People have been asking for it for a long time so here it is: my guide to Tempo Assassin as we currently understand it.
Tempo Assassin is a largely unexplored archetype with contributions from a small number of top players. I piloted my build of the deck to a #6 legend finish April 2018. Afterwards a few players, GentleBen in particular, spent a significant amount of time and energy tuning their own versions which followed largely the same philosophy as my own. At the same time in May a number of high legend players also began experimenting with more all in aggro versions utilizing cards like Blood Sacrament and Lillandril Hexmage. Goblin Kingpin in particular spent a good amount of time developing these “burn” builds.
I’ll be talking about the different directions you can take with aggressive Assassin decks today, as well as gameplay quirks and tech choices, but to start let’s take a look at my high finishing build from a month and a half ago.
At its core, Tempo Assassin is built around quickly developing powerful but brittle threats and using a wide range of tools to protect them. Some examples of its threats include Mournhold Traitor, Goblin Skulk, and Cornerclub Gambler. Cards that protect its threats include its seven shackle effects, Harpy, Pet, and Mace, as well as its four cover granters, Gloomlurker and Shadowmaster, and critically Wardcrafter.
To give you an idea of the power in being able to protect your threats – consider that you open with a Mournhold Traitor and your opponent contests with a Fighters Guild Recruit.
For many aggressive green decks, this can practically end the game on the spot as you instantly lose field control and fall behind on tempo. However, Gloomlurker, Harpy, Wardcrafter, Pet, and to a lesser degree Shadowmaster, which together form 26% of your deck, are all excellent responses to this play and can salvage a game on their own. Even if you are on the ring you will have drawn 4 other cards at this point and so are statistically favored to have an effective answer in hand! Even if you aren’t able to protect your traitor, the Skulk/Curse package in Tempo Assassin enables it to deal with Mournhold Guardians fairly easily. In this way, while an all-in aggro green deck like Aggro Archer can have hands capable of pumping out a higher amount of raw damage than Tempo Assassin, Tempo Assassin is flexible and applies a measured offense, able to effectively parry its opponents counterattacks before continuing to push forward.
There are tons of synergistic uses for the cards in tempo Assassin and even at a more macroscopic level, the combination of potent brittle threats and cards to protect them is a powerful form of synergy in and of itself.
One of the key cards that Tempo Assassin is built around is Cornerclub Gambler. Gambler at the end of the day is the card from Houses of Morrowind that was able to revitalize this archetype. While Gambler is a very powerful card in a vacuum and especially fantastic in the aggressive matchups that the deck is built to dominate, the deck’s other members support it quite well. For instance, Crown Quartermaster, Goblin Skulk, and Eldergleam Matron all generate cards that are worth less than the value of the average card in the deck to discard to it, making its summon effect even higher value. In addition, the deck’s very low curve makes it so that you can actually play the cards that you draw off gambler rather than having them rot in your hand while you get beat down. -As a side note, as a Tempo Assassin pilot it will sometimes be correct for you to discard a “real” card rather than a Curse or a Steel Dagger to Gambler because of this consideration, when you play gambler you should generally be looking to start playing 2+ cards a turn for the next few turns.
Again at a bit of a broader level Gambler, as well as Eldergleam, Daggerfall, and the cards that help you trade favorably like Leaflurker and Wardcrafter, provide the deck with enough value that it can afford to play high tempo low value cards like Gloomlurker and Mace of Encumbrance and not worry about running out of cards.
The ability for a deck to develop and protect threats early is not too useful if the deck is unable to close the game out later. As opponents will inevitably be able to start picking off Tempo Assassin’s key threats as a game develops, it relies on its sources of fast damage to close out a game. These include, Steel Daggers, Mace of Encumbrance, Lightning Bolt, Cliff Racer, Ancano, and Tazkad.
One last abstract piece of synergy that I think is worth mentioning is Tempo Assassin’s strength after it has given up field lane. Many cards in the deck like Skulk, Gambler, and Eldergleam will force it to run to shadow far sooner than most decks want to, sometimes giving up field control before an opponent has even played into it. However, Tempo Assassin is remarkably good at dictating trades. Because it can shackle down its opponents threats while developing into field or give them cover as it plays them, it can have trade priority in field even when it loses field control. This strength in controlling trades is extremely important for preventing what would otherwise be a major weakness of the deck.
In general Tempo Assassin is nuts against Maggro as well as other Aggro decks and tends to do pretty well into particularly greedy decks like Telvanni Ox while its ability to deal with more conservative control decks like Tribunal and reactive midrange decks like Giants BM is more inconsistent and draw dependent.
As a deck that is exceptionally good at ignoring its opponents creatures via shackles and post attack cover granters, guards are particularly problematic for Tempo Assassin. In addition Tempo Assassin’s only ways to deal with guards, other than straight running into them, are Sanctuary Pet, Leaflurker, rolling lethal off Royal Sage, or getting a lethal creature from Eldergleam Matron. Wardcrafter can also lesson the blow of trading into guards. Regardless, as Assassin you don’t get to run silences or hard removal, nor do you get to run bounce effects like Cast Out or Belligerent Giant. As a result some matchups can swing drastically depending on how many Hive Defenders your opponent happens to draw.
Thanks to all of its shackles, efficiently costed threats, and array of burst damage, there’s basically no better deck in the game for racing. Thus Tempo Assassin’s aggro matchups are often hilariously one sided as trying to do what an aggro deck is built to do is a losing proposition against it. In addition, aggro decks tend to be quite bad at interacting so Tempo Assassin’s Gamblers, Traitors, and Skulks are typically quite safe in these matchups. If you are looking for a deck to beat up on Hlaalu, Aggro Crusader, Aggro Archer, Maggro Warrior, or Sorcerer then Tempo Assassin is an excellent choice.
Alternate Builds and Tech
While I am personally a big fan of the tempo builds of Aggro Assassin, more raw damage burn builds are also viable. These builds, which typically revolve Lillandril Hexmage, worry less about their ability to sustain pressure and protect their threats and instead try to chuck as much damage as they can at their opponents face. Not being able to interact is a major weakness in midrange and aggro matchups as these decks can actually be raced as a result, but similar to a combo deck whose combo is “point 30 points of burn at my opponent’s face” they can have real strength against control decks that lack healing as they start doing massive amounts of damage from hand in the later stages of the game. (Blood Sacrament with a Hexmage on board is 8 damage)
These burn builds have not put up the same results as the tempo builds thus far, but with more refinement they could potentially be a strong choice for some of the matchups where the tempo builds are weak.
There are many potentially viable cards to try in a Tempo Assassin list other than the ones in the list at the beginning of this article. To begin I’ll list the cards in the deck that I believe to be basically uncuttable: Curse, Quartermaster, Skulk, Traitor, Harpy, Wardcrafter, Gambler, Pet, Lightning Bolt, Queen, Racer, the first two Leaflurkers, probably Ancanco and Tazkad but maybe a hyper aggro low curve variant could cut them. That gives us approximately 15 slots to play with. One quick note: Daggerfall is generally an auto include in every blue deck but this deck doesn’t really try to control field, almost never out values as a win-condition, and is fast enough that having a good power-cost ratio is important. In fact, Burn Assassin generally cuts Daggerfall. Despite this I still do typically run it in my builds. Whoops, one more note: People didn’t listen to Emikaela about not cutting camels from Scout for months and here we are months later where the consensus best builds play Camels and no Greybeards. Please listen to me here: Do not cut Sanctuary Pet. It is one of the best cards in your deck, is extremely flexible and key in your ability to protect your threats, get through guards, manipulate combat, etc.
What are the cards that we can try cutting first if we want to build our deck a little differently? Royal Sage is a strong card but believe it or not its 4 casting cost is quite high for this deck and most of the times when we do get stuck staring down at a hand full of cards without the Magicka to play them its because its full of 3 and 4 cost cards. In addition, while Sage is strong, it doesn’t have massive synergy with the deck in the same way most other cards in it do. Cutting Sage doesn’t change the identity of the deck at all, it mostly just changes the way our curve is distributed while removing some top end power. Eldergleam Matron and Daggerfall Mage share similar roles in the deck. Both are powerful but not overwhelming threats that generate value and increase the longevity of the deck. They both prevent the deck from running out of cards but also both contribute to the draws where you just aren’t quite fast enough or aren’t able to use your resources before the end of the game. I’m in no rush to cut either, particularly Eldergleam as it synergizes quite well with Gambler and our threat protection abilities, but both are cards we can consider shaving. One or maybe even two Leaflurkers could be cut, again in the name of further sharpening our curve and preventing clunky draws, however this is a major risk as Leaflurker is one of the few ways for us to deal with guards and help us power through the mid-late game.
Our aggro matchups are already crazy good but if we want to make them even better we could try:
Firebolt is a low value card but gives us a more consistent answer to opposing Goblin Skulks, Orc Clan Captains, and Rift Thanes. People who I’ve talked to who have tested it have ended up cutting it but it is an option.
Morag Tong Aspirant can be an effective tool if we want to really go hard on the board control/maintaining trade priority plan. It isn’t mechanically well supported by Assassin since we don’t have ways to boost its power, however Wardcrafter is its best friend. (Though really Wardcrafter is everyone’s best friend.)
Mace is very low value but can be a strong tempo play, it’s hard to justify going above one since it can be so risky but even just one more could significantly impact the way the deck plays as it can swing races by itself and generally playing lots of shackles encourages you to play more as chain shackling is so powerful. (This is how you beat Hand of Dagoth etc)
If we want to play a deck that is good against conservative control decks and reactive midrange decks we should really just play a different deck. (It’s worth noting that you can still easily maintain positive win rates in these matchups on ladder but they aren’t why you are playing the deck and the same shouldn’t be true in a high level tournament) However if we want to improve those matchups we could consider:
Merchant is very strong against control decks as we should always be running out of cards before them. Since both cards should be worse than the average card either player put in their deck and therefore one of the last cards each player plays this will often mean that it will effectively give us a card and not our opponent. In addition it helps us more consistently hit our early curve. It shares a similar weakness to Morag Tong in that it is a card which really wants you to increase its power but Assassin has few ways to do so.
Pawnbroker is a durable two drop that doesn’t require protection like most of the threats in our deck. Its 3 health means that it can be used to content board more easily and also lets it survive firebolt and trade evenly with Wardcrafters, Windkeeps, Barrow Stalkers, etc. Also, it generating some value off its plot is relevant and helps us prevent gassing out just a little bit more.
While it requires a restructuring of the deck to accommodate it, young mammoth and its large friends have always been prized against control for their ability to provide raw power fast and survive aoe (a major weakness of Tempo Assassin in general). A variant on the mono green midrange decks (Monk and some Archer) could have a better control matchup than the build of Tempo Assassin presented above while preserving a good amount of the decks interactive and synergistic tools.
It’s really a different deck entirely, but Burn Assassin is generally much better at pushing through the last few points of damage against control that lacks healing and should be considered if you have your mind set on playing an Aggro Assassin deck but are predicting seeing a decent amount of control.
One last card to consider is:
While Shadow Shift is a very strong card in general it is much less so in Tempo Assassin because the deck tends to give up on field so early and play most of the game through shadow. If the deck was built to try to control the board more with pawnbrokers/allies for instance it could definitely warrant inclusion. (Potentially running a miser copy in a list the style of the one in this article could also be decent)
As always, there is so much more to consider when playing or building this deck than I can get to in one article. I tend to play this deck a decent amount on stream so you can always learn things about it there or ask me about it even if I’m playing something else. As with anything, deliberate practice makes better. You will be able to explore many different angles of the deck that I didn’t get to in this article through practicing on your own and I hope if you choose to try the deck or any other for that matter that you will find the joy in that learning process. Feel free to ask any questions you may still have or leave comments about the format of this article.
Until next time,