Road to Nationals 2023 Meta Analysis: Week 1

18th May 2023 Kasharn Rao

And they’re off! The race to claim an invite to Nationals has started and I hope you didn’t put all your eggs in one basket because some new chickens are beginning to hatch. The Pro Tour gave us a solid foundation of Lexi, Oldhim, and Dromai as the rulers of the land, but there’s a serious case of tall poppy syndrome floating around as players adapt and bring new strategies to counter expectations. At least 9 different heroes have claimed points on the Living Legend board so far during this Road to Nationals season, and we’ll be taking a look at some of these dark horses that are quickly rising to stardom. But first, let’s check in with some absolute units who are painstakingly close to achieving the ultimate goal - becoming a Living Legend.

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Essence of Legend

Tales of Aria brought us some extremely potent heroes, and while Lexi had a slow start getting into the limelight, Briar and Oldhim became pillars of the metagame almost instantly. Both of these powerhouses have shaped deck building and gameplay around them in completely different ways, forcing other heroes to find a way to combat aggressive and sporadic chain links, or master the art of outplaying the threat of fatigue.

Outsiders might not revolve around these two, but they definitely found some new tools in the set to stay relevant. Oldhim players are bringing in Vambrace of Determination with Bravo’s signature weapon Anothos, to add extra utility and flexibility in the mirror and other certain matchups.

Meanwhile, Briar has taken a liking to Give and Take, threatening an Embodiment of Earth token if it hits, and potentially recycling a power card like Earthlore Surge or Force of Nature if it’s blocked by an action card. It also meshes well with Briar’s focus on cheap go again and efficient defense.

Both Oldhim and Briar have broken the 900 point barrier, and with so many Road to Nationals taking place, saying goodbye to the pair could come sooner than expected. If either or both make it over the line, we can expect the meta to distort drastically, as more sideboard room opens up and other heroes that were previously shunned by their Elemental shenanigans step back into the light.

Vambrace of Determination
Give and Take

Uzuri, Katsu, and Fai

Little Miss Switchblade seems to be having the time of her life right now, taking out a couple of top spots and placing strongly overall. Players are really enjoying the bait and switch playstyle, teaching harsh lessons to those who don’t block correctly. Her biggest strength isn’t that she outpaces the other heroes, her biggest strength is that she can be patient, blocking carefully until windows open for major disruption. Don’t take your eyes off Uzuri for a second, as she shakes down the meta for everything they’ve got.

Katsu has also made a comeback in major style. The classic Ninja is far from home but definitely knows how to hold his own. Fans are delighted to see this classic hero back on the board and placing in several top cuts, a stark contrast so some pretty turbulent previous seasons. The major innovation of combo cards with built in go again has elevated the deck’s consistency dramatically, as well as the power card Bonds of Ancestry bringing several different lines of play. Katsu is also able to sideboard efficiently against disruptive decks, blocking wide turns with cards like Flic Flak and chipping away with Kodachis.

On the hotter side of the dojo Fai is rising to meet the challenge. Things looked pretty grim for the Draconic Ninja when Rangers suddenly took over the meta, but with enough patience and training, anything is possible. The rising rebellion is possibly a response to the increasing droves of dragons, showing that a little sibling rivalry is a good thing. Fai is bringing his normal Emberblade gameplan into matchups where it works well, but dedicating the sideboard to Kodachis and 9 copies of Brand with Cinderclaw to enable his hero ability into trickier foes.

Shake Down
Bonds of Ancestry (1)
Brand with Cinderclaw (2)

Dorinthea and Kano

The fan-favourite golden girl is swinging back into action - Dragonslayer Dori is here to defend the homefront. While a spot of icy weather can pose a problem to any Dawnblade-related plans, efficient blocks, chonky armour, and a flawless understanding of your own deck can help you survive the cold long enough to land that critical hit. It’s refreshing to see another classic hero taking out a win and proving that no hero is ever dead in a given meta. Dragons are merely target practice, Guardians can be toppled by hurling the Kitchen Sink at them, and when it comes to Rangers - at the end of the day they’re just squishy wannabees with a piece of string, and you have a goddamn sword.

Just when you thought it was safe to take out the Nullrune, the Dracai of Aether flares up like a nasty rash. Getting the Kano Jumpscare is one of the most crushing feelings ever, and will have no doubt lead to some banging heads on the wall, asking “Why? Why did I not just play Arcane Barrier?” Kano is always an interesting slice of the meta, because whenever it becomes a case of avoiding several matchups that would be a death sentence, people tend to assume nobody will risk playing him. But with great risk comes great reward, and if you manage to catch enough heroes with their pants down and punish them for being unprepared, you can steal a whole Road to Nationals win out of nowhere, like what we’ve seen this weekend.

Crucible of Aetherweave

Week 1 has shown us that it’s not all as clean cut as we previously thought. There’s no doubt that the popular heroes from Pro Tour are still forces to be reckoned with, but we can now see new life poking through the permafrost and unfurling. I expect to see a variety of heroes perform well over the coming weeks as players continue to innovate and experiment.

Catch you here again next week as we dive into the results from the second round of Road to Nationals, and explore some other heroes that are consistently landing in top cuts. There’s a lot of strong contenders out there, even if they haven’t claimed first place just yet.

Until next time…