Meta Monday – Ambition

“You mean FJS Monday? Starring ECQ winner FJS and ETS winner FJS? Guest starring second place finishers FJS and even more shockingly, FJS?” – Notorious GHP

Welcome back to Meta Monday, this is Isochron. If FJS was the top dog last week, it has now become dominant to the point that we’re approaching a metagame singularity. Soon, only FJS will remain and all other decks will be completely wiped out. The top 3 finishes in the ETS and ECQ were unsurprisingly FJS lists, this deck is completely dominating the metagame beyond any reasonable expectations. However, although everything will eventually be consumed by FJS, there’s still a lot of variations within FJS decks. So today, we will mostly be looking at the various builds of FJS and trying to figure out what makes the deck work.

The first important part is the core that every single FJS deck that we’re looking at has. The first piece of the puzzle is the eight smuggler technology. Although xSTEALTHx only runs three copies of Hidden Road Smuggler, almost every FJS deck has decided that having more smuggling makes for a better black market. This is a fairly reasonable conclusion, considering how good the basic bodies of both the Hidden Road and Red Canyon smugglers are. The second universal constant throughout the decks is the choice to run 4 Varas and 4 Rizahns, this lifesteal package deals with any issues that could come from running out of health before the devastating endgame can be engaged. Every deck we’re looking at also runs a full play set of Display of Ambition, with the exception of ThufirHawat who has made the choice to run only three of the card. And on the side of removal, each deck runs play sets of both Torch and Slay. These are both incredibly powerful options for any deck that wants to last into the late-game, so it’s obvious that they would be represented in a faction combination that can play both. And finally, most every deck also runs a full play set of Xo. xSTEALTHx is again the outlier, as they decided that they only needed a total of three Xo.

This means that the core of FJS is only 32 main deck cards, with the other 18 being relatively flexible slots. In the past, four of these would have been occupied by seek power, but now that there’s an option to run Winchest Cargo, the playerbase has been split. Although most opt to go for Seek Power, Winchest Cargo is definitely a respectable decision for those who are not disillusioned with picking from random cards. Although Cargo is definitely amazing, it is not the Seek Power killer some of us thought it was. There are significant downsides to being only left with three mediocre options instead of another power. This is especially an issue when you are unable to cast Xo and keep drawing into Contraband. However, both sides have enough merit and there is no lasting consensus on the issue yet. Our rebellious xSTEALTHx has split their fixing between two copies of Seek Power and two copies of Winchest Cargo, which is a very innovative solution and something I hope to see more of.

After all this has been established, we know that there are approximately 14 slots left to flesh out FJS. However, a build as unconventional as the one ran by xSTEALTHx has a total of 16 slots in addition to the core. And since they ran the most unconventional build by far, we should look at what they chose to include in his FJS list, that took third place in the ECQ. First, they doubled down on early game removal by adding a single copy of Defiance alongside two copies of Annihilate. Against a more aggressive field, this allows the FJS player to put shields up earlier and outlast the early game damage. Furthermore, if Teacher of Humility comes back into the metagame, these cards are brilliant ways to avoid getting disciplined. xSTEALTHx also opts to run two copies of Lost Scroll and three copies of Quarry, this is a reasonable decision considering how they built this deck, and ensures that they will not be stuck with a hand full a two drop cyclers. Many variants of FJS can get stuck with hands full of Quarry and Treasure trove, and averting this can help further reinforce a better early board dominance. Another interesting choice is the one maindeck Avigraft, which has a large amount of significance due to eliminating the possibility of running it in the black market. I think that this is the most questionable decision in the entire deck, and would not recommend this particular strategy. However, we will talk about market choices later, and there is a method to this particular madness. Our rebel also includes two copies of both Auric Runehammer and Vicious Highwayman as ways to flesh out the four drop slot. xSTEALTHx also chooses to run three copies of Harsh Rule, which is a piece of technology I am personally very fond of.

But now that we have gone over the most unorthodox build of FJS, we should go over what is probably the expected way to build the deck. And to do so, we should look at the ECQ winner DarkestHour. DarkestHour uses his free slots to play the known FJS powerhouses. His deck includes four Lost Scrolls, three Quarries, three Vanquishes, and four Statuary Maidens. This is the load-out most people would expect in a basic FJS shell, and the raw power of all of these cards carried him to an incredible first place finish. Congratulations to DarkestHour for winning the ECQ, and here’s hoping his deck does not dominate ladder for more than a few weeks.

The final ECQ top three contestant, trumpets, took their finish by running a full play set of Telut. This might seem to stretch the 7 drop slot beyond reason, but adding a play set of Lost Scroll provides the ramp and additional power to push this strategy into being a powerful alternative to conventional FJS. Being able to attack with lifesteal units and make them into game winning threats is great on its own merits, and Telut definitely provides. However, Telut also benefits from the recursion inherent in Display of Ambition, as you can always get back your best units. This means that if you get back two units, one of them being Telut, your opponent still has to answer the first one as it will become a bigger threat if left alone for a turn. Alongside running three copies of Statuary Maiden, trumpet has decided to commit to his high end even further by running 27 power cards. His final non-core spot is occupied by a single Annihilate. This is the exact same decklist that took sifudanny to a third place finish in the ETS, so we will be moving on straight to the ETS first place.

Gozuuu’s unique variant of FJS Telut contends with xSTEALTHx as the most innovative deck. First, he is one of the two people who opted for a full play set of Winchest Cargo. Second, he’s running Marshal Ironthorn in FJS. The latter part is definitely the first time I have seen anyone make that choice, but it was definitely a worthwhile one judging from the results it put out. Gozuuu is also on 27 power, with no other flex slots. There’s no way to tell if winning by running Ironthorn was a fluke, but it’s definitely interesting to see where people can go by combining various niche cards to make a more powerful strategy.

And speaking of using niche cards, we have the second place ETS finisher, ThufirHawat, with two main deck copies of Furnace Mage. There are definitely a lot of attachments in this metagame, but Furnace Mage has almost never been run in a competitive environment. However, this did not stop ThufirHawat from putting up an extremely respectable result. He was also the only one that we will be looking at who made the decision to run Inquisitor Makto as a play set. Since Makto is immune to Avigraft, there is no on-meta way to prevent his infinite revenge. This allows for the FJS player to have an eternally recursive threat with no feasible counterplay. However, Makto is still a 5/5 at the end of the day and gets outclassed by cards like Xo and trades with Rizahn. Although these are not devastating problems, it does mean that Makto can attack a lot less times than some people would want him to. ThufirHawat also includes a full play set of Cull the Deck, a card that I am a big fan of in FJS. Cull the Deck allows for the best card selection in the entire game and there’s a very good case for running it in FJS. Although it does not share some of the power that Quarry has, it’s a perfect fit for a slower strategy. And as the final choice, ThufirHawat decided to run two of Auric Runehammer, a fairly good card for removing most early threats in the metagame. And as a final note, ThufirHawat also made the choice to run 27 power instead of adding another flex slot or filling out the core with the final Display of Ambition.

And finally, we need to look at the market choices for FJS. Since the deck runs eight smugglers, the market is an integral part of the game plan. And the one constant throughout every market we’re looking at is the inclusion of Regent’s Tomb. We all know that sites are powerful, and Regent’s Tomb provides a lot of immediate pressure and card advantage, it’s a perfect fit for the deck and it makes sense that everyone would run it. Everyone except DarkestHour and ThufirHawat also chose to run Bore in the market. Bore in itself is a necessity considering how many relics there are in the metagame. Furthermore, at seven power and two merchants in hand, Bore becomes instant card advantage. But at the end of the day, most relics are not game winning, and those that are have other answers, so excluding Bore is definitely not a wrong decision, just one that I personally am not a big fan of.

The players are also split between whether or not to run Avigraft or Vanquish in the market. The one that capitalizes on this the most is xSTEALTHx, who runs a main deck Avigraft as an additional piece of removal due to going for a market Vanquish. And if there’s a way to run Vanquish in the market, having some in the main deck is definitely a power move. However, I think that running a market Vanquish just to beat Rizahn and Xo is the wrong move for an FJS deck. Although these two fliers are fixtures of the current meta, there are plenty of main deck answers to them, and retaining the ability to completely remove a unit from your opponents game plan is very powerful. And finally, everyone except for xSTEALTHx made the choice to run Martyr’s Chains in the market, which provides an almost unbeatable late game. But this only applies if your opponent does not match you with their own Martyr’s Chains.

Other common market cards include Harsh Rule, which was run by two decks, Deepforged Plate showed up in three markets, and Defiance had two representatives. All of these cards are fairly self-explanatory, and don’t need a lot more elaboration. However, some players opted for more interesting choices. First, ThufirHawat opted to run a Stonescar Banner in the market, which helps with having more consistent power and influence. Although I like the premise of running a banner in the FJS black market, I don’t really think it’s superior enough to Bore. On the other hand, xSTEALTHx, opted to run a market Statuary Maiden, which is definitely a very rogue decision. Although the power of Statuary Maiden is mostly shutting down void recursion and dominant board states, it can clog up a game plan when the FJS player draws multiples or the opponent never presents a dominant board state that can be dealt with by Statuary Maiden. In this regard, running it in the market ensures that whenever Maiden is necessary, she can be fetched. This is a bold move and a strategy I hope to see more of in the future.

Now that we have delved into the depths of FJS variety, we should also look over all the other decks that were represented in the ETS and ECQ top 8s. In the two tournaments combined, the rest of the top 8s were occupied by four aggro decks, three mid-range decks, and three combo decks. The aggro decks consisted of two copies of Haunted Highway, one Skraggro, and one Rakano Aggro deck. The mid-range decks were represented by two copies of FJS that did not make the top three and one copy of Argenport mid-range. However, the interesting counter-current in the metagame is the relative popularity of combo. First, we saw two different builds of Howling Peak combo decks. The first one was the new standard Kennadin build, which most of us are already used to. However, the second one was the West-Wind Herald combo that uses Howling Peak for survivability and setup, and seems to have become a legitimately powerful deck that can be a good on-meta choice. The final combo deck was an Elysian Maul build, which has been good on ladder for a while, but only now broke out in the tournament scene. It’s always nice to see relatively unsupported archetypes liven up the bleak future of FJS being tier 0, and I personally hope to see more combo on ladder.

This has been Isochron presenting Meta Monday for Team Rankstar.

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