The “Meta Insight” series covers the differences between popular ladder decklists, showcasing the core cards of each of the archetypes (“deck skeletons”), as well as various optional inclusions, tech cards and common play patterns.

Shadow    Blood    Sword    Dragon    Haven    Forest    Rune    Portal    Stats corner

Midrange Shadow

Identifying cards: Gremory, Andrealphus, Orthrus, Cerberus, Arcus, Gilnelise.

Mulligan Priority

  • Always keep Belenus, Fran and Skull Ring.
  • Going second, keep Lady Grey.
  • Keep a 2-drop against board-centric classes like Sword/Shadow/Dragon/Blood or if you’re keeping a 3-drop. Those include Belenus, Andrealphus, Ferry, Paradise Vanguard and Lyria.
  • If you’re playing a list with Goblins, keep 1 Goblin.
  • Keep Purehearted Singer against slower classes like Rune/Haven.
  • If you’re keeping 2 cards already, keeping a Cerberus is fine. Orthrus is usually not active on curve, but it can occasionally be if you have a good curve with Skull Ring or Fran.
  • Keep specific tech cards in their respective matchups, like Seraphic Blade against Blood, for example.

Shadow mulligans are fairly straightforward. Shadow decks don’t really have any good 1-drops (unless you’re playing Goblins), and have abundant 2-drops, the best of which is Belenus. The 3-drops like Fran and Skull Ring are good on curve, however, a lot of Shadow lists exclude Skull Ring due to antisynergy with Arcus. If you have a 2-3 curve, you can look to transition into the midgame with cards that generate wide boards for Gremory/Gilenelise buffs with cards like Lady Grey, Cerberus and even Charon.

Tech cards

  • Paradise Vanguard for Shadow mirrors. Happy Pig against Blood for extra healing. Replace some of the slower Shadow 2-drops like Andrealphus and Ferry.
  • Goblins for a more proactive and aggressive early game. Usually replaces Mischievous Spirit.
  • Seraphic Blade against Blood to deal with evolved Vira, also helps against Haven/Dragon to clear big Ward Followers that don’t fall into BSL/Fran range; as well as Tenko’s Shrine
  • Charon against Rune/Dragon, replaces 1-2 of your 7-drops, helps create powerful board swings on turn 6. Charon pulls out Cerberus and effectively puts 11/11 worth of stats on turn 6 with an evolve point, spread across multiple bodies. Charon has some redundancy issues, and you generally don’t want to include more than 2 copies with Cerberus as your only 5-drop.
  • Stygian Warden against Blood to clear evolved Vira while generating a body. Quite literally one of the 2 playable Shadowcraft cards that can clear an evolved Vira on curve. Can discard extra 2-drops and additional copies of Arcus.
  • Big Soul Hunter against Haven/Dragon. Usually replaces Orthrus. Somewhat uncommon in recent lists, but was a staple in previous, less-polarized October meta.
  • Troth’s Curse for a non-conditional spot removal effect, helpful against Haven/Sword and Ramp Dragon. Usually replaces Orthrus, doesn’t require any Shadows and isn’t random. Good sacrifice outlets include Fran and Arcus Ghosts.
  • Badb Catha against reactive decks like Rune/Haven. Provides a good curve after Cerberus. Replaces 1 copy of Gremory.

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Midrange Shadow is an archetype centered around generating wide boards with Fran, Cerberus, Lady Grey, etc. and later pump the boards with either Gremory or Gilnelise, establishing board control or pushing face damage, depending on how far ahead the Shadow player is. In addition to that, being ahead on board gives the Shadow player time to develop Arcus, Ghostly Manager, which provides reach with Ghosts on later turns.

Impact of the nerfs

While Midrange Shadow technically did receive a negative card change in the recent patch which increased the Enhance cost on Gremory, compared to Blood/Sword changes, the change to Gremory doesn’t appear to have a significant impact on the way the archetype is built or played. Some players have chosen to cut Gremory down to 2 copies and play some extra copies of Badb Catha instead, but Badb Catha is a significantly weaker card than pre-nerf Gremory since the buff is weaker (+2/+1 to a random Follower and +1/+1 to the rest) and doesn’t come with the end-of-turn-card-draw-Last-Words effect. Badb Catha has some upside in that costs 6; you can still Evolve something for face damage on the same turn and it’s also a 2/2, but even after the nerf, Gremory and Gilnelise generally outperform Badb Catha by leaps and bounds despite having a higher cost. Based on the 80-ish Midrange Shadow lists from various sources that I used for reference, the average number of Gremories per deck is just over 2.8xGremory per list, so it’s safe to say that the Gremory change didn’t affect the playability of the card in a significant manner.

Other changes to the archetype stem from the shift in the format and the optimization of the archetype over the course of October. At present, the most common (and the second lowest-winrate) Midrange Shadow matchup in ladder games is Midrange Shadow, which necessitates the inclusion of Midrange Shadow cards that perform well against Midrange Shadow. Compared to decklists from early October, Orthrus and Skull Ring have become staples in the archetype, while cards that don’t find good targets against MidShadow like Big Soul Hunter and Troth’s Curse are seeing significantly less play. In addition to this, Paradise Vanguard is also seeing common ladder play at 1-2 copies, since its Evolve effect 2-for-1 other Shadow decks and the Banish effect is also somewhat relevant since it affects Shadow generation, the res pool for Lady Grey and Skull Ring and even dodges the face damage from the 2/1 Cerberus token. Generally speaking, clearing 2 things with an Evolve is good against Shadow, and if the effect is included on a vanilla 2-drop, then that’s even better.

The legend returns

One of the Neutral Legendary cards in the OOT expansion, Gilnelise, Omen of Craving, bears a striking resemblance to a centerpiece of Midrange Shadow decks in the past and in the Unlmited format, Demonlord Eachtar. While Gilnelise does significantly less than Eachtar, since it doesn’t sound Zombies and doesn’t give your Followers Rush, it still has a similar effect of capitalizing on wide boards and putting a threat into play at the same time. Unlike Eachtar, Gilnelise has Ambush which often lets it stick around on the following turn, and Drain, which provides some healing later on. Gilnelise is quite often just a card that buffs your board or Arcus ghosts and provides redundancy with Gremory, however, at later stages of the game Gilnelise can effectively close out games by itself. The pattern for that is to either draw it naturally or fetch it with an enhanced Lyria on turn 9, then play it, hopefully buffing your board and getting some good trades with it. On the next turn, you draw 5 extra cards and then play Ferry into either Gremory or another Gilnelise, which deals 15 damage and usually heals you to full health in the process. With an Arcus leader effect going, this can easily do over 20 damage with the Ghosts from Ferry. All in all, despite how much worse Gilnelise is when compared to Eachtar (one of the best cards to ever exist in Shadowverse), it still opens up new gameplay opportunities for Midrange Shadow in the Rotation format.

A new Cerb will follow

Another card that resembles a particular card from Midrange Shadow lists of days past is Cerberus, Hound of Hades. Cerberus puts a lot of stats into play for 5 mana, comes into play with 3 different bodies and deals chip damage to the opponent. Unlike the card that one can compare it to, Cerberus doesn’t have a Last Words effect, but instead has an Evolve effect that helps against midrange decks. Notably, Cerberus has become slightly more powerful after the recent card changes, since its Evolve effect doesn’t get punished by Galmieux as badly. In fact, the Galmieux change is mostly responsible for taking the PDK/MidShadow matchup from a 65/35 to a 55/45, according to available statistics.

In my opinion, Cerberus is one of the prime nerf targets in Midrange Shadow since the archetype is not only hugely successful in Rotation format, but is also hugely popular (and successful) in Unlimited as well, and Cerberus is a staple 3-of in that format as well, where the card pool is so much higher. Perhaps, a 5-cost 6/6, spread over 3 bodies, that deals chip damage to the opponent and has a useful Evolve effect, is just as much of a problematic card as a 7-cost 8/7, spread over 3 bodies, that deals chip damage to the opponent and has a useful Last Words effect. I could be wrong, of course, but in my opinion Cerberus could cost 6 and still would see play. In addition to that, other Shadow cards also go over the common power budget of Shadowverse cards, those include Orthrus (3 Shadows for 4 damage is on-par with pre-nerf Eachtar Necromancy costs) and pushed cards like Skull Ring and Belenus, the 2 latter cards of the 3 don’t have enough numbers on them to change (meaning, whichever way you change Belenus, it’s going to either become unplayable or remain with the same); however, Orthrus could get changed in a variety of ways (Shadow cost, damage, stat line, Fanfare->Evolve effect, etc.), so it wouldn’t surprise me to see an adjustment to Orthrus as well.

Putting it simply, Midrange Shadow is an archetype that hasn’t really changed in the last 16-ish months and still generally follows the same game plan: draw a lot of cards, build a wide board, buff it with Eachtar (or a suitable replacement) and then try to scrape some face damage using a Phantom Howl (or a suitable replacement).

Midrange Shadow is the most popular and the best-performing deck of both Rotation and Unlimited formats, and generally does well against most things in both formats. Weaker matchups of MidShadow include MidSword and DFB Blood, as well as Dragoncraft in general. Although, only PDK Dragon reportedly has a positive winrate against MidShadow, and the “weaker matchups” in terms of Midrange Shadowcraft still mean roughly 55/45 in Shadow’s favor, so that’s not saying much. MidShadow is also overwhelmingly popular in tournament play and is a part of most currently popular lineups.

Darkfeast Bat Blood

Identifying cards: Disciple of Lust, Gift for Bloodkin, Valnariek, Flauros, Evil Eye Demon, Darkfeast Bat.
Darkfeast Bat Blood is the most common Blood deck, most of the time when you’re queuing into a Blood player, it’s likely to be a Darkfeast Bat deck; the above cards distinguish it from other, less common Blood variants, listed as the last few entries in the decklist tab menu.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Restless Parish and Servant of Lust.
  • Against midrange classes (Sword/Shadow/Dragon) keep Alexandrite Demon, Evil Eye Demon. Alexandrite Demon is your second best 2-drop against midrange decks (after Servant), and Evil Eye Demon is the only way for Blood to deal with wide boards.
  • Against Sword/Portal/Blood keep Snarling Chains.
  • Always keep Disciple of Lust against reactive classes like Rune/Haven and keep it against midrange decks if you already have a 2-drop.
  • Against reactive classes like Rune/Haven keeping card draw is fine, that includes Purehearted Singer and Blood Pact. Alexandrite Demon is a little awkward against Rune since it gets hit by Magic Missile/Vesper, so it’s best to avoid that.
  • If you’re already keeping 2 cards for an early Flauros, e.g. double Parish or Parish+Disciple, keep Gift for Bloodkin (even multiples) and Blood Pact.
  • Do not keep Flauros or Darkfeast Bat.

The basic idea of mulligans in aggro decks is to get a good 1-2-3 curve. The only 1-drop in Blood is Disciple, and the best 2-drop is Servant, while the 3-drops are somewhat conditional, so the best Blood curve is Disciple into Servant into 2-drop or Singer, depending on the matchup. Diciple of Lust can be a little awkward against midrange decks, but it’s still better to play it on turn 1 rather than not. The 1-2-3 pattern gets slightly disturbed by Flauros, however. Putting Flauros into play on turn 3 is the “unfair” factor of playing Blood and something one should aim for when playing Blood. To that end, you should keep Parishes and Gifts in your hand until you can get 4 damage procs in a turn in the early game. At some point (either when you get to turn 5-ish or draw all of your Flauros), it’s fine to dump the Parishes with Vira for extra cards/healing and Gifts with Evil Eye Demon for extra damage.

Tech cards

  • Wings of Lust against reactive classes like Rune/Haven. Wings are good when going first and a win-more effect that helps push damage when going second. Giving a Follower +2/+1 and advancing your DFB counter is a good deal for 2pp, but it is conditional in that it requires you to have a Follower that can attack in play. In the midgame, you can use Evolves with Vira or (once it’s active) Valnareik’s Storm to get value from Wings, occasionally even getting healing from the Drain effect. Wings replace Disciple of Lust and are played at 1-2 copies.
  • Apostle of Lust against slower classes that don’t threaten your life total or go wide on board, namely Rune/Dragon/Haven. Apostle is fairly slow, and giving your opponent cards is generally not a good idea against decks with little card draw, however, against decks like Chimera Rune that draw a lot and keep 6-8 cards in hand at all times, giving an extra card is not that important. In addition to that, a vanilla 5/4 is not great against classes like Sword/Shadow which put multiple bodies into play for 5 and Apostle can’t trade too well in those board states.
  • Seraphic Blade for mirrors to deal with evolved Vira or occasional Nilpotent Entity.

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Darkfeast Bat Blood is an archetype predated by its Unlimited counterpart which got relatively popular last expansion. The basic idea for Darkfeast Bat decks is to include effects that deal damage to both leaders or deal 1-2 damage to your leader for some upside, and then double down on the damage with effects from Evil Eye Demon/Darkfeast Bat for powerful board clears and reach. Previously, the problem with Rotation-legal Darkfeast Blood was the lack of self-damage effects like Bloodfed Flowerbed, Ambling Wraith, Spiderweb Imp, etc.

Impact of the nerfs

The double nerf to DFB Blood hit 2 archetype-defining cards, slowing down its win condition (Darkfeast Bat) and removing the high-roll Flauros draws, which has made the deck lose a fair bit of popularity and about 3-4% of its overall winrate. The Flauros change makes it so the deck value early game self-damage less, and means that Disciple of Lust loses a lot of its power since it can’t contribute to a Flauros unless you can somehow protect it until turn 3; for that reason most DFB lists cut it to 1-2 copies, and some lists don’t include it at all. With that said, the Flauros change doesn’t actually do that much since games where DFB Blood summoned Flauros by the turn 1-2 were extremely uncommon, despite what confirmation bias might lead you to believe. The nerf to Darkfeast Bat itself makes it so the archetype has to include slightly more card draw and can’t just throw burn spells at your opponent, since you still have to get to turn 8, but this change is a lot more relevant for Unlimited, since most of the common Rotation format decks don’t really win on turn 7 without a really good draw. So, to summarize the changes to the deck, it basically comes down to cutting Disciples for some extra card draw.

Other changes to the archetype compared to its earlier iterations stem from further optimization of the archetype. Compared to lists from mid-October, Valnariek and Flauros are now fixed at 3 copies, in part because the archetype wants more gas in the midgame, Purehearted Singer is at least a 2-of now, and Scorpius is gone without a trace, to make space for a playset of Alexandrite Demon. The changes are numerous, but (apart from cutting Disciples) they’re not so sweeping that you couldn’t find a currently popular DFB list back in October.

Cheating tempo

Most of the Darkfeast Blood gameplan is relatively straightforward and involves trying to stay alive while drawing cards and chucking burn spells that hit both your opponent and yourself, and trying to get your opponent into Darkfeast Bat range. When playing the archetype itself or against it, it is important to keep track of the number of self-damage effects, the 2 important break points are the Valnareik threshold (7) and your (or your opponent’s) life total with 2-3 additional possible damage from Gifts for Bloodkin.

The “trying to stay alive” part is the tricky aspect of playing the archetype. The 4 cards that stick out in that respect are Flauros, Vira, Evil Eye Demon and Valnareik. Cheating Flauros into play is incredibly strong, but highly conditional, so it’s somewhat unreliable. Notably, Flauros is a card that you want to have a copy of in your deck at most times, so most lists play 2-3 copies, with the standard being 3xFlauros, since the more copies you play, the more likely you’re to have at least 1 in your deck. Drawing 2 or more Flauros is unfortunate since you often don’t have time to play all of them, but it beats not having one in your deck when you’re getting a nut draw. Previously, 2xFlauros was considered sufficient, but after the October nerfs DFB Blood has become slower and most lists include extra card draw, thus shifting the scales of playing it as a 3-of.

The other 3 cards are a lot more straightforward, Vira is a good Evolve target that lets you Blood Pact/Razory Claw without taking damage (which still adds to the Darkfeast Bat counter). Occasionally, you can play the healing option of Parish with Vira, effectively healing for 8 for 2pp. Evil Eye Demon is essentially a secondary “win condition” against Shadow since it allows to answer wide boards generated by Cerberus/Charon and take back tempo; against classes that don’t go wide or create powerful board swings (like Rune/Lishenna Portal), EED is still a slightly worse Snarling Chains that adds to the Darkfeast Bat counter. Valnareik can often be a 3-cost 2/4, which is a good rate if you’re going first and have a Servant in play or a Parish/Gift to spare to pump it; however, it is often better to save it for after you’ve gotten 7 damage effects to use it as a pseudo-Dance of Death effect since it destroys a Follower and pushes 2 face damage. Not a very good analogy.

It should also be noted that Last Words effects that deal damage to your leader also count for “damage taken during your turn” if you clear the corresponding Follower on your turn. This is relevant for Cerberus and Cucouroux tokens, for example. These sources of damage can naturally also be prevented by Vira and add to the Darkfeast Bat/EED counter.

DFB Blood is one of the more consistent decks in the format and (arguably) the second best archetype after the Halloween nerfs. Weaknesses of the archetype include MidShadow/Sword since those decks can develop wide boards that Blood has difficulty answering without EED. With that said, DFB Blood still consistently does well against most other decks in the format, which means that it is one of the more efficient ladder decks of the format due to being highly optimized and tested. The most common successful BO3 lineup, for example, is also MidShadow/DFB Blood, so the archetype is good in tournament play as well. This is a bit of a worrying trend since if Shadow receives changes, DFB Blood is likely to become the best deck of the format again, since the nerfs haven’t really appear to not have changed the deck’s performance too much; but with the upcoming mini-expansion, this prediction could be completely inaccurate, of course, so perhaps it is too early to start with the doomsaying yet.

Midrange Sword

Identifying cards: Chromatic Duel, Lux, Solar Fencer, Frontline Cavalier, Octrice, Mars, Apostle of Usurpation.
Midrange Sword is technically the only popular Sword archetype, so distinguishing it should be easy enough, the cards listed above differentiate it from the (extremely uncommon) Aggro Sword variants.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Chromatic Duel and Valse.
  • Keep Servant of Usurpation against any non-Rune class. Keeping Servant against Rune risks it getting hit by Vesper or Magic Missile, which is not a good exchange for the Sword player.
  • Try to keep 1 of proactive 2-drops (Servant, Celia, Rapier Master in order of priority) against predominantly midrange classes like Blood/Shadow/Dragon/Forest. If you’re going second, Usurping Spineblade is also fine.
  • Keep Lux, Solar Lancer against slower classes like Haven/Rune.
  • Keep Mars if you’re already keeping a proactive 2-drop.
  • Keep Octrice against Shadow as a 3-drop.
  • If you’re already keeping a 2-3 curve, keeping Apostle/DK is fine; in addition to that, if you’re going second, keeping Octrice/Cavalier also works.
  • If you’re playing a Quickblader list and going first, keep Quickblader. Going second, Duel is usually a better keep, depending on the matchup. I personally wouldn’t keep QB going second against Sword/Shadow/Forest/Portal.
  • If you’re playing a list with Charlotta, keep it against Rune/Haven.

The above section is significantly longer than it should be, and can be summed up as “try to hit a 2-into-3 curve”; the optimal Sword curve is Chromatic Duel into Servant into Valse. Some cards are significantly better against certain decks, e.g. Octrice is usually a card that you save for evolve turns, however, against Shadowcraft, it can hit Belenus, Andrealphus, Purehearted Singer, etc. and provide additional early game value and/or tempo.

Tech cards

  • Quickbladers against Blood/Rune for extra pressure. Quckbladers replace Rapier Master or some of the 2-drops. Quickbladers are worse against midrange decks since they provide poor tempo and allow your opponent to get value trades.
  • Disciple of Usurpation against Shadow/Forest/Rune. This card is a recent addition to the “eat Skeletons for breakfast” club, previously comprised of Servants of Usurpation. In addition to its other abilities, the card also has Ambush and thus can’t be cleared by non-AoE removal spells, so it’s reasonably aggressive against reactive decks in Quickblader lists. Usually replaces Mars.
  • Jiraiya against Haven/Dragon as a 2-cost removal Spell. Works well with the 1-damage Loot tokens and Apostle of Usurpation.
  • Charlotta against Rune/Haven. Usually replaces Lancer of the Tempest, negates damage-based removal effects like Lorena, enhanced Jeanne, Wind Blast, Grand Spire, etc.
  • An honorable mention to Ironfist Beast Warrior as a card draw option for slower matchups. Included in S.S’s list, who played over 200 games with the bloody thing with reasonable success. I personally haven’t tested it since I don’t own any, so I’m not sure how good the card is.

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Midrange Sword is a deck archetype that revolves around powerful midgame Swordcraft followers. The two defining characteristics of Midrange Sword is a multitude of modal effects (with Enhance or Accelerate keywords) that make the cards serve different roles at different stages in the game; as well as a “Loot” card mechanic which provides pseudo-card advantage and various small effects for 1pp.

Impact of the nerfs

The change to Arthur essentially changed the card to being completely unusable, not necessarily because a +1 cost increase is a huge problem for cards (look to Tenko’s Shrine or Darkfeast Bat, for example), but more so because Swordcraft has a very crowded 8-cost slot and Arthur simply doesn’t make the cut anymore. In addition to that, Arthur also places significant constraints on deckbuilding (since it requires you to have exactly 4 different 2-drops, at 3 copies each), it makes sense to forego the required synergy because you can do better things on turn 8 anyway. With that in mind, the cards that got the boot with the Arthur nerf include the weaker 2-drops, which means Cuhullin and Holy Bear Knight. The cards that go into the freed up early game slots include Lux, Solar Fencer, which helps smooth out the curve and fish for high-value Commander cards, namely Latham; Rapier Master, an extremely flexible card that can be played as a 2- or a 4-drop, as well as a 5-7-damage Storm or a 4-cost removal spell post-Latham; as well as Mars/Disciple of Usurpation which are both proactive 3-drops that trade reasonably well and can snowball out of control when left around. So, all in all, despite the Arthur nerf, Swordcraft has only become more versatile in its early game options and more consistent at contesting early boards. Nonetheless, the timing of the nerfs is a bit of a shame, that Arthur got murdered just 4 months from retirement!

Eight equals two; five equals eight; one equals zero

A defining characteristic of Midrange Sword is the Enhance keyword present on a lot of Sword cards. Chromatic Duel, Rapier Master, Latham, Octrice, Valse and Dragon Knights are all cards that can provide powerful effects either in the early or late game using a single card slot. This effectively means that Midrange Sword doesn’t need any card draw (aside from Lux), since a lot of Sword cards are good topdecks in the late game. Particularly notable here is the increase of importance of Latham, which can generate a lot of incremental value if you manage to resolve it as an 8-drop. Latham’s leader effect generates 1/1s with Storm whenever you attack with a Follower, so whenever you attack with a Follower, you get a 1-damage ping, which has synergy with all the late-game Rush cards (Octrice, Dragon Knights, partially Chromatic Duel), as well as cards that put 1-cost Followers into play (speedy Latham, Rapier Master, defensive Celia, actually Chromatic Duel, and even Frontline Cavalier, once in a blue moon).

A consequence of this shift in Sword lists is the falloff of Sky Fortress in Sword decks, because despite the deck’s overall low curve, the 8-cost slot is oversaturated with cards like Octrice, Dragon Knights, Latham, Chromatic Duel, and so on. Personally, I’ve found this trend a little disappointing because landing the Bonemare buff and making horse noises is an inherently satisfying part of playing Swordcraft and it is difficult to fit that part of Sword’s class identity into currently standard decklists.

The “Gilded Goblet package”

The cycle of “Spare Part”-type parasitic synergy cards included in the OOT expansion include 4 different generators of so called “Loot cards” in Servant, Spineblade, Disciple and Octrice and one pay-off card that benefits from playing Loot cards, Apostle of Usurpation. All of the 5 cards are reasonably powerful midrange cards even without taking Loot synergy into account, and most lists usually include 11-12 Loot-centric cards to consistently enable Apostle procs. Apostle is the definite centerpiece and enabler of Loot cards, since it turns the random and situationally useful Loot cards into a board control mechanism. Generally, Gilded Blades and Necklaces are the more useful of the Loot cards, and Goblets/Boots get redundant if you get multiples and less desirable as a consequence. The play pattern with Loot cards is saving 2-3 of them to get a good turn 6-7 board clear with Apostle, much in the same way one would do with Tenko’s Shrine in Havencraft. Saving a Boot is fairly useful for making use of the clunkier Followers like Frontline Cavalier, Siegfried and Latham once you’re out of Evolve points. All in all, the Loot mechanic provides Swordcraft with an avenue of value generation and board control that is balanced out by the random nature of Loot generation.

Midrange Sword has a well-balanced matchup spread and has the second lowest matchup polarity of any deck in the format, since most of its matchups are close to being even. The archetype slightly struggles against Dragon and Shadow, but it is nonetheless one of the more consistent decks of the format. While the winrate of the archetype doesn’t look too impressive, one has to take into account that it has a (comparatively) good (but still unfavored) matchup against Midrange Shadow and does well against Haven and Blood. A 45/55 doesn’t look too great, but considering the overall winrate of Shadow is above 60%, it could even be said that MidSword has a slight edge against Shadow compared to other decks in the format.

PDK and Ramp Dragon

Identifying cards (Ramp): Blazing Breath, Force of the Dragonewt, Canyon of the Dragons, Frenzied Drake, Craving’s Splendor, Apostle of Disdain.
Identifying cards (PDK): Prime Dragon Keeper, Waters of the Orca, Dragon Aficionado, Serpent Drake.
Ramp and PDK Dragon are both the offshoots of the same core of Dragon cards, categorized by either the inclusion of Prime Dragon Keeper and support cards for it or slower cards like Canyon of the Dragons and Frenzied Drake. There is some confusion as to which Dragon lists can be categorized as Ramp Dragon, since a lot of Japanese sources refer to PDK lists as “Ramp Dragon”, but generally, the more common and competitively viable of the two is PDK Dragon, and Ramp Dragon is a slower, less refined counterpart of PDK, so the following sections mostly apply to PDK Dragon.

Mulligan Priority

  • Always keep Dragon Oracle, Whitefrost Dragonewt Filene, Dragoncleaver Roy or Dragon Aficionado.
  • Keep Aiela going second.
  • If you’re playing both Serpent Drakes and Servants of Disdain, keep Disciple of Disdain or Disdainful Rending, keep Rending/Disciple depending on the matchup (e.g. if you expect a slower deck, keep Disciple; if you expect a midrange-y deck, keep Rending).
  • If you’re already keeping Rending/Disciple or going second without Aiela, keep Serpent Drake.
  • Keep a playable 2-drop (includes Filene, Servant, Aiela and Waters of the Orca, in order of priority) against Shadow/Forest/Blood/Sword.
  • Keep card draw like Purehearted Singer against Rune/Haven.

The basic mulligan strategy with Dragon is to keep all the suitable Ramp cards like Dragon Oracle, Roy and Aiela whenever appropriate. Apart from that, you also need to keep efficient 2-drops to contest the board against board-centric classes. In addition, cards with “Enrage” synergy are excellent with their activators, Disciple of Disdain and Disdainful Rending; and the activators are situationally fine on their own if you can land the effect on something, and since the payoff is huge when those effects do land on the cards that support them, it is fine to fish for synergistic openings (like Serpent Drake+Rending against midrange classes, for example).

Tech cards

  • Dragon Aficionado as a proactive 3-drop against Midrange Shadow. Contests Skull Ring when going first and generally trades really well, also provides 2 PDK procs in the later stages of the game. Replaces Serpent Drake.
  • Gilnelise as an alternate pseudo-“win condition” against reactive decks like Haven/Rune. Works well with Waters of the Orca, Poseidon and as a general win-more effect after PDK turns.
  • Blazing Breath and/or Force of the Dragonewt against Shadow/Forest, more commonly played in Ramp lists.
  • Somniferous Whitewyrm against Sword/Blood, replaces any of the other 2-drops. Trades poorly with Shadow, so is generally outperformed by Servant/Filene/Aiela in the current format.
  • Frenzied Drake against Shadow/Sword as a powerful AoE option, more commonly present in Ramp lists. Frenzied Drake is really slow, but it does help in board-centric matchups if you get to cast it in a timely fashion.
  • Apostle of Disdain andCraving’s Splendor as a generic reach package, more commonly used in Ramp lists, but occasionally played in PDK as well. Particularly useful against Blood. The Apostle/Splendor combo does 7 base damage which can be increased with Evolve points, Disciples of Disdain and Disdainful Rending. Apostle can be played without Splendor with just Rending/Disciples and still do a fair bit of damage.

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Both PDK and Ramp Dragon are archetypes centered around powerful Ramp effects available to Dragoncraft and efficient early-game Followers combined with powerful late-game effects that can come out 1-2 turns earlier than expected. Compared to previous expansions, the current iteration of common Dragon lists is a lot closer to a midrange tempo deck, and the average Dragon list looks close to what one would’ve expected from PDK lists of the past. The reason for that speedup is, of course, the cycle of cards with “Disdain” synergy.

Cycle of disdain

Regardless of how the lists are classified, the vast majority of current Dragon decks include a package of “Disdain” cards which either benefit from dealing damage to allied Followers or Followers that gain a benefit when damaged, consisting of activators (Disciple and Rending) and payoff cards (Servant, Serpent Drake, Galmieux and Apostle). The Disdain package is clearly lopsided towards payoff cards since Followers naturally get damaged when trading. Putting it simply, the main played Disdain payoff cards are mostly good standalone cards (Galmieux and Servant) and the activators dealing damage to allied Followers is either a negligible downside or a huge payoff when combined with Followers that benefit from taking damage. For that reason, the main 11-12 “Disdain package” cards are included in every competitive Dragon deck, which naturally brings the curve of Dragon decks lower. Of particular note here is Galmieux, which not only fills in 2 different parts of the curve (5 and 7), but also provides board control and face damage even without additional activators. Galmieux is the main reason why Zooey has phased out from Dragon lists, for example, since even slower Dragon decks don’t need as many threats or as much reach as before.

Impact of the nerfs

While technically only a single Dragoncraft card was affected by the Halloween nerfs, the change to Galmieux is primarily relevant in the matchup against Midrange Shadow, which happens to be the most common deck in the format. Galmieux is still one of the best Dragon cards in the Rotation format, and a staple 3-of in the Unlimited variant of PDK Dragon, Aggro Dragon, so it’s safe to say that the change didn’t affect the playability of the card in a major way. Other changes to the archetype appear to be a result of further optimization and a shift in the meta caused by the nerfs. The 2 main changes that stick out to me are Poseidon and Serpent Drake becoming nearly universal 3-of staples in the archetype because both of those cards do well against MidShadow, and the consensus on Serpent Drake being generally good has been reached.

On Ramp Dragon: statistics and reality

While this has been a trend since the start of the expansion, Ramp Dragon is really difficult to distinguish from PDK lists, even before the card changes, Ramp Dragon was basically a deck that cut PDK for Apostle of Disdain, and while it is possible that I’m misguided in the assumptions I made when deciding on nomenclature for Dragon decks, the majority of Japanese sources refer to PDK as either PDK, Disdain or Storm Ramp Dragon, seemingly interchangeably, and this trend is consistent with available Shadowlog stats, since the statistics for Disdain and Ramp Dragon buckets show a very similar, low-polarity matchup spread, however, the “PDK Dragon” deck bucket shows a significantly exaggerated matchup spread, with significantly better matchups across the board, however, the general trend (strong against Sword, weak to Blood, slightly weak to Shadow) is relatively consistent between PDK and Ramp Dragon if we use the “weighted average winrate” of the archetype as our baseline instead of the 50% mark.

With that in mind, we know that official sources refer to the most common Dragon archetype as “PDK Disdain Dragon” (from the nerf announcement). We also know that most successful (and common) Dragon decks include PDK and the whole Disdain package. This section could be updated in the future if the available statistics become more clear in this respect. Personally, I’m not even sure I know what a Ramp Dragon is at this point. What is a Ramp Dragon? A miserable little pile of 2-drops. But enough talk. Have at you!


Available Ramp Dragon statistics point it to be one of the more consistent, if not very well-performing, archetypes of the format. Ramp Dragon appears to be about even with Rune/Haven, slightly favored against MidSword, and weak to MidShadow and DFB Blood. With that said, even its weaker matchups are only slightly (42-45%) unfavored, so Ramp (or PDK) Dragon are likely to be a reasonably competitive deck, about on par with Tenko Haven/MidForest in terms of their competitive viability.


PDK Dragon shows a very similar matchup distribution to its (supposedly) Ramp counterpart, however, the overall sample size is lower and the weighted average winrate is almost 10% higher. It seems that games against Dragon with “high-roll” openings get reported as PDK games, and all other games get reported as one of the Ramp buckets. The high polarity of the archetype is caused by low sample size combined with an extremely high winrate. In my opinion, it is better to judge the performance of PDK Dragon by looking at the Ramp Dragon chart, however, if further statistics shed light on what’s happening with the archetype, I will update this section to either combine the 2 buckets or exclude the “PDK Dragon” altogether.

Tenko Haven

Identifying cards: Whitefang Temple, Tenko’s Shrine, Happy Pig.

Calling any cards “identifying” in Tenko Haven is a little silly since the vast majority of Haven lists are Tenko decks, nonetheless, the mentioned cards distinguish Tenko from other Haven archetypes like Seraph Haven.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Globe of the Starways, Unicorn Knight.
  • Keep Moriae Encomium against all classes other than Shadow/Forest.
  • Against Shadow/Sword/Blood/Forest keep any 2-drops, including Blackened Scripture, even over Moriae Encomium.
  • Against Rune/Dragon/Portal/Haven/Forest keep Lorena and Blackened Scripture when going second.
  • If you’re already keeping a 2-drop, keep a Whitefang Temple.
  • If you’re specifically keeping Unicorn Knight or Jeweled Priestess, keep Summit Temple.

The idea is to be as greedy as possible with mulligans in the matchups you can afford to. Unicorn Knight and Globe of the Starways are great since they smooth out your curve for the following turns. Moriae Encomium is the best card in the archetype to fill out the curve, even if you don’t play it on turn 2; and against classes that can’t go wide on board, it essentially guarantees a 2-for-1. Against cards that flood the board with 1/1s (Skull Ring, Fairy Whisperer, Fairy Circle, early Latham, etc.), Moriae can set you behind early on.

Some classes like Sword/Shadow/Blood can snowball the game from an early lead, so you have to contest the board on turns 2-3. Bloodcraft has 1-drops and 2-cost 4/2s that you have to clear as quickly as possible. Sword can protect their boards with Magnus (from Lorena and Unicorn Knight tokens) and Celia’s Ward tokens. Against those classes you have to keep your greed in check and try not to fall behind too much.

Tech cards

  • 1xSummit Temple and 3xHeavenly Knights for extra pressure against midrange decks. Previously, the Summit/triple Knight setup was the standard Tenko build, however, after the Alexiel buff there is more variety in lists, and some players drop HKs for either extra midgame cards or a “Seraph package”.
  • Lapis, Glorious Seraph, Marwynn, Omen of Repose and cheap countdown reduction cards (either Star Torrent or Hallowed Dogma) for additional threats against slower archetypes like Haven mirrors, Ramp Dragon and Rune/Portal. Seraph provides inevitability in grindy matchups. Compared to “standard” lists, Seraph replaces Heavenly Knights and Marwynn replaces Ceryneian Hind.
  • Happy Pig against Sword/Blood/Shadow for better early-game trades. Replaces Jeweled Priestess.
  • Seraphic Blade and Father Punishment for Haven mirrors. Seraphic Blade also has utility against Blood to kill off evolved Viras and big 2-drops like Servant of Lust. Usually a 1-of.
  • Fall from Grace as an answer to opponents’ Seraphs and Tenko’s Shrine and for the Lishenna Portal matchup. Fall from Grace is generally an answer to non-Follower win conditions and is the only way to actually clear a Seraph or a Destruction in Black; however, it still has uses against midrange decks, for example, it’s one of the better answers to a turn 6 Poseidon, since you can FfG the 5/7 and then play a 2-drop/Scripture and clear most of it, or at least set up for a good Jeanne on the following turn. I generally think that an exactly 1-of FfG is correct for ladder play.
  • Father Punishment for mirror matches and against slower Dragon lists. I personally think that Father Punishment is less flexible and strictly worse that Seraphic Blade.

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Tenko Haven is an archetype centered around generating value from the Tenko’s Shrine Amulet combined with repeatable sources of healing from De La Fille leader effect, Whitefang Temple, active Ceryneian Hinds, as well as one-time healing effects like Jeweled Priestess/Unicorn Knight/Lorena tokens and enhanced Jeanne.

Changes to the archetype

The biggest change to Tenko lists compared to their pre-patch counterparts is caused by the Alexiel buff, which made the card go from a tech card that saw fringe play for players who wanted to beat Chimera Rune to a consistent 2-of in many Haven lists. As a consequence of most lists including Alexiel, Tenko Haven now has an essentially auto-win matchup against decks that try to do 15+ damage out of hand with a single card with effects like Giant Chimera, Lishenna’s Destruction in Black token and so on. Alexiel still doesn’t help against midrange decks that either play multiple smaller Followers like MidShadow/Sword/PDK Dragon or burn decks that carry a lot of incremental out-of-hand damage effects like Darkfeast Bat Blood and Mysteria Rune, but at least it’s less of a dead draw in those cases since 7 is less than 8.

In particular, some of the other card changes (to Blood/Sword/Shadow) make the environment a lot more favorable for Tenko Haven, since there’s less DFB Blood (which still feels like an uphill battle), and matchups like Sword and Shadow are a lot more bearable since those decks have become slightly slower. In particular, the Gremory change makes it line up nicely with an enhanced Jeanne board clear and the Cerberus into Gremory draw is less of a blowout now. With that said, Cerberus into Cerberus into Gremory/Gilnelise is still rough, so the Shadow matchup is not favored by any means, especially considering the Arcus “inevitability” engine that you have limited protection against; but at least the matchup no longer hinges on you either not falling behind early on or getting murdered by Gremory.

In the same vein, it is still difficult to outvalue Midrange Sword, since Valse is a natural counter to Tenko’s Shrines (and usually even Seraph), and an average MidSword list includes way more 8-drops than Haven has board clears. A silver lining here is that since a lot of Sword lists don’t include Cuhullin, big Ward Followers like Alexiel, De la Fille and Heavenly Knight at least trade for some of your opponent’s board or a Zeta. The (usually PDK) Dragon matchup still depends on whether you can answer specific turns from the Dragon player and keep the board clear, those include a turn 3-4 Serpent Drake with an activator, turn 6-7 Poseidon and an evolved Prime Dragon Keeper pre-8, if you let slip 1-2 of those over the course of the game, you fall behind on tempo too much and go into Azi Dahaka range even if you do manage to stabilize.

On “Seraph package”

Since the Alexiel buff the 7-cost slot in Haven has gotten a little crowded, to a point that it’s no longer unreasonable to cut Heavenly Knight for some other late-game threats. The prime example of a slow threat in Haven is Lapis, Glorious Seraph, that provides inevitability at the cost of including some Countdown reduction cards. It is not unusual for lists to play a 1-of Seraph without any additional support cards to simply have an extra threat against Rune/Portal and in Haven mirrors, but if you play 2xSeraphs, you have to make space for some (4-6) Countdown reduction cards, which can include Marwynn, Hallowed Dogma and Star Torrent. Of the 3 different effects, Marwynn is the most natural inclusion in the deck, since it also has other useful applications like activating Tenko’s Shrine, drawing a card and providing an efficient body (4/4 for 4.5pp) with a relevant Evolve effect. Marwynn is very similar to Ceryneian Hind in that regard.

There are a couple of downsides to Marwynn, however, the biggest of which is that it gives your opponent the initiative since your opponent gets a +1 mana turn before you do. The extra play point is more relevant for specific decks, for example, ramping a Shadow/Dragon player to 7 is like asking for trouble, but ramping Sword to 7 is completely fine since Sword doesn’t have any 7-drops and is likely to use only 6 mana on that turn anyway. In a similar vein, ramping Shadow to 6 is usually safe since most lists don’t run Badb Catha or Charon. While ramping your opponent is usually a downside, against archetypes with “non-linear” mana curve, giving away an extra play point is irrelevant. What I mean by “non-linear” is decks like DFB Blood, Chimera Rune and Lishenna Portal, which can’t just play their big threat a turn earlier without additional turns of setup. In those cases, the ramp effect from Marwynn is almost strictly good, since you get to play your Seraph/Alexiel or Tenko’s Shrine faster and get more mana to work with. Another downside to Marwynn is that it draws a card for both players, which is usually a pretty negligible effect since it doesn’t generate any actual card advantage, but you obviously have to avoid playing Marwynn when your opponent is playing a midrange deck (like MidShadow/Sword) and is low on (at 1-3) cards to avoid giving your opponent an out. To summarize, Marwynn is usually a fine card, but you have to use an iota of common sense not to give away too much of an advantage with its symmetrical effect.

On other Countdown reduction effects, they’re both a lot more situational in their effects, Dogma draws a card, and reduces the Countdown of a single amulet by 2, which leaves it with 2 situational uses aside from activating Seraph: firstly, with a Globe of the Starways from a previous turn, it draws 2 cards for 2, making it a DIY Concentration of sorts, helping you to cycle through your deck faster; and secondly, you can play Moriae+Dogma to destroy a (hopefully not) random enemy Follower for 4pp, making it a pseudo-Tribunal. Long story short, Dogma helps with cycling and dealing with big Followers. Star Torrent, on the other hand, advances the Countdown by 1 for all amulets and does 1 damage to opponent’s Followers, which can clean up Skull Ring, Latham, Dragon Aficionado and various Fairy tokens. Is Angelic Barrage good? You wouldn’t put Angelic Barrage in a deck, so no, not really, but if it has other situationally useful effects like the Seraph interaction, Star Torrent can be on par with Dogma if you need other Countdown effects. In my personal testing of the “Seraph package” in Tenko Haven, the resulting decklist was only 4 cards different from ココア‘s one, and the biggest difference was that I’ve been playing 2xDogma instead of Star Torrents, so while I’m biased towards Dogmas, the choice still depends on player preference. I don’t include my own decklists into articles to maintain some objectivity, since my commentary is fairly opinionated already and it’s better if my viewpoints don’t influence the presented decklists.

Seraph Haven

Identifying cards: Aether of the White Wing, Hallowed Dogma, Garuda, Ruler of Storms.

A sub-archetype of “Hybrid Seraph/Tenko Haven” is, well, the eponymous Seraph Haven archetype, which excludes the Tenko-centric core of Tenko Haven (cards like Tenko’s Shrine, Whitefang Temple and De la Fille) to make space for additional (7-9 total) Countdown reduction effects like Garuda, Ruler of Storm.

The basic play pattern of Seraph Haven is to play Aether on 9, putting Seraph into play, then hopefully have it killed, and then use 3 Countdown reduction effects to win the game on the following turn. Compared to Hybrid lists, the advantage here is that you can have an extra 3 mana to work with on turn 9, and putting a Seraph into play is a significantly lower tempo loss. On top of that, against decks like Tenko Haven and Chimera Rune, you can put multiple Seraphs into play on turns 8-9, and even if the opponent uses a Fall from Grace on one on turn 8, you can still pull another one from you deck on 9, and you should be able to reasonably outrace your opponent with all of the extra Countdown reduction effects that you run. The downside is that in order to include all of the extra cards (Aether/Garuda), you have to cut your early- and midgame Followers, as well as most of your healing. In addition to that, if you’re not pressuring your opponent’s life total, most midrange decks can outrace an 8-cost 7/6 if they just let it stick around in play, so if your opponent isn’t clearing your Seraph, you might have to Themis it yourself, which takes yet another turn.

Drawing dead cards and not having a consistent early game is a problem against midrange decks, and Seraph Haven as a result is a lot less competitive than its Hybrid Tenko counterpart, and there’s not a lot of good Seraph lists. The most well-tested and reasonable list I could find is トノノ‘s one, which includes a Heavenly Knight package and is generally not too far off from a “standard” Tenko list. In general, Seraph Haven is a very polarizing deck, since it basically auto-wins against Chimera Rune or Lishenna Portal and in Haven mirrors, and decks with highly-polarized matchups are generally fairly unreliable for ladder play.


Tenko Haven is an archetype that is generally good at dealing with strategies revolving around playing big Followers/Spells that do a lot of face damage due to Alexiel, and it generally does really well against Chimera Rune, slower Dragon lists and Lishenna/Puppet Portal. The archetype struggles against midrange decks that can either outtempo or outvalue it (MidShadow/MidSword) or burn it with repeated smaller sources of face damage (DFB Blood). The archetype has seen some competitive play and can function reasonably well in the format with proper tech choices. Haven in general is somewhat suboptimal for ladder play due to being unfavored against Shadow and being fairly slow, but it’s far from the worst thing one could play.


Seraph Haven is significantly less popular than Tenko Haven, and partly due to its low sample size, it is significantly more polarized in terms of its matchups against the field. While the resulting winrate of the archetype is higher than that of Tenko Haven, the (even worse) matchup against Shadow and significantly higher matchup variance results in Seraph Haven being a lot less reliable of a deck on ladder or in tournament play.

It should be mentioned that a portion of stats for Seraph Haven likely represents misreported games against Hybrid Tenko Haven that never get to play their Tenko’s Shrines when they’re under too much pressure in the midgame (against midrange decks) or when it’s not necessary to win (against Chimera Rune, for example), so the stats are definitely being muddled with statistics from a different archetype. This also aligns with the playability of the archetype in tournament play, where there is no confusion over decklists, and Tenko (Hybrid or not) lists are a lot more common and see some actual success.

Tempo and Midrange Forest

Identifying cards (Tempo): Goblin, Lyria, Gilnelise,
Identifying cards (Korwa Midrange): Korwa, Cassiopeia, Sky Devouring Horror.
Most Forest lists are fairly midrange-y, however, there are 2 main subcategories of Forest that can be distinguished: the faster, more aggressive and better tested lists running Gilnelise and extra early game cards, dubbed Tempo Forest; as well as slower and jankier lists that include AoE cards like Cassiopeia and Selwyn paired up with some sort of expensive Storm finisher like Sky Devouring Horror, occasionally even including Korwa for the dream scenario, referred to as “Korwa Midrange Forest”.

Mulligan Priority

  • Always keep Luxglaive Bayle, even multiple copies.
  • Keep one Water Fairy or Goblin.
  • Keep one 2-drop, the best ones are Falconer and Fairy Whisperer.
  • If you’re keeping Fairy Circle or Fairy Whisperer, keep Insect Lord and Rayne, especially when going second. Going first against non-Rune classes, also keep Elf Song in those conditions.
  • If you already have a 2-drop, keep Metera going second; if you’re already keeping 2 cards, keeping Metera is also fine going first as well.
  • Keep Airbound Barrage against Sword/Blood.

By far the most unfair part of playing faster Forest lists is getting tempo swings with Bayle, and if playing with Corridor Creeper has taught me anything, it’s that the earlier you have Corridor Creeper in hand, the earlier it can cost 0 and decide midrange matchups right then and there. Apart from that, the general priority with Forest is to hit a good early curve with many 1- and 2-drops available to the archetype. In all likelihood, there are a lot more intricacies to Forestcraft mulligans, however, my experience with the class is somewhat lacking.

Tech cards

  • Sylvan Justice against Blood/Sword to keep up with the powerful 2-drop in those classes. Servants of Lust/Usurpation are a huge thorn in Forest’s backside, and you only have so many Airbound Barrages to deal with those.
  • Aggressive proactive cards like Goblins, Falconer and Leaf Man which are slightly weaker against MidShadow, but improve your odds against reactive decks like Rune/Haven.
  • Cassiopeia against Shadow/Forest, helps dealing with wide boards. Cassiopeia can also clear an Ambushed Gilnelise at later stages of the game, which is relevant against Shadow.
  • Aria as a replacement for Metera, slightly better against reactive classes and generally worse against midrange decks. Aria works well with cards that require multiple played cards in a turn (Elf Song, Tia, Hornet Soldier, Axeman, etc.) since it generates a lot of extra gas for those effects.
  • Yggdrasil for extra card draw and healing, helpful against Blood, usually fairly clunky against other classes.
  • Lists with Yggdrasil occasionally include Grasshopper Conductor to tutor either Yggdrasil or Cassiopeia.

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Standard midrange Forest archetypes are centered around the notion of building a wide board with Fairy Tokens and 1-drops and buffing the board with Elf Song, Leaf Man and Gilnelise once the Forest player gets an advantage. Compared to other token-based archetypes, Forest can snowball a lot faster than Shadow, for example, since Elf Song can come down as early as turn 4; and Forest gets to retake some of the tempo lost when trading with discounted Bayles.

Impact of the nerfs

The shift in the format caused by the Halloween patch shifted the meta in a way that made DFB Blood less common and made MidShadow the most popular deck in the format doesn’t really work in Forest’s favor, and most of the other changes are fairly irrelevant to the class. The Yggdrasil buff is great for decks that might want that sort of effect, but I’ve personally found Yggdrasil fairly underwhelming, since the card is not that great against wide boards, and while the healing is nice, it’s certainly can’t compare to the defensive juggernaut like Crystalia Aerin. Sure, Aerin is rotated out, so it’s not really a fair comparison, but nonetheless, playing a 6-cost 2/6 does not make me happy and reminds me of the old days of playing Radiance Angel which I was also very eager to cut as better cards came out. To summarize, in my opinion, current optimized Forest decks don’t really have a spot for Yggdrasil, and the meta shift is generally unfavorable for Forestcraft.

Tempo (or Midrange) Forest saw a lot of experimentation during the first week of the post-nerf environment and which resulted in a lot of popularity and hype, but eventually players have realized that Shadow is a class and it’s generally unreasonable to play Forest over Shadow on ladder or in tournament lineups. Currently, Forestcraft is the lowest-played class of the format, and the overall performance of Tempo Forest leaves (heh) a lot to be desired.

Additions to the archetype in the OOT expansion

The 3 playable OOT cards that stick out in Forest are Bayle, Gilnelise and Tia. The seemingly most impactful of the 3 is Luxglaive Bayle which can often come down as a 0- or 1-cost 4/4 Ward, swinging tempo in the matchups that require board control.

Gilnelise is generally an effect that Forest decks need redundancy in, since building wide boards is the specialty of the class. Gilnelise can often push 4-6 damage, and the 3/5 Ambush is not useless either. Occasionally you can even get a 1-drop/Gilnelise/Elf Song turn, which requires you to be ahead on board by a lot, but does push a lot of damage and generates good tempo.

The last, but certainly not least, important Forest inclusion is Tia, Crystalian Noble, which provides a lot of gas strapped onto a vanilla 1-drop. 3-cost vanilla 4/4s, while not particularly unfair, still generate a lot of stats for little cost. Playing a Tia as your third card in a turn doesn’t require much setup and is usually something you can do instead of playing an extra Fairy or something. A neat interaction with Tia is bouncing it with Airbound Barrage around turn 5/6 and then replaying Tia, allowing you to double dip on the Tia value and potentially even get a 1-cost Crystalia Eve, allowing for a powerful reload on the following turns. All in all, Tia is very similar to Rhinoceroach, but instead of dealing 20 damage to your opponent you get to have a bunch of 4/4s. It’s just as good, really.


Midrange Forest’s strength as an archetype lies in its ability to do well against DFB Blood, but the archetype has a 45/55 matchup against most decks in the format. Particularly notable is its poor matchup against Midrange Shadow, which sabotages the playability of the archetype in a significant manner due to how popular MidShadow is. Despite its low overall winrate, Midrange Forest is generally fairly consistent and aside from MidShadow doesn’t have any strongly skewed matchups, which at least makes it relatively reliable at what it does, if not all that powerful.

Giant Chimera (a.k.a. Spellboost) Rune

Identifying cards: Magic Owl, Concentration, Nova Flare, Runie, Truth’s Adjudication, Giant Chimera.

Mulligan Priority

  • Always keep Insight or Mysterian Knowledge. Keeping any number of Insights is fine, but keeping more than one Knowledge is awkward.
  • Against reactive classes like Haven/Rune, keep Magic Missile, Vesper and/or Concentration.
  • Against other classes, prioritize Wind Blasts and Seraphic Blade over Magic Missiles/Vespers.
  • Going second, keep Magic Owl, Runie or Cagliostro.
  • If you’re keeping Vesper, Grand Spire becomes a higher priority and Concentration becomes less of a gamble.
  • Keep Nova Flare against Shadow/Portal.
  • If you’re already keeping a 1-2 curve, keeping Fate’s Hand is usually safe.

The basic idea of mulligans with Chimera Rune is to try and utilize the early turns to get an early start on cycling through your deck and start spellboosting expensive cards like Truth’s Adjudication, Flame Destroyers and Giant Chimera.

Tech cards

  • Seraphic Blade against Blood and other generic midrange decks.
  • Grand Spire against midrange decks, competes with Seraphic Blade, gets a lot better if you’re playing Vesper or Cagliostro.
  • Absolute Zeroblade against Sword/Dragon. Doesn’t deal damage so it goes through spell damage immunity and “Disdain procs”. Gets better with Cagliostro, serves as a 4th or 5th Wind Blast.
  • Extra Nova Flares against Shadow/Portal/Forest. The standard lists include 2 copies, but anywhere between 1-3 copies is reasonable enough, depending on how scared you are of Shadowcraft.
  • Flame Destroyer against midrange decks. Provides some extra highrolling potential, but is generally another brick in a deck that already runs full playsets of Adjudications and Giant Chimera.

Spellboost (a.k.a. Giant Chimera) Rune is an archetype centered around the usage of low-cost spells to buff the damage of Giant Chimera until it is enough to kill the opponent. The archetype is a spiritual successor to rotated archetypes like D-Shift and Daria, and involves many of the same cards historically used in Rune decks of that type.

Impact of the nerfs

Most of the October changes do not affect Chimera Rune’s standing in the format, and while a reduced popularity of DFB Blood is a positive trend for Rune in general, the abundance of MidShadow is still problematic for Spellboost decks, since the archetype can’t deal with cards that generate multiple bodies (e.g. Cerberus) which inevitably leads to Rune letting the board control slip away at some point. In addition to that, the popularity of Alexiel in Haven decks adds another pair of 35/65 matchups for Chimera Rune, and makes ladder experience with the archetype even more polarizing. Spellboost Rune is not only poorly suited for the current format, but also appears to be very stagnant in terms of build variety, there’s very little optimization or testing being done with the archetype overall.

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Changes to the archetype in the OOT expansion

Particularly notable for Chimera Rune is the rotation of Golem Assault, a powerful 2-cost spell with Earth Sigil synergy. The 2 immediate replacements for the card are Seraphic Blade (generally accepted as a good card in specific matchups in other decks) and Grand Spire, which can be situationally better since it pops Cauldrons from Vesper. The general rule of thumb here is that the 2-drop split follows the same logic that the 4-drop split (between Runie/Cagliostro/Vesper) does: for example, if you’re playing a list with no Vespers, Seraphic Blade and potentially Absolute Zerobalde (if you’re playing Cagliostro) are preferred, while lists with Vesper work better with either Grand Spires or a combination of Spires/Blades.

The only new addition to the archetype from the OOT expansion is Truth’s Adjudication, which randomly provides healing and face damage and helps bridge your midgame turns to Giant Chimera. A slight problem with Truth’s Adjudication is, of course, the randomness of it. Even with high Spellboost counts, Adjudication can still whiff when you’re trying to get out of Darkfeast Bat range or setting up a Giant Chimera lethal. On average, you can expect it to heal/deal damage equal to one third of the Spellboost count, but with lower Spellboost counts the variance goes up by a lot. Well, to be pedantic, the perceived variance goes up, said “perceived variance” being equivalent to the standard deviation of a binomial distribution with a p value of one third, and since the standard deviation of binomial distribution is proportional to the square root of the number of trials (in this example, number of Spellboosts), the relative standard deviation turns out to be inversely proportional to a square root of number of Spellboosts, leading to “perceived variance” going up with lower Spellboost values. High school algebra? In my anime card games? It’s more likely than you think.

Below is an interactive chart that shows the distribution of any specific Adjudication effect happening a certain times when the card is spellboosted a specific amount of times. The number of Spellboosts can be adjusted with the slider in the upper right corner.

On Mysteria Rune

Identifying cards: Owen, Knight of Mysteria, Mysterian Wyrmist, Ms. Miranda, Anne, Mysterian Prodigy.

A relatively common ladder archetype, Mysteria Rune, is a spin on the Spellboost Rune archetype that tries to utilize tribal Mysteria synergy as its win condition. There are 2 main subtypes of Mysteria Rune: an (older) one that includes its eponymous card, Mysteria, Magic Founder combined with Mysterian Wyrmist to stack up the repetitive damage sources, which can be distinguished by Earth Essense generators and cards that scale well with Spell Damage like Grand Spire and Staff of Whirlwinds; and a (newer) one that is a lot closer to Spellboost Rune and includes a lot more of the typical Rune spells, relying more on highroll-y openings with Ms. Miranda and Anne. I can’t comment too much on the archetype since there isn’t an established Mysteria Rune list, neither for ladder or competitive play, but it appears to do well against slow decks since it packs a lot of burn damage (especially in lists with Mysteria, Magic Founder) and has some highroll potential with discounted Miranda and Anne.

Some of the inherent flaws of the archetype include its highly telegraphed win condition (since you can always know how much Anne’s Sorcery does if you check the “cards played” tab), weakness to midrange decks like Midrange Shadow/Sword and the random nature of Mysterian Circle/Missile tokens that can sabotage your early game if you get the wrong side of the coinflip. All in all, judging from available statistics from ladder and tournament play, Mysteria Rune seems like a jankier counterpart to Chimera Rune, significantly more polarized in terms of its matchups and a lot less refined in terms of deckbuilding.


Despite its high popularity, Chimera Rune is the second worst performing archetype of the Rotation format, which comes as no surprise as it struggles against some of the most common ladder archetypes it is expected to face, including MidShadow, Haven in general, and DFB Blood. With that said, the matchup spread against other deck archetypes is relatively stable, so the archetype could potentially find a niche in the meta if the format shifts away from Shadow/Blood. Notably, Chimera Rune used to be one of the least-polarized decks pre-OOT in terms of its matchups, and some of that former consistency is evident from its (currently) less popular matchups.


Mysteria Rune is significantly less frequent on ladder than its Chimera counterpart, and boasts significantly better matchups against Haven since Alexiel is not as big of a problem due to the incremental burn damage present in the archetype. With that said, a lot of the weaknesses are common between the two Rune archetypes, however, since Mysteria decks are more polarized, the archetype is less reliable than Chimera Rune (despite having a higher overall winrate) and its overall performance can undergo a huge shift with relatively insignificant changes to the meta.

Puppet and Lishenna Portal

Identifying cards (Lishenna): Nilpotent Entity, Destructive Refrain, Apostle of Destruction, Seraphic Blade.
Identifying cards (Puppet): Silva, Cucouroux, Paracelsus, Lyria, Gilnelise, Basileus, Noah.
There are 2 types of decks that rely on Puppet synergy, and while the split is a little arbitrary, it can be said that there are Lishenna-centric Puppet lists, identified by additional card draw and synergy cards like Destructive Refrain; and “Classic” Puppet lists, identified by playing powerful tempo-centric cards like Silva and Cucouroux that provide board control and chip damage.

Mulligan Priority (Lishenna lists)

  • Always keep Lishenna.
  • If you’re already keeping Lishenna, you can keep Inspired Inventor and tempo-centric 2-drops like Hamelin, Flower Doll, Lococo, etc, as well as Substitution.
  • If you’re not keeping Lishenna, throw away literally every card that isn’t card draw (Disciple and Singer) or Substitution.

The mulligan plan for Lishenna decks is incredibly simple, since Lishenna decks quite literally don’t do anything without an early Lishenna, so you have to dig for the card even if it means sacrificing early tempo.

Mulligan Priority (regular Puppet lists)

  • Always keep Silva and Flower Doll.
  • Going second, keep Lishenna or Paracelsus.
  • Against midrange decks like Sword/Shadow/Blood, keep Substitution, and try to have a 2-drop of any kind (Lococo/Paracelsus/Hamelin with a target all work). Windup and Disciple of Destruction are not 2-drops.
  • If you’re already keeping Silva, prioritize keeping Cucouroux or Automaton Knight.

The mulligan plan for regular Puppet lists is to try to hit your Prince Keleseth (that costs 3 for some reason) to start getting chip damage in from the early turns. While the archetype doesn’t usually play Refrains and Disciples, Lishenna is still a good card on curve, since it essentially guarantees a 2-for-1 in your favor even if one were to disregard the whole “destruction quest”, and the inevitability factor does come into play occasionally.

Tech cards

  • Nilpotent Entity against Blood/Rune in Lishenna lists.
  • Destructive Refrain against Sword/Shadow/Dragon (mostly) in Lishenna lists. In the later stages of the game Refrain can get a full board clear with Destruction in White, but a DIY Nova Flare with Inspired Inventor tokens can be fine against Shadow as well.
  • Apostle of Destruction against Haven in Lishenna lists. The main advantage of Apostle is that you can speed up your clock against Haven with an active Alexiel effect from roughly 10-15 turns down to only 5 or 6.
  • Seraphic Blade against Blood to deal with evolved Vira and Amulets. Playable in either archetype.
  • Fall from Grace as an answer to Seraph and in Lishenna mirrors.
  • Lyria is less of a tech card and more of an optional inclusion to fetch Gilnelise in classic Puppet lists. Played over Bear Puppeteer.
  • Basileus against Sword/Shadow. Playable in either archetype, but is redundant with Refrain in Lishenna lists.

Lishenna Portal skeleton

Lishenna Portal

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Puppet Portal skeleton

Puppet Portal

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Puppet Portal

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Puppet Portal

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While there are 2 different archetypes centered around Puppet synergy, the classic tempo-oriented Puppet Portal has received a lot of good coverage in the past and the only real change to the archetype is Nicholas getting banned from the Rotation format and the increase of cost of Vengeful Puppeteer Noah. Those 2 cards got replaced by Lishenna and Gilnelise, respectively. Gilnelise doesn’t allow Puppets to hit face, but it makes Puppets trade really well as early as turn 7, which is powerful in its own right against midrange classes like Sword and Shadow.

On Lishenna Portal

The Portalcraft archetype centered around Lishenna as the win condition is considerably jankier than the classic Puppet variant, but also plays significantly differently from Standard Puppet lists. In most matchups, you’re trying to play Lishenna as early as possible, get the Amulet token, and start getting discounts on the thing. Generally, if you evolve Lishenna on curve, you can play Destruction in Black around turn 9, so the archetype is potentially on par with Chimera Rune and Tenko Haven in terms of speed. Similar to Chimera Rune, the archetype appears to be designed to do well against reactive decks like Tenko Haven; with Nilpotent Entity and healing from Inspired Inventor/Destruction in White it has some protection against cards that do a lot of damage out of hand like Giant Chimera and Darkfeast Bat. With that in mind, there is a small caveat with Nilpotent Entity, namely that Entity discards a random Artifact when played, which can be a bit of a problem when your win condition is a singular Artifact that you have to keep in your hand most of the game. You can slightly combat this issue by keeping Inventor tokens in hand and at least hope for a 50/50 of discarding your wincon, but since you usually don’t get more than one of those, it’s not that reliable. I’ve personally found that against Blood it is fine to forgo the “Destruction quest” entirely and just play Nilpotent Entity and discard Destruction in White/Black once you’re in Bat range. Since Blood players naturally take chip damage from their cards, it is often possible to set up lethal with a 9-damage Orchis once you exhaust the Blood player from most of their threats.

Against slower decks, you can usually outpace them with the Lishenna win condition depending on the draw. Destuction in Black is naturally faster than Giant Chimera since you can block some of the Chimera damage with a defensive Orchis and get enough time to get to play Destruction in Black into Nilpotent Entity. Against Tenko Haven, the matchup depends on how many Shrines the Tenko player gets up, Lishenna decks are significantly faster than a single Tenko’s Shrine, with 2 Tenko’s Shrines the matchup is about even and with 3 Shrines or an Alexiel leader effect the matchup is basically unwinnable.

Against midrange decks, the matchup really depends on whether you can find Lishenna in time and stabilize to play Destruction in White/Black. In particular, Sword matchups are seemingly unwinnable since you can’t win with Orchis and Destruction in Black is guaranteed to get banished every time. However, against Midrange Shadow or PDK, it is possible to clear the board with the suite of Puppet-based removal effects in time for Destruction in Black to start ticking down. However, even in those matchups you can still sometimes be forced into keeping an Evolve point for extended periods of time, while waiting to draw Lishenna.

Lishenna mirror matches can take up to 30 minutes and are usually not worth playing in a ladder environment. Generally, the mirror match is decided by two main factors: which player drew his Lishenna earlier, and which player has more Nilpotent Entities and/or Seraphic Blades in their deck. Unless you’re packing a Fall from Grace or Suttungr, I’d recommend not wasting your time once you identify that you’re playing a mirror match.


Puppet Portal is the combined deck bucket including Puppet Portal and Lishenna Portal, and is the single worst-performing deck archetype in the format, even after the October card changes. With that said, Lishenna-centric lists have seen some competitive success in smaller scale tournaments when Darkfeast Blood is highly popular. It’s difficult to recommend playing Puppet Portal to Spikes, but Lishenna decks are a fun little challenge for the less competitive audience and are surprisingly not as awful as the stats would suggest. It’s not a competitive or optimized archetype, but it has seen some success from a few dedicated players over smaller sample sizes of games.

Artifact Portal skeleton

Artifact Portal

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Aggro Portal

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Artifact Portal

Identifying cards: Biofabrication, Mechanization, Metaproduction, Acceleratium, Mech Wing Swordsman, Icarus, Miriam, Fervent Machine Soldier, Hakrabi, Deus, Enervating Mail.

Mulligan priority

  • Always keep Metaproduction, Magisteel Lion, Miriam, Fervent Machine Soldier.
  • Unless you’re playing against Blood, keep Deus Ex Machina.
  • Keep Icarus or Lishenna going second.
  • Keep Substitution against Sword/Blood/Dragon/Portal.
  • If you’re keeping Miriam or Fervent Machine Soldier, keep Hamelin.
  • Do not keep Biofabrication, Mechanization, Acceleratium, Hakrabi or Enervating Mail.

Tech cards

  • Nilpotent Entity against Blood/Rune. Also helps against Lishenna decks and big Storm followers like Heavenly Knight and Azi Dahaka in Haven and Dragon, respectively.
  • Hydro Alchemist, more of an optional replacement for Mech Wing Swordsman than a tech card, provides less card draw (on average), but decreases Artifact randomness.
  • Lishenna as an alternate win condition for when you don’t draw Deus. Replaces Safira/Mechanization/Mech Wing Swordsman.
  • Enervating Mail against midrange decks like Sword/Shadow. Extremely slow, but is “played” for free once you reach the Artifact threshold.

Artifact Portal is a deck that is centered around Deus Ex Machina cycling through your deck to supply Ancient/Analyzing Artifacts that can control the board with Acceleratium. The deck usually relies on Radiant Artifacts, that can be shuffled into your deck with Biofabrication or Mechanization, to close out games.

With the addition of Lishenna, the archetype doesn’t rely as much on drawing Deus in time, since you can go through the “Destruction quest” at a reasonable speed even without Junk and Puppet Rooms. Notably, since Destruction in Black is an Artifact, you can play Biofabrication on it and shuffle 3 copies of it into your deck so that once you discard your hand with Deus, you can still win through Lishenna at a later point.

Mechanization is also an interesting addition to the archetype, since it allows you to control exactly which Artifacts you want in your deck. After Deus, the best choices are usually Ancient/Radiant, and before Deus you should avoid playing Mechanization if possible, but if you can’t help playing it, the best choices are either Analyzing/Mystic or Analyzing/Ancient. Since Mechanization doesn’t do anything apart from losing you card advantage before Deus, the card is not that great in the early game.

Surprisingly, despite the name, Artifact Portal lists usually don’t contain a single Valve-shaped card.


Artifact Portal is an archetype that does reasonably well against most decks in the format, particularly excelling against Midrange Sword, Forest and Ramp Dragon, however, the problematic parts of the archetype include extremely weak MidShadow and DFB Blood matchups, which contribute the most to the archetype’s low winrate and high polarity. Long game duration and relative mechanical (heh) complexity of playing the archetype (since you need to keep track of all the Artifact cards in your deck) leads to the deck being suboptimal for ladder play unless you have a significant amount of experience piloting it.

Stats corner (05/11 – 11/11)

Notes on the Ladder Performance chart

The first chart in the Stats Corner is a table sorted based on so called “Score” of a particular deck archetype. The deck archetypes are assigned to arbitrary score ranges for different tiers (>80%, >65%, >40%for tiers 1 through 3, respectively). The table also lists win percentages and relative frequencies of the deck archetypes with their respective weekly changes. For information on previous weeks, use the “Week” dropdown menu in the top left corner of the chart.

How is score calculated?

The score system is loosely based on the one used in Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper reports. Each of the archetypes is assigned 2 score values, one based on its popularity (Rel. Frequency) and one based on its winrate. Each of those lies in the range from 0 to 100. For the winrate, the highest winrate (in the sample) is set to 100 of the “Winrate Score” and the lowest winrate is set to 0 of the “Winrate Score”. The most popular archetype has 100% Relative Frequency, and 0% Rel. Frequency corresponds to 0 recorded games. Both of those use a simple linear correlation between the type of score and the corresponding recorded value.

The overall score is a weighted average of the “Winrate Score” and “Rel. Frequency”, with the weight defined by the Meta score parameter, which can be adjusted using the slider at the top right of the chart. A value of 0 means that the decks are listed in order of descending popularity, and a 100 means a list in order of descending winrate. A value of 50 means a simple average of the two scores. A deck with 100% overall score is the theoretical best deck in the format, since it means that it has the best winrate and is also the most popular archetype (e.g., PDK Dragon or Neutral Blood would have 100% score during their heyday).

Generally, the best decks are the ones that win the most games, but some of those can be very uncommon on ladder, which leads to greater variance. To factor in that fact, the default weight used here is 85-90%, heavily skewed towards winrate, with a small (10-15%) factor of popularity, which means that uncommon decks with very high reported winrate (e.g. PDK Dragon as of 05/08/18) are placed lower than decks with lesser winrates (e.g. Chimera Rune) that see significantly more play, because the former “lose” most of the ~15% percent of their score based on their popularity.