In which Link
Editor's Note: Also his Solforge University thesis, 'Primer' is a misnomer. Prepare for a long long read.
All credit to Aterocana:
3x Stasis Warden
3x Flamebreak Invoker
3x Ghox, Metamind Paragon
3x Ironmind Acolye (“gnome”)
3x Static Shock
3x Oratek Battlebrand
3x Energy Surge
2x Glacial Crush
1x Perilous Insight
First of all, do you know how hard it is to sell me on gimmicky decks? I am the kind of person who prefers to choose a known deck and then grind the hell out of it so that I know every matchup inside and out. I have no qualms being the bad guy when it comes to tournament play and if I have to sell my soul to Wegu to win then bring on the hellfire. Sometimes I'll try a rogue strategy if the stars have aligned to form the perfect scenario but this was far from the case for Stasis Warden, you got hit really hard by the same hate cards people were playing for Flamesculptor and you were weak to snowbally decks with a lot of removal (i.e. most of the format).
Some background real quick, one Friday evening after Magic, Coxatrice and I were discussing Solforge strategy and I brought up how misunderstood Defender was. There are actually 2 types of defenders, the oversized ones who clog up a board ala Citadel Guard, and those who use defender as a means to protect themselves from fighting such as Nuada and Poisoncoil. The 2nd type are very dangerous because if you play a lot of direct removal spells you can protect your activation defenders every turn and snowball a game out of control. Unfortunately (and probably by design) none of the defenders have an ability worth an entire play. Nuada and Yuru were the closest but I just couldn't make them work, I will be keeping a close eye on them moving forward though. It wouldn't be until a few weeks later when Aterocana would show me that Stasis Warden is another creature with defender, and could grant it to creatures whose ability is worth an entire play.
Anyway, when looking at a new deck you first need to identify the strengths and weaknesses. Our biggest strength here is the ability to straight up ignore what most of our opponents are doing. We play our little game plan and it doesn't really matter what our opponent is doing on his half of the table, Wardens and Invokers kill it no matter what text they have written on their cards. If our opponents aren't capable of interfering with us they almost auto-lose. Another strength is that we bypass a lot of the ordinary weaknesses of spells in Solforge. The first problem is that spells usually level badly, the creature spells and Oratek Battlebrand mess with this a bit but on the whole whenever you play a spell your deck gets weaker. However our late-game comes from our “when you play a spell” triggers and so we need them levelled anyway to maximise that synergy. The second is that spells often lead to ugly hands where they don't have good targets that exact turn, but since we usually have the stronger late-game, and many comeback mechanics, we can afford ugly missed turns more than most. Since we are allowed to play and level our spells so liberally we can mitigate the harm of creatures that need to survive a turn to use their full power such as Frostmane Dragon, Broodqueen or Ghox. Lastly, we are better than most at recovering from a bad position, a lot of decks these days are designed to snowball out of control while ahead and flat out lose if they ever fall behind but we can stabilise a large board on our opponents side.
Our biggest weakness is easily the sheer number of missed hands we get. Whilst we can recover better than most we also miss a lot more often. By missed hands I generally mean hands where we cannot commit the full 2 plays to the board, either through adding a creature of ours or killing a creature of theirs (Gnomes count as a miss). We have so many factors that contribute to missed hands, level 1 Energy Surge, Gnomes without any card draw, singleton Stormspears, Static Shocks without friends, burn without any targets, missing allied triggers, an unwillingness to overload in player level 1, and don't even get me started on Glacial Crush and Perilous Insight...
Related to this is the next weakness, we lean fairly heavily on our 9 core creatures. If our opponent is capable of killing them before they can do their thing it becomes problematic. Also the fact there are only 9 of them means we often can't level enough during player level one.
So the next question becomes, are the strengths something we desire in the current metagame? Post-Imprisoned Heralds release A/T Rage was the deck to beat, with a weakened Broodqueen still floating around and then a million gimmick decks, Wegu the only one of which proving to be any good. The answer here may surprise you but I believe no, we don't desire these strengths. Frostmane Dragon is the only real creature you want to kill, both to deny an egg and deny its move 2 combo with Rage. While admittedly Frostmane is the most played card in the format and having some removal around was nice, it could be an incidental thing rather than the basis of your whole strategy. The strength of crushing decks that couldn't interfere with our plan was also especially weak, everyone was capable. Defender had never been weaker with all the spells and move creatures floating around. Additionally Mathnut wrote a rather annoying article on Reddit advocating everyone to put 3 Anvillon Arbiter in every deck so we accidentally fell victim to a lot of hate cards already floating around.
With our deck being extremely poorly positioned I would normally just discard it along with all the other gimmicks. The only way it could survive is if it were so incredibly powerful that it just did not matter, if it was still the correct choice in the worst possible metagame. This is never true. The belief that you have found a strategy so obnoxious that it wins no matter what and none of the best players in the world have noticed is always, always a false one. So why did I choose to play Stasis Warden anyway? Is it just that powerful? I'm afraid that is a complex decision that is going to require the rest of this article to explain.
I have already explained the broad strengths and weaknesses of the deck but I'd like to get into a few intricacies here, I'm sorry to any beginners but I'm going to assume a passing familiarity with the simpler combos such as Ghox + Gnome or Stasis Warden targeting your own guy. First of all are the 3 core creatures, Stasis Warden, Flamebreak Invoker and Ghox. Flamebreak Invoker is your primary defensive creature, he is designed to stabilise overwhelming boards. Ghox is your primary offensive creature, his job is to gain a lead both through making your hands more powerful and dropping Gnomes onto the board. Stasis Warden is intended mainly to protect these 2 creatures, although can do some stalling tricks or combo with Glacial Crush occasionally. Your average win comes from a level 3 Stasis Warden protecting a level 3 Ghox since removal levels poorly and generally can't 1-shot a level 3 creature like it can at earlier levels. Of course if your opponent isn't playing removal you can simply set up a Warden lock at level 1 and collect your free win. The Stasis Wardens aren't entirely necessary for the win, they are simply the easiest way to get there. If you level enough Energy Surges you can wait for player level 4 or 5 and eventually your opponent will stumble enough for you to overwhelm him the old fashioned way.
For levelling priorities you don't often have to choose between the creatures since there are so few of them, you simply play whichever one you've drawn. When you do draw multiple though I tend to find Flamebreak Invoker is the most important. Stasis Warden isn't important unless you already have the others in play and Ghox is strong as an underdrop, he doesn't need to be levelled to do his thing. Besides, not having Invokers levelled can spell death whereas not having Ghox levelled often just means a delayed victory. The exception to this is that Battlebrand almost always chooses Energy Surge if they're together. The tough choice in levelling comes when you have to choose between killing your opponents guy or playing your own and unfortunately there's no easy decision here, you are going to have to judge every game state for yourself. Sometimes you get the best of both worlds and can defend yourself with your creatures instead of spells, that all depends on what tricks your opponent has (damn you Rage of Kadras) and how much pressure you're under.
- Ghox becomes far less important to level if you have 2-3 Energy Surges levelled already, take some time to stabilise the board instead if you need to.
- There is a Stasis Warden/Energy Surge anti-synergy where you sometimes have to choose between a Gnome or the Warden trigger. I've found I usually go with the Warden trigger, but as in all things it depends.
- Stormspear isn't quite like Static Shock, you can play the level 1 version first in a string. This sometimes lets you add under-levelled Shocks to your Spears.
- When you're chaining card draw you generally want to play Gnomes before Energy Surges. Surge can give you more information on where to put the Gnome but they also trigger any drawn Stasis Wardens which is usually more important.
- Be aware of when your Invokers might accidentally kill a creature too soon. It's easy to miss out on extra Battlebrand or Stormspear levels when you find yourself without any targets too early in the chain.
- While annoying, Anvillon Arbiter isn't nearly as bad as it looks. It denies you a bunch of free plays yes but you can still trade evenly with it and then win the late game. The real problem comes when they play a level 3 Arbiter while already ahead.
I've clumped these together because they all play pretty similarly, some splash Nethershriek, some Soothsayer Hermit and most Oratek Explosives. The A/T version is far and away the best in my opinion, having access to Explosives as one of the best underdrops in the game fixes a lot of the stumbling hands and this deck hates stumbling. Your most important card by far is Flamebreak Invoker. Stasis Warden and Ghox both struggle to defend you as neither clears creatures immediately for a Rage. Invoker is also your best defence versus a level 3 Frostmane. I've always found this matchup fairly easy since they have a weak level 1 and you can often win plays by clearing 3hp Flamesculptors with Shocks and Invokers. Naranthi beat me in the top-8 though with a cool strategy I hadn't really considered. First of all he ran an old school burn version with Flame Lances and Lightning Sparks, none of that Aeronaut/Arbiter Alloyin crap. Secondly he emphasised level 1 a lot more than most, perhaps due to how his hands played out but I think by design. A general rule of Rage is that you don't want to level your spells during player level 1 if you can help. It weakens your deck and disrupts your Flamesculptor combos. Naranthi however used his spells aggressively where he could to gain an advantage or force through damage, and then burnt me out with his levelled up spells in the lategame when I was low. Ordinarily I had been stabilising a board and then winning later, but without a board to shoot at I found I was missing turns and losing more life than normal. I still think this matchup is favoured for Stasis Warden but Naranthi's style proved a lot harder than what I was used to.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. Wegu is a totally busted and broken card with no answer at all. Wegu automatically wins 60% of its games and automatically loses 40% of them no matter what happens. The sole reason I don't play Wegu more often is that I believe I can do better than 60%. As for our matchup its a nightmare and this is probably the worst for Stasis Warden in my opinion. Level 1 is pretty easy and we get to do everything we want but after that its just a matter of how well our Glacial Crushes line up. Unfortunately we can't snowball as hard as other decks so we have to play the Glacial Crush lottery several times in a single game. Wegu's most dangerous combo is the level 2 Wegu + Druids Chant or Howl of Xith to make a 16/17. You now have 1 turn to assemble 17 damage or a Glacial Crush or you lose the game no questions asked. Unfortunately you don't have the answer a lot more often than you do. I got lucky and had the answer each time in the 2 Wegu matches I played. Level 1 Wegu can be burnt to death and Level 3 Wegu is harder to activate off level 1 lifegain cards so those are ok, its just the level 2 version that threatens to auto-kill you. If Level 2 Wegu and Level 3 Wegu swapped places the card would be much, much weaker as counter-intuitive as that is.
A frustrating matchup. Everything is so perfect for you, you can set up your plan, they can't interfere much, they rely on big dumb guys that you can kill better than most. But those damn Killions, you inevitably end up going late and Killion just out-controls you at the end with sheer number of huge health creatures. Glacial Crush 3 is a strong weapon but I still think this is slightly unfavourable for us. I recommend trying to mise with Warden + Ghox combo at level 1, failing that that you still have them levelled for later to try to protect yourself with Glacial Crushes. Unfortunately some people run Arbiter in their lists and unlike Rage's weak Arbiters, A/T Levellers has some very strong ones that protect their giant guys from your combos.
Another bad matchup, noticing a trend? Our defence comes from stabilising the board and sadly Iztek decks tend to prioritise damage to the face higher than board position, which we can't defend ourselves from. Additionally we tend to take a long time to win, giving them plenty of time to find a level 3 Fire Iztek and dome us for around a million points of damage. They also have a pretty healthy removal suite to prevent a level 1 mise from us. All we can really do is try to preserve our life total and hope their 36 removal-heavy deck stumbles a few times. Ghox is good here as Gnomes can put on some good pressure and aren't trivial for them to deal with. Caitiri and his Iztek provided my only loss in the swiss.
I used to call them Soulreap decks but I don't even know if they play that card anymore. Anyway congratulations on your free win, neither of you can touch the other until you assemble a Warden + Ghox lock and promptly win the game. Sometimes you get 1-shot by a Scythe of Chiron if you aren't used to the matchup but I've found it pretty easy to play around. Stasis Warden is particularly strong here as your opponent generally relies on fighting your weakened creatures which the Warden prevents. They also don't snowball particularly hard and so the Warden can actually provide defensive duties rather than rely on the Invoker.
There seems to be a few different versions of this deck, but I'm mostly used to the A/T one, and without Scorchmane Dragons. This ones interesting because you are both resilient to each others plans. They tend to rely on snowballing a board more-so than dealing damage which gives you time to do what you want to do. You also have Glacial Crushes which is funny against Gargoyle. The downside though is have you ever tried to burn through a Robots board with a Flamebreak Invoker? Christ that takes some work. I'm feeling fairly clueless on this matchup so if anyone has any tips feel free to speak up.
I've saved this for last because I initially dismissed the deck as being too weak the play. However several players I respect did very well with it in the WCQ and so I feel there's something I'm missing. Perhaps it is good against the field after all but I still believe its a very good matchup for us. They're totally incapable of interacting with what we're doing outside of Broodqueen herself and she's not particularly difficult for us to burn down. Thundersaur is ok due to his resilience to Invoker but he's particularly weak to both Gnomes and Stasis Warden. I'm fairly sure I'm 100% winrate playing this matchup but sadly never got to play against it at the WCQ.
So why did I choose Stasis Warden if it has so many nightmare matchups? Ultimately it comes down to the WCQ specifically and knowing the types of players in it. The WCQ tends to attract the best players with a high winrate and I was confident they would both recognise, and refuse to play with Wegu's fixed 60%, believing they could achieve a higher edge through a deck with more play in it (as I did, correctly or not). I was right and Wegu represented a much smaller portion of the
WCQ field than it does the queues.
Next was the A/T Levellers problem, this is a deck that attracts skilled players, and on paper it looks incredibly strong. In reality however I believe it has huge weaknesses against the most common decks, we might be weak to it but we are one of the few that are. I could trust that the top players would recognise its weakness, and those that remained would be knocked out fairly early. Again I believe I was correct as I think they were one of the more common decks but had a very low representation at the top of the field.
For the Rage decks I liked my matchup quite a bit. Mathnut had talked most people in the queues into playing 3 Arbiters for the mirror matchup but I am very much against that idea. I think Arbiter is a very weak card in the Rage mirror and I trusted the WCQ players again to recognise that. In the end there were still a few Arbiters running around but far from the 3-of standard the queues had shown.
This left me Iztek, which had been falling out of favour, and once again presents the sort of inconsistency pro players are disinclined to play, even in the face of strong winrates and Robots which was an unknown quantity and worrying me a little. I had met Hectares and Turkis on Broodqueen in the queues the day before and was hoping the Ghox's Socks guys were all on it, giving me a large edge on some of the best players, Broodqueen turned out to be more popular than I thought but sadly Nalanthi prevented me from capitalising on that.
Moving forward I can't really recommend Stasis Warden for the queues. There are too many of its bad matchups around, although this could change. There's also not much room to adapt the list from what I can see, Aetherforge Oracle can replace Perilous Insight but you don't really want to play either if you can help it, they are just a bit of safety against miss hands and having a levelled up Oracle in your deck doesn't really do anything for you, at least Insight can end Static Shock chains. Perhaps the Ghox can be cut if another creature can fill his offensive role, removing the Gnomes for more reliable cards would ease a lot of problems. I considered Iztek instead of Ghox but that seems like madness.
One final note. This deck is evil. I like to think I can play at a reasonable speed but that is through a lot of practise and a willingness to forfeit incidental damage like Shocks to the face or Warden triggers after battling in the interest of keeping the game moving rather than pointless math. Expect your opponents to time out rather than concede in an attempt to grief you and be aware you are probably breaking up families and causing fights between loved ones on the opposite end of the computer screen.