In addition to that, against slower decks, it is occasionally possible to save a Vergewalker until turn 7, so if you manage to evolve it post-Item Shop, it’s obviously going to (effectively) deal a lot of extra face damage, and you have to fire it off while wasting as little damage as possible. While this is pretty obvious, it’s also important to not board lock yourself, as you need to have a board slot open for Trees, which means that you should be careful about playing too many Sigils without an Augmentation, Veridic Ritual or a Vergewalker to open up some room, and you should be similarly careful of discarding 2 or more Amulets with Madcap Conjuration if you don’t manage to draw into a Sudden Showers to get rid of one of the Golems (which you won’t, ~66.24% of the time, though it obviously depends on how many cantrips and Sudden Showers you have left in your deck). As a rule of thumb, if you can clear the board before playing Madcap Conjuration post-Shop, you should have enough damage to close out the game.
When playing against Item Shop Rune, the game can be divided into 3 stages: the “early game” stage involves trying to play around Authouring Tomorrow, Sudden Showers, Augmentation and Magic Missile, which is then followed by the “bait out Vergewalker Magician” stage, where you have to commit enough to the board to force the Rune player’s hand while still keeping back some cards to reload afterward (e.g., in Shadow lists, this usually means playing Milteo #1, in Sword, this means playing Amelia or some sort of Levin Beastmaster/Stroke of Conviction or Alyaska+Thief lines, and so on), and the final “coast is clear” stage, where you put as much toughness into play as you can going into the Rune’s player turn 7 (in Shadow, this means trying to line up the invocation of Aisha and Fieran with your Fatal Order/Bonanza Necromanca swing, in Dirt Rune, this means resolving Adamantite Golem and praying for 3/3s, in Sword lists, it means avoiding Enhance costs on your cards and playing out tempo Mirror Images/Pecorine, which should ideally line up with Fieran invocation, and so on). Some decks are better at these 3-stage setups (e.g., Elana Haven) and some are a lot worse (e.g., Control Forest or UB/Burn Blood), but most midrange decks in the format have lines of play that make the turn 7 Shops “OTK” a lot more difficult or outright impossible to pull off.
- If you don’t see a Madcap Conjuration, keep Authoring Tomorrow, Magic Missile, and either Sorcery in Solidarity or Vergewalker Magician, prioritizing Sorcery over Vergewalker if you’re offered both.
- Keep Mirror of Truth against Blood. If you’re keeping Mirror, also keep Cauldron.
- If you see a Madcap Conjuration, keep it and toss Vergewalker/Sorcery. Keep Mirror/Cauldron in a set with Madcap.
- Don’t keep Arcane Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Arcane Item Shop or Prep.
Shops Rune mulligans are a bit convoluted, with the main decision point being based on whether you have a Madcap Conjuration or not. If there is no Madcap in your future, it’s often correct to simply keep your 2-mana cantrips like Magic Missile, Authoring Tomorrow and Solidarity. I prefer to not keep Insight, as an early Insight negatively impacts the deck’s winrate in my testing, which is likely primarily caused by the card being a quasi-combo piece, and there is no real value to cycling Insight on 1, as you can more or less play it at any point in the game. Generally speaking, the best early-game card in my testing has been Sorcery in Solidarity, followed by Magic Missile and Authoring Tomorrow. It should be mentioned that Authoring is a better play on turn 3 rather than on 2 in slower matchups (e.g., against Midrange Shadow, Blood or Discard Dragon). The Mirror of Truth line of play follows the same reasoning as in Dirt Rune, and there is a slight added benefit to it in Shops Rune: if you curve out Cauldron into Mirror, you’re not giving the opponent information of what Rune deck you’re playing, which doesn’t really make a huge difference, but is a slight upside.
The early Madcap lines of play are somewhat more confusing: ideally, you don’t want to discard your “big” combo pieces (Item Shop itself, as well as Vergewalker and Solidarity), and ideally you don’t want to waste too many of the “small” combo pieces (Respite, Aether, Prep), so keeping Madcap Conjuration always carries with itself a risk: if you keep it and then topdeck Item Shop into Solidarity (or in the more stressful case, double Solidarity or double Shop), then you can’t actually play Madcap in the early game, as you’re shooting yourself in the foot in terms of your actual combo setup. In that sense, Madcap Conjuration is a very difficult card to play: if you’re just discarding a bunch of garbage, it’s your best card draw spell, but if you’re discarding one of your big combo pieces, you’re basically throwing the game. The reason for keeping non-combo Amulets with Madcap is that ideally you’d want to fire it off as early as possible (in order not to increase your chances of drawing into more combo pieces), and since the deck has a ~ 2.25/1 ratio of Spells to Amulets, finding the 2 Amulets to get your 2/2-s is a lot more difficult than finding the Spells, and ideally you don’t want to tunnel vision on Madcap by wasting combo pieces with Aether/Respite/Prep. In a similar fashion to playing Discard Dragon, it’s important to keep track (ideally, write it down somewhere if you’re a boomer like myself, or just keep a mental note of it if your brain hasn’t turned into mush from old age yet) of what you discard if you play an early Madcap: not necessarily of every single card, but at least keep track of your combo pieces (Respite/Prep/Aether), Item Shops and Solidarities/Vergewalkers. My general recommendation to players new to Item Shop Rune is to try to never play Madcap if you’re discarding either 2 or more of your “small” combo pieces or 1 or more of your “big” combo pieces, and attempt to gradually increase how much risk you can take based on the matchup you’re playing, once you’re more familiar with the archetype. Long story short, you don’t always have to play Madcap early if it lines up poorly with the rest of your game plan.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Item Shop Rune is an archetype that doesn’t have a lot of room for tech cards because of how restrictive its construction is, however, the third copies of Sudden Showers, Authoring Tomorrow and Magic Missile are theoretically something one could try cutting to slot in some number of cards. In a more practical sense, there is no real merit to straying from the build of the archetype listed in the JCGW2 tab. Looking at a decklist from the second week of July JCG events, one would think that it could potentially be a bit outdated, but with the way Item Shop Rune is constructed, even in the distant future, after a round of balance changes and a whole mini-expansion, these exact 40 cards are still the optimal Item Shop Rune decklist in competitive play. Crazy how nature does that.
- Silent Laboratory is a card that has seen fringe play as a 1-of in early builds of the archetype. The issue with Lab in the current format is that it gives Rune targets for Clash/Augmentation in the early game, and the card also has some unfortunate board space implications in the post-Item Shop phase of the game.
- Gourmet Emperor’s Kitchen and Mystic Absorption are cards that have seen play as 1-ofs before the Sword nerf, however, the awkward part of costing 3 makes these cards more or less unplayable in the post-Item Shop stage of the game (by the time you get to 3 open mana, there’s often no good targets for these cards), and these damage breakpoints are simply not particularly relevant against neither Dirt Rune, Midrange Shadow or Discard Dragon (the very midrange decks that you’re trying to target by running these 3-mana removal spells).
Identifying cards: Juggling Moggy, Earth Sorceress, Lhynkal, the Fool, Aetheral Golem, Creative Conjurer, Adamantite Golem, Forbidden Darkmage, second and third Vergewalker Magician.
What does Dirt Rune do?
Dirt Rune is a midrange deck with a combo finisher that revolves around Earth Rite synergies. The archetype has 2 primary win conditions: on the one hand, naturally churning through your Sigils over the course of the game, when combined with chip damage from early game followers, Adamantite Golem, Mirrors, etc., can allow you to set up for a Darkmage that does somewhere in the realm of 13-16 damage. This approach primarily applies to tempo-based matchups and obviously doesn’t really work against decks with damage prevention effects (e.g., Azazel, Darkmage, Yukari, etc.) or decks that have a lot of healing (e.g., Sword), so Dirt Rune has another angle of attack: the inevitability package of Lhynkal and Karyl. An early Lhynkal can potentially set the opponent’s health total low enough that they can’t actually heal out of Darkmage range, and against Azazel decks and in the Dirt Rune mirror, a double Lhynkal setup (or Lhynkal into non-UB Karyl, if the opponent has a slower draw) can set up for a 13 damage Karyl + Veridic Ritual combo (which is a bit telegraphed, but goes through most combo-prevention effects).
While Dirt Rune has a combo approach to closing out games, what puts the archetype on its figurative pedestal is its midgame interaction package: Vergewalker Magician, Magical Augmentation and Madcap Conjuration can put a damper on any board-based midrange deck attempting to proactively develop the board, and the archetype can also play a fair game with midgame threats like Adamantite Golem and cards like Imperator of Magic, which is supported by the draw engine of Darkmage, Earth Sorceress and, to a lesser extent, cards like Augmentation and Witch’s Cauldron, that allow the deck to curve out smoothly. Dirt Rune is an archetype that has a proactive gameplan (with an inevitability engine), efficient answers to a lot of decks in the format, and a fair bit of flexibility in terms of tech choices, making it the one of the better midrange deck of the Rotation format.
After the mini-expansion (in which Dirt Rune didn’t get any playable support), the archetype has fallen out of favor to a pretty significant extent, with the main reasons for that being the prevalence of archetypes that can push chip damage (e.g., Artifact Portal, Baal Blood, Midrange Sword) in ladder play and the unfortunate fate of sharing its class slot with the perceived best-performing deck of the format, Spellboost Rune, in tournament play. These factors combined make tech cards like Zelgenea valuable and push Dirt Rune in a more control-based direction. Dirt Rune is a pretty well-refined archetype and there isn’t really a lot to iterate on as far as optimizing the deck goes, and while it’s certainly not particularly popular at present, it has been showing decent results in tournament play despite its minuscule representation. Dirt Rune is certainly not a deck I’d expect when queueing up into a Rune player on ladder, but it’s still a surprisingly decent archetype for how many players are sleeping on it.
Dirt Rune skeleton
Dirt Rune (median top 16 decklist from week 3 JCG finishes)Source
Dirt Rune (median top 4 decklist from week 2 JCG finishes)Source
- Always keep Lhynkal and/or Juggling Moggy.
- Keep Vergewalker Magician against Sword/Blood/Portal/Shadow.
- Keep Mirror of Truth against Blood. Going second, also keep Cauldron if you’re already keeping a Mirror.
- Keep Prep or Cauldron if you’re already keeping Moggy.
- If you’re not keeping a proactive 2-drop (Lhynkal/Moggy), keep Creative Conjurer/Silent Lab, in order of priority.
- Don’t keep Adamantite Golem.
Dirt Rune is a bit different from other midrange decks in that a lot of its early developments are not particularly mulligan-reliant, since the deck runs somewhere in the realm of 15-21 2-drops, and although some of the 2-mana cards are better saved for later (e.g., Vergewalker and Madcap Conjuration), and you can certainly milk some of the deck’s 2-drops for more value (e.g., Earth Sorceress/Mirror), there is no real way to curve out badly with Dirt Rune. Lhynkal is the best 2-drop in the deck since it allows you to start the Lhynkal setup early, and Moggy is an extremely efficient early game follower (especially if you pair it up with Prep or if you manage to mise an Adamantite Golem on turn 1), so those cards are what I’m usually looking for in the early game against most decks.
Vergewalker Magician is extremely important to have for the Sword/Portal boards around turn 5-ish, but the card is often a dead draw in the Rune mirror. Mirror is pretty medium in most matchups, but copying a Bloodbinder is really good value (though it’s important to be aware of the fact that you can’t play Mirror on 2 when going first). In my testing of the archetype, I’ve noticed that the best-performing early game cards on average are Preparation (+16.67% relative winrate, ~50% played rate) and Darkmage (+10.89%, ~54% played rate), followed up by Vergewalker and Lhynkal (which are both +4.17% winrate, and around ~34% played rate). There could be some merit to blindly keeping Darkmage or Preparation, but it’s important to be aware of the fact that those cards are somewhat conditional, and I don’t believe that they’re correct to keep without any support pieces (not to mention that playing an early Darkmage makes it less likely to find another one in matchups where the damage prevention effect is relevant, e.g., against Terrorformer Forest). Cards with significant negative correlations include Imperator of Magic (-8.33%), Aethereal Golem (around -22%, but the played rate is very low) and, to a lesser extent, Creative Conjurer (-1.19%), which is why I generally do not prioritize keeping these cards.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Lhynkal and Karyl were an optional package in the earlier builds of the archetype that has transitioned to be a staple in the post-Sword-nerf meta, since there has been a significant uptick in Dirt Rune and UB/Burn Blood. Even outside of meta-dependant shifts to the format, the Lhynkal/Karyl package opens up an alternative win condition to the archetype, and available tournament data (as well as my personal testing) leads me to believe that this is the best-performing midgame package one could feasibly include in the archetype, and omitting these cards makes the deck perform significantly worse.
- Madcap Conjuration is primarily a tech card against Midrange Shadow, and, to a lesser extent, other midrange decks that generate tall boards that don’t die to Vergewalker (e.g., Midrange Sword, Haven, etc.). The big challenge of Madcap Conjuration is that activating the Follower and Amulet conditions is pretty trivial in Dirt Rune, however, having enough spells to not be completely out of action after clearing the board is the tricky part. In order to enable Madcap Conjuration, some Spells that can be ran include Mystic Absorption, Mysterian Wisdom and Authoring Tomorrow. The issue with all of these cards is that they don’t have particular synergy with what the rest of your deck is doing. An alternative to these medium Spell cards includes cards that convert themselves into Spells, with Lhynkal, Mirror of Truth and Creative Conjurer being chief examples, which I personally believe to be a better alternative to cards like Absorption. The reason for that belief of mine is that in matchups where Madcap is bad (e.g., Item Shop Rune or Terrorformer Forest), you also don’t have a bunch of other similarly bricky cards (e.g., Absorption has no targets against Item Shop Rune, and Authoring similarly doesn’t do a whole lot), but instead have 2-mana 2/2-s that at least provide some proactive tempo. In that sense, there is a pressure for Dirt lists to run Madcap Conjuration because of how popular Shadow is, but the support package for Madcap often includes mediocre cards, so the main bottleneck to optimizing Dirt lists likely involves making the Madcap package more consistent. Recent JCG results point towards Creative Conjurer being a possible solution, and I’ve personally had better results with Conjurer (than Absorption) in Madcap lists, but it’s possible that a better support package might be uncovered later down the line.
- Creative Conjurer is a support piece for the Madcap Conjuration package, however, the card can also be included in non-Madcap lists if you’re trying to go a little more aggressive. The cards that compete with Conjurer include Aethereal Golem, Silent Laboratory and The Mysterian Project. I have already listed some of the results that I’ve gotten with Aethereal Golem in the mulligan section, but, to reiterate the point, Aethereal Golem was one of the worst-performing cards in the deck. Silent Lab falls into a similar space, and while there are some functional differences between the two, Conjurer is generally more flexible than Lab in a lot of its applications. I am not a fan of Lab/Aethereal Golem, but Project is a card that certainly deserves some consideration, as copying an extra Karyl (or even Lhynkal) can speed up your clock considerably against slower decks by giving you more threats. The toss-up between Conjurer and Project mostly depends on which direction you want to take the archetype: if you’re trying to be more proactive, Conjurer is generally better, but if you’re trying to beat healing-heavy decks (e.g., Sword/Haven), then Project is the correct tech card in the slot.
- Zelgenea is a tech card against grindy decks like UB Blood and, to a lesser extent, slower midrange decks like Elana Haven and Artifact Portal. Dirt Rune does have a bit of healing, but the healing it does is either tied to Adamantite Golem RNG or is generally not very significant (Darkmage), so having a reliable healing card that lets you get out of range of Blood burn is invaluable. In addition to that, in midrange matchups where you’re under too much pressure to rely on resolving Karyl (e.g., Midrange Sword), having 1-2xZelgenea in your deck allows you to have an additional 4 damage if the game drags out until turn 10, and since the damage is applied at the end of turn, it works with either Karyl or Darkmage. Zelgenea has a lot of utility and has been gradually seeing more and more play in midrange decks of the Rotation format, and Dirt Rune is certainly no exception, especially due to its tendency to get burned out.
- Imperator of Magic is an optional 1-of in some lists, primarily aiming to provide value against follower-heavy midrange decks such as Midrange Sword, Artifact Portal and Discard Dragon. The card has some extra utility in the long grindy matchups, since it enables the turn 8 Imperator into Vergewalker line of play, which can be occasionally relevant against Sword in particular. The weak point of Imperator is that some decks in the format can sidestep the whole “play a follower” condition because they don’t play a lot of actual followers (e.g., Item Shop Rune), and even follower-heavy decks like Midrange Sword have cards like Mirror Image/Courtly Dance/Elegance in Action that delay the activation until turn 6 and make this 4-mana 2/2 look really silly. In my testing, Imperator has been one of the worst cards in the deck and I wouldn’t recommend running it.
Addendum: Adamantite Golem probability distribution
Adamantite Golem is yet another addition to random Shadowverse cards that follow the multinomial probability distribution in its outcomes. The more enfranchised Shadowverse players are likely already familiar with this probability distribution based on the time period when Orichalcum Golem was a prevalent card of the Rotation format. Unlike its Orichalcum counterpart, Adamantite Golem doesn’t have any overlap in its effects, so each of the outcomes follows the same probability distribution, the summary of which is shown in the image below. A more detailed breakdown of the exact configurations can be found in this spreadsheet.
Identifying cards: Shield Phalanx, Kagemistu, Matchless Blade, Gelt, Resolute Knight, Amelia, the Silverlfash, Honorable Thief, Regal Wildcat.
What does Midrange Sword do?
Midrange Sword is a blanket term for a midrange archetype that utilizes efficient Swordcraft followers (e.g., Kagemitsu, Gelt, Amelia, Alyaska, etc.) to generate proactive tempo, with an emphasis on Evolve synergy. The archetype also features a variety of Rally pay-off effects, such as as Honorable Thief, Shield Phalanx and Fieran. As there is a significant amount of overlap between the synergy packages available to Sword, the archetype has been described as “Rally” or “Evolve” Sword during the earlier stages of the expansion, although the distinction between the two is obviously quite unclear. The archetype has a quasi-inevitability engine with Zelgenea, which can deal 20 damage on turn 10 when combo-ed with Regal Wildcat, which can obviously be stopped with Wards and damage prevention effects like Azazel/Forbidden Darkmage, but still forms an important facet of Midrange Sword’s playstyle: even if you manage to deal with various combinations of efficient midgame followers over and over, if the game drags out until turn 10, you have to be aware of the Zelgenea/Wildcat setup, by either trying to go under it, or saving critical tech cards (e.g., Wards in general, or things like Yukari/Chanteuse) for the Sword player’s turn 10.
After the mini-expansion, Midrange Sword has adopted Alyaska, and the power level of the card naturally pushes the deck in a more Evolve-based direction, which can partly be attributed to the fact that even before the mini-expansion, slower builds of Sword generally performed better in tournament play. It is no exaggeration to say that Sword got some pretty pushed cards not only in the set that introduced the evergreen Sword-specific keyword (Rally), but in the mini-expansion as well, and with the balance changes specifically affecting one of the other prevalent midrange decks at the time (Midrange Shadow), this patch has been the perfect storm for Sword: Cygames seem to have really wanted for Sword to see play, and they certainly succeeded in that goal.
- Always keep Gelt and/or Kagemitsu.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Oathless Knight, Shield Phalanx or Levin Beastmaster, in order of priority.
- If you’re keeping 1 or more cards at this point, also keep King’s Welcome.
- Keep Mirror Image if you’re already keeping a Kagemitsu.
- If you’re not keeping 2 3-drops or Mirror Image, keep Stroke of Conviction going first.
- Don’t keep Invocation cards.
Sword mulligans are fairly straightforward: the general goal is to curve out (to start working towards your Rally thresholds) and hit your good cards (Gelt and Kagemitsu). The priority for 2-drops is that you’re trying to play your cards in order from worst to best: a lot of Sword 2-drops do the same thing on turn 2 in terms of tempo, but Phalanx and Beastmaster have actual utility in the later stages of the game, so it’s better to save them for later use when given the option. Steadfast Samurai and Thief are too vulnerable to incidental 1-damage pings (e.g., Augmentation or Magic Missile out of Rune decks and Rockback Ankylosaurus out of Discard Dragon being chief examples) and also trade unfavorably with 1/X-s, not to mention the obvious factor of saving better cards for later stages of the game, for when they can pick up some extra value. Pairing Mirror Image with a Kagemitsu is about as good as Sword’s early game synergies get: not only does it add +2 to your Rally count, it also contributes to evolve synergies and is generally a decent tempo play. After the Wildcat nerf, Sword decks really hate going first, as the archetype doesn’t really have anything productive to do on 4, so if you can’t manage to find a second 3-drop or a Mirror Image for your turn 3 Kagemitsu, a turn 4 Stroke of Conviction for 2 Quickbladers definitely looks ugly and quite sad, but it does help reach Rally thresholds, so it’s usually correct to grind your teeth, look away from the screen and play it to develop proactive tempo, even if it’s pretty painful to look at. King’s Welcome improves your odds of a turn 5 Amelia, which is where you generally want to be, but in most MidSword lists, it has a ~58% to miss and only get a Alyaska (which is still decent when played on curve, but obviously not particularly efficient), so I personally wouldn’t blindly keep a Welcome, but try to have some turn 2-3 follow-up at the very least.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Resolve of the Fallen is an optional inclusion in Sword lists that I would personally consider a core card. Resolve is incredibly easy to activate for Midrange Sword, and while you’re not necessarily going to draw 2 cards from every Resolve you cast, a 1-mana removal spell is a necessity against Rune and Discard Dragon. Based on tournament data and my personal testing, the only viable replacement for a playset of Resolve of the Fallen in Sword lists is an animated playset of Resolve of the Fallen.
- King’s Welcome has been a fairly prevalent flex slot in Midrange Sword lists after the mini-expansion due to Alyaska being a card that you want to play as often as possible. Most Sword lists only run 7 total Commanders (3xAmelia, 3xAlyaska, 1xWildcat), and Welcome serves double duty with such a lineup of Commanders: in the early- to midgame, you’re generally happy to reliably fetch Amelia or Alyaska, and in the late game, if your Gelts still haven’t managed to find a Wildcat, King’s Welcome has higher odds of finding a Wildcat. Early MidSword lists defaulted to 3 King’s Welcome to help enable Lady of the Lance, however, with LotL getting less prevalent and with the archetype getting more threat-dense, it is difficult to justify running King’s Welcome as anything more than 1-2 copies.
- Lady of the Lance, Tsubaki and Pecorine are cards that more or less do the same thing, with some minute differences: Tsubaki and LotL are Officers, while Pecorine is a Commander, so you can’t use evolved Amelia into Pecorine, but you can do so with Tsubaki/LotL. With the adoption of King’s Welcome in a significant portion of Sword lists, Pecorine has obviously started to see a lot less play than before the mini-expansion, so the competing cards in this slot are generally LotL and Tsubaki. I’ve personally found that Tsubaki is a bit better against Rune than LotL, since its activation often lines up with the turn when Fieran gets invoked, and Spellboost Rune has a hard time dealing with a 5/4 Ambush (since it survives a 3-damage Runie shot). Lady of the Lance is better against Sword/Portal, but I’ve personally found it to be pretty inconsistent in the early game, as you can’t expect it to be consistently active on turn 3 with 7-9 effective Commanders (counting King’s Welcome).
- Mirror Image is an optional inclusion that enables a great number of Sword synergies in combination with Kagemitsu. If you’re trying to go more aggressive, it’s possible that running Mirror Image isn’t really that necessary, but if you’re trying to go for a more value-oriented midrange approach, running at least 2 copies seems correct, especially if you’re running other cards that work well with Mirror Image, such as Courtly Dance. I should note that Mirror Image also got a bit of a power boost with Alyaska around, as it can both do shenanigans if the opponent lets an Alyaska stick around for a turn, or even simply when combined with the Exterminatus Weapon if you can trade into something that kills the 6/6 off, so Mirror Image is a lot more versatile than it used to be.
- Stroke of Conviction is an aggressive tech card that helps against specifically Rune, either by summoning 2 Quickbladers or pumping your team in the early game, or by punishing the opponent for leaving you with any semblance of board presence with its Enhance mode. A more midrange-y alternative to Stroke is Courtly Dance (which is obviously incompatible with Ernesta) that can be used to tutor out Kagemitsu on turns 4-5 (with Mirror Image or the Honorable Thief token).
- Luxblade Arriet is a tech card against Blood/Rune. The main purpose of Arriet is its utility as a high-tempo healing card. I value healing a lot in the current Rotation meta, as a lot of decks tend to win through incremental damage, and I find it difficult to justify not running a full playset of Arriets if you want to have a decent shot at beating Rune.
- Steadfast Samurai is an optional inclusion that particularly shines against Rune in the midgame and can pick up a decent amount of value against Blood as well. Samurai is a pretty mediocre 2-drop in the early stages of the game against all variants of Rune and Discard Dragon, but the damage prevention effect (and Storm) on its evolved body are invaluable against damage-based finishers like Darkmage/Karyl/Garnet Waltz/Razory Claw/etc. I personally do not value Steadfast Samurai particularly highly, as it feels pretty mediocre in a lot of matchups, but it can certainly run away with games if left unchecked against decks that don’t run Bane followers and/or damage-based removal.
- Oathless Knight and Ernesta are optional cards that have seen some testing in an attempt to improve the deck’s Rally timings. Oathless Knight is a fine 2-drop, and Ernesta has some cute synergy with Honorable Thief in the midgame. These cards work particularly well in tandem with Stroke of Conviction and Fieran if you have an aggressive early curve, but obviously don’t bring a lot of value to the table. An alternative to these options in slower Sword lists is Ilmisuna, which improves the archetype’s early- to mid-game curve and can bring some late-game value as well, can serve as a bad Valse if you’re getting overwhelmed, and adds another playable officer for Amelia and Alyaska.
- Fieran has gotten a lot less important with Midrange Sword going into a more Evolve-centered direction, so the rule of thumb for Fieran is that if you’re not playing a list that is particularly good at curving into an early Fieran, you can get by with 1 copy, however, if you’re playing a more aggressive Sword variant, it’s fine to run 2 copies. The problem with Fieran in current Sword lists is that you generally really don’t want to ever draw it, as it’s not really playable in a lot of matchups, but the free value is hard to pass up. Zelgenea, on the other hand, is a lot more playable out of hand, and with the current prevalence of Rune, healing is quite valuable, so it’s difficult not to run at least 2xZelgenea, even if the rate at which you’re getting the healing itself isn’t particularly great for a class so heavily specialized in healing as Sword. But of course, when I think about swords, healing is the first thing that comes to mind, that’s what swords do, naturally.
Midrange Sword is one of the three most popular archetypes in the current Rotation format, and in a similar fashion to Spellboost Rune, performs decently well against most decks in the field, with the only decidedly unfavorable matchup being Spellboost Rune. Due to having this unusual matchup distribution (unfavored against Rune, heavily favored against most “fair” decks of the format), Midrange Sword is a surprisingly highly-polarized archetype, so while it’s technically the best-performing of the “big 3” decks of the Rotation format, it is also the most meta-dependant of them, as performance of Sword heavily depends on the popularity of Spellboost Rune and overall meta diversity. For that reason, I believe that Midrange Sword is likely to be on a positive trend as experimentation with currently fringe decks starts to pick up, as Sword does well against a lot of the current Rune “counters”. Long story short, if players are trying to target Rune, it’s going to have a positive impact on the performance of Sword, and Midrange Sword itself isn’t exactly an archetype that is easy to target with the current understanding of the meta.
Baal Burn/Aggro Blood
Identifying cards: Leraje, Nightprowl Vampire, Hellspear Warrior, Tyrant of Mayhem, Baal.
What does Baal Blood do?
Baal Blood is an archetype that I would personally categorize as aggro-control: the archetype has an aggro element of efficient Bloodcraft 1- and 2-drops, accompanied by a significant amount of reach, between Razory Claw/Garnet Watlz/Hellspear Warrior/etc.; as well as a control element of Io and Ravening Corruption, which can keep the opponent’s board developments in check while setting up enough burn damage to close out the game. A key element of the archetype is the synergy between Ravening Corruption and Baal, which can allow you to potentially deal a lot of face damage if the opponent’s board is clear, in a similar fashion to the Unlimited Ravening Blood archetype, which utilizes the combo of Ravening Corruption and Altered Fate to much the same effect. The opponent’s board can be cleared in 2 main ways: either with Io into Baal for 3, or with just a Baal for 6 (despite what the card text says, Baal does the AoE damage before the Ravening Corruption triggers go off), with the latter obviously requiring a lot more setup (as you can’t really get to 7 cards in hand without using Blood Pact-style effects, cards like Yuna, or a Baal on a prior turn).
Baal Blood is a more aggressive evolution of the UB/Burn Blood archetype that can still play the control game plan with its card draw engine and interaction, but also has the ability to curve out aggressively and punish greedy decks and/or decks that lack healing. Baal Burn Blood has been showing some excellent results in recent tournament and ladder play, and while the archetype can struggle against Sword due to the amount of healing Sword has, it does fairly well against a lot of other decks in the format, particularly, against decks that hate seeing aggressive 1-drops and lack healing, such as Rune.
- Always keep Vampiric Bloodbinder or Corrupted Bat.
- Going first, keep Silverbolt Hunter/Lucius, with Silverbolt having priority over Lucius. Against Rune/Forest/Dragon, keep a 1-drop even when going second.
- If you’re not keeping a 1-drop, keep Confectioner/Tyrant of Mayhem. If you’re keeping a 1-drop, keep Tyrant of Mayhem/Bear Pelt Warrior, in order of priority.
- Keep Io going second against Sword/Portal/Blood.
The mulligan priority for Baal Blood generally depends on whether you’re trying to be aggressive or reactive, which in turn depends on the matchup you’re facing (e.g., against decks that lack early interaction, such as Rune/Dragon, it’s generally correct to be aggressive), whether you’re going first or second and/or have a 1-drop. Silverbolt has priority over Lucius as it does more in the early game. Keeping Confectioner is correct if you’re trying to take things slow, but if you’re having an aggressive early curve, something a bit more substantial than a 1/2 goes a long way to establish a tempo lead. Due to how Baal limits your deckbuilding to have a lot of 2-drops, it’s hard to truly brick with Baal Blood, and while I certainly wouldn’t be as happy playing Leraje/Hellspear Warrior/Blood Pact/Permafrost Behemoth on turn 2 as I would be with a Vampiric Bloodbinder, they’re all decent proactive developments, so long as you can avoid the t2 Razory Claw of shame. Io is an important card to have if your opponent develops a wide board in the early turns, which is primarily relevant against Sword/Portal and in Baal Blood mirrors.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Razory Claw is a card that surprisingly took a bit of time to settle into being a staple of Baal Blood. There is no question as to whether you want to run Garnet Waltz if you’re trying to build a Blood in any constructed format, but Razory Claw is a bit more cuttable if you’re trying to build a slower Baal shell, but in anything other than the greediest Baal Blood lists, I would personally consider Claw as a 3-of. Claw does have a bit of an opportunity cost in Baal lists, since you can’t fuse it to Baal, but it’s cheap enough to the point where it’s usually possible to dump it before playing Baal in most cases, and the value of having efficient burn spells in an aggressive Blood deck can not be overstated.
- Confectioner, Corrupted Bat and Creeping Madness for a quasi-tutor package for Ravening Corruption. Madness has synergy with Hellspear Warrior, but so does Bloodbinder, Leraje, Blood Pact-style effects, and so on, so the Confectioner “package” has been phasing out of Baal Blood lists, gradually getting pushed out by more aggressive early-game options like Tyrant of Mayhem/Bear Pelt Warrior/Swarming Wraith/etc..
- Permafrost Behemoth and its budget-friendly version, Blood Pact, are an alternative draw engine to Alchemical Confectioner. Apart from the whole “3 is more than 2” argument, generic card draw has the advantage of being better at finding critical midgame cards (e.g., Io/Baal) and burn spells (e.g., Garnet Waltz/Razory Claw/Hellspear Warrior), most of which don’t have the Natura tribe tag. Generally speaking Permafrost Behemoth is strictly better than Blood Pact in most circumstances, as you get the card draw right away and only have to pay the life cost two turns later. In addition to that, while it’s certainly not the main goal of the archetype, with 3xBloodbinders/Silverbolt Hunters/Razory Claws and some number of Creeping Madnesses/Tyrants/Bear Pelt Warriors/etc., in games that drag out for a long time, you can occasionally get to the Wrath threshold and have an additional 10-damage bomb with Permafrost Behemoth. The weak point of both of those cards is that they can make Baal a little bit worse at churning through your deck, but conversely, they also making reaching the 6-fusion Baal threshold easier.
- Zelgenea is an optional tech card that helps against specifically Rune (by providing healing) and Sword (by being an answer to Alyaska). While Baal Blood is certainly not just a control deck, having more healing is very valuable in the current Rotation meta, especially in a deck with a fair bit of self-damage. Due to synergy with Lucius and Io, Zelgenea is a lot less clunky than one would expect: sure, you can’t fuse Zelgenea to Baal, but it can often be a fairly efficient midgame threat when combined with other low-cost interaction. Yuna is a similar card to Zelgenea that has seen some play in early Baal Blood builds, and allows for a 2-turn 6-Baal setup: you start off by fusing everything you can to Baal, then refill with Yuna, and then run out the 6-fusion Baal on the following turn. The issue with Yuna is that it’s a bit clunky without Baal, and Zelgenea generally seems to be the better card for this type of functionality, since it also brings healing.
- Nightprowl Vampire is an optional 1-of in non-Confectioner lists. If your deck contains no other Natura cards other than Ravening Corruption, Nightprowl can consistently fetch for it, enabling a few miscellaneous synergies along the way (e.g., activating Hellspear Warrior on the following turn, or the Fanfare of Ravening Corruption if you already have one, so when going first, you can Nightprowl into Corruption on 4, and then still have a Corruption to evolve next turn).
Regarding Control/UB/Burn Blood
Identifying cards: Azazel, the Depraved, Burning Constriction, Illya, Queen of Night, Archangel of Evocation, Lunatic Aether.
The more control-oriented versions of UB/Burn Blood have seen some experimentation after the mini-expansion, with the main impetus being Archangel of Evocation, which potentially added an additional big healing card to the archetype. Aside from generally getting overshadowed by its Baal-based counterpart, Control Blood has a lot of trouble outvaluing Sword and generally does worse against Rune and Portal than Baal Blood. For that reason, the archetype has rapidly declined in popularity after the first week of the mini-expansion and has seen little to no competitive experimentation. With the emergence of Ra Haven, Control/UB Blood has another awkward matchup, and as it stands currently, it is difficult to justify playing a grindy control deck that loses to a lot of the common competitive archetypes, which is further exacerbated by the long game duration that Control/UB Blood tends to have, which is a big downside for ladder play.
Regarding Pain Blood
Identifying cards: Nightscreech, Antelope Pelt Warrior, Darhold, Whiplash Imp, Sontemptous Demon, Vampire of Calamity, Luzen, Temperance.
Pain Blood has gotten a good toy in the mini-expansion in Nightscreech, which can churn through your deck, all while enabling evolve synergies (such as Io) and Avarice triggers (e.g., Nerea and Bear Pelt Warrior). What I’m trying to say is that Pain Blood is starting to approach a critical mass of synergy to where it can actually be a competitive archetype with a bit of additional support, and most of its current shell is going to remain Rotation-legal for 2 more set releases. Even with a very medium early curve, the deck can pretty consistently reach the Wrath threshold by turn 5, and while I’m certainly not hoping for another Valnareik/Flauros-level of payoff, Pain Blood is only 1-2 playable cards away from being an archetype to be reckoned with in the Rotation format, so it could very well be that this year’s WGP (if it’s still going to happen in December) could turn out quite similar to what we’ve had in 2018, where a majority of players were playing the exact same 40-card DFB list. We’re getting there, but we’re going to need a new layer of paint to cover up the dents in current self-damage-based Blood decks; the “t” is silent, of course.
Identifying cards: Artifact Scan, Robotic Engineer, Vertex Colony, Android Artisan, Magic Gunsmith, Absolute Modesty, Rebel Against Fate, Ironsting Archaeologist, Artifact Duplicator.
What does Artifact Portal do?
Artifact Portal is a midrange deck that generates Artifacts and utilizes various Artifact pay-off effects, including cards that generate Paradigm Shifts tokens, Technomancer, Absolute Modesty, Artifact Duplicator and Artifact Scan. The basic game plan of Artifact Portal usually involves trying to get a few Paradigm Shifts in the early game, then start generating Artifacts, and ideally have a swing turn on 6 with the discounted Paradigm Shifts to set up for Duplicator on 7. Somewhere along the way, evolving Absolute Modesty can help generate incremental value/tempo by pinging the opponent (or their board), and the late-game setup against other midrange decks usually involves Vertex Colony on 9, which coupled with an Absolute Modesty ping, does somewhere in the realm of 10-14 damage.
Before the end-of-August patch, the inevitability package of Awakened Ragna and Zelgenea was starting to become a lot more prevalent, which was a major development of the archetype, in that it allowed you to have a proper inevitability engine against grindy decks like Sword/Haven. After the mini-expansion, the addition of Lucille made the archetype a lot better at pushing face damage in the midgame, and also allows for unusual Spinaria setups (often enabled with the combo of trading off Lucille‘s Radiant Artifact and then copying Spinaria with Technoman, which generally gets you to the 6-Artifact threshold with just 3xParadigm Shifts and a random Artifact, such as from Gunsmith or Ironsting, for example). With the addition of Lucille, there is less of a need to include the Ragna package (although Zelgenea still has decent synergy with the Vertex Colony setup, which is in turn made more consistent if you’re running Lazuli). Long story short, Artifact Portal may have lost some of its late-game bite, but it is now a lot better at pressuring the opponent’s life total and setting up powerful Duplicator and/or Artifact Scan tempo swing turns.
- Always keep Syntonization, Robotic Engineer and Android Artisan.
- If you’re keeping Syntonization, also keep Technomancer.
- If you don’t have an Artisan as a 2-drop, keep Vertex Colony.
- If you have a turn 2 play (Colony, Artisan or Syntonization + Technoman), keep Rebel Against Fate going first and Ironsting Archaeologist or Absolute Modesty going second, prioritizing Modesty.
- If you don’t have a turn 1 play, keep Focus/Magna Giant.
The mulligan strategy of Artifact Portal isn’t too different from the pre-expansion iteration of the deck: you’re primarily trying to look for Paradigm Shift cards while curving out and setting up for your midgame. Focus and Magna Giant are 1-mana cantrips, which are not particularly impressive in a proactive midrange deck, however, due to the fact that Magna Giant has a high chance to fetch Paradigm Shift cards, and because Focus is delayed card draw, they’re generally better when played in the early game.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Mugnier is a tech card against primarily Shadow/Blood/Dragon, and has the utility of getting rid of various Last Words effects on Shadow cards (e.g., Milteo, reanimated He Who Once Rocked, etc.). Mugnier can also pick up some decent value against Rune (getting rid of Last Words on Shikigami tokens), as well as Blood and Dragon (against Bloodbinder and Rockback Ankylosaurus/Eternal Whale), which makes it a broad enough inclusion to be a common 1- or 2-of.
- Lazuli is a tech card that helps against specifically Sword by effectively being an extra copy of Vertex Colony in the late game. An important aspect of Lazuli in the Sword matchup is that if you’re going second, it sets up 2 Wards going into the Sword player’s Zelgenea+Wildcat turn, and while there are certainly some combinations of cards that can still kill you (e.g., a Resolve of the Fallen with a Thief, Ilmisuna or a second Resolve), the Lazuli setup at least gives you a decent out if you’re going second against Sword. Outside of the Sword matchup, Lazuli is a pretty medium card, but I personally believe that the opportunity cost of running even a single copy is very low, and it still increases the consistency of your late-game finisher setups by a non-negligible margin, however, it gets a lot more clunky in multiples than cards like Mugnier, so there are some diminishing returns, and as such I wouldn’t ever recommend running a full playset, and even running 2 copies seems optimal only if you’re specifically expecting to see a lot of Sword.
- Zelgenea is a tech card against primarily Blood, that can also pick up some value against slower midrange decks like MidSword and Elana Haven. Artifact Portal has a fair bit of healing, especially if you manage to roll a bonus Drain Artifact with Scan or Duplicator, but having some more healing to stabilize against a burn-heavy deck like UB Blood is quite valuable. In addition to that, Portal can get to turn 10 fairly consistently in grindy matchups, and having a “free” turn 10 bomb in your deck can set up some unusual lethals when combined with Vertex Colony and/or Airstrike Artifacts.
- Zelgenea isn’t quite enough to close out games in and of itself against decks with a lot of healing, and Awakened Ragna has become a fixture in current Artifact lists as a tech card against Elana Haven during the pre-mini-expansion patch (and to a lesser extent, UB Blood and Midrange Sword), as it allows you to play the Ragna token on 10, then attack with invoked Zelgenea (to stack the end-of-turn triggers properly), which is effectively a 1-card OTK. The Zelgenea/Ragna package has a relatively low opportunity cost, as Zelgenea generally does a lot of things that Artifact Portal is interested in, and Ragna is a decent card in and of itself even when the Enhance mode isn’t relevant in that specific matchup, however, Ragna has little defensive utility and does compete with Lazuli for its functionality as a piece of redundancy for your late-game quasi-finisher, so the Ragna package has started to fall out of favor after the mini-expansion patch.
- Ameth, Dream Emissary is a tech card against primarily Midrange Shadow, primarily useful due to its utility as an on-demand Ward, that can replace itself with another card in the midgame. In my testing, Ameth has not been particularly great, and it seems more like a broad “filler” tech card: if you’re unsure of what exactly you want to run in that slot and you don’t find a lot of value in Mugnier or Lazuli, Ameth is a very safe 1-of that has defensive utility and makes the deck run slightly better.
Artifact Portal is one of the most popular decks in the post-mini-expansion Rotation format, however, among the “big 3”, it is the least competitive archetype of the group. Artifact Portal is generally moderately unfavored against Spellboost Rune and Midrange Sword, however, it does quite well against most of the other decks decks on the fringes of the format, including Discard Dragon, Item Shop Rune, Ra Haven, Midrange Shadow, Control Forest and Blood across the board. This matchup configuration makes Artifact Portal a well-rounded and decently consistent ladder deck, however, it has generally been underperforming in tournament play compared to Sword/Rune, due to tournament meta having a lot more, well, Sword and Rune than the ladder environment. By no means does this imply that Artifact Portal is a bad deck in tournament play (especially in 3-deck formats), and with the recent uptick in Blood/Haven/Shadow, it could start seeing a bit more success, but the fact that Portal is generally unfavored against the most common BO3 lineup (Spellboost Rune/ MidSword) means that most deck lineups comprised of Artifact Portal and any other decks are going to perform worse than lineups that include some of the 2 other decks in the “trifecta”, but exclude Artifact Portal. This is a pretty convoluted way to say that Artifact Portal is unfavored against the current tournament field, but has its niche in the meta.
Midrange/Burial Rite/Reanimate Shadow
Identifying cards: Bonenanza Necromancer, Helio, Sacrosanct Spirit, He Who Once Rocked, Aisha, Underworld Sovereign, Fatal Order.
What does Midrange/BR/Reanimate Shadow do?
Midrange (a.k.a. Reanimate) Shadow is a midrange deck that utilizes the Burial Rite synergy package and attempts to put He Who Once Rocked and Conquering Dreadlord into the destroyed followers pool, and then bring back He Who Once Rocked with either Fatal Order or the Enhance ability of Bonenanza Necromancer. In midrange matchups, it is often correct to trade off He Who Once Rocked, as the tempo lead of getting a 4-mana Conquering Dreadlord (which is at its worst a 14/14 across 3 bodies) is enough to grind out other midrange decks in the format, especially when supported by 7-8 invoke cards included in the deck, which create incremental tempo advantages “for free”, starting from turns 5-6. At its core, Midrange/Reanimate Shadow is a “fair” midrange deck that has a lot of “unfair” tempo-generating payoff effects. It’s similar to how Dredge is a “fair” deck in terms of how it wins (mostly through creatures and combat damage), but “unfair” in terms of how it generates its tempo: through milling itself using the combination of “discard-then-draw” cards (and natural card draw) and Dredge cards, and then bringing back Prized Amalgams with Narcomoebas, and in more recent times, with Silversmote Ghouls activated by Creeping Chill or Smiting Helix.
The recent direction of Midrange Shadow has been towards a construction that is similar to PtP builds: the more common build of Midrange Shadow often includes the Gremory/Legendary Skeleton/Shuten-Doji/Sarcophagus Wraith “package”, and occasionally even includes a 1-of Hades, further blurring the line between Reanimate and PtP Shadow. This process has been exacerbated to some extent due to the fact that the “hybrid” build is less affected by the Sacristan nerf, which specifically makes Shuten-Doji and Legendary Skeleton a lot more valuable (since the deck’s midgame interaction has gotten weaker). Aside from this factor, Mirange/Reanimate Shadow is still showing decent results in tournament play (though it’s certainly played less after the mini-expansion) and neither the overall construction or play style of the deck is particularly different from its prior iterations. Just because Sacristan has been nerfed, it doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly cutting the best 2-drop in the deck, and just because Nephthys is a card, it doesn’t mean that you should be gimping your deck in order to enable bad 6-drops. On a metagame level, Midrange Shadow can have some issues against Sword if you lose tempo in the midgame, and the Ra-based Haven decks can be difficult to face if you don’t play around their banish/transform-based removal; but aside from Sword/Haven, when everything changes, everything stays the same: the Portal/Rune/Blood matchups aren’t actually too different (despite being represented by somewhat different decks for the latter 1.5 classes), and both the complete obliteration of Terrorformer Forest and the decline of Dirt Rune are favorable changes for Midrange Shadow overall. For that reason (and based on the archetype’s recent tournament performance), I have reason to believe that the knee-jerk reaction to the Sacristan nerf has been somewhat overblown, and player interest towards the archetype is likely to get reanimated in the near future.
Midrange Shadow skeleton
Midrange Shadow (median top 4 decklist from week 2 JCG finishes, also coincides with Rus's list)Source #1 Source #2
PtP Shadow skeleton
PtP Shadow (median top 16 decklist from week 1 JCG finishes)Source
- Always keep Milteo, Spirit Curator, Demonic Procession and up to one Cloistered Sacristan.
- Keep Savoring Slash against Sword/Blood/Portal.
- Do not keep cards with the Invocation keyword in their text box.
After doing extensive testing, I’ve found that the only cards with a positive winrate correlation in Midrange/Reanimate/Burial Rite Shadow are cards with the Burial Rite keyword in their text box, with the only exception being Bonenanza Necromancer (which mentions Burial Rite in its text box, but doesn’t actually have Burial Rite itself). The big “payoff” effect for Burial Rite cards in the early game is Sacristan, however, there is a bit of finesse with Sacristan: you generally don’t want to pop the Amulet before you get to evolve Sacristan, so it can be correct to stagger the Sacristan when going first (e.g., by playing it on 3 if you don’t have a Curator). Other midrange decks in the format have this silly tendency to play proactive 2- and 3-drops, however, in my testing, Bonenanza Necromancer, Jackshovel Gravedigger and Helio all have significantly negative winrate correlations (with Jackshovel Gravedigger being the best of the 3 and bringing down winrates by only 8.22%, and both Helio and Bonenanza Necromancer boasting a winrate delta of less than -20%), which leads me to believe that these cards aren’t actually ran in the deck to play them out of your hand (or at least, in the case of Bonenanza Necromancer, until you get to its Enhance cost). The only tricky Burial Rite card is Savoring Slash: you don’t want Slash against decks that don’t play followers in the early game, so it’s generally a clunky card against Discard Dragon, in the Shadow mirror and against Item Shop Rune (and occasionally against Dirt Rune, although Rune is obviously a bit of a toss-up). Shadow mulligans are a bit unorthodox as far as midrange decks go: you don’t really want early game tempo, and the deck’s optimal curve involves setting up for the big tempo swings on turns 5 and 6.
Identifying cards: Sarcophagus Wraith, Hades, Father of Purgatory, Gremory, Death Teller, Friends Forever.
What does PtP Shadow do?
PtP/Burial Rite Shadow is a midrange archetype that relies on the Burial Rite synergy package to amass a sufficiently high number of Shadows to activate Gremory, which can then allow it to cheat mana costs with Legendary Skeleton and eventually close out the game with Hades damage and the tempo lead generated by mana refunds. The archetype is functionally very similar to Reanimate/BR Shadow, in that it utilizes a lot of the same early-game cards, however, the pay-off is that you get to utilize Necromancy cards with high Shadow costs (Skeleton Man, Shuten-Doji, Friends Forever) a lot better than its more midrange-y Reanimate counterpart. As such, PtP Shadow is generally slower and more reactive than Midrange Shadow, so it does better against grindy midrange decks (e.g., Elana Haven), but struggles against anti-Amulet tech cards (e.g., Resolve of the Fallen or Mugnier) and faster inevitability engines (such as, against Rune across the board). For that reason, while there are some reasons to play PtP Shadow over Midrange Shadow, the two archetypes are more or less two sides of the same coin: their win condition and game plan have differences, however, they utilize a lot of the same tech cards, which is why I am going to discuss the optional inclusions of the two archetypes in tandem.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Legendary Skeleton is a tech card in Midrange Shadow for the MidShadow mirror and other board-based midrange decks, such as Elana Haven. Skeleton Man somewhat interferes with Aisha, as both cards compete in their role of being a Shadow sink, and as such, the inclusion of Skeleton Man usually means cutting Aisha. In PtP Shadow, Legendary Skeleton is the best card in terms of Shadows/mana cost, so it is a key enabler for the archetype’s strategy, and as such, is unequivocally a 3-of. The recently prevalent build of Midrange Shadow often cuts Jackshovel Gravediggers altogether for a playset of Legendary Skeletons, as well as cards like Aisha and the third Fieran getting cut for 2xGremory, which effectively means that there are the two main Midrange Shadow shells: the “conventional build” (Jackshovels/Aisha/Helio) and the “hybrid Gremory build” (with 2xGremory, 3xSkeleton and Sacrophagus Wraiths in the Helio slot). Gremory builds have a weaker midgame (since the 2-4 Milteo split gets weaker without Jackshovel, and due to Fieran being harder to invoke), but have the upside of enabling high-tempo turns around turns 7-8 with Gremory refunds, either using Legendary Skeleton or Shuten-Doji as Necromancy outlets.
- Shuten-Doji is a tech card against Sword, Portal and other midrange decks, which is primarily played in PtP lists, but also crops up in Midrange/Reanimate Shadow. Shuten-Doji trades exceptionally well in the Shadow mirror, as the 3/6 Bane statline is very annoying for a deck that runs a bunch of 4/4s, in addition to that, it also activates Jackshovel Gravedigger to be a cheap on-demand removal spell for 2, and allows you to push a lot of extra damage with Legendary Skeleton if you’ve reached the Shadow threshold or to be another efficient removal spell if you haven’t. In addition to that, Shuten has the slight upside of activating Demonic Procession, and makes for a good Reanimate target from Milteo (which is relevant with how the Milteo probability distribution is skewed towards the 4-2 and 3-3 outcomes). I am personally of the opinion that Shuten should be at the very least a 2-of in PtP lists (with 3 copies being preferable if you’re trying to target midrange decks), and the recent performance of the card in Reanimate lists leads me to believe that it could have potential in that archetype as well, although it does compete for Shadows with Aisha, in a similar manner to Legendary Skeleton, which means that it primarily shines in Midrange lists running the Gremory package.
- Friends Forever is a tech card against Blood and and to a lesser extent, Spellboost Rune, primarily run in PtP lists. Healing is fairly valuable in PtP lists, as Shadow only has Sacristan and Sarcophagus Wraith to get out of burn range, neither of which is particularly efficient. The tricky part of PtP Shadow is that you don’t really want to run too many high-Shadow cards, as they can be “bricks” in the midgame, where if your Shadow count is just enough to, let’s say, activate Shuten-Doji, but not high enough to activate Gremory, they get stranded in your hand, as you can’t afford to play them without sabotaging your game plan. The issue with Friends Forever in that context is that while the other 2 cards in this category (Skeleton Man and Shuten-Doji) are followers, you can’t Burial Rite Friends Forever, so it is the biggest brick of the three. With that factor in mind, Friends Forever is rarely ran as anything more than a 1-of. A comparable card to FF in Midrange Shadow is Zelgenea, which not only has the upside of being a follower, but also has the additional utility of having an extra threat (or, if nothing else, 4 damage) in games that drag out, although 5-drops are obviously not particularly exciting in decks that try to resolve as many Milteos as possible.
- Lara, Soul Taker is an optional inclusion that works particularly well with Sacristan, but often competes with Milteo on curve. Lara enables some really unfair swings, which in essence makes it comparable to a 4th copy of Fatal Order, which is a bit more conditional (needs to be paired up with a Burial Rite effect on the same turn as it’s played), but can potentially provide a lot more tempo that can generate even more tempo than Milteo (since it comes with a 4/4 body, and the tempo swing of evolving Sacristan on 5, dumping Dreadlord into the bin, and then Lara for a 12/12). Lara is a sweet card, and there isn’t that much opportunity cost to running it as 1-of (as you can always Burial Rite it if your curve doesn’t line up to get it online), but it’s also not exactly necessary in any specific matchup and it’s only really at its best when the deck is functioning poorly (read: doesn’t have Milteo on curve), and the turn 4 Sacristan highroll doesn’t really happen too often.
- Guilt, Existential Blader is an optional inclusion in Midrange Shadow that helps dig through your deck with the help of early-game followers like Jackshovel Gravedigger and accelerated He Who Once Rocked. Guilt has the important utility of popping Milteo if the opponent chooses to let it stick in play, as well as allowing you to clear up space if you’re board-locked, both of which are surprisingly relevant applications of the card. The big downside of Guilt is that it’s not a follower, or rather, it’s not a follower that you want in your Reanimate pool (as you usually want He Who Once Rocked to represent a Dreadlord), so running more than 2 copies can get clunky with Burial Rite cards in the early game. PtP Shadow doesn’t run Fatal Order or He Who Once Rocked, so it can get away with running Guilt, and due to the synergy between Soul Conversion-style effects with Gremory, it is a staple 3-of in PtP lists and only a fringe card in Midrange Shadow. Ginsetsu is a similar effect to Guilt, in that it’s somewhat restrictive in MidShadow lists (you don’t really want to have a 1/9 in the He Who Once Rocked Reanimate pool), but has better applications in PtP lists, although its Accelerate tokens don’t trade particularly well, so it’s primarily included in Lara lists.
- Helio, Sacrosanct Spirit and Sarcophagus Wraith are both optional inclusions in the 3-drop slot. Helio is better at getting you to Fieran Rally thresholds and as a Milteo reanimation target, while Wraith is better when played proactively on turn 3. As a rule of thumb, Midrange Shadow lists often run Helio, while PtP lists usually run Wraith, although you’re obviously not prohibited from running Wraith in Reanimate lists, of course. A lot of recent tournament data suggests that you shouldn’t be running Sarcophagus Wraith in Midrange Shadow, however, with the format being as focused on midrange decks as it is currently, it has been gradually seeing more and more play over Helio, so it might have more merit than previously realized.
- Conquering Dreadlord (and the rest of the Burial Rite package) is a cornerstone of Midrange Shadow, however, the card is at most a 1-of or a 2-of in PtP Shadow lists. In Reanimate lists, it is part of the Fatal Order/Bonenanza Necromancer/He Who Once Rocked package, and can even serve as a back-up Reanimate target for when you don’t draw He Who Once Rocked. In PtP lists, however, running Dreadlord comes with some pretty significant downsides: it’s a pretty big brick with no real utility during most stages of the game, and not running it allows you to trim some of the weaker parts of the Burial Rite package, namely, Spirit Curator and even a third Savoring Slash. I am of the belief that one of the avenues for optimization of PtP Shadow lies in tightening up its invoke “package”, and I’ve personally had the best results with lists running 0xDreadlord and 2xFieran. It’s possible that this aspect of PtP Shadow is a paradigm shift just waiting to happen, and there have been some PtP Shadow lists that run exactly 0 invoke cards showing promising results in July JCG events, utilizing different card advantage engines (e.g., Kasha) instead of the conventional Fieran/Dreadlord construction.
Identifying cards: Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Airbound Barrage, Guard of the Machinatree, Deepwood Wolf.
What does Roach Forest do?
Roach/Control Forest is a combo deck with some control elements. The general win condition of the archetype involves repeatedly bouncing Whirlwind Rhinoceroaches, either by way of using bounce effects, or by evolving Roaches after restoring evolve points with Soothing Spell/Aerin. The more well-tested build of the archetype generally utilizes a package of Accelerate cards, partially to enable Aerin, but primarily to have a way of interact with midrange boards. The Accelerate package generally consists of Chipper Skipper, Lionel, Ponderer, Primal Giant and a few copies of Aerin. Restoring evolve points with Soothing Spell/Aerin (and occasionally even summoning evolved Fighters with Skipper) all happen to enable Resolve of the Fallen, which, combined with Elf Queen and Lionel gives Roach Forest access to a fair bit of tempo-efficient removal, which is not quite on par with Aria’s Whirlwind, but still decently suited to deal with most Portal/Rune boards. In essence, Roach Forest is a combo deck that has a lot of healing and decent interaction, but not good enough interaction to realistically expect to deal with Sword/Shadow boards. This set of qualities makes Roach Forest a decent deck against a lot of the currently prevalent Rotation archetypes (e.g., Artifact Portal/Spellboost Rune/Ra Haven/etc.), but also make it struggle against proactive decks that can repeatedly generate threatening board states, such as Midrange Sword/Shadow.
- Always keep Whirlwind Rhinoceroach, Kokkoro, Life Banquet, Harvest Season or Alchemical Confectioner.
- If you’re keeping a Roach, also keep Airbound Barrage and Deepwood Wolf.
- Keep Elf Queen against Sword/Blood/Portal.
Roach Forest mulligans are fairly straightforward: the general idea is to attempt to find a Roach and start bouncing it as early as possible, since Roach Forest has a limited amount of efficient answers, so dragging the game out isn’t always in your best interest. It is not uncommon to pass without playing anything for the first 2-3 turns in Roach Forest, so having card draw in the early game is valuable for 3 reasons: on the one hand, it helps you find combo pieces to go off with Roaches faster, and on the other hand, it gives you access to more removal options, and lastly, it lets you spend mana more efficiently, which does actually matter despite Roach Forest not being a tempo-oriented deck. One example among said removal options is Elf Queen, which is particularly effective against wide boards of small followers, and as such is crucial against decks that have a tendency to go wide in the early game, such as Midrange Sword, Artifact Portal and Baal Blood.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Harvest Season and Life Banquet are optional early-game card draw effects that are pretty interchangeable with one another. While this certainly isn’t true of every Shadowverse deck, getting a 3/4 is generally a worse pay-off than drawing an extra card in Roach Forest, as you often have a follower that you’re trying to evolve every turn already, and as such, Harvest Season is marginally better than Banquet for what Roach Forest is trying to accomplish in most games.
- Aerin, Forever Brilliant is an optional inclusion in Accelerate-based Roach Forest shells. The general play pattern between Aerin and Soothing Spell is quite similar: you’re generally playing 2 other cards on the same turn, and then get the evolve point back with Aerin/Spell. As a rule of thumb, cards that do the same thing for less mana are often better, and as such, I would personally consider Aerin to be 4th and 5th copies of Soothing Spell: there certainly are some differences with how the two cards actually operate in practice, but Roach Forest doesn’t get a lot of leverage out of the 1/5 body (sure, the opponent has to clear it, as it’s a persistent effect, but having a 1/5 out also gives Spellboost Rune players a target for their removal spells, and allows Sword players to farm Kagemitsu stats off of it, so it has some significant detriments in the current format). For that reason, Aerin is generally played at 1-2 copies in Accelerate-based Roach shells.
- Resolve of the Fallen is more or less a free removal spell in a deck that is already running Soothing Spell and, to a lesser extent, Aerin and Chipper Skipper. Resolve is particularly important against Sword, as Alyaska dodges things like Lionel/Elf Queen; but Resolve can also pick up a fair bit of value against most midrange decks in the format. I would personally consider Resolve as a 3-of for ladder play, but it’s not uncommon to see the third copy trimmed in tournament lists.
- Zelgenea is an optional inclusion that can be also be used to answer tall threats (e.g., Alyaska) in the midgame. Compared to Primal Giant, the healing is obviously not as well-costed for a Roach Forest list, but due to the fact that the deck has a lot of cheap removal spells, Zelgenea can often be a decent midgame play, for example, when followed up by Roach+Lionel or combo-ed with Resolve of the Fallen, making it a pretty inoffensive 1- or even 2-of.
- Alchemical Confectioner, Travelers’ Respite and Fertile Aether is an alternative shell for Roach Forest. The “Tree shell” is generally faster at drawing cards, due to the fact that you can support Windfall Fay, but is worse at contesting the board, so it’s in theory better against decks like Spellboost Rune, but worse against proactive midrange decks like Midrange Sword. Roach lists running the Confectioner package often include May and Awakened Gaia as its midgame removal. I should mention that while Reclusive Ponderer and Lionel are Acccelerate cards, just like Primal Giant, they’re extremely efficient cards and don’t necessarily require the Accelerate package to be built around, so they can still fit into Confectioner builds, but Chipper Skipper, Resolve of the Fallen and Aerin usually don’t make the cut. The Tree-based Roach Forest shells have been showing some decent results in tournament play (to be more specific, it’s showing slightly better numbers that the Accelerate build, likely due to high popularity of Rune), but the package is not particularly well-explored at present, so it could have some room for further optimization.
Regarding Terrorformer Forest
Identifying cards: Woodland Cleaver, Greenbriar Elf, Mechaboomerang Elf, Colosseum oh High, Elven Pikeman, Optimistic Beastmaster, Terrorformer.
After the August balance changes, Terrorformer Forest essentially has no real way of beating decks that can deploy multiple Wards in a single turn, and even a single Ward requires you to have a Lionel as an answer. For that reason, Terrorformer Forest has completely vanished from the Rotation meta, and the Accelerate package has found itself a new home in Roach lists. There are some decks in the format that Terrorformer Forest is still good against (e.g., Item Shop Rune), but it’s difficult to justify playing an archetype that has been nerfed to such a significant extent. I don’t have much else to say about Terrorformer Forest, other than “good riddance”. See you in the legacy deck events, you mantis bastard.
Addendum: Milteo RNG
Milteo is a relatively simple Shadowverse card, as the random outcomes of its effects follow the binomial distribution, the summary of which is shown in the table to the right. Notably, this probability distribution has a skew towards asymmetrical outcomes (since the 2-4 split is redundant with the 4-2 split, and the same applies to 1-5 and 0-6). In terms of actual Shadowverse games, this means that there is only a ~21% to get an unlucky split (1-5 or 0-6) where you only get a single follower, and the most probable outcome is 2-4, which has specific synergy with Jackshovel Gravedigger and Fieran.
Control/Midrange Ra Haven
Identifying cards: Jeweled Briliance, Priest of Excess, Blackened Scripture, Blind Justice, Imina, Mad Eidolon, Ra, Radiance Incarnate, Acolyte’s Light, Boom Devil.
What does Ra Haven do?
Ra Haven is a blanket term for attrition-based Haven decks that utilize Ra and (eventually invoked) Zelgenia to deal damage to the opponent and close out games. The archetype has 2 defining characteristics that separate it from other Haven decks: on the one hand, it runs a variety of banish/transform-based removal, including Scripture, Blind Justice, Priest of Excess, Imina, Mad Eidolon and even Acolyte’s Light, which allow it to answer tall threats with Last Words and other problematic abilities. On the other hand, it also includes a slew of anti-Rune tech cards, comprised of Yukari and Romantic Chanteuse. Yukari and Chanteuse can also pick up value in Zelgenea matchups and against effects like Absolute Modesty and Shipsbane Plesiosaurus. In essence, if you were to take a pre-mini-expansion Elana Haven decklist, cut all the threats from it and replace them with a playset of Ra and a random assortment of 15-20 tech cards, you’d get Ra Haven. At the time of writing, the archetype is still in its infancy, so it’s possible that this section might get revisited in the future to elaborate on the specific details of the archetype.
The basic game plan of Ra Haven is to resolve a Ra at some point in the game, and then repeatedly remove the opponent’s board. The neat thing about banish/polymorph-based removal is that there are two decks that actually heavily rely on graveyard interactions: Artifact Portal and Midrange Shadow, so the deck has unusual utility of being able to keep the Modesty/Scan counts low by banishing/transforming tough-to-get Artifacts (e.g., Vertex Colony tokens, Radiant Artifacts from Lucille, Mystic Artifacts from Rebel Against Fate, and so on). In a similar fashion, getting rid of card draw from Milteo can often make Shadow stumble in the midgame, and having clean answers to reanimated He Who Once Rocked is also pretty valuable. Against Rune and in the Ra Haven mirrors, the board state generally stops mattering after a certain point, and games mostly come down to which player has access to more Yukaris and Chanteuses (the latter obviously mostly applies to Item Shop Rune and Haven mirrors). In that sense, Ra Haven’s general game plan involves trying to minimize the amount of fun the opponent is having, however, if there is a deck in the Rotation format that just has too much fun for Ra Haven to handle, it’s Midrange Sword: broadly speaking, while Ra Haven has some efficient answers (e.g., Blind Justice), Sword decks simply have way more threats than Haven has answers and are a lot faster at developing proactive tempo than Ra Haven can realistically respond to. The general win condition of Ra Haven in the Sword matchup is to hope that the Sword player never manages to deploy multiple 6/6s in a single turn and never finds a single Regal Wildcat in their first ~25 cards, which is certainly not impossible, but also not particularly likely outside of magical Christmas Land scenarios.
Ra/Midrange Haven skeleton
Elana Haven skeleton
Elana Haven (median top 16 decklist from week 3 JCG finishes)Source
- Always keep Jeweled Brilliance and Golden Bell.
- Keep Blackened Scripture/Priest of Excess against Portal/Blood/Shadow. Going first, also keep Imina against these classes.
- Keep Kel against Sword/Blood/Portal/Shadow.
The overwhelming majority of cards in Ra Haven don’t really do a whole lot until turns 7-8. The exception to this, in my testing, has been relevant early-game interaction (e.g., Scripture/PoE/Imina against decks that play followers with card text), as well as Kel, which is a pretty critical card against any deck that is trying to go wide in the midgame. In addition to that, since the overall card quality of Ra Haven is significantly lower than that of a proper midrange deck, drawing extra cards is extremely important, and Golden Bells (or Brilliance to fetch a Bell) have been by far the best-performing early game cards in my testing. I frequently end up playing Major Prayers and Lorena on 3 to dig through my deck, however, I have noticed that both of those cards have fairly middling impact on the winrate, so I believe that it’s generally correct to aggresively look for actual good cards, such as Bells and relevant early action. It’s possible that it’s correct to keep specific tech cards (e.g., Yukari or Starbright Deity) against Rune, but even Spellboost Rune plays for proactive tempo in the midgame, so I’m not really convinced by that approach.
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Priest of Excess is a broad tech card against board-centric midrange decks, such as Artifact Portal/Midrange Sword/Shadow/Blood. Priest of Excess is random, so it’s certainly not as reliable as, let’s say, Blind Justice, but it still gives you an opportunity to have some early-game board interaction, which is valuable in and of itself. Mythcleaver is three Priests of Excess stapled together. I believe that Priest of Excess is pretty decent, but I’ve had pretty terrible results with Mythcleaver in my testing: the card feels incredibly win-more in board-centric matchups, as you never really get to resolve it against proactive decks, and I personally value Jeweled Brilliance consistently fetching card draw in the early game to afford the inclusion of Mythcleaver, and if you’re really that eager for Amulet removal, there are better options (e.g., Smite).
- Starbright Deity is a tech card against Rune and for Haven mirrors. The matchups where the card’s relevant generally come down to outlasting the opponent by having more Yukaris or Chanteuses, and since you can only run 3 copies of each, if you want to go the extra mile in those matchups, Starbright Deity is just about the only option you have. The card has 2 issues: on the one hand, with the high curve of Ra Haven, you can’t always isolate the specific cards you want to copy to the left side of your hand, and on the other hand, even in the slowest of matchups, Starbright Deity only really comes down on turn 8 at the earliest (so that you can Deity into Yukari). I am not convinced whether it’s a good tech card for the current format, but you do get a lot of value in relevant matchups with just a single card slot, so it might be a reasonable inclusion.
- Boom Devil is an optional inclusion that helps speed up the clock of the archetype. The neat thing about Boom Devil is that it costs 7, which lines up nicely with Yukari/Chanteuse on 10, meaning that it can often push a good bit of face damage, clear the board and keep you safe from the backswing. I like Boom Devil in Ra Haven, as it actually helps close out the game, but it’s also yet another card that you can’t cast until you’re very late into the game, so it’s difficult to justify running more than 1.
- Kel is a tech card against Portal/Sword/Blood. A lot of tournament Haven lists only run 1xKel, as the deck is mostly played to target Rune, however, I’ve found Kel to be crucial on ladder, and I believe that it’s necessary to run 2-3 copies if you want to have a passable matchup against anything that isn’t exactly Rune, and even Spellboost Rune generates wide boards.
Identifying cards: Saintly Squeaks, Four-Pillar Tortoise, Puresong Priest, Justine, Holy Al-mi’raj.
What does Elana Haven do?
Elana Haven is a midrange deck that utilizes Elana, Purest Prayer to build boards of tall followers in the midgame, supported by the removal package of Kel and Lorena. The archetype frequently features a “Justine package”, which is usually comprised of some number of Natura cards, which allows the deck to get a healing proc for Elana’s Prayer, Kel, Lorena, etc., without spending any actual mana. Apart from the newer support pieces that the deck has access to (Puresong Priest, Lorena, Stalwart Featherfolk, Tortoise), the archetype also utilizes a somewhat unorthodox late-game Zelgenea setup: summoning a 10/10 on turn 10 that deals 4 damage to all allies would normally be a pretty bad deal for a board-centric deck like Elana Haven, however, Haven is the only class in the format that can actually turn Zelgenea into a one-sided effect with Yukari, Holy Guardian‘s Union Burst effect, which incidentally also protects you from burn-based win conditions and damage-based AoE.
After the mini-expansion, Elana Haven has mostly vanished from the format due to having an awful matchup against Sword: it’s nigh impossible to beat a deck running full playsets of Alyaska and Resolve of the Fallen, which is certainly true for Haven decks across the board. With that said, Elana hasn’t seen a lot of actual testing, and, with Artifact Portal lists no longer running the Ragna/Zelgenea inevitability package, Elana Haven could have a better matchup against Portal than before the patch. The current direction of Haven as a class in competitive play has been to capitalize on its favored Rune matchup by virtue of Yukari, and Ra Haven is currently the more well-tested Haven archetype. For that reason, a lot of discussion presented in the Elana section is legacy coverage from before the mini-expansion patch, most of which still applies to the building and playing Elana Haven now, however, not a lot of headway has been made after the mini-expansion in terms of Elana Haven optimization, so the context might be somewhat different.
- Always keep Golden Bell and Four-Pillar Tortoise.
- Keep a proactive 2-drop, this includes Robowing Precant or Saintly Squeaks, in order of priority.
- Keep Elana going second.
- Keep Kel against Shadow/Dragon/Sword.
- Keep Yukari against Rune.
The mulligan strategy for Elana Haven generally involves trying to have Elana on your earliest evolve turn, and the best ways to find it include Bell on 1 and Tortoise. Kel is an important card to have against midrange decks, even if you don’t end up playing it on turn 4-5. Similar logic applies to Yukari: you don’t really need it against Blood until turn 9-ish, but you often need it against Rune around turn 7, so I consider it correct to keep Yukari against Rune, but not against Blood. I should mention that I have primarily done testing with a 2xKel/2xYukari list, so it’s possible that you don’t need to keep Kel in your opening if you’re running 3 copies (especially with Tortoise), and the same logic applies to Yukari: if you’re running a full playset, it might not be a snap keep against Rune (especially with a Bell).
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Yukari, Holy Guardian is a broad tech card against Rune and Blood, that can also pick up some fringe utility against Discard Dragon. Protecting yourself and your whole team from damage-based removal and burn spells is extremely important against all variants of Rune and burn-based decks like Blood. Against Dirt Rune, you have to be aware of Madcap Conjuration blowouts, as Yukari doesn’t give your board protection from destruction effects, so you’re generally aiming to drop Yukari going into the Rune player’s lethal setup turn. Against Item Shop Rune, when going first, you have to be aware of the play pattern of Lorena + Water + Justine into Yukari on turn 7, which effectively stonewalls their Item Shop combo during their critical turn. Going second, you still have to build a big enough board going into the Rune’s player turn 7 in order not to die, and then proceed with the Yukari lock on the following turn. Against UB/Burn Blood, you generally try to set up a UB Yukari around turns 8-9, or going into the Blood player’s turn 10 (when Zelgenea and Lunatic Aether come online). Yukari has a lot of utility in the current format ripe with damage-based removal, however, a big downside of Yukari is that it’s just a Healing Angel against Shadow, which isn’t too great. With these factors in mind, I believe that it’s optimal to run at least 2xYukari for the current ladder environment, but you can run 3 if you’re expecting a lot of Rune/Blood.
- Sweetwing Seraph is an optional inclusion that helps in non-Shadow matchups. The main utility of the card is that it can copy Elana’s Prayer, and having a double-Elana setup enables Saintly Squeaks and Major Prayers to not only consistently activate the double-Amulet condition, but also to generate a lot of potential face damage with various healing cards (Justine, Puresong Priest, Lorena‘s Water, etc.). The exact configuration of the “Seraph package” depends on how fast the format you’re playing against is, e.g., if you’re primarily targeting Rune and Blood, running a full 3xSeraph and 3xMajor Prayers is optimal, but the more Shadow you’re expecting, the more cards you have to trim from the package to get through the midgame (e.g., with more efficient midgame cards like Tender Rabbit Healer or more specific anti-Shadow tech cards like Kel). The more aggressively slanted variants of the package occasionally include Sneak Attack, which I personally found to be aggressively mediocre, as it tends to clog up the board too much, and even having a Natura tag doesn’t save it from being extremely clunky. The development of this Sweetwing Seraph package is a natural consequence of optimizing the application of Justine in the deck, as it adds extra utility to other parts of the “Justine package”, all while adding other avenues of play for Elana Haven.
- Kel is a broad tech card against Midrange Shadow, Midrange Sword, Artifact Portal and other proactive midrange decks. Running more copies of Kel makes your Four-Pillar Tortoise worse at tutoring for Elana, and it is not uncommon for tournament Elana Haven lists (that are primarily played to target Dirt Rune) to run 0xKel, but ladder Elana Haven lists often include at least 1xKel.
- Blind Justice is a tech card against Midrange Shadow, which primarily serves to deny card draw from Milteo (if you can deal with the rest of the board) or to answer Bonenanza Necomancer in the later stages of the game. In theory, Blind Justice does help against Shadow, but in practice, I’ve found that it doesn’t really do enough in most games. The reason for that is that the more savvy Shadow players realize that they have more threats than you do, so they’re generally not going to go face with Fatal Ordered or Bonanza‘ed He Who once Rocked and will trade with it, and Blind Justice doesn’t really deal with Dreadlord (since it has a “leaves play” trigger and not a Last Words effect, to make its Invocation effect make sense). Blind Justice is a dead card against Rune/Blood, so I get the impression that you have to come to terms with being generally unfavored against Shadow if you’re playing Elana Haven and not waste your time with awkward tech cards like Blind Justice.
Ra Haven doesn’t have a lot of data behind it, but the data that we have indicates that the archetype is one of the most polarized decks of the current Rotation format. Ra Haven is heavily unfavored against Sword (as are all Haven decks), performs well against Midrange Shadow and Whale Dragon, and is showing moderately unfavored matchup against Rune and Portal. It remains to be seen where Ra Haven ends up as the format develops, but my impression so far has been quite negative: the deck is highly polarized and not particularly consistent, and while the latter could be remedied by optimizations of some sort, the former seems like an inherent quality of the archetype that was cobbled together out of a ~20-card pile of tech cards. I would personally consider playing Ra Haven on ladder a bad use of time, but the deck could have its niche in Conquest lineups.
Identifying cards: Springwell Dragon Keeper, Rockback Ankylosaurus, Dragoon Medic, Wise Dragonewt Scholar, Turncoat Dragon Summoner, Alchemical Confectioner.
What does Discrard Dragon do?
Discard Dragon is a midrange archetype that revolves around ramping into a Shipsbane Plesiosaurus and chaining together enough Discard cards to sculpt a hand with multiple Darkprison Dragons and/or Azure Dragon’s Rage(s), all while dealing enough chip damage to set up lethal. After the addition of Draconic Call amd Turncoat Dragon Summoner, the archetype has gone back to its burn-based gameplan and no longer utilizes the Warpack+Zeus package to close out games. While this does mean that the deck no longer has proper inevitability, the archetype is a lot better at being proactive and interacting with the opponent’s board developments.
Due to the nature of the deck, both playing Discard Dragon and playing against it often requires taking notes of which cards have been discarded over the course of the game. When playing against Discard Dragon, it’s important to keep track of the actual relevant pay-offs (Turncoat Dragon Summoner and Dragoon Medic). When playing Discard Dragon, it is obviously preferable to not discard your damage cards (e.g., Darkprison Dragon) if you can help it, and other important cards to keep track of include Steelcap Pachycephalosaurus and tech cards like Zelgenea and Chanteuse (in addition to Turncoat and Medics, of course). This type of note taking is a unique aspect of the archetype that has more or less become obsolete with Natur Al’machinus out of the format (good riddance?), but it is something that is extremely simple to do and improves your percentages in a tangible manner, both when playing Discard Dragon and playing against it.
- Always keep Dragon Oracle and up to one Cursed Furor.
- If you’re playing Genesis Dragon of Disaster, keep it if you’re already keeping another ramp card.
- If you’re keeping 2 ramp cards, also keep Shipsbane Plesiosaurus/Draconic Call/Alchemical Confectioner, in order of priority.
Dragon mulligans generally involve trying to ramp in the early game, and Discard Dragon is no exception. The archetype has enough early game (20-22 cards) cards that it’s not really that crucial to keep any of them, as you’re usually going to have a decent curve. I haven’t found any specific outliers in terms of pre-turn 5 winrates among Discard Dragon cards, with the only exceptions being Shipsbane Plesiosaurus (which you can’t really play before turn 5 without ramping), as well as actual ramp cards (Oracle and Furor). While there are some cards with slight positive correlations (e.g., Rockback Ankylosaurus), I do not believe that they’re sufficient enough to justify losing out on an extra chance of drawing an Oracle/Furor in your opening.
Discard Dragon skeleton
Discard Dragon (median top 16 decklist from week 8 JCG finishes)Source
Discard Dragon (median top 4 decklist from week 2 JCG finishes, also coincides with オズの大魔女's list)Source #1 Source #2
Optional inclusions and tech cards
- Draconic Call is an optional inclusion that can tutor for Shipbane Plesioasurus in the early game. Draconic Call restricts you from running Dragon followers that cost more than 6 (which means you can’t run Genesis Dragon to flesh out your early-game ramp package, for example), however, if Call is your sole Shipsbane tutor, you get to play as many copies of Steelcap Pachycephalosaurus as you want. In the post-mini-expansion meta, Draconic Call has more or less become the standard tutor of choice in Discard lists, in part due to 3 being more than 2 (which is particularly relevant when you’re hitting your ramp in the early game, with a common play pattern against midrange decks being Oracle/Furor into Call on your 4- or 5-mana turn, which lines up into a Shipsbane on curve), and in part due to Steelcap Pachycephalosaurus being a lot more important in the post-Alyaska world.
- Alchemical Confectioner is another tutor effect that helps fetch Shipsbane. Unlike Call, Confectioner gives you more freedom in terms of running high-end Dragon followers (which mostly allows you to include a 1-of Geneis Dragon if you’re inclined to run the card), however, Confectioner gets worse for each non-Shipsbane Natura card that you include, meaning that running Confectioner limits the potential number of Steelcaps you can run (as it’s the worst of the 3 Natura cards included in the deck). With a 1/3/3 split (or a 2/2/3) of Steelcap/Rockback/Shipsbane, the probability of Confectioner finding a Shipsbane is 85.71%, with a 2/3/3 split, it goes down to 75%, and with a 3/3/3 split, it goes do 66.(6)%. Long story short, Confectioner loses ~10% consistency for each Steelcap that you include. The first copy has the highest impact (~15%), so decks that only run Confectioner as its tutor (without any Draconic Calls) have a tendency to cut Steelcap altogether, however, if you’re not planning on including Genesis Dragon in the first place, you can include both Confectioner and some number of Draconic Calls, which allows you to run 1 (2) Steelcap(s), and since you have an alternative tutor, it’s not as big of an issue if your Confectioner whiffs in one game out of 7 (4) on average.
- Speaking of whiffing with your tutors, Eternal Whale is an optional 1-of that has seen a fair bit of play after the mini-expansion. The upside of Whale is that you can potentially adopt an attrition game plan as Discard Dragon, which is particularly relevant against grindy decks like Artifact Portal. The downside of running a 1-of Whale, aside from the 2 obvious factors (the initial Whale being a terrible tempo play, and the ~25% chance of Draconic Call whiffing outside of Overflow), is that Eternal Whale has a lot of draw-dependant variance. Certainly, Discard Dragon can dig pretty deep through its deck, especially if you use Turncoat tokens to dig deeper, however, the card is still far from reliable, and going for the Whale game plan comes with a very real opportunity cost: you’re not using Turncoats for damage, and likely discarding a few cards that could be used to develop proactive tempo. To give a more concrete example, let’s say that you play a Whale and it dies when you have 28 cards in your deck, resulting in a 32-card deck with 4 Whales in it. The average number of cards you’d have to draw to find 1 Whale is obviously 8, which is very much doable. However, it’s important to note that among those 8 cards, you have a ~30% probability of finding 0xWhales, and in order to consistently (~90% of the time) find the second Whale, you’d have to draw 13+ cards, which is a way higher resource investment. In addition to that, finding Whales beget more Whales, so the card has “exponential” scaling, with bad variance (e.g., not finding a Whale after drawing 8+ cards) and good variance (e.g., finding a Whale after drawing 4-5 cards) having a compounding effect: bad Whale variance can get really bad and cost you games, while good Whale variance isn’t consistent enough to get you through anything but the slowest matchups. In addition to that, in a metagame sense, with the prevalence of Mugnier in Portal lists and Ra Haven often running a playset of Imina, getting your first Whale polymorphed/silenced is rough to say the least. For these reasons, Eternal Whales have been falling off in Discard Dragon lists in recent tournament data and even weighing specific cards by winrate in Discard Dragon lists reveals that Eternal Whale is the single worst-performing card in the archetype. It’s possible that there could be a pocket in the meta at a later point where the 1-of Whale really shines, but as it stands, Eternal Whale is just a bad card in Discard Dragon.
- Heliodragon is an optional inclusion that primarily helps against Sword. The card has seen a lot of play before the July balance changes, however, after the recent decline in Sword popularity, Heliodragon has mostly been relegated to a card that you include if you’re not sure what you’re trying to target: in theory, it helps your deck run better in the post-Shipsbane stages of the game, in practice, however, it doesn’t really do anything against Shadow or Dirt Rune, as the 1/2 is pretty inconsequential (and occaionally even detrimental if you’re hurting for board space, which does happen with Discard Dragon). As much as it hurts me to even utter this sentiment, Heliodragon is one of the unusual cases in Shadowverse where “tempo = bad”.
- Romantic Chanteuse is a tech card against Midrange Shadow and Item Shop Rune. In most midrange decks, Chanteuse feels like a noob trap: against non-Shops decks, it’s a pretty mediocre effect. Discard Dragon is a bit of an exception, in the sense that having access to mana acceleration makes 3 mana a pretty inconsequential investment, and the card enables some cute tricks with Steelcap Pachycephalosaurus, in that it lets you take a trade with Steelcap and keep it around as a 4/4, which makes Chanteuse a decent tempo play. In addition to that, if you can see a 2-turn lethal setup against Shadow, you can Chanteuse either the Milteo or whatever the most threatening follower on their side of the board might be, which allows you to race the Shadow player.
- Zelgenea, the World is a tech card against Rune/Blood. Discard Dragon has some healing with Dragoon Medics and Shipsbane, but it’s not always going to be sufficient if the Blood matchup drags out. A 1-of Zelgenea helps round out that aspect of the deck, and due to having access to mana acceleration, the opportunity cost of running an extra 5-drop isn’t very significant (e.g., a curve of Furor on 3 into Zelgenea on 4 controls the board in a meaningful manner if you’re below the 15 health threshold).
Regarding Whale Ramp Dragon
Identifying cards: Slaughtering Dragonewt, Dragon Spawning, Feral Aether, Travelers’ Respite, Lightning Velociraptor, Whirlwind Pteranodon, Valdain, We’ve Got a Case!.
Whale Ramp Dragon is an archetype that revolves around the synergy between Slaughtering Dragonewt and Eternal Whale. The basic principle of Whale Ramp is that you’re trying to build a deck that runs primarily odd-costed cards (so Slaughtering Dragonewt can thin your deck to 12-15 cards), while the even-costed cards are specifically card draw effects and cantrips. The best-performing build of the archetype that I’ve come across is 打ち止め’s build, which utilizes a Tree-centric package of low-cost cantrips (Velociraptor/Respite/Aether/etc.), a large chunk of which just so happens to be even-costed. There are builds of the archetype that use an even more Natura-heavy shell (with things like Valdain and whatnot), and there is also an alternative shell that uses We’ve Got a Case! as its primary draw engine, which has a lot more data behind it than the Tree build, but has also shown consistently terrible performance across all available data. I do not intend to feature Whale Ramp lists with We’ve Got a Case!, as I can’t (in good conscience) recommend bringing cards that often don’t make the cut in Open 6 decks to constructed formats, but I do believe that the Natura-based shell could have some potential, which is not to say that it’s going to be very competitive (see: meta-based issues of Eternal Whale as a Discard Dragon tech card), but that it could have a fringe niche in the meta and not just be a janky meme deck, after a bit of optimization.