The Worlds Wildcard tournament is over, wrapping up the ETS seasonal events for the year sans the World Championships. I did not win, meaning I will not be going to worlds—a fairly bitter feeling after having been so close for so many months. However, I did have a great 6-0 run in the Swiss portion of the tournament and made Top 8 with Skycrag, a tournament feat that hadn’t been done before. Before this tournament, I had been working on this deck for quite some time with the feeling that Skycrag was a much more viable faction that hadn’t yet been fully tuned and discovered, and I’d like to think this tournament confirmed my suspicion. Without further ado, the decklist:
4 Oni Ronin (Set1 #13)
4 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
3 Snowcrust Yeti (Set2 #105)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Fury (Set2 #187)
3 Rakano Outlaw (Set1 #20)
2 Rampage (Set1 #17)
3 Cloudsnake Harrier (Set2 #114)
2 Polymorph (Set1 #211)
4 Vadius, Clan Father (Set2 #191)
4 Crimson Firemaw (Set1002 #3)
4 Steelfang Chakram (Set1 #38)
4 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
2 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)
9 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
6 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
2 Cobalt Monument (Set1 #418)
4 Seat of Fury (Set0 #53)
4 Skycrag Banner (Set2 #186)
3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
2 Ruin (Set1 #15)
1 Snowcrust Yeti (Set2 #105)
2 Kaleb’s Choice (Set2 #188)
2 Ornate Katana (Set1 #23)
3 Rockslide (Set2 #189)
1 Polymorph (Set1 #211)
2 Shogun’s Scepter (Set1 #26)
2 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)
The first card that needs to be talked about is the one that drove me to name the deck after it—Steelfang Chakram. Known to many as a draft all-star, Chakram has never made much of a splash in constructed despite being around since the first set, The Empty Throne. I think this was mostly due to Chakram not having the cards it needed to excel: a deck full of evasive units to utilize the damage, aegis units to safely attach it to, and several cheap units to repeatedly apply the Chakrams. Skycrag has these in qualities in abundance. With Vadius, Skycrag can naturally make Steelfang Chakrams, but putting the card directly in the deck opens up several avenues for Skycrag and patches up many of its weaknesses.
Skycrag as a faction has a multitude of ways to deal damage early and remove small units but struggles at getting past large units without help. With Steelfang Chakram, this is much less of an issue. Rakano Outlaw and Vadius with a Chakram attached both beat Sandstorm Titan in combat, with Vadius capable of taking out Tavrod as well. All of your one drops with a Chakram can take out a Sandstorm Titan, losing you only the one drop and the power spent attaching it. As long as you have a Chakram, you no longer need to throw away several cards just to kill Sandstorm Titan (often only to be bested by the second Titan or other large Time unit that comes right after.) Just make sure you don’t throw your Oni Ronins and Snowcrust Yetis early as they can be a Titan killer at any point in the game, with Snowcrust Yeti getting to do so behind the safety of an aegis. When not faced with Titans and other large ground units, Chakram turns any of your fliers into a 2-3 turn death machine, making them must kill targets—a good quality for any of the decks 11 flying units to have (including the two Cobalt Monuments.) Lastly, in the late game topdeck wars when you’re units, Chakrams give you tremendous reach. With six power, you can play a Champion of Fury and attach it for a surprise 8 charge damage. With Steelfang Chakram being such a natural fit, I’m beginning to wonder if DWD was trying to tell us to use it all along by putting one in Vadius’ art and giving him the ability to make one.
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that Steelfang Chakram is the real deal we can look at the rest of the deck. This deck shies away from the 11-12 one-cost units of other Skycrag decks to make room for bigger units, namely Crimson Firemaw. Decks heavy in one-drops that plan on zerging the opponent do usually work very well on ladder, but in my experience, are very poor in tournament play except in certain metagames. With so many small units, your top decks become much worse and you are a bit more vulnerable to drawing good hands and matchups, both of which are qualities you don’t want for tournament play. Meanwhile, Crimson Firemaw is great in both ladder and tournament, winning the game on his own (and winning it even faster with a Chakram attached). Ultimately, I played seven 1-cost units mainboard with my eighth in the sideboard as it felt like the right number for the metagame, but I couldn’t fault you for just wanting to run all eight in the main. The same can be said for my 4/3 split on Champion of Fury and Rakano Outlaw. Whatever you do, do not play Pyroknight over Snowcrust Yeti. The yeti is a far better card for this deck as playing several aggressive aegis units is a large part of this decks strength.
After that, I chose to play Cloudsnake Harriers. Originally I was afraid to play the card with its influence cost, but once I threw caution to the wind and just jammed it in, I realized I never really had any trouble casting it, much like Cabal Countess in Burn Queen. In addition to being a solid 3/3 flyer for three, the serpent does give a little extra reach with your burn spells. This extra damage does make your Obliterates to kill Tavrod, which is nice but not the reason I ran it. If your Harrier is sticking around for several turns and they drop Tavrod, you’ll likely be looking to point that Obliterate at your opponents face. I also played Rampage as a two-of, mostly because I wanted a flexible card in the mainboard that would be effective yet capable of being sided out regularly. It’s does an excellent job of making sure Vadius can attack into Sandstorm Titan, but it did also help my units with Chakram push through damage that would otherwise get chump blocked.
I also played two mainboard Polymorphs with one more in the sideboard, and I will forever stand by the decision to use this card in Skycrag. Chakram really helps you get past units, but sometimes you’d rather just have a catch-all piece of removal, and that’s what Polymorph does. In a tournament where almost every player had 4 Sandstorm Titans and my deck relied on flying units to close out games, I wanted to make sure I could always deal with it. Polymorph did that and won me several games because of it. You could cut them down if you’re playing on ladder and not seeing many Time-based decks, but I really recommend the card any time you’re seeing Titan’s, Tavrods, or Statuary Maidens. The frogs can kill your one drops, but often you’re using Polymorph to let your Firemaws to hit your opponent, at which point you’re usually winning the game and you don’t care about your one drops on the ground as much.
The deck curves out with the four aforementioned Crimson Firemaws, the Steelfang Chakrams, four Obliterates, and two Soulfire Drakes, the last two choices likely being no surprise for a fire deck. The power base consists of 28 power, with two of them being Cobalt Monuments—a number I almost bumped up to three as they were always so good. I opted away from Kaleb’s Favor as it just takes too much time to play, and I think it’s not a good fit in a deck where you often want to go turn 1 unit into turn 2 Champion of Fury whenever possible. One interesting note is the similarity of this decks curve to the standard Burn Queen builds. I tried many variations on the amount of each card played, particularly in the four and five cost slots, and over time the numbers gravitated towards where they’re at now. I think this says a lot about optimal curve distribution for aggro decks, especially the importance of five-cost “haymakers”.
Playing The Deck
I found this deck was often fairly difficult to pilot and it took me a while to know how to properly value my cards, especially because some of them change pretty dramatically from depending on the matchup. Most games usually unfold like this: you’ll spend the first 1-4 turns chipping away at their life, hopefully getting in 10-13 damage, and then, assuming your opponent has a regular draw, entering somewhat of a puzzle phase where you figure out how to close the game. Sometimes you just draw well and hit your Polymorphs and Obliterates before hitting them with dragons, and those games are nice. Often, however, you’ll enter a board stall without an immediate path to victory and you’ll have to figure out how best to navigate this. This happens a lot because Skcyrag’s units are the smallest in the game and its removal, despite being highly efficient, is very conditional. The good news is that with all the four and five-cost cards you’ll likely have the means of getting through. The hard part is figuring out what to do, and making the wrong choice—attaching a Chakram to the wrong unit or using removal too early—often costs you the game due to Skycrag’s near inability to take a game back over from behind (sparing the games where the fire gods bless the top of your deck with multiple Obliterates, of course.) In these board stalls, you’ll need to figure out when to offer trades with your attacks, when to trade multiple units for theirs (something you’ll do a lot since they’re small), and when to just hold out for removal.
The most important card in the deck is probably Torch, and figuring out what cards your opponent is going to play changes what you do with your Torches. In an ideal scenario, you’ll get to Torch their small units and let your Champions of Fury and other small units run your opponent over. In other situations, where you know a Tavrod or Sandstorm Titan may be coming and you don’t have a Chakram or other means to help you attack, you’ll often have to keep your Torch back, sometimes even at the expense of not getting to attack in the first few turns. Like with any burn deck, Torch changes once again in the late game and you have to decide whether to use it as removal or save it for an over-the-top kill in tandem with an Obliterate. In some matchups like Feln, the card does almost nothing other than being a very inefficient way of getting through their units.
I do want to take a moment to address a common concern thrown around with Skycrag. As noted by how much I’ve talked about them in this article, Sandstorm Titan and Tavrod are fairly difficult hurdles to get through, as Skycrag has very few ways of cleanly dealing with them. Most have taken this as a reason that Skycrag is just an unviable faction. However, I have few responses to this. First, this particular Skycrag build does well against these cards thanks in large part to the Chakrams and Polymorphs, as stated before in this article. However, I think it is more important to instead consider your position as the aggro player. As the beatdown deck, your opponents units are not cards to be answered and killed but rather hurdles to be overcome. Sometimes this means killing them, but other times you just keep attacking into or over them to finish off their life total. For example, if you have a board of flying units and your opponent plays anything other than Sandstorm Titan, you may not care at all what it does unless it starts gaining life—and even then, you may still not care if you’re just dramatically outracing them. This is particularly true in the case of Tavrod, where often you will just fly over their 5-cost card and finish out the game before they even attack with him. Instead of asking what you do when they play these cards, you might actually reverse the question: what do they do when they don’t draw Sandstorm Titan or Tavrod? In either case, this deck will have the tools to deal with them, but overstressing their existence is unnecessary when they don’t win the game on the spot and only represent 4 out of the 75 cards in your opponent’s deck.
For redraws, I recommend not overvaluing your one-drops. You want them in your opening hands if you can get them, but your two and three cost units are far more important, as well as removal. Chakrams and Crimson Firemaws are also great in your opening hands as they make sure you have a midgame strategy, as long as they don’t come at the expense of the smaller units. Otherwise, just look for a functional hand with a plan. I would also avoid two power hands unless it’s loaded up with Champions of Fury with charge (and even then, I might still be wary.)
I can’t write in depth on every matchup, but I’ll briefly go over the most important and popular ones.
Stonescar: One of your best matchups. They can be troublesome if they play several Grenadin Drones and Assembly Lines, but if you’re seeing a lot of these, you can put Rockslides in (which will make the matchup dramatically easier.) It’s very easy for you to become the aggressor in this matchup, and once Stonescar is put on the defensive, they usually lose shortly after.
Xenan Killers: This matchup can be fairly difficult due to both Ayan and Xenan Initiation, as the latter goes through your aegises and the former wins the game against you if it goes unchecked. Torch is even more crucial than normal here and needs to be saved for both of these cards. Otherwise, your aegis units are particularly powerful here as all of their other removal is expensive. I would say you’re slightly disadvantaged, but not by much.
Armory: Armory also has the ability to swing directly into your aegis units with its relic weapons, but otherwise, you’re favored in this matchup as long as you have a reasonable start. Keep your aegis units on the board as long as possible to make their Harsh Rules really unfavorable, and try to hold back your flying units as they are the best way to end the game. Know that if they have a Statuary Maiden on the field and one of your units with a Chakram attached dies, the unit will turn into an arm as usual, but the Chakram will come back to your hand. The same interaction holds true with Steward of the Past.
Praxis: Other than the “turn 2 Power Stone into turn 3 and 4 Sandstorm Titan” starts, you’re usually favored in this matchup. They have a lot more removal than before thanks to the new Purify change, but you’re usually able to put them pretty low before they can stabilize due to all the expensive cards they’ll usually have sitting in their hand. Remember that Shatterglass Mage can break your Permafrosts (as well as your Chakram’s, but they’ll go right back to your hand.)
Combrei: Definitely one of the more difficult matchups as all of their units are huge. They also usually pack about 8 silences, making it difficult to get full use of your Chakrams and Permafrosts. Force them into bad Harsh Rules and have a plan for Great Parliament—if you can.
Feln: Usually very easy. Just be sure to not get wiped out by a Lightning Storm. Your Permafrosts deal with everything of theirs and your board of aegis and flying units are very difficult to deal with.
Chalice: Amazingly, this is also a good matchup for you for many of the same reasons Feln is. You can often put them very low very quickly as they set up their influence and units, all the while putting tremendous stress on Harsh Rule thanks to your abundance of aegis units. You will have to be careful of them silencing away your Permafrosts, but this is often difficult for them due to needing to spend them removing your aegises.
Rakano: This is only particularly difficult if they can suit up a big Silverwing Familiar. Otherwise, you’re much faster than them and you put them on the defensive, which is not where they want to be. Like with silences, you have to be careful with your Permafrosts as any unit can quickly become a Plate-wearing monstrosity. Prioritize killing their Champions of Glory and be as aggressive as possible.
Despite not going further in the Wildcard tournament, I’m very pleased with this deck. In a field that is supposedly antithetical to aggro decks, I went into the tournament as the only player with Oni Ronins, with every opponent carrying a playset of Sandstorm Titans or Tavrods, and I went through swiss dropping only two games. I did lose in the first round of the top 8 to Komodo’s Bruised Combrei, though I did beat it 2-1 earlier in the tournament. My only regret is that I didn’t play this deck in the invitational. I did have it functioning, but it was not nearly as tuned as it is now, and I had wrongly convinced myself it wasn’t viable despite testing well. It’s too easy to claim the power of a deck after only a single tournament, but I do believe this deck in its current form is a real deck, both in tournament and ladder. It was just discovered a bit too late at the end of the tournament year. Here’s to Father Skycrag and a better 2018.