With the Invitational just around the corner the twelve competitors are no doubt waist deep in play-testing, finalizing their deck choice for the constructed portion of the event and tweaking their reserves. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the intricacies of Constructed, or are simply new to Hex, this article will seek to give a brief overview of some of the key cards that have come to define the format, and why they have become ubiquitous with success. Please note that this is not a definitive list, just a group of cards that I feel warrant highlighting.
The cards I’ve chosen for Blood represent the ideals of the shard, which is chiefly to disrupt, destroy and otherwise ruin your opponent’s game plan. You don’t need to have the best cards for the situation, simply deny your opponent theirs.
A staple of any deck that’s played with Blood shards since the moment you were capable of putting Blood shards in a deck, this troop has played the dual-role of win condition & aggro curb-stomper for several years now. He represents absolutely absurd value for resources simply as a 3/4 lifedrain flight troop, and his ability to potentially remove your opponent’s best cards from hand and turn them into additional threats pushes this card straight to the top of the pile. Long live the King.
Impact on the format: Troop heavy decks must always ensure they have enough removal, lest this card take over the game by getting the opportunity to attack for several turns and eat away at their hand.
Probably the number one most hated card for players seeking to play a linear, troop based plan of attack. Extinction is one of the best reset buttons currently available to deck-builders, clearing the board of everything short of Invincible or otherwise Crypt Resilient cards. Chances are, the longer the game goes on, the happier you are to draw this card, and many a game has been turned around by successfully resolving an Extinction.
Impact on the format: Players are often forced to hold back from deploying all their threats to the board, lest it all gets swept away by a single Extinction. This necessity can often give you the time you need to set up.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had as to when exactly is the perfect time to cast Inquisition. Is it as soon as possible, to try to disrupt your opponent during the formative turns of the game? Or is it later on, to check the coast is clear for your next play, depriving your opponent of that one card just when they needed it most. Your opponent choosing to mulligan will often push you towards the former, and outside of top deck wars it’s hard to justify why this isn’t simply the best play you can make on any given turn.
Impact on the format: Think twice before keeping that opening hand that relies on a single card to function, or you could lose the game before it ever gets going.
Diamond provides a large range of conditional removal, powerful value engines and solid troops. These three cards below exemplify these qualities perfectly, and I must also note Diamond’s ability to bring powerful reserve cards to bear can have a very meaningful impact over the course of a match.
There is simply no greater feeling when playing against an aggressive Ruby deck than to draw an Angel on the second turn of the game, getting a powerful late game threat right at the beginning, for free! Notable for being able to successfully attack past Vampires of all sizes, and it’s ability to apply a ton of pressure to your opponent without compromising yourself in the process (Steadfast). It’s a one-dimensional card, but when that one dimension is so good, why wouldn’t you want to include this Avatar of Hope?
Impact on the format: It’s an old hand at this constructed business now, since set 1 it’s been providing a solid troop for 5 cost, with the potential to be even higher value. Few diamond decks running a significant diamond shard-base will skip including this troop, full stop.
Soul Marble is an investment you make, a decision to slow down your ability to develop the board in return for the promise of power down the line. Midrange decks love it as a means to give their troops spellshield and a nice power boost, and Control decks love it as a way to funnel their resources into something productive at the end of their opponents turn, when their Interrupt cards are not needed. Only the quickest of games won’t end up revolving around this card once in play, and it’s power must be respected by all.
Impact on the format: Almost every deck will pack answers to constants in the reserves if they can, as if it’s left unchecked it can win the game entirely by itself – whether it’s Soul Cavalry or Soul Armaments.
The less observant player might look at Martyr and see only the downside – it buffs their opponent’s troops after all! But that’s simply scratching the surface, as Martyr is one of the most flexible removal cards in the game. Derail your opponent’s Crypt based strategies by turning their Charge Colossus into a statue, ensuring it never even touches the Crypt, or transform one of your troops in a stalled board state to get the edge you need at a critical moment, all for only 2 resources. Factor in that the current meta often has decks playing twelve or less significant troops, and it becomes apparent that this card is quietly incredible.
Impact on the format: Troop light decks without Spellshield should live in fear of this card, and plan their game-plan accordingly. Removal like this go a long way towards keeping Rutherford Banks decks in check.
No-one will ever accuse a Ruby player of being meandering – they’re aggressive, brash and fast. Many will dismiss Ruby decks as being boring and linear, and while it may be true that Ruby pilots are generally asked to make less decisions, the decisions themselves are often very meaningful and difficult to discern. Who needs to take the time to craft a masterwork sword, when you can just bash some other mope in the face with a sock full of pennies and take theirs?
Burn decks work on the principle of letting loose an onslaught of direct damage actions at your opponent’s face before they ever get a chance to put together their own game plan. Psychotic Anarchist’s ability to draw the user additional cards is very important as usually running out of actions to cast is the turning point for the burn deck and Anarchist helps keep this from happening. Yes, your opponent also gets to draw cards when it connects, but usually you can count on being more resource efficient with your turns, killing them before they can bring to bear all those extra cards they are drawing.
Impact on the format: Enables burn decks in a big way, and encourages opponents to pack early interaction in their deck to deal with it before their opponent can reach a critical mass of actions in hand.
This feathered friend can give burn decks some truly explosive starts and arrive on the board as early as turn two, yikes! In addition, their ability to come back from the Crypt in later turns can bring a player back from the very ashes of defeat, sealing the deal in games forced to go long. This versatility and ability to remain relevant at any stage of the game are the reason this card will be a staple for Action-based Ruby decks for years to come.
Impact on the format: Nowadays players will ensure they have at least some form of cheap removal ready to try to keep this card from going unanswered for several turns. Void effects and other means to keep this from hitting the crypt are also more important than ever, to keep this bird from rising again.
Tusker makes a very strong case for being the best one cost troop in the game, as it is a key component in some of the game’s fastest kills. He often needs a little help from his friends to reach his true potential; and he is awful in the late game, but the sheer upside of this card cannot be denied.
Impact on the format: Players facing up against this card need early interaction cards, be it removal or bounce cards. Leave home without them, and the game will be over before you ever get past turn four.
Sapphire brings a lot to the table when included in a deck – card draw, incredible tempo plays and the ability to interact heavily on your opponent’s turn. They almost always want to play the long game, biding their time and gaining value from their superior ability to capitalize on attrition. It’s all about control, and these three cards represent their ability to dictate the flow of battle.
The ability to say ‘No.’ is a powerful thing, and denial isn’t simply a river in Egypt (*groan*), it’s a tool to control. In Hex, Interrupts are all about saying no, and whole articles could be devoted entirely to extolling the virtues of interrupt actions and their strength. Of these, Countermagic is quite simply the best, and stopping your opponent from making impactful plays while progressing your own game plan is a recipe for success. The cost increasing side effect is also notable, especially in the mirror where a 4 cost Verdict of the Ancient Kings is far more straining on their resources than 2.
Impact on the format: If your opponent has three resources available and two Sapphire threshold, think twice before playing anything unless absolutely needed. More than one savvy player has leveraged advantage simply by representing the ability to cast Countermagic, even when it’s nowhere near their hand. It’s presence looms heavy in every player’s mind, and for this reason it gets the nod.
If you were given the opportunity to reduce the size of your deck by four cards, wouldn’t you take advantage of it? It would mean the card you need for a given situation could be that much closer to the top of your deck. Arcane Focus effectively does this and more, as for one resource you can trade it for one of two cards, giving some powerful card selection at a very reasonable cost. It’s power may be subtle, but controlling the inherent randomness of a card game is a very strong effect. Factor in Action synergies (Winter Moon, Archmage Wrenlocke, Kindling Skarn etc..) and you can see why it’s an automatic four-of for any Sapphire deck.
Impact on the format: Everyone hates Mulligans & I think we can all agree on that, and Arcane Focus will give you vastly more keep-able hands on average. Need I say more?
Sapphire doesn’t really do hard removal, and can struggle against spellshield troops that have made it to the board safely, or those that can be brought back from the Crypt by re-animator effects. Cards like Arborean Rootfather, Soul Cavalry, and Charge Colossus (with Rutherford Banks) give Sapphire mages a huge headache for these reasons, and Mass Polymorph: Dingler an expensive but powerful answer to them. You may balk at the cost, but if the Sapphire player can draw the game out they can quickly take over when this resolves.
Impact on the format: Gives control players a powerful answer to Rutherford Banks decks they would otherwise lack, and without it the match-up would be very one-sided. It’s a niche card but without it I would wager the format would be very different.
Wild goes big, and I mean real big, it is after all the shard most interested in having a troop presence on the board. Between their powerful ramp abilities allowing them to get to bigger threats quickly, and their quick speed combat tricks to get an edge, they are the king of the combat phase.
It can not be said enough how much Crocosaur has done for Wild, which until this card got released struggled to get a leg up when it came to card advantage & board control. Crocosaur represents stupendous value, potentially removing two opposing troops from play and possibly even sticking around to dish out the hurt afterwards. It will almost always be the biggest troop in play during the mid game, and is an aggro decks worst nightmare made manifest.
Impact on the format: Your opponent will think twice about deploying more than one troop to the board at a time because of the threat of this card, and this simple truth has gone a long way towards establishing Wild as an incredibly powerful shard.
Wild simply didn’t have many card draw effects until Balthasar came along, but this expensive satyr brings a conditional but powerful card draw effect that can keep Wild players hands stocked with action! It’s relatively easy to have a troop in play with a lot of Attack & Defense as a Wild player, and thus draw a lot of cards, and gain a lot of life when Balthasar comes to play. Who doesn’t love drawing cards?
Impact on the format: Control players simply must keep the board clear of big troops with this card floating around in deck-lists, either by interrupting Balthasar or keeping the board clear, lest they refuel their hand and be able to fight effectively in the late game. Likewise, aggro and burn players need to close the game out before Balthasar becomes an issue, as he can quickly push the game into an unwinnable state.
The resource system in Hex is meant to keep things fair for both players, ensuring they both develop their ability to play cards at the same rate. Puck doesn’t much care for this, and allows you to effectively cheat cards into play much quicker than they otherwise would be, provided your hand is stocked full of expensive troops.
Impact on the format: Gives midrange decks the ability to go big like few other cards can if left unanswered, once again demanding that players possess early removal/interaction cards.
Artifacts are the realm of the swiss army knife, giving shards access to effects and utility their shards of choice might not necessarily have. Generally these cards come with drawbacks or an inflated cost, but needy players will often look to Artifacts to fill in their decks weaknesses, especially in the reserves. These three cards add new dimensions and quirks to compliment and refine.
Most often paired with Wild & Diamond, Eternal Sage is a solid body for its cost that can provide additional utility with subsequent thresholds gained, gaining life to survive until the late game, and pumping their troops to enable profitable attacks. The nature of it being an Artifact makes it great versus Blood in addition, which often struggles to remove Artifacts from play. Players have even taken to playing Shardcall with this card to potentially gain access to its activated abilities from Sapphire, Ruby & Blood, adding yet more utility.
Impact on the format: Giving Blood players a massive headache is this card’s specialty, and acting as a fantastic supporting act for any deck it’s included in due to the nature of its abilities.
Ensuring players may only draw one card a turn is a fairly self-explanatory effect, but it is nevertheless an incredibly powerful tool against control decks, forcing them to play the game without leaning too heavily on card advantage, a big problem to present to Sapphire players.
Impact on the format: Once relegated to Reserves exclusively, it’s starting to make an impact in the main deck due to how common card draw effects are in the metagame. Kranok, Winter Moon, & Balthasar all hate to kneel before this shrine.
Rutherford Banks and Charge Colossus are probably BFFs in Entrath, skipping merrily together through meadows and making each other necklaces. Charge Colossus gives eight charges, Rutherford needs seven to re-animate from the crypt – who knew that robots were secretly the thing you should most worry about from the Crypt! To be more serious, this interaction is a major headache to Blood & Sapphire players, for whom destroying it or interrupting it won’t stop it from coming back to haunt them. It’s an interaction that can only come up in the late game, but it can potentially come back as many times as your opponent answers it. Scary.
Impact on the format: Gives ramp decks the ability to interact on an axis that Blood & Sapphire players have trouble with, something that’s very important in a match-up that’s almost guaranteed to go long.
The exciting thing about the Invitational is that the relatively small number of competitors can allow for some truly creative deckbuilding. The ambitious brewer could make deck choices that may not necessarily work for Constructed in general, but can be devastating if they can accurately predict what they expect the rest of the players to play. That said, you can expect to see most if not all of the cards on this list at some point over the weekend.
Feel that you have a better argument for a card that’s not on this list? Feel free to leave a comment explaining what you feel deserves to make the cut, and how you expect it to make a huge impact at the Invitational.