This past weekend saw a surge in player numbers and the existing meta was subjected to a rigorous test.
Community member, saints, returns with his battle-hardened analysis of the playstyles that flourished (or failed) in the face of increasingly tough competition.
Death Zoo and Tempo Deception remain dominant, surviving the nerfs that the latest balance patch wrought upon them. Light Zoo had a good showing, but relied on a bugged interpretation of Papal Bull, which was fixed at the end of the weekend.
War as an Onslaught Control deck had some promise and Slayer is resurfacing as a competitive God Power as well. Rune Magic is growing in popularity and is clearly the most competitive flavor of Magic for this meta, although a last-minute unlive to Morgana's Grimoire meant it wasn't fighting at full strength. Nature is still identity searching and nearly unrepresented at Mythic-level competition.
Papal Bull's change is significant because Protection and a health increase often meant that Magic needed to spend 2-3 cards to clear a full board. Even though Papal Bull's redesign is still strong, it forces you into sub-optimal card inclusions when deck building, a downside that prevents the latest Serene Blade from seeing mass adoption.
It's similar to why Amazon Nature isn't more popular either. It can be incredibly powerful but forcing tribal synergy is a lot to ask for when Undying Wish Zoo doesn't limit your deck choices at all, allowing you to run the best-in-slot cards instead.
To address this, Void Banshee was also nerfed to become a 4/3, down from a 4/4. Frankly, 7 stats for 2 mana is still strong, but Void Banshee can now be removed cleanly by a lot more turn 1 plays in the meta, like Mugging, Tracking Bolt, Blight Bomb in the mirror, and so on. Void Banshee as a Bag of Tricks turn 1 play is now a substantial liability, but it's still a top tier card for Death's 2-slot.
Rapture Dance received a significant nerf, to the point where it only excels as an anti-Zoo tech. Regardless, Deception still excels at controlling early game boards, so Rapture Dance's is slightly redundant. Deception players are favoring no more than 1 copy of Rapture Dance now, if any.
The card to watch in this meta is Ocular Fiend. Its recent rework has made it the focus of Rune Magic decklists, but it's starting to permeate into a new variant of Death Zoo. Ocular Fiend is not only a 5/5 at minimum, but it also helps clear creatures, making it a decent tempo play. But it also generates runes, offering card value as well. There really isn't any other card like it, since it provides a tempo swing and card value at the same time.
At Ocular Fiend's value floor, it's somewhat comparable to Helian Blademaster (an already elite 6-cost card), but in the right deck, you can set up even more powerful Fiend drops.
Rune Magic could have performed a lot better, especially as a Deception counter, but Morgana's Grimoire, a core piece of Rune Magic, was unlived prior to the weekend. Magic performed terribly over the weekend but its outlook still remains promising and I wouldn't discount Magic due to its poor winrate.
Perhaps Dreaming Sceptre helps secure board and gives you the edge in the mirror match. Is Brimstone a worthy tech inclusion to offer not just extra reach but also to prevent Deception's Lightfoot Informants from a guaranteed Blight Bomb steal?
It's easy to misconstrue Zoo as a simple deck, but there's a lot of nuance among individual decklists and as we saw when Papal Bull Zoo first arrived on the scene, Zoo can still be improved upon constantly.
Zoo built around Ocular Fiend (decklist) is the latest incarnation, which trades speed for a mid-game Tempo swing. Runes of Fire and Strength offer additional reach, Rune of Life compensates for any health loss from Void Banshee and Bombfly afterlives, and Rune of Sight provides much needed card draw to keep up the gas pedal. Unless you need a rune situationally, most runes have their use in Death Zoo.
People have been clamoring for a nerf to Death Zoo and while the Banshee health nerf hurts (and frankly hurts all other Death archetypes too), I think Void Banshee was just a symptom of a larger problem: Being able to go first and using Bag of Tricks turn 1 to set up a powerful board is really hard to deal with because it helps snowball the game in Death's favor.
While Death Zoo players unlikely to play Void Banshee turn 1 now, Bombfly + Trial Spirit turn 1 is still incredibly difficult to deal with. Besides double Blight Bomb, there isn't a single play in the game that can clear that board, meaning you're already playing from behind before you've even played your turn.
So therein lies the reason why Zoo will probably be a meta staple. It's not the inherent power level of Void Banshee (which could probably use a change to 3/4 as opposed to 4/3 to keep it alive better) and it's not that Undying Wish should be reworked, it's that at any time, it's very easy for Zoo to snowball a game even against decks that are built to beat Zoo, especially when going first.
Deception, particularly as Tempo (decklist), is still Tier 1 and the most reliable counter to not just Death Zoo but most forms of Control. The patch significantly hurt Rapture Dance and indirectly nerfed Shady Merchant a little bit since Destructive Dagger lost Blitz.
However Deception is still capable of controlling Zoo and the inclusion of Ocular Fiend gives Deception a worthy Cutthroat Insight target if they can stomach the tempo loss. Void Banshee's health nerf has indirectly made Mugging a lot better, but not only that, Void Banshee is susceptible even to Tomb Torchbearer + Memory Charm as well. Rapture Dance can still be a safety net against Zoo but isn't entirely necessary, although if a new Light Zoo ever becomes favored in the meta again, two Rapture Dances might be required.
A moderate shift in some Deception decklists has it including more Shade Walkers and occasionally Master of Surprises as of late. They offer Deception a way to go aggro a lot sooner, because otherwise a board full of weak-strength creatures like Viking Bloodguard and Tomb Torchbearer is good for controlling board but not for threatening your opponent's God.
It's possible Deception's in too powerful of a spot, but I would be happy if Deception remained untouched moving forward. All four God Powers are uniquely viable (though Memory Charm is the meta favorite at the moment) and the class is just incredibly fun to play. Despite its flexibility, its lack of healing makes it susceptible against decks that can attack face without requiring a board presence, such as Soulburn Death, Rune Magic, and Slayer War.
Papal Bull received a significant rework, but the asterisk is that Papal Bull was actually bugged over the weekend. It was intended to only buff creatures with lower than 2 strength and 2 health, but it seems the old logic still applied and didn't count health in the condition. There was also a bug related to Pyramid Warden, a natural inclusion in Light Zoo, that favored the Pyramid Warden player.
If you're comfortable playing the bugged version of Light (decklist), Light Zoo was very powerful, possibly even better than Undying Wish Zoo. But since the bugs were already patched, there's no reason to dwell on this decklist. Looking forward, Light is facing an identity crisis as it searches for a reliable archetype that competes in a Zoo and Deception-heavy meta (which, admittedly, is the same struggle other Gods are facing).
Light's usage was only roughly 6% at Mythic this weekend so it didn't have a significant impact on the meta. But I don't feel as if Light is undertuned, rather it just needs some more time to develop, possibly as a Midrange or Control archetype. Purification Filter, Master of Indulgences, and Highborn Knight are all individually powerful cards.
Magic had a poor winrate last weekend and that trend seemed to continue this time around. It wasn't Magic's fault though—due to a bug, competitive cards like Morgana's Grimoire were unlived this weekend.
Rune Magic (decklist) continues to develop and seems preferable due to its ability to beat slower Deception decks via damage spells to the face over time, but the lack of Morgana's Grimoire resulted in a lot of losing matchups throughout the weekend.
Magic Control (decklist) tends to have poor matchups as well, especially against Deception, but it appears to be a better counter against Undying Wish Zoo, which performs worse against Blastwave compared to Discovery. But if you're trying to beat Undying Wish Zoo, there are more reliable options, like Deception.
Magic still has some of the best cards in the game, so I'll consider its suboptimal showing this weekend a fluke due to a few of those cards being temporarily unlived.
Nature was again the weakest God over the weekend at Mythic, with roughly 4.5% usage and a 17% winrate.
With similarly poor results last weekend, we can confidently proclaim Nature is heading towards a bad spot. While its heals and indiscriminate spells could have some good matchups in theory (such as against Rune Magic's burn and Deception Hidden creatures), it has some really painful matchups against Control and occasionally, Zoo.
Where I would like to see improvements for Nature would be more reliable single target removals. At present, there's essentially no way to economically deal with, for instance, a Helian Elite if it's not the only card on your opponent's board, since all their removals select the target randomly.
In short, this puts Control Nature at a disadvantage against any other Control Deck, whereas its early game isn't adequate enough to deal with Zoo, especially after Staff of Roots's latest nerf.
At the lower ranks, however, Nature performs quite well but it's most likely due to the player base not having access to the cards needed to assemble strong Control and possibly even the most refined Zoo decks.
Onslaught War no longer needed to fear the old Papal Bull, so we saw more Onslaught War (decklist) as a control variant. What really helps stall into late game is the renewed Enduring Shield (which is even more effective against Midrange and Control) as well as plethora of board control cards like Auric Mage and Auric Rush.
Relics are currently uniquely powerful because they can race against Deception, which also tends to lack Frontline creatures. With few players running relic hate like Iron-tooth Goblin, Slayer can perform well against decks that aren't prepared to take consistent weapon damage to the face each turn.
While it's likely Onslaught will always be naturally powerful enough to warrant some presence in the meta, Slayer has a lot of synergies that can help it outperform in the meta for brief periods of time (at least until players start teching in relic hate).
I'm no longer keeping a Leaderboard list since the reward system now calculates based on peak rating as opposed to current rank at the deadline, but we're not privy to that list until they're released mid-week, so my list would look inaccurate and arbitrary.
The biggest standouts were Femto, the Chosen (Death Zoo) and singsong (Tempo Deception) who not only led #1 and #2 on the rankings and likely the rewards, but also conveniently represent the two best decks in the meta at the moment.
You can always browse the current rankings on gudecks.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this, consider supporting me by using my ref code the next time you buy packs - saints