With the 2019 Masters Series behind us it’s time to reflect on the meta developments of the past few months and establish a clearer picture of where we are now and will be moving forward. Today I’ll be going over the top 10 competitive archetypes in the game with ratings (1-10) averaged from those given by some of its top players. Most of these players are primarily focused on tournament play but these ratings are highly applicable for ladder as well. It should be noted that the decks in this snapshot represent a collection of the top archetypes in the game, however other archetypes are of course viable at the highest levels and all sorts of strategies can shine given the right conditions.
Average Rating: 10.00
Personal Rating: 10
Mid BM has been one of the top competitive decks in TESL for years and the boogeyman of the format since Moons of Elsweyr’s release. The competitive community’s consensus is clear that this is the deck to beat though admittedly its recent burst of strength is likely causing this perception to be a bit extreme. To be clear, if you enter a tournament without a variant of this deck you better have a good reason why and a plan to beat it, however I don’t think that it is head and shoulders above the competition when compared to other Temple Kitty decks.
Mid BM has traditionally followed an archetypical Midrange construction with a reactive early game to maintain board parity followed by proactive threats in the mid game which take over the board and close out the game. More recently Mid BM has gained a few more early proactive tools and as a result current builds find themselves in an aggressive posture much more frequently. While previously Mid BM’s lack of threat density left it vulnerable to Control decks that could consistently find answers to its threats, the additions of Luzrah, buffed Temple Conjurer, Discerning Thief, Doomfang Ally, Syl, and most importantly Alfiq Conjurer mean that Mid Battlemage actually boasts a positive matchup into traditional Control. Some of these inclusions can theoretically open up more of an opportunity for the deck to be undercut by Aggro, however the deck’s inherent strength in the matchup thanks to win conditions like Breton Conjurer mean that the deck doesn’t have an easily identifiable Achilles’ Heel.
Mid BM is fairly modular in its construction and outside of a small core of key cards there are a number of directions the deck can be taken. Personally I’ve been won over by Superthx that Cradlecrush doesn’t make a lot of sense right now but should we see an uptick in go wide Aggro teching in a copy or two could make sense. The same goes for Skaven Pyromancer. The ability to easily adjust the amount of proactive and reactive tools included in Mid Battlemage make it a deck that can be adapted to perform in almost any meta.
Average Rating: 8.53
Personal Rating: 9
Tribunal was identified as a powerful color combination as soon as Houses of Morrowind was announced and has been knocking around the top tables ever since its release. While Tribunal has historically been used for Control decks people started experimenting with lowering its curve and becoming more proactive this past winter and since then we’ve seen a gradual progression which has landed the top tier application of this color combination squarely as a Midrange deck.
There is still a ton to be explored with the construction of Midrange Tribunal but it continues to be perceived as one of the most stable and powerful decks for high level tournament and ladder play. Much like Midrange Battlemage there are a number of knobs that can be turned to alter the deck’s playstyle and relative matchup strengths. Superthx’s list from the Masters Series is a bit more top heavy than the 2nd example list, but it balances out for it by including a few more early interactive tools and a singleton Ice Storm since it doesn’t expect to be able to maintain early board parity quite as consistently. Alterations like these can also be made to accommodate pilot stylistic preferences.
While it is 75 cards and therefore won’t draw Temple Kitty combo, Luzrah, etc as consistently, Midrange Tribunal is a great choice for combating Blue Midrange decks like Battlemage. Midrange Tribunal can fight fire cats with fire cats and its hard removal tools like Piercing Javelin and Dawn’s Wrath can combat durable threats with relative efficiency.
Average Rating: 8.50
Personal Rating: 8.5
Rage Guildsworn was admittedly a place that TRS as a tournament team missed the mark this summer. In testing we felt that the deck had a shaky early game and all too often relied on Prophecies to win games against aggressive strategies. However, leaning on Prophecies is much more acceptable in environments where you can’t expect to have a dramatic skill edge on the competition like the Last Chance Qualifier and Quakecon itself. Beyond this, several top players found ways to adjust the deck that give it other outs from an early board deficit. For instance, both lists above incorporated some number of copies of Ice Storm, leaning into a more traditionally Control oriented approach to compensate for their lack of efficient early board development options.
While TRS primarily viewed Rage Guildsworn as a Midrange strategy throughout qualifiers, leaning into a hybridized Control route worked well for other top players and has landed the deck in a similar role in the meta that Tribunal held in the spring of this year when most of the top lists were more reactive than they are currently.
As with Mid Battlemage and Tribunal, Guildsworn can be tuned for a variety of speeds, levels of proactivity and reactivity, and matchup spreads overall. As an example, in the lists above Thuldir includes 3 Belligerent Giants where Frenzy instead has 3 Mighty Conjurings. This indicates a desire from Thuldir to tech more heavily for Midrange and Control matchups and give himself greater kill pressure in the late game where Frenzy looks to more reliably lock out decks trying to get under him and grind them out. Both of these inclusions fill the role of a large top end breakthrough creature that can threaten an immediate kill with rage but their targeted matchups and playstyles are noticeably different.
Average Rating: 8.13
Personal Rating: 8
Aggro Assassin, which saw close to no play during the Masters Series and its qualifiers this year, has quietly shot up quite high in a number of top players perceptions. As a result of having extremely few recent tournament showings there aren’t a lot of strong public lists out there but I can divide what I’ve seen into a few sub archetypes, namely Tempo and Burn.
Tempo Assassin hasn’t seen a lot of play recently but it is certainly the variant of Aggro Assassin with the most historical tournament success. Tempo Assassin picked up a number of very significant tools over the past few months in Midnight Trespasser, Slinking Jackal, Discerning Thief, Sentinel Reclaimer, and Illicit Butcher. The sheer number of these upgrades certainly contributes to its perceived rise in strength and, while its historical matchup polarization remains, its use particularly as an anti Aggro silver bullet persists. Should we see an uptick in aggressive decks trying to undercut the various Alfiq archetypes, Tempo Assassin could find itself very well positioned in the meta as it is absolutely dominant in the Aggro mirror.
If you want to play an Assassin variant with lower matchup polarization (a typically desirable characteristic for ladder play), I would first recommend looking towards Assassin’s cousins Dagoth and Dominion. However there are steps you can take to depolarize Assassin should you so choose. Many of the Assassin lists that you will commonly see on ladder can be described as Burn decks, cutting many of Tempo Assassin’s interactive and threat protection oriented tools in favored of increased raw damage. While these variants are nowhere near as strong in the Aggro mirror they do pick up notable percentage points against the Guard heavy decks that tend to be Aggro Assassin’s primary weakness. So while Tempo Assassin is best at doing what Aggro Assassin is best at, protecting its potent but brittle threats and virtually never losing a race, Burn variants of Aggro Assassin can make the matchups against the Control Tribunals and Rage Guildsworns of the world a little less unwinnable.
Average Rating: 8.10
Personal Rating: 8
Aggro Dagoth, Assassins hard hitting linebacker cousin, slows itself down enough to be able to fit in some of the current dominant Midrange tools like Alfiq Conjurer and Belligerent Giant while maintaining a lean, potent early curve.
Aggro Dagoth’s particular strength lies in punishing strategies that sacrifice tempo maintenance early, as it accumulates threats fast in a way that is difficult to interact with. The combination of Wards, Silences, Shackles, over stat-ed creatures, tons of reach, and Withered Hand Cultist will cause many Control builds to crumble and thanks to some solid racing tools Dagoth isn’t half bad in the Aggro mirror either.
While Aggro Dagoth hasn’t seen a ton of play in recent times, it is clear that the competitive community views it as one of the top decks and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the deck inevitably puts up more top ladder and tournament finishes.
Of note, Midrange Dagoth, whose current iterations are quite similar to those of Aggro Dagoth with the curve slightly raised and a few more interactive tools, is similarly highly perceived by the competitive community and received an average rating of 7.79.
Average Rating: 8.04
Personal Rating: 9
Personally, if you are looking for consistently strong results, its hard for me to recommend anything other than playing 50 cards with three Temple Conjurers and three Alfiq Conjurers. Of the four color combinations where this is possible I think that Sorcerer is second best behind Battlemage. Sorcerer has the best 2 drops and the best 3 drops in the game and so on raw card quality alone Aggro Sorcerer is a force to be reckoned with.
Sorcerer retains its title as the most durable Aggro deck and the tools its gained over time mean that it can keep pace with much of its competition. Where previously Sorcerer struggled in a race, the addition of Skinned Hound in particular as well as The Gatekeeper and Alfiq Conjurer allow Sorcerer to fight back from behind.
In addition to being one of the top decks in the game Sorcerer is also an effective tool for developing your fundamentals since it strips away some of the micro complexity intrinsic to other decks and lets you put most of your attention on broad tactical play that is useful across archetypes. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a learning tool.
Average Rating: 7.73
Personal Rating: 7.5
Aggro Battlemage had seen close to zero competitive play in recent memory until the last two Master’s Qualifiers where a number of TRS players had considerable success with the archetype. Since then the emergence of Midrange Battlemage as the premier competitive archetype in all of TESL has left Aggro Battlemage in an odd place since the archetype still ranks among the best in the game, but can never be played in a tournament lineup that also consists of Midrange Battlemage, which many consider the best deck in the game.
With that being said, given certain lineup goals Aggro Battlemage is extremely powerful and dominates field lane better than pretty much anything else in the game. This is likely in contention for the lowest curve competitive archetype so if you think hyper Aggro is ever the answer to a metagame then this is your horse.
Additionally if Midrange Battlemage increases in popularity on ladder there can certainly be some value in the fact that people will mulligan for Midrange when they see Battlemage in a closed decklist environment like ladder.
As the archetype is still very new to competitive play it is certainly in need of considerable refinement, and who knows – if Midrange Battlemage sees some nerfs, a refined version of this archetype could certainly compete for its spot on a tournament lineup.
Average Rating: 7.72
Personal Rating: 8
Arguably the most innovative list brought to the Master’s Series Finals by this year’s champion Thuldir was his take on Aggro Empire. Aggro Empire saw very limited play throughout the qualifiers, and for good reason. Without many mana efficient ways to trick trades to push through the last few points of damage, Aggro Empire felt pretty anemic compared to the competition.
However, the combination of the new monthly card Apprentice Necromancer along with substantial work put into refining the archetype by Thuldir revealed the deck as a force to be reckoned with and a significant meta contender. While the deck still struggles tremendously to retake board Control from a deficit, with 12 one drops this isn’t too common of an issue for the deck to face. While the deck can struggle with certain pitfalls, (a lack of silence which it alleviates with Penitus Oculatus Agent and Edict of Azura, a lack of reach, and a lack of ways to regain trade priority), it also has many strengths. Certain power cards accomplish things unavailable to other archetypes. Empire Oathman is an extremely powerful card when active which is a tool exclusive to this deck. Apprentice Necromancer is arguably at its most potent in this archetype. Empire Recruiter and Clivia Tharn, both class specific cards, are potent threats.
In the hands of a pilot who is aware of the limitations of the deck Aggro Empire has tremendous potential. As much work as Thuldir put into the deck it is still a relatively under explored archetype and there is much refining yet to be done. This is a deck to keep an eye on.
Average Rating: 7.66
Personal Rating: 8
Earlier I mentioned that arguably the best thing you can be doing right now is playing 50 cards with three Temple Conjurers and three Alfiq Conjurers. Midrange Mage is in my opinion the third best archetype that matches this description, though of course its strengths and weaknesses are different than those of Midrange Battlemage and Aggro Sorcerer. Midrange Mage is the most reactive of the three archetypes and is the most capable of retaking the board from behind. Much of this rubberbanding strength comes as a result of its relatively high Prophecy count, though it can also be attributed to its high Guard density and ample interactive tools.
Midrange Mage is yet another deck that can be teched in a number of directions. The sample list I’ve provided is light on top end, relying on Alfiq shenanigans to power it through the late game. This comes with the benefit of being able to keep pace from a tempo perspective more consistently and force its opponent into reactive positions. However in a slower meta game where fighting over resources is more crucial, additional top end could certainly be an option.
Average Rating: 7.63
Personal Rating: 7.5
Where Aggro Dagoth is good at punishing greedy decks who are prone to falling behind early, Dominion punishes conservative decks that maintain parity well with an assumed late game inevitability. Aggro Dominion is quite different than the other Aggro decks in this snapshot because it doesn’t overwhelm its opponents with pressure but rather applies it consistently over the entire course of what can be quite a long game. We still describe the deck as Aggro because it uses almost entirely proactive tools and will try to race other Aggro decks when paired against them with the help of its many drain creatures, however Dominion’s game plan isn’t fast per say.
Aggro dominion, particularly the build brought to Masters by Superthx which was teched for a Control heavy bracket, contains an almost comical amount of resource extension, and as a result the deck can and frequently does out value Control decks. As such Dominion is a fantastic choice if you expect to face a lot of Rage Guildsworn, Midrange Tribunal, and the like. The deck has plenty of weaknesses but when the meta is right it can be dominant. At Quakecon we believed Dominion to be Super’s most important deck in both of the matches he played and continue to believe that it was more than capable of sweeping both matches, one of which it did.
Thanks for taking the time to read our meta snapshot! I’m looking forward to following Warpmeta and any other tournaments that pop up over the next few weeks to see how the meta will develop. There is still so much unexplored and I hope to see contributions to the competitive landscape from many of you. Keep brewing and refining!
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