Here’s a survey of what works in Ranked.
Right now, Argenport is more or less on vacation. Why? Because both Winchest and Kerendon Merchant are absolutely terrible for AP midrange’s up-tempo gameplan. Simply, 2 attack units for 3 that die to Torch are not where you want to be for a fairly up-tempo deck.
Furthermore, the popularity of grenadin strategies means that Crownwatch Paladin is very poorly-positioned. Add in the fact that trying to add merchants into the deck means you’d need to remove other 3-drops, such as weapons and Auric Interrogator, and then you dilute Tavrod’s hits in the maindeck.
Essentially, a midrange deck without good merchants is in a fairly awful place right now, so we’ll have to wait until we get better ways of accessing the market in shadow and justice before visiting AP mid again. Some other, more daring souls, may opt to try and assemble an Argenport Revenge Hour deck. However, I’m not quite sure what the payoff to this deck is besides grinding out 1-for-1 removal pile style decks, which aren’t the entire metagame. A single Witching Hour just doesn’t win games these days, and AP revenge can often run dry before being able to close out the game.
Between Teacher of Humility, Awakened Student, Auralian Merchant, and Sword of Unity, you have two options—the first is an Aggro Combrei-style strategy with Vanquisher’s Blade, Unseen Commando, and Finest Hour, such as AhornDelfin’s Aggro Combrei.
The other, slower, but arguably more effective (and most likely more frustrating for your opponent) variant is Alessi Combrei, which aims to curve a 2-drop into Auralian Merchant into Crownwatch Press-Gang into Alessi + Stand Together on the same turn. If life ever gets critical, slam a Sword of Unity with Spellcraft and your opponent will have to move heaven and earth to try and get back into the game from that point.
You can also try and play a standard “Sandstorm Titan” Combrei-style deck, though Combrei’s best card is Stand Together, and playing large midrange beatsticks that demand you untap to cast your best card is most likely not the place to be.
While there are rustlings of the return of Shimmerpack with cards like Tend the Flock, Elysian midrange, whether in the form of “Big Elysian” with Mystic Ascendant and Channel the Tempest but no Dawnwalkers, or your standard Dawnwalker-False Prince Elysian has made a return largely on the back of Hailstorm, Equivocate, Auralian Merchant, and possibly Teacher of Humility (does not play well with Hailstorm). So, if you’re looking to play Elysian, look at ChildRoland’s Big Elysian, or just throw together all of the above-curve Elysian units (EG Teacher of Humility, False Prince, Sandstorm Titan, Cirso, Worldbearer Behemoth, Predatory Carnosaur) into a deck with ramp (Initiate of the Sands, Auralian Merchant) Equivocates, and possibly Permafrosts or Unseals, and go nuts.
Feln is...not in a good place right now. Simply, aggressive Feln strategies are constrained by onerous influence costs (2SS on instigator, 3PPSS on Midnight Gale, 4PPSS on Rindra), while anything that isn’t aggressive is constrained by even bigger influence costs (5P5S for Champion of Cunning) and fairly poor card advantage mechanisms. If you can find a way to make Jotun Feast-Caller swing freely, you’re in a good position, but there aren’t great ways to do that these days.
For what it’s worth, there have been a couple of Feln Nightfall-Berserk lists that have made it into ETS top 8s, so feel free to look around in that direction for them. Lastly, it’s possible that there’s some form of 2F Feln scream around somewhere, but apart from seeing Sunyveil play it and shelve it, I haven’t seen an updated list.
If you’re trying to play a control variant, you’re often better served with a third faction for additional crests and additional win conditions. However, as BruisedByGod recently showed, between crests and merchants (and if you so desire, Strategize and Wisdom of the Elders), you can often have a lot more control over your lategame draws, and the risk of flood is somewhat lessened. Because of this, it’s more feasible to curve up to Eilyn, Clan Mother while being less worried about flood.
A more aggressive variant of Hooru, as usual, is TJP midrange, which is one more Unseen from being an Unseen Tribal, and uses Stand Together to recharge its Shelterwing Riders’ aegis. That said, neither Auralian nor Winchest Merchant are particularly conducive to TJP midrange’s aggressive plans, so similar to other justice aggressive-midrange strategies (such as AP mid), this variant is somewhat absent from the metagame right now, owing to poor merchant synergy.
Take the best cards in time and fire, (namely: Torch, Initiate of the Sands, Trail Maker, Teacher of Humility, Auralian Merchant, and Sandstorm Titan), add Heart of the Vault, and surround it with...something.
Praxis midrange opts to go with Dawnwalker, Xenan Initiation, Worldbearer Behemoth, and maindeck Predatory Carnosaurs.
Praxis tokens opts for Grenadin Drone, Assembly Line, and Xenan Obelisk. I happen to be partial to the tokens variant, as a go-wide strategy offers another angle of attack compared to just throwing more fatties at the problem and hoping they stick.
Pick your favorite build of one of these two archetypes and have a blast.
Rakano Aggro is basically dead. You lose to Hailstorm, and don’t even have Sabotages to protect yourself. Just about anything you do, Hooru midrange or TJP midrange does better. However, despite Icaria taking a break from the lore (hopefully not permanently), Rakano has now become Icaria’s personal faction. Whether you’re going straight Rakano Valkyries (see Tobboo’s ETS-winning list), FTJ Charge Rod, Icaria Blue, or FJS removal pile, the curve of Harsh Rule into Rizahn into Icaria, with Winchest Merchant fetching any piece you’re missing, can only be so bad.
The best 2F Rakano right now is the Rakano Valkyries deck, so look to Tobboo’s list for this.
With set 4’s tribute mechanics, Skycrag finally received a second deck that isn’t awful, in the form of Kennadin, though maybe it should be called Grend of Hostilities [editor's note: I like it].
Essentially, this deck aims to play an early Combustion Cell to activate tribute for End of Hostilities and Kenna, Shaman of the Scale, to create a value engine. Ideally, it’d be a constant loop of Kenna bringing back End of Hostilities, which creates more Kennas, and so on. In practice, however, the deck needs to draw a bit of this, a bit of that, while keeping enough grenadin on the board to fuel the Combustion Cell, which may often not happen, either due to awkward draws, or a sufficient number of Hailstorms.
And, as usual, Skycrag Aggro will smorc you up some part of the ladder. See ManuS’s channel for the latest variant of this deck. As usual, when at least 12 of your units have either charge or aegis (with the possibility of Censari Brigand or Jennev merchant bringing the total to 16), you’ll win enough games off of just preying on control decks that either have to take a hit from a charge unit, or go down in resources trying to remove aegis units.
Stonescar Aggro / Gunslingers are simply outclassed on curve these days. If you don’t have the best 1-drops, 2-drops, or 3-drops, you’re going to feel awfully miserable when you run into Awakened Students, Valkyrie Enforcers, Auralian Merchants your 2-3 attack units can’t swing through, and so on. Hailstorm with some field presence makes aggressive Stonescar decks miserable as well.
However, Stonescar still has its grenadin archetypes. Whether you’re going for a more tribute-centric variant with Jekk, Lone Gun and Combustion Cell, or the harder-grinding variant with Stonescar Scrapper, a deck that can effectively make use of Combust and possibly Torrent of Spiders is fairly well-positioned these days.
Given that Harsh Rule decks will never really leave the metagame, Xenan’s ticket to success is essentially on the back of Auric Interrogator, and some way to reliably buff it, namely, Xenan Initiation. There are few things as cool as eating your opponent’s 3-drop, and establishing a card draw engine on top of it.
That said, between all of the things Xenan wants to be packing in its marquee killers deck to support its primary midrange plan, and all of the interaction it’d like to pack for what its opponents do, it’s often stretched somewhat thin. Do you want Blistersting Wasps for fliers and 2-strength attackers? Banish for Obelisks? Scorpion Wasps for Icaria or giant Alessis? Ultimately, you have your standard time core (Teacher, Merchant, Titan), 3 Initiations main/1 in market, Interrogator, Ayan, 2-3 Dark Returns, then some other method of buffing this core (Obelisk or Alhed), and possibly some Predatory Carnosaurs top-end.
For your interaction, you have your choice of Wasps, Vara’s Choice, and Predatory Carnosaur. Dawnwalkers are usually a good include as well. That said, between TT on 2 and SS on 3, Xenan’s influence base is still fairly demanding, and the somewhat smaller unit size in Xenan Killers (absent Alhed or Obelisk sticking) make it not so great of a place to be right now.
One other Xenan deck that may be newly possible with merchants is Xenan Destiny combo, made by AetherLlama. It uses Mask of Torment to rush out Talir, then Dark Return a merchant to get Vodakhan. Then, of course, Talir and Vodakhan on the board means you draw practically your entire deck in a single turn while generating obscene amounts of power, so even if you get Harsh Ruled, you can just dark return Talir, Vodakhan, and do it all again. This deck is a blast to play for sure, but the timer ticking while you watch animations is the height of buggy in my opinion.
There are three distinct 3F Icaria flavors.
FTJ Charge Rod
This aims to cheat Icaria or Kaleb into play by equipping a lesser unit with a Divining Rod. While this deck can have explosive turns to beat up on more reactive decks, this deck also plays a bunch of individually weak standalone cards such as Whirling Duo, Diogo Malaga, Alluring Ember, or even the exceptionally expensive Divining Rod itself, and because of that, gives up interaction slots. This deck often depends on a timely Harsh Rule or two to clear the way for units larger than Icaria, and if that fails, the deck often finds itself far behind.
Icaria Blue is a control deck that’s a cross between the Torch / Winchest Merchant / Harsh Rule / Rizahn / Icaria core, and Hooru Control’s Strategize, Wisdom of the Elders, and Hailstorm. This 3F control deck has been around since closed beta, with the mantra that a combination of Icaria, card draw, and Harsh Rule can only be so bad. It’s stood the test of time (in more ways than one) and is still very much a viable control deck.
FJS Removal Pile
Lastly, the FJS Removal Pile style of deck has been around since Camat0 won worlds with it, riding on the idea that a bunch of high-value units with all of the best removal in the game will simply win a bunch of games. While that isn’t incorrect, this Icaria variant often tries to play fairly for the lategame, but without any source of real lategame card advantage mechanisms. While Makto and Tavrod have had cameos in this archetype before, equivocate has really done a number on their playability.
This was here briefly, until DWD decided that said deck had no right to exist at the speed and evasiveness it had. I’ve seen some TJP Alessi variants that played as a cross between Combrei Alessi (Press-Gang, Alessi, 3-4 Stand Together maindeck), and set 3 TJP midrange (Hooru Pacifier, Mirror Image, Shelterwing Rider), and some decks that played in a controlling fashion (Wisdom of the Elders, Hailstorm). Essentially, Alessi, Stand Together, Seek Power, and your choice of TJP interaction does very powerful things, provided she can survive to grow huge.
FTJ Alessi Moment
The other variant the FTJ Alessi Moment deck, which combines Praxis’s Heart of the Vault and Moment of Creation with the Press-Gang / Alessi combination to create large Alessis and large sentinels, and just take over the board in that manner with a combination of Torches, Purifies, Vanquishes, and Harsh Rules where need be.
3F xPS control: JPS, TPS, and FPS.
TPS is the new deck on the block, essentially riding the huge value bomb from set 4 that is Cirso’s Cleaver. This deck aims to get through the early game with some combination of removal found in TPS (Equivocate, Annihilate, Permafrost, Banish, Hailstorm, Vara’s Choice—take your pick), before stabilizing with Sandstorm Titan, then equipping a midrange unit, such as a Jotun Feast-caller, a sandstorm titan, cirso, or Black-Sky Harbinger with a Cirso’s Cleaver at 7 power, and snowballing the game from there. While playing a cleaver on 7 is usually enough to seal the game, getting there is no guarantee.
With regards to JPS, as usual, the mantra of “card draw and the best removal in the game can only be so bad” applies. While this deck is no longer purely unitless, burning removal on Jennev Merchant’s aegis isn’t the greatest feeling, either. As usual, the question for JPS is with its win conditions. Channel the Tempest starts at 8 power, and requires several to the dome to win, while Sword of the Sky King can be blocked by the tiniest of grenadin. Simply, if you’re not in some flavor of FJ, you lack Icaria for your control finisher [editor's note: unless you have Grasp], and nothing else comes close.
Felnscar Control, AKA “Feln Control with Torch” (and Quarry and Maiden) runs into several problems:
First off, while cheap removal is good, it also means that it may sometimes be completely inapplicable. Torch, Permafrost, or Rindra’s Choice against that Sandstorm Titan? Torch or Annihilate against that Cirso or Heart of the Vault? Unlike justice-based decks, which can at least kill weaker aegis units with Sword of Icaria or Auric Runehammer, Stand Together (particularly on Alessi) just ruins your day.
On the topic of card advantage, once you get past Wisdom of the Elders, your options start to look like a choice between bad and worse. Feast-Caller is fairly frail, basically needing a clear board on which to attack, Channel the Tempest is exorbitantly expensive, and Staff of Stories is one whack away with anything larger than a 3-drop from falling off.
Lastly, Champions of Cunning just isn't enough to get there these days, and with a 3F power base that doesn’t run the full 12 Feln duals (Seats, Crests, Banners), Champion of Cunning just comes online too slowly to justify the impact the card. Simply, Felnscar doesn’t have some go-over-the-top option that gets there when Champions of Cunning don’t.
I’ve tried a new variant of Felnscar, and while it performs admirably, I find the interaction suite is often stretched a little too thin, the wincons need something higher impact than a dark return for a CoCu, and the card advantage mechanisms need something beyond the Strategize / Quarry cantrip suite to assist Wisdom of the Elders. It’s possible that Thief’s Pick on Feast-Caller with its spellcraft may be what’s called for, but it does seem a little too cute.
Felnscar Scream still exists. That said, it was never a Tier 1 deck in Set 3 [editor's note: you're breaking Overmaster's heart], and with the advent of Set 4, I’m not sure it’s gotten better against the metagame. I saw ManuS run a variant without markets at all, though I think that’s most likely incorrect, as a Jennev merchant market of Permafrost, Haunting Scream, Gorgon Fanatic, Gift of Battle, and some other card (a negate of some sort, a removal spell, Champion of Fury, Mirror Image all seem reasonable) sounds like a plan to start off with in my opinion. I have never played this archetype myself, but seeing ManuS hold a somewhat reasonable winrate makes me think the usual slam-a-bunch-of-charging-units-with-Madness-and-Combust still has a place, though I’m not sure how much of one.
JPS Scream is a deck I’ve also seen around. Unfinished Business is a permanent buff, which means that future screams are going to hit that much harder. That said, if you’re in JPS, your real heavy hitter, Rindra, already demands two double influences, so splashing J for cards like Svetya, Unfinished Business, Slay, and Finest Hour just may make your deck too slow to pull off the aggression it needs to, and too frail to compete with the heavy hitters that pop up at later points in the game. Sunyveil has been trying to tune a JPS scream, but every time I saw this type of deck attempted, it just never quite got there.
3F Mask of Torment
Essentially, this deck is about how well you can line up your interaction with the metagame. If you don’t get murdered early on by aegis and other forms of pressure, you eventually generate an obscene amount of power, but still not enough to actually flood out, because summoning Tormentors and spending it on Devoted Theurge will sink it all for you, as well as casting multiple Channels per turn.
The downside, of course, is that your early game is absolutely awful and depends on drawing just the correct interaction just at the right time. Playing it at the end of last season sunk me 200 ranks, so, I’m not quite sure this deck is the place to be if the meta isn’t a complete greedpile, which Teacher of Humility should prevent it from becoming.
Unlike the TPS Mask variant, you have legitimate board wipes, and if your power count gets high enough, a single great parliament can just end the game. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with the card draw outside primal, which is a fair bit worse, and the lack of Hailstorms and Equivocates will hurt.
3F Moment of Creation
While I’m not a huge proponent of FT-x Moment decks, they nevertheless do exist. Essentially, they go with the standard Praxis core (Torch, Auralian Merchant, Sandstorm Titan, Heart of the Vault), and surround it with a spell-heavy, controlling shell in order to create large Moment of Creation sentinels.
The shadow variant aims to be more disruptive with cards like Vara’s Choice, and has access to maindeck relic destruction in the form of Banish, while also packing its choice of shadow card selection such as Cull the Deck and Quarry.
The primal variant uses the standard primal control shell of Strategize, Wisdom of the Elders, and Hailstorm, with access to the exceptionally powerful Equivocate spell, along with gaining access to Molot and Nokova.
Lastly, the justice variant is the Alessi variant written about here, leveraging Harsh Rules for unconditional field wipes against enemy midrange decks, along with Vanquish, and Alessi’s power in such shells is undeniable.
Ultimately, all three variants are fairly slow at winning the game, do not apply a great deal of pressure, and their raw card advantage mechanisms are not terrific. Simply, between Moment of Creation not growing large fast enough, possible aerial pressure from Hooru type decks, and greedier control decks, moment of creation decks need a very specific metagame in which to thrive, and I’m not sure a metagame as wide-open as the current one is conducive to their general competitiveness.
Ah, the faction combination that can do just about everything. Whether you’re going with a more controlling shell (Chalice, Temporal, Owl Ramp), or a more proactive shell (any form of Awakened Student, Stand Together, and Equivocate), there’s generally something for you here.
TJP midrange from Set 3 still functions, albeit not as well these days owing to weak merchant options (Auralian doesn’t hit hard enough to support the plan, Winchest is exceptionally weak, Jennev doesn’t provide the greatest options out of the market if you’re not trying to make Blitz work post-nerfs), TJP Blitz ate nerfs to its flying enabling cards, though Combrei Party (I.E. aggressive or Alessi Combrei with scouting party and obelisk) may be worth another look, ditto revisiting Elysian with Stand Together.
Finds ways to win: Combrei Alessi, Aggro Combrei, Harsh Rule + Icaria anything, Praxis tokens, Hailstorm Elysian, BBG Hooru Midrange
In between: Skycrag Aggro, Wisdom + Harsh Rule without Icaria, any 3F Alessi, any non-Praxis Tokens / Big Elysian SST midrange deck, Feln Nightfall Berserk, Xenan Destiny combo, TPS Cleaver, FTP Moment, TJP Midrange, Stonescar Grenadin, Felnscar Scream, Kennadin, JPS Midrange Fliers
Finds ways to lose: CoCu Control, FTS Moment, AP Midrange, Non-Skycrag Fire Aggro, Non-Felnscar Scream, just about anything TJS