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Wurtil Wednesday: Championing the Opposition Part 1

Before you decide to mulligan, before you choose to play or draw, even before the coin lands you get a very important advantage in HEX that you may not be consciously utilizing as much as you probably should—you know your opponent’s champion! While you might at a very basic level translate that into “He’s playing Zared, so expect Blood cards”, we can and should push ourselves to try and figure out what further information a champion might mean and (more importantly) how that should impact your play.

In case you are using this for quick reference in the future, I’ve organized these champions in alphabetical order in their respective shards.

 

Blood

 

Bun’jitsu

What you expect:

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve played against Bun’jitsu, and for good reasons. Unconditional removal is highly prevalent in Shards of Fate, so using your champion power to put all your eggs in one basket is a very risky proposition, especially when the “big payoff” doesn’t even have evasion or a way to be anything but a giant dude. Someone playing Bun’jitsu is likely to either be new to the game or experimenting with a unique draft strategy to exploit troops like Moon’airu Sensei who you play for their ability more than their body and later transform them into something relevant. In either case, their deck is unlikely to be a highly focused aggressive build.  With Bun’jitsu lending towards playing more utility troops and niche cards like Blood Cauldron Ritualist, it is likely that the opponent is trying to play a more controlling role and grind you down before using an Abomination to end things.

What you look to do about them:

Premium removal was mentioned before, and it certainly deserves comment here. If you have Murders, Inner Conflicts, Repels, or the like then you need to try and save them until you can hit their abomination with it. Normally, that is a devastating blow to the Bun’jitsu deck, as not only do they lose the two troops that they originally invested but they lose the resources they put into firing off their champion power as well—roughly equivalent to three-for-one’ing them!

Strategically, be aware that the opponent likely wants to try and grind you down with a Bun’jitsu deck. That means you either need to push an aggressive stance if you can mount it to keep the opponent from trading one-for-ones with taking hits, or you should have a plan to out-grind them yourself.

What you look for in reserves:

If it can stop an Abomination, bring it in. Any Mesmerizes or Wind Whisperers that might not have originally made the cut certainly do now.

 

Gozzog

What you expect:

The opponent is likely taking an aggressive stance if they want to play Gozzog to capitalize upon the 3-4 health drain that they will have access to over the course of the game. Since Zared is normally a superior aggressive blood champion when your troops need help getting through for damage, the opponent is likely either relying upon evasive threats or has some superior finishers (Life Siphon, Onslaught, Burn to the Ground, etc). There is also the possibility that they are playing for the Righteous Paladin synergy, but I would consider that the deviation rather than the norm. The expectation will normally be that the opponent is either Blood/Sapphire with tons of flight troops (specifically Thunderbirds that will look to kill quickly) or Blood/Ruby with weenies, some socketed troops with the Ruby of Flames, and burn.

What you look to do about them:

If you can trade your non-evasive troops with theirs in the early game, you are normally going to profit from doing so as Gozzog doesn’t help with board presence. If you can hold off their initial assault then a Rock Elemental or “draw a card” will be way better than a 2-3 point drain. That doesn’t mean to blindly trade everything though, as you need to be aware that these decks are likely packing some form of evasion to finish you off.

What you look for in reserves:

Board presence is what is going to matter most against Gozzog decks—build it and you will win. If you see weaknesses in their evasive troops you can exploit then make an effort to bring them in (such as Turbulence for flyers, Imp Hoodlums for evasive Effigies, or Atrophies for Thunderbirds/Berserkers). If the opponent looks to be trying to sculpt your health total into Burn to the Ground range, then look for normal sideline dwellers like Determined Zombies and Shadowblade Lurkers to stall out the ground.

 

Kranok

What you expect:

While aggressive decks can make Kranok work as they don’t care much about losing health but do want to keep applying pressure in the midgame, the most successful Kranok decks normally trend heavily towards the controlling end of the spectrum and use heavy Blood to abuse Terrible Transfers to offset Kranok’s health cost (and hopefully stall their way to 8+ shards to get a second use of his power). Normally this means splashing into a second shard for a bomb they have drafted or—more commonly—some more removal (typically Diamond or Ruby, which both are deep in removal). You won’t often see Blood/Sapphire Kranok due to the Wyatt overlap, and Wild’s removal (Survival of the Fittest) doesn’t mesh well with Blood’s typically smaller troops, so Blood splash-Diamond-removal or Blood splash-Ruby-removal are the most common modes.

What you look to do about them:

If you have the ability to apply pressure on the Kranok deck, try to leverage that if possible. Kranok can be difficult to beat in a very long game due to being one of the most efficient charge-to-card converters, so unless your deck has an engine to exploit for card advantage you will likely look to be the aggressor if you can make it happen. Especially against the Blood/Ruby versions, be aware that much of their removal is conditional (Transfers, Lances, Burns, Snipers, etc.) so—if you can—lead out your troops in a way such that they might be forced to use a precious Murder on a 2-defense troop that can save your 3 or 4-defense one down the line.

What you look for in reserves:

If you can push an aggressive stance, then try to further exploit that advantage. Arena Brawlers and Cottontail Ronins are 23rd cards that can be brutal for Kranok decks that then can hardly afford 2 health, let alone 4 if they want to activate him twice. If your deck isn’t well positioned to be aggressive for whatever reason, then look for ways to get around the Kranok deck’s removal. Against BR, that normally means “going big”, and troops like Heavy Welding Bot and Pterobot are slam dunks that dodge both Murder and the ruby removal—and since Kranok is looking to go for a long game anyway the normally prohibitive casting cost shouldn’t be an issue; even Pterobot’s 7 resource cost is no big deal when a 3/5 flight dodges almost everything Blood/Ruby control can muster. Against BD, fatties are still fine in multitude (as eventually they run out of removal and rely upon Griffins to hold down the fort, which doesn’t work well against the 3rd Bloodcrazed Zealot) but also look for non-flight evasive troops like anything with the Ruby of Flames or Infiltrator Bot. Those troops should force the opponent into spending premium removal like Inner Conflicts and Repels or risk outright losing to their own champion power.

 

Zared Venomscorn

What you expect:

Zared is one of what I would call the “default” champions in Shards of Fate limited in that his ability is so strong and so flexible that pretty much any archetype would happily run him given the chance. Aggressive decks use him to clear out opposing early drops to swing through for damage, more midrange-leaning decks are happy to shrink the opponent’s 4-drop and win through a troop size advantage and control decks love picking off utility troops and slowing aggression needed. As a bonus, while decks tend to lean one way or another in design, even a controlling deck can play Darkspire Priestess into Corpse Fly into Corrupt Harvester and suddenly they can use Zared aggressively—so it is hard to pin down exactly what an opponent who reveals Zared is looking to do.

What you look to do about them:

Unfortunately not a lot of advice against a “general” Zared opponent regarding strategic positioning, but we do have a number of tactical options that are potentially open to us. As far as what that means for your initial mulligan decisions though, the only advice is the obvious one: Watch out for hands that are heavily dependent upon a 1-defense troop (so don’t keep a 1-shard Howling Brave hand and expect to “get there”).

What you look for in reserves:

For one, if your deck has only a couple 1-defense troops then I would almost always be looking to board them out; Paladin of Nagaan might be gross compared to a Spearcliff Pegasus but if Pegasus is your only 1-defense troop then it is just a dead card while Paladin at least can provide a stout body. The exception is troops where you care more about their effect than the body (Darkspire Priestess and Giant Corpse Fly come to mind), but even something like Howling Brave is rather hard to justify when you know it will never help you cast a T-Hex ahead of schedule. Cards like Blood Aura and Mutate also can be great answers to bring in even if you do take out your smaller troops as it is quite common for the opponent to try and “finish off” a troop that they have damaged in some way with a Zared activation.

 

Diamond

 

Dimmid

What you expect:

Dimmid typically screams to me one of two things: Either someone drafted the Righteous Paladin deck, or you are up against a Diamond/Wild “Big Dudes” deck that wants to turn each Dimmid activation into 4+ health. Outside of DW, normally a Diamond deck will have access to better champions (Zared, Feather, Wyatt, Tetzot) while the Wild pairing doesn’t present many all-star champions to select from.

What you look to do about them:

In either case, if someone is playing Dimmid they aren’t looking to trade 2 charges for 2 health—that just isn’t a great deal. So you are likely up against someone trying to exploit Lifedrain on a giant monster. If you have premium removal, be sure to try and save it for a big threat because the odds are good that you are up against one. Dimmid decks tend to go a bit mid-rangey, so you normally can keep a slower hand and have time to get out of a slow start if you need to.

What you look for in reserves:

Like Bun’jitsu, we want to be ready for big troops so bring in whatever you can to deal with them. Also, be watchful for Lifedraining, Spellshielded Boulder Brutes and see if you have any normally stinky X/5s that can likely block for days (Paladin of Nagaan or “dear-god-why-do-I-have-to-scroll-to-the-bottom-of-the-card-list-to-find-the-name-of-this-pile-of-trash” Zodiac Shaman).

 

Lady Elizabeth

What you expect:

A maniac

What you look to do about them:

Don’t make eye contact (thankfully HEX makes this easy)

What you look for in reserves:

“Save Deck and Submit”

 

One Eye Open

What you expect:

One Eye Open doesn’t combine well with any particular archetype, but they certainly have a number of strong cards that they synergize with. Typically their charge power is most often used with ways to generate alpha strikes, either with Cerulean Grand Strategist or Wind Whisperers. There are other combinations that work well but the point remains that your opponent is likely using One Eye with a couple of individual troop interactions in mind for exploitation.

What you look to do about them:

If your opponent is spending their champion power and all those charges to create a specific interaction, then deny that interaction! It sounds simple, but the crux will be figuring out what that interaction is in time. Beating a Cerulean Grand Strategist alpha strike is very different from beating Howling Braves ramping into Master Theorycrafters on a strategic level, but on a tactical one it will normally come down to being able to kill utility troops (as those are the ones most often abused by One-Eye). If your opponent is just “playing fair” with One-Eye and using the ability as a pseudo-Steadfast then smile as hopefully you are playing unfair with your own champion power and can exploit the advantage.

What you look for in reserves:

More ways to take out utility troops will typically be the order of the day. It is common to have extra Mortar Strikes and Snipers hanging out in the reserves and this is the perfect time to be bringing them in (in addition to watching out for cases where Sorrow can wreck their day). Outside of that, you likely don’t want to dilute your deck too much.

 

Palamedes, the Righteous

What you expect:

Palamedes is in a rough spot for most decks to try and run. While Zared can outright kill an opposing troop and almost feels bad when you just shrink something, Palamedes best case is when it is operating like Zared’s worst and only affecting the stats of a single troop. The decks I’ve seen best exploit Palamedes though, ironically, are often Blood/Diamond aggressive decks. The key is actually in the defense boost that Palamedes provides, as it allows you to take troops like Grim-Skull Sorcerer with Rage and get through more attacks with them. As Blood provides the Rage gem, that tends to be the most consistent option for a Palamedes deck, and while comparable to Zared in straight up combat those decks can lean towards Palamedes to get their Rage troops out of range of things like Sapper’s Charge and Sniper of Gawaine.

What you look to do about them:

It normally should be fairly obvious which troop the opponent is looking to buff with Palamedes, so if you see a chance to kill it in response to the buff then try to sculpt that situation. “Visualize, then Materialize” might sound like a dumb cubicle poster waiting to happen, but it also is an applicable way to try and create advantages in TCGs; if you can see a play two turns ahead in your mind then work your way back and try to take the steps that will make it happen.

What you look for in reserves:

You probably are already playing most of the efficient answers to the scariest Palamedes combinations (namely, the Rage cards like Grim-Skull Sorcerer), but if you have anything that lines up correctly to counter those moves then try to fit those in (like, in this example, an Arena Brawler can still hold off a Palamedes-pumped 2/3 rager). Also note that pump actions are very good against Palamedes. The opponent might think that with a +1/+1 their troop is now safely able to attack but a Ruby, Wild, or Diamond Aura all trump them back.

 

Ruby

 

Fahrny

What you expect:

Ironically, a traditional Dwarves deck in Shards of Fate limited has a bit of trouble running Fahrny effectively. Fahrny typically wants 4+ cost artifacts in order to be able to kill real threats. While Heavy Welding Bot and Volcannon are obvious choices that normally are in a Ruby/Sapphire Dwarf deck, most other artifacts in the archetype are typically much cheaper and even Pterobots commonly find themselves being 3 cost or less by the time Fahrny comes online. Assault Bots, Axe Bots, and the like don’t fit perfectly into what the archetype is usually looking to do, so instead it frequently is more mid-range focused Ruby decks that have fallen into these late 4+ cost bots that look to utilize Fahrny. Because Diamond and Wild most commonly find themselves on the midrange plan due to their effective troops, those are going to be some of the more common Fahrny pairings.

What you look to do about them:

If you think that you can stop or reduce the damage from Fahrny by removing the artifact troop that they are looking to trigger with, then by all means try to force that issue. You don’t always have that option though, so especially for aggressive decks it can be important to try and “bait” out their Fahrny activation on a mediocre to good troop while you hold back on your actual finisher. Again, patience can be the key here; if the only way you see to kill the opponent is with your Cloud Titan, just passing the turn back without playing anything so that the opponent gets further incentivized to use Fahrny might be your best course of action.

What you look for in reserves:

Artifact removal is the obvious one, but don’t overlook it. Bounce effects like Time Ripple can also be good if you aren’t already maindecking them. A good Fahrny deck can be very hard to grind out as their champion power can be one of the best ones in the game, but typically that means that they are playing some subpar troops or artifacts to make it work. You probably aren’t going to out-midrange them easily, but it definitely can be possible to take an aggressive stance and kill them before Farhny becomes an issue.

 

Lionel Flynn

What you expect:

Beyond someone trying to live the Royal Falconer dream (which honestly, who loses with Falconer anyway?), Lionel is definitely a common pairing with decks sporting a ton of evasive threats to slam the +3/+0 on to and go to town. Normally, that is going to be a Ruby/Sapphire or Ruby/Diamond brew as Sky’le Griffin and Mystic of the Tranquil Dream as 5/4 fliers attacking on turn 5 are huge issues for most decks to deal with. Note that because they are in Ruby, the evasive Ruby of Flames gem on Berserkers and Effigies is also common to run into (with Effigy especially being a scary threat when backed by Flynn).

What you look to do about them:

While a Palamedes can create defensive options, Lionel is normally all ‘bout that action. It is going to be even more important to hold back removal to deal with whatever the opponent puts their buff on as you will find yourself dead in just a few swings otherwise. Strategically, you are likely going to be forced into the controlling role in the midgame unless you force the issue otherwise, so unless you are comfortable with that position you need to apply pressure sooner rather than later and put the opponent in a position where they don’t have profitable ways to use Lionel’s Pump to attack without taking heaps of damage in return.

What you look for in reserves:

If your opponent is making 5/4 flyers, then you likely are already starting any of your decent options of stopping that. If your deck is already aggressive, try to push that plan even farther with things like Savage Raiders and Wild Childs to keep the opponent from wanting to start racing as soon as they would like.

 

Poca the Conflagrater

What you expect:

A hyper-aggressive deck that could be coming from pretty much any shard combination. Poca is pretty head-and-shoulders above the competition when it comes to killing people as quickly as possible, so she quickly becomes the “default” aggressive champion if you are at all in Ruby. Ruby/Sapphire, Ruby/Blood, and mono-Ruby tend to be the shard pairings that most typically end up wanting to be the most aggressive deck at the table—so while those are probably a bit more likely it is certainly reasonable for Poca to come from any pairing. The key is to know that if you see Poca, the enemy is already likely at your door, so don’t keep 5 shards and a couple 4-drops on the draw…

What you look to do about them:

Slow them down early if possible (who cares if a Blaze Elemental hits you for 3 if none of their other troops ever touch you), but against RS especially watch out for shenanigans from Buccaneers and Devoted Emissaries and don’t be afraid to trade a 2-drop for the Blaze Elemental against that shard pairing if they present the option on turn 4. The big thing is to minimize the impact that their champion power can have on your health total.

What you look for in reserves:

X/4s are big against them and any cheap troop will likely help stabilize you from taking too much early damage and making Poca relevant. This means that a Determined Zombie can be a role-player to bring in here, and a Cavern Commando can be your MVP! You just want to increase the speed at which your deck can defend itself, so while options like this might not normally be in your 23 playables they should certainly get brought in against decks like the hyper-aggressive Poca builds. Your T-Hex or Stoneclaw Gargoyle can’t win the game if you don’t live long enough to play them.

 

Tetzot, Son of Omoc

What you expect:

With a champion power cost of 6, Tetzot decks likely aren’t looking to blow you out of the water with speed. Instead, a Tetzot deck is probably more midrange or control-focused and wants to survive until their brutal turn 6s where they drop some threat and then go Angel of Dawn mode on you with a free 4/4 to boot. While it is hard to pin down exactly how big the Rock Elemental will be (I’ve personally seen 1/1s and 8/8s), you can probably expect that it will come down as a 3/3 or 4/4. As far as shard pairings, Ruby/Diamond tends to be the most common (due to Diamond’s natural tendencies to lean towards supporting with great midrange bodies and controlling cards) but Ruby/Blood and Ruby/Wild also make a good deal of sense, with Ruby/Blood tending to go with Blood’s control actions and Ruby’s beefy bodies while Ruby/Wild swings the opposite direction and uses Ruby’s burn to pick off evasive threats so that Wild’s beatsticks can eventually take the day.

What you look to do about them:

Because the Rock Elemental has a bit of randomness to it, you normally want to still try to account for ways to deal with it if possible. It stinks to blow a Murder on a Sky’le Griffin only to stare down a 6/6 that you suddenly have no way of beating, so unless you think the game it going to end before Tetzot activates (one way or another) it is normally prudent to plan for the worst. On top of that though, you need to account for the potential tempo swing that a Tetzot deck can have when it activates its power. There is a big difference between getting a 4/4 and getting a 4/4 the same turn that you play a T-HEX or Mortar Strike a threat away. Waiting to bait an opponent with a combat trick for a couple turns will blow up in your face often against Tetzot, so try to develop your board as much as possible.

What you look for in reserves:

It is hard to plan perfectly for a random effect, but since the majority of Rock Elementals will be 4/4s or smaller it is fairly safe to try and bring in X/5s against them to block if you still want to grind out the game against them. Killing the opponent before they reach 6 is a real option for some decks, so if you think your deck has the speed to do so then push that strategy even harder by slimming your curve (Outside of nuts Dwarf hands, normally a Poca or Cottontail Ronin deck are the ones that can do this).

 

Next time

We’ll pick back up next week with Sapphire and Wild to finish off our Shards of Fate champions.

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