Dead Reckoning is out and the metagame is wide open. Have the cards been weak as most initially thought? Or have many of them exceeded expectations? Is the metagame going to still have aggro? Is Primal good now? All of this and more will be discussed. Let’s start by evaluating some cards worth talking about.
Hailstorm is the most important card in the set. Cards like this alter the format and set a big limit to what can safely be played. A single increase of damage makes this much more playable than Lightning Storm, as hitting more units will make it active a lot more often. I don’t expect this card to dip in usage as much as Lightning Storm does, as three damage is able to hit a lot of units that midrange decks want, such as Unseen Commando, Valkyrie Enforcer, unbuffed Argenport Instigator, and more, making it effective against a large number of decks.
Wardwielder requires a bit of commitment from your deckbuilding, but a 5/5 for 2 is a pretty big payoff. To get face aegis often enough that it’s worth including Wardwielder, you probably need at least 7 or 8 aegis effects, probably more. The good news is that face aegis is quite desirable in virtually every metagame; Sabotage and Torch are not going anywhere anytime soon, and games are slow enough that even Rain of Frogs is making mainboard appearances. Getting hit by these do shrink your Wardwielders, but with enough effects, you can apply them again while still defending yourself from those aforementioned cards you’d rather not get hit by. Besides the obvious Eilyn’s Favor and Cobalt Waystone, cards like Protect, Duelist’s Blade, and Mistveil Drake also help, all of these being at least playable. There’s no clear home for this card just yet, but I’d guess a Hooru shell is probably a good start. It’s hard to judge exactly how good this card, but I’m leaning towards “quite good”.
I think Daraka is pretty good. I initially didn’t think it was, but it seemed close enough that it was worth trying. After testing it, I was quite impressed. The best comparison in my mind is Predatory Carnosaur, and while outright killing a unit is often better, Daraka has a few advantages. First, Daraka is bigger and has Overwhelm. Size always plays an underappreciated role in determining safe attacks, breaking board stalls, and so on—many can attest to how relevant the 7th point of toughness is for Worldbearer Behemoth. Overwhelm also ensures you don’t lose from repeated chump blocks. Secondly, the stun effect has a handful of times where it is better than killer, including (but not limited to): answering Deadly units; answering a unit you don’t want actually want to kill, such as a Haunting Scream enabler, an Entomb unit, an Impending Doom, and so forth; breaking Aegis, which is very relevant and something Carnosaur cannot do; answering a very big unit that Predatory Carnosaur could otherwise not kill; answering a unit and staying alive, as opposed to situations where Carnosaur has to trade to answer the unit; and answering a unit while still leaving back a blocker (the Carnosaur kills a unit but then is unable to block—here, you stun one and can still block.)
The obvious downsides are that Daraka can’t answer Endurance units, and that Daraka dying means the unit is usable again. These downsides are real, but I think the upsides will play out often enough that Daraka is valuable. That doesn’t mean it will always be good—there are plenty of times where Carnosaur isn’t good—but the Dinosaur sees play and so will this. To get the most out of it, all you really need to do is put it with other units that also demand removal. That’s not a tall order given that it’s the recipe for many good decks. His final ability that gives aegis to Eilyn is mostly negligible, and you do not need any Eilyn’s in your deck to put this card to good use.
Bore may never actually see the light of day on ladder, but it will likely be a tournament staple. In particular, it’s quite good at dealing with Deepforged Plates on units with an Aegis—something we’ve been seeing a bit of lately. In some cases you may even get to take out multiple attachments on the board—a shattering spree, if you will. It’s also nice seeing such a tournament focused card, and hopefully we’ll see more in the future (as well as a proper in-client and/or company supported format.)
Venom Rider is really cool, but I’m not sure it’s good enough for most decks. With just one more point of health it would probably be a lot better, but three health is very low for a 4-drop, even in the faction with Obelisk. It also fights for a lot of competition with Sandstorm Titan, Xenan Obelisk, and many other good 4-drops. The one exception to this is Charge Rod, where this card is probably pretty good. It’s worth keeping an eye on since both keywords are very relevant, but I think this card is not going to be worth it for most decks.
I’m not entirely sure what to think of this Icaria (whom I have personally dubbed “Small Icaria”.) I’d be much more in favor it of it at 1/2, but 1/1 is quite small. I think you need at least a few Valkyrie in order to get the most benefit out of her, but not necessarily full dedication. Even upon hitting six Justice influence, she still dies to Hailstorms, Torches, opposing 3/x’s in combat, and more. If she ends up being good, it’s going to be on the back of a heavily Justice-based archetype she helps create. In the meantime, I’m not counting on it, but I also wouldn’t completely rule it out given the past success of “deck full of flying units” in Eternal.
Inquisitor’s Blade isn’t bad, but it feels awkwardly positioned. Justice has a plethora of good flying units, and this doesn’t really do much for them. The “revenge” feature is also, like revenge, not going to be that consistent and not that valuable for the types of decks that want this card (read: aggro decks). If we get more aggressive Aegis units, it may be necessary to ensure you can close out a game.
I originally didn’t think In Cold Blood was a big deal, but I will happily admit I was quite wrong. This card completely hoses Makto, Icaria, and Tavrod. It kills a unit on the board, cleans the deck of future threats, and often times snags one out of the hand. Getting a unit on the board, a card out of hand, and removing the major win condition in decks is the kind of value you can write home about. When not against justice, it’s still a four-cost removal spell, which is unexciting but usually gets the job done against anything that isn’t hyper aggro. This will likely replace Deathstrike in almost all decks that wanted it. I think this is one of the best cards from Dead Reckoning.
Why are assassins shouting warcries? Regardless, Ripknife Assassin is a nice role player. It will never be a completely dominant card, much like it’s sister card Rakano Outlaw, but will do a good job of being an aggressive 2-drop for shadow decks that want one of those. Deadly is usually a bit better than Quickdraw for extending into the late game, as well. I think right now this might be reasonable in Argenport Midrange, as well as any aggressive Unseen decks in the making.
Overstatted? Check. Dodges a lot of removal? Check. Evasive and aggressive? Check and check. Synergises with other good cards and has a relevant unit-type? Check and check, again. Hoses commonly used cards? Check. I think the only thing Hooru Pacifer doesn’t do is forgive your student loans, but at any rate (and with any hope) Dire Wolf Digital will patch that in. Most good cards only need about one or two of these aforementioned qualities, and somehow this single card has all of them. It does limit some of the cards you can put in your deck, but that will almost always be worth it more often than not. It is much more relevant against unit-weapon decks than it is against relic weapon decks, but it will be strong against both. I, for one, welcome our new Hooru overlord.
Equivocate is an interesting card. It’s often going to be better than Teleport, but unfortunately, Teleport hasn’t been all that good in this game. There are two major upsides. First, you’ll almost always give them a worse unit, as there are plenty of bad draft units in the game. Second, it permanently deals with specific enabler cards, such as screaming Direwood Beastcallers (and at fast speed no less.) Beyond those situations, it still doesn’t permanently deal with a unit at the cost of your own card. It’s also pretty bad against your own units, where Teleport is not. It will see some play, but I don’t think it’s breaking the metagame anytime soon.
That’s all for the card breakdowns. Before thinking about our upcoming metagame, I want to talk about one other thing.
Is Primal Good Now?
Many readers will recall my most recent article on the state of Primal as a faction, particularly as it relates to the weak power level of the mono faction cards and their identity issues. Well, a lot has happened since then. We first got a massive balance patch that knocked down a lot of cards, including Protect and Wanted Poster, two of the Justice cards that were too strong that encroached on Primal’s territory. To be honest, I was quite surprised that both of them got adjusted. Regardless, it was a huge relief that they did, both for the metagame and for Primal’s sake. The other major change since then is, of course, this campaign.
I now think Primal is probably in line with the other factions. Hailstorm is incredibly powerful and a huge reason to be in the faction now. Daraka seems quite good as I discussed above, and Wardwielder seems like a very strong card as well. Both of these units fill up huge holes in the curve, and though it remains to be seen if they’re everything the faction needed, they’re at least options where there has previously been almost none. Other Primal cards are appreciating trends in the metagame: Torgov is much more reasonable when he has access to removal to clear the board when Sandstorm Titan isn’t in every other deck. More than anything, the nerfs to Justice and these three new cards give real reasons to be in Primal beyond just it’s multifaction cards.
Now that that’s out of the way, what might happen with the metagame?
It’s really hard to gauge exactly what will happen given the infancy of the last metagame, so this will not be incredibly thorough. At the very least, we can at least have confidence in a few things. For one, as far as tournament play goes, fire-based aggro is going to be in a tough spot. Not only did it not seem to gain many tools from this set, but the introduction of Hailstorm is going to make times tough for aggro. Bore and Hooru Pacifier is also going to be problematic for weapon decks, particularly FJP Plate that relies heavily on sticking a plate to close out the game. The biggest change aggro can likely take advantage of is a slight decline in life gain: with Primal rising in popularity and Justice likely taking a small decline, life gain will probably be less relevant than it has been for the past several months.
Shadow-based midrange and control decks will likely jump in popularity as well. In Cold Blood is incredibly powerful against many of the decks of the past several months, and slow Justice-based decks will probably need to make heavy adaptions any time this card is popular. Feln and Xenan look to gain a lot from this card, and even a Midrange Stonescar deck could come into existence.
JPS Unitless Control gained Hailstorm, which seems like a great option for the deck. The deck has proven to be quite successful on ladder, but it may lose a lot of stock in tournament value—not from any new cards, but because players will be more prepared for it in the sideboard. Regardless, it’s existence is going to continue to have a strong impact on decks, quietly imposing the amount of non-burn removal decks can play.
Meanwhile, Praxis and other Time Midrange decks are poised to continue doing well for the immediate future. Dawnwalker is better than it has been in a long time, and the decks tend to benefit a lot from Argenport Midrange being out of the picture, which will likely never get as big as it once was—at least not anytime soon. Charge Rod may be able to take advantage of the lack of aggro decks, but it’s always been unpopular and may not fare well against heavy beatdown decks like Praxis.
Lastly, we’re likely to see a rise in Primal-based midrange and control decks. Hooru and Feln both gained a lot from Dead Reckoning and it’s likely they’re going to show up in droves for a while as players try to figure out the best way to orient them. One thing common between them is their removal: Permafrost and Hailstorms will exist in large numbers, and both Justice and Shadow provide ways of dealing with big units. Between these decks and Time Midrange’s positioning, we will probably be in midrange soup for the while until the metagame starts to mature.
Prior to the adventure, we had a really interesting two-ish week metagame from the fallout of the 1.28.7 balance patch. While it was very young and still ripe for a lot of development, we saw a decline in Removal Pile and “Jund”, the complete exodus of Echo Makto and non-scream Reanimator, a lot less Rakano—especially with Soulfire Drakes, and the rise of FJS Plate, Praxis Midrange, Stonescar Gunslingers, FPS Scream, and JPS unitless control. There was also a short-lived rise in Chalice—and only short-lived, to the joy of ladder players everywhere. Both before and after the balance patch, Icaria decks remained popular, and shadow was actually on a steep decline with the exception of JPS.
In general, ladder will probably experience many of the same things tournament does with one major exception: aggro will probably still be okay. It may be in fewer numbers given how powerful Hailstorm is against many midrange decks, but it should still be viable. Plate-based decks can also exist just fine on ladder with Bore being highly unlikely to enter Ranked. One of the best-poised decks right now seems to be JPS Unitless Control. I think we’ll probably see this deck for a while until a new deck or decks emerges that can reliably eliminate it. In general, ladder looks like it will be in a healthy flux for a while. It will also probably be a bit slower than in the past.
That’s all for today. In our short time with Dead Reckoning, things have seemed a lot healthier than they were at the start of The Dusk Road. Here’s to hoping it stays that way. Props to DWD for a fantastic campaign with both great lore and a lot of playable cards.