I think, by this point, everyone is familiar with the ruby-sapphire Gore Feast deck; however, the lists played by people vary greatly, which means people keep exploring the idea—and keep being led astray by the simple but tempting idea of killing your opponent fast. The build which originally aimed at setting up a deadly turn-four feast might have worked in the past—but now all the other decks in the meta have learned to prepare for that; they would simply not survive in the metagame if they did not. And why should we risk getting caught off-guard while attempting our wombo-combo if we can just win it slow and steady? The deck is capable of generating a ridiculous amount of card advantage while slowly tickling an opponent with small packets of damage—which will eventually pile up and bury an opposing champion. Of course, this does not mean we should not try to kill fast. If an opponent plays a turn three Pact of Pain on the draw into our troop on the board, we’re safe to slam shard-charge-feast; still, that’s just not going to happen all that often.
As I’ve said, the GoreKnights deck has been around for quite some time. Looking back, once the Cerulean Mirror Knight was introduced and Royal Falconer‘s cost went down, there was no way for this deck not to show up. It became a recognized powerhouse quite fast; however, if you look at the top lists of the last six month’s major tournaments, the deck wasn’t a top contender in major events until the last Hextechs Open—and most instances where it was were as variations of our team’s list played by our team’s members and friends (e.g. top-16 of HexTCGPro Invitational, two top-4 + top-8 Hextechs Open, four of seven 4-0 entries of first VIP weekend, and even the finalist of the November Hextechs Open). Thus, I was quite confident looking at the following list before the November VIP Weekend:
Champion: Poca, the Conflagrater
This list had been relatively stable for about three months, the only cards changed being some of the sideboard options; however, the environment has changed and the deck should have been tweaked as well. Before, going into a tournament, you were safe to expect meeting more control decks than mirrors or any aggro decks—but after the November Hextechs Open that was no longer true. Thus, we had to adjust for it—which means we had to move some of the board wipe into the main deck. I thought about Heat Wave for a while, but it would require too many changes along with it and—more importantly—in GoreKnights you just can’t justify maindecking a card that would be a dead draw in some match-ups (While, for example, BW Pact/Pact may run maindeck Nature Reigns in a BD-heavy field). Another option was obviously a Legionnaire of Gawaine, who has always been around—starting as a maindeck staple and later being preempted by the jack-of-all-trades Countermagic.
To free space for a few Legionnaires, I removed one Time Ripple and moved one Gore Feast to the reserves. I don’t know if I will ever side the fourth Feast in after going down to three—but for now I’m leaving it there just to see. The freed slot is filled by a third Eldritch Dreamer.
If we look at the evolution of the list in the perspective, we will see the following: Ruby Pyromancer started as 4-of, went down to 3 then to 2 and then got entirely cut; Countermagic was added to maindeck; and Gore Feast went down to 3. All of these changes illustrate the way from the deck’s aggro roots to where it truly belongs: the pure tempo build. If we were to play the first set for a longer period of time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gore Feast slowly leave the maindeck completely. But enough generalities—let’s get to the card choices:
The core of the deck. I’ve seen people playing less than 8 of those combined—you never want to do that. You want to draw cards (or force trades) every time you use your charge power; you want to generate card advantage—that’s just how this deck wins. If you want to cut something, cut any other card in the deck.
Those two guys are quite obvious and there’s not much to say about them. Only one non-obvious thing about Buccaneer is that sometimes playing it just to get inspired then bounce himself back is a valid option.
The deck has 21 Human troops—23 with Legionnaire of Gawaine—which means you have 73/77 percent chance to hit at least a single human; this is not that bad for a 2-cost flying threat. Remember, you play your Gearsmiths in draft with a lower chance of hitting the cards you want and do not complain. This small troop will mostly serve as a magnet for a cheap removal—but if they neglect him, he’ll turn into a card-advantage generating monster in no time.
Next to the previous entries, this one is not as obvious. You could say that we don’t have many troops that profit from having speed and he is always a lower-priority drop than a Mentalist (they share the same cost-slot). However, there were reasons for Alexander to completely replace Ruby Pyromancer; the most important of those reasons are his stats. He survives a heat wave and combat with most of early aggressive drops; also, it has enough attack to kill a Mentalist wish it ever block. Additionally, he threatens your opponent with an unknown amount of damage to make it harder to choose the right answer. It becomes even more important after reserves when no one knows if you have sided Dreamer in or not. Finally, he is a human and has inspire—so he has a synergy with both Lord Benjamin and Legionnaire of Gawaine.
I have already mentioned him quite a few times, and you might wonder, “why do we even play him? There are only 10 inspire troops in the deck!” Well, first is: he’s a stall-breaker. I bet you have been in a situation where both players flood the board and search for a trick to escape a stalemate; the Legionnaire is your trick here. With just one inspire troop on board, he already kills the Falconer and punishes your opponent for what seemed to be a safe block earlier that turn. With two inspires, he outright wins you the game against orcs. With three, he pretty much equals The Armageddon.
They might serve different purposes, but there’s a reason they are united here—they both might not be a best option, but they are the most versatile. Remember when I said we can’t afford playing dead cards? Those 2 will always do their job. You will often find yourself siding out one or another—but don’t let that trick you into removing them from the deck. Burn is one of the key cards when fighting mirror or aggro decks; even against control, it might enable you to trade an opposing Vampire King or Angel of Dawn for one of your Falcons and a Burn. Time Ripple mostly serves as an anti-control card that either clears the way for your feast or saves your troop from removal; even against aggro, it delays the damage they deal and lets you stabilize.
I don’t think I have to explain to you how awesome this card is. It enables your best play style against the control decks: play just a single troop and start scrapping health off your opponent. He plays something for all his resources? Counter and go straight for the feast. In the mirror match, it will increase a cost of one of their most critical inspires—even if it is not their first copy, ones already on board will suddenly lose most of their potential.
The threat itself. The recent reduction of its number reflects the fact that very rarely you will play it on turn 4, and very rarely do you want more than one in your hand. I still don’t know if it is intended or not, but the extra attack phases from multiple feasts do stack—one day that might save your game. Rest assured: it’s intended—Ed.
Heat Wave in a deck full of 2-health troops? Yes, you’ve got it right. No one mentioned that life was going to be easy (unless you’re surrounded by liars). Not only will you have to play around opposing removal, but your own as well; this is why we have Alexander here as an additional troop that survives our own board wipe. Is it worth it? Four additional answers for a turn two Benjamin/CMK or the nightmare of a tribe of orcs? Yes, it certainly is worth it.
Eldritch Dreamer (w/ Prime Ruby of Destruction)
Here’s the best friend of all the Mono-Sapphire decks. Their main answers are bounce and board stalling—and this unblockable Voidtouched doesn’t care about either. He’s your inclusion against all the decks that look to stall the board or bounce you to the death; sometimes, you will even include him at the expense of Falconer. He also has the magic number of 3 health which might be the deciding factor to add him against decks that rely on ruby removal spells.
I’m still hesitant about this card, but it does quite a good job at dealing with opposing Dreamers, Vampire Kings, and Angels of Dawn. Also, it serves the same purpose as a Dreamer in finishing off a stalled game.
Too many people are afraid of playing this card because it can fizzle or because it has an RRR threshold. Yes, those are issues, but its incredible power level is worth it. This card will outright win you a game against control if they can’t stop it—so make sure they can’t (or play it as your last-chance-call). Let’s see what can fizzle the Crown in your common match-ups (not counting the Sapper’s charge as it will be hard for you to miss it): in BD: Murder. BW Pacts: Murder. Mono-Blood: Murder, Terrible Transfer. The Mirror (Why did you even side it in for mirror?): Burn and Time Ripple (latter being sided out every time). Mono-Sapphire: Time Ripple and Yesterday. Not that much, don’t you think? And there’s a good chance the mentioned removal will be spent before you even draw the crown—you have quite a lot of threats! Also, remember that you will probably be siding Crown in in the same matches where you will bring the 4th Countermagic, which also helps to ensure that Crown will resolve. Finally, the presence of Crown in your sideboard enables some mind games against a Pact/Pact or other Wild decks (if you have seen those): Did you side the Crown in? Should they bring in Nature Reigns or is it a dead card?
There are also some cards that didn’t make the cut and I feel obligated to provide reasons why:
As I’ve said, we’re not aggro. This one is just too fragile for our control-tempo playstyle.
The dwarf might make it in the deck if more aggro decks were around—and it is especially good against faster GoreKnights builds that play the above mentioned Pyromancer—but now there are just not enough matches where you want it in.
It is good; I won’t argue with that. However, we already have seven cards that serve pretty much the same purpose and we already want to have 6-7 of them in the deck after sideboarding in the matches where we would also like to play Stormcall. There’s just not enough space to fit every card we want, so we have to stick to using the better ones.
Gralk is incredible, but the SSS threshold doesn’t let us fit him in. Our main focus will be Ruby threshold because of Poca’s charge power (that we want to use ASAP), so shifting the shard balance into sapphire is unwise. Plus we have an RRR Crown in reserves. Sorry, Gralk, but it’s just not your day.
The recent addition to some builds presents a cheaper Dreamer that doesn’t force you into a heavier sapphire shift or works great in alongside him. I would like to try it myself, but I just can’t figure out what it can replace. If you play it, you should definitely play it in the maindeck—and that’s already packed tight. I think the version that would play Effigies will also want to go for a playset of Dreamers instead of Falconers to rely heavily on evasion with the Mentalist buff. However, removing Falconer will make CMK a worse inclusion and the deck less synergistic overall—the question is, if it’s worth the sacrifice or not.
These look good in theory, but in practice I couldn’t find a common matchup where I would prefer them over anything else I’d want to include.
Now that we clearly have our card options, I will discuss the matchups. Naturally, my view of the matchups and how to play against them is contingent upon the choices I made for my deck—so keep that in mind. If you are running a variant of the above list, your experience may vary on the battlefield.
This match you will play quite often; at some points it becomes almost mechanical and decision-less. I described your perfect play earlier: just play a single troop and sit on a Countermagic to Gore Feast—but this situation won’t always be an option you can select. Often, you will be carefully baiting an extinction or quick removal with your troops and charge power while trying to make the trades at least 1-to-1 in terms of card advantage. There are some important tips:
1. Main targets for the Countermagic are Xentoth’s Inquisitor and Vampire King, not Extinction. You may even let a board wipe go through if you see that you can recover quickly. This has the added advantage of making them think they’re relatively safe from Countermagic for several turns afterwards.
2. If they use Zared on your Falconer: one of the best plays is smashing a Gore Feast to deal 6 damage and turning those small falcons into threats again
3. Play your charge for card advantage (this one applies to every match-up), don’t hold it for gore feast if you are not planning to set it up on the following turn or two. Can I draw one card? Fine. Can I draw two or force your opponent to trade with the Elemental? You couldn’t hope for better.
For the reserves, you are looking to bring in Crown, the fourth Countermagic, and maybe some BTTGs and/or Eldritch Dreamers; you can remove some Burns, Time Ripples, and even one Benjie to fit all that.
The match-up is unique for one reason: they don’t have their own threats, so they will only be defending. To win they need to go into a deep late game, so you have some time to set up. Against B/D, you would try to bait out an Extinction; here, you would probably stick to a single troop on board until you can protect your endgame plan with a Countermagic. The sideboarding is almost the same as against B/D, except you won’t hesitate to remove all of your Burns and probably Ripples for more threats.
Something in between BW and BD in terms of their playstyle; this deck presents the hardest of your control matchups. They never have threshold problems and the Terrible Transfers will make the game go longer than you’d wish it would. Your playstyle will probably be the same as it was against BD, except for thinking twice before siding Crown in—this deck has double the amount of quick removal, so the decision depends on how confident you feel in baiting all of that before playing crown.
The recent trend for mono-Sapphire builds is to not play the Eldritch Dreamers/Mastery of Time combination, which means you cannot lose this match unless our deck completely screws up (I mean not only the shard problems, but general hate). They can’t kill you fast and only have have 4 Countermagics for those seven board wipe cards you have sided in—and you also have threats to be countered. What you should watch for is Storm Colossus; if you allow the game to stall for too long, your opponent will have enough shards to set up a play like Storm Colossus into Gralk+Mastery and the game might be stolen away from you. Another threat is a Prophet of Lodegan—it doesn’t die to heat wave and you need a well established board to nuke it with Legionnaire. If you lose game one, it probably will be to Prophet. So, what you want to do is hold a Countermagic for it or make sure you have enough inspire to deal with it instantly; I’ve even let Gralks go through in that case, just to be sure I can answer the Prophet later. In reserves, you are obviously looking for all your Heat Waves and Legionnaires, and also bringing in the Eldritch Dreamers—which present a perfect threat for the answers Mono-Sapphire brings to the table. You can even cut some Falconers if you need to; the Dreamers are worth it.
Okay, you want to know who wins a mirror match of GoreKnights? The one who’s not in a hurry. Let your opponent be the aggressor and become the control deck. Bounce every inspire troop they play, burn every Benjie and CMK, and consider holding your own for later turns. Do not exhaust too many of your troops; multiple end-of-turn Ripples and Burns into Gore Feast might ruin all the tempo you were building with a single huge swing.
This match is pretty annoying, which makes it much easier to make a mistake. It is also not always clear how to side against them; if you side in the Heat Wave, they might remove Darkspire Priestess and go for a slower strategy, trying to trade early and then hitting with an Uruunaz. If you don’t, they might just rush you in (I had one opponent siding in the Fangs of the Mountain God, but I was lucky to have coin-flipped into bringing the Heat Waves). Also, the builds can be quite different. Sometimes you just have to guess what your opponent will bring to the table. To be honest, I still haven’t figured the best way to fight this deck as I don’t see it quite often; I’m experimenting every time, more or less successfully. Overall, the match seems to be slightly favorable for us, or a coin-flip at worst.
R/S Fulmination Control
People keep underestimating this deck because it looks ‘janky’, and to be honest, I’m quite happy about that. Despite being considered an underdog, this is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, decks of the set 1 metagame—and this is the only deck I know of that is capable of maintaining a consistent positive win-ratio against GoreKnights while being a strong contender against the rest of the field. We can’t win the game of card advantage because the card advantage itself does not matter in this match up; they will have more of it. We can’t win the late game because, at one point, they will just lock us up with the Mastery chain. Our best chance is just rushing them out with all we have; yet, they have playsets of Burn, Ragefire, and (after reserves) Heat Waves. If this deck had seen more play, we would have to add Reginalds to the sideboard to boost our chances.
This is not a deck you see often, but after losing to it in the last VIP, I had a thought that forced me to add this deck into that list: This is the only time I have regretted not having Stormcall in my sideboard. If this deck would see more play, I guess I would have had to change my mind on adding Stormcall to the deck. Without it, you probably want to side in your dreamers and BTTG because, if you don’t kill them fast, they will eventually build the board—and your only chance will be sneaking the final points of damage through the gigantic blockers. Thus the evasive threats and big burn spell gain value in this match up.
This is probably everything I wanted to say about my not-the-most-favorite, but definitely most-played and most-successful deck of the outgoing format. Do you agree with my assessments or do you have your own, different opinions on how to run this deck? I’m always open for discussion and will appreciate all the comments!