Mythic player and community contributor, Saints, analyses the most effective play strategies being employed in Weekend Ranked PVP.
Nature was a surprise hit over the weekend, earning the highest win rate and usage percentage among all Gods. The top performers were still Control Magic players but all Gods were well represented at the highest levels of play.
The last time Nature was the most used God was over 3 months ago when Flourish cost 2 mana, which allowed Nature Zoo to run over practically every deck for a two-week period. This weekend, it found its stride again as Amazon and Midrange/Control variants flooded the meta.
Part of what allows Nature to thrive is that its mid-game power spikes are often too difficult for Control to efficiently handle. While Control has plenty of ways to deal with the board, dealing with Midrange Nature is unlike dealing with Zoo.
Against Zoo, the tide usually turns around mana 7 when Control can play Demogorgon as a stall/heal, followed up by an efficient board clear. Against Midrange Nature, the Demogorgon play often isn't enough, delaying the tempo swing Control seeks towards mana 8 or even 9. Needless to say, Control usually loses before then.
Nature's strong early game composed of Staff of Roots, Underbrush Boar, and Canopy Barrage also allow it to trade surprisingly well against Zoo. But I would be remiss in not mentioning Light's role as a Zoo stopper recently. While not an overwhelmingly popular archetype, Light Midrange has a few solid matchups, notably against Death and War.
As a result, Death Zoo is seeing a lot less play, which is a massive shakeup to the meta given that Death Zoo had always been a top performer over the past few months. Before players flock to Midrange and Control, however, it's worth noting that Slayer War is still a major threat and can end games in brutal fashion, often before mana 7.
The meta is in a remarkably diverse spot and is possibly the healthiest we've ever seen. As players continue to unlock more Core cards, or when the Core marketplace opens, I expect the meta to progress even further. It's important to maintain a mindset of constant adaptation, because you never know which deck will be the next surprise hit.
Death Zoo's popularity is dwindling as a result of having more and more hard matchups (vs Nature and Light) and fewer good matchups (vs War). Does this mean Death Zoo is dying? With our current card pool, it will always be one of the fastest decks, capable of pulling off a quick win against nearly any deck at any given time, but it may no longer be the ultimate safe pick. Fans of Aggro can flock towards Midrange Light, which opens very similar to Death Zoo, as well as Slayer War.
Otherwise, Death still has some viability in the form of Control. Players are experimenting with board clear oriented and ramp-heavy play styles which seem to do well against everything but Control Magic (due to Avatar of Magic's inevitability) and possibly non-Amazon Midrange Nature.
Deception's popularity decreased again, but this time it also coincided with a drop in its total win rate. The biggest change is that Midrange Nature is practically built to counter Control Deception, since Deception's lack of healing, hard removals, and mid-game threats make it susceptible to the big bodies and unlimited gas that Nature can apply.
A few techs are also making the Control Deception player's life difficult right now. Spiral Golem's effect can't be prevented by sleep, making it a great pre-emptive card against Demogorgon as well as Memory Charm.
Svart Basilisk effectively counters one of Control Deception's main win conditions, which is to combo Memory Charm buff/stall into Anti-Magic Expert lethal. Deception also can't afford to Cutthroat Insight with impunity, since around mana 5 is when Midrange Nature starts to develop a threatening board, forcing Deception to respond instead of taking value turns.
Deception already had a hard time after the Cutthroat Insight nerf against Magic and the introduction of a new counter in Nature might force Deception players to rethink their approach. Like Death, Deception feasted on the existence of Onslaught War decks in the meta, but as that archetype continues to get countered by everything under the sun, Deception win rates will also decrease.
Midrange Light is playing an interesting role as a meta pick against popular archetypes. Its plethora of healing, frontlines (via Golden Harpe especially), and creature synergy is a direct counter against Slayer War and Death Zoo, while maintaining a decent matchup against Magic.
That may seem like a narrow list of favorable matchups, but War and Death are still played incredibly often (~38% of the field) for it to matter. However, it has noticeable struggles against Nature, locking it in a weird Rock-Paper-Scissors game. Slayer War counters Nature, Midrange Light counters Slayer War, and Nature counters Light. Whether or not Light is a safe pick is entirely dependent on the meta at any given time.
Control Magic continues to remain a threat, but admittedly is no longer the flavor of the week. Avatar of Magic is still a problem, to be sure, but it should be noted that the players who did occupy the top 5 ranks with Magic all have Frey, Archmage of Selene. It's possible in a meta with more threatening Midrange decks, Magic will have to rely more and more on Frey to shortcut the Avatar of Magic + spell combo.
Magic is still worth playing without Frey, but in order to stay alive against Midrange, Magic players will likely need to revert back to the old pattern of running 2 copies of Ratify and Wyrmbreath. Greedy decks attempting to rely simply on Runes, Demogorgon, and Ocular Fiend won't have enough removals to match the amount of threatening mid-game bodies Nature can throw on the board otherwise.
Last week, I mentioned:
If there's one thing Control Magic and Deception both struggle with, it's high-statted creatures being played turn-after-turn. Control is pretty good at controlling the board, but at some point, resources need to be devoted to staying alive. Nature has always shown a lot of potential in the mid-game with over-statted creatures like Overgrown Rhino which usually force Magic to answer with a Wyrmbreath.
When the Nature player can consistently follow up with more threats such as another Rhino, Avatar of Nature, or Green Giant, it forces Magic to over-defend, preventing them from taking value turns like opting for a greedy Runestorm.
This week, a few Nature variants saw tremendous success. Fueling them is the God Power Forage, which is causing a lot of trouble for decks that typically like to play slow. If you trade evenly, or worse, fall behind against Nature, Nature will simply continue the pace but keep generating new cards in the background.
Over time, this leads to a massive card advantage for the Nature player (although, I have to admit this situation isn't entirely too dire—there are a lot of bad Nature cards).
For the past few weeks, Control has been playing fairly greedy. Faster decks like Zoo existed, of course, but Control decks found ways to stall until mana 7, when Demogorgon unlocked. Overall the Zoo vs Control matchups were fairly balanced (and several Control Deception decks, for instance, actually had positive win rates against Zoo).
Midrange Nature is an entirely different animal however, as the board clears Control Deception and Magic have come to rely on often aren't sufficient enough. Rapture Dance is primarily an anti-Zoo tool and Astric Implosion is a little better, but both can be played around.
So I've fanboyed long enough about Midrange Nature, what counters it? It's deck dependent, but historically Nature has had a really tough time dealing with wide boards. While Nature has tools to prevent Zoo from growing, it can still easily fall behind due to a bad draw or a missed Canopy Barrage. Nature also tends to have trouble against Slayer War, especially if it doesn't draw into its frontlines (and many variants, including Amazon Nature, only run Agrodor Protectors)
Midrange Nature, due to its reliance on mid-game power spikes, tends to fall off towards the end game, especially against Avatar of Magic and Echophon.
As a result, Control players running these 9 mana bombs may need to adjust their anti-Zoo arsenal to also include anti-Mid-range as well. When playing from behind, it often doesn't matter if the Nature player has a hand full of (random) cards if it can't consistently deal with an Echophon. Nature generally can't rely on its spells in the late game, where a bad coin flip can effectively lose you the game.
This is the third week in a row where Slayer War gets a mention. Players are still more or less running the same decklist Dookis popularized shortly after the Core reset, but it notably got a bump this weekend because it tends to perform really well against Nature. As a result, it's worth re-mentioning—don't sleep on Slayer War.
I expected the meta to stabilize in last week’s report, but I was unprepared for the impact Nature would have on the meta. Overall I'm glad to see things progressing and it's a constant reminder that nothing is solved in this game at all, there's still plenty to experiment with!
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this, you can check out more of my Gods Unchained content by following me on Twitter at @saints_gu.