Onslaught War's natural counters have been nerfed, allowing it to reclaim its spot as a top-tier archetype. Death Zoo and Tempo Deception continue their good run as well. Magic is going back to its traditional Control roots after the Discovery nerf whereas Light and Nature are still struggling for an identity.
A recent balance patch had large implications on the meta. Discovery was fiercely nerfed which effectively nullified an up-and-coming archetype, Rune Magic. That opened up some room for Deception to thrive since Magic direct damage was one of its primary counters.
And Deception did thrive, but the flavor of the week was Control War. Onslaught-powered War decks have been around for some time but recently lost favor at the top ranks due to its weakness against Hidden creatures, the old Papal Bull, and Discovery spell-based Magic decks. With the latter two nerfed, Onslaught War only had one poor matchup in Deception.
Deception has plenty of answers against board-based threats, but not against direct damage from hand, which is what made Rune Magic's ability to recycle spells like Wyrmbreath and Rune of Fire so threatening to Deception. Control War filled the void left by Magic with its plethora of relics which can all deal 3-5 damage per turn, making the War vs. Deception matchup tolerable, if not favorable.
Discovery's nerf means Onslaught is most likely the strongest God Power in the game and its effectiveness in Control War makes it the best Control deck in the meta. It can trade well against Zoo, Carnage Sweep is a decent-to-fantastic board clear for its cost, and other Control decks can't expect to win through sheer creature value since Onslaught + Amplureal, Sentient Shard is such a strong combo.
At the moment, Control War, Death Zoo, and Tempo Deception seem to be the best decks in the meta. It's not a lot of variety, but the resurgence of Control War is a reminder to adapt quickly to big balance patches. When one archetype gets nerfed, which decks improve? And what are the counters to those decks? Paying close attention to the meta and how balance changes affect it can be rewarding for your win rate.
Despite taking a few whacks from the nerf bat in recent patches, Death Zoo (Femto, the Chosen's decklist) is still a force in the meta. Last week, I mentioned how synergistic Ocular Fiend felt in Death Zoo. This week, Ocular Fiend received a slight nerf along with Leviathan Hunter, which was one of Death Zoo's prime 1-cost creatures.
A noticeable shift for Death Zoo is that it's beginning to favor Soul Burn in more and more matchups, as opposed to Undying Wish, especially against decks without much access to heal. There aren't any decks faster than Death Zoo at the moment so the downside of Soul Burn dealing damage to your own God is mostly irrelevant—the Zoo player will always be the aggressor. While many decks are tuned to control Death Zoo's board, they often can't deal with Soul Burn pinging their God for 2 damage every turn.
Against Control War, whether it's better to take Undying Wish or Soul Burn as the Death player likely depends on the War player's specific decklist, but overall, Undying Wish performed slightly better (49.6% vs 47.8%) against Onslaught according to the stats.
It's likely Death Zoo will remain a meta staple for a very long time. I'd personally dislike seeing more nerfs to it, the changes so far seem fair and not too extreme, and its winrate, in the right hands, implies it can still be a top performing deck in the meta.
Tempo Deception (Gigar's decklist) has long-profited as a counter to Control and Zoo, but this weekend, Control took on a different flavor and Zoo wasn't as popular as it was in prior weeks. Deception still performed really well—Memory Charm was the 2nd most popular God Power this weekend (behind Onslaught) and won at a 53% clip in Mythic.
The future of Deception may lie in moving away from counter-Zoo and into more developing its own Aggro tools. Hidden is already a good counter-Onslaught mechanic and if Magic's popularity decreases, the lack of area-of-effect spells in the meta means Hidden creatures receive an indirect buff. This could lead to Cheat becoming popular again and face-smashers like Shade Walker can be used to set up win conditions for Deception.
Some decks (Ethereum's decklist) even toy with hand-disruption via Annoying Bureaucrat. The pre-nerf Discovery could render Annoying Bureaucrat useless—even without cards in hand, a Magic player running Discovery can simply recycle an old Wyrmbreath and kill the Annoying Bureaucrat. With Discovery out of the meta, this type of Deception play style could gain traction.
Ultimately, not needing to worry about getting burned down by Magic spells puts Deception in a spot where it's safe to start experimenting with more mechanics and I look forward to seeing what the next phase looks like.
Papal Bull's rework has left Light in identity-searching purgatory again. Light ended up having a 5% usage rate at Mythic this weekend, albeit with an acceptable win rate, carried by Light Zoo (Falric's decklist).
The blame can't be placed solely on Papal Bull's change, however. Carnage Sweep's recent buff makes it incredibly strong at 5 mana. As a result, if you're facing Control War and your board is destined to get cleared anyway, you'd rather have Death's Undying Wish or Soul Burn.
So what's next for Light? My best guess, without relying on any new balance changes, is that if its Zoo variant isn't strong enough, it may need to play slightly slower and rely on Serene Blade as a mid-game power spike, similar to Amazon Nature's Arkmonian Onslaught.
It doesn't need to worry about Discovery Magic at the moment, it can be too powerful in the mid-game for Deception to keep up, and maybe with the right early game card choices it won't outright lose to Zoo? Legendary techs like Light, Ascended and Asterius, Glittering One might give it some mid/late-game viability as well.
More realistically speaking, I'd like to see reworks of certain cards and some more strong mid-game tools. The list of deck-defining Light cards ends past 4 mana and doesn't reappear until roughly 7-8 mana. I think recent buffs to cards like Griffith, the Chosen and the aforementioned Light, Ascended and Asterius, Glittering One were a good start, but those are legendaries and thus hard to obtain/consistently draw.
The Discovery nerf hit right before the weekend started, which didn't give Magic players a lot of time to adapt to the change. As a result, Control (Yukineko's decklist) was the sole representative for Magic. Previously, Control Magic fell out of favor due to its poor matchup against Deception. While Magic is still weak against Deception (especially using Flip), Blastwave is a top tier God Power and a safe pick regardless of Discovery’s nerf.
Blastwave was already the preferred pick against Zoo, but it's also powerful against practically any creature-based deck, even Control War. It pops Protected, Ward, and finishes off War's creatures, preventing the War player from ever developing on board. Those matchups then become a test of who has more value left in their deck towards the end, which is a battle Control Magic is accustomed to.
As long as you can avoid Deception decks, Control Magic can be a safe pick in most metas, although its days of being the best archetype seem long gone.
Nature had a noticeable usage increase this weekend after the well-deserved Forage buff. Time will tell if the buff was sufficient enough to carry Nature back into Mythic competition. Theoretically, it should be a fantastic pick against Control because it generates more cards over time, just like Deception's Flip. Some Control Nature decks (Wezz's decklist) have reappeared as a result.
The difference though is Deception's anti-control kit is tied together by its ability to easily deal with expensive creatures using Uncanny Rogue or Slip Blade, or just outright stealing the creature using Cutthroat Insight. Nature, unfortunately, lacks reliable creature removal and getting random cards can be a blessing but also a curse, like having a hand full of Vine Armours when you're facing down a Helian Elite.
Random Nature cards tend to not be the type of game changers you'd expect when running Flip against for instance, Control Magic, and getting random Magic cards. Nature's cards don't include card draw or reliable ways to deal with that must-answer creature on a populated board, nor do they offer a lot of direct damage to face. Nature cards tend to be a lot of spells that heal, buff creatures that you probably can't keep on board anyway, or recycle into another random Nature card.
So it's no surprise that Leech Life (51.6%) still significantly outperformed Forage (46.8%) at Mythic level, or even that Nature posted the lowest win rate (45.7%) out of any other God at Mythic yet again.
The last time Nature was meta-relevant was prior to Overkill's rework, which, coincidentally, was a period of time where Nature was a direct counter Onslaught War. The meta is sorely missing the old Overkill in this War, Zoo, and Deception-heavy environment.
In my report three weeks ago, I mentioned:
the Onslaught God Power is simply too good and too cheap to be phased out entirely. In other words, keep an Onslaught decklist in your back pocket just in case the meta ever shifts away from board stickiness.
We saw glimpses of Control War (D_Vitiate's decklist) last weekend but it made a real statement this week. Onslaught was the most popular God Power (26.3% usage), initially bolstered by the Papal Bull rework and boosted again after the Discovery nerf. That nerf initially increased Deception's popularity, but Control War (especially adapted to include weapons) performed surprisingly well against the Tempo Deception decks normally tuned to counter Death Zoo.
Onslaught is the best God Power at the moment. While that will probably always be the case, barring a nerf, the decklists themselves are ever-changing. In a Control-dominated meta, stock up on Deadly creatures like Amplureal, Sentient Shard and Cursed Caipora. In a Zoo-dominated meta, Auric Mage gives you more survivability along with Twin-strike creatures like Devouring Golem. In a Deception or Magic-heavy meta, equipping tons of damage-dealing Relics is the answer.
Control War isn't indestructible though. Death Zoo can pull off wins any time, any place, no matter how well you play. Overall, it's a fairly even matchup, and if that's the worst it gets, then Control War is definitely in a good spot.
Midrange can become a threat to Control War, but there are few successful Midrange decks in the meta at the moment. It's possible to run Control War out of single target removal answers, allowing you to start populating the board. Control War often plays from behind, but without Carnage Sweep, it often struggles to deal with more than 1 large creature at a time.
If Control War's trajectory is anything like that of Control Magic's a couple months ago, what results is a lot of people independently deciding how greedy they can make their decks—in other words, how much late game value they can sneak in. At that point it will be hard to point to a definitive decklist for the archetype, but you'll generally have two primary win conditions: via end-game card value or via weapon damage to the face.
Control War will be the deck to beat moving forward, especially as each new balance patch becomes less and less impactful moving closer to launch.
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