Well… well… well… He certainly took his sweet time, didn’t he? Oldhim has finally pushed past the finish line, no doubt with some gentle nudges from Pro Tour: Baltimore and Calling: Antwerp. While some will be lamenting the disappearance of the polarizing Crown of Seeds and Rampart of the Ram’s Head combo, others will be overjoyed to see the wall finally torn down.
Meanwhile Briar continues to edge closer and closer to the threshold, somewhat more reluctantly than Oldhim - looks like she’s got some fight left in her yet.
What does this mean for the future? With another notorious Illusionist soon returning to keep Rangers in check, the time might be ripening for aggro decks to venture back into the fold. Oldhim had such an overbearing presence in the metagame, but perhaps heroes like Bravo or Iyslander will step up to fill the void left by the old man. All we can say at this stage is goodbye, and enjoy your retirement.
Out with the Old... in with the Ace
The cycle of life begins anew. As one old man leaves the field, a Ranger with attitude makes it onto the board for the first time. It only took her 1156 days, but Azalea is finally pinning down her targets. For too long she has been the laughing stock of the meta, but all it takes is one banger support set to tip any hero over the edge. Lacing her devastating arrows with multiple nasties has allowed Azalea to keep up, while utilizing aim counters more effectively than the other two Rangers lets her benefit from bigger and meaner on-hits. I’m also a big fan of how Azalea players include extra ways to peek at the top card of their deck, other than Skullbone Crosswrap, to make sure they find the spice.
On a Hot Streak - Lexi, Uzuri, Dromai, and Fai
While we’re on the topic of Rangers - Lexi has been absolutely crushing it this week! While that might not come as a surprise to some, it’s great to see her shining at the forefront after many months of being the Tales of Aria black sheep. Despite Lexi’s domination, she’s been kept in check by several other heroes.
Uzuri and Dromai preying on arrow-slingers is nothing new, but we’re seeing some interesting trends in both these heroes. The longer Uzuri spends on the surface, the more dirt peels away, revealing cleaner builds and leaner plays. Players are opting to cut down on attack reactions like Shred in favour of more consistent stealth or contract gameplans. The upside of blue stealth cards is not only the bluffs and punishes, it’s also the flexibility to pitch for daggers, block efficiently, or fuel Looking for a Scrap. Another really cool addition is Hurl, giving her an aggressive edge.
Dromai’s popularity is also becoming her undoing. The threat of Lexi usually causes heroes who like to keep full hands to shy away, but when Dromai sends fresh meat into battle, you can be sure a familiar Brute will pick up the scent. Against all odds, Rhinar made top 8 at Calling: Antwerp - no doubt fuelled by a few dragons he had for lunch. Regardless of her enemies conspiring against her, Dromai soldiers on, picking up wins wherever she goes.
Fai’s reemergence is super interesting - you wouldn’t expect to see the Draconic Ninja when his arguably worst matchup is one of the most popular decks. But Kodachis, as always, are putting in work in areas where Emberblade falls short. Plus, he has an innovative gameplan into Oldhim, by using his hero ability during the opponent’s turn, then again in his own turn, which when combined with Tiger Stripe Shuko, plays artfully around Crown and Earth react shenanigans.
The Dark Horses - Bravo, Iyslander, Dash, and Viserai
I think Bravo can smell stardom on the horizon again. He’s been ushered into the waiting wings a little by his frosty counterpart, but with Oldhim soon out of the picture, Bravo’s ready to take center stage again. Everyone loves to cheer for the main man when he flexes his muscles, and boy have they been rippling. Bravo’s game plan has remained consistent throughout the years, playing lots of blue 3-costs, big chungus attacks, ye olde Pummel, all wrapped up in shiny steel plating. But why mess with a classic recipe when it clearly just works?
I’m not sure where Iyslander’s been vacationing recently, but I’m sure wherever it was, the weather was absolutely terrible. It seemed initially the Ice Queen didn’t take kindly to playing around with Inertia tokens, but now that we’re well into the season, she’s returned to wreak havoc on Guardians, Ninjas, and the occasional Runeblade. If you can survive long enough to shred the hand with Insidious Chills and Aether Iceveins, it’s a clean sweep to victory.
If there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s human ingenuity. Dash seems linear on the surface - play all the steampunk-y cards and boost to your heart’s content, or wall up and gradually build an ultimate Rube Goldberg machine of death and destruction. But there’s actually a lot more to this hero than meets the eye - and the dedicated dash devotees know that if you put in the reps, you start to find several subtle methods to outplay your opponent. When you sit down against a Dash who really knows what they’re doing, your chances of victory are bleak.
Finally, we have to give some love to the OG Arknight. Early in the season Viserai managed to make several top cuts, but was just shy of a win. Not anymore - the purple predator has still got it. Swapping between an OTK set-up build and an aggressive smash-face strategy is something Viserai has always been adept at, but the versatility comes in handy now more than ever when matchups can be so varied and demanding. Nobody ever sees the Spellbound Creepers into Revel in Runeblood coming until it’s far too late.
Week 2 has shown us no hero is ever truly out of the game. Even with Lexi players running amok you can win a Road to Nationals with Fai, or top 8 a Calling with Rhinar. The key is to look at the whole spread of heroes and identify areas where your hero is likely going to have a good time. From there, it’s a matter of devoting sideboard slots to bandage the wounds against your worst expected matchups. Then it’s reps, reps, reps!
The meta is extremely diverse right now, and with so many viable options it can be tricky to commit to a hero, but we’ve seen that overall skill and practice is an invaluable resource to rely on. Don’t give up hope if your round 1 is against your worst anticipated matchup. Uzuri can beat Dromai, Katsu can beat Oldhim, Fai can beat Lexi. You just have to trust yourself and your reps. If you make it, you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment. If you don’t, then move on, try again.
We’ve still got a few weeks left of Road to Nationals season, so I highly encourage you to sleeve up your favourite hero and try your hand. Maybe you’ll be the one Boltyn or Levia to take home the glory. We’ll be watching closely…
Catch you next week!