Three 4-0s and Four Archetypes

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jet_packYesterdayI did four drafts.  I went 4-0 in three of them, each one using a different SolForge archetype, so it seemed like a good time to write an article about draft archetypes.

An archetype is essentially a deck built around a type of synergy that is common enough that you can draft it with some reliability if you understand the basic principles and which will reward play based on the archetype’s victory plan.

In Magic draft, for example, Blue-White Control would typically feature high-toughness blockers, evasion creatures some creature control and perhaps a few permission spells.  You’d win by clogging up the ground and dominating the air, eventually killing the opponent with flyers or some set-specific form of evasion.

Once you understand the archetype you can make better card choices by adjusting valuation to what that archetype is trying to do.  Blue-White control would rather have a 2/4 wall than a 3/2 haste creature for the same cost, whereas an aggressive deck based around quick creatures and combat tricks would make the opposite choice.

The archetypes of SolForge are still forming but I strongly believe that drafting with them in mind will lead to much better results than simply taking the “best” card out of each pack.  With that in mind, here is a strategic review of four archetypes.

The Good Doctor Z

FrankieOur first archetype is the riskiest, as it is based on an Alpha rare, Dr. Frankenbaum.  This has always been a reactive choice – that is, you don’t set out to draft it but move into it if you get an early Doctor (and generally you don’t lock in until you get a second).  The good news is that the Doctor’s stats put him slightly below average at every level so that he’s only good in this archetype – which means he comes up a lot more often than most other rares.  I’ve been keeping a loose track and when I draft Nekrium I typically see 2-3 Doctors, which – along with the excellent abominations in RotF – suggests that the archetype is still viable if you don’t mind being a bit more exposed to needing a backup plan if there are no Doctors in the house.

Let’s start with yesterday’s decklist, which I’ll be the first to admit was quite lucky:

5x

The Good Doctor Z (aka Dr. Frankenbaum)

3x

Xithian Hulk
Scavenger Scorpion

2x

Metasight
Graveborn Glutton

1x

Tower Vanguard
Aegis Conscript
Gloomfiend
Cypien Steelgraft
Necrotic Wurm
Fell Walker
Alloyin General
Matrix Warden
Ionic Warcharger
Ghastly Touch
Bulwark Bash
Cercee, Hand of Varna
Charnel Titan
Aetherguard
Onyxium Marauder

Yes, I got five Doctors.  And yes, this was one of the easiest decks to 4-0 with that I’ve ever had.  In my experience the deck is solid with two Doctors, good with three and really good with four.  With five you feel like apologizing to your opponents every game.

Drafting the archetype is pretty straightforward.  The Good Doctor gets picked over anything that isn’t legendary (and if your only goal is to win, that qualifier goes away; I would absolutely have rather had a sixth Doctor than Cercee).  After that you take good Abominations, with Graveborn Glutton at the top of the list as it’s great at the two things this deck wants to do; trade and drain.  Other than that you basically take good cards, with a view to combat tricks or things that will let you kill off stragglers.  With Alloyin as a support faction I was glad to get a Matrix Warden, Alloyin General and, to a lesser extent, Aegis Conscript.  With Uttera I love to get Venomfang as a complement.

It’s tempting to think that this is a race deck, where the added damage from the Doctor will let you finish off an opponent quickly. It isn’t. Your creatures generally aren’t very good at racing and your strategy doesn’t require it.  You play this deck for attrition.  Abominations generally have pretty solid stats, and this deck wins by trading and making sure the opponent isn’t able to build up a strong initiative.  If your opponent has a 5/5 on the table you put your Glutton in front of it, not in an empty lane where it may die to a Matrix Warden that lets that 5/5 one-shot a Xithian Hulk.  Don’t try to protect your Doctors; let them trade and die as well.  They’ll keep coming back, stronger and stronger, until you’re like Obi Wan Kenobi facing Darth Vader and saying, “You can’t win, Darth” because whether they let your Doctor in or trade with it they’re dying anyway.

Alloyin-Nekrium Control

IMatrix Warden’m tempted to switch the order of these decks because you’re going to think I’ve either hacked the SolForge servers or am just absurdly lucky but here is my next deck:

5x

Matrix Warden

2x

Grave Ghast
Marrow Fiend
Metasight
Sparkblade Assassin

1x

Zombie Infantry
Death Seeker
Onyxium Phantasm
Overwhelming Force
Spiritleash
Omnomnom
Oreian Battledroid
Necrotic Wurm
Alloyin General
Metamind Explorer
Metamind Adept
Epidemic
Ghastly Renewel
Runescarred Zombie
Xithian Rotfiend
Technosmith
Skynight Glider

Yes, I got five Matrix Wardens.  Almost any deck with five Wardens is going to be good, and it’s not surprising that I won a tough final match against Krem Killa when my one unblocked creature (a Matrix Warden, naturally) got pumped by a level two and a level three Warden to sneak in lethal damage.

A-N Control has more variants than the Good Doctor Z.  In this version, cards like Onyxium Phantasm and Epidemic let me weaken my opponent’s creatures so I can play a full-lane strategy, empowering cards like the General and Overwhelming Force.  Note that I have a really nice set of underdrops (Ghast, Fiend, Assassin), which, combined with Technosmith and Metasight, mean I can play a very consistent game in the mid levels.

A more common variant of this archetype features late game bombs like Forge Guardian Beta (or Alpha with Jet Pack) or possibly borrows from the third archetype by running Nightgaunt and Spiritleash.  In either case, the winning approach is usually the same – using tricks and utility creatures to gain board advantage while leveling up key creatures.  Sometimes you’ll gain enough board advantage to win quickly but usually you’re aiming to win in rank four or even rank five and the primary goal in the earlier levels is to keep things under control.

Big Regeneration

nightgauntPeople try to put me down.  (Talking ‘bout regeneration.)
I regenerate five points a round.  (Talking ‘bout regeneration.)
What I do is mighty cold. (Talking ‘bout regeneration.)
You’re gonna die before I get old. (Talking ‘bout regeneration.)

Sung to the tune of My Generation, by the Who.  And if you don’t know the song, that’s because you’re a young punk.

I’ve always been a fan of Regeneration.  In Alpha, my preferred decks often left wounded strays on the board that I wanted to pick off and putting a 4/7 regenerator in front of an active 4/1 was pretty sweet.  The problem a lot of players had was that they wanted their regenerators to do more than clean up.  They wanted them to go al the way.  This was a tall order, since typically a higher-level creature would just come in and trump a regenerator – or, at worse, you’d take it down with two creatures, which would still be at least an even trade against the creature and pump spell that had made it a threat.

That seems to be in the past; with RotF it’s now entirely possible to make a giant regenerating monster that just crashes through everything in its path.  The reasons?  Better pump and better late-game regenerators.

Introducing Nightgaunt.

Nightgaunt routinely regenerates his full health every turn.  This means that the only way to take him down typically involves playing a creature large enough to one-shot him.  Its stats are already quite solid so it doesn’t take much to get it up to a level where an opponent may simply not be able to stop it at all.

And then there’s Spiritleash and Dryad’s Boon.

Spiritleash pushes an on-level Gaunt above anything else at its level.  Dryad’s Boon is riskier, but only a little, and can easily lead to runaway growth.

Nor, by the way, is this strategy limited to Nightgaunt.  There are multiple other good new regenerators in RotF. Nightgaunt is just the easiest to go nutty with.

Here’s the list:

2x

Nightgaunt
Deepbranch Prowler
Corpse Crawler
Spiritleash
Xithian Rotfiend

1x

Vengeful Spirit
Lifeshaper Savant
Death Seeker
Xithian Crusher
Cavern Hydra
Gemhide Basher
Brambleaxe Warrior
Brighttusk Sower
Grove Matriarch
Charnel Titan
Gloomreaper Witch
Ferocious Roar
Cadaverous Thicket
Byzerak Drake
Duskspire Zombie
Twinstrength
Branchweaver Druid
Grove Huntress
Grimgaunt Predator
Witherfrost Banshee

What, no five-ofs?  :)

This is a nice example of the archetype.  I was fortunate enough to get two Gaunts, but Duskspire Zombie can be pretty fearsome at level 3.  Along with that I have a nice range of pump spells; Roar, Savant, Huntress, Twinstrength and 2x Spiritleash.

Occasionally this archetype will win with a runaway Nightaunt very early on.  (This is usually because of multiple pump spells hitting alongside a lot of trades or a very timely Dryad’s Boon.)  Usually, however, anything big you do at one level can be trumped by creatures at a higher level.  I find the best results come not from trying to go all the way but from making sure you’re leveling your key regenerators and at least some of your pump spells.  Then, when the time is right, you make a level three monstrosity with stats and regeneration big enough to carry the day.  A nice side effect to this approach is that if your opponent does manage to finish off your big beast you can sometimes just sneak through lethal damage with a level three Spiritleash on a random unblocked creature.

In any case, the key is patience.  Don’t put all your eggs in one lane if it means falling behind everywhere else.  There’s too big a risk that that one lane will get trumped (aside from a big creature from the next level there’s always annoying cards like Sap or Blight Walker) and it’s important to remember that your crushing threat is crushing based on inevitability, not sheer power.  If you’ve got a fifteen-power Gaunt that I can’t possibly kill it’s still only hitting for fifteen.  If you got it there by falling behind in the other lanes I may be able to kill you first.

Remember also that regeneration still has the same weakness it’s always had.  If it can die in one round of combat, all the regeneration in the world won’t save it.

Stompy

rimehornAny Magic players among you know about Dave Humpherys.  What you may not know is that Dave and I go way back.  I first played him when I was worse than awful, and he kept that opinion of me even when I was decent (but not yet good).  For a while I could win more easily against him than other top players by exploiting the fact that he thought the only way to lose to someone as bad as me was to fall into a trap….meaning he would never ever call any bluff I made.

Everyone loves Dave, but somehow the idea that everyone hates him became a theme of Your Move Games, and this carried over from the Magic team to my game publishing company.  Nowadays whenever I publish a game there will be some “Hate the Hump” joke buried in the rulebook.  So it’s fitting that DaHump ended my 12-0 streak yesterday by handing me my head with an archetype that was one of my favorites in Alpha but which I’ve had only mixed results with since the introduction of RotF: Stompy.

Stompy has a fairly straightforward idea behind it – waiting for cards to level is a waste of time.  We smash now. A Stompy deck, usually Uttera-Tempys, is typically full of cards that other decks would view as underdrops: Rimehorn Charger (probably the best common in this archetype), Deepbranch Patriarch, Ashurian Brawler. It likes big butts (Editor’s note: and it cannot lie), because each of its creatures wants to kill one of yours and live.  It also likes cards that are good at picking off the wounded, e.g. Venomfang and Magma Hound.  Late-pick cards that can be effective in this archetype include Pyre Song and, amazingly enough, Natural Selection.

Stompy may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to play.  First of all, you actually will have cards that level well and it’s not always easy to decide whether to play them or to maximize your power on the board right now.  Usually you want right-now power with the one exception being cards like Ashurian Mystic that add nicely to your pressure and can break the back of any opponent who manages to blunt your early rush.

When playing Stompy your primary goal during rank one is board dominance, and specifically dominance of three or four lanes.  You achieve this by playing cards that take more than one opposing card to deal with and that let you end each turn with important threats on more lanes than your opponent can handle.

It’s important to note that you can block much less aggressively in this archetype because, unless something’s gone very wrong or your opponent is also playing Stompy, your opponent’s life total is likely to be the only one that really matters.  Put simply, if one player is on the defensive and is at 30 life or less, it doesn’t usually matter whether the opponent’s life total is 100 or 60.  Either the defender will gain control and start swinging back hard or he’ll die before he manages it.  Yes, sometimes the game will turn into a mutual race or a quick aggressive creature will finish things off, but 80% of the time the attacker’s current life total doesn’t factor in.

This means that you should block only when it suits you.  I want my creatures to get a chance to attack, so I tend only to block active creatures rather than let my opponent get good use out of a pump spell.  Similarly, if I have good off-lane killers in my deck I will maximize their use. In one recent stompy game my opponent led with a 5/5.  I played Venomfang and a fattie into empty lanes and let that 5/5 hit me until it died of poison.  He blocked Venomfang with a 4/7 and I let the resulting 4/2 get active and attack once before blocking it with a Rimehorn Charger.  The damage from those two creatures was all I took the entire game.

Remember, if your health total doesn’t matter then a creature you ignore is as good as a creature you’ve removed.  Stompy decks can feel like you have free removal spells.

In the late game, which for Stompy is often rank two, you shift into killing mode.  You should be pushing through damage in multiple lanes and usually the secret at this point is simply to end each turn with as many lanes as possible being unfavorable to the opponent.  Unfavorable can mean that you’ve put out a blocker who will kill his creature (here I start to block inactive creatures, provided there are threats in other lanes) or simply damage that must be stopped.  Aggressive creatures are fantastic here; since they will attack twice before a regular creature hits the opponent even once, meaning that even a small aggressive creature can represent a significant threat.

The downside to Stompy is that when you lose you will often feel totally outclassed.  Your opponent is dropping out level 3 Betas and you’re playing 9/9s with breakthrough.  But don’t despair.  Even when this happens you can often sneak out a win if your opponent’s life is low enough, whether through a Rimehorn Charger, an Aggressive creature or even simply burn.  And there’s nothing more fun than watching someone’s careful plan of leveling up giant armored creatures fall apart because you kill him before rank three even happens.

I hope you can put this knowledge to as good use as I have. Good luck, and happy drafting!

ChadEllis

14 Comments

  1. YukatanJack

    I’m surprised to see 2x Metasight in two of your lists, as I’ve found the card to be just a massive trap. I don’t think I’ve won a game in which I played one, or lost a game in which my opponent played one. Then again, because of this observation I haven’t drafted one in a long time. Has it become better for some reason, or have you just had a different experience with the card?

    1. chad.ellis

      I think this should be the subject of a future article. There is a big debate about Metasight, and I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I lean towards thinking its often good, but it’s definitely not a simple “draft it and play it” card. There are many situations where playing an under drop in rank one and metasighting two levelers is better than playing both levelers, for example.

  2. flamejuggler

    I think NA is my favorite combo now, though NU is a close second. This article didn’t cover the UA goodstuff plan. having lots of pump or armor and burly dudes is a great plan I think and both colors have lots of cards that impact 2 lanes to get positive trades. one of those 3 combos is where i personally want to be.

    I find Tempys really hard to win consistently with and usually avoid it, and don’t really like pairing it with anything, though the UT Stompy is likely the best plan. I find NT hard to draft, which is funny considering how dominant it is in constructed. I typically like some creature pump in my decks, which is white or green, so red+black often feels frail? TA was good in alpha with a movement attack plan or sometimes the Jetpack Alpha plan, but I don’t find that combo as reliable as it used to be, with both colors a bit thinner at common than they used to be. what do you guys think about Tempys in draft?

  3. SilverPelt

    My favourite archetype:

    Big defenders+Jet pack (Alloyin, best with Tempys)

    Jet packs (2 is generally enough, 1 can be servicable)
    Force Guardian Alpha
    Cinder Colossus
    Glacial Colossus
    Other big, defensive creatures.

    Just stall out, leveling your defenders. Then, once you have some huge level 3 defenders, use a level 1 Jet pack on one to make a 23 or 27 power attacker. I’ve drafted this deck and not seen a single Jet Pack, in which case Pyre Song and Volcanic Giant can be win conditions (or just replace your defenders with offensive creatures once you have control).

    1. chad.ellis

      I’ve won with this archetype but won’t draft it now. The problem, as I see it, is that your deck is totally hostage to whether your opponent has drafted a Tempys spell that blows up your cards and then blows them up for free and then blows them up for free and has them punch you in the face. The deck can still certainly win but I don’t like being virtually dead on arrival against a single card.

  4. The Average Guy

    Thanks for the advice! I’ll be sure to bully the draft code into giving me five of a single rare or five of one of the most frequently drafted commons in one draft!

    1. chad.ellis

      Hey, I admitted I was lucky! 12-0 isn’t my longest win streak, but no one gets twelve wins in a row without some good fortune. I was tempted to swap in a list from a different day because these were such outliers, but really other than the five-ofs they are pretty representative.

  5. Ximane

    *Uterra
    *Deepbranch Prowler (not Patriarch)
    Otherwise, great article. I wonder how SBE feels about Nightgaunt’s dominance in draft. I suspect it’s something close to the most-picked rare card right now.

      1. flamejuggler

        the UN grow wide with Tarsus plan was one of my favorite winning archetypes pre RotF, though I often felt I had to settle for a lot of crappy Nekrium bodies at times. Rotfiend, Gloomfiend, and Crusher seen commonly now has alot to do with the turnaround I think.

  6. Raidrinn

    Great article, you’ve certainly covered the archtypes here. I wish you had had a stompy list. Any draft where you get 2-3 Tanglesprout, Storm Caller, Ashurian Brawler, and Deepbranch Prowler makes me soooooooo happy.

    1. chad.ellis

      Yeah, Nekrium is a lot better now. It’s partly good new cards and partly the some old cards are better now. Charnel Titan used to be dubious, IMO, and is now really good. Also, A-N used to be a hard pair to make work and now it’s beautiful, so Nekrium went from being hard to pair with the deepest color to easy.

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