Welcome to the first of many articles where I take an in-depth look at how to approach certain matchups. One of the symptoms of TESL being a young game relative to other CCGs is that the ‘canon’ theory is largely unwritten. A lot of the content is broad and abstract, and I suspect that many players will find a more narrow focus useful.
Midrange Battlemage (Mid BM) is a wonderful deck, one of my favourites. There’s merit to questioning whether midrange is a misnomer – traditionally midrange decks are slightly favoured vs control decks and slightly unfavoured vs aggro. Aggro is usually able to go under (play cheaper/wider threats) whereas midrange is usually able to consistently maintain pressure while keeping up on cards in hand. Mid BM is a midrange deck in speed and curve (and name) but its tempo-oriented gameplan is something else altogether. It would be disrespectful of me to not acknowledge its origins but these days it’s low to the ground due to the aggressive metagame. Here’s the list I use at the moment (as in time of publication. It changes from hour to hour.) Apologies for the non-premium cards.
Before I get into the matchups I want to talk about why I think it’s one of the harder decks to play optimally in TESL. Fluidity of gameplan pays off most with Mid BM. I generally err on the side of proactivity, especially vs reactive decks and while it is very important to have an overarching game plan, you need to be able to adjust that from turn to turn. Plan ahead but also pay attention to the tools your draw step provides and what your opponent tells you with their cards, plays and lane placement. For example, you have a Daggerfall Mage and a Tel Vos Magister in play, and your face has a ward. You’re both on 20 life. You’ve got a Battlemace and a Belligerent Giant in hand. Your Hlaalu opponent has no creatures in play (you just killed them) and they have 2 cards in hand with a Haunted Manor in play. I’d be thinking I’ve nearly outcarded them, and be looking to flood the board and setup for a one / two turn kill. In their turn they play a Triumphant Jarl into Ash Berserker in the shadow lane. Uh oh! Your chances of victory by attrition just plummeted. You need to change your plan to a race you can win. I’m looking to hit for 7 here and bounce their Jarl with Giant. You’ve just removed their biggest creature and set up to skip 2 runes. Those cards don’t matter in their hand, outside of their utility to either race you or stabilize. They are forced to reveal which of those they intend to pursue in their turn. Most of the time you pass the turn intending to mace up and kill them. If they can somehow clear your board or race then that’s just Hlaalu, but you adapted your game plan to the one most likely to end the game quickly, and most of the time you’ll win. It’s a difficult thing to know when it’s correct to push, to discard your old plan in favour of a new one. Battlemage the class doesn’t have ways to heal, outside of some inefficient neutral cards, so looking out for game state changes like that is crucial.
Mid Battlemage is very good versus aggro decks. Despite having an awkward curve with few early drops, your game plan most of the time is to control the board in the early to mid game, then ‘flip’ the board and develop a one or two turn clock. Use your tools like Firebolt, Rapid Shot and vanguard to trade up/profitably, your Vigilant Ancestors, Conjurers and Magister to stonewall them. Eventually you’ll establish board control (cradlecrush is god here) and use your judgment to set up a clock. Vs Crusader-based aggro the aforementioned situation is one to watch out for, use harpy and belligerent for tempo gains when racing, pay attention to their cards in hand. Sometimes you have no choice but to race before you’re advantaged. Early double manor or double Ash Berserker are the kind of thing to look out for. In both cases your opponent has sacrificed tempo (less so in the latter) for long term gain. PUNISH IT. I mean you don’t really have a choice but put as much power on the board as you can, use your giants and harpies to halt their development and count backwards from 30. One common choice that I see misplayed is where you have a Battalion and Berserker both in hand and you play the ash. Most of the time this is wrong. That extra attack and two points of health matter. Alone it’s a 6 turn clock vs an 8 turn one. You can draw when you’re ahead. Ash Berserker is often for twisting the knife.
The absurd term ‘midgro’ is just aggro. For Warrior refer to aggro. The start of this spectrum begins at Mid Sorcerer I’d say, though true Midrange is a rarity at the moment. For the most part you have better tempo tools than any other true Midrange deck, so barring odd circumstances you are in the driver’s seat. Act as such. Be the aggressor, take the initiative and force them to use their resources inefficiently while developing. For the most part just play as if it were aggro, except they are less likely to get under you so that point where you ‘flip’ the board often comes much sooner.
Now that Drain Vitality is rare I will lump control together. Yellow control of course has more hard removal than Telvanni, but for the most part you’re playing them the same. I’ll give caveats for Conscription decks at the end. I’ve heard Warriors7 say (quoting slw I believe) that Mid BM is a factory for making 5/5s and books(tome of alteration). The 5/5s have utility everywhere but control is where you want to be making books all day long. They let you make favorable trades (on board / virtual card advantage) put your threats out of AoE range forcing them to use their removal inefficiently, and help maintain card parity. Deploying threats and doing those three things are your keys to success vs control. Running out a t3 Daggerfall Mage to get Executed or hit by Sorcerer’s Negation is exactly what control wants you to do. By playing something else, or at times nothing, and waiting a turn to rapid shot + daggerfall, you draw two cards immediately, one of which draws another card. Stormcloak Vanguard is another rapid shot in a way. Except it always draws a 4 cost 5/5. Exposing it to Execute etc is another way to play into their game plan and deny yourself a card. You’ll commonly use them to trade up as well but Cradlecrush Giant is the big daddy of trading. Even if it just clears one of their creatures or allows you to trade up, the giant represents how you want to be playing vs control – advancing your own game plan (playing threats) while denying theirs (removing a key blocker or facilitating a trade. Doubly so vs Ulfric’s Uprising decks, as playing a threat while removing an Indoril Mastermind, for example, makes their uprising worse.) Playing a Daggerfall Mage the same lane that turn to pick up a book is as good as it gets. You want to use your Ash Berserkers wisely too. Most of the time you want to draw a card the same turn you play it. Sometimes that’s playing it with a 5+ creature in play already, or holding onto Crown Quartermaster’s gift to attach it to the Berserker. They have a target on their head so hey what value you can. If all goes to plan you should be gaining incremental advantage each turn, in hand and on board. Chipping away at their life each turn should put you in a position to eventually end them with Battlemaces and Lightning Bolts. You’re not favoured vs them, however so sometimes you just lose but if you apply these principles and keep a fluid game plan you’ll have a good shot at taking them down. And of course, be ready to throw any of these wisdoms out the window if you think the situation calls for it. Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
For Conscription decks ( the sensible ones at least) you generally play the same as control. Be a little more mindful that you’re on an 11 turn clock, save a Candycrush if it will be useful but make no mistake you are the aggressor, moreso than regular control.
There are of course many other decks that escape the simple classification of Aggro, Mid and Control. I may do a part 2 if there is demand, but for the most part the skills are there – now get out there and play it! Something I’ve always found worth keeping in mind is that TESL is still quite a young game. As I opened with, the ‘canon’ or theory is still being written. There are many different opinions out there, and to an extent they all have merit. Playstyle is a factor too. What works for some doesn’t work for others, so the best you can do is take what others say and test them against your own beliefs. In that vein, if you disagree with, or have questions about anything contained (or not) in this article, please let me know. Catch you next time!
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