NB: I’d like to give a big shout-out to Kiki Labad for their suggestion about the concept, without which this article wouldn’t have happened. Thanks for the idea that let me salvage something irrelevant into something (hopefully) useful!
The Arcane Rising metagame is at an end and a clearer picture of the metagame has emerged. With Crucible of War coming out August 28th, it’s time to look back on the format that was and see what worked, what didn’t (hint: Ranger), and lessons we can learn for the future.
Tier Rating System
Throughout this article I will refer to decks using a tiered rating system, which I based on cold hard evidence. This means it is results-oriented and focuses on what worked and what didn’t. While some decks certainly had unrealised potential (looking at you Wizard and Runeblade), if it didn’t take care of business then it won’t get a high ranking here.
These are decks that are inarguably the best in the format. Tier 1 decks will generally have multiple high-level tournament wins. They have a strong, focused game plan and are able to consistently perform at a high level against most decks in the format.
These decks are ones that we’d expect to make the Top 4 in any given tournament. They are usually decks that are good enough to win tournaments and were generally well-represented in the Top 8, semifinals and finals. Tier 1.5 decks tend to require the stars to align to outright win a tournament. They may either struggle to beat Tier 1 decks, or need an unusual meta at a particular tournament to succeed.
These performed well in the right hands in the right (meta-wise) tournaments. They were represented in the Top 8 fairly consistently but usually fell short of progressing further. Tier 2 decks can occasionally win tournaments but it would be surprising to see. They require absolutely flawless play and a little luck along the way.
Unfortunately, in every meta there are decks that just don’t seem to work out. Tier 3 decks are those decks. Whether this is because the players couldn’t work correct lists, or the class was simply underpowered in the format, these decks straight up did not perform well. Tier 3 decks generally had few to none Top 8s, let alone tournament wins or even finals appearances.
At the time of writing, the statistics from the Road to Nationals events that have run so far show the following results per class for total Top 8 appearances:
- Mechanologist (Dash): 24
- Warrior (Dorinthea): 18
- Ninja (Katsu): 18
- Brute (Rhinar): 10
- Guardian (Bravo): 6
- Runeblade (Viserai): 2
- Wizard (Kano): 2
- Ranger (Azalea): 0
When we look again, focussing just on the number of wins per class:
- Mechanologist (Dash): 6 — 60%
- Warrior (Dorinthea): 2 — 20%
- Guardian (Bravo): 1 — 10%
- Ninja (Katsu): 1 — 10%
This graph helps to give a clearer picture of what decks performed at the highest level. Unfortunately it is difficult to account for differences across local metagames, so I’ve made some slight adjustments in weighting of results based on my thoughts and experiences when assigning Tiers. For example, in the graph above, the winning Ninja list and all three 2nd place finishes for Ninja occurred in the Taiwan meta, where the game was slightly newer than NZ and where access to singles cards played a bigger role in deck choice. I still believe the deck was slightly worse than Warrior all-round based on a holistic view, hence its position in the rankings.
Credit: Joshua Scott – images and statistics (thanks for all your hard work!)
Dash Midrange was clearly the deck to beat in Arcane Rising. Based on the data, it is reasonable to conclude that Dash Midrange dominated the format to a high degree. It is fair to question the role that individual player skill played in these results. One particular individual (I see you Matt Rogers), who many consider to be the best player in NZ, won 3 events on the deck. I would argue that the best players tend to identify and gravitate towards the best decks, therefore a top player winning multiple events only strengthens its MVD case.
Dash Midrange is a hybrid between pure Dash Aggro and Dash Control. It utilises the power of High Octane when used with Dash’s Boost mechanic to set up massive turns that punish your opponent. The addition of Tome of Fyendal to this combo pushed the deck over the edge from being merely ‘good’ to unstoppable. A successful Boost with High Octane gives you 2 Action Points, allowing you to play Tome from arsenal, draw 2 cards, gain a bunch of life, and continue on with your turn.
The true power of the deck, however, comes from its versatility. Dash Midrange can go all-in aggro against slower decks such as Dash Control, Brute, Guardian and Runeblade in a way that makes it very difficult for them to keep up. Against aggressive decks such as Ninja and Warrior, it can switch up the game plan and play a similar strategy to Dash Control. With access to Induction Chamber and Spark of Genius, along with red Fate Foreseen/Sink Below/Enchanting Melody, Dash Midrange can play the long game while still threatening big turns with multiple Boost cards. They can afford to side out most of their High Octanes and Tomes in the matchup and still come out ahead.
I do believe the deck was allowed to thrive to a certain extent by a lack of diversity and innovation in the metagame. When you’re playing a deck that beats everything and lists aren’t evolving to beat you, why would you switch? This isn’t so much a criticism of the player base as much as a call-to-arms. If you see a particular deck crushing the format, don’t be afraid to try something new and switch it up! You may end up flaming out, it happens! But if you’ve done the testing and you’re happy with the results, you’ve at least given yourself a fighting chance at taking out the tournament instead of resigning yourself to a highly unfavourable Top 8/Finals matchup.
Dash Control is a deck that has a clear game plan of grinding out your opponent with multiple Induction Chambers. With 3 Induction Chambers and 3 Spark of Genius, the Dash Control player is able to quickly get additional Induction Chambers into play. Once this occurs, they can efficiently use all of their resources every turn for the rest of the game by placing counters on Teklo Pistol and Chamber with any spare resources. The foundational principle of this deck is that it is more difficult to block 3 attacks for 2 than it is to block 1 attack for 6.
The deck runs the premium generic attack actions (ES, CnC) and defence reactions (Sinks, Fates, Somersaults, Unmovable) usually alongside low-cost Red Line Mechanologist attacks like Zero to Sixty and Zipper Hit. The rest of the deck is built around a ton of blue cards and ‘tutor’ effects like Spark of Genius that help you get Chambers into play. The aim of the deck is to get through the opponent’s threats and steadily chip away damage with Teklo Pisto. Your opponent’s hands will gradually get weaker while they bleed damage, until they’re forced to repeatedly block 4 Pistol hits with their full hand in the late-game.
Dash Control tended to have a great matchup against Warrior, and strong matchups against Brute, Guardian and Ninja. The deck is extremely powerful, however the emergence of Dash Midrange as a powerhouse of the format contributed to its decline after winning the first Road to Nationals event. It was still a deck that you needed to be aware of, but it really required a rebuild to beat Midrange that never seemed to come about.
The inclusion of Tome of Fyendal was a good start, but I believe a build with an aggressive sideboard strategy may have been more successful at evening out that particular matchup while not giving up ground against decks such as Ninja and Warrior. I’ve included an example of a list I considered playing below.
Warrior won multiple Road to National events and consistently made it to the very end of tournaments. The deck is an absolute nightmare for Ninja and is pretty damn good against nearly everything else (with the possible exception of Brute). Why then, you might ask, is it not basking in Tier 1 glory? Put simply, the answer is Dash.
The problem with Warrior was that its matchup against Dash Midrange felt very difficult to win. The availability of cards such as Enchanting Melody, Unmovable, Sink Below and Fate Foreseen gave Dash a ton of options to shut down the big turns of Warrior. Warrior decks relying on big Steelblade Supremacy turns (usually with Ironsong Determination and/or Warrior’s Valor) with back-up ‘pump’ reactions (Stroke of Foresight, Razor Reflex etc) would often find themselves blanked by the Dash player. This allowed the Dash player to play the game at their own pace, giving them the option to gradually chip away with Teklo Pistol and Induction Chamber while threatening damage on Warrior off turns. Alternative strategies with cards such as Driving Blade and Command and Conquer could lead to some blowout turns, but more often than not the Dash player was able to stabilise and slowly grind out a win.
A well-played “Go Wide” variant of Warrior was (allegedly) one of the few decks that could give Dash Midrange a good run for its money. These builds utilised Ravenous Rabble as an extra unconditional ‘go again’ threat to chip through damage at the start of turn before following up with an on-hit weapon threat (Nature’s Path Pilgrimage, Warrior’s Valor etc). Despite the strength of this build being demonstrated early in the season with a win, it failed to show results at later tournaments. This could be put down to a lack of experience on the deck, or simply Warrior players believing the match-up was not as good as it seemed and choosing to take a different approach.
Another variant seen largely in Taiwan often included 3 Command and Conquer and 3 Pursuit of Knowledge together with 1 red Pummel and even 1-2 Lunging Press. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to observe how these decks played out their strategy, but I love the idea of mixing things up to try and catch your opponent out with something unexpected. Even if your opponent knew you had these, the ability to force overblocks by representing an attack reaction on powerful on-hit attacks is something that I can see benefitting Warrior on an otherwise weak turn.
And Dash Control? The matchup is basically unwinnable. This might be seen as a bit controversial seeing as Warrior’s sole RTN win in NZ came against Dash Control in the final. I strongly believe this was the exception rather than the rule. A timely Steelblade Shunt that took out an Enchanting Melody in that game opened up a window for Warrior to win an otherwise unwinnable matchup. They simply have too many defence reactions and life gain cards for Warrior to get through. Control is happy to fall behind if needed to set up multiple Induction Chambers and slowly grind through the Warrior’s threats until you overwhelm them with 3-4 Teklo Pistol hits per turn.
Oh Ninja, where did it all go wrong? Ninja was the first class I played in Constructed and I thought cards such as Plunder Run and Art of War would firmly establish it in the Tier 1 of Arcane Rising. This did not prove to be the case. Ninja won 1 tournament and was a constant presence in the Top 8 of most others. The issue is that it repeatedly struggled to break through to the semi-finals and finals once it got there.
Ninja seeks to control the tempo from the get-go, using the threat of Mask of Momentum triggers and Katsu’s ability to constantly threaten large amounts of damage. The most played lists tended to run the Leg Tap and Surging Strike combo lines as their primary attacks, backed up with powerful attack reactions such as Ancestral Empowerment and Razor Reflex. They tended to skew red-heavy, with most running somewhere between 9-12 blue cards. The rest of the deck was made up with the classic Red Line go-again/generic attacks mentioned above in Warrior (Enlightened Strike, Scar, Rabble etc), together with ‘set-up’ cards such as Plunder Run and Art of War. Most decks included 6 defence reactions (Red Sinks and Flic Flacs), with some opting to also run some number of Springboard Somersaults and/or Unmovable.
There did appear to be a clear difference between many of the Taiwan Ninja lists and those from NZ. ‘Taiwan Ninja’ lists tended to go without Plunder Run and Art of War in order to focus on more consistent combo lines throughout the game. Due to the very different metagames it’s difficult to conclude whether one list was better than the other, but it was great to see players experimenting and adapting to what worked best in their local meta.
The prevalence of both Dash Midrange and Warrior in the metagame made it difficult for Ninja to succeed. Ideally you wanted to have a streamlined, hyper-aggressive list to outrace Dash while having enough defensive options to also keep up with Warrior. While most players did a good job at balancing these requirements, the matchup against experienced players on both classes still presented a significant challenge.
Ninja operates best when you have at least 3-4 cards to attack with due to the cost of activating Katsu, which makes blocking out Warrior turns fairly difficult to get through without giving up momentum. All of the Ninja combo chain openers block for 2, along with many of the generic cards (Plunder, Razor, Scar etc) that the deck needs to mount an effective aggressive strategy. Combine these factors with the lack of equipment block (effectively just the 1 on Breaking Scales as both Tunic and Mask have Blade Break) and you have a recipe for repeated stressful blocking turns. Warrior players also had access to Arcanite Skullcap, Braveforce Bracers and Refraction Bolters which, together with defence reactions, gave them a solid insurance policy to deal with the big turns that Ninja is able to pull off.
Dash Midrange and Control presented a different conundrum. Midrange could afford to play defensively on Ninja big turns while chipping through damage with Teklo Pistol and the occasional attack action. This allowed them to wait for High Octane/Tome of Fyendal turn, at which point they could pull ahead and wait for another High Octane to finish off the game. While this matchup was actually pretty close to 50-50, there was no room for error. Ninja players needed to ensure they were getting maximum value from their big combo turns and constantly be aware of the number of threats left available in their deck. Dash Control simply played too many defence reacts to get through most of the time. They could spend the first half of the game blocking out your threats, then slowly pull ahead once Ninja’s threat density began to drop off.
The real problem for Ninja in this metagame was the fact that Warrior generally made up 25-30% of the field. When your worst matchup is one of the most-played decks, and your matchup with the best deck is roughly 50-50, you need a lot of things to go right to win a tournament. Difficult matchups with some of the less popular decks such as Guardian, and in particular Brute, compounded this problem and resulted in Ninja failing to make the leap into Tier 1/1.5.
Outside of an early win at the first Taiwan R2N, Guardian failed to make much of an impact for much of the season. Back-to-back Top 8s at NZ R2N events towards the end of the season heightened the relevance of the deck and forced a reassessment of its strength. The primary weakness of Guardian was the overwhelming strength of Ranger which was dominating tournam….yeah just kidding, it was Dash.
Guardian decks generally ran 30-40 blue cards to enable their signature big attacks such as Spinal and Crippling Crush. Utility cards like Blessing of Deliverance, Emerging Power, Show Time, Tome of Fyendal and Potions were used to varying degrees. The Command and Conquer + Pummel (4-6 of) combo was included in most lists to consistently threaten blowout turns and give Guardian time to set up its premier attacks.
Guardian is a classic example of a good deck that simply didn’t match up well with the best deck. The newer Guardian builds fixed their matchups against Ninja and Warrior to the point where they felt they had the edge in those matchups (55-45ish in both, or a strictly skill dependent 50-50 Warrior matchup depending on who you asked). It could play the control game against Warrior and try grind out a win with Anothos swings and cards like Last Ditch Effort, while putting heavy pressure on Ninja with CnC + Pummel and Spinal Crush. The deck required a lot of skill and practice to win those matchups, but it was certainly achievable.
The problem, as always, was beating Dash. Guardian requires investing time and life into setting up a big Dominated attack, usually needing at least 3 cards in hand to do so. This becomes exponentially harder to do when facing down huge High Octane/Tome turns that create leads which a big attack can’t close. Even when you have the opportunity to play something like a dominated Crippling Crush, defensive cards like Enchanting Melody and Unmovable (+ equipment blocks) can nullify any advantage that you stood to gain.
Every card in Dash (outside of items) blocks for 3 or more, allowing the Dash player to happily block non-Dominated attacks with 2-3 and use 1 blue card to attack back for 4 (2x Pistol counters + Induction Chamber). With 2x Induction Chamber down, the Dash player would often start their turn by attacking for 2+2 while having multiple cards remaining to threaten additional damage. Guardian players adapted to this by including 2-3 copies of Forged for War, allowing them to block every Pistol hit with Goliath Gauntlets + Nullrune Boots (as putting a counter on Teklo Pistol breaks the combat chain). While this could be effective against Dash Control, the Midrange deck could get around this with multiple Boost cards and Enlightened Strike.
The Dash Control matchup played out in a similar, albeit even worse, way to their matchup against Warrior. With a huge array of defensive options, Guardian struggled to get through their defences without the aid of a timely CnC + Pummel attack. Once the Dash player got a second Induction Chamber online, the games tended to slowly slip away under a barrage of Teklo Pistol hits raining down turn after turn.
It was heartening to see Guardian players adapt their strategies with cards like Forged for War and Energy Potion (representing a constant Pummel threat) in an attempt to fix their matchups. We even saw lists running Timesnap Potions and Tome of Fyendal to counteract the lifegain and constant chip damage of Dash. While I commend the players who tried to innovate and make it work, I believe the presence of Dash at the top of the format was ultimately too steep a challenge to overcome.
Brute felt like a deck with huge potential coming into ARC that never quite realised it. The release of Command and Conquer gave Brute a powerful new attack that synergise with Pummel and Rhinar’s ability. Arcanite Skullcap and Fate Foreseen also gave additional defensive flexibility to set up big turns.
Brute decks typically included cards with built-in Intimidate such as Barraging Beatdown, Pack Hunt and Alpha Rampage. Key cards like Bloodrush Bellow enabled big turns to be set up by Intimidating multiple 3-4 cards from the opponent’s hand and throwing down a huge attack that couldn’t be blocked. Brute was also able to play the long game, depending on the matchup, by going very defensive and setting up a late-game combo hand by paying careful attention to their pitch order. A humble Romping Club attack, or single Barraging Beatdown + attack (forcing a 2 card block or a 6-8 power weapon hit), each turn was often enough to keep you in the game while waiting for the occasional big CnC/Pummel turn or combo turn. The inclusion of Reckless Swing effectively meant your opponent could not drop to 2 life without risking being shut out of the game. Throw in the occasional Scabskin Leathers roll for additional action points and the Brute deck became a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately for Brute, it found itself in a similar situation to Guardian. Whilst it had positive Ninja and Warrior matchups, the deck repeatedly struggled to figure out a strategy to get past Dash, while also having a tough time against Guardian. Attacking for 4 damage per turn just didn’t match up well with being hit multiple times for 2 damage each. Fatigue strategies featuring Remembrance, Drone of Brutality and/or Last Ditch Effort generally proved too slow to work, while aggressive strategies often found themselves losing the damage race.
My advice is to keep an eye on Brute once CoW is released. The deck is a powerhouse and is a great choice in an unknown meta.
Runeblade Runeblade Runeblade… The search for a viable Runeblade list was my personal grail in the ARC meta. The deck felt like it had a ton of potential but settling on the right combination of cards proved to be a frustrating process. The deck never quite made it, achieving only 2 Top 8 finishes over the season (along with a heartbreaking 9th place on tiebreakers for a certain NZ player).
The view of a lot of top players is that Runeblade was one of the most difficult classes to play this season. There are so many calculations involving Runechant generation, when to use them, and tracking how many threats left in your deck that it can start to feel a bit overwhelming over the course of a full tournament. When you use 2 cards to generate 5 Runechants and your opponent pitches 2 cards to prevent the damage, you can find yourself quickly running out of gas as the game progresses. It’s easy to fall into the trap of building up a big lead early, only to wonder where it all went wrong when your opponent stages a comeback in the mid-late game.
There were a few different versions of Runeblade that got played during the season, with no single build emerging as a clear favourite. The common factors in most builds involved Runechant generation through cards like Mordred Tide, Read the Runes, Spellblade Strike and Spellblade Assault. Players tended to run varying amounts of set-up cards (to trigger Viserai and buff attacks) like Come to Fight, Oath of the Arknight and Plunder Run. ‘Payoff’ cards that took advantage of Runechants such as Rune Flash and Arknight Ascendancy also featured in nearly every build. Defensive options varied, but generally included Reduce to Runechant, Sink Below, Enchanting Melody and Unmovable.
Runeblade was an interesting deck to test in the meta. Depending on your build, you might beat Dash and Warrior but lose to Ninja, or have a totally different combination of results against those 3 decks. I felt like my own build had pretty good matchups against all 3, but I really struggled when playing against more fringe decks such as Brute and Guardian. It’s important to remember that if you can’t beat a diverse field in Swiss, you may never get a chance to take out the best decks in the Top 8. Sometimes this is worth the gamble if you’re confident about the meta at an upcoming tournament. It should also serve as a reminder to ensure you test against everything to give yourself a chance when playing against an unexpected deck!
Runeblade feels like a class that stands to gain the most from additional support in Crucible of War. Many versions of the deck felt like they were missing a few key cards to solve the deck’s flaws. If the spoilers released so far are any indication, I wouldn’t put those Runechant tokens into storage just yet!
Wizard should have earned a higher position in these rankings. The creator of Flesh and Blood, James White, has let slip on more than one occasion that Wizard is his favourite class. I’ve heard rumblings from top players that there was a build out there that they felt beat the top decks in the format, Dash Midrange included. Surely there is something there…right? With a grand total of 2 Top 8s (both resulting in a first round exit), I had no choice but to banish it down to Ranger Town aka Tier 3.
I believe the problem with Wizard in the format was a classic case of “too hard to figure out”. I know of many players (myself included) who tried to make Wizard work for weeks and just couldn’t quite get there. You would build a version that had a decent matchup against Ninja and Warrior only to get absolutely crushed by either version of Dash running triple Arcane Barrier. Switching up the build to better the Dash matchup would then lead to a string of losses against Ninja/Warrior.
Wizard won’t be languishing in Tier 3 for long after Crucible of War is released. The general consensus of Wizard is that it’s an extremely fun deck to play, and the extended break from competitive play will see a lot of people theorycrafting and testing out lists. Also, there is a certain prestige attached to being the first player to win a tournament with Wizard. Who wouldn’t want to be the first Dracai of Crucible??
Ok ok, I suppose I owe it to the Ranger fans out there to give some space to Ranger. The class ended up with a grand total of *checks notes* zero Top 8s. Strangely enough Ranger seemed to have a pretty decent matchup against Dash Midrange (albeit based on limited testing/observation). How could a deck that can go toe-to-toe with the champ end up being the running joke of the format?
The deck appeared to suffer from a combination of a difficult metagame and lack of defensive options. Whilst the Dash Midrange matchup might have been winnable (and that’s a big might), Ranger would get absolutely crushed by Ninja and Warrior.
A typical Ranger equipment set up would look something like Skullbone Crosswrap, Fyendal’s Tunic, Bulls-Eye Bracers and Snapdragon Scalers (total armour value: 2, both on critical equipments with Blade break). Key class cards such as Take Aim, and to a lesser extent Rapid Fire, block for 2. Many builds ran a large number of generic Red Line cards such as Scar, Life for a Life, Ravenous Rabble, Nimblism, Nimble Strike etc all of which, you guessed it, block for 2. This made it difficult to survive the big combo turns on Ninja/Warrior that could lead to a blowout, even when you got off to a good start.
Perhaps a more defensive build with sideboard cards such as Arcanite Skullcap, Enchanting Melody, additional defence reactions and less 2-block cards may have succeeded. Ranger, however, needs a certain number of arrows to utilise Death Dealer and Azalea’s ability, along with enough attacks to punch through damage. The correct combination of these cards to construct a viable list (if one existed) was a puzzle that wasn’t solved in this meta.
With powerful new arrows and other support coming in Crucible, I’m excited to see how the dedicated fans build their decks to show off Ranger’s potential and prove the haters wrong.
I firmly believe that we’ll look back at this season in years to come and conclude that Dash Midrange (and Induction Chamber) wasn’t as broken as we thought. It’s important to remember that the game is still relatively young. Unfortunate circumstances brought about by Covid led to the postponement or cancellation of tournaments in many regions where the game is played. The more players there are, the more potential solutions arise to deal with dominant decks.
I would highly encourage players to continue to innovate and brew up new decks as much as possible when Crucible of War is released. Keep in mind that many top players will want to hide their lists, so don’t be dismayed if you don’t see your chosen class performing well early on in tournaments! There are a ton of resources like podcasts (shameless plug – check out Session Blood) and articles to learn from, as well as multiple FAB Facebook pages where players are happy to answer questions.
Finally, one thing I cannot emphasise enough to aspiring competitive players out there is the importance of regular testing. This can be difficult to do in-person in these Covid times, but don’t be afraid to make use of resources like TableTop Simulator if your area’s situation doesn’t allow you to play in person.
The most successful players are those that have the best testing regimens. Once a metagame begins to emerge, consider getting your group of friends to learn 1 top meta deck each really well. If you and your friend both want to test a new deck, play a two-game series, with each player using a meta deck in one game. This allows you to both have fun playing a new deck while gaining invaluable knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of your new list. While playing Ranger vs Wizard or Runeblade mirrors in the ARC meta might’ve been fun, you could test for 2-3 hours and come out of with no useful information. This doesn’t necessarily apply in a brand new meta when a new set is just released, but consider your goals for testing when you start to prepare for big tournaments!
Hi FAB fans, I’m Kieran. Ever since I was introduced to Flesh and Blood I’ve been obsessed. I love theorycrafting, talking about, writing about, and playing FAB any chance I get! I focus on the competitive side of the game. I have made the Top-8 playoffs at eight different competitive Constructed events, including a 2nd place finish at the first constructed Calling. I also co-host the Session Blood podcast with my good friend (and prolific author) Karol Ruszkiewicz. You can usually find me at tournaments by looking for the guy rocking a cactus shirt and candycane socks!