Welcome back to another installment of Market Research. Today I would like to talk about Winchest Merchant and Justice Markets. As for Winchest Merchant itself, the card has arguably the worst stat line of all the merchants (only Kerendon Merchant compares), as a 2/2 flier is just not much pressure or added value compared to Jennev or Auralian Merchant respectively. However, some decks demand high access to their Justice cards, making Winchest Merchant a situationally-strong pick.
Before we jump in to evaluating Justice cards by category, I would like to share which decks I am thinking about as I write this article. Different decks can have very different needs and so might consider cards in their Market that I do not consider here. However, it is useful to have some context when I make suggestions for Markets, and to that end, I will provide this (non-exhaustive) list of decks that may include Winchest Merchant:
- Hooru or TJP Fliers
- 4/5 faction Greed
- Rakano Midrange
- FJS and JPS Removal Piles
- various combo decks including Answer the Call/Honor the Fallen
- some Rod decks
- Shard of the Spire
- Temporal Distortion control
- Argenport Midrange
Reiteration of Categories
- Cards my deck relies on and to which it needs maximum access.
- Powerful answer cards. This includes both generic answers strong against a lot of different cards and narrow answers that solve specific problems.
- Cards that attack from a different angle than my main deck.
The single most important card in any Justice Market is Harsh Rule, and yes, I'd even include Harsh Rule in the Market of my hyper-aggressive deck if it included Winchest Merchant, because it fits into Category 3 there. You'll notice I mention Harsh Rule in literally every section of this article. Honestly, Harsh Rule is the primary reason to run Winchest Merchant over merchants with stronger stat lines, like Ixtun in Rakano Midrange or Auralian in TJP.
However, there are other mono Justice cards that fit into Category 1 for various decks, and I can’t talk about Harsh Rule for the ENTIRE article… [Editor's note: or can he?]
Sword of the Sky King is actually better as a Market card than as a main deck card in Temporal Distortion control or JPS Pile, which are the decks most likely to play this relic weapon. The reason is that while Sword is really important for those decks to be able to win the game, it is a clunky, unusable draw before ~turn 10, whereas Winchest Merchant is an extra copy of Harsh Rule or, you know.... other cards, I guess.
As for other decks, there are a couple of interesting combo cards in mono Justice, and any deck built around those cards will want them in the Market along with all four Winchest Merchant, just to play as many copies as possible. These include Answer the Call and Shard of the Spire. As a general rule, if you would name your deck after a card, that card should probably be in your Market to fetch with your Merchants.
One last card that I would put in Category 1—even though the deck is not really built around the card, but just because the play pattern is so much better when you have it—is Paladin Oathbook in aggro and midrange decks. The card allows you to apply a significant amount of pressure even in the face of a large number of blockers or a lot of removal, and I think is often worth including in the Market for Rakano Mid, Argenport Mid, and Hooru Fliers for that reason.
Armory might well include a Rakano Artisan in its Justice Market just because so many of its cards are SO much better with the buff. Actually, that deck (and also Rakano Midrange) might include Navani Warsinger because the effect is similar but is on curve with the Merchant, which does have some value.
Armory would also likely include a copy a Starsteel Daisho in the market because that card is so often the win condition for it.
Rakano Plate obviously includes its Deepforged Plate in the market; they probably access it via Ixtun Merchant, but I could see a build that runs 5-6 merchants and Plate is fetchable by either, which is nice.
And of course, there’s Icaria the Liberator. FJx Removal Pile, Armory, Rakano Mid, Rakano Valkyries, Icaria Blue, and I am sure some decks I am forgetting would all include Icaria and get it with whatever Merchant they play because she is just that good. She even beats an opposing Harsh Rule!
There are several Mono Justice cards that are strong generic answers, rather than strong narrow answers like Bore or Rain of Frogs. I still include them in Category 2 because while they do not fit neatly into our categories, there is no reason not to consider them when building a Market. Such cards include Vanquish, Valkyrie Enforcer, and Harsh Rule—as well as the other Harsh Rule variants, End of the Story and Leave a Witness.
The latter two typically do not show up in the Market, as they are always copies 5+ of the effect and usually you would rather have your Merchants find the best version of the effect and play any extra copies you want in your main. However, if you commonly find that you need to beat aegis or keep your Icaria around, you might put End of the Story or Leave a Witness in your Market, respectively.
Quite a few other mono Justice cards do fit nicely into Category 2—Adjudicator's Gavel, Vanquisher’s Blade, Avigraft, Copperhall Bailiff are great. Adjudicator's Gavel and Vanquisher's Blade are used versus Makto decks, Dawnwalker decks (Xenan Killers), and Reanimator, where Avigraft can be used as an alternative to control non-flying recycled units like Vara Vengeance-Seeker, Caiphus, or Stonepowder Alchemist. Copperhall Bailiff handles masses of 1/1s, counters aegis units or Stand Together, and neutralizes small deadly units like those produced by Scorpion Traps.
Spirit Guide, the Lifesteal mentor, is a card I include in Market for Argenport mid because I really want a way to stabilize against the high burst potential out of decks like Rally Queen and Skycraggro.
Shielded Shortbarrel is an interesting possible inclusion for Gunslinger tribal or any deck that might want a 7-cost 4/3 flying aegis in the late game, which is pretty specific and inefficient, but is a solid top-deck for an aggro deck against Removal Pile, for example.
Two last honorable mentions I have are Citywide Ban and Challenge by Law. I do not think these cards will typically have a place in Justice Markets, but if you really want to stop Icaria/Temporal Distortion/Sword of the Sky King/etc. then Citywide Ban will do it, and if you want to, say, kill a Great Kiln Titan and silence a Dawnwalker and a couple of +1 Maximum Power Explorers, then Challenge by Law will do that.
The Rakano cards in Category 2 are really pretty thin, as I mentioned in the Ixtun Merchant article.
However, there are two notable inclusions. Whirling Duo, while a strong card in aggro decks, is also a reasonably potent card against the same, so if Spirit Guide is not your thing, or if you are running two merchants, you might consider Whirling Duo as it represents 6 health on average against aggro (3 for the attack and 3 for the Torch they need to kill it). Rizahn, Greatbow Master is also a good answer that acts as removal while helping to stabilize against aggro. Duo and Rizahn both also act as anti-site tech.
Category 3 cards can sometimes be hard to spot, as it is not always easy to tell before playing a lot of games whether a deck will need to take a different route to victory than its plan A or B. When the option is available, though, it is often quite strong, and worth looking for.
As I mentioned earlier, Harsh Rule fits into this category for highly aggressive decks. Notably, Hooru Fliers often needs to become a control deck in its match-up against Rally Queen, Praxis Tokens, and Skycraggro, so even though it normally has a pretty aggressive game plan, a Harsh Rule in the Market is really valuable so it can play the control game when forced.
Elias, the Broken Wing and Marshal Ironthorn are ways for Midrange decks to go way over the top in the mirror. Amilli, Cloudmarshal can give an aggressive deck some unexpected late game power, and really punishes players for getting too trigger-happy with removal.
Lastly, while it doesn't come up super often, in some cases a deck that is typically highly controlling just wants to end the game quickly—e.g. if your Distortion Control deck has a Black Iron Manacles on it, but the opponent is top-decking. If you want to be able to handle a situation like this, you might consider something like Kosul Battlemage; a relatively cheap, resilient threat that can threaten lethal in relatively short order, turning your removal spells and card draw into damage. Conversely, if an aggro deck wants to last longer into the mid-game or needs better odds versus removal pile, Sheriff Marley is an option as she can produce an aegis token every turn that can carry weapons or combat tricks through to your opponent.
As far as Category 3 goes, there are actually a number of reasonable Rakano options.
Mostly they are all for decks on the more aggressive side of things: Ijin, Imperial Armorer to go tall, Tinker Dronedropper to go wide and long, Icaria to go big. All ways for a deck that intends to win early to add some late game power to their deck, though each has strengths and weaknesses.
Ijin is best against decks that have a lot a blocker but relatively little removal, so… Skycrag and Haunting Scream decks, mostly.
Dronedropper is best against decks that have relatively few fliers but struggle to kill through blockers, or that rely on synergies for their deck to kill things; Reanimator and Xenan Killers come to mind.
Icaria is good in every matchup, but 8 is significantly more than 4 for Ijin or 5 for Dronedropper.
Lastly, I will mention Champion of Glory, which is not a card that one generally thinks to put in a Market, but I think it is a real option for Icaria Blue in extremely slow matchups (Temporal Distorion, JPS Pile) because IBlue usually has a worse late game than those decks and so would like to apply pressure if possible, and Merchant + Champion can do that.
All in all, I think Winchest Merchant might be underplayed in the meta at large. While it does not feel as good on board as most other merchants, it has some very powerful options to fetch, most notably Harsh Rule.
Next time, I will explore the Combrei, Hooru, and Argenport options for Winchest Merchant.
Until then, may you always draw your Merchants!