The Year of Rhinar

The Year of Rhinar

by Steven Jennings Blog, Dimos, rhinar Leave a comment

By Dimos K   Rhinar has long been one of my favourite heroes in Flesh and Blood, as has the Brute class as a whole. He was the first hero I played in an Armory (drafted, back when he was the laughing stock of Rathe), and he was my rep of choice for the early Skirmish seasons. I think Rhinar is a fantastic hero in Classic Constructed, Blitz, and in Limited formats. In fact, I was even preparing to take him to Nationals until red-line Briar became popular. It was a very generalist deck where the aim was to go 50/50 into as many heroes as possible. If you’re curious, here’s the link to it.  I’m betting that Rhinar will come in big in 2022 because he has access to so much utility and so many counters to many perennial threats. Rhinar’s Intimidate ability functions as a great equalizer. If you want to play defensively to set up a strong board like Viserai, Dash, or Prism, Intimidate puts the game on a strict clock. Intimidate can break through even the strongest of Oldhim and Bravo’s defenses and ensure that they cannot fatigue in the matchup. To add to this, Rhinar has access to varied utility cards such as Bonehead Barrier, Argh Smash, and Reckless Swing. In a midrange or control meta, Rhinar shines very brightly. If there were continued major events in the Crucible of War era, I am confident that Rhinar would have dethroned Dash as the best hero (possibly with some interference from Katsu). Here’s a deck profile for Dan McKay’s Rhinar deck that won Red Riot Games’ big international tournament at that time. Rhinar can effectively counter any non-aggro meta threat in the game just by adding a few cards to his deck list. These additions are sometimes specific cards like Argh Smash, Unmovable, Bonehead Barrier, or Pummel (key against Sabres Boltyn). There are also more general cards that give strong strategies against a variety of decks, such as being able to pivot between Mandible Claws and Romping Club. Rhinar’s access to both of these weapons is half of what makes him so versatile (the other half being unparalleled access to Intimidate and specific utility cards). Like plenty of Brute attacks, Mandible Claws kind of suck when not paired with Bloodrush Bellow. In concert with Bloodrush, Mandible Claws will usually deliver a turn dealing at least 18 damage and two Intimidate triggers. This is excellent at smashing past any defense your opponent can muster. Conversely, Romping Club, with its base power of four, is one of the best standalone weapons in the game. A strong weapon gives a deck an effective default plan of blocking and grinding out an opponent with Club swings. Combine the strength of Romping Club with the strength of Barraging Beatdown, and Rhinar has a very strong grinding game plan when required. This complete reversal of gameplan, from an aggressive combo plan with Mandible Claws, can be achieved for the low price of one sideboard slot: the Club itself. This breadth of different strategies with little investment makes Rhinar an excellent, versatile threat into any meta that is not hyper-aggressive. As a contrast, Bravo requires much more sideboard investment to switch up his game plan from grinding to something more aggressive. Due to an absence of a weapon with Go Again, Bravo needs to put attacks with Go Again into his deck. Most commonly these are Zealous Belting and Rouse the Ancients, both of which are contingent on supporting cards in the deck (likely mediocre blue six-power Guardian attacks taking the place of powerful blue Guardian utility cards). The main reason that Rhinar struggles with very aggressive decks is that so much of his strength is tied to Intimidate, which is largely irrelevant to aggressive decks that weren’t going to block anyways. Any aggressive deck worth its salt will be running efficient attacks and on-hit effects, both of which Rhinar severely lacks. Rightfully, Rhinar doesn’t have on-hit effects or efficient attacks, because those in concert with Intimidate would be completely unfair. Maybe he gets some pseudo-on-hit in Everfest similar to Barraging Bighorn or Barraging Beatdown. Overall, I do not feel that Rhinar “needs” any additional cards. He is good at what he is good at, and he has corresponding weaknesses. I think it is important to emphasise that this is fine and that not every hero needs powerful cards to “fix” them and make them powerful in every single meta.   In a meta dominated by anything other than aggressive decks, Rhinar will be a top-tier contender, and I think that is how 2022 will shape up. Everfest will likely bring a lot of utility and “answer” cards, similar to how Crucible of War (the previous supplemental set) did. Snag, Argh Smash, Find Centre, Meganetic Shockwave, Feign Death, Reaping Blade, Aetherize, and Gambler’s Gloves are just some of the cards with unique utility effects that counter specific strategies in other decks. While aggro has continued to be a popular deck type, it has been dealt with effectively as the 2021 Nationals season has gone on. The final say in this will be the (hopefully) imminent New Zealand and Australian National Championships, which I will be watching with hope.

The Year of Rhinar

The Year of Rhinar

by Steven Jennings flesh and blood Leave a comment

By Dimos K   Rhinar has long been one of my favourite heroes in Flesh and Blood, as has the Brute class as a whole. He was the first hero I played in an Armory (drafted, back when he was the laughing stock of Rathe), and he was my rep of choice for the early Skirmish seasons. I think Rhinar is a fantastic hero in Classic Constructed, Blitz, and in Limited formats. In fact, I was even preparing to take him to Nationals until red-line Briar became popular. It was a very generalist deck where the aim was to go 50/50 into as many heroes as possible. If you’re curious, here’s the link to it.  I’m betting that Rhinar will come in big in 2022 because he has access to so much utility and so many counters to many perennial threats. Rhinar’s Intimidate ability functions as a great equalizer. If you want to play defensively to set up a strong board like Viserai, Dash, or Prism, Intimidate puts the game on a strict clock. Intimidate can break through even the strongest of Oldhim and Bravo’s defenses and ensure that they cannot fatigue in the matchup. To add to this, Rhinar has access to varied utility cards such as Bonehead Barrier, Argh Smash, and Reckless Swing. In a midrange or control meta, Rhinar shines very brightly. If there were continued major events in the Crucible of War era, I am confident that Rhinar would have dethroned Dash as the best hero (possibly with some interference from Katsu). Here’s a deck profile for Dan McKay’s Rhinar deck that won Red Riot Games’ big international tournament at that time. Rhinar can effectively counter any non-aggro meta threat in the game just by adding a few cards to his deck list. These additions are sometimes specific cards like Argh Smash, Unmovable, Bonehead Barrier, or Pummel (key against Sabres Boltyn). There are also more general cards that give strong strategies against a variety of decks, such as being able to pivot between Mandible Claws and Romping Club. Rhinar’s access to both of these weapons is half of what makes him so versatile (the other half being unparalleled access to Intimidate and specific utility cards). Like plenty of Brute attacks, Mandible Claws kind of suck when not paired with Bloodrush Bellow. In concert with Bloodrush, Mandible Claws will usually deliver a turn dealing at least 18 damage and two Intimidate triggers. This is excellent at smashing past any defense your opponent can muster. Conversely, Romping Club, with its base power of four, is one of the best standalone weapons in the game. A strong weapon gives a deck an effective default plan of blocking and grinding out an opponent with Club swings. Combine the strength of Romping Club with the strength of Barraging Beatdown, and Rhinar has a very strong grinding game plan when required. This complete reversal of gameplan, from an aggressive combo plan with Mandible Claws, can be achieved for the low price of one sideboard slot: the Club itself. This breadth of different strategies with little investment makes Rhinar an excellent, versatile threat into any meta that is not hyper-aggressive. As a contrast, Bravo requires much more sideboard investment to switch up his game plan from grinding to something more aggressive. Due to an absence of a weapon with Go Again, Bravo needs to put attacks with Go Again into his deck. Most commonly these are Zealous Belting and Rouse the Ancients, both of which are contingent on supporting cards in the deck (likely mediocre blue six-power Guardian attacks taking the place of powerful blue Guardian utility cards). The main reason that Rhinar struggles with very aggressive decks is that so much of his strength is tied to Intimidate, which is largely irrelevant to aggressive decks that weren’t going to block anyways. Any aggressive deck worth its salt will be running efficient attacks and on-hit effects, both of which Rhinar severely lacks. Rightfully, Rhinar doesn’t have on-hit effects or efficient attacks, because those in concert with Intimidate would be completely unfair. Maybe he gets some pseudo-on-hit in Everfest similar to Barraging Bighorn or Barraging Beatdown. Overall, I do not feel that Rhinar “needs” any additional cards. He is good at what he is good at, and he has corresponding weaknesses. I think it is important to emphasise that this is fine and that not every hero needs powerful cards to “fix” them and make them powerful in every single meta.   In a meta dominated by anything other than aggressive decks, Rhinar will be a top-tier contender, and I think that is how 2022 will shape up. Everfest will likely bring a lot of utility and “answer” cards, similar to how Crucible of War (the previous supplemental set) did. Snag, Argh Smash, Find Centre, Meganetic Shockwave, Feign Death, Reaping Blade, Aetherize, and Gambler’s Gloves are just some of the cards with unique utility effects that counter specific strategies in other decks. While aggro has continued to be a popular deck type, it has been dealt with effectively as the 2021 Nationals season has gone on. The final say in this will be the (hopefully) imminent New Zealand and Australian National Championships, which I will be watching with hope.

Picking your Poison: Drafting Archetypes

Picking your Poison: Drafting Archetypes

by Matt Day Leave a comment

By Dimos K   Let me preface this article by saying that Flesh and Blood is the only TCG I have ever drafted. I have also played some board games that involve deck building and drafting. Maybe that means that you should take what I say with a grain of salt. Maybe it means that I can view Flesh and Blood drafting without the biases of former Magic drafters. In my time drafting Flesh and Blood, it has quickly become my favourite format, and I’ve done decently at events of all levels.  My main takeaway from drafting so far has been that your deck archetype matters more than your hero, and probably more than drafting your seat. I’ve read, listened to, and tried to take on board generally good drafting advice, but a strong emphasis on archetypes are something that I have not seen significantly discussed outside of these three LSS articles (which are a great starting point, but are not comprehensive). Some of the most clear archetypes are wide versus tall in Welcome to Rathe, or different base powers (3 or less or more than 6) in Monarch. A cohesive Belittle and Minnowism engine can be a strong enough archetype to win regardless of whether it is being supported by Chane or Boltyn’s class cards. It’s always nice to be an uncontested drafter because it provides options. Options of pitch ratios, archetypes, and the option to run a 40-card deck to try and fatigue your opponents. However, with enough intention, you can put together a strong archetype even if you are splitting a hero with two others at the table.  This opinion may be a bit controversial, but I am comfortable being the third drafter of a hero in a row if I know my archetype and am confident that it is not being taken from me. This is predicated on two key factors. Firstly, the first half of pack one has strong cards to guide me in the direction I’m going in initially, and I will have first pick of all the best cards from pack two. Secondly, because of my strength of belief in the power of archetypes over classes in Flesh and Blood.  I recently played in a Tales of Aria draft, where I was receiving the scraps from two Oldhim drafters immediately to my right. The situation became quite clear towards the last five cards of pack one in our seven-person pod. Pivoting to Briar was an option, as I had primarily Earth cards up to that point, and had received some Runeblade cards in the last few cards of the pack. But I stuck with drafting Oldhim because I had a couple red Guardian attacks. My deck was very clear in my head. It was going to be an Earth-based beatdown deck that aims to put out seven to eight damage off of two card hands. Against my instincts and most general advice for Tales of Aria limited, this deck generally preferred to go second (except against Lexi), in an attempt to set the tempo. By putting out big attacks, I’m threatening to close the game in three turns if my opponent tries to steal tempo back by not blocking. I could have done something similar with Briar, but I chose not to because I think that Oldhim has a stronger endgame by pressuring more consistent 7+ damage attacks. Once an opponent is down to five life, they are forced to block with two cards if Oldhim plays judiciously and focuses on key breakpoints (Cracker Jax is fantastic for this). In Tales of Aria, Oldhim is far and away the best at trading two-card hands, and this philosophy took me to a 3-0 draft. I did not have the best Guardian cards in the pod, nor did I have the strongest draft pool in the pod. But I did have the most coherent archetype of the Oldhims in the pod, and that carried me through. Beatdown Oldhim, as I like to call this archetype, is much more powerful than people give it credit for. It was not even included in the Oldhim draft article put out by LSS. I usually run a lean 30 to 32 cards in the deck if this is my strategy, not the 37 to 40 recommended in the article. There is room for a lot of creativity in draft decks, and you can use that space to make yourself something strong, unexpected, and not-heavily-contested.  Let’s explore another set, and another archetype that works excellently with less-than-ideal cards. The Brute class, as a whole, is centred around 6-power-or-higher attacks. In Welcome to Rathe, Rhinar is heavily focused on 6-power cards by virtue of his hero power and other conditional effects from discards. Barraging Beatdown is one of Rhinar’s best cards in Constructed formats. For draft purposes, I generally consider Barraging Beatdown to be a way to force a two-card block on Romping club, because of how rare it is to intimidate three cards and ensure the bonus damage. In Draft, there is one Brute card that can function independently of any other card in the deck: Primeval Bellow. This is a card that I would be comfortable building an entire archetype around, even without “enough” 6-power cards for any other Brute deck. It is at its strongest in a three-card hand with a 6-power to discard, as a red would buff Romping Club to 10 damage, with one Intimidate from Rhinar’s ability. However, I consider this a bonus and would be plenty happy with just a Romping Club attack for 9 damage from a three-card hand. One of the key strengths of the card is modularity, as Primeval Bellow makes for strong hands with any number of cards. This gives you a lot more flexibility with your blocks depending on what your opponent presents. With four cards, Primeval Bellow can buff an attack action card and deal 12 (or so) damage with one or two Intimidates. With three cards, it can buff Romping Club. With two cards, it can be arsenaled after a plain Romping Club swing. If you’re forced to block with everything but your last card, Romping Club on its own is four damage (the best one-card hand in the set). Overall, this lets you build a strong Rhinar deck even without the cards that are normally associated with the key engine of the class. This low-6-power-card alternative archetype also applies to Levia, as Monarch has a similar Brute card that does not care about interacting with 6-power cards. Unworldly Bellow allows Levia to efficiently play and recur Shadow cards such as Void Wraith, Ghostly Visit, or Howl from Beyond even if all the prime 6-power Blood Debt Brute cards have been taken already. It is not as independent of an engine as Primeval Bellow because it requires decent attack action cards to buff, but is a solid archetype regardless.  The moral of the story here is that I think archetypes are more important than heroes. There can be three Briars at the top of the same draft pod if one goes Earth, one goes Lightning, and one aims for arcane damage. When you’re trying to draft your seat (including reading and sending signals), put some serious consideration of what archetype you’re aiming for. An archetype can be built around a single card, or around a couple key combo pieces that you managed to secure early (such as equipment). 

Preparing for Winter: Planning with Oldhim

Preparing for Winter: Planning with Oldhim

by Steven Jennings Blog Leave a comment

By Dimos Flesh and Blood is a game that rewards planning. This planning is mostly within three areas: the 80 cards in your deck list, the 60 or so cards that you present each match, and how you navigate each game from beginning to end. Each of these elements requires intention and forethought. Choosing your 80-card decklist is the element with the least time pressure, as you have any and all time before the event to choose. However, if you show up with the wrong deck list, you may have lost before you begin. A universal example is how much Arcane Barrier to bring. One Arcane Barrier for most Runeblades and maybe Prism, two if you’re worried about Rosetta Thorn, and three or more for Kano. In short, the 80 cards you bring on the day should reflect what meta you’re planning to play against. Now that Flesh and Blood is up to fifteen heroes, many of which have multiple potential archetypes, sideboarding has become more and more necessary, and has even begun bleeding into deck list selection. You can’t counter 15 heroes in just 80 cards. It is common for players to bring sideboard notes to be consistent in what to bring against who. This sideboarding is also key, as many cards are useless against certain heroes, such as red defense reactions against Kano. There are many excellent, dedicated articles to sideboarding in Flesh and Blood. This isn’t one of them, it's just aiming to say that sideboarding is an important part of planning out your match. This is because your sideboard determines your win condition, your strategy, and how you will spend the first two thirds of the game setting that up.              What I think it’s the most important element of planning in Flesh and Blood occurs during the game. How do you turn your 60 or more cards into 40 or more points of damage and defeat your opponent? Designing your win condition comes in the pre-preparation stages with your 80-card list and sideboard for each matchup. Your actual strategy in each matchup can be pre-planned. Are you a control deck playing against an aggressive deck? Racing them is a losing plan, but fatiguing them or out-valuing them may be a winning plan. Which cards in your deck make that work? Enlightened Strike (some good damage with no on-hit effect) may not get you where you need to go, but Sink Below (excellent blocking that denies on-hit effects and lets you stack your deck) might. Pitch stacking is probably the most important part of a game plan (in anything other than aggro versus aggro matchups). This can be a daunting topic, and can be difficult in a game where you’re already thinking about so much else. But it is worth it. If you are conscious of your pitch stacking and your opponent is not, then you’re effectively playing a different game. You have much higher quality information than they do, and each turn cycle can be planned well in advance. Do you know that they still have a powerful red combo pitched away? Arsenal a defense reaction or play out a defensive aura in anticipation. That will give you the space to respond with your own strong combo. Even if the life totals differ significantly in the early- and mid-game, the better-stacked deck usually comes out on top (all other things being equal). Oldhim can be behind by 15 life after the first deck cycle (when the first pitched card comes back into players hands) and still feel very confident knowing that the three upcoming Oaken Olds will level the field and give them tempo. I think that Oldhim is an ideal example to highlight each of the three planning facets of setting your deck list, choosing your sideboard, and playing the game with a long-term intention. He is naturally built for control, and as such, required your 80-card deck list to be fundamentally reactive to other decks. Oldhim highlights all three of these elements with Forged for War. Firstly, do you even give it the deck space in your list? Do you bring one, two, or three copies? Bravo usually only likes one because of the high number of Battleworn equipment he has, but Oldhim can make any number work. Combined with Rampart of the Ram’s head, Crown of Seeds, and anything Ironhide, Oldhim sees plenty of upside from Forged for War at any point in the game. However, Forged for War is yellow and doesn’t have the Earth or Ice types attached to it. This means that unless Forged for War is doing something specific, it probably won’t be good to present for a match. Let’s assume that we’ve decided to bring three copies in our 80 because we think it shores up a couple of our weakest matchups, and we are expecting to see at least a couple of those. Now we have to figure out what to do with them. Forged for War is great against Dash, who has to break the chain with every pistol shot, allowing for the now-buffed equipment to block three or four times if need be. It is also useful against Prisms with Library as one of the few yellow cards that can slot into the deck. It is a useful 3-block card against 0-cost Briars, and can be situationally useful (mainly on turn 0 or 1) against most other aggressive decks. Additionally, it has a lot of uses as a set-up card to try and block out opposing pivot turns (such as against Bravo), or to allow Oldhim space to set up his own combo turn. Deciding if and when to play Forged for War is not always an easy task. It costs two cards to play (itself and one to pitch). That translates to a very high opportunity cost of six points of damage (assuming each card blocks for three or adds three points of attack to your turn). There had better be a big pay-off for that. In order to see a big pay-off, the timing of Forged has to be deliberate and achieve something for your plan. For example, playing Forged while arsenaling a powerful attack helps set up the next turn to be a big pivot or using Forged for War to let you keep a five-card hand for a final push with Last Ditch Effort. Forged becomes much more useful during the second cycle of your deck. You should know what cards are coming up and have an idea of what your opponent has remaining in their deck. Time it well, and it will make a pivot much easier to pull off. However, if you play it out blindly or without a specific plan, it’ll probably just end up absorbing a few points of damage and not being worth the opportunity cost.              Overall, this is a game that rewards forethought and intention. By planning out each step of your game plan at home, before your match starts, and during your match, you will be rewarded quite well. Pitch stacking is vitally important, but it must be combined with an intention to arrive at a win condition. P.S. A short note to netdeckers: If you found your deck online, think about it critically. Flesh and Blood decklists are almost never complete information. They usually lack sideboard information, and even when it is provided, they lack tips on how to use specific cards in specific matchups. Many cards have many different uses. Art of War can be used effectively on both offense and defense. Tome of Fyendal can be used for life gain, big combo turns, or both. When you look at a deck list online, the most important thing you can ask is “Why?”. Why are each of these cards in this list? How do they get me to a winning game state? If your list is from somewhere online, you need to fill in the blanks to figure out how to turn 80 cards into 60 cards and then 60 cards into a lethal amount of damage against your opponent. This is not always an intuitive process, but it is necessary.  

The “Briar Problem”, Linear Aggro and Everfest

The “Briar Problem”, Linear Aggro and Everfest

by Steven Jennings Blog 2 comments

By: Yuki Lee Bender   Post Nationals Metagame Coming off a wildly successful Nationals season, the Flesh and Blood competitive scene has largely gone quiet, as we wait for the recently announced ProQuest season following the release of Everfest. However, it’s hard not to come across someone talking about Briar in the Flesh and Blood community and, considering her incredible run in Nationals and Skirmish Season 3, it makes sense she is the source of so much discussion. People from all over want to weigh in on the most effective bans or errata to rein in Briar’s power, while others still insist there should be no changes since the metagame seems to be starting to adapt to the deck. In this article I want to explore the “Briar problem” through a wider lens that I feel is largely overlooked right now. First of all, let me be clear and say that Briar is definitely not Chane. In a matter of weeks following Briar’s Debut at UK nationals we have seen decks like Oldhim, Chane, Ice Lexi and Viserai successfully target Briar. This is night and day compared to Chane who was flexible, resilient and capable of playing many gameplans to account for the entire cast of heroes. However, despite this metagame diversity, I still believe Briar poses a problem for the game right now, because far too many heroes are simply not equipped to deal with her and are pushed out of the metagame as a result. Linear Aggressive Strategies Linear aggro decks are ones like Post-ban Chane, Briar, Aggro Katsu and Lightning Lexi. These decks mostly don’t want to block and are happy to just take damage in order to push their own aggressive gameplan and race. While I do think that these type of decks are an important part of the competitive ecosystem, in the current state of the game they can also be problematic. The issue posed by these decks is that when they are efficient enough, it means that playing a defensive strategy into these decks is not an option. A deck like Briar pushes too many breakpoints and will ultimately get through your defenses, unless you are specifically a hero named Oldhim, who is highly specialized in defense. The problem with defending not being viable against these decks is that the rest of the heroes of Rathe are left with only two strategies available to try and compete with linear aggressive decks. You can either disrupt them or try to outrace them. While disruption is a viable gameplan that produces interactive and interesting games, the problem is that not many heroes have the tools to do this effectively. Currently the main heroes that can disrupt these decks are Ice heros through frostbites and discard or Bravo through crush effects like Spinal Crush and Crippling Crush. Every other hero essentially needs to race, which means you are playing an aggro mirror, and this naturally will lead to the most aggressive and linear deck coming out on top. In Monarch that was Chane, in Tales of Aria it’s Briar and come Everfest it could be another hero, but regardless of which hero it is, the fundamental problem will be the same.   So what can be done to take aggro down a notch? One thing is clear, aggressive strategies thrive on a combination of card draw and go again. We’ve seen this formula in all the premier aggro decks including Chane, Briar, Aggro Katsu, Herald Prism, Dorinthea and Radyn Boltyn. More than any other card, I believe Plunder Run heavily subsidizes the success of runeblades and aggressive strategies in general. Plunder run is the perfect aggro card as it provides damage, has go again and with enough go again attacks, provides near guaranteed card draw. While plunder run has been a powerful card in decks like aggro Katsu in the past, the card is especially well utilized by runeblades who get additional rewards for playing non-attack actions. It is very telling that all of the top performing runeblade decks play 6 to 9 copies of the card.  While banning Plunder Run may provide temporary relief to the problem and may ultimately prove to be necessary, I do think the linear aggro problem will eventually come back and resurface. There is a fundamental problem posed by aggressive strategies that can’t be blocked effectively and don’t want to block in that they force most other decks to play the same gameplan. These games tend to lack depth and to feel uninteractive as neither deck really needs to concern itself with what the other is doing. Often players talk about matchups like the Briar mirror or Chane mirror coming down to who draws better. Everfest The more permanent solution in my eyes lies in printing new cards in Everfest or potentially other future sets. While providing more defensive options may be effective, I think having control be dominant is a problem of its own. Games dominated by blocking and trading for small amounts of damage, while very popular amongst some players, are often not the most engaging games to play or watch and can be quite long and tedious. Instead, I believe a good solution is for LSS to provide more detrimental hit effects that are available to the entire cast of heroes. Currently the only generic cards that fit this category is Command and Conquer and Pummel, however these tools are insufficient alone. What I would like to see most in Everfest is more generic tools to help combat aggressive strategies, and force them to sometimes block or incur a significant penalty. This feels like an ideal solution because it promotes interactive games that are fun both to play and to watch.   I think LSS should exercise caution when designing disruptive effects as they could easily invalidate aggro entirely if too many strong ones exist. Five card hands are a powerful and fun part of the game, and decks should want and get to play five card hands. However, I think linear aggro decks that limit gameplay to playing your entire hand aggressively is not healthy for the game long term. The real problem with a linear aggressive deck like Briar is not that she can’t be defeated, it is that too many heroes have no viable paths to victory as they are not equipped to block, disrupt or race her effectively.

Upgrading Bravo with Tales of Aria

Upgrading Bravo with Tales of Aria

by Steven Jennings BLog Leave a comment

Dimos Kaloupis Bravo has long been the hero of Rathe that represents patience, with strong defence and a consistent weapon. His Guardian cards deal a disappointing amount of damage compared to other classes, and a big four-card attack can be effectively defended by two cards from the opponent. With such lackluster damage from his class cards, he has to find power elsewhere. This is done in two places: his weapon, and his on-hit effects. Anothos is, I believe, one of the best, if not the best single card in the game. Many Guardian players have won at least one game by doing nothing but swinging the hammer and defending. Nowadays, Bravo has access to damage-efficient turns, courtesy of Zealous Belting, Rouse the Ancients, and Anothos. However, his main threats still lie in his Guardian Crushes. The remainder of this article will go in-depth in evaluating the new toys Bravo has. When I refer to a “regular” Bravo deck in this article, I mean a deck that runs mainly 3-cost blue cards, defence reactions, crush cards, and some tech for whatever the top meta deck of the day is. With the new Guardian cards in Tales of Aria, Bravo has access to three new tools. I am only going to discuss the in-deck cards, as equipment and weapon choice is an entirely different article. Tear Asunder is a no-brainer in any Bravo deck. “Costs 3, blocks 3, pitches for 3” is the gold standard, and Tear Asunder meets all of those criteria with an added bonus of buffing Anothos (previously only possible with Pummel) and offering a discard effect on-hit. Embolden meets the general 3/3/3 criteria, but unless the Bravo deck is running plentiful Auras, half of the card text is irrelevant. This is not a card that can be put into just any Guardian deck; it is a resource-intensive card that requires building around. Building an Aura archetype deck to work around the constraints of Embolden is too slow in the current meta, and too susceptible to disruption in a hypothetically slower meta.   From this point on, we get a bit technical. To fully discuss this topic and all the factors that go into making deckbuilding decisions, in addition to in-game turn cycle decisions is a  topic of massive scope. Here is my mediocre attempt at discussing some of those elements. So let’s talk about Thump. An amazing card in Tales of Aria limited formats, it is the subject of much debate in the world of Classic Constructed. Thump is a fine card. It meets the 3/3/3 criteria, and poses some threat. Oldhim can do some very interesting things with it, courtesy of cards like Earthlore Surge and Strength of Sequoia. However, Bravo finds the card generally lacking without access to those pumps. Red Thump fits more into the buffing Aura archetype mentioned earlier, in conjunction with Cards like Embolden, Come to Fight, or Plunder Run. All of those cards do not fit into a regular Guardian deck. Thump does not have the Crush keyword, and therefore cannot receive the buff from Crater Fist, meaning that it’s main equipment synergy is Goliath Gauntlet. Sacrificing two armor and a sideboard slot for a single synergy is a very high price to pay. Without those synergies, the only way to buff Thump is through Pummel, which renders the “this card gains dominate” half of the text irrelevant. In order to fully evaluate blue Thump, I think it is worth exploring how an entire turn cycle works for Bravo, what he is looking for, and where he can gain advantage. Additionally, Bravo has an extensive amount of options for cost three, block three, pitch three cards. One must consider if Thump is better than an existing card in the deck.  I struggle to think of instances where I would rather have a blue Thump in my hand over any other 3- or 4-cost Guardian attack. The other Guardian attacks have more power, making Bravo’s dominate on them more effective at pushing damage. Additionally, if one is going to pummel either card, odds are that both the on-hit effect of Thump and the Crush effect of Debilitate, Chokeslam, or Crush Confidence will land as well. This is because, usually, the only point in the game you are playing 4-card hands with blue attacks and Pummel is near the end. At that end phase of the game, an average opponent is likely out of defense reactions and has a low life total. This makes the higher damage of the other Guardian attacks even more relevant. Any other 4-cost Guardian attack will do two additional damage compared to Thump. A 3-cost Guardian attack will still deal an additional point of damage, but has an added benefit. With a 4-card hand and a Seismic Surge token, 3-cost Guardian attacks can be Dominated with Bravo and still have enough resources to Pummel. A dominate before the reaction step is much more relevant for pushing late-game damage. The overall trade-off is one or two extra points of damage and a potential crush effect versus a second discard. Overall, I think the utility and damage of the other cards outweighs the potential discard effect of Thump.  So, should Thump be in your Bravo deck? Here is the key decision maker for me that will keep Thumps forever out of my Bravo decks: in any hand where there is not a red Pummel, a 4-damage Thump is not even in the discussion. However, a 6-damage, 4-cost blue can still be dominated. This threatens a crush, encourages a block, and pushes 3 points of damage if the opponent does not have a defence reaction. If the opponent does have a defence reaction, Bravo would love it if they used it on a blue Debilitate rather than the Spinal Crush that was pitched earlier. Thump and blue Pummel requires Bravo to have a four-card hand, and can be entirely defended by two cards. A standard Bravo deck has no other ways to pump Thump, but it has better cards to use red Pummel on.  Side Note & Post Script: I’ve seen a lot of discourse about Thump online. In order to fully explain why I prefer other cards to Thump, this article should be a complete series about how to play Bravo. The deck-building decisions that many people dismiss as “resource cards” are oftentimes more in-depth than those that go into the red power cards. For example, Crippling Crush has a very clear purpose. It is used for damage and to strip cards, or to buff Anothos and make a Seismic Surge. A blue card in a Bravo deck needs to play more than an offensive role. In addition to providing “pitch 3, block 3, cost 3” utility, they also need to contribute some degree of unique threat or further utility. This can range from enabling other cards (such as having a high base power to help Rouse the Ancients and Zealous belting), or provide its own relevant damage, on-hit/Crush effect, or special buff. To highlight some of these differences and further utilities, continue reading below for an in-depth example of a hand cycle. In it, Bravo can decide between Thump and Debilitate with Pummel. Let’s examine a hypothetical scenario, a dream hand for blue Thump: The game is reaching the end phase, Bravo has 14 life and his generic opponent has 11. Bravo has just drawn a red Pummel, a blue Thump, a blue Debilitate, and a Show Time, and has no arsenal. In total, this hand blocks for 11. The opponent has 2 cards and a card in arsenal. They play a red Scar for a Scar from hand for four damage with go again. Bravo is quite confident that the card in arsenal is not a defence reaction. Before Bravo declares any blocking cards, he should consider what he wants to do on his turn. His options are: Saving three cards to pummel Anothos for 10 damage and no additional effect could be an option as it nearly presents lethal. This option also allows Bravo to block 3 damage. Additionally, Bravo could likely dominate a 6-power attack next turn with a three-card hand to seal the last few points of health. However, the most likely response to Bravo swinging Anothos for 6 with two resources floating will be a 2-card block for 6, leaving Pummel to either get put in the arsenal for later, or to be played out to push the additional 4 damage. Swinging Anothos for 6 could be an option, and allows for Bravo to either block for five or block for three and a chance to put Pummel into the arsenal.  One could also swing Anothos for 4 and block for 6 or 8.  Playing Thump and Pummel for 8 damage and threatening 2 discards could be an option, but would not allow for blocks this turn. Playing Debilitate with Pummel for 10 damage, threatening one discard and a -2 debuff on his opponents first attack.  Bravo could also dominate a Debilitate for 6 damage and block with or arsenal the pummel. This is not worthwhile as the Crush effect will be easily blocked by a single card, and the 3 damage that leaks through is not threatening when life totals are as high as 10 or 12.  Based on these options, Bravo probably wants to close out the game, as he has some good tools to do so. Swinging Anothos for 6 or 4 presents neither disruption nor enough damage to be frightening. Unless he play a disruptive next turn, he will lost tempo back to his opponent and it is unlikely that Pummel will have an opportunity to see the board if it is arsenaled. This rules out Pummeling Anothos for 10. The remaining options are to play the 4-card hand with either Thump or Debilitate as the showstopper. Bravo declares no blocks, takes 4 damage from Scar for a Scar, going to 10 life.  The opponent then pitches a blue to play a blue Brutal Assault from arsenal, threatening 4 more damage. Having already committed to taking damage this turn, and not being too scared of going down to 6 life, Bravo once again declares no blocks. The opponent’s turn ends. Now it is decision time. Playing either attack on the four card hand is viable, but Debilitate threatens more damage and 10 damage cannot be blocked by three normal cards, and would discard the 4th card. If Bravo knows that his next hand cycle is a powerful red card pitched earlier in the game (a Spinal Crush or a Crippling Crush), this leaves the opponent with zero cards to respond with, guaranteeing a dominated red Crush. If the Bravo does not have a big attack upcoming, the Pummel can be arsenaled after either play in response to a 3 card block. This leaves another 4-card hand with a Pummel for Bravo next cycle, assuming that he blocks the opponents weapon swing or attack next turn with one card. The upside to Thump in this instance is the same as Debilitate, but debilitate deals more damage. Debilitate in this above example could be replaced with other three- or four-cost Guardian attacks, and the decisions may change, but the thought process would likely be the same. Thump would lose out in most instances in lieu of other attacks because of their higher power.  TL;DR: In short, I really don’t think that Thump should be making it into Bravo lists as it’s damage output is lackluster in comparison to other Guardian attacks, of which there are more than enough to fill out a Classic Constructed deck list.

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