Hello everyone! This is the second part of my promised series about my attempts to enter a DWCQ.
Where last we left off, I was excited but nervous, and wondering if or how Ancient Bonds was going to affect the format. At that point, a lot of the biggest and most impactful cards hadn’t been spoiled yet, and I found it hard to think of cards that would dethrone the top dogs of the format without being overpowered. I think a few hours after I published it, Counterplay revealed Celebrant, and I threw that assumption out like last week’s leftovers.
This meant I was going to have to cram it like a student with an assignment due yesterday. Wednesday was release day. I booked Friday off work. Tryhard mode activated.
I decided to spend the first half of the week playing a minimal amount of Duelyst, to reduce the risk of burning out. I gave Bond Argeon a try on stream (it was good, who knew) and otherwise spent my gaming time on Overwatch and The Witness. I got back from town around 10pm on Wednesday and the race was on.
T Minus 3 Days: Wednesday (2-3 hours)
Once I arrived home, I bought the expansion (I was going to do this anyway, so didn’t begrudge having to spend money) and went at it. At this point, I had no real target, and just wanted to try some brews and get a snapshot of the meta. To play Duelyst, in other words.
Based purely on the spoilers, I was expecting something like this:
- Straight-down-the-line Golem Magmar and Vetruvian decks. Search ‘golem’ in the collection manager, click on most of it, season with removal to taste.
- Death Knell combo Abyssian.
- Vanar and Songhai decks drawing loads of cards and going off.
I compiled a long list of brews I wanted to try out, and threw six together to start with before giving in to temptation and clicking Play. The ones I tried on Wednesday were Death Knell Lilithe and a couple of Magmar decks.
My expectations weren’t too far off. There were plenty of people running their old decks alongside the new toys, and I had fun crushing Healyonar with Blue Conjurer and mass reanimation. Golem Magmar turned out to be way less terrifying than I’d anticipated, at least at this early stage; Lavaslasher is amazing, but the deck in general is kind of a clunky pile and the mirrors are ridiculous. Good draws will get you cheap wins, but anything else and it seemed to struggle, both in my hands and my opponents’. Golem Zirix, on the other hand, felt absurd. I lost to it repeatedly over the first couple of days, and felt that whatever I played would have to be able to beat it. Both the Golem decks seemed potentially soft to aggro, so I thought Tempo Lyonar might have a good shot.
Level 0 and Level 1
One of the important goals I had for my testing process was to find some good “level 0” and “level 1” decks. When considering a certain metagame, a deck’s level is basically the number of “Well, X beats Y, so I should play X” statements you have to make in order to choose it for a particular metagame. A level 0 deck is usually something generically powerful whose existence shapes the format. Level 1 decks are chosen to have an advantage over the level 0 decks, level 2 decks beat one or more of the level 1 decks (“well, X beats Y so people should play X, but Z beats X, so I’ll bring Z”), and so on. Often, the level 0 decks will be favoured over the level 2 decks thanks to their raw power level, setting up a weighted rock-paper-scissors sort of dynamic that rewards correct meta prediction. (When a deck appears that has a good matchup against all the levels, we call that “broken”.)
As a newcomer to both Conquest and (like everyone else) the set itself, I was most interested in level 1. I didn’t just want to bring the level 0 decks and nothing else and then run into a horde of skilled players teching against me, and I expected people to bring at least some of the level 0 stuff due to its easy power. Level 2 and above are very risky choices, especially this early on in a format; they require an extremely specific and confident prediction of the meta.
Golem Magmar and Vetruvian leapt out at me as level 0 decks immediately. Both can be extremely powerful. Vet was just wrecking me, and I thought a refined and/or lucky version of Golem Magmar would easily pull out victories. If you just want a deck that’s powerful and don’t care about tuning to beat whatever your opponents are on, you can chuck either of those together and enjoy being one of the format’s defining decks.
After a few hours of play I also felt like I’d identified some potential Level 1s. The Golem Zirix deck had a lot of smallish minions and not much else, so certain AOEs – notably Frostburn and Plasma Storm – would be good against it. Plasma Storm gets saddened by Feralu, but Vanar can counter an Inner Oasis with Enfeeble, making a Frostburn/Enfeeble deck such as Control Faie a good choice. Enfeeble also seemed like a fantastic counter to huge openings from Magmar players. Two big golems on turn 2? No problem, they’re 1/1s now. Vanar also seemed good in and of themselves, having received some of the best new cards in Circulus, Kindred Hunter and Mana Deathgrip.
A good aggressive deck also felt like it might be able to run rings around the Golem decks, particularly Songhai who got a lot of new toys to make up for the Inner Focus nerf. Arcanyst Songhai always seemed like an archetype with potential, and they have so much more to do now. Not many people seemed to be running a lot of healing, aside from the old-style Zir’an decks I saw on ladder, which largely rolled over to the value plays the new decks could make.
This gave me a rough plan for the next couple of days. Test Vanar (probably Faie) and Songhai (probably Reva), look for a deck to fill the other slot, and experiment as much as I had time for to see if there’s anything else great that I haven’t thought of.
T Minus 2 Days: Thursday (3-4 hours)
What time I had on Thursday evening mostly involved giving all of Wednesday’s brews a try and adding a couple more to the pile. So many brews.
Godhammer Starhorn felt rubbish, but I’m bad at building aggro Magmar decks. Tempo Argeon with Golems added (called “Bond Bond Argeon” because I’m witty as hell) felt really strong, but the list I had struggled hard against Vetruvian and seemed a bit draw-dependent. I played a Faie deck and liked it; I played a couple of Reva decks and fell in love. I played Golem Vet itself, got wrecked by Healyonar twice in a row, then started winning.
At some point, I saw that Pylons had posted on Reddit about winning the TCG eSports event the previous day, using a Faie deck and a Reva deck. Suspicions confirmed! Not only that, but the lists themselves were another thing to test. Pylons had mentioned the Faie deck had needed a bit more draw, and I’d been seriously impressed by Blue Conjurer the previous day, so in he went.
The decks I was playing with and against continued to conform to my expectations. I had my first games with Trinity Wing and realised how ridiculous the card was in every respect. It’s very powerful, but insanely awkward. You have to have enough hand space to accommodate the teachings, enough mana to make use of one or two of them, and an Arcanyst on board or a cheap one in hand, to get the full value. When you do, of course, it’s insane. Heal up, kill something, and make Owlbeast Sage happy.
Speaking of Owlbeast Sage – I’ve always loved that card, and wow, it’s in its element right now. There isn’t a lot of dispel going around from what I’ve seen, coupled with all the new support for it, and I’m so excited to be able to make 40+ health boards again. The new Arcanysts vary in power level, as one might expect; the ones that surprised me the most were Loreweaver and Blue Conjurer. Loreweaver looked amazing, but I soon realised it missed far too often to be any good, and was difficult to synergise with. Once you hit more than once you likely just run into the hand size limit. Conjurer, on the other hand, is extremely reliable card advantage, and supplies a stream of minions that synergise with your deck. It’s also big enough to shrug off cheap removal or a small attack. In Faie decks, Conjurer + Flash Freeze + Warbird has been a common and excellent 6-mana play for me, and my Abyssian deck (more a meme than a real contender but still) loves playing it on turn 2 off Darkfire Sacrifice and going off. Hitting enough Conjurer rolls over the course of a game also gives you a not-insignificant chance of rolling a Death Knell, which is obviously bonkers.
Another thing about the Arcanyst decks that was starting to make itself felt is that they’re extremely complicated to play. You’re constantly managing your hand size and card advantage while trying to interact profitably with your opponent, play around their cards, and curve out decently. There aren’t many (any?) Arcanysts that directly draw cards, but instead they generate new ones or add to the board to provide a more unique kind of resource advantage. This means that you’re constantly trying to manage your flow of resources; the goal is that you’re always flush with things to do but don’t overdraw or wind up with four 2/1 Illusions in hand while your opponent has real cards.
T Minus 1 Day: Friday (9-10 hours)
Here comes the crunch.
I took Friday off work for what turned out to be (I think) the largest amount of gaming I’ve ever done in one day. I tested all day with only a couple of breaks, cramming in as many archetypes and list adjustments as I possibly could.
I started out looking into a few more crazy ideas. The plan was to start out with trying new things to get a complete picture (and ideally find a third general), then hone in on the decks I’d be piloting at the event, and put some hours into refining them as much as possible. A weird Ghoulie/Crimson Coil Reva deck turned out surprisingly effective. My stalwart Keeper Vaath did likewise. Pre-expansion Control Faie disappointed me; it was underwhelming compared to the flexibility of the Arcanyst lists, which still got to run all the good removal, but also have a powerful tempo game too. I felt as though if you were running a Vanar deck without Kindred Hunter, something had gone wrong.
I was expecting Keeper to roll over and die to the profusion of explosive proactive decks, but it held its own remarkably well. Lavaslasher is borderline unfair – the amount of tempo you can generate off that card is insane. Plasma Storm also keeps the Zirix matchup somewhat in check if you can avoid or kill Feralu. Better yet, Keeper Vaath still seems to enjoy its good matchups against the Faie decks I was expecting people to bring to beat up on the Golems.
I then went as hard as I could on finding the right Faie and Reva lists. It rapidly became obvious that I wasn’t going to – there were far too many build options and nowhere near enough time, especially for Songhai. For Faie I ended up settling on Pylons’ list with only minor adjustments; of the builds I tried, it seemed the most solid, and everything I’d built myself was too swanky to work in a tournament. I kept the pair of Blue Conjurers in, but otherwise I don’t think I changed much of significance. For Reva, I tried four radically different lists – a midrangey Arcanyst-heavy list intended to test out Sparrowhawk, Pylons’ version running Cryptographer (which I thought was genius), the Ghoulie combo I mentioned earlier, and a burn deck with Crescent Spears and Bloodrage Mask that looked to SMOrc like it was going out of fashion. I honestly liked all of them. I ended up with a fusion of everything I’d tried, and loved it – it felt smooth as butter. Crimson Coil sadly didn’t make it into the final production, but two copies of Ghoulie did, and crucially, Kataras. Having Katara in the deck drastically increased explosive burst potential and partially made up for not running any heavy minion removal, as well as upping the chances that I’d have a turn 1 minion.
Now, in theory, all that was left was to choose a third deck. The leading contenders were Golem Zirix (level 0) and Keeper Vaath (level 2). Playing either a level 0 deck or a level 2 deck carries its own risks – level 0 decks are likely to be countered, whereas level 2 decks have a chance that the thing they’re countering isn’t actually there. I agonised for a little while and eventually settled on Keeper Vaath.
Predictable, right? Keeper Vaath Guy plays Keeper Vaath, news at 11. I did have the thought that people seeing my lineup would assume I locked in the Vaath deck immediately and worried about what else to play later. In truth, it was more the other way around – as we’ve seen, I didn’t even decide to try Keeper Vaath out at all until the last day of testing, because I assumed it would be bad in the new meta. I picked it over Zirix because:
- People were less likely to expect it from an average opponent, so there’d be less tech against it.
- I could tweak the deck to make sure it could hold its own against the Level 0 decks. (I wound up running a third Plasma Storm and a Kinetic Equilibrium to deal with piles of cheap golems.)
- It’s great against Vanar, and I was certain people would be bringing a lot of Faie. Faie also deals well with Golem Vetruvian thanks to having all the right AOE spells.
- When in doubt, playing Magmar’s unconditional removal, great board wipes and huge value creatures against an ‘unknown’ meta can’t be the worst thing ever.
At around half past 10 in the evening I decided I should call it there. The plan had originally been to sort out my lists on Friday and then have a lazy Saturday morning with zero games played, taking some time to relax. With the tournament starting at 4pm my time, I was keen to spend the hours prior to it refreshing myself and making sure I was fed and well-rested. (And get out of the house after spending all of Friday staring at little pixellated monsters on a grid.) This sort of self-care would likely do me far more good than another couple of hours agonising over card choices, so I fought back the temptation to leave that option open. I chose my final decklists, locked them in, submitted them on Battlefy and called it a night.
So, Arcanyst Faie, Arcanyst(ish) Reva and Keeper Vaath it was.
The end result
Here’s an imgur album:
I called the deck ‘Stereotypical Reva’, although it doesn’t look it. There are some weird number choices in there (1 Four Winds Magi?) and it runs Ghoulie and Cryptographer. Despite all that, the name fits because it wants to do everything a typical Songhai deck might do – make tempo plays, bounce around the board, get spell synergy, set up combos, and count damage for lethal. It feels really nice to play, in part because it’s very flexible. It doesn’t play from behind very well, but while you’re wrestling for board control or playing cat-and-mouse games, it has a lot of neat options, and the high minion count plus the BBS means you’re rarely starved of Killing Edge or Juxtaposition targets.
Katara was a huge addition – there’s a reason it was in almost every Songhai deck before the expansion. It’s great with the displacement effects and with Killing Edge, it’s a cheap minion for early tempo, and it sometimes acts as a dispel magnet. Adding that really helped the early game. Cryptographer was something I got from Pylons’ build that really impressed me – it’s a minion (well, two) and a spell and a ranged threat and a two-drop! I’ll take a playset, please. The singleton Four Winds Magi and Kindling are there to fulfil situational roles that I didn’t want to go completely without. Four Winds helps get rid of opposing artifacts, which I was seeing a lot of, and minor healing, but is fragile; Kindling allows massive burst if you have a specific board and can be targeted by Inner Focus. Both are a bit narrow, whereas Owlbeast Sage is hard to kill and fights really well when the board is even, so he got priority. I also knew I wanted 3 Spelljammers in whatever Reva deck I played – a big body that draws extra cards is perfect – so it was hard to dedicate a lot of four-mana slots to these relatively situational cards.
Finally, Ghoulie. I really liked having Ghoulie just for its own sake in the combo version. At some point, going second, I used Ghoulie + Inner Focus to kill my opponent’s turn 1 Circulus and felt like I’d had an epiphany. It’s also a decent body that’s more likely to stick around for Owlbeast Sage or Trinity Wing than any of the two-drop Arcanysts are, and brawls really well once it has a little support. Ghoulie + Crimson Coil does sound like a meme, but I swear it’s actually good. I don’t know if it’s tournament good, but wow, that’s a really powerful interaction.
Another interesting thing about this list is how few spells it actually runs. Of course, this gets a little better when you see that we have eight minions that can generate new spells and three that draw through the deck, so the effective spell count is more like 22.
I’ve written extensively about Keeper Vaath in the past, of course, so I won’t describe the deck from scratch this time around. (Here’s the most recent piece, in case you’re not familiar with it.)
No Zurael in this version makes me really sad. I figured there’d be fewer drawn-out resource brawls and a lot more tempo and combo, and I needed space for a playset of Lavaslashers, so the phoenix had to go. Adamantine Claws also didn’t make the cut, which reduces the deck’s ability to just push face damage, but then again… Lavaslasher.
Ragebinders have replaced the Void Hunters as the three-drop of choice. I’m not even sure this is actually correct, but I do like having a three-drop that isn’t embarrassing to get into combat with, since it takes some effort to kill. It also provides occasional extra healing, which is much appreciated. Kinetic Equilibrium and a third Plasma Storm got a slot to ward off Zirix and big boards of 2/1 Illusions with buffs on. Dioltas got shaved as part of all these changes – it’d be nice to get them back in at some point.
Outside of that, it’s fundamentally the same decklist. Flash out big threats, remove your opponent’s minions, protect yourself, and punch them in the face. However, I feel like the inclusion of Lavaslasher and the shift in the meta pushes Keeper Vaath to be much more like a tempo deck. In a lot of matchups, you can’t just durdle around and run your opponent out of resources – the Arcanyst decks can just generate more cards and the Golem players can topdeck or dig into absurd payoff cards (Juggernaut or Sirocco) as well as playing highly aggressively in general. Instead, leveraging Lavaslasher alongside its existing tools lets the deck get up close and personal and pressure the opponent’s life total throughout the game.
This one wound up just being a netdeck with only minor modifications. My own attempts at building Faie decks in the limited time I had didn’t really impress me, but Pylons’ version had a nice big pile of Good Cards lined up in a decent mana curve and backed up with all the removal I wanted to be playing. I wound up adding a few things – Aspect of the Mountain, Blue Conjurer and Blistering Skorn all served me well in testing.
This list is fundamentally a tempo deck, but it can grind resources with the best of them. Draws involving Blue Conjurer are incredibly forgiving because you can just keep throwing down Arcanysts until your opponent runs out of removal, or casually play into AOEs while maintaining a full hand. Kindred Hunter on curve is a huge pain, and remains relevant later on. Circulus and Trinity Wing stuff your hand with cheap cards that synergise with the rest of the deck, or can be replaced into real cards. Frostburn and Enfeeble allow for catching up on tempo and potentially even more card advantage.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s also extremely difficult to pilot. You’re managing a lot of different tools and resources all at once, while still trying to position well and play around your opponent’s cards. There are so many ways to mess up, especially after a long day of testing or competitive play. This isn’t necessarily a deterrent for me – playing it is a huge and valuable learning experience – but it’s a concern.
This DWCQ has properly thrown me in at the deep end. Testing primarily on my lonesome, in Conquest which I’ve never done before, with a new expansion released three days before the tournament… wow, I’m surprised I came up with anything vaguely functional.
Fortunately, my overall plan was simple and coherent: Figure out what people were likely to be playing in the meta, and what some level 0 and level 1 decks might be. Then try to build something appropriate. Of course, the second half is much easier said than done. My decks are likely nowhere near optimal, but I think I did a decent job anyway. I identified the rough shape of the format quite rapidly, and so far my expectations have been borne out.
I’m also happy with the testing itself. I tried a lot of different decks, focusing my energies on generals I would like to play. I got a relatively good handle on the format in a short space of time, and learnt a huge amount about how the new decks tend to function as well as how to build them. It’ll be interesting to see what the meta looks like a month from now, but for the time being I’m pleased that I seem to have gotten it right.
By the time you’re reading this, the DWCQ will be over. I’ll do my best to get a tournament report up as soon as possible. In that article, I’ll go over my experiences of the tournament itself, how they measured up to my expectations, and how my decks compared to the field. Wish me luck. I’ll see you then!