There couldn’t have been a bigger explosion to kick off the 2023 National Championship season! Not only did we have nine different heroes claiming victory in a meta previously thought to be a Ranger regime, one of Flesh and Blood’s most popular heroes has finally reached the peak of Channel Mount Heroic! Let’s dive into the results…
Rose Among Thorns
We’ve already said everything there is to say about Lexi, we all know it’s the deck to beat, so instead let’s talk about the big news from last weekend. Charles Dunn, an absolute chad and mad genius, took first place at the United States National Championship with Briar, Warden of Thorns, hammering the final nail in her coffin.
Briar has a long history as a premium aggro deck, from her pre-errata days where she abused 0-cost attacks (dubbed “cheerios” by fans), to a Big Chungus build that leveraged the free damage gained from Channel Mount Heroic. Over and over, players found new ways to exploit Briar’s mechanics, meanwhile she defiantly refused to cross those final yards into Living Legend status.
Charles Dunn had a different plan altogether. If the Lexi players were expecting a damage race against Briar, hoping to keep the Runeblade on the backfoot through multiple layers of disruption, then why not take a page out of Oldhim’s book and hide behind an insurmountable wall of defence instead?
Using Crown of Seeds along with a combination of defensive tools like Oasis Respite and Brothers in Arms (Oldhim at home), Dunnblade could simply throw a single attack at Lexi each turn, create an Embodiment of Earth to soak up breakpoints, and turtle up until Lexi ran out of threats or was forced to start blocking.
This isn’t a foolproof strategy. The looming threat of Rain Razors into Three of a Kind can still knock you off your feet, but if you play extremely carefully, this fatigue-oriented version of Briar has a fighting chance into Lexi that not many other decks have. You also run the risk of running into more problematic matchups that normally wouldn’t be an issue, but it just comes down to what heroes you’re expecting to face.
It will be interesting to see if Lexi players try to adapt in weeks two and three with tools they used to run into Oldhim, or whether there will be a partial exodus to other decks in the format. Considering Dunnblade cleaved through a 500+ person tournament made up of the top players across the country, the latter wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Unfortunately we won’t see this latest iteration of Briar bloom to its fullest, as the Elemental Runeblade hero (and her menace of a signature weapon) will be retired after Nationals ends. To be honest, I think we’re all ready to wish her a hearty farewell.
Hot and Cold (and Mech)
Next up are some of the usual suspects, along with the boogeyman of Flesh and Blood, each with more than one National Championship win so far.
Iyslander has undergone a resurgence, after a successful number of Battle Hardened runs, and a nice leg up from Warmonger’s Diplomacy. I find it so interesting that many top decks in 2023 still tend to play big beatsticks from three years ago like Wounded Bull or Raging Onslaught. I guess you can’t go wrong with hitting your opponent in the face really hard.
Dromai hasn’t backed down, despite Lexi closing the gap between them. The Draconic Illusionist is still holding her own as a very capable aggressive or defensive strategy, depending how you build it. Lost in Thought has done wonders for the deck, allowing her to cripple hands at just the right moment, especially brutal when followed by Command and Conquer on the next turn to threaten the card drawn off Ponder.
Dash has held onto the solo Mechanologist title for so long it’s hard to imagine that in just over a month we’re going to have new inspector gadgets running around. Dash is a solid deck overall, but in the hands of a master, she’s an unstoppable machine. There’s so much going for this hero - action points, free resources, a control-based sideboard. The utility alone makes her a really strong choice for uncertain gauntlets.
Kano will forever be the Catch 22 of Flesh and Blood. You could have Arcane Barrier gathering dust in your inventory for months on end, but the moment you take it out, there he is, flinging a Lesson in Lava off the top of his deck with that sly smirk on his face. That’s where the trouble began. That damn smile. Also, Aetherize seems to have found its way into the deck now in some small capacity, flicking away pesky copies of Oasis Respite or Sigil of Solace.
Soldiers and Savages
A few dark horses have managed to sneak into the frontlines to claim a win, and it’s highly possible even more outliers may follow.
Dorinthea is one of those heroes that’s great at punishing newer players but sometimes seems to struggle into established metagames where veterans are always aware and prepared for her style of gameplay. However, with a few straggling holes patched by Chorus of Ironsong, and opting to bring in a defensive package against Lexi, Dorinthea excels in the right hands.
Boltyn had a lot of hype behind him during Dusk till Dawn spoiler season, but didn’t quite take flight as quickly as some people expected. He might have some rough encounters with decks like Iyslander, but his matchup into Lexi can be surprisingly decent. The aggressive charge plan is one option, but it’s actually his efficient control tools like Valiant Dynamo and Soul Shield that allow him to stay in the game.
Rhinar in true Rhinar fashion somehow manages to be completely oblivious to everything going on around him, occasionally wandering out of the Savage Lands to cause a mighty ruckus before heading back into the jungle for a nap. At the highest level of competitive play, each and every blocking decision you make is crucial, and a single intimidate (let alone three) can really make those wrong decisions for you. Let’s just pray Rhinar never gets wind of what’s actually going on in Rathe and decides to expand his territory.
So there you have it. Yes, Lexi is one tough cookie, but it’s not an impossible hill to climb. I am excited to see what innovations will be made in the second and third weeks as players strive to stay on top of the ever-so-slightly shifting meta. Those of you playing Briar, enjoy the “2 and 2” while it lasts.
Lastly, congratulations to everyone who won a National Championship this weekend. You’ve earned your seat at World Championship: Barcelona, and we cannot wait to see you all in person for some great games!