Hello again everyone! Wow, I didn’t expect to be here twice.
So, if you hadn’t heard, Keeper Vaath is a thing again! Last week, I memed and valued my way to a Duelyst Melee victory, and wrote up a ginormous deck guide which you can peruse on this very site. Well, this week, I managed to run it back. Same deck (albeit with minor tweaks), same result. I even managed to miss lethal in the finals and win a few turns later anyway. Go me.
This article is a follow-up to the guide. Today, I’m going to go over the things I’ve tried since last week, and some potential future tweaks. I’m also going to discuss a few of the points people have made about the deck, and give my take on them.
As you can see, it’s basically the same. Let’s go through the changes in detail.
- -2 Young Silithar
- -1 Chaos Elemental (sad face)
- +2 Mirkblood Devourer
- +1 Zurael, the Lifegiver (the memes must live)
The first thing I tested after last week’s event was a triple-Chaos-Elemental build, cutting the Young Silithars. Resurrecting a Young Silithar with a Keeper is horrendously bad – it’s technically a fair bit of value, but they’re just bodies, and in practice it’s not enough impact to make up for how slow the deck is otherwise. Trimming the 2-drops powers up Natural Selection and Plasma Storm, at the cost of neutering some of your tempo plays when going first.
I thought this was a reasonable cost to pay, so I tried out the triple Elemental. I found that even getting a 4/4 back wasn’t really very good. Just having played a 3-drop minion out in harm’s way meant that I couldn’t reliably Keeper a Dioltas or Makantor two turns later, and that’s such a blow to the deck’s overall strategy. Chaos Elemental itself is a fine card, and people seemed to consider them a threat, but just having played one tended to be an issue. So, I went back to the drawing board – what could I play that cost a low amount of mana, but didn’t spoil the Keepers too much?
After scrolling through my collection and duelystcards.com, I found Mirkblood Devourer, of all things. Long since considered a permanent fixture of the jank pile, Mirkblood seemed like an interesting option. It rewards you for hiding it rather than trying to fight with it, it can make for some very scary plays (turn 3 Makantors are bad, but not as bad as turn 3 5/3 Makantors), and it might draw out removal or (better yet) dispel. As a Keeper hit it’s not great, but at least presents a threat your opponent will want to respect. So I thought, why not? Let’s give it a shot.
So far, they haven’t disappointed me. The buff is nice, and tempting out Ephemeral Shrouds is very nice. You trade 1-for-1 with their dispel, pull one out of their deck that could hit Vaath or a Grove Lion later, and don’t even pollute the Keepers in the process. They don’t do a huge amount, but that’s fine – they’re just there to help smooth over the games where you go first.
The astute among you will have noticed that one of the newly-added cards is not a two- or a three-drop. I decided to go back down to only two small minions, figuring I could get away with it, and that opened up a slot.
Zurael beckoned. The great phoenix yearns to call my units forth from the void. For the memes, it whispered. Look how funny it was last time.
So why Zurael? Why indeed. Basically, Zurael is a great backup option. It’s a fourth copy of Keeper of the Vale that costs more mana, but is larger and more predictable in what it pulls – it always gets back the thing you lost last turn. Where this unit goes is a mystery, but when you know for a fact that it’s going to be a Grove Lion or a Meltdown, Zurael starts to make a bit more sense. Couple that with its ability to swing the game right back in your favour after your opponent puts effort into a board clear, and I started to think it might fit the deck well enough to warrant the slot. On top of that, Zurael shores up my matchups against decks even greedier than my own, which I thought might crop up after the deck made such a splash last week.
As it turned out, I think I drew Zurael once during the tournament. It resurrected four minions and my opponent conceded on the spot. Can’t complain.
- -1 Crossbones
- -1 Plasma Storm
- +1 Kinetic Equilibrium
- +1 Sunset Paragon
These are mostly minor sidegrades aimed at diversifying the matchups I have good answers for.
You’ll notice I’ve swapped out a card that kills a quantity of minions for another card that does the same (but is cheaper and just fine for 1-for-1ing a Ki Beholder), and a Mechaz0r answer for another (one that can also be used against Nether Summoning, Meltdown, Spectral Revenant, and big bodies in general). These tweaks allow me a greater variety of options.
I wouldn’t really like to go below two Crossbones, since ranged minions in general can be a huge pain, but I think three is excessive when there are more flexible picks available. Similarly, Kinetic Equilibrium over Plasma Storm is cheaper, doesn’t kill my own things (especially as the Primus Shieldmasters often come in in the same matchups), and as a three-mana card can replace a Mirkblood Devourer in the deck. I think the only matchup you really, really, absolutely need 3 Plasma Storm in is Swarm Abyss, which doesn’t seem to be popular right now. Equilibrium usually does just as well when clearing out walls or ranged minions, and for cheaper.
The next three-drop on my list to try is Void Hunter. I’d considered and dismissed Void Hunter previously, but tournament organiser Pylons told me after testing them that they’d turned out to be great. Played defensively, the Hunter can threaten advantageous trades, or tempt out removal. On your three-mana turn, you basically never want to play it in front of you since it’ll just die to their General and burn a card, but if it trades for a removal spell that’s fine (hope you don’t fizzle anything you really needed). I definitely need to have a second look at that card.
Outside of that, I think the deck is still broadly as well-positioned as it was last week. All is well. I think even if the meta becomes full of Starhorn or Nether Summoning, it’s still viable, especially with access to a sideboard – you always have the option of bringing in Kujata/Azure Herald and Adamantine Claws/Ruby Rifter respectively. I even managed to win a match against Starhorn at the tournament this week, although it was a right nailbiter; sometimes if they have a strong combo in hand, there’s basically nothing you can do about it for a couple of turns before you find time to play some Earth Spheres and/or win.
I still need to practice more, of course. The biggest thing I’m missing at the moment is not realising when I should be attacking with my Grove Lions. I’m so used to hiding them from view and protecting them that I’ve now missed lethal on at least two occasions because I should have taken the Grove Lion into account, including one in the tournament itself (in the final no less). I could have removed a body-blocking Meltdown with Makantor + Grove Lion then swung in for the final damage with Vaath; instead I used the forcefield to let Vaath attack the Meltdown, then finished it off with the Makantor, leaving the Grove Lion hiding in the back. Fortunately, I didn’t get punished, although my opponent did get a shot at a 50/50 Meltdown roll to kill me, which mercifully failed and let me take the match. Still, that’s really sloppy – the commentators were rather surprised that I made the mistake, and it’s definitely the biggest error I’ve made on camera so far. That needs to not happen again.
Outside of forgetting that Grove Lion is actually a minion capable of attacking things, I’m pretty happy with my plays so far, but damn, that one was embarrassing.
Common Keeper Vaath questions
This is not a deck that obviously works. I mean, look at it. Fourteen 4-drops? Sure.
As a result, there are some entirely understandable concerns that seem to crop up a lot.
But what if you don’t do anything for two turns?
If anyone’s wondering how this clunkfest of a deck beats an aggressive opponent, take a look at this:
If you don’t have time to watch, the gist of it is that I move forward on the first turn anticipating a Natural Selection on my opponent’s Silverguard Knight or a two-drop, but they play a Knight and protect it with Bloodtear Alchemist. With the Selection thus nerfed, I decide to go on a completely different plan instead. Looking at my hand I’m stocked up on Dioltases, so those form the backbone of a defensive strategy. I cede the board entirely, run away, and make a new plan from there.
I’m pretty sure that if I’d come forward and attempted to take the center of the board, I’d have died ignominiously. Certainly without a Flash Reincarnation for the Makantor, I’m going to be taking a lot of damage with little recourse. Running away lets me set up a nice little castle and invite my opponent to start trading with my minions rather than pressuring me directly, which plays right into Vaath’s big angry late-game hands.
You don’t always have to do this; sometimes you have the good Flash Reincarnation hands, or you’re going second and can play Natural Selection into Sunsteel Defender and go from there. Each game requires careful judgement and working with whatever’s in your hand, or whatever you think you can draw/dig for. Once you’ve survived the first few turns and wrestled back some board control, it gets a lot easier. Past that point, Earth Sphere, Grove Lion and sideboarded Primus Shieldmasters keep aggro or tempo decks off your back fairly easily. There’s usually a few turns where your opponent is obliged to feed the small creatures they’re drawing into the huge saurian meatgrinder that is your General, and then at some point you win.
I’d say that if you’re comfortable playing a defensive strategy, aggro decks are some of the better matchups for this deck. Almost all your cards are great against them, and they rarely have good removal for Grove Lions.
Aren’t you just a colossal lucksack?
Sure looks like it, doesn’t it? All those turn 1 Sunsteel Defenders, the final game from last week with 6 Makantor Warbeasts, the third topdecked Egg Morph, the occasional Meltdown headshot. Maybe I should include Khymera, just for that one game where I triple flash it on turn 1 and get 3 Mechaz0rs.
I thought this reaction a bit odd at first, but it makes total sense. I’ve played a lot of games where I just straight-up ‘had it’ turn after turn after turn, whatever ‘it’ was in this circumstance.
The important thing to understand about Keeper Vaath is that almost every single card in the deck is an ‘it’. Most Duelyst decks are held back to some extent by having to play so many two-drops – even the good ones are usually useless draws after the first few turns. Not so for this deck. In Keeper Vaath you run so few cards that don’t do anything on a given board state, and of such a high overall power level, that you’re almost guaranteed to have some sort of blowout. There are a lot of very powerful ways to remove your opponent’s cards in this deck, backed up by frustratingly resilient threats, and built around powerful value and tempo swing cards (the Keepers). That’s literally it – I think that sentence just covered everything in the list except Mirkblood Devourer and Flash Reincarnation, and we know how great Flash is. Even Earth Sphere counts, since it answers the opponent’s face damage and lets Vaath keep eating things.
The deck is also a lot more adaptable than it looks. No Flash Reincarnation? No problem, just use removal spells for a few turns, cast your Makantor Warbeast on curve and deterministically Keeper it back the turn after. No minions? Then your hand is removal and artifacts, so kill everything they play. No removal? Suit up Vaath and go to town, or trade with minions. No healing against aggro? Grove Lion, Dioltas, cagey playing, and a little luck. Opponent clears the board? Reload with Keeper, Zurael, or just casting more big stuff. You have a 5-power general anyway, they’re welcome to keep everything else dead.
The high reliability of your cards also means two things: the deck topdecks very well, and your replaces are very high-value. I don’t have much card draw (just the sideboard Ruby Rifter) because the deck generally doesn’t need it – you don’t play more than one spell in a turn very often outside of Flash Reincarnation, and you don’t really need to dig for good cards when all your cards are great. Replacing removal when you need threats or vice-versa reliably gets you something good – you have a very high chance of finding a card that impacts the board in your favor.
A consequence of this is that many of your victories are won in a gloriously over-the-top fashion, and it looks like you got really lucky in the process. While of course there are elements of luck in every game of Duelyst, and my draws at the tournaments could definitely have been worse, this deck is essentially engineered to get lucky as hard as possible. It requires careful play and a lot of turn-by-turn planning (I’d say it was great practice for anyone trying to improve on their ability to think ahead; it’s certainly helped mine) but every time you set up the “of course he had it” Makantor into Keeper line, you’ll feel like a god. If your opponent decides to write that off as luck, so be it; you’ll get them again next time.
Why do you play bad cards like Zurael and Mirkblood?
Because I’m a massive troll, obviously.
Just kidding. I will fully admit that I’m a bit of a jank fiend, so I’m always on the lookout for new tech or clever things I can dig up to give me a spicy edge. I want to enjoy playing, and ideally I want to do it in a personal way, to make my own mark on the meta. At the same time, I also care very sincerely about the quality of my play and my tournament results.
This combination results in a lot of time spent scrolling through my collection or a card database looking for that one card that might fix a problem. I’ve arrived at Zurael and Mirkblood (currently) after quite a bit of testing, learning, and being willing to try new and relatively unproven things. These slots are by no means fixed – I really hope nobody’s going to spend 2700 spirit on niche legendaries because of this week’s tweaking – and if you’re building the deck yourself, I heartily encourage you to experiment. (And if you’d like, let me know the results! I haven’t solved this puzzle yet either.)
Mirkblood Devourer came in as a three-drop that offered a strategic threat rather than just raw stats. It warrants respecting just because of how much potential that line of text has, especially with Keeper of the Vale in the deck. As such, it can tempt out removal or dispel, protecting my more important minions. Is the card actually good in the list? Who knows. I’ve only just started playing with it. But I quite like it so far.
Part of the reason Zurael made it into the main deck was to maintain the surprise factor. I beat Cassyva control in the final last week, by playing a Zurael on camera to effect. This week, if I queued into the same deck or the same player again – what if they expect it?
At this point, I have two choices: cut Zurael for something else (so I get an edge if they play around it, rather than being punished), or double down. A Zurael in the main deck would still have the same element of surprise, and he’s just fine as a 4/7 Keeper of the Vale with slightly different mechanics in the late game anyway. I couldn’t think of anything better to put in than Zurael, and I didn’t want to disappoint the commentators, so in he went. He may or may not still be there next week.
Keeper Vaath continues to be great. I love this deck – I’m really enjoying playing it in its own right, as well as the success it’s brought me so far.
As a parting gift, here’s another video from Monday’s stream. This one was a close and quite weird game against Zirix, as Vetruvian games often are. Relevant to my point about adaptability earlier, I had to improvise my way out of being piled on by Aymara Healers, which is never a great place to be…
Have a great time playing with Keeper Vaath if you do pick it up, and here’s hoping I’ll see you again here next week!