The single most common Fire market card is Bore, and for good reason. It is one of the most powerful cards that fit into category 2 in the game, let alone in Fire. When I make a Fire market, Bore is always the first card in, and while I am always willing to believe there is an exception, I have yet to remove Bore from a Fire market. Highly recommend.
However, I said we would go at this systematically, and so we shall.
Category 1 fire cards include Gearcruncher, Bandit Queen, Icaria, and Deepforged Plate. Each of these cards is a critical piece of the decks that they go into; Gearcruncher for Stonescar Grenadin (and also Kennadin), Bandit Queen for traditional Stonescar Aggro, Icaria for FJS removal pile, and Plate for Rakano Aggro. Usually category 1 cards are easy to find, because when you build a deck you know what the most important card is; the single card you want most in every matchup.
Category 2 Fire cards are Bore.
Ok, there are more than that and I already said this, but it’s worth stressing how valuable Bore is to Fire markets.
The other category 2 cards tend to be multifaction, though one other notable mono-Fire card I have seen is Cloud of Ash. The card is not particularly efficient and usually not worth a slot in the main deck, but aggro decks are often looking for a way to push through a large board. This can just be burn, but if your deck is unit-heavy and you are having more trouble with blockers than with removal, Cloud of Ash may be an option to consider.
As for multifaction cards, let’s go faction by faction.
Stonescar options in category 2 include Statuary Maiden, Combust, Black Iron Manacles, and Treachery.
Combust is the least narrow of these options, as it has value in pretty much any matchup where you have low-value units (Grenadin tokens and the like) and large blockers you need to kill (Sandstorm Titan, Amilli, etc.).
Statuary Maiden typically comes into play if you have a removal-heavy deck that struggles against recursive units a la Dawnwalker or Haunting Scream targets. When choosing to include Statuary Maiden, make sure that you aren’t expecting her to just shut down your opponent’s void by herself, because she will often be removed or silenced, and so you will not want to include it if you cannot consistently get at least one trigger out of her precipitously.
Black Iron Manacles can be included in both Stonescar aggressive decks and FPS control decks (though usually the FPS deck will access it via Kerendon Merchant) and is an excellent counter to decks looking to spend a lot of power drawing cards, i.e. Haunting Scream, Channel the Tempest decks, and Icaria Blue. Just be careful not to play Manacles directly on an opponent with Aegis…
Lastly, Treachery is a card that is often excluded from Fire markets because of space reasons, losing out to extra copies of main deck cards or power. While those options are often better than Treachery, there are some decks on ladder that are heavily dependent on single units; notably, Icaria decks. If you are playing Stonescar and find yourself losing to Icaria a lot, you can consider putting Treachery in your market and Ixtun Merchant à Treachery on turn 6, to maximize the odds they have it and also minimize their time to find another before you kill them. Note that this strategy is most effective when you have pressure. The merchant itself helps provide some pressure, but you will often need more than a 3/3 to pressure an Icaria player out of the game.
Rakano market cards are much less often in Category 2 than Stonescar cards, but there are still a couple of options to consider.
For the aggro mirror, Whirling Duo is an excellent card to include in the market. The card is often included as a 4-of in the main deck of Rakano aggro and for good reason, however, I am a fan of including copies of important main deck cards in my market because it increases access to those cards, it doesn’t decrease access.
Jekk, the Bounty Hunter is another category 2 card you might consider as a way to race Titan/Worldbearer Behemoth or to stop value engines like Siraf or Statuary Maiden.
In addition, if you choose to play a slow Rakano deck that isn’t removal pile, such as IBlue, you might consider Champion of Glory or Sower of Dissent as good early blockers.
Category 3 cards are cards that, by themselves, can give a deck a whole new angle of attack. They are cards like late game for your aggro deck, or pressure for your control deck, and sometimes other things.
Mono Fire cards that fit this description include: Flame Blast, Crimson Firemaw, Steelfang Chakram, and Flamestoker.
Flame Blast is very simple: it is a way for a fire-based aggro deck that has flooded out to ignore any board state and deal the last 5-10 points of damage to the opponent’s face.
Steelfang Chakram goes in similar decks for a slightly different purpose: it helps turn every single unit into a real threat.
Every Granite Waystone becomes a 5/1, every Spark Hatcher and Grenadin Drone represent 5-10 damage, and so on. It is particularly good if you have issues with Armory decks, since +4 attack breaks so many relic weapons.
Flamestoker is a consideration in every fire market. It is a way for control decks to end the game before their opponents draws their outs, a way for a midrange deck to beat Harsh Rules and large relic weapons, a way for aggro decks to use 6 power to good effect, and a way for combo decks to present a non-combo win condition.
Crimson Firemaw is the least obvious member of this category, but it largely shows up in Combrei Icaria as a way to fill the curve against midrange, requiring the opponent to spend power on answering non-Icaria threats.
The Category 3 Stonescar cards I consider when building a Fire/Shadow deck are Vicious Highwayman, Smuggler’s Stash, and Bloodrite Kalis.
Highwayman gives you an Aegis breaker and access to life gain in your Stonescar Aggro deck, which can be very important in the TJP matchup and the aggro mirror, and it’s also a fast pressure option for FPS removal pile.
Smuggler’s Stash is an enormous card advantage card for both aggro and Armory; while Armory often gains value over time with relic weapons (especially Auric Runehammer), but in matchups where the opponent can outgrind (Dawnwalker.dec, opposing greedier Armory decks, Stronghold’s Visage decks) sometime it needs a huge play to pull ahead.
Finally, Bloodrite Kalis is pretty specifically for token decks, but is incredible in those builds. Both Grenadin and Torrent of Spiders can generate enormous Kalises in short periods of time, and it allows those decks to get around an enormous blocker and then proceed to generate an even more enormous amount of damage in short order. It is also worth noting that you can have an empty board and hand, topdeck your Ixtun Merchant, fetch your Kalis, and play it, sacrificing your Merchant and attacking for 2. While not a particularly strong play, this can represent burst.
As for Rakano cards that can give a deck a different dimension, Ijin, Navani, Tinker Dronedropper, and Icaria all might be in consideration. Ijin and Icaria are both excellent ways for aggro to go tall (this is a theme in category 3).
Notably, Icaria fits in multiple categories, but that mostly just goes to show how damn powerful that card is, regardless of your strategy.
Navani allows a midrange Rakano deck like Rakano Plate to go a little bigger in the midrange mirror, just playing more efficient units on average than the opponent.
Dronedropper is a relatively cheap unit that can apply increasing pressure when a controlling Icaria deck or removal pile wants to close out a game quickly.
Markets are definitely one of the most daunting parts of deck building for ladder right now. There are so many options, both in terms of which Merchant(s) you want to include, and in terms of what packages you want to include.
Do you want power? Do you want maximum power? How many match-ups do prepare for in the main deck versus how many in the Market?
These are all valid questions, which we will be exploring as this series continues, but with a systematic approach, and by keeping in mind the three big categories, you can be well on your way to building an effective market. Consider whether you have any powerful engine cards you need to include, which narrow but powerful answers you want, and whether you can give your deck a unique angle of attack with a single marketplace card.
Until next time, may you always draw your Merchants!