~First, a foreward. I owe you, the readers, an apology. I had been writing steadily for months, and was over halfway through a review cycle when suddenly everything went dark from your perspective. As some of you might know, our family had a bit of a health scare with our most recent child (everything is perfectly fine now) and layered on top of a new position at work (among the myriad of other things life has a way of throwing in the way) it was my writing that took a backseat. So while I don’t think I would go back in time to put everything HEX ahead of my family or my job, there were certainly things I could have communicated and completed better. Hopefully you’ll continue to follow this game along with me because in both life and HEX we are constantly making mistakes, and the only way to get better is to figure out what went wrong and how to make it better the next time.~
The Ruby Cup is over, and not a single Armies of Myth card was to be found. When we first saw the test server on June 18th, it seemed like surely we would have these cards ready to battle by July 18th, but Kismet intervened and it was not to be. In my mind though, it is still hard to remove all the images I created of our testing team winning over and over again. While the actualities of this outcome are forever in doubt (we play the games for a reason) the reason for this confidence stems from a single underlying concept: we put in the work. Between printing physical cards, Tabletop Simulator, and even a custom built Visual Basic program there were certainly ways to be testing that didn’t involve actually clicking Hex.exe, so we pushed those boundaries to try and find the deck that could truly take over a tournament.
Boy Howdy, did we find it too. From the first day of the spoilers off the test server, the single largest thing that jumped out was how great Titania’s Majesty was going to be. There are many ways to view advantages in HEX—pure card advantage was one of the biggest drivers of Shard-of-Fate-only constructed with decks like Tu-Pact and mono-Sapphire doing everything possible to draw more cards than the opponent over the course of a long game. Titania’s Majesty pushes a different advantage: resources. If you can pay 5 resources for a Majesty and hit even a 6-cost card, you are getting some sort of advantage. Pushed farther, if you are hitting 10-cost cards off Majesty, suddenly you are playing with some serious forces—and that’s not even starting to take into account the gem you will be granting. Many gems scale with troop size, but none are scarier in a Majesty than dealing damage. Suddenly, we are creating a resource advantage but also generating some great combo potential as there are actually a number of troops in which you can immediately end the game if Majesty finds them:
- Walking Calamity – your gem will deal 10 to the face, and then a 10/10 speed crush will finish off most opponents immediately. And they can’t even kill it or they take another 10 anyway!
- Arborean Rootfather – When you socket speed and +X/+X into Rootfather, you can create a 16/16 speed troop that deals 16 when it comes in off Majesty. While this leads you open to blockers and most removal, it still is scary enough a threat that the opponent likely has to respect the potential that at any moment you can just dump 32 damage on them if they give you an opening.
- Ozawa, Cosmic Elder – Ozawa comes in often as a 20/20 if you play Majesty early enough, and that means 20 to the face. No chance for interaction either on this one, if you let the Majesty resolve and Ozawa is chosen then welcome to damage town (and if it doesn’t kill you, well Lifedrain and direct damage go pretty well together anyway so…)
“But Wurtil” says the strawman, “how often are you actually going to hit those troops off a Titania’s Majesty?” Glad you asked. Thankfully that is a pretty easy thing to calculate using a hypergeometric distribution. For ease of data viewing, let us assume we are on the play and casting Majesty on turn 5 (so we’ve “seen” 11 cards—our opening 7 and four draw phases). Here is a quick breakdown of how often you should “hit” with Majesty based upon the number of targets remaining in your deck.
|Troops in deck||Odds to Hit|
(FYI, I use http://stattrek.com/m/online-calculator/hypergeometric.aspx or the HYPGEOMDIST function in Excel to make most of my calculations for these types of things)
So even if you’ve drawn a couple of your troops, you still are looking at something like a 70% chance to win the game. Right now. With one card.
Okay, so let’s assume for a second we think this is an idea worth pursuing; the next question is can we do it faster than turn 5? Well, the answer is duh, of course we can, we’re in Wild already. But before we even get to potential Wild and Ruby cards, we have to stop and talk about new hottest champion on the block: Cressida. A temporary resource is a powerful thing, I think most people get that, but what is super incredible is the consistency with which Cressida will accelerate you. Cressida doesn’t cost a card and doesn’t cost any temporary resources—she just automatically transfers our charges into an equivalent boost in power to something like a Chlorophyllia when we consider that our goal is to win the game on turn 3 or 4. This isn’t to say that Cressida is busted good with every deck, but she is the equivalent of creating both a card and resource advantage in what is a very common archetype in TCGs (the “Ramp” deck), and by doing so in every game she takes a whole lot of the variance out of running a deck doing what Majesty hopes to do.
Now let’s talk about what resource accelerator cards are actually good with getting us to a Titania’s Majesty. First, we need to set the ground rules for what our goals are:
- We want accelerators that, with just one of them and Cressida’s power, allow us to play a Majesty on turn 3.
- We want accelerators that help us reach the threshold requirements of our deck.
- We want accelerators that can provide us with enough resources to actually hard-cast our troops when the first plan fails.
- We want enough accelerators to ensure that we can hit a turn 3 Majesty a reasonable percentage of the time.
We haven’t talked about (2) much yet and what other cards we will want in our deck, but I’ll skip to the spoilers and say that Eye of Creation is going to be a must in this deck (as we already are filling our deck with troops we want to “cheat” into play and Eye is the grand-daddy of slamming enormous threats onto the table) and that Crocosaur is a beating we want to play early and often. This means we are looking at needing triple-Wild often and single-Ruby most of the time (barring the games where we go long and eventually play a Walking Calamity at face cost). That means two cards are shoe-ins to make it: Howling Brave and Chlorophyllia. Both allow for turn-3 Majesty, both help us reach triple-Wild, and both are the minimum you would want to help hard cast threats down the road (as opposed to a Crimson Clarity or the like that doesn’t give a long-term boost). With the obvious choices covered, we have to go look through the laundry list of remaining acceleration options:
Ageless Troubador: Doesn’t allow for turn-3 Majesty by itself – NO
Ashwood Maestro: Technically helps with all our issues but is a little overkill as we either will have 4 resources on turn 3 (Maestro + no third resource) or 6 resources (as the third resource turns on Cressida) – UNLIKELY
Ashwood Soloist: Actively prevents a turn-3 Majesty kill because you have to attack first to get the resources, and then your speedy Rootfather or Calamity can’t attack after coming down – NO
Hex Engine: Too expensive – NO
Lithe Lyricist: Helps with all the things we ask of it – MAYBE
Puck, Dream Bringer: Helps meet a turn 3 Majesty and is a big-time help in hardcasting stranded Calamities and such – MAYBE
Scraptech Brawler: Doesn’t help with turn 3 Majesty (or turn 4 for that matter) – NO
Skydancer: Too expensive – NO
Sylvan Duet: Too expensive – NO
So realistically we are looking at Puck and Lithe Lyricist to fill our final slots for acceleration cards behind Brave and Chlorophyllia. With Brave and the heavy commitment we are likely going to have to make to Wild to achieve triple-Wild threshold, Puck becomes likely the go-to leader for whatever slots remain. Well, provided we have enough 5+ cost troops to activate him. Thankfully we can quickly put together some math on that for turn 3, factoring in that we’d have to have drawn Puck and enough other resources as well:
|5-drops in deck||Odds to have active Puck|
Trying to start with a balance of our percentages and working from there, 13 seems like the minimum number of 5-drops you want to be able to have Puck start working for you immediately.
Which leads to the next question: how much acceleration is the right amount? There are no hard and fast rules, and at the end of the day we all are playing the part of systems engineers making trade space considerations; better acceleration means potentially less threats to hit off Eye, less resources to help hit Cressida, or less utility to deal with other decks as they interact with us. Still, having some numbers in front of us helps us better think about making those trades.
|Accelerators in deck||Odds to have in opening hand|
Going by our numbers above for the odds of hitting one of our 12 instant-kill cards and trying to balance from there, 11 makes a good starting place for our acceleration count and we can modify it after we start testing if needed.
We’ve gotta do some quick math for our resource requirements as well though, which we will do by checking the breaking points we need to hit for each threshold and for our shard base overall.
|Shards in deck||Odds to have 3 by turn 3|
This isn’t entirely representative of our odds, as technically Chlorophyllia can operate like a Shard in many hands (primarily alongside Howling Brave) in that the key is having 3 charges in time to use Cressida’s power. So we can start with 24 and work our way up from there as needed.
We can use this same chart for our required number of Wild “sources”, as technically the most aggressive use of our Wild shards will be trying to hit turn-3 Crocosaurs. Howling Brave and Chlorophyllia thankfully can directly be tallied into this count so after subtracting those we will still require at least 16 actual “Shards” that produce Wild.
Finally, we want to have at least one source of Ruby by turn 3:
|Ruby sources in deck||Odds to have by turn 3|
So we come up with 9 being the bare minimum. That means either going with 16 Wild Shards, 9 Ruby Shards or trimming one of each and playing 15 Wild Shards, 8 Ruby Shards, and one Shard of Savagery. Personally, I do not view the opportunity costs of play Shard of Savagery to be very high in this deck as very often you can sequence your first two turns easily around one and ensuring you have the Ruby source for Cressida even at the cost of delaying until turn 4 is more helpful than having too many of a single threshold type (which would prevent you from playing your important cards anyway).
So, this is where we are at by now:
4 Shard of Savagery
13 Wild Shard
7 Ruby Shard
4 Howling Brave
3 Puck, Dream Bringer
4 Titania’s Majesty (Ruby Direct Damage)
4 Eye of Creation
4 Walking Calamity
4 Arborean Rootfather (speed, +X/+X)
4 Ozawa, Cosmic Elder
1 Crocosaur [to get our 13th 5-drop]
For our first cut, the OPEN slot was taken by 4 Wrathwood Master Moss. The theory behind starting there was that Master Moss combos great with Titania’s Majesty (since when the Master Moss dies, the Mossling returns to deal 2 damage and turns back into a Master Moss) and provides a great threat as a reliable turn 3 play.
Putting it through the Gauntlet
Next came actually testing the Majesty deck against a reasonable field of expected decks. We tried to include a smattering of updated old decks and obvious new decks since those were the most likely things to show up. Some of these decks got a bit more testing time than others as we tried to keep an open mind about what might be good (and whether cards like Titania’s Majesty would even make it to the real set release), but feel free to use any as a starting point for the upcoming VIP tournament (well actually, just play Majesty, but if that’s not your cup of tea then these decks are fine).
The primary additions to Blood/Diamond are likely to be Vampire Princess and Martyr. Vampire Princess was not quite as good as we expected in the Majesty matchup as often the opponent was ready to drop a Crocosaur or Majesty by the time you played her anyway, both of which were devastating against her. That meant first she had to survive through the next turn (often her best role was to be a chump-blocker against Rootfather) and then had to hit an important action on the next turn, so often her best games were the ones when the opponent kept an Eye of Creation hand and she was able to get lucky to pluck it away.
Martyr was the other big addition, and it was far more impactful. Martyr meant that now the Blood/Diamond deck could hold up two resources and deal with either a Calamity or a Rootfather off Majesty. Ozawa still spelled death, but taking where Repel and Murder wouldn’t cut it against Calamity there was now an option that could keep you alive. We concluded that you definitely did not want to be the Blood/Diamond player in this match-up, but if you were that Martyr was clutch.
Finally, Inquisition starts to become a very important card to be playing again. Withering Touch likely also should be somewhere in the 75 but Crocosaur is such a pain to deal with that I suspect Inquisition will see slightly more play.
Champion: Poca, the Conflagrater
4x Cerulean Mirror Knight
2x Time Ripple
2x Crackling Bolt
4x Storm Cloud
3x Arcane Focus
3x Gore Feast of Kog’Tepetl
2x Royal Falconer
3x Eldritch Dreamer (Draw a card)
I feel like Goreknights is going to evolve again into something else, because the version that people had played in the past felt like it wasn’t positioned as well despite having all the tools you would think were awesome to have. Countermagic and Verdict are both great, but where mono-S could tunnel a Reese or eventually get up to playing a Dreamer and riding it, Goreknights was often stuck with 3- and 4-drops that needed to be played in sequence to create pressure on the Majesty player. Even when Goreknights could go 2-drop, 3-drop, and then hold-up Countermagic resources that often was good enough to win. Against Majesty, that doesn’t always work because the mere threat of a Titania’s Majesty will force you to start holding up Countermagic resources as soon as possible. As we will get to later, Carnasaurus was also a huge problem, as Storm Cloud was the bright star for Gorefeast in the matchup (since they could reasonably sit behind a Cloud with interrupts and then “combo-off” a few Stormlings with Gore Feast) but Carnasaurus was enormously difficult to deal with as it would eat a Storm Cloud, threaten to block a future Blaze Elemental, and was never ideal to try and Buccaneer away. There are certainly ways you can modify Gorefeast to get more aggressive, and I expect people to shift away from running as many Mentalists that need lots of synergy with other 3- and 4-drops and focus more on the low-cost options.
Champion: Bertram Cragraven
4x Cerulean Mirror Knight
2x Time Ripple
4x Storm Cloud
4x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
4x Eldritch Dreamer (Major Sapphire of the Mind)
3x Mastery of Time
4x Arcane Focus
4x Reese the Crustcrawler
Perhaps thankfully for most players, mono-Sapphire didn’t get any huge boosts to their strategy. The bad news is that Arcane Focus is a great card and is going to result in a lot more turn-2 Reeses (on the order of around 13% more games in which the opponent finds a Reese with their turn-1 Focus) and is going to mean that the skilled mono-Sapphire pilots get even better odds of finding the card that matters in the mid and late game. However, with Majesty putting pressure on decks to make sure they can respond by their opponents third turn or risk losing the game, turn-2 Reese is likely not going to be the optimal play in a number of games now. I expect that eventually that is going to lead to one-drops returning to the deck in at least the reserves (Thunderfield Elder being a good example, but Ancestor’s Chosen being fine too).
Champion: Bertram Cragraven
4x Charge Bot
2x Construction Plans: War Hulk
2x Slaughtergear’s Innovation (Draw)
4x War Machinist
4x Construction Plans: Hornet Bot
2x Hex Geode
3x Tectonic Megahulk
4x Construction Foreman
1x Reese the Crustcrawler
As is likely obvious to most, a set without an emphasis on dwarves or robots doesn’t provide a whole lot to the linear aggro deck designed around them. The only big takeaway is how incredible Slaughtergear’s Innovation can be as a 1- or 2-of top end for the deck, especially out of the reserves against the Extinction decks that have historically been a bane. Post-Extinction, turning a Geode into a War Hulk who can attack immediately is going to be huge, and even against other mid-range and controlling strategies a 5/5 with pseudo-speed is often going to be a key pivot point in the match-up.
Champion: Madame Anana
4x Hop’hiro, Samurai
4x Spiritbound Spy
4x Minion of Yazukan
4x Warlock of Aettir
2x Monsuun, Shogun of Windajin
4x Wakizashi Ambusher
2x REKT [Sorry, ne0-tech here not ready for release]
If there is any champion who immediately stands out as being on the level as Cressida, it is Anana. We’ve seen through Poca how powerful making a troop with your champion power is, and with cards like Spiritbound Spy and Minion of Yazukan you can do it again (and again).
The deck itself is multi-faceted. Warlock of Aettir in your hand turns it into a combo deck where it is normally super easy to treat him as a 4-cost and immediately shift onto a Phantom or such and kill the opponent. Hop’hiro is also insane here, very quickly transforming in most cases but while also just being a sac outlet with upside. It is also surprisingly easy to get Ambusher into the 4/4 and above range thanks to all the shin’hare and Shroomshaw. While Martyr previously was purely a defensive card, this deck showcases its flexibility—as either removal against the troop-light decks or as a quick global pump when you enter combat. The deck can provide enough pressure to scare control decks but also puts out a crazy amount of board control when needed with all the synergies going on. Inquisition again shows up as well, because if there is a deck in the format that kills on turn 3 you better be prepared to do something about that…
Champion: Bertram Cragraven
4x Thunderfield Seer
2x Howling Brave
4x Brown Fox Scout
3x Reese, the Crustcrawler
3x Windsinger, Master of the Hunt
4x Arcane Focus
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
I have a feeling that there is a better build of this waiting to be discovered, but we knew we had to get at least some initial testing done with it to see what power level it operates on. Right now, it is in the mold of what would typically be called a tap-out control deck where you just pick the best troops and dump them on the table. The only issue is that Majesty actually gets to play the best troops, so this style of deck just might not come to fruition during this meta.
That being said, the deck is packed with impact cards left and right. Windsinger continually proved to be amazing during testing, it was the best threat you could drop against a Majesty player as it put them on a clock to do something (or drown against Windsinger’s card advantage) but still allowed the coyotle player to have free resources to react on the opponent’s turn. Thunderfield Seer and Arcane Focus also proved to be all-stars, giving small but noticeable advantages (with Seer especially providing an extremely important chump body). The star of the show, however, was often Crocosaur. It was during our coyotle deck testing where we started to notice how high the correlation was between dropping a Crocosaur against most decks and winning easily from there.
Finally, we didn’t like any champions that well with this deck, so we stuck with the tried and true Bertram for the blocker and Reese synergy.
20x Ruby Shard
Surprisingly consistent turn 4 kills. Tusker is going to be good for a long time, and while mono-Ruby has been a fringe deck since early Beta it finally gets the power boost it needed with enough playable one-drops and a complimentary champion to match the style of deck it wants to be. Scorch is also quite good here; never overlook the power of a free action that can have a meaningful impact on the board. Really the only glaring weakness is that Crocosaur (and the new Wild cards in general) is a huge pain to fight through and promises to be part of the meta for a long time, so kill those resource dorks when you get the chance with this deck.
Finally, one last deck didn’t show up until we started to see how powerful Majesty decks were and how other decks were going to adapt to try and deal with them. If you followed competitive HEX for any amount of time, you are likely aware that there has been enough play in the meta for the format to keep making shifts here and there even despite the long timeline we’ve had to play with the cards. I expect the new format to not differ much from the old in that regard—there is a best deck but people will react to it appropriately and things will keep in motion. Despite sharing with you what I could from our testing process, no one was quite ready to let all the decks out the door just yet…
The Great Tweaking
We learned a lot about the Majesty deck as our testing went along. The first thing was that it didn’t take long for us to realize that anything less than 4 Crocosaurs was a mistake; even if Majesty didn’t exist Crocosaur by itself is strong enough to make Wild a contender for a long time. We also tested a LOT of different cards, reserve configurations, and random one-ofs to see what felt powerful, ranging from Pupil of Creation (he’s INSANE turn-1 against decks like mono-Sapphire, and total butt in so many other situations) to Lullaby (barring a Dragon taking over the meta, Carnasaurus does almost everything important that Lullaby does and more). We tested different configurations against each other (including versions without Ozawa and versions that went totally nuts and tried to fit even more unplayable bombs into the maindeck) and were making some good headway on what actually mattered in the various matchups. The final 75 we had settled on just before the final delay announcement was this:
4x Howling Brave
3x Puck, Dream Bringer
4x Titania’s Majesty (Ruby Direct Damage)
4x Eye of Creation
4x Walking Calamity
4x Arborean Rootfather (speed, +X/+X)
4x Ozawa, Cosmic Elder
After moving to 4 Crocosaur, the final slot came down to the 14th Wild Shard (better against the mirror, mono-Ruby, and Robots where consistency mattered most) versus a main-deck singleton Periwinkle (insane against mono-S and pretty strong against the Blood decks). Likely it would have kept flip-flopping as we felt out the meta.
The 4 Periwinkles definitely weren’t where we started. It didn’t take too long to figure out that against most of the control decks—and especially control decks looking to use Verdict against us—that a couple Periwinkles were very strong (as now the opponent needed two interrupts to stop your card, and lord help the person on the wrong side of a double Crocosaur). The 3rd and 4th were almost exclusively for the mono-Sapphire matchup, where a Periwinkle often proved to just be game-winning every time you played it; they could bounce it for awhile but often either had to use all their resources to do so (opening them up a Majesty) or kept them from playing impactful cards like Eldritch Dreamer in order to play their bounce. Because games went long, the Ozawas and some other stuff would come out so that the Periwinkles and a Balthasar or two could come in.
On Balthasar: like Periwinkle he is great in all the control matchups. Unlike Periwinkle, Balthasar shines against Blood control and is mearly “okay” versus the Sapphire control decks. The key to Balthasar is both how great he is when you hit him off Eye next to something else and how well he works with Crocosaur. It likely is pretty obvious, but when you hit Balthasar and a Rootfather off Eye against a control deck you are going to probably just bury them in card advantage. Draw 16? Don’t mind if I do! What was surprising in testing was just how often it would come up that a Crocosaur or Rootfather would be down, and while the opponent thought they could let them sit for a turn instead down would come a hard-cast Balthasar and fill up the Majesty player’s hand again. Yeah, sometimes the blowout happens, but the upside was so high that it provided a lot of stability for those games when Majesty didn’t carry everything by itself.
Roostasaur has always been an aggro killer, and with how we expected things to shape up (better one-drops like Quash Ridge, the continued rise of Electroid, and the importance overall of one-drops as the format was forced to speed up to match a Majesty deck) it just felt right to have access to the answer to the things we expected people to answer our deck with.
Carnasaurus provided the full dino-battle suite. Against a true aggro deck, you can shift into ten-battlesaurs-mode which is just devastating to anyone hoping to try and beat you with 1-drops. Ironically, while we first thought Carnasaurus would be insane in the mono-Sapphire matchup he turned out to just be “okay” as his body wasn’t enough to actually pressure the opponent so while you technically were getting a two-for-one against Mirror Knights and Storm Clouds you were actually getting closer to a one-for-one as the Carnasaurus just didn’t matter after it came down. The mirror, however, proved to be a matchup where Carnasaurus had some value. Especially on the draw, trading one-for-one for your card against a resource dork is a fine deal since your goal on the play is to turn the matchup away from who can combo first (since the person on the play has the clear edge) into who can combo the most consistently (where your extra card from being on the draw can matter more).
Finally, the Heat Waves were another concession to how strong we felt decks like Robots and mono-Ruby could be. You often are only bringing them in on the draw (since those matchups swing wildly in how they play out depending upon who is going first) but they are so powerful in those situations that Heat Wave was deemed worthy of making the cut.