This is a guest article from Alison. If you would like to write guest pieces to be published on Team Rankstar’s site, just reach out to Mantid on Discord or Twitter.
Endra, Champion of Shavka, has been dominating the Throne format lately. The decks that run her go by a variety of affectionate nicknames: “Edna Storm”, “Haunted Harpway”, “Hurricane Endra”. All of them are based around the same basic concept – to recur Endra as many times as possible with “copy” cards like Mirror Image, “bounce” cards like Kairos’ Choice, and “reanimation” cards like Haunting Scream. This process is repeated until the opponent no longer has a face. It’s the perfect mix of independently powerful, easy, and fun to play. Along with some pretty intense hype generated by some well respected players, it’s no surprise that the deck skyrocketed to huge popularity on ladder, dominating the meta within days of Endra’s release.
But, like DJ Khaled, the Endra decks suffer from their own success. Eager to beat the Endra decks flooding the ladder, many players have begun packing anti-Endra tech into their decks, aiming to attack the combo on its own axis and thereby get a bunch of free wins against Endra players. We saw this happen in the past when good combo decks were a presence on ladder, with Reanimator’s popularity bringing about an upsurge of void hate. With Endra, though, something’s different. One of the singular most common complaints about Endra other than the usual criticisms of her high power level is the fact that it’s resistant to hate.
See, when people started putting anti-Endra cards in their decks, a lot of them found that they were still losing to Endra, which was pretty discouraging. The general sentiment was that Endra was so unbeatable that even decks made to counter it couldn’t get any traction against it. I saw screenshots posted of decks with many different types of hate and angles of attack getting goldfished, over and over again, by a deck that they were supposed to beat. Gavel, Shush, Waylay, Electrostatic Distortion, Royal Decree. Every method of disruption seemed to get walked over with ease. Comparisons were made to Magic: the Gathering’s “Hogaak” – whose dominance of the Modern format’s meta was widely considered to be a terrible mistake by many Magic players, and who was also notable for being able to beat large amounts of hate.
Is Endra really that overpowered and incapable of being beaten? I don’t know – maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. It’s probably out of the scope of this article to get too in depth into the discussion about it. But what I am confident of is that a lot of players on ladder tech badly against Endra. This is based off playing quite a bit of Throne both as and against Endra, as well as comparing notes with some of the best players in the game and sharing experiences with them. Regardless about how you feel about Endra’s level of resilience, I see no reason to make her life even easier by playing cards that look good against her on paper, but fall short of expectations in practice.
In this article, I’ll bring up three mistakes that I see commonly being made when it comes to attempting to beat Endra. It’s my hope that it’ll empower players to make better decisions when they’re constructing their own anti-Endra decks, and hopefully reduce some of the frustration from repeatedly losing to the one deck they’re trying to beat.
Don’t Overdo It
The first mistake that I see people make too often is to put in too many tech cards. It makes sense on paper – Endra is, like, ninety-five percent of ladder or something, right? So just put in every card that’s good against her! Well, the problem is, Endra isn’t ninety-five percent of ladder. It can feel that way sometimes if you get a string of Endra matchups in a row, but the truth is, not everyone’s a fan of Endra’s play patterns, and you’re not the only one trying to outsmart the meta by bringing a deck that beats up Endra. If every card in your deck is poised to beat Endra and Endra only, you’ll have an embrassing winrate against the rest of the field. When this happens, the amount of times you lose against non-Endra decks will outstrip any additional wins you get against Endra decks, leaving you with a lower overall winrate at the end of the day.
Every good Eternal deck has a game plan; any card present in the deck that doesn’t directly contribute to that game plan dilutes it, making your deck weaker and weaker. That means that if you just pile in as many tech cards as possible, the rest of your deck will collapse and become nonfunctional, leaving you with an assorted pile of anti-Endra cards and no real way to win. That’s not where you want to be at all.
If every card you add to beat Endra makes your deck worse, how the heck do you ever get anywhere? One way to avoid this nasty dilemma is to pick tech cards that work with your deck’s game plan. A Combrei Aggro deck might pack Vanquisher’s Blades to try to stop Endras from Screaming out of the void, and replace its Hojans and Resolute Monks with Crownwatch Paladins and Intrepid Longhorns to make them less susceptible to a ping from an Endra played on turn 2. Are these the “optimal” picks in a vacuum? Probably not – they’re definitely tech options, and they do water down the aggressive potential of the deck, but not by too much. Maybe a Crownwatch Paladin isn’t quite as good as being ruthlessly aggressive as a Resolute Monk, but it’s a lot better against Endra while still being a playable aggro card.
That’s really the point I’m making here – don’t overdo it. If you must tech against Endra (and you probably should), then go ahead. But don’t fill your entire deck with tech cards, and try to make sure that the ones you do run are playable in other matchups. Don’t think of your deck as 63 “reasonable” cards and 12 extremely narrow hate cards. Try to build a deck of 75 reasonable cards, many of which not-so-coincidentally happen to get extra value against Endra.
But doesn’t that mean that you won’t win against Endra as hard? How are you going to farm Endra decks if you don’t pack your decks with ways to interact with its combo cycle? I think that answer is that you should not be looking to farm Endra decks. Endra decks are both extremely powerful and extremely dominant in the meta. The former trait means that it’s not going to be easy to get a very high winrate against Endra without severely diluting your game plan and distorting your deck – which, as I’ve explained earlier, is not really what you want to be doing. The latter trait is also important. Endra is dominant in the meta, so a bunch of people are going to be running decks that are only good against Endra. If you can find a way to do reasonably well against Endra while also maintaining good equity against the rest of the field, you can absolutely trash those 4x maindeck Electrostatic Distortion decks.
That’s the goal I think a deck teched against Endra should be aiming for. Not to try to feed on Endra decks by putting in a lot of tech, but rather to put in enough tech to make the Endra matchup even or slightly favored for you, and then to ensure the rest of your game plan is solid enough that you can feast on everyone else. This may seem unintuitive, but if you think about it, it’s a lot easier to get scores of wins against decks running unplayable garbage, than to get scores of wins against a dominant tier 1 deck. Once you’ve made sure your deck is sturdy enough to gobble up everything else for breakfast, then all you have to do is to make sure you don’t lose too much equity against Endra decks, and the way you do that is by including the tech cards we’ve been talking about. With a 50+% winrate against the most popular deck and an even better winrate against everything else, you’ll be all set to climb the ladder in no time.
Don’t Let Your Tech Cards Slack Off
So now we’ve established that we can’t just jam any anti-Endra card we want into our decks, we have to find a way to give tech cards more bang for their buck. We don’t want low impact tech cards that’ll clog up a deck slot. These cards are unplayable at worst and suboptimal at best while not doing significantly much to improve the Endra matchup. You don’t want cards that are easy to play around, and you don’t want cards that don’t directly and strongly impact Endra’s game plan.
A good example of this is the card Royal Decree. A market copy of Royal Decree is fine, since you want it in other matchups anyway so it’s a free inclusion that can sometimes come in handy. However, I think maindecked Royal Decrees are mediocre at best against Endra decks, and frankly just bad a lot of the time. Despite this, I see people run 4x Royal Decrees all the time, and then wonder why they lose to Endra anyway. It’s because Royal Decree simply doesn’t do much against the Endra deck! Think about it – Endra decks are going to have Endras all over the place. In their hand, in their deck, in their Market, in the void, on the board. There’s no guarantee that Royal Decree will even find an Endra in their hand. Even if it does, they can still Scream an Endra in their void, bounce and replay an Endra on the field, or fetch their pocket Endra from their Market.
People put in Royal Decree hoping that it’ll be able to hit 4 Endras and make the opponent concede instantly, but a lot of the time, it’s going to hit like 1 or 2 of them. The remaining copies of Endra, often ones already in play or in the void, will then be recursed 5 or 6 times, which is more than enough to kill you with.
Royal Decree is a good card against many combo decks. But against Endra decks specifically, it’s subpar. It’s not the sort of card you want to have clogging up your main deck, and is a perfect example of how adding too many low-impact tech cards can dilute your deck. Contrast it with a card like Waylay or Shush. These cards also aim to snipe the Endras lurking in the opponent’s deck. Crucially, however, they also hit the void as well. This is a huge upgrade from Royal Decree, because the void is an important zone for the Endra player. In fact, one of the most important things to keep in mind in the Endra mirror is to refrain from killing your opponent’s Endras in order to avoid turning on their void recursion. Now, Waylay and Shush have their own issues (they are horrible in other matchups and very bad tempo), and I am not necessarily saying that you should play 4 copies of them. But in my opinion, they are far better than Royal Decree against Endra because they have a high impact in the field that matters (the void).
The reason I titled this section “Don’t Let Your Tech Cards Slack Off” is because your tech cards should be pointy – their effect should be very directly addressed at the things that Endra decks want to do, and you should be able to clearly explain how their inclusion makes life hard for Endra decks, rather than just a vague notion of “Endra decks like doing void stuff, right? Doesn’t Shadowlands Feaster stop that from happening?” This requires a thorough understanding of how Endra decks operate and the various ways to play around hate cards that they have, since you don’t really want to pick a tech card that’s too easily played around. The best way to defeat Endra decks is therefore to practice playing one yourself and think about what cards you hate to see and what cards you respond to with “eh, that wasn’t too bad”. You never want enemies to go “eh, that wasn’t too bad” when you play a card that’s supposed to blow them out!
Of course this is a matter of context. A card like Valkyrie Enforcer or Desert Marshal is objectively not really that good against Endra compared to some of the other options you have available. Like, sure, you can silence one Endra, but they have four! If you played Shush instead of Desert Marshal, for the same cost you could silence every Endra in their deck and their void, instead of just one. But I’d play Desert Marshal over Shush any day, because what Marshal lacks in power against Endra decks, he makes up for in value in non-Endra matchups. Think of your cards as occupying a sliding scale between “good all the time” and “good situationally”. If a card is only good situationally (ie. only good against exactly Endra decks), then it has to be really good when that situation arrives to make up for being dead or mediocre the rest of the time. Conversely, if a card is good all the time, then I’m okay with it only providing a little bit of value against Endra, because it makes up for it in other ways. Some cards are “good all the time” and also “high impact situationally” – like Tocas in a Time Midrange deck. They are DWD’s gift to you. Use them as much as you can to show your appreciation.
Another thing to keep in mind when selecting your tech cards for maximum impact is the meta. Not all Endra decks are the same. For instance, FTP Endra doesn’t run any void reanimation. In that context, Adjudicator’s Gavel might actually be an extremely low impact card, despite being one of the more common anti-Endra cards. You should even consider cutting it from your market if FTP Endra ends up being way more popular than FPS Endra and becoming the only Endra deck that sees play. The art of tuning your deck against the meta requires that you keep your finger on its pulse, so make sure you’re up to date with the hottest new Endra variants.
Here are some cards I think you can run as maindeck tech cards, because they possess a reasonably high amount of impact against Endra while also having value in other matchups, thus offering a pretty attractive value proposition.
- Swift Refusal does work against any matchup that has important slow spells you want to counter, while also being extremely good against virtually any form of Endra recursion. This card excels because it is flexible – where a Gavel might only hate reanimation and a Tocas might only hate Mirror Image effects, Swift Refusal can counter both.
- Tocas, Waystone Harvester is an archetypical “goodstuff” card that ramps while having a reasonable body. The reason that Tocas excels is because not all Endra decks run void recursion (which would make cards like Gavel useless), but basically every Endra deck runs Mirror Image, so you’re always guaranteed value from Tocas.
- Vanquisher’s Blade shuts off the opponent’s void, and at the same time accelerates your clock by pushing more damage and making your units larger. It also has reasonable value against decks that run big units because of the Spellcraft. One of the reasons why Vanquisher’s Blade is so good is because Endra decks are often light on removal. If it’s mounted on an Aegis unit, it can often be harder to get rid of than a relic like Gavel.
- Svetya, Orene of Kosul has a very unique effect; she blocks the Endra player from playing any spells at all for the next turn. Svetya is an example of a tech card that’s on the extreme end of the impact vs general usefulness scale. She’s a very bad card in a normal matchup, being essentially a Striped Araktodon if the opponent has a unit. But she makes up for this by essentially denying the Endra player an entire turn while putting out a 4/4 on the field to pressure them. This is Svetya’s true strength against Endra – she forces them to either have an Endra to hardcast, or pass the turn without doing anything of consequence. In that sense, she can be compared to a more extreme version of Swift Refusal.
- Equivocate is such a good card that you would run it even if Endra wasn’t around! It scores full points on the “good in general” scale, and even better, it provides very decent value against Endra decks. Because it’s fast, it can be played in response to a Mirror Image, and it effectively silences the Endra by transforming it, forcing the Endra player to find another copy if they want to continue going off.
This isn’t an exhaustive list – far from it. I could think of a few other cards, like Felrauk’s Choice, that are important parts of the cat and mouse game between Endra and anti-Endra decks. But the important thing to understand is that all of these cards are chosen carefully to maximize impact. If you added up their equity against Endra and their equity against non-Endra, you’d get a pretty decent total. Whenever you think about adding a card into your deck, you’ll want to think in these terms. What does it do for me against Endra? What does it do for me against non-Endra? When I play it against Endra, how much does it inconvenience them? What spells does it turn off, and what zones does it lock down? Once you start thinking like this, you’ll be able to build more cohesive decks that aren’t watered down with rubbish like Shadowlands Feaster or 4x Royal Decree.
Don’t Rely Too Heavily On Your Tech Cards
Okay, so you’ve carefully selected your cards for maximum impact, making sure they won’t water down your deck too much. You’re up against an Endra deck – you draw a nice opening hand, holding a bunch of the cards you put in against Endra, with enough power and influence to play them. So you win, right?
Well, not exactly. See, Endra players aren’t stupid. They know what you’re up to, and they know all the common counters. They’ll have prepared in advance, and they’ll have their own lines of play and plans to get around each and every one of the things you can do against them. When Erik9099 first posted his Endra deck on Reddit, he even included a guide to beat some of the more common hate cards that he saw. So here’s a hard truth for you:
Hate cards do not beat Endra.
Silence? They’ll draw another one. Or Devour in response to protect their Endra from being silenced in the first place. Transform? Same thing. Any attachment gets nuked by Bore or Melt Down (from Garden of Omens). Tocas eats a Display of Instinct or an Ice Bolt. Counterspells are single-use, and they have more combo pieces than you have counterspells, so you’ll run out eventually. Corrupt or Felrauk’s Choice can be met with their own counterspell in the form of Display of Instinct or their own Swift Refusal. Even stuff like Svetya’s Summon can simply be waited out, or blocked with a face Aegis. Given enough time, there is nothing you can do against a well-prepared Endra that stops them, short of just killing them.
Here’s another hard truth for you: you cannot outgrind or outvalue Endra. Endra is a combo that goes off nigh-infinitely and does not have a reasonable cap on the amount of damage it can deal. No matter what you’re doing, if it isn’t Endra, Endra wins against you in the long game. You can draw as many cards as you like, you can summon as many big bodies as you like – you will not be able to win if you try to go over the top. Endra is like a Kairos that costs 2 in terms of how futile it is to try to outvalue her. That’s not to say that control strategies are completely sunk (although I do think they may be poorly positioned at the moment) – just that they cannot durdle for too long, they have to have some way of ending the game in a brisk and rapid manner. Burn spells + Prodiguous Sorcery, for instance, or an Icaria you ramp to fairly quickly and then beat them down with.
What does all this mean for you? It means that you will never win a game with one card, and you will never win the long game. Because your tech cards do not win the game for you by themselves, you should not depend entirely on them. For that reason, it is even more imperative that you have a strong, undiluted game plan beyond whatever disruptive effects you have planned to deal with Endra. Your tech cards are there to slow the Endra deck down enough that you can kill them before they deal with them. Given enough time, the Endra deck can bypass any piece of disruption you can throw at them – the key words being “given enough time”. So don’t give them time. Capitalize on the inconvenience caused by your effects to finish them off before they can do anything.
This philosophy should inform your deckbuilding. You can’t have tech cards that cost you as much tempo as they gain you in terms of inconveniencing the Endra player (by forcing them to take time off to Merchant for a Bore and so forth). This is the last reason why Royal Decree is bad against Endra: playing it, especially maindeck, has a nasty tendency of killing your tempo, doing you more harm than good. In contrast, good tech cards like Vanquisher’s Blade, Equivocate and Svetya actually accelerate your tempo by buffing units, removing blockers, and putting out threatening bodies.
Keep these ideas in mind when you play, and remember that your ultimate goal is to kill the Endra deck, not to resolve your Gavel or whatever. When I was testing Combrei Aggro out on ladder, there were many times I chose to play a Cykalis on 4 to set up lethal rather than go Merchant into Gavel. So a bog-standard Combrei 4 drop was more important than the card I put in my deck specifically to beat Endra. That’s because it does more for my ultimate game plan of tempoing out the Endra deck, at least in that position.
I hope this article has helped you a little in thinking about how you want to build and play your decks when trying to combat the Endra meta. While I’m not expecting you to agree with 100% of what I say, it’s my hope that reading this article gives you a fresh perspective on building your decks. Feel free to provide feedback or discussion in the comments, and good luck with beating the Endra menace!
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