Beyond The Top Eight – Season 5 Week 1

Horus Traver

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Beyond The Top Eight! My name is Tim, otherwise known as Tchamber5 on ladder. I took a little bit of a hiatus from writing for Team Rankstar over the last few weeks due to my baby girl being born on December 9th, 2018. It’s been a crazy time, and now that I have settled into a little bit of a rhythm with my family, I thought that the first week of the ETS would be a good week for another edition of my ongoing series. Today, we’ll look at some decks that just barely missed the cut for the top eight and hopefully find some sweet decks and hot tech.

Since the release of Defiance, the meta has gone through a lot of Peaks and valleys (that was a pun), and we have ended up in a weird spot. According to Eternalwarcry, the top 8 of the ETS had a perfect thirty-two out of a possible thirty-two copies of torch in it, Meaning that every deck in the quarter finals had Fire in it. The rise of Eternal’s hottest faction is no fluke, seeing how it got a lot of insanely powerful new tools at their disposal, not the least of which being Howling Peak and Xo, The Endless Horde. The Eye of winter classic last week was chock-full of Howling Peak decks as well, and the meta is responding in an interesting fashion: FJS, aka Jund, aka Winchest.

As per usual, I will brush over the top eight before diving a little deeper.

1st place: Winchest Mid

2nd place: Haunted Highway

3rd place: Winchest Mid

3rd place: Jennev Peak (Mid-Range)

5th place: Winchest Mid

5th place: Jennev Peaks (control)

5th place: Rakano Valkyries

5th place: Kennadins

Xo of the Endless Hoard

In addition to thirty-two copies of torch, this top eight is rocking an equally crazy twenty-five Xo. What brought this dragon to the top of the treasure trove? Let’s take a look at the winning deck list, Highwayman Takes An Ambitious Journey piloted by Ingenuity.

not only are the stats and abilities already solid on Xo, but what makes this card truly powerful is the fate mechanic in combination with merchants and Strategize (in the case of Primal decks) There has always been a lingering misconception about “free value” that I hear all the time. For example, people will often put Mirror Image in the market for no other reason than for “value.” In this scenario, not only are you giving up a market slot, but you are trading (likely) two turns and three cards for two cards from your market. Compare this to Xo, the endless horde. When you draw Xo, you are already getting an extra card for free. Then, if you have a merchant in hand, you can immediately trade Xo for a more relevant card from the market, while staying net neutral on cards.

However, I digress. Ingenuity takes advantage of this concept to the fullest with eight smugglers. I like that the smugglers are already good units contextually, and also give you access to 5 high impact cards. Other than the smuggler-Xo Synergy, the deck is pretty streamlined with the best cards that FJS has to offer like Display of Ambition, Slay, Vara, etcetera. Some interesting deck building choices here include playing Quarry over Cauldron Cookbook. Until the release of Set Five, Cookbook was a large chunk of the meta, providing card draw to decks that normally didn’t have access to it. I suspect that this is made up for in a few subtle ways. For example, Display of ambition sometimes acting as a draw-two effect can be huge, and at instant speed. Additionally, the aforementioned Xo synergy can create incremental card advantage that snowballs to the late game. Overall, a nicely tuned deck that took home the trophy.

Howling Peak

There were two Jennev decks in the top eight, though each was a bit different. Although both rely on Howling Peak as an insane value engine, The fourth place list, FTP Stompy, piloted by ThufirHawat looks to play a mid range strategy with efficient, disruptive units.

Copying any of the sentinels in the deck with Howling Peak is extremely powerful, especially Heart of the Vault. Though I suspect that sometimes this deck can have some awkward draws with how top heavy it is, the raw power of most of these cards will probably outweigh the downside in most tournament settings. I think that this deck should probably make room for strategize to tuck away excess Xos and give you more early plays, but other than that, I like this deck quite a lot.

Speaking of Strategize in Jennev decks, we have a similar Howling Peaks Shell that trades in mid-range stompy units for card selection: Zal Chi Peaks, piloted by Paradox.

This build looks to be a lot more on the control side of the spectrum, featuring Jotun Feast-Caller, which is an excellent unit to copy with a Mirror Image from Howling Peaks. Beyond the various card draw spells available, another interesting inclusion is Howling Peak Smuggler. I assume that this decision was made due to the Jennev Merchant nerf, but Howling Peak Smuggler does have it’s own merits besides. Though you don’t have as much consistent access to some of the best cards in your deck as you would with Jennev Merchant, you still have access to powerful cards like Molot and Nakova and Bore. I will go out on a limb and say that this is probably – within four or five cards – the best way to build Jennev peaks.

The last thing of note about the top eight is that there were two classic archetypes that made the cut: Kennadins and Rakano Valkyries.

As far as Kennadins (piloted by Komodo) is concerned, we see the classic staples of Kennadins, but with the addition of Howling Peak and Xo, which seem to have buffed the deck quite a bit.

Meanwhile, Rakano Valks was piloted by Kroge, who is known for their expertise in the archetype. Though the deck will look very similar to previous iterations, you’ll notice quite a few new cards from Defiance. The removal suite got a huge buff here in the form of Defiance and Avigraft, both appearing as three-offs. The Rakano smuggler is very good here as well, as the double damage can be exploited by this deck quite effectively.

Now let’s look beyond the top eight.

In ninth place, we have another Jennev Deck piloted by Childroland.

I won’t go too deep here, since this is pretty much the exact 80 played by Paradox, but I will take a second to sing the praises of Zal Chi. It wasn’t until this week that the Herald of War has made a splash on the format. I think that this card is busted good, and it just took a few weeks to find the right shell. Expect Zal Chi as a four of going forward in most Jennev decks.

Moonstone Vanguard

In Tenth place, we see yet another Jennev deck, Moonstone Peaks,  piloted by Robotbc that is very similar to the above list with one change: Moontone Vanguard over Zal Chi. Frankly, I think this is a mistake. Moonstone Vanguard is quite a good card, and I think it deserves to be in the conversation, but I don’t think you can justify it’s inclusion instead of Zal Chi.

Moving on to eleventh place, We have another Winchest deck piloted by Kartoffel

This deck is rather similar to the first place list, packing seven smugglers, four Xo, etcetera. Some noticeable differences include the absence of Highwayman in the main deck, replaced instead by a full play set of Harsh Rules. You will again notice a lack of Cauldron Cookbook here, which is instead replaced by Defiance cards like Lost Scroll and Display of Ambition. This deck is also looking to go long and grind, adding two Dark Returns to bring the total of recursion effects to five. It’s fascinating to see the FJS archetype settle into a group of core cards with plenty of room for flexibility, and this probably a reasonable way to hike it.

In twelfth place, we have an old favorite, Kennadins, piloted by Bradykin.

Similar to the deck that was tied for fifth place, if not identical, this should look very familiar to anyone who has been playing Eternal seriously for any amount of time. Before the release of set five, Kennadins was solidly tier two at best, but with the arrival of Howling Peaks and Xo, new life has been breathed into the archetype, seeing two copies finish at 4-2 or better. I kind of wish that there as a way to squeeze Feast-Caller into the deck, as that is one of the best pieces of synergies available with Peak, but the list seems pretty tight as it is. This is a deck that i am really looking forward to trying in the coming weeks, since it as many lines of play and rewards thinking several turns ahead. Though it may not be the most innovative or original deck to do well in the tournament, It’s one of my favorite.

Moving on to thirteenth we have another old archetype that go juiced up by the release of Defiance: Nightmaul piloted by Melon130.

This deck is seeking to prey upon all of the mid-range and control decks in the format by forcing card draw and incidental damage via nightfall triggers, beating down with small and efficient units. This usually isn’t enough to get the job done, so the deck packs four copies of Maul, which usually deals anywhere from 8-20 damage. I love this deck as a meta call for this weekend, and will stay super viable as long as there are peak decks in the format. One of the more powerful new cards in the deck is Cykalis, the Burning Sand. Not only is it super powerful by itself, but it synergies quite well with Dusk Raider. I’m not sure how necessary the shadow splash is rather than just straight Elysian, though it allows access to some great adds like Rindra, the Duskblade and Vara’s Choice. If you are running into an excess amount of control or top heavy mid-range decks, I would recommend giving this archetype a try.

Vicious HighwaymanOf the five remaining decks that went 4-2 or better, four of them are Winchest Decks. Three of which (piloted by Mysak, OnionGee, and Team Rankstar’s own Dunkelwerk) I will just touch on these rather briefly, as they are very similar to the first place list, leaning on Vicious Highwayman to beat the Peak matchup. The List that really caught my eye here was Munkrej’s list. Here, we see a more controlling build that tops out on Brel, Sol Apostate, and includes odd cards like Deathstrike. I suppose that if there isn’t a lot of void recursion in the meta, Deathstrike is just a better version of Feeding Time or In Cold Blood. It’s always been a little clunky for me, though I don’t absolutely hate it here. I also really like Brel, especially in a more controlling shell with relic weapons.

The only thing I am missing here is some sort of sweeper here, whether it be Devastating Setback or Harsh Rule. I like the idea a lot though, and I am pretty certain that there is a great shell for Brel out there, whether it be this deck or something a little different.

We have another Eternal mainstay that went 4-2 this week piloted by Kangbreath. You guessed it, it’s AP mid.

Kangbreath is infamous for piloting this nearly unchanged deck to a great deal of success, including to 2018’s ETS world championship. There is one change to the deck coming in hot from Defince: Hidden Road Smuggler…In the market? This doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but I suspect that Kangbreath has their reasons, as they are an expert in the archetype. Perhaps it isn’t so different from putting Mirror Image in the market of a Primal deck, and creating a copy of Jennev Merchant. I think that what we are seeing here is the result of a player who is an expert in an archetype rather than a good deck for the  meta this week. 

The last deck I wanted to talk about today is Rakano Aggro piloted by SooNo. He named his deck in a rather….cheeky fashion…

This isn’t a completely new archetype, but SooNo has made some nice adjustments here. Not only sporting all of the most aggressive units that Rakano has to offer and backing them up with excellent removal tends to be a recipe for success. The big draw to this deck for me is Hojan, Crownbreaker, and I suspect that most of the games won with this build will be the games where Hojan plus pump spell goes unanswered. Due to the nature of the deck, sometimes you will draw all pump  and removal, and have some very frustrating losses. This deck is probably a lot better on ladder versus in a tournament setting, since it’s much easier to rush an unsuspecting opponent. The games will tend to be very fast as well, which makes this a great deck for climbing ladder.

Even though the tournament was completely dominated by Winschest and Howling Peak decks, I think that there is still a lot of room for change. Right now we are in a sea of mid-range decks fighting each other with grindy cards and sticky threats. Eventually, I predict that we will see a hard control deck take shape in some form to go over the top of all of these middle of the road archetypes. And really, there are still a ton of unexplored cards from defiance that are begging to be brewed around. Go forth and brew my friends. Go forth and brew.

Anyway, Thanks for reading everyone. As always, feel free to leave a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter with any questions or suggestions!

Tim

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