Omens of the Past has been out for around a month now. Initially the most popular deck after release, Skycrag has died both in popularity and, seemingly, effectiveness, particularly in the shadow of Burn Queen. Today, we’re going to take a deep look into Skycrag and evaluate its strengths, its weaknesses, and if (or perhaps when) it is better or worse than Burn Queen and other Stonescar aggro decks.
Rather than picking apart a particular decklist, I’m going to instead look at Skycrag’s cards as a whole. I have added a decklist at the bottom as well as a brief description with tips, so if you’re only interested in that, skip to the bottom. Otherwise, let’s dive in.
The Defining Skycrag Units
Champion of Fury and Vadius, Clan Father are among the most powerful and defining cards in Skycrag. Both share one particular strength: dodging removal. Champion of Fury gets at least one attack thanks to having charge, and Vadius gets to eat one piece of removal altogether in virtue of having Aegis. Both also share a particular weakness: they dislike a bunch of blockers on the opponents side of the field (at least more than Stonescar and other aggro decks.) At base stats of 4/2, Champion of Fury is easily killed by many small units. Vadius suffers a similar problem with only three attack—a measly Horned Vorlunk could hold him off if one ever ventured into ranked.
The Stonescar counterparts to these cards, Argenport Instigator at two cost and Champion of Fury at three, don’t have such reservations. Instigator is bigger than most small units at 3/3, swinging cleanly past the Amber Acolytes and opposing Oni Ronins. He also gets to keep dealing damage even when he isn’t attacking thanks to his ability, which often provides the reach necessary to finish a game. Champion of Chaos, when fully activated, takes out any blocker and deals at least four damage in the process. In contrast, both are more vulnerable to removal than Champion of Fury and Vadius. I would argue that Fury and Vadius are in equal power level to their Stonescar counterparts, with differences in power level depending on the matchup and situation.
Before continuing, I want to make one quick note about playing with Champion of Fury. I see many players throw their Champions straight into Amber Acolytes and other small units without any way of helping them get through. While sometimes this is necessary, I think most of the time it’s actually incorrect. Champion is one of the strongest units in the game and easily one of the strongest units in the deck, and part of what makes it so strong is Charge. You can easily hold off playing Champion of Fury until you’ve drawn removal or moved the board into a better state for you to drop it where it can get two or more attacks in, such as by playing a Permafrost on the same turn or holding it for after a Harsh Rule. Unless you need to get a unit out of the way or you’re sitting on several of them, don’t needlessly throw your champions under the bus!
The Four-Drop Spot
Skycrag has no cards unique to it in the four-cost spot: Alpine Tracker is not what you want to be doing in a deck with this many one cost units, Storm Glider is hardly competitive for constructed decks, and I currently think no primal card at four is worth playing in an aggro deck. Stonescar, on the other hand, gets some of the best four-drops in the game: Bandit Queen, Impending Doom, and even Statuary Maiden and Steward of the Past as Sideboard options. However, Skycrag does have one card that, while playable in Stonescar, appears to be stronger in a Skycrag shell: Groundbreaker.
Like with its earlier drops, Stonescar enjoys having tremendous reach and evasion with Bandit Queen and Impending Doom, something Groundbreaker has none of. Skycrag, on the other hand, is happy to take some extra power as long as it can clear the way to attack, something it does a bit better than Stonescar does (something we’ll cover a bit further below.) The triple fire influence is not nearly as inhibiting as I once thought and is actually quite easy to build around, albeit at the loss of a couple cool heavy Primal-influence cards (namely Skycrag Harrier.) The anti-lifegain ability is quite relevant in this metagame and helps ensure that Skycrag can get there in the late game. While I’d argue that both Bandit Queen and Impending Doom are both stronger than Groundbreaker in general, the lava giant is still powerful.
As far as aggro decks go, Skycrag can answer the vast majority of units better than Stonescar with only one real exception: Skycrag despises Sandstorm Titan while Stonescar cares much less. The best cheap option (read: not Obliterate) is Polymorph, which at this point I’ve decided is likely a necessity for Skycrag until something better comes along. In spite of the hate Polymorph gets, I’ve actually found it to be okay. There are even some times it is preferred over “hard” removal spells in the case of Dawnwalkers, Entomb units, and Dark Returns. The only time Polymorph really feels terrible is against Rakano.
Beyond Sandstorm Titan, Permafrost is incredibly strong and often preferred over the limited power of Annihilate and Suffocate. As stated earlier, Skycrag units in particular work very well with Permafrost as they’re more concerned with making sure nothing can block them. Permafrost is vulnerable to silence and attachment removal, but this is a small price to pay for one power to remove almost anything. As the aggro deck, you usually only need them removed for a few turns as is. Just be sure to always be on the lookout for any police that might ruin your fun by silencing the Permafrost away. The last major piece of removal Skycrag has access to is Rockslide, which might be fine in highly aggressive metagames but otherwise doesn’t feel worth it.
The Supporting Cards
From here, we’ll look at some of the remaining powerful options Skycrag has available to it.
Crystallize was a card that was always on my radar yet always seems inferior to the other five drops available. However, after testing it, I now think it’s one of the best cards in Skycrag (and one of the main reasons to play Skycrag over Stonescar.) Crystallize lets you get out of board stalls that Stonescar could only dream of doing, with complete disregard for their life total as long as your board is big enough. It lets you get around large units that Stonescar would normally struggle with, such as Reality Warden, and isn’t stopped nearly as hard by Protect. Perhaps most importantly, Crystallize meshes well with Skcyrag’s strengths: by clearing blockers, your non-evasive and small units such as Vadius and Groundbreaker can cleanly hit the opponent. As Skycrag, you’re also less worried about Harsh rules following up—your Vadius’s will stick around on the board, and your Champions will come crashing in from your hand when they’re out of power.
Skycrag also gets access to Backlash. Counterspells can be difficult to run in aggro decks as they do run the risk of being unusable. However, in modest numbers, counterspells can provide huge blow outs without clogging up your hands too often. Backlash gives you all the safety of Protect while also allowing you to hit so much more—Harsh Rule, The Great Parliament, Channel the Tempest, and so much more. Even hitting a Seek Power is often brutal, locking an opponent off a crucial influence or just power in general. I wouldn’t run many Backlash, and currently I wouldn’t fault anyone who wanted to run none, but I do think that running two or three is quite powerful and offers Skycrag another strength that seperates it from Stonescar.
Perhaps one of the best parts of Skycrag is getting access to Cobalt Monument, which I believe is the best monument in the game (or at least tied with Amber Monument.) There isn’t much else to say here, other than that you should try to get at least two of these in your deck, maybe more. It may still be worth running one Granite Monument alongside these as well.
Cards That Aren’t Good Enough
There are a few cards that are very popular in Skycrag lists that I do not find to be strong enough (outside of budget options.) First up: Morningstar.
Morningstar is just one power too expensive for what it does. Slapping a Morningstar on a Vadius or an unanswered Groundbreaker is quite strong, but beyond those moments is really lackluster and opens you up to get two-for-one’d a little too easily. In addition, Skycrag naturally is almost “immune” to Vanquish thanks to mostly three strength units, and Morningstar just lets you get hit by it when it would otherwise do nothing. It might be acceptable in the sideboard for some matchups, but otherwise I’d shy away from it. If Skycrag gets more powerful aegis units, Morningstar might become worth playing.
This card does too little and is too limited in options. I would highly consider it if it didn’t require the unit to attack, but that requirement does not allow it to be saved. As discussed earlier, Skycrag has a bit of a hard time actually pushing damage through, and Pummel doesn’t alleviate that problem.
After the nerfs, I do feel that both Charchain Flail and Flameblast are unplayable in aggro decks given the current options. The best part about Flame Blast was being able to take out units when necessary. Now it can’t do that, and is mostly a dead card until you have six or seven power. Charchain Flail can’t get strong enough to keep up with units’ health on the curve, making it pretty bad, too.
I do think Mortar may have a place in some Skycrag decks, but given its current card pool and the metagame, I think it’s best used for something else. At only four damage, it can’t kill many other units on curve, such as Impending Doom and Sandstorm Titan.
There are a few remaining cards that I think are worth considering, either for specific environments, sideboards, or even as mainstays for the deck depending on how it and the rest of the metagame evolves.
Snowcrust Yeti is quite strong in the right metagame and, in my mind, is in contention for one of the best overall one drops. That being said, we’re nowhere near that metagame, with so many boards being clogged up with small units that are happy to run in the way of the Yeti. This card will get much better in two situations: if (or when) Skycrag gets more strong weapon options, or when there are far less early units on the board and people rely more on removal to kill units. I think Snowcrust Yeti is probably not worth playing in Skycrag until that time comes.
Yeti Snowchucker does two things well: it hit’s for three damage when unblocked, and it guarantees Spark activation. Both of those are quite welcome, especially when we’re dedicated to playing Groundbreaker. However, the Reckless clause is rough, and I think Yeti Snowchucker has to be played alongside Rampage (which we’ll get to below.) Snowchucker isn’t a terrible option, but lately, I’ve cut mine for other options.
Clan Hero has no evasion and isn’t particularly tough, but when sparked, he beats Combrei Healer in combat. Permafrost helps you get past Combrei Healer as well, but sometimes you might want additional help given the healer’s incredible ability to stop aggro decks cold without an answer.
He’s no Groundbreaker, and certainly no Bandit Queen, but Furnace Mage does have a few nice perks. Often, he kills a Permafrost, an Auric Runehammer, a Xenan Obelisk, or even a Crystalline Chalice. At worst, he’s a 4/3, but sometimes that’s all you need. I’m currently running two copies mostly as a means of keeping the unit count reasonably high, and I haven’t been disappointed.
I (perhaps famously) played this card a few weeks ago at an ETS, and I had a good reason for doing so (and still justify it—at least a little.) I hadn’t yet been sold on Polymorph but still needed a good way to fight past Skycrag. Vadius with Twinbarrel beats Sandstorm Titan at only 3 power, something Morningstar and Shogun’s Scepter cannot accomplish. In addition, Twinbarrel picks up Warcry’s better than arguably any other card in the deck, making some games end completely out of nowhere. Since then I’ve picked up
Polymorph to do answer Sandstorm Titan, but I do think that Twinbarrel has a place in some lists, and is definitely worth consideration, at least in sideboards.
I believe Rampage is the combat trick of choice in Skycrag. Many units, especially Groundbreaker and Vadius, benefit greatly from Overwhelm, and it also allows many units to hit that six power threshold to beat. I’ve currently removed mine, but it’s quite not unlikely that they’ll make it back in at some point. Rampage also serves as a great sideboard option against decks that bring in Protects.
My Current Decklist
4 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
3 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
2 Backlash (Set1 #200)
4 Champion of Fury (Set2 #187)
4 Kaleb’s Favor (Set0 #3)
4 Rakano Outlaw (Set1 #20)
3 Polymorph (Set1 #211)
3 Shogun’s Scepter (Set1 #26)
4 Vadius, Clan Father (Set2 #191)
2 Furnace Mage (Set1 #40)
4 Groundbreaker (Set2 #21)
3 Crystallize (Set1 #232)
2 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
9 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
4 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
2 Cobalt Monument (Set1 #418)
4 Seat of Fury (Set0 #53)
4 Skycrag Banner (Set2 #186)
2 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
This is my most recent and most successful Skycrag list. I currently prefer Grenadin Drones over Pyroknights as Grenadin Drones are great at ensuring a Spark trigger for Groundbreaker. I’ve found 25 Power with four Kaleb’s Favor to be just the right amount of resources. Shogun’s Scepter is very strong vs. most decks, and most units in this deck really appreciate Warcry triggers. Lastly, at the five-cost slot, I’m running three Crystallize and two Obliterate, though I may very likely increase one of those by one (Crystallize can be very clunky in multiples when you need units, but I’m beginning to think that the number of games you’ll win by having Crystallize will outweigh the number of games you’ll lose when you have too many. Only time and more testing will tell.) The Obliterates were originally Soulfire Drakes, but I feel Sandstorm Titan is too ubiquitous to not run additional answers for.
When playing the deck, you’ll often want to keep your units alive more often than you might in other aggro decks thanks to Crystallize. Grenadin Drone is the best turn one play vs. other aggro decks and when you suspect a torch, but otherwise Oni Ronin is the best when you don’t know what you’re up against. However, you’d much rather have an Oni Ronin take a torch than a Champion of Fury, so if you think you can bait out a torch with an Oni Ronin, then it’s probably worth going for. Remember to use your own Torches to clear the way, as well as in tandem with your Quickdraw units; Vadius with a torch beats a Sandstorm Titan in combat, and Rakano Outlaw with a torch beats a Combrei Healer. Do your best to create board states where you can swing in for free damage by killing units and at times holding back Permafrost for the right moments; you’ll win the race against almost every deck. Lastly, three power (or two Power and a Kaleb’s Favor) is the ideal amount for a starting hand, but four is fine with good opening units and two works as well for very aggressive hands.
Skycrag vs. Stonescar
So, which faction do I think has the better aggro deck? In short, I don’t know. Stonescar/Burn Queen has a much better track record, but I also think people have not been building their Skycrag decks correctly up to this point (myself included.) Stonescar has quite a bit more raw power, but Skycrag is probably less vulnerable to sideboarding than Stonescar; when people respect Stonescar and pack plenty of Protects and lifegain, it loses a lot of its power. Skycrag cares a lot less about lifegain, but has its own share of problems, such as Endurance units in general. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty confident that Skycrag also beats Stonescar decks, so should it ever become popular, Skycrag is a strong aggro deck to beat it. It could just be that Skycrag is still worse. However, with more testing, it may just come down to certain metagames where one is better than the other.