Distilling Midrange

If you're looking to build a particular archetype, it helps to find what has been successful and break it down into pieces that are easier to understand. Just looking at a 75 card deck and figuring out why it is successful at what it sets out to do is tricky and often leads to making the wrong assumptions. I'm not a master playing the decks in this article, but I'll do my best to discuss what makes them tick and the unique components of each. At the end, I'll use the data to mock up an Elysian midrange deck that I've always hoped could exist in the competitive scene.

001.PNG

SS mid
26 power
4 hand attack
12 removal
3 seek
4 merchant
15 units <4
11 units >3

This deck has a lot of removal (more if we count the hand attack as another 4, it runs 16) and a lot of aggressive units. Fifteen units that cost 3 or less and a playset of a 3 strength merchant is hoping to stick 2-3 threats then clear out blockers with the removal against any medium to slow deck. Against aggro, the choice of removal is important, and Torch and Shakedown shine here. Desecrate doesn't feel great in fast matchups, but it offers much-needed coverage that Annihilate and Torch can miss.

Argenport Instigator and ChaCha are comfortably above curve. Blackhall Warleader is popular in lower-to-the-ground decks recently, so it must do better for people than I usually see it perform. Rhysta bumps the amount of power seek to a virtual 6 while being a decent attacker (and a notably terrible blocker).

Statuary Maiden is below the curve as an aggresive unit, but makes blocks worse and nearly always trades for something when used on defense. Vara is still Vara and Tasbu is new enough that I can't pass judgment. The power choices in the deck try to hit Tasbu on 5 as often as possible, which I can appreciate, and it insulates well against Harsh Rule, assuming you aren't on the draw versus undepleted power on turn 5. The powerbase comes in at 6 depleted, 8 conditional, and 12 undepleted for a total of 26.

002-2.PNG

Praxis Pledge
26 power
4 removal
8 ramp
6 merchant
8 units <4
28 units >3 (12 at 4)

Praxis has always had trouble with creating a removal package that feels good. Homecoming offered enough synergy and aggressive units to finish filling out the slots in a midrange deck without putting in bad removal. Initiate fills the place of power seek by providing ramp instead, and Glasshopper provides a discount on all but 4 of the more expensive units. Auralian Merchant is another source of ramp, but I'll still count it as a merchant only. This list has the lowest count of aggressive 1-3 cost units, but balances out by having a lot of units at 4 (or 3 with a discount).

If you are going to play any 2 drop, let it be Teacher. East Annex Smuggler also chunks for 2 with Charge on turn 3, which does provide a bit of extra pressure. With the virtual 16 ramp cards that double as units, the goal of getting to the topend by turn 4-5 is clear. Heart of the Vault is a great unit, and playing it before turn 6 is pretty great. We see 26 power again in this deck, with 6 depleted, 8 conditional, and 11 undepleted. Worthwhile to mention here that with 20 pledge units, the deck effectively has 27 power, but only on turn 1 (a neat little side-effect of Pledge).

Jumping back down to the units that are trying to win the game and not provide ramp utility, Cykalis is a big beatstick on 3 or 4, depending on Initiate or Glasshopper. The singleton copy of SST is cute, but 3x of Zuberi makes me wonder if the playset may have been better. Randomly hosing fliers every once in a while may be worth it to the deckbuilder. Darya is played with at least one Amplify more often than not, so you can consider it costing about 6.

If we compare this deck to the previous Stonescar list, they are trying to execute the same strategy in different ways. Praxis Pledge is attempting to cheat out 4-6 cost units a turn or so early and provide a steady stream of overstatted threats that are difficult to block and run the opponent out of removal. Stonescar mid is trying to play a few units early and ride them to victory with removal and Tasbu backup.

003.PNG

Skycrag dragons
26 power
11 removal
4 draw
4 seek
4 merchant
8 units <4
18 units >3

The numbers on this deck are a bit of a cross-section of the previous two. More units at 4+ cost but backed up with more removal. Permafrost can be frustratingly conditional, but Torch and Ice Bolt offer some coverage from other vectors. 4 Seek Power and the first instance of something that only draws cards in Wisdom. We encounter another problem with fuzzy math thanks to Oni Dragonsmith discounting the dragons at the topend. 4 merchants versus the 6 that are seen in some of the decks covered today means a little less consistent market access, though Howling Peak Smuggler offers some solid utility by boosting some of the removal damage.

Dusk Raider is a good choice with the number of pricier units in the deck, especially since most will be able to fly in for both hits rather than getting blocked and traded with on the first attack. Oni Dragonsmith can start chunking for 3 on turn 3 with an ideal draw, but behaves like Glasshopper later in the game without the upside of coming with a free unit.

Crimson Firemaw is an underrated unit in my opinion, so it's nice to see here. Poaching Drake offers an extra 4 conditional removal, and I would say of the remaining units that Zuberi is the worst attacker. The deck has actual 0 combat tricks, so sometimes Zuberi just won't be able to attack. The moderate amount of removal available in the deck may be enough to get in, though, so you can think of it like a big Blackhall Warleader. Double Damage on the fliers doesn't hurt either, and Molot & Nakova out of the market with Zuberi in play sounds like the dream. Overall, this is a bigger version of Stonescar mid that tries to do some of the same things, but incorporates a few of the tricks from Praxis Pledge.

4 depleted, 8 conditional, and 14 undepleted totals 26 gives us the highest count of undepleted power, which is interesting for a deck with a lot of more expensive threats. It may just highlight the desire to hit a curve of 1-2-3 (Dragonsmith, Raider/removal, Dragon) or at least 2-3-4 (Raider/removal, Wisdom, 4 drop).

004.PNG

Rakano mid
25 power
12 removal
4 ramp
6 merchant
12 units <4
2 weapons
8 units >3
3 Xo

I found the Xo deck. This is also the only deck running 25 power. Smol Icaria and Privilege both help with the power count. Bulletshaper offers some influence fixing and ramp, but I classified it as an aggressive unit at under 4-cost, because a 2/3 for 2 still brings the beats. Icaria is on the other end of the spectrum, providing a terrible body in the early game and scaling up later. 4 of the most aggressive merchant available in Red Canyon Smuggler and an extra 2 with Winchest. Unseen Commando, Valkyrie Enforcer, and Whirling Duo are all great units at 3, and the deck doesn't mind playing one on 3 and another on 4.

Auric Runehammer is the first and only weapon out of these 5 lists. Relic weapons at 4 perform better against control than the removal that's available in that slot, but there's always a case to be made for Avigraft or something similar if Runehammer isn't going the distance. The number of units at 3 means that Sediti should come with the Onslaught trigger (Hammer helps with this). Rizahn is a nice unit to top out with, but he may not have Lifesteal in the early phase of the game. Xo may get cast sometimes, but the Treasure is nice fodder for Bulletshaper to ramp something out with or fill the void at 2 if Icaria is looking like she might die immediately.

This deck of course has small synergies, such as Unseen Commando buffing Whirling Duo, but the main approach is more straightforward than the last couple deck, and reasonably similar to Stonescar mid. Backed up by 12 removal, stick some early units and start beating. There are some hints of Praxis Pledge in the ability to Bulletshaper out a Sediti or Rizahn early. Extra points for discarding Privilege for the value. 4 depleted, 8 conditional, and 13 undepleted power is partially a function of needing a lot of J Sigils and J influence.

005.PNG

Hooru mid
27 power
7 removal (finest counted)
2 seek
7 empower enablers (finest counted)
4 merchant
20 units <4
8 units >3 (drake doubles as removal)
4 of your best unit in play

Don't worry, it's not running Svetya's Sanctum. Hooru Fliers has come and gone from the meta several times, and this is one of the more recent iterations. We see similarities to Skycrag dragons with the Poaching Drake offering some extra conditional removal. Many of the fliers are back from Rakano mid, and Kothon is a bit like Glasshopper in Praxis mid in that it comes with an extra body. Note: Kothon is not as good as Glasshopper in most situations.

Hojan can offer some ramp with the 3x Finest and 4x Levitate, but also fills the same role as Whirling Duo does in Rakano mid by offering a way to stall out aggro without needing to interact with its units. Kothon is a 2/3 for 2, so the beats are reasonable. The biggest advantages of this deck over the Rakano mid list that it shares quite a few components with are Mirror Image and Pacifier. Mirror Image is the best unit you have in play, except it costs 3. Sometimes this isn't a discount (looking at you, Hojan), but Mirror on Drake creates some extra conditional removal when you need it, and copying a Sediti is obviously insane. Pacifier shuts down Runehammer, which is a great card to interact with fliers that dodge Vanquish and/or Torch (this deck has a lot of those). Pacifier also stuffs the recent Reweave + Reclaimer combo lists, which is pretty good.

6 depleted, 8 conditional, and 13 undepleted power for 27 total. You get the gist.

Looking at this deck and comparing it to the previous lists, we can see some patterns emerging. Midrange decks need consistent threats starting on turn 2-3. They typically run 26 power of specific distributions. The units either need to have strong stats for what you pay or have a way to get in damage (charge or flying). Some units are obvious outliers because of the utility they offer. Initiate is a 1/1 for 1. Merchants are understatted (except for maybe Red Canyon). Glasshopper is a 1/3 for 2.

If you run less removal, more inexpensive units are the solution. 4-6 merchants seems correct, but have at least 4 of the merchant that best advances your game plan. Have either good fixing or a way to cheat out units. If you don't have units that block well versus aggro, either pack a lot of removal or have some disposable units that provide value before dying. Here's a template:

Some midrange pile
26 power
8-12 removal
4-6 seek/ramp
4-6 merchant
10-16 units <4
8-20 units >3, but most at 4-5

So if I were to build an Elysian mid deck for example, it might look like this:

SzDPPnt - Imgur.png

I wanted to fit in Rost, but ended up going with Alhed due to influence. With only 12 dual power available and a need to reliably hit TT on 2 for Teacher, Alhed provided a more consistent threat on 4-5. Alhed also has some synergy with the removal package in Twilight Hunt. Being able to put a unit with Killer back on top to punch another unit on the following turn (potentially with some big Overwhelm damage) is a nice synergy. 6/6 Teachers and 4/6 Stingers are also much more threatening in the midgame off of Alhed, and are thus not as bad of a topdeck. If someone wants to try to fit in Rost, I think it could work. At that point, it may also be good to replace something with Shepherd's Horn.

Otherwise, the deck has 7 sources of ramp with the merchant doubling as an extra 4. Stinger may not be the most intimidating threat on 3, but the combination of stuffing Evenhanded Golem and potentially coming out on 2 following an Initiate on 1 is enticing. With all of the ramp, I went with the Praxis Pledge strategy of a mess of units at 4 and 5, since more often than not they will come out on turns 3 and 4. All of the topend synergizes well with Twilight Hunt, and Temple Standard offers an additional way to reset Killer, Poaching Drake, Cykalis's invulnerability, or Infiltrate on Teacher/Stinger. Of the aggressive units, only Stinger is behind on rate (2 strength for 3 power), and only Poaching Drake is even on rate. I think both of these offer enough upside to merit inclusion.

Does this look pretty similar to the mono-T decks that pop up from time to time? Sure. Equivocate is a big deal, however, since mono-T has trouble dealing with problem units. Cirso also doubles down on this, creating extra coverage against problematic blockers. Permafrost is cheap interaction, and 4x may be correct depending on the meta.

That's about it for now. If I decide to craft the pieces I'm missing of this deck, I'll record some games with it. Until then, may your topdecks always be Torch.