Greetings friends, and welcome back to Doc’s Laboratory! This past weekend saw an impressive performance from Team Rankstar at the ETS Season 2 Invitational, with TheBoxer making the finals, ThePlatypusKing making the top 4 and three other members of the team (including me, GHP and Magikarp) making the top 16. All four Team Rankstar players that registered the Ghodan Stonescar list put up great finishes with the deck, demonstrating not just the constructed prowess of the team at whole but the inherent strength of the deck itself.

My overarching goal for this piece is to outline and delve deep into the core facets of the deck, examining where we were, where we are and where we’re going with this archetype. While Tasbu Stonescar got hit hard with nerfs from the recent balance patch, a new five cost powerhouse is ready to smorc on the metagame.

To start off, let’s take a minute to examine our Gunslinger Oni friend above. Ghodan, Undefeated is a five cost 5/5 for FFFFF with Charge and Warp that reads, “Your other units have Warp.” Right off the bat, it’s important to acknowledge how powerful Charge is as a keyword, especially in a format that interacts heavily on the axises of tempo and initiative. The ability to get a hit in on cast allows Ghodan to represent a significant chunk of damage while impacting the board and allowing for potential card advantage on the following turn with his signature ability. Speaking of that ability, the amount of cards that Ghodan can draw is quite impressive given the amount of units your average Fire deck runs. Just the other day, I played a game where I curved warped Ghodan into turn 6 warped Argenport Instigator plus warped Bandit Queen. Simply put, I won that game.

Now that we’ve briefly covered the individual strengths of Ghodan, let’s take a closer look at her signature Stonescar masterpiece!

Stonescar Midrange, piloted by TheBoxer (2nd @ ETS S2 Invitational)

3 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
4 Shakedown (Set1004 #18)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Argenport Instigator (Set1 #268)
4 Blackhall Warleader (Set4 #201)
3 Desecrate (Set1005 #17)
2 Ripknife Assassin (Set1003 #13)
4 Champion of Chaos (Set1 #402)
4 Ixtun Merchant (Set4 #21)
3 Bandit Queen (Set1 #389)
4 Yushkov, the Usurper (Set4 #310)
4 Ghodan, Undefeated (Set6 #36)
10 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
2 Shugo Standard (Set4 #1)
4 Crest of Chaos (Set3 #268)
4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)
4 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)
4 Stonescar Insignia (Set6 #228)
1 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
1 Cauldron Cookbook (Set1004 #2)
1 Bandit Queen (Set1 #389)
1 Jawbone Greatsword (Set4 #33)
1 Shugo Standard (Set4 #1)

One of the most interesting inclusions in this list is Yushkov, the Usurper, an unsuspecting promo from yesteryear that is primed for a major resurgence in play. This card is bonkers, and don’t for a second think that competitive players won’t re-learn how to navigate around this card. That alone proves the card’s worth; players must actively play around Yushkov in the Stonescar mirror, and creature decks without enough removal will often be dead to him on sight. Exhausting your opponent’s units on entering play is game warping in unit-based matchups, and the power boost he provides is nothing to scoff at either. Simply put, Yushkov does it all, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more strategies adapt by either incorporating him or more effectively hedging against him.

The next point I want to cover has to do with the deck’s power base, which became a pertinent concern amongst the team as we neared the registration deadline. My original list included 26 power plus the standard in the market, whereas TheBoxer, NotoriousGHP and ThePlatypusKing registered two extra fire sigils over two Ripknife Assassins. One of their primary lines of reasoning in this regard suggested that, since our Tasbu Stonescar deck ran 26 natural power plus some Vara’s Favors and Rhystas, our Ghodan Stonescar deck needed extra natural power because it didn’t have access to a playable power-fetch effect in the same manner that the Shadow-based version deck did. My primary line of reasoning for sticking with a similar power count suggested that, given the more aggresive nature of the Fire-based strategy and the existence of the Shugo Standard in the market as an additional power if needed, there was no need to add more power to a deck that already wanted to avoid flooding if at all possible.

As things turned out, my reasoning was ultimately trumped by that of my teammates, largely backed by a bit of basic arithmetic that for some reason didn’t concern me at the time (I know, I suck at math, maybe that’s why…). I am now of the same camp as my teammates, although I am considering trying out a “compromised” version that plays 27 natural power as opposed to 28 or 26. Time will tell whether that works out or not, but for now I would recommend just playing the 28 power version, as it has proven consistent and reliable in the tournament setting.

In examining how we got to this list, I want to show off a little “brew” of mine that features not JUST Ghodan, and not JUST Yushkov, but a good friend of mine named Demand Death…

Mono Fire Midrange, by Doc28

3 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
4 Pyroknight (Set1 #16)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Impatient Pyromage (Set6 #13)
4 Rakano Outlaw (Set1 #20)
4 Censari Dervish (Set6 #20)
4 Ixtun Merchant (Set4 #21)
4 Yushkov, the Usurper (Set4 #310)
4 Zuberi, Outlands Warlord (Set4 #37)
3 Demand Death (Set1005 #3)
3 Eclipse Dragon (Set6 #35)
4 Ghodan, Undefeated (Set6 #36)
3 Waystone Titan (Set1004 #4)
15 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
4 Granite Coin (Set6 #1)
4 Granite Waystone (Set3 #1)
4 Shugo Standard (Set4 #1)
1 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
1 Cauldron Cookbook (Set1004 #2)
1 Combustion Brawler (Set6 #34)
1 Demand Death (Set1005 #3)
1 Soulfire Drake (Set1 #47)

I’m not claiming that this deck is anywhere near optimal. As a matter of fact, I’m not even claiming that this deck is good. What I am claiming is that this deck was the Ghodan inspiration for me, and it also clued me in to another card that literally nobody is playing but that somebody probably should be playing. That card is Demand Death, and let me tell you why you all have been sleeping on this one.

Demand Death has some interesting text on it, namely the “you lose the game” clause at the tail end of its text box. Let’s ignore that for just a quick second and examine what the other half of the card actually does. For five power and FF influence, Demand Death draws you 4 cards and lets you put a unit from among them into play. If that doesn’t sound bonkers to you, then you’ve probably been living under a rock since before card games even existed. Five power for 4 cards is an insane rate on its own, and tacking a free onto that makes the efficiency and strength of the card all the more admirable.

Thing is, the “death” clause on Demand Death isn’t merely a footnote. There are certain deck building restrictions involved with Demand Death, namely that the unit played off of Demand Death must either have Charge or impact the board in some other impactful way. Additionally, decks that play Demand Death need to be able to apply significant pressure before turn 5/6 so as to effectively utilize the draw 4 and free summon as a way of shutting the door and closing the game.

At it’s core, this deck aims to successfully meet both of those deck building clauses while presenting a charge-fueled aggressive game plan that includes some top-end beef. The quintessential problem with this build is the unit curve, which at this point is technically is more of a plateau than an actual curve. It feels really bad to draw a Waystone Titan or Eclipse Dragon when you’re stuck on 3 power, and drawing your cards in the wrong order can be absolutely detrimental to the deck’s performance. My main takeaway here is that, while Demand Death is a really poweful payoff, this specific deck isn’t going to get there very consistently. I’d suggest trying the card out in other faction combos, but I unfortunately don’t have any lists on hand to help out in that endeavor.

Now for the ladder portion of our exploration; where does Stonescar go from here, and why the heck did I interlude with Demand Death for seemingly no reason? Actually, thank you for asking! These two inquiries are intertwined, with my head looking for ways to holistically improve Stonescar as the format continues to evolve towards fighting it. In that vein, I’m looking for ways to give Stonescar a top-end market option that fits the deck’s gameplan and can feasibly wreck havoc on hordes of unsuspecting opponents.

Demand Death could be that card, but only if the format continues to trend in the direction it’s currently headed. Given a world where Control and Mid-Control strategies cannot effectively turn the corner against tempo-oriented strategies like Rakano Valkyries and Stonescar, each game becomes a fight of who can go over the top while still maintaining tempo advantage. In theory, Demand Death fits the bill of mirror breaker and curve topper, a combination of overwhelming card advantage and backbreaking pressure. My only concern with this arises if, hypothetically, a deck with sufficient enough safety valves comes into the format and keeps these tempo-based strategies in check.

As of now, this notion is extremely unrealistic given the numerous efficiency demands from both Rakano and Stonescar, but any number of things could cause this paradigm to shift at a moment’s notice. In the meantime, let’s have some fun smashing our opponents’ faces in with Demand Death! Trust me, they won’t know what hit ’em.

Thank you so much for reading, and I’ll see you next time in the Lab! -Doc28

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