With every new set, there are growing pains. Old strategies die out, new ones are born, and some are made more powerful than before. And while some changes are more gentle…
…Some take a little bit more getting used to.
I am loving The Fall of Argenport so far, but I can see why some initial reactions have been a bit visceral. The set has given us the most powerful batch of cards since the original Empty Throne set, and adapting has not been easy. But fear not! While these threats and strategies are likely not going away anytime soon, there are ways to change the way we play and build our decks to better adapt to these new environments. Today, I’m here to help you fight back against the metagame and explore some deck-building options to beat these strategies, as well as talk about some important play mistakes to avoid when playing against them. Not a deck builder? I’ll include a few decks at the end that I think are worth playing and looking more into. We’re going to talk about the current three pillars—Berserk, Time Midrange, and FJS Removal Pile—and how to adapt to these strategies in two levels: answering and overcoming.
Level 1: Answering
Sometimes, a metagame is a bunch of nails, and all you need is the right hammer. Many have already discovered the right answers to the biggest threats of the metagame, but I’ll try and put all of them right here in one spot, while also trying to bring up some more powerful options that have yet to be looked at in full. Some of these cards may not be as blatantly powerful or playable as others, but as a metagame changes, we always need to re-evaluate cards and see how they pair up against the new threats.
Berserk: Currently, these decks come in a few varieties, but they all generally play small units that then get pumped up with a lot of spells. The most important answers here are fast spells: Torch, Annihilate, Lightning Strike, Equivocate, Teleport, and Ambush units like Scorpion Wasp will make quick work of most of these units. Be careful when using up all your power against a Berserk player if you’re getting close to death. If they have a few cards in hand and you have an Annihilate or two, you can hold open two power and prevent them from going in without a safety spell like Stand Together.
All of the units in Berserk aren’t particularly big at first and rely on specific text, like Alessi and Rilgon’s Disciple. This makes silence a particularly good answer: Valkyrie Enforcer, Desert Marshall, Vara’s Choice, and Bring Down will all keep them honest. Another similar answer I’ve had great success with lately is Unstable Form, transforming the huge Alessi they’ve invested several cards in into a random 2-cost unit, all for the low cost of 1P and half a card.
You can attack the hand of the Berserk player to great effect. A timely Sabotage that hits a Stand Together or Gift of Battle can greatly reduce the power of their units. In the same vein, Negate effects like Unseal and Savage Denial can do the job as well.
Lastly, there is blocking. Most of the time, they will try to get to you with flying units, so playing your own flying units or sticking a Sandstorm Titan (or Scarf) will stop most of their shenanigans and allow you to block and try to make trades.
Time Midrange: These decks come in a number of varieties, such as Praxis, Elysian, and Mono Time, but all of them have one thing in common: they play a ton of big units. Almost every list includes a playset of Initiate of the Sands, Teacher of Humility, Dawnwalker, Aurelian Merchant, Sandstorm Titan, Ahled and Worldbearer Behemoth, and a sprinkle of Predatory Carnosaurs. That’s a lot of units for a few decks to have in common. All of these units are also mono-faction, big, have no battle skills, and almost all of them have no immediate impact on the board.
First, Teacher of Humility. Torch, Hailstorm, Annihilate, Suffocate, Permafrost, Purify, and to a lesser extent Lightning Strike are all playable removal spells that can flat out deal with it. If you mostly care about the Disciplinary Weights, as most people do, you can silence it with Valkyrie Enforcer, Desert Marshall, Vara’s Choice, or even more niche choices like Bring Down or Talir’s Intervention. If you’re really in a pinch, Unstable Form can turn it into a 3-cost unit that will likely be worse than Teacher of Humility.
One nice and criminally underused interaction is Face Aegis: if you’re hit by an infiltrating Teacher of Humility and you have an Aegis from Eilyn’s Favor, Mistveil Drake, Protect, or Cobalt Waystone (assuming you can hold it back for that long), the incoming weights will be blocked. You can also play cards that remove relics in your mainboard. Banish, Kaleb’s Choice, Shatterglass Mage, and the new Disrupt can take care of it and (to varying degrees) played in your main deck without resorting to grabbing something like Bore from the Market, which would take on the huge cost hike of the weights—though that is still always an option.
Last, you can always just block the unit. Time has very little access to removal, so your own units can likely trade with it just fine. Blistersting Wasp, Argenport Instigator, Fenris Nightshade, Ripknife Assassin, Champion of Glory, Magenta Wisp, and Awakened Student are just a few of many units that will usually be able to deal with it. If you went first, most three-cost units will deal with it just fine.
As for all the big Time units? These can be a little trickier, but all of the units die to a few obvious choices like Annihilate, Vanquish, Feeding Time, Harsh Rule, End of the Story, and Polymorph. Permafrost and other stuns also hit all of them except Sandstorm Titan. Deadly units, in general, tend to be very scary for Time decks, as they can not only beat all of them in combat, but can also safely attack into them to let you actually win the game (more on that later.) Statuary Maiden deserves a special shoutout here as the bane of all time midrange decks, permanently removing Dawnwalkers, beating all time units in combat, and making your own units bigger.
FJS Midrange: Beating this deck is less about beating the threats they have since they don’t have many, and more about wading through all their removal. The best ways to do this is Aegis units for all their single target removal spells, and charge units to take advantage of their high amount of slow-speed spells. Skycrag units tend to do well here—Champion of Fury and Vadius, Clan Father—but other cards deserve mentions too, such as Kosul Battlemage or anything combined with Stand Together. Going wide with lots of small units also works well, as they can only deal with all of them using Harsh Rule. This makes strategies involving Grenadins or other go wide strategies like Praxis Tokens particularly effective.
However, they do have some units that sometimes need to be dealt with. Common among all the units is their small size. As such, Relic Weapons cleanly answer almost all the threats in the deck: a Jawbone Greatsword, for example, kills everything, as does an Auric Runehammer with +1 attack or more. Killer units like Predatory Carnosaur also do well, though be wary of Statuary Maiden. All units are also multifaction barring Valkyrie Enforcers, Merchants, and the occasional Sherrif Marley, so Rindra’s Choice is excellent. Icaria, the Liberator is difficult to deal with, but big flying units can be tough. Thunderstrike Dragon, Kenna, Shaman of the Scale, Shadowlands Feaster, Obrak, the Feaster, Sandstorm Titan, and Molot & Nakova are all units Icaria doesn’t want to see.
You might be thinking right now that answering Icaria isn’t all that practical, as she gets her value upon being played and usually puts the opponent in a winning situation. And you’re right! In fact, as stated, beating this deck isn’t so much about answering its units. So, to really think about beating this deck and having a better game against the others, we need to look at the problem in a different way.
Level 2: Ignoring and Overcoming
Sometimes, a metagame is a bunch of nails, and the answer is to not find a hammer, but to throw out the whole bed of nails in the first place. Players commonly get stuck in the trap of thinking they need the right answer for every threat or the right tool for every job, when the best responses are usually to either bring your own threats that match up well against their threats and answers, play around their threats, or ignore them altogether. Even control decks, which are built upon answering threats in a specific metagame, still have to win the game at some point. Remember: killing your opponent is the best form of removal.
This is not a call to make all your decks hyper-aggro decks that hardly care about what the opponent is doing. Rather, it’s a reminder that no deck really has the deck space or time to answer everything, and the best strategy is to answer their strategy just enough for you to win, not necessarily to stop it outright. Doing that will likely take a little removal, but it probably involves attacking their deck from the right angle. Let’s look at how we might do this.
Berserk: These decks have a few limitations. First, regardless of what build, their game plan usually involves dumping several cards into a single unit or two, and only when attacking. If we can make it difficult for them to pull off their alpha strike, they usually won’t be able to kill you.
The first way you might go about doing this is by just attacking them. Like with most aggro decks, if you put them on the defensive, they won’t be able to come back. There are a lot of ways to go here, but as long as you can present a credible threat of killing them, they will need to use their pump spells when blocking in order to stay in the game. Traditional aggro decks like Stonescar Aggro can usually accomplish this by throwing Bandit Queen-backed strikes at them, but even midrange decks like Praxis can start being the attacker early if they get the right hand and opportunity to do so.
Another way to thwart a Berserk deck is just by stalling long enough until you can overwhelm their field of 2-3 units. Time Midrange decks are excellent at this, but other midrange decks like Argenport can accomplish this as well. By focusing on playing lots of units, prioritizing card advantage and good value trades, and having ways to stop any potential alpha swing (with flying units to block or a Sandstorm Titan to stop them from flying), you can get to a dominant board position where they have no way out. At that point, all you need to do is attack carefully with 1-2 units they can’t stop, or if you have lethal, go all in.
Berserk decks are very limited on power, so setting them back hurts them a lot. Bounce effects like Praxis Displacer and Teleport don’t remove the unit, but can often slow them down enough that it hurts them greatly, so long as you’re advancing your own plan. Likewise, temporary stuns from the likes of Harmless Question, Powderglider, or even a Flash Freeze out of a market would put a stop to them.
Lastly, though the deck will be able to build up some reasonably large units, they often get most of their damage in big swings. As such, if you can keep yourself out of reach by gaining life, you can prevent them from killing you. Big lifesteal units like Black-Sky Harbinger or Bloodletter-wielding Tavrod’s are scary sights for Berserk decks.
All of these approaches don’t really involve killing the actual units, and yet they’re better at actually dealing with the deck.
Time Midrange: This is the matchup where having a robust, well-built deck matters the most. Time’s biggest asset, it’s abundance of huge units, is also it’s greatest downfall, as it is very limited in its capabilities beyond having a bigger side of the board.
Since none of their units fly, one of the easiest methods is just playing aggressive flying units. Justice-based flying strategies are at their best here, and it’s the reason those types of decks tended to dominate the Dusk Road metagame. Valkryie Enforcers and Vanquishes allow you to deal with any Sandstorm Titan’s stopping your assault. Other factions have game here, too. Shadow has access to powerful flyers like Impending Doom, the new Mazag, the Waking Terror, all backed up by some of the best removal vs. Time decks. Fire and Primal also have a handful of good options as well, including Crimson Firemaw, Cloudsnake Harrier, Acquisitive Crow, and ways to make other units flying with the likes of Levitate, Temple Shihan, and even Changeestik on an aegis unit. As long as you are fast and have some way to slow down their onslaught of units, you’ll be able to close the game before they can do much due to their general lack of removal.
More than likely, whatever deck you play will have smaller units than Time decks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t best them in combat. As stated before, Deadly units are a pain for Time midrange decks to deal with. Holding back with defensive deadly units like Blistersting Wasp allows your evasive units to attack in safely without making yourself too vulnerable to being attacked back. Aggressively slanted deadly units like Ripknife Assassin, Jekk, Lone Gun, and Champion of Chaos can attack past those massive health stats. Once again, a special mention needs to be given to Statuary Maiden, the bane of Time Midrange decks. Quickdraw is also very difficult for Time decks to deal with, as beating you in attacks and blocks is their plan to stop you. Stonescar Aggro tends to be very well positioned against Time Midrange, but with the addition of Cabal Tactic, Territorial Elf, Sewer Sludge, and Fenris Nightshade, there is a lot of room to explore for other Shadow-based aggro decks.
On the note of aggro, this is where you’re least concerned with Teacher of Humility. While you can use the methods I talked about in the first section to deal with it, you need not care at all if you’re playing aggro! I find myself actively wanting to get hit by a Teacher of Humility when I’m playing something like Berserk. The weights do very little given my lack of card draw, and the extra card is often better for me than it is for them, even with the cost increase.
Time decks may have all the single biggest units, but most of the midrange strategies cannot deal well with lots of small units. Grenadins and other go-wide strategies can be used to great effect here. Aggressively, masses of small units—tokens—can take down the Time player’s health easily by taking advantage of their units inability to block more than one attacker. Defensively, token units can chump block Time units easily to stall until you play some powerful game-winning nonsense like multiple Witching Hours, First Flame, Molot & Nakova, and more.
A final mention needs to be made about Time’s inability to deal with direct damage to the face. While dedicated burn decks are not incredibly feasible in Eternal, the best burn spell in the game—Channel The Tempest—is a premier control card that is great at ending the game against Time decks, so long as you can stay alive until then.
FJS Midrange: This deck does two things extremely well: it has an abundance of removal, and it has a powerful, and evasive finisher that almost always ends the game when played, Icaria. That might sound like a strong combo, and it is—that’s why it’s one of the best decks in the game.
There is an important conceptual idea to understand when making sure your deck can take down a deck such as this one. Because the deck excels at removing and playing big, individual units, the majority of other traditional Midrange strategies like Time and Argenport can have a difficult time. Recognizing that the deck is unmatched in its ability to beat other decks in a card-for-card game is the first step in thinking about how to beat it. As such, knowing you can’t win in this category, you need to do one of three things:
- Go faster than it so you can use all your cards before they can.
- Make more cards than it so it can’t answer them all.
- Draw more cards than them so you can last longer than they do.
The first step has two methods. First, aggro decks that feature lots of charge units. Skycrag Berserk is fantastic here, as is any other deck that can utilize a lot of charge units. Berserk decks are well positioned to go faster, as they either have charge (in the case of Skyrag) or ways to protect their Berserk units (in the case of TJP.) Other fast strategies involving charge are good options as long as you can secure a kill. Pyre Elemental is a very underexplored card that is fairly powerful against the deck. The other way to go faster than them is by churning out huge, powerful units in the early turns. First Flame Molot & Nakova come to mind as cards FJS can’t do much about.
The second method involves going wide. As long as your deck can survive a Harsh Rule—an important trait for almost any competitive deck—then clogging up the board with lots of small units will give the FJS player a lot of difficulties. Praxis Tokens is a perfect example of a deck FJS struggles with, as are most Grenadin-based strategies that have a plan to deal with Rizahn and Icaria. Combrei has two effective go-wide strategies to beat FJS: cheap units backed up by Stand Together, or churning out multiples of The Great Parliament for 2-4 (or more!) owls at a time.
Finally, the last method involves being a control deck or a midrange deck with better longevity. Control decks do have a little difficulty here, as they need to prepare to deal consistently with Icaria and huge Relic Weapons created by her—not an easy task. In Cold Blood is one of the best answers to Icaria in the game, and hitting her with one takes out a lot of the killing power of the deck. However, swarms of other big flying units can do the job, too: Owls from the Great Parliament or Thunderstrike Dragons are difficult for Icaria to attack into. Deadly units also tend to do well against Icaria, needing only one point of attack to kill her or any monstrously big unit she creates. Blistersting Wasp does this all for the low cost of 2 power and can land the killing blow with a Xenan Initiation if it doesn’t get the chance to block. As for the Relic Weapons, you need only be able to kill relics, and all control decks now have access to Relic removal with Disrupt.
The more difficult path is to have an endless stream of units. Echo units like Twinbrood Sauropod and Thundersrike Dragon are, again, excellent here. You can couple these with Dark Return or Second Sight to continue to reap value. Time also now has access to Wurmcalling, a brutally efficient card against 1-for-1 decks like FJS. Lastly, landing a Flamestoker will almost always kill an FJS player.
Some of these seem a lot like silver bullets, and they can be for many decks. However, with Markets, you’ll likely never feel like you need to clog up your deck with these types of cards that you don’t need. FJS can feel brutal, but take one of these three routes and you’ll end up the winner more often than not.
Finally, let’s look at some decks I’ve made and see how they might match up against these current strategies. First up: Dragon Swarm.
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
3 Unstable Form (Set1 #189)
4 Eilyn’s Favor (Set0 #24)
4 Strategize (Set3 #165)
4 Hailstorm (Set1003 #11)
4 Jennev Merchant (Set4 #169)
4 Rusty Grenamotive (Set4 #26)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
4 Crimson Firemaw (Set1002 #3)
2 Jotun Hurler (Set1 #227)
2 Swindle (Set2 #129)
4 End of Hostilities (Set4 #187)
2 End of the Barrel (Set4 #44)
3 Molot & Nakova (Set2 #199)
6 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
5 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
3 Cobalt Waystone (Set3 #151)
4 Crest of Fury (Set3 #266)
4 Seat of Fury (Set0 #53)
3 Skycrag Banner (Set2 #186)
1 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
1 Kaleb’s Choice (Set2 #188)
1 Mirror Image (Set1 #217)
1 Swindle (Set2 #129)
1 Molot & Nakova (Set2 #199)
I started with isomorphic’s Dragoncrunch and then took it in a different direction. This is a combo-ish deck that ramps up to Molot & Nakova and churns them out repeatedly, either with End of Hostilities or just playing more Molot & Nakova’s. As long as you survive to cast it, basically no deck can withstand repeated Molot and Nakova’s, especially two at a time with a Tribute enabled End of Hostilities (8 damage to the board and face—the Eternal equivalent of a Falcon Punch.)
Note that the removal here is pretty lackluster, but it does the job for what you need to do. Hailstorms, Torches, and Snowballs from Jotun Hurlers can deal with early units to buy you time to keep ramping and drawing cards. Unstable Form stops key units like Teacher of Humility, Alessi, Rilgon’s Disciple, and Gorgon Fanatics in order to let you keep going with your plan. Your units do double duty of some combination of ramping, blocking, tutoring, and enabling spark. Rusty Grenamotive deserves a special mention, as it has been the MVP of making the deck run.
Against Berserk, you need only live to about the time you can cast a Molot & Nakova with one of them in hand in order to win. That is easier said than done, but with Hailstorms, Unstable Forms, and Torches to stop most of their onslaught. Because you’re the one doing the bigger and scarier thing, the Onus is on them to kill you more than it is on you to stop what they’re doing.
Time Midrange is a perfect example of a matchup where you really lack the removal to deal with them but can still play a reasonable game against them. Again, you have scarier stuff you’re doing, so they need to kill you first or build up an unstoppable board position. You’ll usually deal with their early threats by trading with Jennev’s and your cheap removal. Combine Hailstorms with Torches to hit Sandstorm Titans, and use Unstable Forms to turn most of their units into smaller units (thanks to the high amount of draft cards now existing in the game, Unstable Form will almost always downgrade a unit.) End of Hostilities does double duty here, giving you clones of their units—the best response to a Heart of the Vault is your own Heart of the Vault!
Like the other two, FJS Midrange is a similar pattern: draw your cards, gain your power, drop your dragons. You might lose your first Molot & Nakova to them, but they probably will not have the cards to kill the second. Molot & Nakova is great at blocking Icaria, so you don’t need to worry too much about her unless you’re just out of cards.
4 District Infantry (Set1 #134)
4 Finest Hour (Set1 #130)
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
2 Sharpened Reflex (Set4 #102)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Glory (Set1 #314)
4 Encouragement (Set4 #107)
4 Rilgon’s Disciple (Set4 #110)
3 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Censari Brigand (Set1 #34)
4 Kosul Battlemage (Set4 #119)
2 Sword of Icaria (Set1 #315)
3 Winchest Merchant (Set4 #126)
4 Pyre Elemental (Set4 #45)
2 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
2 Shugo Standard (Set4 #1)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
1 Crownwatch Standard (Set4 #97)
4 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)
4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
1 Harmless Question (Set4 #98)
1 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
1 Geomar, the Steel Tempest (Set4 #128)
1 Inquisitor’s Blade (Set1003 #9)
1 Crownwatch Standard (Set4 #97)
This is a very fast aggro deck that uses parts of the “spells matter” package in Berserk, but trades the actual Berserk part for charge units. The result is a low-to-the-ground aggro deck with speed and reach intended to get around many of the current threats. Pyre Elemental marries these strategies perfectly, letting you use spells to buff your units and cast it for cheaper. A turn 2 Rilgon’s Disciple followed by a turn 3 Finest Hour into a Pyre Elemental is 14 damage! Encouragement seems weird, but Warp is necessary to keep your fuel going and give you evasion on units like Censari Brigand, Kosul Brigade, and Rilgon’s Disciple.
Against Berserk decks, you’ll be in a tight dance deciding who is the beat down and who needs to defend. You will probably race a little faster than them, but if they will have the power to crack you back. Neither you nor the Berserk deck have good removal, so you need to be smart with your blocks and use what little you have wisely: don’t just throw Torches into their attacking units when you know they can respond with a Finest Hour or Stand Together. In fact, using any removal at all is going to be difficult, so you need to either force them to trade or block with their units into yours, or find the way to kill them first.
Time Midrange and FJS Midrange is just a matter of beating them in tempo. Unlike decks like Skycrag, Rakano has very clean answers to Sandstorm Titan with Vanquish. You’ll be fighting a bit of an uphill battle if they get a fast start, but the right combination of Rilgon’s Disciple and/or Censari Brigand’s with evasion can always find the way to close the game. FJS is where you will really shine: your combination of Aegis and Charge units are especially strong against their removal and will usually make quick work of the deck.
(Super Grindy) Xenan Midrange
3 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Blistersting Wasp (Set2 #202)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
2 Vara’s Choice (Set2 #206)
3 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
2 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auralian Merchant (Set4 #70)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
2 Banish (Set2 #207)
2 Moondial (Set3 #70)
2 In Cold Blood (Set1003 #15)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
2 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
4 Alhed, Mount Breaker (Set4 #87)
2 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
2 Mystic Ascendant (Set1 #116)
2 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
3 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Amber Waystone (Set3 #51)
6 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Crest of Mystery (Set4 #266)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
1 Banish (Set2 #207)
1 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)
1 Healer’s Cloak (Set1 #98)
1 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
1 Passage of Eons (Set1001 #3)
This is the only untested deck of the bunch, but it is also very similar to the Xenan Midrange decks of the past, with slight updates to the new set and metagame. Your goal here is to outgrind the opponent. You opt out of some of the normal mainstay options in Time Midrange decks like Initiate of the Sands and Dawnwalker for even grindier options like Twinbrood Sauropods and Mystic Ascendants to give you lots of cards into the late game. Alhed is at it’s best in a deck like this, with Twinbrood Sauropods to buff (that is x2 10/8’s) while also doubling the power of anything you grab with Dark Return. Blistersting Wasp is so strong against so many threats right now and is perfect to help you survive into the late game alongside Ayan’s and removal. Moondail might be incorrect, but regardless, the slot should probably be some sort of card draw to make sure you can safely make it into the phase where you grind out the opponent.
Berserk will be scary if they can maintain a full hand of cards, but they will have a hard time getting past most of your removal and threats. As long as you keep control of anything that can or could fly, you likely won’t care about any of their units. Instead, staying defensive and building up a massive board will slowly push them into a checkmate position.
Other Time Midrange, especially Praxis, should have a tough time against most of your draws. Your field of Deadly units will hold them back, and you pack the removal and silences necessary to keep them off their most important units, such as opposing Alhed’s. After you land a Mystic Ascendant, it should be game over for the other Time player.
FJS is tougher, as it is for Time decks, but this makes up for it by bringing in tools to help you keep up. Twinbrood Sauropods, Xenan Obelisk, Moondials, and Dark Return give you a lot more longevity than most Time decks. Most importantly, you do have better ways to deal with Icaria and Statuary Maiden than other Time decks, which makes your life a lot easier.
That’s all for today. Let me know what you think of the article and the decks in the comments here, in the Reddit thread, or on twitter @magicalbrandon. Until then, have fun brewing, and if you’re losing, don’t give up.
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