Howling Peak is out and Xo of the Endless Hoard is in. The promising dragon from the start of set 5 meta is now represented by an average of 3 copies per deck in the ETS top 8. The only deck that ran no copies of Xo in the top 8 was Haunted Highway, which has received no updates at all. But before we dig deeper into the deck lists that made up the ETS, we should talk about what makes Xo such a good card to begin with. And the answer is pretty clear to everyone who has played a Xo deck, Xo himself isn’t the star, but rather the treasure he creates. Playing Xo is nothing special when compared to other historical wincons at 7 power. But with big lady Icaria gone, the spot is open and Xo is ready to add street cred to his hoard. When thinking of Xo, it’s not adequate to take the card at face value since it doesn’t represent the actual game play. Instead, we can imagine a two cost spell that has a fate effect of drawing a card and can be cast to draw Xo. Obviously, this is a much better card than even Xo in it’s current iteration, but a similar enough card to showcase why Xo is great. Xo replaces itself and just asks that the player pays two power to do it. This is powerful card advantage, even when one of the cards is Xo.
And when you play Xo and it survives a turn, it can be very useful. The amplify ability doesn’t usually impact the game too much, but functions as a late game Cookbook. With this in mind, it makes sense that Xo decks usually don’t even run any copies of cookbook in their market, it’s simply unnecessary once you have gotten a swing in with the dragon. The pinging itself is usually not backbreaking, but a good addition to an otherwise decent ability. Xo decks themselves can be roughly split into two camps: Removal Pile Xo and Value Pile Xo. In removal pile, Xo provides the much needed card advantage and smooths out the otherwise rough early game. Although Removal Pile has lost most of it’s traditional connotations as the majority of removal comes from the 8 smuggler market. The main deck still has a respectable 17 pieces of removal, but the Avigraft market plan allows for any smuggler to be converted into one of the best pieces of removal in the entire game. And by removing the usual strategy of going for Harsh Rules, the deck can run an extremely powerful unit package instead of having to stick to low-impact units and wincons. The Rakano Version of Removal Xo opts to go for a suite of 19 removal spells and Valkyrie Enforcers. Cutting out shadow also leaves room to run Telut, which is still a very powerful card even when it leads to some bloat in the 7 drop category.
Value Pile Xo decks are usually fairly traditional Howling Peak lists, with Zal Chi and Heart of the Vault winning out over the entire faction of Shadow. However, Komodo demonstrated that Kennadins is still very powerful, especially when combined with the Value Xo tech. Although removing time also gets rid of Display of Instinct and Equivocate, which both Jennev lists run as a part of their removal package, a combo finish is a very worthwhile replacement. However, the Jennev deck ran by the third place finisher, ThufirHawat, features an entire playset of Moonstone Vanguard, a criminally underappreciated card from Defiance. It finally seems that it has assumed it’s rightful place as a pseudo-Feast-Caller in Jennev Xo. Even though Xo is amazing right now, eventually Fire based decks that thrive off of card advantage will lose to the next archetype that comes along. There’s a hard limit to how much greed decks can have, and when someone simply attacks twice with a Screamed Highwayman, it’s hard to do much about it. At worst, we might see a repeat of the haunted highway meta, which is being foreshadowed by the second place finisher, Rhay_v3. Haunted Highway is most likely the natural enemy of Xo, but hopefully there’s a drastic unknown in the meta-game and we will avoid such a cruel fate.
Another significant deck list that was not represented in the ETS is Big Combrei. Although there are many variants of this particular deck, it performs well against most aggro lists and can put up a solid fight when it comes to the value game. Martyr’s Chains is an incredibly powerful card, and will likely be a cornerstone of more decks in the future. Although I would not call Combrei tier 1 based on its power level, it is definitely a deck to keep your eye out on and something that will significantly affect the meta-game in the future. Rakano Aggro is still a very powerful deck, however, it has fallen under the radar due to the unfavorable meta-game. When everyone is running a playset of torch, trying to play voltron on small units tends to not work out the best. However, Red Canyon Smuggler can single handedly turn games around even if they got off to a bad start, so Rakano Aggro itself will not be going anywhere. And sadly, those are all the significant decks in the current meta-game. Ixtun Peak is still playable, but loses out overall to other Xo decks, and there is an argument for playing Big Xenan, but the actual diversity in the metagame is currently fairly lacking. But thankfully the Defiance format is far from solved and we will probably see a lot of change and turbulence over the next few weeks. We could potentially see a balance patch that nerfs Xo significantly based on the abundance of use in the next week, which would have drastic implications.
This has been Isochron! I, as well as many others, cannot wait to see what comes out of the fallout of this week’s ETS. Let us know what you think we will see in the coming weeks and the pending Eternal Championship Qualifier beginning on January 11th.